Now that we have established what needs explaining (biological information, and the origin and functional interrelatedness of cellular machinery) and the scientific method biologists employ to formulate an explanation, we turn our attention to the four possible explanations for life’s origin: (1) Chance; (2) Necessity; (3) Combination of chance and necessity; (4) Intelligent agency.  In this post I will examine the possibility that life can be explained in terms of chance processes alone.

Just like the lottery, specific probabilities can be assessed for the origin of life by chance.  To illustrate how probabilities are assessed, consider a combination lock.  What are the chances of someone guessing the correct combination of a lock with four dials containing 10 digits each?  To determine the chances one must multiply the number of digits on each dial (10) by itself four times (because there are four dials): 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 10,000 different possible combinations.  The chances of guessing the correct combination, then, are 1 in 10,000.  If one more dial was added to the lock, it would decrease the odds by a factor of 10 (1 in 100,000).  If one is given only one try, the odds of getting the right combination are overwhelmingly against him—so much so that if the lock opened everyone would suspect that his selection was not random, but based on intelligence, or that the lock was faulty.  The odds of cracking the combination increase, however, as one increases the number of attempts.  If one is given 100,000 tries to guess the combination, then the odds are that he will eventually guess the combination through random attempts alone (if each try took 10 seconds, you could crack the 4-dial code in about 28 hours, and the 5-dial code in about 11 days).