If there is no God, that means that our existence just happened by total chance. What are the odds of that happening?
The answer: 1 in 1 (approximately).
First off, it’s always nice to start off with where theists and atheists agree. It is true that if there is no God, then in fact, the existence of anything at all is just complete, random chance. Atheists cannot back out of this one by saying that the natural order of the world is predisposed to foster life. Any time you suggest any sort of predisposition in the Universe, you are affirming the existence of God. The only people who actually believe that God is a humanoid male with white hair and a beard is an idiot. If you’re reading this, and you are thinking to yourself, yeah, of course God is a man, you’re an idiot. If you’re thinking, of course not, God is a woman, you’re a feminist idiot (no correlation).
Anyway, the point is that if there is any kind of natural disposition to the world, that means there is a design to the world, a form of consciousness that existed before the universe and had a hand in its creation. An atheist must agree that this does not exist. If they disagree, maybe they aren’t Christian, but they’re not atheist.
Now, we need to agree on what “chance” means. That answer is simple enough—for anything in the universe that has any chance at all of existing, it exists. Because if it doesn’t exist, there’s no chance for it to exist. Yet. Maybe in the future it will have a better chance. So, for example, theists like to say things like, if everything is random, then somewhere in the universe, the correct alignment of molecules must have collided in the exact right way for a wristwatch to spontaneously appear in the middle of space. Nope, that would never happen. “Well then,” comes the response, “things aren’t totally random then, are they? There is at least enough order to the world that wristwatches aren’t spontaneously appearing in space.”
First of all, if the only way you can sell your argument is by bringing up space watches, your argument is already in trouble, although we will be bringing up the space watch again in this blog. Second of all, as we have already addressed in this blog, if your argument depends on redefining words to such an absurd degree that it loses all meaning, you have no argument. “Chance” does not refer to every possible thing you could imagine happening. It’s the set of every single thing that you could reasonably expect to happen. So if you roll a six-sided die six times, there is a 1 in 46,656 chance that the result will be 1 every time. Not very good odds, but, there is NO chance of the roll being 7 every time. It’s not in the realm of possibility.
So, argument two is that the chances of life existing, exactly as it is, is so infinitesemally small that there had to be an intelligent design which created life. It’s true that the odds of life spontaneously existing are practically zero. But the terms “zero” and “practically zero” are complete opposites. One is nonexistence, and the other is existence. And we exist.
The universe is so vast that it’s difficult to comprehend how many possibilities it presents, but we can start with what we know exists. Currently, there are seven billion people on Earth. That’s this many:
To give you an idea of what a huge number of people that is, consider this: when we want to emphasize that there is such an absurdly small chance of something happening, we say there is a “99.9% chance that it won’t happen.” Well, say there were a 99.9% chance that you will not spontaneously combust within the next three seconds. Pretty good, right? Actually, if 0.1% of the people in the world were to spontaneously combust right now, that would be 7,000,000, or the entire population of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming combined. Hope you didn’t want to visit the Big Sky country.
The point is, once we start looking at figures above 10,000 or so, we can no longer really comprehend things like probability, or chance.
Now I’d like to show you something.
To the center-right in this picture is the constellation Virgo. It’s sixteen of the hundreds of little white spots in this picture. Now, let’s zoom in on just one of those dots, one of Virgo’s “belt.”
Again, from Earth, this mess of things appears to us as a single dot. This is a cluster of eleven of the galaxies inside of that one dot. Each of these galaxies is at least as large or larger than the Milky Way. You may notice that I said it was eleven “of the” galaxies. That’s because there are actually more: in what we think of as one star, there are 1,300 galaxies.They’re right next to the Coma Supercluster, which can only be seen with a telescope—in other words, there is a group of three thousand galaxies behind Virgo that we don’t even include in our calculation of stars in the sky.
Now let’s talk about planets. As we discussed in Discovering Tyche, we really have no idea how many rocks are orbiting the sun, but there are at least twelve that are big enough to be considered a planet of some kind. We’re just getting the technology to look at nearby stars, so we’ve only been able to look at the 70 closest stars to the sun, and so far 51 of them have star systems (the “solar” system is the star system around our star, Sol). That’s an incredibly high proportion of stars to have planets on them, and each system has tens or potentially hundreds of planet-type things around it. But to be safe, let’s presume that the solar system is average, which means there are about six planets around the average star. That means there are at least this many planets in the Universe (based on just what we’ve discovered for sure):
Again, let’s stress that this is our most conservative estimate. There are possibly infinitely more. Let me add one more wrinkle—this is only including the number of planets that exist in our sky at this particular moment. I say “in our sky” because new stars are forming all the time, with planets developing from the surrounding space dust, and it can take literally billions of years for them to appear in our sky. Also, stars collapse all the time, usually absorbing neighboring planets in the process, so countless planets have been destroyed that could have had life on them.
One very last note, and we’ll finally be able to address whether life could have randomly occurred: If you lay out one million shot glasses, and put a golf ball in exactly one of them, the odds that a particular shot glass has the gold ball in it is 0.001%. Not very good. But the odds that there is a golf ball in one of them is 100%. Now, what is special about that particular shot glass? Absolutely nothing. The ball had to be in one of them.
Okay, here we go.
Consider all of the things that must happen for life to randomly exist. It could take millions or even billions of years to happen. It would have to happen on a planet of an exact temperature, near a star that meets very specific criteria. Even if some form of organism were to exist on that planet, the conditions would have to be absolutely perfect for the organisms to develop into sentient life. It would have to be able to evolve in a million different directions, with 99.999% of those directions ending in failure before any form of sentient life could develop, and even when sentient life were to develop, it would be imperfect. It would have old, obsolete pieces reminiscent of older versions of the body that was only necessary in intermediary phases. Even in its sentient form, it would continue to suffer from mutations, illnesses, and genetic disorders, partially because the the intelligent being is still evolving and is not yet perfected, and partially because it is the organism’s experimental nature that resulted in its progressive evolution. Even in its most perfect state, it may be completely vulnerable to even the simplest of one-celled creatures or even zero-celled that can bring down the entire organism, and even if it survives all of that, the intelligent life may only survive for a couple hundred thousand years before it self-destructs, participating in only the tiniest sliver of the Universe’s history.
If the odds of existence happening, even in this imperfect and frankly embarrassingly inefficient form, is at least 1 in 42,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, then statistically, it’s guaranteed to happen. In fact, if the odds that this could occur are at least 0.000000000000000000001%, then it is probably happening in at least 500 different places at this exact moment.
The last question, then, is why Earth? Why would it happen here? Why would the intelligent life appear on a planet that seems to be perfectly designed to support it? Well, for one, a planet rife with earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and drought is hardly the ideal environment, but if intelligent life were to exist, that’s where it would occur. And to us, Earth is pretty special, but that’s just because it’s the one planet that cultivated our form of intelligent life.
Cosmically speaking, the only thing special about Earth is that it’s the shot glass our golf ball happened to land in.