During the nominal religious festival of Christmas (who really believes the story of the Incarnation in 2022?) it is worth considering the key theological belief of our western society – Darwinism. It may be just as fanciful. We know a great deal about the cell, much more than Darwin, and, thanks to our increasing knowledge of genetics, are on the brink of moving from curing people to designing them – disease free. Ageless as well, which will pose problems. The fact we will be soon able to design living creatures, makes one wonder if this has been done before. DNA uses amino acids to create the building blocks of our bodies, amino acids are present in space, so is this a purely local phenomena?
The amount of information carried by DNA in order to create you is vast. Not just the manner in which sequences of amino acids determine the precise way in which your proteins fold and function, but how they all lock together. How does a particular cell, say from a kidney, ‘know’ its geographical place among the 30 trillion cells in the body? Has it some sort of internal map ? If so it must be incredibly complex, the words ‘incredible’ and ‘complex’ doing as much justice to the idea as the statement, “the sea contains a lot of water.’`
“One way,” Hoyle said, “to represent the information content of life is by the ratio of the number of possible nonsense arrangements to the number of viable living arrangements. As my colleague Chandra Wickramasinghe and I have argued (following others in this respect) the resulting ratio is enormous – if you wrote out the ratio as an integer in the usual way it would minimally have some 40.000 digits, taking some fifteen pages of print to set out in detail.
Even to an astronomer an integer with 40,000 digits is hard to visualise. Since such a number is enormously super astronomical units of magnitude. Imagine yourself to be on some headland gazing out to sea. You have the impression that here is a vast amount of water, infinitely greater than the contents of a chemist’s test-tube. Yet the ratio of the volume of the whole world ocean to the volume of a test-tube is only a number with some 20 digits, which is entirely trivial compared to 40,000 digits.
You see from this latter comparison that if life originated here on the Earth it could hardly have mattered whether the whole world ocean was involved or only volume the size of a test-tube. The difference amounting to only 20 digits is 40,000. Thus if the world ocean produced biochemical materials with an information content set at 40,000 digits a test-tube would produce pro rata an information content of 39,980 digits, which is essentially the same vast number. Nor does the time involved matter much. Not even if the accumulation of information were strongly accelerating, say like the hundredth power of the time.
These circumstances open the way to proof or disproof by experiment. If there were some deep principle which drove organic systems towards living systems, the operation of the principle should easily be demonstrable in a test-tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given.
Nothing happens when organic materials are subject to the usual prescriptions of showers of electrical sparks or drenched in ultraviolet light, except the eventual production of a tarry sludge. Of all the facts available to us, whether in biology chemistry, physics or astronomy, it seems to me the huge information content of living systems must surely be the most important, just because its numerical representation is so much larger than any other quantity with which we are familiar. Account of all the atoms in al the galaxies visible in the largest telescopes only yields an integer with some 80 digits, which is less than the number of wrong ways of making even a quite short-chain protein like cytochrome-c. If one were allowed a random trial for every atom in the universe one would still be unlikely to come up with even a single such protein, let alone the many thousands on which life depends.
I spoke in the earlier part of my lecture as if the big-bang and steady-state theories were the only possible forms of cosmology. It is my present opinion that neither theory is wholly right nor wholly wrong. In its emphasis on matter at a very high density the big-bang theory has. I believe, a correct point, but only if such events are taken to be explicitly within the universe, not as the origin of the whole universe. Indeed, rather obviously, it is just such events which give rise to galaxies and to clusters of galaxies. The steady-state theory. on the other hand, is correct in denying an explicit moment of origin of the universe,correct in giving the universe an enormous antiquity. The breath taking complexity of life points strongly to a universe of vast antiquity, as if the universe has developed with respect to increasing order over a span of time that was enormous compared to the intervals usually contemplated in cosmology.
On this view the information content of life was not discovered by local processes here on the Earth, but was written on the Earth from outside, information that was derived from the entire past history of the universe.”
Hoyle, readers will recall, was denied the Nobel Prize given to his two co- workers on the nucleosynthesis of carbon in stars, for his mockery of Darwinian evolution. For a leading scientist to deny Darwin was like the Pope denying the divinity of Christ. Even now, prominent figures in science hesitate to state outright this was the reason for Hoyle not getting the Nobel Prize – to do so would be to hint that all is not well with our key article of faith.