We can expect some strong creationist reaction to something we found in the Daily Mail, the UK’s second biggest-selling daily newspaper. The tabloid’s headline screams: Life on Earth wasn’t down to luck, its development was as inevitable as ‘rocks rolling down a hill’, claims physicist. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
It has often been said that one of the reasons we are yet to find life elsewhere in the universe is that it is rare; most think the development of life on Earth was a fluke. But one of the most prominent young physicists in the world has claimed otherwise, saying that he thinks life is as inevitable as inorganic matter. The bold new theory suggests that atoms, when subjected to energy, will always form some form of life – and it may mean we are part of a universe teeming with other organisms.
What? There was no need for an intelligent designer? This is an outrage! Then they say:
The theory has been presented by 31-year-old physicist Dr Jeremy England from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is regarded as one of the most promising up and coming scientists in biology; a few years ago he was named in the Forbes Rising Stars of Science list. And now in a series of talks he has been giving to various universities, he says the origin of life ‘should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill,’ …
Dr. England is a physicist, not a biologist, but that’s okay. No field of science is isolated from the others, and none can violate the laws of nature — which creationists insist is the case with the origin of life. Here’s the Wikipedia writeup on Jeremy England, which doesn’t say very much, and this is his page at MIT: Jeremy L. England. Let’s return to the Daily Mail:
He has recently published a paper further explaining the research along with two of his colleagues.
This is the paper to which they refer: Statistical Physics of Adaptation. It’s a preprint at arxiv.org, a 24-page pdf file which you can read without a subscription. We continue:
Dr England’s idea is based around entropy; namely, energy spreads out or dissipates over time. For example, a cup of coffee left in a room will eventually reach the same temperature as the room itself. … Based on this, Dr England suggests that when atoms are supplied with energy, in certain conditions they will always eventually give rise to life. ‘You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,’ he said.
Uh, we could use a bit more on that point. Here it comes:
The reason for this, and the underlying aspect of his theory, is that while all matter – from rocks to plants – absorbs and dissipates energy, life is much better at redistributing it. This means that, taking the coffee cup example but this time using molecules swimming in an ocean, the atoms will reorganise themselves into life because it is better at dissipating the energy in the water.
Maybe so. We seem to dissipate a lot more energy than rocks do. Moving along:
Dr England stressed that his theory is not meant to counter Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection, but rather compliment it. ‘The reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve,’ he said.
Well, that could explain the appearance of a particular mutation, but its selection is a different issue. Anyway, here’s another excerpt:
Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Seth Shostak, Director of the Centre for Seti Research, said: ‘One of the outstanding problems in science these days is the origin of life. … He explained that if getting life started required very special conditions, then it would ‘imply that we don’t have much company in the cosmos.’ He continued: ‘If Dr England is correct – that biology is virtually a certain consequence of self-organising principles that would apply on any world – then we are most certainly not alone.’
There’s more in the article, and in the links we provided. We don’t yet know what to make of this new idea, but we’re certain that it will provoke a creationist frenzy. If England is correct, the intelligent designer is as useless as Apollo’s sun chariot. This should be fun.
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