JWR Eric BreindelMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. TobinThomas Sowell
Robert ScheerDon FederRoger Simon
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / February 13, 1998 / 17 Shevat, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen Reconsidering Theism

DEAN OVERMAN CONFOUNDS the stereotype of the Washington lawyer. Though he toils by day on securities and commercial law and follows politics as an avocation, his true passions lie elsewhere. Follow his fertile mind (if you dare), and you will enter a world few lawyers -- in fact, few mortals -- tread.

For entertainment, Overman likes to ponder the origins of life on Earth, the mysteries of quantum mechanics and the nuances of particle physics. His mastery of these fields has earned him the respect and admiration of scholars from Cambridge to Harvard. But his conclusions will surprise those who assume that science and religion are necessarily in conflict.

Basing his conclusions on probability theory and particle physics in his new book, A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization, Overman has attempted nothing less than to prove that scientific reasoning tends to support, not undermine, a belief in an intelligent Creator.

Most college students who take science courses are familiar with the view that life arose on Earth through random collisions of molecules in a "prebiotic" soup of methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and water vapor. A famous 1950s experiment by Miller and Urey recreated these conditions in a laboratory. A spark of electricity (meant to simulate lightning) resulted in the creation of amino acids, the building blocks of DNA.

Though most textbooks accept Miller/Urey as settling the origin of life, Overman points out that most scientists who study the matter do not regard the issue as settled. Dr. Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University, observes that "joining many amino acids together to form a protein with a useful biological activity is a much more difficult chemical problem than forming amino acids in the first place." Moreover, the fossil records contain no evidence that the "prebiotic soup" ever existed.

Even if the soup existed, and was not diluted by water or rendered inhospitable by the presence of oxygen (which scientists now believe was present in the early atmosphere and which would have prevented the Miller/Urey experiment from succeeding), the amount of time needed for purely random processes to create life would be enormous. The Earth is considered to be about 4.6 billion years old. Prior to 3.98 billion years ago, the planet was too hot to sustain life. But the fossil record suggests that life emerged about 3.85 billion years ago. In other words, only 130 million years after the Earth cooled, life emerged.

Overman calculates that the mathematical probability of life emerging by accidental processes in that amount of time is nil.

Biologist Thomas Huxley once famously said that a large number of monkeys typing on a large number of typewriters would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Overman disagrees. He quotes a short section from Macbeth containing just 12 lines and calculates that the chances of generating just those verses by accident is 26 to the 379th power. Mathematicians consider anything with a probability greater than 10 to the 50th power as a mathematical impossibility.

Mathematician Paul Davies equates the odds of one chance in 10 to the 60th power as the chance of hitting a one-inch target with the random shot of a bullet from a distance of 20 billion light years.

The astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, an atheist, agrees that life could not have arisen on earth by accident. DNA is simply too complex and too irregular to be generated by the laws of physics. Even if the entire universe had consisted of primordial soup, Hoyle concluded, accident would not have led to the creation of life. The chances of random events creating the order of life, he concludes, are about as great as "a typhoon blowing through a junkyard and constructing a Boeing 747." Along with Francis Crick (one of the discoverers of DNA) and a number of other scientists, Hoyle now believes that life arose on another planet somewhere and was transported here.

Overman believes God is a more reasonable explanation.

There is much more. For those brave enough to wade in, Overman provides evidence based on quarks, Planck time, black holes and quantum mechanics.

But ever the careful lawyer, Overman does not assert that science proves the existence of God "beyond a reasonable doubt." He is more comfortable with a "preponderance of the evidence." It is evidence that most believers do not need but which skeptics should consider.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.