Life on Earth is a giant competition and it has evolved through relentless natural-selection of more and more complex and intelligent species. However, an intelligent atheist cannot ignore a fundamental difficulty with this trend: Why have the supposedly random events on Earth resulted in the appearance of the most orderly and organized intelligent beings? Isn’t the entropy (disorder) supposed to gradually increase rather than progressively decrease, within a closed system?
In a random world, intelligence is of no value! For example, if we visit a completely “fair” casino and play a game of chance, it doesn't matter how intelligent we are, at best we would break-even while losing all our time and energy.
Relying on intelligence within a random world can actually cause more harm than good; because the 2nd law of thermodynamics dictates that all actions to seek order in a closed system, actually cause more disorder. In the example of casino, the "smart" people who think that they can figure out a random game and win, keep playing and actually lose little by little to the casino owner, who like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, takes a bit from every bet.
Astonishingly, the human brain and the brain of so many other intelligent animals are hard-wired to treat our world as non-random and orderly. We constantly look for biases, and our success over millions of years surely indicate that there are so many orderly biases on planet Earth that we and our ancestors have been able to identify and exploit to our advantage.
Now, god forbid, if we allow that our world is breaking the 2nd law, which can open a Pandora's Box or even a path to god! But then why wouldn't our world be chaotic and disorderly, like all the other hellish planets? Why on Earth, does life and life-forms appear to swim against the wave of entropy, which continuously ruins everything from Venus to Pluto? Even if large and orderly molecules (like amino acids) could have randomly appeared in the early Earth waters, what made them connect and collude to create more and more organized and even “intelligent” replicating molecules, rather than succumb to the random fluctuations of temperature, chemistry and radiation?
Scientists’ current answer to the above question is that: We have no idea how life has started on Earth. That is the biggest secret of nature, along with how the entire world started at the big-bang! Even a simple microorganism is so complex that it is still not understood how the coding (DNA), engine (metabolism) and body (membranes) could spontaneously and simultaneously get together and function in perfect harmony. The complexity and order in a single microbe is more than the entire Milky Way galaxy, but single-cell life appeared rather quickly after Earth cooled down 4 billion years ago.
However, the good news is that strictly speaking, life on Earth is not breaking any thermodynamic laws. Earth is not a “closed” thermodynamic system, but a small gem within our vast Milky Way galaxy that contains some 300 billion stars that are constantly creating both disorder (entropy) and Gibbs free-energy, at tremendous scales. Based on latest scientific estimates, there can be 100 billion planets in the Milky Way too, with 10 billion turning around stars similar to our sun, within a “habitable” orbit. Such an orbit places them not too far from their sun to be too cold, and not too close to be ravaged by heat and radiation.
To be habitable, a planet should be rocky, with ample water supplies. A molten metallic core is also needed to provide a magnetic field for protection against cosmic radiation. Then, to be stable enough to support intelligent life over the long term, an Earth-like planet also requires other more subtle features. For example, it would need a stable moon at the right orbit to prevent wobbly movements and sever climate fluctuations. Also, a “good Jupiter” would be helpful to attract and collect most of the space junk that can pummel the little habitable planet.
Even with all those stringent conditions, the number of habitable Earth-like planets is estimated at millions! But what is millions of little rocky planets compared to billions of giant stars in the Milky Way? Each star on average is a million times heavier than Earth. In terms of shear mass, the habitable planets would be no more than 0.0000001% of Milky Way. Furthermore, the total mass of living biomass on Earth is estimated at only 0.0000000001% of our planet’s mass.
Some of the Gibbs free-energy that is released from the fusion nuclear reactions in the sun is continuously trapped in Earth’s atmosphere. Entropy and disorder increases immensely in the sun where that free-energy is generated, but can be locally reduced on Earth, where radiation is captured by photosynthesis.
Hence, it is statistically and thermodynamically plausible that billions of stars in the Milky Way that are continuously creating vast amounts of free-energy, could have contributed to generating a relatively minute amount of life and even a smaller amount of intelligence, without breaking any physical laws. However, life still requires a universe that is fundamentally not “fair” and random. Our universe (or its universal laws or fictitious god) is clearly biased towards generating local order and encouraging its growth in complexity.
Zoroaster the Persian prophet, 3000 years ago surmised that good and bad are in constant battle on Earth. He observed that sometimes good wins and other times bad, but that good seems to be slightly stronger than bad. Behold that even a small bias (say 51% to 49%) can yield huge dividends over 4 billion years of playing! But let’s not forget that our lifetime wins come at a price, that is the god of death and disorder winning (say 52 to 48) elsewhere.
Picture: Zoroastrian image of the fight between Good and Evil.
Reference: Life in the Universe, by Stephen Hawking.http://www.hawking.org.uk/life-in-the-universe.html