Page 71
Chapter 4
The Odds Against Proteins
With Only LeftHanded Components
All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity
of reasoning.
–C. S. Lewis^{1}
FROM EVIDENCE DISCUSSED in the preceding chapter, it is clear
that nothing other than chance has been discovered that can
adequately account for the alllefthanded phenomenon. It is
logical, therefore, to apply the laws of probability, to see if
proteins could have by chance used only lefthanded amino
acids.
To be completely fair, we will figure the chances for the two
outer limits of what may be the true situation. As noted earlier,
those limits are as follows: (1) either there is equal probability,
on the average, of opposite hands linking, under the presumed
conditions on earth prior to life, or (2) a preference of 6/7,
at the most, in favor of amino acids of the same hand joining.
Because it is simpler, the odds will first be figured for equal
probability.
The Simplest Possible Living Thing
Dr. Harold J. Morowitz of Yale University has done extensive
research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to discover
the theoretical limits for the simplest freeliving thing which
could duplicate itself, or, technically, the minimal biological entity
72 Evolution: Possible or Impossible?
capable of autonomous selfreplication. He took into consideration
the minimum operating equipment needed and the
space it would require. Also, attention was given to electrical
properties and to the hazards of thermal motion. From these
important studies, the conclusion is that the smallest such theoretical
entity would require 239 or more individual protein
molecules.^{2}
This is not very much simpler than the smallest actually known
autonomous living organism, which is the minuscule, bacterialike
Mycoplasma hominis H39. It has around 600 different kinds
of proteins.^{3} From present scientific knowledge, there is no reason
to believe that anything smaller ever existed. We will, however,
use the lesser total of 239 protein molecules from Morowitz' theoretical
minimal cell, which comprise 124 different kinds.^{4}
It was noted earlier that there obviously can be no natural
selection if there is no way to duplicate all of the necessary
parts. In order to account for the lefthanded phenomenon,
chance alone, unaided by natural selection, would have to arrange
at least one complete set of 239 proteins with alllefthanded
amino acids of the universal 20 kinds. There is reason
to believe that all 20 of these were in use from the time of life’s
origin.
Using figures that were furnished by Morowitz,^{5} it can be
calculated that the average protein molecule in the theoretical
minimal living thing would contain around 445 amino acid units
of the usual 20 kinds. One of the 20 types of amino acids,
glycine, cannot be left or righthanded, because its “side chain”
Proteins With Only LeftHanded Components 73
is not really a chain, but merely a hydrogen atom like the
one opposite it. It can be presumed that this minimal theoretical
cell would in many ways resemble bacteria in its makeup. In
some bacteria, glycine accounts for just over 8 percent of the
total amino acid molecules,^{6} so we will estimate that in the
average protein of the minimal cell, there will be 35 glycine
units in the chain. That will leave 410 of the total 445 which
could be either left or righthanded.
If amino acids had been formed naturally in the “primitive”
atmosphere, they would have occurred in statistically equal
amounts of the left and righthanded isomers. This became clear
from experiments described in the preceding chapter.^{7} That
means, then, that if a protein chain is to form by random
linkups,^{8} all 410 of the nonglycine sites could be occupied with
equal ease by either L or Dtype amino acids.
The first one has a 1 out of 2 chance of being lefthanded.
The same is true for each of the other 409. Since we are now
figuring this at equal probability for either hand, the probability
at anyone site is not affected by the amino acid before that
one in the chain.
To calculate the probability in such a case, the formula to
use is the multiplication rule, the heart of probability theory.
Mathematician Darrell Huff said it thus: “To find the probability
of getting all of several different things, multiply together
the chances of getting each one.”^{9}
To get the probability of all 410 of the isomeric or handed
amino acids of just one protein chain, we must multiply the
1/2 probability which is the case for each position in the chain.
It is like flipping a coin 410 times, hoping to get all heads. For
each step, there is 1 chance in 2, so we must multiply the 2 by
itself (2 x 2 x 2 x . . . x 2). using the figure 410 times. That is 1
chance in 2^{410}. (The exponent means: Multiply together 410
two’s.)
It will be easier to work with this figure if we translate it
74 Evolution: Possible or Impossible?
to powers of 10 instead of powers of 2. As you know, multiplying
10 by itself is just adding another zero.^{10} The equivalent of
2^{410} is roughly 10^{123}.
The probability that an averagesize protein molecule of the
smallest theoretically possible living thing would happen to contain
only lefthanded amino acids is, therefore, 1 in 10^{123}, on
the average.
That is a rather discouraging chance. To get the feel of that
number, let’s look at it with all the 123 zeros: There is, on the
average, 1 chance in –
1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
that all of the amino acids of a particular protein molecule would be
lefthanded!
Using All the Proteins That Ever Existed on Earth
Professor Murray Eden at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
estimated that the total number of protein molecules
that ever existed on earth might be 10^{52} as an extremely liberal
approximation.^{11} If we assume for the moment that all these were
the same size as the average protein in the smallest possible
autonomous living thing, we can then figure the probability,
on the average, that anyone protein that ever existed on earth
would have only lefthanded amino acids just by chance:
The answer is 1 in 10^{71} (which is 10^{123} divided by 10^{52}).^{12}
Written out, that is only 1 chance in –
100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
that even a single one of all these protein molecules that
ever existed on earth would on the average happen by chance
alone to have only Lamino acids. Saying it another way, the
Proteins With Only LeftHanded Components 75
odds^{13} are a hundred billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion
to one against that happening!
That isn’t all. Even if one did occur, 238 more alllefthanded
ones would be needed to work with it, or all would be lost. Since
all 239 would have to be together in space and time, the probability
of each of the remaining 238 would be 1/10^{123}. Those
huge numbers would then have to be multiplied together and
with the 1/10^{71} probability of the first one, according to the
multiplication rule. This would give the probability of the needed
group of 239 protein molecules being all lefthanded.
The number is beyond all comprehension, namely 1 in 10^{29345}.
Even if we allow for overlapping groups, it cuts the exponents
only a few “orders of magnitude” (powers of 10). And, if we
had all of them, they still could not duplicate themselves, so it
would be the end of the line, unless chance could also produce
the DNA code and the entire translating system. The code,
moreover, would have to specify that amino acids would be
manufactured in the lefthanded form, and the coding for all
the enzymes would have to match.
For comparison, the number of inches across the known universe
from one side to the other is only about 10^{28}. The odds
against even one averagesize protein having all lefthanded
amino acids is a figure 10 million trillion trillion trillion times
that big, namely, 1 in 10^{71}. Remember, that is out of all the
protein molecules that ever existed on earth. The foregoing calculations
were on the assumption of equal likelihood that either
hand would link up.
Probability Figured If 6/7 Preference for the Same Hand
Now, the probability is to be computed if this extreme is
assumed, namely, a preference factor of six chances in seven that
the same isomer will link up next.
If a handed amino acid happens to be first in the chain, no
preference would be exerted upon it, since there would be
none preceding it. We will assume the same to be true whenever
another amino acid follows a glycine residue in the chain, since
glycine is neither left nor righthanded. For all the rest, we
76 Evolution: Possible or Impossible?
are to consider that the probability is 6/7 that the same hand
will link up next as the one just preceding.^{14}
Let it be supposed that there are 32 sites in the chain of 445
where an isomeric amino acid either follows a glycine or comes
first in the entire chain. Each of these 32 will therefore have
a probability of 1/2 of being lefthanded, as there is no handed
amino acid preceding it to exert any preference. Each of the
other 378 sites will have a probability of 6/7 that the position
involved will be occupied by the same hand as the one just
before it. When we remember the 35 glycines, this accounts
for all 445.
Computing this for the 32 sites at 1/2 probability and for
the 378 sites at 6/7 probability, we arrive at a probability of
1 in 8.7 x 10^{34} that a particular protein would have only Lamino
acids.^{15} Since a minimum of 239 such proteins is required before
there are enough for the theoretical minimal living entity,
and each would have the same probability, by the multiplication
rule, we conclude that on the average the probability would be
around 1 in 10^{8350} that any given set of 239 would be all lefthanded.
Going back to the 10^{52} protein molecules that ever existed
according to Dr. Eden, we may divide these into contiguous sets
of 239 for such a minimal cell. There are 10^{49} such sets, rounded.
By dividing this figure into 10^{8350}, and further dividing by a
million to allow for overlapping sets, we arrive at the astounding
conclusion that there is, on the average, one chance in
10^{8295} that of all the proteins that ever existed on earth there
would be a set of 239 together which were all lefthanded,
the minimum number required for the smallest theoretical cell.
Another concession was given to make it easier for chance,
in that we did not consider the time factor for the 10^{52} proteins
that ever existed, and calculated as if they all existed at the
same time.
Out of all the protein molecules that ever existed on earth,
the odds against there being even one set with only lefthanded
components sufficient for the smallest theoretical living entity
are 10^{8295} to 1. This is the conclusion when it is assumed that
Proteins With Only LeftHanded Components 77
there is a 6/7 selectivity factor for the same enantiomorphic form.
Compare that with the number of seconds since the universe
began, which is 10^{18} for about the longest such estimate – about
15 billion years.
Even if the Lamino acids were 100 times as likely to link with
L as with D, the odds would be 184 billion to 1 against an
average size protein molecule having only Lamino acids. To get
the required set of 239 would make the probability slimmer than
1 in 10^{2642} out of all the proteins that ever existed on earth.
And, even if we also allowed 100 to 1 preference in the case
of the 32 amino acids which follow glycine – supposing that the
preceding portion of the chain could exert such selectivity – the
probability would still be astronomical beyond the ability of the
human mind to conceive, namely, 1 chance in 5 x 10^{373}, using
all the proteins that ever existed on earth.
To be more realistic, however, let’s go back to the figure for
one minimum set if the preference is assumed to be 6/7. That
was a probability averaging 1 in 10^{8295}. Just to print the number
would require more than four full pages. It would take six
minutes to say the number in billions, speaking rapidly all the
while. These numbers are too fantastic to understand. Chapter
7 on large numbers will offer comparisons that will help.
What if we suppose, contrary to any actual evidence, that at
the start there were only forty proteins required, of only forty
units in length,^{16} with 6/7 preference for the same hand?
Considering three of these to be glycine, the odds would be sixty
billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion to one that no single
set of protein molecules out of all that ever existed would have
only lefthanded amino acids. (That is 60 x 10^{69} to 1.)
Conclusion: No Conceivable Probability
No natural explanation which can adequately explain this
lefthanded mystery is in sight. We have just seen that the odds
against its happening by chance are so tremendous as to be
completely incomprehensible.
If, on the other hand, there was a Creator of living things,
He could have decided for reasons of His own to use just Lamino
acids in proteins. He would have placed the proper Lenzymes
and coding in the cells which would form only lefthanded amino
acids for use in proteins.
78 Evolution: Possible or Impossible?
These created enzymes would thereafter be replaced as needed
at the orders of the DNA code. The same Creator would be
the Author of that amazing code which carries complete
instructions that are incredibly comprehensive and detailed in the
genes of every living thing on earth.
For those whose philosophy is evolution, this lefthanded matter
is an embarrassing problem. The many efforts at solutions
that have been made are noteworthy for the questions they bring
up rather than for answers. It is not likely that this mystery
will ever be adequately explained, as long as the evidence of
intelligent planning is ignored.
But what if some day we happen to find a really adequate
natural solution to this question? It has frequently happened
that in discovering “natural” explanations for mysteries, we uncover
other complex new systems which only deepen the underlying
mystery of this intricate universe. Here is just one such
example:
It has been a puzzle that eggs of some birds all hatch so
close to the same time. Now scientists actually have tape
recordings of quail eggs “talking” to each other by clicks and
vocal sounds to synchronize hatching.^{17} Thus, a greater mystery
appears.^{18}
The amino acids in proteins are not the only onehanded
molecules. The stereoselective phenomenon is found throughout
living nature. We have noted that vitamin C, which is Lascorbic
acid, is always lefthanded in its natural form in foods. This
compound can be made in the laboratory in both D and Lisomers,
but only Lascorbic acid has vitamin C activity.^{19} Glucose sugar
molecules, conversely, are habitually D, or righthanded.
Remembering the weakness of chance is an important and
logical step in deciding what philosophy of origins one will
believe, evolution or creation. Blind chance requires an average
of ten billion tries to count to ten. Can this pathetic source
account for the intricacies of the eye, a beehive, the song of a
mockingbird, or the metamorphosis and l000mile migration of
Proteins With Only LeftHanded Components 79
the monarch butterfly? In the next chapter, we will discover
that natural selection is completely inadequate as a solution.
The Wisdom Built In
We find that there is no lessening of confusion until one
accepts the logic that “intelligent” systems could not arise
without an intelligent Designer.
In Genesis, chapter one, we are given the idea that God
decided how each living creature would be assembled. To
construct proteins, he apparently used Lamino acids, formed
by himself, for reasons unknown to us. We may some day
discover those reasons. It is the privilege of scientists to experiment
in our wellequipped cosmic laboratory, studying to find out
how the Creator put things together, trying to understand the
wisdom built in. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but
the honour of kings is to search out a matter.”^{20}
^{1}
C. S. Lewis, Miracles, A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan Co.,
1947), p. 19.
^{2}
This data via personal communications from Morowitz, October and November, 1971.
This reflects Morowitz’ most recent estimate from continuing research with
coworkers at Yale. Earlier estimates were that the smallest possible living thing
would be much less complex. (Harold J. Morowitz and Mark E. Tourtellotte,
“The Smallest Living Cells,” The Living Cell, ed. Donald Kennedy [San
Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1965], pp. 3139. Also: Harold J. Morowitz,
“Biological SelfReplicating Systems,” Progress in Theoretical Biology, ed. Fred
M. Snell, Vol. 1 [1967], pp. 5257.)
^{3}
Hans R. Bode and Harold J. Morowitz, “Size and Structure of the
Mycoplasma hominis H39 Chromosome,” Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 23 (1967),
p. 198. For number of proteins, Morowitz, personal communication, November,
1970.
^{4}
Although recognizing that there are hypotheses of origin from simpler forms
than this, Dr. Morowitz agreed that in actual experimental evidence, there is no
assurance that anything simpler could meet the test of autonomous replication
and viability (personal communication, 1971).
^{5}
Harold J. Morowitz, Energy Flow in Biology (New York: Academic Press,
1968), p. 84. Also data by personal communication, 1971.
The total molecular weight of 239 protein molecules is 11.6 x 10^{6}. The average
molecular weight per amino acid residue is around 109 in some bacteria.
^{6}
Harold I. Morowitz, Life and the Physical Sciences (New York: Holt,
Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963), p. 35.
^{7}
Also in Appendix 1, p. 243.
^{8}We’re assuming linkup automatically without enzymes, etc., since we are
here interested only in the L and D probability matter. (This is an exceedingly
generous assumption, making it easier for chance to succeed.)
^{9}Darrell Huff, How to Take a Chance (New York: W. W. Norton and Co.,
Inc., 1959), p. 22.
^{10}For the nonmathematician (as most of us are), there is a simple way to
change from 2 to 10 as a base. If we multiply 2 by itself until the total is about
equal to a power of 10, we find that 2^{10} is about the same as 10^{3}. The convenient formula, then, is to take the exponent of 2 and multiply it by 3 in order to
obtain the power of 10 which is approximately equal to it. Applying this to our
figure of 2^{410}, we multiply the exponent by 3, and the result, the figure 123,
is the proper power of 10. 2^{410} is therefore roughly 10^{123}. If tables of common logarithms are available, one need merely look in the first column opposite 2.
^{11}Murray Eden, in Mathematical Challenges to the NeoDarwinian Interpretation
of the Theory of Evolution, ed. Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan
(Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967), p. 17.
^{12}As you may remember from mathematics in school, to multiply large
numbers which are written with exponents or powers, you merely add the exponents.
To multiply 10^{3} x 10^{4} would be 10^{3+4} = 10^{7}. To divide, all that is necessary
is to subtract one exponent from the other. 10^{123} divided by 10^{52} is 10^{71}.
^{13}The common expression, “the odds,” may be defined as the ratio of failures
to successes. If there is one chance in ten of success, then there are nine chances
in ten of failure. The odds against success in that case are nine to one. When
the probability of success is one in a very large number, then it is approximately
correct to use that same large number also when speaking of the odds against
that event. Otherwise, one would have to write out the entire figure in nines, to
get the exact number, which is one less than the probability figure.
^{14}In this, a concession is being given to chance, in that we are figuring the
preference at 6/7 even before there are several of the same hand in consecutive
order. This would perhaps more than balance any steric selectivity that might
conceivably be exerted by any helical section prior to a glycine residue in the chain.
^{15}1/2^{32} x 6^{378}/7^{378} = 1 in 8.7 x 10^{34}.
^{16}As will be seen later (page 113) there may be a lower limit of fifty units,
under which proteins are not stable in solution.
^{17}“Biological Sciences,” 1971 Britannica Book of the Year, p. 166, regarding
tape recording by biologist Margaret A. Vince of Cambridge University.
^{18}“As in other areas of science, attempts to answer questions have usually
revealed only another, more sophisticated set of questions.” Philip Handler, ed.,
Biology and the Future of Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970) p.130.
^{19}Linus Pauling, Vitamin C and the Common Cold (San Francisco: W. H.
Freeman & Co., 1970), p. 89.
^{20}Proverbs 25:2.

