An article in Rawstory that was picked up from an article in Quanta magazine introduces the work of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but almost inevitable. The Rawstory article pitches the story as something that is going to anger Young Earth Creationists even more than Darwin’s theory of evolution did.
Darwin’s model of evolution seemingly removed the need for the special creative acts of God by postulating a stochastic method that operates only according to the natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. No special intervention by God was necessary, even in the production of humans. Darwin’s theory has been interpreted by many to mean that humans are not the special creation of God, but only another form of animal life which theory is backed up by dispassionate scientific empiricism. According to Creatonists, by providing a naturalistic explanation of biological origins, evolution promotes atheism. As Richard Dawkins said, in the Blind Watchmaker: “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.
When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, he avoided conjecture about the origin of life and said: “… it is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life”. As can be seen on the TalkOrigins Index of Creationist Claims, this lack of empiric explanation has allowed Creationist speculation to flourish that here, at least, one can see the very hand of God at work, no other explanation is possible. But as the Quanta article points out:
From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.
The ironic thing here is that if England’s theory works out, it will show that thermodynamics drives evolution, starting even before life itself first appears, with a physics-based logic that applies equally to living and non-living matter. This is ironic in that many Creationists argue that evolution, and especially the origin of life is a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But, as the TalkOrigins Archive notes:
Creationists thus misinterpret the 2nd law to say that things invariably progress from order to disorder. However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes can’t have more usable energy still?
So, evolution is no more a violation of the Second Law than life itself is. If England’s theories are upheld, then life itself may be an inexorable tendency of the universe. The Rawstory article ends with this:
Creationists often cast themselves as humble servants of God, and paint scientists as arrogant, know-it-all rebels against him. But, unsurprisingly, they’ve got it all backwards, once again. England’s work reminds us that it’s scientists’ willingness to admit our own ignorance and confront it head on — rather than papering over it — that unlocks the great storehouse of wonders we live in and gives us our most challenging, satisfying quests.
I would agree, and to my way of looking at it, England’s work doesn’t make God less necessary, but as Jim Kidder puts it in his review of this article:
This is yet another instance in which the existence of God cannot be tested one way or the other but the evidence makes the YEC position harder to maintain.
Also, I would say it is not clear in any sense why the “necessity” of life would obviate the need or existence of God. It is a category error to presume God is some entity or being in this universe. I think England’s work can imply, or at least not contradict, a belief system which posits that God interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Life is necessary because God is necessary, and He is Life.