How likely is the origin of life? Discussing Eugene Koonin's model

Hi friends,

I have recently been wondering about how it might be possible to construct a naturalistic scenario for the origin of life.

Eugene V Koonin, a Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, lists under “principal research interests,” the primary interest as “understanding the evolution of life.”

In a 2007 article published in the peer-reviewed journal Biology Direct titled The cosmological model of eternal inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life, Koonin explains some of the mathematical challenges to a naturalistic origin of life:

The requirements for the emergence of a primitive, coupled replication-translation system, which is considered a candidate for the breakthrough stage in this paper, are much greater. At a minimum, spontaneous formation of:

  • two rRNAs with a total size of at least 1000 nucleotides

  • ~10 primitive adaptors of ~30 nucleotides each, in total, ~300 nucleotides

  • at least one RNA encoding a replicase, ~500 nucleotides (low bound)is required. In the above notation, n = 1800, resulting in E <10-1018.

In other words, even in this toy model that assumes a deliberately inflated rate of RNA production, the probability that a coupled translation-replication emerges by chance in a single O-region is P < 10-1018. Obviously, this version of the breakthrough stage can be considered only in the context of a universe with an infinite (or, in the very least, extremely vast) number of O-regions.

The model considered here is not supposed to be realistic by any account. It only serves to illustrate the difference in the demands on chance for the origin of different versions of the breakthrough system (see Fig.1) and hence the connections between these versions and different cosmological models of the universe.

To repeat, the likelihood of the minimal necessary elements for the origin of life to emerge by chance is calculated to be so small (a probability of less than 10 to the minus 1018!) that the only naturalistic solution remaining is to posit an infinite number of universes.

As Koonin explains elsewhere in the paper (emphasis added):

In particular, the emergence of a coupled replication-translation system is unlikely to the extent of being, effectively, impossible. For such a complex system to be a viable candidate for the breakthrough stage, an infinite multiverse, such as the one depicted by MWO or, in the very least, a universe with a vast number of O-regions, is, indeed, a must.

What do you think? Are there any plausible scenarios for a naturalistic origin of life?

Please be sure to stay respectful of all of God’s image bearers referenced in this conversation.


Hi Carson-

Very cool! Well done science. That’s some good detective work. Now we are getting somewhere might be a good respectful conversation starter. I’m willing to listen and learn about that in open dialogue. What might a science minded person influenced by this “infinite multiverse theory” think about an infinite God? Come let us reason and find out.

Psalm 147:5. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”

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Hi @nathangriffin81, I really like how you built some bridges with that reply!

  • Encouraging
  • Stating an interest in listening and learning
  • Connecting an interest in “infinite multiverses” with an “infinite God”
  • Providing a Bible verse that backs up what you say Christianity is about


For what it’s worth here is a quote from Harold Urey the Nobel Prize-winning researcher whose work along with Stanley Miller in the 1950s spurred the origin of life search.

“All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. We all believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did"

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