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Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning, and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, the evolution of life could follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill”.

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, an 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.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant”, England said. (1)

Ask a physicist and he will “prove” to you how life is necessary.

Make this physicist listen to a theologian saying the same thing and he will laugh.

Ask a physicist and he will “prove” how life came from non-living things.

Make this physicist listen to a theologian saying the same thing and he will laugh.

Things may have changed etiquettes.

But they are still the same.

We still know deep inside what we once knew…