Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people

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The "dumbed-down" version, i.e. "simplified so as to be intellectually undemanding and accessible to a wide audience" (Oxford, 2020) (Ѻ), of the "hydrogen, given enough time, turns into people" view of things, from a Pinterest (Ѻ) poster on the famous 1995 John Wiley quote.

In quotes, Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people is a Dec 1995 uncited statement (in quotes) made by John Wiley, semi-inspired by the article “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life” (Mar 1995) by Edward Harrison, that Wiley said was, supposedly, the new status quo model of modern science.


In Dec 1995, John Wiley, in his Smithsonian blog "Phenomena, Comments, and Notes", alluded to the premise that modern science, citing the recent work of Edward Harrison, specifically his article “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life” (Mar 1995), has arrived at the view that hydrogen + time yields people; formulaically:

Wherein, Wiley stated the following in quotes: "Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people", but without direct citation reference as to where the quote came from? The way Wiley worded the text, however, led people to believe that it was a previous quote made by Harrison? Harrison, however, was an ontic opening theist, and as such would never have made this type of statement, without some sort of "god-in-the-mechanism" conditional. Whatever the case, people thereafter began to cite Harrison as the author of the quote.

The underlying "meaning" of this quote, however, when taken on face value, will vary depending on one's personal belief system point of view, being that the quote was originally made via theistic-inspired logic, in the writing details of Harrison, whereas to the modern secular or atheistic scientist, the quote sounds strikingly correct and atheistic.

In short, there are many "theistic" and or "atheistic" underpinnings embedded, such as whether this "time" factor includes things such as "fine tuning", chance or no chance, the intelligence, power, or will of "god", or is purely defined according to godless chemical thermodynamics, physics, and cosmology. Harrison, in his formulation, argued for god-based fine tuning cosmological evolution model. Wiley, in his truncated Smithsonian Magazine regurgitation of the former, inclining excitedly towards the Harrison, presented a middle-ground secular take on things. The quote, thereafter, has been adopted my many to suit their underlying ideology, as needed.

Harrison | Mar 1995

The famously anonymous "hydrogen turns into people" quote, first said in print by John Wiley (Dec 1995), in "quotes", in blurry reference to Edward Harrison (Mar 1995).

In 1981, Edward Harrison, an anti-chance believing deist, believing in a "cosmic evolution creationism" theory, published Cosmology: the Science of the Universe, wherein he discusses basic “big bang” cosmology, the abstract of which is as follows, wherein we see the coded-phrases "design" (aka intelligent design) and "important cosmic numbers" (aka fine tuning):[1]

“A comprehensive introductory treatment of cosmology including discussions of the many potential universes that are candidates for the real universe, the early universe and the end of time, the cosmic numbers and their importance in the ‘design’ of the universe, the receding horizons of the observable universe, and the issues arising from the possibility of intelligent life in the galaxy.”

In Mar 1995, Harrison, in his “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life”, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, building on William Prout’s 1840 Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion, considered with reference to Natural Theology, the eight and last Bridgewater Treatise (Ѻ), Lawrence Henderson’s 1913 Fitness of the Environment (1913), attempted to argue the following:

“It is proposed that our universe was created by life of superior intelligence existing in another physical universe in which the constants of physics were finally tuned and therefore essentially similar to our own. More intelligent beings, perhaps our own descendants in the far future, might possess not only the knowledge to design but also the technology to build universes. This forms the basis of a theory of natural selection of universes.”
— Edward Harrison (1995), “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life” (pg. 193) [2]

Harrison’s argument, in short, was survival of the fittest coated intelligent design creationism theory, framed around fine-tuning arguments, mixed with the idea that universes might be created out of black holes. Harrison, in this article, while he never employs the terms "hydrogen" or "people" specifically, he does outline the status quo big bang model, but does so effect that every thing was "fine tuned", presumably by god, which he says indirectly; :

“In a universe containing luminous stars and chemical elements essential for the existence of organic life, the physical constants are necessarily precisely adjusted or finely tuned. (pg. 193( Not until the first stars have evolved, and synthesized and expelled into interstellar space elements such as carbon, oxygen, and silicon, can planets form, life originate, and observers exist. (pg. 194). The triple-alpha reaction that converts helium into carbon in stars depends on a 4He-8Be-12C resonance so critical that Hoyle (1954) could predict its energy level with precision. If the energy level were slightly higher or lower, carbon and most other elements would not exist. These are a few examples of fine tuning. (pg. 195). Smolin (1992) has introduced an ingenious cosmic natural selection theory according to which black holes are the birthplaces of new universes. Black hole interiors collapse to singularities and Smolin proposes that they rebound with shuffled values of the physical constants as spacetime bubbles connected via umbilical cords (the black holes) to the spacetime of the parent universe. (pg. 195)”
— Edward Harrison (1995), “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life” (pgs. 193-95) [2]

The rest of the article basically down-hill from here. Harrison argues that some vast intelligence in the parent universe created our universe, and that god created this "vast intelligence" in the parent universe, or something along these lines, in short.

Wiley | Dec 1995

A RedBubble.com $20 pillow showcasing the so-called Wiley-Harrison (1995) "hydrogen, given time, turns into people" quote .

In Dec 1995, John Wiley, in his Smithsonian Magazine article “Phenomena, Comments & Notes: Today’s physics allow outrageous possibilities: faster-than-light travel across the galaxy, or even our learning to make new universes to specification”, attempted to summarize Edward Harrison's Mar 1995 article "The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life", as follows:

“The history of the universe has been summed up thusly: Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.’ When our universe began, it consisted mostly of hydrogen. That gas condensed into galaxies of stars, in whose cores heat and pressure fused atoms into heavier elements, including those necessary for life. Some of those stars exploded, spewing the heavier elements out into space. New stars and planets formed, including our own. On one of those planets, life appeared. Harrison contends that none of it could have happened unless all the physical constants (the speed of light, the charge and mass of the electron, and similar numbers) were just right. Reviewing the work of a long line of cosmologists, Harrison sums up what has come to be known as the Anthropic Principle: the Universe is the way it is because we exist. He explains: ’In a universe containing luminous stars and chemical elements essential for the existence of organic life, the physical constants are necessarily precisely adjusted (or finely tuned). Slight deviations from the observed values could result in a starless and lifeless universe’.”
— John Wiley (1995), “Phenomena, Comments, and Notes” [3]

Now, while the second, of the two above quoted segments, does indeed come from the published writings of Harrison, the first does not. In fact, the so-called "Hydrogen, given time, turns into people", however, is not found in any form in Harrison's 1995 article, nor any of his other works, and is not found on the Internet, Google Books, nor Google scholar prior to Dec 1995. The "hydrogen, given time, turns into people" quote, therefore seems to be the brainchild of Wiley, possibly inspired in some secular way by Harrison's article. If Harrison would have been asked to give a truncated quote of this form, it would have been something like: "hydrogen, given time, fine tuning, and the creative natural selection work, done by the intelligence of god, turns into humans", or something along these lines.

Wiley, here, seems to have basically attempted to whitewash Harrison's strongly theistic article, and make it sound secular and scientific. The "hydrogen, given enough time, turns into people", in short, is a mis-attributed paraphrase-attempting agenda-based quote.

Discussion | Philosophical underpinnings

An image from the “molecules to man” article, a phrase popularized in a derisive way by Ken Ham (2006), which is a variant of the “hydrogen to humans” (Wiley, 1995) ideology.[4]

The original quote, by John Wiley (Dec 1995), an secular agnostic, with theistic inclinations, themed on Edward Harrison (Mar 1995), a scientific theist, who in turn themes his ideas on a mixture of theistic models of William Prout (1840) and the atheistic models of Lawrence Henderson (1913), reads as follows:

Now, in the original Harrison scheme of things, the equation would read something along the lines of the following:

Where "god", conceived by Harrison as some sort of greatly evolved intelligence, fine tunes the physical constants of the universe to make things "just right" to form carbon, humans, and so on. Now, Lawrence Henderson, who Harrison cites, as one of this two main sources, likewise does not believe in chance:

“Matter and energy have an original property, assuredly not by chance, which organizes the universe in space and time.”
— Lawrence Henderson (1913), The Fitness of the Environment (pg. 308) [5]

Henderson is an anti-chance atheist, whereas Harrison is an anti-chance theist.

Henderson, in contrast to Harrison, instead of replacing chance-based evolution with some sort of scientific god stylized evolution, such as "fine tuning", defines the operation of how nature "selects" fit or non-fit species, hydrogen to human, to be an operation determined by thermodynamic potentials, Gibbs energy potentials specifically, along the way dismissing "teleology", which Harrison embraced, as defunct. Henderson, in fact, by the time of his 1935 Pareto’s General Sociology: a Physiologists Interpretation, was explaining evolution of species up to human society in terms of equilibrium reactions of the following form:

where A, B, C, and D are different chemicals or molecular species, x, y, z, and w are the species concentration, who are undergoing an equilibriating reaction, wherein the reaction can be pushed one way or the other by system factors, such as temperature and pressure, as explained by Chatelier's principle. In Henderson's mind, species A and B are smaller chemicals, derived ultimately from hydrogen (although this was not fully explained by this time), and given enough of these equilibriating reactions, occurring over millions of years, species C and D, in the form of fish, monkeys, and humans, will be synthesized by nature. In Henderson's view, for each reaction step to occur, a decrease in free energy for the reaction system must occur; his equation, accordingly, might look something along the lines of the following:

Here, to note, the mechanism of the first reaction step, namely hydrogen turning into 118 elements of the periodic table, we have added retrospectively, as it was not fully known in Henderson's time, how this occurred; but the the 1940s, Henderson had a crude outline of the latter "chemicals turn into people" model in print, in the form of a Gibbs-stylized Darwinian evolution model, via his The Fitness of the Environment (1913), The Order of Nature (1917), Pareto's General Sociology (1935), and his "Sociology 23" (1943) lecture notes; which others, such as Alfred Lotka and Harold Blum have expanded upon.


A categorized "given enough time" (Ѻ) meme, postcard, which someone says they found (Ѻ) on a shelf of their Christian grandparents home.

In the years to follow, the Wiley-Harrison quote began to be attributed to Harrison, via the Wiley (1995) citation, such as follows:

“The quote: ‘Hydrogen is a colorless odorless gas that given enough time turns into people’, by the late cosmologist Edward Harrison (Wiley, 1995) sums up the situation quite well. Hydrogen is the simplest element that formed soon after the ‘Big Bang’ that brought the universe into existence 13.7 billion years ago. An element is a pure chemical substance made up of one kind of atom. During the evolution of the universe, hydrogen was converted in the process of nuclear fusion to another element, helium. Further nuclear reactions created all of the elements that exist in stable forms on earth, for example iron, carbon and oxygen. These elements were originally blown out of stars in giant supernova explosions, thereby producing clouds of material that ultimately coalesced into planets. Since we too are made up of these elements, this means, rather romantically, that we are ultimately derived from stardust. There are 94 stable elements found on earth and another 24 produced artificially under extreme conditions, such as those created by nuclear reactions. Of all these, only a few are used by living organisms (and by drug discovery chemists).”
— Edward Zanders (2011), Background to Chemistry of Small and Large Molecules [6]

In 2004, David Christian cited it, as such, in his Maps of Time. In 2006, Vijay Veeraghattam, in is MS thesis “Computer Simulations of Molecular Sticking on Amorphous Ice” (pdf), cited the quote with reference to Harrison’s 1981 Cosmology: the Science of the Universe. In 2017, Max Tegmark, in Life 3.0 (pg. 49), cited the quote in reference to Harrison, who, to repeat again, never said the quote.

Advanced | View

In 1920, Arthur Eddington, in his “The Internal Constitution of Stars”, after dismissing the “contraction hypothesis” model of the sun’s energy, e.g. as advanced by William Thompson, stated the sun’s energy comes from hydrogen transmuting into helium; the gist of which is as follows:[7]

“A star is drawing on some vast reservoir of energy by means unknown to us. This reservoir can scarcely be other than the sub-atomic energy which, it is known, exists abundantly in all matter; we sometimes dream that man will one day learn how to release it and use it for his service. The store is well-nigh inexhaustible, if only it could be tapped. There is sufficient in the sun to maintain its output of heat for 15-billion years. Certain physical investigations in the past year, which I hope we may hear about at this meeting, make it probable to my mind that some portion of this sub-atomic energy is actually being set free in the stars. Francis Aston's experiments seem to leave no room for doubt that all the elements are constituted out of hydrogen atoms bound together with negative electrons. The nucleus of the helium atom, for example, consists of four hydrogen atoms bound with two electrons. But Aston has further shown conclusively that the mass of the helium atom is less than the sum of the masses of the four hydrogen atoms which enter into it; and in this, at any rate, the chemists agree with him. There is a loss of mass in the synthesis amounting to about 1 part in 120, the atomic weight of hydrogen being 1.008 and that of helium just 4. I will not dwell on his beautiful proof of this, as you will, no doubt, be able to hear it from himself. Now mass cannot be annihilated, and the deficit can only represent the mass of the electrical energy set free in the transmutation. We can therefore at once calculate the quantity of energy liberated when helium is made out of hydrogen. If 5 percent of a star's mass consists initially of hydrogen atoms, which are gradually being combined to form more complex elements, the total heat liberated will more than suffice for our demands, and we need look no further for the source of a star's energy.”

In 1937, George Gamow and Carl Weizsacker proposed that the sun's energy was the result of a proton-proton chain reaction, wherein two protons p react to form a deuterium D, a positron e+, an electron neutrino , releasing 1.42 mega electron volts of energy in the process:

+ + 1.442 MeV

In 1939, Hans Bethe, building on this proton-proton reaction model, showed how similar reactions in stars could produce elements sized up to nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen.

In 1946, Fred Hoyle, in his “The Synthesis of the Elements from Hydrogen”, outlined how all the elements of the periodic table can be obtained from a process of “stellar nucleosynthesis” operating inside of stars.[8]

The following is a diagram of the 1948 Gamow-Alpher big bang nucleosynthesis model of the origin of hydrogen.[9]

In 1948, Gamow, and his PhD student Ralph Alpher, in their “The Origin of the Chemical Elements”, outlined a so-called “big bang nucleosynthesis” model of the origin of first elements, according to which the original “primordial matter” of the universe consisted of hot highly compressed neutron gas, or “overheated neutral nuclear fluid”, which started to decay into protons and electrons when the gas pressure fell down as the result of the expansion of the universe.[10]

“As pointed out by Gamow (1946), various nuclear species must have originated not as the result of an equilibrium corresponding to a certain temperature and density, but rather as a consequence of a continuous building-tip process arrested by a rapid expansion and cooling of the primordial matter. According to this picture, we must imagine the early stage of matter as a highly compressed neutron gas (overheated neutral nuclear fluid) which started decaying into protons and electrons when the gas pressure fell down as the result of universal expansion. The radiative capture of the still remaining neutrons by the newly formed protons must have led first to the formation of deuterium nuclei, and the subsequent neutron captures resulted in the building up of heavier and heavier nuclei.”

Here is another diagram of this:[11]

Electron + proton goes to hydrogen.png

Thims model

In 2005, Libb Thims made the following "molecular evolution table" to explain to students, visually, and step-wise, each row being a molecule or chemical species, with an new extra element, as determined by mass composition of each molecule or species shown, according to which, one can see "mechanistically" how, over time, hydrogen has transformed into large molecular species, eventually becoming or turning into a human:[12]


In 2007, Libb Thims, in his two-volume Human Chemistry, chapter "Molecular Evolution", outlined a subatomic particles to hydrogen to small molecules to humans (or human molecules) model, as follows:[13]

each step of the transformation based on thermodynamics, the sun heating the 92 naturally-occurring elements of the earth to make animate CH-based molecules (see: animate things), that eventually transformed, via chemical thermodynamic mechanistic steps, into powered CHNOPS+20 based humans.

A 2020 synopsis of the logic that humans are "metamorphosized" chemicals (Goethe, 1809) or "transformed" hydrogen atoms (Wiley, 1995), whose reaction transformations, hydrogen to human, are governed or "determined" by thermodynamic potentials or Gibbs energy differentials, in earth-bound systems.

In 2015, Thims, in Hmolpedia 2020, in the article "hydrogen to human", made the following diagram to summarize things:[14]

Hydrogen to human (Thims, 2015).png

Which highlights the seeming fact, that somewhere, between hydrogen, coming into existence, in the universe, and human, coming into existence, there was "desire", as defined in an evolutionary psychology sense by David Buss (1994).


The following are related quotes:

“Why should a group of simple, stable compounds of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and nitrogen (N), 'struggle' for billions of years to organize themselves into a professor of chemistry? What's the motive?”
Robert Pirsig (1991), Lila: an Inquiry into Morals
”‘Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas which, given enough time, turns into people’. --(Can't find attribution but love the quote)”
— Ellen Tunnell (2010), “Tweet” (Ѻ), Feb 3
“Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people who will make this statement.”
Elon Musk (2019), "Tweet" (Ѻ), Dec 2


  1. Harrison, Edward. (1981). Cosmology: the Science of the Universe (abs), Cambridge.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Harrison, Edward P. (1995). “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life” (Ѻ), Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 36:193-203.
  3. Wiley, John P. (1995). “Phenomena, Comments & Notes: Today’s physics allow outrageous possibilities: faster-than-light travel across the galaxy, or even our learning to make new universes to specification” (WB), Smithsonian Magazine, Dec.
  4. Molecules to man (evolution) (subdomain) – Hmolpedia 2020.
  5. Henderson, Lawrence. (1913). The Fitness of the Environment: An Inquiry into the Biological Significance of the Properties of Matter (quote, pg. 308; matter and energy, 25+ pgs). MacMillan Company.
  6. Zanders, Edward. (2011). Background to Chemistry of Small and Large Molecules (pg. 30) (Ѻ). Springer.
  7. Eddington, Arthur. (1920). “The Internal Constitution of Stars”, Nature, 2653(106):14-20 Sep 2.
  8. Hoyle, Fred. (1946). “The Synthesis of the Elements from Hydrogen” (abs), Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 106(5):3343-83, Oct.
  9. Siegel, Ethan. (2014). “Why did the Universe start off with Hydrogen, Helium, and not much else?” (Ѻ), Medium.com, Jan 8.
  10. (a) Alpher, Ralph; Gamow, George. (1948). “The Origin of the Chemical Elements” (pdf), Letter to the Editor, Physics Review, 73(7):803-04, Apr 1.
    (b) Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper – Wikipedia.
  11. Klesman, Alison. (2019). “How did the first element form after the Big Bang?” (Ѻ), Astronomy.com, Jan.
  12. Molecular evolution table (subdomain) – Hmolpedia 2020.
  13. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry, Volume One (§5: Molecular Evolution, pgs. 122-46). Lulu.
  14. Hydrogen to human (subdomain) - Hmolpedia 2020.

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