The Universe was Designed for Mold

There’s a loaf of bread on my counter. I left it there two weeks ago and forgot about it; this morning I noticed it was moldy. Conditions in my apartment are quite mold-friendly — hot and steamy and inhabited by a forgetful and messy girl. Let’s take a quick look at what had to happen for that mold to end up in my kitchen:It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time

1) I visit Boston in the 6th grade and decide I’d like to live there some day.
2) I get accepted to college in Boston
3) I leave to live in Seattle for a while
4) I miss Boston so I move back with no planning
5) I need to rent the cheapest apartment I can find quickly
6) The apartment has (poorly functioning) steam heat
7) I complain to the landlady about the lack of heat enough times that eventually she cranks it up to 80F
8) I decide not to complain because 80F is better than 40F
9) I visit the grocery store, where I see some peanut butter and jelly and decide I’d like a sandwich
10) I buy some bread
11) I make one sandwich and then decide I don’t like the jelly (raspberry)
12) I set the bread aside and forget about it
13) Mold is an organism with enzymes that work best in temperatures around 80F
14) Mold appears on my bread

A math professor was just given $1.6 million because he says that the bread on my counter and the circumstances surrounding it were “well tuned for life.”

This money was courtesy of the Templeton Prize, “For Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities.” Sir John Templeton, who set up the prize and mandated that the award always exceed that of the Nobel Prize (catty!), asked

If even one-tenth of world research were focused on spiritual realities, could benefits be even more vast than the benefits in the latest two centuries from research in food, travel, medicine or electronics, and cosmology?

All together now, everyone, what’s the answer? NO!

If people want to lay around musing about the possibility of gods, fantastic. Go for it. Philosophy can be a fun way to pass the time while limbering up your thinky muscle (or “brain” as the scientists call it). But in 100 years, you’ll be no closer to understanding your “spiritual realities” than the ancient Greeks, while the scientific community will inevitably have improved your lifespan in both quality and quantity.

Great, now I’m hungry and I have no bread.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Science is what was responsible for it taking two weeks for your bread to go moldy in the first place. It was most likely in a plastic bag, which cut down on the amounts of air borne particulates to nestle into the nooks of sandwich breads. There most likely was also a chemical preservation agent (unless you shop at whole foods ;) ) that kept that mold away for many weeks (considering the time from baking, delivery, and shelf storage).

    Besides that, congrats to the professor. Always a good day when one gets 1.6 million.

  2. Doesn't matter what events were required; It sounds like it was destiny for that mold to be there. :)

  3. This subject has annoied me for a while. Conditions are perfect for life on Earth? Okay, fine. I'll buy that, when he can answer one question: What is life? Biologists don't know (is a virus alive? If so, how about a prion?). When that question is definitively, conclusively answered, I'll consider agreeing with statements like this guy's.

    Something else to note: Life is almost infinitely adaptable. Just looking at what we know, achea live in conditions where our cellular makeup would litteraly boil away. I've seen some research on things living in solid rock (African mines, somewhere around a mile deep). Also, bodyplans are tremedously different between groups of organisms. As for what we don't know, there's the idea that life origionated somewhere else and came here through an impact (panspermia, I think).

    Life as we know it evolved under conditions as we know them. Change the physical constants and you change the conditions. However, there is no evidence at all that life can't handle them. It'd just be different then life as we know it. Life does not need carbon to survive–life used carbon because that's what was there. This guy has inverted causality, and people are praising him for it. That makes me sad. I'm going to have a sandwich.

  4. OI! "Science" did not cause the bread to become mouldy! "Science" just observed and described it!

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