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Random Chance? Definitely Not.

Posted by Joe Bloe , 27 August 2011 · 967 views

Ann Coulter is convinced that abiogenesis cannot work. It is beyond believability she says in her latest article: “It is a mathematical impossibility, for example, that all 30 to 40 parts of the cell's flagellum -- forget the 200 parts of the cilium! -- could all arise at once by random mutation.” http://www.humaneven...le.php?id=45747

This business of mathematical impossibility became popular with Creationists after the astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle (Fellow of the Royal Society) delivered his Evolution from Space speech at the Royal Institution's Omni Lecture in 1982. He calculated that the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was one in 1040,000, and highlighted the magnitude of that number by pointing out that the whole universe contained ‘only’ 1080 atoms. “If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter,” he continued, “without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design,” adding that there was, “No other possibility I have been able to think of…” Hoyle went on to compare the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein."

Hoyle’s figures, though, are based on false assumptions. He assumed that molecules were formed by sheer chance in a completely random fashion. He also assumed that once the molecules had formed it was necessary to have thousands of them lined up in the correct order before they could join together and produce an amino acid (or whatever). He made one further assumption as well; that if the various atoms and molecules managed to get themselves all lined-up but failed to join together, then the whole shebang fell apart, and we were left with individual atoms that had to start all over again from scratch. But Hoyle was wrong.

When a couple of atoms collide to form a molecule, they will stick together in a bond that is so strong it is unlikely they will become unstuck. Also, when more atoms collide with the newly formed molecule they will also “stick”, thus creating an even larger molecule. Then different molecules encounter each other and they, too, will stick together in an unbreakable bond. The molecules are getting ever bigger and ever more complex, and they are not falling apart; they just keep on growing. And now they are beginning to take on shapes: Some might be donut shaped, others might by cylindrical and still others might look like cubes. (OK, that’s a simplistic description, but it will do for now.)

So the molecules encounter each other and join together, but the results are not based on “random chance”. A cube-shaped molecule might hit a donut shaped molecule and nothing happens; they bounce off each other and continue on their merry way – but then a cylindrical molecule hits a donut shaped molecule and what happens? They fit together perfectly and a new, even bigger molecule has been produced – and the same thing will happen every time these types of molecules encounter each other; almost every meeting produces a result, and the result is always the same – a molecule of even more complexity. A few more encounters and we shall have our first amino acid.

We can get an idea of what is going on if we play a game with ten dice and try to get a six showing on each of them:

There are six possible results with each die and the total number of possible results is,

610 = 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 = 60,466,176

But there is only 1 way to get a six on each die, so the total number of ways to get ten sixes on a single throw of all ten dice is,

110 = 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 = 1

So there is only one chance in more than 60 million that we can throw all ten dice and get a six-spot showing on each of them.

Suppose we rolled the dice once every ten seconds and we kept at it for eight hours per day, five days per week, fifty-two weeks per year. How long would it take to clock up 60,466,176 rolls? Just over 80 years! Of course we might get ten sixes on our first throw, but that is extremely unlikely and it is possible that we could waste our whole life playing this game and never see ten sixes after a single throw. This is a game of pure chance.

But let’s change the rules:
  • Pick up the ten dice and throw them.
  • Let’s say one of them shows a six.
  • OK, we put that die aside and throw the other nine dice.
  • Perhaps we get two sixes on this second throw, so we put those two dice aside and throw the remaining seven dice.
You can already see what’s happening can’t you? We've only thrown the dice twice and already we've got three sixes lined-up with only seven more to go. A few more throws; a few more sixes and it won't be long before we have set aside nine dice with a six showing on every one of them. Roll that last die a few more times and up comes the final six. The game is over and it has taken us only a few minutes to finish with a successful result. Our earlier calculations showed that in a game of pure chance we could expect to get ten sixes only once every 80 years – but we are no longer playing a game of pure chance and it is almost certain that we will get our ten sixes every time we play, and we shall do so within a matter of minutes!

Creationists like Ann Coulter have assumed that in the early history of Earth, the molecules had to be lined up together in exactly the right order at exactly the same time if they were to form amino acids – and Sir Fred Hoyle calculated that the odds against that happening would be about 1040,000 to one (practically impossible).

But that’s not how it happened. As explained earlier, as each molecule was formed it was set aside (in the same way that we set aside those dice which showed a six) and slowly but surely the molecules increased in size and complexity until eventually they were configured as amino acids. It was almost inevitable.

Fred Hoyle was a very skillful astronomer and he made great contributions to that science, but anybody can make a mistake. When he said " “No other possibility I have been able to think of" he was literally using the well known logical fallacy Argument from Ignorance. A typical use of this fallacy might look like "I don't understand how x happened, therefore Goddidit." This fails to take into account the possibility that new information could come forward that is not currently known, or the possibility that some people can figure out the issue at hand, as Joe Bloe so skillfully presented.

Sometimes just one critical false assumption can lead to a rather false result.
Cousin Ricky
Aug 30 2011 02:27 PM
A restatement of Sir Hoyle's argument:
  • The entire universe doesn't have enough atoms for a living cell to fall together by accident.
  • Therefore, the living cell had to have fallen together by accident in outer space.
I haven't paid any attention to Sir Hoyle's panspermia hypothesis, because, like all other ID arguments, it merely moves the problem, doing absolutely nothing to solve it. (In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins brilliantly turns the 747 argument back against the creationists.) The specifics of his argument also add an additional plurality: what's so magic about outer space that God the intelligent designer had to do it in outer space instead of on Earth?

I find it hard to imagine that a scientist of Sir Hoyle's caliber failed to anticipate such a glaring hole. Perhaps he did address it; but I've never been moved enough to investigate any exogenesis claims. Or maybe his scientific mindset was just too compartmentalized; he hung onto the steady state theory long after it had been effectively disproved in the 1960s.
Cousin Ricky
Sep 06 2011 03:07 PM
I followed the link, against my better judgment. Ann Coulter needs to acquaint herself with a conservative Republican judge named John E. Jones III. This devout Xian might tell her about all the scientific evidence that was presented to him at Kitzmiller v. Dover, showing that Michael Behe's "unsolvable" problems had already been solved before he wrote his silly book.

Miss Coulter is in no position to tell other people that they don't understand evolution.