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The Probability Is (not quite) Zero

Posted by Joe Bloe , 13 September 2012 · 3,835 views

In 1985 the Jehovah Witnesses published a book (“Life – How Did It Get Here?”) which included a chapter heading that asks the question, “Could Life Originate By Chance?” - and the text goes on to suggest that it could not:

“The proteins needed for life have very complex molecules. What is the chance of even a simple protein molecule forming at random in an organic soup? Evolutionists acknowledge it to be only one in 10113 (1 followed by 113 zeros). But any event that has one chance in just 1050 is dismissed by mathematicians as never happening.”


That last sentence seemed a bit strange to me. It seemed to be saying that an event with a probability of 10-50 is impossible, but the probability for an impossible event is zero and, while 10-50 is small, it certainly isn’t zero. What was going on? Who were the people who would say such a thing?


In case you didn't know:

1050 = 10 multiplied by itself 50 times = 1 followed by 50 zeros

10-50 is the reciprocal of 1050 = 1 divided by 1050

(the dash is not a minus sign, it is the sign for reciprocal)



I did some Googling and came across Earl G. Hallonquist, Ph.D., who wrote:

Emile Borel, one of the world’s experts on mathematical probability, formulated a basic law of probability. This law states that the occurrence of any event where the chances are beyond one in one followed by 50 zeros is an event that we can state with certainty will never happen, no matter how much time is allotted and no matter how many conceivable opportunities could exist for the event to take place.

http://www.apologeti...ts/outspace.pdf



And Karl Crawford went even further than that when he gave this “basic law of probability” a proper name:

Mathematicians generally agree that, statistically, any odds beyond 1 in 1050 have a zero probability of ever happening...This is Borel’s Law in action, which was derived by mathematician Emil Borel.

http://groups.google...959e739f100f825


This quote comes from the old Google Groups which will soon be replaced by new Google Groups, so just in case the link doesn't work, I have put a screenshot of the page at the bottom of this post.



It was getting stranger by the minute. First we had unidentified mathematicians supposedly declaring that non-zero probabilities were zero and now we are being told that “one of the world’s experts on mathematical probability” has made this patently absurd claim and written it up as a LAW of mathematics.

Time, I think, to find out what Borel really said:

Back in 1943, in a book titled “Probability For Life”, Emil Borel came up with a rule of thumb, which he thought might be helpful to those readers unfamiliar with extremely small probabilities. He said that if the probability for an event were very small, then it would be reasonable for the layman to assume that the event will not occur. Just for the sake of argument, Borel decided that events with a probability less than 1 in 1050 simply will not happen, but quickly added that he “did not conceal the lack of precision of the statement.”

So it all boils down to just another example of Creationist quote mining. Borel introduced an imprecise “rule of thumb” which the Creationists turned into a “basic law of probability” and then gave a proper name – Borel’s Law – in order to fool the general public into thinking it was an undeniable fact.


Today, nearly thirty years after the Jehovah Witnesses published their book, the world famous “Answers in Genesis” website has repeated the lie under the heading: "The Attack on Borel by Evolutionists".

The National Center for Science Education published an attack (NCSE 2000) on Creationists claiming creationist science and mathematics were faulty and that we have misinterpreted Borel’s claim that highly improbable events never happen. He stated clearly that the events were highly improbable not that they have probability = 0. The paper confuses these two ideas. Borel specifically used the word never, which indicates time is a factor in what he said.

http://www.answersin...es-to-evolution



Take another look at the heading - The Attack on Borel by Evolutionists - and then take a look at the very next sentence which states that the Evolutionists are NOT attacking Borel, they are attacking Creationists who misrepresent Borel !

The AiG article goes on to imply that the Creationists have not misrepresented Borel because he did, in fact, use the word "never". Well that is true enough, but let's check out the whole sentence as it appears at the beginning of chapter three in Borel's "Probability for Life":

When we stated the single law of chance, "events whose probability is sufficiently small never occur," we did not conceal the lack of precision of the statement.


To summarize: There is no such thing as Borel's Law and if the probablity for any event is greater than zero, then it is not impossible and it could happen at any time - maybe even tomorrow. Don't believe me? Shuffle a deck of cards:

There are 52! different ways the 52 cards can be arranged.


That’s 52 x 51 x 50 x 49 x ...with the multiplication continuing all the way down to... x 3 x 2 x 1.


That’s a total of 8.1 x 1067 ... a lot more than 1050


We deal with infinitesimally small probabilities every day. There is nothing unusual about them.



ooo000ooo




Screenshot of the Karl Crawford quote (see above)

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  • Cousin Ricky likes this


In addition to considering what the odds were of life starting on a planet like Earth we should also consider how many planets there are in the set like Earth.

Also, once something has already happened any discussion about whether it could happen seems fairly academic but not so much meaningful.
    • Cousin Ricky likes this
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Cousin Ricky
Sep 24 2012 03:27 PM
Of course, the issue that remains studiously unaddressed by the oddsmakers is the fact that no one (except the creationists) is claiming that a protein sprang up at random from a mud puddle. The creationists forget that the scientists aren't the ones who believe in magic.
Dead right Cousin Ricky...

http://aintnogod.com...definitely-not/
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CainEnabled
Oct 04 2012 06:40 PM
As brilliant and mathematically complicated as this is, wouldn't all of it be rendered sort of...silly...if it happened that life WAS randomly generated in an organic soup? What I mean is, what difference would it make knowing the odds of it happening..if it happened?
I probably didn't make myself clear. I wasn't so much concerned about the odds themselves as I was to point out that there is no such thing as "Borel's Law". It is a pure invention of the creationists. For example, Earl Hallonquist wrote:

Emile Borel, one of the world’s experts on mathematical probability, formulated a basic law of probability. This law states that the occurrence of any event where the chances are beyond one in one followed by 50 zeros is an event that we can state with certainty will never happen, no matter how much time is allotted and no matter how many conceivable opportunities could exist for the event to take place.

And I wanted to make the point that,

(1) Borell did NOT formulate "a basic law of probability"
(2) Hallonquist's claims about what the law states, are lies because there is no such law.
(3) And no matter how small the probability, there is no mathematician (Borel or any other) who would then say (as Hallonquist does), "we can state with certainty [the event] will never happen".

As for the actual odds against life appearing on Earth, I'm with you: it doesn't really matter. Life DID appear - end of story.
Enjoyed this article, good detective work Joe Bloe.

I have several family members who are JW, and have had many heated discussions concerning this very book. I will use this info should the book (unlikely) come up again in conversation. :)

Clinging to the idea that complexity itself, and inconceivable odds are evidence for an even more complex, and vastly more inexplicable designer, is such obvious nonsense, it irks me to no end.

Enjoyed this article, good detective work Joe Bloe.

Thanks Crimson.


I have several family members who are JW, and have had many heated discussions concerning this very book. I will use this info should the book (unlikely) come up again in conversation. :-)

I've got a copy of the book on my desk right now. (Know thine enemy)


Clinging to the idea that complexity itself, and inconceivable odds are evidence for an even more complex, and vastly more inexplicable designer, is such obvious nonsense, it irks me to no end.

And sometimes what seem to be inconceivable odds turn out to be not so inconceivable after all. I wrote another blog about it here:
http://aintnogod.com...definitely-not/