Be sceptical about the skeptics!
- Part 1: Putting Feathers on Reptiles
- Part 2: Proteins and Casket Draws
- Part 3: Fridges and Hot Air
- Part 4: That Matter of the Shrinking Sun
By Carl Wieland
Towards the end of a chapter written by the two editors, the probability argument used by creationists is discussed. What is this argument, briefly?
Proteins consist of long chains of variously ordered amino acids, or ‘building blocks’. It is the sequence of these ‘letters’ in each protein which gives the protein its function. The simplest known living thing must have many different such functional molecules, each gaining the ability to perform its task from the sequence in which it has been assembled. In the process of the ‘stringing together’ of amino acids to form these proteins, there is no significant chemical preference which forces a particular sequence. That is, one sequence is virtually as likely as another. So it is quite valid to ask what is the probability that, in the imaginary ‘primordial soup’ proposed by evolutionists, the correct specific sequence assembled itself by chance (correct in the sense that it must have that sequence in order to carry out its function as part of the machinery in a self-replicating organism)?
British cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle was an atheistic evolutionist when he began his inquiry into the chances of a living thing evolving from chemical. (He has since greatly changed his view.) Hoyle has said that if you filled the solar system shoulder-to-shoulder with blind men shuffling Rubik’s cubes randomly (this would mean 1050 blind men), the chances of getting one simple long chain molecule of the type on which life depends is the same as all of those blind men simultaneously achieving the solution by random shuffling! He further points out that we would then only have one single useless molecule compared to the intricate and interrelated machinery of a functioning, living cell.
We will resist the temptation to critique other parts of the article in question, focusing on a comment made towards the end:
‘But the fundamental error made by creationists is the implicit assumption that proteins are formed in a single step, like the Casket draw [a lottery]. The truth is that the proteins we now have are the result of a long process in which favoured ones are preserved. These are used as the basis for the next step, and so things are gradually built up to the complexity we now see in living things’ (p. 49).
What We See
Without mentioning the actual term, the authors are of course invoking natural selection (the ‘favoured ones are preserved’) which, of course, can be shown to operate in nature, as we see the less fit being eliminated.
However, there is a devastating flaw in the argument, a ‘fundamental error’ so great that one is hard pressed to believe that it is a point that a scientist could have overlooked accidentally. Natural selection is an argument which can only be applied to things which are already capable of reproduction (those which are more fit to survive will have a greater chance of leaving more offspring).
The simplest conceivable system capable of specifying its own reproduction (note that even DNA does not replicate itself—it is replicated by the machinery of a cell of which it is a part) is vastly more complex than the simple biopolymers to which Hoyle refers. The obvious point is that chance, and chance alone, is the issue. Natural selection cannot help, as there is no reproduction. In any primordial ‘soup’, one sequence is as likely as the next. Chance plus physics/chemistry plus time, in the absence of complex programmed machines such as living things (or in the absence of mind operating on matter), has never shown the remotest tendency to assemble complex, programmed machines from simple chemicals. The authors’ argument appears to be a smokescreen to make many readers think that the arguments have been ‘answered’.
The closing comments are interesting in the light of what we have now seen.
‘Creationists’ arguments about the improbability of life arising by natural causes are misleading, to say the least.’
Was it not Lenin who said that if you say ‘black is white’ often enough and loud enough, with authority, a substantial proportion of people will come to believe it?