Cheating with chance
Published: 27 February 2013 (GMT+10)
The argument from probability that life could not form by natural processes but must have been created is sometimes acknowledged by evolutionists as a strong argument.1 The probability of the chance formation of a hypothetical functional ‘simple’ cell, given all the ingredients, is acknowledged2 to be worse than 1 in 1057800. This is a chance of 1 in a number with 57,800 zeros. It would take 11 full pages of magazine type to print this number. To try to put this in perspective, there are about 1080 (a number with 80 zeros) electrons in the universe. Even if every electron in our universe were another universe the same size as ours that would ‘only’ amount to 10160 electrons.
These numbers defy our ability to comprehend their size. Fred Hoyle, British mathematician and astronomer, used analogies to try to convey the immensity of the problem. For example, Hoyle said the probability of the formation of just one of the many proteins on which life depends is comparable to that of the solar system packed full of blind people randomly shuffling Rubik’s cubes all arriving at the solution at the same time3—and this is the chance of getting only one of the 400 or more proteins of the hypothetical minimum cell proposed by the evolutionists (real world ‘simple’ bacteria have about 2,000 proteins and are incredibly complex). [Note added 2013: see update to How simple can life be?] As Hoyle points out, the program of the cell, encoded on the DNA, is also needed. In other words, life could not form by natural (random) processes.
Evolutionists often try to bluff their way out of this problem by using analogies to argue that improbable things happen every day, so why should the naturalistic origin of life be considered impossible? For example, they say the odds of winning the lottery are pretty remote, but someone wins it. Or, the chances of getting the particular arrangement of cards obtained by shuffling a deck is remote, but a rare combination happens every time the cards are shuffled. Or the arrangement of the sand grains in a pile of sand obtained by randomly pouring the sand is extremely complex, but this complex and improbable arrangement did occur as a result of random processes. Or the exact combination and arrangement of people walking across a busy city street is highly improbable, but such improbable arrangements happen all the time. So they argue from these analogies to try to dilute the force of this powerful argument for creation.
You probably realize there is something illogical about this line of argument. But what is it?
In all the analogies cited above, there has to be an outcome. Someone has to win the lottery [note added Feb 2013: even with lotteries where the prize jackpots if no-one gets the exact set of digits drawn, the number of digits to guess is adjusted in line with the number of tickets likely to be purchased to make sure that there will be a winner frequently and there are always lesser prizes for getting less than the full set of digits]. There will be an arrangement of cards. There will be a pile of sand. There will be people walking across the busy street. By contrast, in the processes by which life is supposed to have formed, there need not necessarily be an outcome. Indeed the probabilities argue against any outcome. That is the whole point of the argument. But then the evolutionist may counter that it did happen because we are here! This is circular reasoning at its worst.
Note several other things about these analogies:
- Creationists do not argue that life is merely complex, but that it is ordered in such a way as to defy a natural explanation. The order in the proteins and DNA of living things is independent of the properties of the chemicals of which they consist—unlike an ice crystal where the structure results from the properties of the water molecule. The order in living things parallels that in printed books where the information is not contained in the ink, or even in the letters, but in the complex arrangement of letters which make up words, words which make up sentences, sentences which make up paragraphs, paragraphs which make up chapters and chapters which make up books. These components of written language respectively parallel the nucleic acid bases, codons, genes, operons, chromosomes and genomes which make up the genetic programs of living cells.
- The order in living things shows they are the product of intelligence. The result of the lottery draw is clearly the result of a random selection—unless family members of the lottery supervisor consistently win! Then we would conclude that the draw has not been random—it is not the result of a random process, but the result of an intelligent agent.
- The arrangement of cards resulting from shuffling would not normally suggest anything other than a random process. However, if all the cards were ordered by their suits from lowest to highest, we would logically conclude that an intelligent agent arranged them (or ‘stacked the deck’ in card-playing parlance) because such an arrangement is highly unlikely from genuine shuffling—a random, non-intelligent process.
- The arrangement of the sand grains in a pile would not normally suggest it resulted from intelligent activity rather than natural processes. However, if all the sand grains were lined up in single file, or were in a neat rectangle, we would attribute this to an intelligent agent, or a machine made by an intelligent agent, as this would not be likely from a natural process.
- The arrangement of people crossing a busy street would not normally suggest anything other than a random process. However, if all the people were ordered from shortest to tallest, or some other ordered arrangement, we would suspect that an intelligent agent was responsible for putting them in this order—that it did not result from chance. If 20 people were arranged from shortest to tallest, the odds of this happening by chance are less than one in a billion, billion (1018), so it would be reasonable to conclude that such an ordered arrangement was not due to chance whereas there would be nothing to suggest intelligent involvement if there was no meaningful pattern to the arrangement of people.
Many scientists today claim that an invisible ‘intelligent cause’ is outside the realm of ‘real’ science. These scientists have redefined science as naturalism (nature is all there is). However, scientists recognise the evidence for an invisible intelligent agent when it suits them. For example, forensic science determines if past events were the result of accident or plan and purpose (‘Who done it?’). The Piltdown ape-man fraud was discovered, after some 40 years, when researchers had the opportunity to examine the original bones and not just replicas, and they noticed file marks on the teeth.4 Such marks do not happen by natural processes and the researchers recognised the involvement of a human (intelligent) agent—a hoaxer.
Likewise, United States taxpayers are spending millions of dollars yearly in funding the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). If those listening hear a radio signal with random noise, it is clearly the product of a natural process, but if there is a pattern such as ‘dah-dah-dah-dit-dit-dit-dah-dah-dah’, it will be hailed as evidence for an intelligent, although invisible, source.
If such evidence indicates an intelligent source then surely the incredible amount of information on the DNA in living things, equivalent to a library of a thousand 500-page books in a human being,5 shouts creation by a Creator! The more we know about the biochemical workings of living cells, the stronger the evidence becomes for the intimate involvement of a creator. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made and no amount of illogical and irrelevant analogy will counter the clear evidence for this.
- D.A. Bradbury, ‘Reply to Landau and Landau’, Creation/Evolution 13(2):48–49, 1993. Return to text.
- ibid. Return to text.
- F. Hoyle, ‘The big bang in astronomy’, New Scientist, 92(1280):527, 1981. Return to text.
- M.L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention—a Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1992, pp. 39–44. Return to text.
- M. Denton, Evolution: Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, London, 1985, p.351. Return to text.