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Creation 24(1):52–53, December 2001

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bathtub cartoon
Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

The fish in the bathtub


One weekend I got into a discussion with a very talented physical chemist, a former colleague, on the topic of God, the Bible and evolution. I kept noticing that his comments with respect to evolution were inconsistent with basic concepts the two of us would deal with routinely in chemistry.

I thought I could focus the issues more clearly by asking him: If he were to fill his bathtub with water and come back in a million years, would he expect to find a fish swimming there?

Naturally, I expected the answer to be ‘no’, since we know that water molecules don’t get converted into organic molecules, and so on. I was hoping to systematically go through with him what kind of assumptions would be necessary for that fish to be produced under ‘natural’ and unguided conditions.

He told me confidently that, no, he would not find a fish there, even after a million years. I was getting my second question ready, about a fish in a swimming pool out in the sunlight, when he then added, ‘but in a billion years there might be a fish there’.

I couldn’t believe my ears. As I pressed him about the things required, such as the formation of optically active biomolecules, information encoding and decoding and DNA, male/female reproduction, and so on,1 his answer was adamant: ‘With enough time everything is possible.’

The chances of structures far from thermodynamic equilibrium (as are all life forms) arising by chance can only decrease with time.

I pointed out the obvious flaw in this reasoning. After a short period of time, the water in this bathtub has reached thermal equilibrium. Any other molecules dissolved in the water quickly arrive at a random steady state, and there is no difference in the distribution after a thousand years—far less if everything has been sitting there for a billion years. In fact, I claimed, if any abnormal structures or organization were to result by the strangest coincidence, the chances were better during the initial turbulence of water gushing out of the tap. The chances of structures far from thermodynamic equilibrium (as are all life forms) arising by chance can only decrease with time.

This magical claim that ‘given enough time anything is possible’, that even the most complex organisms could arise by chance if we were to wait long enough, is not what an engineer or physical scientist observes in the real world. Here are some examples:

  1. In a closed room at a constant temperature, it is statistically possible that all the oxygen molecules could accumulate, by sheer chance, up in one corner long enough for everyone to suffocate. Shall we argue that if we wait long enough in a room, we will eventually observe this? Actually, no. Gas molecules bump into each other randomly, and continue moving until the next collision. Because they travel, on average, longest in a straight line in the direction where there are the fewest molecules, they thus spread themselves out ever more evenly with time until a steady state is reached.
    In fact, if the individual gases which together make up air had been pumped into the room, the chances of observing all the oxygen clumped in one corner are better within a short period of time, but the probability will steadily decrease as random effects lead to the most probable state, which is the most ‘randomized’ or disordered one.

  2. Most footballs are not perfectly airtight. After some time they will have lost some pressure. It is not sensible to argue that with time anything is possible, that eventually the ball will start to reinflate itself. Even though any individual air molecule could, by chance, enter the ball from without, the probability of collisions within the ball is much greater than the collisions per unit area outside the ball. So the overwhelming probability is that more molecules will leak out than in. Thus, the more time that passes, the more certain it is that the ball will deflate, not spontaneously reinflate.

  3. A cherry seed can sprout and create a tree able to produce many such seeds. Could such a seed arise by waiting long enough? A collection of chemicals lacking a protective shell and the internal machinery and programmed information to grow has a decreasing chance of producing a functional seed as time goes on: the component chemicals will decompose, or be washed away by rain, or disintegrate in ultraviolet light.

Life is decidedly not a natural phenomenon which automatically results ‘given the right conditions’.

On this basis it seems amazing that atheists would expect to find life on other planets. Life is decidedly not a natural phenomenon which automatically results ‘given the right conditions’. What if life was discovered on other planets, and it could be shown that this was not life which had originated from Earth somehow?2 Even though this would seem exceedingly strange from a Biblical viewpoint, to me it would be further proof, if not absolute proof, of a Creator. Something as incredibly, hopelessly complex as living forms requires the most fantastic leaps of imagination to think it could appear by chance just once; to contemplate it happening by chance twice should be regarded as beyond rational discussion.3

Furthermore, the ecosystems needed to support life (as we now see them in this post-Fall world) are incredibly complex and finely balanced. It is not only unreasonable to believe that they could arise by chance, but also totally unreasonable to think that they could survive for millions of years. The longer the time period, the greater the chance of something going amiss, such as: an unstoppable disease spreading; a killer meteor hitting the Earth; massive climate changes; bad mutations accumulating; major imbalances in food supply or nutrient ratios. The possibilities are almost endless about what could go wrong, given the high degree of interdependence of the systems in the living world.

The claim that, with time, anything is possible, including the creation and perpetuation of life, is not based on any scientific principle. Rather, the opposite is true: complex and improbable structures of any kind tend to disintegrate over time.

References and notes

  1. See the CMI website Q&A: Origin of LifeReturn to text.
  2. E.g. by contamination from Earth-sent probes, or by transport within rocks blasted off the surface of Earth due to past cosmic impacts, etc. Return to text.
  3. The late Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the odds of one single biological molecule—out of the many hundreds of long-chain polymers on which even the so-called ‘simplest’ life form depends—forming by chance. It was, he said, the same as having the whole solar system packed shoulder-to-shoulder with blind men shuffling Rubik’s cubes, and having them all hit upon the solution, by chance, at the exact same time. And that would be nowhere near a living system yet. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

H. G.
Looks like this physical chemist believes that given long enough time you will eventually win "the lottery". What he does not realise is that nature does not need to "draw the numbers", whereas in case of lottery, numbers must be drawn (at certain time).
Anthony B.
Great article but I have a question...how is it 'statistically possible' for O2 molecules to gather up one end of a room or even to enter a partially inflated football? As the articles clearly states, it just won't happen! Keep up the great work btw.
Nathan G.
Time is not the evos' only problem.
Observational science is by definition observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable, predictive of future findings if the model is correct and gives us answers now, not later. This presents the evolutionary fairy tale with another insurmountable hurdle: matter.
One to the 80th power (80 zeros on the end) appears frequently in estimates of the number of total atoms in the known universe. But most Creationist literature grants the evo delusion way too much "benefit of the doubt" in counterarguments.
Let's be scientific. Earth is the only scientifically PROVEN place with life, despite alien apologists' fondest religious pipedreams. If the universe has roughly 100 billion galaxies, each with approximately 100 billion stars, our own solar system only contains a billionth of a billionth of the total atoms. And Earth contains far, far less than 1 percent of our solar system. But most counterarguments pretend as if all of the atoms in the universe can be involved, not just those on Earth.
Use a calculator. The random formation of a single 100 amino acid protein demands many more than 80 zeros. And humans have a least 100,000 different proteins (some with up to 30,000 base units). This effectively means that the very few atoms on Earth would have to collide zillions of times more often and zillions of times more frequently than the answers mentioned above indicate. In other words, the unbelievably high numbers in a "whole-universe" answer needs to be multiplied by a billion. Twice. Times 100,000. That's another 27 zeros on the end of an already statistically non-credible answer. And if Carbon-14 cuts time off the evo time scale, the collisions must get even faster to adjust.
You really do need blind faith to believe in such foolish twaddle.
Terry W.
If you make a bathtub in Minecraft, stand back far enough and make an absolutely perfect cast with the fishing rod, you can actually pull a fish out of it. The reason I bring this up is because I sometimes take a whimsical a-Notch-eist perspective with a story, "Millions of years ago in May 2009, this interesting block game spontaneously appeared on my computer. Via natural selection of random magnetic errors on my hard drive and electrostatic noise in the computer's memory, it soon started calling itself Minecraft..." Funnily enough, I've never had an atheist call this allegory of naturalistic belief invalid yet.
Dan M.
Genetic entropy is one such principal. The human race and every other living thing is genetically falling apart according to Dr. Sanford who wrote the book, OUR DECLINING GENES. In his book he explains how we pass on genetic mistakes to our children and in each successive generation those mistakes accumulate. Once we reach a certain genetic mutation plateau, (the technical term escapes me right now) we will go the way of the DoDo. He also states that genetic mutation is why we age. This explains wonderfully why life spans declined rapidly after the flood because of a genetic bottleneck and also inbreeding by necessity. This is why God told Moses, "no more marrying close relative to lessen the genetic load. It is wonderful how the bible explains things! There was less genetic diversification to plug the holes, (mistakes) in Noah's Genes passed down to us and thus quickening genetic load producing shorter life spans.
If God were to wait it out, (but he won't) the human race would become extinct along with every other living thing. Then there would not be anyone to believe in evolution or be an atheist any longer. Thankfully, God will deal with mankind before we get to that point!
One last point. If our genes are declining, that means at one time they were perfect! This confirms the, "very good" statments God made in genesis chapter one! BAM!
Richard F.
A further thought. I find the best way to undermine evolution is to address the Big Bang. Evolutionary cosmology, with its 13 billion years, is effectively the only show in town but once accepted, it allows enough time for the impossible to happen (in the minds of many people). If we can show that there is a creationist cosmology that explains things better than evolutionary cosmology, and that Mt St Helens undermines evolutionary geology, and that radiochronometry is a creationist's friend, then evolutioinary is no longer supported by its powerful allies
Richard F.
If he could not contemplate a fish within a million years but could contemplate one after a billion years, I suppose you could ask him what he might contemplate after one million years that might remotely move the water towards becoming a fish!
michael S.
That's a good article, well reasoned. Seems to me your friend is special pleading but without noticing it. Ultimately most people believe that science has the authority to make evolution a fact which leads the mind to cognitive dissonance. That is the real problem I find when debating people, because quite literally if my arguments were a coin and I shown them the coin so they could observe it with their eyes, they would still find a way to say the coin is not there. The human mind seems to be wired to understand things based on dogma. Imagine I said to you, "what is that lovely soft material so smooth to the touch?" you might say, "silk!" Then what would you think of if I were to ask; "what do cows drink?" ......Did you think, "milk"? Because cows drink water! ;-)

Unfortunately once the mind has told itself something is a fact, it MUST it seems, for peace within that mind, and for cogency, find a way to imaginatively reason around the problems that will say that X is not a fact. Like my friend says, they are the animators of the evolution-puppet. They speak for it...

So then we really can offer the very best arguments against evolution and they go ignored in my experience because people can't get their mind to accept what has been lodged in it for so long, that evolution and millions of years, are scientific facts.

This is the power of neurotic agreement, just how do you break it if by majority people agree X is true when it is in fact false? It's frightening really, for if a group of ten bullies decide one person is worth less than others, even though they are not worth less, they will be treated by all ten as though they are worth less. It's a frightening thing that people by majority, believe fish can arise from self-assembling mud. Incredible too.
R. F.
If I filled a bathtub with water and came back one million years later, I would not expect to find a fish, I would expect to find a dried up bathtub if anything.
Chris B.
I shared the idea of the football deflating with a colleague who is a Theist Evolutionist and he wavered between anything is possible and no a football would not re-inflate itself. He seem convinced that a football would not re-inflate itself but couldn't let go of the idea that anything is possible.

When I asked the question would a bath tub full of water produce a fish given enough time his answer was "Oh, of course. It already happened in the ocean".

The assumption that it has already happened is so strong that they equate it with gravity or math. It just is.

I would love to see more articles on Creation.com about how to respond to a fools folly. Proverbs 26:4-5.

In a humble and meek way of course that leads to reasonable and rational conversation.

I have read a few good articles on Creation.com that did this but it would be great to see some more examples of that type of wisdom.

It is so obvious to us and how the logic doesn't work but we need more layman tactics that allow us non-scientific folks to gently structure conversations to show how the evolution logic and arguments don't work.

Thank you for all that you do.
Chuck R.
I too have had the people respond ‘With enough time everything is possible’ when attempting to show the fallacy of evolution and feel that Ezekiel 12:2 - "Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which has eyes to see but does not see, and ears to hear but does not hear; for they are a rebellious house" is as true today as when God said that to Ezekiel.
Chris D.
When faced with a claim like “With enough time everything is possible” the question to ask is “How do you know that is true?” You could even dig a little deeper and ask “What EXPERIMENTAL evidence do you have that this is true?” Experimental evidence shows everything decaying with time, so there is no evidence for this claim.

Many atheists will claim there is plenty of evidence for things spontaneously creating themselves over time, but this is not the experimental evidence demanded by science. Rather the claim is based on their interpretation of things that happened in the past, and conclusions drawn from those interpretations. Thus, those claims fail because they are not scientific. The core of the problem boils down to this: nobody has experimentally shown how information, e.g. as found in the DNA, can be created from nothing. All information comes from a mind (See Dr. Werner Gitt’s work, much of it here on creation.com). Without the ability to create information, there is no evolution.

“With enough time everything is possible” is an article of faith for an atheistic religion; it certainly is not scientific. Although this former colleague may be a talented physical chemist, you have to wonder how often this kind of fuzzy thinking gets in the way of real scientific progress, and how often it has sent him down a false path.
Eddie C.
‘With enough time everything is possible.’ This is perhaps the most frustrating argument that comes from evolutionist. Perhaps evolution's most successful argument is that the universe is very old. If you believe that "thing are as they have always been since the beginning" then it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the universe is very old. After all, how do we see the light of stars that are millions of light years away? Of course, for creationists, the obvious answer to this is that things were different during creation week. Rapid nuclear decay and an increased speed of light were necessary to bring about the conditions that God wanted.
Interestingly I read an article on phys.org "Theory that challenges Einstein's physics could soon be put to the test" dated November 25. The article claims that scientists who believe that the speed of light has not always been constant (in a vacuum) have devised a testable experiment they believe could prove that. If they can prove the speed of light was much greater in the past, and don't get ostracized for it, that should call into question the supposed age of the universe and even the big bang theory as a whole. I don't have high hopes for this experiment because its unproven and of course the majority of the science community will disagree without review. But my point in bringing it up is that its not just creationist that believe that what we observe today, may have been vastly different at sometime in the past.
I. E.
I admit that I was forced to laugh about the evolutionist's remark that "with enough time, anything can happen". We know from the natural order of things that as time passes by, there is a greater probability of disorder than order in a system. Paley's Watchmaker argument is still relevant today as it was in 1802. As the watch needs a watchmaker to exist, the fish needs a Fish-Maker to exist. It sounds ridiculous that in a billion years, a watch would suddenly appear without the intervention of an intelligent being. How amazing is the faith of an atheist when it comes to his/her atheism! Why couldn't a Christian do the same about Christianity?

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