email - October 2012

Improbability

It is foolish to compute the probability of something that can’t possibly happen.

Andrew sent us this email which references an old article from a site which requires you to get a free account in order to read the articles on it. The article talks about how many nucleotides there are in a DNA molecule, how many mutations would have to occur to make a meaningful change in the gene expression, and a presumed mutation rate. It comes to the conclusion that evolution is too improbable to occur. But, comments posted by evolutionists argue that natural selection makes the process non-random and make personal attacks against the writer of the article. The italic portions in Andrew’s email are his partial quotes of the evolutionists’ comments.

Hello my name is Andrew and I am close to finishing my AS in science. It was not until recently that I honestly decided to look into the question of "Does evolution work?" I always told myself such a thing was nonsense, but never knew how to silence it or challenge it. I am astonished by all the information that destroys macro-evolutionist and naturalistic origin theory that I never knew about. I notice among the many logical arguments against evolutionary theory is statistics and probability. I find the probabilities to be undeniable in giving a death blow to evolutionary theory, however I find die hard evolutionists that counter probability as if it means nothing. I don't understand how they can do this rationally. Challenging the popular belief is a hard task as I am finding out even in the light of how irrational their beliefs are.

For instance, an old article from 2002 at http://www.thetrumpet.com/article/595.0.41.0/science/evolution/the-improbability-of-evolution speaks on the improbability of evolution, but as expected the defenders of evolution strike. Being that I am not really knowledgeable in these areas and young in my secondary education, how does one dissemble the response under the name Justin to that article? I have thoroughly enjoyed the highlighting of fallacious phrases in your websites issue releases and wonder how that method would be applied to this article.

Things that jump out at me are "Your article on “the improbability of evolution” completely ignores the natural selection, which (to put it very mildly) drastically constrains the multitude of possible events from which a favorable one can occur."

And the ad hominem "Your command of the vocabulary of modern biology leads me to believe that you probably have a sufficient understanding of the topic to know about these facts, which means you have consciously ignored them in your article."

And then the follow up comment by "Observant Human" who says "Ergo there is no need to consider the probability of proteins being made of only levo amino acids but rather focus on the simple fact that it really came down to a fifty-fifty chance during an event that happened millions of years ago."

Andrew

In the sixteen years we have written this newsletter, we have never tried to make the argument that evolution is too improbable to have been responsible for the origin and diversity of life because it isn’t improbable—it is impossible. Macroevolution isn’t some possible, but extremely unlikely explanation for how things came to be. Macroevolution doesn’t defy probability—it defies scientific laws.

The usual creationist argument against evolution on the basis of probability is invalid for two reasons.

First, to compute the probability of one particular occurrence, one must enumerate all the possible outcomes, and enumerate all the “successful” outcomes (where success is defined as a coin toss resulting in heads, or five cards forming a royal flush, or some such thing), and then determine the percentage of successful outcomes. There are well-known (to mathematicians) rules for combining the probability of individual events into an outcome that depends upon multiple events.

When speculating about the total number of mutations possible, and the number of mutations that might produce the desired result, one steps outside the realm of legitimate probability. The calculated probability value depends entirely upon the assumptions that one makes about the number of successful and unsuccessful outcomes. Furthermore, it depends upon the assumption that there really is at least one successful outcome.

For example, suppose one wanted to compute the probability that when a pair of standard gaming dice is rolled, the total on the two top faces will be 2. The only successful outcome is when the first die comes up 1, and the second die comes up 1. There are a total of 36 different outcomes. You can count them. (1 and 1, 1 and 2, 1 and 3, and so on up to 6 and 3, 6 and 4, 6 and 5, 6 and 6). So, the probability of rolling “snake eyes” is 1 out of 36. But what is the probability of rolling 13? Since the highest value is 12 (6 + 6), there are no possible outcomes, so it isn’t possible to roll 13. It isn’t simply unlikely that you will roll 13—it is impossible.

The second fallacy is that probability only works for future events. It doesn’t work for past events. If one tried to compute the probability that a boy born on my birthday in my birthplace would marry a girl born on my wife’s birthday in my wife’s birth town on the exact day and time that my wife and I got married, the probability would be impossibly low. But the fact is that I was born on my birthday, and my wife was born on her birthday, and we got married on our anniversary, no matter how improbable that was.

So, all the speculative calculations about how many random changes to DNA would be required to cause one kind of living thing to turn into a different kind of living thing are irrelevant because it just can’t happen, and if it could happen, the probability would seem to be small anyway.

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