November 18, 2002
NOT A CHANCE: If you think life could have arisen by accident, you haven't done the math
(Dean Overman, September/October 1998, American Enterprise)
Many people today believe that life on Earth originated as a result of random accidents. Most of us vaguely recall having heard of scientific experiments involving mixtures of inanimate materials that are said to be similar to the "prebiotic soup" that existed before life began. The mixtures are hit with an electrical spark that simulates a lightning strike, and amino acids-building blocks of life-result. So we're assured that a similar accidental transformation long ago caused life to originate from non-living matter.
But in fact, recent discoveries in molecular biology, particle astrophysics, and the geological records raise profound doubts about all this. Three questions should be investigated: (1) Is it mathematically possible that accidental processes caused the first form of living matter? (2) If accident is mathematically impossible as the cause of the first form of living matter, are other popular scenarios that matter "self-organized" into life plausible? (3) Is it mathematically possible that accidental processes caused the formation of a universe that is compatible with life? In examining these questions, I will use the widely accepted scientific definition of life, which holds that living matter processes energy, stores information, and replicates.
My math's not so hot, but I like the Boeing in the junkyard bit.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2002 9:24 PM
You've posted articles like this before, and the common problem is that they tend to look at the problem backwards. A good example is this article, another is the one from several weeks ago on the anthropic principle.
It's like if you were shuffling a deck of cards. There are 8x10^67 possible sequences, but _one_ of them is going to occur, and that particular sequence is _not_ a mathematical impossibility. The mathematical impossibility lies in _predicting_ that sequence ahead of time.
It's the same with biology, or astrophysics, or anything else.
Wherein lies the reversal. Life was the _effect_ or _result_ of certain set of physical or biological conditions. The Universe was not rolling the dice to produce the right conditions for life...life exists _because_ those were the conditions.
BTW, I don't think any of this invalidates a belief in God. God is like a web page designer...and the code he uses to build it is called "science."
Got in in one, Noel.
The mathematical impossibility of life has been
debunked for a long, long time. To keep
bringing it up suggests that some people
are not keeping current.
Yes, Noel is definitely looking at the problem through the right end of the telescope. The fact that life as we know it could only have arisen in one out of 10 billion billion universes is irrelevant, because this IS the universe within which life exists. Cogito ergo sum.
I agree with Noel. On the other hand, so long as life has arisen only once, it is hard for science to make strong claims about it, given that the basis of science has to be repeated
observations. In this way, the origins of life are very different from the origins of the species, which are obviously very numerous, and it's why Darwin himself admitted that he had no idea of how life originally arose.
The refutation of these types of analysis is nothing more than question begging. "We know that we are here and we know that we are the result of material process (matter preceded mind) so, of course, the odds are irrelevant."
See, this is why modern science is repellant. The same deterministic argument applies to each of our lives. There was no chance invoilved in what I just typed. The fact that I typed it shows that it was necessary to existence. It's fine for y'all to believe such, but it robs Man of free will and excuses everything that happens. There are simply ranges of possibilities that we can dream up, but whichever one happens was predetermined to happen.
oj - I think you're mis-stating their argument by identifying it with determinism . . . however, the Noel-Harry argument is a bad one.
There are many ways a deck of cards can be distributed, but if you open a deck of cards and find them ordered A,2,3,...,K of clubs, A-K of diamonds, A-K of hearts, A-K of spades, then you should suspect that they were intentionally ordered that way.
The situation with the universe is similar. The argument is actually strengthened by the inflationary cosmology that Orrin has been skeptical about: it suggests our universe is embedded in a larger space, from which it is now causally disconnected, but from which we drew the energy and matter that now exists in the universe during our universe's first 10^-35 seconds. (There is real observational evidence for this.) As far as physics can say, there is no reason this larger space cannot have created billions of universes. However, all those universes should have the same physical laws.
Suppose, however, that each universe can have different laws -- that the laws are randomly generated like the order of a deck of cards. Then we would be in the one deck in 8*10^67 that had an order that could support life. This is the case Noel argues for.
However, as my graduate adviser, Charlie Townes, argues in the Miniter article, it's far more plausible in light of known physics to think that all these universes have the same physical laws. In this case we are back in the situation of the decks of cards fresh from the factory all in perfect order. There is no random physical-law-generator which made it a chance event that our universe had the right laws.
Also, re Charlie Murtaugh: Science can make assertions about events that happen only once; induction is not the only mode of logical reasoning. Of course repeated observations strengthen our confidence, but even one case provides useful information.
Mot sure if I agree with Noel. John Leslie examined this in some detail. The basic problem is that, yes, there are 8 E67 possibilities (and one is going to occur), but all of them save a vanishingly small fraction are meaningless....whereas we appear to have been dealt a royal flush. There are really only two answers to this: this universe had some help, or there are a lot
Stanley Jaki likes to say that there is only one universe (regions may be in some sort of physical or informational communication with one another), or else they do not communicate - and we can never know about them. Take your pick.
re Bruce's comment: Are you so sure we were dealt a royal flush? Maybe there's an alternate world out there where all the women look like Salma Hayek and all the men like a young Sean Connery, where the human body operates just fine on large amounts of beer and pizza, where the view out every window looks upon the Canadian Rockies and there's always something good on tv...
This is such a mess of nonsequiters I don't even know how to start refuting it:
there is also the problem that the laws of physics only produce regular patterns
As we know, Britian is square and all rivers flow in straight lines.
But this idea faces a grave obstaclethe simple mathematical fact that the genetic information contained in even the smallest living organism is much larger than the information content found in the laws of physics
And a book of chess openings has more information than there are in the rules of chess, yet the one implies the other. This is just a silly misapplication of information theory.
And, of course, we're assuming that a modern cell is the simplest possible form of life, which isn't at all self-evident.
The many universes/one universe debate is the angels
dancing on the head of a pin argument. We have observational evidence for only one.
We have observational evidence for life in one place, though there is a little hard-to-interpret evidence that life might have arisen more than once here.
Darwinism is based on observations. Antidarwinists need to provide counterobservations if they want to be taken seriously. Maundering about in the realms of imagination is not science.
We can imagine things that are not. But we can not observe things that are not.
What's one darwinian observation?
re: Darwinian observation
Well, all land vertebrates have essentially the same skeletal structure, with modifications mostly in size and shape of bones, not number or position.
This is precisely what one would expect if they had evolved from a common ancestor (gradually shrinking/growing and shifting); it seems a bit peculiar if they were designed, as the optimal number of neck bones is probably different for giraffes, humans, and shrews, and there is no obvious need for humans to have tail bones.
First, that's all great, but it's not something that we've observed happening.
Second, it's completely consistent with intelligent design. Most buiildings have a frame of wood or steel, does this consistency of "structure" suggest that they evolved or that their builders stuck with what worked?
It doesn't "work" all that well all the time, which is why humans have back trouble. Our backs worked better when we walked on our knuckles.
An interesting example of darwinian observation, though, that meets exactly your criteria, Orrin, is the current work on Hawaiian picture-wing fruit flies in
kipuka (islands of vegetation completely surrounded by contemporary lava flows. These isolated areas are little laboratories of evolution, and the flies evolve quickly enough that researchers can observe speciation in real time.
It has now been shown that reproductive isolation -- in other words, speciation -- can be observed within a short span of years.
I could supply you with hundreds of other relevant examples, but this one is nice because it gets around the claim that we have never seen evolution in action.
We haven't seen the continents drift for thousands of miles, either, but we can see their tracks.
Yet they're still fruit flies, just as the chihuahua and the wolf are still both dogs.
Well, if an architect built every residential structure, regardless of size, location, or use, as a wood-framed colonial with exactly 13 floor joists I would conclude not that he is a conservative engineer but that he is a nut.
Anyway, what possible observation wouldn't be consistant with design? There are plenty that wouldn't be consistant with evolution (nuclear-powered silicon-based gazelles with wheels). It seems as though the designer has gone far out of his way to make evolution look plausible.
This is a much bigger discussion than I expected but....
1) On being "dealt the royal flush." There's no way to know we were dealt a royal flush, since a "royal flush" only means anything in terms of it's relationship to other hands. As has been pointed, there's no data on "other Universes," so there's no way to tell if we're "special" or not.
2) This segues nicely into my second point, pj says I am arguing that we got the one deck in the 8x10^67 that can support life. In fact, my argument is the reverse, that life evolved in a such a way that it was compatible with our unique deck arrangment. To continue the analogy, God tossed all his cards in the air, because of the way he put them back together this is the way things are.
As for the inflationary cosmology stuff, you are correct in stating that the regions over our event horizon would likely have the same physical laws. But this fails to consider the possibilty that Universes exist as a result of a different Big Bang/ inflationary process, in which say pi=4 and G=2. We can assume life would look rather different in that Universe.
3) As for Darwinian observations: the obvious one is the butterfly in England whose dominant wing pattern became darker, then lighter as a response to the color of tree bark due to industrial pollution and its subsequent cleanup. Another is the Archaeopteryx fossil, an intermediate form between dinosaur type reptiles and birds.
5) Finally, about the "repellant" nature of modern science. I don't see that evolution eliminates free will. Anything capable of a certain level of thought has free will, and is obligated to follow moral dictates. Having that level of thought evolve via "material process" has no effect on morality.
6) Finally, about the political implications of creationism vs. evolution. It's useful and healthy to have a scientific debate like this one, because it is possible (though unlikely) that modern science is somehow fundamentally wrong about the Universe. However, in the real world, the proposed replacement for Darwin is not Skepticism but Genesis, which isn't science.
There were two "finallys" in there. My mistake.
That's sort of my point. Every observation is completely compatible with either evolution or design or both because neither is a science.
I'll just take the easiest one: the peppered moth study has been thoroughly discredited, though not re,moved from texts, and would at any rate only prove once again that we are capable through our actions of making the kind of changes to a species that appear to be evolutionary.
I looked it up, and the peppered moth study has not been "discredited." There was a study a while back that criticized the methodology of the original study but upon retesting backed up the original conclusion. Here's a link:
As for "changes that appear to be evolutionary," if it looks like a duck, flies like a duck, quacks like a duck...
Noel's point 2 deserves a brief response. (a) He seems to think that life in some form could have arisen under any "deck," and that though the coincidences that made our kind of life possible under our "deck" would not exist in other "decks", some other coincidences would. I think this is not supportable after consideration of the specific coincidences that have been cited. (b) Noel believes that a universe can have our same physical laws and yet have different values for physical constants and even for pi. This is unlikely, as the values of physical constants are probably implied in physical laws at a deep level (we just don't know the laws yet in all cases -- though values of some constants are implied in established theories). Even if this is not true, a "random fundamental constants generator" would run into the same objections as a "random physical laws generator."
Finally, the argument that only data on other universes could tell us we're special misses the point. The point is that in our universe, all of nature conspires together for good. It is consistency and complementary within the universe, not across universes, that is in evidence.