# Probability and Evolution

A number of years ago I attended an ID conference near Kansas City. One of the breakout sessions featured a fellow from the Heritage Foundation (an ultra-right-wing political think tank) presenting a lecture about probability and evolution. His talk was mostly just a watered-down version of William Dembski’s standard talking points. His triumphant conclusion was that the probability of something or other having evolved by natural processes was one over something enormous, from which he concluded that evolution had been refuted.

There were only about fifteen of us in the room. During the subsequent question period, one older gentleman said something very close to this: “When scientists are confronted with a probability that small…” He paused here, as though struggling to accept just how small a number it was. “What else can they do but just stare at it helplessly?”

I was the next to speak. I said, “I think I can tell you how they would react to that calculation. They would question the legitimacy of the assumptions that went into it.” I then rattled off three implausible assumptions underlying the calculation. The other fellow just stared at me. The speaker, incredibly, replied that this was just a popular level presentation, and then rattled off several additional points of disanalogy between his calculation and reality. He seemed to think that was a good answer.

I replied that the problem wasn’t simply that certain details had been left out of the calculation to keep it manageable. It was that the variables that were missing could not be quantified with any accuracy. Consequently, absolutely nothing like what he was doing could be made to work. He just shrugged and went on to the next question.

Creationists love probability. If you are a speaker trying to bamboozle a lay audience, there is no better way than to drop in a back-of-the-envelope calculation. The trouble is that the things they are trying to quantify are inherently unquantifiable. There is no way to calculate the probability of an eye, for example, evolving over the course of millions of years of evolution by natural selection.

The young-Earthers typically try to circumvent this point by ignoring the role of selection. They typically toss off combinatorial arguments in which the probability of evolving some complex molecule, like hemoglobin, is taken to be one over the number of ways of arranging the amino acids in that molecule. Sadly, that only works if all of those arrangements are equiprobable, but the continuing action of natural selection ensures that they are not. The ID folks try to gum up the works with blather about specificity or universal probability bounds. But when it comes time to perform specific probability calculations (something they almost never do) they inevitably invoke “irreducible complexity” as an excuse for ignoring the role of natural selection. That is not a reasonable thing to do, to put it kindly.

A couple months ago, I took an online “moodle” class with the Center for Inquiry on the topic of the evolution debate. The instructor was the renowned philosopher and evolutionary biologist, Massimo Pigliucci. I entered into an exchange of dialogue with Pigliucci and the other students on the evidence for the efficacy of naturalistic evolution, as well as presenting some counter-arguments against it and for ID.

During the course of our discussion, Pigliucci made some claims which astonished me — especially as arguments coming from a trained philosopher and world-renowned evolutionary theorist. To my surprise, when I articulated the numerous probabilistic hurdles — hurdles which are so pervasive at every level — which Darwinism has to overcome in order to be considered a viable paradigm, he wrote,

No evolutionary biologist I know…actually attaches probabilities to specific evolutionary events of the type you are talking about. There is no way to do that. Similarly, there is no way to attach probabilities to the set of physical laws regulating our universe, for the simple reason that we have no sample population to draw from (which is why typically you estimate probabilities).

Let’s pause here. One suspects that the key phrase in Pigliucici’s statement is, “of the sort you are talking about.” Assuming that Jonathan M.’s vague reference to the probabilistic hurdles facing evolution involves the sorts of things ID folks usually say, then Pigliucci’s statement is exactly right. When an ID proponent starts applying probability language to questions regarding the fine-tuning of the universe or to specific biological structures, it’s a pretty safe bet they are talking through their hats.

But Jonathan M. demurs. He continues:

This struck me at the time as a very strange argument to be making given the fact that many Darwinists (Dawkins & Futuyma spring to mind) say that the brilliance of Darwin was to reduce the improbability of getting complex, design-like systems. What was the whole point of “Climbing Mount Improbable”? The point was that probability didn’t have to jump up the sheer face of the cliff. It could meander up the gently sloping rear side, in small probability increments. But if we can’t assign probabilities to the events, exactly what has Darwin’s theory done?

The image of probability jumping up the sheer face of a cliff is amusing, but otherwise I fail to understand how any of this relates to what Pigliucci said. After all, he certainly did not say that you must never, ever use probability language in the context of evolution.

In context, it is perfectly clear what Dawkins and Futuyma have in mind. If we naively think of every possible genotype having the same probability as every other possible genotype, and then imagine evolution proceeding by selecting genotypes entirely at random, then the probability is vanishingly small that we shall ever find one that produces a functional, complex organism. But when we factor natural selection into the process it becomes clear that we should not be treating all possible genotypes as equiprobable. Instead, most of those genotypes have a probability close to zero of ever occurring, because they will be weeded out by selection. The handful of functional genotypes will be favored by selection. In this way it is meaningful to say that natural selection changes the probabilities of evolving various structures.

Notice, though, that neither Dawkins nor Futuyma tried to calculate a precise number representing the probability of evolving some particular complex system. That’s precisely the sort of calculation Pigliucci was describing as impossible.

Jonathan M. now writes:

In response to Massimo, I cited several attempts by Darwinists — many of which feature in the peer-reviewed literature — which attempt to demonstrate the efficacy of the Darwinian mechanism by virtue of probabilistic arguments. I wrote…

He now unloads a long list of examples in which evolutionists employ probabilistic arguments. Follow the link to the post for the details. He concludes his list with:

But this should be sufficient to refute your [Pigliucci’s] claim that evolutionary biologists are not interested in evaluating probabilistic feasibility.

He now protests that he never got a reply from Pigliucci. I’m not surprised, since Jonathan M. is completely confused about what the issue is. Pigliucci certainly never claimed that biologists are not interested in evaluating probabilistic feasibility (whatever that even means). He said simply that evolutionary biologists do not assign probabilities to specific events in the way that ID folks would like.

For example, Jonathan M. points to a calculation in which biologist Sean Carroll estimated the probability of obtaining the same mutation four times independently in different orders of birds. In such a narrowly defined situation the problem has more to do with combinatorics than probability, and we can be confident that all of the relevant variables can be approximated with reasonable accuracy.

He also points to a paper by Durrett and Schmidt, in which they evaluated the probability of obtaining two particular mutations in at least one individual of a population. Once again, in such a narrowly defined situation it is possible to get a grip on all of the relevant variables. But notice that neither they, nor Carroll, were trying to calculate the probability of evolving a flagellum or anything remotely like that.

In the remaining examples the authors don’t explicitly calculate the probability of anything. Jonathan M. mentions Dawkins’ “weasel” experiment, presented in his book The Blind Watchmaker. But Dawkins was merely illustrating the power of cumulative selection versus random selection. He was not calculating probabilities. This paper by Wilf and Ewens, also mentioned in the post, puts some mathematical meat on the bones of Dawkins’ suggestion. They are working with probabilities only indirectly, and certainly were not trying to assign precise numerical values to specific evolutionary events. The final reference is to the Avida simulation, but this too had nothing to do with working out the probabilities of specific evolutionary events.

The basic point here is very simple. A proper probability calculation begins with the definition of a probability space, which means roughly that you must have a grasp on all of the things that might happen and also on the probabilities with which those events occur. There are many contexts in evolutionary biology where that can be done. In population genetics, for example, we typically narrow our focus to small numbers of loci over short periods of time, which permits us to get a grip on all of the relevant variables. This is far different from trying to work out precise probabilities for specific structures that evolved over vast stretches of time. In such situations we have no hope of getting a grip on everything.

But ID folks forge ahead regardless. More precisely, since they almost never carry out actual calculations, they simply claim that such things can be done and that when they are the result is bad news for evolution. Pointing out that this sort of thing is not feasible even in principle, as PIgliucci quite sensibly did, hardly implies that probability does not have useful roles to play in evolutionary theory.

1. #1 Neil Rickert
August 16, 2011

I still find myself amazed at that post by JonathanM. It is such a naked display of ignorance.

2. #2 Kel
August 16, 2011

Oh good, it’s not just me who finds such arguments as grossly misrepresenting the process. I remember being asked to calculate the probability of some existing gene, as if I had a complete evolutionary history by which to crunch the numbers. Geting so sick of seeing the sharpshooter fallacy expressed as ‘proof’ a designer must have done it.

3. #3 Massimo Pigliucci
August 16, 2011

Yup, you got it exactly right!

4. #4 wbk
August 16, 2011

If you calculated the probability of the particular arrangement of grains of sand on the beach at a snapshot in time it would be wildly improbable, and yet there it is (and you get a new wildly improbable arrangement after each wave recedes). Mis-interpreting this kind of small probability is very common. We’re encouraged to interpret small probabilities as evidence that an event is unlikely to occur in some contexts, such as the small probability of a chance match in a DNA test in a criminal case. It’s not so straightforward to recognize the difference between how probability is used in a criminal case and how it’s used here. The key, I think, is that small probabilities are really only meaningful when they’re compared with other alternative outcomes (e.g. the probability of a chance match in a criminal case, vs. the probability of a match if the sample came from the accused).

5. #5 Mike Gage
August 17, 2011

Has anyone else ever tried to comment at Uncommon Descent? I made some very tame comments just pointing out some simple errors in reasoning and they were never posted. Apparently that is their M.O. They censor all other opinions (except for a few very mild cases so they can deny it) and just have a safe community free of well-argued dissent.

6. #6 Owlmirror
August 17, 2011

Monsieur Rosenhouse, $$\frac{(a+b^n)}{n} = x$$, therefore, God exists! Reply!

7. #7 James Thompson
August 17, 2011

Do you think that the arguments would be more accessible and clear if they focused on relative probability (or likelihood ratios?) rather than absolute probability? Evolution is complex, and there are many factors that are difficult to estimate. However, if one is clever about the way that comparisons are made, many of those factors will cancel out.

8. #8 Koray
August 17, 2011

No surprise there, Jason. You wrote a book on how people fail to grok probability theory after all.

9. #9 craig schwartz
August 17, 2011

Given the typical human ejaculate contains some hundred of millions of sperm, and give the number of chance meetings and couplings of JonathanMs’ parents, and grandparents, and along the whole chain of his ancestry, the probability of JonathanM existing at all is vanishingly small. Therefore, he doesn’t (exist).

10. #10 Bob O'H
August 17, 2011

I’m not going to bother to set craig schwartz straight because (a) by the same argument he doesn’t exist either, and (b) I don’t exist.

The Lord, however, does exist – or so it seems to me. Perhaps you’d like to sing to him. He likes that. Or at least he acts in a way which I interpret to mean he likes it.

11. #11 Richard Wein
August 17, 2011

To calculate a probability (or any other quantity relating to a real process) we need to be able to abstract the real, complex process down to a relatively simple model which roughly preserves the quantity that we’re interested in. This isn’t always possible.

Nilsson and Pelger did it (arguably) for the evolution of an eye, by abstracting the eye down to its most significant elements, and using a crude general model for estimating the time needed for each small change. (They estimated an expected time rather than a probability, but the two are closely related.) But note that they were showing the existence of an evolutionary scenario that rendered the evolution of that trait probable. It would be much harder to show the non-existence of any such scenario, which is what the creationist is trying to do.

12. #12 JimR
August 17, 2011

Given that evolution consists of small incremental changes, then trying to apply probability as if each event is independent gives you the (1/quazillion)^wayupthere kind of calculations. This model is completely wrong.
Bayes theorem is the only accurate model basis where each step is preconditioned on the prior one. With simultaneous combinations in the 10^? occurring and infeasible ones dropping out, the calculation at each step is 10^?/quazillion), a much lower, but still unknown probability.
Also there is not just one selection, but multiple surviving, all of which may be equally feasible. AND most likely there are many replicates of each of the multiple lines. Catastrophic events may weed some of these lines.
The many lines and many reps is especially true in the evolutionary changes in unicellular organisms. It becomes somewhat narrower as the complexity of the organism advances. So the timeline for advantageous changes in the unicellular evolution is short compared to the timeline for more complex lines. Yet the time existed.
I’m sorry for folks that cannot imagine these vast populations changing over time. There is no end goal except survival at each step. Natural Selection is a scary, but fascinating process.
I’m glad I made it to see the advances made up to now. I wonder where life forms will be 10^n years from now.

13. #13 TomS
August 17, 2011

I like to calculate, using the same methodology, the probability that an intelligent designer would design things the way they are.

An intelligent designer, presumably, can do more things than can be done by “naturalistic processes”.

The probability that something happens is the number of favorable cases divided by the number of possible cases. Intelligent design means that the denominator, the number of possible cases, is greater than the number of possible cases with naturalistic processes.

This means that, no matter how small the probability is that naturalistic processes would result in such-and-such, the probability is smaller that an intelligent designer would do it.

Things would change, to be sure, if someone would specify what sorts of things intelligent designers would not, or could not, do.

14. #14 Dunc
August 17, 2011

To take a slightly different tack, there’s also the question of whether a combination with an apparently vanishingly low probability actually [i]is[/i] all that improbable once you’re dealing with a beaker the size of a planet over timescales of hundreds of millions of years… Sure, the question is fundamentally “not even wrong”, but even granting these absurd premises for the sake of argument, I’m still not convinced.

15. #15 NJ
August 17, 2011

Bob O’H @ 10:

I’m not going to bother to set craig schwartz straight because (a) by the same argument he doesn’t exist either, and (b) I don’t exist.

That whooshing sound you heard was the point of his post going right by you.

16. #16 Tommy Holland
August 17, 2011

Reminds me of the absurd probability calculations that evangelists make to demonstrate how unlikely it would be for a man named Jesus to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy, let alone “hundreds” of them. They’re careful to list the absurdly large numbers, but never show how those numbers were calculated.

17. #17 Lenoxus
August 17, 2011

Bob O’H:

The Lord, however, does exist – or so it seems to me. Perhaps you’d like to sing to him. He likes that. Or at least he acts in a way which I interpret to mean he likes it.

That’s an… oddly constrained description. Is “the Lord” the name of one of your pets, unable to literally say “that pleases me” but able to wag its tail or rub its face against you?

Or perhaps you are being extremely euphemistic, and “the Lord” is your nickname for a lover? Nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just that I can’t help but see “if you get my drift” after “he acts in a way I interpret to mean he likes it”.

If “the Lord” is God, I wonder why his tastes have changed. Didn’t the smell of burning ox flesh used to please his nostrils? But now he’s all about the music. An improvent, I suppose.

18. #18 TomS
August 17, 2011

@craig schwartz #9:

I like that version of the probability argument, too.

The way I prefer to calculate it is:

First of all, excluding intermarriage, a person has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, and 8 grandparents, so let’s assume distinct 10 ancestors per generation in the 19th century and earlier; and three generations per century. That means 30 ancestors per century. If we go back 1000 years, that means about 300 ancestors.

And in those days, a lot of children died before reaching maturity, something like 50%.
(We can reduce that number significantly by considering the probability that ancestor X and ancestor Y met and became the parents of your ancestor Z.)

So the probability that all of your ancestors survived to maturity to become your ancestor is something like (0.5)^(300), approximately (0.1)^900 = 1 / 10^900.

19. #19 dean
August 17, 2011

“the Heritage Foundation (an ultra-right-wing political think tank) ”

It’s not a think tank: it’s a dogma tank.

20. #20 eric
August 17, 2011

there’s also the question of whether a combination with an apparently vanishingly low probability actually [i]is[/i] all that improbable

Right. As several posters have pointed out, highly improbable things happen all the time. In fact, in any circumstance where a large number of different things could happen, there is a near-100% chance that something highly improbable will happen. 🙂

Have a creo tell you what limit makes some event too improbable to happen (i.e., 1 in 10^X). Roll a number of six-sided dice equal to 1.3*X (rounding up), and you’ll create an event that is less probable than their limit.

21. #21 Raging Bee
August 17, 2011

IF you want to disprove evolution using probability, you have to demonstrate that the creation of all life on Earth as we see it by a “Designer” is MORE probable than the creation of such life through evolution.

So how would we do that? First, of course, we have to make some assumptions about the Designer: who/what is he/she/it/they? And since the overwhelming majority of creationists clearly assume it’s the God of the Bible, we’ll go with that assumption: Go — excuse me, The Designer — is a supernatural being of literally infinite power and knowledge.

Next step: what is the range of possible universes this esigner can create? Answer: an INFINITE range — an all-powerful Go — Designer — can create anything he’s capable of imagining, which, for a being of infinite intelligence, is an infinite range. So what’s the probability of the Designer creating this particular Universe, with this particular set of life-forms, out of the literally infinite range of possibile universes he could have created? Why, that would be one in infinity — which is to say zero. Not “essentially zero,” mind you, not “vanishingly small,” not “close” to zero, but really, truly, exactly, LITERALLY zero point zero zero zip zilch nada buggerall fuggedaboutit. Creationists, please reply.

22. #22 Dr. I. Needtob Athe
August 17, 2011

When someone argues that evolution is too improbable to be true, one might respond in this fashion:

“Think about the improbability that you were born. It required that your two parents met each other and mated at the exact time that they did (else your brother or sister would have been born instead), and that, in turn, required that your four grandparents met each other and mated at the exact time that they did so that your parents existed in the first place, which required that your eight great-grandparents all met and mated at the exact time that they did, and so on, all the way back to the beginning of mankind. Therefore, using your logic, I just proved that you don’t exist.”

23. #23 Vicki
August 17, 2011

Bob O’H: I trust there’s enough fish to keep the Lord happy. (Lenoxus: It’s a literary allusion.)

This is the point at which I want to tell the anti-evolutionists that the probability of humans having evolved is 1, because it has happened in every known universe. I don’t believe this, or rather I don’t think it’s meaningful, but I also think it’s sounder than their numbers, because it’s based on observed facts, namely, we exist.

24. #24 TomS
August 17, 2011

@Raging Bee #21:

I agree fully with you. I was being a little more conservative, but I agree that the probability that an omnipotent being would create such-and-such is zero.

But I would note that mathematicians do not equate “probability zero” to “impossible”. For example, a real number is rational with probability zero.

BTW, I made a mistake in the final calculations of my post #18. It should read:

So the probability that all of your ancestors survived to maturity to become your ancestor is something like (0.5)^(300), approximately (0.1)^90 = 1 / 10^90.

25. #25 Jeff Sherry
August 17, 2011

Owlmirror, wasn’t that argument used in Catherine the Greats court to dismiss a french philosopher?

26. #26 Ken sinisi
August 17, 2011

Doesn’t the seemingly endless debate of evolution vs. creationism, when broken down to it’s simplest form, become a debate of the logical vs. the illogical? Why would one continually try to explain and reason with another who insists that a wheel is square, and not round? Prove to me that the wheel is round. I say it’s square. A lesson in futility.

27. #27 stevev
August 17, 2011

So the probability that all of your ancestors survived to maturity to become your ancestor is something like (0.5)^(300), approximately (0.1)^900 = 1 / 10^900.

But all of your ancestors DID survive to maturity (or you wouldn’t be here) so the probability is 1.

28. #28 Kel
August 17, 2011

Plantinga’s EAAN is a perfect example of armchair philosophy, where really such an approach shows moore the limitation of the philosopher than of the process itself. Fodor’s a priori argument against natural selection another. It’s interesting reading about experiment after experiment that illustrates natural selection so well, only to find talking about counterfactuals that rule out ‘selection for’. In defence of philosophers, many rushed to point out precisely where Fodor was mistaken, just as many have argued against Plantinga. But what good does either argument do for the practice of biology? Does either argument make predictions about the phenomena observed? Are they empirically falsifiable? If not, what good are they?

29. #29 Jud
August 17, 2011

Or at least he acts in a way which I interpret to mean he likes it.

Dude, He’s gonna kill you. Kinda screws up your “argument” (fond hope, really).

30. #30 Kel
August 17, 2011

Whoops, that last comment was meant to go in a different thread. My mistake.

31. #31 Jud
August 17, 2011

Or at least he acts in a way which I interpret to mean he likes it.

Dude, He’s gonna kill you. Kinda screws up your “argument” (fond hope, really).

32. #32 Jud
August 17, 2011

One typical creationist error is to consider the actual outcome as the only “right” outcome, and treat one over number-of-possible-outcomes as the relevant probability. This is what’s behind the argument that the probability you exist is infinitesimal, or the grains-of-sand example in #4. Sean B. Carroll pointed out in one of his books that if the creationist view were correct, no one would win the (Powerball) lottery for a couple million years – the odds of a particular player winning are about 200 million to 1, and there are two drawings per week, so about 100 per year. But someone wins the lottery every couple of weeks, so that’s obviously not the correct calculation. The correct calculation is the one that gives the odds of *anyone* winning the lottery, just as the correct evolutionary calculation is not the odds of one specific mutation, but of *any* mutation occurring that allows the organism to survive and reproduce. (Those odds are then of course modified by selection in some cases, and go to fixation through genetic drift in other cases.)

33. #33 Matt G
August 17, 2011

I came up with an analogy. Imagine playing bridge and having all four players dealt all the cards in a suit. The probability of being dealt those hands is minuscule, yet the probability of being dealt ANY given set of hands is just as minuscule.

34. #34 Face
August 18, 2011

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35. #35 Face
August 18, 2011

reis diyosa haklıdır

36. #36 Kel
August 18, 2011

Matt G, the problem with that analogy is that the creationists will agree that each hand is equally improbable – but that you’ve gotten a royal flush. While any hand is equally improbable, the quality of the hand varies in probability.

That said, they leave the most crucial element out – selection. If you return individual cards and keep good ones, gradually you’ll get a better and better hand. Yes, a royal flush is really improbable, but you’re going to get one so much quicker by gradually mutating a hand than you are doing it from scratch. By assigning those a priori improbabilities, they misrepresent the process, and thus the numbers are useless.

37. #37 Remo
August 18, 2011

If the universe is infinite (which it may well be) then regardless of its improbability, life will have arisen in an infinite number of locations.

QED

38. #38 Owlmirror
August 18, 2011

Owlmirror, wasn’t that argument used in Catherine the Greats court to dismiss a french philosopher?

Actually, it is almost certainly apocryphal.

But I am sure that Jason knows of the anecdote, and, I hope, finds the reference appropriately amusing.

39. #39 TomS
August 18, 2011

As far as the “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism”, I like to transpose all of the arguments by the evolution-deniers into arguments where “evolution” is replaced by “reproduction”. It’s fascinating just how many of the arguments for creationism/intelligent design turn out to be at least as good (if not better!) arguments for Scientific Storkism.

For example, let us suppose that our brains are the product of naturalistic processes of reproduction and development. How, then, can we trust out thoughts?

BTW, let us suppose that our thoughts are, rather, just implanted in our brains by some “intelligent designer”. Does that make them any more reliable? After all, this is the same “intelligent designer” who designed the universe with the false appearance of life being related by billions of years of common descent. Would you trust a used-car salesman who told you that the used car only had the appearance of being 20 years old with 500,000 miles on it – it’s “really” last year’s model? (And the used-car salesman is only off by a factor of 10 or 100 – not a factor of a million or so, like “young earth creationism”.)

40. #40 anthrosciguy
August 18, 2011

One problem pseudoscientists face is that they shortcut from speculation to the end. While it’s possible that a biologist thinking about evolution (it would have to be sometime back when we didn’t have anywhere near as much info as we do now) might make a probalistic back of the envelope calculation to see if a completely random process — random from start to finish — could account for what we see in nature. They’d see that it doesn’t, and the reaction would be that they needed to do more thinking about what could account for this. And they did that and we’ve got a very sound idea of how this happens.

The pseudoscientist typically takes the first speculation and that’s it: they treat it as the finished product and it becomes, in their minds, data.

You see this sort of short circuiting from speculation to “data” over and over in virtually all types of pseudoscience and pseudohistory.

41. #41 Matt G
August 18, 2011

Kel-

I use that bridge analogy to counter the “evolution is like a tornado going through a junkyard and assembling a 747” argument. Any number of organisms COULD have evolved, but a tiny subset actually did. You extension of my analogy is a lot like Dawkin’s “Methinks it is like a weasel” analogy which illustrates how cycles of (random) mutation and (non-random) selection can generate something non-random.

42. #42 Kel
August 18, 2011

Matt G, indeed. It’s a really good analogy, so much so that creationists still try their damn hardest to miss the point and take the analogy for what it wasn’t. Though it’s even more amazing that creationists so fundamentally misunderstand how evolution works that any talk of probability that they’re going to take any explanation of improbability as being monkeys on typewriters producing Shakespeare.

43. #43 Pragmatist
August 18, 2011

All of these type of Creationist arguments really are variations on this question:
“It works in practice, but can they prove it works in theory?”
The absurdity of that is all that is needed to rebut them.

44. #44 shekhar
August 19, 2011

It is very wonderfull center

45. #45 John K.
August 19, 2011

Probability is just a way to manage the unknown. The big problem in the probability argument here is taking known factors and treating them as if they were unknown.

A set of parents have 3 daughters. What are the chances the next child they have will be female? 1 in 2 of course. Why not 1 in 16? Because the first 3 children have KNOWN genders.

Lottery numbers are difficult to pick because of the many unknown factors. If the trajectories of all the balls are accurately traced (a difficult task to be sure) the correct numbers could be picked every time. When something happens that is “highly improbable” to you, it is more a reflection how much of the process was unknown to you.

For creationists that deliberately refuse to consider evidence, it is natural that they think the probability is very low. Their understanding is abysmally poor.

46. #46 Lenoxus
August 20, 2011

Regarding the EAN: on top of everything else, it seems that the EAN requires a premise like “It is true that our minds are rational and our thinking process can be trusted to be accurate.” For a premise in a logical argument, sn’t that extremely problematic? How do we know that our minds aren’t faulty?

In fact, it’s worse than that, because we know, from thousands of experiments, the precise ways our minds get fooled; we call them “cognitive biases”. So we actually have positive evidence that if our minds are the product of an omnipotent designer, she wanted them to be irrational.

47. #47 rob
August 23, 2011

@Remo:

“It is known that there are an infinte number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely products of a deranged imagination.”

48. #48 Jeff
August 28, 2011

He just shrugged and went on to the next question.

This is what they do. A couple of years ago, I attended a talk given by a YEC who had just bamboozled Harvard into giving him a PhD in Cell Biology. It was sponsored by an evangelical church, but there were a number of scientists and science-oriented people in attendance, including a real microbiologist, and they hammered away at him during the Q&A. Each time he was backed into a corner, made to admit he didn’t understand or was ignorant of the science, he just dropped the issue in question and moved on.

For these people, it has absolutely nothing to do with apprehending objective reality. It’s entirely about getting the ontological security blanket for the few brief decades they’re here – and for many (I contend it’s most), fantasizing about our eternal torment being their half-time entertainment in the afterlife.

September 8, 2011

@#7: Michael Behe’s “Complex Specified Information” is a likelihood ratio (sort of), but it fails for the same reason that Jason wrote about. CSI calculates the likelihood of jumping up the cliff, a “big jump” null hypothesis, and claims it is impossible. The possibility of gradual selection, or going up the gradual slope, is not considered, nor it is acknowledged that it isn’t possible to calculate such a number.

50. #50 Paul
November 2, 2011

Fantastic post I very much enjoyed it, keep up the good work.

51. #51 Emil Sugak
November 30, 2011

Throughout history man has taken very good records of big events thats a fact. So to say evolution is true,Then why is it not recorded. I mean man has been around thousands of years and there is not one record of one animal evolving from one to another or one evolving to man. Even if something as far fetched as that happened it would have made headline news, thats also a fact. So if we supposedly evolved from monkeys or apes why then are they still here and why are they not evolving now,Even if they were scientists would be recording it and that would also make headline news, also a fact.So now scientists are again trying to assume that evolution happens rapidly,Even you should be able to laugh yourself silly on that one. For everything that happens there is proof,another fact and you know that also. Bottom line is all science is trying to assume that evolution is true when in fact it is not and not even close to being true. All that happens all around the world is everything all living things great and small adapt to the environment they are living in. When all evolution theories are proven wrong so far I cannot wait to hear what the next assumption will be, Should be a good one.

52. #52 Wow
November 30, 2011

> So to say evolution is true,Then why is it not recorded.

It is.

The evolution of viral resistance is a record of evolution, for example.

> and there is not one record of one animal evolving from one to another

See above.

> or one evolving to man

It isn’t magic. No “Size of an Elephant!” fwoosh.

You’re still beholden to the childish wish fulfilment.

Have a look at the foetus development. There’s a tadpole. There’s a lizard. Then there’s a baby. Then there’s a child. Then there’s an adult.

Those changes are so much part of every day, that transformation from tadpole to human doesn’t make the news because it is so commonplace.

> So now scientists are again trying to assume that evolution happens rapidly

You’re proof that devolution happens rapidly.

I guess you just invest whatever nonsense you believe is nonsense and paste it over what you’re told about science so you don’t have to think. How rapid is “rapid” in this case?

> Bottom line is all science is trying to assume that evolution is true when in fact it is not and not even close to being true

Bottom line: what is going on, then?

53. #53 Eric
March 15, 2012

The probability argument is just one. Evolutionists also have to bear the burden of explaining how naturalistic processes somehow broke some very basic laws of nature in order for life to be created, i.e. the law of biogenesis and the laws of thermodynamics. I find it funny that a group that is so set on evidence being the only criteria for rational belief in something would be quite content with, “We don’t know.”, regarding the theory of evolution.

54. #54 Wow
March 15, 2012

“i.e. the law of biogenesis and the laws of thermodynamics”

Nope, biogenesis doesn’t disobey the laws of thermodynamics.

They turn high-energy, low-entropy sunlight at a spectrum of 6000K and turn it into low-energy, high-entropy thermal energy at a spectrum of ~300K.

Nothing broken there.

I find it funny when people find it funny when they promote their ignorance of science onto others and think it proves these others are wrong.