In response to my previous post here, great_ape made the following comments:
On the one hand, we must concede–we should concede, at least–that it boggles the mind how observed biological complexity can emerge from such a inherrently blind trial and error approach (BWM) [blind watchmaker]. Then again, given the timescale involved, the sequence/mutational space involved, the geographic scale involved–I do not even rule out interplanetary scale–well, those factors are also difficult to fathom as well.
I have yet to see a compelling argument–beyond “gee wiz, that’s sure a lot of complexity to generate”–that has convinced me the RM+NS [random mutation plus natural selection] process is *not* capable of generating observed complexity. Thus, I default to uniformitarianism, which holds that the forces in the past are effectively the same as those we see occurring today (i.e. RM+NS).
There are some key issues in these observations that I thought deserved a new thread, so here goes.
ID proponents are often accused of reasoning as follows: “It looks way too complex to me to have evolved by naturalistic means, so it must have been designed.” This is the classic argument-from-ignorance-and-personal-incredulity objection.
But this objection doesn’t hold water. Design is inferred not from what we don’t know, but from what we do know. ID reasoning is an inference to the best explanation, based on what is known about the nature of information-rich systems and functionally integrated machinery, as well as the causal adequacy and capacity of known mechanisms.
Is it possible to rule out RM+NS, beyond a reasonable doubt, as causally adequate to produce what we see in living systems? I argue that, yes, it is possible, and a trend in cosmology illustrates why.
Not very many years ago it was assumed that the universe must be teeming with life, because there are billions of billions of stars, and undoubtedly more billions of billions of planets. Surely, with those kinds of astronomically huge numbers, there must be lots of life-permitting planets, just by chance. (Of course, even though no one has the faintest idea how life got started, it is just assumed that if a life-permitting planet exists, life will also exist on it.)
But this reasoning left out the other half of the equation: You have to get lots of things exactly right for a planet to be habitable. How can we estimate these odds? Admittedly, we can’t be precise, but we can make some calculations based on unreasonably optimistic assumptions and see where the numbers lead.
As it turns out, since the probabilities of getting various life-permitting factors right are multiplicative, the power of mathematical combinatorics quickly swamps the probabilistic resources of the universe, even with the unreasonably generous assumptions. This is beautifully illustrated in The Privileged Planet. Complex-life-permitting planets are almost certainly extremely rare, and it may turn out that our earth is even unique.
To get a feel for the power of combinatorics, consider the game of chess. There are approximately 10^120 ways to arrange chess pieces on a chess board, and approximately 10^80 legal chess positions that can be reached in actual play. This is an interesting number, because there are an estimated 10^80 subatomic particles in the universe.
This is on a chess board with 64 squares, starting with 32 chess pieces, many of which are removed during the course of play.
In light of this, consider the complexity of proteins, DNA, the molecular machinery of the cell, and the human mind, which can create symphonies and computers.
The wrong people are on the defensive in this debate, at least in academia. Normal, reasonable people figure all this stuff out intuitively, which is why 85% of them don’t buy the blind-watchmaker stuff.
Now consider blind-watchmaker Darwinian reasoning: We observe minor changes caused by random mutation and selection, and three billion years is a long, long time, so mutation and selection extrapolated over this long period of time ought to explain all the complexity and diversity we see in living systems.
There is no reason to assume that this extrapolation is valid. Once again, the equation has two sides: time and the number of tries (probabilistic resources), versus the multiplicative, combinatoric improbabilities that must be overcome.
Note that three billion years is 10^17 seconds. Make some unreasonably generous assumptions, and see where the numbers lead.
The blind watchmaker doesn’t stand a chance against the designer.