Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

# “We Shouldn’t be Surprised that it Could Happen Because, Well, it Happened Didn’t it.”

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A frequent materialist retort to the fine-tuning argument is “We shouldn’t be surprised that unlikely event X happened, because X in fact happened.” I hope my materialist friends will enlighten me, because this statement seems daft to me.

For example, in Why Earth Isn’t Fined Tuned for Life, UD’s News Desk quotes David Waltham:

we shouldn’t be surprised that Earth fits life because, in fact, life has adapted to fit Earth. Finally, perhaps planets suitable for complex organisms occur only rarely and purely by chance. But even then we shouldn’t be surprised that we inhabit one of the few lucky worlds.

ppolish responds in the combox:

Lucky is winning the Powerball Lottery. Winning it 5 times in a row goes beyond lucky.

It is guaranteed that somebody wins the lottery however unlikely it is. Even if the requirements for life were so extreme that on average it would only happen once in a universe containing 10^24 planets, it shouldn’t surprise you to find yourself in that one place where it can happen. This is because if the stuff from which you were made was located anywhere else in the universe, there wouldn’t be the conditions necessary to allow your stuff to contemplate this. This is what they mean by the anthropic selection effect.

I suspect that even Jacoby would make a design inference if the same person won the Powerball ten times in a row. Tell us Jacoby. Would you be satisfied if the winner said, “Even if the probability of me winning ten times in a row were less than 1 in 10^24, it shouldn’t surprise you that I won ten times in a row, because I in fact won ten times in a row.”

Be that as it may, I decided to try this reasoning out last night at my poker game. Every time it came my turn to deal I dealt myself a royal flush. After this happened 15 times in a row, my friend Doug said, “Barry, I am awfully surprised that you have dealt yourself a royal flush 15 times in a row.”

To which I responded, “Well, you’re no scientist then. Ph.D physicist David Waltham assures us that if a thing happens, then we should not be surprised that it could happen, because it happened after all didn’t it.”

“Well,” Doug said, “as long as its science.” And having settled that I proceeded to deal myself royal flushes every hand for the rest of the night. Ain’t science grand?

kf, love you brother. Came across a post of Sal's claiming you didn't understand Jaynes. Priceless.Mung
April 6, 2014
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Whoops. Forgot the link @ 16... :Djstanley01
April 6, 2014
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If Improbable Event A was required for there to be an observer of the evidence of Improbable Event A, obviously, however improbable, Event A was possible. But how does such an argument answer an observer who hypothesizes from the evidence that, relying solely on natural causes, the event would be better named Impossible Event A? The answer is, not at all. It's an entirely question-begging line of reasoning which makes the impossible possible by the fallacious expedient of assuming its conclusion. Very impressive to Gomer Pyle, no doubt. But anyone who uses it is not worth being taken seriously by anyone else at all.jstanley01
April 6, 2014
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PS: For that matter, for \$5 we could give 500 shots, it makes no practical difference -- except, it would have to be electronic, say a noise maker driven off sky noise or a zener flattened out with some sort of Johnson counter or the like.kairosfocus
April 6, 2014
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Mung: Toss 500 coins in a row to give the ASCII code for a stated phrase of 73 characters in English, or the equivalent. Pay \$ 5 a shot. Let's see who would be willing to play. KFkairosfocus
April 6, 2014
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JacobyShaddix: Still no comments from you about my comments about your "statement" about probabilities in the thread: "Why Earth Isn’t Fined Tuned for Life". I remind you, if you are still there, that my comments are in posts #11, 13, 14. Why is it that when one tries to give real numbers about real probabilities, so called statistics experts like you vanish into thin air?gpuccio
April 5, 2014
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From the OP:
We shouldn’t be surprised that unlikely event X happened, because X in fact happened.” I hope my materialist friends will enlighten me, because this statement seems daft to me.
It seems daft because it's a tautology. A logical fallacy. It never ceases to amaze me how atheists can claim to have a better understanding of science and the universe than theists while holding to beliefs like this that would make Aristotle shake his head sadly.Barb
April 5, 2014
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hey kf, maybe we can get bill gates to back a lottery somewhere where such things are not state controlled with the payoff being say, a billion dollars, but the odds being so astronomical that no one in their right mind would play, but hey, if we only charge a penny per ticket... And I could win A BILLION DOLLARS! Someone HAS to win, right? Why not me?Mung
April 4, 2014
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Mung, I’m…not sure if you’re trying to be sarcastic or not…
Always! Or almost always. :)Mung
April 4, 2014
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PS: BTW, the exercise just described would easily exhaust the atomic resources of the observable cosmos. This points to one reason why 1 in 10^150 odds are a reasonable threshold for not empirically plausible. Thus the rule of thumb threshold that 500 - 1,000 bits of FSCO/I is beyond the credible reach of blind chance and mechanical necessity on any reasonable basis; it matters not if a 5th or 6th basic force or some strange interaction is identified, so long as it is blind the needle in haystack search challenge obtains. So, the hoped for blind watchmaker magic force that overwhelms these odds has an obvious interpretation: cosmological programming that writes C-chemistry, aqueous medium, D/RNA and protein using cell based life into the physics of the observed cosmos beyond what we already see from cosmology. That's fine tuning for function driven by credible foresight on steroids. Design is the only credible explanation. But, it sticks cross-ways in the gullet of those committed to a priori materialism multiplied by a visceral hostility to the idea that there may be serious empirical pointers to design of the natural world. That such visceral hostility is all too real, is abundantly documented in ever so many ideological materialist fever swamp sites. In short, it looks like blinding anger at design and credible candidate cosmos designers is in the driving seat for a lot of what we are seeing.kairosfocus
April 4, 2014
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F/N: It is a bit sadly revealing to still see the "someone MUST win the lottery" fallacy. Lotteries are winnable because of a very carefully fine tuned design: just right balance of probabilities so that SOMEONE wins, but profits are made from the many who lose after paying the winner. Ironically, a lottery is a case of fine tuning tracing to design. But, as the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack challenge shows, it is rather easy to have a situation where the explosive exponential growth of a config space utterly overwhelms available search resources. For just 500 bits, were we to set up 10^57 strings of as many coins and flip them every 10^-14 s, with one each of the 10^57 atoms of our solar system watching, we would be searching a space of 3.27*10^150 possibilities, doubling for every additional bit. The search challenge, carried out for the 10^17 s that may be reasonably available for the lifespan to date, is such that all of that searching is as a straw sized sample to a cubical haystack 1,000 light years across, comparable to how thick our galaxy is at its central bulge. Such a sample with all but absolute certainty will come up with the bulk: straw. This is an unwinnable lottery. So, when we see a complex, locally fine tuned functionally specific entity we have abundant good reason to infer design as cause, not just on induction but on this sampling result. (Locally is used to bring out Leslie's point that if in a local patch of wall a very isolated fly is swatted by a bullet, that other patches elsewhere may be carpeted so such a hit is unsurprising, is irrelevant. For the lone fly, that hit points to a marksman with a tack driver of a rifle and first class match grade ammunition matched to the rifle, which are collectively no mean fine tuning feat. Similarity to Robin Collins' fine tuned cosmos bakery argument is not coincidental.) The no surprise fallacy pivots on ignoring the needle in haystack challenge. (And in the case of longstanding ID objector sites and their major denizens, refusal to do patent duties of care regarding warrant. As in, willfully selective hyperskepticism.) KFkairosfocus
April 4, 2014
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In the beginning was the Nothing, and the Nothing was with Nothing, and the Nothing was Nothing. Nothing was with Nothing in the beginning. Through Nothing all things were made; without Nothing nothing was made that has been made. In the Nothing was life, and that life was the source of all humanity.RalphDavidWestfall
April 4, 2014
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Thought experiment: we find ourselves in the very same world, except that (per impossibile) everything gives every indication of being brand spanking new. No indications that anything existed before 1900. No plausible signs of development, change, or evolution anywhere. All the stars seem at the same stage of life. "Well Guys, it looks like we all just popped into oexistence somehow. But we shouldn't be surprised, because if we hadn't, we wouldn't be discussing it, would we?" Would that still hold anthropic water?Jon Garvey
April 4, 2014
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@Blue_Savannah Ummm...are you talking to me?VunderGuy
April 3, 2014
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As a famous saying goes: When you reject GOD, you don't believe in nothing, you believe in anything.Blue_Savannah
April 3, 2014
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@Mung I'm...not sure if you're trying to be sarcastic or not...VunderGuy
April 3, 2014
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And of course, we should not be surprised at The Fitness of the Environment before there was any life on earth, either, for who was here to be surprised?Mung
April 3, 2014
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'I hope my materialist friends will enlighten me, because this statement seems daft to me.' Yes, the general run of scientists don't seem to be too bright do they. How do they get into tertiary education? 'No thing' turning itself into 'every thing' is another corker. When our poor wee cat, Percy was alive, he would always remind us to feed him, never had faith that the nothing he faced in his wee dish, would fill it with food. Nothing is real miser.Axel
April 3, 2014
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