Uncommon Descent Contest

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds?

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Addressing the Inbox, I discovered this most interesting tale about lotteries in Bulgaria, a tale that reminds me of a similar suspicious lotto in my own Canadian province of Ontario.

In Money Matters, at Australia’s news.com, we learn that “Lottery numbers the same in consecutive draws in Bulgaria” (correspondents in Sofia, Agence France-Presse, September 16, 2009)

Here are the bullet points, and you can read the rest yourself.

  • The numbers 4, 15, 23, 24, 35, and 42 were drawn two weeks in a row / File
  • Same numbers picked in consecutive draws
  • Review of the national lottery is ordered
  • Probability is 4.2 million to one

Hmmmm. If these charges are true, I’m glad I am not in charge of that investigation. I would hardly want to hear all the lies people would probably try to tell me. Our Ontario premier, faced with a similar situation, fired the chair and the whole board of the lottery corporation and decided to start fixing the problem from scratch. I would recommend looking for statisticians and tough cops, not just anyone with the “power from behind” to sit through an endless board meeting.*

But here’s the question that this and other questionable lottery stories leave me with: The intelligent design theorists emphasize probability issues. Their chief knock against Darwinism is that it appears improbable. In the same way, an accidental origin of the fine-tuned values of our universe appears improbable. If I understand the matter correctly, the universe is assumed to be over 13 billion years old, or so, and Earth over 4 billion years old. (I assume these values for convenience as I believe them to be generally accepted.) So we can assume a basis for computing probability.

So, for a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD, which addresses the fine tuning of the universe:

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds. If not, why not? If so, how?

You might want to look at Bill Dembski’s No Free Lunch.

(Note: Thanks to Ilion Troas for alerting me to this story.)

*One alternative: Don’t have a lottery at all. Lotteries attract vast moral hazard and corruption because they look like free money. I never supported the idea and don’t buy tickets, and think that worthy causes should be funded in the usual ways, through taxes, donations, memberships, sponsorships, premiums, etc. But this mini-editorial is unrelated to the point of the contest question.

11 Replies to “Uncommon Descent Contest Question 12: Can Darwinism beat the odds?

  1. 1
    Arthur Hunt says:

    I’ve written a number of essays that deal with this subject:

    The paper often cited by IDists along these lines is wrong.

    “The odds” do not seem to be that great (as in disposed against Darwinian mechanisms).

    Indeed, “the odds” are low.

    As I told Kirk Durston.

    And Behe.

    “The odds” (as in the relatively accessible nature of the problem of new proteins arising via natural mechanisms) pertain to all aspects of gene expression, not just the origination of new functional proteins.

    I know, I know, links don’t qualify for the prize, and I am sure that the lengths of these essays exceeds some limit. But maybe other readers can pick up on some of these themes and explore the ramifications.

  2. 2
    JamesBond says:

    The alleged fine tuning our universes’ fundamental values has nothing to do with the theory of evolution.

    While abiogenesis might still be something of a work in progress, cosmology and galactic astronomy have both given us a fairly good indication that the conditions for the formation of an earth-like planet are not unreasonable.

  3. 3
    Gods iPod says:

    “worthy causes should be funded in the usual ways, through taxes”

    Excuse me?? Taxation is THEFT. There is no cause worthy enough to justify theft.

  4. 4
    Innerbling says:

    In his blog Arthur Dent insists for example that ID position is:

    “ID debate, especially since ID proponents insist that new protein-coding genes cannot arise “by chance”.”

    “That makes it pretty clear — T-urf13 is a mathematical impossibility. It simply cannot exist.”


    Quotes in the blog proves the willful(?) ignorance of Mr. Dent. How come he doesn’t understand the difference between Behe’s “not reasonable” and his assertion of “not possible”? Behe and other ID proponents demand rigorous reasonable algorithmic and probabilistic account for rise of new functionality through evolution. As should be done by every serious scientist as well.

    Nowhere to my knowledge do ID proponents assert that it’s impossible as Mr. Dent boldly asserts. I understand the need to score debate points and soothe ones ego but it’s not wise to do it by obvious misrepresentation. If Mr. Dent chooses to misrepresent even the most basic premise of ID proponents how come ID proponents or anyone else should listen to anything more he has to say?

    However maybe some more knowledgeable ID proponent should comment on the plasticity claims of proteins? Is it really true that the islands of functionality are as close as Mr. Dent seems to assert? And do proteins have this “neutral zone” where neutral evolution can work i.e. non-coding part or would it use too much energy to maintain it? Is it reasonable?

  5. 5
    Nakashima says:

    Mr iPod,

    Taxation is THEFT. There is no cause worthy enough to justify theft.

    What about ‘the common defense’? Hitler should have been defeated by charity bake sales?

  6. 6
    Innerbling says:

    Oh too much coffee today of course I mean Hunt not Dent in my post. Sorry for the misrepresentation. 🙁 Too many hours with Hitchhikers guide to galaxy it seems… 🙂

  7. 7
    steve_h says:

    If a man and a woman are married and do the unmentionable enough times, there’s a pretty good chance that a child will result, and that child will most likely have some of the characteristics of each parent: “Darwinism”

    The chances of a child forming spontaneously from a bunch of chemicals is less than one in 10^{A big number}: “the odds”.

    To summarize: “Yes”.

    Also, 1:42x41x40x39x38x37/6x5x4x3x2x1 = 1:5,245,786 != 1:4,200,000.

  8. 8
    Jgold says:

    Hmmm, methinks the Darwinists are not realizing something. This thing is the long run. It is the long run which they think they are depending on. However, in reality is the long run merely insures Darwinian failure. We can safely ignore natural selection as it is powerless to create anything new.

    Note in the lotto example it happened once. In Darwinian evolution it has to happen again, again, and again while experiencing no major negative results along the way. So, in the long run natural selection actually helps to prevent macro evolution by destroying the major negative results.

    Simple but the Darwinian process is stated with even more simplicity; almost child-like simplicity.

  9. 9
    Heinrich says:

    (apologies if this appears twice)

    FWIW, I don’t think it is too unlikely to have the same numbers appear twice. Let’s look at the maths.

    Assume the probability of getting the same numbers twice is p=4.2e-6 (BTW, steve_h, I agree: that needs about 26 numbers). Then, assume that there are 50 lotteries played around the world, and each has been played for every week for 10 years (this is almost certainly an underestimate). The probability of never getting the same numbers twice is (1-p)^(50*52*10) = 90%, so the probability of this happening at least once is about 10%.

    If we assume that there are 50 balls, then the probability of this happening in a single occurrence is 6.3e-08, or about 60 in a (US) billion. The probability of this ever happening is about 0.16%. Low, but still a long way above the UPB. With 1000 lotteries running for 10 years (an overestimate?), it’s about 3%.

  10. 10
    JoeNC says:

    My answer…I believe Dembski and others answer the probability question by pointing out the impossibility of Darwinists demonstrating how the odds were beat using their current standards of evidence. For a great, impossibly large gap exists between the claims of Darwinists for the power of randomness and the realistic specifics supplied so far to demonstrate this power.

    Delineating the reasonable number of steps and details to be provided as proof for Darwinian transformations should be at the forefront of scientific endeavors on the subject. Given the absurd and counter-intuitive nature of “design from nothing” claims, the exact nature of what rigorous standards of evidence are needed for proof should, as we speak, be getting hammered out by thousands of scientists. The true scope of minute detail needed grows exponentially as we understand more about DNA, correction mechanisms and information. The gap, already impossibly enormous is getting bigger.

    DNA and its attendant structures contain the plan for a human being capable of creating computers and deciphering the DNA strand, as well as the instructions for constructing an actual being from this plan. How should we validate any claim that at some previous time that the precursor of these structures existed and was randomly modified to its present state? Surely the claimant must provide millions of intervening steps to even rate consideration for the credibility of their paradigm. Incredibly, there is no discussion within mainstream circles of the almost complete lack of realistic steps provided to support such massive changes in information and complexity, even more disheartening, there is no discussion of what the scope and detail of these steps should be. Any number of simpler models can be used to emphasize the “emperors new clothes” state of Darwinism.

    For comparison let us choose a more basic apparatus than “us”, a computer that runs a toy that rolls. Let someone claim that by random steps this computer and toy were transformed into another system, a computer that runs a toy that flies. How many intervening generations of randomly altered software versions are needed to support the claim? What about the provability of the viability of each random change to the software? Correspondingly, how many mutated versions of the physical toy are necessary for proof? Should these details be worked out before addressing the probability of both these transformations taking place in just the right order in some miraculous simultaneous fashion to actually work together?

    Correspondingly, how many actual DNA strands must be included from any of the claimed Darwinian sequences, with the incremental changes from each previous state delineated along with some proof of the viability of the resulting step? Imagine actually trying to meet the standards for the computer/toy model. How many intervening steps (or lack thereof) would it take to dispatch the claim? Of course, the specific and detailed sequence of steps involved in (If I may borrow the phrase) “goo to you” evolution will not be provided by Darwinists. A standard outline of the number and metrics of the steps that would constitute reasonable evidence is not even remotely on the horizon, and that should be the center of attention in this debate. Slowly, maybe tools such as information theory can pull more and more people back into something closer to reality as to the absurd contrast between what is needed to prove Darwinism and what Darwinists themselves believe is needed. It is painfully obvious just how much is missing, much too much for even a basic discussion on their part about probability. For now its like shooting ducks in a pond…there is zero probability that “something magic happened” randomly.

  11. 11
    PhilipW says:

    Numbers are not so malleable as some suggest. It is a fact that there are 479,000,000 ways to arrange the order of a dozen eggs in a carton (or atoms in a molecule). For a nice little treatise on the sheer power of large numbers I would comment to your attention an article by Isaac Asimov regarding the hemoglobin number. It is reprinted in a series of his titled “Only a Trillion” and is available on the web as an e book.

    Having said that though we can easily demonstrate by various other methods that Darwinian evolution can not possibly explain the life which we find on this planet. Let’s explore one of these methods by asking the question “How, and why, did flight originate?” Before any creature took to the air there was nothing there to eat and so why would any creature, even an intelligent creature, want to fly. There could have been no powerful survival benefit in flight beyond perhaps escaping a predator to recommend it. Also, there are many other and far simpler ways to escape a predator. Flight is perhaps the most complicated and sophisticated activity that any creature possesses which means that it would have taken an extraordinary number of attempts by random evolutionary methods to make it a reality. There is another and even more fundamental question which underlies biological flight. Did nature, completely unguided by intelligence, just somehow know that flight was even possible or achievable? Humans, with their intelligence, were able to make gliders and toy airplanes long ago but they had an objective and they also had the model of the birds to follow. Even at that it took a long time to achieve human flight despite the huge cost in time, effort, and treasure which they were willing to expend. No amount of tinkering, especially without a conscious objective, could possibly account for biological flight. There are simply too many things which would have had to happen all at once for that to be possible. Remember that nature had no way of knowing that flight was possible and it certainly had no previous conception of flight. Without having an objective how can random tinkering achieve anything?

    Even now, with considerable human intelligence, we have limits. Science does not try to achieve anything, on a serious level, which cannot be demonstrated to be achievable. Once we find clues that give us a ray of hope the situation changes drastically; and at that point we feel certain enough of eventual success to justify pouring money and effort into a project.

    In other words, there are very good reasons why Boeing is not trying to develop an anti-gravity transportation device. They do not know whether or not it is possible and thus are unwilling to devote resources into the search.

    That is where nature would have been so far as flight is concerned. Where was the incentive to try to fly?

    Adding intelligence to the question changes the chances for success. We add many trials and failures specifically designed to find better answers and eventually it became simple for us to fly, and quite well thank you. We invented the wind tunnel and added mathematics and found more efficient airfoils through long tedious experiments and we are now able to easily fly. A home built ultralite glider (part 103) is simple to build and fly. They are so efficient that they virtually leap off the ground and they can soar for hours on a good day. Birds do that with no designer? The Arctic Tern does very well and it did it without a designer? Hundreds of things have to be just right for the Tern to fly as well as it does and all of those things have to have flight controls too. It is not enough to just fly. That is only the beginning of the complex activity.

    The Arctic Tern has a complete navigational system built in. It must maintain the proper airspeed and altitude and it must account for wind drift and a hundred other things of migrate as it does. The Tern flies over uncharted oceans in its migration and all the flying ability in the world would do it no good if it could not navigate.

    To those of you who are pilots; how would you like to be in a low flying aircraft flying at 20 – 30 knots and have a landing strip no longer than the width of a telephone wire?

    To those of you who design and build model aircraft; could you build a model which would be capable of landing on a telephone wire, even with solid state accelerometers and advanced computer controls? What about mimicking a woodpecker which lands with complete confidence on the trunk of a tree? Could you build a model airplane that could do that? After all, the modest little woodpecker does it hundreds of times a day. Surely with your intelligence and the powerful tiny computers at your disposal it should be a cinch.

    How does a hummingbird which weighs less than your thumb migrate across the Gulf of Mexico on 2 grams of fat?

    I happen to be a pilot so these questions come naturally to me as regards flight but there are hundreds of other examples in nature which are so advanced as to constitute “miracles of evolution.” Do you evolutionists believe in miracles?

    The evolutionist sees a tree growing and says it happened all by itself with no designer. If that same evolutionist traveled to Neptune and saw a computer controlled, operating automobile running around he would instantly ask “Who built it?” Yet, the automobile is a far simpler mechanism than is the tree. Only the fact that the automobile is made of metal and plastic instead of carbon based molecules would tell him that it was made by an intelligence. That is not a rational assessment of the true situation. The smallest insect is far more advanced a mechanism than an automobile, yet one just happened and the other MUST have been manufactured by an intelligence.

    Darwinist s believe that just because they can not see and touch or perceive the intelligence which built all living things that it must not exist. They are willing to ignore the whole body of evidence which clearly reveals a design, and thus a designer, preferring rather to depend on a whole gob of atoms and molecules to form themselves by random chance into the constituents of life. In other words they prefer to believe in miracles of chance rather than to believe that there is an intelligence in the universe which built this place and everything in it.

    There is another obvious and pressing question. What exactly is life? What is the measurable difference between a living cell and a freshly dead cell? Does the dead cell weigh less? Have the chemical constituents been altered beyond what killed it? In other words, if a cell requires oxygen to live and it is deprived of oxygen it will die and it can not be resurrected. This is in stark contrast to a computer which requires electricity to function but when the electricity is restored, after being shut off, the computer again functions as it did before. Why is one condition not reversible while the other one is?

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