A Gas-STtion View of Evolution

I’m trying to believe in the theory of evolution. It’s tough going. I have to squinch up my eyes and imagine real hard. But I’m determined to do it, because it’s the Right Thing To Do, and keeps people from yelling at you.

Trouble is, I keep running into bumps and potholes.

For example, I worry about The Amoeba In The Soup. We’re told that a jillion years ago all sorts of glop and gunch sloshed around in the primeval seas, and lo! a wee little amoeba-thingy accidentally assembled itself, the way a car does when you shake a bin of parts. It then evolved furiously into Bill Gates.

OK. Fine by me. I can believe that Bill has amoeboid ancestry. Except: How do we know that the amoeba happened? Other than by blind faith?

Be patient with me. Permit me a few rude questions about the Soup, such as might be asked by a garage mechanic. Maybe I’m being uncouth, but I don’t know any better.

(1) Do we have any evidential reason for believing that the Soup ever existed? Do we, for example, have residual pools of the Soup? Dried deposits somewhere? No. Do we know enough about the formation of planets to know what the soup had to be? No. Then how do we know that the Soup, if any, was the right kind?

Ah. We know it, say evolutionists, because life appeared, which it couldn’t have done without the Soup. Therefore the right Soup must have existed.

Good try. But this is reasoning from a previously accepted theory to nonexistent evidence, or, more bluntly, imagining evidence to support a theory that we are determined to believe. Scientifically, this is bad juju. One derives theories from evidence, not evidence from theories. (If memory serves, it is also precisely the Catholic proof of the existence of God: The world is here, something must have created it, therefore God. Or the Soup. Personally, I incline to a primal Salad.)

(2) Well, if we don’t know that a workable Soup existed, then surely the formation of life has been demonstrated in the lab? No. You can put various forms of goop and degradation in a flask, and heat it, and run sparks through it. You get chemicals found in living things. You don’t get life.

(3) OK. No doubt you can show mathematically that, given time, the amoeba (or Gates) would be likely to form? No, actually. Statistical chemistry isn’t that good.

Evolutionists love time. It covers up fundamental implausibilities. All those gazillions of atoms and molecules, sloshing for billions of years. Surely an amoeba would have to clot out of it, if not a bull elephant. Billions of years, mind you. Virtually anything would have to form in so much time. No?

Not necessarily. Probabilities can be more daunting than one might expect. Things that seem intuitively likely sometimes just flat aren’t. To illustrate the point:

We’ve all heard Sir James Jeans’ assertion that a monkey, typing randomly, would eventually produce all the books in the British Museum. Sound reasonable? Sure, at first glance. But would the monkey in fact ever get even one book?

No. Not in any practical sense.

Consider a thickish book of, say, 200,000 words. By the newspaper estimate that there are on average five letters per word, that’s a million letters. What’s the likelihood that our monkey, typing randomly (ignoring upper case and punctuation) will get the book in a given string of a million letters?

He has a 1/26 chance of getting the first letter, times a 1/26 chance of the second, and so on. The chance of getting the book in a million characters is one in 26 to the millionth power. I don’t have a calculator handy, but we can get an approximation. Since 26 = 10 exp(log 26), then 26 exp(1,000,000) = 10 exp(log 26 x 1,000,000) . Since log 10 = 1 and log 100 = 2, log 26 has to be between, somewhere on the low end. Call it 1.2.

The monkey thus has one chance in 12 followed by 1,000,000 zeros. (OK, 999,999 for the picky.) That’s what mathematicians call a BLG (Brutishly Large Number). For practical purposes, one divided by that rascal is zero. If you had a billion billion monkeys (more monkeys than I want) typing a billion billion letters a second, for a billion billion times the estimated age of the universe (10 exp 18 seconds is commonly given), the chance of getting the book would still be essentially zero.

Now, does the problem of accidentally getting an amoeba involve similar improbabilities? We don’t know. A conclusion: Appealing to billions of years of sloshing is not a substitute for knowing what you’re talking about.

To sum up all of the foregoing: We don’t know that a suitable soup existed. We can’t reproduce the evolution of life in the lab, from any Soup. And we can’t show it to be mathematically plausible.

Might this not be grounds for withholding judgement?


Another point–tricky, crucial, and carefully overlooked–is that we don’t really know what life is. Evolutionists assume that life is purely chemical: that if we could somehow assemble an artificial cat atom by atom, and then set it to reacting, we would have a genuine, living cat, that would eat mice and miss its litter box. But would we? All known life has come from previous life. Is life merely a complex of chemical reactions? Or is it something that inhabits certain complexes of reactions? Or something else entirely?

We don’t know. But we have ample room to suspect that it is something else entirely. Or at least that more is involved than chemistry.

Such as consciousness. If anything exists at all, consciousness does. We are all conscious, with the possible exception of network anchormen. Consciousness affects matter: If you will your arm to move, it does. Matter also affects consciousness: If you drop an anvil on your foot, it will decidedly affect your consciousness.

But, though it clearly is an important aspect of life, and clearly influences the physical world, consciousness has no scientific existence, being instrumentally undetectable and having no operational definition. So scientists ignore it.

Ignoring things seems to me a funny way to understand them, but then I always did like my lunch box better than my book bag, and maybe I just don’t think right. But I’m still working on believing in evolution. I’ll get there. Any day now.

(Reprinted from Fred On Everything by permission of author or representative)

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• Category: Science • Tags: Evolution
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