Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chances of life

One of my first posts on this site, and actually part of what inspired me to start it, was a creationist attempting to argue for the statistical probability of life. You can read that post here.

It seems there is no serious shortage of religious people attempting to argue for the probability of life forming, whether or not they are of the young-Earth variety of twit. In my recent argument with Nathan 'the less-than-intelligent Christian', he attempted just such an argument. He came to my site and proudly proclaimed that it was mathematically more likely that life was created by his god than by natural processes. So of course, I challenged him on it.

His argument was essentially that if the chance of life occurring on Earth naturally is 1-in-x, then the chances that it was created by his god are 1-(1/x). He then cited some bullshit number for x that was pretty large. To state more clearly, and to use simple numbers, let's say that somebody determines the probability of life occurring naturally to be 10% (keep in mind that any such number is baseless and pure speculation at this point). If the chances of it appearing naturally on Earth are 10%, then Nathan's argument goes, the chances it was created by his god are 100% - 10% = 90%.

Now, I eventually got Nathan to concede that it didn't have to be his Christian god that did the creating. What I couldn't get him to concede is that this 90% would represent the sum of ALL other possibilities for how life could have formed, of which an infinite number could be imagined. Even so, his argument is still fatally flawed.

If I have a fair coin, the chance of flipping it and getting heads is 50%. So if I flip it and get heads, does that mean that it had a 50% chance of 'naturally' being heads, and a 50% chance that a god made it heads?

If I buy a lottery ticket with chances of 1-in-14 million, and I win, does that mean that there was a 13,999,999-in-14 million chance that I didn't win by myself, but that a god guided me to those numbers? You don't have to choose the winning numbers for this thinking to hold. By Nathan's reasoning, ANY set of numbers I chose, winners or not, were only 1 of a possible 14 million combinations I could have chosen. Therefore, it would have been a nearly 100% chance that I did not choose my numbers without divine guidance.

Similarly, if the chances of life occurring naturally on any given suitable planet are 10%, and we check some suitable planets and find no life on some, but life on one of them, does that mean that there was a 90% chance that it was put there by a god?

Looked at in this way, you can see that the argument Nathan is trying to make doesn't even make sense. If there is ANY CHANCE of life occurring naturally, then we do not need to invoke a supernatural being in order to explain why life is here on Earth, as we would be considered one of the 'lucky' ones that 'won the lottery'. Even if the odds of life occurring naturally are astronomical, the Universe is an astronomical place, so we're not at a loss to explain why we're here.

Given it is known that life already exists in any particular location, what is the chance it occurred naturally, versus the chance that it appeared due to some other (ie. supernatural) reason? How can we compare these two things when one of them cannot even be demonstrated to exist? For life occurring naturally, we know that the mechanism would be chemistry and the material would be atoms, with chemistry and atoms being things that we can show to exist. But what would the mechanism for supernatural creation be? How could we possibly calculate the odds of supernatural origin of life when neither the mechanisms, nor the supposed being responsible, can be shown to exist or to even be properly defined?

If you don't believe that it is impossible to calculate the odds that life was created by something that cannot be defined or shown to exist, do the following:

Calculate the probability that life on Earth was seeded by alien Zorkishes from the planet Lepon, orbiting the star Nirwag. They used a teleportation ray to put the DNA molecules into an unknown (to us) state of matter called 'quackle', which allowed it to travel through a phase-11 wormhole and arrive at Earth. Good luck.


Thesauros said...

the point that you're missing is this. while life coming from a Creator God may be improbable - to you - life coming from non life is impossible - anywhere, anytime.

Admin said...

Because? Care to back that up?

Do you realise that RNA can self-replicate, and that experiments published just this year show that it can form by itself? We're so close to cracking this that we can taste it. And here you are, a twit with no idea what he's talking about, asserting that it isn't possible, with no reason except what his ancient book tells him.

So Rod, back it up.

Jim said...

Well, we all know life was seeded here by the Galactic Lord Xenu 75 million years ago. So I don't know what all the fuss is about. Like Christianity, there is even a book explaining it. 'Dianetics' by L. Ron Hubbard.

Christians can't argue against it, seeing as they use the fact that they have a book as proof.

Seriously though. There is absolutely no proof that life can spring from a collection of the right building blocks in the right environment, given the right conditions.

The point, Makarios, that you are missing is that the probability of a supernatural 'Creator God' is impossible, seeing as there is no supernatural 'Creator God'.

If you'd like to say I am wrong, please show me your proof that this god exists, and I will submit that you are right.

Cypher said...

Actually, and I might be wrong, I'm sure I read a few years back about 2 scientists creating dna molecules by exposing the right mixture of atoms, and their theory was that the substance they had just shocked was the 'sea' of the young earth.
And could any of you even define life to say that is is impossible to come from non-life?

Cypher said...

Missed a sentence in my last comment, it should say 'exposing the right mixture of atoms to electricity, causing a bond.'
Don't know how I randomly blanked out a key point:P

Jim said...

I remember hearing something about the electricity helping create life. I'm going to do some research on that to see if I can find anything.

GBM said...

That'd be the Miller-Urey experiment. It was an attempt to reproduce the hypothetical conditions of the "primordial soup" from which life sprung forth during the early stages of Earth's development:

The experiment has been criticized, even within the scientific community, but for the most part the theory is sound.

Cypher said...

To be honest, I think it very likely anyway, considering how dependant we are on ionic conductance for our existence. Ions of, I think, potassium and sodium(maybe one more) are used in the nervous system autonomously, and if we were created by an all-powerful deity we wouldn't need such a complex organic circuit. Life is matter that can manipulate energy to sustain and replicate itself, in my opinion, as that is what I see when I(honestly) think about myself. I eat to obtain energy, which I then change the state of to sustain my current cells and propagate new ones, and I have a natural, instinctive desire to reproduce, because life doesn't want to go back. It has the power and wants to keep it.

A scenario I imagine for the origins of life is that the primordial sea was struck by lightning, and the resulting compound was able to absorb energy from the sun to keep itself in that state. It joined with enough of the surrounding atoms and transferred some of the solar energy to those to create a second organism, et cetera. This is, obviously, speculation, but it seems possible, more likely too, than the man in the sky.

Paramecium are unicellular organisms that eat microscopic specks of matter and absorb solar energy until they have enough matter to create another one, and they use their energy stores to do this. Interestingly, paramecium are technically animals, but have chloroplasts like plants, so it is upon these that I actually based my assumption, as these could very well be close relatives to the original life.

After that rant, my main point was that life and non-life are almost identical, just that living things can manipulate energy and replicate. Original life would have almost not been alive, it would probably have been a self-sustaining chemical reaction, but the self-sustenance is enough to set it apart from the rest of the matter. The reason why you think life coming from non-life is impossible is because such an event occuring is highly improbable, and because if it happened again on Earth we probably wouldn't notice, but on the timescale we're looking at, it was just about inevitable. In fact, Drake thought it WAS inevitable.

Cypher said...

Just to say, when I left my last comment, the one from Reino Medio hadn't been posted, and I just say because I'm not saying I find the therory very likely in the face of opposing views, just that I speculate that it is more possible as I went on to say.

I also somehow missed mentioning that photosynthesis and mitosis seem to be life from non-life, as photons and elements are used by the plant to make its cells, energy and structure, and we use our protein and glucose to make new cells.

'life coming from non life is impossible - anywhere, anytime.' I dont think so.

Cypher said...

Damn I said 'say' a lot in that first paragraph...

Jim said...

I think it's time we use Occam's Razor to solve this problem. I don't expect religious people to be familiar with it, but they can look it up.

Right now we are debating two theories. One says a supernatural being which has never been proven to exist, or interact with the known universe, has created all life from nothing. The other states that life began billions of years ago, in a yet undetermined, but scientifically plausible, series of events.

Using Occam's Razor, we must now eliminate the one theory that requires the most complex argument.

The first one requires us all to believe that a supernatural being, who came from nothingness, created light, the Earth, the sky, the stars, the universe, everything that is on the Earth, specifically for the purpose of creating one race of humans, simply to worship him. This being created the male human from dirt (which is weird, seeing as the Makarios claims it is impossible for life to come from non-life), and the female from the rib of the male. I suppose an all-powerful being has no trouble creating the universe from nothing, but needs starting blocks for humans.

The second theory requires us to believe that given enough time, along with the right mixture of building blocks, life will eventually form.

The result is clear cut. Natural creation of life must be the source of all life. It requires no belief in the supernatural being, no explanation of the supernatural being, no explanation of where the supernatural being came from, or how he created life or why.

But I know religious folks tend to not believe in science. And they will want to argue over the method I used. I can explain that Occam's Razor tends to be right. I can prove that there is no God. They will just continue to wallow in their own ignorance and refuse to believe scientific facts because the church says science is evil.

In the end, we know we're right. I just wish they would keep to their arguments. If you say life coming from non-life is impossible, tell me please, where the life is that god used to create life here? And don't tell me that it was god, because now you have to explain where god came from, and where those who made god came from, and so on and so on. Listen to your own arguments, and stop hurting my head.

Cypher said...

'In the end, we know we're right.'
My new motto.

Anonymous said...

What are the odds that a perfect god created a perfect world, and then gave us an appendix and wisdom teeth, and gave men nipples? Feels like zero to me.

Cypher said...

'an appendix and wisdom teeth, and gave men nipples?'
The appendix and nipples, along with the recession of the pinky toe, are all clear pointers for evolution too.

Kalindra said...

But look at how perfect the human body is! Take the eye, for example. It's so complex that it couldn't possibly have evolved by chance. The eye must have been designed because it works so perfectly... Except that 2 billion people are nearsighted... I for one can't see six inches in front of my face without glasses... which were invented by humans... but yeah, other than that, the eye is perfect.

Unknown said...

Some of you guys are as, or more, "delusional" than Christians! There's no balance or objectiveness in your approach.
And if your behavior is the outcome of your world view then you do atheism no favors! Talking down to people and calling them "twits" is childish at best! And you make it sound as though Christians are narrow minded is that? If I'm not mistaken William Lane Craig is a Christian and he repeatedly HUMILIATES his opponents in public debates on the topic of God's existence. And I believe he often uses "Occam's Razor" to cement his arguments! And I do believe Dawkin's had his ass handed to him by John Lennox in a public debate also.

It seems to me we need to give those Christians a little more respect; but I guess you probably have some abrasive remark to make about what I just said.

Admin said...

Yes Alex, I do have an abrasive comment to make. If you don't like my blog, get bent. It's my space to write. I'll write what I want, when I want. And yes, I call people who believe in absurd things, "twits".

William Lane Craig? Ha! The guy who wrapped up his great "proof" of the existence of gods with "is anything more obvious than objective morality?"

Craig is a man who cannot even demonstrate that the object of his study exists. It's mental masturbation, at best. These are guys who hope that if they wave their hands around enough, they can not only prove the existence of supernatural beings, but THEIR supernatural being in particular.

If you think Christians can "please the crowd better" than an atheist, then fine. But they have failed for thousands of years to back up any of their claims with actual evidence. They have also failed for thousands of years to even come up with any consensus amongst themselves. Then we can get into other religions that have existed, exist now, or could exist.


Admin said...

"There's no balance or objectiveness in your approach."

Right....balance..... I should give more respect to the idea that the invisible man/men/women/animals in the sky exist, despite a total lack of evidence and glaring problems. Tell me Alex, what would be such an absurd idea that it doesn't deserve any respect? Are you PC enough to believe that ALL ideas deserve respect?

Anonymous said...

Apart from the necromancy at work here...
Why would ATHEISTS give a balanced approach when they are an extreme?

Admin said...

Necromancy? Are you joking, a troll, or an idiot? Care to explain?

Also, what makes you say that atheists are an extreme? I'd love to hear this.

Admin said...

Daniel you have anything to say on the actual subject matter of this post? It seems that all he can do is call us extreme, because the point of the post is solid. Or perhaps it isn't solid, but is merely above your intellectual ability, so you can only call atheists extreme.

Anonymous said...

I'm Cypher(look up), changed tag because of changed e-mail address...
Yes, necromancy(maybe you don't get that as a term, I'm not sure how secular it is), because this thread is six months old and the commenters have all moved on, I only posted to say as much in a cynical(?) way because I'm basically a regular.
And yes, atheists are AN extreme, we are the extreme of disbelief while agnostics are the middle ground and theists are the other extreme.
You probably would get an Olympic gold for the long-jump to conclusions there...

Admin said...

Sorry Cypher, Daniel is a common username, so I didn't make the connection.

I thought the necromancy comment was the typical "atheists use dark magic" crap......

Where's my gold? How about I just delete my embarrassment here? :-)

Unknown said...

Unfortunately Admin, (can I call you admin?) you didn't really (at all) address my point which is that there are intelligent Christians that deserve a bit more respect than you give them. And whether or not Craig uses objective morality in his debates it doesn't change the fact that he is well respected in both the Christian and atheist camp. All you did was go on a huffy rant!

And Daniel, your question as to why should atheists give a balanced approach just shows how "fanatical" some of you atheists are.

I've gone on to both atheist and Christian sites like this one and I am surprised at the respect Christian's use when speaking about the same issues. All I sense from you guys is intolerance, disrespect and borderline hatred. Maybe dawkins should focus his next crusade on you!

Ps, modern science was founded by Christian scietists, isn't that also reason to show those guys some respect?

Admin said...

" didn't really (at all) address my point which is that there are intelligent Christians that deserve a bit more respect than you give them."

Nope. You missed my point that I don't care to give unsubstantiated belief in unproven invisible beings to be worth of any respect. Shall I be clearer for you? I DON'T RESPECT IT! There, got it?

"I am surprised at the respect Christian's use when speaking about the same issues."

Could that be because we DON'T have unsubstantiated belief in unproven invisible beings, and therefore our view is consistent with reality? And do burnings of people who blaspheme, death for leaving Islam, and all of those people on YouTube who talk about doing bad things to atheists count as "respect"?

"...modern science was founded by Christian scietists, isn't that also reason to show those guys some respect?"

Not at all. Just because SOME of them were Christian, doesn't mean it was the result of Christianity. Also, you fail to recognise the great barrier that Christianity has, and currently is, putting in the way of scientific knowledge and progress.

Alex, I think you're out-of-touch with reality. I also think there's a good chance you're a theist masquerading as an atheist to try to sway my opinion, because your arguments stink and are one-sided from the theist point of view.

Admin said...

I also see no reason to put Christianity above any other religion, as not only have they failed to prove the existence of their god, but they have failed to demonstrate why their religion is more true/accurate than any other.

Admin said...

Respect their right to believe it, not the belief itself. It's stupid, Alex. You should be standing outside your neighbourhood insane asylum telling the doctors to respect all of the inmates' delusional beliefs and hallucinations.

Admin said...

Alex, when Ray Comfort sells bumper stickers saying that April 1st is National Atheist's Day, is that respect? Is it respect when Christians tell me that I deserve to be tortured forever because of my beliefs? Is it? The WORST possible thing that could happen to anybody, they say I deserve it, and you call it 'respect'? Their entire doctrine is disrespectful to me! When Islam calls me an 'infidel' and claims I need to be killed, is that respect?

If religious people had their way, I'd be executed, and you know it! It's what they did in the past when they had power, and it's what they still do today in countries where they do have power.

Despite all of this, you think that religion has respect for me and want me to respect them! If you say there are atheist blogs where religion is more respected, and you prefer those, then by all means, go post there!

Feki said...

Admin, real good responses there. It sucks that we have to put up with delusional crap but then have to listen to people whine about us being too harsh on christians.

So, I made a list of recent christian activity just to show how respectful they really are. Alex, you might care to look all of this up on wikipedia.

1) Christians don't seem to have respect for cities:

e.g: Various political and religious leaders have suggested that Hurricane Katrina was sent as a divine retribution for the sins of New Orleans

2) Christians don't seem to have respect for whole nations:

e.g: Pat Robertson's Haiti comments

3) Christians don't seem to have respect for other religions:

e.g: Pope's comments on islam

4) Christians don't seem to have respect for children or society:

e.g: Pope's denial and forced apology for child molestation

5) Christians don't seem to have respect for the rest of society:

e.g.: Richard Dawkins calls for arrest of Pope in Britain (apparently no christians were willing to stand up and do the right thing)

6) Christians don't seem to have respect for our planet:

e.g: Global warming cannot be caused by humans but by a natural cycle devised by god, who is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Ah ok sorry.
No it may be more secular than I thought, necromancy being the bringing things back from the dead, like bringing back a forum/thread that's basically been laid to rest.
When you say ''fanatical'' (one set of the inv. commas are your's) it means that you are quoting something or that you don't really believe it, so pretty useless. Regardless: atheists are one viewpoint(an extreme of the scale of theism) arguing against the other extreme, we don't need to give balance because of the nature of their beliefs, their evidence-less beliefs. We only have opinion and asking for a wholly balanced opinion from frankly an extremist (it has a bad connotation nowadays, right word) is absurd. Christianity is bullshit, so are all of the others, (I respect Buddhists because they keep to themselves, don't have their own fake country etc.) but no others. Why would I personally balance that? And in fact, you own points are biased against me, admin, everyone else here basically, so fix your double standards before you start frothing about your amazing respect you (insert expletive of choice).

Feki said...

Alex, what kind of balanced approach would you have with an intelligent adolescent who fervently believes in Santa Claus?
And what kind of balanced approach would you have with an intelligent aboriginal who ritually sacrifices goats to appease her/his gods?
Well, it happens that cristians are A LOT worse than delusional teenagers or zealous aboriginals: because of their delusions they actively try to control politics, laws, human rights and progress of science. How do you like their respect for abortion clinics and doctors who work in them?
Cypher is right, we are on the other extreme: the non-delusional side, and I can only wish there were more people on it.