Yet another flaw in the creationist argument

September 5, 2006 | By | 7 Replies More

This excellent website describes yet another flaw in the creationist argument.  Creationists like to argue that evolution could not have created the enormous complexity we see today, because the odds are miniscule that all we see today could have happened by chance.  That’s true.  However, it misstates the problem, because the complexity we see today is not the only possible future that evolution could have created.

Think of dealing a hand of bridge (fifty-two cards dealt into four hands of thirteen cards each).  The odds of dealing any particular hand are miniscule, yet we don’t consider any particular hand to be a miracle of divine creation.  It’s just the hands that happened to have been dealt.

Evolution works the same way.  A billion years ago, evolution could have produced many different possible outcomes, any of them potentially just as complex and beautiful as the one we live in.  It produced the outcome we see today, but this is just one of many it could have produced.  Had it produced some other outcome, then perhaps some other intelligent beings would be asking the questions that we are asking:  they would look at their blue skin and purple fur and say, “There must be a god, because the odds are miniscule that the world we see today could have happened by chance.”  And they’d be just as right, and just as wrong.

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Category: Evolution, Religion, Reproductive Rights

About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (7)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    The chance that the eye (for an example given in the link) would evolve to exactly the way it is, is indeed an amazingly unlikely occurence. But, how is it, exactly?

    In fact, the eye evolved (or to believers, was created) several times. Compare the eyes of mammals to the eyes of the squid, to spiders, and to insects to see some (but not all) of the basic types of eyes, that all do essentially the same thing. These types are structurally, genetically, and chemically different.

    Human eyes are about grade "C", with only 3 color sensors (birds have 4), the wiring (nerves and bipolar cells) between the lens and the sensors (squids don't have that obstruction), and a blind spot (unlike insects or invertebrates). If man was the ultimate objective of creation, shouldn't we have received better original equipment?

    I'd like to see as far into the infra-red as insects, as many colors and as far into the utlra-violet as birds, have the clear vision of invertebrates, and the extended focal distance of raptors. These are not mutually exclusive design criteria!

    Either the designer kept forgetting how the eye was designed and had to reinvent it multiple times with different assumptions, or else one has to consider that they evolved.

    The odds of any eye evolving is something like getting a straight flush: There are 36 ways of being dealt such a perfect hand, and very many hands being dealt.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Creationists are all exercised at the evolutionist claim that the complex world in which we live arose without conscious sentient Intervention. But here we go again: those creationists apply different standards for the different sides. Complex living things are just too unlikely to arise out of primordial stew, they say. But it's NO PROBLEM to posit a God who always has been. "He just away existed," say the same people who scoff at the idea that the universe always existed "Because everything must have a cause." When people ask how it was that their God always existed, they change the subject. "No need to consider that," they always say. "Why are you always attacking Christians?" "Blah blah blah blah blah BLAH, blah blah blah blah!"

    Therefore, unlikely things make their creationist heads explode, yet extremely unlikely things (that a God always was, just parked out there in heaven forever, contemplating creating us Earthlings and then throwing many of us into hell) present no problem at all.

    If I were a Creationist, Grumpy, I would answer your particular objection thusly: OK, you can imagine many (MANY) end products of evolution, each of them being spectacular. NONE of them are possible as a result of evolution. God would have had to intervene to have any of those possible worlds.

    PS. Every time I imagine Creationists arguing against evolution, I am reminded that they aren't arguing against evolution at all. They are arguing against a straw man version of evolution, where evolution is a bunch of stuff that just assembles itself as a pure accident. No wonder they oppose it! Every time I've corrected Creationists who thought that evolution = pure accident, they look surprised and confused. Not one of them understood that the generation of random mutations is only on aspect of the theory and that natural selection (the weed of "breed and weed") is a second indispensable part of evolutionary theory.

    Give them all pop quizzes before they weigh in and pontificate, I say! http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=67 Make sure they understand evolution before we allow our lazy mainstream media announce to the world that they are against it. Based on my experience, only 5% of the Biblical literalists out there could describe evolution to include both random mutations and natural selection.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    The 5% figure that Erich mentions is consistent with my own experience — it is very surprising how few people (especially evangelical Christians) understand evolution, much less read Darwin. It's unfortunate, because Darwin's book is freely available on the Internet (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/origin.html).

    Dan's eye examples make me think of an adaptation that I wish I had: eyes in the back of my head. It would certainly make bicycling in traffic safer and less stressful. Now, why didn't God think of that?

    Nevertheless, I can think of one design feature in us human animals (indeed, in most other animals, too) that definitely could suggest the existence of a loving god: the olfactory organ is located as far as possible from the anus. OTOH, sexual selection could account for this trait as well, since who would choose a mate that did not have this trait, if given the choice?

  4. Jason Rayl says:

    Darwin's book is freely available and always has (at public libraries), but let's be a little fair–Darwin never was "accessible" to the general public. Turgid to the point of impenetrable in some cases, and very much specialized. His arguments were made to be understood by his colleagues, written to leave no argument unexamined, and exhaustively detailed. Beach reading it ain't, and even people who find the subject fascinating have a hard time with Darwin.

    Better to point them to Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Dawkins, who can actually explain things lay people can grasp.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Responding to Jason's comment, maybe it's just me, but I have found Darwin to be more accessible than most modern authors, the latter of whom tend to be excessively long-winded and, to some extent, scatterbrained, presumably in an effort to pad out their books to satisfy their publisher's marketing plans. By contrast, Darwin's writing is well-organized and admirably concise. He steps through his arguments with, if not clocklike precision, at least a significant effort to anticipate his readers' thoughts and objections. I recommend his works without hesitation.

    Then again, even if Darwin were impenetrable to some, I would still recommend him, simply out of hope that reading his books would help elevate the public debate to a more productive plane. Far too often, the people who oppose his teachings are clueless to the point of being irrelevant.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a site that claims to be "The most complete collection of Darwin's work ever published- with original page numbers, illustrations etc." Click here and enjoy.

  7. Scholar says:

    Well you guys have convinced me. I have now decided to stop believing in creationists altogether.

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