Saturday, April 23, 2005

Excellent Online Lecture

On April 19, Stephen C. Meyer, an intelligent design theorist, gave an excellent lecture at the Heritage Foundation (the next day he did a debate at the National Press Club). Meyer is sort of the Steve Jobs of the Intelligent Design movement, and I was quite impressed when I first read his work about 8 years ago. Although it is probably necessary to read some of the key books of the ID movement to thoroughly understand what is being argued, and how rigorously it is being supported (Darwin's Black Box, The Design Revolution, Darwin On Trial, Icons of Evolution, Darwinism: A Theory In Crisis), the lecture is pretty darned good.

The lecture is available online (link comes from this page).

The MSM still often insists on portraying ID advocates as closet bible-thumpin' creationist theocratic morons, but the lecture puts the lie to that slanderous idea.

Meyer also does a nice job handling questions. At one point a questioner says that "Well, if you gave your students a million years to draw scrabble pieces at random, they would come up with an A thru Z sequence at some point." Meyer answers this well, but the question highlighted a flaw I constantly see exhibited by evolutionists, who think its sufficient to say, "A billion years is a long, long time, so anything can happen!" Well, no. A billion years is a very short time. The probability of getting an A-Z sequence of randomly selected scrabble pieces (assuming you are drawing from a huge bag of them) is one out of 26 raised to the 26th power, which is one out of 6.2 * 10^36. Assuming 1 draw per second, that's 2 * 10^29 years, or 13,000,000,000,000,000,000 times the age of the universe. Just a wee bit longer than a million years! The nonchalance with which Darwinists throw around "it happened by chance" explanations without calculating odds is just astonishing to me. And I've seen time and time again on internet discussion boards the shouting down of folks who dare to actually calculate the odds. Maybe it's just me, but if someone claims a chance explanation, then the burden is on them to calculate the odds and show that they are reasonable.


notherbob2 said...

Ugh, I don't have a dog in this hunt, other than being human, but I believe that the Darwinist theory assumes that what is working is not pure chance, but natural selection. So, for instance, if you drew anything other than an A, you would not spend the time drawing the other 25 pieces. Similarly, if you did not draw A, B, etc. So your quick and easy math response (which, by the way, assumes only one drawer of pieces) is great for, say, a Sunday sermon, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny in a scientific sense. Does it add anything to the real debate? I don't know. I haven't been following the debate.

Matteo said...

Notherbob2, thanks for the comment. Such a probability calculation applies more to the formation of the protein set necessary to have a functioning, metabolising system capable of performing the reasonably high fidelity reproduction needed for natural selection to work at all. However, I wasn't making a point specifically about how this calculation applies to life, but merely how it is illustrative of the way that Darwinists casually assume something will happen at random ("You'll get a single classroom full of students to draw an A-Z sequence at random inside of a million years"), when taking the trouble to perform the calculation shows they're off by, oh, 23 orders of magnitude. And that's a problem. Getting an A-Z scrabble sequence is trivial compared to getting an interlocking, cooperative, reproducing system of proteins together in one place. And such a system is minimally required for getting natural selection to act. It is simply not the case that 15 billion years is enough time for just about anything to happen. Not by a long shot. If you check the Darwinist literature, you simply will not find probability calculations being done. You will, however, find plenty of "and then, just by chance" rhetoric. The burden is on the scientist to show what the probability is. One in a million is reasonable. But that's a whole different animal from one in ten to the hundreth power or one in ten to the thousandth power. As an engineer, I would not be allowed to casually assert a "chance" explanation of anything without showing a reasonable probability calculation.

The last ten years has seen quite a fascinating development of these and related ideas in books by William Dembski, Michael Behe, Philip Johnson, Jonathan Wells, and Michael Denton, among others. They're worth reading. And yes, I have read the other side. I used to be a big fan of Richard Dawkins and his books The Blind Watchmaker and the Selfish Gene. He presents some interesting ideas. There is one lack, however. You won't find a single solitary proabability calculation anywhere in those books...