Friday, May 11, 2007

Is evolution a statistical long-shot?

Transcript of today's show:

British astronomer and mathematician Sir Fred Hoyle has calculated the probability of the random occurrence of evolution to be 1 chance out of 10 to the four-thousandth power! Hoyle compares this to the likelihood of a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard and assembling a Boeing 747 from the scraps. Hoyle also says that protein formation had as much chance of occurring naturally than a solar system full of blind men solving Rubik's Cube simultaneously.
[source: Gregg Easterbrook/Beliefnet]

Listen to the 1-minute broadcast of this story [mp3]

Sound Off: Science & Faith. Our point/counterpoint regulars Shelley (the voice of science) and Peter (the voice of faith), comment on the story.

The Voice of Science: Shelley Greene, Ph.D., comments:
This story, if you’ll pardon the pun, would seem like a God-send to ID’ers, whose principle argument is that if you can’t explain something scientifically – then God most certainly had a hand in it. Not so long ago comets, meteors, and other unusual celestial phenomena were thought to be bad omens from God or Lucifer. The appearance of bright conjunctions of large planets and spectacular supernova activity portended the birth of a great man or some other such boon to the world. Today, the majority of free-thinking adults believe that celestial phenomenon presage nothing about life on earth, and these myths are becoming appropriately labeled as ‘superstition’.

The fact that the honorable Sir Hoyle so eloquently postulates the unlikeliness of life and protein formation does not, however, mean that a supernatural being was directly responsible. His postulate only proves that unaided life formation is extremely unlikely. But let’s think about this for a moment. This is one big (big!) universe, stretching in all directions for trillions upon trillions upon trillions of miles. Within this immense space are trillions upon trillions upon trillions of free-floating molecules, atoms and other building blocks of life. Statistical long shots would certainly do well in such an enormous environment containing an inexhaustible number and variety of conditions.

Still, all of that being said, if tomorrow scientists successfully created a viable life form in a laboratory from a recipe of organic chemicals, what would be the response of the creationists and the ID’ers? Will they concede and slink away quietly, or would they reject the science as heretical, and like the Catholic Pope in the days of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, chastise the scientists and symbolically burn them at the stake?

The Voice of Faith: Peter Williamson, M.Div., comments:
I have a great and special respect for Sir Fred Hoyle, who was a hero to me in my youth and whose name was on the textbook I studied as an amateur astronomer. He always had a reputation as something of a rebel; he was one who thought profoundly for himself yet with a measure of reverence and awe of the universe he contemplated.

In recent years, Sir Hoyle has made one the most compelling and indisputable arguments for Intelligent Design. Yet fellow scientists turn a deaf ear, unwilling to open their minds to the possibility of supernatural causes. Christians derive great comfort and joy from the knowledge that God has a hand in all of life, not only the creation of life, but the unfolding of life as well, where we see his activity in the form of miracles, Divine intervention, and revelation. Scientists seem to fear the miraculous -- perhaps they are threatened by what they cannot fully know and perceive – and so they criticize miracles as superstition and child’s play. My heart grieves for them, they know not what they are missing.