Friday, January 21, 2011

Chances Are ...

In August 2008, Francis Collins stepped down as the head of the Human Genome Project after serving in that position since 1993. Collins is a proud Christian who, even though he embraces the idea of full-fledged Darwinian common descent (which I reject for lack of evidence), has been a strong voice in the debate about the relationship between faith and science. We owe him a debt of gratitude, not just for his incredible leadership in the quest to decipher DNA, but for his defense of the Christian worldview as being intellectually viable in a culture that has been led to believe that science has rendered it impotent.

The end of Collins' tenure reminded me of an article I read in Touchstone magazine. The piece referred to an interview with Collins and "new atheist" Richard Dawkins that was published in Time magazine in November, 2006. That interview contained an exchange between the two that I think is worthy of comment. While considering the beginning of the universe and the possibility that a supernatural creator could have been responsible for it, we get the following:
DAWKINS: ... We are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God--it's that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That's God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small--at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case ... we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.
Today I want to address one simple point. Dawkins goes on, from the above quote, to dismiss the idea that the improbability of 6 physical constants (gravity being one, not sure of the other five he admits to) of the universe being "tweeked" exactly right for life to be possible is not very convincing to him. Apparently both Dawkins -- and Collins, who never corrected him on it -- are unaware that in 1961 there were two of these constants in play. By the 1970s, scientists had identified the six to which Dawkins appears to refer. The information below (provided by Reasons To Believe's, Hugh Ross) shows how the number of design features in the universe has grown over the years. Strikingly, it includes the probability that each of these features would occur at the same time in any universe.

In 1995 there were 41 features. The chances are 1-in-10 to the 31st

In 2000 there were 128 features. The chances are 1-in-10 to the 144th

In 2002 there were 202 features. The chances are 1-in-10 to the 217th

In 2004 there were 322 features. The chances are 1-in-10 to the 282nd

In 2006 there were 676 features. The chances are 1-in-10 to the 556th

That's right, as of four years ago astronomer Hugh Ross has identified 676! While improbability does not constitute an airtight argument, at some point such astronomical improbabilities would seem to approach an impossibility. In this case, Ross has calculated the probability at one-chance-in-10 to the 556th power that the constants that define our universe would be just the way they are so that life would exist anywhere.

But that's not all. The kind of life we are talking about is nothing but a permanently existing bacteria -- the simplest form of life. By contrast, the number of features required for advanced, high-tech, sentient human beings -- creatures like Richard Dawkins that wonder about these kinds of questions and are equipped to answer them -- is a mind-boggling 824, while the probability of all those features occurring in any universe is one-in-ten to the 1050th power.

That is one chance in 10 with one thousand and fifty zeroes after it!

These figures have only improved (for the theistic case) since the chart was published (I don't have the newest figures available as I write) but the trend is obvious.

By way of comparison, the number of atoms in the entire known universe is estimated to be 10 to the 80th power. Mathematicians consider odds of one-in-10 to the 50th power as the definition of an impossibility.

There are a couple observations to be made here about yet another claim made by the esteemed and often-quoted "new atheist" Richard Dawkins:

First, Richard Dawkins dismisses the "impossibility of six physical constants" as "unconvincing." I wonder if he is ignorant of the fact that his admission of just six constants is based on scientific data from 40 years ago, or if he knows it and just hopes that none of his listeners/readers will notice? Either way, one has to wonder why anyone takes Richard Dawkins seriously as a "scientist."

Second, Dawkins and his ilk would undoubtedly reply that no matter how improbable something is, that improbability does not mean it could not have happened. Fair enough. But which view has more evidence to support it? Dawkins continuously sings the refrain that theistic/religious people are irrational and dismiss the obvious scientific data that refutes their view.

I leave the reader to assess who sounds more reasonable in this case.

Later, I'll challenge the equally irrational and lame philosophical reasoning of another scientific giant -- Stephen Hawking.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Bob. Dawkins has repeatedly been accused (by fellow atheists and evolutionists, not to mention theists) of living in the 19th century. He is--as you suggest--way behind the times regarding physics and astronomy, which should give him pause (and greater humility) when debating on these areas outside his expertise. Unfortunately, he's equally naive about new discoveries closer to home, in his own field of biology. In twenty years, no serious scientist will still defend the outdated view of biological evolution Dawkins promotes (even if they continue to hold to some form of naturalistic evolution).


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