Author Topic: The Plausibility of Evolution  (Read 329 times)

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Offline jaimehlers

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The Plausibility of Evolution
« on: February 19, 2014, 10:13:23 AM »
This is inspired by an argument in Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan.

One thing that always gets me about creationists is that so many try to claim that because such-and-such a thing is unlikely, that it couldn't have happened.  Whether it's evolution or "fine-tuning" or whatever, the argument always boils down to the same thing; that it couldn't have happened because it's too unlikely.  But this argument depends on a fundamental misunderstanding about random events; that if you have enough of them happen, then even very unlikely things are likely to happen.

I'll use the game of chess for an example.  Each player only has twenty possible moves to begin with, and each piece is highly restricted as to how it can move.  Yet, after only eight total moves (four for each player), there's almost 200,000 possible positions the board could be in.  At twenty total moves (10 each), there's 8.35*1028 possible positions the board could be in.  A trillion is only 1012, and that's still a larger number than most people can even conceive of.  And that's after a mere 20 total chess moves, in a game where the moves are so heavily constrained.  Indeed, the total possible games of chess that can be played is greater than the total number of atoms in the universe by an even greater margin than that (10120, the Shannon numberWiki, versus 1080, the estimated number of atoms in the universe).

Never mind the fact that the number of genes in DNA is far, far greater than 1030[1], and there are billions upon billions upon billions of life-forms on Earth alone.  Researchers from the University of Georgia estimated that there are over 1030 total bacteria on Earth; if stacked end-to-end, the equivalent of having a stack of pennies a trillion light-years high, taller than the observable universe is wide.  Start throwing those numbers around, and those absurdly large numbers that creationists like to bring up in their attempts to disprove evolutionary theory by fiat start seeming downright reasonable.

Even if you just count bacteria alone, you end up with a game with uncounted billions of players, each of whom has thousands of moves available within just a single generation, and there have been uncounted billions of generations since the games started (assuming evolution is right; but one of the points of this post is to show that there is no reason at all to discount evolution because of human incredulity).  Even considering that a lot of the moves are dead-ends, ultimately (the organism gets killed off somehow), there's enough new players being made on a regular basis that even this is irrelevant.

Considering all of this, evolution is actually a better explanation for the diversity of life than I had previously considered it to be, not to mention the most plausible.


Minor edit
GB
 1. the average bacterium has around a thousand, and a human has over 20,000
« Last Edit: February 19, 2014, 08:42:01 PM by Graybeard »

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2014, 10:17:21 AM »
I agree with this, but I'd like to see a source for the number of atoms in the Universe. I know it's mostly empty space, but that number seems... low.
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Online One Above All

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The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
Why settle for normal, when you can be so much more? Why settle for something, when you can have everything?
We choose our own gods.

A.K.A.: Blaziken_rjcf/Lucifer/All In One.

Online wright

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2014, 02:49:56 PM »
Interesting, and encouraging with respect to life existing elsewhere, perhaps even in our own planetary system. Thanks, jaime.

Takes even more wind out of creationism, not that its proponents will see it that way. With respect to evolution, any change that benefits an organism even slightly will be preserved and built upon in its descendants. Given time, as the fossil record and genetic evidence shows, those changes can lead to pretty dramatic divergences.

We have the benefit of looking back at those tremendous spans of time and that perspective misleads as well as informs us. I think that's one reason so many in the US, fundie theists or not, have difficulty accepting evolution. Realizing that a cliff of exposed strata formed over tens or even hundreds of millions of years is a difficult abstraction to make.
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Offline Boots

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2014, 03:48:23 PM »
wright is right   ;D  the incredulity at huge numbers like jaime is talking about is similar to the reasons we stink so much at driving cars at high speeds: we're accustomed to certain thresholds of input.  Speeds above 30 mph, numbers over tens of thousands, distances in increments larger than our immediate experiences...these are all very difficult for our brains to internalize and work with, and really understand.
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Offline jdawg70

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2014, 04:43:42 PM »
Each player only has twenty possible moves to begin with, and each piece is highly restricted as to how it can move.

This is one of the other important things that some creationist just simply do not grasp when they play the probability game - the distinction between outcomes and realizable outcomes.

When they start thinking about the 'vast improbable odds' of, say, the formation of a complex protein chain, they completely (or conveniently) ignore that many of the permutations that they include in their probability calculation are invalid, discarded by the fact that such a permutation of molecules cannot be physically realized.  Those molecules follow the rules of chemistry, similar to how the chess pieces follow the rules of chess.  Not every imagined permutation of a system is valid for inclusion in the probability calculation.
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Offline wheels5894

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2014, 05:02:19 PM »
The other things that goes wrong in the creationist mind is seeing all this is some directed way - the idea that things have to assemble into a bacteria for example. As we know, there is no direction with evolution, just very slight improvements. As far as the very beginnings of life it looks like a bubble trapping a self-replicating molecule not needing anything like what creationists think.
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Offline shnozzola

Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2014, 05:34:28 PM »
Good post.  I would add time to the equation - so simple and so underestimated - you know, just 4 billion years.  What could happen?  :)
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2014, 06:46:45 PM »
^I did, though it wasn't explicit.  "Uncounted billions of generations".

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Re: The Plausibility of Evolution
« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2014, 06:57:14 PM »
The problem with ignorance, if fundy's are to be believed, is that it is more comforting than reality. You know, as long as they ignore the reality of fake comfort.

From what I've seen from the believers on this site, they cannot understand that a)evolution happens, but it is to directed or goal oriented, b)time is relevant and c)if we all acknowledge there are genes inside of living critters, what in the world makes someone think that things would stay the same? The mechanism for change is clearly there.

Of course, since they artificially abbreviate reality via biblical literalness, and since they set such high standards for their source material (If the bible is wrong even on one thing than it can't be true), they've backed themselves into a corner that is similar to what dinosaurs encountered when the big meteor hit; they're screwed, they just don't necessarily know it yet. Even the big meteor strike to tens of thousand of years to wipe out all the species that couldn't survive the calamity. I do hope it doesn't take that long for fundy's to come to their senses.

But yea, as for the OP, they certainly don't understand the numbers behind the odds. Or how long a billion years is. Or how changing environments can foster change in living creatures.

I wish that they were the only ones loosing by living in their self-selected dark age, but sadly they have it in their head that if they don't know sh*t, then nobody should know sh*t. That's real important to them: culturally/religiously/politically enforced cluelessness.

I'm glad I have better things to do that sit around being uneducated. I would hate to be afraid to read science blogs and news sources. I would hate to refuse to visit fossil beds or go to actual museums. I would hate to think that my house of cards was built over a large bonfire next to a really big fan.

Its funny how much someone has to ignore to think they have the right answer. Well, it would be funny except for the ramifications, and except for the realities they try to force on us because they don't want any answers. Well, its more that they don't dare have any questions.
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