Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Randomly Refuting Creationism

It's an article of faith of the creationist/ID movement that information cannot arise by a random event, so it was some amusement that I received some information on the radio as I was driving home this evening. It was a classic example of what William Dembski calls 'Complex Specified Information' (CSI).

It almost goes without saying that creationists can ever explain why new information can supposedly never arise by a random event, and few if any of them ever seem to see any need to even try to understand the argument. It's sufficient merely to quote it like a protective mantra when the going gets tough and all the other arguments have been refuted yet again.

The information I heard was that a couple from Suffolk have become millionaires by winning £148,000,000 in a lottery. Here is a BBC TV news item about the same thing. Listen to them telling about how they received the information that they were now millionaires.

The information arose by a random process which was witnessed by millions of people across Europe and is carefully audited to ensure it is indeed entirely random. It involves randomly selecting balls with numbers on them. In the context of an environment in which the couple from Norfolk had previously selected some numbers on a card, this random signal translated into meaningful information just as randomly produced information in a genome can be translated into meaningful information by the environment.

Sorry about that creationists but you're now going to have to find another protective mantra and start looking for another hero who can hide his missing logic under a heap of impressive-sounding verbiage. I'm afraid reality has once again intervened and refuted another of your favourite fantasies.

4 comments :

  1. The lottery is a great way of showing how (and why) people fail to grasp the probabilities involved with an unlikely event happening, of having happened and why many see 'design' in things which has no need to be there.

    In a lottery with 49 numbers (as in UK) the probability of any 6 numbers coming out is about 1 in 14 million, hence the probability of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 winning is just that probability too.

    It is easy to use numbers like 14 million without understanding them: try to imagine counting off 1 number every second for just under 4 hours - congratulations you have just reached 14,000, now repeat this 999 more times! In fact you need to count one number every single second non-stop for 162 days to reach 14 million!

    The probability of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 coming out in that exact order is massively bigger too - in fact 1 in just over 10 billion. If you had celebrated the wedding of King Henry III of England to Eleanor of Provence in the year 1236 by counting seconds you still wouldn't be at 10 billion today!

    Try asking someone who plays the lottery to change their numbers to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6: you'll find most people won't as it seems crazy that this ordered pattern would come up by random chance. But you can be sure they'll still go and pay their money to place 6 (seemingly) random numbers despite these having just the same chance - 99% of people who actually play the lottery just doesn't understand the probabilities.

    I doubt anybody would play if the only way of winning was for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 to come out in EXACTLY that order, but, and here's the twist, imagine somebody who has backed that happening AND WON. The probability of the event occuring is still worse than 1 in 10 billion but since someone is sitting there with a bank account full of money that means the probability it HAS happened is 100%. To our winner the concept that this was random will be almost unbelievable - rather than dealing with numbers big enough to require over 750 years of non-stop counting to reach it will seem more feasible to think that there is some order or meaning to what has happened, that somebody controlled, designed, it to come out this way.

    This is the trap 'creationists' fall into - or, more cynically, the perceived 'gap' they use to hide their alternative in. The problem is that our 'lottery winner' above would be wrong to assume that somebody fixed the draw just because they happened to win; any suggestion of 'design' would need its own independent mechanisms and evidence. And the improbability of random chance changes in a universe that is so vast that this lottery is taking place a huge number of times too - once our hypothetical lottery above has happened around 7 billion times there is more than a 50/50 chance that someone will have seen 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 come out sequentially, despite the staggering improbability of it actually happening in any single draw.

    The improbability of one hypothesis being true does NOT increase the chances of any other theory being correct. Believers in a universe created by God need to actually come up with some hard data of their own for the mechanism of how their theory works and stop just clinging to the amazing improbabilities of abiogenesis and evolution. 'Creationists' seem to think that because we're stood on the battlefield with what appears to be a very delicate weapon they win the argument by default and can just stand shouting abuse from the safety of their church without any weapon at all!

    Apologies for any incoherent rambling sections in this that don't match up to your always excellently written articles Rosa - I am a mathematician after all! Please feel free to edit, steal, and/or re-use any of the above in the great work you do trying to expose the myths of religion.

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    Replies
    1. Great post. Thanks for putting it here.

      I tried to explain something similar in Why You? and On The Probability Of Being

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    2. Or, as Tim Minchin put it: "To assume that your one in 64 million chance thing is a miracle is to significantly underestimate the number of things there are."

      :D

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  2. Great post and great comments, interesting read

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