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I need help on forming a counter-argument against a creationist


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You, experienced in biogenesis or biochemistry!:

 

I have this one guy whom opened a conversation (text) like this:

 

"There aren't enough atoms in the universe for life to arise by chance according to science."

 

As a student in his last year in finnish "lukio", I pretty well knew that this wasn't true so I managed to write an answer:

 

"Hey dude you got this one wrong. Life is possible to form "accidentally": There are about 3.0 x 10^23 stars in the observable universe, a big portion of them have planetary systems orbiting them. Lets say about 1/100 of them. Now we have 3 x 10^21 planetary systems out there. It's a fucking big number. Now out of all those planetary systems there are millions of billions planets like ours with a molten spinning core forming a magnetic field and some of those planets have water and some don't. Its actually proven that life doesn't need water or oxygen to form, it can substitute even carbon with silicon. Thus the possibility of planets CAPABLE of forming life increases.

The calculated possibility of the simplest known "life", a self replicating peptide only 32 amino acids long, forming randomly on earth is about 1 in 10^40. I know, it's really big number considering the fact that the known universe should have about 10^80 atoms in it BUT the possibility of life forming and evolving randomly is still possible.

Now to give that a boosting factor: the approx. amount of water in the oceans is about 10^24 litres.

The concentration of amino acids in the prebiotic oceans was about 10^-6M which is dilute, yes. BUT still 10^31 self-replicating peptides would form in under a year, because of these billions of chemical reactions happening simultaneously.

 

The atoms are there, and the conditions for forming life are there. Not by some "intelligent creator" but by chance which our enormous universe has given.

Now think about that happening in billions of planets. Do you really believe it's really that impossible? Life in the universe isn't some miracle. It's "de rigueur"."

 

His response came in pretty quickly:

 

"COPIED AND PASTED answer from http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/abioprob.html LOL! (at this point I tought about leaving this unanswered, but I really wanted to bring all those memories from chemistry and biology classes back up)

Your copied and pasted answer doesn’t even bring up the FACT that you need functional amino acid sequences to make a functional peptide or a protein. They come in a ratio of about 1 in 10^77. Furthermore, they don’t even mention that amino acids come in two forms, they’re called optical isomers. D-amino acids are harmful to life, all life on Earth is composed of L-amino acids (left-handed). Also, unnatural non-proteinogenic amino acids won't form bonds. Natural amino acids come in a ratio of 1:3. So you have another obstacle to overcome. So, the probability to find that functional peptide would be 1/(1/2)^32=~4.3*10^10. To get the bonds right, 1/(1/3)^32=~1.86*10^15. So, 1/((10^77)*(4.3*10^10) * (1.86*10^15))=1.25*10^-103. or 1 in 8*10^102 which is IMPOSSIBLE. Following so far?, good because that is high school math for you.

"the concentration of amino acids in the prebiotic oceans was about 10^-6M which is dilute, yes. BUT still 10^31 self-replicating peptides would form in under a year”

LAUGHABLY WRONG. The website from where you got this nonsense might not be aware that the environment in the Early Earth was mainly composed of nitrogen and oxygen, which would have destroyed any organic material from forming. Try again


Peer-reviewed: Ratio of functional protein sequenceshttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15321723"

 

(I did not actually copy and paste my answer)

 

This is where I could not give an answer to him. The article he referred to was a bit sketchy considering his argument. My knoweledge about amino acids and biochemistry stops at basic bonding stuff and structural stuff so I'd like to expand my knoweledge on this matter.

 

Help?

Edited by NordicMonkey
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"There aren't enough atoms in the universe for life to arise by chance according to science."

is just plain wrong.

According to science, it did.

 

"According to recent observations, there might be life in this universe." -Science

Edited by NordicMonkey
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which is IMPOSSIBLE.

 

 

This is absurdly contradictory. The author characterized (using some highly assumptive, extremely back of the envelope "maths") the rough probability of an event to be >0. Therefore by definition, not impossible.

 

Furthermore, there's an inherent flaw in using low probability to infer that an event which has evidently happened, can't happen. As an example, if I roll a single die 100 times, the probability of rolling 100 sixes is 1/6100 , or approximately 1.5 x 10-78. However, the probability of every other possible combination is 1.5 x 10-78. If I were to conduct the experiment (i.e. roll a die 100 times) it would be exceedingly illogical to then use the low probability of my result as a justification for it not being possible by chance. All outcomes have a low probability, but one of them has to eventuate if the experiment is conducted. It would also be a rather poignant demonstration of how low probability events happen by chance, and their low probability of occurring is in no way evidence that they cannot occur.

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This is absurdly contradictory. The author characterized (using some highly assumptive, extremely back of the envelope "maths") the rough probability of an event to be >0. Therefore by definition, not impossible.

 

Furthermore, there's an inherent flaw in using low probability to infer that an event which has evidently happened, can't happen. As an example, if I roll a single die 100 times, the probability of rolling 100 sixes is 1/6100 , or approximately 1.5 x 10-78. However, the probability of every other possible combination is 1.5 x 10-78. If I were to conduct the experiment (i.e. roll a die 100 times) it would be exceedingly illogical to then use the low probability of my result as a justification for it not being possible by chance. All outcomes have a low probability, but one of them has to eventuate if the experiment is conducted. It would also be a rather poignant demonstration of how low probability events happen by chance, and their low probability of occurring is in no way evidence that they cannot occur.

But those rolls came up because you chose to throw the dice. That low probability result required intelligent intervention in the form of your decision to roll dice in order to arise.

 

I call this the Theory of Intelligent Dicing.

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The problem with any argument based on probability is that, unless the probability is actually 0 (i.e. the chance of rolling a seven on a single standard six sided die), it doesn't matter how low the probability actually is. Given enough permutations, statistically speaking, any given discrete event WILL occur.

 

Unless you limit the question somehow (the chance of rolling a six in one roll), it's almost useless to discuss, because given a long enough time frame everything is bound to happen. Probably.

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The thought process is actually quite curious.

-Here is my model how I think it works.

- According to the model there is no life in universe

Thus, the conclusion that there must be magic (instead of acknowledging that the model is absurd, which is the normal response...).

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Are you alive? Probability of life in the Universe is 1.

PS Someone put this page up a while back; it may be of some help.

Index of Creationist Claims

 

Thanks a LOT! I think I might have something for him now :)

 

I don't like responses like this because they are inherently fallacious as it assumes a strawman. The creationist claim (which is inherently flawed itself) is not "what is the probability of life", but rather "what is the probability of life having arisen by random processes". These are two different claims. Fallacious/bad arguments should not be responded to with more fallacious argumentation, that just perpetuates the cycle of fallacies.

 

 

"There aren't enough atoms in the universe for life to arise by chance according to science."

is just plain wrong.

According to science, it did.

 

According to science, we don't really know much about the conditions or circumstances that led to life. There are those who argue that it is not a matter of chance at all, but rather life is "guaranteed" to arise. For instance, Jeremy England at MIT argues that origin of life and Darwinian Evolution arise because of their ability to dissipate energy. http://www.englandlab.com/uploads/7/8/0/3/7803054/2013jcpsrep.pdf

 

 

You, experienced in biogenesis or biochemistry!:

 

I have this one guy whom opened a conversation (text) like this:

 

"There aren't enough atoms in the universe for life to arise by chance according to science."

 

As a student in his last year in finnish "lukio", I pretty well knew that this wasn't true so I managed to write an answer:

 

"Hey dude you got this one wrong. Life is possible to form "accidentally": There are about 3.0 x 10^23 stars in the observable universe, a big portion of them have planetary systems orbiting them. Lets say about 1/100 of them. Now we have 3 x 10^21 planetary systems out there. It's a fucking big number. Now out of all those planetary systems there are millions of billions planets like ours with a molten spinning core forming a magnetic field and some of those planets have water and some don't. Its actually proven that life doesn't need water or oxygen to form, it can substitute even carbon with silicon. Thus the possibility of planets CAPABLE of forming life increases.

The calculated possibility of the simplest known "life", a self replicating peptide only 32 amino acids long, forming randomly on earth is about 1 in 10^40. I know, it's really big number considering the fact that the known universe should have about 10^80 atoms in it BUT the possibility of life forming and evolving randomly is still possible.

Now to give that a boosting factor: the approx. amount of water in the oceans is about 10^24 litres.

The concentration of amino acids in the prebiotic oceans was about 10^-6M which is dilute, yes. BUT still 10^31 self-replicating peptides would form in under a year, because of these billions of chemical reactions happening simultaneously.

 

The atoms are there, and the conditions for forming life are there. Not by some "intelligent creator" but by chance which our enormous universe has given.

 

Now think about that happening in billions of planets. Do you really believe it's really that impossible? Life in the universe isn't some miracle. It's "de rigueur"."

 

His response came in pretty quickly:

 

"COPIED AND PASTED answer from http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/abioprob.html LOL! (at this point I tought about leaving this unanswered, but I really wanted to bring all those memories from chemistry and biology classes back up)

Your copied and pasted answer doesn’t even bring up the FACT that you need functional amino acid sequences to make a functional peptide or a protein. They come in a ratio of about 1 in 10^77. Furthermore, they don’t even mention that amino acids come in two forms, they’re called optical isomers. D-amino acids are harmful to life, all life on Earth is composed of L-amino acids (left-handed). Also, unnatural non-proteinogenic amino acids won't form bonds. Natural amino acids come in a ratio of 1:3. So you have another obstacle to overcome. So, the probability to find that functional peptide would be 1/(1/2)^32=~4.3*10^10. To get the bonds right, 1/(1/3)^32=~1.86*10^15. So, 1/((10^77)*(4.3*10^10) * (1.86*10^15))=1.25*10^-103. or 1 in 8*10^102 which is IMPOSSIBLE. Following so far?, good because that is high school math for you.

 

"the concentration of amino acids in the prebiotic oceans was about 10^-6M which is dilute, yes. BUT still 10^31 self-replicating peptides would form in under a year”

 

LAUGHABLY WRONG. The website from where you got this nonsense might not be aware that the environment in the Early Earth was mainly composed of nitrogen and oxygen, which would have destroyed any organic material from forming. Try again

 

 

Peer-reviewed: Ratio of functional protein sequenceshttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15321723"

 

(I did not actually copy and paste my answer)

 

This is where I could not give an answer to him. The article he referred to was a bit sketchy considering his argument. My knoweledge about amino acids and biochemistry stops at basic bonding stuff and structural stuff so I'd like to expand my knoweledge on this matter.

 

Help?

 

We ultimately don't know what the probability of life arising by chance is. These calculations make a number of assumptions that can easily shown to not hold true under differing circumstances/conditions. He is asserting faulty calculations based on bad assumptions.

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I don't like responses like this because they are inherently fallacious as it assumes a strawman. The creationist claim (which is inherently flawed itself) is not "what is the probability of life", but rather "what is the probability of life having arisen by random processes". These are two different claims. Fallacious/bad arguments should not be responded to with more fallacious argumentation, that just perpetuates the cycle of fallacies.

 

 

 

According to science, we don't really know much about the conditions or circumstances that led to life. There are those who argue that it is not a matter of chance at all, but rather life is "guaranteed" to arise. For instance, Jeremy England at MIT argues that origin of life and Darwinian Evolution arise because of their ability to dissipate energy. http://www.englandlab.com/uploads/7/8/0/3/7803054/2013jcpsrep.pdf

 

 

 

We ultimately don't know what the probability of life arising by chance is. These calculations make a number of assumptions that can easily shown to not hold true under differing circumstances/conditions. He is asserting faulty calculations based on bad assumptions.

The argument basically boils down to "if we assume that it is impossible for life to arise by chance, then life cannot have arisen by chance."
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Are you alive? Probability of life in the Universe is 1.

PS Someone put this page up a while back; it may be of some help.

Index of Creationist Claims

I don't like responses like this because they are inherently fallacious as it assumes a strawman. The creationist claim (which is inherently flawed itself) is not "what is the probability of life", but rather "what is the probability of life having arisen by random processes". These are two different claims. Fallacious/bad arguments should not be responded to with more fallacious argumentation, that just perpetuates the cycle of fallacies.

 

And I don't like responses taken out of context. I was responding to this:

"According to recent observations, there might be life in this universe." -Science

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And I don't like responses taken out of context. I was responding to this:

 

So it was not meant as a serious argument? Because I have seen this EXACT argument used many times against creationist claims.

The argument basically boils down to "if we assume that it is impossible for life to arise by chance, then life cannot have arisen by chance."

 

It is a perfectly valid to ask about the probability of life arising by chance occurrences. I for one am not convinced that it can. This does not make me a "creationist", but our lack of understanding of how life first arose also logically forces me not to assume that life arose by chance. Earlier I linked to a paper by England that would essentially say that the chances of life arising are not by "chance" at all, but a natural consequence of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and Life's ability to dissipate heat. My problem with the creationist's argument regarding probability is the same as my problem with atheists asserting that life is the result of chance processes. Both are argue from a point of ignorance, lacking any clear evidence for the assertion. The creationist argument argues based on a set of calculations premised on scientific data, but which ignore the exceptions. For instance, the fact that L and D amino acids are typically formed in equal proportion does beg the question of how all life ended up with L amino acids. It ignores however that there are specific circumstances where there is biased production of a particular form, namely those formed in outer space and found on meteorites. On the other hand, all current abiogenesis hypotheses remain hypotheses, possessing a limited degree of evidence for each, and no clear consensus on a predominant theory. There are glaring mechanistic gaps and a lack of historical evidence. Hypotheses like the RNA-world have made progress in showing that nucleic acids can pull double duty, but it has not yet progressed much beyond the creation of a handful or Ribozymes. Saying these processes are necessarily "chance" makes the same fallacious error in assuming that there is no other alternative.

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So it was not meant as a serious argument? Because I have seen this EXACT argument used many times against creationist claims.

He said: "Probability of life in the Universe is 1." not "Probability of life occurring in the Universe is 1.".

 

His statement is true but I think you are reading/interpreting it like the second one.

Edited by StringJunky
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It is a perfectly valid to ask about the probability of life arising by chance occurrences. I for one am not convinced that it can. This does not make me a "creationist", but our lack of understanding of how life first arose also logically forces me not to assume that life arose by chance.

 

That's fine, because science doesn't actually claim this. The outcomes of chemistry are not random — the Miller-Urey experiment shows this.

 

Most of these calculations of life occurring by chance are horrendously flawed. If you applied the same reasoning to a bunch of oxygen and hydrogen atoms combining, you'd conclude that forming water was unlikely, and yet we know that the probability is 1.

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Would you extrapolate from this that the probability of life occurring is 1?

 

No, that wasn't my point.

 

It's already been pointed out that the probabilities are moot, given that life exists. I was pointing out that the probability calculations are grossly wrong.

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That's fine, because science doesn't actually claim this. The outcomes of chemistry are not random — the Miller-Urey experiment shows this.

 

Most of these calculations of life occurring by chance are horrendously flawed. If you applied the same reasoning to a bunch of oxygen and hydrogen atoms combining, you'd conclude that forming water was unlikely, and yet we know that the probability is 1.

 

No, science doesn't say this, but many do claim that this is "what science says". We need to be careful in our use of language here. Non-random is not the same as something having a low probability. One could speak of a set of chemical reactions having a non-random outcome. After all, chemistry would be a rather useless field if the outcomes were truly random....but that isn't really the whole argument is it? While a set of conditions may have non-random outcomes, the chance of those conditions occurring could be extremely low and may themselves be subject to chance.

 

Water is a rather poor example, as hydrogen and oxygen readily react with each other to produce water, hydrogen is the most abundant element and oxygen is a byproduct of nucleosynthesis of stars. Water forms during star formation, with some of the most abundant sources of water...many times that of Earth...being found in dust/gas clouds. One would conclude that the probability is actually quite likely.

 

No, that wasn't my point.

 

It's already been pointed out that the probabilities are moot, given that life exists. I was pointing out that the probability calculations are grossly wrong.

 

How are the probabilities moot? The probabilities are themselves clue to how life originated or how likely we are to find other life. The probabilities are informative and I do not think you will ever be able to fully understand the origins of life if you ignore the probabilities involved.

 

The probabilities "are moot" not because life exists, but because they are premised on a set of faulty generalizations that ignore exceptions and alternatives.

Edited by chadn737
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Life exists. Even if the probability of it were low, it doesn't matter. You can't argue that something didn't happen owing to low probability if it actually did happen.

 

But it does matter. The creationist argument is in principle logically valid. "Probability of life occurring by chance processes is so extremely low that it is far more likely that it occurred by some other means". Now I would argue that the calculations themselves are flawed (and premised on assumptions regarding the unknown) and thus the argument's conclusions are wrong, but the argument itself is solid. We use such probabilistic arguments all the time in science and daily life. Probability of X is low, therefore there must be a more likely cause.

 

Saying "life exists, therefore its irrelevant" begs the question, creates a strawman, and is therefore a fallacious response to the creationist's argument on two fronts. It also sets up a premise that is dangerous in science, it sets up a premise that we should stop asking valid questions about the origins of life since we "know life exists". If we are going to disagree with an argument or position, then we must disagree on logical grounds, not respond with additional fallacies.

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You, experienced in biogenesis or biochemistry!:

 

I have this one guy whom opened a conversation (text) like this:

 

"There aren't enough atoms in the universe for life to arise by chance according to science."

We don't know how many atoms are in the Universe. The number may be infinite, we simply don't know.

The question then resumes to "are there enough atoms in the Observable Universe" but then one can counter argument the anthropic principle upon that part of the universe that we can observe. IOW we are observing that part of the universe where life occured, that's all.

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Earlier I linked to a paper by England that would essentially say that the chances of life arising are not by "chance" at all, but a natural consequence of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and Life's ability to dissipate heat. My problem with the creationist's argument regarding probability is the same as my problem with atheists asserting that life is the result of chance processes. Both are argue from a point of ignorance, lacking any clear evidence for the assertion.
The mechanism of the Second Law is chance, random chance. That's how it works, and why it is so inconceivable that it could be violated - you'd have to repeal the mathematical laws of probability, and that's not happening.

 

So an argument that life arises inevitably from the workings of the Second Law is an argument for life arising by chance, with the odds very much in its favor.

 

The exact mechanism, or path, would remain to be elucidated - my vote would be Darwinian evolution acting on complex clays and other suitable non-living structures.

 

No atheism involved.

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But it does matter. The creationist argument is in principle logically valid. "Probability of life occurring by chance processes is so extremely low that it is far more likely that it occurred by some other means". Now I would argue that the calculations themselves are flawed (and premised on assumptions regarding the unknown) and thus the argument's conclusions are wrong, but the argument itself is solid. We use such probabilistic arguments all the time in science and daily life. Probability of X is low, therefore there must be a more likely cause.

 

Saying "life exists, therefore its irrelevant" begs the question, creates a strawman, and is therefore a fallacious response to the creationist's argument on two fronts. It also sets up a premise that is dangerous in science, it sets up a premise that we should stop asking valid questions about the origins of life since we "know life exists". If we are going to disagree with an argument or position, then we must disagree on logical grounds, not respond with additional fallacies.

 

The argument I'm rebutting is "the odds are so low it could not have happened that way". Once "other means" includes magic, you've gone off the reservation anyway. That may have made sense before we knew anything about what the night sky represented, but now you can throw that same argument back at them — why earth, given the multitude of stars that are out there?

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The creationist argument is in principle logically valid.

 

As I tried to point out, it's logically flawed in that you can't use the low probability of an event occurring as evidence that it can't happen by chance. The argument it inherently illogical. As another example to go along with the dice one I posed earlier, the likelihood of an individual ticket buyer winning a lottery is absurdly low. However, if you sell enough tickets, eventually, via the simple mathematics of probability, someone will win. An individual lottery winner claiming it must have been a magic/a miracle/their lucky rabbit's foot because the odds of them in particular winning were so low, a person with a decent grasp of how probability works should see the obvious flaw in that argument. Given you seem to have a good grasp of how this applies to population genetics, I'm kind of surprised to see you defending such an obviously flawed argument.

 

I agree with you in that we don't know the precise odds of abiogenesis, nor the number of events/replications needed for it to eventuate, but even if they are absurdly slim, you can't use that low probability as a post hoc argument that the event couldn't have happened. Its just not a sensible argument, from a probabilistic standpoint.

 

We use such probabilistic arguments all the time in science

 

I disagree, in that if science is being done well, such a conclusion is specifically avoided. Retention of a null hypothesis is not a declaration that the test hypothesis is untrue - it is an acknowledgement that it can't be statistically supported. Vice versa, there's no such thing as a perfect p value, so it is always allowed that a significant result is possibly the result of chance.

 

Similarly, a scientist could never use negative data such as a low probability for abiogenesis to support an alternative with equally (or in the case of young earth creationism, considerably sparser) sparse evidence. Without statistically supported evidence for an alternative, you accept the null. In the case of two competing hypotheses with equally low support, you apply Occam's razor to accept the hypothesis with the least assumptions. In this case, the existence of an interventionist deity, or panspermia require more unevidenced assumption than it happened by chance on earth. Therefore the best, most scientific answer to the whole premise would be "we have no evidence to support either hypothesis, but fall back on the null of random chance until better evidence is forthcoming" - or in layman's terms - we don't know and aren't making any assertions"

 

Again, there's no good evidence to support any hypothesis, so speculation is perfectly valid - but for to claim low probability of abiogenesis lends validity to unevidenced claims in any scientific sense would be wrong.

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I do not understand how the idea of a creator helps simplify anything. All it does is add an all powerful entity to the mix. The universe is still the universe but then add to it an entity that's even more complex and far less observable. How is that helpful? It doesn't clear anything up as it fails to explain where that powerful entity came from or how it controls time and energy. By virtue of those open questions it also fails to explain the universe or life.

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