Evolutionary dreams in New Orleans

I just got back from the Southern Economic Association, where I attended many of the sessions of the Austrian economists.*  In one session, the subject was comparing Kant’s view of the process how the mind comes to know things vs. Hayek’s view.  One discussant said several times that he could “tell an evolutionary story” of how the brain ultimately processes information, and others dutifully nodded their heads.  Evolutionary “stories” are acceptable to most in Academia.  In a subsequent side conversation, he admitted that the biologists he hangs around with find these “stories” less than satisfying, but it’s what the state of their science is.

I do not accept these “stories” for multiple reasons.  We have academic “stories” in many disciplines where the subject is that of a complex system.  Biology is only one; macroeconomics and climate science are two more.  In certainly the latter two, there are so many variables it is almost impossible to tease out causation, such that each side just says its theoretical case, and presents data that it suggests is conclusive, and the other side is simply unimpressed.  In many cases, the other side is then dismissed as unscientific.  As one of our frequent commenters likes to say:  impasse.

My disagreement with evolutionary theory is not only theological–although that is firmly the case–but also because of an obscure branch of science called mathematics.That’s where these “stories” come into play.  First, we must acknowledge that opposition to evolution in no way means you disagree with natural selection.  In a fallen world, it is not terribly surprising that there is variation within species in a process that most of us find cruel–the “survival of the fittest.”  What has always been the fantastic evolutionary claim is that the variation we see within species provides the path for variation from one species to another, so called macroevolution. Given the process of survival of the fittest, coupled with random mutations, now you have a naturalistic process to explain the world around us.  And the best part?  God is not needed!   But I say, not so fast.

First, in competing theories, to prove your point you must show evidence that not only is consistent with your own theory, but is incompatible with the alternative hypothesis.  In slightly more technical terms, given it is impossible to prove your own theory true, you must prove the null hypothesis (the theory you are rejecting) to be false.  To show data that supports two explanations, and then trumpet your own explanation triumphantly, means nothing.  And that’s what so many of these evolutionary “stories” do; they show variation within species and then claim, shazam, that this shows the mechanism to demonstrate variation across species.  The null hypothesis must be the God hypothesis. When I say “In the beginning God,” and I mean by God an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, this by the very definition of what I mean by God, means it is impossible to disprove the null hypothesis.  Because any evidence we see can be consistent with that kind of God.  Ok, I’ll admit in this argument–maybe I’m not playing fair because by faith I’ve already made impossible for my opponent to prove me wrong.

But this leads to our second criticism, that my opponents likewise must be operating from faith as well.  Why?  Mathematics!  It is not even enough to show one potential step in the evolutionary process, and show it to be consistent with your hypothesis and even rejecting the null hypothesis.  Once we begin to see the complexity of life, and the number of steps that would be necessary for the evolutionary story to be true**, it becomes a sheer fantastic leap of faith to accept this story.  The mathematics behind this is something you should learn in an elementary probability and statistics course called joint probability.  In this case, when any two independent events must happen together, the probability of the joint event is equal to the probability of each of the events multiplied by the other event. The second important point is that probabilities are always expressed as between 0 and 1.  So something that is impossible has a probability of zero, while something that is certain has a probability of one.  So for everything that is subject to probability, it must have 0<P<1.  And we know that if we multiply any two numbers that are less than one, the resultant number is smaller than the previous two.  Now if an event has a probability of 50%, and it must also occur with another event of probability of 50%, then joint probability theory would indicate the probability of the joint event is 25% (.5 X .5=.25). Here is the key implication:  the more events that must occur for a given outcome, the lower the probability.

When Darwin wrote his theory, he undoubtedly thought of the cell as a simple concept.  Yet now modern microbiologists understand the cell is incredibly complex, with numerous steps involved, with many steps dependent upon yet other steps to be able to plausible provide reproductive advantage.  Let’s say there are 1000 steps to get to life from basic elements.  Let each step be highly probable to occur, say .99.  Now what does the joint probability theory say the probability of life occurring is?  0.004317124%.  So well less than 1/100 of a percent, when each step is virtually certain (.99) and the steps are only 1000.  In reality there are millions upon millions of things that have to happen and the probabilities are much lower.  Thus the probability of evolution is zero.  It is not sufficient to tell a story, or as in this argument, suggest the evolutionary assumptions are plausible or possible:

Here is a possible scenario for the evolution of the eubacterial flagellum: a secretory system arose first, based around the SMC rod and pore-forming complex, which was the common ancestor of the type-III secretory system and the flagellar system….

We can say that even if the probability is .999999 (a totally preposterous assumption), if there are billions of things that must happen to get life as we know it, the joint probability is still zeroI do not have this kind of faith.  So why do serious academics blindly accept these kind of “stories” and then ridicule those that disagree as neanderthals? Further, this leads to bad science.  In the session I was in, the debate went clearly to Hayek, because Kant couldn’t possibly have understood evolution, and Hayek did, so therefore Hayek’s evolutionary process is correct.  It could be true, but it may not be–one shouldn’t write Kant off simply because we can tell an evolutionary “story.”

I remain suspicious of scientific claims of certitude in areas of complex systems.  This is yet another reason why.  Especially when these claims are in opposition to what is consistent with a Christian worldview.

*Generally Austrians are highly supportive of evolutionary economics, since they like the “spontaneous order” implications.  In my own writings, I prefer to use the term “emergent order” to discuss how market results lead to outcomes that no individual could have planned in advance, precisely to avoid the random, unplanned implications.  While the macro effects are unplanned, the micro actions are the result of deliberate planning, and thus the order that comes about more appropriately “emerges” rather than comes about “spontaneously.”

**I’m not going to track down the voluminous back and forth calculations between creationists and their opponents on how unlikely the earth is from a naturalistic perspective–you Bereans can do this on your own.  Suffice it to say that the probability is very small, so small that it is effectively zero.

10 thoughts on “Evolutionary dreams in New Orleans”

  1. Nice article, I am constantly dismayed how various theories become “truth” despite strong evidence against. Biological evolution and global warming come to mind!

  2. Jeff:

    Just excellent nothing more to say.

    I don’t belong here but ocasionally will chime in for we who are more simple minded. I have heard a story that goes like this.

    I have this watch and if there is a watch there most have been a watch maker. However, for you who believe in evolution, that things happen by chance over thousands of years and thousands of trys, I ask you; if I took this watch apart put it in a bag and shook it, how many shakes would it take before it became a watch again? …..

    Food for thought.

  3. When it comes to the best explanation for the evident diversity of life throughout earth’s history, there are not competing theories. There is evolution through natural selection. And that is it. Creationism is not a theory; it is not even a coherent, testable hypothesis.

    Why you went off on evolution here as a non-scientist and without any evidence (the claims you made have long been debunked already, especially the long-lame probability “argument”), I don’t know. Perhaps you should take the time to study the science thoroughly BEFORE actually blogging on it.

    We have far, far more evidence that cover many fields of study (genetics, geology, astronomy, biology, to name just a few) that life evolved over a billion years through natural selection and over several extinction events than we do that everything was just created out of nothing within six days. We have NO scientific evidence for that.

    Just a weird post. I expect better from you. May we all stick to what we know, and stay out of what we don’t (or be willing to take the time to learn if we truly want to know).

    1. Could it be that your presuppositions lead you to find alternative explanations compelling, while my presuppositions lead to the opposite conclusion? Do you acknowledge that there is at least the potential for you that in this you could be suffering from confirmation bias?

    2. Well, here we go again…

      I know I am battering away at a titanium wall, but I am going to keep saying anyway. You can accuse me of the usual things you typically do,.. I am sure you will no doubt say something to the effect of “I am the one that really has a high view of God because I believe he couldn’t possibly want us understand the text “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” as actually meaning what it says” but anyway, again…

      Exodus 20:1, 8-11 “And God spoke all these words, saying… “…Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.””

      When God directly gave the 10 commandments to Moses, was he lying when He instructed these words be written in the law? Is the very basis for the modern week (7 days) that has existed since antiquity based on a lie? Maybe we should completely do away with weeks since they are based on creationism.

      If God is speaking in allegory, as I am sure you would claim he must be, then we should understand ALL the commandments as such? Maybe God didn’t really mean “thou shalt not steal”. I am sure I have probably just committed, at least in your eyes, some form of begging the question, or strawmanning, or whatever other fancy literary term you will choose to label it, but the problems for you to get around are still there.

      Job 38:2-7 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

      God’s point here is fairly simple. He created earth, he determined its measurements, he invented the physics of the universe. He was there, we Humans were not, and he told us how it happened, yet many Humans have decided to tell God “well, because of such and such is like it is you must actually mean it really happened this other way, never mind that you actually created that such and such in the first place” and then have the gall to tell those who have chosen to take God’s words as it reads “your view shows arrogance and pride”.

      Luke chapter 3 records the genealogy of Christ. We know that Jesus existed. Even many secularists who deny his divinity agree he was a historical person. The question that all who believe that Genesis is allegory and not narrative must answer is where does Jesus’s family tree, going from himself back to Adam, transition from the historical to the allegorical?

      Luke, Paul, and Jude (the biological half-brother of Jesus Christ) all mentioned Adam in a context indicating believe in Adam as a historical figure. What textual basis exists for identifying there reference to Adam as allegorical but there other references as factual? If we decide that parts of God’s word must be allegorical to make it compatible with current secular science, how do we determine where to draw the line? Do you believe that King David is historical? How about Moses? Abraham? I know already, Mr. Adams, you don’t think Noah a historical person. Where do you, Jeff Adams, make the break between the historical and allegorical? Why do you choose that point? What changes structurally in the text that would support that being the change point?

      What portions of Scripture do you believe are indisputably historical? Do you go along with Genesis being allegorical because belief in creation week is not required for salvation? Under secular medical science, resurrection from the dead is impossible. I assume you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead, an action that defied scientific understanding, even by modern standards. If you believe that the laws of nature can be broken by Jesus Christ in this capacity, then why it is so hard to accept that maybe creation happened exactly as God told us it did?

      LIke I said, I am sure you are going to reply in your usual smart aleck manner with all of your informal and formal fallacy terminology. I don’t care. Have at it.

      Doesn’t change the multitude of mathematical and evidentiary problems evolutionary theory faces or the many issues evolution-believing Christians face in determining what it fact and what is merely mythical in natural.

  4. Interesting post, I appreciate tackling the subject from the mathematical perspective. While it is valuable to examine other fields such as genetics and biology to examine claims of millions of years and dating methods, this mathematical perspective is often overlooked. Both theories require faith.

  5. It is interesting to look at the idea of macroevolution from a statistical perspective, which shows how hard it is to be certain of something. This concept is not usually discussed in a conversation about evolution. I agree that it is empirically true that there is variation within species or natural selection. This displays that the idea of the “survival of the fittest” is valid and all you have to do is look at the world around us or watch Animal Planet to discover this fact.

  6. I really appreciate your comment, “we must acknowledge that opposition to evolution in no way means you disagree with natural selection”. I often find myself in conversation with people who do not understand how I can agree in natural selection, but not evolution. Natural selection and survival of the fittest is something that we regularly see. Species with inferior attributes regularly die sooner than those with superior attributes. This is why you see far less albino squirrels than grey squirrels as it is easier for predators to see albino squirrels. However, we do not regularly see macroevolution occurring in our world.

  7. It is amazing to me the complexity of creation. Most of the mathematical statistics are difficult for me to understand but I found this theory to be intriguing. I often think about how much we will never understand about what God has created!

  8. In a bizarre way I think this article was fascinating. It was undoubtedly strange as is represented poor understanding of science and the history of evolutionary thought from Darwin to the present. The null hypothesis discussion was also a straw-man argument and lacked a mention of Occam’s razor. That being said, I enjoyed the message of recognizing the vast complexity of life and the continued mystery of how everything works. As Christians, it is a constant struggle to find balance between science and our faith. I appreciate the discussion of the difference between belief in microevolution and macroevolution. More Christians need to embrace this line of thinking. I believe that the majesty of God is visible in His creation around us. By studying the natural world we come closer to Him. Too many Christians are content to say that we should not attempt to discover the “hows” of Gods creation. I think the real debate among Christians in this issue should be framed as a discussion of How God created and continues to influence the Universe in which we live. Does He operate using natural processes within the laws of the Universe that He created and we simply lack the intelligence or knowledge to understand, or are His attributes more mystical, existing outside of our reality? Food for thought. I would never claim to be an expert, but I find the discussion interesting and valuable. Good change of pace on the blog.

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