I was having a conversation today and a friend mentioned an article he'd read that explained how evolution is mathematically implausible or impossible as the time it would take for life to evolve as it is is longer than the universe has existed.


I'm not familiar with this argument and wondered if anyone can point me to that article or to something similar. A refutation of the idea would be helpful as well.

Tags: evolution

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Friends sometimes have to be ignored, or told to buy you a beer.

Monsieur Sarbeck is most correct, and obviously a fine bon vivant and man-about-town.  Listen.
If you google "not enough time for evolution" a number of articles come up, mostly small non-notable websites and forums.

One article that comes up is from Uncommon Descent, which is a popular creationist blog.
"No evidence that there is enough time for evolution". It's written by Lee Spetner, who is a Creationist physicist.

Good reply; it reminded me of this: "That which is freely asserted may be freely denied."


I would recommend that one always give answers strongly rooted in the physical evidence.  Because that's the essence of the scientific worldview - that the theory flows from the facts, where with the religious worldview it is the theory (The Word, the doctrine, whatever) that is unassailable and one must puzzle out how the facts fit into that world view.  

When the theory doesn't match the facts, it's anywhere from miscalibrated (as IDers often intentionally do, which is probably the case here) to complete nonsense.  It should be obvious to people with a rational world view, but Science has no problem tossing out theories that don't fit the evidence, and scientists do it all the time - I think this is one thing that should be repeated time and time again to people with a religious worldview, that it's not science's word against religion's word, but religion's word against the evidence.

In this case, I would talk about the fossil record and how time and time again we see broad progression in species over time, how we see them differentiate widely in easy times and die back to a few specific forms in more difficult times for survival (see punctuated equilibria in wikipedia).  

I would talk about that evidence as being the basis for the rates that we know happened, and how those rates gave plenty of time for a planet full of species to evolve multiple times and then drastically die back every so often in global catastrophies - there have been five narrow periods in our planet's last "mere" half a billion years or so of history where more than 50% of existent species died (see Extinction Event in wikipedia - You might or might not want to mention that roughly 70% of biologists believe that a sixth is underway now, thanks to Humanity).

I think it's really important in these discussion to get across just how much time we're talking about, and just how rich the fossil record of speciation and extinction is.    Scientific theories are often easily misapplied or miscalibrated by the untrained, whether intentionally or not - it's the direct evidence that laymen should really be encouraged to keep an eye on.

Because in reality, this is not the religious theory vs. the theory of scientists - these arguments are really all fundamentally about epistemology, about how we come to decide what our beliefs about reality are.  No minds will really be changed until they understand that this is really how we differ.

At least, IMO :)

I hope you recommend also, and first, that questions be rooted in the physical evidence.


Alli Armstrong's friend's question was rooted in fantasy.


Mathematically impossible? I guess they forgot to tell all those scientists working on developing evolutionary algorithms.

I've heard similar arguments and they are entirely based upon a misunderstanding of evolution and statistics. They work on the assumption that evolution is an all or nothing process rather than a very gradual process of incremental progression. These arguments also frequently confuse abiogensis with evolution, which are of course two completely different realms of study.

Marshall essentially summed it up with


"I've heard similar arguments and they are entirely based upon a misunderstanding of evolution and statistics. They work on the assumption that evolution is an all or nothing process rather than a very gradual process of incremental progression."


Pseudo-mathematics are a beloved tool of pseudo-scientists (including, among others, apologists, Holocaust deniers, Jesus Mythicists,...) for precisely the reason that mathematics is only useful as a model for reality, and you need to make sure that your model is actually accurate before you draw any conclusions from it.

Richard Carrier often tries a similar tack when arguing for Jesus Mythicism: he makes his own assumptions about what mathematical model he should be using, and then triumphantly draws conclusions from that very model... which of course just reflects on how he set up his model: garbage in, garbage out. He got ripped for it pretty badly by Dr. Joseph Hoffman.


Ultimately, this creationist argument doesn't hold up because it is nigh impossible to create a mathematical model sufficiently accurate to account for all possible evolutionairy mechanisms. The same goes for any number of things in life: the fact that you, Alli, got to know exactly the people you did in your life and not anyone else, is mathematically impossible as well when you try to make a mathematical model for it... but it still happened. And so if my mathematical model for your life is in contradiction with the facts about your life, then clearly it's my model that is mistaken.


Mere theoretical meandering on probabilities goes out the window when you have evidence that something actually happened. Which in the case of evolution, we certainly do. And we don't need to bother with mathematical models to ascertain this.

Look at the last year of a lottery.  What are the odds that the numbers would have been drawn in that specific order - yet they did.  (if the odds are still not in range of what is called "impossible" go for more than year or add other lotteries to "calculations".  If you roll a six sided dice and it come up 3.  What are the odd 100%, that is what happened.  If before you roll the die it was 1 in 6.
Evolution is observable in extant (living) species. It's actually easy to observe and even direct evolution of organisms with short lifespans, like bacteria. You can tell your friend that her or his face is a product of evolution, the fact that she or he looks different from her or his parents, is a product of evolution. Domestication of farm animals is a product of selective breeding, which has achieved guided speciation. Ask your friend if there's a difference between a wild boar and a farm pig. The latter wasn't always around, we humans guided its evolution to make it fit our needs. These are just simple examples, if your friend can read, then all it takes is a High School level Biology textbook to convince anyone willing to read it that Evolution is a real fact and it wouldn't take more than 13.7 billions of years for new species to emerge, even though it sometimes takes quite long. It took people about 7 million of years to get from an average monkey to Homo Sapiens, but it only took few hundreds of thousands of years of evolution to go different species of Hominids.
I have heard this argument before and I think it might stem from an argument asserted by Dembski.  I believe Dembski's argument has two basic problems, but searching it on google would give you more information.  First he asserts that the odds of this happening randomly are astronomical and he is right.  But evolution is not random.  Second, he basically asserts that the atoms, proteins, cells or whatever must come together "in series" or in other words one at a time and each position is dependent on the previous position and if this were the case just about anything would become mathematically impossible.  The way Dembski calculates the odds it comes out to be something like 1 in 65 to the 10 with like 100 zeros.  And if you imagine that the odds that your life proceeded exactly how you have lived it.  Given all the choices you make every day what are the odds that randomly you make every decision exactly how you have made it?  Astronomical, but your decisions are not made randomly...   Just sayin'


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