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