Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Not Impossible

Rabbi Moshe Averick has a fine piece at the Times of Israel recounting the history of attempts to explain the origin of life (OOL) in a naturalistic, materialistic framework. The problem has proven to be intractable despite decades of intensive research and theorizing because, as Averick points out, the simplest living thing, a bacterium, is orders of magnitude more complex than, say, an i-phone. If we can't imagine how an i-phone could have arisen apart from intelligent input and direction, it's vastly more difficult to imagine how a living cell could have emerged purely through the laws of chemistry and physics. Indeed, workers in the field often refer to the OOL as almost a miracle.

Averick covers a lot of ground in his essay, but the most interesting part to me was his skewering of the standard fall-back position among naturalists, the multiverse hypothesis. This is the idea that there are an infinity of worlds and that, given an infinity of possibilities, every possible event must at some time occur. No matter how improbable an event might be in a finite universe, if there are infinite universes, every possibility will sometime, somewhere be actualized. In other words, even if something is astronomically improbable, it's still possible and if possible, then, the thinking goes, it's inevitable. Here's Averick:

It is obvious that life was created by an intelligent designer outside of the natural world and the reason why the origin of life “seems almost like a miracle,” is because it is a miracle.

However, atheist/materialist scientists refuse to give up so easily. Dr. Koonin himself has proposed a possible solution and escape hatch from having to accept a Creator of life: “The Many Worlds in One version of the cosmological model of eternal inflation might suggest a way out of the origin of life conundrum because, in an infinite multiverse with a finite number of macroscopic histories (each repeated an infinite number of times), the emergence of even highly complex systems by chance is not just possible, but inevitable."

Translation: The odds of rolling a six a thousand times in a row with a single die is 1 in 6 to the 1000th power, or 1 chance in 6 x 10 to the 999th power. The size of this number is beyond our comprehension but to provide some kind of baseline keep in mind that the number of atoms in the entire universe is roughly 10 to the 80th power.

Despite this, as Koonin points out, if I am able to roll the die an infinite number of times, it is not only possible, but inevitable that it will happen. Although reason and scientific investigation have informed us of the virtual impossibility of life having formed on our planet by an undirected naturalistic process, the “way out of the origin of life conundrum” – that is to say, the way to avoid the obvious answer that life was created – is to propose a multiverse. With an infinite number of trials and errors available, it is not only possible but inevitable that life will form no matter how fantastic the odds against.

He is right of course. With an infinite number of trials and errors not only is the formation of life inevitable but it is just as inevitable that at least one of each of the following has formed by pure chance and can be found on our planet today: iPhone 5, Toshiba Satellite Laptop Computer, Schwinn Discover Men’s Hybrid Bike, full color poster of Jimmy Hendrix playing at Woodstock, Martin D-35 Acoustic Guitar, Mylec Eclipse Jet-Flow Hockey Stick, Revell 1:48 scale P-51D Mustang model airplane, and last but not least, a 2013 Rolls Royce Phantom Sedan (retail price- $465,000). I don’t believe it, no one reading this article believes it, Eugene Koonin does not believe it, and even Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe it.

Just as it is beyond absurd to propose that the iPhone 5 I am holding in my hand could be the product of chance it is exponentially beyond absurd to propose that a bacterium could have formed by chance. There is either a flaw in Koonin’s logic (which of course there is) or the multiverse theory is false and/or irrelevant to our question (which of course it is).
As Averick observes, researchers in the field seem to be reduced to arguing that because no one can prove that a naturalistic origin can't happen therefore it must have happened.
Dr. Frank Sonleitner, a Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma has written a lengthy essay on the origin of life which appears on the NCSE website. He writes as follows: “Modern ideas about the [emergence] of living things from non-living components...may not have yet come anywhere near answering all our questions about the process, but...none of this research has indicated that abiogenesis [origin of life from non-life]is impossible.”

Dr. Paul Davies: “Just because scientists are uncertain how life began does not mean that life cannot have had a natural origin.” (i.e. it’s not impossible)

Even Dr. Francis Crick, undoubtedly one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century, is not immune. From his book Life Itself: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that…it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions.” (In other words, it’s not impossible.)

Imagine winning 200 hands of black-jack in a row at a Las Vegas casino. As the pit-boss and his crew are summarily throwing you out of the casino onto the sidewalk, you offer the following brilliant pleading, “I know it seems like a miracle that I could win 200 hands in a row by pure luck, but it’s not impossible!”

Atheist author Mark Isaak, from his book The Counter-Creationism Handbook: “Nobody denies that the origin of life is an extremely difficult problem, that is has not been solved though, does not mean that it is impossible.”
When intelligent people find themselves arguing that as long as something can't be disproven it's acceptable to believe it, they're no longer doing science. What they're doing is taking enormous leaps of blind faith. A religious person who reasoned this way would be mercilessly derided by skeptics who nevertheless seem unaware that their unbelief is predicated on the very same sort of reasoning they poke fun of in others.