The mathematical probability of Evolution?


(Dark X Studios) #1

Soon, at my Christian School, my friends dad is coming in to my biology class to give us the mathematical probability of a water animal becoming a land animal or something like that. Obviously He is gonna say that it is probably impossible or nearly impossible because everyone there and their parents are anti evolution. What do you guys know about the “mathematical probability” of a water animal becoming a land animal? I want to be able to know if the probability is truly low or if it’s higher than young earth creationists claim.


(Peaceful Science) #2

So I am a computational biologist and am very curious what he will say. Please do reproduce it here.

I would ask him…

  1. Where did he gets his formulas from? How does he know they are accurate?
  2. Where did he get the numbers he plugs into his formula? How does he know they are accurate?
  3. What are the simplifications he is assuming in his math? How does he know these simplifications do not make his conclusion invalid?
  4. How does he “validate” his math’s predictions? How could he know if he made an error?

To be clear, his math is wrong because it cannot be justified. He cannot have scientifically valid answers to these questions. Also, propose this alternative hypothesis:

“It is possible for land animals to evolve into water animals over billions of years (and vice versa), but in our world didn’t because the world is <10,000 years old.”

  1. What does he think of this hypothesis, and why is he so certain it is false?
  2. If he insists it violates Scripture, ask him how? (it does not).
  3. If he claims the Bible says that species “reproduce after their own kinds”…
    1. point out this is false. Rather, it says in Hebrew “the land produced animals of many kinds,” making no reference to reproduction. This is even explained by YEC old testament scholars: http://www.atsjats.org/publication/view/39 (this is a good article to print out and bring along, it is written by a YEC scholar).
    2. Ask him how he knows whether or not land and water mammals are the same “kind” or not? How would he test this scientifically? If they were the same kind, how would he know?
  4. Ask him how genetically similar he expects walrus and bears to be? Will they be more similar or different than cats and dogs? (hint: turns out bears and more similar to walrus than cat is to dog. Why?)
  5. Also, if tries to argue that ray-fin fish (what we think of when we hear of “fish”) gave rise to land animals, ask him why he think this. No scientist thinks this, why would he argue that?
  6. Aren’t the large number of amphibious animals great examples of “intermediate” forms? (penguins, salamanders, lung fish, otters, walrus, seal, crabs, worms, iguanas, crocodile, frogs, snakes, etc.) Why is going back and forth between water so hard to imagine?

If I were you, I would hold back from trying to convince them that evolution is “true”. Instead, poke at the certainty he has. How can he know this probability this from either math or Scripture? He just cannot.


(Dark X Studios) #3

Thanks so much! I will tell you what he says. I forget but I think my teacher said in a couple weeks. I will take your advice though. :slight_smile: :


(Peaceful Science) #4

If it is a few weeks and he is your friend’s dad, consider asking your friend to send him a note.

Tell him that you want to take his argument seriously and think about it before he comes. To help with that, perhaps he could write down his main points for you to think about for a week or so. Also, assure him that you do not want to be disrespectful, and just have a lot of questions about evolution and creation. Hopefully he will respond.

And definitely treat him with respect, even if he says silly things. You are much more likely to be heard if you listen first. If he does not let you speak without interrupting you, just calmly say “You just aren’t convinced”. Feel no need to insert your point in. People will only listen when they are ready, and they only listen to those they trust. Be kind, and this will open doors more than anything else.


(Dark X Studios) #5

Thank you i will


(Larry Bunce) #6

People who are anti-evolution assume that the theory of evolution requires an atheistic viewpoint. Point out that if God wanted land creatures to appear, and if God controls evolution, the odds against sea creatures evolving into land creatures would make no difference. Genesis even says that sea creatures were created before land animals.


(Dark X Studios) #7

That’s an interesting point. i will definitely take your advice


(Lynn Munter) #8

There’s a lot of variation on the ‘mathematical probability’ argument. Most of them that I’ve seen have the same enormous error: they assume that if something didn’t happen the exact particular way it happened, it is enormously improbable to have happened at all.

So for example, you could calculate the improbability of your DNA code existing in its current pattern. But each new human has several brand new mutations, and most of them don’t do anything. Moreover, what was the probability of a particular sperm cell making it to the egg cell first? Pretty low, right? If it hadn’t, you might be a different person.

But you can’t conclude that your parents would never have had children if that sperm cell hadn’t won the race! They would almost certainly have had a kid, and that kid would probably be a lot like you.

This can be applied on a massive scale to evolution. The probability of life happening exactly as it has happened in our history is extremely low. But that is not at all the same as the claim that the probability of life itself is low, or that the probability of life evolving into enormous variety as we see around us is low.

We see examples in @gbrooks9’s bacteria video: there are lots of different ways the bacteria can evolve resistance to the toxin, even if the exact mutation that occurs is never exactly the same twice.

So figure out some way of asking your friend’s dad how he’s considered alternative possibilities that would also wind up with a sea creature evolving into a land creature, even if they don’t match the results we ended up with. That’s what you’d have to do, in order to make any confident statements about the probability of something happening.


(Hugh Farey) #9

It is a commonly held belief among all non-mathematicians, not just creationists, that a remote possibility is the same as an impossibility. This is transparently untrue. Even if the odds of something happening are a trillion to one against, there is a likelihood of such an outcome, given several trillion events. With the aid of a large bucket of pennies, I have invariably been able to present to one of my audience a penny which has come up heads 10 times in a row, which had first seemed, when I first showed that the odds of such a thing happening were remote, too improbable to be possible.

Another mistake often made by creationists is to think that an evolutionary outcome of several chance events can be calculated by multiplying the chances together, arriving at something impossibly vast. Thus the chance of a cell doing this is 1/100 and the chance of it doing that afterwards is 1/100 and the chance of it doing the other afterwards is 1/100, so the total probability is 1/1000000, which is long odds. But this too is a mistake. Unless a mutation is fatal, it may survive to be reproduced many millions of times, so that the second mutation has a much bigger field to produce it than just the single cell in which the first originally occurred.


(Lynn Munter) #10

I wonder if a little thought experiment might help demonstrate this point?

Suppose you have a penny. You flip it. Tails, nothing happens, heads your friend gets to start flipping a penny, too. Tails twice in a row, stop flipping. Someone can later restart you by flipping heads.

Under this system, is it improbable to eventually get 10 heads in a row? 50 in a row? What if you can count from person to person, up the chain of friends that started flipping from each other?

It’s a pretty simple system of rules, and using just random chance, it can build pretty quickly!


(GJDS) #11

I feel that an important point is missed in these type of discussions, and that is this:

If evolutionists claim that ToE is random based and associated thinking, and they turn to stochastic methods to support their case, they should accept conclusions, that such as such an event is impossibly likely - this is a result from stochastic computations and not ideological arguments.

If otoh evolutionists believe ToE is a special case, and they still maintain a random basis, they need to provide an ab initio mathematical treatment that explicitly clarifies the nature of random events and how they lead to the observations currently made.

My current reading of PoSc on these matters has indicated evolutionists are incapable of doing either.

Do not get aggressive at me - simply read some prominent PoSc works and make your comments based on these.


Does biology need the theory that all life shares a common ancestor?
(John) #12

I think it may be useful to consider that the probability of an event happening depends on the conditions. The chances of getting ten heads in a row depends on having a coin, and how many coins you have, and how many heads each coin has. And so on. Mainstream science does not propose that just one water animal became a land animal. There were huge reproducing populations of many different kinds of water animals. The land was an unexploited niche. The changes took place slowly over millions over years. And so on.
As has been stated above, any attempt to calculate the probability at issue has almost certainly not taken many of those conditions into account.


(Chris Falter) #13

Hi DarkX -

Here’s another way to think correctly about probability.

Suppose you live in a state like mine (South Carolina) where license plates have 3 letter and 3 numbers. You walk through your school parking lot in the morning and head inside. In math class, you announce:

“I just saw the license plate BRU 298, ZTG 412, and AMQ 935. What are the odds?!”

The odds are incredibly low that you would see those 3 specific tags, actually–about 1 in 5.4 sextillion. Here’s 5.4 sextillion written out:

5,400,000,000,000,000,000,000

That’s a big number.

So you could walk into class every day and say “Something weird happened out in the parking lot. Something that has only a 1 in 5.4 sextillion chance of ever happening! And it happened yesterday, too!”

But you don’t. Why not? Because every license plate (except vanity plates) has 3 letter and 3 numbers. There’s nothing odd about a license plate with 3 letters and 3 numbers, even if a particular set of 3 letters and 3 numbers might happen just once in every 17.6 million permutations.

Just as there are a really large number of possible license plates, there are a really large number of ways to put nucleotides together to form DNA that can produce useful proteins. So if someone says that the odds of attaining a particular DNA sequence are infinitesimally small, I would agree. I could even go on to say that the odds that the DNA sequence in my cells would come into existence are 1 in 2^3,000,000,000 or so. 2 to the 3 billionth power, or 10 to the 900 millionth power, is a number so vast I can scarcely describe it. And yet here I am–I beat the astronomical odds! And you did, too, @DarkX_Studios! You are proof that an event with odds of 1 in 10^900,000,000 can happen. And each of your friends is proof that an event with odds of 1 in 10^900,000,000 can happen, too, because each one of them has a DNA sequence with the same infinitesimally small probability as yours.

Yet another way of thinking about low probability events is to think about the lottery. The chance that someone will guess the Powerball combination is really tiny: only about 1 in 292 million. But if enough people buy tickets, sooner or later someone will guess that combination.

In the same way, every time a creature is born, a new DNA sequence that never existed before comes into existence. It’s like all the people buying Powerball tickets; sooner or later something really interesting and rare and history-changing is going to happen.

Hope these analogies help you think about probability in a useful way. Basically no one is born with the ability to think accurately about low probability events; it takes a lot of training to get used to it.

Best regards,
Chris Falter


(Lynn Munter) #14

I don’t recognize your PoSc abbreviation. It doesn’t seem to come from your previous paragraphs. I tried googling ‘PoSc evolution’ just in case it was obvious. The first result was this:

https://arxiv.org/abs/0803.2505

…Followed by a lot of Poli Sci. Would you mind clarifying which meaning you intended?


(Dark X Studios) #15

Thanks this helped alot. I will definitely use this :blush:


(Peaceful Science) #16

Show me the math that demonstrates that evolution is impossibly unlikely and we can talk. I have yet to see it.


(GJDS) #17

Stands for Philosophy of Science and I have used a couple, most from Rosenberg, a “dyed in the wool” atheist and eliminative materialist. I cannot think how I could be fairer and giving all opportunity to the side of avowed evolutionists.


(GJDS) #18

Joshua, I think your approach is faulty and perhaps somewhat unfair - I have little invested in any version of ToE and have responded on this site mainly due to statements such as “God has ordained evolution”, “Adam and Eve are myths”, “we can discuss how life commenced”, and similar theological statements. You should realise by now that if ToE is confined to biology, I would have little if any interest.

Now I cannot think how many times people have used coin tossing and stochastic methods to “explain” random and evolution, so my statement should not require justification from me - I seek an explanation from advocates only.


(GJDS) #19

Hi Chris,

I understand your approach and agree with your numbers - but perhaps you may be missing the point. The number plates were all produced methodically and we can trace their history from the first number plate to the last. Information can be obtained on when they were produced, why and for which vehicle. Statistics become irrelevant in this context, and if someone felt seeing some number plates were astronomically unlikely, I would question his understanding of cars, number plates and all else.


(Hugh Farey) #20

[quote=“GJDS, post:11, topic:35420”]
If evolutionists claim that ToE is random based and associated thinking, and they turn to stochastic methods to support their case, they should accept conclusions, that such as such an event is impossibly likely - this is a result from stochastic computations and not ideological arguments.[/quote]This is a little confused, if I may say so. The term “impossibly likely” is a logical contradiction. No evolutionist thinks that evolution is impossible - in fact they all think that the chances of all living things having a common ancestor is exactly 1, as events have fallen out.

[quote]If otoh evolutionists believe ToE is a special case, and they still maintain a random basis, they need to provide an ab initio mathematical treatment that explicitly clarifies the nature of random events and how they lead to the observations currently made.

My current reading of PoSc on these matters has indicated evolutionists are incapable of doing either.[/quote]Then please extend your current reading a little. A simple Google of “probability of evolution” or something similar will give a variety of discussions on the matter, many of which explicitly clarify the nature of random events.

[quote]Do not get aggressive at me - simply read some prominent PoSc works and make your comments based on these.
[/quote]I should be delighted. Perhaps you’d like to suggest one?