The Probability Factor in the Creation vs Evolution Debate

In this post I want to examine the debate of creation vs evolution from a different angle. I am neither in favor of one or the other, but before you dismiss me as an ignoramus, hear me out. Indeed, I am somewhat Christian by “faith”, though I do have several qualms with philosophical aspects of Christianity. Nevertheless, in the realm of science vs religion, I believe that there is a very important aspect that has been left out of the public debates, most likely because the average listener/debater is not an expert in probability theory. However, I will try to present this argument in a simplified manner using a numbered outline..

1) The theory of evolution is often viewed at a very macroscopic model with too many unknown variables and is thus difficult to verify, even if the probabilistic principles driving various aspects of the theory are sound.

At the top level, you have natural selection determining which animals “tend” to survive and which “tend” to die. This is largely based on the existing environment and the survival and propagation of a particular species, which is correlated with certain “favorable” traits obtained through either mutation or sexual reproduction. Note that the number of factors (e.g. environment, interactions and behavior, genetic traits) are huge and therefore very difficult to analyze jointly. Experiments can only verify that certain aspects hold statistically in isolation (or using only a small subset of factors). Complete, joint experimentation is too complex and takes too long to conduct.

2) There exists a truly probabilistic element in the universe, namely, that particles exhibit probabilistic wave functions.

I’m not a physicist, but from what I know that according to quantum mechanics, before observing any particle, the particle exists only as a probabilistic wave function which collapses upon observation. It is entirely possible (though not probable) for a baseball to be thrown horizontally and yet curve upward into space. In any case, to analyze sexual reproduction or gene mutations at the quantum scale is intractible. Hence evolution is still modeled based on statistical experiments at a higher level. Hence, while some mistaken quantum physics to support the theory of evolution, this is not true, though it is philosophically “consistent” with evolution.

3) What is often measured is the “average case” or “high probability” behavior, not the “ground truth”.

This is hopefully self-explanatory and is related to the above argument (intractibility). A simple illustration is brownian motion (the precise behavior of molecules) for an object at rest (a macroscopic, average behavior). One might perform kinematic experiments based on modeling the object as a whole, instead of accurately measuring the precise locations and trajectories of its individual particles.

4) The laws guiding the universe are assumed to be stationary.

Stationarity is a concept derived from the theory of random processes which states that what has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future (as time goes to infinity) will always follow the same distribution. Stationarity is an extremely important assumption required for the scientific method to hold, since, given that a result is validated, then it has always held in the past, holds in the present, and will always hold in the future. Otherwise all experimental results are meaningless.

5) 3-4 makes a strong case against young earth creationism, but only “with high probability”.

Stationarity can make a strong case against young earth creationism for two reasons: it supports the big bang with high probability. If the physical laws have always held as they do now, based on astronomical data there should be a singularity (with very high probability) around 13-14 billion years back in history. It also makes a case for the accuracy of radioactive carbon dating.

6) Interestingly, young earth creationism is also consistent with scientific theory based on 3 and 4.

Why? If the world indeed operates based on nondeterminism, then however negligible the probability of young earth creationism, there is still a non-zero probability that universe arranged itself accordingly in 7 days, just as there is a negligible (but non-zero) probability that the universe exists in its current state at the present time! To understand this, one needs to remove the paradigm of thinking in terms of “wholes”. We are not discussing the average behavior of macroscopic objects, but rather each individual quark, boson, muon, etc. in the observable universe. The reason why our observed universe has near zero chance of existing is a simple consequence of the sheer number of particles in the known universe, and the fact that they each exhibit probabilistic wave functions.

Hence, even if observable evidence points to the big bang “on average”, the universe need not always behave “on average”. Christians believe that with God all things are possible (though not necessarily probable)–and in this case God needs only operate within His own designed physical rules! Hence young earth creationism is consistent with scientific theory under the “guidance” of a non-quantum Cause.

7) Young earth creationism can not be experimentally verified. (i.e. it is philosophically valid, but can not be considered science.)

Unfortunately, due to its extremely low probability of occurence, it is nearly impossible to experimentally validate the 7 days of creation theory. The only tools that can be used to support young earth creationism is suggestive evidence (e.g. almost every nation had a “dragon” in its mythology/folklore, suggesting that humans might have lived among dinosaurs). Otherwise, it must be accepted by “blind faith”.

Another way to think about it is the following: If you saw a “miracle”, could you repeat it?

Conclusion: I am not the most eloquent writer, but hopefully this post has helped you to think “outside the box” regarding the debate that has been all over the news since… 1844. And hopefully those of you who are on different sides of the spectrum can develop an appreciation for one another’s viewpoints.

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10 Responses to The Probability Factor in the Creation vs Evolution Debate

  1. David Root says:

    Greetings,

    Very interesting, but it seems you make certain assumptions I do not understand. I am a Biologist and a Christian. So I can know our perspectives are different. However, I would be interested in finding out why you accept certain concepts.

    For instance, why do you believe the Earth itself is young. In Genesis, the earth exists before the stars, the sun, and the moon. There is no definition on how long the Earth existed before the organization of the matter into life and form. You call it young earth creationism. There are no defined terms for my beliefs, but I can picture the universe creation around a single point in space caught up in a gravity well achieving orbit. Can you? Why or why not?

    So what scientific evidence can I hold to explain this? Consider the following. Current theories around the universe hold a spectrum of finite dimensions of energy (String Theory etc.) that float around each other. Create a wave that causes these dimensions to touch and large explosions of mater burst out. The matter collects creating asteroids, moons, planets, stars, and even black holes creating galaxies. This wave is important from a Christian stand point.

    Again consider, in Genesis, God uses his voice as the power of creation. Is it not interesting that our voice creates sound waves. Waves again. Is is possible that with a select set of sound waves, that all over our current universe, creating pockets of mass throughout, could create the known mass in the universe and its forms. Speak, make waves in energy dimensions, create matter, create galaxies, create a universe.

    I would like to take it one step further. With large waves one could create galaxies. With smaller focussed waves one could create plants, animals, or activate human life.

    Forgive me for not using scientific method in this discussion. But, I am trying to keep this short and convey a great deal of information. I welcome your perspective on the information above.

    Sincerely

    David Root

  2. David Root says:

    P.S.

    What is the probability of coincidence?

  3. JOE R says:

    let us apreciate the level of perfection in nature and creation amongst us is not and could not be by chance even with millions of years.NOT WITHOUT GOD

  4. bkungfoo says:

    Essentially, all I am saying is that the wave-particle theory can be a mechanism through which God, or any supernatural force, can interact with the natural world in a realistic way. In other words, we need not see the burning bush or the resurrection of Lazarus as an unscientific, supernatural miracle, but rather, that natural “phenomena” can be used to explain this. However, such “phenomena” has such low probability of occurring that God himself needs to have orchestrated it, or caused it. “Young earth creationism” likewise… but again I am not arguing for or against it.

    In any case, all the above discussion isn’t essential to the Christian faith, nor do I think it derails anything. My mind just tends to wander alot. =p

  5. Will says:

    Why must all creationists insist that the earth was created in 7 literal days (24 hours long)?
    Considering that the 7th day of God’s rest is mentioned in the bible as still running even on until the Christian Apostle Paul’s time in 1st Century AD (and possibly on into our day), why then, can we not consider that the 6 creative “days” are simply creative periods of time which could conceivably run into thoushands or millions of years. After all, the bible says “A thousand years is to God like one day, and one day a thousand years”.
    And we often use the term “day” when talking about a non specified time period: (EG. ‘In my father’s day, things were different’.)

  6. Josh says:

    Will, first of all, while I do not count myself among them, there are creationists who do not believe in the idea of literal 24-hour days of creation. Secondly, in response to your question, the reason that many do believe in this aside from it being the literal interpretation of the English translation, if you read the Hebrew text for the account, the word “yam” is used to mean “day.” That Hebrew word can have the meaning of “extended period of time”; however, when used in the context of “morning” and “evening” it would be properly understood to mean a literal 24-hour period. Hope this clarifies this point for someone.

  7. Kesika says:

    I would like to point out that your talk of statistics sounds good when speaking of the earth, and the rocks. However… when you take into account that somewhere around 95% of all mutations are fatal…. and there is only a small chance of mutation to begin with… the idea that we managed to survive mutation from strands of RNA to diverse and intelligent beings holds with it a statistical chance equally minute to a ball falling towards the sky. You said that Christianity could not be proved on the principle that “correlation does not imply causation”, yet there is nothing more than correlation among skeletons and orbital paths to prove macro-evolution. No experiment has ever reproduced spontaneous life. Though pasteur’s did disprove it as much as anything can be disproved. Creationists state simply that a higher being orchestrated the events over a period of time similar in form to our current 24-hour day. Show me an artist that does not have trends within his work. When you see a building do you say “oh look, this building is made of similar materials to those around it, it must have been deposited here layer by layer over a thousand centuries?” Or do you say “who is the architect?” Niether theory comes close to being probable on its own without intervention…

  8. mllamoreux says:

    I suggest you learn your biology before applying statistical theories to it. Biological published peer reviewed papers do contain valid statistics or they would not be published.

  9. bkungfoo says:

    Since the comments to this post are headed back toward the “conventional ways of thinking” I was trying to avoid in this post, I will clarify the point of my post one more time. ;-)

    My post is primarily a philosophical one–not one that’s focused on biology or even statistical theory, although I do mention it quite alot in the argument. I did not claim to be a 7 day creationist, nor an evolutionist. I also do not claim to know any more about biological theories than a high school graduate who took an AP course. In fact, I’ve always had a poor memory and could never do well memorizing biological facts. That being said, this is the main point of my post:

    I don’t believe that all creationists are anti-intellectual. Sure, many creationists we know of will accept the bible and the literal use of the word “day” with absolute faith, and as a result there is no room for discussion about scientific evidence that suggests the contrary (you can’t discuss theories about the big bang or the origins of the universe, which I find absolutely fascinating): hence a lack of intellectual discussion due to failure to find common ground. However, two creationists may be able to engage in a mutually interesting, though non-scientific, discussion about the Garden of Eden and the creation account in the bible. They may also be arguing about intepretation. This is all an intellectual exercise, no less than scientists arguing about the theories of evolution.

    Most importantly, the key words that I used in the previous paragraph are: “evidence” and “suggests”. The scientific paradigm is one that rests on the burden of “proof”. However, unless you are in a purely mathematical field, scientific “proof” rests on inductive axioms that can never really be “proven”. It can only be supported by statistical evidence, and rests on the assumption that what was observed in the past still holds today. At least, this is how it’s done in the engineering discipline, in theory and in practice. You can only engage in an intellectual discussion if both of you believe in the theories/models/techniques behind it.

    That is the distinction I am trying to make, and why I believe creationists and evolutionists are more common than they think they are. Just because the majority believe in one thing doesn’t make the minority less intellectual. Furthermore, within this context, I am also stating that “miracles” by definition cannot be scientifically proven because they are things that are observed only once in a lifetime, if at all. If miracles could be repeated demonstrated in practice, they would cease to be miracles and at best would be scientific “phenomenons” (i.e. things that can be made to occur, but the cause is not well understood).

    Along those lines, one shouldn’t trivialize other people’s miraculous stories/testimonies. ;-p

  10. […] to “Creation vs Evolution” This post is an appendix to the previous “Evolution vs Creation” debate post, which takes a step back from the original post. Based on the comments received, perhaps the […]

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