Responding to Intelligent Design/Creationism: The probability of Abiogenesis

This is the long-delayed second edition of responding to ID/Creationism, which was inspired by the heaps of disingenuity and ignorance offered up by Frank Sherwin of the Institute for Creation Research a few weeks ago at the Christian literalist organized and slanted War of the Worldviews religion debates in Whitby, Ontario.

As will generally be the case, this evolutionist critique of an ID/C talking point comes from TalkOrigins, a highly-respected repository on evolution, intelligent design and creationism run by a number of scientists.

The ID/C claim of the day (as presented by TalkOrigins): The proteins necessary for life are very complex. The odds of even one simple protein molecule forming by chance are 1 in 10^113 (i.e. 10 to the 113th power), and thousands of different proteins are needed to form life.

The TalkOrigins response:

  1. The calculation of odds assumes that the protein molecule formed by chance. However, biochemistry is not chance, making the calculated odds meaningless. Biochemistry produces complex products, and the products themselves interact in complex ways. For example, complex organic molecules are observed to form in the conditions that exist in space, and it is possible that they played a role in the formation of the first life (Spotts 2001).
  2. The calculation of odds assumes that the protein molecule must take one certain form. However, there are innumerable possible proteins that promote biological activity. Any calculation of odds must take into account all possible molecules (not just proteins) that might function to promote life.
  3. The calculation of odds assumes the creation of life in its present form. The first life would have been very much simpler.
  4. The calculation of odds ignores the fact that innumerable trials would have been occurring simultaneously.

An overview of the Responding to Intelligent Design/Creationism posting project:

Leading Intelligent Design/Creationism advocates accuse mainstream scientists of being dogmatically attached to naturalistic evolution, they describe evolution as being a faith rather than a scientific enterprise, they refer to those who accept evolution as “Darwinists”, so as to promote the fallacious notions that i) evolutionary biology is reducible to the ideas of Charles Darwin; ii) that mainstream scientists view Darwin and “Darwinism” as unquestionable and infallible; and iii) that Social Darwinist projects like eugenics practiced during the holocaust are somehow straight-forward outcomes of the acceptance of evolution. They also claim that evolutionary theory is replete with holes, and that mainstream scientists are simply ignoring or denying them. In this ongoing project, I will be reviewing arguments made by Intelligent Design Creationists and presenting rebuttals from the scientific community.

In considering the evolution-Creationism controversy, keep a few things in mind. Firstly, there is a controversy between evolution and ID/Creationism, but it is not a scientific controversy. ID/C is not scientific. It is entirely religious in nature. This is not simply the opinion of atheists or the scientific community. In addition to the scientific community having rejected ID/C as being either scientific or evidentially-informed (while also accepting evolution as both scientific and overwhelmingly supported by scientific research), a number of court decisions in the US (which were presided over by Christian judges; e.g., Judge John Jones in the 2005 Dover Intelligent Design trial) have come to the same verdict, as have numerous religious organizations, most notably the Catholic Church, and a number of prominent religious scientists, such as evangelical Christian Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project.The primary source of information for this program is Talk Origins, an award-winning site dedicated to exploring the evolution-Creationism controversy run by scientists. Talk Origins has received strong endorsements from major scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Smithsonian Institute, major publications such as Science (arguably the world’s top scientific journal) and Scientific American, and is used as a source of course material for dozens of university courses in America.

3 Responses to “Responding to Intelligent Design/Creationism: The probability of Abiogenesis”
  1. Excellent summary of the ID movement. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’re aware, it’s about to get even more mainstream with the release of Ben Stein’s film, “Expelled”. From what I’ve seen on the site for the movie so far, I expect more of what you’ve just mentioned yourself–describing evolution as dogmatic, full of holes, etc.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. Keep it up!

  2. Bob says:

    I am a Christian and a scientist. I am willing to consider your point of view, but please provide references. Based on your four points above, what is the estimated probability (again, please provide references for this calculation)?

    Also, what do you mean that biochemistry is not chance? Are biochemists excused from taking p-chem or statistical thermodynamics? (The second question is a slight attemt at humor.)

    As a scientist with an appreciation for epistemolgy, I get frustrated by the lack of evidential support either side gives to their arguments.


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