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Comments

Ryan Sproull

Could you give me some links to some of these "probability studies" things?

ian

Try the first 70 pages of The Divinity Code...various studies and scientists are quoted.

The comment to Roughan needs to be seen in context, however... my point was that Dawkins plucked his "one in a billion" argument right out of thin air...no scientific basis whatsoever...

A number of scientists have run extrapolations about the likelihood of earth-type planets with life, based on what we currently know, but of course we only have a sample size of 1 earth-like planet...and increasingly (and this is a central theme in Divinity Code) the odds against life existing elsewhere are rising substantially the more we discover.

This is because science does not yet have an explanation for the origin of life on earth, and one recent scientific thesis entitled "Did God create DNA?" by a Nobel laureate emphasises the growing scientific pessimism at finding the answer.

Yet until you have a figure for the probability of life arising naturally, even on an ideal planet like Earth, you can't do what Dawkins did and pluck a number out of the air to build a book around.

Currently, based on accepted scientific knowledge, the probability of life arising naturally on Earth is classed as statistically "impossible"...and the scientists making this point are cited in the book.

Ryan Sproull

Any chance you could give me a reference or two that doesn't involve me giving you money? I'm not asking you to cut and paste from your book, just give me a few names or titles of academic studies.

David W

I too am interested as to how you are going to construct a 'probability argument' on something that, as far as we know, has happened once.

Let's hope your whole thesis can't be defeated by a letter originally written in the 19th century:

"We never know what ends may have been kept from realization, for the dead tell no tales. The surviving witness would in any case, and whatever he were, draw the conclusion that the universe planned to make him, and the like of him succeed, for it actually did so. But your argument that it is millions to one that it didn't do so by chance doesn't apply. It would apply if the witness had pre-existed in an independent form and framed his scheme, and then the world had realized it. Such a coincidence would prove the world to have a kindred mind to his. But there has been no such coincidence. The world has come but once, there witness is there after the fact and simply approves... Where only one fact is in question there is no relation to probability at all"

(That's William James to Nathaniel Schaler, reproduced by SJ Gould.)

peter

Ian

I have seen a calculation to say that the probability of life, in some form, on another planet is quite reasonable.

For example

http://www.hyperhistory.com/online_n2/civil_n2/prehistory_n2/alien.html

from which I quote:

"From the Atlas of the Universe we can see that our visible universe - which spans over 14 billion light years - contains an estimated
30 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 stars, or 30 billion trillion stars. Within that astronomical number of stars it seems mathematically inconceivable that there wouldn't be many other civilizations somewhere."

The thing you constantly misunderstand Ian is just HOW BIG these numbers are. No mathematician evidently.

Look at these:

http://www.physicsforums.com/archive/index.php/t-188309.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation

I believe that "life" exists outside of earth, but of course, it could be markedly different from the types of life supported on Earth.

Question - why would there not be forms of life elsewhere in a total universe of such infinite proportions?

ian

David W, shouldn't you be pinging Dawkins with that? He, after all, is the one with the dodgy statements...

Peter...you cite: "contains an estimated
30 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 stars, or 30 billion trillion stars. Within that astronomical number of stars it seems mathematically inconceivable that there wouldn't be many other civilizations somewhere."

This, incidentally, is precisely the kind of argument that Dawkins actually rages against. That said, however, let me put it in perspective for you.

The issue is not the availability of planets, although it is a factor. The real issue is the ability of life to spontaneously generate. THAT is what the probability studies have been done on, and here is how one of the world's leading evolutionary scientists realistically assesses the problem:

"The answer computed by Morowitz reduces the odds of Hoyle [1 chance in 10 to the power of 40,000 for life to arise] to utter insignificance: 1 chance in 10 to the power of 100 billion.

"This number is so large that to write it in conventional form we would require several hundred thousand blank books. We would enter '1' on the first page of the first book and then fill it and the remainder of the books, with zeroes...

"THe Skeptic will want to re-write Professor Wald's conclusion: Improbability is in fact the villain of the plot. The improbability involved in generating even one bacterium is so large that it reduces all considerations of time and space to nothingness.

"Given such odds, the time until the black holes evaporate and the space to the ends of the universe would make no difference at all. If we were to wait, we would truly be waiting for a miracle."

Ryan, you'll find the above cited in Divinity, and available in original form in "Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth" by Robert Shapiro.

The probability against a living DNA or RNA based cell being generated is a number so large it would take thousands of miles of paper for you to write all the zeroes on the end of it..whereas the 30 billion trillion stars is actually quite small in contrast.

Still want to lecture me about maths, Peter?

Shapiro, incidentally, published a paper earlier this year rubbishing the ongoing attempt by science graduates to find a natural origin for RNA or DNA. His own conclusion is that whatever created DNA life on Earth was so unique it probably does not exist anywhere else in the universe.

He speculates, like you, that perhaps life elsewhere is very different, and might even be based on rock structures. But he also concedes that even if such life is possible, it still goes nowhere towards explaining where information-laden DNA came from.

He also concedes that experiments trying to replicate these hypothesised life forms have failed.

If you want to address these arguments without buying Divinity, then you should probably borrow it from the library, as all the arguments are in it.

peter

Ian

Your arguments are theological-based right fundamentalist bunkum.

You say:

"The issue is not the availability of planets, although it is a factor. The real issue is the ability of life to spontaneously generate"

It is simpler than that. We have life on Earth. We have no idea on Earth how life was able to "spontaneously generate" life.

But somehow it happened. And if it happened once, it could happen at least twice.

How are you defining "life" though? I am taking this very broadly, realising that some autonomous behaviour from something may have arisen in totally different circumstances.

I will repeat, that your weakness Ian (and that of many Christian fundamentalists) is to understand how big these numbers really are. It is easy to write a series of zeroes, but totally impossible to understand the infinite world we are describing here.

To summarise - I find NO REASON to suppose that ll life is here on Earth. In fact I find it totally illogical.

ian

Nah, you're right Pete. Ya got me. I shouldn't be listening to the leading scientists in the particular fields, I should be listening to Dawkins and you.

Silly me, to presume that all these Nobel prizewinners and emeritus professors had missed something as bleedingly obvious as "the infinite world" you propose.

When Shapiro says it doesn't matter how old the universe is or how big it is, it is now patently clear to me that he's wrong, and I should flick him a copy of your post just to settle his doubts once and for all.

Do you think your "argument from outrage" is going to convince him? I hope so. Most top scientists are perfectly happy with the "it just IS!" line of reasoning.

Ryan Sproull

Peter,

You're begging the question. "Life spontaneously arose in earth, therefore life can spontaneously arise, therefore life on earth spontaneously arose."


Ian,

Thanks for that.

The probability against a living DNA or RNA based cell being generated is a number so large it would take thousands of miles of paper for you to write all the zeroes on the end of it..whereas the 30 billion trillion stars is actually quite small in contrast.

So let's say the chances are 1 in 10^10,000,000,000 of abiogenesis randomly occurring.

And there are 3x10^21 stars.

So therefore, even though there are so many stars, abiogenesis is unlikely to the point of practical impossibility?

peter

Ian

You always hand-pick your witnesses. You often use information out of context too.

You simply don't need all these Nobel laureates etc to assert what I am asserting. That is that some form of "life" - autonomous matter perhaps (?) - is bound to exist outside of Earth. I see absolutely no reason why there would not be a planet around that had "life" as on Earth many thousand of years ago. It is the degree of sophistication that has proved possible that would lend credence to this.

Ian - you are just modifying the original "sun goes round the Earth" myth believed by the established Church about 500 years ago. Having lost that argument, Christians are looking for another way to make themselves and the Earth look important from a universal point-of-view. Really, this is quite unnecessary old chap!

Pass the muffins please.

David W

Doesn't this strike you as Neo-Paleyism Ian?

"Science can't explain this thing so the answer is God"

Squeezing your God into the gaps of scientific theories seems a dangerous idea to me. What happens to Him if the gaps close? One bunch of Americans choose to make a 6000 year old earth part of their religion, now they are the laughing stock of the educated world...

More specifically, you point to a calculation by Morowitz. That calculation is on the probability of a cell forming by chance - not part of any actual theory of abiogenesis. (And in fact Morowitz is probably using it argue for his own favourite - the 'metabolism first' theory.) Studying the origin of life is really very hard, and there is certainly no consensus as to how it might have happened (for those interested here is a recent open access article on the subject) but putting up your hands now and saying this or that can't be explained with out recourse to the supernatural seems a bit foolish.

ian

Ryan

You have grasped the dilemma well. Yes, if the origins of life studies show it is so astronomically improbable for life as we know it to have arisen spontaneously from chemicals, even on a planet as ideal as earth, then the number of stars and planets is effectively irrelevant.

The argument was expressed in Eve's Bite in an early calculation from astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who argued the odds of finding a life-bearing planet were one chance in 10^132 (which is 1 followed by 133 zeroes IIRC), and he allowed for a more generous number of star systems: 100 billion trillion, not Peter's 30 billion trillion.

Let's assume there are in fact a trillion trillion stars.

The number quoted by Huge Ross is one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion.

Now, all of these figures are based on carbon-based life forms such as exist on Earth. Regardless of whether primitive rock-like life-forms (which obviously would not have the fluidity of movement that we do) exist elsewhere in the universe, it does not explain how OUR life arose.

Even Shapiro, in this year's paper, notes this. Rock life forms would not lead to RNA or DNA, and we have no rational explanation for the existence of either. The hypothesis of a kind of proto RNA has also been discredited now for similar reasons.

Peter, the thesis in The Divinity Code, based on the latest scientific data, is indeed that Earth appears to be unique...

And I never knowingly quote out of context...I go to a lot of trouble to understand the arguments of those I am critiquing, and ensuring that I have fairly reflected them. I include copious footnotes to cover issues like context...

peter

You use the word "knowingly" with considerable mischief Ian.

I can tell you about one quote in Eve's Bite:

I emailed a nice lady called Lilian about this quote in Eve's Bite:

Quote reads:
"I must confess that I am both elated and terrified by the possibilites of a bisexual moment [etc] I truly believe that bisexuality is the natural human condition [etc] But I'm much less happy when I think of a huge number of homosexuals running off to explore the heterosexual side of their bisexual potential, and as a result, decimating our political ranks"

The above arguments were used to support your ridiculous argument that everyone is a bisexual!

Lilian in response indicated that you misused her quotation.

Therefore it is likely that you have done this on more than one occasion.

Similar to Life really. If it could evolve to what we see here on Earth, then of course it could have reached a particular stage elsewhere in the galaxies.

ian

David...no, I don't equate it to gap logic. Dawkins appeals to gaps...constantly, always promising science will eventually find the answer. How long we are supposed to wait is unclear.

However, in this case, the information is pretty clear cut. Barring a massive reversal in the Laws of Probability, and the discovery of some magical principle of chemistry that apparently no longer exists, the search for the chemical origin of life appears doomed and many of the top minds are now publicly saying so. They are in turn pitching other ideas like metabolistic evolution (what I call the 'rock theory').

So far, the experiments to verify ME have failed, as I noted, but even if science could create a kind of life form not based on DNA, that does not explain where DNA life came from - which is the real issue.

And as I point out in Divinity Code, if other forms of life were likely, or even merely possible, why are we not seeing them?

If it was much easier for non-DNA life to arise, it should still be doing so.

The other aspect of Divinity Code, David, is however a rebuttal of skeptic arguments against CHristianity. When you factor in the probabilities around Christianity, you end up with a complete story that is far more credible than "we don't know". There's now sufficient information to make a number of positive statements about the existence of God...

ian

Before I condemn your effort as bollocks, Peter, in the interests of fairness you should post your email to Faderman, and her response, unedited.

Having re-read the quote in Eve's Bite, it is not out of context...most of it is verbatim and self-explanatory.

John Boy

All this life / no life stuff is a bit silly. Believing that God created man and woman and the we stand apart from other life forms (as fascinating as some of them are) the life issue may be ho hum unless there are really smart ones out there that call into question what God's image really is like. Only then does the debate get really interesting.

We may still be alone but simply find we have a place to go and start over when we've screwed this one up.

Anyway, Peter wins 'cos his numbers are weally weally big. Dork.

Danyl Mclauchlan

. . . did you actually understand the science that Dawkins and I were debating there . . .

Ah yes, the ongoing debate with someone who is utterly unaware of your existence. How's that working out?

MrTips

Danyl
I realise this may be a foreign concept to you but Ian appears to be concentrating on the ball, not the player.

peter

Peter is here trying to run the world of sciences to a time schedule:

"I don't equate it to gap logic. Dawkins appeals to gaps...constantly, always promising science will eventually find the answer. How long we are supposed to wait is unclear."

Ian - we are not talking about journalists' deadlines here! Scientific research is continuous, with findings released as and when ready!

Regarding Faderman - how about you contacting her yourself Ian? Her particulars are easy to find!

Then you say:

"So far, the experiments to verify ME have failed, as I noted, but even if science could create a kind of life form not based on DNA, that does not explain where DNA life came from - which is the real issue."

No, it is NOT the real issue! The question being asked is whether any form of life is likely to exist outside of Earth, and the answer to that is yes, why not?

You then go on:

"And as I point out in Divinity Code, if other forms of life were likely, or even merely possible, why are we not seeing them?"

By definition we see all the diverse forms of like on Earth that are on Earth. Was that supposed to be a trick question?

But silly silly, you would see other forms of life AWAY from Earth because of the completely different environment. Dur!!!

The Laws of Probability, a reversal? How could there be? Laws of probablity are easy.

Ryan Sproull

Now, all of these figures are based on carbon-based life forms such as exist on Earth. Regardless of whether primitive rock-like life-forms (which obviously would not have the fluidity of movement that we do) exist elsewhere in the universe, it does not explain how OUR life arose.

I'd have to see the way it was calculated. I mean, it's not as if each star in the universe has just one single random chemical form once ever. Throughout the universe, every second, there are astronomically large numbers of chemicals forming and dissipating, with an astronomical number of seconds in the history of the universe.

All life requires is for one of those patterns to form in a way that autocatalyses more of itself. Rock formations would be far too slow to evolve in any meaningful way. Crystals can propagate themselves, but in the time it takes a pattern in rock to reproduce itself, a pattern in liquid could do so many more times. Any interesting abiogenesis would have to occur in gas or liquid (and that's ignoring the possibility of self-replicating patterns of energy).

For that reason, life in the universe seems to me inevitable. How life on earth began, I don't know. Scientists have better models and theories today than they had 20 years ago, and 50 years ago, and so on. It's a gap in our knowledge that I expect will be filled sometimes in the future, though all anyone could come up with is an untestable hypothesis, since the scope of primordial earth cannot be reproduced in any lab.


And as I point out in Divinity Code, if other forms of life were likely, or even merely possible, why are we not seeing them?

They would probably be very far from us, both in terms of space (millions of light-years away) and time (long dead or haven't occurred yet).

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