Saturday, August 26, 2006

Intelligent Design and the Lotto

The so-called "Intelligent Design hypothesis" holds as its central premise that it is impossible for life as we know it to have arisen by random chance; therefore, some intelligent force (i.e., God) must have guided creation. That argument is hogwash, as can easily be demonstrated by analogy to the California Super Lotto.

Read more...The winning numbers for the 2006-08-12 drawing were, according to the California Lottery website, 10 12 34 37 47 (8 mega). To win the jackpot, you must match all five regular numbers and the mega number. The odds of doing so are 1 in 41,416,353. If you played the same set of numbers every drawing, you would have a 50-50 chance of winning some time in the next 276,000 years. It is thus "virtually impossible" (or perhaps even "inconceivable") for those six numbers to have arisen by random chance; there "must" have been an intelligent guiding hand choosing those specific numbers. In fact, the odds of winning even once in a human lifetime are vanishingly small, so if you win it must be because you made the proper sacrifice to a golden calf, or because you let the Zodiac guide your selection, or because Rod Serling planted the enchanted fortune cookie machine at your dinner table, or simply because the Flying Spaghetti Monster smiled down upon you.

The flaw is that you are looking in isolation at the odds that you will win. The missing piece of the puzzle is that millions of people play the lottery, and so the odds are quite good that someone will — by utter random chance — choose the winning numbers. Perhaps not on this drawing, perhaps not on the next one, but it is only a matter of time. Likewise, the odds that a few carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms would randomly group together to form DNA is infinitesimal for a single instance. However, how many sets of numbers did the universe play before it hit the winning combination? Also, life begets life: once you have living organisms, the process ceases to be completely random. Organic molecules tend to lead to the formation of other organic molecules. Given an entire planet's worth of raw materials, plus a couple billion years, the odds that life evolved without the guiding hand of a supernatural intelligence begin to look much different.

I won't pretend that I have disproved the existence of an intelligent Creator; that task is intrinsically impossible, because any contrary evidence could simply have been planted by a deity with a strange sense of humor. However, "Intelligent Design" is not science, and has no scientific foundation whatsoever. It is simply religious dogma dressed up with the superficial trappings of scientific language. At its root, the existence or non-existence of God is purely a matter of faith.

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