747 Junkyard argument

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The '''tornado argument''' of [[creationist]]s and proponents of [[intelligent design]] states that attributing the development of [[life]] to natural forces such as [[evolution]] is like expecting a tornado moving through a junkyard to result in a fully functional [[wikipedia:Boeing 747|Boeing 747]].  This analogy depends on a fundamental misunderstanding of the "[[randomness]]" involved in the development of life, as well as a blurring of the separate issues of how life arose from non-life and how subsequent life developed from earlier living things (the jet is clearly supposed to suggest the complexity of current living organisms).
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The '''tornado argument''' made by [[creationist]]s and proponents of [[intelligent design]] states that attributing the development of [[life]] to natural forces such as [[evolution]] is like expecting a tornado moving through a junkyard to result in a fully functional [[wikipedia:Boeing 747|Boeing 747]].  The argument was originally made by British astronomer [[wikipedia:Fred Hoyle|Fred Hoyle]].  This analogy depends on a fundamental misunderstanding of the "[[randomness]]" involved in the development of life, as well as a blurring of the separate issues of how life arose from non-life and how subsequent life developed from earlier living things (the jet is clearly supposed to suggest the complexity of current living organisms).
  
 
[[ID]] advocates sometimes present calculations showing the impossibly low [[odds]] of a given [[wikipedia:protein|protein]] spontaneously self-assembling from a batch of [[wikipedia:amino acid|amino acid]]s. [[William Dembski]] uses this approach in his paper, "[http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.06.Specification.pdf#search=%22specification%20the%20pattern%20that%20signifies%20intelligence%22 Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence]". Such calculations are irrelevant because they ignore important features of proposed evolutionary mechanisms — the very features that get around such seeming impossibilities, in fact.
 
[[ID]] advocates sometimes present calculations showing the impossibly low [[odds]] of a given [[wikipedia:protein|protein]] spontaneously self-assembling from a batch of [[wikipedia:amino acid|amino acid]]s. [[William Dembski]] uses this approach in his paper, "[http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.06.Specification.pdf#search=%22specification%20the%20pattern%20that%20signifies%20intelligence%22 Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence]". Such calculations are irrelevant because they ignore important features of proposed evolutionary mechanisms — the very features that get around such seeming impossibilities, in fact.

Revision as of 11:04, 3 July 2007

The tornado argument made by creationists and proponents of intelligent design states that attributing the development of life to natural forces such as evolution is like expecting a tornado moving through a junkyard to result in a fully functional Boeing 747. The argument was originally made by British astronomer Fred Hoyle. This analogy depends on a fundamental misunderstanding of the "randomness" involved in the development of life, as well as a blurring of the separate issues of how life arose from non-life and how subsequent life developed from earlier living things (the jet is clearly supposed to suggest the complexity of current living organisms).

ID advocates sometimes present calculations showing the impossibly low odds of a given protein spontaneously self-assembling from a batch of amino acids. William Dembski uses this approach in his paper, "Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence". Such calculations are irrelevant because they ignore important features of proposed evolutionary mechanisms — the very features that get around such seeming impossibilities, in fact.

Counter-Apologetics

The tornado argument depends on the common fallacy of equating "natural" explanations of life with "randomness". Only a small part of evolutionary theory is actually based on randomness; genetic mutations are, to a large extent, random. But Darwin's proposed driving force behind evolution, natural selection, is anything but random.

In addition, evolution doesn't work quickly by way of massive, uncontrolled forces, as tornados do. Evolution theory suggests that small changes, accumulated over extremely long periods of time, result in the current diversity of life.

Most importantly, the tornado analogy lacks the two main elements that make evolution work: reproduction (which enables "descent with modification") and selection (which enables increasing complexity). The lack of these aspects reinforces the improbability of anything useful coming out of the process.

The fact that the argument posits the creation of a working airplane reveals another misconception: that evolution has as its goal the creation of complex living organisms. Evolution has no final goal or purpose; it is merely a consequence of variation among individuals coupled with environmental pressures.

Finally, the kind of calculations made by Dembski are based on (or perhaps intentionally rely on) a fundamental misunderstanding of what probabilities should actually be considered. The odds of a particular group of amino acids assembling into a particular protein may indeed be small, but the kinds of amino acids and proteins that current life is based on are not the only ones possible. Indeed, even the mixture of atoms that life on Earth is primarily based on is not the only possibility (see Wikipedia:Alternative biochemistry). And at the other extreme, the current range of living things we see around us are not the only possible life forms that could have evolved.

To illustrate the previous point with another analogy, consider the probability that Demski's own parents would create a child exactly like Dembski. The odds are astronomical. But, of course, they did. On the other hand, consider the probability that Demski's parents could create any child. Those are much better odds.

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