What's Wrong With Creationist Probability?

ByABC News
September 1, 2006, 2:02 PM

Sept. 3, 2006 — -- A recent international study in the journal Science by Professor Jon Miller of Michigan State University and his associates finds that a growing number of Americans do not believe in the theory of evolution.

In fact, the survey of 32 European nations and Japan reveals that only Turkey has a higher percentage of its citizens rejecting Darwin.

The author attributes the results in the United States to religious fundamentalism, inadequate science education, and partisan political maneuvering.

With regard to the latter Miller notes, "There is no major political party in Europe and Japan that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform."

But there's another contributing factor to this opposition to evolution that I'd like to discuss here. It is the concerted attempt by creationists to dress up in the garb of mathematics fundamentalist claims about human origins and to focus criticism on what they take to be the minuscule probability of evolutionary development. (Even the conservative television pundit and ace biologist Ann Coulter has lent her perspicacity to this mathematical endeavor in her recent book.)

Creationists argue that the likelihood of, say, a new species of horse developing is absurdly tiny. The same, they say, is true of the development of the eye or the mechanism for blood clotting.

A bit more specifically, the standard argument goes roughly as follows. A very long sequence of individually improbable mutations must occur in order for a species or a biological process to evolve.

If we assume these are independent events, then the probability of all of them occurring and occurring in the right order is the product of their respective probabilities, which is always an extremely tiny number.

Thus, for example, the probability of getting a 3, 2, 6, 2, and 5 when rolling a single die five times is 1/6 x 1/6 x 1/6 x 1/6 x 1/6 or 1/7,776 -- one chance in 7,776.

The much longer sequences of fortuitous events necessary for a new species or a new process to evolve leads to the minuscule numbers that creationists argue prove that evolution is so wildly improbable as to be essentially impossible.