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Backyard Skeptics Message Board › Analogies

Analogies

Bob
unfogged
Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 3
I've been considering a few analogies to use when talking with theists and I'd appreciate any thoughts anybody has about them. As a life-long atheist I'd be particularly interested in what former theists think. They aren't meant to de-convert anybody so much as to explain the way atheists might look at the issues.

Regarding evolution and the "when did a dog give birth to a cat" type of question:

A common game in childhood was to draw a stick figure at the bottom of the page of a notebook. On the next page you'd draw a slightly different figure and so on. When you rifled the pages you can make the figure move across the page, grow, shrink, change shape, etc. The differences between any two pages were small but the difference over multiple pages was large. Evolution is the same in that the differences among any small sample of generations are tiny and often unnoticeable but when you compare animals hundreds or thousands or millions of generations apart the differences can be huge.

Regarding the highly unlikely chances that order can come from chaos:

When a cereal producer fills a box of raisin bran cereal the raisins and flakes are mixed randomly and fill the box. The box is then subjected to random jostling as it is shipped and shelved and purchased. Very often the consumer finds that the raisins and bran have mostly separated out into different layers in the box and they have compacted to fill less volume. That is an increase in order produced entirely by random processes produced only by the physical laws that govern objects. While the reason those laws are what they are may be debatable it remains that they operate blindly and that randomness can increase order.

Regarding the statistical improbability of random chemicals forming living compounds:

If you toss a large number of bar magnets into a box and then check you will find that they have lined up with the north and south ends each as close to their opposites as possible. They do not join north-to-north or south-to-south or end-to-middle. Chemical compounds, like the atoms that make them up, also have fixed ways of joining with other compounds so the odds of particular compounds forming is significantly higher than a completely random mixing might imply.

Regarding the improbability of human DNA forming randomly:

If you have a box full of paperclips and you insert a magnet and draw it out you will get a long chain of paper clips suspended from the magnet. The odds of those particular paper clips being caught up in the chain and in that particular order are vanishingly small and yet there they are. If you repeat the experiment the chances of getting that same initial chain repeated exactly are near zero. The error is in attaching significance to that initial chain; while the odds are against any specific chain forming there is certainty that some chain will form. If the earth could be reset the chances of humans evolving again are essentially zero and whatever did evolve would be wondering about the odds it beat.

Bob
unfogged
Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 7
Another view on statistical improbability:
If you have a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle that you want to assemble there are 500 factorial possible arrangements of the pieces (500x499x498x497…x2x1). Taking just the first 5 pieces there are more than 30 trillion possible combinations. If you add 1 piece every second it would take more than 973000 years to try them all. It’s obviously impossible to a jigsaw puzzle to ever be completed. Of course, since the pieces can’t all be assembled interchangeably, and you don’t have to try all possible combinations, and you don’t keep trying new pieces when you find a match the numbers are irrelevant.
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