This is a way of thinking that comes up occasionally in support of the existence of god. Really, I have more issues with the reasoning than I do with the conclusion. Believe what you will, but please don’t offer up chimeras as cornerstones of that belief. I’m not saying all ideas must be grounded in science, I don’t think that at all, but there mustn’t be all this slight of hand to make an explanation convincing. What follows are a few of my own problems with the “improbability of it all”.
So, the reasoning goes, for every atom to be directed just so, for the temperatures, distances, and elements all to be just as they are in order to support life – the odds of that are mind-numbingly low – god must have intervened to get life going. Further, it is sometimes added, conditions to sustain this fragile state are improbable in their own right. Praise the lord, for making this system!
I’ll start from the last statement and work my way back. Ridiculous. I think we can get rid of the sustenance part all together. We’re in a system that has safeguards built in – we’ve got more-or-less predictable orbits, an atmosphere, a sun that doesn’t move much, and energy that doesn’t just disappear whimsically. The system itself appears to be in a reasonably steady state (at least locally or practically). Most people would agree that seems reasonable. We act on the principle all the time, we constantly rely on a predictable system that is bound by some laws to act as it always has before. (Even if we have little reason to do so, we do rely on that.) Creating a system that’s self-perpetuating might be more improbable than creating one that isn’t, but lets assume that’s what we’ve got. Then we don’t have to deal with the probability of existence second by second, we just account for the potentially increased improbability in the original system itself. Now, we’ve got an even more highly improbable system that basically acts like it doesn’t have many options at all (that it’s law based).
Right, so in making now easier to explain by appeal to yesterday, we’ve made day one more improbable. That’s alright. All kinds of thing are improbable, but reality trumps statistics. You might double-check your numbers upon winning the lottery, you might exclaim “this isn’t happening” because it is so very unlikely, but if it is… well, then it is. Our system looks like that, it looks like it is happening. We rely on it happening systematically, and it looks like it does. So set down your numbers and go for a walk.
Of course, that might not convince you. Fair enough. It’s much more improbable, after all, than winning the lottery. It’s like winning the lottery every day. (Again, if you did, you did… but I see the concern while you didn’t). So what are you saying? That you don’t think this system actually happened on its own. You crunch your numbers, gaze at the astronomically large negative exponent and disregard the sand under your feet. As if the god idea has better odds. Well, I’m a bit short on words for you here. If you’re using math to back up your line of thought, mustn’t you provide two sets of numbers? What calculations can you give for the god claim? What’s more, is that you’re acting like you think the system is self sustaining (or possibly god intervenes every nano-second), at any rate, you’re not constantly double-checking the math. At least we agree on that part. It appears self-sustaining. Come back when you’ve imbued your god model with a probabilistic number. Things will be the same.
If you can actually give me a number, arrived at by convincing methodologies, I’m going to have to assume it’s going to be quite improbable too. And the deal with probability is that its bound to happen sooner or later, so that your god number and the self-organizing system number might both have happened, or at least enough time has passed for either (eternity anyone?). If you could give me a number, I’d probably grant you that possibility. But you’d need to grant me my possibility too. Because we’d both just have an astronomically small number. Then what do we do? Have a cup of tea? Flip a coin? Can I double check your number?
Maybe we don’t need to go that far, maybe there’s another way of looking at this. Consider this before you go… if you happened to be in an improbable system could you actually use it against itself? You use the numbers provided by the system, because that’s where you are. Does it make sense to say that the system furnishing the numbers is improbable? Improbable where? Within that system? I don’t think you can. You’ve got your numbers, but they only work within the system. Not before the system or outside the system. They’re numbers for here. The way they work, whatever they mean, reaffirms that the system is actual, or at least like it was yesterday. All your logic, words, thoughts, they are not somehow able to be divorced from what we’re in. They are part of it. So it might make sense to talk about the odds of the Earth being where it is in a universe like we have, but not to talk about the odds of the system itself. That doesn’t make sense.
But in this system things are like they are, seemingly, because of how they were before. The odds of that are pretty good. So the fact we are here in the system is a practical inevitability in this place. In this system. Its part of how it works that we’ve got to be where we are. Even random quark models don’t disrupt the hitting of a golf ball or the smell of sulfur.
But who created the system then? Hell if I know who did… or didn’t, but don’t give me a probabilistic model to talk about meta-system possibilities. Things there need not conform to what you think of things here. It’s an unconvincing argument, on my view. In this system things are apparently deterministic, the probability of here and now is 100%. Now, if you think god is incessantly following his own laws, I don’t think you’d have much to argue with a physicist about anyway. In that case, you’re just giving different names to the same phenomena. (Never-mind the difference in “feel”, you’re then bound to scientific claims about what’s going on inside the system.) We’re all on the same page here in the system. And we’ve got no clue about the meta-system.