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The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 10

However, the "problem" that needs to be solved is not "the fact that we live in a life friendly place" 113 as Dawkins says (given our existence we obviously could not exist in a life unfriendly place), but rather the fact that a life friendly place exists. The anthropic principle "provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence" 114 , but it does not provide an explanation of any kind for the question as to why a situation propitious to our existence should exist in the first place. Dawkins is probably right to say that, "There are billions of planets in the universe, and, however small the minority of evolution-friendly planets may be, our planet necessarily has to be one of them" 115 , but this anthropic observation has no bearing on explaining why an evolution-friendly planet exists. As Woodward explains, "the name anthropic principle is brought in as a quasi-synonym for fine-tuning." 116 When this quasi-synonymic substitution happens, as it happens in The God Delusion, one obviously cannot appeal to the "anthropic principle" to explain "fine tuning". That would be like trying to use the concept of "bachelors" to explain the existence of unmarried men! This, in effect, is precisely what Dawkins attempts to do.

Back to Abiogenesis

Dawkins returns to the question of abiogenesis:

the spontaneous arising by chance of the first hereditary molecule strikes many as improbable. Maybe it is - very very improbable... The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject for research. The expertise required for it is chemistry and it is not mine. I watch from the sidelines with engaged curiosity, and I shall not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory. Nevertheless it hasn't happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain that the probability of it happening is, and always was, exceedingly low - although it did happen once! Just as we did with the Goldilocks orbits, we can make the point that, however improbable the origin of life might be, we know it happened on Earth because we are here. Again... there are two hypotheses to explain what happened - the design hypothesis and the... "anthropic" hypothesis. 117

Many of those with the expertise Dawkins admits to lacking are not so confident. For example, Robert Shapiro writes:

A profound difficulty exists... with the idea of RNA, or any other replicator, at the start of life. Existing replicators can serve as templates for the synthesis of additional copies of themselves, but this device cannot be used for the preparation of the very first such molecule, which must arise spontaneously from an unorganized mixture. The formation of an information-bearing [RNA chain or equivalent] through undirected chemical synthesis appears very improbable. 118

According to biochemist Stuart Pullen:

The hypothesis [of abiogenesis] is found in almost all biology books where it is put forth as the generally accepted theory. Yet in the scientific journals, scientists routinely dismiss many aspects of the hypothesis as highly improbable... When it comes to chemical evolution and the origin of life, science just doesn't have the answer... While several amino acids can be created under plausible conditions, proteins cannot be... many biologists mistakenly believe that it is quite easy to synthesize all of the required biological molecules. Nevertheless, a quick review of the relevant literature reveals that this is not true. 119

Having restudied this evidence, Nobel laureate Richard Smalley recently affirmed that life must have been created by an intelligence. 120 The hypothesis that life sprang from non-life without the aid of intelligent design, as Dawkins' comments make clear, is a philosophical deduction entailed by the assumption of naturalism. It is, as Shapiro writes: "mythology rather than science". 121 Dawkins contradicts his incoherent assertion that the alternative to the "design hypothesis" is the anthropic principle:

the anthropic alternative to the design hypothesis is statistical. Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers... a billion billion is a concervative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe. Now, suppose the origin of life, the spontaneous arising of something equivalent to DNA, really was a quite staggeringly improbable event.... If the odds of life originating spontaneously on a planet were a billion to one against, nevertheless that stupefying improbable event would still happen on a billion planets... I do not for a moment believe the origin of life was anywhere near so improbable in practice... Even accepting the most pessimistic estimate of the probability that life might spontaneously originate, this statistical argument completely demolishes any suggestion that we should postulate design... 122

Odds of "a billion to one against" can be expressed as odds of 1 in 109. In Climbing Mount Improbable Dawkins calculates: "the probability that any particular sequence of, say 100, amino-acids will spontaneously form is [roughly] 1 in 20100. This is an inconceivably large number, far greater than the number of fundamental particles in the entire universe." 123 And yet here is Dawkins arguing that any suggestion that intelligent design might be the best explanation for the origin, not of a single chain of amino-acids at odds of 1 in 20100, but of life capable of undergoing evolution, is demolished by the "statistical argument" that it only had to "spontaneously originate" on a single planet out of "a billion-billion"! Dawkins vastly underestimates the odds against the spontaneous generation of life. As Dean L. Overman complains: "Many proponents of the origin of life by chance do not bother to perform the mathematical calculations which render their conclusions highly improbable." 124 Stephen C. Meyer calculates that to generate a single functional protein of 150 amino acids exceeds: "1 chance in 10180," and comments "it is extremely unlikely that a random search through all the possible amino acid sequences could generate even a single relatively short functional protein in the time available since the beginning of the universe..." 125

We have come a long way in our understanding of life since Ernst Haeckel described cells as "homogeneous globules of plasm" 126 in 1905. As Overman observes: "the difficulties in producing a protein from the mythical prebiotic soup are very large, but more difficult still is the probability of random processes producing the simplest living cell which represents an overwhelming increase in complexity". 127 David Swift comments:

Biologists have become increasingly aware that the real stumbling block to the origin of life is its complexity - complexity in terms of the interdependence of molecules and biochemical pathways within cell metabolism, and complexity at the molecular level of individual components. The combination of complexities at these different levels presents insurmountable difficulties to getting anything that is remotely life-like... the complexity of even the simplest forms of life, a bacterium is much closer to a human being than it is to any cocktail of organic compounds in some putative primeval soup... the core of the problem is the considerable complexity of even the "simplest" forms of life, or even of some notional system that is stripped down to the theoretical bare necessities of life. 128


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