I should have gone with the title “The Odds Against Good Science” for yesterday’s article. I must confess that although I had exchanged several e-mails with Dr. Miano prior to his talk Tuesday evening I was wrong in predicting the direction of his argument. The Veritas Exchange is giving a series of talks at RIT on consecutive Tuesdays that started on September 20thand will end on October 4th. These are a series of Christian arguments for the God advertised as “What is the Truth? : Searching for the reality and necessity of God.”
Dr. Miano’s is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, and his talk “Digging Truth in the Genome” did indeed focus on the complexity of DNA. But that’s about as far as my prediction of him conflating information and entropy apparently went. My brother, Bill Courtney, attended the talk and reported to me that the argument boiled down to “…life is complicated, we can’t explain how life happens by chance, therefore god did it. A textbook argument from incredulity.”
In Dr. Miano’s e-mails to me prior to the talk, and during the talk itself, the argument was made that it is often impossible to prove an hypothesis; therefore it is preferable to disprove the null-hypothesis. The hypothesis and its null counterpart were presented as:
Hypothesis: The information content in DNA arose through a conscious mind with intent and purpose.
Null Hypothesis: The information content in DNA did not arise through a conscious mind with intent and purpose.
The inability to prove the hypothesis was conceded by Dr. Miano, so his approach was instead to try and slip in through the back door by falsifying the null-hypothesis, which the bulk of the presentation was devoted to demonstrating. In other words, the main argument is that the information content in DNA could not have occurred naturally. The problem is that Dr. Miano used the old creationist canard that attempts to demonstrate that the information content of DNA could not have occurred by chance. Evolution proceeds by subjecting genetic mutations to selection pressures, and the resulting DNA inevitably become more complex over time. Dumbing down evolution to mere chance may make selling creationism easier, but it’s simply dishonest. It’s also easy to show that something as mundane as, say, you being you has such long odds that it’s virtually impossible. Start by asking what are the odds that your mother and father would meet. Multiply that by the odds that the specific sperm and egg would join to create you. Then multiply that times the odds that your mother would be who she is…etc, etc…you get the idea. You can make the odds of just you being you so infinitesimally small that you might conclude that you can’t possibly exist. Such is the fallacy of using odds to retrodict (prediction of past events). In fact the odds of a past event happening (just as it is with you being you) are exactly 100%.
But never mind that evolution is misrepresented or the dubious use of retrodiction. It is the perceived gap in our knowledge that all this is designed to illuminate, and you don’t need bad arguments to show that we don’t have all the answers. Science is constantly seeking out ways of distinguishing what we know from what we don’t know. It’s the job of science to define those gaps and to attempt to fill them. The problem is that Christians are constantly trying to plug those gaps with their God, and as science fills those gaps with actual knowledge, the Christian God will continue to shrink into an increasingly irrelevant, esoteric shadow of his former self.