The Road to Rationalism part 5.1

On why it is frankly ludicrous to think we're God's (or gods', if you prefer) special creatures.

So we saw in R2R part 5 that at the lowest estimate, the Universe contains 100 billion galaxies, each of which may contain approximately 100 million stars. It is estimated that between 20 and 60% (a wide margin of error, I know, indicative of just how little we really know about the rest of the Universe) of Sun-like stars could have rocky planets (like ours) orbiting around them. In order to support any kind of complex life that we are able to recognise as such, a planet must have liquid water all year round, though not necessarily at the surface.

We have absolutely no idea how many earth-like planets there are in our own galaxy, let alone the rest of the Universe, but again the lowest estimates come in at around 10 to 30 billion, in the whole Universe.

We do know however, that there is an abundance of simple organic compounds like amino acids and sugars etc, - the fundamental building blocks of life - as they have been found many times in meteorites.

One of the objections that creationists like to raise against the idea of life spontaneously arising is the sheer (they say) improbability of it. "There simply must be a prime mover" they say, a God to breath life into the 'primordial soup' - the thick stew of organic compounds dissolved in the liquid water of an early volcanic Earth.

Now, it may well be that it is an extremely improbable event for life to spontaneously arise, but given the ease with which the organic compounds necessary for life have 'spontaneously' arisen, I would say that life, if not intelligent life, is probably a quite widespread phenomenon.

But lets throw the ID'ers a little sop, shall we? Lets just say that life has only arisen once, in all the 13 or more billion years of the Universe's existence, in all the vast volume of space, in all those worlds that were born and have subsequently been destroyed, only this planet, our home world, was somehow capable of spawning life.

How much improbability do the ID'ers need? If the number of habitable planets in the Universe is estimated to be at least 10 billion, that would mean the odds of life arising spontaneously (we know this has happened at least once, obviously, or we would not be here talking about it) on just one of them are 10 billion to 1 against, at the lowest available estimate.

Just to put this amount of improbability into perspective, in the UK, the chances of winning the lottery jackpot are around 14 million to one against. An individual's chance of being hit by lightning is around 600,000 to one against.

So we can say, with a great deal of confidence, that the idea of life spontaneously arising is significantly more probable than the idea of some all powerful, all intelligent being -somehow able to exist before the Universe began (maybe even outside the Universe, as some theologians, in their more fantastical states, are wont to suggest) creating everything, tinkering around for some 8 billion years before making our sun, waiting another billion years for the earth to cool down a bit and get a really healthy dose of organic compounds, then, just at the right moment, FLASH! goes the divine fire, a little bacterium sputters into existence, divides, its progeny divide, and so on many more times, some of its descendants mutate, and off goes the process of natural selection leading over the course of more than 3 billion years to us.

So god twiddles his thumbs a bit, waits a while, as life develops. Different types of bacteria evolve, then, sometime around 2 billion years ago, some of them learn the trick of co-operating with one another. Single celled organisms evolve, and branch into what will later become the animal, plant and fungus kingdoms. Time passes - rather a serious amount of it - life develops, adapting to its changing environment; succesful organisms live and pass on their genes to the next generation, unsuccesful ones die and do not.

99% of all the species that have ever evolved became extinct - a very wasteful god he is if we must believe that his hand was guiding evolution inexorably toward us.

Finally, about 5 to 7 million years ago, the first human like-apes appeared in the African savannah.

About 100,000 years ago, Homo sapiens - the thinking man - evolved, and spread around the world, populating almost every habitable corner of it and displacing the earlier hominids, driving them to extinction.

About 10000 years ago this creature developed agriculture and began, in certain areas, to settle into large communities with specialists.

About 6000 years ago god decided to act, and 'revealed' himself to a nomadic desert tribe, telling them that they were his 'chosen people' who He had made in His own image, bestowing upon them dominion over all the animals and plants in the world, not to mention the right to slaughter other tribes (the fact that they had other gods was of course merely incidental), taking their land and their women for themselves.

Now, I see a little inconsistency here, I don't know whether your may have spotted it too... but god is supposed to be all-powerful, and of course all loving. He was supposed to have made (as it was 'revealed') the whole of Creation in a little less than a week, but we now know that it took at least 8 billion years just to get around to fixing up the sun. It seems then that this god is no more than a tinkerer, setting up the initial variables then sitting back and doing nothing for billions of years, then playing around a bit, making life, and eventually us, just so that he could then lie to us about what he did.

More likely of course, is that there is no god, no prime mover, no undesigned designer to bring the Universe into existence. Citing a god just creates an infinite regress, because he had to come from somewhere - who designed the designer? People who claim that they believe in god because the 'spontaneous' existence of the Universe is so improbable miss the glaringly obvious point that the 'spontaneous' existence of an omniscient or omnipotent god is vastly more improbable!

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Zoe said...

Huzah for that,
Lovely way of putting it.

Dave said...

Thanks Zoe.