Is Improbability the Best Argument Against Evolution?

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Have you ever heard that millions of monkeys typing at random would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare? It’s a common illustration of the concept that, given enough time, life could evolve from nothing.

Is that true? Is it remotely possible that monkeys could keyboard all of Shakespeare without error? Most of us would say: “No, it’s obviously impossible.” But the mathematical probability is not zero.

Creationists correctly argue that random evolution of life from nonlife is so improbable it is virtually impossible. But the probability is technically not zero, which, “given enough time,” leaves a loophole for evolution.

Probability arguments are never conclusive. For example, probabilities are used for predicting weather. Has your local forecast ever been wrong?

Supporters of evolution claim that arguments about the improbability of evolution are simplistic. Much more is going on, they say, than simple random combinations. So improbability doesn’t convince die-hard evolutionists to abandon their view.

As a Christian, I prefer deductions (as in geometry proofs) to counter evolution. No argument will convince a determined skeptic, but unlike probabilities, deductive arguments are airtight, as long as they start with the right assumptions. Here’s a good deductive argument:

  • Human sin brought death into the world (according to the Bible).
  • The theory of evolution requires millions of years of death before humans were alive.
  • Therefore, the theory of evolution and the Bible cannot both be true.

If you believe the Bible, this deductive argument disproves evolution.

What good are probability arguments, then, if they’re not conclusive proof? Let’s return to weather.

The farmer seeks the truth about tomorrow’s weather. An occasional error is better than no forecast. Likewise, people seeking the truth, who are looking at both sides of an argument, can use probabilities to weigh possible outcomes.

I remember when I sought the truth. I grew up immersed in evolutionary ideas, starting with a book about dinosaurs I read in first grade. However, a picture in the book left doubts. It showed ghostly dinosaurs with the caption, “No one knows why dinosaurs disappeared.” In my twenties, the probability argument swayed me to consider creation as an alternative. Probability helped me recall my doubts and reconsider my assumptions.

Could monkeys ever produce all of Shakespeare? No. Consider just the first 5 keystrokes. From 64 common characters (upper- and lower-case letters, space, and punctuation), a monkey must select all 5 characters. The probability is 1 in 1,073,741,824 (645). For 50 characters, it’s 1 in 2.037 x 1090. Imagine the probability for Shakespeare’s complete works!

Biological evolution is much more complicated and far less probable. But these improbable numbers won’t convince a hardened skeptic to reconsider his foundational assumptions. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are necessary to sway hearts, not simply arguments about probability.

Dr. Ron Tagliapietra earned his EdD in math education from Bob Jones University in 1996. He is the author of the math and logic textbooks from BJU Press, as well as Math for God’s Glory.

Answers Magazine

July–August 2017

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