# Appeal to probability

An interesting debate I’ve found myself in on many occasions comes down to how probability works. I was rather chuffed to find out that most sites giving logical fallacies actually support what I’ve been saying all along, although in a very short and uninteresting way.

I was digging around the other day and found the appeal to probability. This fallacy claims that because something could happen, it will, inevitably, happen. It is also sometimes called an appeal to possibility, which sounds much more like what’s actually happening. This is a fairly standard definition, I’d have liked a bit more, but apparently examples are the best way to explain it, so here’s wikipedia’s example:

“It doesn’t matter if I get myself into debt. If I play the lottery enough, I will win the jackpot, and then I can pay off all my debts.”

They also cite Murphy’s Law (that which can go wrong will) as an example, but it’s based on the fallacy rather than being as good an example as the one given here.

I quite liked the Logical and Critical Thinking example, since it relates to the subject of this blog:

“There are so many religions so one of them has to be correct”

Of course, if there were no gods, then it doesn’t matter how many religions there are, they will all be false.

Since I can’t find much more than the basic description and examples, I’m going to try fill in the gaps, if you know of sites with more info, please link in the comments.

Things that are improbable, are always improbable. I have yet to find someone who would bet on tossing ten tails in a row in a coin tossing game. The odds of tossing ten tails in a row is 1:1,024, which, as far as the odds going around in religious discussions, are really good odds. If one had to play the same game 1,024 times (resulting in 10,240 coin tosses) would you expect a single win to be probable? Would you bet on it? I wouldn’t, and the reason is simple, the odds don’t change for each game, thus the odds against it happening are 1:1,024 every time, no matter how many times you play the game. Probability doesn’t remember all the prevous games, and thus it doesn’t matter how many previous times the game has been played.

For most people, this may seem obvious, so why would a blogger on religion bother with it, well it has to do with a particular argument used to defend a natural origin for life. It basically states that given enough time, and opportunity, life forming by random natural processes is almost inevitable. This is a very brief version of the argument, which can be wrapped up with quite a bit of complex stuff, but it’s still basically saying that life is possible means that life is probable. I had a good example, but it was too long, so I will have to examine it in some detail in a future post.

## 9 thoughts on “Appeal to probability”

1. Havok says:

The odds of getting any specific sequence of heads and tails out of 10 coin tosses is the same (10 tails is not more or less likely than any other sequence). But after the 10 coin tosses, the chance that the coin landed as it actually did becomes 1, while the chance of the coin landing any other way becomes 0.

So, while an improbable event may be unlikely to occur, once it has occurred it is no longer unlikely, but rather, it is certain.

1. I’m not sure what you’re getting at, yes, you certainly did win the lottery, if you won it, does that alter any future odds? Also, when looking at competing hypothesis for the same thing, then you know something happened, it’s about the probability it was hypothesis A or B, and if odds are low on both, you may want to consider formulating a completely different hypothesis. But you’ll presumably go for the higher probability hypothesis until a new one can be found.

Bear in mind, getting 10 heads or 10 tails is actually less probable than 5 and 5, or 4 and 6, or even 1 and 9, since there are more combinations of coin tosses that can produce these outcomes than the only one possible combination that can produce 10 of on option. So while your first statement is deceptive, but correct, the odds for getting ay particular sequence is the same, but different sequences can yield the same results in some cases.

1. Havok says:

My point is that, while any specific sequence of 10 (or 100, or 1000) heads or tails is improbable, if you toss a coin 10 (or 100 or 1000) times, the chances of you getting one of them is 1, and to point to the actual sequence you got, claim it was improbable, and therefore it couldn’t/wouldn’t have occurred, is fallacious.

…but different sequences can yield the same results in some cases.
Only if you’re looking at an unordered sequence of heads|tails. I was explicit about order being important 🙂

2. I’m not really sure what the point is, if it’s happened, why would we speak of probability?

Also, if it happened, then it would probably still be improbable, if you were asking the question, “will it happen again?”

So take this, the origin of life via natural processes, improbable? Yes, it is, since the evidence we have tells us it doesn’t happen, even if it had happened once, it would still be improbable, since it would only have happened once, if the probablilty of life forming from non-life through natural processes was high, we’d see it happening every day. So in a bayesian sense, the probability of naturalistic origin of life can only be adjusted to make it less probable by observing what really happens in the world, while the prior probability of someone winning the lottery (in a country where people randomly pick numbers, and then the machine randomly spits out numbered balls) would be quite low, but given the evidence (South Africans win the lottery) bayesian thinking would adjust to a better probability in the light of that evidence. With the Origin of Life, you have a problem, you can say it happened, because there is life, but even that’s an assumption, since something existing doesn’t presuppose an origin, hence the belief in an infinite static state universe prior to the discovery of redshift. Since we see every life form originating from another life form, we can assume (by induction, the same way we justify believing things will keep falling to earth) that this is how life begins, thus we have pre universal beings (or a supernatural being), which would by their (its) very nature be supernatural. Or god/s, since things that pre-exist the beginning must be supernatural.

So as we have it, the origin of life is statistically a low probability, thus I’m not filling a gap with God, there is no gap, atheism requires there be a gap, and then they claim to be able to fill that gap with something naturalistic, thus you have a science of the gaps theory.

2. Havok says:

if the probablilty of life forming from non-life through natural processes was high, we’d see it happening every day.
This isn’t correct, since conditions today are not the same as they would have been on the early earth. The most obvious way conditions are different, is that there are biological organisms.

With the Origin of Life, you have a problem, you can say it happened, because there is life, but even that’s an assumption,
In the best explanation we have, since there is no reason to think life didn’t start from some process of abiogenesis, and quite a lot of evidence indicating various different parts of the journey from “simple organic chemistry” to “biology”.

Since we see every life form originating from another life form, we can assume (by induction, the same way we justify believing things will keep falling to earth) that this is how life begins, thus we have pre universal beings (or a supernatural being), which would by their (its) very nature be supernatural. Or god/s, since things that pre-exist the beginning must be supernatural.
As I poitned out on a different thread, this is an invalid argument, since it claims that organic chemistry requires the supernatural. If there were an actual supernatural component to life, then you might have an argument, but since there isn’t (that we know of), you don’t.

So as we have it, the origin of life is statistically a low probability, thus I’m not filling a gap with God, there is no gap, atheism requires there be a gap, and then they claim to be able to fill that gap with something naturalistic, thus you have a science of the gaps theory.
You haven’t shown the probability of “Christian theistic genesis”, or even “theistic/supernatural genesis”, so we can’t compare it with abiogenesis.
In fact, you haven’t even provided any reason to think that the supernatural is a valid category, merely asserted it as such, so I think we can safely stick with “We don’t currently have a full explanation of how life began on earth, but we have some interesting leads, we’re following them, and a naturalistic explanation is currently the most likely candidate”.

You are indeed filling in a gap of our knowledge with an assertion rather than an actual, successful explanation (just think of the sort of detail a naturalistic explanation would need to supply in order for you to find it convincing, and then supply an equally detailed supernatural hypothesis, and we can start talking).

1. “This isn’t correct, since conditions today are not the same as they would have been on the early earth. The most obvious way conditions are different, is that there are biological organisms.”

That’s a nice assumption, we have no idea what the early earth was like, we have only postulated what it may have been like.

“…no reason to think life didn’t start from some process of abiogenesis.”

I hope you’re not asking me to prove something wrong? Something you can’t prove right. Atheists get very upset if they’re asked to prove there is no God, so I expect to you prove that there is a reason (a good one, with good evidence), to believe that your statement is valid. That said, I actually have a very good reason for saying we can believe hat there was no process of abiogenesis, that is where the evidence goes, even if you don’t start with the supernatural entity. At some point you would have to assume something that has never been observed, actually happened. You’re ignoring the mountain of evidence that life comes from life, there hasn’t ever been one single observed exception, so I can remove the assumption using Occam’s Razor, and I have a better theory, better since it is based on less assumptions. You’r not doing science, you’re doing pseudoscience, well we’ll asume there was a naturalistic origin for life, and then saying that’s the best explanation, without evidence.

Let’s get to your evidence. Miller and Urey used a bunch of lab equipment to produce a system that resembles nothing in the observed universe and is very much designed, and they produced a bunch of required amino acids in a form which made them prohibitive to life. Now this was all supposed to happen without a designed environment to catch the amino acids before they broke down, and somehow the amino acids where supposed to separate L types from D types, which hardly seems likely given that scientists trying didn’t make it happen and it doesn’t just happen. There have also been experiments that produce RNA, but this is all really irrelevant. I’ll give you a dead ameoba, it has all that you require, except it isn’t about to spring to life. I suppose you could say that it wouldn’t just spring to life, it would be a long process, but hey, it’s alive or it isn’t, it can’t be some alive and some dead. What this proves is that life isn’t just about having the right stuff. I only can’t postulate a supernatural source for this if I accept blindly the assumption that the disproved is correct and life is just about chemistry. Perhaps you could bring people back to life, I mean, they have all the right chemistry when they’re dead. Of course, wrong life forms, it was a certain setup (that we know nothing about because we have no evidence it existed) that worked, a unique event. Of course, if it was a unique event, then we wouldn’t expect to replicate it, or it wouldn’t be unique, so you’re kinda left having to tell me I should prove it not the case, which is essentially what you’re asking for. So desperate for an origin for life is the scientific community that they have a popular theory that since RNA evolves very slowly, before life there was an RNA world, where RNA slowly developed (over millions of years, of course, we wouldn’t want it to be falsifiable) into what we call life. The only evidence I could find for this was that RNA evolves slowly, perhaps you can find a better source than I did.

You wanted odds, the odds that life only come from life is about 10 trillion to one, since human have observed at least that amount of lives beginning in our know history. To get this figure all I have to do is assume that the average number of life beginnings people observe is 100, of course some see more than others, Lenski for example has observed a huge number, and that the recorded history of mankind covers about 100 billion people. These odds don’t sound so bad, but they are odds based on observation, what do you have? Not one instance of abiogenesis. We have an enormous number of dead stuff in our fossil record, and guess what! They all died containing every chemical required for them to be alive, in all the right forms and structures. Somehow, all the accidents and all the scientists in the universe can’t put humpty together again.

To some up, we have to assume an origin for life to accept that there was one, the evidence doesn’t support one, natural or supernatural, so it supports a supernatural life/lives. We know that all the correct chemicals don’t make life. We know that scientists haven’t managed to create all the correct structures, and even if they did, they would be designers and the argument would be teleological. And we have a falsifiable hypothesis, all you need is to show us an instance of a life form coming into being without a bunch of laboratory apparatus to point to design. So we have empirically observed odds that point to no origin for life, and empirically observed odds that if there were an origin it would point away from design. Your theory is only the “best” from a subjective sense that it supports your worldview, not because it has evidence or because it makes less assumptions. Funnily enough, this is exactly what you would expect if there was no origin and no natural explanation for life. If you can’t accept this argument, you can surely understand how I can’t accept that evolution is a certainty worth defending with insults and bigotry.

1. Havok says:

That’s a nice assumption, we have no idea what the early earth was like, we have only postulated what it may have been like.
If we’re talking about studying conditions under which abiogenesis may have taken place on the early earth, the assumption that there were no biological organisms is quite reasonable.
Also, our knowledge regarding the conditions of the early earth are not mere guesses based upon wishful thinking. For example, we have rocks of ancient ages which have hints of what conditions were like. We have models of solar system and planet formation.
To say we have “no idea what the early earth was like” is incorrect.

Atheists get very upset if they’re asked to prove there is no God,
They ought to only get upset if they’re asked to prove a vague god concept does not/cannot possibly exist.
As far as specific concepts of god (like the deity of young earth creationists), we certainly can (and have) “proven” they do not exist, as long as deductive certainty isn’t what is meant by the term “prove”.

so I expect to you prove that there is a reason (a good one, with good evidence), to believe that your statement is valid.
How about there is no good reason to even believe the supernatural is a coherent concept, let alone is a valid actegory of being and actually exists, no good reason to think interaction between the natural and the supernatural were possible if it were/did, and no demonstrations that abiogenesis is impossible.
Abiogenesis is basically the only reasonable option (though within that umbrella term, there appear to be many different options)

At some point you would have to assume something that has never been observed, actually happened.
You do not need to do this for abiogenesis – we have observed simple, complex, and incredibly sophisticated organic chemistry. That’s about all you need for abiogenesis.
It’s also far simpler and less ad-hoc than postulating an all powerful supernatural being 🙂

You’re ignoring the mountain of evidence that life comes from life,
As I pointed out above, this reduces to “organic chemistry comes from organic chemistry”.

there hasn’t ever been one single observed exception, so I can remove the assumption using Occam’s Razor,
Well, we know how organic chemistry came about – new, heavier elements generated from lighter elements in stars.
So we can go from the big bang event, through to simple organic chemistry, through to complex organic chemistry, through to biology, without invoking anything “supernatural” or “other”.
Sure, we don’t understand all of the steps that might have happened, but scientists are working on it, and making good progress.

and I have a better theory, better since it is based on less assumptions.
Actually, your theory doesn’t rate as an hypothesis, since it is little more than a vague assertion.
It also contains one massive, and massively unjustified assumption – that of a supernatural entity.
Your “theory” is very far from better, Smidoz.

You’r not doing science, you’re doing pseudoscience,
I’m not the one invoking ad-hoc assumptions of entities not in evidence.
I (and scientists working on abiogenesis) are simply using what we know to try to explain what we currently do not.

well we’ll asume there was a naturalistic origin for life, and then saying that’s the best explanation, without evidence.
It’s not a bare assumption, since there are reasons to prefer it, nor is it an assumption that cannot be revised.

AS I’ve pionted out, a naturalistic explanation is more likely true, given the body of scientific knowledge, and the success of scientific investigation. Evidence could come to light tomorrow which throws this into doubt. but until then we should rely upon what we know, rather than wishful thinking.

Miller and Urey used a bunch of lab equipment to produce a system that resembles nothing in the observed universe and is very much designed, and they produced a bunch of required amino acids in a form which made them prohibitive to life.
The Miller-Urey experiment showed that complex organic molecules could form without biology to generate them.
it was over 50 years ago – you need to update your scientific knowledge.

I’ll give you a dead ameoba, it has all that you require, except it isn’t about to spring to life. … What this proves is that life isn’t just about having the right stuff.
I’ve already told you that the arrangement of and the relationships between the molecules is important – there’s no life force, just complex organic chemistry. And if you interupt the constant flow of reactants and products, then you interupt the cycles of organic chemistry, they stop, and “life” ceases.

I only can’t postulate a supernatural source for this if I accept blindly the assumption that the disproved is correct and life is just about chemistry.
No, you can only postulate a supernatural source if you:
– Demonstrate that “supernatural” is not an incoherent concept.
– Demonstrate that the “supernatural” actually exists (independantly of what you’re trying to explain).

Only after you’ve done that can you start to support your claim that the “supernatural” was/is responsible for the origin of life. To support that claim you need to:
– Demonstrate that the “supernatural” has the capability (and, in the case of “god”, the will/desire) to carry out the process of biogenesis.
– Demonstrate that “supernatural” biogenesis would result in life as we know it (DNA, etc).

All of this requires your “theory” to be detailed, contain empirical content, and to actually be investigated. At present you hypothesis is vague, and has no empirical content, explains everything, and is therefore useless as an explanation.

So desperate for an origin for life is the scientific community that they have a popular theory that since RNA evolves very slowly, before life there was an RNA world, where RNA slowly developed (over millions of years, of course, we wouldn’t want it to be falsifiable) into what we call life. The only evidence I could find for this was that RNA evolves slowly, perhaps you can find a better source than I did.
Actually, the RNA world hypothesis has, to my knowledge, nothing to do with RNA evolving slowly. it’s more due to the fact that RNA can act as both a blueprint (like DNA) and a catalyst (like protein), and thus can carry out both of these important functions relying upon a single “type” of molecule, rather than the 3 modern life uses (DNA, RNA, proteins).

Not one instance of abiogenesis.
But plenty of examples of organic chemistry forming complex organic products, which can go on and participate in further organic reactions.

To some up, we have to assume an origin for life to accept that there was one,
This is false. The record of life in the rocks tends to support an origin for life on earth, since we have fossils of microbes from some 3+ billion years ago, but none earlier.

so it supports a supernatural life/lives.
Except there is no reason to think the supernatural is “real”, or can and does interact with the non-supernatural, or is alive in any meaningful sense (which, as far as we’re aware, requires and depends upon complex organic chemistry).
To claim that something is “alive” in a similar sense to us, not just in the absence of organic chemistry, but in the absence of ANY sort of chemistry or any sort of matter, is another huge assumption you’re making, and one which lacks ANY reasonable justification.

We know that all the correct chemicals don’t make life.
And we all know that the correct chemicals reacting in the right ways DO make life. We know this because when we interupt the reactions, “life” stops.

And we have a falsifiable hypothesis, all you need is to show us an instance of a life form coming into being without a bunch of laboratory apparatus to point to design.
At least you admit that abiogenesis is falsifiable – that alone makes it a better candidate explanation than your alternative, which is currently unfalsifiable.

If you can’t accept this argument,
I don’t accept your argument because it is deeply flawed, not because of any subjective bias on my part.
If you don’t see that, even after I’ve pointed out to you the reasons why your argument is flawed, then I’m not sure any evidence could convince you otherwise.

you can surely understand how I can’t accept that evolution is a certainty worth defending with insults and bigotry.
Well, evolution isn’t a certainty, and anyone who claims it is is engaging in hyperbole.
Evolution is however, very well supported by the evidence, with no real explanatory competition (at present).

2. “As far as specific concepts of god (like the deity of young earth creationists), we certainly can (and have) “proven” they do not exist, as long as deductive certainty isn’t what is meant by the term “prove”.”

You mean by assuming that radiometric clocks are actually formed at a zero (or near zero) state, and that no leaching takes place, both of which are falsiable, and have been falsified.

“How about there is no good reason to even believe the supernatural is a coherent concept”

I’m not sure you’ve got anything to lean on here, if the concept is incoherent then please explain why. What is a bit incoherent is atheists claiming religion is harmful when (if atheists are right) the early non-theists became extinct without leaving any trace of themselves or literacy, or anything useful. It turns out theists actually kept the human race alive, have been proved stronger by natural selection, and provided the basis for which to record all knowledge. It is also incoherent to use an absence of evidence argument when a) you aren’t omniscient, b) it has been proved an invalid argument, and c) you have no evidence for pretheistic people, yet require them to exist. I think atheists need to rethink their idea of incoherent.

“Abiogenesis is basically the only reasonable option (though within that umbrella term, there appear to be many different options)”

That’s nice, it would seem that your version of reasonable invloves imagining evidence and making incoherent arguments, which I’ll get to. Reasonable seems to be subjective here.

“As I pointed out above, this reduces to “organic chemistry comes from organic chemistry”.”

Now you’re equivocating. Organic chemistry encompasses a whole lot that isn’t life, and then I could argue that you’d still need an origin for organic chemistry, this wasn’t around at the time of big bang, so now you have two assumptions, a) that there was a creature without ancestry, and that b) there was a origin for something that you have just provided an infinte regress argument to.

“we know how organic chemistry came about – new, heavier elements generated from lighter elements in stars.”

Of course we know this, we saw it happening, or we’ve done it under designed conditions. You mean we’ve postulated and shown that some things, (no matter how improbable) just happen if you just mix lots of time and space.

…”through to biology, without invoking anything “supernatural” or “other”.

You mean like creatures with no ancestry? That seems pretty other.

“Actually, your theory doesn’t rate as an hypothesis, since it is little more than a vague assertion.”

and somehow organic chemistry did something that we’ve never been able to replicate all by itself, by accident, we just don’t know how, but one day we’ll work it out, is not vague? What I’m saying isn’t vague in the sense that any scientific theory that can’t answer every question isn’t vague. I’m saying, I observe the evidence, creature after creature as far back as we can go has ancestry (living ancestry) so I’m following the evidence, and I arrive at something to which I can provide little more than that it is beyond physical laws as we know them. So why is it that because there’s a gap regarding specific characteristics, you say it’s vague, but your gaps don’t make your theory vague? I’ve always said that if there were an outsider test for atheism, it would fail, you need to be consistent.

“It also contains one massive, and massively unjustified assumption – that of a supernatural entity.”

No, it arrives at a supernatural entity, via an inductive argument based on a huge amount of empirical data. This argument is a bit like saying that we assume that there’s a physical force that holds us to the Earth, of course we’re making an inductive leap based on a huge amount of empirical data. I’m not sure why you don’t understand this, it is how science is done, or is gravity not a scientific idea?

“I’m not the one invoking ad-hoc assumptions of entities not in evidence.”

Oh, so you’re not saying that there was an entity that happened upon the Earth without living ancestry which has left no evidence, by a hitherto unobserved unknown process? It sound like that is exactly what you’re doing, especially since the vast amount of empirical evidence shows that such creatures don’t exist, and there’s no evidence that they ever have. I’m not setting the bar high, I just expect you to prove this entity the way you expect me to prove supernatural entities. Considering that not being able to naturalistically prove supernatural entities would be exactly what you expect even if they did exist (if you could they wouldn’t be supernatural), and naturalistic entities would be expected to be provable by naturalistic enquiry, I’m actually giving you an easier task, you’re just not up to it.

“I (and scientists working on abiogenesis) are simply using what we know to try to explain what we currently do not.”

Yes, you and everybody else, and of course the only possible explanations in your opinion are ones that fit into your worldview, even if they contradict empirical observations.

“It’s not a bare assumption, since there are reasons to prefer it, nor is it an assumption that cannot be revised.”

There are reasons to prefer it, yes, you don’t believe the other option is possible, when you’re that closed minded, I suppose there’s not much point in the discussion, or even open enquiry. My hypothesis can be revised, a) we could produce life in controlled designed conditions, then we have an adjustment that doesn’t rule out a designer, or b) you could find a “warm pond,” watch it closely until organic chemistry just makes something that’s alive from stuff that wasn’t, then we could say, well naturalistic abiogenesis actually does happen, no need for a designer, or c) you could make a living thing start living again (I’ll get to your criticisms shortly). So it can be revised, to supernatural abiogenesis, or naturalistic abiogenesis, and it is falsifiable, which makes it more attractive since it doesn’t require hiding behind millions of years and uncertain conditions as excuses for failed experiments. It also doesn’t make the bald assumption that designed conditions prove no designer. It’s actually more open to scientific review than your theory, since your theory only allows one option in different forms, naturalistic abiogenesis, and they call religious people dogmatic.

“AS I’ve pionted out, a naturalistic explanation is more likely true, given the body of scientific knowledge, and the success of scientific investigation. Evidence could come to light tomorrow which throws this into doubt. but until then we should rely upon what we know, rather than wishful thinking.”

Is this an inductive argument? Or just an assumption that because science is good at answering questions, it can answer all questions? Sorry, that’s the same question. Really, that sounds like you’re filling a gap with atheism, “well, we have a gap, but we are sure we’ll fill it with some naturalistic explanation.” The body of scientific evidence actually doesn’t support you here, because it hasn’t answered the question, it has raised more questions, and it’s a pretty vast thing we can see galaxies billions of light years away, but biologists can’t even tell you what happened here to make life, which is, ironically, exactly what you’d expect if there was no origin for life, or if there was a supernatural designer.

Miller and Urey proved that when amino acids form in a primitive environment without a design factor, they break down, hence the apparatus, and they also proved that when amino acids form they form in a way that is prohibitive to life. Please update me on this, show me an experiment that produces useful amino acids in a primitive environment without the aid of an apparatus to prevent break down. Also then show me those amino acids forming in such a way that they wouldn’t be prohibitive for life.

“And if you interupt the constant flow of reactants and products, then you interupt the cycles of organic chemistry, they stop, and “life” ceases.”

The cycles started, why don’t you just restart them, I mean, how difficult can it be, it happened by accident the first time. See here’s the problem, if you couldn’t restart them, there’s no reason to believe nature started them through random processes. Perhaps you could find a GA to solve the problem, I mean, it would be intentionally trying to solve the problem, nature wasn’t, it had no problem.

“Demonstrate that the “supernatural” actually exists (independantly of what you’re trying to explain).”

Sorry, you want me to prove that a supernatural entity independently of what it’s trying to explain? I suppose you can prove your first imaginary life form independently of what it’s trying to explain? Again, you’re failing the outsider test. Besides, the evidence moves in that direction, it’s where you arrive if you leave out any assumptions. You are going to say that I am assuming that supernatural is coherent, I’d be interested to know why I should believe it isn’t when that’s where the evidence points. But let me point out that physicists have this hypothesis (Rees; Krauss; Hawking etc) of a multiverse, which has always existed and which produces new universes, and old ones die. Here’s a problem, always is an infinite amount of time, if that is the case, then the entire idea is incoherent, since infinity cannot be traversed, if it could, it would be quantifiable, and wouldn’t be infinite. If time were infinite, we could never have transversed that infinity to arrive at today, thus we can’t be here today. Basically, it’s reasonable to say that things can’t be defined in or out of existence, which is exactly what you would say if someone came up with a logically sound ontological argument.

“- Demonstrate that the “supernatural” has the capability (and, in the case of “god”, the will/desire) to carry out the process of biogenesis.
– Demonstrate that “supernatural” biogenesis would result in life as we know it (DNA, etc).”

So what you’re saying is it’s ok for your theory to have gaps, but it isn’t ok for mine, again, outsider test.

“All of this requires your “theory” to be detailed, contain empirical content, and to actually be investigated. At present you hypothesis is vague, and has no empirical content, explains everything, and is therefore useless as an explanation.”

Actually it does contain empirical content, a huge amount that shows life coming into being from pre existing life, your hypothesis has no empirical base for saying there are exceptions to this. Secondly, I’m not explaining everything, I’m not arguing for a specific deity, I’m arguing for the presence of supernatural, at some point in history, which is good enough to show that atheism isn’t the case. I didn’t say this entity created everything gave us our moral code or any of that, in fact all I’ve done is focused on how life begins, and it begins from other life. Do not equivocate and assume that life is just organic chemistry until you’ve proven, empirically, that the correct chemistry would make something not alive be alive, that argument is playing with words and is about as insincere as the ontological argument.

“Actually, the RNA world hypothesis has, to my knowledge, nothing to do with RNA evolving slowly.”

Sorry, I didn’t get it exactly right, it has to do with the critical slowest evolving components of cells being made up of RNA, but let’s look at the evidence, from wikipedia

“The RNA world hypothesis is supported by the observation that many of the most critical components of cells (those that evolve the slowest) are composed mostly or entirely of RNA. This would mean that the RNA in modern cells is an evolutionary remnant of the RNA world that preceded ours.”

Wow, you don’t need much in the way of empirical observations to be taken seriously if you’re proposing something that atheists want to believe. I really think the most attractive thing about this is that now you can turn abiogenesis into a millions of years process and thus it becomes unfalsifiable, “we just haven’t run tests for long enough.”

“plenty of examples of organic chemistry forming complex organic products, which can go on and participate in further organic reactions.”

More of the same? Not one critical example, the failure of any experiments to get the critical reaction (even if you have all the correct components) is evidence aginst what you’re saying, if it isn’t, they aren’t valid tests since you’re saying they can’t falsify the hypothesis. Being able to change a hypothesis without meaningfully reviewing it because you have no valid tests is weak science. If your experiments are testing your hypothesis, their failure should make you seriously rethink the validity of you hypothesis, the fact that you’re not acknowledging this smells a lot like wishful thinking, and standrad practise in naturalistic explanations regarding life, add time and uncertainty and we can stick to our guns, thus we have certainty.

“The record of life in the rocks tends to support an origin for life on earth, since we have fossils of microbes from some 3+ billion years ago, but none earlier.”

The record isn’t that useful before 300 million years ago, and life is supposed to have started earlier than 3 billion years ago, you have a very fragmentary record of what you’re saying. Secondly, I didn’t say life started on Earth, I said it never started at all, which would follow that life pre-existed earth, so a beginning to life on earth would be expected if what I was saying was true. You still haven’t made any case for naturalistic abiogenesis, except arguments that call your own theory into question if you turn them around.

“To claim that something is “alive” in a similar sense to us, not just in the absence of organic chemistry, but in the absence of ANY sort of chemistry or any sort of matter, is another huge assumption you’re making, and one which lacks ANY reasonable justification.”

So are you saying an inductive leap isn’t a reasonable justification for things? Bye bye science, hello dogma. I’m following evidence, I don’t know what makes something alive, neither do you, you claim it’s just chemistry, but have no reasonable empirical evidence to show that organic chemistry, with the help of time, and undirected randomness makes things living. You have no reasonable justification that there is no supernatural, and certainly none that it is incoherent, only belief, so in your subjective opinion the only reasonable route for people to take is to agree with you even if you don’t have evidence.

“And we all know that the correct chemicals reacting in the right ways DO make life. We know this because when we interupt the reactions, “life” stops.”

No, we know that reactions sustain life, you have not even attempted to show they make life, possibly because you know that you have no evidence that this is the case.

“At least you admit that abiogenesis is falsifiable – that alone makes it a better candidate explanation than your alternative, which is currently unfalsifiable.”

was this a deliberate straw man? I said my hypothesis was falsifable, find me the instances of organic chemistry alone producing life forms with no ancestry. You’r hypothesis is unfalsifiable, since you’ll keep changing the parametres and invoking time and uncertainty. What I find amazing is that basically you use uncertainty as an argument for the certainty of your hypothesis, we don’t know how it happened, because there are too many uncertainties, but we’re certain it happened in a way that fits our model.

“I don’t accept your argument because it is deeply flawed, not because of any subjective bias on my part.
If you don’t see that, even after I’ve pointed out to you the reasons why your argument is flawed, then I’m not sure any evidence could convince you otherwise.”

What evidence? Oh, yes, you have none. Your position hasn’t managed to live up to the criteria for you saying mine is deeply flawed, and yours is unfalsifiable, much like the claim that there is no supernatural. If there was a supernatural, and you proved it by naturalistic means, then it wouldn’t be supernatural. Atheists like living on the unfalsifiable, abiogenesis is one of those things. It’s no wonder that Bayes; Mendel; Bacon; Boyle; Galileo; Copernicus were deeply religious, atheists have piggy backed off thousands of years of enquiry conducted by theists, and then claim that they are the knowledge seekers when they set up hypothesis that use the same reasoning over and over to avoid true testability. Show me an exception to life coming from life (don’t change the statement to suit your unfalsifiable claim that it’s just organic chemistry)

“evolution isn’t a certainty”

This is the admission I asked for at Hallquist’s blog, and you called me a troll, why didn’t you just agree?

So, you’ve defined life in a way to support your hypothesis and no other, just to prop it up, that’s ad hoc. You’ve said I need to prove the thing I’m talking about exists beyond what I’m talking about, but you can’t do the same, that’s just inconsistent. You asked me to prove you wrong, but you can’t prove me wrong, that’s just inconsistent. You’ve told me your hypothesis is falsifiable and mine isn’t, which is the exact opposite of what the case is, that’s just false. Really, you’ve given me no reason to believe in a naturalistic abiogenesis, if the odds are (based on the same kind of reasoning that we accept gravity – don’t equivocate on this to make your point – I mean a force that holds bodies together) is that bad reasoning, should we give gravity up? The odds that nature alone can explain abiogenesis are pretty low, based on the fact that intelligent people designing situations in labs can’t make it happen, so you’ve really got nothing. You’re trying to fill a gap which we currently don’t even really have reason to believe is there. I don’t think we should stop studying it, I think perhaps things like poverty relief and saving the environment so that life can continue are somewhat more important, but it should be studied, and if one day you can falsify the claim that the precursor to living things is always living things, then we can talk, until then, you’ve got some failed experiments which act as evidence against you.

3. Havok says:

You mean by assuming that radiometric clocks are actually formed at a zero (or near zero) state, and that no leaching takes place, both of which are falsiable, and have been falsified.

Again, not a mere assumption, but one backed by successful models and empirical evidence.

I’m not sure you’ve got anything to lean on here, if the concept is incoherent then please explain why.

Well, we could start with you trying to define just what it is, what properties it has, and see if you can manage something that is a useful coherent description.
Then you could explain how it is that this can interact with physical “stuff”.

What is a bit incoherent is atheists claiming religion is harmful…

– I’m not claiming that religion is inherently harmful, nor is it remotely relevant to what we’re discussing.
– Your characterisation of the probable history of these things is a massive strawman.
If you’d like to discuss this line of reasoning further, I’d be happy to, but it is simply beside the point.

Reasonable seems to be subjective here.

Not at all. Thus far abiogenesis is the only option that you’ve actually attempted to provide some probability for, so even from your side, it’s the only reasonable alternative at present.

Now you’re equivocating. Organic chemistry encompasses a whole lot that isn’t life,

I’m not equivocating at all – life encompasses nothing that isn’t organic chemistry. Vitalism is dead.

and then I could argue that you’d still need an origin for organic chemistry,

a) that there was a creature without ancestry, and that b) there was a origin for something that you have just provided an infinte regress argument to.

That there was a grey area between what we might call complex organic chemistry and what we might call biology doesn’t require a “creature without ancestry”. The first thing we might definitively say is “alive” would have been preceeded by reactions we might palce in the grey area, which would have been preceeded by reactions we would place definitively in organic chemistry.
No infinite regress required.

Of course we know this, we saw it happening, or we’ve done it under designed conditions. You mean we’ve postulated and shown that some things, (no matter how improbable) just happen if you just mix lots of time and space.

You seem to have a very limited view of what scientific investigation is, what it can show us, and how it is justified.
We have very successful models, backed by empirical observations, which show that the generation of heavier atoms from lighter ones takes place in stars.
We built technology based upon the idea (hydrogen bombs, and hydrogen reactors for instance).
To say that this is improbable seems just as ridiculous as your claims regarding the date of the earth (and the assumptions you need to make to get your alternative to work are numerous and ad-hoc).

and somehow organic chemistry did something that we’ve never been able to replicate all by itself, by accident,

We can see organic chemistry doing this now.
We have created, from scratch, organic molecules that replicate (RNA sequences).
There is no current end to end abiogenesis explanation, but that doesn’t mean that pieces of the puzzle haven’t been worked out.

we just don’t know how, but one day we’ll work it out, is not vague?

It’s not vague at all, since each component of the problem is well specified. For instance, Jack Szostak (sp?) has shown that under reasonable assumptions (again, backed by models and empirical evidence) of the early conditions of the earth, lipids can be formed by abiotic processes, and these lipids will spontaneously form membranes similar to the lipid membrane layers of modern cells (though far simpler). There is research showing that undersea volcanic vents, which naturally form vesicles, can provide means for organic chemicals (again formed abiotically) to conentrate, and interact, as well as providing an energy gradient which can be used by the reactants.

I’m saying, I observe the evidence, creature after creature as far back as we can go has ancestry (living ancestry) so I’m following the evidence, and I arrive at something to which I can provide little more than that it is beyond physical laws as we know them.

But as I’ve pointed out to you a number of times, life as we know it is nothing more than organic chemistry. You’re postulating something that is alive but that is not just not organic chemistry, but is not any sort of chemistry. That’s a ridiculous leap to make, and you’ve completely failed to supported that leap.
You haven’t even shown that there can be or is anything beyond the “physical laws as we know them”, and here you are postulating that such a thing is “alive”?

So why is it that because there’s a gap regarding specific characteristics, you say it’s vague,

No, I say it’s vague because you’ve presented absolutely no detail regarding this “thing”, how it could create life, how it can be “alive” itself, and how we might test these claims.
You’ve said little more than “God did it!”.

Well, I admit that there are gaps, and that they’re being worked on to provide real explanations for them. You, and other theists claim that your explanation is already successful, but never actually demonstrate this.

I’ve always said that if there were an outsider test for atheism, it would fail, you need to be consistent.

You’d be mistaken. I am being consistent – I’ve asked you to consider the detail you’d like for a successful naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, and to provide a similar level of detail for the explanationt that you have claimed is successful. You’ve not done that.

No, it arrives at a supernatural entity, via an inductive argument based on a huge amount of empirical data.

How does it make the leap from “organic chemistry” and “physical laws” to the supernatural?
You have made that leap without justification.

I’m not sure why you don’t understand this, it is how science is done, or is gravity not a scientific idea?

Of course relativity is a scientific idea. But relativity relies upon afirming the consequent (if we look at it deductively), and therefore, according to you, is fallacious and shouldn’t be accepted.
Or is this only a problem when biology is the subject at hand?

Oh, so you’re not saying that there was an entity that happened upon the Earth without living ancestry which has left no evidence, by a hitherto unobserved unknown process?

Nope – dealt with that above.

especially since the vast amount of empirical evidence shows that such creatures don’t exist, and there’s no evidence that they ever have.

The evidence that organic chemistry gave rise to biology is that biology today is nothing more than organic chemistry. That when we look at the rocks, we find evidence for biology not in the absolutely oldest layers, but some 1 billion years after, that there is no other actual mechanism, other than organic chemistry, to account for the appearance of life (no aliens or gods have been shown to actually exist, and so we don’t invoke them, ad-hoc, to to attempt to explain a gap in our knowledge).

I’m not setting the bar high, I just expect you to prove this entity the way you expect me to prove supernatural entities.

Now you’re denying that organic chemistry exists, and results in complex products from simpler reactants, that lipid layers spontaneously assemble, that amino acids and other biological building blocks don’t form from abiotic processes – all of these things have been demonstrated.
I guess biology, atomic theory and quantum mechanics aren’t the only things you need to deny in order to maintain your YEC beliefs.

Considering that not being able to naturalistically prove supernatural entities would be exactly what you expect even if they did exist (if you could they wouldn’t be supernatural),

One, this is absolute rubbish. If these beings have ANY empirical effect, then we can study them using the methods of science. If they do not have ANY empirical effects, then we can safely ignore tham as being irrelevant – they might as well not exist.
Secondly, even if you were right, just because science isn’t able to study them doesn’t mean they actually exist. What you would need to do is find some methodology which could be used to study them, test them, etc. All of the parts of scientific investigation that justify it’s results as knowledge would need to have analogues in this new methodology, and only then, could you make claims regarding the supernatural.
You’ve got a long way to go, and no obvious means of getting there.

and naturalistic entities would be expected to be provable by naturalistic enquiry, I’m actually giving you an easier task, you’re just not up to it.

I’ve demonstrated all I need to, to show that a naturalistic explanation is more likely.
Organic chemistry exists, and life is nothing but complex organic chemistry.

You’ve given yourself an almost impossible task, and yet you seem to be willing to make knowledge claims based upon unjustified “assumptions”.

Yes, you and everybody else, and of course the only possible explanations in your opinion are ones that fit into your worldview, even if they contradict empirical observations.

I’ve pointed out why your claims regarding empirical observations fail.
I’ve pointed out why invoking a supernatural entity as an explanation for life fails.
I’ve pointed out why scientific investigation is the best bet for a future explanation.

I’m pretty sure there are origin of life researchers who are not naturalists. There are many biologists who are Christian theists.
If you want to accuse me of being biased you need to show where and how, not simply make accusations because they seem “correct” to you.

There are reasons to prefer it, yes, you don’t believe the other option is possible, when you’re that closed minded, I suppose there’s not much point in the discussion, or even open enquiry.

I’m open to other options, but not without justification.
Your claims thus far have been little more than assertions and flawed arguments, and so there doesn’t seem any reason to call me closed minded, or to claim that I don’t believe your alternative possible – I’m open to revising my beliefs, but only if and when there is reasonable and justified evidence supporting the alternative.
Such evidence doesn’t presently exist.

My hypothesis can be revised,

You don’t have an hypothesis to revise. You’ve got a vague, unfalsifiable assertion.
I notice that NONE of your points regarding revision entail any positive arguments in favour of your claim.
That’s not how science is done – you need to take risks for your hypothesis, you need to be ready to falsify it, not simply assume that it is correct until further notice.
You’re being very intellectually lazy.

and it is falsifiable,

No it’s not.
Even if we find a successful explanation for how biology might have been built from organic chemistry (or, as I tend to think, “explanations”), you can always claim that that isn’t how things actually happened here. You could claim that in the warm pond, or the lab, or when restarting biology, that your “designer” put his finger in there to bring it about.

which makes it more attractive since it doesn’t require hiding behind millions of years and uncertain conditions as excuses for failed experiments.

It is telling that you think scientists are “hiding” behind millions of years. It’s actually billions of years, and it is supported by an array of empirical observations, all of which are still valid (contrary to your assertions at the top of your comment). Of course you can bring in ad-hoc assumptions to explain away these difficulties (God created starlight in flight, the rocks of the earth were not formed naturalistically, so the “clocks” in them can’t be trusted, etc, etc, etc), but all you’re demonstrating is that you care more about your central beliefs (that God created the universe ~6,000-10,000 years ago, and the bible is without error) than what the empirical evidence shows. You should be avoiding ancillary assumptions which can’t be independantly justified. Instead, YECs seem to see them as a virtue, multiplying them without constraint.

And what you are left with is “Last Thursdayism” – an unfalsifiable claim where every piece of disconfirming evidence is simply explained away in an ad-hoc, unjustified fashion.

Or just an assumption that because science is good at answering questions, it can answer all questions?

I didn’t way that science could answer all questions.
It just so happens that EVERY empirical question that has a successful explanation, that explanation has been arrived at through scientific investigation (or, more broadly, intersubjective empiricism). None of them have appealed to the supernatural.
Scientific investigation is the only means of investigating reality which has solid methodological and epistemological footing. Appeals to the supernatural have no such firm underpinnings.
From this alone, we are justified in thinking that if there is an explanation for something in the world, then that investiagtion is more likely to be arrived at via scientific investigation than any other so called “means of knowing”.
That is the argument.

Really, that sounds like you’re filling a gap with atheism,

Not at all. Unlike you I’m, not saying I have a full explanation.
I’m also not saying I’m certain that it has some naturalistic explanation.

…but biologists can’t even tell you what happened here to make life,

Receiving starlight, or even radio waves is a little less complex than what happens in a cell, with it’s numerous interdependencies. This is a false analogy.

which is, ironically, exactly what you’d expect if there was no origin for life, or if there was a supernatural designer.

Except of course we have good reasons to think that life started on earth at some time in the past.
And we have no good reasons to invoke a supernatural (or even a natural) designer.
You’ve provided none. You provide no reason to think that your designer exists, and yet you critique my position for relying upon things that are actually KNOWN (organic chemistry).
Here’s a hint – that right there is a massive assumption on your part, compared with no assumption on my part.

It also doesn’t make the bald assumption that designed conditions prove no designer.

That’s not a “bald assumption”, and to me indicates your ignorance of what science is.

It’s actually more open to scientific review than your theory, since your theory only allows one option in different forms, naturalistic abiogenesis,

The narrow focus of abiogenesis is actually a point in it’s favour – your claim provides an explanation for every possible empirical observation and it’s opposite.

Sorry, you want me to prove that a supernatural entity independently of what it’s trying to explain?

That would be nice, since otherwise you’re making an ad-hoc assumption without justification.

I suppose you can prove your first imaginary life form independently of what it’s trying to explain?

No, but we have indepent reasons to think that organic chemistry exists, which is all I’m relying upon.

You are going to say that I am assuming that supernatural is coherent, I’d be interested to know why I should believe it isn’t when that’s where the evidence points.

As I’ve pointed out, the evidence does not “point” there.
You claim that life only comes from life, which in your view requires supernatural life.
But there is no magical ingredient to life over and above organic chemistry. The leap from physical, organic “life” to something which is completely “other” and yet alive, is ridiculous without further justification.

But let me point out that physicists have this hypothesis (Rees; Krauss; Hawking etc) of a multiverse, which has always existed and which produces new universes, and old ones die.

Actually, multiverses “fall out” of established physics, such as inflation.

Here’s a problem, always is an infinite amount of time, if that is the case, then the entire idea is incoherent, since infinity cannot be traversed, if it could, it would be quantifiable, and wouldn’t be infinite. If time were infinite, we could never have transversed that infinity to arrive at today, thus we can’t be here today.

This is only a problem because you are assuming that there was a “first moment”, and that therefore if the past were eternal we’d have had to traverse an infinite amount of time to get here. But without a first moment, this problem doesn’t occur, especially if we take relativities “4D block universe” seriously, such that all moments in time are “real” – we simply find ourselves in a 4 dimensional space time which is infinite in some extents, and is static (there is no “metatime”).
Also, arguments about the incoherence of eternity on naturalism can be equally well applied to theism – if God were eternal and assuming there is some sort of metaphysical ordering to God’s thoughts (preserving God’s supposed timelessness), then God can never have thought of creating, since there would be an infinite number of thoughts for him to think, with metaphysical priority to creation (unless creating was the first thought in God’s mind, but then why bother with eternity?).

Basically, it’s reasonable to say that things can’t be defined in or out of existence, which is exactly what you would say if someone came up with a logically sound ontological argument.

I’m glad you’re not going to try to define God into existence.
Now, if you could provide reasonable evidence that this being actually exists, we could proceed. We both already accept the existence of everything I need for abiogenesis to be true (organic chemistry).

I really think the most attractive thing about this is that now you can turn abiogenesis into a millions of years process and thus it becomes unfalsifiable, “we just haven’t run tests for long enough.”

This is getting repetative.
Components of abiogenesis are falsifiable, some have been falsified (like the assumptions Miller & Urey used regarding the state of the early earth) and others have been born out (like lipids spontaneously forming membrane layers, amino acids and other biological building blocks forming under abiotic conditions, etc).
Besides, the millions of years could be falsified if it were shown that either life existed from the formation of the earth (or at least, when it had cooled enough that organic chemistry occurred), or that the earth is not BILLIONS of years old (why do you keep saying millions?).
Both of those have evidential support such that overturning them would be quite a scientific achievement. But until you do overthrow them, don’t act as if they’re not solidly supported.

Not one critical example, the failure of any experiments to get the critical reaction (even if you have all the correct components) is evidence aginst what you’re saying, if it isn’t, they aren’t valid tests since you’re saying they can’t falsify the hypothesis.

Of course they’re valid, and they show that simply dumping the reactants into a vat is unlikely to lead to biology.
Of course, no one is actually saying that it does – did you bother to look at the actual research being done, or did you just dismiss it because you “know” the right answer already?

If your experiments are testing your hypothesis, their failure should make you seriously rethink the validity of you hypothesis, the fact that you’re not acknowledging this smells a lot like wishful thinking, and standrad practise in naturalistic explanations regarding life, add time and uncertainty and we can stick to our guns, thus we have certainty.

Of course, this strawman requires that origin of life reasearchers are claiming that they have successfully explained the origin of life.
They’re not, so this little crack at them fails.

The record isn’t that useful before 300 million years ago, and life is supposed to have started earlier than 3 billion years ago, you have a very fragmentary record of what you’re saying.

The fossil record isn’t that useful for identifying species and relationships between them before some time, simply because there is insufficient preserved structure to compare.
But we do have evidence of very complex organic chemistry (ie. life as we know it) stretching back long before then.
We also have modern DNA, and modern DNA analysis, which allows us to reconstruct trees of ancestry with confidence, which allows us not only to provide independant confirmation for the relationships found from comparing fossils, but also in validly inferring when the “last universal common ancestor” likely existed.

I didn’t say life started on Earth, I said it never started at all, which would follow that life pre-existed earth, so a beginning to life on earth would be expected if what I was saying was true.

Yet you’re also saying that this life doesn’t require any of the components of life that we know life on earth requires. Quite an assumption your making there.

So are you saying an inductive leap isn’t a reasonable justification for things?

From someone who claims that far smaller leaps, when they lead to conclusions which don’t fit into his worldview, are not valid (ie. common descent), that’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?
Besides, just because it’s an inductive leap, doesn’t mean it’s a valid inductive leap. I’ve pointed out above why it is not.

I’m following evidence,

Then you have some evidence that life can occur without organic chemistry?
Didn’t think so.

I don’t know what makes something alive, neither do you, you claim it’s just chemistry, but have no reasonable empirical evidence to show that organic chemistry, with the help of time, and undirected randomness makes things living.

This is false. We know that life is complex chemistry. We know this because we observe life today and find nothing other than complex chemistry. So we can say, with a lot of confidence that life is complex organic chemistry. Are you claiming that life is not organic chemistry? Where’s your evidence for this?

You have no reasonable justification that there is no supernatural,

The fact that there is no reasonable evidence to support the existence of it, coupled with it’s completelty superfluous nature and the fact that for it to have any empirical effect, solidly attested physics would need to be gravely mistaken, and we find all the justification for my position that we need.
Perhaps you could supply positive evidence for the supernatural, not just point to gaps in our knowledge and make assertions that the supernatural was at work there?

Show me an exception to life coming from life (don’t change the statement to suit your unfalsifiable claim that it’s just organic chemistry)

Show me the evidence that the supernatural exists?
Show me the evidence that the supernatural is ‘alive”?
Show me the evidence that supernatural :”life” can cause natural “life”?
Did the supernatural create a modern cell, complete with DNA, RNA and proteins, or did it do something else?