Tag Archives: Probability

New software calculates the probability of generating functional proteins by chance

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Here’s an article sent to me by JoeCoder about a new computer program written by Kirk Durston.

About Kirk:

Kirk Durston is a scientist, a philosopher, and a clergyman with a Ph.D. in Biophysics, an M.A. in Philosophy, a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering, and a B.Sc. in Physics. His work involves a significant amount of time thinking, writing and speaking about the interaction of science, theology and philosophy within the context of authentic Christianity. He has been married for 34 years to Patti and they have six children and three grandchildren. He enjoys landscape photography, antiques of various types, wilderness canoeing and camping, fly fishing, amateur astronomy, reading, music, playing the saxophone (alto), and enjoying family and friends.

Kirk grew up on a cattle and grain farm in central Manitoba, Canada, where he spent countless hours wandering around on his own in the forest as a young boy, fascinated with the plants and animals that are native to that region of the province. Throughout his teen years he spent six days a week in the summer working as a farm hand with cattle and grain. He left his father’s farm at the age of 19 to go to university.

Canada? Can anything good come out of Canada? Oh well, at least he’s not from Scotland. Anyway, on to the research, that’s what we care about. Code!

Summary of the article:

  • Biological life requires proteins
  • Proteins are sequences of amino acids, chained together
  • the order of amino acids determines whether the sequence has biological function
  • sequences that have biological function are rare, compared to the total number of possible sequences
  • Durston wrote a program to calculate the number of the probability of getting a functional sequence by random chance
  • The probability for getting a functional protein by chance is incredibly low

With that said, we can understand what he wrote:

This program can compute an upper limit for the probability of obtaining a protein family from a wealth of actual data contained in the Pfam database. The first step computes the lower limit for the functional complexity or functional information required to code for a particular protein family, using a method published by Durston et al. This value for I(Ex) can then be plugged into an equation published by Hazen et al. in order to solve the probability M(Ex)/N of ‘finding’ a functional sequence in a single trial.

I downloaded 3,751 aligned sequences for the Ribosomal S7 domain, part of a universal protein essential for all life. When the data was run through the program, it revealed that the lower limit for the amount of functional information required to code for this domain is 332 Fits (Functional Bits). The extreme upper limit for the number of sequences that might be functional for this domain is around 10^92. In a single trial, the probability of obtaining a sequence that would be functional for the Ribosomal S7 domain is 1 chance in 10^100 … and this is only for a 148 amino acid structural domain, much smaller than an average protein.

For another example, I downloaded 4,986 aligned sequences for the ABC-3 family of proteins and ran it through the program. The results indicate that the probability of obtaining, in a single trial, a functional ABC-3 sequence is around 1 chance in 10^128. This method ignores pairwise and higher order relationships within the sequence that would vastly limit the number of functional sequences by many orders of magnitude, reducing the probability even further by many orders of magnitude – so this gives us a best-case estimate.

There are only about 10^80 particles in the entire physical universe – 10^85 at the most. These are long odds. But maybe if we expand the probabilistic resources by buying more slot machines, and we pull the slot machine lever at much faster rate… can we win the jackpot then?

Nope:

What are the implications of these results, obtained from actual data, for the fundamental prediction of neo-Darwinian theory mentioned above? If we assume 10^30 life forms with a fast replication rate of 30 minutes and a huge genome with a very high mutation rate over a period of 10 billion years, an extreme upper limit for the total number of mutations for all of life’s history would be around 10^43. Unfortunately, a protein domain such as Ribosomal S7 would require a minimum average of 10^100 trials, about 10^57 trials more than the entire theoretical history of life could provide – and this is only for one domain. Forget about ‘finding’ an average sized protein, not to mention thousands.

So even if you have lots of probabilistic resources, and lots of time, you’re still not going to get your protein.

Compare these numbers with the 1 in 10^77 number that I posted about yesterday from Doug Axe. There is just no way to account for proteins if there is no intelligent agent to place the amino acids in sequence. When it comes to writing code, writing blog posts, writing music, or placing Scrabble letters, you need an intelligence. Sequencing amino acids into proteins? You need an intelligence.

Guillermo Gonzalez lectures on the corelation between habitability and discoverability

There are 5 video clips that make up the full lecture, which took place in 2007 at the University of California, Davis.

The playlist for all 5 clips is here.

About the speaker

Guillermo Gonzalez is an Associate Professor of Physics at Grove City College. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation.

Click here to learn more about the speaker.

The lecture

Here’s part 1 of 5:

And the rest are here:

Topics:

  • What is the Copernican Principle?
  • Is the Earth’s suitability for hosting life rare in the universe?
  • Does the Earth have to be the center of the universe to be special?
  • How similar to the Earth does a planet have to be to support life?
  • What is the definition of life?
  • What are the three minimal requirements for life of any kind?
  • Requirement 1: A molecule that can store information (carbon)
  • Requirement 2: A medium in which chemicals can interact (liquid water)
  • Requirement 3: A diverse set of chemical elements
  • What is the best environment for life to exist?
  • Our place in the solar system: the circumstellar habitable zone
  • Our place in the galaxy: the galactic habitable zones
  • Our time in the universe’s history: the cosmic habitable age
  • Other habitability requirements (e.g. – metal-rich star, massive moon, etc.)
  • The orchestration needed to create a habitable planet
  • How different factors depend on one another through time
  • How tweaking one factor can adversely affect other factors
  • How many possible places are there in the universe where life could emerge?
  • Given these probabilistic resources, should we expect that there is life elsewhere?
  • How to calculate probabilities using the “Product Rule”
  • Can we infer that there is a Designer just because life is rare? Or do we need more?

The corelation between habitability and measurability.

  • Are the habitable places in the universe also the best places to do science?
  • Do the factors that make Earth habitable also make it good for doing science?
  • Some places and times in the history of the universe are more habitable than others
  • Those exact places and times also allow us to make scientific discoveries
  • Observing solar eclipses and structure of our star, the Sun
  • Observing stars and galaxies
  • Observing the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Observing the acceleration of the universe caused by dark matter and energy
  • Observing the abundances of light elements like helium of hydrogen
  • These observations support the big bang and fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence
  • It is exactly like placing observatories on the tops of mountains
  • There are observers existing in the best places to observe things
  • This is EXACTLY how the universe has been designed for making scientific discoveries

This argument from the “discoverability” of the universe has now been picked up by famous Christian philosopher Robin Collins, so we should expect to hear more about it in the future.

Is the probability of getting a universe that supports complex life 100%?

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Let’s have a quick review of the famous fine-tuning argument to start.

The argument from cosmic fine-tuning looks at various constants and quantities in our universe that are set at particular values and notes that if any of the values of these constants and quantities were to change, then complex embodied life of any kind could not exist. The argument is fully in line with the standard Big Bang cosmology, and is based on mainstream science.

There are two kinds of finely-tuned initial conditions: 1) constants and 2) quantities. These constants and quantities have to be set within a narrow range in order to permit intelligent life. There are three explanations for this observation: law, chance or design. Law is rejected because the numerical values of constants and quantities are set at the beginning of the universe – when there was no matter, space or time. The values of the constants and quantities were not determined by anything causally prior to the moment the universe began to exist. Chance is not a good explanation, because the probabilities are far, far too small for us to reasonably believe them (e.g. – the chance is 1 in X, where X is much higher than the number of subatomic particles in the visible universe). Since the fine-tuning is not due to law or chance, it must be due to design.

Here’s one example of something that is set correctly to allow complex, embodied life from The New Scientist:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

Changing the value at all means there would be no complex, embodied life of any kind anywhere in this universe.

Here’s a quick video clip to explain what The New Scientist is saying:

Now, this is going to surprise you, but there are some non-theists who try to argue that the finely-tuned constants and quantities that were set up at the beginning of the universe – long before we ever existed – are actually explained by our existence today. 

Atheist Jeffery Lowder summarizes a debate between William Lane Craig and Doug Jesseph, and Jesseph says something like this:

Craig’s argument is like asking the question, “What are your chances of landing in a universe hospitable to life, assuming you were tossed into any old universe whatever.” That is precisely not the point. It’s presupposed in the question that you’re already in a universe which favors life. Confuses conditional probability with unconditional probability.

Unlike me, Lowder is never snarky in his summaries, so this is guaranteed to be accurate.

Here’s what Dr. William Lane Craig says to that idea that our being here explains the fine-tuning:

Now some people have tried to avoid this conclusion by saying that we really shouldn’t be surprised at the enormous improbability of the fine-tuning of the universe because, after all, if the universe were not fine-tuned then we wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. Given that we are here we should expect the universe to be fine-tuned. But I think the fallacy of this reasoning can be made clear simply by a parallel illustration. Imagine that you were traveling abroad in a third world country and you were arrested on trumped up drug charges, and you were dragged in front of a firing squad of 100 trained marksmen, all with rifles aimed at your heart to be executed. And you hear the command given – “Ready, aim, fire!” And you hear the deafening roar of the guns. And then you observe that you are still alive, that all of the 100 marksmen missed! Now, what would you conclude? Well, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that they all missed; after all, if they hadn’t all missed I wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. Given that I am here, I should expect them all to miss. Of course not. You would immediately suspect that they all missed on purpose. That the whole thing was a set up engineered by some person for some reason. And in exactly the same way, given the incomprehensible improbability of the fine-tuning of the initial conditions for intelligent life, it is rational to believe that this is not the result of chance but of design.

Does it make sense? It’s true that any arrangement of bullet holes in a condemned spy is as unlikely as any other, but the vast majority of possible arrangements of 100 bullet holes result in you being dead. Being marksmen, the shooters definitely know how to hit a target at close range. It doesn’t matter if some hit your head and some hit your heart and some hit your throat – the most common consequence of a hundred bullets fired by expert marksmen at you is “dead you” – regardless of the specific arrangement of bullet holes. If you find yourself not dead, that requires an explanation. The explanation is design.

Michael Ruse debates Stephen C. Meyer on intelligent design and evolution on NPR

Here’s a debate between:

  • Stephen C. Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
  • Michael Ruse, Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Florida State University

The MP3 file is here. (28 minutes)

The following summary is rated S for Slightly Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.

Topics:

  • Moderator: (to Meyer) define creationism, evolution, and intelligent design
  • Meyer: creationism is based on an interpretation of the Bible
  • Meyer: evolution is an unguided process of mutation and selection that produces organisms
  • Meyer: intelligent design is the idea that the best explanation for certain features of life
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Intelligent design is similar to creationism, but I won’t say how exactly
  • Meyer: ID is a good explanation for the sudden origin of animal body plans in the Cambrian era
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Is the designer God? Is the designer the Christian God?
  • Meyer: No, ID theory is an inference that is rooted in scientific evidence, not in a religious text
  • Meyer: ID can be inferred from the origin of biological information and from molecular machines
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous because ID requires the designer to be God
  • Meyer: The biological evidence for intelligent design by itself does not implicate God
  • Meyer: The fine-tuning of the cosmos is intelligent design in physics, and that *would* require God
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Explain what the Cambrian explosion is
  • Meyer: sudden origin of 36 body plans in 10 million years 530 million years ago
  • Moderator: So you think that 36 body plans in 10 million years is too sudden for Darwinian mechanisms to produce?
  • Meyer: Yes, for two reasons. One, there are no precursors prior to the start of the explosion in complexity
  • Meyer: And two, the complexity of animal life includes code, circuitry, hierarchies – best explained by a designer
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Is it a problem for you?
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that the Ediacaran fauna are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that microfossils are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that animal complexity goes from simple to complex in the fossil record
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that the Cambrian explosion took place over a few million years
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that there were complex organ types at the start of the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that we already have a materialist explanation for the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: everything is solved! nothing to see here! (folds arms and beams) I trust that my unsupported assertions have relieved your doubts, yes?
  • Moderator: Is intelligent design undermined by more recent science?
  • Meyer: no, there is an absence of precursor fossils in the period before the Cambrian explosion
  • Meyer: there are other things that make the problem even worse for naturalism, like information from epigenetics
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Answer that
  • Ruse: He is just pulling out passages out of context because he is a creationist!
  • Moderator: The leftist New Yorker reviewer Gareth Cook says that the Cambrian explosion took tens of millions of years
  • Meyer: Actually, the peer-reviewed science is clear that the standard date is at most 10 million nears
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Deny the mainstream date
  • Ruse: Well, Prothero says no! Ho ho ho! (folds arms) He just says it. No it’s not published in peer-reviewed research
  • Ruse: We know so much more than Darwin did, how could the progress of science disprove my materialist pre-supposition? It’s unpossible!
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Isn’t ID pseudo-science?
  • Meyer: If we limit ourselves to materialist explanations only, then we cannot infer intelligence when we see artifacts like the Rosetta Stone
  • Meyer: wind and erosion is not an adequate explanation for certain systems – systems that are rich in information
  • Meyer: the best explanation is the explanation that relies on known causes – we know that intelligence produces information
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) so the intelligence is the best explanation of systems that have information?
  • Meyer: yes, think about software code – the best explanation of new computer instructions is an intelligence
  • Meyer: we have uniform and repeated experience of intelligence bringing new information into being, and new animals need new information
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) must science only work with natural explanations?
  • Ruse: intelligent design is religion! Ho ho ho ho! (folds arms)
  • Ruse: there is no a priori way of ruling out supernatural causes in order to explain nature
  • Ruse: We don’t need to introduce supernatural causes to explain information in living systems or in software code
  • Ruse: Steve is asking me to explain the Cambrian explosion, but why does he want me to explain that?
  • Ruse: How did anything start to fly? How did whales come? There, those questions explain the Cambrian explosion naturalistically
  • Ruse: Steve’s answer to explain new information is to bring in miracles, like when he said that new computer code requires God
  • Ruse: inferring intelligence as an explanation for information like the computer code is religion! God! Creationism! Prayer in schools!
  • Ruse: we have to keep looking for naturalistic explanations for the Big Bang, the DNA, the fine-tuning, the Cambrian fossils, etc.
  • Ruse: we are never justified in inferring an intelligence to explain information, because that would deny my religion of materialism
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) what are the requirements for a theory to be scientific?
  • Ruse: any explanation has to be naturalistic, because I am an atheist and that’s my religion, and we can’t go against my religion
  • Ruse: it’s “really stupid” to infer God as the explanation of the creation of the entire physical universe or the cosmic fine-tuning
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why is intelligent design so popular when we have court cases saying it is not science?
  • Meyer: the Discovery Institute does not have an agenda to teach intelligent design in public schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about inferring intelligence as a causal explanation for information in living systems, and elsewhere
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are evolutionists unwilling to entertain the possibility of intelligence being the best explanation?
  • Ruse: scientists have to make sure that that all their explanations don’t go outside of the materialist reservation
  • Ruse: intelligent design is evangelical Christianity dressed up to look like science, the Dover judge said so
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous! Ho ho ho ho ho! (folds arms contentedly)
  • Meyer: first, judges don’t decide science, evidence decides science
  • Meyer: the Dover people made a mistake by trying to go to the courts to get things into the schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about research, writing books and papers based on what we learn from science
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) is intelligent design dangerous?
  • Ruse: yes, intelligent design is about politics, it’s not about cosmic fine-tuning, origin of life, molecular machines or Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: intelligent design is about abstinence, prayer in schools, burdening women with unwanted babies and male-female marriage
  • Ruse: my reason for opposing ID is the socially conservative agenda which emerges from protein folding probability calculations
  • Ruse: I don’t want to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, I don’t want them to take away my drugs, etc. so that’s why I believe Darwinism
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why do you want to take abortion away, you meany?
  • Meyer: actually, intelligent design is about science, and in any case National Review gave my book a bad review
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are science and religion in conflict?
  • Ruse: well religion can just abstain from making any claims about the physical world, and just stick to subjective nonsense – that’s fair
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) isn’t all opposition to evolution rooted in fundamentalist religion?
  • Meyer: you can believe in Darwinism and be a theist, but the real reason for doubting Darwinism is the scientific evidence, not religion

Tell me how you think Dr. Meyer did in the comments.

Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez lectures on intelligent design and habitability

The 5 video clips that make up the full lecture.

The playlist for all 5 clips is here.

About the speaker

Guillermo Gonzalez is an Associate Professor of Physics at Grove City College. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation.

Learn more about the speaker here.

The lecture

Here’s part 1 of 5:

And the rest are here:

Topics:

  • What is the Copernican Principle?
  • Is the Earth’s suitability for hosting life rare in the universe?
  • Does the Earth have to be the center of the universe to be special?
  • How similar to the Earth does a planet have to be to support life?
  • What is the definition of life?
  • What are the three minimal requirements for life of any kind?
  • Requirement 1: A molecule that can store information (carbon)
  • Requirement 2: A medium in which chemicals can interact (liquid water)
  • Requirement 3: A diverse set of chemical elements
  • What is the best environment for life to exist?
  • Our place in the solar system: the circumstellar habitable zone
  • Our place in the galaxy: the galactic habitable zones
  • Our time in the universe’s history: the cosmic habitable age
  • Other habitability requirements (e.g. – metal-rich star, massive moon, etc.)
  • The orchestration needed to create a habitable planet
  • How different factors depend on one another through time
  • How tweaking one factor can adversely affect other factors
  • How many possible places are there in the universe where life could emerge?
  • Given these probabilistic resources, should we expect that there is life elsewhere?
  • How to calculate probabilities using the “Product Rule”
  • Can we infer that there is a Designer just because life is rare? Or do we need more?

The corelation between habitability and measurability.

  • Are the habitable places in the universe also the best places to do science?
  • Do the factors that make Earth habitable also make it good for doing science?
  • Some places and times in the history of the universe are more habitable than others
  • Those exact places and times also allow us to make scientific discoveries
  • Observing solar eclipses and structure of our star, the Sun
  • Observing stars and galaxies
  • Observing the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Observing the acceleration of the universe caused by dark matter and energy
  • Observing the abundances of light elements like helium of hydrogen
  • These observations support the big bang and fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence
  • It is exactly like placing observatories on the tops of mountains
  • There are observers existing in the best places to observe things
  • This is EXACTLY how the universe has been designed for making scientific discoveries

This lecture was delivered by Guillermo Gonzalez in 2007 at the University of California at Davis.