Two planets with life are more miraculous than one

The Sensuous Curmudgeon, who presently cannot post to his weblog, comments:

This Discoveroid article is amazing. Could Atheism Survive the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life?. I wish I could make a new post about it. They say that if life is found elsewhere, that too is a miracle, so then you gotta believe in the intelligent designer. They say:

“The probability of life spontaneously self-assembling anywhere in this universe is mind-staggeringly unlikely; essentially zero. If you are so unquestioningly naïve as to believe we just got incredibly lucky, then bless your soul.”

Actually, “they” who posted at Evolution News and Views is someone we all love dearly, and see occasionally in the Zone — that master of arguments from improbability, Kirk Durston.

120 thoughts on “Two planets with life are more miraculous than one

  1. “The probability of life spontaneously self-assembling anywhere in this universe is mind-staggeringly unlikely; essentially zero. If you are so unquestioningly naïve as to believe we just got incredibly lucky, then bless your soul.

    If we were to discover extraterrestrial life, however, then we would have had to get mind-staggeringly lucky two times!”

    Or whoever calculated the probability was wrong.

  2. And three are even worse. And four is so amazing there must be more than one God.

    I wonder, how many times must life arise before life is high probability, rather than low probability?

  3. If the universe is designed for us, why is it not an infinite plane of earth-like terrain?

  4. Rumraket: I wonder, how many times must life arise before life is high probability, rather than low probability?

    The Laws of Physics tell us that life is low in probability, so divine awesomeness is exponentially increasing in the number of occurrences of life (assuming independence, of course).

  5. I’ll admit that when I saw that Durston post, I chose to not waste my time reading it.

    The plain facts are:

    (1) we don’t really know it is the probability of life forming;
    (2) if we find another planet with life, we will see that as evidence that natural formation of life is more probable than we had previously thought.

  6. Neil Rickert: I’ll admit that when I saw that Durston post, I chose to not waste my time reading it.

    You and I do not take the likes of Durston seriously. Neither does the Sensuous Curmudgeon. However, while we are passively unserious, he is actively unserious.

  7. Meanwhile David Klinghoffer argues that a lack of extraterrestrial life is evidence for a designer. Heads I win, tails you lose.

  8. GlenDavidson: When the model doesn’t fit reality, it’s a miracle!

    Tom English: When the model denies that a miracle is a miracle, it doesn’t fit reality.

    Oops. If a model denies that a miracle is a miracle, then the modeler must have designed the model.

  9. Neil Rickert: (2) if we find another planet with life, we will see that as evidence that natural formation of life is more probable than we had previously thought.

    Without any good reason whatsoever for thinking so. And yet IDers are the one who get mocked.

  10. If life were “baked in” to the universe from the beginning how on earth is that an argument against intelligent design?

  11. Mung:
    If life were “baked in” to the universe from the beginning how on earth is that an argument against intelligent design?

    It would decrease the likelihood that an intelligent designer had to intervene in the physical universe in order to get life from non-life. But it might be taken as strengthening the argument that the universe as a whole was intelligently designed, aka the fine-tuning problem.

  12. Mung:
    If life were “baked in” to the universe from the beginning how on earth is that an argument against intelligent design?

    I think you’re confused. It’s not that the existence of life is an argument against intelligent design, rather it’s that some ID proponents are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

    If life is rare, this is taken to mean it is very unlikely, and if it’s very unlikely, perhaps it’s so unlikely it requires divine intervention of some sort.

    Yet at the same time, they’ll also say that, if life is likely, this must mean the universe itself was deliberately set up by an intelligent designer, so that life would come to exist in many places.

    So they’ve really made the whole idea of ID unfalsifiable. No matter what we see, it’s being somehow squared to indicate design. If life is unlikely, this means ID. If life is highly probable, this also means ID. Well that’s just cute.

  13. Rumraket,

    How have materialists not done the same thing?

    What explanation confirms materialism, many planets with life, a few planets with life, or only one planet with life? Please chose one.

  14. Kantian Naturalist: It would decrease the likelihood that an intelligent designer had to intervene in the physical universe in order to get life from non-life.

    Too many people here think they are fighting Creationists! 🙂

    But I agree with the sentiments you expressed. Ubiquitous life would challenge certain closely held beliefs in some sects. However, it says little about intelligent design itself, or whether “natural processes” are responsible.

  15. phoodoo:

    What explanation confirms materialism, many planets with life, a few planets with life, or only one planet with life?Please chose one.

    None of those options would have any bearing on the truth or falsehood of materialism, just as none of them has any bearing on the truth or falsehood of intelligent design. If there’s a designer, he could have designed life on one planet or many. If life arose and diversified through natural processes, it could have happened on one planet or many (Neil Rickert is right that we don’t know the probability). The problem is that Kirk Durston doesn’t display any evidence of understanding how science works. If an observation confirms your hypothesis no matter how it comes out, then it wasn’t really testing your hypothesis in the first place. Kirk Dunston hasn’t internalized this idea, and neither has David Klinghoffer:

    …if it were to turn out that the galaxy really does brim with life, wouldn’t that at least be highly suggestive of some intelligence, some designer, having seeded it there? Of course if life exists on our planet alone, that’s also a problem for materialists.

  16. phoodoo: How have materialists not done the same thing?

    Bingo. Rare life. Chance didit. Ubiquitous life. Natural Law didit. Just not God.

  17. FierceRoller: Neil Rickert is right that we don’t know the probability

    Then how does Neil know that “if we find another planet with life, we will see that as evidence that natural formation of life is more probable than we had previously thought”? All of a sudden he knows the probabilities? Not.

  18. Kantian Naturalist: It would decrease the likelihood that an intelligent designer had to intervene in the physical universe in order to get life from non-life. But it might be taken as strengthening the argument that the universe as a whole was intelligently designed, aka the fine-tuning problem.

    Durston is talking objective probability. I think you’ve just switched to subjective (epistemic) probability.

    Switching from active unseriousness to lethargic seriousness for just a moment… We cannot attribute chances to properties of the universe (perhaps multiverse). Durston has neglected to frame a process. He’s not attributing chances to events that might occur in a process or to propositions that might hold for a process. It seems to me that he’s incoherently assigning a chance to the “has life” property of the universe.

  19. Tom English: It seems to me that he’s incoherently assigning a chance to the “has life” property of the universe.

    And you may be entirely correct. But how do we decide?

    I’m an atheist, therefore Kirk Durston is wrong, doesn’t seem all that compelling. 🙂

    [Not that I am calling you (personally) an atheist, Tom.]

  20. Mung: Then how does Neil know that “if we find another planet with life, we will see that as evidence that natural formation of life is more probable than we had previously thought”?

    I’m just describing our normal behavior. Events that occur more often are seen as more probable than events that occur less often. We might still not be able to put an actual number on the probability. We might not even be able to define what we are talking about with sufficient precision to conclude that there should be an actual number. But if something occurs more often than we had expected, we will take that as evidence that the probability is higher than we had previously thought.

  21. phoodoo: What explanation confirms materialism, many planets with life, a few planets with life, or only one planet with life? Please chose one.

    I know of no Materialists who believe that life only exists on Earth. That is a statement of exceptionalism which is only found in the Creationist camp.

    Mung: However, it says little about intelligent design itself, or whether “natural processes” are responsible.

    ID is another matter. Because it makes no positive statement about the designer or his/her design, it is perfectly framed to simultaneously explain everything and nothing.

  22. RoyLT: ID is another matter. Because it makes no positive statement about the designer or his/her design, it is perfectly framed to simultaneously explain everything and nothing.

    So?

  23. Neil Rickert: But if something occurs more often than we had expected, we will take that as evidence that the probability is higher than we had previously thought.

    Expectation itself is probabilistic, so you’re just talking in circles. Like I said, you’ve got not valid reason for your earlier statement. It’s just a statement of atheist/materialist faith.

  24. Mung: Expectation itself is probabilistic, so you’re just talking in circles

    Prior probabilities (expectation value) are adjusted based on new statistical data as it becomes available… how is that talking in circles?

  25. Mung: Then how does Neil know that “if we find another planet with life, we will see that as evidence that natural formation of life is more probable than we had previously thought”? All of a sudden he knows the probabilities? Not.

    I didn’t say I agreed with that part. He’s right if materialism is right (which I think it is), but it won’t say anything about whether or not materialism is right.

  26. Tom English: It seems to me that he’s incoherently assigning a chance to the “has life” property of the universe.

    Mung: And you may be entirely correct. But how do we decide?

    I was taking advantage of an opportunity to raise a point that I believe is generally important. I don’t believe it’s the most important point to make about Durston’s post. What I thought was most important was what I put in the headline.

    I will note that Durston’s paradigm seems to be to pick out some particular something present in all known forms of life, to treat that something as requisite for life, and to bound the probability of it occurring “by chance.” What comes next is not a claim about that one thing, but instead, say, “If the probability of cytochrome-C arising by chance is at most 10^-1000, then the probability of life arising by undirected, chance processes must be much smaller.” The antecedent is an assignment of chance to an event that possibly occurs in a particular process, but the consequent is a statement about life arising by any process whatsoever. I don’t know how to make sense of the consequent, other than to take it as an attribution of chance to a property of the universe. I’m entirely open to the possibility that I’ve missed something.

  27. phoodoo:
    Rumraket,

    How have materialists not done the same thing?

    What explanation confirms materialism, many planets with life, a few planets with life, or only one planet with life?Please chose one.

    None of the above.

  28. Mung: However, it says little about intelligent design itself, or whether “natural processes” are responsible.

    What would ,mung? How do you diferentiate between a natural process and a divinely inspired natural process? Does it matter?

  29. Tom English: was taking advantage of an opportunity to raise a point that I believe is generally important. I don’t believe it’s the most important point to make about Durston’s post. What I thought was most important was what I put in the headline.

    How many miracles does it take to stop considering them miracles and start thinking them as laws of nature?

  30. RoyLT: Prior probabilities (expectation value) are adjusted based on new statistical data as it becomes available… how is that talking in circles?

    You’re a smart guy. Think about it. If we find life on another planet should that affect our priors?

  31. newton: How do you diferentiate between a natural process and a divinely inspired natural process? Does it matter?

    Does it matter to science? Does it matter to atheists/materialists? I say you have no way of making such a distinction other than by fiat. I’ve said that for years here at TSZ.

    What is the scientific method for excluding divine action? There isn’t one, there never has been one, and there never will be one.

    Why is that such a stumbling block for atheists/materialists? They ought to embrace it.

  32. newton: How many miracles does it take to stop considering them miracles and start thinking them as laws of nature?

    Yes, the laws themselves are indistinguishable from magic and miracle. Learn to deal with it.

  33. Mung: If we find life on another planet should that affect our priors?

    It doesn’t affect our priors at all. Updating yields a posterior distribution. Perhaps you mean to ask the question that everyone does: how do we come by prior distributions?

  34. Mung: Expectation itself is probabilistic, …

    WTF

    The expression “we had expected” is not referring to the mathematical “expectation” from probability theory.

  35. Neil Rickert: The expression “we had expected” is not referring to the mathematical “expectation” from probability theory.

    So? My point was that your post had no foundation in anything other than your own subjective wishful thinking. #KeepTheFaith

  36. Mung: I say you have no way of making such a distinction

    Neither do you. The difference is that we don’t pretend to know when we don’t

    Mung: What is the scientific method for excluding divine action?

    What is the scientific method for including divine action?

  37. Mung: Does it matter to science? Does it matter to atheists/materialists? I say you have no way of making such a distinction other than by fiat. I’ve said that for years here at TSZ.

    What is the scientific method for excluding divine action? There isn’t one, there never has been one, and there never will be one.

    Why is that such a stumbling block for atheists/materialists? They ought to embrace it.

    I would say it’s a matter of utility. In principle, there is absolutely nothing that conclusively demonstrates either the existence or the absence of an omnipotent but otherwise indetectable god. But in practice, understanding processes well enough to make verifiable predictions is the root of technology.

    In other words, so long as your god behaves exactly the same way or close enough under exactly the same circumstances or close enough without ANY exceptions, he can be factored out without any loss of relevant context.

    In this model, the materialist is one who recognizes that such a deity contributes nothing useful, whether or not it exists.

  38. Mung: You’re a smart guy.

    Considering the source, I am not particularly flattered.

    Mung: If we find life on another planet should that affect our priors?

    We currently know of 1 planet with confirmed life out of a handful that we can convincingly survey in our solar system. Attempting to make an estimate of the probability of finding life on another planet requires an estimate of a prior. If we discover life on another planet, we will have 2 known planets with life. The next time we estimate the probability of finding life on another planet, we will be starting with a different prior.

    Mung: Expectation itself is probabilistic, so you’re just talking in circles.

    How is that talking in circles?

  39. Flint: the materialist is one who recognizes that such a deity contributes nothing useful

    To paraphrase Laplace, we have no use for such an assumption.
    It’s up to the Mungs of the world to show what assuming a deity does to help explain anything scientifically. But it’s much easier to attempt to shift the burden of proof and keep spouting the same fallacious crap

  40. Mung: newton: How do you diferentiate between a natural process and a divinely inspired natural process? Does it matter?

    Does it matter to science?

    Not until the causal chain requires a supernatural action

    Does it matter to atheists/materialists?

    Mechanically or philosophically?

    I say you have no way of making such a distinction other than by fiat. I’ve said that for years here at TSZ.

    Not sure, first it require knowing which one we have now.

    What is the scientific method for excluding divine action?

    Depends if the divine is limited in the range of actions and we could determine that range.

    There isn’t one, there never has been one, and there never will be one.

    You are assuming something about the divine by fiat, we do not know the divine is omnipotent.

    Why is that such a stumbling block for atheists/materialists? They ought to embrace it.

    Why do some theists seem so preoccupied with atheists/ materialists?

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