Confession time: when this movie first came out, I thought “ok, Ben Stein’s widely considered smart, or at least ‘television smart,’ he must have really ripped creationism a new one, right?” To make a hollow laughing. His thesis was that it was
creationism “intelligent design” that had been kept out of schools. Now, as Phil Plait notes over at Bad Astronomy, it’s not like the movie wen’t anywhere, so it’s hardly a major part of the public discourse on the subject. However, Stein (rather childishly; showing someone getting made up to go on camera is like laughing at people for being naked under their clothes) does rehash some familiar arguments that I will never get tired of obliterating.
Let’s start with the probability argument. The collective mutations required to produce George W. Bush from unicellular protozoa are so unlikely that we may as well consider them impossible. This is looking at the problem the wrong way. There are 3954242643911240000000 possible bridge hands (I think, my abacus dropped a bead). At 1 a second, it would take you a bit over 125 trillion years to inspect all of them (and at $1 a year, you’d earn enough to bail out GM 5,000 times). Since you don’t have 125 trillion years, it follows that you can’t inspect every possible bridge hand, and the odds of you encountering any particular one are, well, roughly one in 1 in 4 sextillion. We may as well consider that impossible, thus bridge is impossible. This won’t get much argument from anyone who’s actually read the rules of bridge, I suppose, but look at it this way: my gradfather plays bridge, so if bridge is impossible, my grandfather doesn’t exist, therefore I don’t exist, therefore I didn’t post this, therefore you’re not reading it. Doesn’t that just blow your fucking mind?
Ahem. The a priori probability of human life (or bridge) may be small, but the a priori probability isn’t relevant. The question isn’t “how will these protozoa develop?” but “how did contemporary biodiversity develop?” The unlikelihood of evolution leading to us proves we don’t exist, not that we didn’t evolve.
Another ID argument asserts that life can’t come from non-life. That’s not what I learned in 6th-grade biology. In fact, it’s somewhat circular: life can’t come from non-life, therefore life didn’t evolve from lifelessness. Now, the counterargument is also circular, except that it’s been observed.
I can almost hear the discussion about this: the IDer says “life can’t possibly arrive from inorganic matter.” The science-ortented response if “actually, it can, and it’s been simulated by scientists.” “Yes, but they had to zap it with x-rays from a huge machine.”
But that’s moving the goalposts. Now that we know it can be done, figuring out how is that much simpler.