Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What is the probability of life in the physical universe?

I’ll be giving a “Disbelief Discourse” to the Oklahoma Atheists and the Channing Unitarians on Tuesday, November 16, at 7:30 PM.
Channing Unitarian Universalist Church
2800 West 15th Street
Edmond OK 73012
The event is open to the public.

What Is the Probability of Life in the Physical Universe?

The question posed in the title has no objective answer, and creationists avoid confronting it directly. They instead give mathematically dandified arguments that particular features of life are objectively so unlikely to have arisen by natural processes that they must reflect supernatural intervention. Their conclusions imply that life is physically improbable, and thus their claims of objectivity are false. This simple rebuttal may seem unsatisfying to laypeople who believe incorrectly that scientists use math to prove the properties of nature. Consequently, the presentation will begin with an explanation of mathematical modeling in science.


Tom English flirted with creationism in his teens, and went so far as to deliver an anti-evolution talk to his biology classmates. What led him to abandon his naive beliefs about the truth and reconcilability of scripture and science, and to embrace methodological naturalism in scientific investigation, was a combination of studies in the Bible and the philosophy of science. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and English, respectively, at Mississippi College, and master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science at Mississippi State University, he began investigating evolution in computational processes. He independently proved what came to be known as the “no free lunch” theorem for optimization, and subsequently published six papers related to it. In empirical research, he obtained by computational evolution a predictor of annual sunspots activity that was far more accurate than any previously reported. Tom is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and has served as an associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation. His most recent scholarly publication, coauthored by Garry Greenwood, is “Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Computation,” Chapter 1 of Design by Evolution.

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