Hoyle’s Fallacy

ImageLast summer my husband and I attended a birthday party of a good friend.  This friend is a high school science teacher and an outspoken environmentalist, so per normal we were not only treated to the pleasure of his and his wife’s company, but an assortment of other intelligent and interesting people as well.  During the festivities, I had the rare and exhilarating chance to engage in a spirited debate with two very intelligent gentleman, one of whom is an atheist and the other a theist.  Several topics came up, but my favorite was when the conversation turned to the possibility of a creator and that our universe was made deliberately instead of by chance.  It was bound to happen at some point… and so it did.

A year later, I remember the conversation not only because of how enjoyable it was to listen to these two engage, but because the theist introduced me to someone and something I’d never heard of before:  Sir Fred Hoyle, British astronomer… and his idea that has come to be known as “Hoyle’s Fallacy”.  Who Hoyle was I’ve discovered on my own after that evening, and I’ve found that he was a very interesting dichotomy among scientists.  “Hoyle’s Fallacy” specifically is the idea that, “The chance that higher life forms [such as us] might have emerged in this way [through the evolutionary process] is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.”  In other words, the chance that we, and everything else, are here as we are through no intentional design is about as probable as tornado being able to assemble an airplane using scraps from a junkyard.

It threw me when I thought about it, and as far as I remember, ended the conversation.  If my atheist friend had anything to say to refute it, it does not stick out as prominently.  For the next few months I tried off and on to prove or disprove the example in my mind through casual research.  I attempted to read Richard Dawkins’ explanation, but found it was not spelled out very simply and it was hard to formulate a simple answer from the extensive information he presents.  It’s humbling to discover you are not as smart or as clever as you think you are.  Searching the internet randomly also did me no good in terms of finding a simple answer. I wanted something I could present that would stick with people when faced with the example.  Preferably something that would resonate with them the way “Hoyle’s Fallacy” originally resonated with me.  Something anyone could understand.  I like to think of myself as objective, with no bias and having no agenda other than finding what reality is.  As a result of this, I was beginning to think that because the answer wasn’t simple, that maybe there could be some truth the hypothesis.

Then one day I was commenting on a friend’s Facebook thread regarding faith and someone made mention of Hoyle’s Fallacy as a reason to have faith.  I watched to see if anyone would present anything to the contrary.  After awhile a mutual friend did indeed and I had my Aha! moment.  I asked him privately to elaborate and this is what he had to share with me:

“What I meant was, first, that I’m not familiar with Dawkins’ argument. I actually don’t know a lot about Dawkins, except that he’s an atheist. With regard to the metaphor though, if I understand it correctly, it’s used to disprove evolution. The problem is that it doesn’t make logical sense.  A tornado is the complete opposite of billions of years.  One is really fast and the other longer than most people can wrap their minds around. Also, the steps of a plane being built during a tornado serve no purpose, unlike evolutionary steps.  As you and I know, each evolutionary step is the result of one mutation out of an unfathomably large number that provides an advantage and allows the species with that mutation to procreate more successfully.  Each step in the plane being constructed during a tornado is nothing like that. The steps of the plane being built are not in competition with previous pieces.  The whole thing is hard to even talk because it doesn’t apply at all.”

There it was!  The simple answer.  At least for me.  A violently rotating convergence of warm and cool air sweeping momentarily over anything has no deliberateness.  There is no purpose to it.  There is no chance for change or growth.  It’s one single action being compared to a series of slow, purposeful actions taking place over a very long span of time.  You can’t take a puzzle out of a box, throw it in the air and have it land together because there is no physical way for it join together in such a fleeting, violent process.  However, you can start with one piece, and then add another, and then another until, through a long process of trial and error, each piece fits to complete the whole.  As my friend stated “A tornado is the complete opposite of a billion years.” because the key ingredient for evolution to happen is TIME!!!  As well, the reason evolution happens is that it, as stated above, “… provides an advantage and allows the species with that mutation to procreate more successfully.”  What would be the reason for a tornado to assemble a completed airplane?  And in addition, how is forming a completed airplane anything like evolution which has no end to it and no absolute completion?  One is an finite action… the other is a infinite process.  Life… whether it be human, animal, insect, plant, single cell, ect… will never be done evolving. The fact that it is not an accident that you and I are here as we exist, does not mean we were created by anything more deliberate than the slow convergence of the right cosmic formula.