In their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, two prominent scientists John Barrow and Frank Tippler lay out ten steps that non-theistic evolutionary process would need to have gone through in order to bring about modern man.
It is important to distinguish between non-theistic, naturalistic evolution and theistic evolution. The former is that embraced by atheists who state that evolution is merely a chance sequence of biological mutation and development, thus has nothing to do with a supernatural mind overseeing the process or initiating it. The latter, namely theistic evolution, is typically the view that the evolutionary sequence is in some way connected to God, whether or not God oversaw the process or simply initiated it.
On non-theistic, naturalistic evolution, Barrow and Tippler’s calculations suggested that each of the steps involved are so improbable that before one could even possibly occur the sun would have ceased to exist and in the process obliterate Earth. The number that Barrow and Tippler calculated for atheistic, non-theistic evolution to have produced human beings purely by chance alone fell between the values of: 4^-180^110 000 and 4^-380^110 000 (1).
By all accounts this is an extraordinarily large number if one was, for instance, to consider it in hindsight of the number of electron particles in the known universe (10^87) or the number of observable stars (10^24). Or even if one were to simply consider the enormous number of connections between the neurons within our brains which is 10^15 (1 quadrillion or 1,000,000,000,000,000). Evidently, these are very large numbers and they nowhere come close to Barrow and Tippler’s calculation.
As such, many have used this figure as a sign of their doubt for atheistic, non-theistic evolution to produce human beings. They argue that in hindsight of such improbabilities that it would stretch personal incredulity, kind of like it would stretch one’s credulity to believe that chance alone would be involved if they won the lottery 5000 times in a row. It would also seem to pose a strong challenge to atheism, a point not lost on philosopher Alvin Plantinga:
“For the naturalist evolution is the only game in town. No matter how fantastic the odds, no matter how improbable, it’s got to be true” (2).
It would, at the very least, seem to take the wind out of atheism’s sails for it is a widely known fact that atheists, popular and lay alike, have used Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as evidence against God’s existence or at least to show that God is an unnecessary explanation the more humanity learns about the universe through the tool that is science.
One might wonder concerning the calculations themselves, namely, how Barrow and Tippler went about them. Although their effort to apply calculus to evolutionary theory s fascinating, the accuracy of their result might not even matter for scientists already know that evolution’s producing of human beings and other biological life was immensely improbable. William Lane Craig says similarly when he concluded that evolution is not,
“a good argument for atheism, quite the contrary, I think it provides grounds for thinking that God superintended the process of biological development” (3).
1. Barrow, J. & Tippler, F. 1988. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. p. 566.
2. The Craig-Pigliucci Debate: Does God Exist? Available.
3. Craig, W. 2009. Does God Exist? William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens. Available