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In order to understand Darwinian evolution, every high school student must know the basic arithmetic involved. The following example illustrates the mathematical explanation of Darwinian evolution by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, page 121).

The Example

The improbability of the result of the simultaneous flip of a coin, the roll of a die and the random selection of a card from a deck is 99.84%, i.e. 1 – (0.5 x 0.166 x 0.0185). Sequentially flipping a coin, rolling a die and randomly selecting a card breaks up the improbability of 99.84% into three smaller pieces, namely, 50%, which is 1 – 0.5; 83.33%, which is 1 – 0.166 and 98.08%, which is 1 – 0.0185. This is how natural selection works.

The Explanation

“(N)atural selection is a cumulative process which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so. When large numbers of these slightly improbable events are stacked up in series, the end product is very very improbable indeed, improbable enough to be far beyond the reach of chance. It is these end products that form the subjects of the creationist’s wearisomely recycled argument. The creationist completely misses the point, because he (women should once not mind being excluded by the pronoun) insists on treating the genesis of statistical improbability as a single, one-off event. He doesn’t understand the power of accumulation.”

Dawkins illustrated this with his own numerical example of three mutation sites of six mutations each. Taking random mutation as a one-off event affecting all three sites simultaneously, the improbability of the outcome is 99.54% for one random mutation, i.e. 1 – (1/216). Subjecting each site individually to random mutation, the improbability of each of the three stages is 83.33%, i.e. 1 – (1/6), for one random mutation in each sub-stage. In biological evolution a sub-stage is terminated by natural selection. Thereby, natural selection breaks the improbability of 99.54% into three smaller pieces each of which is 83.33%.

The creationist, would claim that there is no change in the improbability. The overall improbability of the series equals the improbability of the single one-off stage. The improbability would be 99.54% in both the single stage affecting all three sites and in the series of three sub-stages, each affecting only one site. The creationist mistakenly thinks that the probabilities of a series multiply, thereby yielding the same improbability for the one-off event and for the series. The creationist doesn’t understand the power of accumulation, which applied to a single, one-off event, breaks up the improbability into smaller pieces of improbability.

Coordinately, the power of accumulation must break up the small piece of probability of the single, one-off event into three larger pieces of probability forming the series. The small piece of probability of the single, one-off event is 0.46%, i.e. 1/216, while each of the three larger pieces of probability, into which the small piece is broken, is 16.67%, i.e. 1/6.

According to Dawkins, the creationist thinks the probability of the single, one-off event is equal to the product, not the sum, of a sub-series of probabilities. Thereby, according to Dawkins, the creationist is oblivious to the power of accumulation, i.e. to the power of addition in arithmetic.

Evaluation

In fact it is Dawkins who has the arithmetic wrong. The probabilities of a series are the factors, whose multiplication product is the overall probability of the series. The overall probability of a series is not the sum of the probabilities of a series, nor is the overall improbability of a series the sum of the improbabilities of the series. The overall improbability is not broken up into smaller pieces, which are united by accumulation, i.e. by summation. Neither is the overall probability broken up into larger pieces, which are united by accumulation, i.e. by summation.

Dawkins’ confusion of the arithmetical operations of addition and multiplication, leads him to the false belief that sub-staging in Darwinian evolution increases the probability of evolutionary success. It also blinds Dawkins to what natural selection truly accomplishes through sub-stages. Through sub-staging, natural selection increases the efficiency of random mutation.

In the case of one random mutation per sub-stage the probability of evolutionary success per sub-stage is 16.67%. Overall the probability of success is 0.46%, while the total number of mutations for the three stages is three. To achieve this same probability of success, i.e. 0.46%, the single stage requires only one mutation. At the 0.46% level of success, the single stage is more efficient in the number of mutations by a factor of three. However, at higher levels of evolutionary success, this quickly changes, resulting in greater mutational efficiency for the series of sub-stages.

At two random mutations per sub-stage for a total of six, the probability of success overall is 2.85%, while for that level of success, the single stage also requires six mutations by rounding down from a calculated 6.23 mutations. At three random mutations per sub-stage for a total of nine, the probability of success overall is 7.48%, while for that level of success, the single stage requires sixteen random mutations by rounding down from a calculated 16.75 mutations.

Mutational efficiency in favor of sub-stages increases the higher the level of evolutionary success. Eighteen random mutations per sub-stage for a total of fifty-four random mutations, yield an overall probability of evolutionary success of 89.15%. To achieve the 89.15% level of probability of success, the single, one-off stage requires 478 random mutations.

For levels of 0.46%, 2.85%, 7.48% and 89.15% of the probability of Darwinian evolutionary success, the efficiency factor for random mutations in favor of the series of sub-stages goes from less than one, namely 1/3, to 6/6 to 16/9 to 478/54. That last ratio is an efficiency factor of 8.85.

By confusing multiplication and addition, Dawkins fails to understand the role of sub-stages in Darwinian evolution. Sub-staging has no effect on the probability of evolutionary success. Rather, it increases the efficiency of random mutation in Darwinian evolution.

Note

The probability, P, of Darwinian evolutionary success for a stage of random mutation and natural selection is a function of n, the total number of different mutations defined by a stage, and of x, the number of random mutations occurring in that stage. P = 1 – ((n – 1)/n)^x. The probability of a series is the product of the probabilities of the stages in the series.

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