Roy Spencer was called to give evidence before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. The hearing was itself was called Climate Change: It’s happening now. Personally I think that Roy Spencer is entirely unsuitable for giving evidence before such a committee. The reason I think so is that he has supposedly signed the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming. You can read the declaration yourself, but I’ll highlight one of the things the signatories deny
We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.
So, this appears to be suggesting that man cannot be influencing our climate in any significant way and hence suggests, to me at least, that Roy Spencer has already made up his mind about the significance of anthropogenic global warming. How he could be regarded as open-minded and unbiased is beyond me.
However, what I thought I would comment on here were his views on creation versus evolution. I’ve listened to most of Roy’s testimony, but should acknowledge that I got what he said about creation from a comment made by Bill on HotWhopper’s recent post Roy Spencer the half-truther and Roger Pielke Jr the global warming advocate. Senator Whitehouse asked Roy Spencer
And do you still believe that the Theory of Creation actually has a much better scientific basis than the Theory of Evolution, to be specific?
to which Roy Spencer replied
I think, I think I could be put into a debate with someone on the other side and I think I could give more science supporting that life is created than they could support, with evidence, that life evolved through natural random processes, so yes.
I think this reflects very poorly on Roy Spencer’s scientific credibility. I have no problem with people believing almost anything they like. However, for a professional scientist to claim – in front of a US senate committee – that they could find more evidence to support the idea that life was created than formed via natural selection (at least I assume he means natural selection) is absolutely amazing. As far as I’m aware there is an immense amount of evidence in support of evolution via natural selection and virtually no evidence in support of life being created.
Prior to this, Roy Spencer expanded on his view by saying
I mean there’s a lot of work out there that’s shown that you can not statistically combine all of the elements that are contained in the DNA molecule by chance over however many billions of years you want to invoke or how many, how much known universe there is with all of the matter in it.
It appears that he is saying that the probability that a complex biological system could form via chance is vanishingly small and hence suggests that it must have had some kind of designer. The problem with this argument is that the probability calculation is done the wrong way around. I’m no expert at probabilities or at evolutionary biology, so may not explain this quite correctly, but I believe the idea is something like this.
Although it may be true that the chance that a particular complex biological system will have formed is small, what you really need to know is what is the chance that any kind of complex biological system could have formed? Life is thought to have first formed on Earth about 3 billion years ago. If there was enough potential variation in how this first life could “evolve” then the chance that it could become more and more complex is quite high, even if one can not actually predict precisely what type of complexity will evolve.
An analogy might be to consider the chance of winning the EuroMillions. I looked this up and the chance of winning the top prize in the EuroMillions is 1 in 116 million. One could then argue that this is so small that noone should ever win. However, if enough people take a ticket then it becomes quite likely that someone will win. It wouldn’t be possible to actually predict who that person will be, but determining the probability that someone will win is quite straightforward. In fact there are many things that happen all the time and that one could argue were highly unlikely. If you are willing to go back enough generations it becomes highly unlikely that any of us would ever have been born or be the people that we are today. However, we’re simply one realisation of an almost infinite number of possible realisations. Similarly, the biological complexity we see today is simply one realisation of what was presumably a very large number of possible realisations, fine-tuned by natural selection.
So I believe that is the basic reason why the probabilistic argument in favour of Intelligent Design is wrong. It may be true that a specific complex biological form is highly unlikely, but if there is sufficient opportunities for complexity, then it becomes likely that biological complexity will arise. What we find today are simply those complex life forms that happen to be the ones that survived. That Roy Spencer doesn’t appear to appreciate this basic subtlety does not reflect well – in my opinion – on his scientific abilities. However, given that I’m neither an expert on probability theory or on evolutionary biology, I’m happy to be corrected by those who are.