Member Rara Avis
You can’t use cause and effect on the golf tournament to predict anything, you can use probability and statistical analysis to make an informed guess but you can’t ‘entirely predict’ that Tiger Woods will win a golf tournament.
Probability has little to do with non-random events, though statistical measure would certainly be useful. Effectively, you're saying we can't "entirely predict" the weather, either, because we can't be 100 percent right. Yet, we do predict the weather. Neither a golf tournament nor the weather is the result of randomness. We may not fully understand the relationships between cause and effect, but we understand them well enough to make predictions that defy simple probabilities.
Genetic mutation, as I said earlier is random – although not utterly random – the results are only permissible within broad, but nevertheless restricting boundaries even before cumulative selection starts its job.
There are always restrictions to randomness, if only those imposed by physical laws. That doesn't necessarily mean that the flip of a coin isn't still utterly random.
Essentially, it sounds like we are in agreement that mutation is random. You just haven't followed that through to its logical and necessary conclusion.
Returning to our now legendary golf tournament, let's simplify it a bit and make it a little closer to mutation dynamics. Let's say they can't hit the ball any more, because we need to eliminate direct cause and effect, along with all skill and intent. They tee up and then wait for some random effect to move the ball. It might be the weather, a passing bird (a really big one, I guess), or an earthquake. Whatever. Now let's throw in a little natural selection. If the ball randomly moves away from the next hole, the golfer gets to tee up again. If the ball randomly moves toward the next hole, the golfer moves his tee to the new position. In this way, the ball is always moving towards a goal, even in the face of randomness. Sound fair, so far?
Now, tell me who is going to win.
When the entire game rests on a foundation of randomness, there is no way to predict anything. Even adding natural selection into the mix, the most we've accomplished is to vary the distribution of golf balls (there's going to be a LOT of abandoned balls behind the golfers). We can't predict who is going to win, we can't predict who is going to finish, we can't predict how long it will take to move a ball from A to B, we can't predict ANYTHING at all. Multiply fifteen billion years of existence by zero and the result will always be zero. Multiply infinity by randomness and the result will still be randomness. The foundation determines the structure.
This would technically allow the calculation of the probability of a mutation happening but the biology and math involved is beyond my humble ability.
And my point is that the math is intrinsically beyond anyone's ability. In our imagined golf tournament, any one ball can randomly move only within a 360 degree arc. It can't go up, it can't go down, and it can't move sideways into a parallel universe. The math would get dicey, but we could conceivably determine there was, say, a ninety percent chance any random storm would move the ball away from the green and therefore a ten percent chance it would move it toward the green. That's only a start, of course, but ten percent of 360 degrees is at least computable.
Okay, so how much is ten percent of infinity?
I don't know, either. However, when I look around at the complexity of life, and especially at what appears to be irreducible complexity, I get this gut feeling that it's going to a whole lot longer than just fifteen billion years.
The age of the universe is vast compared with human life spans, but it is comparitively tiny in calculations involving infinite quantities. Maybe we really did just "get lucky" in all the amazing coincidences leading up to the advent of life, and maybe we have remained incredibly fortunate in the events since the advent. It's hard to believe, but I'm always willing to suspend disbelief for a time. Maybe it's all down to luck.
I just don't find that very darn useful, either scientifically or personally.