Eric Metaxas Babbles About Bicycle Locks

This was found at the website Christian Post, which describes itself as “the nation’s most comprehensive Christian news website”: Unlocking the Darwin Debate. It was written by Discovery Institute fellow traveler Eric Metaxas. You remember his column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, about which we wrote More Creationism in the Wall Street Journal.

Metaxas is at it again. Here are some excerpts from his latest, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

You know Darwinism has problems [Aaaargh!!], but how do you explain them to your friends and family? Well, look no further than a bicycle lock.

He doesn’t explain that “bicycle lock” reference until later on, so we’ll jump ahead and give you that now. Referring to the “digital code” in our DNA, he says:

Using an analogy from Dr. Meyers’ book, “Darwin’s Doubt,” … “The reason a bike lock works,” explains Meyer, “is that there are vastly more ways of arranging those numeric characters that will keep the lock closed than there are that will open the lock.” Most bicycle locks have four dials with ten digits. So for a thief to steal the bike, he would have to guess correctly from among 10,000 possible combinations. No easy task.

Then he cites Discoveroid Douglas Axe for the proposition that:

for a DNA sequence generating a short protein just 150 amino acids in length, for every 1 workable arrangement of amino acids, there are 10 to the 77th possible unworkable amino acid arrangements. Using the bicycle lock analogy, that’s a lock with 77 dials containing 10 digits. Thus … it is overwhelmingly unlikely that a random mutational search would produce even one new functional protein in the entire history of life on earth.

This is the old “The odds are against evolution,” argument, which we discuss in Common Creationist Claims Confuted. Let’s read on, this time going back to the article’s beginning:

It’s hard to imagine in this age of genetic engineering, but scientists in Darwin’s time saw life as quite simple. Cells were thought to be blobs of primitive chemicals called “protoplasm.” But as technology advanced and scientists were able to peer inside the cell, they discovered something amazing: Every living thing actually contains intricate, microscopic machines, performing functions without which life would not be possible.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — machines! [*End Drool Mode*] Metaxas continues:

The real breakthrough, came in 1953 when Watson and Crick uncovered the structure and function of DNA — the molecule that programs and regulates cells. It revolutionized our understanding of life. And it stretched Darwin’s theory to the breaking point.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Quite the opposite. Although DNA could have demonstrated that various species were utterly unrelated, and thus uniquely designed, instead it confirms common descent. Here’s more:

DNA is essentially a form of incredibly efficient digital code, uniquely suited for storing the blueprints of living things.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — digital code! [*End Drool Mode*] Moving along:

Of course, like digital code on a hard drive, DNA can be corrupted. The most recent iteration of Darwin’s theory claims that these corruptions — called mutations — are the engines of evolution.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s not a “recent iteration” of Darwin’s theory. Although he didn’t know about genetics, in Origin of Species, Chapter 2, Darwin wrote:

Again, we have many slight differences which may be called individual differences, such as are known frequently to appear in the offspring from the same parents, or which may be presumed to have thus arisen, from being frequently observed in the individuals of the same species inhabiting the same confined locality. No one supposes that all the individuals of the same species are cast in the very same mould. These individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford materials for natural selection to accumulate, in the same manner as man can accumulate in any given direction individual differences in his domesticated productions.

Okay, back to Metaxas:

But here’s the problem: We don’t have a single example of a mutation resulting in a net gain of information. Not one. [Aaaargh!!] As intelligent design theorists have pointed out, unguided, natural processes always degrade information — they never increase it. If life at its most fundamental level is a digital code, then mutations are glitches that, if they accumulate, will eventually kill the organism.

That’s so bad it’s not worth rebutting. Oh, all right — check out the TaklOrigins Index to Creationist Claims: Mutations are random noise; they do not add information. Evolution cannot cause an increase in information. On with the Metaxas article:

Information is at the heart of life, and our uniform and repeated experience tells us that matter, by itself, never produces information. The only known source capable of producing information is a mind.

They’re still babbling about the miraculous origin of “information” — whatever that is. See Phlogiston, Vitalism, and Information.

Then Metaxas talks about bicycle locks, after which he promotes Discoveroid videos and his own website. That’s the whole thing. All in all, a typical creationist performance.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Eric Metaxas Babbles About Bicycle Locks

  1. They speak in parables!

    I once heard a creationist do this with children’s blocks (numbered 1-10). He laboriously explained the odds involved in selecting the blocks out of a hat and getting any particular ten number sequence. When he concluded that the odds are very much against such a thing, I commented that if the selections occurred as fast as molecules collided with one another in the liquid state, the selected sequence would come up approximately one billion times per second. One’s parable can’t slow down events or change scale without some consequences.

    The real point is evolution does not happen randomly; there are non-random defined processes. But even if there were a significant element of chance, one has to make reasonable assessments of scale in both matter and time. Considering how fast chemicals interact and how much of these chemicals existed and that apparently billions of years were involved while life was limited to single cell organisms, the odds are actually quite good.

  2. Metaxas has a hoard of followers who watch for his name on the internet and who then show up to troll any blog that criticizes him. We’re ready.

  3. michaelfugate

    That’s so bad it’s not worth rebutting.

    Pretty much sums up ID.

  4. Using his bicycle lock analogy — let’s just say the only “locks” that can reproduce are those with the combination “9563”.

    So, we start out with two 9563s; a boy & a girl, who just happen to find each other. Well, naturally, it won’t be long before we have a whole flock of locks “9563”. Before long, the world will be overrun by 9563s!

    Then a random mutation occurs, and a 9562 appears. Turns out he can successfully mate with a 9563, and half the little kiddie locks are 9562s; half are 9563s. Then the 9562s start to preferentially reproduce with just other 9562s. Over time more mutations occur, and a new species of lock that can only reproduce within its own kind is formed. The locks have evolved, and just by natural processes.

    Such is life, Eric Metaxas.

  5. Evolution has two component processes: mutation and selection. The former can be (but is not required to be) random, but the latter is anything BUT random; the selection process (“survival of the adequate”) preferentially deselects inadequate mutations, leaving only the adequate ones to reproduce.

    Rinse, repeat for a few millions of years, and you have what we call evolution.

    The Creationoid argument from retrospective astonishment requires that we pretend the entire evolutionary process is entirely random; it isn’t. They have created a Straw Man version of evolution — one which bears little resemblance to the real thing — which they then set about to demolish. It is a fool’s errand.

  6. I use Yatzee as my analogy. If what I learned in math classes many years ago is correct, then rolling a Yatzee – five dice all to the same number, 5 for instance, on one roll – is 7776 to 1: five six sided dice, 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6. This is extremely unlikely. One could probably roll for many hours or days before getting one. But if you get one dice showing 5, get to keep it and roll the remaining four dice, keeping each of them that land showing a 5, and repeat the process, you will have all five showing 5 in short order.

    The Discovery Institute and other IDiots seem to be stuck on the idea that you have to roll a perfect Yatzee on the first and only roll to be valid.

    I think Richard Dawkins demonstrates something similar in The Blind Watchmaker, where in a computer randomly guesses each letter in a Shakespeare quote. Of course one will never get all the letters in the correct sequence on a single random “toss,” but if any random letter happens to be the correct one, and is kept in position, the quote is completed relatively quickly.

  7. One of the first things that one learns in studying cryptography is that the idea of the number of combinations that a cipher method produces is no indication of the security of the method.
    Just take as an example, there is the system called monoalphabetic substitution. Each letter is replaced by a different letter, uniformly throughout the whole message. So, A is replaced by any one of 25 letters, B by 24, and so on. The number of possibilities is 25! (factorial), about 1 x 10^25. That is seemingly impossible for a human to crack. Yet one can find those in many daily newpapers, along with crossword puzzles and other puzzles that many people can do for enjoyment.
    In the olden days, even the idea of encipherment and decipherment when knowing the method was looked upon with wonderment. But to crack an unknown cipher might bring suspicions of superhuman (demonic) intelligence.

  8. The redoubtable Eric Metaxas picks a particularly poor analogy to make his ‘point’:

    Most bicycle locks have four dials with ten digits. So for a thief to steal the bike, he would have to guess correctly from among 10,000 possible combinations. No easy task.

    In fact, it’s an extremely easy task–as the wonderful Richard Feynman discovered. See Feynman’s own account of his lock-picking prowess

  9. Intelligent design joke: Three creationists walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says: “Wow — what are the odds against that happening?”

  10. @The Curmudgeon: Unless there’s a Southern Baptist Convention convention in town. Oh, wait — they’re not supposed to drink drink.

  11. michaelfugate

    So the take home is – only God can open locks?

  12. “No easy task.”
    With the right instrument it’s pretty easy.
    Evolution has such an instrument as well. It’s called natural selection.
    Lovely, isn’t it, how their analogies work against them?

  13. Fascinating, how they manage to get everything wrong.

  14. There’s an interesting take on the “odds” argument in the graphic novel “Watchmen,” in which the superhuman Dr. Manhattan observes that the girl he is with (on Mars!) exists as the product of a huge number of improbable events. The girl responds that one could say that about anybody in the world. And that, replies the Doctor, is the point. The world depends on the improbable happening on a routine basis.

    In any event, neither the chemical processes leading to life nor the workings of natural selection are actually random. They obey laws of nature. If creationists want to claim God created those laws, so what? That still doesn’t prove He created the world in six days 6,000 years ago, or that evolution didn’t happen.

  15. Stephen Kennedy

    I have a briefcase with a combination lock of three dials with ten numbers each giving 1,000 possible combinations. I asked my wife to set the combination with three random numbers from 0 to 9 but not tell me what they were.

    By just systematically going through the possible combinations I had the briefcase open in less than an hour. A four dial bicycle lock would take a little longer but it is not an extraordinarily difficult thing to open in a reasonable amount of time.

  16. No bike thief would bother trying to find the combination to a lock, they would just cut it off.

  17. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik


    … and if you aren’t the type to carry cutters around, those locks are notoriously easy to brute force anyway. Simply pull the lock firmly apart as if you were opening it normally and spin the dial with the most tension on it until it clicks into place. Repeat for each dial until it’s open. I had to open one just last week for a friend who had forgotten the combination.

    I wonder, can The Designer make a lock so complex he cannot unlock it ?

  18. I caught this article last week on the Conservative News Service. Went round and round with one of the other commenters, Deesel, for a couple of days. He was all for the DI’s science, but when pressed fell back on his religious beliefs. Then he also started down absolute proof is required to accept evolution whereas his acceptance of the DI’s stuff was never held to any standard. Boiled down to an argument from incredulity with him. Quit commenting after a bunch of my comments, and others (not just anti-creationism) started disappearing.

  19. I find it funny that Creationist gets so locked into terminology when arguing in opposition to evolution, yet seem to use wildly varying terms when talking in support of their own ‘ideas’. For example ‘Random Mutation’ isn’t random, but that’s the argument they use. Yet calling ID a ‘theory’ somehow gives it instant scientific validity.

  20. ISTM that many of the creationist arguments are locked into battles of three centuries ago or so.
    The idea that things happen by random chance seems to be the old enemy of theism, Epicureanism, in the form of atoms making things by random collisions, as known from the poem “The Nature of Things” by Lucretius.
    The creationists are not very (ahem) creative. Except when they are quote mining.