The Cold Equations

"God does not play dice with the universe"
Albert Einstein
I find it astonishing in this day and age that the whole business of "should Creationism be taught in schools?" is even discussed. It's not an issue of religious freedom - people should free to believe in whatever they like however stupid it is. It's an issue of whether what should be taught in schools should make fucking sense.

By all means teach people about religion in schools (some people believe this whilst other people believe that and sometimes people kill other people for not agreeing with them) but anything about the way the universe actually works should be based on facts or at least as close to facts as are currently available. When something is unknown that too should be made clear.

But, argue the Creationists, Evolution's just a theory too, goldarnit!

No. No it isn't. It's just logic. To be honest I don't even think it should be dignified with the epithet "theory". After all, we don't talk about "The Theory of 2 + 2 = 4" and it really is as simple, straightforward and logical as that. Later on I will demonstrate why.

Another argument used by the bible-bashing squad is that scientists are somehow spoiling things and taking the magic and wonder out of the world with their steadfast refusal to have truck with anything but facts. This has an unfortunate side effect. In an attempt to derail this criticism, scientists are prone to start waxing lyrical about "the wonders of evolution" and so on and so forth. Whilst this can be quite effective when making a popular documentary series (especially if accompanied by stirring incidental music) I think that on the whole it gives science a bad name.

You don't have to duplicate the shock, awe and alleged "wonder" of religion to supplant it.  If anything these irrational emotional responses are what keep people clinging to the old ways.  Evolution is numbers and common sense. There's nothing breathtaking about it. Given enough time and a complex mathematical system then of course we're going to see the diversity and multitude of forms of Life on Earth today.

However, we shouldn't be in awe of the results. This kind of gee whizz is a way of saying that a god did it without believing in a god; evangelical marvelling at the "wonders of evolution" is simply giving god another name.  The awe should be reserved for the two things that really make all this possible. Two things that are awe-inspiring and if we're honest actually rather frightening.

Huge lengths of time and vast unimaginable numbers.

Those are the things that quite logically make us feel small and insignificant. Our day to day existence, our whole lives are as nothing compared to the lengths of time required for evolution to work; likewise the vast numbers required are far greater than our minds can comfortably conceive.

The size of numbers we can visualise is actually quite low. We might like to think we can imagine what 100 looks like, but what about if it's not neatly lined up in rows of ten? We can certainly conceive of numbers higher than ten but can't actually visualise them. Try it. You almost always end up with combinations of other numbers - for instance twelve ends up being two sixes, often visualised as the faces of dice.

Dice can also be useful in demonstrating how simple evolution actually is, and to do so I propose a fairly straightforward thought experiment. The experiment uses what I call Tetrahedral Amoeba Dice (TAD or Tads).  Each Tad only has four equilateral triangle faces (and as such is a tetrahedron). Each of these faces has a letter of the alphabet at its centre, A, B, C or D. When you throw a Tad, the letter that appears on the face flat on the ground is the score. We observe the results by looking upwards though the floor, which is made of glass.

All quite straightforward, but wait, there's more. This is the first odd bit.

Each Tad has DNA, a simple genome that does no more than affect the likelihood of a particular face ending up flat when the Tad is thrown. There are only sixteen genes and each of these can only have one of four values, which by a handy coincidence are also the values that appear on the faces of the Tad.

An average member of the Tad population has a genome consisting of the following genes:


Four genes for each of its faces which means that when thrown there's always a one in four chance of any number coming up. Think of the genes as weights in their corresponding face. Of course some Tads might be mutants with more of one type of gene and less of another - we can think of these as being "loaded dice".

The second odd bit is that the Tads have a life cycle. Every four throws they split in two, amoeba-like, both copies being exact duplicates of the original parent. And for the purposes of keeping it simple, every four throws there's a cull in which half of them die at random so the population remains stable. Sometimes genetic mutations occur during division - when, due to a replication error, a standard Tad might split into:


one of which is more likely to come up A and the other more likely to come up B. On other occasions mutations occur spontaneously, zapping an A into a B at random.

So far this is all very fine and splendid (if spectacularly pointless). Starting with a population of a million after 400 iterations the makeup of the population is going to be pretty much the same and any mutations get lost in the noise.  But suppose something changes?

Some factor in the environment favours Tads showing a C so that when the cull comes any Tad showing a C survives. Of course a proportion of these will be those that just came up C at random, but any Tads loaded in favour of C (and which happened to come up C on that occasion) survive. There are now a larger proportion of Tads in the population loaded in favour of C than there were.

And if this keeps happening? Provided the environmental factor remains the same, the proportion of Tads with five (or more) C-genes goes on increasing and begins to dominate. Of course some "normals" may survive at random every cull if they happened to come up C on that occasion, likewise any C-loaded Tads that happened not to come up C that time may die.

But given the sheer numbers involved, C-loaded Tads go on increasing.  Eventually the whole population will consist of Tads with five (or more) C-genes. But it doesn't stop there.

Every cull some Tads fall prey to this mysterious cyclic dice plague when they don't come up C at the roll of reckoning. A Tad with five C-genes will always come up C less than a Tad with 6 C-genes and therefore will gradually be weeded out of the population come Culling Day. The population will continue to change in this manner until eventually the whole population consists of Tads with six (or more) C-genes.

And this change with continue to favour more and more C-genes  until the whole population consists of Tads with sixteen C-genes, all of whom always come up C.

The Tads evolved. Purely due to the inevitability of mathematics. Just numbers. Cold equations. With vast enough numbers and even vaster amounts of time, such changes are not only unremarkable but inevitable.

The universe plays dice with itself.


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