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Subject:  Religionists miss the scale of things Date:  3/11/2005  11:55 AM
Author:  jwiest Number:  143401 of 532552

This is a topic I've been wanting post for a while, and Ed gave me the opportunity.

So in

Ed responds to me with this:

You wrote, "More faith? Hardly. What it takes is more reason and logic, more willpower to get on with the task of knowledge rather than giving up and taking the easy path."

My reply: British philosopher Anthony Flew said, "it is impossible for evolution to account for the fact that one single cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the encyclopedia Britannica put together."

Ed is obviously impressed with this rhetoric. The encyclopedia is, that must be a lot of data in a tiny space, how could it possibly be?

Problem is, I have frequently thought that most religionists who reject science as just another faith, completely fail to understand the real "scale of things". Maybe it's related to this "god gene" we've been hearing about, which perhaps has the side effect of preventing its carriers from understanding vastness. So they hear phrases like Flew's and they just throw up their hands. They can't get a grip on the scale of things, so they discount it (maybe because they think it's better to ignore something and retain a semlance of pride, than admit that the profundity is beyond them...)

Now I'd love to poke specific holes in Flew's statement, but I don't have the biological data in front of me. I must say though, that is an extremely vague statement. What does he mean by "data"? As far as I can tell, he must mean basic chemical interactions between molecules. I'm sure Flew would also marvel at the amount of "data" being passed back and forth between the molecular constituents of a simple drop of water the size of a cell. If, as David Suzuki once said "The molecule is to the cell as the cell is to the universe", then talking about encyclopedias is a bit of an understatement.

Anyway, back to the post I have been wanting to make: those who question the process of evolution often do so on the grounds that the chances are too small.

So let's do some math.

Bacteria are the simplest living creatures, and yes, Ed, though we have not seen a complex organic globule actually turn into the first bacteria, we can identify the likely processes and show that the chances of it happening are not low on a global scale.

Once a simple life form exists, the chances of it mutating and changing somewhere in the world are pretty darn high.

At they say that 1 cubic centimeter of sea water contains anywhere from 100 to 1,000,000 bacteria.

For the sake of the god-gene-limited, let's take a lower number and call it 1000.

A cubic meter has 100 * 100 = 10,000 cubic centimeters.

That means for each cubic meter there are: 1000 * 10,000 = 10,000,000 bacteria.

According to the above site there are 1,185 million cubic kilometers of sea water in the world. Since there are 1,000,000 cubic meters in a cubic kilometer, that's:

1,185,000,000,000,000 cubic meters of sea water. Each of which has 10,000,000 bacteria, for a total of:

11,850,000,000,000,000,000,000 bacteria. This is just in the oceans, never mind all those on land, IN land, and in you helping you digest breakfast.

In an attempt to give a sense of scale, each human takes up about 1 cubic meter, which according to our calculations equals 10 million bacteria. So:

^ ^
| | you are here
| all humanity is here

I wonder if I have lost Ed in the details yet.

If the nutrients are present, bacteria can divide every 20 minutes. If not, they can live for at least 10,000 years (as was posted here a while back). I think it's safe to say that bacteria in the oceans aren't lacking, but let's play it safe and say that they divide once a day.

So we have 11,850,000,000,000,000,000,000 divisions per day.

How does mutuation happen? Accidental violence, basically. Everybody who gets cancer has experienced a mutation of at least one cell. This can be caused by UV, toxic sludge, radioactivity, etc. Bacteria have little control over any of this, and could easily be subjected to any of it. So any of those cell divisions could have something wrong with them, leading to death, or something better.

11,850,000,000,000,000,000,000 divisions per day. And all you need is one to make a change. To spew a little Flew-type rhetoric, dude, if I were betting on evolution vs. Powerball, I'd take evolution.

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