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Subject:  Re: Religionists miss the scale of things Date:  3/11/2005  5:31 PM
Author:  GusSmed Number:  143494 of 519784

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"?

I imagine he's talking about DNA. He's talking about evolution, and DNA contains the only information that is transmitted from cell to cell by evolution. It'd be meaningless to talk about the rest of the chemical state in evolutionary terms, since evolution doesn't affect that. Except indirectly through DNA, of course.

A quick google gave me figures of 4 million base pairs for a bacterium, and 2.3 billion for a human cell. Since this is base 4, we're talking 8 million bits for a bacterium, or 1 million bytes, and 4.6 billion for a human cell, or 575 million bytes.

For comparison, the Britannica contains about 230 million bytes, if we only consider word count. It's a bit stickier if we include photos and illustrations, which contain quite a lot of information. The largest CD version is 6 CDs, which is a minimum of 3 billion bytes of information. If we're playing fair, human cells do not contain as much information from DNA as the Britannica.

Still, 575 million bytes sounds like a lot. It's a big number, as you pointed out, these people don't really understand big numbers. How could evolution come up with such a big number?

Well, it helps to look at some of those other big numbers. You mentioned 11,850,000,000,000,000,000,000 cell divisions per day. What you didn't mention was the 3 billion years since prokaryotic cells first appeared. Now, we know that our Creationists can't understand that number, since they keep insisting that the universe is only 6000 years old. Never mind that we've observed light that's 2 million years old from Andromeda, which is nearby as galaxies go.

To return to cell division, 3 billion years = 1,095,000,000,000 days. Using your figure, we're talking about 12,975,750,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cell divisions, and we're being conservative in our estimate. To produce 2.3 billion base pairs of information, we need roughly 1 in every 5,641,630,434,782,610,000,000,000 cell divisions to produce 1 base pair change.

Now, not all of those base pair changes need to be useful. Remember, Flew says nothing about meaningful information in a cell, which is rather harder to answer. DNA contains a lot of noise. Much of it, to our present knowledge, codes for nothing at all. The differentiation of useful base pair changes from non-useful ones is what the "evolution through natural selection" part is all about.

- Gus
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