Creationist Wisdom #238: Utterly Improbable

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Naples Daily News: of Naples, Florida. The letter is titled Misinformed. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. As we usually do we’ll omit the writer’s name and city.

The letter begins by referring to an earlier letter, What it is, isn’t, written by an MD. It’s a reasonably good defense of the theory of evolution, but today’s letter-writer disagrees. Okay, here we go:

When it comes to science-related evolution, the era of genetics and DNA has passed by the doctor. We now use DNA and the laws of probability to convict people of crime. More important, scientists can calculate the probability that humans evolved from apes or chimps or any other animal.

Wait a minute! We thought this was a creationist letter. When are we going to get to the crazy stuff? Be patient, dear reader. It’s coming now:

Facts: The specific genetic material which decides what creature we have — human or chimp — contains 6 billion nucleotides inside the nucleus in each cell, arranged in specific sequences, and specific quantities which enable genetic material to function. Is it probable that a single gene can evolve from ape to human being by chance? Or, what is the probability of a single specific sequence of the nucleotides to be arranged by chance?

Ah, probability! Let’s read on:

The Chimp Genome Project which sequenced the DNA of the chimpanzee concluded there was at most a 96 percent similarity of genetic material. Even if similarity were 99 percent between a monkey’s gene and a human’s gene, we are still talking about 6 billion nucleotides that must be haphazardly rearranged to change the monkey into human.

Right — never mind the 99%, the other 1% has to be “haphazardly rearranged.” The letter continues:

The laws of probability tell genetic scientists that this is an utter impossibility. The chance that a chimp evolved into a human is one in 10 raised to 3,571,428,571 power.

Yowie! That’s 1 in 103,571,428,571. We’ve never seen a number that large. Where did it come from? According to this article in Wikipedia, the number of atoms in the universe is only 1080. How did the letter-writer compute 103,571,428,571? Well, we googled around for that number, and what-da-ya-know? In spite of the odds against it — at least 1069 bazillion to one — we found it here: Chances Of One Gene Forming From Ape To Human. That website says:

There are 6 billion nucleotides which are lined up in specific sequences in specific quantities. The chances that these 6 billion nucleotides could have been lined up in the specific sequences for the genetic material to function is: 1 in 10 raised to 3,571,428,571.

That’s from a site named Islamic replies, the purpose of which “is to address the oft repeated allegations & misconceptions put forward by Christian missionaries, skeptics and Islamaphobes, regarding Islam.” The odds are that’s probably where today’s letter-writer gets his information.

Here’s more from today’s letter:

As important, is that evolution from a lower species into a human would have to increase the genetic information contained in a cell.

Oooooooh — information! That’s impressive. And here’s the letter’s end:

Genetic scientists have not been able to find or produce a single mutation that results in added information. To the contrary, mutations almost always lose information.

There it is, dear reader. Another fine addition to our collection.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #238: Utterly Improbable

  1. This particular creationist, and two other people went to a job interview. The interviewer asked, “What was the most important scientific development by man?. The first person answered, “the wheel”. Why? It enabled people to move goods and families from place to place.
    The second answered, “Electircity”. Why. It allowed people to light their homes and power elctric motors.
    The creationist answered” The thermos bottle”. “It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold”. Why is that important he was asked.
    The answer? “How does it know”?
    Will

  2. It’s like creationists constantly go to a never ending reservoir of recycled crap to write their articles. Do they ever come up with a new argument?

  3. Given that they have computed the low probability of the existence of human beings, have any of these creationists also calculated the probability of the existence of an entity that is infinitely more complex, infinitely more powerful, made of unknown supernatural stuff and completely undetectable?

    The probability would have to be, by definition, infinitely less. Odd that I’ve never seen that calculation by creationist mathematicians.

  4. aturingtest

    “As important, is that evolution from a lower species into a human would have to increase the genetic information contained in a cell.”
    There’s that idea that these folks keep tripping over- that evolution must mean a striving toward an ideal, a progression from “lower” to “higher” life-forms, which necessitates “increased genetic information”- with no idea how to quantify “increased” (except to circularly define it as “higher life form,” then define “higher life form” as “increased information”). In fact, they can’t really even quantify or define “information” in any way that makes it the inherent property it would need to be for their purposes.

  5. I’d love, just once, to actually see one of these yahoos actually provide the math “proving” their probabilities. Not that I’m holding my breath, mind you.

  6. P.S. “garystar1″ is “Gary”, who could not use “Gary” since that was already taken by someone else at gravatar.

  7. garystar1 says: P.S.

    “garystar1″ is “Gary”, who could not use “Gary”

    We gotta lotta Garys (Garies?) around here.

  8. SC said:

    We gotta lotta Garys (Garies?) around here.

    You can never have enough.

  9. My favorite retort to the probability argument.

    God did it.

    And than I demand that the prove that god couldn’t have set all the criteria up and than created a process to allow the big bang and evolution to happen.

    If they are going to use the “god of the Gaps” there is no rule that I can’t use there god to fill in my gaps. I don’t actually believe this but I’m not trying to convert them. Just trying to get them to act less stupid.

  10. Ceteris Paribus

    A couple of corollaries to this amazing 1 in 10 raised to 3,571,428,571 statistical chance ensue:

    1. Since there are only 7 billion humans on the earth, and at minimum each individual has at least one mutation among those 6 billion nucleotides lined up in a specific sequence, the probability is that if we are truly individuals, then none of us even exist. At least as humans.

    2. The magic number “3,571,428,571” is admitted to be “rounded to the nearest whole number”. So you have to give the creos credit for being methodologically consistent, for in their scriptures they also round the value of Pi to the nearest whole number, “3”. Recall Emerson’s aphorism “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”

  11. retiredsciguy

    Spector567 says, “Just trying to get them to act less stupid.”

    Good luck with that.

  12. The probability of an event happening is the ratio of the number of favorable outcomes divided by the number of possible outcomes. In the case of designer(s) who are able to do things beyond what natural laws permit, the number of possible outcomes is greater than the number of natural outcomes; while the number of favorable outcomes is the same. Therefore, however small the probability is for natural causes to yield a particular result, there is a smaller probability for beyond-the-natural causes.
    The special case of an omnipotent creator/designer has an infinity of possible outcomes, so the probability is zero.

  13. retiredsciguy

    aturingtest

    “There’s that idea that these folks keep tripping over- that evolution must mean a striving toward an ideal, a progression from “lower” to “higher” life-forms…”

    Exactly! Of course, the way life actually is, the attributes of each species are just as good as they need to be to just get by, or perhaps a little bit better — but not much. For instance, if hunter/carnivores (lions, for instance) were too good at hunting, it wouldn’t be long before they ate all their prey, and then their own population would collapse.

    So, in a sense, every species is a “higher form of life” in that it excels at something that no other species can do as well. Example — we cannot navigate with the skill of the “lowly” monarch butterfly.

  14. if hunter/carnivores (lions, for instance) were too good at hunting, it wouldn’t be long before they ate all their prey, and then their own population would collapse.

    Retired, that happens a lot. Boom and bust cycles are common in nature, among both macroscopic animals and microscopic ones. I’m not sure if you were trying to imply that there’s some natural selective drive towards ecological stability, but if so – that’s wrong. There isn’t. If a critter evolves an adaptive edge over its competition or food source, it will likely outbreed its rivals and proceed to wipe out its local ecosystem. Stability is largely a result of ‘arms races.’ Kudzu is not going to adapt to be more in harmony with native north american plants. Instead, they will adapt to fight off kudzu. Or they’ll die.

  15. retiredsciguy

    Eric, I have to admit that my post above was not my most cogent. I was in a hurry, and didn’t take the time to develop my thoughts fully.

    Most boom/bust cycles in relationships between prey and predator do not result in extinction. However, that’s not really the point I was attempting to illustrate. Rather, I wanted to amplify Aturingtest’s comment that many detractors of evolution have the false notion that “evolution must mean a striving toward an ideal, a progression from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ life-forms”.

    You could say that all species in existence today are a “higher form of life”, in that they are successful — as demonstrated by the fact that they are in existence today. True, humans are highly intelligent — but are we the most intelligent? We haven’t figured out how to accurately compare our intelligence to that of other animals, such as dolphins or whales. If they had had hands, they might have developed technology long ago that possibly would have overshadowed our own.

    This idea could be developed much further, but not by me this evening. I need to get up early tomorrow.

  16. aturingtest

    RSG: Well, you took my point in a direction I hadn’t thought of, but, between you and Eric, amplified. It’s the one simple idea (or at least my idea of it)behind evolution that the deniers can’t grasp or won’t accept that I’m referring to as their stumbling block ( and I credit Gabe Hanna with getting this into my head)- that evolution is not normative. There are no ideals, no goals- even survival, by groups or individuals, is just an outcome, a result, not really an aim. I think people are more naturally inclined to think in goal-oriented terms, though, so that’s why evolution deniers are (relatively) successful in selling their point to the average non-scientist. People can’t conceive of a process that isn’t a progression, in the sense of “higher to lower.”

    (Now if I could just get Gabe’s ideas about President Obama)
    (Peace, Gabe)

  17. Tomato Addict

    @garystar1: We have so many Garys, we started a list!
    I have taken the liberty of adding you as well. ;-)

  18. @TA: I’m actually the original “Gary”, only now I’ve added an avatar through Gravatar. (I’m a poet and didn’t… oh, never mind.) When I signed up with Gravatar, “Gary” was already taken, so I’ve used a nickname my family has given me, namely (heh) because I provide a good portion of the tech support for the family. Thus, when something happens with the computer, I get the “Hello, Garystar!” call.
    But it’s still me. Ya know, the guy who likes Monty Python and all that. Or, to put it in terms you’ll understand, “I’m not dead yet!”