TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Intelligent Design

Nobel laureate, organic chemist and a leader in origin of life studies, Professor deDuve writes in his excellent book, Tour of a Living Cell, "If you equate the probability of the birth of a bacteria cell to chance assembly of its atoms, eternity will not suffice to produce one..”
Humans and all mammals have some 50,000 genes. That implies, as an order of magnitude estimate, some 50,000 to 100,000 proteins active in mammalian bodies. It is estimated that there are some 30 animal phyla on Earth. If the genomes of each animal phylum produced 100,000 proteins, and no proteins were common among any of the phyla (a fact we know to be false, but an assumption that makes our calculations favor the random evolutionary assumption), there would be (30 x 100,000) 3 million proteins in all life.
Now let's consider the likelihood of these 3 million viable combinations of proteins forming by chance: Proteins are complex coils of several hundred amino acids. Take a typical protein to be a chain of 200 amino acids. The observed range is from less than 100 amino acids per protein to greater than 1000. There are 20 commonly occurring amino acids that join in varying combinations to produce the proteins of life. This means that the number of possible combinations of the amino acids in our model protein of 200 amino acids is 20 to the power of 200 (i.e. 20 multiplied by itself 200 times), or in the more usual 10-based system of numbers, approximately 10 to the power of 260 (i.e. the number one, followed by 260 zeros!). Nature has the option of choosing among the 10 to power of 260 possible proteins, the 3 million proteins of which all viable life is composed. In other words, for each one correct choice, there are 10 to power of 254 wrong choices!

Randomness cannot have been the driving force behind the success of life. Our understanding of statistics and molecular biology clearly supports the notion that there must have been a direction and a “Director” behind the success of life.

Topics: evolution

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jan 16 2012: Interesting theological and free will issue. Humans are the only creation that is capable of this destruction - and beauty - I wonder is there any other creature that is willing to risk its life, suffer and even die for its art and values? While you will most likely be annoyed by my reference (Take what you like here and leave the rest), but the Torah's first story involving humans is in regard to free choice. (Interestingly, the mystical Jewish tradition states that Adam was not the first humanoid creature, only the first one with free choice i.e. body of a human with a soul/free choice element) We can nurture and celebrate our garden or destroy it or in today's terms, we can create Auschwitz or build schools. It is our choice. Many would prefer a God that does not allow such a range of choice, but that is not the ground rules we have been given.

    You are right about backs against the wall. Most of us don't change until we hit a rock bottom ( I am a psychotherapist). When is rock bottom? When we decided to stop digging.

    On a side note: Can you please explain to me what feels and reads the need for the condescending attitude towards thought that does not agree with the writer I have been receiving? I have written my thoughts about it, but have not received a response yet. Disagree fine, but what's with the attitude? I thought the TED audience might be intellectually above this name calling etc. In contrast, my Rabbis taught us to encourage and love tough questions. There was literally nothing we were not allowed to ask or protest from foundational theological beliefs to the meanings of actual text. For me the Talmud is one long debate and celebration of the human mind. I was not always religious and became so after my studies. I debated evolution, science and philosophical issues and never was called names or put down for my views. In the end we might agree to disagree (even today), but always with respect and love.
    • Jan 17 2012: David,

      What do you expect to have as answers when you have misrepresented evolution to such a degree? Tell me exactly where does the theory of evolution state that each and every life form in the planet formed by chance? That proteins should not be related among life forms? That bacteria assemble randomly from a bunch of atoms?

      Such level of misrepresentation can't but get people off. Can you see the problem at all? If you read creationist propaganda, rather than evolutionary theory, before talking about evolution you can't be taken seriously.

      Do you see the problem at all?

      So let's see that respect and love. Start by acknowledging that you have no idea about evolution, and accepting that you made nauseatingly ignorant statements about it. To figure out how nauseating start by reading about evolution from reputable resources and compare that to your statements.
      • Jan 17 2012: Dear Mr. Moreno,
        I also love science and have books on physics, mathematics, medicine, psychology, etc. as well as traditional Jewish texts in my home – but that is not the real issue here. It seems that my beliefs in your mind(s) are some are summarized as foolishness and ignorance because I draw a different conclusion from what science reveals to us. I understood science can only reveal information, but what conclusions we make about that information are ours to make. I conclude that functionality and design representing intelligence and purpose – you do not. I have no problem with the Big Bang and even the concept of evolution – it is how or through what guidance this process came and continues to manifest itself is another issue. And this is the difference in our opinions – please inform me if it is otherwise. But I believe that this is no longer the most important issue in our dialogues…

        Please pay special attention to the following because the point seems to have been lost on most of the people who have responded to me. I would not inform an astrophysicist that I understand what his or her profession and beliefs are about because I too read the poem Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I have not been given that courtesy about my beliefs. I'm a religious Jew and practicing psychotherapist so I will see the world differently than you do – should that not be acceptable? It is evidently not as I have discovered through these dialogues. Astoundingly to me, you and others continue to justify your aggressive, disrespectful and philosophically oppressive words by attempting to quote facts to prove that my views are incorrect. This to me is far more important and frightening because of its implications – if I'm to take the TED audience as a micro sample of the intellectual world I understand why politics is full of black-and-white thinking and the divorce rate is 50%. This to me has been the revelation of all these dialogues – sadly.
        • Jan 17 2012: Way to miss the point Dave. Let me repeat and see if you get it:

          Where does the theory of evolution state that each and every organism assembles itself by pure random chance?

          Again, if you don't know anything about evolution you have to acknowledge your ignorance. This has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with your beliefs, and everything to do with misrepresentations of scientific knowledge. Can you see that or not? What gives?

          Can you give me a straight answer now?

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.