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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

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    Jan 23 2012: if you go to the casino the odds might be 100 to 1 but you might win on the first roll. fact is life happened maybe we got lucky. the odds for replicating life and dna are educated guesses at best. its amazing but more believable than some super being. andmuch more believable than any particular religious view.
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      Jan 25 2012: Odds are a funny thing. Here in Norway, there is one lottery eweek, where people have a less than 1 in to win, if you go by the possible combinations. Weirdly enough, someone wins every week.

      Even though there are only 5-6 million people here.
    • Jan 25 2012: The lotto/casino examples are independent events. Every lotto run is not linked to the past lotto events.
      Mathematically: P(A) = probability of an event A.

      The complexity of life consists instead of billions or trillions of events perfectly correlated. Each single step needs the event before in order to exist. This is called "Conditional probability".
      In Mathematics is rendered as P(A|B) = the probability of A, given B

      Well, given the tremendous number of dependent events needed in order to have life and nature as we know, the conditional probability calculation leads clearly to a ZERO.
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        Jan 25 2012: Agree that the odds of wining a single turn is different to life. I guess once every 1000 or so runs, you'll get red 10 times in a row.

        It's a very big call to say life starting through nature processes has zero probability. I don't know enough about the earliest building blocks of life to argue the details of probability.
        I expect a lot of scientists have different views in this area.
        I'm not sure how speculative the early steps in developing life are. Guess we needed C, H, O etc and whatever else makes up the most basic form of DNA.

        My understanding is Quantum theory may suggest infinite universes - so there is a probability life got started on some of them including ours.

        I admit the inception of life is something I struggle to conceptualise. And a lot of other things - the start of the big bang, gravity. The processes that support just one human, or even a plant are amazing. Yet they seem to work naturally fine.

        I'm fine with the first generations of stars creating the elements needed for planets and life.
        I'm fine with evolution once DNA got going.

        There are plenty of gaps in my world view, and I have the benefit of a reasonable 20th century education. But all areas I think I understand work naturally. So I expect the others will too.

        The difference is our experiences, the information we've come across and how we interpret it. The probability argument got me thinking - but is not convincing enough for me in light of everything else I understand.

        There might be a being or beings that kick started life on this planet. This might be some being outside time and space barely understandable by humans. Or just something that developed naturally somewhere in the universe but got a billion year headstart. The least plausible is young earth views.
      • Jan 25 2012: Paolo,

        There's a few problems with your assumptions and calculations.

        1. As pointed out by G M, since you don't know how life started, you don't know what the probabilities were for life to be started [naturally].

        2. Once started, you don't know how the processes of evolution works, thus you cannot calculate the probability of anything to get to life as we know it.

        3. A calculation such as the probability of A given B assumes that B is in place. So, it can't be zero.

        4. Life is very different to lotto, for sure. But here's one example of a difference you seem to ignore: Let's say that the probability of B is 1 in a million, and you have ten million individuals. Then, something close to 10 will have B. Since B is advantageous, these ten reproduce more successfully, and you get a huge background of B, meaning that now you can assume B and A should be no problem. Same process, since A and B work together very well, individuals with A+B become prevalent again because they reproduce better and faster, so C is not that much of a problem ...

        5. The above assuming single points for improvement, but it is actually better with recombination. Say either A or B can give you an advantage. A few individuals have A, a few B, but they increase in the population outcompeting individuals with neither. Then, individuals with A can find individuals with B so frequently, that they might recombine, and have a huge probability of producing A+B offspring, which grow even better than either parents. Recombination in the lab, like the one I am describing, shortens directed evolution experiments by orders of magnitude compared to single mutations without recombination.

        And so on and so forth ...

        (Unlike G M, I would not be swayed by probabilities based on plain ignorance, I would not be swayed for not having answers for anything. I shall repeat: gods were used for explaining volcanoes when we did not understand them. That was wrong. Why should they be any better for anything else?)
        • Jan 26 2012: We are talking about 2 different topics.

          For instance consider mathematically the possibility that the event "perfect human DNA" comes from a semi-perfect human DNA that comes from something else and so on back for millions of years till to reach the first original bacteria. Consider all the possible events there. I would not like to do the exact calculations but it will surely approach 1E-some trillions (at least).

          Now in one of the mathematics courses i attended years ago at the university I remember well that 0,999........ is equal 1. The same reasoning can be applied the way around, namely 0,00000000000000000000000.........1 = 0.

          We can indeed write that as:
          1E-some trillions = lim(n => infinity) 1/10^n = 0

          Mathematics clearly speak against the evolution theory.
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          Jan 27 2012: Gabo, You certainly made and developed these points more succinctly than I.

          One correction, I'm not swayed by the probability argument - I'm comfortable with a naturalistic universe but acknowledge the gaps in my understanding and don't think anyone really knows for sure if there are gods or super aliens. Although (1) I have little time for the specific religions from volcano gods to Ra to Jesus etc, (2) find it strange people find an invisible, intangible, unexplained super god creator more easy to believe than a natural process and (3) keeping with the probability theme I put the odds on a non specific, non interventionist creator being at 0.0001%

          Paulo thats like saying the probability of me being born is 0.000000000000.....0001, ie zero, because the chance of mum meeting dad was very small and this was dependent on their parents meeting etc etc for 10,000 generations - yet here I am.

          Just looking at the start of DNA - suggest by your assumptions there are effectively close to infinite C, O, N, H etc atoms and molecules on earth. Even if there is low probability of these forming some self replicating building blocks this is multiplied by some factor reflecting the number of atoms and molecules etc.
      • Jan 26 2012: No Paolito, mathematics do not speak against evolutionary theory. Proper understanding of natural phenomena, evidences all over the place, and proper mathematics speak volumes for evolutionary theory.

        What you are trying to calculate, forgetting your basic mistakes about what the formulas should be, is the probability that, should we start evolution from the moment of those prokaryotes whose lineage lead to us, it would lead to us again. That should truly approach zero. But something else would be here instead probably making the very same mistake you are making.

        If I had won the lotto, I might as well think some gods sent me the money because the probabilities that it would be me were slim. I would be wrong though, because given enough trials, somebody would have to win the lotto. The probability that somebody will win it approaches 1, while the probability that such person will be me is small. Do you understand your mistake there yet?

        [Addition: What you are saying would be equivalent to saying: because the probability that John would win the lotto is close to zero, yet John has the money, mathematics shows that there's no lotto.]

        Your mathematics clearly speak against getting an education from creationist quacks.
    • Jan 28 2012: G M,
      Sorry that I misunderstood part of your comment as "swaying."

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