Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Trust me, I have a PhD...

This slide is taken from a presentation entitled "Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study". The whole slideshow can be seen here.

I love that someone has spent valuable time calculating the amount of shit the animals on Noah's ark would have produced.

Think back to when you were a kid and heard the ark story for the first time. Did you really ever believe it could be true? Really?? Well, apparently many people do, and many of them have PhDs. Needless to say, you shouldn't trust what people say just because they have a qualification. I did a google search for one of these scientists (Dr John R Baumgardner, who obtained a PhD in geophysics and space physics from UCLA) and found a creationist essay he'd written that demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of evolutionary theory:

Many evolutionists are persuaded that the 15 billion years they assume for the age of the cosmos is an abundance of time for random interactions of atoms and molecules to generate life. A simple arithmetic lesson reveals this to be no more than an irrational fantasy.

This arithmetic lesson is similar to calculating the odds of winning the lottery. The number of possible lottery combinations corresponds to the total number of protein structures (of an appropriate size range) that are possible to assemble from standard building blocks. The winning tickets correspond to the tiny sets of such proteins with the correct special properties from which a living organism, say a simple bacterium, can be successfully built. The maximum number of lottery tickets a person can buy corresponds to the maximum number of protein molecules that could have ever existed in the history of the cosmos.

For starters, the lottery analogy is an unwise choice, since someone somewhere wins the lottery every day.

For a relatively short protein consisting of a chain of 200 amino acids, the number of random trials needed for a reasonable likelihood of hitting a useful sequence is then in the order of 20^100 (100 amino acid sites with 20 possible candidates at each site), or about 10^130 trials. This is a hundred billion billion times the upper bound we computed for the total number of molecules ever to exist in the history of the cosmos!! No random process could ever hope to find even one such protein structure, much less the full set of roughly 1,000 needed in the simplest forms of life.

But evolution is not a random process! Here's a more accurate analogy: Imagine you are the only person playing the lottery, and the winning numbers are the same each week. The chances of you picking the right numbers at random are indeed vanishingly small. The chances of you picking one or two winning numbers, though, would be reasonably likely, at least over the course of a few weeks. But now imagine if there was a mechanism that told you when you'd picked a winning number, and what that number was. It's easy to see how you could use this information to choose your next set of numbers, and each week you'd be more and more likely to find the winning combination. Evolution works like this. It is not a random process, it explains how complexity can arise incrementally, in tiny stages, without the need for any luck.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn't trust someone just because they have a qualification. Dr Baumgardner studied geophysics and space physics, and his expertise is likely limited to a very specific area within that field. He is (clearly) not an expert in microbiology, chemistry or evolution. So if you ever want a reliable account of a theory, make sure you ask the experts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just because someone cites his educational degrees does not necessarily mean that he expects his listeners or readers to consume everything for that reason alone.

Further, I think it makes sense for creationists to cite their educational background because, as critics of Darwinism, they are often labeled as ignorant and uneducated by Darwinists. Therefore, the citations are generally a defense to a criticism of them generally and previously made by Darwinists.