Editor's Note: Do I count as my own editor? I mean, I edit my own stuff, but... nevermind. Look. My last post was a little vapid, pontificating as I was on an overnight webcomic kerfuffle that ended up being wiped off the face of the internet anyhow. I feel kinda bad about it. So I'm breaking my "weekends-only" rule to say something of a little more substance. This is also the third post in recent memory where I have used the word "kerfuffle" for lack of a better term. Should I consult a doctor? Or just a thesaurus?
I recently read on Pharyngula about a paper by Doug Theobald (subscription to Nature required) calculating the likelihood that the proteins shared by all organisms on the face of the planet came to be shared by a concatenation of events besides common descent. In other words, regardless of the likelihood that life came to be in this or that particular way (which Creatards frequently yammer on about, assuming evolutionary teleology and all sorts of other bullshit), what are the odds that life came to be, as it in fact did, by other means than common descent?
PZ's summary and the news coverage make for fascinating reading - really, you should check it out - but I'm going to jump right to the number at the end and play around with it. That number is 1:102,680 against. So, sure, the common proteins shared by all modern organisms could have come about by some other means than common descent, but the odds are real fuckin' long against it. How long? So long. Like, it's hard to think of a way to be wronger, mathematically speaking - these guys are wronger than anyone has ever been wrong in the history of wrongitude (sounds like "longitude").
I have a phrase I use to describe "as sure as I get," and that is, "As sure as I am that the Sun's coming up tomorrow." This is meant to convey pretty fuckin' sure but not quite 100% certain (because I'm not 100% certain of anything, other than the fact that I am now having some kind of experience, and that I've always got room for doubt). Sure, something could happen so that the Sun doesn't rise tomorrow, but the data so far suggest extremely otherwise. Just how much otherwise? Well, let's take every day in Earth's 4.54-billion-year history as a data point.*
Hmm... that leaves us a shit-pot of orders of magnitude to make up. But yeah, it's settled: we're surer of common descent than we are that the Sun will rise tomorrow!4,540,000,000 x 365.25 = 1,658,235,000,000(1.66 trillion, or 1.66 x 1012)
"But wait," comes the Creatard rebuttal, "You can't just count the days up like that, you have to take into account how many of us there are! After all, a large enough number of rabid IDiots can't be wrong!" Well, OK. It doesn't work that way, but we'll humor you. Let's just say that all 6.8-billion of us are Christians, and we have been since the Earth was formed. Not only is this over-generous to the literalists in giving them the actual age of the Earth rather than their Reader's Digest Condensed Books version, giving them all of the current population throughout all of Earth's history, and giving a decidedly democratic bent to our epistemology, it doesn't even come close.
"But... but... twenty-two isn't nearly close enough to two-thousand-six-hundred-eighty," replies the anti-science crusader. "And I believe that your numbers are wrong with every fiber of my being." You know what? That's still not good enough. I'll give you a data point for every nucleotide base pair inside of every single cell of every person now living on the planet for every day throughout all of Earth's history - and you know what that nets us? Take a look:(1.66 x 1012) x (6.8 x 109) = 1.13 x 1022
Fuck! That's still not enough! OK, but what if every atom in the observable universe, itself a number beyond ordinary human comprehension, spawned a Universe with a special Earth with seven billion humans believing in Creation with every fiber of their being? Yeah, what then?! This is what:(3.1647 x 109 base pairs) x (1 x 1014 cells) x (1.13 x 1022) = 3.58 x 1045
Just to recap, we've given a data point in favor of the Sun rising tomorrow for each of 3-billion-odd nucleotide base pairs inside of all hundred trillion cells in the bodies of six to seven billion people observing a sunrise for every single day (including leap years!) across Earth's four-and-a-half billion year history, repeated for every atom in the observable Universe. And given all of that, we're still surer that all life is related by common descent than we are that the Sun will rise tomorrow.(1.5 x 1082 atoms in the observable Universe) x (3.58 x 1045) = 5.37 x 10127
Suck on those numbers! Tomorrow's a dark day for creationism, epistemologically speaking. Yeah, I'd say the future prospects for monotheistic creation myths are looking pretty dim. We should just turn the light out on intelligent design, and leave the real science to light our path into the future.
OK, I'm done now, for real. Man, playing around with degrees of certainty is fun!
* - Yes, OK, to calculate the actual odds of the Sun not coming up tomorrow, I would have to calculate the odds of something happening which would prevent the Sun coming up. Fine. Not the point, and that's why this entry gets the "humor" tag. I'm just going to treat it as a chance event and assume the Sun doesn't rise tomorrow, making it 1 failure out of 1.6 trillion successes. I need to keep this back-of-the-envelope compatible, after all.