MEDVED: But all of this code contained in a microscopic little space?
Meyer: Oh, it’s tiny. The information storage density of the DNA molecule is— it was a number of years ago that I had this data; it may have changed a bit, but a few years ago it was forty-five trillion times our most advanced superchip. That’s how much more information is packed into a DNA molecule than our own chips.
Medved: We need to go over this one more time, because I think a lot of people out there, because of the Obama spending, are beginning to understand what a trillion means?
Medved: A trillion is such a— Forty — five — trillion — times — more dense with information than our most advanced superchip. And our most advanced superchip can get, what, the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, and much more.
Meyer: Petabytes. And it may have changed a couple orders of magnitude from when I had the stat memorized, but you get the idea. It’s an enormously concentrated packet of information on a miniaturized scale ...
And in the show’s conclusion, Medved says that micro-organisms contain an “unimaginably dense amount of information.”
The amount of information in the human genome is three billion nucleotides (assuming no “junk DNA” at all). Since each nucleotide stores two bits of information, that’s six billion bits. Which is the data equivalent of 715 megabytes. Just enough to fill a CD. Not petabytes. Not even close, in fact — a single petabyte can store the DNA code for over 1.5 million different species, even if each of those species is as complex as humans, and none of those species shares any code sequences with any other, that might help reduce the storage requirement.
But what about the density? Well, I’ve spoken about that. Short version: Shrink an object a million times, and it’s still fundamentally the same object. The question of what process could have created it remains the same.
45 trillion times as dense as our memory chips is not unimaginably dense. What about 45 quadrillion times? Or 45 quintillion times? Those are a thousand and a million times, respectively, greater than the density Medved calls “unimaginable.” And I just imagined them! Also, note that 45 trillion times as dense (by volume, I’m sure) is 36,000 times as small by scale.
Maybe Medved meant that humans can’t really wrap their heads around a number like 45 trillion? — that we can’t really imagine what it would be like to count that high, for example? Well, we can’t really imagine four billion years either, and on that basis some people argue that anyone who doubts what evolution could do in that period of time is just suffering from the common human inability to fully imagine how long four billion years really is.
That kind of argument is silly. Heck, maybe humans can’t even fully grasp how long a year really is — but we can do good estimates of what can and can’t happen in that period of time. It’s called math. And we can do it on numbers that go way beyond anything this universe has to offer. The whole universe has 1080 fundamental particles, yet we can easily do math on numbers staggeringly greater than that, e.g. 101000. No problem.
Applying math to the time period of four billion years to find out what random chance could and couldn’t have done in that time period (on this planet) is useful for testing Darwin’s theory. But what sort of useful math can be applied to the ratio of DNA data density to 2009-era computer chip data density? None that I know of. Human technology is an upward climb from zero to we-don’t-know-how-high. Where that climb stands today has virtually nothing do with design inferences in biology. Meyer could just as easily call 36,000 an “unimaginably” great improvement over our storage systems, and it would make just as much sense. But 36,000 doesn’t boggle people the way “45 trillion!” does — better use the figure that’s outside the range of numbers people hear about in their day-to-day activities.
Medved and Meyer touch on a couple other topics of note. First:
Medved: The fact that there is a creator, the fact that there is an intelligent designer, doesn’t mean that that intelligent designer has necessarily communicated with human beings, or is necessarily moral.
Meyer: Absolutely. That’s not something the scientific evidence can address. ... That’s not something that science itself can adjudicate.
Au contraire. What about all the evidence from dysteleology that Darwinists, starting with Darwin himself and still going to the present, love to point out? The Darwinists may be mistaken to think that this evidence supports mutation-selection evolution and/or refutes design — but does that mistake make this kind of evidence just disappear? Of course not. The evidence is manifest, and points clearly to amoral, if not immoral, designers. Darwinists, of course, are not going to advocate for amoral designers, and Christians happily take advantage of that by not mentioning it themselves, by claiming that this subject is “untouched by science,” and is therefore the province of “faith.” Hardly.
There’s a line of thinking among IDists that goes like this: “If I readily admit that the strong, scientific evidence for ID does not prove a singular, omniscient, benevolent designer, then I’ve earned the right to say that that question is the province of religious faith, and that scientific evidence has nothing to say about it.” No. No, you haven’t.
In the closing seconds of the interview:
Meyer: That’s one of the curious things that’s coming out of physics. When you get to the very bottom of reduction you find that you have something called the Schrödinger equation, which is essentially a wave describing possible states of affairs. It’s an information wave — some scientists think that at the very beginning of the universe, the first thing that existed was this information wave ... which, I think, points not only to a designing intelligence, but one that is more likely to be God than certainly something like space aliens.
The “Schrödinger information wave” is a fancy euphemism for front-loading, a now-popular attempt to reconcile design with a strictly deterministic universe, and thereby avoid the obvious conclusion of tinkering, experimenting designers, and preserve the possibility of a singular designer who knows everything in advance.
And the comment about gods-vs.-space aliens smells like equivocation. You can’t assume that if the creators exist outside the physical laws of this universe, they must be the Christian God, or even are a lot like him.
Where Are We Going With This
One of the ID-friendly callers asked Meyer if there was anything about his latest book that makes it not redundant to Behe’s foundational Darwin’s Black Box, to which Meyer tried to draw a distinction between Behe’s irreducible complexity and the information that codes for it. I’m not sure I see any important difference, but not having read Meyer’s book, I can only say this: If his conversation with Medved is representative, Meyer is taking ID a big step away from scientific logic, and toward awe-based emotion, faith, and highly selective filtering of evidence.
Update 2009.07.24 — paragraph added: “There’s a line ... you haven’t.”
Update 2010.05.04 — New Uncommon Descent article by DLH, “Zetabytes — by Chance or Design?”:
Werner Gitt observes that the storage capacity of
“1 cubic cm of DNA is 10^21 bits. (DNA — deoxyribonucleaic acid.)”
By comparison, Hitachi considers “very large capacity drives” as holding 2TB (2*10^12 bytes).
As I mentioned above, the human genome takes up about 715 megabytes of data. DLH’s Hitachi hard drive can hold the DNA of nearly 2,800 different species, even if each species is as complex as humans, and none of the species share code that might reduce the storage requirement.
Of course, Gitt’s cubic centimeter of DNA, at 1021 bits, could theoretically hold the genomes of 175 billion human-complexity species. Wow that’s a lot more than 2,800, right? Well, sort-of. If you count the arrangement of all the firmly connected molecules of the entire Hitachi hard drive in terms of their data storage capacity, you’ll certainly find that it has many times the storage capacity of the DNA cube — simply because the hard drive has more molecules. But wait, you might say, the hard drive doesn’t have any way to read or write all that data. Well, neither does a cubic centimeter of DNA. You can collect a cubic centimeter full of concentrated DNA in a lab, and guess what? It won’t do a thing. It might contain the DNA of Mozart, or that of a sea slug, or the Encyclopedia Brittanica, or just random gibberish that doesn’t code for anything useful at all. What difference does it make what data is present in the DNA cube when it just sits there and does nothing?
And while we’re on the subject, what capacity did Hitachi’s “very large cacacity” hard drives have in the year 1990 (i.e. about a single human generation ago)? How long does DLH think this line of argument is going to hold up? And what does he(?) think it’s supposed to prove, anyway?
I think ID has some very strong scientific arguments behind it. But I really can’t abide mixing them up with the kind of drivel that is frequently on display at UD — even if it’s drivel that greatly impresses much of UD’s audience. That’s not how science works.