How much is a centi-Dembski?

You may Have seen William Dembsk’s assertion, or repeated it, that he has proved that natural selection working on random chance is not an efficient way of generating mutations or that it’s less efficient than random chance alone. This somewhat nonsensical conclusion was supposedly proved by a computer program written by Dembski and Robert J. Marks. They put up an essay, “The Unacknowledged Costs of Evolution,” criticizing an evolutionary program called ev,  on an unofficial web page.  Unfortunately, obvious errors in basic computing make their results invalid.  The errors were such that the program would never find a solution, such as filling a table with 1’s and then randomly changing some of the cells to 1’s and waiting for some zeroes to appear. With programming skills like those, they would wait forever. And then they used the wrong size of matrix, compounding their error.

Wesley R. Elsberry has the details in an article called  “Unacknowledged Errors in ‘The Unacknowledged Costs’” over on the Panda’s Thumb. It covers who was able to find the errors and why,  what they wrote to the authors, what they did or didn’t do in response, what has happened when other errors were pointed out, and so on. In the badinage of the comments the standard size of a Dembski error was discussed and 65 orders of magnitude was calculated. That’s 1 followed by 65 zeroes.  Someone else pointed out that creationists, in taking the age of the earth to be 6,000 years instead of 14 billion, were only 63 orders of magnitude off target–a centi-Dembski!


Germs mutate rapidly in space

Perhaps that should just be, “Germs mutate rapidly,” and it could be a lead article for my magazine Duh: the Magazine of the Obvious. However, an experiment in the space shuttle last year showed that Salmonella tripled in virulence during 24 hours of reproduction in microgravity, acccording to the Times online. The bacteria were allowed to multiply for 24 hours and then preserved. At the same time, an identical, control experiment was conducted on Earth. Mark Henderson, science editor, had this to report:

Analysis at the end of the flight showed that the salmonella flown in space had changes in the expression of 167 genes. When used to infect animals, the space-grown bacteria proved to be three times more likely to cause disease than those grown on Earth.

The research, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, identified particular changes in gene expression that were linked to an important regulatory protein called Hfq.

This result disproves William Dembski’s Intelligent Design suggestion that important biological changes are too unlikely to happen in a measureable length of time.
The bacterium in question is Salmonella enterica Typhimurium, a particular strain or “serovar” of S. enterica which causes food poisoning. Its genome has been sequenced. (The image is from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.)

%d bloggers like this: