We think that we design pretty neat things these days. We laugh at the man who said that the world would probably only need four or five computers. Those of us who are old enough can remember when we did a sum on the newly invented pocket calculator that gave us the answer 0.7734, which said “hello” when we turned the calculator upside down.
But whilst researching my latest book I came across some pretty amazing statistics about a design that we all treat as commonplace – each and every human being.
Our 1.5kg brain comprises around 100 billion neurons, of 10,000 different types. Each neuron can have thousands of synapses (input connections from other neurons) and each synapse has perhaps a thousand molecular scale switches. A single human brain is estimated to contain more switches than the entire internet.
Contained within our skin are around 650 muscles attached to over 200 bones, which vary in size from the femur in our thigh to the stirrup bone in the ear. The muscle/bone combination is precise enough to paint a masterpiece, or to putt a golf ball twenty feet into a hole.
We have around 60,000 miles of veins and arteries and 1500 miles of pipes in our lungs.
Within our lymph nodes we have billions of B cells, each of which is different and each one defends against a particular very specific infection.
The list goes on – but you get the point.
Yet this whole complex organism is built from a single cell.
We begin as one single cell. Within the cell is our DNA, the supposed blueprint for our manufacture. We have a massive 3 billion base pairs (characters in the ‘code’) in our DNA. Yet there are around 50,000 billion different cells in the body. Each cell is different, in function and in position – some nerve cells can be several feet long. How can we imagine that there is enough information contained within our DNA to define our fully functioning body?
But we do start from just one cell. And each cell only responds to the signals that cross the cell membrane. As we develop, the cell is what it is as a result of its history – its ancestor cells. And each of those cells only responded to the signals that crossed it’s membrane. It’s like a massive pyramid, built the wrong way up – with the apex at the bottom. The process is incredibly robust. Look at identical twins. Most of their development is as separate human beings and yet the final ‘product’ is identical.
A human being is truly a masterpiece of engineering.
Is it reasonable to state with certainty that this happened by chance? Is it reasonable to assert that the properties of the sub-atomic particles in the universe are such that they behave in precisely the right way to manufacture you or I from a single cell by sheer luck? Or would that be a blind leap of faith?