Rate of genetic Mutation - debating a christian - help if you can



I'm debating with a christian friend on Facebook, and she threw something out that I have never seen:


" I understand that it [evolution] is a very gradual process, which is why it is mathematically impossible. I will have to look up the exact rate of mutation in DNA, but it is something like 1/1*10^33 replication. If you multiply that out based on that rate, rate of replication, rate of fission, then mitosis, and eventually mitosis, then it doesn't matter how gradual the process is, there hasn't been enough time in the last 300 billion years."



I have no idea what this is, and for once google isn't very helpful. Anyone know what this is/where it comes from?



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The rate of mutation is both quite variable and uncertain. Most mutations are not viable. Of the fraction that are, most result in very small, perhaps unperceived effects. There remain a few that are significant in that they have a significant affect on propagation.

Consider that the Earth's magnetic field changes polarity on a period of about 8000 years, as is evidenced by the orientation of magnetic particles in lava deposits. There is probably a short period during that polarity change when the field is very weak or missing entirely. The Earth's magnetic field protects us from most destructive ionized particles in the solar wind - hence the Auroras during solar mass ejections (Northern and Southern Lights). Many biologists feel that it's unlikely that life would occur on a planet without a protective magnetic field because of the genetic damage caused by this ionized stellar flux. Every 8000 years or so, we go through a period of no field, high genetic damage and a resulting burst of mutations - or so the theory goes (it's unproven).

It has been about 8000 years since the last polarity change, and the Earth's magnetic field has weakened detectably in the last 50 years! Everybody quick - cross your legs!

(OK, so maybe it's not a joke but I'm not panicking. Multi-cellular life on Earth is about one Billion years old, so it's survived a lot of polarity changes. However, it could be that most of the speciation occurs during these bursts of mutations.)


Thanks! I've never heard of this before; I guess that mutation rates never really stood as a stumbling block to evolution making sense to me, but she trotted out this calculation and claimed that based on this math the earth isn't old enough to have supported evolution...

Just as a point of reference, the oldest rocks found on the Earth (in Greenland and Labrador) are around 3.9 billion years old  (3.9x10^9 ) when the solidified.  The oldest rocks we sampled on the Lunar highlands are in the 4.1-4.4 billion year range, and the oldest meteorites we've sampled are about 4.5 billion years.  The generally accepted age of the Earth and the solar system is 4.5 billion and of the universe since the Big Bang is 13.7 billion.  No information or evidence is known dated older than the Big Bang.

That is helpful. Thanks!


Ask him what his sources are, and where he came up with those numbers. One followed by 33 zeroes sounds like an outrageously high number.

In the wikipedia article "Mutation rate", it states (although I haven't taken the time to check sources):
The highest mutation rates are found in viruses, which can have either RNA or DNA genomes. DNA viruses have mutation rates between 10-6 to 10-8 mutations per base per generation, and RNA viruses have mutation rates between 10-3 to 10-5 per base per generation. Human mitochondrial DNA has been estimated to have mutation rates of ~3×10-6 or ~2.7×10-5 per base per 20 year generation.

I'm pretty sure that Talk.Origins would have some useful info on the subject.

She said she learned it from a microbiology text, and that I could find the answer in any one of those (how convenient). I finally just told her that I didn't accept mutation rates as proof against evolution since it's not just the mutations that make up evolution; there's more to it than that. She also told me that she rejected the 4.2 billion age of the earth, but when I asked her how old she thought the earth was she replied that she didn't know, but it was

"a formless void up until 5 days before the first man and woman walked on it as it is now, for the most part, and I believe that you can have a pretty accurate estimate from then until now based on the geneology left to us in the Bible."

This conversation with her has certainly been a study in the convoluted logic it takes to remain a believer...

You want genetic mutations? I gots your mutations!

Watch this 4 part series. Definate food for thought.


 But yeah, as I say of my creationist friend:"You can't fix stupid." And really,you can't...The more you try to educate them,the more they cling to their nonsense like a security blanket.

Some of the stuff she says just makes my head hurt really,really badly.





Wow, that was amazing! I wonder if epigenetic effects of smokers has been studied; my maternal grandparents and my mom were all smokers (as was I for about 7 years), I wonder if that caused some genes to be switched on/off...I will definitely be looking into this more. Thanks for the link!

Those "facts" come from thin air I'm afraid, there is no real hard science behind them!   For example around 500 years ago, less than 10% of us humans could digest cows' milk. Whether you're talking phenotypic or genotypic alteration, by your friend's reckoning even such a short jump would have taken more than the 4.9 billion years of geological time that accounts for the Earth's existance. 

  A common tactic for xtians debating skeptics is to try to "make up" scientific facts and then, on the gainsay that you do not have an actual textbook on hand to disprove them or at least offer up a contrary, peer-reviewed argument,to act as though they know it for certain to be a fact.  You may be surprised how many listeners they win over this way.  Often their real goal is not to convince you, but to win over an audience from those within earshot, who will be very impressed at the speakers apparent knowledge.  The old adage goes "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with Bull."   

Another wonderful tactic I have discoverd is flat-out denial of the evidence. "Oh, that's just wrong." No reason why, it just is.
I would ask your friend if this is what convinced them to believe in "god"...
Well, that's the most amazing thing of all. She has a couple of doubts about evolution so she rejects it wholesale, evidence and all, for goddidit which has zero evidence! She chooses to belive in creationism!  The intellectual acrobatics of this person are dizzying. Perosnally I prefer a more straightforward approach to the wonders of the universe, but then I am a dirty sinner who lacks the holy spirit and am going to hell so what do I know.




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