In the July 16, 2003 BEL program, titled “Bob vs NASA”, Bob pokes fun at atheists about their ineptitude at visualizing large numbers. His overall point was that some people, old classmates of his in particular, didn’t have a good feel for big numbers, in spite of their scientific training and jobs. His point may be correct, but it is amusing to look at the details of what he said. Let’s look at a couple of gems. Remember this is in a conversation in which Bob is pointing out how people goof up big numbers.
Psst. Hey Bob. The right answer is one hundred thousand times bigger, not ten thousand times bigger. (How many of his home-schooled friends pointed this out to him?)What if there’s 10 to the 85 particles? What would that mean? What if it’s not 10 to the 80 particles, what if it’s 10 to the 85 particles? What’s the difference in size, of the universe? This question is for a public school teacher out there. Any public school teachers, what if … And I just got a home-schooler in the audience who yelled “huge difference”. Yeah, 10 to the 80th versus 10 to the 85th would mean the universe is ten thousand times bigger than they thought it was. If it’s 10 to the 85th. Ten thousand times bigger. Not two times bigger. Not 5 times bigger. Imagine that. 5 times bigger, for the whole universe – that would be big, wouldn’t it? You think you know how big the universe is? It’s really five times bigger. And then it turns out there’s 10 to the 85 particles in the universe, so it’s ten thousand times bigger.
Psst #2. Hey Bob. If you start with the 9 zeros in a billion, and multiply it by 200, that makes 11 zeroes, not 10 (and the factor of 2).You know one of the things atheists are not good at? Atheists are not good at coming to grips with really big numbers. They’re not good at that. …
I asked how many galaxies do astronomers say exist? How many galaxies? Well nobody knows, but they use a number of about 200 billion. Ok, 200 billion. So let’s change that. Let’s say they’re off by 10. Let’s make it 2 trillion. OK 2 trillion. So you write down – 2 trillion galaxies. And how many stars are in the average galaxy? Well they say there’s maybe 200 billion stars in every galaxy. Well that’s a lot. Ok, so how many zeroes in a billion? 9, right? And 200, so that’s 10, with a 2. So just add 10 zeros to the number we got, 2 trillion, and make the 2 a 4. Ok so that’s how many stars are in the entire universe.
Psst #3. Hey Bob. A square inch has no helium atoms in it. It is an area, not a volume.How many helium atoms are in a square inch? You add a few more zeros, and you find out they were wrong.
And we can see that relatively small numbers, like going from 9 zeros to 11 zeroes, or multiplying by 10 to the 5th power gives at least one pastor fits.So the point of that story – now my friends who were engineers for Bell Labs, that I had grown up with – you now, they had an excellent education, they were very sharp. But hey didn’t really have a gut feel for really big numbers. The magnitude of really big numbers and what they entail.