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Response to Scordova

UPDATE: In his comment #9 below, Sal Cordova says he doesn’t believe that a backward running tornado, turning rubble into houses and cars, would violate the second law either (more precisely, he says the burden of proof is on me to show mathematically that it would, as though I were the first to claim this). So, no, if you don’t think the second law should be used in any application that isn’t quantifiable, and there are others with this point of view, you aren’t going to think it has anything to do with evolution either, that’s about all you need to know about our disagreement. My point of view, and that of most general physics textbooks (thermodynamics texts, on the other hand, tend to avoid difficult to quantify applications), is that some things are obvious even if they aren’t easy to quantify. END OF UPDATE

Here is my response to scordova:

Obviously the origin and evolution of life do not violate the second law as stated in the early formulations you quote, but there are many formulations of this law, some more general than others. For example, Kenneth Ford in “Classical and Modern Physics” writes “There are a variety of ways in which the second law of thermodynamics can be stated, and we have encountered two of them so far: (1) For an isolated system, the direction of spontaneous change is from an arrangement of lesser probability to an arrangement of greater probability. (2) For an isolated system, the direction of spontaneous change is from order to disorder.” The early formulations are just applications of this more general principle to thermal entropy. Even many adamant opponents of ID recognize that the second law can be applied much more generally than you apply it, for example Isaac Asimov, in the Smithsonian Magazine, wrote “we have to work hard to straighten a room, but left to itself, it becomes a mess again very quickly and very easily… How difficult to maintain houses and machinery, and our own bodies in perfect working order; how easy to let them deteriorate. In fact, all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out—all by itself—and that is what the second law is all about.”

So let me ask you, Scordova: if you saw a video of a tornado running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, would you consider that violated the second law? Obviously it would not violate the early formulations you quote, but most physics textbooks agree that a tornado running backward, if it really happened, would violate the second law, in its more general form. And if that would violate the second law, why does the rearrangement of atoms into brains, computers, nuclear power plants and libraries not violate it? This recent post on ENV pursues this point further, and addresses several of Scordova’s arguments. I would urge readers to please see that post, since they will not find links to anything I have actually written on this topic in Scordova’s attack. Or for a more general discussion, this.

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27 Responses to Response to Scordova

  1. of atoms into brains, computers, nuclear power plants and libraries not violate it? This recent post on ENV pursues this point further, and addresses several of Scordova’s arguments. I would urger readers to please see that post, since they will not find links to anything I have actually written on this topic in Scordova’s attack.

    Dr. Sewell,

    My sincere apologies for the oversight of not linking to your papers. I updated my post to provide a link to this discussion where readers can have access to your papers and you targeted response.

    Thank you for taking time to provide a response.

    Sal

  2. 2
    Granville Sewell

    Sal,

    Furthermore, I deeply resent your attempt to portray me as an ignoramus on this topic. If you’ll look at my CV you’ll see that about half of my 45 publications are collaborations with physicists, and published in physics journals. Several of my collaborators have subsequently told me they like my Applied Mathematics Letters article, which was accepted and then withdrawn at the last minute for purely political reasons, as is well known. I have discussed this topic in my 2005 John Wiley book “The Numerical Solution of Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations, second edition” among other places. So I am not as ignorant of the topic as you imply.

  3. Furthermore, I deeply resent your attempt to portray me as an ignoramus on this topic.

    I’m sorry you see it that way, and that was not my intent.

    I have nothing to gain by expressing my dissent, and actually much to lose. Nevertheless, I felt I had to for the sake of those that may share my reservations.

    If one cannot arrive at the same conclusions using all widely accepted versions of the 2nd law (including Clausius and Kelvin Planck), then I would argue this is unwise since one will come up with a different conclusion depending on which version of the 2nd law one uses.

  4. 4
    Chance Ratcliff

    “…if you saw a video of a tornado running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, would you consider that violated the second law? “

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen a direct answer to this question by anyone critical of, or in disagreement with, Sewell.

    Myself, I don’t know the answer; but if a tornado running backward, or the spontaneous formation of complex and specified, irreducibly complex systems doesn’t violate some known law, then there would appear to be an unknown law being violated – or one being confirmed.

  5. 5
    Granville Sewell

    Chance,

    You are right, and I would like to see Sal’s answer to that question. Here is my answer, in the ENV post:

    So, if we saw a video of a tornado, running backward, would we conclude that the second law was being violated by what was happening or not? According to many physics textbooks, such as the Ford text quoted in my video “Evolution is a Natural Process Running Backward” (above), the answer is yes. In any case, if we actually watched a video of a tornado, running backward, it would certainly not occur to us to make any of the above arguments to claim that what we were seeing did not technically violate the second law, as formulated in physics textbooks. We would immediately recognize that what we were seeing violated a fundamental law of Nature, whether it violated the manmade formulations of this law or not.

  6. Dr. Sewell, I like Dr. Sanford’s take on how entropy, as the overriding principle of deterioration that we witness all around us (i.e. the common sense law of physics), relates to the impossibility of neo-Darwinian evolution:

    Genetic Entropy – Dr. John Sanford – Evolution vs. Reality – video (Notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/35088933

    Evolution Vs Genetic Entropy – Andy McIntosh PhD. – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4028086

    John Sanford on (Genetic Entropy) – Down, Not Up – 2-4-2012 (lecture at Loma Linda University) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHsu94HQrL0

    Notes from John Sanford’s preceding lecture:

    *3 new mutations every time a cell divides in your body
    * Average cell of 15 year old has up to 6000 mutations
    *Average cell of 60 year old has 40,000 mutations
    Reproductive cells are ‘designed’ so that, early on in development, they are ‘set aside’ and thus they do not accumulate mutations as the rest of the cells of our bodies do. Regardless of this protective barrier against the accumulation of slightly detrimental mutations still we find that,,,
    *60-175 mutations are passed on to each new generation.

    This ‘slightly detrimental’ mutation rate of 100 to 200, or even 60, per generation is far greater than what even evolutionists agree is an acceptable mutation rate since detrimental mutations will accumulate far faster than ‘selection’ can eliminate them in any given genome:

    Beyond A ‘Speed Limit’ On Mutations, Species Risk Extinction
    Excerpt: Shakhnovich’s group found that for most organisms, including viruses and bacteria, an organism’s rate of genome mutation must stay below 6 mutations per genome per generation to prevent the accumulation of too many potentially lethal changes in genetic material.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....172753.htm

    The following video clearly shows why this is slightly detrimental mutation rate ‘unacceptable’ as far as Darwinian evolution is concerned:

    Human evolution or extinction – discussion on acceptable mutation rate per generation (with clips from Dr. John Sanford) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC_NyFZG7pM

    It is also extremely interesting to note, the principle of Genetic Entropy, a principle which stands in direct opposition of the primary claim of neo-Darwinian evolution, lends itself quite well to mathematical analysis by computer simulation:

    Using Computer Simulation to Understand Mutation Accumulation Dynamics and Genetic Load:
    Excerpt: We apply a biologically realistic forward-time population genetics program to study human mutation accumulation under a wide-range of circumstances.,, Our numerical simulations consistently show that deleterious mutations accumulate linearly across a large portion of the relevant parameter space.
    http://bioinformatics.cau.edu......aproof.pdf
    MENDEL’S ACCOUNTANT: J. SANFORD†, J. BAUMGARDNER‡, W. BREWER§, P. GIBSON¶, AND W. REMINE
    http://mendelsaccount.sourceforge.net

    Whereas, neo-Darwinian evolution has no rigorous mathematical foundation with which we can rigorously analyze it in any computer simulation; in any supposed ‘Evolutionary Algorithm’:

    Refutation of Evolutionary Algorithms
    https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1h33EC4yg29Ve59XYJN_nJoipZLKIgupT6lBtsaVQsUs

    further note that strongly agrees with the preceding conclusion:

    “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”: Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain – Michael Behe – December 2010
    Excerpt: In its most recent issue The Quarterly Review of Biology has published a review by myself of laboratory evolution experiments of microbes going back four decades.,,, The gist of the paper is that so far the overwhelming number of adaptive (that is, helpful) mutations seen in laboratory evolution experiments are either loss or modification of function. Of course we had already known that the great majority of mutations that have a visible effect on an organism are deleterious. Now, surprisingly, it seems that even the great majority of helpful mutations degrade the genome to a greater or lesser extent.,,, I dub it “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”: Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain.(that is a net ‘fitness gain’ within a ‘stressed’ environment i.e. remove the stress from the environment and the parent strain is always more ‘fit’)
    http://behe.uncommondescent.co.....evolution/

  7. 7
    Granville Sewell

    So I would like to ask Sal again: would a tornado running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, violate the second law or not? If not, what law would it violate—it clearly violates some basic natural law, and the second law is the only accepted law of science which anyone has ever claimed applied. It is at least an obvious generalization (to open systems) of the second law which is being violated.

    Similarly, to those who are so queasy applying the second law to what has happened on Earth: if atoms on a barren planet spontaneously rearranging themselves, under the influence of purely unintelligent forces, into computers and nuclear power plants and spaceships, does not violate the second law, what law does it violate?

  8. Mr. Sewell, would you care to address the critisicms about your paper raised in this tread:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-421938

  9. “…if you saw a video of a tornado running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, would you consider that violated the second law? “

    I don’t know, I leave that to you to demonstrate mathematically starting with something like the Kelvin-Planck postulate or Clausius postulates which it is apparent wasn’t done in your paper. The burden is on your papers to justify that claim.

    I don’t believe tornados will assemble cars, but I don’t use the 2nd law to make such arguments. Straight forward probability arguments in terms of mechanics (which are the foundation of the 2nd law) are better. Arguments from mechanics will say that certain wind velocities will be inconsistent with the persistence of certain structures. A strong enough wind will knock down a house and trees to hit the house. In fact one only need make a few mechanical arguments to justify an obviously empirically verified observation.

    For example, we could take the force that a tornado will exert on certain sturctures, and then we can assert whether that structure will stand or whether a structure can be assembled with the exertion of such forces.

    By way of comparison, such analysis is needed if we are programming robots which must have the right position and velocity to assemble car parts. So these are appeals to classical mechanics (where position and momentum are central), not thermodynamics (where heat and temperature are central).

    In fact if civil engineers are building to protect houses from tornadoes, they use recourse to Newton’s laws of mechanics more so than the 2nd law of thermodynamics to give them guidance! Simple mechanics will tell you tornadoes don’t assemble cars, so the recourse to the 2nd law seems bizarre, needless, and confusing. It doesn’t clarify the ID argument, it confuses it.

    If one starts with is the Clausis formulation of the 2nd law:

    No cyclic process is possible whose sole outcome is transfer of heat from a cooler body to a hotter body

    How is this used to arrive at your desired conclusion?

    The claim that tornadoes will not assemble cars is a true claim. But this claim does not follow logically from the premise of the 2nd law, even if the desired conclusion (that tornadoes can’t assemble cars) is true.

    For example the fundamental theorem of calculus is true, but it is not logically proven by appeals to the 2nd law of thermodynamics or the color of the sky.

    The problem is one of a weakly argued inference. This is not a criticism of the final conclusion, but the reasoning process that arrives at that conclusion.

    Now, if you can’t demonstrate your claim mathematically starting from the Clausius Postulate or Kelvin-Planck postulate, then it would only be fair to say in your papers that your conclusions is not directly supported by certain formulations of the 2nd law such as Clausius or Kelvin Planck.

    In thermodynamic texts, the example I gave of hot bricks losing entropy can be argued starting from the Clausius postulate.

    In fact, the entropy of the Earth being reduced by the increase of entropy of the surroundings can in principle be argued from the Clausius postulate, and yet this is what you mentioned in you paper:

    Of course the whole idea of compensation, whether by distant or nearby events, makes no sense logically:

    And that is what caught my eye because that was exactly what happened with hot bricks having their entropy lowered by being in contact cold bricks. It was a counterexample of compensation which you say makes no sense logically….

    And by way of extension, that is how a hot (supposedly molten Earth in the past) lowers its entropy as it cools as the heat is radiated into space. So the idea of compensation of reducing entropy in one location by increasing it in another is empirically observed and logically supported by thermodynamics. That’s what refrigerators and heat pumps do!

    And by the way, it was the ENV posting that precipitated my response. If our colleagues wish to support your claims, I respect them for that, but I cannot agree that the paper successfully argues the final conclusion. I ‘ve stated my reasons why, and I don’t feel comfortable seen ID sympathetic students buying into claims that don’t seem to aagree with the basics they learn in school like:

    1. the Clausius Postulate
    2. the Kelvin-Plank Postulate
    3. the reduction of entropy in open systems through the increase of entropy elsewhere

    Sorry to offend you, but I didn’t want my silence (or that of others with similar doubts) on the matter to be interpreted as agreement with your hypothesis. The ENV article forced my hand, and I felt obligated to say something, even if at variance with a respected member of the ID community as yourself.

    On a technical note, your definition of entropy is insufficient to justify your claims and leads to gross Equivocation

    I’ve argued in favor of the notion of a Privileged Planet Earth, but I don’t use 2nd law arguments to make that claim. Basic mechanics and chemistry and electromagnetism and probability are much more accurate for arguing that we live in a privileged planet, not appeals to the 2nd law.

    The 2nd law proceeds from mechanics (both classical and quanntum), not the other way around. And that is the crux of my contention, your resorting to thermodynamics when mechanics and statistics are better modes of justifying certain cliams. I don’t disagree with the final conclusion, but rather the proof methods to arrive at those conclusions.

  10. 10
    Granville Sewell

    Sal,
    1) Obviously, you can’t arrive at my conclusions from the Clausius formulation of the second law, you arrive at it from the more general formulations. If you look at most any physics textbook that discusses the second law, it will give examples of entropy increases that are not very quantifiable, such as tornados tearing through a town, books burning, or glass breaking. These are not discussed much in thermo texts because they are not quantifiable, but I get so tired of people like you implying I am the first to ever try to apply the second law to such less quantifiable entropy increases, this has been done by many many scientists on both side of the debate (eg, John Sanford’s “Genetic Entropy” book mentioned by BornAgain).

    2) When any kind of entropy decreases in an open system, such as in your brick example, it is not because something extremely improbable is being compensated by events outside the system (as Asimov, Dawkins, Styer and many others argue has happened on Earth), it is because something is entering the open system which makes what happens NOT extremely improbable.

  11. Dr. Sewell:

    What part of the RNA world hypothesis specifically violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics? I’m not saying that I agree with the RNA world, because I don’t, but I’m really interested in what part of that hypothesis you see as contradicting the 2nd Law.

  12. When any kind of entropy decreases in an open system, such as in your brick example, it is not because something extremely improbable is being compensated by events outside the system (as Asimov, Dawkins, Styer and many others argue has happened on Earth), it is because something is entering the open system which makes what happens NOT extremely improbable.

    Dr. Sewell,

    I’m sorry but that does not agree with common understanding of statistical mechanics and classical thermodynamics.

    Temperature can be said to be the average (mean) kinetic energy of the particles in a system.

    Take container with superheated gas. The gas particles are moving very fast as they collide with each other and the conatiner walls. If kinetic energy is defined as

    1/2 m v ^ 2

    the these high velocity particles have higher kinetic energy.

    In a cold gas the particles are moving slower and thus have lower kinetic energy.

    If the containers are put into contact, the particles can exchange momentum (and thus kinetic energy) even through the containers because a molecule bumps into it neighbor and that neigbor bumpst into its neigbor, etc.

    By way of example when a high speed billiard ball collides with a slow one, there is an exchange of momentum and a corresponding change in energy for each of the billiard balls. In like manner, the fast moving molecules in one conatainer can energize the slow moving molecules in the cold container until equilibrium is reached.

    The average kinetic energy of the molecules in each container is a statistical property which we call “temperature”.

    Thus in the example of the hot brick, kinetic energy is flowing out (measured in Joules of energy or Kilo-watt hours) to the cold brick. This reduction of kinetic energy is noted as Q (like in the formula I provided for a hot brick).

    This reduction of kinetic energy in the hot container (or brick) reduces the number of possible microstates in the hot container thus the entropy. Thus it is proper to say, entropy is reduced because events out side the system (like heat out of a hot brick going into the environment), not because something flows in.

    When entropy is reduced, certain microstates become more probable. In the extreme case, if absolute zero were achieved in principle, only one microstate would be accessible, thus it would have a probability of 100% according to the 3rd law of thermodynamics.

    The notion of “flowing in” to reduce entropy is not a standard formulation of this sort of reduction of entropy. Of course one can say “cold goes in” but who is to say it isn’t really hot flowing out. Hot flowing out seems to be the better description especially if black body radiative mechanisms are in play.

    I just don’t see how the standard description I provided can be characterized as:

    When any kind of entropy decreases in an open system, such as in your brick example, it is not because something extremely improbable is being compensated by events outside the system (as Asimov, Dawkins, Styer and many others argue has happened on Earth), it is because something is entering the open system which makes what happens NOT extremely improbable.

    Sorry to offer my disagreement in a public forum. I’m articulating objections which average individuals with interest in these topics would raise.

    Thank you again for your response, and apologies for offending you.

    regards,
    Sal

  13. Scordova, what do you think of the objections articulated by Gordon Davisson to Mr. Sewell’s paper that I linked to in comment 8?

  14. 14
    Granville Sewell

    I showed in the AML paper (and several published versions before) that the decrease in thermal entropy in an open system is bounded by the amount of entropy exported through the boundary, not by any “compensating” increase outside the system. The main conclusion was “if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is isolated, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it NOT extremely improbable.” And the equations for thermal or any other “X-entropy” just illustrated this tautology. The Asimov, Dawkins, Styer argument that extremely improbable things can happen on Earth as long as they are compensated by entropy increases outside the Earth is based on generalizing the equations for thermal entropy change to these less quantifiable applications, without looking carefully enough at these equations.

    I’m not going to add any further comments on this post, I’ve been arguing this topic for 11 years and am very tired. Anyone who wants to see my point of view can find the AML paper here .

  15. Mr. Sewell, why are you takings things personally? I read scordova’s post and he isnt attacking you or anyone else. Why are you taking a disagreement with your argument as an attack on you?

  16. kuartus why are YOU addressing what sounds like a private note to Dr. Sewell to the public?

  17. @News

    I think we all deserve an answer. Sewell no longer wants to discuss an important issue which was raised in good faith and even seems offended that scordova disagrees with his argument since he interpreted his post as an attack. That kind of reaction seems way out of line. I was looking forward to a friutful discussion but Sewell’s attitute seems to have stifled that.

  18. @everyone

    If I had to point out what confuses me most about the second law is how do we confirm it as an open system? Do we do so only because of the energy transfer from the sun? Matter that passes into the earth’s atmosphere is very little indeed and we are certainly losing more matter each year than gaining it from anywhere else in the universe. I’m just a layman but everything points to the earth being a closed system in my humble opinion.

  19. Could you read the paper he linked and comment on it?

  20. Also to kuartus: We certainly hope that Dr. Sewell, once rested, will continue a cordial discussion. But, just making a general point here for the record:

    It is inherently difficult for a specialist to discuss matters on a blog if people are unwilling or unable to read and understand the primary material.

    This problem arose here with Ann Gauger’s critique, in a recent book, of an argument made by Francisco Ayala re first human population sizes. UD news (Denyse O’Leary) had in fact read the relevant chapter (5), but some commenters did not feel the need.

    Now, to be clear, we don’t mind people simply holding forth (if they must). But we do not blame the author of a book or paper for refusing to engage with persons who do not read it, do not feel the need to read it, and may not understand the issues, and don’t care if they don’t.

    Yes, the author must defend his work against his peers. But the set of all peers is only a subset of the set of all persons with an opinion to air.

  21. My two cents for what it is worth.

    The 2nd law is useful because it discusses a lower limit of “order” that may possibly happen given a change in energy at a certain temparature. I see the 2nd law as basically an argument about statistical states. At a given temperature, there is a minimum energy change needed to restrict an outcome to a more ordered state.

    However, ID is more interested than the minimum order. Statistically, there are vanishingly small states of metal, and plastic that form a working car. Much more restriction than is covered in the second law. A tornado could never assemble a car and everyone knows that. An argument from mechanics is useless. A tornado has enough energy to do anything. It lacks any kind of control on the use of that energy. Naturalists like to stay with the 2nd law alone and leave out of the discussion anything like the assembling of a car because it is all that they can handle without intelligent intervention.

    I like the progress Dr. Sewell has made in going beyond the 2nd law. He has recognized that to get beyond the bare minimum of “order” requires not just energy to do work, but intelligence to guide the energy. This gets beyond entropy into the field of CSI.

    My bottom line, Keep going Dr. Sewell. I think your line of thinking will eventually yield some fruit.

    Sal, your position is good if we are trying to impress the community of ID denialists. I don’t want to impress them, I want them to one by one drop their (to me ) obviously incorrect faith position.

  22. Greetings, Sal:
    I’m curious if you might agree that the Boltzman-Gibbs version of the second law would perhaps be easier to apply to the “reverse video” argument. I use it in my biology classes at Cornell when discussing the second law and found that students very quickly understand the concept of microstates and how they relate to entropy.

  23. Allen!

    I gave a response to your querry in my thread in comment 28 or so. Feel free to interact on these topics here:

    2nd Law An Argument Creationists Should Not Use

  24. Sal Cordova is right about the Second Law of Thermodynamics not disproving evolution. Granville Sewell is completely wrong.

    2LOT says that if a closed system has a decrease in entropy deltaS (where I define deltaS is positive for entropy decrease and negative for entropy increase) and if it radiates heat deltaQ to its environment at temperature T, then:

    deltaS <= delta Q /T

    For an open system, you add corrections for the intrinsic entropy of matter entering or leaving the system. That's all. Special cases: for an isolated system, deltaQ = 0 by definition. For an exothermic reaction, which all living things and ecosystems are, deltaQ is positive and huge.

    Granville Sewell is in effect setting deltaQ = 0 for the evolution of a population of organisms, plus the food they eat, plus the poop and dead bodies they produce. This is invalid, because populations of organisms radiate huge amounts of heat, so deltaQ is huge for populations. This is a huge, obvious error.

    For the evolution of a population of organisms, e.g. Homo habilis to Homo erectus, deltaS is certainly very, very small compared to the huge amounts of heat radiated to the environment by a half-million years of evolution.

    In fact DeltaS could even be NEGATIVE for some kinds of evolution, i.e. Homo habilis to Homo erectus, because Homo erectus individuals are larger, and because entropy is an intrinsic property, so more matter means higher entropy. The "disorder" of a modern human brain could be twice that of an early Homo erectus brain, because it is more massive.

    If you prefer to think of entropy as "disorder", and "order" as the opposite of entropy, well, that is a very bad metaphor and leads to bizarre contradictions. Consider the following.

    Consider the empty space around planet Earth 3 billion years ago. Let's by convention say that its entropy then was zero. Now if you define "order" as minus entropy, then the space around planet Earth 3 billion years ago had zero "order."

    But, while life was evolving on Earth, the ecosystem radiated heat into space. So delta Q over 3 billion years is HUGE. This means the entropy of empty space around Earth is a much, much higher positive number than it was 3 billion years ago.

    But if you define "order" as minus entropy, then the empty space around Earth is, right now, a huge, huge NEGATIVE NUMBER. If this seems bizarre or counter-intuitive, then don't call "order" the opposite of entropy. Physicists don't and chemists don't, when they are doing real calculations.

    This is exactly what Granville Sewell does–he calls "order" the opposite of entropy, and instead of talking about heat flowing OUT of a system, as a physicist or chemist would, Sewell instead speaks of "order" flowing INTO a system. This leads Granville Sewell to bizarre self-contradictions and counter-intuitive absurdities.

  25. 25
    Gordon Davisson

    Granville Sewell:

    I showed in the AML paper (and several published versions before) that the decrease in thermal entropy in an open system is bounded by the amount of entropy exported through the boundary, not by any “compensating” increase outside the system.

    You misunderstand the principle of compensation; in fact, the “entropy exported through the boundary” is just a different way of describing the coupling between entropy decreases inside the system and entropy increases outside the system. Your paper didn’t refute the principle of compensation, it demonstrates it!

    The Asimov, Dawkins, Styer argument that extremely improbable things can happen on Earth as long as they are compensated by entropy increases outside the Earth is based on generalizing the equations for thermal entropy change to these less quantifiable applications, without looking carefully enough at these equations.

    This is not how the principle of compensation works. First, compensation has to do with entropy changes, not probability. Probability is sometimes related to entropy, but under other circumstances they can have nothing to do with each other. Worse, the situations where compensation is relevant are usually those where probability does not (directly) relate to entropy, so this statement will almost always be wrong.

    Second, the principle only applies if the entropy decrease and compensating increase are causally coupled. This is a very slippery (hard to define and apply correctly) requirement, but it is vital to the principle of compensation. For example, if you have heat flowing from point A to point B, you’ll get an entropy decrease at A and a (larger) increase at B, the two changes are coupled by the heat flow and the increase at B compensates for the decrease at A. On the other hand, if there were an entropy decrease at A and a (larger) increase at B with no interaction between A and B, the increase at B would not be considered to compensate for the decrease at A.

    Entropy flow (actually, it’s technically called “entropy flux”) is really just a different (IMHO better) way of describing the same thing, concentrating on the coupling interactions rather than the resulting entropy changes. When we say there’s an entropy flux out of the system of ΔS_e, that’s really just a shorthand for saying that there’s an interaction across the boundary of the system that requires an entropy increase of at least ΔS_e outside the system, and allows a decrease of up to ΔS_e inside the system.

    For an example of how easy this is to mess up, look at Styer’s paper: he calculates the increase in entropy of the cosmic microwave background due to heat radiated by Earth, and assumes that since it’s due to emissions from Earth, it’s “available” to compensate for entropy decreases on Earth. But in fact only a small part of it is, because most of that increase is due to the thermalization of that radiation after it leaves earth, and this thermalization is not required by anything happening on Earth.

    To do this right, you have to look at the entropy of the radiation leaving Earth, as it leaves Earth. Bunn’s paper gets this part right (he doesn’t analyze it as either entropy flux or compensation, but uses yet another approach that also comes to the same thing). Unfortunately, he uses the wrong formula for the entropy of that radiation. I have corrected that error and done the analysis explicitly in terms of entropy flux (see near the end of this earlier comment) and got a result in the same range as Bunn’s:

    Styer: 4.2e14 J/K per second (note: this is his figure for the flux through Earth, not for compensating changes outside Earth)
    Bunn: 4e14 J/K per second
    Davisson: more than 3.7e14 J/K per second

  26. 26
    Gordon Davisson

    So I would like to ask Sal again: would a tornado running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, violate the second law or not? If not, what law would it violate—it clearly violates some basic natural law, and the second law is the only accepted law of science which anyone has ever claimed applied.

    This is a logical fallacy (specifically, affirming the consequent). If something violates a basic natural law, it is obviously impossible. But something being obviously impossible (like a tornado turning rubble into houses and cars) in no way implies that it violates a basic natural law.

    There are lots of things that are impossible — even “obviously” impossible — that don’t violate any particular laws. My standard examples are planets following triangluar orbits, and hydrogen gas at standard temperature and pressure fusing into helium. (Note: this fusion would be strongly favored by the second law, but it still doesn’t happen.) As far as I can see, tornados turning rubble into houses and cars belongs in this category.

    Worse, there are many things that are obviously impossible, but happen anyway! quantum entanglement effects (e.g. violations of Bell’s theorem) are one example that does it for me. I agree with Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen when they say, “No reasonable definition of reality could be expected to permit this.” And yet, these effects are detected, exactly as QM predicts.

    But there’s actually another problem with this line of reasoning: if you use it to support your claim that evolution violates the second law of thermo, it renders your whole argument circular, and hence useless. The argument takes the form:

    It’s obvious that evolution is impossible.
    Therefore, evolution violates the second law.
    Therefore, evolution is impossible.

    …so even if the inference were valid, the argument based on it would not be.

    If you want to use the second law to argue against evolution, you must avoid starting from the assumption that evolution is impossible. I would suggest using trying to cast your claim that evolution violates the second law in the form: if evolution occurs, it would show that the second law is wrong. Many of the usual arguments that something violates the second law take this form. For example, the standard derivation of the efficiency limit for refrigerators is that if you had one that exceeds the limit, you could put it together with a couple of heat reservoirs and a power source, isolate them, and get the entropy of that isolated system to decrease, thus refuting the second law.

    This form (“if X is possible, the second law is wrong”) is logically equivalent to the more obvious form (“if the second law is correct, X is impossible”), so any (valid) argument for a conflict can be put in either form; but if you use the form I recommend, some of the fallacies I see disturbingly often in these discussions will be more apparent.

    (Note: of all of the arguments I’ve seen over the years that evolution violates the second law, I haven’t found any that I could figure out how to recast in the “if evolution is possible, the second law is wrong” form. If anyone reading this and thinks they have an argument that evolution violates the second law, can you figure out how to put your argument in this form? If not, that’s an indication that there’s something wrong…)

  27. I fully agree with Sewell. The 2TL (in its statistical sense) states that systems go spontaneously towards their more probable states. Since an organized system implies only one organized state (where the system is ok and works) and many disorganized states (where the system is ko and doesn’t work), systems do NOT go spontaneously towards organization, because the disorganized states are many, then are more probable. Only intelligence can contrast this natural tendency, expressed by the 2TL.

    Evolution says that systems go spontaneously towards organization.
    2TL says that systems do NOT go spontaneously towards organization.

    Please compare the two previous sentences and note that the latter denies the former, i.e. evolution is incompatible with 2TL.

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