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Thermodynamics and Intelligent Design

Check out the following online lecture/tutorial by Granville Sewell (Texas A&M) on the connection between thermodynamics and ID: www.math.tamu.edu/~sewell/odes_pdes/thermo.html

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52 Responses to Thermodynamics and Intelligent Design

  1. The article is extremely informative. Sewell points out IDists are on the whole uncomforatable with the old creationist arguments from the 2nd law. I certainly am. Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen used an innovative approach by combining thermal entropy with configurational entropy to make a 2nd law-like argument, but I found it rather inelegant. I think the idea of a 4th law clarifies the issue better….

    Sewell makes the point there is an underlying principle to the 2nd law (probability). I do feel comfortable with that. I think (and I could be wrong), that the laws of probability underlie both the 2nd and 4th law. Thus his point (as I see it) is evolution is in violation of principles even more fundamental than the second law.

    All in all, a wonderful link!

    Salvador

  2. Wow! Great example of the beauty of simplicity!

  3. According to his line of reasoning I would have to conclude that the formation of everything from the initial atoms to galaxies, stars, and planetary systems is equally a concievable violation of the 2nd Law. Granted that the information in life is more complex and potentially less probable, but the principle is the same. Everywhere we look in the universe we see thermal order that, by the arguments reasoning, should not be there.

    I think the probability angle makes for the best 2nd Law argument that I have heard, but it really does not address the classic failings of such arguments.

  4. Pretty impressive. Usually I don’t care for that argument, but he presented it well.

  5. It’s presented well, but it is a fallacious tautology he presents. Here is a simple counter-example: A highly improbable event would be for energetic water molecules to start sticking to each other in an ordered, symmetric way. Yet, it is made more probable by simply reducing the temperature of the system. (Frost in your fridge.) Heat leaving the boundry of this open system is how this is possible. How does his tautology explain such an event?

    By the way: what is the 4th Law of Thermo?

  6. So it sounds like his argument has little to do with thermodynamics, but is rather just a restatement of ID beliefs—that NS+RM is extremely unlikely to have produced the complexity and diversity we see. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a claim that any physical laws are violated.

  7. ftrp11 wrote:
    “According to his line of reasoning I would have to conclude that the formation of everything from the initial atoms to galaxies, stars, and planetary systems is equally a concievable violation of the 2nd Law.”
    –This is an EXCELLENT OBSERVATION and exactly correct.
    –That the existence of the material universe is a violation of the 2nd Law is ENTIRELY CONSISTENT with the logical inference we make from what we have learned from the development of the Big Bang theory–the origens of the material universe cannot have had a material origin.

    Bingo, ftrp11!
    “Everywhere we look in the universe we see thermal order that, by the argument’s reasoning, should not be there.”

  8. ftrp11 wrote:

    “I think the probability angle makes for the best 2nd Law argument that I have heard, but it really does not address the classic failings of such arguments.”

    What are those classic failings? The principal and oft-repeated assertion I have seen is the assertion that the second law does not apply to open systems, which is nonsense. I would be interested to hear about specific failings of 2nd law arguments.

  9. Nonsense????
    Then how would one explain order w/out violating the 2nd Law?

  10. Eric,

    It’s not that the second law doesn’t apply to open systems. It does. It’s just that the second law allows entropy to decrease in open systems, but not in closed systems.

  11. Eric:

    “What are those classic failings? The principal and oft-repeated assertion I have seen is the assertion that the second law does not apply to open systems, which is nonsense.”

    Er… Not really.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.....modynamics

    And it’s been this way since Clausius first gave its two definitions:

    http://physics.about.com/od/th.....rmodyn.htm

    Now, of course it applies to the entire universe- it is a law, after all. But it refers to closed systems.

    Interesting irrelevant point: There is a 4th Law, actually. It’s called Zeroth Law for some reason.

  12. Valerie wrote:

    “It’s just that the second law allows entropy to decrease in open systems, but not in closed systems.”

    Unfortunately, the supposed open-system/closed-system distinction is largely one of arbitrary semantics and definition. To use our favorite example: the earth is supposedly an open system, so the canned argument goes. But with reference to what? Why, with reference to the Sun, of course. Yet one can just as easily play the other side of the semantic game and argue that we should really be considering the Earth-Sun system, which is a closed system (and yes, of course, if you take it all the way, you get to the whole universe).

    Here is the crux of the matter: The second law doesn’t say that entropy cannot decrease in particular system, open or closed. Rather the second law indicates that entropy will *tend* toward a maximum, all things being equal, or put another way, unless there is a countervailing influence that checks or reduces the entropy. What we see in life around us is a countervailing influence.

    In terms of simple heat, averaged out across the entire space of our supposedly open system, it may be simple enough to inject more heat so that the average goes up in the so-called open system. In terms of order, and what we are really interested in here — complex specified order, however, it makes no difference whether we talk about the Earth being open or closed. You can define the Earth as an open system receiving energy from the Sun, or you can define the Earth-Sun system as closed. You get exactly the same result. The Sun’s energy (or cosmic rays or whatever else one wishes to invoke) hasn’t the slightest capability of producing the kind of results that are of interest here.

    The whole “Earth is an open system” is a weak (and rather unsophisticated) attempt to sidestep what is in fact a very interesting question: Why is it that life offers a temporary rebuke to the second law, and whence that capability?

  13. I was sloppy in my last post and used the word “closed” when I should have used “isolated”. They have different meanings in the lingo of thermodynamics. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy with its surroundings. A closed system exchanges energy with its surroundings, but not matter. I’m not merely being pedantic — he distinction is actually crucial in addresssing Eric’s response.

    The second law says that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, but that the entropy of an open or closed system may decrease if the decrease is offset by an equal or greater increase of entropy in the surroundings. The important distinction is between isolated and non-isolated systems, as far as the second law is concerned.

    Eric Anderson wrote:
    “Unfortunately, the supposed open-system/closed-system distinction is largely one of arbitrary semantics and definition. To use our favorite example: the earth is supposedly an open system, so the canned argument goes.”

    Eric,

    Considering the enormous amount of solar radiation received by Earth, and the enormous amount radiated back into space, the Earth is definitely not an isolated system.

    “Yet one can just as easily play the other side of the semantic game and argue that we should really be considering the Earth-Sun system, which is a closed system…”

    The Earth-Sun system is not isolated either. The Sun radiates much more energy into space than it receives from other stars and galaxies.

    “Here is the crux of the matter: The second law doesn’t say that entropy cannot decrease in particular system, open or closed.”

    It does say that entropy cannot decrease in an isolated system.

    “Rather the second law indicates that entropy will *tend* toward a maximum…”

    It is true that there is an infinitesimal chance that the entropy in an isolated system will spontaneously decrease by a noticeable amount, but in systems consisting of large numbers of atoms (cells, animals, continents, planets certainly all qualify) the probability is so tiny that it can be neglected, just as ID supporters correctly disregard the probability of a specified large protein forming spontaneously from a soup of amino acids.

    “or put another way, unless there is a countervailing influence that checks or reduces the entropy. What we see in life around us is a countervailing influence.”

    The sun’s radiation allows living things on Earth to create pockets of reduced entropy. This is only possible because living things are not isolated systems. The entropy reduction brought about by a growing living thing is more than offset by the increase of entropy in its surroundings.

    “In terms of simple heat, averaged out across the entire space of our supposedly open system, it may be simple enough to inject more heat so that the average goes up in the so-called open system.”

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say in that sentence.

    “You can define the Earth as an open system receiving energy from the Sun, or you can define the Earth-Sun system as closed. You get exactly the same result. The Sun’s energy (or cosmic rays or whatever else one wishes to invoke) hasn’t the slightest capability of producing the kind of results that are of interest here.”

    Again, both systems are non-isolated. Regarding the Sun’s energy, you may believe that it is not capable of causing entropy reduction on Earth, but the second law does not corroborate your belief.

    By the way, are you the Eric Anderson whose essay on Avida we discussed in the following thread?

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....chives/802

    Regards,
    Valerie

  14. Hi Valerie,

    You wrote, “It is true that there is an infinitesimal chance that the entropy in an isolated system will spontaneously decrease by a noticeable amount, but in systems consisting of large numbers of atoms (cells, animals, continents, planets certainly all qualify) the probability is so tiny that it can be neglected, just as ID supporters correctly disregard the probability of a specified large protein forming spontaneously from a soup of amino acids.” (emphasis mine)

    This is off-topic, but I’ve been under the impression that you do not support ID. By this statement, however, you seem to suggest that you entertain IDist thoughts concerning abiogenesis. Is this true? I don’t want this thread to go off on a tangent; I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind offering a simple clarification of your position in this regard.

  15. 15

    Mr Anderson

    “The whole “Earth is an open system” is a weak (and rather unsophisticated) attempt to sidestep what is in fact a very interesting question: Why is it that life offers a temporary rebuke to the second law, and whence that capability?”

    I think that a rock that is hot in the sun also is rebuking the second law. Life is just better at it.

    All

    I have questions about Intelligent Design theory if you will talk to me about it. If I hear right, ID says that a small part of a sample space can not be found with chance. I think though that if you make the sample space big you will think that a likely event even is impossible. Is this a good question or does everyone know the answer?

    I think I have found a solution but if it is a silly question then that is not very important.

    Thank you!

  16. valerie: “The sun’s radiation allows living things on Earth to create pockets of reduced entropy. This is only possible because living things are not isolated systems. The entropy reduction brought about by a growing living thing is more than offset by the increase of entropy in its surroundings.”

    Sewell anticipates this objection: “Anyone who has made [a thermodynamic telic] argument is familiar with the standard reply: the Earth is an open system, and order can increase in an open system, as long as it is ‘compensated’ somehow by a comparable or greater decrease outside the system… if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable. …order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door… if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.”
    ___________

    A particularly important part of Sewell’s overall presentation: “A closer look at equation (5), which holds not only for thermal entropy, but for the ‘entropy’ associated with any other substance that diffuses, shows that this argument, which goes unchallenged in the scientific literature, is based on a misunderstanding of the second law. …According to (4), the thermal order in a system can decrease in two different ways, it can be converted to disorder (first integral term) or it can be exported through the boundary (boundary integral term). It can increase in only one way: by importation through the boundary. Similarly, the increase in ‘carbon order’ in an open system cannot be greater than the carbon order imported through the boundary, and the increase in ‘chromium order’ cannot be greater than the chromium order imported through the boundary, and so on.”

    This reminded me of the following from Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee (p. 245):

    “The mix of nitrogen, oxygen, and water vapor [in the Earth's atmosphere] is chemically unstable and would never arise on a dead planet. Without life, nitrogen and oxygen in the presence of water would combine to form nitric acid and become a dilute acidic component of the ocean. Earth’s peculiar atmosphere is not in chemical equilibrium, and it succeeds in disobeying natural chemical laws only because of the presence of life. The most peculiar aspect of the atmosphere is the abundance of oxygen… It is a highly reactive gas that would exist only at trace levels in the atmosphere of a terrestrial planet devoid of life… The source of atmospheric oxygen is photosynthesis, the miraculous biological process…”

  17. The PDF of Sewell’s “A Second Look at the Second Law” is located at:

    http://www.math.tamu.edu/~sewe.....rticle.pdf

  18. Eric: The 2nd Law does, in fact, refer to closed (thermodynamically isolated) systems. Denying it won’t make it untrue; read my links. Now, it can be applied to the whole universe because it can be regarded a closed system as a whole, but not to everything in it: The Universe is not thermally homogenous- not yet. :)
    In fact, in the real world, every system other than the whole universe itself can be regarded as an open system. That does not mean that entropy in an open system always decreases, far from it- but it means it can decrease, under a sustained flow of energy.

    j:
    If Sewell is serious about order “walking in through the door” then he displays little understanding of the issues he discusses. Order is produced, not transmitted. There is no “orderone”, no order-inducing wave or particle; it is that flows in a system. And the self-organizing principles of matter under a transfer of energy are well observed and documented (and the subject of much scientific debate and research) in both Physics and Chemistry.

  19. An audio/Macromedia Flash video on this by Sewell can be viewed at:
    http://www.math.tamu.edu/~sewe.....hermo.html

  20. I presented a simple counter-example to this tautology, way back on comment #5, and it still has not been addressed.

    As heat leaves the boundary of an open system of water molecules, order will increase in the form of ice-crystals. This is an undisputed effect that we have all seen with our own eyes. Yet, it directly contradicts Sewell’s “order has to come across the boundary” idea.

  21. 21

    I don’t really get the point of this discussion. I thought nobody took the argument of the 2nd law seriously anymore. Is the idea that the Designer suspends the 2nd law sometimes to allow life to appear? But then it can hardly be called a “law”, can it? Apart from that, the 2nd law is a bit weird as a PHYSICAL law anyway in the sense that it doesn’t rely at all on properties of matter. I’m not a physicist, but it seems to be it’s the mathematical law of large numbers in disguise, a limit theorem. Because it is a limit theorem, there’s nothing to prevent finite systems to behave otherwise. Does this make any sense?

  22. After reading 21 previous comments (mine own included), I have this observation:
    The arguments against Sewell’s arguments seem always to revolve around semantics:
    –”A highly improbable event would be for energetic water molecules to start sticking to each other in an ordered, symmetric way.” (The formation of ice is not improbable.)
    –”So it sounds like his argument has little to do with thermodynamics, but is rather just a restatement of ID beliefs….” (Thermodynamics and ID theory are not mutually exclusive.)
    –”Then how would one explain order w/out violating the 2nd Law?” (Big Bang?)
    –”Now, of course it applies to the entire universe- it is a law, after all. But it refers to closed systems.” (Of course!)
    –”I was sloppy in my last post and used the word “closed” when I should have used “isolated”.” (Or not.)
    –”If Sewell is serious about order “walking in through the door” then he displays little understanding of the issues he discusses. Order is produced, not transmitted.” (*Sewell* displays little understanding???)
    –”I thought nobody took the argument of the 2nd law seriously anymore.” (Anybody who DOES is *by definition* “nobody”, of course.)

    The opposition to Sewell’s demonstration appears to have one foot nailed to the floor, so to speak, which results in a sort of flopping, circular motion.

  23. Hi crandaddy,
    Regarding my statement about protein formation: no, I am not an IDer on issues of abiogenesis. I cited that argument because I thought that Eric, being an ID supporter, might be familiar with it. Like some ID supporters, I believe that spontaneous formation of specified large proteins from a soup of amino acids is unlikely. Unlike them, I do not consider this a valid argument against abiogenesis, since current abiogenetic theories do not require large proteins as a starting point.

  24. To j, Red Reader, Eric Anderson, Bill Dembski, and anyone else who buys Sewell’s argument:

    Ask for your money back.

    1. Sewell’s argument is incoherent. On the one hand, he says that the 2nd law is violated every day, when computers or encyclopedias are made. Then he argues that evolution couldn’t have happened because it would have violated the 2nd law.

    Is it a law or not?

    a. If the 2nd law is really a law, then every violation requires some kind of supernatural intervention. That means there is supernatural intervention every day, every hour, every minute, whenever things are manufactured or whenever living things grow. Do all of you really believe that God is continuously intervening in nature to thwart the 2nd law?

    b. If the 2nd law is *not* really a law, then you can hardly argue that it prohibits evolution.

    Which is it, a) or b)?

    2. Sewell argues that radiation cannot bring order into a system. Yet plants generate order from sunlight every day. According to Sewell, they must also be violating the 2nd law. Again, is God intervening constantly to override the 2nd law on behalf of plants? If the 2nd law is being violated, why have scientists (who can measure entropy very accurately) never been able to detect the violation? How is the 2nd law violated, when the metabolic reactions (including photosynthesis) within plants are known to conform to the 2nd law?

    http://www.math.tamu.edu/~sewe.....rticle.pdf
    http://members.aol.com/pde2d/int1.pdf

  25. Valerie, you’re on the right track, though your details are a bit off. Entropy can’t be directly measured, for instance. Check this out:

    http://evolutionblog.blogspot......again.html

  26. Valerie,

    My guess to your answer is that the 2nd law can only be violated by design. So plants, zygotes, computers, encyclopedias, etc. were designed to counteract the 2nd Law.

    I personally don’t buy the 2nd Law argument here because we’re dealing with chemical reactions, not diffusion of heat. (or diffusion of anything else) If anything we observe in nature truly contradicted the 2nd law, then there would be no 2nd law to speak of. IMO

  27. I think Valerie explained it pretty well. I just want to add that it’s not just life that does that: On my desk there is a piece of crystallized lava from Vesuvius. These crystals form from the rapid cooling of lava on the edges of the lava bed. Emergence of order under energy transfer… does this mean I’m looking at a miracle right now?

    Red reader: As far as my quotes are concerned…

    –”Now, of course it applies to the entire universe- it is a law, after all. But it refers to closed systems.” (Of course!)

    Well? In what way is my pointing out the misunderstanding and misuse of the second law for the very principle of this whole argument, “semantics”? The fact that it refers to closed systems is not a detail, it’s the reason this law is not violated by life on earth, and why the argument is void of content.

    ”If Sewell is serious about order “walking in through the door” then he displays little understanding of the issues he discusses. Order is produced, not transmitted.” (*Sewell* displays little understanding???)

    Well, does he? Does he seriously say that order is directly induced inside the system? In what way? Maybe he was speaking metaphorically, but then why does he dismiss the flow of energy as “just radiation”? Look, you don’t have to take my word for it: just google up the textbook definitions and properties of entropy and order in thermodynamics, and decide for yourself whether all this is just semantics.

    Anyway, the main and most obvious problem with these arguments is basically what valerie said: Under their (faulty) logic, it’s not just evolution that would be impossible, it’s all aspects of life, formation of stars and planets, essentially the whole universe. Do we really want to go there?

  28. “Valerie,

    My guess to your answer is that the 2nd law can only be violated by design. So plants, zygotes, computers, encyclopedias, etc. were designed to counteract the 2nd Law. ”

    Look, if the 2nd law could be violated by design, we could make perpetual motion machines. Plants, zygotes etc etc don’t violate the 2nd law, and neither does evolution. And drawing a surface and saying that ‘order’ has to cross the boundary…well, when an ice cube freezes, you show me where ‘order’ flowed into the system. That’s just nonsense. reducing the entropy within a surface simply requires that the integral of dQ/T across the surface be greater or less than the reduction, depending on the sign convention. Let’s leave this pseudoscientific garbage to the Young Earth Creationists.

  29. Valerie,

    “Unlike them, I do not consider this a valid argument against abiogenesis, since current abiogenetic theories do not require large proteins as a starting point.”

    What ‘current abiogenetic theories’ are you referencing as evidence?

    thanks

  30. Valerie, methinks thou dost protest too much:
    “1. Sewell’s argument is incoherent.” Only if you already have decided so in advance.
    –”There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”–Herbert Spencer

    “On the one hand, he says that the 2nd law is violated every day, when computers or encyclopedias are made. Then he argues that evolution couldn’t have happened because it would have violated the 2nd law.”
    –What’s incoherent? “Life” opposes the 2nd Law, but even then only temporarily. The idea that Life is “intelligently designed” and is equipped by design with the power to overcome the 2nd Law doesn’t mean the 2nd Law isn’t a Law.

    “Is it a law or not?”
    –Law.

    –Gravity is a Law, but can be OVERCOME BY DESIGN: birds and jets alike *temporarily* overcome the Law of Gravity in EXACTLY the same way. Even life succumbs to the 2nd Law eventually in EXACTLY the same way.

    –Non-life obeys the 2nd Law implicitly. Just as a rock on its own cannot violate the Law of Gravity, neither can inanimate chemicals in ANY sort of configuration overcome the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

    “a. If the 2nd law is really a law, then every violation requires some kind of supernatural intervention.”
    –If it happens in nature, is it “supernatural”?

    “That means there is supernatural intervention every day, every hour, every minute, whenever things are manufactured or whenever living things grow.”
    –Who knows? Why not?

    “Do all of you really believe that God is continuously intervening in nature to thwart the 2nd law?”
    –And your evidence that “God” isn’t intervening is…? The point is, how could you *know* either way?
    –ID does NOT attempt to assert intervention. ID doesn’t *know* either. ID *recognizes* design: it goes *no* further than to say the design is best explained as the result of Intelligence, period.

    “b. If the 2nd law is *not* really a law, then you can hardly argue that it prohibits evolution. Which is it, a) or b)?”
    –a). (Valerie, I’m really disappointed with this particularly pitiful attempt at a “horns of delima argument”. It’s a false delima and doesn’t work. You can do better.)

    “Again, is God intervening constantly to override the 2nd law on behalf of plants?”
    –Yours is the only side bringing “God” anywhere into this argument. ID *observes* the characteristics of the 2nd Law noting only that “life” appears designed to overcome the Law in the same way airplanes appear designed to overcome the Law of Gravity. When a plane flies, it is not a “violation” of the Law of Gravity.
    –To make the equivalent argument with respect to Gravity, your side would have to say something like: “Since airplanes fly, the Law of Gravity must not be a real Law.”

    In conclusion…
    When a foot is nailed to the floor, one has two options: a) flop in circles (deny the law) or b) remove the nail and walk normally (admit the vailidity of the law and deal maturly with its implications.)

    Which will it be a) or b)?

  31. Val, RedReader has no expertise on these subjects. He’s using the terms in a confused way. Here are some professional explanations of what’s wrong with Sewell’s stuff:

    http://evolutionblog.blogspot......art-i.html
    http://evolutionblog.blogspot......rt-ii.html
    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Sewell.cfm

    As far as whether or not SLoT is a “Law”, this is a complicated topic requiring familiarity with physics. From the point of view of the layman, it’s best to just ignore this misleading question. To give an example of how tricky a subject it is, I will quote from page 19 of my grad school Statistical Mechanics textbook by Huang:

    “the second law of thermodynamics cannot be a rigorous law of nature.”

    It’s a statement about probability which is broadly applicable to macroscopic systems, whether or not it should be called a ‘law’ is really unimportant here. What’s important here is that life doesn’t violate it, evolution doesn’t violate it, and Sewell fails to prove otherwise.

  32. ctaser wrote:
    “Entropy can’t be directly measured.”

    Perhaps you mean there is no single “entropy meter”, like a thermometer, that comes up with an entropy value when you stick it into something. If so, I agree. But the thousands of pages of entropy tables show that entropy can be measured — those tables are empirical, not theoretical.

    fross wrote:
    “My guess to your answer is that the 2nd law can only be violated by design. So plants, zygotes, computers, encyclopedias, etc. were designed to counteract the 2nd Law.”

    As ctaser pointed out, if the second law could be violated by design, we’d have perpetual motion machines. Living things could exist that required no food or external energy input.

    The 2nd law is the reason that gasoline combustion engines are limited to an efficiency of a little over 30%. If designed or living systems could violate the 2nd law, physicists and engineers would be all over it trying to figure out why. Textbooks would explicitly state that the 2nd law does not apply to designed or living systems.

  33. Oh dear.

    Red: I know Valerie is supposed to answer to this, but I just have to say something, as plainly as possible:

    Gravity is a law. As a law, it is neither “violated” nor “overcome”.
    You see, the law of gravity does not say “objects fall down”.
    That is only the apparent effect the law usually has to our eyes.
    Now, that can be “overcome”, sort of; And it is, equally, by birds, planes, clouds, smoke, helium molecules, pieces of paper, and the moon itself.
    Design has nothing to do with it. Design (I’m sure most here will agree with me) neither violates nor bypasses natural laws: it takes them into concideration and adjusts itself according to them.
    Saying that “design helps systems to avoid the 2nd Law” makes no sence at all: If a system violates natural laws in principle (like you say about life) then it simply cannot be, designed or no.
    Unless you think of design as a supernatural process.
    But what am I saying? You already admitted (commenting on Valerie’s post) that there can be a continiuous supernatural intervention, every minute of every hour, to create and sustain the (supposed) impossibility of life.
    And right after that, you claim it’s us who bring God to the discussion.
    You have nerve sir, I give you that.

  34. Red Reader wrote:
    “Life” opposes the 2nd Law, but even then only temporarily. The idea that Life is “intelligently designed” and is equipped by design with the power to overcome the 2nd Law doesn’t mean the 2nd Law isn’t a Law.”

    The 2nd law applies to all systems, living or not, designed or not (it was discovered through the study of steam engines, which are obviously designed). If you say that it doesn’t apply to life or designed systems, you’re either saying that the 2nd law is not a law, or that God (or Something supernatural) is intervening continuously to violate it.

    “Gravity is a Law, but can be OVERCOME BY DESIGN: birds and jets alike *temporarily* overcome the Law of Gravity in EXACTLY the same way.”

    Birds and jets do *not* overcome the law of gravity. The law of gravity continues to operate on an airplane and its contents during the entire flight. If it didn’t, you’d go floating out of your seat when you undid your seatbelt.

    Airplanes overcome the force of gravity, not the law of gravity, by supplying a counter-force known as lift.

    When I lift a toddler, I’m preventing him from falling, just as the airplane’s lift prevents it from falling. Am I violating the law of gravity? No, and after an hour my aching arms prove it. The law of gravity requires the force to be there the entire time, which requires that I supply a counterbalancing force the entire time.

    The 2nd law says that entropy will increase in an isolated system. Can I intervene to stop the increase? Sure, but the second law says that any such intervention will cause an even greater increase in entropy in the system’s surroundings. The 2nd law itself is not overcome, just the local increase in entropy.

    Sewell is claiming that the 2nd law is actually violated in the case of living things and the manufacturing of computers and encyclopedias. As he says, “it is absurd to argue that because the Earth receives energy from the Sun, this principle was not violated here when the original rearrangement of atoms into encyclopedias and computers occurred.”

    “And your evidence that “God” isn’t intervening is…? The point is, how could you *know* either way?”

    You can’t know either way, which is why ID is not falsifiable. But be careful, Red — your fellow ID supporters are at pains to say that ID theory does *not* require God, and here you are admitting that a continuous miracle would be required to override the 2nd law in living systems.

    “Valerie, I’m really disappointed with this particularly pitiful attempt at a “horns of delima argument”. It’s a false delima and doesn’t work. You can do better.”

    Your criticism would have more force if you would actually *show* what’s wrong with the argument, not simply label it ‘pitiful’.

    Here are your choices:

    1. The 2nd law is a law, but living and designed systems violate it with the aid of continuous supernatural intervention.

    2. The 2nd law is not a law, in which case it can’t be used as an argument against evolution.

    3. The 2nd law is a law, and it applies to all systems, living and non-living, designed and undesigned. In this case evolution no more violates the 2nd law than the growth of a cornstalk does.

    Choose #1 and you bring God into the picture — a no-no according to your fellow ID supporters, and a guarantee of non-falsifiability. Choose #2 and you admit that Sewell’s argument is bogus. Choose #3 and you are back in agreement with the scientific evidence.

    Your choice, Red.

  35. 35

    For his argument to work, Prof. Sewell needs to explain why a stream of stellar energy from an otherwise cold sky doesn’t qualify as “order walking in through the door.”

  36. Phed (comment #18): “Order is produced, not transmitted. There is no “orderone”, no order-inducing wave or particle; it is that flows in a system. And the self-organizing principles of matter under a transfer of energy are well observed and documented (and the subject of much scientific debate and research) in both Physics and Chemistry.”

    See my next reply.

    danb (comment #20): ” I presented a simple counter-example to this tautology, way back on comment #5, and it still has not been addressed: As heat leaves the boundary of an open system of water molecules, order will increase in the form of ice-crystals. This is an undisputed effect that we have all seen with our own eyes. Yet, it directly contradicts Sewell’s “order has to come across the boundary” idea.”

    The order of ice crystals is inherent in the structure of water molecules. It’s not evident when they’re bouncing around energetically. (And, of course, water must be cooled below the freezing point to form ice.)

    valerie (comment #24): “[Sewell] says that the 2nd law is violated every day, when computers or encyclopedias are made. Then he argues that evolution couldn’t have happened because it would have violated the 2nd law. Is it a law or not?”

    and “(a) If the 2nd law is really a law, then every violation requires some kind of supernatural intervention. That means there is supernatural intervention every day, every hour, every minute, whenever things are manufactured or whenever living things grow. Do all of you really believe that God is continuously intervening in nature to thwart the 2nd law? (b) If the 2nd law is *not* really a law, then you can hardly argue that it prohibits evolution. Which is it, (a) or (b)?”

    I think you’re misunderstanding and misrepresenting Sewell’s position. Sewell: “The development of life may have only violated one law of science, but that was the ‘supreme’ law of Nature, and it has violated that in a most spectacular way. At least that is my opinion, but perhaps I am wrong.” He’s clearly stating that the historic development of plants, zygotes, minds (and their effects), etc. appears to violate the Second Law, not that those things themselves can.

    ctaser (comment #27): “Look, if the 2nd law could be violated by design, we could make perpetual motion machines.”

    Not necessarily. See my previous reply.

    ctaser (comment #27): “And drawing a surface and saying that ‘order’ has to cross the boundary…well, when an ice cube freezes, you show me where ‘order’ flowed into the system. That’s just nonsense. Reducing the entropy within a surface simply requires that the integral of dQ/T across the surface be greater or less than the reduction, depending on the sign convention.”

    See my reply to danb above.

    ctaser (comment #27): “Let’s leave this pseudoscientific garbage to the Young Earth Creationists.”

    Stephen Wolfram (a materialist, as far as I know) in A New Kind of Science, pp. 451-457: “But just how general is the Second Law? And does it really apply to all of the various kinds of systems that we see in nature? Starting nearly a century ago it became widely believed that the Second Law is an almost universal principle. But in reality there is surprisingly little evidence for this. Indeed, almost all of the detailed applications ever made of the full Second Law have been concerned with just one specific area: the behavior of gases. By now there is good evidence that gases obey the Second Law… But what about other kinds of systems?”

    “If the Second Law was always obeyed, then one might expect that by now every part of our universe would have evolved to completely random equibilbrium. Yet it is quite obvious that this has not happened. And indeed there are many kinds of systems, notably biological ones, that seem to show, at least temporarily, a trend towards increasing order rather than increasing randomness.”

    (Wolfram “strongly suspect[s] that there are many systems in nature that behave in more or less the same way [as the rule 37R cellular automaton...]. Personally, I don’t see cellular automatons ever creating novel cell types, tissue types, organs, or body plans.)

    You don’t have to be a YECist to think that life seems to violate the 2nd Law in one way or another.

  37. valerie wrote: “1. The 2nd law is a law, but living and designed systems violate it with the aid of continuous supernatural intervention.

    2. The 2nd law is not a law, in which case it can’t be used as an argument against evolution.

    3. The 2nd law is a law, and it applies to all systems, living and non-living, designed and undesigned. In this case evolution no more violates the 2nd law than the growth of a cornstalk does.

    Choose #1 and you bring God into the picture — a no-no according to your fellow ID supporters, and a guarantee of non-falsifiability. Choose #2 and you admit that Sewell’s argument is bogus. Choose #3 and you are back in agreement with the scientific evidence.”

    I read this article two months ago. I’m not looking forward to taking the time to read it again. Based on what I faintly remember, though, I think Sewall’s main point is that all ‘entropy’ is not the same; that the ‘right kind’ of ‘entropy’ must come across the ‘boundary’ for the Law to properly apply.

    Which means, Valerie, that your #2 is wrong. Sewall is simply propounding a newer, nuanced understanding of the 2nd Law.

    As to #3, this is much closer to what Sewall is saying. He’s saying that exhausting heat (energy) from a system might cause the molecules in that system to be more ‘ordered’ (i.e., they’re colder; their energy states are lower; their atoms are ‘closer’ to one another; hence, ‘more ordered’), but that is not, all by itself, going to produce a computer. Computer ‘knowledge’–’ordered’ information–has to ‘cross the boundary’ for computers to arise.

    Einstein proposed an isotropic universe. The 2nd Law sorta wants to take ‘anisotropy’, and move it in the direction ‘isotropy’. In other words, if there’s an area of space where there’s lots of stuff, entropy wants to drag some of that stuff away from this more concentrated area. But when you begin to talk about ‘stuff’, I believe that Sewall is saying not all ‘stuff’ is equal, and that when you’re talking about a particular kind of ‘stuff’, only the movement of that kind of ‘stuff’ across the boundary is going to lead to an increase or decrease in the ‘order’ of the particular kind of ‘stuff’ inside the boundary.

  38. >ctaser (comment #27): “Look, if the 2nd law could be violated by design, we could make perpetual motion machines.”

    >Not necessarily. See my previous reply.”

    You’re making this quite painful. SLoT does not apply to everything everywhere all the time. It has areas of applicability. It is in those areas of applicability where, if you could violate it with a clever design, you could produce machines which generated free energy. I forgot how people would try to talk about sophisticated topics without even knowing the conventional assumptions.

    Rule 37R, which generates that uninspiring full page graphic shown on page 454, is a cellular automaton. Wolfram looks at it, and squints, and says that looks like it doesn’t behave according to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. You’ll notice that the graph of Rule 37R comprises a small number of horizontal cells, and it’s true that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics can lose meaning for small numbers of particles.

    Big deal. “SLoT disproves evolution” is indeed best left to the YECs.

    And if I’m going to squint at some automata, it’ll be the ones on page 452, which are much prettier. Rule 26R is really very pleasant. But argyle patterns do not equal a disproof of evolution.

    Your ‘reply’ to DanB was devoid of argument. Sewell says that increases in order must result from ‘order’ crossing the boundary. In the ice example, only heat is required to cross the boundary. Sewell, and yourself, fail to explain in what way ‘order’ was transmitted into the ice cube.

    Check out those links if you still think Sewell has anything at all. I’m not going to spend any more time on this.

  39. ctaser wrote:
    “As far as whether or not SLoT is a “Law”, this is a complicated topic requiring familiarity with physics…It’s a statement about probability which is broadly applicable to macroscopic systems, whether or not it should be called a ‘law’ is really unimportant here.”

    I addressed the statistical nature of the 2nd law in my 2nd comment in this thread. What’s clear, when you crunch the numbers, is that it’s unlikely that anyone on Earth ever has seen, or ever will see, even one violation of the 2nd law at the macroscopic level. That’s close enough to make it a law, which is why scientists continued calling it a law after they put the ‘stat’ in ‘stat mech’.

  40. j wrote:
    “I think you’re misunderstanding and misrepresenting Sewell’s position. Sewell: “The development of life may have only violated one law of science, but that was the ’supreme’ law of Nature, and it has violated that in a most spectacular way. At least that is my opinion, but perhaps I am wrong.” He’s clearly stating that the historic development of plants, zygotes, minds (and their effects), etc. appears to violate the Second Law, not that those things themselves can.”

    Assuming your interpretation is correct, Sewell can’t have his cake and eat it too. A living tree, growing from a tiny sapling to a towering sequoia, is the perfect example of order being generated within an open system. The order comes not from the water and minerals the tree absorbs through its roots, nor from the gases it absorbs through its leaves. What makes the order possible is the influx of sunlight into the system. If he’s willing to grant that this is not a violation of the 2nd law, how can he argue that evolution itself is? In both cases we have systems (in one case a sequoia, in the other the Earth itself) receiving constant solar radiation and producing order from it. Why is one a violation of the 2nd law, but not the other?

    Sewell:
    ”order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door…If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth’s atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here (it would have been violated somewhere else!). But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.”

  41. PaV wrote:
    “Sewall is simply propounding a newer, nuanced understanding of the 2nd Law…I believe that Sewall is saying not all ’stuff’ is equal, and that when you’re talking about a particular kind of ’stuff’, only the movement of that kind of ’stuff’ across the boundary is going to lead to an increase or decrease in the ‘order’ of the particular kind of ’stuff’ inside the boundary.”

    PaV,

    If that is what Sewell is saying, he’s not proposing a “newer, nuanced understanding of the 2nd Law”, he’s proposing the rejection and replacement of the 2nd law with something utterly different and practically useless.

    The strength of the 2nd law is its generality. It says that entropy of any kind will never decrease in an isolated system, and that it is impossible for entropy to decrease in an open system without an equal or greater increase in entropy in the surroundings. It applies regardless of the kind of matter and energy involved.

    To redefine it in the way you suggest would mean, among other things, that it could not be applied to a process wherein the form of energy changes, for example from the chemical energy of coal, to the heat in steam, to the electricity produced by a generator, to the microwaves radiated by your microwave oven. The *real* 2nd law applies to each step of that process, as well as to the process as a whole. Your proposed replacement would get stuck at the first transition.

  42. valerie: “A living tree, growing from a tiny sapling to a towering sequoia, is the perfect example of order being generated within an open system. The order comes not from the water and minerals the tree absorbs through its roots, nor from the gases it absorbs through its leaves. What makes the order possible is the influx of sunlight into the system. If he’s willing to grant that this is not a violation of the 2nd law, how can he argue that evolution itself is? In both cases we have systems (in one case a sequoia, in the other the Earth itself) receiving constant solar radiation and producing order from it. Why is one a violation of the 2nd law, but not the other?”

    Sunlight? That’s it? And I thought that the order in a towering sequia comes from its deoxyribonucleic acid. Silly me.

    (Or have you decided that you agree with Professor Davison, after all?)

  43. A number of commenters in this thread are conflating heat entropy with information entropy and then willy-nilly substituting one for the other. This is what the NeoDarwinists do when they point to the sun and say it makes the earth an open system. The sun is irrevelevant in this siutation as it is adding heat, not information. While heat and information entropy are closely related, they both behave according to 2LoT which was originally formulated for heat alone, they are not the same thing and cannot be exchanged.

    Heat diffuses in a closed system until maximum entropy is reached where the heat is uniform (everything is the same temperature). Likewise a dye will diffuse through a glass of water until its distribution is uniform (everything is the same color). Dye and heat are not the same thing and you can heat or chill that glass of water all you want and it won’t undistribute the dye. That’s because heat entropy and dye entropy are not the same thing.

    The layman’s expression relating to this is “you can’t unbake a cake”. The reason why you can’t unbake it is it would violate 2LoT. However, that’s not quite right because a sufficiently advanced intelligence can unbake a cake. Intelligence can accomplish things that nature cannot and that includes violating 2LoT in relation to information entropy.

    Sewell expresses this well in http://www.math.tamu.edu/~sewe.....rticle.pdf

    The man’s obviously a genius. Could be the problem with all the Sewell detractors is that it takes a genius to know one… :cool:

  44. Dear Red Reader

    You quoted me below:

    “”So it sounds like his argument has little to do with thermodynamics, but is rather just a restatement of ID beliefs….” (Thermodynamics and ID theory are not mutually exclusive.)”

    OK. But my point was that couching these beliefs in terms of physical laws naturally lends them an additional authority. Which would be fair enough if there was a direct connection being made between ID and physical principles. But, as far as I understand what Sewell is saying, he is not making the claim that any physical laws are broken. He’s just saying that things that *look* ordered *seem* unlikely to have arisen by chance. It’s just a more handwaving statement of what other people in ID aim to make precise.

    Therefore, in this case invoking thermodynamics in support of ID is a red herring.

  45. Davescot,

    I’d be very interested to hear your precise statements of the second law, and how they distinguish `information entropy’ and `heat entropy’. You might be using the words in a different way from me.

  46. Valerie wrote:
    “You can’t know either way, which is why ID is not falsifiable.”
    –ID is just as falsifiable as NDE. Simply demonstrate Design by non-intelligence.
    –NDE is falsibiable by the SLoT.
    –And you miss the point. Neither of us can *know* whether continuous miracles are occuring, so why try to make it out like I do or that I say we do? I don’t KNOW. So, the only reason to put words into ID’s mouth or to my mouth is so you have something to bat down. And that IS pitiful, too.

    “But be careful, Red — your fellow ID supporters are at pains to say that ID theory does *not* require God, and here you are admitting that a continuous miracle would be required to override the 2nd law in living systems.”
    –”…does not require” travels with “does not exclude” and that pluse neither of us KNOW is ALL I have said. Plus, I don’t think IDers are “at pains” to do anything except articulate their observations precisely. NDEists CANNOT articulate their observations precisely, because the whole scheme is based entirely on circumstantial evidence and fabricated narrative–in violation of (on this thread) the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

  47. physicist wrote:
    “He’s just saying that things that *look* ordered *seem* unlikely to have arisen by chance. It’s just a more handwaving statement of what other people in ID aim to make precise.”
    –Wrong again. He made his arguments plain as day from probability mathematics integral to the 2nd Law.

    –Sewell shows that Probability is *demonstrated* by the 2nd Law. Another way of looking at this is to view probability itself as a sort of “law” that works tirelessly and relentless AGAINST self-creation in exactly the same way as the 2nd Law.

    –Now to adopt the politically correct explanation offered by Valerie: Talking about *flight* (not paper floating into outer space): the force of gravity is successfully overcome only by design. Likewise, “the force of the 2nd Law” may be successfully overcome only by design. Likewise, “the force of probability” may be successfully overcome only by design.

    –Design by intelligence may marshal stronger forces to succeed over weeker ones: hence flight (lift by design) or a weighted coin to obtain 20 heads in a row.

    Split hairs all you want. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is simply one more observable, demonstrable, testable fact of nature that utterly, completely and decisively nukes RMNS.

  48. But, as far as I understand what Sewell is saying, he is not making the claim that any physical laws are broken.

    Well, he did say this: “The development of life may have only violated one law of science, but that was the ”supreme” law of Nature, and it has violated that in a most spectacular way.”

    What he’s arguing is that the 2ndLoT as applied to heat entropy is just a special case of the 2ndLoT generally – that the equations and rationale upon which thermodynamic entropy is based apply generally across the board, and that applying them in one area but not another is simply arbitrary and inconsistent.

  49. Red Reader:

    –”Now to adopt the politically correct explanation offered by Valerie: Talking about *flight* (not paper floating into outer space): the force of gravity is successfully overcome only by design. Likewise, “the force of the 2nd Law” may be successfully overcome only by design. Likewise, “the force of probability” may be successfully overcome only by design.”

    So, is your argument “since design makes planes fly, then design makes plants grow”?

    The law of gravity says nothing about flight. it doesn’t say “things can’t fly”, to claim that intelligence (and life?) overrides that law by this magic power of “design”.

    What can be “overcome” is, like I said, the apparrent effect gravity has on an observer on the earth’s surface. As far as the law of gravity is concerned, there is absolutely no difference between a bird flying, a fish swimming and a man jumping- and yes, also a piece of paper floating in the wind. They all seem to violate the “things tend to stick to the ground” rule, but that means absolutely nothing.

    Now if you are referring to aerodynamics especially, that is the old argument from design: “If it looks designed, it is”. That is debatable, but certainly it has nothing to do with the laws of physics: A bird flies by using, not violating, natural laws: And that is the same whether it was evolved over millions of years or it came fresh out the ID factory.

  50. “The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is simply one more observable, demonstrable, testable fact of nature that utterly, completely and decisively nukes RMNS.”

    I don’t think you have justified this assertion. What process in RMNS violates the 2nd law? Stated precisely?

  51. See Sewell’s development of the second law:
    Can “ANYTHING” happen in an open system?>

    Note especially equation D.5 showing that entropy is greater than or equal to the negative of the integral of surface flux through the boundary of the system.

    Sewell concludes:

    “It is a well-known prediction of the second law that, in a closed system, every type of order is unstable and must
    eventually decrease, as everything tends toward more probable (more random)states:”

    “Equation D.5 does not simply say that entropy cannot decrease in a closed system, it also says that in an open system, entropy cannot decrease faster than it is exported through the boundary, because the boundary integral there represents the rate that entropy is exported across the boundary:”

    The key test case is abiogenesis in a system (“e.g. earth”) containing all the necessary elements and open to sunlight.

    I understand Sewell to say that with non-biotic components the second law says that the entropy cannot decrease faster than it is exported through the boundary. i.e., to convert to an ordered self sustaining self replicating biotic system, the necessary order (information or decrease in entropy) has to be imported into the system. That first self reproducing cell, is essential to RM&NS. Abiogenesis is the critical test case.

    To get some concept of the complexity, search for “minimal genome”.


    Essential genes of a minimal bacterium>

    The essential energy conversion systems still need to be added to these “minimal genomes” to form sustainable self replicating systems.

  52. The key test case is abiogenesis in a system (”e.g. earth”) containing all the necessary elements and open to sunlight.

    Heat entropy and information entropy are related but not equivalent. It never ceases to amaze me that people conflate the two. Set some nice orderly ice crystals out in the sun and see if the order increases. Sheesh.

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