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Here’s mathematician Granville Sewell on how to challenge a scientific consensus

But first, read how people who cash regular (often tax-funded) paycheques hush up challenges to a profitable go-nowhere consensus.

How the Scientific Consensus Can Be Challenged

Alas, it seems that today, silencing dissent is not nearly as easy as it used to be.
The Cornell proceedings have now been published by another publisher, World Scientific Publishing Co. (here; my contribution is here.) Notice particularly the little story in “The Common Sense Law of Physics” which shows in a humorous way how silly the compensation argument really is.

And the journal BIO-Complexity has just published my new article “Entropy and Evolution,” which I believe contains the strongest and clearest presentation of my viewpoint to date. The first thought that will occur to many people who read it will be, how could this illogical compensation argument have gone unchallenged for so long in the scientific literature? Well, now you know how.

Anyway. You can not only read but respond to the Cornell proceedings through Uncommon Descent. You can start here and go anywhere.

Readers will remember Sewell, perhaps, from “Granville Sewell’s important contribution to physics:Entropy-X ”, or his Cornell OBI paper. And this defense of his paper.

Come to think of it, Sewell is probably way better known for making us think about the consensus than he would have been if he had just shouted with the noise and not above it, like so many have chosen to do.

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31 Responses to Here’s mathematician Granville Sewell on how to challenge a scientific consensus

  1. The scientific consensus should always be accepting of a challenge. Scientific theories are proven or disproven by the evidence, not by how many scientists believe it.

  2. Barb, it seems like there are (at least) two possibilities. One is that Dr. Sewell has come up with a novel and valid refutation of the scientific consensus that the scientific community is unwilling or unable to accept. The other is that Dr. Sewell is simply wrong, and has not come up with anything novel or valid that the scientific community should take seriously.

    As a layperson, how do you tell the difference between those two cases? In this specific instance, what is it that makes you think that Dr. Sewell has a valid challenge that the scientific consensus should accept?

  3. Pro Hac Vice, appealing to consensus is about politics. Whereas, science, when properly done, is about relentlessly pursuing truth.(see Crichton’s Aliens Cause Global Warming lecture) Moreover, Dr. Sewell has not come up with a ‘novel’ and valid refutation of Darwinian evolution. Dr Sewell has ‘merely’, through his expertise in mathematics, clarified what was already intuitively known, i.e. clarified The Common Sense Law Of Physics. And although I’m certainly no expert on the second law, other than being well aware that everything around me inevitably tends toward death and decay, the controversy, as Dr. Sewell has made clear, involves something called ‘the compensation argument’. As far as I’m able to make it out, the compensation argument, from Darwinists trying to circumvent the second law’s relentless grip on everything in this universe, boils down to something like, ‘I know Bill Gates is filthy rich, therefore spending myself into bankruptcy does not really matter because I know Bill Gates is filthy rich.’,, or perhaps the Darwinists’ argument is better stated like this,,

    Whoever thinks macroevolution can be made by mutations that lose information is like the merchant who lost a little money on every sale but thought he could make it up on volume.”
    Lee Spetner (Ph.D. Physics – MIT – Not By Chance)

    or perhaps, humorously, their argument is best stated like this,,

    Darwinism Is Not Proved Impossible Therefore It Must Be True – Plantinga – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/10285716/

    How Darwinists react to probability arguments (Dumb and Dumber ‘There’s A Chance?’)- video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5jNnDMfxA

    And, again as far as I can make out, the empirical evidence from science itself is dead set against Darwinists in their compensation argument. Dr. Morowitz, working from the thermodynamic perspective, did a probability calculation with a already existing ‘simple’ cell and came up with this probability number against purely material processes ever creating life:

    DID LIFE START BY CHANCE?
    Excerpt: Molecular biophysicist, Horold Morowitz (Yale University), calculated the odds of life beginning under natural conditions (spontaneous generation). He calculated, if one were to take the simplest living cell and break every chemical bond within it, the odds that the cell would reassemble under ideal natural conditions (the best possible chemical environment) would be one chance in 10^100,000,000,000. You will have probably have trouble imagining a number so large, so Hugh Ross provides us with the following example. If all the matter in the Universe was converted into building blocks of life, and if assembly of these building blocks were attempted once a microsecond for the entire age of the universe. Then instead of the odds being 1 in 10^100,000,000,000, they would be 1 in 10^99,999,999,916 (also of note: 1 with 100 billion zeros following would fill approx. 20,000 encyclopedias)

    Moreover, as Dr. Sewell has referenced in this following video,,

    Are You Looking for the Simplest and Clearest Argument for Intelligent Design? – Granville Sewell (2nd Law) – video
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....56711.html

    Dr. Behe, in an article in 2010, has surveyed the last four decades of laboratory work and has found that,,,:

    “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.
    http://behe.uncommondescent.co.....evolution/

    Thus, neo-Darwinists simply have no experimental work that they can point to support their claim that the second law does not hold for biology as it does for everything else in the universe! In fact their is a null hypothesis in stating that the thermodynamics processes of the universe will never create functional information,,

    The Law of Physicodynamic Insufficiency – Dr David L. Abel – November 2010
    Excerpt: “If decision-node programming selections are made randomly or by law rather than with purposeful intent, no non-trivial (sophisticated) function will spontaneously arise.”,,, After ten years of continual republication of the null hypothesis with appeals for falsification, no falsification has been provided. The time has come to extend this null hypothesis into a formal scientific prediction: “No non trivial algorithmic/computational utility will ever arise from chance and/or necessity alone.”
    http://www-qa.scitopics.com/Th.....iency.html

    All anyone would have to do to falsify that is to provide JUST ONE example of purely material processes creating functional information!

    also of note: the evidence for the detrimental nature of mutations in humans is overwhelming for scientists have already cited over 100,000 mutational disorders.

    Inside the Human Genome: A Case for Non-Intelligent Design – Pg. 57 By John C. Avise
    Excerpt: “Another compilation of gene lesions responsible for inherited diseases is the web-based Human Gene Mutation Database (HGMD). Recent versions of HGMD describe more than 75,000 different disease causing mutations identified to date in Homo-sapiens.”

    I went to the mutation database website cited by John Avise and found this comment:

    HGMD®: ‘Now celebrating our 100,000 mutation milestone’!

    I really question their use of the word ‘celebrating’. (Of note, apparently someone with a sense of decency has now removed the word ‘celebrating’). Dr. Sanford, who is definitely no slouch when it comes to genetics, has stated the obvious implications of all this here,,,

    Dr. John Sanford “Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome” 1/2 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ-4umGkgos

    This following video brings the point personally home to us about the effects of entropy on each and every one of us:

    Aging Process – 80 years in 40 seconds – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSdxYmGro_Y

    Verse and music:

    Hebrews 9:27
    And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

    Phillips, Craig & Dean – When The Stars Burn Down – Worship Video with lyrics
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPuxnQ_vZqY

  4. Pro Hac Vice, here is another line of evidence that was recently brought to my attention, that strongly indicates that the entropic processes of the universe are not responsible for human life.,, The Quantum Zeno Effect:

    Quantum Zeno effect
    Excerpt: The quantum Zeno effect is,,, an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Zeno_effect

    The reason why I am fascinated with this Quantum Zeno effect is, for one thing, that Entropy is, by a wide margin, the most finely tuned of initial conditions of the Big Bang:

    Roger Penrose discusses initial entropy of the universe. – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhGdVMBk6Zo

    The Physics of the Small and Large: What is the Bridge Between Them? Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: “The time-asymmetry is fundamentally connected to with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: indeed, the extraordinarily special nature (to a greater precision than about 1 in 10^10^123, in terms of phase-space volume) can be identified as the “source” of the Second Law (Entropy).”

    How special was the big bang? – Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: This now tells us how precise the Creator’s aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123.
    (from the Emperor’s New Mind, Penrose, pp 339-345 – 1989)

    For another thing, it is interesting to note just how foundational entropy is in its explanatory power for all material processes in the universe:

    Shining Light on Dark Energy – October 21, 2012
    Excerpt: It (Entropy) explains time; it explains every possible action in the universe;,,
    Even gravity, Vedral argued, can be expressed as a consequence of the law of entropy. ,,,
    The principles of thermodynamics are at their roots all to do with information theory. Information theory is simply an embodiment of how we interact with the universe —,,,
    http://crev.info/2012/10/shini.....rk-energy/

    Evolution is a Fact, Just Like Gravity is a Fact! UhOh! – January 2010
    Excerpt: The results of this paper suggest gravity arises as an entropic force, once space and time themselves have emerged.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....fact-uhoh/

    And yet, despite entropy having such a foundational role in explaining the material processes of the universe, to repeat the paper,,,

    Quantum Zeno effect
    Excerpt: The quantum Zeno effect is,,, an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Zeno_effect

    This is just fascinating! Why should conscious observation put a freeze on entropic decay, unless consciousness was and is more foundational to reality than entropy was and is? And seeing as to how entropy is VERY foundational to reality, I think the implications of this are fairly obvious:

    Verses and music

    Psalm 46:10
    He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

    Romans 8:18-21
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

    Evanescence – The Other Side (Lyric Video)
    http://www.vevo.com/watch/evan.....tantsearch

    Of semi-related note to the quantum Zeno effect, i.e. of consciousness having an overriding effect on entropic decay:

    An attention-getting paper in Nature states that “Attention enhances synaptic efficacy and the signal-to-noise ratio in neural circuits.” In other words, when you focus your attention on a sight or sound, your neurons obey, all the way to the level of synapses between neurons. “The results demonstrate that attention finely tunes neuronal communication at the synaptic level by selectively altering synaptic weights, enabling enhanced detection of salient events in the noisy sensory environment.” Philosophers of free will, take note.
    http://crev.info/2013/07/remar.....you-alive/

  5. Moreover,,

    “Is there a real connection between entropy in physics and the entropy of information? …. The equations of information theory and the second law are the same, suggesting that the idea of entropy is something fundamental…”
    Tom Siegfried, Dallas Morning News, 5/14/90 – Quotes attributed to Robert W. Lucky, Ex. Director of Research, AT&T, Bell Laboratories & John A. Wheeler, of Princeton & Univ. of TX, Austin in the article

    Well is there ‘a real connection between entropy in physics and the entropy of information?’ Yes! After years of trying to empirically establish a direct connection between the information inherent in the cell and the irreversible thermodynamic processes of the universe, a direct connection has finally been made,,

    Maxwell’s demon demonstration turns information into energy – November 2010
    Excerpt: Until now, demonstrating the conversion of information to energy has been elusive, but University of Tokyo physicist Masaki Sano and colleagues have succeeded in demonstrating it in a nano-scale experiment. In a paper published in Nature Physics they describe how they coaxed a Brownian particle to travel upwards on a “spiral-staircase-like” potential energy created by an electric field solely on the basis of information on its location. As the particle traveled up the staircase it gained energy from moving to an area of higher potential, and the team was able to measure precisely how much energy had been converted from information.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....nergy.html

    Demonic device converts information to energy – 2010
    Excerpt: “This is a beautiful experimental demonstration that information has a thermodynamic content,” says Christopher Jarzynski, a statistical chemist at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1997, Jarzynski formulated an equation to define the amount of energy that could theoretically be converted from a unit of information2; the work by Sano and his team has now confirmed this equation. “This tells us something new about how the laws of thermodynamics work on the microscopic scale,” says Jarzynski.
    http://www.scientificamerican......rts-inform

    Now, finally having a empirically demonstrated direct connection between entropy and the information inherent within a cell is extremely problematic for Darwinists because it brings the point home, scientifically, that the purely entropic processes of the universe are found to much more likely to deteriorate functional information rather than ever create it,,,

    “Gain in entropy always means loss of information, and nothing more.”
    Gilbert Newton Lewis – preeminent Chemist of the first half of last century

    “Bertalanffy (1968) called the relation between irreversible thermodynamics and information theory one of the most fundamental unsolved problems in biology.”
    Charles J. Smith – Biosystems, Vol.1, p259.

    Thus, Darwinists are found to be postulating that entropic events, which consistently destroy information, are what are creating information in the cell. ,,, It is the equivalent in science of someone (in this case a ‘consensus of scientists’) claiming that Gravity makes things fall up instead of down, and that is not overstating the bizarre situation we find ourselves in in the least.

    Verses and Music

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

    Hillsong – Mighty to Save – With Subtitles/Lyrics
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-08YZF87OBQ

  6. BA77, that’s great, but you seem to be telling me that you agree with Dr. Sewell as far as you, a layperson (as I am), can follow his argument. That doesn’t really get to my question, which I may have phrased inarticulately.

    I take from your responses that (a) you cannot follow Dr. Sewell’s argument completely, and (b) that you are not fully conversant with the physics of entropy. From that lay perspective, what is it about Dr. Sewell’s argument that persuades you that he has a valid criticism that is being unfairly ignored, as opposed to an erroneous criticism that is being properly disregarded?

    I don’t mean this as a trick or leading question, I’m simply curious about how non-experts approach expert-level arguments.

  7. #6, IMO,everyone is equipped with a baloney detector that is calibrated by our world view. Ideally, each individual examines the evidence from what ever sources are available (IOW, do the research), and then decide what appears to be true, and what appears to be false.

    However, regardless of whether or not the acceptance of the argument (belief) is by consensus, or expertise, I think each argument (belief) is nonetheless subjective, since the argument (belief) is grounded in our own personal experiences, and biases.

    So, how do we know which experiences and knowledge are more reliable and trustworthy? If life is a simulation, or orchestrated, or illusory, is it possible for us to know truth, or measure an argument’s strength?

  8. Pro Hac Vice @6,

    I’m more of a lay layperson, but I really don’t know what is hard to understand. Generally, the 2nd law is easily understood, as is the compensation argument that is meant to rebut Sewell’s argument.

    In an open system the second law still stands, unless what is increasing in entropy is doing so in such a way that it can cause a decrease in entropy somewhere else. The key is, “in such a way”. In other words, you can’t just say that any increase in entropy can have any type of effect in a decrease in entropy somewhere else. The type of entropy increase must actually be able to confer the type of effect seen in a decrease somewhere else.

    So, if we have a decrease in entropy in one part of the universe of type X, then to attribute that to an increase in entropy somewhere else, you need to find out (basically) where the universe is “losing” X in order to feed X into the other area. If you only find increasing entropy of type Y, then you can not claim the entropy decrease that allowed X to arise has been accounted for.

  9. Pro Hac Vice, although the math is ‘above my pay grade, I consider the empirical evidence that Dr. Sewell has laid out (in such clear unambiguous fashion), and the evidence that I’ve laid out thus far, to more than sufficient to show you why I, as a layman, find that Dr. Sewell’s argument is consistent with reality. Darwinian atheists simply have no empirical/observational evidence, that I am aware of, that they can point to to support their claim that entropy does not hold for molecular biology as it does for the rest of the universe. ‘Random’ mutations are overwhelmingly detrimental.

  10. Perhaps a little illustration will help.

    There is a warehouse that is locked down tight. It is a closed system. It contains all kinds of circuit boards and wires, sheet metal; generally the raw materials to make a computer. But, again, it’s locked down tight.

    After some time the warehouse is opened up, and there are a hundred fully functional computers. The first thing one would think is, the warehouse wasn’t truly a closed system. Something was getting in there to cause the entropy decrease.

    I suggest to you that the compensation for the decrease in entropy that allowed the computers to be assembled was that the building received heat and light from the sun through some windows, and therefore there is no contradiction: it’s just that the warehouse wasn’t closed to some natural input from the sun, where, the increase in entropy was vastly greater than the decrease in the warehouse.

    Is my explanation plausible? Obviously not, since even though the idea that the amount of entropy in the sun was vastly more than the decrease in the warehouse, the type of entropy increase does not correlate with the type of decrease. It’s nonsense.

    If, however, it could be shown that the sun was also a ball of little elves, and that those elves were shooting out and into our atmosphere, then we could have a plausible explanation that the sun was the cause of the warehouse entropy decrease.

  11. Nice illustration Brent. I guess that is why Dr. Sewell calls it ‘The Common Sense Law of Physics’. People with common sense seem to readily grasp its relevance whilst a ‘consensus of scientists’ with much ‘book sense’ cannot.

  12. PHV: Try a little look here on in my always linked note. It is worthwhile noting that work is forced, ordered motion, which leads to a sharp and highly obvious difference between arbitrary injection of raw energy into a system and a pattern of purposeful work under a specification that leads to a functionally specific, organised, complex end product. The notion that as it is logically and physically abstractly possible that by sheer happenstance, such configurational work can happen by blind chance and mechanical necessity turned into the notion that such is plausible (or even unquestionable “fact”) on origins of life and of body plans willfully ignores the overwhelming statistical weight of scattered at random states or even clumped at random and non functional states relative to those that will actually perform relevant function. This is also quite close to the statistical underpinnings of the second law of thermodynamics. Sometimes, there is just too much haystack, and too few opportunities and resources to reasonably expect to find organised, specifically functional configs by blind processes. But intelligent processes do such all the time. So sharp is this distinction in empirically observable capability, that there is a bit of a cottage industry of obfuscation on the part of objectors to the inference to design on FSCO/I as empirically grounded reliable sign. In short, when common sense, observation and analysis — for 500 bits of FSCO/I we are talking of the solar system’s 10^57 atoms only being able to search as a one straw sample to a cubical haystack 1,000 light years thick — all line up so compellingly, objectors are forced to resort to intensive distractions, distortions, denigrations and indoctrination to give an impression otherwise. KF

  13. Thanks BA, but after I typed it I realized that PHV is probably in need of just what KF has provided. The good thing about typing such common sense explanations is then watching how people will disregard it.

    Note to PHV: I’m not familiar with you, so I really don’t know how you’ll take my comments. Perhaps you are not of the type I think you may be, but a lack of common sense seems to be the one thing that detractors to ID have in common. As long as they can muddy the waters with technical and sophisticated sounding jargon they think they are freed from sound reasoning principles (which I only assume KF has linked for you).

  14. OT: An interesting side note to all this, that I find very interesting, is this. Entropy is the primary reason why things grow old and die in this universe:

    Genetic Entropy – Down Not Up – Dr. John Sanford – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_edD5HOx6Q0

    Notes from Dr. John Sanford’s preceding video:

    *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 following video brings the point personally home to each of us about the very destructive effects of entropy on our bodies:

    Aging Process – 80 years in 40 seconds – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSdxYmGro_Y

    And in conjunction with the preceding fact I also find the following fact very interesting. The maximum source of this entropic randomness in the universe, which is driving this death and decay in the universe, is found to be greatest where gravity is greatest in the universe,,,

    Entropy of the Universe – Hugh Ross – May 2010
    Excerpt: Egan and Lineweaver found that supermassive black holes are the largest contributor to the observable universe’s entropy. They showed that these supermassive black holes contribute about 30 times more entropy than what the previous research teams estimated.
    http://www.reasons.org/entropy-universe

    “But why was the big bang so precisely organized, whereas the big crunch (or the singularities in black holes) would be expected to be totally chaotic? It would appear that this question can be phrased in terms of the behaviour of the WEYL part of the space-time curvature at space-time singularities. What we appear to find is that there is a constraint WEYL = 0 (or something very like this) at initial space-time singularities-but not at final singularities-and this seems to be what confines the Creator’s choice to this very tiny region of phase space.”
    Roger Penrose – How Special Was The Big Bang?

    Evolution is a Fact, Just Like Gravity is a Fact! UhOh! – January 2010
    Excerpt: The results of this paper suggest gravity arises as an entropic force, once space and time themselves have emerged.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....fact-uhoh/

    Thus, the chaos that is happening in the singularities of Black Holes is the polar opposite of what happened in the highly ordered singularity of the Big Bang and is intimately associated with decay and death in the universe:

    Also of ‘out on a limb’ note:

    What Would Happen If You Fell into a Black Hole? – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLMiJQXsmkc

    Space-Time of a Black hole
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0VOn9r4dq8

    Scientists gear up to take a picture of a black hole – January 2012
    Excerpt: “Swirling around the black hole like water circling the drain in a bathtub, the matter compresses and the resulting friction turns it into plasma heated to a billion degrees or more, causing it to ‘glow’ – and radiate energy that we can detect here on Earth.”
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....-hole.html

    GILBERT NEWTON LEWIS: AMERICAN CHEMIST (1875-1946)
    “I have attempted to give you a glimpse…of what there may be of soul in chemistry. But it may have been in vain. Perchance the chemist is already damned and the guardian the blackest. But if the chemist has lost his soul, he will not have lost his courage and as he descends into the inferno, sees the rows of glowing furnaces and sniffs the homey fumes of brimstone, he will call out-: ‘Asmodeus, hand me a test-tube.’”(1)
    Gilbert Newton Lewis

    “Gain in entropy always means loss of information, and nothing more.”
    Gilbert Newton Lewis – preeminent Chemist of the first half of last century

    Verse, quote and music:

    Romans 8:20-21
    For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

    Creed – One Last Breath
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnkuBUAwfe0

    My Personal Opinion = .02 cents
    Overall Implications = Priceless

  15. Two things:

    1) @ 10 I meant to say:

    Is my explanation plausible? Obviously not, since even though the idea that the amount of entropy in the sun was vastly more than the decrease in the warehouse is true, the type of entropy increase does not correlate with the type of decrease. It’s nonsense.

    2) I didn’t assume correctly what KF linked to, and I haven’t read it yet myself.

  16. Lay people can always check for critiques:

    My back yard has some very tough and capable weeds, with which we struggle. I know that if I take a few seeds from one of these weeds and plant them, in a few months there will be weed plants there, ones that have a great many of those same seeds on them.

    That is a local decrease in entropy, an increase in order. A few seeds are replaced by many, with stems and leaves too. How did this happen? Aside from some water, carbon dioxide and minerals, mostly it happened by sunlight striking the plants and driving photosynthesis. It’s not a mystery. But all we saw entering the plants was radiation!

    If Granville Sewell is right, the growth of the weeds is a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since Granville Sewell is a trained mathematician, and his work is endorsed by the Discovery Institute Press, surely we must be hesitant to conclude that his argument is simply wrong. No, the inevitable conclusion is that Second Law of Thermodynamics must be wrong. A momentous conclusion. Someone should tell the physicists.

    There can hardly be any more repeatable and easily verifiable phenomenon in nature than the growth of weeds in my back yard. Evolution happens, natural selection improves the fitness of organisms … and weeds grow. If Granville Sewell is right, these all prove that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is wrong.

    Joe Felsenstein

  17. kairosfocus, thanks for the link to the technical aspects of Thermodynamics. I will reference your link right below these following videos which, in simple fashion, clearly convey, to the ‘common sense’ person, why the compensation argument of atheists is absurd:

    Evolution Vs. Thermodynamics – Open System Refutation – Thomas Kindell – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4143014

    Thermodynamics & Information – Ian Juby – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dAA06Zfi4M

    As the preceding videos make clear, pouring raw energy into an open system leads to an increase in disorder not a decrease as the compensation argument would hold. The raw energy from the sun must be ‘precisely harnessed’. And how this raw energy from the sun is precisely harassed in order to produce useful work in the first place is a wonder to behold:

    The ATP Synthase Enzyme – exquisite motor necessary for first life – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI8m6o0gXDY

    ATP: The Perfect Energy Currency for the Cell – Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.
    Excerpt: In manufacturing terms, the ATP (Synthase) molecule is a machine with a level of organization on the order of a research microscope or a standard television (Darnell, Lodish, and Baltimore, 1996).
    http://www.trueorigin.org/atp.asp

    ATP Synthase, an Energy-Generating Rotary Motor Engine – Jonathan M. May 15, 2013
    Excerpt: ATP synthase has been described as “a splendid molecular machine,” and “one of the most beautiful” of “all enzymes” .,, “bona fide rotary dynamo machine”,,,
    If such a unique and brilliantly engineered nanomachine bears such a strong resemblance to the engineering of manmade hydroelectric generators, and yet so impressively outperforms the best human technology in terms of speed and efficiency, one is led unsurprisingly to the conclusion that such a machine itself is best explained by intelligent design.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....72101.html

    Moreover the ATP synthase enzyme is integral to the photosynthetic process itself:

    The Miracle Of Photosynthesis – electron transport – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj_WKgnL6MI

    The 10 Step Glycolysis Pathway In ATP Production: An Overview – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kn6BVGqKd8

    At the 6:00 minute mark of the following video, Chris Ashcraft, PhD – molecular biology, gives us an overview of the Citric Acid Cycle, which is, after the 10 step Glycolysis Pathway, also involved in ATP production:

    Evolution vs ATP Synthase – Molecular Machine – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4012706

    Glycolysis and the Citric Acid Cycle: The Control of Proteins and Pathways – Cornelius Hunter – July 2011
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.co.....cycle.html

  18. And in what I find to be a very fascinating discovery, it is found that photosynthetic life, which is an absolutely vital link that all higher life on earth is dependent on for food, uses ‘non-local’ quantum mechanical principles to accomplish photosynthesis. At the 21:00 minute mark of the following video, Dr Suarez explains why photosynthesis needs a ‘non-local’, beyond space and time, cause to explain its effect:

    Nonlocality of Photosynthesis – Antoine Suarez – video – 2012
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....ge#t=1268s

    further notes:

    Michael Denton: Remarkable Coincidences in Photosynthesis – podcast
    http://www.idthefuture.com/201....._coin.html

    Visible light is also incredibly fine-tuned for life to exist. Though visible light is only a tiny fraction of the total electromagnetic spectrum coming from the sun, it happens to be the “most permitted” portion of the sun’s spectrum allowed to filter through the our atmosphere. All the other bands of electromagnetic radiation, directly surrounding visible light, happen to be harmful to organic molecules, and are almost completely absorbed by the atmosphere. The tiny amount of harmful UV radiation, which is not visible light, allowed to filter through the atmosphere is needed to keep various populations of single cell bacteria from over-populating the world (Ross; reasons.org). The size of light’s wavelengths and the constraints on the size allowable for the protein molecules of organic life, also seem to be tailor-made for each other. This “tailor-made fit” allows photosynthesis, the miracle of sight, and many other things that are necessary for human life. These specific frequencies of light (that enable plants to manufacture food and astronomers to observe the cosmos) represent less than 1 trillionth of a trillionth (10^-24) of the universe’s entire range of electromagnetic emissions. Like water, visible light also appears to be of optimal biological utility (Denton; Nature’s Destiny).

    Extreme Fine Tuning of Light for Life and Scientific Discovery – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/7715887

    Fine Tuning Of Universal Constants, Particularly Light – Walter Bradley – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4491552

    Fine Tuning Of Light to the Atmosphere, to Biological Life, and to Water – graphs
    http://docs.google.com/Doc?doc.....aGh4MmdnOQ

    Verse and music:

    John 1:4-5
    In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    I Need A Miracle – Third Day
    http://myktis.com/songs/i-need-a-miracle/

  19. Alan Fox, I hope you are not serious. You are being sarcastic, right?

    Leaving the door open for your sarcasm, I’ll direct my comment to Panda’s Thumb.

    Uh . . . the whole point is that the second law is correct, it’s the idea that anything can happen because of the sun that is nonsense. Plants have the ability to use the sun’s rays, and so, in this case, it IS plausible that the sun causes a decrease in entropy.

    Back to the warehouse illustration. This time, in addition to the circuit boards and such, there is a generator that is solar powered and connected to robotic machines that assemble computers. Does my explanation then become plausible? You bet it does. BIG DIFFERENCE!

    And this is what Mr. Sewell said himself, that without “machines” already in place to harness the sun’s energy, any input from the sun will not lead to a decrease in entropy elsewhere. Actually, according to the link that KF provided, entropy will rise! Unharnessed energy is destructive, as exploding bombs will teach you.

    But an article like that on Panda’s Thumb is quite fitting. Nonsense to cover for lack of common sense.

  20. Pro Hac Vice:

    Barb, it seems like there are (at least) two possibilities. One is that Dr. Sewell has come up with a novel and valid refutation of the scientific consensus that the scientific community is unwilling or unable to accept. The other is that Dr. Sewell is simply wrong, and has not come up with anything novel or valid that the scientific community should take seriously.

    If Sewell’s paper had simply been rejected by the peer reviewers, then, he might feel they were biased by adherence to Darwinism, but he wouldn’t really have a right to complain. Papers, sometimes even good papers, getting rejected is part of the normal scientific process. However, individuals (such as random Internet bloggers) interfering in the publication process is not an accepted part of the scientific process (at least in any non-politicized field), even if the individual feels the paper is wrong.

    No one familiar with the literature in my field, or most any other, would deny that there are many papers that have gone through the peer-review process that nevertheless are pretty much useless, flawed, or, in some cases, contain major errors. Thus, in my (non-politicized) field, we have several ways of dealing with the inevitable potential for error in the literature. First, if a paper is relevant to someone’s research, he/she will examine it critically him/herself. Useless or erroneous papers will not be cited and will eventually die out, while papers with good ideas will be cited and live on through further research based on them. Survival of the fittest, if you will. Secondly, if someone is enlisted as a reviewer or editor for a particular paper and finds it to be erroneous or of low-quality, he/she will of course give it a poor review and recommend rejection. Thirdly, in some cases, someone may publish a paper or letter to the editor attempting to correct an error. In very rare cases a published paper with egregious or fraudulent errors may be withdrawn. However, one thing that is not done, and would be considered completely out of line, is for someone to directly interfere with the editorial process of a conference or journal for which they are not a reviewer or editor in order to preemptively prevent the publication of a paper.

    Now, the neo-Darwinists will claim that they want to prevent publications critical of neo-Darwinism in order to preserve the integrity of the scientific literature against such “errors”. First, the notion that the peer-reviewed literature is a pure, flawless entity that needs to be protected from any potential error is clearly an exalted and inaccurate view of the scientific process. That, of course, is not to say that one should be apathetic to publishing content that is perceived to be erroneous, but, as described in my previous paragraph, there are well-established ways to do that in the normal scientific process, and none of them involve thuggery, intimidation, or interfering in editorial processes in which you have no role. Yes, just as our “innocent-until-proven-guilty” criminal justice system inevitably means some criminals will go unpunished, this civilized scientific publication process means some errors will inevitably appear in the literature, but that is certainly much preferable to a system ruled by vigilante justice and lynch mobs.

    Furthermore, in most cases, the claim of protection against specific “errors” is clearly vacuous. In the case of Sewell’s AMR paper, the journal explicitly admitted that it was withdrawn “not because of any errors or technical problems” – even though I am sure they would have loved to have found an error they could cite in order to save face in their bizarre and virtually unprecedented disregard of their own publication policies.

    As a layperson, how do you tell the difference between those two cases? In this specific instance, what is it that makes you think that Dr. Sewell has a valid challenge that the scientific consensus should accept?

    I found that I much better appreciated Sewell’s paper only after having first read the paper that presents the “proof” that he refutes. In my observation, pretty much everyone who has criticized Sewell’s paper has clearly approached Sewell’s paper with their own views on what the Second Law says, assumes he must be trying to refute their own personal view, and then criticizes it for not doing that. If you want to evaluate his paper fairly, I really suggest reading the Styer paper first:
    Link

    Here are excerpts from that paper:

    Does the second law of thermodynamics prohibit biological evolution?…Suppose that, due to evolution, each individual organism is 1000 times “more improbable” than the corresponding individual was 100 years ago. In other words, if Ui is the number of microstates consistent with the specification of an organism 100 years ago, and Uf is the number of microstates consistent with the specification of today’s “improved and less probable” organism, then Uf = 10^-3Ui.

    Presumably the entropy of the Earth’s biosphere is indeed decreasing by a tiny amount due to evolution, and the entropy of the cosmic microwave background is increasing by an even greater amount to compensate for that decrease. But the decrease in entropy required for evolution is so small compared to the entropy throughput that would occur even if the Earth were a dead planet, or if life on Earth were not evolving, that no measurement would ever detect it.

    Think of it this way: There is a “theorem” that evolution does not violate the Second Law. Styer has presented a proof of this theorem. Sewell has identified a glaring error in this proof. The fact that there is an error in the proof does not necessarily mean the theorem itself is wrong. It just means it becomes an open question again, not a proved theorem. Again, every critic on this board has made some other argument about the Second Law and evolution – e.g., the energy from the sun makes the appearance of complex life not extremely improbable – that Sewell does not, and does not claim, to definitively refute in the paper. That is, in fact, the argument that he specifically allows:

    If you want to show that the spontaneous rearrangement of atoms into machines capable of mathematical computation and interplanetary travel does not violate the fundamental natural principle behind the second law, you cannot simply say, as Styer and Bunn and so many others do, sure, evolution is astronomically improbable, but the Earth is an open system, so there is no problem as long as something (anything, apparently) is happening outside the Earth which, if reversed, would be even more improbable. You have to argue that what has happened on Earth is not really astronomically improbable, given what has entered (and exited) our open system.

    But I believe that there is absolutely no way that any reasonably honest and intelligent person could read the Styer paper, and then Sewell’s paper, and conclude that, no, Styer’s proof is right; it really is valid to estimate how much more “improbable” some organism is than an ancestral organism, plug that into the Boltzmann formula, multiply by the number of organisms and divide by the time taken to evolve, to get a value, in Joules per degree Kelvin per second, for the rate of entropy decrease due to the evolution, compare this value to the value for the rate of increase in entropy in the cosmic microwave background, and, so long as the magnitude of the evolution entropy decrease is less than the magnitude of the cosmic microwave background increase, conclude that “the second law of thermodynamics is safe.” Tellingly, in the hundreds of comments on this topic in various threads, despite my repeated challenges to do so, no one has actually defended the methodology of the Styer “proof”.

    As I challenged keiths in another thread, can you explain how the methodology used by Styer and Bunn cannot be used to show that “anything, no matter how improbable, can happen in a system as long as the above criterion is met?” Just substitute the probability ratio of, say, a set of a thousand coins going from half heads and half tails to all heads in place of their estimate for the increase in improbability of organisms due to evolution. Plug that into the Boltzmann formula, and compare to the thermal entropy increase. If its magnitude is less, the Second Law is satisfied.

    Sewell’s paper is much simpler than the hundreds of comments on multiple threads would indicate. It is much less profound than even his supporters often give him credit for. He is most definitely not the first person to discuss probability as the underlying principle behind the Second Law and apply it to something other than thermal entropy. On other threads, I have posted quotes from numerous standard physics textbooks that do just that. The Styer and Bunn papers do just that. And, if he is right about the error of the compensation argument, it does not revolutionize physics, because compensating one type of probability by another is an argument that is so foolish it is only made in the context of defending evolution. Normal applications of the Second Law in thermal entropy are unaffected by Sewell’s conclusion. All he is saying is that you can’t just inter-convert probabilities of different types of order or entropy as Styer and Bunn do in order to satisfy an inequality. The Second Law is not simply a requirement that the overall “probability” of the universe must increase, where all probabilities are inter-convertible using the Boltzmann formula.

    Alan Fox:

    My back yard has some very tough and capable weeds, with which we struggle. I know that if I take a few seeds from one of these weeds and plant them, in a few months there will be weed plants there, ones that have a great many of those same seeds on them.

    That is a local decrease in entropy, an increase in order. A few seeds are replaced by many, with stems and leaves too. How did this happen? Aside from some water, carbon dioxide and minerals, mostly it happened by sunlight striking the plants and driving photosynthesis. It’s not a mystery. But all we saw entering the plants was radiation!

    If Granville Sewell is right, the growth of the weeds is a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since Granville Sewell is a trained mathematician, and his work is endorsed by the Discovery Institute Press, surely we must be hesitant to conclude that his argument is simply wrong. No, the inevitable conclusion is that Second Law of Thermodynamics must be wrong. A momentous conclusion. Someone should tell the physicists.

    There can hardly be any more repeatable and easily verifiable phenomenon in nature than the growth of weeds in my back yard. Evolution happens, natural selection improves the fitness of organisms … and weeds grow. If Granville Sewell is right, these all prove that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is wrong.

    You have perfectly illustrated what I wrote above. This may be why you, and Joe Feldenstein, don’t believe there is a conflict between the Second Law and evolution. Maybe you are even correct. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the “proof” in the Styer and Bunn papers that Sewell refutes. If they were trying to argue, as you apparently do, that energy makes the development of complex organisms not extremely improbable, they would not (to quote the Styer paper) estimate that “due to evolution, each individual organism is 1000 times “more improbable” than the corresponding individual was 100 years ago.” They would say something like, “Organisms may seem to be getting more improbable each century, but, in fact, they are actually becoming more probable, due to the actions of the four fundamental forces and the solar influx.”

    They may well see energy as related to the processes forming organisms, in that if there were no energy, nothing would happen, but they are clearly not arguing that the energy makes these processes not improbable. If they did not think anything improbable was happening, then there would be no need for them to convert the probabilities of improbable events into entropies and compare that to a different type of entropy to satisfy an inequality.

    And, even if the energy were causing these events, it makes no sense for them to try to convert from the original improbability of what happened to how much energy is needed. It takes energy to flip coins, but it takes no more energy to flip all heads than to flip half heads and half tails.

    Even if the processes increasing the improbability of the organisms are the exact same processes as those increasing the thermal entropy, this accounting is completely invalid.

    If I think energy is simply making something such as, for example, a plant forming a flower, not improbable (and I would agree in this case), I say, as you presumably do, that energy is making that something not improbable. Perhaps I provide some details of a mechanism by which that might be the case. If I want to know how much energy is required, I analyze the mechanism, or perhaps perform an experiment if possible. I do not compute the ratio of the number of microstates of “flower” to the number of microstates of “dirt” and plug it into the Boltzmann formula to see how much energy I need, not even as an upper or lower bound. I only do that if I am trying to compensate improbable events with events that, if reversed would, be more improbable, according to some global accounting scheme.

    To put it another way, suppose I estimated that weeds are x times more improbable than seeds (based on number of microstates of “weed” and of “seeds”) and plugged that into the Boltzmann formula to get an “entropy” value e1 (in units of thermal entropy), but I got them to grow using only a small amount e2 of thermal entropy, and saw that the decrease in e1 was greater than the increase in e2. Would I conclude that the Second Law then had been violated? Of course not, because there is no relationship between number of microstates of “weed” or “seeds” and how much energy it takes for a seed to grow into a weed.

    Now, it is true that I, and presumably Sewell, do believe that the development of complex life is not the probable result of the actions of the four unintelligent natural forces on a previously barren planet receiving only sunlight. However, while the Styer “proof” can be definitively refuted, this claim of course can’t be definitively proven. In the oft-cited plant example, in an open system receiving sunlight, a plant can convert soil and water into a beautiful flower without violating the Second Law, because that actually is what the four fundamental forces predict will happen in this case – but only because there exists within the plant an extremely elegant mechanism to achieve this. Using examples from life, however, is decidedly “cheating” when discussing ID, because the whole point of ID is the claim that life is designed. Thus, a flowering plant is not an example of what the four unintelligent forces alone can do, according to ID; rather, it is an example of how a well-designed system can be engineered to achieve impressive local increases of some type of order without itself violating the Second Law in any way. Restricting ourselves to only the abiotic world (and also excluding creations of human intelligence), where it is agreed the four unintelligent forces are operating unaided, there are certainly examples of local entropy decreases of some kind or another, but obviously nothing remotely similar in scale or type to a reverse tornado constructing houses from rubble or Darwinian evolution constructing human brains, computers, and encyclopedias from a barren planet.

  21. Pro Hac Vice @ 2: I was going to respond, but it seems that most pertinent points have been covered.

    Nevertheless, you write:

    Barb, it seems like there are (at least) two possibilities. One is that Dr. Sewell has come up with a novel and valid refutation of the scientific consensus that the scientific community is unwilling or unable to accept.

    The scientific community railed against physician Ignaz Semmelweiss when he suggested that physicians wash their hands after touching dead bodies. Guess what? He was right, and the scientific community was wrong. Hand washing is now standard practice.

    If they are unwilling or unable to accept changes to modern theories, then the problem lies with them. Science isn’t static, it’s dynamic, always changing, and if any scientist doesn’t understand this simple fact then he or she should find another field to work in.

    The other is that Dr. Sewell is simply wrong, and has not come up with anything novel or valid that the scientific community should take seriously.

    He could be wrong. Then again, “the scientific community” has been proven wrong about many things including the washing of hands (as noted above), phlogiston, Aristotle’s theory of the heavenly spheres, and bloodletting. Maybe the scientific community should be more concerned with validating Sewell’s findings instead of simply not accepting them.

    As a layperson, how do you tell the difference between those two cases? In this specific instance, what is it that makes you think that Dr. Sewell has a valid challenge that the scientific consensus should accept?

    Carl Sagan stated that each of us has a built-in “baloney detector”. He mentions this in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. My built-in baloney detector tells me that a theory that supposedly explains everything in reality does nothing of the sort. Evolution might explain how the fittest survive, but it does not explain how they arrive. When scientists resort to outright falsehoods in an attempt to verify their theory (Archaeoraptor, I’m looking at you), then there is something seriously wrong with either the scientists or the theory.

  22. related note to ‘precisely harnessing’ the sun’s energy to do work:

    Your Motor/Generators Are 100% Efficient – October 2011
    Excerpt: ATP synthase astounds again. The molecular machine that generates almost all the ATP (molecular “energy pellets”) for all life was examined by Japanese scientists for its thermodynamic efficiency. By applying and measuring load on the top part that synthesizes ATP, they were able to determine that one cannot do better at getting work out of a motor,,, The article was edited by noted Harvard expert on the bacterial flagellum, Howard Berg.
    http://crev.info/content/11101.....generators

    Bio-Mechanics – Don’t the Intricacy & Ubiquity of Molecular Machines Provide Evidence for Design? by Casey Luskin – Spring 2012
    Excerpt:,, biomolecular machines have a major difference that distinguishes them from human technology: their energetic efficiency dwarfs our best accomplishments. One paper observes that molecular machines “are generally more efficient than their macroscale counterparts,”7 and another suggests that the efficiency of the bacterial flagellum “could be ~100%.”8 Human engineers can only dream of creating such devices.
    http://www.salvomag.com/new/ar.....design.php

  23. F/N: in every cell in a weed plant, there is a world of nanotech, coded stored programs and implementing machines. That such machines are able to perform configurational and/or shaft work leading to organised entities is not astonishing. Post John von Neumann and his kinematic self-replicator model, it is not an utter mystery how such are self replicating, though it is a wonder. What is the first major challenge to the evo mat just so story is the claim that such systems spontaneously originated in some warm pond through blind physics and chem. Including codes [so language] and clusters of co-ordinated algorithms that make operating systems pale by contrast. What empirical, observational warrant do we actually have for that? NIL. What warrant do we, by contrast, have for FSCO/I as a reliable sign of designed cause? BILLIONS. But then, AF and ilk are ideologues pushing agendas to the point where we have seen them stoutly resisting and trying to dismiss actual self evident first principles. One would not be wise to expect such to respect the mere fallible inferences of inductive reasoning in a scientific context. But, noting the ideological agenda, we can expose and duly highlight the selective hyperskepticism, the undermining of the integrity of inductive reasoning, the rhetorical stunts, and where they go off into outright incivility. KF

  24. Thanks everyone for the thoughtful responses. I apologize that I don’t have time to respond to each you individually on each point; if you feel like I’m ignoring something significant, please let me know and I’ll circle back up on it. I should say that I’m not very interested in the substance of the argument, which I can’t follow in great detail. I’m interested in the manner those arguments are made and received. (I’m trying to write a book on the subject; this is a kind of preliminary research for me.)

    The “baloney detector” idea is quite interesting to me, and I think it’s true but not particularly helpful. When I read Dr. Sewell’s arguments, both here and in prior threads, they trigger my “baloney detector.” I’d like to think that that’s totally separate from the fact that I’m not an IDist, but of course I can’t guarantee that. If a controversial idea is triggering people’s baloney detectors in a way that maps almost perfectly to their preexisting positions on the subject, what good is it? That, again, is not a rhetorical question. For those of you who rely on your BDs, how reliable do you think they are? How do you know?

    So if I may continue to ask questions, please indulge me. If you consider that our “baloney detectors” are often wrong—and they must be, or else humans would not disagree so frequently on empirical questions—what other factors do you look to in order to test your beliefs? BA77 says that “Dr. Sewell’s argument is consistent with reality,” but (a) doesn’t say how and (b) “consistent with reality” is not synonymous with “true.” (For example, the ether hypothesis was consistent with reality as scientists understood it at the time, and yet not true.) So these answers seem to me to be retrospective, rather than a forward-looking attempt to test the proposal.

    Brent, on the other hand, boils the argument as he understands it down into an illustration. As a matter of communication, I think that illustration is enviably well done—I think you’ve taken a complex idea and rendered it quite simply, which is very difficult to do. But if you aren’t able to follow the technical details of Dr. Sewell’s argument, how can you be sure that your illustration is (a) an accurate representation of his ideas, and/or (b) true in any useful way? In other words, your illustration might be an excellent rhetorical tool for persuading others, but not useful at all in testing whether Dr. Sewell is right in the first place. (As it is, I believe it isn’t; my opinion is that your example is off-base in that the assembly of computers is thermodynamically possible in an open system. It might be so unlikely as to never happen in the real world, and there might be other reasons why it isn’t possible, but I don’t see why it’s thermodynamically impossible. Whether the “so unlikely as to never happen in the real world” piece is applicable to the origin of life depends on the odds of the origin of life, which is a separate assumption.)

    CS3, thank you particularly for your detailed response and your reminder to stay focused on what Dr. Sewell actually wrote. I think you’re approaching one of Dr. Liddle’s critiques, in a roundabout way—she commented a few times that Dr. Sewell didn’t even need the 2nd law to make his point, because his point was not actually about thermodynamics at all. I don’t know whether she’s right about that, but I agree with you that Dr. Sewell was not trying to make as significant a point as many of his detractors and supporters tend to assume. Much of the rest of your comment presumes that the second law of thermodynamics applies to probabilities, which is beyond my education in the matter. For what it’s worth I found it well-presented, if unpersuasive for the reasons I outline below.

    Barb, your approach seems to boil down to the (correct) observation that the scientific community could be wrong, combined with your gut-instinct hostility to evolutionary theory. But how does that support Dr. Sewell’s argument? He and the scientific community could both be wrong, for example. Whether he is correct is a separate question from whether Darwin was correct.

    Have I accurately captured your methods for approaching expert arguments? Is there anything I’ve missed or misunderstood? If you have other ideas for the ways in which lay people should approach arguments they can’t follow completely on their own, I’d be interested in hearing them.

    So that I’m not just asking questions interminably, let me add that my own approach usually starts with what Alan Fox recommends: looking for informed critiques of the argument in question. In this case, the critiques by Dr. Liddle, and others are quite persuasive to me not because I understand the underlying math well enough to test them, but because I have yet to see Dr. Sewell answer them in any convincing way. This is, of course, a subjective evaluation.

    I also prefer an approach that builds somewhat on Barb’s observation that the scientific community has been hostile to, and refused to accept, correct outliers in the past. Each of those outliers, however, managed to prove the validity of their rogue theories. Dr. Sewell may do that one day, but as of today I’m not aware that he has managed to build any significant support among experts in either thermodynamics or evolution (barring the pre-existing support of his colleagues in the ID movement).

    In other words, we expect that ID supporters and detractors will break down more or less along party lines in assessing Dr. Sewell’s work, and that is more or less what we see here. If Dr. Sewell is wrong, I would expect things to stay more or less static. If Dr. Sewell is right, I would expect him to start winning over previously uncommitted experts. I have not observed that happening, so I am more inclined to believe that he is incorrect. (It would also be accurate to say that I am more comfortable in my skepticism, since I was initially skeptical of his ideas.) What are your thoughts on that approach?

    (As an aside, let me thank you all again for your responses, which were quite interesting. And I’m sorry for responding at such length. Normally I believe that brevity is best in writing, but I obviously have trouble putting that into practice.)

  25. BA77 says that “Dr. Sewell’s argument is consistent with reality,” but (a) doesn’t say how

    MMM no, I did reference Dr. Behe’s paper among many other papers..

    Perhaps you were hasty in your reading?

    you then state:

    “consistent with reality” is not synonymous with “true.” (For example, the ether hypothesis was consistent with reality as scientists understood it at the time, and yet not true.)’

    So are you saying that Dr. Sewell’s observations are consistent with reality as scientists now understand it and you are just waiting on some unperformed experiment to rescue evolution from the 2nd law’s relentless grip in order to finally make evolution ‘true’? :) Or were you perhaps looking for a better example? If not please provide just one example of purely material processes generating JUST ONE instance of functional information. That would be the experiment to rescue you from reality as it is now understood!

  26. PHV @24, I’m saddened.

    my opinion is that your example is off-base in that the assembly of computers is thermodynamically possible in an open system.

    Yep! Never, ever! seen anything even much simpler happen, but will still believe. That, PHV, is the definition of blind faith. You’re welcome to your religion, but spare me the gentle talk as if you are open minded and really considering things objectively. I’ve had more than I can take. I honestly prefer the vile, foul-mouthed atheist because, well, they’re more honest about where they’re coming from.

  27. Pro Hac Vice:

    First, I would like to commend you for being skeptical yet still remaining courteous and open-minded. That is a fairly rare trait among anyone on any side of any controversial issue on any Internet message board.

    I am not quite sure if I am correctly understanding exactly what it is about Dr. Liddle’s arguments that you find persuasive, but I assume it is related to your statement:

    I think you’re approaching one of Dr. Liddle’s critiques, in a roundabout way—she commented a few times that Dr. Sewell didn’t even need the 2nd law to make his point, because his point was not actually about thermodynamics at all.

    In a broad sense, it is true that you don’t really need the Second Law to make a design argument. People had of course been making design arguments for thousands of years before the Second Law was ever formulated. In the nineteenth century, scientists began making observations about heat and energy, and later it was realized that such observations could be understood from first principles of probability.

    I have provided a number of references on other threads about how the Second Law can be understood from first principles of probability, but I will copy a couple again here:

    From Chemistry by Zumdahl and Zumdahl:

    The natural progression of things is from order to disorder, from lower entropy to higher entropy. To illustrate the natural tendency toward disorder, you only have to think about the condition of your room. Your room naturally tends to get messy (disordered), because an ordered room requires everything to be in its place. There are simply many more ways for things to be out of place than for them to be in their places.

    As another example, suppose you have a deck of playing cards ordered in some particular way. You throw these cards into the air and pick them all up at random. Looking at the new sequence of the cards, you would be very surprised to find that it matched the original order. Such an event would be possible, but very improbable. There are billions of ways for the deck to be disordered, but only one way to be ordered according to your definition. Thus the chances of picking the cards up out of order are much greater than the chance of picking them up in order. It is natural for disorder to increase.

    Entropy is a thermodynamic function that describes the number of arrangements (positions and/or energy levels) that are available to a system existing in a given state. Entropy is closely associated with probability. The key concept is that the more ways a particular state can be achieved, the greater is the likelihood (probability) of finding that state. In other words, nature spontaneously proceeds toward the states that have the highest probabilities of existing. This conclusion is not surprising at all. The difficulty comes in connecting this concept to real-life processes. For example, what does the spontaneous rusting of steel have to do with probability? Understanding the connection between entropy and spontaneity will allow us to answer such questions. We will begin to explore this connection by considering a very simple process, the expansion of an ideal gas into a vacuum. Why is this process spontaneous? The driving force is probability. Because there are more ways of having the gas evenly spread throughout the container than there are ways for it to be in any other possible state, the gas spontaneously attains the uniform distribution.

    Nature always moves toward the most probable state available to it.

    From University Physics by Young and Freedman, in a section entitled “Microscopic Interpretation of Entropy” in the chapter “The Second Law of Thermodynamics”:

    Entropy is a measure of the disorder of the system as a whole. To see how to calculate entropy microscopically, we first have to introduce the idea of macroscopic and microscopic states.

    Suppose you toss N identical coins on the floor, and half of them show heads and half show tails. This is a description of the large-scale or macroscopic state of the system of N coins. A description of the microscopic state of the system includes information about each individual coin: Coin 1 was heads, coin 2 was tails, coin 3 was tails, and so on. There can be many microscopic states that correspond to the same macroscopic description. For instance, with N=4 coins there are six possible states in which half are heads and half are tails. The number of microscopic states grows rapidly with increasing N; for N=100 there are 2^100 = 1.27×10^30 microscopic states, of which 1.01×10^29 are half heads and half tails.

    The least probable outcomes of the coin toss are the states that are either all heads or all tails. It is certainly possible that you could throw 100 heads in a row, but don’t bet on it: the possibility of doing this is only 1 in 1.27×10^30. The most probable outcome of tossing N coins is that half are heads and half are tails. The reason is that this macroscopic state has the greatest number of corresponding microscopic states.

    To make the connection to the concept of entropy, note that N coins that are all heads constitutes a completely ordered macroscopic state: the description “all heads” completely specifies the state of each one of the N coins. The same is true if the coins are all tails. But the macroscopic description “half heads, half tails” by itself tells you very little about the state (heads or tails) of each individual coin. We say that the system is disordered because we know so little about its microscopic state. Compared to the state “all heads” or “all tails”, the state “half heads, half tails” has a much greater number of possible microstates, much greater disorder, and hence much greater entropy (which is a quantitative measure of disorder).

    Now instead of N coins, consider a mole of an ideal gas containing Avogadro’s number of molecules. The macroscopic state of this gas is given by its pressure p, volume V, and temperature T; a description of the microscopic state involves stating the position and velocity for each molecule in the gas. At a given pressure, volume, and temperature the gas may be in any one of an astronomically large number of microscopic states, depending on the positions and velocities of its 6.02×10^23 molecules. If the gas undergoes a free expansion into a greater volume, the range of possible positions increases, as does the number of possible microscopic states. The system becomes more disordered, and the entropy increases.

    We can draw the following general conclusion: For any system the most probable macroscopic state is the one with the greatest number of corresponding microscopic states, which is also the macroscopic state with the greatest disorder and the greatest entropy.

    Sewell’s statement follows directly from this: in an isolated system, the reason natural forces (such as tornados) “may turn a spaceship, or a TV set, or a computer into a pile of rubble but not vice-versa is also probability: of all the possible arrangements atoms could take, only a very small percentage could fly to the moon and back, or receive pictures and sound from the other side of the Earth, or add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers with high accuracy.”

    Thus, physics textbooks make statements such as the following, from Basic Physics by Kenneth Ford:

    Imagine a motion picture of any scene of ordinary life run backward. You might watch…a pair of mangled automobiles undergoing instantaneous repair as they back apart. Or a dead rabbit rising to scamper backward into the woods as a crushed bullet re-forms and flies backward into a rifle while some gunpowder is miraculously manufactured out of hot gas. Or something as simple as a cup of coffee on a table gradually becoming warmer as it draws heat from its cooler surroundings. All of these backward-in-time views and a myriad more that you can quickly think of are ludicrous and impossible for one reason only – they violate the second law of thermodynamics. In the actual scene of events, entropy is increasing. In the time reversed view, entropy is decreasing.

    From a different edition of University Physics, in a section about “building physical intuition” about the Second Law:

    A new deck of playing cards is sorted out by suit (hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades) and by number. Shuffling a deck of cards increases its disorder into a random arrangement. Shuffling a deck of cards back into its original order is highly unlikely.

    Now, it is certainly true that you don’t need to understand or even to have heard of the Second Law in order for it to be intuitively obvious to you that natural forces can cause automobiles to mangle as they collide, but not vice-versa; or that shuffling a sorted deck of cards will most likely result in a more disordered arrangement, but not vice-versa; or that natural processes may make a planet full of human brains, encyclopedias, and spaceships eventually decay into a barren planet, but not vice-versa. But, the probabilistic basis of the Second Law is the scientific formalism behind this intuition.

    It is this understanding of the probability basis of the Second Law that enabled people such as Asimov (long before Sewell) to frame the ancient question of how unintelligent natural forces could cause the appearance of increasingly improbable arrangements of matter that we see in the origin and development of life on Earth in the context of the Second Law.

    From Isaac Asimov in “In the game of energy and thermodynamics, you can’t even break even”:

    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

    You can argue, of course, that the phenomenon of life may be an exception [to the second law]. Life on earth has steadily grown more complex, more versatile, more elaborate, more orderly, over the billions of years of the planet’s existence. From no life at all, living molecules were developed, then living cells, then living conglomerates of cells, worms, vertebrates, mammals, finally Man. And in Man is a three-pound brain which, as far as we know, is the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe. How could the human brain develop out of the primeval slime? How could that vast increase in order (and therefore that vast decrease in entropy) have taken place?

    Remove the sun, and the human brain would not have developed. … And in the billions of years that it took for the human brain to develop, the increase in entropy that took place in the sun was far greater; far, far greater than the decrease that is represented by the evolution required to develop the human brain.

    Styer then went one step further by actually “showing his work” in making this argument. And it is when you actually see this work that it becomes completely apparent how ridiculous this argument actually is.

    Does the second law of thermodynamics prohibit biological evolution?…Suppose that, due to evolution, each individual organism is 1000 times “more improbable” than the corresponding individual was 100 years ago. In other words, if Ui is the number of microstates consistent with the speci?cation of an organism 100 years ago, and Uf is the number of microstates consistent with the speci?cation of today’s “improved and less probable” organism, then Uf = 10^-3Ui.

    Presumably the entropy of the Earth’s biosphere is indeed decreasing by a tiny amount due to evolution, and the entropy of the cosmic microwave background is increasing by an even greater amount to compensate for that decrease. But the decrease in entropy required for evolution is so small compared to the entropy throughput that would occur even if the Earth were a dead planet, or if life on Earth were not evolving, that no measurement would ever detect it.

    I could provide many more references showing that our understanding of the Second Law is derived from probability, and I have done so on other threads. But even if Liddle were right that the Second Law has nothing to do with probability, there is absolutely no way anyone could say that such a criticism applies to Sewell’s paper but not to Styer’s. You either have to throw them both out and go with Liddle’s personal views, or else concede that, right or wrong on their actual arguments, both are correct to utilize the probability basis of the Second Law. While Liddle’s conclusion (that there is no conflict between the Second Law and evolution) may agree with the “consensus” conclusion, it should be very clear that her arguments for why that is are completely different from those, such as Styer, making the compensation argument. And, in fact, if Liddle is correct that the Second Law has nothing to do with probability, that would discredit a whole lot more of physics (including pretty much the whole field of statistical thermodynamics) than if Sewell is right, which would only discredit a single bad argument made in defense of evolution.

    ————————————————–

    In this case, the critiques by Dr. Liddle, and others are quite persuasive to me not because I understand the underlying math well enough to test them, but because I have yet to see Dr. Sewell answer them in any convincing way.

    I don’t mean to malign Dr. Liddle, because I do believe she is sincere, and she is generally courteous, and sometimes has some good points, but, I do not believe that she is an expert in this area, and, as I explained above, her arguments are not consistent with the arguments made in the literature. Sewell has written a paper that responds to what is actually in the literature, not to the personal views of every Internet poster, and I believe he is justified in doing so.

    —————————————————-

    …as of today I’m not aware that he has managed to build any significant support among experts in either thermodynamics or evolution (barring the pre-existing support of his colleagues in the ID movement).
    In other words, we expect that ID supporters and detractors will break down more or less along party lines in assessing Dr. Sewell’s work, and that is more or less what we see here. If Dr. Sewell is wrong, I would expect things to stay more or less static. If Dr. Sewell is right, I would expect him to start winning over previously uncommitted experts. I have not observed that happening, so I am more inclined to believe that he is incorrect.

    While Sewell’s articles have gotten a fair amount of attention at UD and corresponding Darwinian message boards, as you say, most people who invest time on such boards already have a strong bias one way or the other. Outside of such die-hards, I think it is probably fair to say that very few experts have ever read either the Styer paper or Sewell’s paper, so I don’t think it is fair to make any conclusions at this point as to whether other experts would agree with Styer or with Sewell (or Liddle).

    If you stripped away the controversial context of evolution, and simply asked experts who had no previous familiarity with this debate:

    1) Can the Second Law be understood in terms of probability?

    2) In showing that a process does not violate the Second Law, is it reasonable to estimate how much more “improbable” some state is than a previous state, plug that into the Boltzmann formula, divide by the time taken to go from the first state to the second, to get a value, in Joules per degree Kelvin per second, for the rate of entropy decrease due to the process, compare this value to the value for the rate of increase in entropy in the cosmic microwave background, and, so long as the magnitude of the entropy decrease due to the process is less than the magnitude of the cosmic microwave background increase, conclude that it has been proven that the second law of thermodynamics has not been violated by this process?

    I would venture to guess that an unbiased expert would answer yes, and no, respectively, to these questions, in agreement with Sewell’s arguments.

    Also, I would turn the question around, and ask, if Styer has made such a good argument, why is it not being applied to help understand why other processes don’t violate the Second Law? You can certainly find reputable textbooks and/or papers that correctly state that the growth of a flower does not violate the Second Law, but can you find reputable textbooks and/or papers that try to prove this by computing the ratio of the number of microstates of “flower” to the number of microstates of “dirt” and plugging that into the Boltzmann formula and comparing that to the amount of energy input needed to make the flower grow? You won’t, because that isn’t why the growth of a flower doesn’t violate the Second Law. The reason the growth of the flower doesn’t violate the Second Law, is, as I said previously, that actually is what the four fundamental forces predict will happen in this case, because there exists within the plant an extremely elegant mechanism to achieve this. Perhaps someday the mechanism for how human brains, encyclopedias, and spaceships develop from the actions of the four unintelligent natural forces on a sunlit barren planet will be as well understood as the mechanisms of plant growth are now, and, if so, then it will be effectively proven that indeed there is no conflict between the Second Law and evolution. Obviously, I personally believe that the evidence is overwhelmingly against such a mechanism existing, and that the momentum is only increasing in favor of intelligent causes over unintelligent ones, but I am willing to leave this as an open question for now. In any event, though, the need for such a mechanism most definitely cannot be circumvented by Styer’s three-page, absurdly flawed “proof”.

    ————————————————–

    (As it is, I believe it isn’t; my opinion is that your example is off-base in that the assembly of computers is thermodynamically possible in an open system. It might be so unlikely as to never happen in the real world, and there might be other reasons why it isn’t possible, but I don’t see why it’s thermodynamically impossible. Whether the “so unlikely as to never happen in the real world” piece is applicable to the origin of life depends on the odds of the origin of life, which is a separate assumption.)

    The best most any scientific theory can do is show whether something is so unlikely as to never happen in the real world, not show that it is strictly impossible. The claim of Darwinism is that the evolution of life can be explained without resorting to any extremely unlikely events. As Dawkins says, climbing “Mount Improbable” in a single step is improbable (not impossible), but, by reducing this climb to many small steps, each with a selective advantage, nothing improbable is required. Most arguments against Darwinism attempt to show that in fact Mount Improbable can’t be reduced to a sequence of steps, each with a selective advantage, and each so small as to be reached by random mutations.

    To continue from University Physics:

    An example of such a forbidden process would be if all of the air in your room spontaneously moved to one half of the room, leaving vacuum in the other half. Such a “free compression” would be the reverse of the free expansion. This would decrease the number of possible microscopic states by a factor of 2^N. Strictly speaking, this process is not impossible! The probability of finding a given molecule in one half of the room is ½, so the probability of finding all of the molecules in one half of the room at once is (1/2)^N. (This is exactly the same as the probability of having a tossed coin come up heads N times in a row.) This probability is not zero. But lest you worry about suddenly finding yourself gasping for breath in the evacuated half of your room, consider that a typical room might hold 1000 moles of air, and so N=1000NA = 6.02*10^26 molecules. The probability of all the molecules being in the same half of the room is therefore (1/2)^(6.02*10^26). Expressed as a decimal, this number has more than 10^26 zeros to the right of the decimal point! Because the probability of such a “free compression” taking place is so vanishingly small, it has almost certainly never occurred anywhere in the universe since the beginning of time. We conclude that for all practical purposes the second law of thermodynamics is never violated.

  28. Pro Hac Vice writes,

    Barb, your approach seems to boil down to the (correct) observation that the scientific community could be wrong, combined with your gut-instinct hostility to evolutionary theory. But how does that support Dr. Sewell’s argument? He and the scientific community could both be wrong, for example. Whether he is correct is a separate question from whether Darwin was correct.

    When something has been proven to be wrong on more than one occasion (in this case, the scientific community), then skepticism is warranted. The same could be said for Darwin, who has been proven wrong about a number of things he wrote.

    Darwin, however, stated that it’s important to evaluate both sides of an issue. The scientific community, however, doesn’t want to do that.

    Have I accurately captured your methods for approaching expert arguments? Is there anything I’ve missed or misunderstood? If you have other ideas for the ways in which lay people should approach arguments they can’t follow completely on their own, I’d be interested in hearing them.

    I would recommend finding a copy of Thinking Critically by John Chaffee. I used it in a college philosophy course, and I felt that it presented sound ways to evaluate claims.

    I try to follow a five-step analysis when presented with information. First, I’m selective in what I believe or choose to believe. My mind is open, but not so open that anything (including lies and half-truths) can get in. I try to follow the Bible’s advice in this matter: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) I know that I need to scrutinize whatever is presented to me, deciding what to accept and what to reject.

    Second, I try to use discernment, which can be defined as “acuteness of judgment.” It is “the power or faculty of the mind by which it distinguishes one thing from another.” A person with discernment perceives subtleties of ideas or things and has good judgment. Discernment enables me to discard irrelevant information or misleading facts and distinguish the substance of a matter.

    Third, I put information to the test: “Beloved ones,” said John, a first-century Christian teacher, “do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions.” (1 John 4:1) It is said that we are what we eat, and this can apply to food for both the body and the mind. No matter what I’m are reading or watching or listening to, I mentally test to see whether it has propagandistic overtones or is truthful.

    And, if I’m being fair, I have to be willing to subject my opinions to continual testing as I take in new information. Their trustworthiness depends on the validity of my facts, on the quality of my reasoning, and on the standards or values that I choose to apply.

    Fourth, I ask questions when presented with persuasive arguments. I examine the arguments for bias, and try to figure out the person’s motive in telling me the information. I ask, what are the merits of the message itself? If “authorities” are used, who or what are they? Why should I regard this person—or organization or publication—as having expert knowledge or trustworthy information on the subject in question?

    And finally, I don’t just follow the crowd: Popular opinion is not a reliable barometer of truth. Over the centuries all kinds of ideas have been popularly accepted, only to be proved wrong later.

  29. CS3,

    Perhaps someday the mechanism for how human brains, encyclopedias, and spaceships develop from the actions of the four unintelligent natural forces on a sunlit barren planet will be as well understood as the mechanisms of plant growth are now, and, if so, then it will be effectively proven that indeed there is no conflict between the Second Law and evolution.

    Strictly speaking, yes, but of course then we have the stubborn little problem of getting life going to evolve. A mechanism would have to be in place in order to get the mechanism in place. So we need mechanisms for mechanisms, and have explained nothing . . . until we admit that Gen. 1:1 has had it right all along.

  30. Thanks CS3 and Barb, I appreciate your input very much. Barb, thanks particularly for your careful articulation of how to approach such questions.

    Brent, I’m sorry that I made you sad. You might be happier if you were slower to suspect that people who disagree with you were doing so dishonestly or with evil motives. Your suspicions are unfounded.

  31. PHV, I know my post is unpopular with most readers here, and I also think you believe your own stated position and that you are really open and objective. The bottom line is, I think you are being dishonest, first and foremost, with yourself.

    Can you not step back and look at the wildly irrational position you support? Really!? Thermodynamically possible for the four natural forces of nature to create computers??? Have you EVER seen anything like that??? Yes, I know; plants. But again, there is a well understood mechanism in place that makes it not improbable for the effects the natural forces are causing. And as I noted above, even if you say the mechanism was created thermodynamically, you then have an infinite regress to deal with. It doesn’t work, period.

    What we see in the actual world we live in is that, minus a proper mechanism, energy from the sun is destructive! Why would you go against all common experience just because there is some “consensus” among scientists? You appear to fall square into the category I outlined above, that as long as one can muddy the waters with technical and sophisticated sounding jargon (and specifically in your case, say you are just a layman and so hide behind “not understanding the technical and sophisticated sounding jargon”) they think they are freed from sound reasoning principles.

    This leads to the obvious question: If you can’t actually understand the technicals of the papers on both sides of the subject, why would you side with the guys who propose that their “technicals” can do things that you never experience in your everyday life?

    The fact is, science can ONLY be done because we understand that there are limits to what nature can and cannot do; that effects can only come about from causes that have the properties able to cause the effects. You don’t fear striking a match in your living room for fear that a bear will pop out. You don’t fear turning the ignition on your car for fear that your car will suddenly flood. It’s because the properties associated with such acts do not contain the necessary ingredients for causing floods or bears to occur. If, on the other hand, there was no such assurance of what could be expected from certain acts, science would be impossible.

    I’ll just throw you my lay layperson philosophy while I’m at it here. If someone can only throw you math and technical details without being able to coherently and logically hash things out for the layman, be very skeptical. It is my opinion that the math is to make the commonly understood more rigorous, not to make sense of nonsense. In other words, equations are not the driving force in understanding a thing, but help in giving us assurance of things that can be understood (albeit, many things that can be commonly understood are very confusing without the math to aid us). At any rate, the equations clarify, but don’t controvert, reality.

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