Home » Science » Paul Davies on the Dennis Prager Show (or, A Second Look at the Second Law)

Paul Davies on the Dennis Prager Show (or, A Second Look at the Second Law)

Paul Davies was recently interviewed on the Dennis Prager show, and a caller challenged Davies with the neg-entropic nature of living systems. Paul’s response was the usual: local, open systems can experience decreases in entropy, as long as the overall system experiences an entropy increase. He gave the example of a refrigerator, which can make ice cubes (thus decreasing entropy inside the refrigerator), while the room warms up as a result of the heat pump, thus providing a compensatory entropy increase.

There are two big problems with this line of reasoning.

The first problem is that the refrigerator was designed and contains a machine that takes advantage of the available energy to locally defy entropic tendencies.

The second problem is that the order in an ice cube and the order in living systems are not at all analogous. Living systems contain a completely different kind of order, both in degree and in kind: tightly functionally integrated machinery, information encoded in the nucleotides of of the DNA molecule (a symbolic language), and an information-processing machine that decodes and implements the dictates of the symbolic language.

As Granville Sewell has pointed out, the fact that a system is open doesn’t mean that anything can happen, and that the laws of probability are somehow magically suspended.

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21 Responses to Paul Davies on the Dennis Prager Show (or, A Second Look at the Second Law)

  1. From the evidence I have been going through, I find that Genetic Entropy is as foundational a law for biology as Entropy is for the universe is as a whole.

    In fact, I thought Genetic Entropy might have been violated by the trivial gain in complexity that has recently been demonstrated HIV. Until I realized a lesson I learn when I was younger.

    If rocks gather at the base of a mountain is Entropy violated. No! The Entropy is payed for by the mountain itself when the rocks disintegrate from its side.

    As such since the virus is a non-living entity, the Genetic Entropy is paid for by the higher level loss in complexity in the life-form (us) that the HIV has infected.

    That was the only questionable one I’ve seen and that fell into place.

    The fossil record follows the pattern of rapid diversification upon sudden appearance of an order, then slow deterioration of within species variation as well as gradual extinction of all sub-species of the order.

    The for front-loaded ID followed by Genetic Entropy is the correct mo^del, and unlike evolution, is falsifiable by deep time fossil records that show increase in variability after genetic entropy is in full swing for an order.

  2. The thing that stunned me about Davies, who is obviously a very bright and perceptive person, is that he apparently never even thought about the issues I raised in my essay. In his mind, logic dictates that if a refrigerator can make ice cubes, living things can spontaneously self-generate from inanimate chemicals if there is an available energy source.

    This is an example of the antithesis of scientific inquiry, and a statement of faith which flies in the face of evidence and logic.

  3. I’ve always heard from evolutionists how the sun provides “more than enough energy” for abiogenesis. But it’s completely counter-intuitive, for what happens to any object left in the sun for an extended period of time is exactly what one would expect: deterioration.

  4. The evolutionist error of “energy-creating-order” is based on the equivocal use of the term “order”. Therefore it would be better to use another word for meaning a system containing complex specified information: “organization”.

    The equation “organization = information” was stated by Norbert Wiener when said: “The amount of information in a system is a measure of its organization degree” (Cybernetics, Introduction). Open systems receiving energy develop no organization until intelligence organizes them.

    An ice crystal is simply an ordered accumulation of molecules. A car is not an ordered accumulation of things. It is a far higher thing: a highly organized system. Crystals can be formed by a decrease of entropy driven by simple energy. Cars can not, they need design.

    Of course if this is true for cars, a fortiori is true for the biological cells, which are even more complex and organized.

  5. The sun has been shining on the earth for billions of years. Yet things like books, cars, highways, and computers didn’t form from the energy of the sun alone. Not until intelligent agency entered the scene did those things come to be. Anything physically possible can happen in an open system if intelligent agency is involved otherwise things like the above are just too improbable to have any reasonable chance of forming by nature alone.

  6. 6

    Gil,

    Thanks for the mention of my article, let me add a link here .

    A always dread looking at the comments after I post anything on the second law, because they always go off on tangents and miss the extremely simple point I am trying to make. Phil Johnson one told me he had given up talking about the second law because of the “knee-jerk” reactions, and went straight to “information”. I am about to give up talking about the second law too, but now I prefer to talk about the “underlying principle behind the second law”, which is that natural forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view. In my article I point out (see footnote) that this is very similar to Dembski’s argument that only intelligence can explain specified complexity.

    Given the existence of a refrigerator and a source of electricity, etc, there is nothing extremely improbable about the fact that it makes ice cubes. Given the existence of a planet and a nearby star, is it extremely improbable that devices capable of flying to the moon and back, or of sending pictures and sound to the opposite side of the planet, or of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers to high accuracy, would develop over the years? I believe it IS astronomically improbable; if it isn’t, then there’s no violation of the principle behind the second law here.

    It’s a really simple argument.

  7. “He gave the example of a refrigerator, which can make ice cubes (thus decreasing entropy inside the refrigerator)”

    Funny how he used an example of an intelligently designed mechanism. I wonder if he could come up with an example of this using a process that was clearly not designed.

    Not holding breath.

    Insight is the only thing that overcome entropy. Did insight itself originate from entropic processes? Don’t bet on it.

  8. “In the face of the universal tendency for order to be lost, the complex organization of the living organism can be maintained only if work – involving the expenditure of energy – is performed to conserve the order. The organism is constantly adjusting, repairing, replacing, and this requires energy. But the preservation of the complex, improbable organization of the living creature needs more than energy for the work. It calls for information or instructions on how the energy should be expended to maintain the improbable organization. The idea of information necessary for the maintenance and, as we shall see, creation of living systems is of great utility in approaching the biological problems of reproduction.”

    George Gaylord Simpson and William S. Beck, Life: An Introduction to Biology, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan, 1965), 145.

  9. Even the most sophisticated attempts (http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/072065599v1) to explain complex biological organization on the basis of known chemistry must use the term “design” repeatedly. Also, in keeping with the comments above, it is acknowledged that “The inclusion of dissipative, nonequilibrium processes, as present in the living world, constitutes a major goal and challenge for the future”. Science of the gaps?

  10. Gil said,

    In his mind, logic dictates that if a refrigerator can make ice cubes, living things can spontaneously self-generate from inanimate chemicals if there is an available energy source.

    No, that’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying that 2LoT isn’t a barrier, which isn’t the same thing as saying that ice cube-making means abiogenesis is possible.

  11. #2,and yet Ilya Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize for his explanation how NonEquilibrium systems solve the puzzle of how life could originate despite the second law of thermodynamics.

    Totally toppling the myth that such a thing was too improbably

  12. #2,and yet Ilya Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize for his explanation how NonEquilibrium systems solve the puzzle of how life could originate despite the second law of thermodynamics.

    err…that’s not true at all. The complexity being generated has no direct relevance to the origin of biological life or evolution. The complexity being generated does NOT conflict with ID, since it is NOT specified complexity.

    Self-ordering phenomena should not be confused with self-organization. Self-ordering events occur spontaneously according to natural “law” propensities and are purely physicodynamic. Crystallization and the spontaneously forming dissipative structures of Prigogine are examples of self-ordering. Self-ordering phenomena involve no decision nodes, no dynamically-inert configurable switches, no logic gates, no steering toward algorithmic success or “computational halting”… Inanimacy cannot “organize” itself. Inanimacy can only self-order. “Self-organization” is without empirical and prediction-fulfilling support. No falsifiable theory of self-organization exists. “Self-organization” provides no mechanism and offers no detailed verifiable explanatory power.
    David L. Abel, Jack T. Trevors, “Self-organization vs. self-ordering events in life-origin models,” Physics of Life Reviews (2006)

    This quote from Prigogine from before he died is relevant:

    “The results of my research in thermodynamics were to show that non-equilibrium systems may lead to complex structures. For a recent account, see my book “Modern Thermodynamics, From Heat Engines to Dissipative Structures” (D. Kondepudi and I. Prigogine, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1998). However, this is still far from a theory of biological evolution. To my knowledge, we have still not discovered the mechanisms, which lead to the remarkable adaptation between life, and environments, which we observe in nature.”

    Also:

    “The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident, is zero.”

    To put that quote in context, Prigogine was contending that since the origin of life would be based upon natural thermodynamic laws technically that event would not be “accidental”. The problem is no one has been able to find such a law.

  13. Figment wrote: “#2,and yet Ilya Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize for his explanation how NonEquilibrium systems solve the puzzle of how life could originate despite the second law of thermodynamics.”

    Prigogine’s researches (on open systems, far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics) didn’t solve the puzzle of life and Prigogine himself knew it well. Far-from-equilibrium systems show decrease of entropy and some odd forms of order (such as the Turing’s periodic structures or some more irregular aperiodic phenomena such as those related to dissipative chaotic processes). But also this “order” is not at all the kind of thing that leads to life. According to what I wrote in #4, also Prigogine’s low-entropy processes are far from being able to create the true organization, much less the high organization of life.

  14. bornagain wrote:
    “In fact, I thought Genetic Entropy might have been violated by the trivial gain in complexity that has recently been demonstrated HIV.”

    IMHO, until it can be demonstrated (no just-so’s) how matter/energy under the governance of natural law can create bio-machines so complex they can barely be understood, I’m not going to worry about a mutation which causes a leaky cell. What we know is this: Life has increased in complexity since its existence began, and there is some mechanism that causes this. We here posit that mechanism is intelligence, the ID haters believe it all “just happened” Video tape a cell spontaneously self-assembling from raw materials and ID is falsified. I can’t think of a way to falsify Darwinism. If a cell spontaneously self-assembles, Darwinism stands, if it doesn’t self-assemble, Darwinism stands. But, if ID is correct, then living things should have some type of adaptation “software” which allows it to survive. If we were to witness a mutation that somehow adds information to the genome, how would we know this wasn’t a guided mutation of some sort? As has already been said, a refrigerator is *designed* to produce ice cubes. And not for nothin, but just because the second law is not violated, does not mean it’s sane to assume that life would be a result, unless you have a philosophical commitment to that type of loony thinking.

  15. Mike1962:

    Funny how he used an example of an intelligently designed mechanism. I wonder if he could come up with an example of this using a process that was clearly not designed.

    Not holding breath.

    Natural examples, such as weather, tend to be more complicated. That’s why they don’t make good illustrations.

    Insight is the only thing that overcome entropy. Did insight itself originate from entropic processes? Don’t bet on it.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “overcome entropy”, but local entropy-decreasing processes occur in the atmosphere all the time. On the other hand, it’s impossible to design a mechanism that violates the Second Law.

  16. figment you stated:

    #2,and yet Ilya Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize for his explanation how NonEquilibrium systems solve the puzzle of how life could originate despite the second law of thermodynamics.

    Which begs the question, “Since he figured, how life can originate and then develop Complex Specified Information (CSI), all out on his mathematical paper, where is the conclusive proof, to back up his math, in the real world?”

    Or is the proof, of a violation of Genetic Entropy (CSI generation) really just a “figment” of his (and your) imagination. An imaginary conjecture that is hidden in the very advanced mathematics of his that very few people in the world can truly understand anyway.

    In science, evidence has primary authority to determine which theory is true. We (IDists) sit here at UD everyday and ask every evolutionists who ventures here, “Where is the proof of information (CSI) being generated by natural means?” and all evidences presented by them fall under the scrutiny and hard evidence provided by UD bloggers.

    This clearly should not be the case if evolution were indeed true! (Just look at the amazing amount of life around you) Yet this bankruptcy of evidence, for evolutionists, is a fact of science that I have seen demonstrated over and over again on this blog.

    So Nobel prize or not for his advanced mathematics, Evolution still has not met its required burden of proof to be considered scientifically true!

  17. Or is the proof, of a violation of Genetic Entropy (CSI generation) really just a “figment” of his (and your) imagination. An imaginary conjecture that is hidden in the very advanced mathematics of his that very few people in the world can truly understand anyway.

    I’m embarrassed to say I’m not up on Dr. Dembski’s mathematical work in this area (the math is very very opaque to me). In his work has he ever challenged Ilya Prigogine’s explanations directly as a violation of Genetic Entropy / CSI? Seems like it should be a slam-dunk, however I haven’t the math skills to even begin to understand it. Is it an apples/oranges thing?

  18. shaner74 [14]:

    If we were to witness a mutation that somehow adds information to the genome, how would we know this wasn’t a guided mutation of some sort?

    Good point. How do we know that anything in genetics is not guided?

  19. Shaner74
    If we were to witness a mutation that somehow adds information to the genome, how would we know this wasn’t a guided mutation of some sort?

    Luckily the “Designer”, whom I believe is God, does not seem to pull this trick once He has implemented His design, as evidenced from the detailed study of the malaria parasite in Behe’s Edge of Evolution”.
    So for now, until any evidence whatsoever comes up to the contrary (clearly demonstrating gain in complexity for a “living” life-form), The Genetic Entropy mo^del holds how information will act after the initial implementation of information at the level of parent species by the “Designer”.

  20. I think this goes to show how low some of these guys are willing to go to try to push their naturalistic agenda ahead. Paul Davies has stated in an interview that he doensn’t like the idea of God in his so-called ‘designed’ universe. This goes to show that he is committed to some form of naturalism.

  21. Patrick:

    The abuse of Prigogine is longstanding. In Chapter 7 of Thaxton et al’s The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984), there is a very interesting cite from him:

    The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred.8 [I. Prigogine, G. Nicolis, and A. Babloyantz, November, 1972. Physics Today, p.23]

    In short, there has to be shown that ther is a pathway from the simple molecules likely to form in the pre-biotic environment and the organised complexity of life forms today.

    To date, such OOL work keeps on hitting dead ends, traceable tothe poiont that prof Granille Sewell has again underscored at comment 6 above:

    Phil Johnson one told me he had given up talking about the second law because of the “knee-jerk” reactions, and went straight to “information”. I am about to give up talking about the second law too, but now I prefer to talk about the “underlying principle behind the second law”, which is that natural forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view. In my article I point out (see footnote) that this is very similar to Dembski’s argument that only intelligence can explain specified complexity.

    Of courese, this is also the basic point made by Sir Fred Hoyle and others, long since. At a far less exalted level, I discuss pretty much the same in my online always linked note, esp appendix 1 section 6, as this stuff is not really about cutting edge research [though that will help] but about basic, well-established principles of science that send a message that cuts across an ideologically dominant narrative.

    But it is very clear that the scientifically based, well-warranted message entailed by prof Sewell’s Rmarks and Sir Fred Hoyle’s comment about tornadoes not being expected to form 747s when they pass through junkyards will continue to be ducked as long as possible. For we are in a long battle of attrition for the hearts, minds and souls of western civilisation, in contention with an ideology that has long since proved its ruthlessness and willingness to manipulate the balance of credible evidence.

    In such a battle the appearance of a futile, costly quagmire with a steadily and horrendously mounting butcher’s bill will be long sustained, until the other side runs out of ideas and resources and collapses. For instance, compare the fate of communism, up to the turn of the 1990s, then its sudden collapse.

    Or, you can look at the story of World War I, in which the Central powers kept on winning and beating off allied attacks at terrible cost to the allies, until in 1917, France suffered massive mutiny in its army and Russia outright collapsed — two of the major three allied powers. This kept on right up to the point of the major spring offensive of 1918 [during which, BTW, C S Lewis was wounded]. Then, resources finally exhausted and facing a rising tide of a new Allied power, the Americans, in 100 days, the German forces collapsed.

    Indeed, in the second world war, Germany had to be bled out on the plains of Russia and in the skies over Germany and under the waves of the Atlantic before it could be defeated.

    In short, great and determined powers have to be broken before they will be defeated.

    We have to make up our minds if we are up to such a long, hard, grimly costly sustained ideological and philosophical as well as scientific slogging match.

    Let us not be naive that some magic bullet result of ID research will make the issue suddenly go away. Even after such results, there will be a terrible, sustained rearguard action to address. And there may be a horrendous “Battle for Berlin” at the end with the die-hards, even when defeat has long since been obvious.

    GEM of TKI

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