December 31, 2005

SOME LIKE IT HOT (via Tom Corcoran):

Evolution's Thermodynamic Failure (Granville Sewell, 12/28/2005, American Spectator)

The first formulations of the second law were all about heat: a quantity called thermal "entropy" was defined to measure the randomness, or disorder, associated with a temperature distribution, and it was shown that in an isolated system this entropy always increases, or at least never decreases, as the temperature becomes more and more randomly (more uniformly) distributed. If we define thermal "order" to be the opposite (negative) of thermal entropy, we can say that the thermal order can never increase in a closed (isolated) system. However, it was soon realized that other types of order can be defined which also never increase in a closed system. For example, we can define a "carbon order" associated with the distribution of carbon diffusing in a solid, using the same equations, and through an identical analysis show that this order also continually decreases, in a closed system. With time, the second law came to be interpreted more and more generally, and today most discussions of the second law in physics textbooks offer examples of entropy increases (order decreases) which have nothing to do with heat conduction or diffusion, such as the shattering of a wine glass or the demolition of a building.

It is a well-known prediction of the second law that, in a closed system, every type of order is unstable and must eventually decrease, as everything tends toward more probable (more random) states. Not only will carbon and temperature distributions become more disordered (more uniform), but the performance of all electronic devices will deteriorate, not improve. Natural forces, such as corrosion, erosion, fire and explosions, do not create order, they destroy it. The second law is all about probability, it uses probability at the microscopic level to predict macroscopic change: the reason carbon distributes itself more and more uniformly in an insulated solid is, that is what the laws of probability predict when diffusion alone is operative.

The reason natural forces 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.

The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection -- like other natural forces -- can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains with human consciousness. Only the layman seems to see the problem with this logic. In a recent Mathematical Intelligencer article ("A Mathematician's View of Evolution," 22, number 4, 5-7, 2000), after outlining the specific reasons why it is not reasonable to attribute the major steps in the development of life to natural selection, I asserted that the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way.

One of the most tran sparent ways in which Darwinism demonstrates itself to be merely an alternative religion is in its insistence that Earth and Mankind are unique. As Alister McGrath bpoints out in his devastating book, Dawkins' God, even a putatively rigorous materialist/Darwinist like Richard Dawkins insists that man alone can resist the dictates of his genes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 31, 2005 12:00 AM

Nothing is random. There is no disorder, only different order.

Posted by: ghostcat at December 31, 2005 12:06 PM

Mr. Judd;

This is arrant nonsense. It's probably the worst anti-Darwinist argument you've managed yet, which is saying something. The author clearly has no understanding of entropy and order other than what he's read bad paraphrases of second rate textbooks.

I don't have the strength to enumerate all of the errors in the piece, so I'll just hit the major one:

natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder
This is utterly wrong. First, natural selection / evolution does not create order out of disorder. It actually creates moredisorder if you look at the entire closed system. Do you believe that you can't heat your house because heat always flows from hot to cold? Evolution creates local order the same way the furnance in your house creates local heat. Both of these "violate" the laws of thermodynamics in the same way.

Not only that, but this kind of order creation is in fact common throughout the natural world. The very existence of stars, planets, weather systems, waterfalls, and diamonds are all examples of "creating order out of disorder". Diamonds are a particularly good example, since the article goes on about carbon distribution in solids always becoming more disordered, which disproves the existence of diamonds just as thoroughly as it disproves evolution. I suggest you try that on The Wife next time she wants some jewelry.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 31, 2005 12:42 PM

"One of the most transparent ways in which Darwinism demonstrates itself to be merely an alternative religion is in its insistence that Earth and Mankind are unique."

Where exactly does the theory of evolution insist that Earth and Mankind are unique, in any sense that necessitates it being a religion? It is just the opposite: man is one of many animals. It's Christianity (among others) that narcissistically claims the opposite.

Posted by: creeper at December 31, 2005 1:46 PM

Creeper: Which is exactly why religion is necessary for any civilized society.

Having said that, like the theory of relativity the second law of themodynamics keeps getting moral baggage it cannot support heaped upon it.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 31, 2005 1:56 PM


You accidentally naiuled it precisely--yes, I believe humans can heat their houses. Entropy doesn't work where intelligence is involved.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 2:10 PM


Did your parents mate because of love or genes?

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 2:14 PM

life randomly evolved but machines (which ar far far simpler) never appear spontaneously. uh huh.

Posted by: darwin's toe at December 31, 2005 2:29 PM

This is, of course; utter nonsense, because the earth is not a closed system. Mr. Sewell has demonstrated that evolution likely could not have happened had the earth been enclosed in an impenetrable black box, a point so obvious as to scarcely merit discussion.

Posted by: Mike Earl at December 31, 2005 2:45 PM

life randomly evolved but machines (which ar far far simpler) never appear spontaneously.

Machines began as tools, which were emulations of features that various animals possess.

The "machines" of nature are biological organisms.
We may argue about how they appeared, but not about whether they've appeared.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2005 3:11 PM

AOG and Mike Earl are correct: the article shows an embarrassingly poor grasp of entropy.

OJ: entropy "works" whether we are involved or not. Yes, we can shift things in ways that seem to violate entropy, but so can nature (e.g. AOG's examples).

And as I've said before, the reality of evolution says nothing about the existence of God, despite what the Dawkins of the world may say. Even as we understand more and more about how the world works, we are still in the realm of the natural, which can't prove anything about the supernatural. (At most it can bring some things previously thought to be supernatural into the natural realm, but God is by definition not one of those things.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 31, 2005 3:58 PM

"Did your parents mate because of love or genes?"

Both, of course.

Posted by: creeper at December 31, 2005 5:37 PM

"Entropy doesn't work where intelligence is involved.

Thus if you posit an omnipresent intelligent being, entropy never works.

Posted by: creeper at December 31, 2005 5:39 PM

Actually, diamonds are crystals. Crystals are a very simple ordering, whose basic units rarely exceed three atoms. Even the most "flawless" crystal is riddled with discontinuities and imperfections. (And some of those, because of their effects, actually increase the value.) And crystal formation is usually accomplished as a slow phase change in the substance involved, going from liquid to solid, which releases a lot of heat. (I forget the chemistry, it's been a few decades, but the same thing happens going from gas to liquid, which is by steam at 100°C is so much more dangerous than water at 100°C — the condensing steam releases a tremendous amount of heat.)

As for the other "orderly" systems cited, what exactly is orderly about a waterfall? How does it violate the 2nd law? As for the planets, there's still uncertainty over whether or not the orderliness we see is a short-term phenomena. (So far the simulations say it's long-term, but who really trusts computer simulations? And our solar system is showing signs of being an aberration when compared to others, one aspect of that being just that stability.) And once you get below the planet level, down to their satellites or to the minor planets/asteroids/Kuiper belt objects, "chaotic behavior" is all over the place.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 31, 2005 5:40 PM


Thus do you make Man unique.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:43 PM


He addresses your attempted escape, but, of course, the Universe itself is closed, no?

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:44 PM


Yes, I agree that the Second Law is nonsense in Nature as well as among Man. God designed a Universe that becomes orderly.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:45 PM


Of course it doesn't work.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:46 PM


Aesthetically. The singularity represents perfect order. Then there's disorder and then things become ordered again.

The notion that the solar system represents a temporary order for our enjoyment is an especially odd argument.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:47 PM


Indeed, and the persistance of life on earth once the sun has burned out is doubtful; the 2nd law will have its way in the end. Sunlight is an import of order to earth which can be inefficiently converted to other forms (eg, trees).

I believe the interesting question, thermodynamically, is why the universe began in such an orderly arrangement. (And the relation of this to the asymmetry between past and future.)

Posted by: Mike Earl at December 31, 2005 7:16 PM

Mr. Judd;

Your counter argument is weak. The idea that natural law doesn't apply to intelligences is a rather unique viewpoint. Moreover, it fails to address my critique of the original article, itself a critique of a belief system which posits that natural law applies to everything everywhen.

Mr. Ortega;

A waterfall is in fact highly ordered. As for diamonds, they are certainly much more ordered that the original matrix from which they condense. It is in fact in the larger disapation of order that concentrated local order can arise. In the case of life, evolution, diamonds and waterfalls, the local order arises from the disapation of other order. I am not discussing evolution itself, but pointing out how pathetic and ignorant the original article is, which demonstrates how not even the simple order of diamonds can arise in nature.

Mr. Earl;

The question of the initial conditions of the Universe is one that has come up before here, although I can't locate the post at the moment.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 31, 2005 10:30 PM


Did you type that because of a natural law?

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 12:27 AM


Once there's no one to observe it the sun is gone anyway.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 12:29 AM


"Thus do you make Man unique."

How so?

Posted by: creeper at January 1, 2006 3:19 AM


"Of course it doesn't work."

I take it you won't use entropy to attempt to argue against the theory of evolution any more then.

Posted by: creeper at January 1, 2006 3:25 AM


Evolution has nothing to do with entropy--God creates order. Darwinism, on the other hand, has to be consistent with it and isn't.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 9:13 AM

and so bplus throws in the towel and walks away mad. next!

Posted by: ref. toe at January 1, 2006 12:19 PM

Mr. Judd;

Did you type that because of a natural law?
No, but no natural laws were violated in the typing of my comment, in contrast to your claim that natural law doesn't apply to intelligence.

Moreover, all of my comments here have been about the fact that Darwinism is completely consistent with the natural laws that concern entropy. Your claim,

Darwinism, on the other hand, has to be consistent with it [entropy] and isn't.
is utterly wrong. I will re-iterate that the evolution of complex life forms no more violates entropic law than the existence of diamonds does. Both are the emergence of order amidst disorder.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 1, 2006 2:41 PM


So, in creating order rather than disorder you used intelligence to overcome entropy. evolution proceeds similarly, because an intelligent, rather than a natural, process.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 3:45 PM

Mr. Judd;

No, I didn't use intelligence to overcome entropy.

First off, I didn't overcome entropy. The net result of my actions of posting a comment was an overall increase in the entropy of the Universe, as the amount of order I created is less than the order disapated by the process of posting (such as the burning of fuel to power the electronics that made it possible). The net effect of intelligent life on planet Earth is to increase the rate of entropy increase in the Universe. Intelligence doesn't overcome entropy, it makes it worse. In fact, if one were willing to be as loose with fact and logic as the original author, one could make the argument that the existence of order in the Universe demonstrates the lack of a higher level intelligence, as it would have long since have used up all order for its functioning, just as we use up order at a greater than natural rate to sustain our own intelligences. That's a silly argument, but less silly than the one you're defending.

Secondly, at no point did I violate any natural laws, despite my use of intelligence.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 1, 2006 5:51 PM


Do you have any doubt that we will one day be able to replicate the Big Bang? or that we couldn't one day mix the primordial soup in such a way as to duplicate the rise of life here on Earth?

As you point out, the fact that order arises in violation of entropy disproves entropy, not the Orderer.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 6:26 PM

Mr. Judd;

Order does not arise "in violation of entropy" in any observed phenomenon, any thermodynamic theory, nor in evolutionary theory. That's the root fallacy you and the original author are laboring under. Once you've made that wrong turn, you're discussing some alternate universe, not the one we live in.

One last analogy I'll try is that you're claiming the equivalent of "it is not possible for any person to get poorer if the overall populace is getting wealthier". When you understand how a particular person can have progressively less money while people in general are acquiring more money, then you will understand how local order can arise even as the Universe as a whole becomes increasingly disordered. Ask Bernie Ebers, Ted Kazcynski, or a victim of a Nigerian e-mail scam about this if you're still unclear on how that can happen.

P.S. Yes, I have strong doubts that we will ever be able to replicate the Big Bang, the only event thought to possibly have violated entropy (and even there, there are theories in which it doesn't). Your primodioral soup argument is irrelevant, since it involves not even a theoretical violation of entropy.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 2, 2006 12:58 AM

"Evolution has nothing to do with entropy--God creates order."

On what basis do you insist that God did not design the process of natural selection to accomplish this?

Posted by: creeper at January 2, 2006 3:51 AM


One of the things people don't realize is that energy has order also, and is related to power density. Most apparent "increases in order" in MATTER occur because of massive decreases of order (power density) in ENERGY. Crystallization of carbon in diamonds occurs during the heat dissipation phase when a massive amount of heat energy and high pressure (mechanical energy) was input to it to liquefy it. The cooling of the mass is done over time, heating up its surroundings to a lower temperature (lower quality of energy). There is a reason why diamonds are found only in volcanic pipes. (What that has to do with life escapes me: DNA, the last time I looked, was called an aperiodic molecule, which is inherently less ordered than a periodic crystal.)

When it comes to radiation, such as infared, visible, ultraviolet, and X-rays, higher quality means higher frequency. In nature, we see a degradation of radiation energy quality, which is what's behind the water cycle. Let's take the waterfall example: the initial input of energy is from sunlight heating seawater and causing evaporation. When water cools, it becomes more ordered (gas to liquid) but only by emission of the energy as thermal energy (lower quality than light). When condensation creates a water droplet, the potential energy stored in the water due to its height above sea level is released as kinetic engery as it falls. The water fall is not as much ordered as much as that its systematically converting stored energy of position (input by the sunlight) into energy of motion: when it reaches the ocean, the amount of motion per CC of water goes way down, which is why we build dams and waterwheels BEFORE it reaches the ocean.

One of the success stories of the study of thermodynamics is the systematic study of heat engines and how they convert low quality energy into higher quality energy. The water cycle I mentioned is a heat engine because energy from the sun heats the working fluid, and there is no question that the energy quality of a flowing river is higher than the sunlight that had been used to evaporate all that water. However, it should be pointed out that heat engines are inherently inefficient because of the condensation phase: some of that energy HAS to be emitted as thermal radiation (lower quality) in order to allow the atoms of the working fluid to slow down to condense. In steam plants, whether driven by coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear fission, the energy is used to vaporize the water: the high pressure difference between the high temperature steam generator and the low temperature condenser causes the steam to move: it is steam impingement on the intervening turbine blades that thermalizes the steam so it will eventually condense back into water, but the transer is inefficient in that the turbine blades also heat up and dissipate part of their energy as thermal energy. The cycle has been analyzed, and the upper limit of the efficiency is a funciton of the temperature difference between the heat source, the heat sink, AND the temperature of the heat sink itself. (Interesting note: it has been long known that the only way a heat engine can be 100% efficient is for the temperature of the heat sink to be at absolute zero. My thermo professor stated that if we ever DID acheive absolute zero, we could throw a heat pipe into the ocean, connect the other end to the object that's at absolute zero, and get lots of free electricity)

There is no such thing as a free lunch: when one considers the amount of enthropy (order/disorder) in a system, one must take into account the amount of order in BOTH matter AND energy bound in the system. We know what the conversion rate of matter to energy is (e=m*c*c), but I don't think we know what the entropy conversion rate is.

the chemical process called photosynthesis looks, on paper, like a cycle: In fact, it is an engine that uses light, emits some of that energy as lower quality thermal energy, but uses the energy difference to fabricate chemical structures that require energy to be formed: it is an inherently endothermic process, just as burning that food is an exothermic process.

The issue that is in dispute is that, because the original big-bang clearly did not initially have any molecular engines that decode DNA, form proteins, uses light to create sugar, and replication machinery to duplicate all these engines, the question arises as to how such complex structures could arise in a universe where everything seems to either be an amorphous mess of atoms or a highly regular array.

Evolution is a statement of how organisms that rely on exchanging engine blueprints (DNA) can, with successive reproductions, sort through and find the blueprints that yield survivable derivative structures, but blueprints are useless without the associated machinery that drives protein production to express the blueprints into those survivable structures.

The more I learn about what goes on in the cell, the more doubtful I become that this all "just happened". What I learned in biology class 30+ years ago in 11th grade is what my #2 son learned in 7th, and what #1 son is learning in 10th grade biology no where indicates how complicated and interrelated everything is. Everyone complains about Behe testifying in court, but nobody disputed the accuracy of his descriptions of microbiological structures.

Posted by: Ptah at January 3, 2006 4:02 PM