Two Mosquitoes in a Mud Hole

That expression could describe South Carolina state Senator Mike Fair and Governor Mark Sanford. It is somehow more fitting than “peas in a pod”. As I reported previously (here and here), the curriculum standards dealing with evolution are under assault in SC by Sen. Fair, who is being coached behind the scenes by the Discovery Institute. But now Gov. Sanford has thrown his hat in the ring for the side of ID, and in the process, has managed to demonstrate exactly why politicians should quit trying to second-guess scientists: He has no clue what he’s talking about.

The newly formed South Carolinians for Science Education has transcripts up of an interview Sanford did for a local TV station. They even have the audio, if you’re one of those who likes to have a voice to associate with crazy statements. (If you’re a SC resident, please register and/or get on the mailing list while you’re at the site; official means of joining will be available in the near future.) Below the fold I’ve reproduced the relevant portion of Sanford’s interview, and included some discussion.

Newswatch – WIS – TV – January 29, 2006

Host: David Stanton Guest: Gov. Mark Sanford

DS: What do you think about the idea of teaching alternatives to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in public schools… for instance Intelligent Design.

MS: I have no problem with it.

DS: Do you think it should be done that way? Rather than just teaching Evolution?

MS: Well I think that it’s just, and science is more and more documenting this, is that there are real “chinks” in the armor of evolution being the only way we came about. The idea of their being a, you know, a little mud hole and two mosquitoes get together and the next thing you know you have a human being… is completely at odds with, you know, one of the laws of thermodynamics which is the law of, of.. in essence, destruction.

Whether you think about you bedroom and how messy it gets over time or you think about the decay in the building itself over time. Things don’t naturally order themselves towards progression…. Uuummm.. in the natural order of things. So, it’s in fact, it’s against fairly basic laws of physics… and so I would not have a problem in teaching both… Uh, you saying this is one theory and here’s another theory.

It’s sad to even have to say it, but let’s set the record straight. First of all, if you follow the human lineage all the way back to a single celled organism, at no point along the line will you see anything resembling a mosquitoe. Mosquitoes are insects, and insects didn’t evolve until the Devonian, long after the arthropods (the phylum to which insects belong) and chordates (our own phylum) went their separate ways.

Now that we’ve gotten Sanford’s rotten understanding of phylogenetics out of the way, we get to the best part, which is his claim concerning the 2nd law of thermodynamics. This argument is so bad that only the most die-hard creationists still use it; even the ID people have had enough sense to drop it completely. The 2nd law doesn’t say that order never comes from disorder. If it did, pretty much all instances of, you know, order would be hard to explain. That would include, among other things, life itself. How does Sanford think a single-celled zygote becomes a human being; or an acorn becomes a mighty oak tree; or a single bacterium, placed in a sugar solution, becomes billions of bacteria? These are all examples of order coming from disorder. And the 2nd law of thermodynamics doesn’t preclude them unless you have a closed system, which the Earth manifestly is not.

Today’s Charleston Post and Courier carried a front page article about this embarrassing episode. Among other things, the author pulled the journalistically brilliant move of, well, asking a physics professor:

But intelligent design isn’t provable by experimentation and thus doesn’t meet a definition for a teachable science topic, according to College of Charleston physics professor Bob Dukes and biology associate professor Robert Dillon Jr.

Dillon is a founding member of South Carolinians for Science Education, which a group of scientists and educators formed after state legislators made statements similar to Sanford’s and in an effort to address contention over the final approval of state biology teaching standards.

The pair took the governor to task for his televised statements. They argued that there aren’t “chinks” in the armor of evolution, and said a later citation of the second law of thermodynamics was taken out of context.

In his Sunday statement, for example, the governor said, “The idea of there being a, you know, a little mud hole and two mosquitoes get together and the next thing you know you have a human being is completely at odds with, you know, one of the laws of thermodynamics.”

“That’s what the governor is confused about,” Dukes said. “The earth is not a closed system and we can get order from disorder.”

It’s great to have some push-back against this nonsense. If you are from SC, feel free to notify your local op-ed page that you really don’t want Sanford making your children as scientifically illiterate as he is. And don’t forget to check the SCSE page for more info.