ID Creationism and the Second Law

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A venerable claim of creationists is that evolution somehow or other violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In its tradition of recycling old-line creationist claims, the intelligent design movement, in the person of Granville Sewell, a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso, has taken up the creationist Second Law claim. For the few here who don’t regularly read him, I have to say that Jason Rosenhouse’s takedown of Sewell’s claims (and in particular Sewell’s whining about a rejected ms.) is lovely. Highly recommended.

134 Comments

Great takedown. Thanks to RIchard for the link, Jason for the article and Mike Elzina for patiently trying to explain all of this over and over again.

from Joe Felsenstein (how do I get the PT signin system to automatically sign my comments with my name and URL instead of just my Gmall user name?)

Jason Rosenhouse’s flattening of Sewell is wonderful. Both he and Mark Perakh have previously flattened Sewell’s earlier arguments (here and here), though Sewell seems to have learned nothing. I have also posted twice at PT making fun of Sewell’s argument (here and here). The crux of Sewell’s argument is that we cannot explain the local rise of life unless we have something entering the biosphere that affects it. that having an overall increase of entropy due to events elsewhere is not enough. Sewell airily says that it isn’t enough because

… if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.

Of course, it is the very entry into the biosphere of radiation from the sun that makes life, and its evolution, possible! In my posts I had fun with this, pointing out that Sewell’s “proof” also showed that weeds can’t grow, and neither can flowers.

Joe, the easiest way is to register for a local Movable Type account and log in with that. I don’t think our Gmail support allows you to change your “handle”.

Thanks Reed, and in case anyone wants to quibble, yes I am aware that some energy for life comes from chemoautotrophy. But most of it is from the sun.

Gee, another reason for me to be ashamed of my home state of Texas!

Why is it always the second law? Why not the first or third? (Or fourth if there’s that many.)

(Mostly just testing whether commenting now works).

Henry J said:

Why is it always the second law? Why not the first or third? (Or fourth if there’s that many.)

I think if they could use any of the other (0th, 1st, 3rd, 4th) laws of thermodynamics to argue that evolution was impossible, they would.

But the 2nd Law is the most difficult to understand so it offers them the most opportunity.

Ok, sorry to draw this way OT, but 4th LoT? Was this facetious? Or did the number change since intro stat mech?

dphorning said:

Ok, sorry to draw this way OT, but 4th LoT? Was this facetious? Or did the number change since intro stat mech?

The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics is that a commenter on a blog, when encountering a list like this of the “four laws of thermodynamics” (numbered 0, 1, 2, 3) will lose count when he posts about it. Us commenters have very limited conceptual abilities.

felsenst said: Jason Rosenhouse’s flattening of Sewell is wonderful. Both he and Mark Perakh have previously flattened Sewell’s earlier arguments (here and here), though Sewell seems to have learned nothing.

Creationists repeat the same lies over and over again, typically to new / naive audiences. So we have to continually let those new audiences know that the Liars For Jesus™ are recycling old lies. It is tiresome but necessary. Keep up the good work.

Joe Felsenstein said:

dphorning said:

Ok, sorry to draw this way OT, but 4th LoT? Was this facetious? Or did the number change since intro stat mech?

The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics is that a commenter on a blog, when encountering a list like this of the “four laws of thermodynamics” (numbered 0, 1, 2, 3) will lose count when he posts about it. Us commenters have very limited conceptual abilities.

It may also refer to William Dembski mistakenly claiming that he had proved a law of conservation of information.

If they use zeroth law instead of 2nd they would hardly succeed. Because zeroth law makes evolution possible.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/x68O1lsNl5F6[…]qjc3BB#ca44a said:

If they use zeroth law instead of 2nd they would hardly succeed. Because zeroth law makes evolution possible.

I’m not sure how – it is hard to imagine a world without it.

By the way, I now can make quantitative statements about the laws of thermodynamics. I went into the Wikipedia page on Laws of Thermodynamics. copied out the text on each law, and word-counted it. The result:

# Zeroth Law:   348

# First Law:      199

# Second Law:   658

# Third Law:      154

… and some of the discussion for the Zeroth Law is about why it would be needed at all. Leaving the Second Law as the true champion in needing-to-be-clarified.

Henry J said:

Why is it always the second law? Why not the first or third? (Or fourth if there’s that many.)

The second law

  • Talks about how systems change in time
  • Is couched in terms of a quantity few lay people actually understand
  • Is easily misrepresented because of an unfortunate nomenclature choice by the founders of information theory
  • Is easily misrepresented because of the statistical nature of the Boltzmann interpretation and the difficulty of explaing that interpretation to lay people (especially innumerate lay people)

That’s why. (At least IMNSHO.)

felsenst said:

Jason Rosenhouse’s flattening of Sewell is wonderful. Both he and Mark Perakh have previously flattened Sewell’s earlier arguments (here and here), though Sewell seems to have learned nothing. I have also posted twice at PT making fun of Sewell’s argument (here and here).

I just took a look back at Mark Perakh’s excellent essay and was greatly amused by the first comment.

It has been quite painful watching the mangling of the second law by not just the ID/creationists, but also by well-intentioned people trying to make the essence of the second law accessible to the general public.

And I have been watching this since about the mid 1970s when I was first becoming aware that misconceptions about the second law were being promulgated.

None of the excellent textbooks I have known and used over the years make any reference to order/disorder when discussing entropy. The concept of the integral of dQ/dT was already becoming a useful pattern for making efficient calculations before Clausius named it in 1865; and certainly before statistical mechanics clarified just what temperature, internal energy, and accessible microstates are.

It is an equivalent way of stating that energy flows spontaneously from high temperature to low temperature. Dividing a quantity of heat, Q by a small T gives a larger number than dividing that same Q by a large T. Entropy spontaneously increases; DUH!

As I have tried to make clear (despite the attempted distractions by certain trolls), entropy comes down simply to the enumeration of energy microstates. How those microstates are connected with the microscopic constituents of the system and the degrees of freedom over which the energy is spread, how the number of microstates changes with the total energy of the system, these are what are important.

There is, in general, no consistent relationship between how energy is spread among microstates and the spatial ordering of atoms and molecules that provide those microstates. The use of order/disorder, if it is used at all (and it should NOT be used in this context), is only a metaphor drawn from visualizations of spatial arrangements of things typically used to teach the concepts of enumeration.

The second law basically comes down to the fact that energy spreads around. More fundamentally, however, energy spreads around because matter interacts with matter. This is a simple, observational fact. If that were not the case, there would be no universe as we know it. Energy must be released and spread around in order for matter to condense.

If a thermodynamic system is completely isolated from its surroundings, energy spreads among all available microstates until the maximum number of microstates is on the average occupied. Thus, Boltzmann’s constant times the logarithm of the number of microstates - i.e., entropy - increases to a maximum; DUH!

If the microscopic constituents of the thermodynamic system also did NOT interact with each other, then the system would remain in whatever particular microstate it is in. It would have zero entropy (logarithm of 1 is zero); but because it is also completely isolated from its surroundings, we wouldn’t know what state it was in.

And this fact should also reveal the ID/creationist lie that large entropy signifies “lack of information,” whatever the hell that means.

But the notions of entropy and microstates make it possible to relate the macroscopic states of a thermodynamic system to its underlying constituents. That is the true power of the concept of entropy. Entropy is just a name given to a mathematical calculation that makes such connections possible.

It has nothing to do with the universe coming all apart, with order/disorder, or with making evolution impossible. Evolution happens because matter condenses. And matter condensing requires the spreading around of energy.

Entropy is not about now advanced some organism is on some evolutionary scale. Over time, as matter condenses, more and more complex things emerge. Young organisms have less entropy (number of energy microstates consistent with its macroscopic state) that do larger adults. That doesn’t make the young “more advanced.”

Entropy is about counting the number of energy microstates consistent with the macroscopic state of any thermodynamic system. It does not have to be any more complicated than that.

And the fact that Sewell did not submit his “paper” to the most appropriate journal – namely, Physical Review Letters (the go-to journal for the most important announcements in physics) – this fact alone reveals either complete naiveté on the part of Sewell or, more likely, the typical sleazy tactics ID/creationists have been using for nearly 50 years now.

I would say that the “nuisance payoff” to Sewell’s lawyers is well worth the exposure of Sewell’s tactics along with the fact that ID/creationists continue to play this game despite decades of being repeatedly refuted and rebuffed by the scientific community.

P.S. Would there be any advantage to reposting and having available on a suitable thread the example I posted recently over on the Bathroom Wall? I could easily repost it.

SWT said:

I just took a look back at Mark Perakh’s excellent essay and was greatly amused by the first comment.

I thought that was intriguing. I wouldn’t really think that the ICR or the AIG have been “marginalized” by the DI, but clearly they have been following the lead of the DI’s approach of “replace blatantly stoopid arguments with opaque ones.”

And so the blatantly stoopid SLOT argument has been largely supplanted by the glib gibberish of the “conservation of information” argument – though it’s nothing more than a shapeshifted version of the SLOT argument.

mrg said:

And so the blatantly stoopid SLOT argument has been largely supplanted by the glib gibberish of the “conservation of information” argument – though it’s nothing more than a shapeshifted version of the SLOT argument.

Yeah; “In the Beginning Was Information.”

They just make up crap as they go; and get paid well for it.

Sewell doesn’t seem to realize it, but his “Poker Entropy and the Theory of Compensation” is actually a pretty good self-parody.

His misunderstanding of the second law and the arrangements of matter is precisely what he is using in describing random five-card draws from a deck of playing cards. It is yet again another example of the “Fundamental Misconception by ID/creationists.” It’s Dembski’s excuse for inventing “complex specified information” and “conservation of information.”

This just has to be juxtaposed with Henry Morris’s pseudo-science of thermodynamics as compared with what Rudolph Clausius actually did.

It just gets funnier and funnier as it goes. We can only hope the general public isn’t getting dumber and dumber.

This is from Rudolph Clausius in Annalen der Physik und Chemie, Vol. 125, p. 353, 1865, under the title “Ueber verschiedene für de Anwendung bequeme Formen der Hauptgleichungen der mechanischen Wärmetheorie.” (“On Several Convenient Forms of the Fundamental Equations of the Mechanical Theory of Heat.”)

It is also available in A Source Book in Physics, Edited by William Francis Magie, Harvard University Press, 1963, page 234.

(Note: Q represents the quantity of heat, T the absolute temperature, and S will be what Clausius names as entropy)

We obtain the equation

dQ/T = S - S0

which, while somewhat differently arranged, is the same as that which was formerly used to determine S.

If we wish to designate S by a proper name we can say of it that it is the transformation content of the body, in the same way that we say of the quantity U that it is the heat and work content of the body.

However, since I think it is better to take the names of such quantities as these, which are important for science, from the ancient languages, so that they can be introduced without change into all the modern languages, I propose to name the magnitude S the entropy of the body, from the Greek word η τροπη, a transformation.

I have intentionally formed the word entropy so as to be as similar as possible to the word energy, since both these quantities, which are to be known by these names, are so nearly related to each other in their physical significance that a certain similarity in their names seemed to me advantageous.

Clausius apparently translates η τροπη from the Greek as Umgestaltung and not Umdrehung. However, this doesn’t matter because he modified the word to entropy for the reasons he indicated.

On the other hand, here is Henry Morris’ pseudo-scholarship back in 1973.

The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”. The picture is of an outward-progressing spiral, an unrolling from an infinitesimal beginning through ever broadening circles, until finally all reality is embraced within.

“Entropy,” on the other hand, means literally “in-turning.” It is derived from the two Greek words en (meaning “in”) and trope (meaning “turning”). The concept is of something spiraling inward upon itself, exactly the opposite concept to “evolution.” Evolution is change outward and upward, entropy is change inward and downward.

And, of course, the comments over at Unimaginably Dense never cease to amaze. Those comments following Sewell’s whining are just as “remarkable.”

Sewell clearly doesn’t know anything about the editor at the American Journal of Physics; but I can assure anyone here that this editor is not fooled by any of Sewell’s dopy “arguments.”

Mike Elzinga said:

On the other hand, here is Henry Morris’ pseudo-scholarship back in 1973.

The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”. The picture is of an outward-progressing spiral, an unrolling from an infinitesimal beginning through ever broadening circles, until finally all reality is embraced within.

“Entropy,” on the other hand, means literally “in-turning.” It is derived from the two Greek words en (meaning “in”) and trope (meaning “turning”). The concept is of something spiraling inward upon itself, exactly the opposite concept to “evolution.” Evolution is change outward and upward, entropy is change inward and downward.

He’s completely ignorant of the real etymology, but even his wrong etymology is just bizarre, what with the weird “out-rolling” and “in-turning” phrases he uses. And besides that, using etymology of words to disprove a scientific theory is about as cheesy as scholarship (read: hucksterism) can get. Lol.

386sx said:

Mike Elzinga said:

On the other hand, here is Henry Morris’ pseudo-scholarship back in 1973.

The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”.

He’s completely ignorant of the real etymology, but even his wrong etymology is just bizarre, what with the weird “out-rolling” and “in-turning” phrases he uses. And besides that, using etymology of words to disprove a scientific theory is about as cheesy as scholarship (read: hucksterism) can get. Lol.

Morris was actually correct about the word “evolution”, see here, though of course that the name “evolution” came from an inappropriate Victorian metaphor is not an argument against it.

Of course, it is the very entry into the biosphere of radiation from the sun that makes life, and its evolution, possible! In my posts I had fun with this, pointing out that Sewell’s “proof” also showed that weeds can’t grow, and neither can flowers.

Er, Prof. Felsenstein, radiation burns the skin. It causes cancer. Bad news for a lot of organisms.

Now how do you suppose early life was able to somehow develop a way to filter out the debilitating effects of bad light while simultaneously utilizing the good wavelengths?

Seems they would have to figure out how to block the bad before being able to use the good light. Is there an emergent answer to this conundrum in here somewhere?

As well, it appears life is devolving, what with all the extinction of species and all due it appears to nature’s seeming inability to rein in the self-made pernicious problem of Man. True, nature is throwing lots of biological ‘money’ at this problem with new and interesting diseases that Man may eventually succumb to. But is it enough and in time?

It seems NS’ problems are two-fold: speed up mutational advantage in a large number of organisms in time to counter the effects of that one dominant organism Man, and/or debilitate Man’s evolution long enough to give ‘the rest of them’ a breather.

So how does NS go about doing this - ‘turbo-boosting’ a large portion of living organisms but at the same time ‘spiking the gas’ of the single dominant organism, to reestablish balance?

Man is pretty damn smart. I wouldn’t want to be in natural selection’s shoes.

Typical creationist “response”.

To point out what should be obvious, even to a creationist:

What you say has nothing to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

You have no response, so you change the subject.

But, let us just pause a moment, and ask what the creationist explanation is for the issues that you bring up? That the “intelligent designer(s)” just wanted it that way?

Why is the Earth round? Because that’s the way that the ID wanted it? Why is the Earth flat? Because that’s the way that the ID wanted it? Why is the Earth shaped like a pretzel, or like a “Penrose triangle”, or why is there no Earth at all? Because that’s the way that the ID wanted it? After all, can’t “intelligent designers” do whatever they want, and we are in no place to question their motives?

Joe Felsenstein said:

386sx said:

Mike Elzinga said:

On the other hand, here is Henry Morris’ pseudo-scholarship back in 1973.

The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”.

He’s completely ignorant of the real etymology, but even his wrong etymology is just bizarre, what with the weird “out-rolling” and “in-turning” phrases he uses. And besides that, using etymology of words to disprove a scientific theory is about as cheesy as scholarship (read: hucksterism) can get. Lol.

Morris was actually correct about the word “evolution”, see here, though of course that the name “evolution” came from an inappropriate Victorian metaphor is not an argument against it.

Okay thanks. His “out-rolling” and “in-turning” seem to me like bizarre hyphenated phrases that nobody would ever use. They seem more kooky than scholarly. (To me the non-scholar anyway. To my non-scholarly mind.) Morris seems to be utterly ignorant of Rudolph Clausius’s coinage of the term “entropy” and just makes up whatever crap he feels like making up.

In 18th century biology, “evolution” referred to the appearance of the features of the embryo from their preformed state.

Steve P. said:

Of course, it is the very entry into the biosphere of radiation from the sun that makes life, and its evolution, possible! In my posts I had fun with this, pointing out that Sewell’s “proof” also showed that weeds can’t grow, and neither can flowers.

Er, Prof. Felsenstein, radiation burns the skin. It causes cancer. Bad news for a lot of organisms.

Now how do you suppose early life was able to somehow develop a way to filter out the debilitating effects of bad light while simultaneously utilizing the good wavelengths?

Seems they would have to figure out how to block the bad before being able to use the good light. Is there an emergent answer to this conundrum in here somewhere?

You do know, don’t you, that a couple of meters of water is all that’s needed to filter out UV pretty effectively?

TomS said:

In 18th century biology, “evolution” referred to the appearance of the features of the embryo from their preformed state.

Thanks. The etymology page Joe Felsenstein provided says “Charles Darwin used the word only once, in the closing paragraph of ‘The Origin of Species’”. I did not know that…

If I were king, “out-rolling” and “in-turning” would outlawed because they just look bizarro. They just rub me the wrong way for some reason. I will have nightmares for a long time after having seen those “words”. :P

Sewell is also complaining about “mistakes” Dan Styer supposedly makes in his AJP paper “Evolution and Entropy.”

But here is what Styer wrote.

Dan Styer Wrote:

(This creationist argument also rests upon the misconception that evolution acts always to produce more complex organisms. In fact evolution acts to produce more highly adapted organisms, which might or might not be more complex than their ancestors, depending upon their environment. For example, most cave organisms and parasites are qualitatively simpler than their ancestors. This biological misconception will not be discussed in this article.)

So if Sewell is trying to change his pitch to one of “uncovering a misconception” about entropy in a physics journal, that shtick doesn’t fly either.

Styer is simply giving creationists everything they want and more; and that includes the creationist’s mistaken notion that more complex organisms have lower entropy because they are “less probable” somehow. But then he shows that life is simply embedded in an environment in which the overall entropy is increasing by many orders of magnitude more than it is decreasing. The notion of “entropy compensation” is a creationist invention, not a physics invention.

One could take Styer’s example much farther and calculate the entropy decrease for all matter condensing on planet Earth; namely, the solidification of molten rocks, the formation of ice sheets, the oxidation of various elements, etc., etc., the list gets pretty long.

And the list may or may not include some forms of life, depending on how the life forms evolved, what size they are, and how much energy entered and left their systems over the course of their lives.

If matter is condensing – and it did as planet Earth formed – energy was released into surrounding space; entropy increased. Yet things formed; crystals and rocks formed; molten iron and copper and other minerals became solids. Their atoms and molecules condensed into fewer energy microstates. Nothing “disobeyed” the second law of thermodynamics; because the second law is required for matter to condense.

Mike Elzinga said:

Eric Finn said:

A follow-up question might be: “How did the ideal gas acquire an energy distribution that can be described by common temperature?”.

It seems to me that it is correct to state that ideal gas (that can be described by common temperature) in a large volume has higher entropy than ideal gas (than can be described by the same common temperature) in a small volume, even though the number of particles is the same in these two situations.

Further, it seems to me that the large-volume case can not (easily) be acquired from the small-volume case by means of simple free expansion of ideal gas.

In many textbooks on classical thermodynamics, authors try to be careful to distinguish between reversible and irreversible processes. And an attempt is made to establish entropy as a state variable, meaning that the value of such a variable depends only the particular state of a system and not how the system got into that state. These sections of most thermodynamics textbooks have generally caused much puzzlement, pain, and misconceptions because they often come too early in a student’s development, and mathematical skill is still in a hazy state of development.

It may appear that I failed to appreciate the fact that entropy is a state variable, and does not depend on how the system got into that state. I was merely seconding your notion that a system without interactions can not change its energy distribution.

A system without any interactions is a highly unrealistic example. Almost in par with an irresistible force hitting an impenetrable wall. For example, the vessel containing ideal gas needs to have infinite mass, because otherwise it would absorb energy from collisions.

I still think these kinds of discussions have to take place with not only physics students, but with the non-majors and the general public as well. But I no longer think I know how to do it in a book for lay audiences.

I think you are doing well. The concept of entropy in physics is formulated in the language of mathematics. It is by no means easy to translate the concept of entropy into a language that lacks well-defined meanings for words. And the task is not made any easier, when a set of people try deliberately to mangle the words even more.

Frank Lambert has accused chemists for sloppy work in this matter. It is my humble opinion that Lambert is only polite, and wishes to clear his own backyard first and avoids pointing a finger to other faculties. The truth is that physicists are equally to blame.

The misconception of entropy contradicting evolution is silly. It is based only on catchwords and mental images. Geology, cosmology, chemistry and physics are all in contradiction with the “principle of everything falling apart”.

Eric Finn said:

It may appear that I failed to appreciate the fact that entropy is a state variable, and does not depend on how the system got into that state. I was merely seconding your notion that a system without interactions can not change its energy distribution.

And I was trying to capitalize on the discussion to start a dialogue by raising just these issues.

I was pleased that SWT put up the solution to the entropy of the free expansion of an ideal gas. The counter “argument” I retorted with is probably one of the most common ways a thoughtful student approaches it.

And it makes sense because conservation of energy says that

dU = δQ - δW,

and both δQ and δW are zero.

So if the student realizes that the internal energy of an ideal gas depends only on its temperature (that’s a good thing), it is logical to state that TδS = 0 and dU = 0. And with T ≠ 0, surely δS = 0, therefore S is constant.

Not many beginning thermodynamic textbooks discuss why it is ok to substitute the result of a reversible path between two states as the solution for the irreversible path between those same two states. And even the ones that do generally do not make it clear why entropy is a state function. And why does one use those funny deltas instead of ds; or the ds with the line through them? At that early stage in the game, it is simply too subtle.

So how can one say a student is wrong for such thinking?

The problem lies with the lack of adequate dialogue and with establishing entropy as a state function in the context of contradictory signals coming from the text and from the use of entropy in other contexts. One simply has to bring up these issues early and encourage students to think about them instead of just mindlessly “turning the crank” on solving problems.

(And, unfortunately, many students just don’t want to think these things through; “plug-and-chug has the illusion of being faster.)

And if one uses a textbook that starts out with enumerating the microstates of a two-state system, then going back to systems in which space enters the picture has to be addressed. The press of time in most courses is bound to leave many subtleties unaddressed.

And if this is an issue in physics and chemistry courses for majors, then it is an extremely difficult problem to deal with for non-majors and the lay public. The creationist meddling has made it that much harder.

Eric Finn said: I think you are doing well. The concept of entropy in physics is formulated in the language of mathematics. It is by no means easy to translate the concept of entropy into a language that lacks well-defined meanings for words. And the task is not made any easier, when a set of people try deliberately to mangle the words even more.

I agree.

The advocates of evolution denial are aware that any rhetoric which elicits responses using mathematics is a victory for them.

The solution, IMHO, is to give a response which involves no mathematics. Don’t take the bait.

In reflecting on this discussion, Mark Chu-Carroll’s mantra came to mind: the worst math is no math. (He write the Good Math, Bad Math blog.) You can make verbal arguments about thermodynamics all day, but to demonstrate a point rigorously, you’ve got to do the math. (In our toy problem about the entropy change for isothermal expansion of an ideal gas, the ultimate resolution is to do the statistical calculation of the entropy of the gas at the initial and final conditions.)

This is how Sewell’s argument goes off the rails; he throws up a few equations, but doesn’t – in a math journal! – do the additional mathematical development to demonstrate his point, instead resorting to verbal hand-waving that leads him to an incorrect conclusion.

Mike makes an excellent point above about state functions, reversible paths, and equivalent paths – if students don’t understand these concepts, they can’t really do thermodynamics properly. IMO, this is compounded by the fact that entropy is a far more abstract mathematical construct than internal energy or enthalpy, which students find easier to relate to their experience.

TomS said:

Eric Finn said: I think you are doing well. The concept of entropy in physics is formulated in the language of mathematics. It is by no means easy to translate the concept of entropy into a language that lacks well-defined meanings for words. And the task is not made any easier, when a set of people try deliberately to mangle the words even more.

I agree.

The advocates of evolution denial are aware that any rhetoric which elicits responses using mathematics is a victory for them.

The solution, IMHO, is to give a response which involves no mathematics. Don’t take the bait.

This was a hard lesson for me personally to learn; I fought against the advice others were giving me about my early presentations to lay audiences. I finally tossed most of the math and found ways to express concepts without it; but I was aware all the while that I didn’t want any of my colleagues catching me making some of the glib analogies and illustrations I was using.

But using too much math for lay audiences turns out to be more of a disadvantage in our society. Not only does it intimidate folks who already have bad feelings about math, it allows the ID/creationist to “up the ante” by chucking in more “mathematical analysis” and appearing to know more than he does.

But I also agree with SWT; if one is going to understand the concepts, one eventually has to do the math. But I would add that doing the math without any feeling for the physical concepts gives only the illusion of understanding.

In looking through a number of thermodynamics textbooks, one can find mathematical discussions of exact and inexact differentials and integrating factors. These are important mathematical concepts; but the question any good student of physics should be asking is, “What does any of this have to do with the physics?”

Just to emphasize the point a little more, consider the advice we often give physics and chemistry students about checking units. This is very good advice, no?

So let’s see how a conscientious student would apply this advice to the free expansion problem. He already determines that dU, δW, and δQ are zero. So far so good.

But now he remembers that, for a classical gas, temperature is the average kinetic energy per degree of freedom. That’s energy over a pure number of degrees of freedom.

So dividing dU and/or δQ by T gives energy divided by energy over number of degrees of freedom, or number of degrees of freedom. But because both δQ and dU are zero, no more degrees of freedom were added to the system.

One simply cannot take either the no-math/verbal approach or the purely mathematical approach. Somewhere, somehow, the math and physical concepts have to accurately connect with physical reality, and we are obligated to check every link along the way.

I suppose the thing that has annoyed me the most about ID/creationists like Sewell – someone who should know better – is the deliberate fouling up of the educational process by flooding the literature with “authorities” who can then be pitted against authority.

In science, nobody has any authority until he/she can demonstrate conceptual understanding that connects with reality.

First law of technical writing: “A workable, easily understood simplification is vastly more useful than the complete, incomprehensible truth.”

Associated with this is the concept of “fog factor”, numerically ranked in the number of years of specialized education required to understand the argument.

One of the truisms about that is that if an argument can only be understood by people with a high enough level of fog factor, it isn’t generally an argument of interest to anyone except those with the same level of fog factor.

I’m going through object-oriented programming concepts right now. I’ve never understood it well, and the more I look into it I find that it seems to a considerable if not complete extent the product of people who don’t want to make themselves understood. What’s particularly obnoxious is that they use a common set of terms for which they have no mutually agreed-upon set of tidy definitions.

“There are thousands of computer languages, but the vast majority are only used by the people who invented them.”

SWT said:

This is how Sewell’s argument goes off the rails; he throws up a few equations, but doesn’t – in a math journal! – do the additional mathematical development to demonstrate his point, instead resorting to verbal hand-waving that leads him to an incorrect conclusion.

This is one of the things about ID/creationists that make me wonder about their mental health.

Surely someone who has to deal with mathematics would learn over a number of years that there are concepts that have to be understood in order to be used properly.

Normal, observant people can recognize this requirement and obligation on the part of experts in other fields.

So why do ID/creationist leaders – every damned one of them – not recognize they will be found out for faking it? Lots of people know about surface and volume integrals, the Divergence Theorem, Gauss’s Law, and when these apply.

And to get miffed about it and complain on a creationist website about being “expelled” or discriminated against; this has to be related to some kind of mental illness or to just plain malicious bitterness about the fact that there are such things as cops and experts.

Mike Elzinga said:

And to get miffed about it and complain on a creationist website about being “expelled” or discriminated against; this has to be related to some kind of mental illness or to just plain malicious bitterness about the fact that there are such things as cops and experts.

Most people I know who’ve had a scientific paper rejected either (1) revise the manuscript and resubmit somewhere else or (2) concede (at least in the privacy of their own thoughts or with a trusted colleague) that the paper was rejected for valid reasons and cannot be salvaged.

I don’t think I know personally anyone who would publicly whine about it.

Yeah, whining if any should be done in private.

Maybe with cheese on the side.

Or something like that.

Henry J said:

Yeah, whining if any should be done in private.

Maybe with cheese on the side.

Or something like that.

Well, Sewell has his cheesy paper.

And everybody now knows about it.

I was trying to remember one of the other issues involving the entropy change of an ideal gas, and it came to me in the car while returning from a trip today.

SWT presented the solution to the entropy change of a free expanding ideal gas by substituting the isothermal and reversible expansion between the initial and final volumes.

If entropy is a state function, shouldn’t that be ok? Well, as it turns out, there is another wrinkle in this “recipe.”

The change in entropy, which is the integral of dQ/T between states A and B of a thermodynamic system is often shown to be

S(B) - S(A) ≥ ∫AB dQ/T

with the equal sign applying to the reversible path from A to B.

So shouldn’t the free expansion, which is irreversible, produce a greater change in entropy?

Over the years there has been a better cataloguing of misconceptions and pitfalls in learning concepts of physics. These include things in very basic physics, such as Newton’s third law where students are asked the tension in a rope when a force F is applied to each end of the rope (as in a tug-of-war). There are literally dozens of catalogued misconceptions that have been identified, studied, and addressed.

But I have not seen very much of this kind of work done with the concepts in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. I think many physics instructors have been aware of the confusion cause by equating entropy with disorder. The issues of reversible versus irreversible transitions between states are also familiar.

The typical approach to these kinds of misconceptions is to raise these issues if the students don’t (and they usually don’t). And one raises them by posing questions and raising issues or “counterexamples” that lead to paradoxes. It is good pedagogical practice to get these kinds of thought process going in order to make sure that concepts are ironed out and understood by the students.

And this is precisely why ID/creationism should NOT be given any time in the public school science classroom. ID/creationism is deliberately concocted sectarian pseudo-science that begins by misrepresenting science.

It is difficult enough to get the right concepts clear in the minds of students without also having to grapple with a blizzard of garbage deliberately designed to prop up sectarian dogma and therefore conflict with reality.

Mike Elzinga said:

Eric Finn said:

I think Professor Frank Lambert is right. According to the quantum mechanics, the density of states is higher in a big volume than in a small volume. One of the experimentally verified examples is the Casimir effect.

Again, the discussion over there is incomplete. The energy of a quantum mechanical particle in a box is

ε = (h2/8m)(nx2/Lx2 + ny2/Ly2 + nz2/Lz2),

where h is Planck’s constant and m is the mass of the particle.

Doubling each of the dimensions Lj also doubles the number of nj’s if the particle retains the same translational kinetic energy.

So the energy of the particle remains constant if no work is done on or by the particle when changing the dimensions of the box.

So the distribution of energy among all particles remains constant if the particles do no work when adiabatically expanding into a larger box.

Again we have to distinguish between energy density and density of states. Simply expanding the volume into which a particle moves, without changing the kinetic energy of the particle, is exactly what we mean by adiabatic free expansion. No change in particle energies, no net change in energy microstates. Only a change in energy density, not density of microstates.

AAACK! While looking for an unanswered question, I found this. Man, I bollixed that post! I shouldn’t try to do this when traveling or multitasking. What was I thinking?

MOMAD not only made an error, NOMAD didn’t catch the error; that’s two mistakes. You are imperfect. Imperfection must be sterilized.

No change in particle energies, no net change in energy microstates. Only a change in energy density, not density of microstates.

This should have read

No change in particle energies, no net change in total energy. Only a change in energy density, and number of microstates.

That was the point of the part I highlighted in the original post.

It appears that Granville Sewell must still be really tweaked about having his paper rejected. It’s now July 29, 2011, and he just can’t accept the fact that he is wrong.

I thought I was wrong once.

But it turned out I was mistaken.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on June 23, 2011 3:56 PM.

Miss USA answers on the Evolution question was the previous entry in this blog.

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