Granville Sewell’s unanswerable argument

| 1105 Comments

Oh no! It’s Granville Sewell again. At Uncommon Descent he has posted his 2nd law of thermodynamics argument against evolution, yet again. I have twice pointed out that (here and here) that, if true, it would prove that plants can’t grow.

Is Sewell’s argument unanswerable? No, because long before I made those posts, Sewell’s argument had been thoroughly demolished by Jason Rosenhouse and by Mark Perakh. Game over, even if you don’t know that plants can grow.

But Granville Sewell’s argument over at Uncommon Descent is unanswerable. At least there … because he has the comments turned off.

1105 Comments

From RationalWiki on the Second law of thermodynamics

“Let us suppose that there actually were some process in nature which violated the second law of thermodynamics. Is that any reason to suppose that intelligent designers are responsible? The only intelligent designers that we have familiarity with, humans and other more-or-less intelligent animals, are as much subject to the second law of thermodynamics as are non-intelligent agents. Indeed, the laws of thermodynamics were discovered as limitations on what the clever engineers of the 19th century were able to design. Intelligent designers are not able to construct perpetual motion machines. Intelligent designers don’t bypass the second law of thermodynamics.”

Perhaps Sewell will grace us with his presence here, and he can explain to us how humans get around the second law. I think we could have an interesting chat with him if he’s willing to do so in an environment that allows for the free exchange of ideas.

Which reminds me … Joe, has Sewell ever actually responded to your point that Sewell’s argument implies that plants can’t grow?

Sewell seems to suffer from having the same straw man concept of evolution exhibited by most intelligent design creationists.

The “compensation” argument, used by a fictional character above to argue that because the Earth is an open system, tornados constructing houses and cars out of rubble here would not violate the second law . … “if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is isolated, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.”

He doesn’t, or doesn’t want to, understand that evolution proceeds by small, incremental changes over long periods of time. The idea that the heat from the sun can provide sufficient energy to make an otherwise very unlikely chemical reaction occur is, I suppose, less useful for his purposes than that of tornados putting buildings together.

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

Sewell seems to suffer from having the same straw man concept of evolution exhibited by most intelligent design creationists.

The “compensation” argument, used by a fictional character above to argue that because the Earth is an open system, tornados constructing houses and cars out of rubble here would not violate the second law . … “if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is isolated, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.”

He doesn’t, or doesn’t want to, understand that evolution proceeds by small, incremental changes over long periods of time. The idea that the heat from the sun can provide sufficient energy to make an otherwise very unlikely chemical reaction occur is, I suppose, less useful for his purposes than that of tornados putting buildings together.

Trust me: based on his publications, Sewell’s misunderstanding of the second law runs much, much deeper than this.

SWT said:

Perhaps Sewell will grace us with his presence here, and he can explain to us how humans get around the second law. I think we could have an interesting chat with him if he’s willing to do so in an environment that allows for the free exchange of ideas.

Which reminds me … Joe, has Sewell ever actually responded to your point that Sewell’s argument implies that plants can’t grow?

In short, no. Sewell has not responded to my posts or to any of the people who have refuted him. He just keeps repeating himself but does not seem interested in responding to anyone.

It’s worth noting that all that is needed for natural selection on Earth is for organisms (in this case, plants) to be able to grow and reproduce. I am not certain, but I suspect Sewell is under the misapprehension that evolution would require a further input of energy on top of what would be needed to sustain a cycle of growth and reproduction. You know, to “drive the process”. Or at any rate, I expect he wouldn’t mind at all if the rest of us somehow came to make that error.

Granville, fetch a cloth…

SWT said: Perhaps Sewell will grace us with his presence here, and he can explain to us how humans get around the second law.

With math too, please. I want to see where in the equation for the determination of entropy the “intelligence” factor appears.

(Sewell, quoted in Patrick May’s post:)

“if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is isolated, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.”

That something is energy.

You know, the stuff which permits otherwise highly improbable endothermic reactions to occur.

What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

Yet the Discovery Institute Press actually publishes a short book of Sewell’s. William Dembski has approvingly called attention to acceptance of Sewell’s paper in Applied Mathematics Letters, Sewell’s work has been publicized by the Disovery Institute’s blog Evolution News and Views, and of course Uncommon Descent allows Sewell space and allows him to shut off comments. Perhaps they suspect that even some of their own frequent commenters would disagree.

I can’t imagine what good they think they are doing for their reputation.

Well isn’t that the way that real scientists behave? Publish your own book without any review and avoid the real scientific literature. Claim that your conclusions follow from the math, without actually doing any math. Ignore all of the real work and evidence in the field and just make up stuff that would only fool those less ignorant than yourself. Then, ignore all of the real experts who demonstrate why you are completely and utterly wrong. Then, repeat adnauseum with no attempt to learn anything or ever present any new arguments, let alone evidence.

Now in all fairness, I’m sure that is how creationists think that real science works. After all, it must be wrong, so how else can you explain the fact that it is accepted by so many people? This is nothing more than projection on a massive scale. Fortunately, it will serve to demonstrate to anyone who has two critical thinking neurons that these people are charlatans with no sense of decency, let alone any knowledge of science.

Oh well, at least it puts the lie to all claims of censorship once again. Whenever creationist trolls start complaining about being banished to the bathroom wall, we can always direct them to Uncommon Descent for the Uncommonly Dense.

What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

Which tells us something about the true relationship between ID and prior political creationism.

I personally find it easiest to understand ID/creationism as a reaction to defeats of “creation science” in courts.

ID consists of efforts to make strained, politically/religiously-motivated anti-evolution arguments, without using explicitly religious Christian terminology, in an effort to “court proof” the presentation of sectarian dogma as “science” in public schools.

Technically, the “ID era” of creationism more or less ended with the Dover decision, but there will be many who cling to the formula long after its actual pragmatic failure.

It has everything to do with dissembling about motivation and disguising intent, and nothing to do with accuracy.

Sewell is perfect for the DI and UD. He regurgitates “creation science”, motivated by his religious/political stance, but he doesn’t openly say the words “Jesus”, “God”, “6000 years old”, “Genesis”, etc.

Therefore Sewell’s work is, in fact, a classic example of ID and richly deserves recognition as such.

In short, no. Sewell has not responded to my posts or to any of the people who have refuted him. He just keeps repeating himself but does not seem interested in responding to anyone. Which shows us that creationists have two ways to turn off comments, and this one is at least more honest.

My mother is half my size. Delivering me must have been hell.

Joe Felsenstein said: What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

I’m astonished you don’t understand it. All Sewell argues is that the law of entropy prevails in any closed physico-chemical system. It indicates a tendency towards greater noise by diffusion rather than towards information (reduction in uncertainty). And we see this effect when we actually study gene sequences: we see a dispersal of various mutations that don’t improve fitness but don’t necessarily degrade it either. This is best seen in gene duplication where, due to a relaxation in functional constraint, we observe all sorts of degenerative developments. Of course, the Darwinian view is that gene duplication leads to increased information but that would then violate the law of entropy because a more permissive regime of selection allows for a greater diffusion and fixation of deleterious alleles in the population.

I would argue that mutational pressures cause a violation the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and so disturbs the order inherent within the biological system. Over time, this becomes more prominent. Natural selection can maintain and conserve information, but it is constantly opposing the general trend towards greater entropy and genomic deterioration - as Sanford and others have talked about.

Joe Felsenstein said:

What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

Yet the Discovery Institute Press actually publishes a short book of Sewell’s. William Dembski has approvingly called attention to acceptance of Sewell’s paper in Applied Mathematics Letters, Sewell’s work has been publicized by the Disovery Institute’s blog Evolution News and Views, and of course Uncommon Descent allows Sewell space and allows him to shut off comments. Perhaps they suspect that even some of their own frequent commenters would disagree.

I can’t imagine what good they think they are doing for their reputation.

Don’t forget the ID is a “big tent” – any anti-evolution argument seems to be OK by them, since the whole strategy is to sow doubt (justified or not) about evolutionary theory so that “design” can win by default without them actually doing any of that hard science stuff. IMO this is why misunderstandings, willful or otherwise, of the second law are embraced by ID.

What’s interesting to me is that the creationists (ID included) try to apply thermodynamics in a math-free manner, one of the most certain ways to draw incorrect conclusions based on fuzzy thinking. We even see a properly trained and apparently otherwise competent mathematician (Sewell) avoiding an actual mathematical argument in favor of one that has mathi-ness.

Joe Felsenstein said:

What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

I can’t imagine what good they think they are doing for their reputation.

WHAT REPUTATION Joe? You know full well that they are interested in appealing to Henry Morris’ target audience. That’s their raison d’etre for publishing Sewell’s risible arguments again and again. All that the Disco Tute is interested in is peddling their mendacious intellectual porn to religious zealots who are proud of their scientific illiteracy.

SWT said: Don’t forget the ID is a “big tent” – any anti-evolution argument seems to be OK by them…

IOW - do not ask whether your argument is consistent with other creationist arguments, science, or even self-consistent. Merely ask ‘will it help put God back in schools.’

John said: WHAT REPUTATION Joe? You know full well that they are interested in appealing to Henry Morris’ target audience. That’s their raison d’etre for publishing Sewell’s risible arguments again and again. All that the Disco Tute is interested in is peddling their mendacious intellectual porn to religious zealots who are proud of their scientific illiteracy.

It is a fundamental law of Nature that all physical systems have a propensity to degenerate if left alone. It is mutation that causes biological systems to deteriorate with time. Selection can only serve to curtail this development, but it cannot prevent it altogether. The Darwinian argument is that mutation is an engine for evolution that can provide the material for innovation, thereby defying the law of entropy. As such, evolution would appear to be in direct contradiction to everything we know about physical processes. But neither you nor JF appear to grasp this basic point.

Joe Felsenstein said:

What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

I can’t imagine what good they think they are doing for their reputation.

They gave up any attempt at intellectual credibility long ago. Now the head of the DI’s CSC goes around telling us why the Bible is “reliable”. Here’s a promo for “Is the Bible Reliable?” I’ll give you a hint, the answer isn’t “no”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmXn7bfhE2w

He states at the beginning of the promo:

“The worldview of scientific naturalism has not only affected our view of…of nature, it’s also affected our view of theology and the Bible.”

Imagine, using honest standards to study the Bible, rather than DI propaganda.

What is amazing is that they pretend to have any credibility, when they’re about on the level of Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum” in acting as a mere arm of Xian evangelism.

Glen Davidson

Atheistoclast said:

All Sewell argues is that the law of entropy prevails in any closed physico-chemical system.

Is this to say that SLOT does not apply to open systems? Or to, say, a gas cloud where chemical interactions are negligible?

It indicates a tendency towards greater noise by diffusion rather than towards information (reduction in uncertainty).

Noise? Diffusion? Information? Are you sure you are referring to the same definition of entropy as the other readers?

terenzioiltroll said:

Noise? Diffusion? Information? Are you sure you are referring to the same definition of entropy as the other readers?

No.

For a few years now, the Dishonesty Institute has been going back to its roots.

Which are Young Earth Creationism and xian fundie death cults.

I haven’t paid much attention to them for a while now, but IIRC, many of their fellows are YEC’s.

Joe Felsenstein said:

What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled.

Never stopped them from saying anything else they’ve ever said about evolution. It’s all “Scientific Creationism,” has been from the start.

Why would they stop now, just because everybody knows it? They’re committed to lying at this point and seemingly can’t try to separate themselves from it. It’s been going on too long and gone too deep for them to start filtering bad arguments by credibility or accuracy. I don’t even think they can anymore. They really can’t tell if there are four lights or five.

Atheistoclast said: It is a fundamental law of Nature that all physical systems have a propensity to degenerate if left alone.

Putting aside whether ‘degenerate’ is the right term, we aren’t left alone. There’s that big shiny ball in the sky [points up] constantly bothering us with its photons. So there is no contradiction or violation.

The Darwinian argument is that mutation is an engine for evolution that can provide the material for innovation, thereby defying the law of entropy.

Mutation is perfectly consistent with the system’s energy becoming more evenly distributed among microstates. For example, when a solar photon produces a point mutation, energy from the photon is being distributed between various chemical bonds, translational and rotational states. The atoms within the organism may experience a decrease in entropy, but the universe’s entropy increases because of what happens to that photon. Looking solely at what happens to the organism and ignoring the photon is to miss a critical part of what’s going on.

As such, evolution would appear to be in direct contradiction to everything we know about physical processes.

Nope. You just don’t know as much as you think you know about ‘physical processes.’

…unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.

An agent which is capable of doing more things will make a particular event less probable.

eric said: Mutation is perfectly consistent with the system’s energy becoming more evenly distributed among microstates. For example, when a solar photon produces a point mutation, energy from the photon is being distributed between various chemical bonds, translational and rotational states. The atoms within the organism may experience a decrease in entropy, but the universe’s entropy increases because of what happens to that photon. Looking solely at what happens to the organism and ignoring the photon is to miss a critical part of what’s going on.

Look. All things in the universe are in a state of energy dissipation - take our own sun as the best example. It means that physical degeneration is the law of all natural things. They cannot expect to retain their optimal quality forever. But evolution supposes that mutations, which reduce fitness levels, are actually causing an increase in information and capability, rather than that of noise and uncertainty. That goes against the grain of all scientific understanding. The general trend is towards entropy and disorder. Hence, evolutionism is unscientific.

Clean up on aisle one.

Atheistoclast - by that reasoning, it’s impossible for children to grow.

Atheistoclast said:

Look. All things in the universe are in a state of energy dissipation - take our own sun as the best example.

Yet the matter making up the sun self-organized to form its current structure.

It means that physical degeneration is the law of all natural things.

You need either to give an objective definition of “degeneration” or concede that this is a value judgement.

They cannot expect to retain their optimal quality forever.

Double straw man. Nobody is claiming optimality, and nobody is claiming immortality.

But evolution supposes that mutations, which reduce fitness levels,

Straw man. Some mutations reduce fitness levels.

are actually causing an increase in information and capability,

Straw man. Fitness depends on genotype/phenotype, and environment. An increase in information is not necessary. (I have mixed feelings about the information point, since Bozorgmehr needs to give us an objective definition of information so that “information” can be quantified in an observer-neutral way.) The only “capability” that might need to increase is the capability to transmit genes to the next generation.

rather than that of noise and uncertainty. That goes against the grain of all scientific understanding.

A time-worn claim, long ago refuted.

The general trend is towards entropy and disorder.

Straw man. The general trend for the universe is towards maximum entropy. Local trends depend on the local state and boundary conditions.

Hence, evolutionism is unscientific.

A proposition built on a foundation of straw men and misunderstandings of thermodynamics.

InvincibleIronyMan said:

It’s worth noting that all that is needed for natural selection on Earth is for organisms (in this case, plants) to be able to grow and reproduce.

Oh … that’s all. You do understand that “growing and reproducing” (or in other words “life”) is the phenomena that we are trying to explain the origins of.

To use a living organism as evidence to support your claim that the SLOT is not broken by your materialist explanation of life’s origin is circular reasoning.

It’s the same logical error Joe has fallen into. The order he sees in the weeds that grow in his yard would not be possible with just material and energy alone. The genetic information housed in the seeds is a critical component. Joe can’t just assume that the seeds are simply matter.

If I was sitting in Joe Felsensteins class, I’d raise my hand and ask a few questions about his weed story:

1. Could energy and matter alone (without the information housed in the seeds) have created the plants?

2. Where did the genetic information housed in the weed seeds come from?

3. If the answer to question 2 is that such information is naturally emergent from energy and matter alone, can we duplicate this phenomena experimentally without utilizing existing information or an intelligent agent?

Atheistoclast said:

Joe Felsenstein said: What astonishes me is not that Sewell makes the argument, but that the Discovery Institute is willing to associate themselves with it. It isn’t really an Intelligent Design argument – it’s just an old “scientific creationism” argument of Henry Morris, recycled. It’s also blatantly wrong and reflects a misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

I’m astonished you don’t understand it. All Sewell argues is that the law of entropy prevails in any closed physico-chemical system. It indicates a tendency towards greater noise by diffusion rather than towards information (reduction in uncertainty). And we see this effect when we actually study gene sequences: we see a dispersal of various mutations that don’t improve fitness but don’t necessarily degrade it either. This is best seen in gene duplication where, due to a relaxation in functional constraint, we observe all sorts of degenerative developments. Of course, the Darwinian view is that gene duplication leads to increased information but that would then violate the law of entropy because a more permissive regime of selection allows for a greater diffusion and fixation of deleterious alleles in the population.

I would argue that mutational pressures cause a violation the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and so disturbs the order inherent within the biological system. Over time, this becomes more prominent. Natural selection can maintain and conserve information, but it is constantly opposing the general trend towards greater entropy and genomic deterioration - as Sanford and others have talked about.

I’m astonished that you can’t even pass a simple concept test on entropy.

Here is your chance to try again.

The following is an elementary concept test.

Take a simple system made up of 16 atoms, each of which has a non-degenerate ground state and a single accessible excited state.

Start with all of the atoms in the ground state.

1. What is the entropy when all atoms are in the ground state?

2. Add just enough energy to put 4 atoms in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

3. Add more energy so that 8 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

4. Add still more energy so that 12 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

5. Add more energy so that all atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

6. Rank order the temperatures in each of the above cases.

And when you have demonstrated that you can do the above example, explain to us where the “disorder” is in this system. What is tending toward greater noise and diffusion?

I claim you cannot do this example. In fact, I KNOW you can’t do it or explain it.

I am just trying to imagine how Sewell sees the situation (it’s hard!). He sees life forms having come to contain lots of energy (over evolutionary time) and he imagines that this must violate the SLOT.

Then he hears evolutionary biologists explain that there is no problem because the increase of entropy owing to the outflow of energy from the sun is more than enough to compensate. Then he thinks: wait a second, you can’t use the one as the reason for the other unless these two systems are somehow coupled.

Then he forgets completely the middle-school science he once learned and imagines that there is no connection between these systems, 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”. So aha, he’s got their number! Being in El Paso, he must see a fairly bright sun shining sometimes but it does not occur to him that this is something relevant entering the biosphere.

Then he cobbles together some equations that he thinks explain his argument, and he’s off and running. Then the Discovery Institute decides to applaud, and the juggernaut gets rolling.

As I have come to understand it, the thinking still goes back to the old tornado-in-a-junkyard thinking; namely, sending raw energy through a system doesn’t organize anything, according to them.

But that is not what science, especially physicists and chemists have been saying now for a few hundred years. We know how matter interacts and assembles. It is that very knowledge that is one of the strongest supports for the expectation that we can someday find out how the first replicating systems at the center of living systems came to be. Furthermore, that expectation has been enormously strengthened by the research and data coming out of evolutionary theory and fact.

For ID/creationists ever since Henry Morris, the tornado-in-a-junkyard is the metaphor for the second law of thermodynamics. Sunlight passing through a system of atoms and molecules has no capability of organizing; therefore there must be “information overcoming the second law.” That “information” is the mark of a creator.

But the fact is that we learn how matter is constructed by taking it apart; this is how it has always been. To take matter apart requires work (energy) input. That measures the binding energies of things. Their structure is determined by quantum mechanical rules we now know in such great detail that we can actually use these rules to design chemical compounds.

The higher levels of organization of liquids, solids, and soft-matter are intense areas of active research; but there is nothing in these areas that gives any hint of some “organizing program” that moves atoms and molecules around at energies we can easily measure, yet can do it without being detected. There is no “goal” in the structure of these things, they simply are what they are.

The trolls who flocked to this topic and attempted to derail it onto the origins of life I suspect are giving us the hint about what is so important about keeping the ID/creationist notions of the second law in place. It is their fundamentalist, sectarian final fallback argument that “naturalism” can’t work, even by the “naturalists” own rules. It is painting the physics community in particular with a caricature of the second law that exists only in the minds of ID/creationists; and it is being done both to demonize and discredit physicists – and all scientists, for that matter – by portraying scientists as being too stupid, too blind, too cabalistic to understand or admit the implications of “their own science.”

After reading Sewell’s paper and his whiny attempts at defending it, I am not inclined to take any interest in any of his work or any other books he may write. I doubt that even the great Pauli could have found a sufficiently sarcastic characterization of Sewell’s paper.

SWT said:

I have no idea if this was sloppiness on Sewell’s part or something else. His “x-order” argument doesn’t require a constant boundary condition, and, IMO, even has more of the the appearance of being rigorous when the surface integral is expressed in the more general form:

St = ∫∫∫R - J⋅(U)/U2 dV + ∫∫δR - (J/U)⋅n dA.

None of this rescues his horribly flawed paper, but he could at least have gotten the undergrad-level math right. Perhaps he should have consulted with Dr. Dr. Dembski, since one of Dembski’s doctorates is in mathematics.

I’m willing to give Sewell the benefit of the doubt in the way he chose to expand the integral. I immediately went past his math, because I already knew it was irrelevant to his argument. I think he wanted make a point of using an inequality that he doesn’t actually understand. So rewriting what I said before,

St + ∫∫∫R J⋅∇U/U2 dV = ∫∫∫R - ∇⋅(J/U) dV.

or

St + ∫∫∫R J⋅∇U/U2 dV = - ∫∫∂R (J/U)⋅ndA.

If Sewell wants to write it this way, I have no disagreement with the math so far, provided Sewell recognizes the rather strict limitations to which this all applies (he doesn’t). I think that Sewell expanded it this way in order to emphasize that, in the second volume integral on the left-hand side of the equation (as I wrote it), he wants to use

J⋅∇U ≤ 0.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case; and I provided a counterexample with that two-state system in which entropy decreases as energy is added to the system and temperature behaves in that peculiar asymptotic fashion. A gravitating system of particles also increases kinetic energy in the particles (temperature increases) even as the total energy of the system decreases and radiates away energy (look up the Virial Theorem).

Sewell is doing a number of things wrong. In “debunking” the “compensation argument” that he erroneously attributes to members of the scientific community, he wants to be able to use Qt/U for different things other than heat divided by temperature. He doesn’t understand what heat and temperature are.

And he thinks he is getting away with something by replacing heat divided by temperature with things like carbon flows divided by carbon concentrations as “X-entropy” for whatever “X” he wants to flow into the system. The analogies he is using apply only to systems that resemble heat flows within, say, solids or liquids or other such engineering examples. He doesn’t know about things like the chemical potential or about chemical reactions, molecular bonding, and other matter-matter interactions.

Sewell is counting something as entropy that has nothing to do with entropy. Just because, under restricted circumstances, one can use the same equations for different things doesn’t make those different things the same. So Sewell is imposing the “entropy = disorder” fallacy here and double counting until he can accumulate enough “X-entropy” or “X-order” to “overcome compensation taking place elsewhere.” And these misconceptions are already evident before he even gets to the mathematics. So anyone who understands these misconceptions already knows that, whatever Sewell does with the math, his results are already wrong; and the math is irrelevant.

As I said many comments ago and on other threads about Sewell’s paper; one can’t use the Pythagorean Theorem to establish a relationship among things like age, weight, and height. Just because one does some correct math doesn’t mean that the math applies to whatever one wishes to plug into the variables. It’s the same kind of mistake that novice students make when they try to solve a physics problem by grabbing whatever formulas they see that have the “correct letters” in them (Who cares if t refers to time or temperature or if p refers to momentum or pressure, or if v refers to velocity or volume? Just plug-and-chug and whatever falls out must be correct because the letters are correct.).

And Sewell is simply illustrating in his “scenarios,” as he builds up to the math, that he already doesn’t know what entropy and the second law of thermodynamics are all about.

Mike Elzinga said:

As I have come to understand it, the thinking still goes back to the old tornado-in-a-junkyard thinking; namely, sending raw energy through a system doesn’t organize anything, according to them.

[Long, thoughtful commentary snipped]

After reading Sewell’s paper and his whiny attempts at defending it, I am not inclined to take any interest in any of his work or any other books he may write. I doubt that even the great Pauli could have found a sufficiently sarcastic characterization of Sewell’s paper.

That brings us to the final issue that I thought might be discussed here: what actually is the view of ID/creationist people who make the Second Law argument? Some seriously think that there is some scientific principle at work that makes evolution impossible, a principle having something to do with “entropy” or “order” or “complexity” not increasing. What do they think this is (it’s not actually the Second Law, but something like it)? I’d be pleased to hear sensible comments on this, as the last thing we do before shutting down. (I am not raising the issue of whether this unnamed principle is valid – it surely isn’t so we can shortcut arguments about that).

(And no this is not an open invitation to veer off into the usual grab-bag of arguments of our trolls, I will send comments pushing us there to the Wall).

Joe Felsenstein said: That brings us to the final issue that I thought might be discussed here: what actually is the view of ID/creationist people who make the Second Law argument?

Well, as I see it there’s three categories.

There’s the sincere creationists who are making an argument from incredulity. Their 2LOT argument is really just “I can’t believe all these complex structures arose out of simpler ones without a guiding intelligence.” For them, its impossible because they can’t understand how it could be possible.

There’s the sincere creationists who are confused over the difference between a probabilistic argument and a possibility argument. They really mean “evolution of some specific complex form is improbable” but they mistakenly think the 2LOT has something to do with that.

Then I think there are the insincere creationists. The ones who know that the 2LOT poses no problem at all for evolution, but use the argument anyway, because it plays well with folks who may have little/no science education. For them, the end of putting God back in school justifies the deception.

Joe Felsenstein said:

“Some {creationists} seriously think that there is some scientific principle at work that makes evolution impossible, a principle having something to do with “entropy” or “order” or “complexity” not increasing. What do they think this is (it’s not actually the Second Law, but something like it)?”

Most, if not all, creationists don’t understand the equations of thermodynamics. They are neither chemists, nor physicists, nor mathemetician (Sewell notwithstanding).

They don’t understand that entropy and the 2nd Law were built from the ground up, as it were, from observing that heat energy flows from hot things to cold things (under ordinary circumstances and left to itself), to the mathematical definition of thermodynamic entropy, thence to the 2nd Law.

They can’t do the math (or can’t do it correctly), but the words of the 2nd Law resonate with their religious beliefs. And so they try to make it something it is not. That is their error.

With their new and incorrect meaning, the equations that lead to the 2nd Law don’t hold up.

But creationists don’t care about that, as has been amply demonstrated on this forum.

They will not be dissuaded. They seek to hijack science for their own perverse purposes.

And we must never allow them to succeed.

Joe Felsenstein said:

That brings us to the final issue that I thought might be discussed here: what actually is the view of ID/creationist people who make the Second Law argument? Some seriously think that there is some scientific principle at work that makes evolution impossible, a principle having something to do with “entropy” or “order” or “complexity” not increasing. What do they think this is (it’s not actually the Second Law, but something like it)? I’d be pleased to hear sensible comments on this, as the last thing we do before shutting down. (I am not raising the issue of whether this unnamed principle is valid – it surely isn’t so we can shortcut arguments about that).

The most direct “theological” arguments I have heard came directly from Henry Morris; and they can be found in almost their complete form in this video by Morris’s protégé, Thomas Kindell to which I linked some time ago.

One also finds these “theological” arguments articulated by Jason Lisle over on AiG and in many of the earlier versions of the books by Morris for non-public school use.

Basically it comes down to “The Fall” in which sin corrupted the universe. As Morris, Kindell, Lisle, and others explain it, the second law of thermodynamics had to be in effect before The Fall because it was needed for friction for walking and for digesting food, etc.. But before The Fall, God apparently mitigated the “devastating effects” of the second law by “His sustaining hand.” After The Fall, God removed His hand and allowed the “full effects of the second law to run amok in the universe.”

So the second law of thermodynamics is supposed to be the evidence of sin in the universe; and it has to be concordant with what ID/creationists think sin does to the world. And wasn’t it nice that sinful scientists actually stumbled onto the proof of this withdrawal of God’s grace?

The “genetic entropy” of John Sanford is “more evidence” of how the “perfect universe” before The Fall became corrupted by sin. Everything is “getting worse,” and people, animals, plants, are living progressively shorter lives than in the Old Testament, and they are falling into decay and corruption. It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad, World out there, and the second law is the “scientific evidence” proving the theological claims of the ID/creationists.

This scenario permeates all of ID/creationist literature even when the second law isn’t mentioned explicitly. Nevertheless, the misconceptions run through all of ID/creationist calculations of probabilities and “impossibilities.” Things like living organisms exist despite the second law; and it is this that reveals the hand of God. There must be “information,” and information comes from an intelligent fountain head.

Dogma first; all else bent and broken to fit.

This dismal picture is from the perspective of ancient Bronze Age people who, as delicate, soft-matter creatures in a universe full of forces and energies much larger than they could withstand, painted this terrifying picture of powerful gods who gave and took away. This world view also has the advantage, for anyone who can convince others that he is a spokesman for one of those deities, of making such a person very powerful among the ignorant and fearful.

I personally find the modern, scientific view much more interesting and satisfying.

prongs said:

Most, if not all, creationists don’t understand the equations of thermodynamics. They are neither chemists, nor physicists, nor mathemetician (Sewell notwithstanding).

They will not be dissuaded. They seek to hijack science for their own perverse purposes.

And we must never allow them to succeed.

Sure, but I was not asking if their views were correct, I was asking what scientific sort of principle was it, that they imagined was true.

Joe Felsenstein said:

“I was asking what scientific sort of principle was it, that they imagined was true.”

They don’t know. They just know they like the sound of the words in the 2nd Law.

Sewell tried to explain it formally, and failed miserably.

The best they can do is to talk about ‘disorder’ and ‘loss of genetic traits’ and ‘no new information’ and ‘negative entropy’ and “The Fall”.

They cannot articulate any sort of ‘scientific principle’ because they are not scientificly-minded people.

They just know what they believe, and they know a natural world that does not require their god as a part of its explanation cannot be.

Heaven help us if they ever attain power to enprison and punish the unbelievers.

Mike Elzinga said:

This is some of the crap that is particularly egregious in Sewell’s setup for his “second look at the second law.”

I imagine visiting the Earth when it was young and returning now to find highways with automobiles on them, airports with jet airplanes, and tall buildings full of complicated equipment, such as televisions, telephones and computers. Then I imagine the construction of a gigantic computer model which starts with the initial conditions on Earth 4 billion years ago and tries to simulate the effects that the four known forces of physics would have on every atom and every subatomic particle on our planet. If we ran such a simulation out to the present day, would it predict that the basic forces of Nature would reorganize the basic particles of Nature into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts and novels, nuclear power plants, aircraft carriers with supersonic jets parked on deck, and computers connected to laser printers, CRTs and keyboards? If we graphically displayed the positions of the atoms at the end of the simulation, would we find that cars and trucks had formed, or that supercomputers had arisen? Certainly we would not, and I do not believe that adding sunlight to the model would help much.

It is this little story that so captures the attention of those poor trolls and ID/creationist followers that then compels them to accept everything that Sewell does with his mathematics and “physics” despite the fact that these rubes understand none of it. They just swallow it whole while in slack-jawed awe of Sewell’s math (which we know is verschlecht, he doesn’t even understand the divergence theorem).

But Sewell does just what all ID/creationist pushers do; he throws things together that have absolutely nothing in common with each other as far as the strengths of their interactions. The strengths of interactions between steel beams are nothing like the strengths of interactions among atoms and molecules. Steel beams weld together only when brought up to their melting temperatures when the strengths of the interactions of the iron atoms is sufficient to fuse them.

Computer chips don’t attract each other like atoms and molecules do. They aren’t flying around in space snapping together according to quantum mechanical rules. The same can be said for television parts, automobile parts, and aircraft carrier parts.

Well, they require intelligent design to put them together. That’s why it takes intelligent design in all of those atoms and molecules to come together.

When one gets down to the scale of atoms and molecules, the forces of interaction are enormous. And the patterns into which atoms and molecules fall are determined by their kinetic energies relative to the mutual potential energies among them. Temperature is important; and in particular, the second law is crucial because binding together depends on energy being shed in the form of photons, phonons, or other particles.

If they were not intelligently designed, would two AAA reference gauge blocks cold weld? Why should we assume anything else that comes together lacks similar intelligent input? That is what’s missing from your thermodynamics quiz, you smuggled in the complex specified information in the atom-energy interactions which can not occur without it.

Ian Brandon Andersen said:

If they were not intelligently designed, would two AAA reference gauge blocks cold weld? Why should we assume anything else that comes together lacks similar intelligent input? That is what’s missing from your thermodynamics quiz, you smuggled in the complex specified information in the atom-energy interactions which can not occur without it.

I suspect you know absolutely nothing about the physics of cold welding.

You flunked the entropy concept test, didn’t you? That’s not the fault of anyone here; it’s yours for not understanding scientific concepts even as you attempt to taunt.

I also suspect that you have absolutely no idea of what we are talking about here.

Why don’t you tell us what restrictions apply to the scalar and vector fields in Sewell’s analysis. Tell us how you would apply Sewell’s analysis to that two-state system in the concept test.

Mike Elzinga said:

Ian Brandon Andersen said:

If they were not intelligently designed, would two AAA reference gauge blocks cold weld? Why should we assume anything else that comes together lacks similar intelligent input? That is what’s missing from your thermodynamics quiz, you smuggled in the complex specified information in the atom-energy interactions which can not occur without it.

I suspect you know absolutely nothing about the physics of cold welding.

I know reference gauge blocks need to be intelligently designed. They did not evolve from scrap metal. Do you know that?

You flunked the entropy concept test, didn’t you?

No, I passed it. I also pointed out its irrelevance. You conjured up a hypothetical scenario of a two state system without explaining how the system got there. Ergo, you smuggled in complex specified information. Deeper thinkers than you such as Sewell can explain how systems like yours arise.

That’s not the fault of anyone here; it’s yours for not understanding scientific concepts even as you attempt to taunt.

I also suspect that you have absolutely no idea of what we are talking about here.

Why don’t you tell us what restrictions apply to the scalar and vector fields in Sewell’s analysis. Tell us how you would apply Sewell’s analysis to that two-state system in the concept test.

SWT said:

I have no idea if this was sloppiness on Sewell’s part or something else. His “x-order” argument doesn’t require a constant boundary condition, and, IMO, even has more of the the appearance of being rigorous when the surface integral is expressed in the more general form:

St = ∫∫∫R - J⋅(U)/U2 dV + ∫∫δR - (J/U)⋅n dA.

None of this rescues his horribly flawed paper, but he could at least have gotten the undergrad-level math right. Perhaps he should have consulted with Dr. Dr. Dembski, since one of Dembski’s doctorates is in mathematics.

I see I was getting a little bit sloppy myself (still groggy and weak from the infection) when saying that U should be a constant; it needs to be continuous in Sewell’s analysis.

Sewell has locked himself in to fields with spatial extents in order to talk about field gradients and divergences. That is a very restricted class of thermodynamics problems.

Sewell’s analysis doesn’t consider the kinds of system in which energy states are can be either random or non-random distributions of two-state atoms embedded in a matrix of other atoms that don’t have energy states within the same range a those two-state atoms.

There are entire classes of systems for which one does not have to specify a spatial distribution of temperature or of energy state. Neither scalar nor vector fields apply in these systems. Yet most of these systems illustrate the concept of entropy as well or better.

And Sewell hasn’t even checked the units of his proposed “X-entropies” and “X-orders” to see if they are consistent with those of entropy.

Ian Brandon Andersen said:

Deeper thinkers than you such as Sewell can explain how systems like yours arise.

Well that was easy. It took eliciting only one reply to verify that you have been totally reduced to bullshitting and taunting.

I think we’re done with you here.

Mike Elzinga said:

Ian Brandon Andersen said:

Deeper thinkers than you such as Sewell can explain how systems like yours arise.

Well that was easy. It took eliciting only one reply to verify that you have been totally reduced to bullshitting and taunting.

I think we’re done with you here.

Too right. Ian Brandon Andersen is off-topic and engaged in meaningless taunts of no relevance to our discussion. All further comments by him to this thread will be sent to the Wall.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Mike Elzinga said:

As I have come to understand it, the thinking still goes back to the old tornado-in-a-junkyard thinking; namely, sending raw energy through a system doesn’t organize anything, according to them.

[Long, thoughtful commentary snipped]

After reading Sewell’s paper and his whiny attempts at defending it, I am not inclined to take any interest in any of his work or any other books he may write. I doubt that even the great Pauli could have found a sufficiently sarcastic characterization of Sewell’s paper.

That brings us to the final issue that I thought might be discussed here: what actually is the view of ID/creationist people who make the Second Law argument? Some seriously think that there is some scientific principle at work that makes evolution impossible, a principle having something to do with “entropy” or “order” or “complexity” not increasing. What do they think this is (it’s not actually the Second Law, but something like it)? I’d be pleased to hear sensible comments on this, as the last thing we do before shutting down. (I am not raising the issue of whether this unnamed principle is valid – it surely isn’t so we can shortcut arguments about that).

(And no this is not an open invitation to veer off into the usual grab-bag of arguments of our trolls, I will send comments pushing us there to the Wall).

Ultimately, the creationist second law argument is based on misunderstanding entropy to be “disorder”, which must, by the second law, always increase. Bear in mind that it’s work to learn thermodynamics and to think through the meaning of thermodynamic results, and without a competent guide it’s easy to get lost or waylaid. I suspect that most of the creationists who show up here believe what they post because they’ve been given the basic arguments by trusted authorities.

I think that when creationists look at the universe, they see that it’s easier to break things that put them back together, that it’s easier to stay dead than stay alive, that things we put “in order” tend to get “disordered” (like my office) – that the “natural” thing is for things to break and die and get messy. (Yes, I know: the world is full of life, that “ordered” vs. “disordered” is often a subjective judgement, that the death of a mammal usually provides an opportunity for the growth of other organisms, etc.) This fits in with the Genesis narrative, which begins with the Almighty imposing order on chaos.

How could this big, complicated world we live in have gotten this way if the innate tendency is for everything to decay, break down, die, fall apart, become what we would call “disordered”? Only by the action of an agent who is not subject to the same law of “decay” … and you know Who That Is.

And how can this big, complicated universe keep going? Only by the continuing action of an agent who is not subject to death or decay … and you know Who That Is.

Now, lay a “pop science” description of the the second law against this mindset. The decay we see around us must be a manifestation of the universe’s increase in entropy, since entropy provides “time’s arrow” and is somehow related to increasing “disorder”. Only an agent immune to the second law (and you know Who That Is) could somehow reverse the innate tendency toward “decay” and “disorder”.

Consequently, the concept that the second law only constrains what organized systems can look like does not compute. The distinctions among open, closed, and isolated systems do not compute. The fundamental meaning of entropy that Mike Elzinga has articulated so many times does not compute. Minimization of free energy does not compute. They don’t notice, or somehow discount, self-organized dissipative systems around them, from the vortex that forms when draining the bath tub to hurricanes to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and so believe that the second law somehow prohibits self-organization and thus both abiogenesis and evolution.

Mike Elzinga said:

Ian Brandon Andersen said:

If they were not intelligently designed, would two AAA reference gauge blocks cold weld? Why should we assume anything else that comes together lacks similar intelligent input? That is what’s missing from your thermodynamics quiz, you smuggled in the complex specified information in the atom-energy interactions which can not occur without it.

I suspect you know absolutely nothing about the physics of cold welding.

You flunked the entropy concept test, didn’t you? That’s not the fault of anyone here; it’s yours for not understanding scientific concepts even as you attempt to taunt.

I also suspect that you have absolutely no idea of what we are talking about here.

Why don’t you tell us what restrictions apply to the scalar and vector fields in Sewell’s analysis. Tell us how you would apply Sewell’s analysis to that two-state system in the concept test.

That’s quite incredible. When I read that I truly thought he speaking in ironically–saying things that were so obviously false, that, when attributed to creationists, would make them look ridiculous. But, after you interrogated him it seems he was in earnest. I guess Poe’s Law is really true.

SWT said: I think that when creationists look at the universe, they see that it’s easier to break things that put them back together, that it’s easier to stay dead than stay alive, that things we put “in order” tend to get “disordered” (like my office) – that the “natural” thing is for things to break and die and get messy.

singing

Change and decay in all around I see,

/singing

And I second Helena’s comment, I thought Ian was being humorously ironic, so out-to-lunch was his ‘intelligent welding’ comment…

I repeat: no more by Ian Brandon Andersen, no more responding to him. We are about to close the whole discussion anyway (Andersen should be happy – he can continue on the Wall). I will write a final summary a bit later today. As they used to say in British bars as closing time approached: “Last call, gentlemen!” Anyone who wants to summarize for themselves (on topic) do so now.

I don’t see how any of the arguments from the 2LOT pertain strictly to evolution (is a species, a population, a clade, or a “kind” a closed system in the sense of thermodynamics?) or to the origins of life (is the totality of life a closed system?) in some way that they do not apply to reproduction, development, metabolism, immunity or any other process in the world of life.

Nor do I see how “intelligent design” presents any solution to a difficulty raised by the 2LOT, if there were such a difficulty. All human designs, all intelligent designs, as well as all other processes that we know about, are subject to the 2LOT. What is known about “intelligent design” that removes it from being subject to the 2LOT when a new “kind” is “designed”?

Not a summary, but a final comment.

I had an “aha” moment about Sewell’s argument, but haven’t had time to pull my thoughts together until now. I don’t think Sewell is a dumb guy … he reminds me of students I’ve had who are bright enough to make mistakes in new and creative ways.

Anyway …

I suspect that Sewell got the original entropy balance from an undergrad thermodynamics book (Dixon, 1975 – he cites it and mentions it in one of his videos). I don’t have a copy handy, but I doubt that it had the development of the complete entropy balance that includes simultaneous heat, mass, and momentum transfer + chemical reactions. Sewell then noted that the conservation equation for a single component in a non-reactive system looks like the conservation equation for heat in a non-reactive system. Further noting that Fourier’s law and Fick’s law have the same structure, he erroneously assumed you can make a simple change in the meaning of the variables and retain the same form.

Mike Elzinga noted that when Sewell goes from “heat-order” to “carbon-order” the units don’t work. Sewell might have noticed that same thing, which is why he maintains that there are different types of entropy.

Had he worked through the math from the correct starting point, the paper wouldn’t be nearly the mess it is. As Mark Chu-Carroll saya, the worst math is no math.

I will also add a final comment.

I think Sewell’s mathematical equations are ok for the limited classes of systems to which they pertain. What I first thought was a problem was not; and I corrected that.

As I mentioned before, Sewell’s equations are irrelevant to his argument. You can’t just dump your unwashed laundry into an equation - no matter the equation’s correctness or its limited applicability – and expect the laundry to come out smelling like a rose.

Sewell’s misconceptions are the standard misconceptions of ID/creationism. But equally appalling was the fact that Applied Mathematics Letters did such a lousy review – if they even did a review – of Sewell’s paper.

Sewell should have checked with some specialists in the physics department; he obviously didn’t. He has an axe to grind, and all that was revealed in his caricatures of the physical world even before he did his foolish “plug-and-chug” of his “X-entropies” into his equations.

One simply does not pull things out of the air and out of orifices and declare that they solve a problem that never existed. You know he didn’t send the paper to Physical Review Letters for a reason; and that reason is that Sewell very likely knows down deep in his inner being that it wasn’t going to fly. The same goes for people like Jason Lisle and his “solution” to the distant starlight “problem.”

These guys are attempting to pad their résumés for a different audience; an audience that is impressed only by the letters after their names and the “research” they claim to have done. It’s only the appearance of active research and peer review that they wish to project to that audience.

If one is getting “credentials” and going into a field because one wants to impress a crowd of rubes, one is not likely to be any kind of success in that field.

And I still sit here and wonder just what Sewell thinks he is actually accomplishing when there are so many other experts out there in a field he knows little about. Does he really think they are going to be impressed if they happened to read the paper?

I keep saying one last comment … maybe this will really be the last one …

Mike Elzinga wrote:

Sewell’s analysis doesn’t consider the kinds of system in which energy states are can be either random or non-random distributions of two-state atoms embedded in a matrix of other atoms that don’t have energy states within the same range a those two-state atoms.

I’ve been thinking about this comment off and on all day – two state systems (like the one in the concept test) aren’t my usual chemical engineering fare. If you consider a system composed of the “two state” atoms, I’m fairly sure the corrected form of Sewell’s equation still works:

St = ∫∫∫R - J⋅(U)/U2 dV + ∫∫δR - (J/U)⋅n dA.

Even in this two-state case, the energy flux and the temperature gradient are still in opposite directions (heat is still flowing from high temperature to low temperature), so the dissipation term in the volume integral remains non-negative. There’s a (mind-bending for engineers) discontinuity in the temperature when exactly half the atoms are in the excited state; however, - J⋅(U)/U2 will be non-negative through the discontinuity.

Enjoyable discussion – thanks for letting it run, Joe.

SWT said:

Enjoyable discussion – thanks for letting it run, Joe.

And thanks to you all who ran it.

OK, final comments.

What I get out of this is:

1. Sewell’s equations do (sort-of) work for energy flows.

2. The whole notion of X-entropies is bizarre and unworkable, and the equations are wrong.

3. Nevertheless, Sewell’s argument would basically be forceful. If all that evolutionary biologists (and physicists) were saying was that the 2LOT was OK with evolution because energy was dissipating elsewhere, say on Pluto. In that case the concentration of energy in life would be impossible. (Presumably consideration of equations of nonequilibrium thermodynamics would show that too).

4. However, Sewell ignored what biologists and physicists know, and what is even taught in high schools and middle schools: the outflow of energy from the sun is what powers life and enables it to have concentrations of energy build up. And that completely invalidates Sewell’s objection to evolution.

So who “won”? I know each of our trolls will claim that they did (but then, they always do). I thought we had an interesting discussion, and with some brutality by me, more or less stayed on topic.

I’d say that it wasn’t that evolutionary biology or physics “won”, it was that Granville Sewell lost. Big time. And the best evidence for that is that our trolls never engaged with his argument, but were desperate to get away from Sewall’s argument, and talk about something else, almost anything else. Mutation effects, Origin Of Life, black holes, even Joshua trees. Their abandonment of Sewell to ignominy shows that they were not very impressed by his argument. And at least in that they were completely correct.

So, is this the longest-ever thread at PT? Thanks to all those who helped with it.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Joe Felsenstein published on November 17, 2011 10:31 PM.

Morinda citrifolia was the previous entry in this blog.

Phalacrocorax carbo is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.37

Site Meter