Are Evolutionary Biologists Ignoring Science?

From Champneys' video. Evolutionary biologists ignoring the Second Law

At Uncommon Descent in April, Granville Sewell has called attention to a new video by Mark Champneys, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics: When Scientists Ignore Science”. Sewell’s post will be found here Recall that Sewell’s own videos and books feature a refutation of evolution by invoking something like the Second Law. The Discovery Institute often praises Sewell, who is one of their Fellows, and Sewell and Champneys say nice things about each other. So they all think that these arguments are good science, and that what evolutionary biologists say is most definitely not.

Champneys has shown up here once before: in 2017 he made some comments on a 2011 post by me about Granville Sewell’s arguments. He and I had a brief, mild exchange in the comments section. In those days we had no Recent Comments widget to allow people to find comments on older posts like that one, so no one else noticed this. So I put up a new post about Champneys’ arguments in the hope that he would join the discussion. Alas, he did not show up.

Now Champneys has a new video, which makes the shocking argument that when scientists say that evolution occurs by natural selection acting on mutations over time, they are ignoring the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The new video is 35 minutes long. For a more extensive and discursive version of the same argument, you could also consult a video of a lecture by Champneys where he also explains how easily he has refuted scientists who fail to take into account the Second Law.

Let’s take a look at what the new video says. I do hope that Champneys will come by and help us understand why he and Sewell think that we are ignoring this fundamental law of science.

As fodder for our discussion, let me just note some arguments he makes, and indicate where I disagree with them, with quotes from the new Champneys video. He says more on each of these there. Each quote is accompanied by the time in minutes and seconds in his video where it will be found.

Champneys describes evolutionary biologists as arguing that there are “loopholes” and “exceptions” preventing the Second Law from working:

(13:22) Sadly many brilliant scientists seek to dodge the law with exactly such methods, suggesting that an open system which lets sunlight in is not subject to this law of science at all. Nothing can be further from the truth. Increasing randomness and the principle driving the law applies everywhere, to every part of every system, open or isolated -- it just can't be defined clearly for an open system, but the principle does not go away just because biologists want it to -- it is a principle, people, not a loophole, and the principle driving the law works everywhere without exception.


(18:25) Their primary defense is to excuse their theory by virtue of the fact that the earth is an open system. That's it, that's all they have. Richard Dawkins has stated that the Second Law can be disregarded simply because of the sun. The energy input of sunlight is supposed to invalidate the application of the laws of science to biology. You can almost hear him shout 'loophole! loophole!' Evolutionists claim that sunlight is the magical ingredient that makes entropy decrease possible, but it's simply not true -- sublight is actually very random, and what's needed is the polar opposite of random, which is specification.

As far as I know that’s not what evolutionary biologists say: all the ones I have heard say that evolution is completely consistent with the Second Law.

Champneys seems to think that natural selection cannot put specified information into the genome because it only destroys less fit individuals, and does not preserve fit ones.

(22:27) Then comes the evolutionists' last gasp 'but random mutations are not really random -- they are directed by natural selection', so, they always say. Oops again. I say, natural selection is a constraint on random, but random within constraints is still random. Natural selection kills and culls, it does not build anything. Killing the weak cannot reduce entropy, only slow the increase in it. Random begets random.

He argues that Darwin made a fundamental error in saying in the subtitle of his book that natural selection “preserves” favored variations. Actually, that argument is that variations of fitness lead to favored variations increasing in frequency while less favored ones decrease in frequency. With organisms competing for limited resources, the one implies the other – culling less-favored variations implies that more-favored ones are increasing. They are not separate processes. In a dense mat of dandelions in my yard, as a less favored genotype becomes rarer, the more favored genotype is able to become more common and come to contain more energy drawn from the sun. This is an increase of specified information, and affects the entropy calculation for the system. But to Champneys, this is not how information comes to be in the genome, he says clearly that only intelligence can put it there.

Champneys seems to miss the role in the thermodynamic bookkeeping of energy flowing into living systems from the sun (or from chemosynthesis) in allowing the growth of organisms and increases in their adaptation and specified information.
He instead attributes the growth of organisms to “energy transfer mechanisms”, “ETMs”.

(15:44) Consider photosynthesis. Sunlight alone would dry up and destroy plants, but the photosynthesis ETM actually builds them. Plants use chlorophyll to harness very random, even damaging sunlight to manufacture carbohydrates and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water.

His “ETMs” are basically the complicated molecules of life which he thinks of as basically exporting entropy. These are simply the molecular structures that capture energy, use it to maintain cells, retain it and pass some of it on to offspring. The proteins and RNAs of the cell. That the incoming sunlight that arrives is at a higher wavelength frequency than its ultimate form as outgoing heat radiation seems important, and affects entropy calculations, but that is missing from Champneys’ argument.

Champneys keeps describing biologists as saying that it is mutation that puts specified information into the genome. He lampoons the way biologists say that natural selection makes the mutation nonrandom, and makes his “culling” argument to say that natural selection cannot add specified information to the genome.

(21:24) Then after after a while comes the only answer they can conjure up: 'Mutations! Randoms mutations generated, and continue to build the information sequences in DNA.' Oops, I say, random is not an ETM. Sorry, but it is not, and never could be. Random is the polar opposite of an ETM. It does not make a functional genome more probable, it makes it far less probable. Random is what ETMs are built to undo, not to embrace. Random mutations most certainly degrade the genome, never sophisticate it.

He seems not to see that changes in genotype frequencies have the effect of choosing from among all variations the better-adapted ones. Choosing a relevant subset out of a larger set is the fundamental activity in information theory. If that subset is the better-adapted genotypes, the information is also specified information.

Well, I hope that’s enough to lead to some discussion. Watch the video, and you will see the exact context of these quotes. Look at his longer video to get a more extensively and informally explained version.