Every once in a while the ID folks get into their heads to set-up an actual academic journal. You know, a place where they can lay out all that cutting-edge research kept out of the real journals by dogmatic Darwinian stormtroopers.
These journals invariably founder on their inability to find any scientists willing to write for them. Remember Proceedings in Complexity, Information and Design? It’s been moribund since November 2005. Or how about Origins and Design? That one went belly-up around the turn of the century.
The latest representative of the genre is Anti-Matters. It bills itself as “A quarterly open-access journal addressing issues in science and the humanities from non-materialistic perspectives.”
Somehow I’m not optimistic that this journal will make any splash among scientists. You see, the current issue features an article which — are you sitting down? — revives the second law of thermodynamics argument against evolution.
Actually, it’s even worse than you think. The article’s author, physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff, apparently can not be troubled to formulate his own bad arguments. Instead, he simply parrots the egregiously foolish claims of mathematician Granville Sewell. I have previously dealt with Sewell’s arguments in some detail. Short version: they’re crap.
Incidentally, I don’t choose the word “parrots” lightly. Go read the article to see what I mean. It is little more than a string of quotations taken from Sewell’s writing. As a taste of what you’re in for, here’s part of the abstract:
In a couple of recent publications, Granville Sewell, who is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso, argued that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way. Specifically, he noted that if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it much less improbable. The Darwinist’s argument of “compensation” is logically flawed: an extremely improbable event is not rendered less improbable by the occurrence of other events that are more probable.
I’m pretty well-read in this area, but I have never seen that particular “Darwinist” argument. The usual claim is that the second law is a mathematical statement providing a lower bound on the change in entropy of a system in going from one state to another. The dopiest versions of the creationist argument are based on comical misunderstandings of the second law, while the most sophisticated versions are based entirely on hand-waving and bald assertion. If Sewell or Mohrhoff claim evolution violates the second law, it is for them to provide an entropy calculation to back it up. Blathering about what is improbable and what is not simply will not do.
Meanwhile, over at Dembski’s blog, GilDodgen wants to prove he can be as stupid as the big boys. In this post he takes Paul Davies to task for his treatment of the second law on a radio program:
Paul Davies was recently interviewed on the Dennis Prager show, and a caller challenged Davies with the neg-entropic nature of living systems. Paul’s response was the usual: local, open systems can experience decreases in entropy, as long as the overall system experiences an entropy increase. He gave the example of a refrigerator, which can make ice cubes (thus decreasing entropy inside the refrigerator), while the room warms up as a result of the heat pump, thus providing a compensatory entropy increase.
Nice to know GilDodgen is on a first name basis with Mr. Davies. And you’ve just got to love the casual use of technical sounding jargon like “neg-entropic.”
Davies’ answer looks pretty good to me. If the issue is how living bodies can maintain their order in seeming defiance of the second law, it is because they are open systems, and the second law allows for decreases in entropy in such systems. So what’s the problem?
There are two big problems with this line of reasoning.
The first problem is that the refrigerator was designed and contains a machine that takes advantage of the available energy to locally defy entropic tendencies.
I’m sorry, but how is that a problem for Davies’ argument? And what the heck are “entropic tendencies?” Maybe the second big problem will be more to the point:
The second problem is that the order in an ice cube and the order in living systems are not at all analogous. Living systems contain a completely different kind of order, both in degree and in kind: tightly functionally integrated machinery, information encoded in the nucleotides of of the DNA molecule (a symbolic language), and an information-processing machine that decodes and implements the dictates of the symbolic language.
As Granville Sewell has pointed out, the fact that a system is open doesn’t mean that anything can happen, and that the laws of probability are somehow magically suspended.
But the question, as described by GilDodgen, was not about order. It was about entropy, and everywhere outside a child’s view of thermodynamics those are two different things. The second law is about changes in entropy and that is all. Either you have a calculation to show that evolution violates the second law or else you do not really have an argument based on thermodynamics.
At the heart of GilDodgen’s, Sewell’s and Moorhoff’s argument is nothing but the argument from incredulity. They find evolution hard to believe, and that is all. They use the terminology of thermodynamics to spread some fog around the shallowness of their reasoning, but they do not use any of the machinery of that subject.
There’s a reason this is a litmus test argument. It is impossible to simultaneously understand the second law and biological evolution, and honestly claim that the former argues against the latter.
But by this point I would feel cheated to find anything honest in ID writing.