Ever since Darwin, there has been one main argument against evolution. I am referring to the general feeling that things don’t naturally get more complex over time. Evolution says that novel structures and functionalities can evolve through entirely natural means, but that is counter to intuition.

Richard Dawkins has quite properly mocked this as, “The argument from personal incredulity.” The evidence against evolution is that I find it hard to believe! Of course, expressed in that way even creationists can see the argument has little force. What they need, therefore, is a way of giving the argument a patina of scientific respectability. That’s where the second law of thermodynamics comes in. Tell an audience that you find it hard to believe that evolution could be true and you just look silly. But tell them that the second law of thermodynamics forbids evolution and you suddenly sound wonderfully scientific, especially if your audience has never studied any physics.

Young-Earther Henry Morris was especially fond of this argument. In his book The Troubled Waters of Evolution he gives a blunt statement of the basic argument (these quotes are taken from John Patterson’s essay “Evolution and Thermodynamics,” in the book Scientists Confront Creationism):

Evolutionists have fostered the strange belief that everything is involved in a process, of progress, from chaotic particles billions of years ago all the way up to complex people today. The fact is, the most certain laws of science state that the real processes of nature do not make things go uphill, but downhill. Evolution is impossible!

And later:

There is … firm evidence that evolution never could take place. The law of increasing entropy is an impenetrable barrier which no evolutionary mechanism yet suggested has ever been able to overcome. Evolution and entropy are opposing and mutually exclusive concepts. If the entropy principle is really a universal law, then evolution must be impossible.

That’s all very blunt, but it is completely asinine for two reasons. The first is that, to the extent that the second law really does say something like, “the real processes of nature do not make things go uphill,” it says it only for isolated systems, which the Earth definitely is not. The second reason is that, contra Morris, it is a simple empirical fact that known biological mechanisms can account for the decreases in entropy seen in the evolution of organisms over time.

That last point really should be the end of it. Things that are thermodynamically impossible do not occur. But natural selection does occur, and it demonstrably has the power to lead to increases in anatomical complexity. On a small scale you can see it happening, and that is enough to show that no principle of thermodynamics rules out evolution.

Of course, that was not the end of it. Ever since Morris revived this argument in the 1960s, creationists have flopped about in their search for a way of making it respectable. Lately, the folks over at Uncommon Descent have been beating this dead horse with gusto. But they have only succeeded in confirming that they haven’t the faintest idea what they are talking about.

Take this post, for example, by someone calling himself niwrad. After a faux scientific discourse on the nature of “organization,” he writes:

Biological unguided evolution.

Evolution supposes that all the biological organization on Earth arose spontaneously (naturalistic origin of life + naturalistic origin of species).

Corollary of the 2nd law.

In an isolated system, organization never increases spontaneously. Hence the 2nd law refutes evolution. The absurdity of evolution is illustrated in the following picture:…

Evolution would involve countless scenarios where the red balls stay permanently on the top of the peaks. Consequently the 2nd law disproves evolution because evolution would represent a set of events practically impossible.

I invite you to go to the original post to look at the picture. If you do, please explain to me what it’s supposed to show. The more important point, however, is that niwrad pulled that “corollary” straight out of his ass. You will find no such corollary in any thermodynamics textbook.

The second law is a very narrow, and very specific, statement. It gives a precise, mathematical inequality that is satisfied by the change in entropy in a spontaneous, thermodynamical process. That’s it. The mathematical details require some calculus, but suffice it to say that if your system is isolated, then the inequality reduces to the statement that the change in entropy must be positive, which is to say that it must increase.

To say that a theory is in accord with the second law is to say it does not violate that inequality. There might be a hundred other reasons for finding a theory to be implausible, but if it does not violate that inequality then there is no conflict with the second law. And since the best attempts to estimate the change in entropy of the biosphere over the course of evolution have shown that it is many orders of magnitude away from violating the inequality, I’d say the creationists have a mighty stiff burden of proof. Witless hand-waving about “organization” is not going to cut it.

Once that is understood, it is easy to see where niwrad next goes wrong (smileys in original):

Evolutionist “compensation argument”.

To rebut the above corollary, usually evolutionists resort to this argument. Since the Earth is not isolated, the 2nd law does not forbid a local (on Earth) decreases in entropy (which is all biological organisms represent, and no more than evolution is posited to do), gained at the cost of increased entropy in the surroundings (the solar system) (or, as long as the system exports a sufficient amount of entropy to its surroundings). So evolution can happen on Earth.

Refutation of the “compensation argument”.

The main counter-point is that, no, decrease in entropy is not “all biological organisms represent”. Organisms eminently represent organization. They are even ultra-complex systems. As said above, simple decrease in entropy is not organization. Evolutionists use “entropy” as a “free lunch” for evolution: entropy increases there, so entropy decrease here and organisms arise here at zero cost, while the 2nd law is safe. Too good to be true. Since entropy is related to disorder, then I cause a big mess (easy task) there to get organization (difficult task) here? Do you see the nonsense?

Second, call A the open system and B its surroundings. “Increased entropy in the surroundings” means that B has increased its disorder, going towards a more disordered state. This additional disorder in B becomes (in the mind of evolutionists) sort of “money” to pay the organization in A. Just this concept appears paradoxical: to pay organization by means of disorder. It is like to say: a disease in my wife :( increases my health :) .

Third, the reasoning is also absurd when we speak of probability. “Increased entropy in the surroundings” means that in B happened events more probable than the events happened before. These more probable events become (in the mind of evolutionists) sort of “magic” that creates organization in A. In turn, this organization in A is events with low probability that happen. So the whole reasoning is: probable events happened in B cause improbable events in A. It is like to say: the shopping expenses of my wife :( cause my winning the lottery :) .

In short, the evolutionist “compensation argument” is something like “non-X causes X”. It helps exactly zero the case for evolution, and doesn’t save evolution against the 2nd law.

The bottom line is: improbable events related to organization in a system remain improbable independently from the fact that we consider the system closed or open. Unless evolutionists are able to prove that some external cause is really able to reduce somehow such improbabilities, by injecting CSI to create organization. So far evolutionists have not succeeded in such task, their “compensation argument” is laughable. While IDers have a name for an organizational cause: intelligence.

What on earth could he possibly be talking about?

What niwrad refers to as the “compensation argument” is just a straightforward consequence of what the second law says. It is not some desperation move summoned forth by evolutionists to avoid a creationist challenge. The second law implies that in an open system entropy can decrease locally, just so long as globally the entropy increases. It’s just a fact that the increase in the Earth’s entropy resulting from the inflow of radiant energy from the Sun is vastly greater than the decrease in entropy resulting from evolution. Therefore, there is no violation of the second law. Simple as that.

As for the rest of this little screed, it’s so off the wall crazy it’s difficult even to find a clear entry point for correction. Let’s just consider a few lines:

The main counter-point is that, no, decrease in entropy is not “all biological organisms represent”. Organisms eminently represent organization. They are even ultra-complex systems. Who ever said that a decrease in entropy is all biological organisms represent (whatever that even means)? The point is that entropy is all that matters when you are discussing the second law. If you are talking about something other than entropy, say, if you are talking about the precise processes and mechanisms that make it possible for the Sun’s energy to fuel evolution, then you are no longer talking about the second law. You are asking interesting and important questions, but you have changed the subject nevertheless.

This additional disorder in B becomes (in the mind of evolutionists) sort of “money” to pay the organization in A. Just this concept appears paradoxical: to pay organization by means of disorder. It is like to say: a disease in my wife :( increases my health :) . Actually, it’s much more like saying that to make an omelette you need to break a few eggs. Perhaps someone needs to explain to niwrad why you can’t cool your house by leaving the refrigerator door open. It’s the same principle.

I can’t make heads or tails out of his third point. But let’s close by considering this:

In short, the evolutionist “compensation argument” is something like “non-X causes X”. It helps exactly zero the case for evolution, and doesn’t save evolution against the 2nd law. Of course, the compensation argument was never intended to help the case for evolution, except in the trivial sense of swatting away a potential challenge. The only time evolutionists bring this up at all is when we are forced to converse with creationist pseudointellectuals who are throwing around jargon they don’t understand. Personally, I think that pointing out that the second law asserts X, while evolution says nothing that conflicts with X, rather effectively responds to this argument.

This is only one of several recent posts over at UD on the subject of the second law, but none of the are any more intelligent than this. The rule of thumb is this: If you are going to claim that evolution is in conflict with the second law, then present the entropy calculation to back it up. If you are not doing that, if instead you are just blathering about organization, randomness, chaos, or order and disorder, then the second law is not really playing any role at all in your argument. You are just presenting the argument from personal incredulity with a scientific gloss.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    July 9, 2013

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting nirwad’s argument, but doesn’t his argument also contradict developmental biology? I mean, if it were impossible for organisms to evolve into more complex forms over millions of years, then wouldn’t it also be impossible for a single celled zygote to become a several trillion celled animal in a few years?

    Obviously that isn’t the case. I have caused a local decrease in entropy in my body by consuming several hundreds times my body weight in food over the course of my lifetime. Just like the tissues of my body, that food had an organization to it, so it also represented a decrease in entropy. However, in order to sustain my body, I have burned all of that food for energy, turning it into carbon dioxide, water and urea, which is much more disordered than the food was coming in. So really, in order to sustain a local decrease in entropy of my 160 lbs of matter, I have caused an increase of entropy in 1000’s of pounds of matter, thus increasing the entropy of the system. So no violation of the second law.

  2. #2 John
    July 9, 2013

    This Entropy/Evolution debate really stems from Physicists trying to explain Biology as Physicists. But Biology has reason/logic, which Physics does not, and so it really is like comparing apples to oranges.

    To put it plainly, one cannot have life without the storage of information. One cannot have information storage at the quantum level, since events happen at random. Only once enough matter is brought together to form stable units of matter, can information be stored reliably.

    Thus, there has to be a degree of order, for there to be information, for there to be life. The idea that life is becoming more ordered is not true. Life simply begets more life, and thus more order – but the goal is not order, it is life. If less order = more like, then this will occur, and does, through evolution.

  3. #3 Neil Rickert
    July 9, 2013

    A quick comment: The name “niwrad” appears to have come from spelling “Darwin” backwards.

    Whenever creationists bring up the 2nd law, pay attention. For great comedy is at hand.

  4. #4 Lenoxus
    July 9, 2013

    I’m pretty sure that in the mind of creationists, a slug has far more entropy than an elephant, because it is much less “complex”. Is there any scientific sense in which this is the case? Is there any way of quantifying the relative “entropy” of two organisms?

    This may be a crux of confusion with the “sun arguement.” It’s absolutely true that the sun’s presence makes for a thermodynamically open system, and thus allows for life to exist on Earth, and hence, evolution does not violate thermodynamics (organisms are not perpetual-motion devices). But my understanding of that is strictly energy-oriented: The sun provides the energy on which the Earth’s life can feed. A creationist would say that 2LoT is about “more than just energy” but information/organization, so adding the sun (in their minds) makes no difference, because it’s unclear to them how the sun would be a source of the necessary “new” information. (Its just a sun, made of sunstuff; nothing in the sun says how to make a porcupine.)

    How wrong are creationists on this front? Can we do thermodynamic calculations regarding evolution that take into account the “complexity” and “information content” of a strand of DNA?

    My current intuition is that it doesn’t make much sense to focus on the information-based side of things. If something is physically probable, then there’s no Information Demon who steps in in says “Hold it right there, that’s too complex!” But I may (to some extent) be incorrect; maybe 2LoT and DNA-information are not apples and oranges.

  5. #5 MNb
    July 9, 2013

    “counter to intuition”
    Lesson nr. 1 from the scientific method: don’t rely on your intuition.”
    If crea’s took the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics seriously they also would deny that separation processes in chemistry are possible.

    “In an isolated system, organization never increases spontaneously. Hence the 2nd law refutes evolution.”
    It has been a while since I met this silly logical mistake.
    Hint for any crea who reads this: evolution does not happen in an isolated system because of, you know, The Sun. And you’re not going to deny that nice little star provides Earth including life with plenty of energy, do you?
    Any Dutch schoolgirl/boy of 16 years and older still studying physics understands this. That’s probably why the argument is very impopular among Dutch creationists.

    “It is like to say: a disease in my wife increases my health .”
    But that’s an excellent metaphor! Because exactly that is happening with the Sun, with all those hydrogen atoms turning into helium athoms. Be assured that this in the end is very bad for the Sun’s “health”.
    Niwrad, you better change religion and go worshipping Father Sun.

  6. #6 MNb
    July 9, 2013

    “But Biology has reason/logic, which Physics does not”
    NR is right in @3. Wow, physics doesn’t have reason/logic according to John. So that’s why all theories of physics these days are expressed in the language called mathematics – the most reasonable and logical language man ever invented.

    @4: “Is there any scientific sense”
    Yes. Say we humans invent some procedure that turns a slug into an elephant indeed. You can bet your head that it will take a lot of energy, resulting in an overall increase of entropy. It’s the same the other way round btw – if you want to turn an elephant into a slug.

    “A creationist would say that 2LoT is about “more than just energy”
    As JR made clear (but with too many words imo) the creationist is simply wrong here. 2LoT is a statement about energy transport. You need to supply energy to get a “perpetuum mobile” working (hence it’s not a pm by definition). You need to supply energy for chemical separation methods. You need to supply energy to cool food down in a freezer. You need to supply energy to make evolution happen.
    You can bet your head again that evolution will stop immediately (well, after 8 minutes) as soon as the Sun stops shining.

  7. #7 Corey Hart
    July 9, 2013

    One thing that has always bothered me about this argument…does the Second Law of Thermodynamics have anything to say about complexity? We don’t really even have a good definition of complexity, but it seems to me that complexity is more akin to disorder than order. It takes more variables to completely describe a disordered system than an ordered one. and it takes more variables to describe a complex system than it does a simple one.

  8. #8 John
    July 9, 2013

    Lenoxus, I would never assume to understand what a creationist believes, haha.

    From how I understand this debate, it goes something like:
    – The 2LoT says entropy increases over time (more disordered).
    – Life is a decrease in entropy (well ordered).
    – If you assume that evolution is life pushing to have the least possible entropy, evolution contradicts with the 2LoT.

    People go off on a tangent here and say the 2LoT only says this is true for a closed system, but frankly this is a red herring, since both life and energy could occur anywhere, and thus the universe is a closed system, even if the Earth is not. This is why they say the Sun must ‘pay’ for Earth life, which is so totally contrived and far away from the original logical fallacy that long posts like this one exist.

    Life requires a maximum amount of entropy. Any more entropy, and information cannot be reliably stored, so life cannot exist.
    Evolution does not try to reduce entropy, it tries to create more life. A by-product of creating more life is a reduction of entropy as the byproduct of creating more cells – but that is not an argument for/against evolution.
    If an organism was more fit with more entropy, it would be likely to evolve towards a state of higher entropy. There is no preference as far as evolution is concerned. And since no one has shown that evolution is trending towards more entropy, either with practical/statistical examples, or via mathematical proof, this whole question becomes another one of those “We can’t currently answer this” kind of problem, which creationists thrive off.

  9. #9 Benni
    New York
    July 9, 2013

    Corey, you have a point there. To add to that line of thought, here’s a very interesting piece about entropy by Tom Murphy:

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2013/05/elusive-entropy/

  10. #10 Blaine
    July 9, 2013

    It’s tragic to see the train wreck that occurs when Christian’s attempt to think. But there is hope. Michael Behe’s son, Leo, became an atheist from reading Dawkins.

    Apparently these low-information thinkers have never heard of Gibbs free energy. Negentropic processes ‘feed’ off of Gibbs free energy from their environment. These processes export heat and entropy.Some processes are even able to repeat this feat by storing information in something called ‘DNA’ If you connect enough ‘open systems’ the odds of getting local order are quite high.

    What happens when you turn the crank on Klimt’s ‘Twittering Machine’? Probably a thought by a born-again.

  11. #11 qetzal
    July 9, 2013

    Minor quibble at MNb (#6):

    You can bet your head again that evolution will stop immediately (well, after 8 minutes) as soon as the Sun stops shining.

    Actually, no. There are plenty of organisms that don’t rely on solar energy (directly or indirectly). Best examples are the communities that thrive around deep ocean hydrothermal vents. Their energy source is the Earth’s internal heat, which would take a *very* long time to completely dissipate in the Sun’s absence.

  12. #12 KeithB
    July 9, 2013

    I blame shannon. By sticking entropy into information theory he opened the floodgates for this sort of argument.

    Jason, does the 2LOT argument predate Shannon?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Shannon

  13. #13 eric
    July 9, 2013

    One thing that has always bothered me about this argument…does the Second Law of Thermodynamics have anything to say about complexity?

    The classical form doesn’t, at all. The problem arises (IMO) because it is incredibly easy to take the Boltzmann form of the equation and apply it to just about anything. In many cases that analysis might even be useful – but unless you are talking about available energy states, you are no longer talking about thermodynamic entropy, even if the mathematical form is the same.. Shannon entropy is an example: same math, but applied to a different type of thing.

    As for reading Niwrad’s text…I felt a great disturbance. As if millions heads suddenly hit desks, and were suddenly silenced.

  14. #14 deepak shetty
    July 9, 2013

    I suppose for creationists a foetus developing into a human also violates the second law of thermodynamics…

  15. #15 MNb
    July 9, 2013

    @7 CH: I just checked my textbook, Introductory College Physics by Atam P Arya, 1979. The paragraphs on entropy don’t contain the words complexity and information. I quote:
    “Even though thermal energy is disordered energy, it is not a measure of disorder. A quantity that denotes the amount of disorder is called entropy.”
    “A part of the system may have a decrease in entropy, but the overall effect is delta S >= 0.”
    From a microscopic view entropy is also connected to the probability that all molecules in a given volume will be found in an extremely small part of that given volume.

    @8 John: still contributing to the fun, I see.
    “frankly this is a red herring”
    Nope. The Solar System is quite closed closed. The amount of energy the Solar System receives from other sources is negligible. The Sun is delivering energy; a tiny part of it is used for evolution; on the tiny spot called Earth there is a local increase of entropy; the overall entropy in the Solar system continually decreases.
    Just like your refrigerator cools down the food you put in there.
    That’s all there is.

    “Life requires a maximum amount of entropy.”
    Bullocks. 2LoT is about change in entropy – hence delta S. Nowhere it says that there is a max; let alone that life requires it.

    “Evolution does not try to reduce entropy”
    And definitely off the road you go. This is so silly it’s not even wrong. Evolution doesn’t try anything anywhere anytime. You might as well say that gravity doesn’t try to increase the power of my lightbulb.

    @11 Qetzal: granted.

    @14 DS: spot on. I am going to steal that one from you.

  16. #16 Windchasers
    July 9, 2013

    “Nope. The Solar System is quite closed closed. The amount of energy the Solar System receives from other sources is negligible.”

    Well, yes, but the important part about the solar system being open is that we can shed waste heat out to space. That’s *extremely* important to our survival, as the Earth would be quite a bit warmer if we (and the Sun) couldn’t lose heat out to the vast reaches of space at ~2K.

    “The paragraphs on entropy don’t contain the words complexity and information. ”
    Configurational entropy is one measure of entropy in a system, and is related to information. But, that’s physical information, not biological information.

  17. #17 Blaine
    July 9, 2013

    @eric #13

    “As for reading Niwrad’s text…I felt a great disturbance. As if millions heads suddenly hit desks, and were suddenly silenced.”

    Definitely brought a smile.

    +1

  18. #18 cmt
    July 9, 2013

    Argh! Closed vs. open is a red herring…
    (1) the solar system is NOT in thermodynamic equilibrium.
    (2) entropy is quite unrelated to disorder in the colloquial sense. a shuffled deck of cards does not have more entropy than an unshuffled deck and entropy has nothing to say about the sequence of my base pairs.

  19. #19 Steve
    Canberra, Australia
    July 9, 2013

    I find it interesting that a creationist would criticise evolution on the on the basis of it being a ‘…sort of “magic”…’ , I’d have thought a mystical super-being with supernatural powers was more in the realm of magic.

  20. #20 Byron Mullet
    Jamestown, Ohio
    July 9, 2013

    Evolution proponents are arguing from blindness and bragging about how blind they are. It’s embarrassing. I feel sorry for you that with all your education you cannot see design. Enough said on that. Two things to ponder. The life cycle of the Emperor Penguin in the Antarctic mid-winter. As you know, there is no room for error. If the male drops the egg it’s over.

    My other simplistic argument “designed” for blind people is this: For evolution to work, every male evolutionary change must be complimented by the perfect female evolutionary change or reproduction fails. This would be true of every plant, animal, human and insect. The probability of that happening perfectly every time from amoeba to what we see today is zero. Not only that, you would have to factor in, the food chain must adjust perfectly every time or organisms starve out and die. If that doesn’t convince you to see the light, then go on shouting, “I can’t see”! You might as well save your breath, because we already know you cannot.

  21. #21 John
    July 9, 2013

    @ MNb
    I get that the Earth receives heat from the Sun. I don’t see how that relates to my argument, let alone contradicts it -_-;
    You can’t make a special case for the Earth/Sun when talking so generally about entropy and the universe. Unless we’re saying that life violates/doesn’t violate the 2LoT because of the sun – but if we did/didn’t have a sun we would/wouldn’t have life. All which ways sound like garbage. Nothing prevents evolution from ocuring in either a closed or an open system, so it’s a red herring.

  22. #22 John
    July 9, 2013

    Sorry i hit Submit Comment whilst trying to correct the spelling of occurring :/

    ————————————
    “Life requires a maximum amount of entropy.”
    Bullocks. 2LoT is about change in entropy – hence delta S. Nowhere it says that there is a max; let alone that life requires it.
    ————————————

    I didn’t say that the second law of thermodynamics says anything about evolution. Why would I say that. That’s retarded.
    I said that there’s a maximum that has to exist for evolution to work. Too much entropy, and you have chaos, and no information can be stored, passed on to ‘generations’, since constants don’t exist. No matter how much time and energy you give a box of gas, you’ll never get life, since it can’t order it’s self into something capable of passing anything on. I’m not the first person to think of this – Erwin Schrödinger wrote about it in his book “What is Life”.

    ————————————
    “Evolution does not try to reduce entropy”
    And definitely off the road you go. This is so silly it’s not even wrong. Evolution doesn’t try anything anywhere anytime. You might as well say that gravity doesn’t try to increase the power of my lightbulb.
    ————————————
    I know. That’s why I said “Evolution does not try to…”. I’m saying it doesn’t have an agenda to reduce entropy. I’m amazed someone can argue and agree at the same time.

  23. #23 Jim Harrison
    July 9, 2013

    I once used a version of Niwrad’s argument to explain to my mother why I couldn’t clean my room. That didn’t work either.

  24. #24 Lynn David
    July 9, 2013

    Life is an entropy engine, it degrades energy through its functions.

  25. #25 Dan
    July 10, 2013

    Bryon,

    Your points are bad misunderstanding of basic high-school level biological facts.

    Your first example of the emperor penguins is actually a description of natural selection. Of course penguins that don’t leave progeny due to not being able to care for their eggs are out of the gene pool. It’s bizarre that you think that natural selection disproves evolution

    Your second example shows a real naivety about genetics. I suggest you pick up a genetics textbook and learn about how genetic changes happen, and see that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of basic genetics to claim that for every mutation in a male an equal mutation must arise spontaneously in a female for the trait to pass on.

    I”d suggest you try to read a little science. There’s nothing wrong with not understanding biology very well (I even used to be a young earth creationist), but there is something wrong with using your confusion about basic biology to try to discredit 99% of biologists and the mountains of evidence for evolution.

  26. #26 Another Matt
    United States
    July 10, 2013

    Corey Hart:

    We don’t really even have a good definition of complexity, but it seems to me that complexity is more akin to disorder than order. It takes more variables to completely describe a disordered system than an ordered one. and it takes more variables to describe a complex system than it does a simple one.

    Put two cups of water and one cup of oil in a jar. Make a note of the intuitive “complexity” of the system (inside the jar); it’s one layer of water and one later of oil — quite “ordered,” and quite simple.

    Shake vigorously (add energy to the system). Make another note of the intuitive “complexity” of the system; it’s thousands of oil droplets suspended in the water, moving unpredictably — not very “ordered,” but also quite complex.

    Let gravity convert “potential energy” into “kinetic energy” — entropy increases.

    After a day, make a third note of the intuitive “complexity” of the system; it’s one layer of water and one layer of oil again — quite “ordered,” and quite simple.

    “Heat death of the universe” is a lot more simple to describe than even the structure of the solar system, from the point of view of “intricacy of form.” The former describes a state of really high entropy, but almost no “organization.”

  27. #27 Corey Hart
    July 10, 2013

    Another Matt:

    ‘Put two cups of water and one cup of oil in a jar. Make a note of the intuitive “complexity” of the system (inside the jar); it’s one layer of water and one later of oil — quite “ordered,” and quite simple.

    Shake vigorously (add energy to the system). Make another note of the intuitive “complexity” of the system; it’s thousands of oil droplets suspended in the water, moving unpredictably — not very “ordered,” but also quite complex.

    Let gravity convert “potential energy” into “kinetic energy” — entropy increases.

    After a day, make a third note of the intuitive “complexity” of the system; it’s one layer of water and one layer of oil again — quite “ordered,” and quite simple’

    I followed your instructions to the letter and I still have a headache. What am I doing wrong?

  28. #28 MNb
    July 10, 2013

    @16 Windchasers: “the important part about the solar system being open …”
    We can ignore that for the question if evolution violates 2LoTd. Just take the rest of the universe as the part of the Solar System where the energy left over goes to and it is closed.

    @18 Cmt: regarding to your point 1 the same answer as I gave Windchasers.

    @21 and 22 John: “I don’t see how …”
    Of course you don’t if you ignore the rest what I write about the energy provided by the Sun, especially about local decreasing entropy and overall increasing entropy.

    “You can’t make a special case for the Earth/Sun”
    I can for the very simple reason I already gave: the Solar System is almost a closed system – something you conveniently ignore when it suits you.

    “Nothing prevents evolution from ocuring in either a closed or an open system, so it’s a red herring.”
    Well, nothing prevents the food in your refrigerator from cooling down in either a closed or an open system as well. You’re still making no sense.

    “Too much entropy, and you have chaos, and no information can be stored”
    Chaos is not the same as disorder. And I already made clear that biological information has nothing to do with 2LoTd. Repeating nonsense still doesn’t make sense.

    “No matter how much time and energy you give a box of gas, you’ll never get life,”
    Irrelevant for JR’s point as this is not what 2LoTd is about.
    Btw Schrödinger didn’t understand his own cat – that he did say something doesn’t make it necessarily correct.

    “I’m amazed someone can argue and agree at the same time.”
    You should be amazed about yourself because you just admitted that your point is irrelevant for the relation evolution vs. 2LoTd.

  29. #29 MNb
    July 10, 2013

    @20 BM: “you cannot see design”
    Oooohhh, me likes that. It assumes teleology. Has nothing to do with entropy though. Still please can you explain me what the divine purpose is of

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111207000757.htm
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080806154758.htm

  30. #30 Howard Brazee
    July 10, 2013

    If it were possible to go up hill, then we wouldn’t all be stuck in the deepest rut!

  31. #31 KeithB
    July 10, 2013

    Byron, no problem for the penguins. If he drops the egg the baby penguin becomes a dancer, not a singer.

    Here is a little math exercise for you: assuming 100,000 breeding pairs, 1 chick per year, 1 year to maturity, and 10 years of breeding (i.e, each pair can produce 10 chicks), how many eggs can be lost each year to make the population maintain at the same level?

  32. #32 eric
    July 10, 2013

    For evolution to work, every male evolutionary change must be complimented by the perfect female evolutionary change or reproduction fails.

    Every person has about 60 unique genetic mutations. So you’re obviously wrong: small modifications do not automatically cause reproduction to fail.

    the food chain must adjust perfectly every time or organisms starve out and die.

    See above. But this argument is even more ridiculous for two additional reasons. One: stomachs and ingestion systems in general are adapted to break down unique structures into chemically common and usable subcomponents. They don’t work perfecttly on everything, but then again, that imperfection is consistent with an evolutionary development. Two: mutation occurs in DNA, but we don’t just eat DNA; we eat developed tissues, which may or may not change when a mutation occurs. If some mutation in a cow gives it eight legs, that doesn’t cause some fatal blow to my body’s ability to process beef.

  33. #33 Corey Hart
    July 10, 2013

    @! Mnb ‘@7 CH: I just checked my textbook, Introductory College Physics by Atam P Arya, 1979. The paragraphs on entropy don’t contain the words complexity and information. I quote:
    “Even though thermal energy is disordered energy, it is not a measure of disorder. A quantity that denotes the amount of disorder is called entropy.”
    “A part of the system may have a decrease in entropy, but the overall effect is delta S >= 0.”
    From a microscopic view entropy is also connected to the probability that all molecules in a given volume will be found in an extremely small part of that given volume.’

    I’m not sure if you’re making a larger point here and I’m just spectacularly ignorant or what…I mean…. I did major in physics so I (supposedly) get this stuff. But is there some point I’m missing or missed in my very brief post?

  34. #34 Ça alors!
    July 10, 2013

    Corey Hart: “I followed your instructions to the letter and I still have a headache. What am I doing wrong?”

    Stop wearing your sunglasses at night…

  35. #35 G
    California USA
    July 10, 2013

    I’ve been writing in depth on topics related to this and expect to start publishing online soon.

    The following is scratching the surface of that. And as I’m sleep deprived as hell today, it’s probably going to turn out crappy, but here goes….

    One of the phrases y’all are looking for is “dissipative structures.” (Ilya Prigogene, physical chemist; _Order From Chaos_; this theory got him a Nobel.) These are systems that feed off increases in ambient entropy to produce localized decreases in entropy. There are plenty of examples in chemistry that have nothing to do with biology, which IMHO blows up the thermodynamic creationists nicely.

    Organisms are examples of dissipative structures. Metabolism is energy conversion to sustain an organism. Organisms also convert ambient entropy to reproduction and to storage of information both as genes and as learned responses to stimuli. No magic is needed, any more than for one of those kids’ toys that spins when it’s placed over a source of heat (such as an oldschool steam radiator, remember those?).

    Strictly speaking, “evolution” does not equal “increase in complexity” of organisms over time. Evolution is non-directional change in heritable characteristics of species over time as a function of natural selection. Any given change can be in the direction of increase or decrease; neither is favored. Semantically we equate evolution to “increase” via the prefix “e-” implying “upward” (as in “evaporation” from a liquid to a gas that rises above the liquid), but the semantics are not in accord with the strict definition. Better to use the term “evolution” as intended, and use wording such as “increase/decrease in complexity” to mean those things.

    Configurations of bits are not privileged in physics; that is, any configuration of bits is equally probable. As a quantity of bits increases linearly, the quantity of possible configurations increases combinatorially, so the probability of any given configuration decreases accordingly (but again, none of these are privileged). (This is why you don’t expect to get poetry in ASCII out of the clicks from a geiger counter, though over astronomical time you just might.)

    Which means that, over time, random mutation can produce equal degrees of increase or decrease in complexity, and selection determines which configurations persist in an ecosystem. The fact that some of the more-complex configurations persist is not magic either. In retrospect we look back over darwinian time and perceive a “pattern” of increasing complexity, but that “pattern” is the subjective outcome of our own perspective as complex organisms: over the same span of time, evolution has also produced enormous numbers of different types of simple organisms such as bacteria.

    There’s plenty in nature to get thoroughly awed about, but none of it requires magic, and there is no way to ascertain the existence of a deity from observables.

  36. #36 eric
    July 10, 2013

    @33:

    “Even though thermal energy is disordered energy, it is not a measure of disorder. A quantity that denotes the amount of disorder is called entropy.”

    So, the problem here is whenever someone starts talking about order and disorder, the common human response is to start thinking about objects. Like a disordered deck of cards vs. A2345678… Thermodynamic entropy has little to do with the ordering of objects and, as Another Matt pointed out, low entropy can be associated with very physically orderded systems of objects. Object disorder and thermodynamic entropy are, at best, loosly correlated concepts. Thermodynamic entropy is about the distribution of energy among possible energy states.

    But that has more to do with science pedagogy than creationism. I.e., its a reason not to use “ordered” and “disorderd” to try and teach kids about entropy, because it will be more confusing than illuminating. For creationism, you may be better off simply pointing out that entropy is not a conserved quantity, so all their baloney about conservation of information can immediately be thrown right out the window.

  37. #37 J. Quinton
    July 10, 2013

    You know what actually violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics that Creationists are intimately familiar with?

    God.

  38. #38 MNb
    July 10, 2013

    “that has more to do with science pedagogy than creationism”
    Which explains my sometimes oversimplifying explanations – I’m used to explaining maths and physics to 12-16 your old kids.

  39. #39 Corey Hart
    July 10, 2013

    @#34 Ça alors:

    You will never know that hell for me that was the 1980s.

  40. #40 RBH
    pandasthumb.org
    July 10, 2013

    If the evolution of life on earth violates SLoT, then so does a thermally isolated system consisting of a melting ice cube cooling a glass of warm lemonade. (Hint: Calculate the changes in entropy [deltaS = k ln W] separately for the two constituents of the system, the melting ice cube and the lemonade, over time. They’ll have different signs, and the magnitude of the positive change in entropy of the ice cube–which changes state from solid to liquid in the process–will be greater than the negative change in entropy of the lemonade.)

  41. #41 Lenoxus
    July 11, 2013

    In a limited sense, Byron Mullet is correct that male-female compatibility can require a process of co-evolution, such as with the specific attributes of the sexual organs or (less directly sexual) the back-and-forth pattern of a mating song. I think his real mistake is in assuming co-evolution can’t happen, which is probably in turn from a failure to consider just how small a mutational change can be.

    Over the course of millions of years, a flower species can change color while the bee that pollinates it changes preference in flower color. The resulting color and preference will match, and not because of some amazing single-generation coincidence, but because of a gradual process in which changes for one symbiote will select for changes in the corresponding symbiote. Likewise for the long history of changes in mutual mating habits (like the color of a male bird and the preference of females for that color).

    I’m not sure I grasp Byron’s point about the food chain. On the one hand, it’s not like a single mutation will render a species unable to eat something else, or inedible to another species that normally eats it. Any changes are always gradual enough that the system doesn’t get shocked. At the same time, sudden changes can and do cause ecosystem collapse by way of the food chain. This happened to the dinosaurs after the blotting of the sun killed off key plants (although many species could have died from the more direct effects of the asteroid impact), and it happens today due to all kinds of unintentional human effects on the environment, such as introduction of invasive species that effectively take the place of a prior species, causing a ripple for the whole food chain.

  42. #42 dean
    July 11, 2013

    Sounds like creationists loves them some misuse of thermodynamics.

  43. #43 luitzen
    Netherlands
    July 11, 2013

    It is like to say: the shopping expenses of my wife :( were caused by me winning the lottery :)

  44. #44 Windchasers
    July 11, 2013

    Actually, I kinda overlooked that that was almost a good way of putting it.

    If your wife’s shopping expenses are repeatedly high, you two must have a high income or net worth. So, yeah, her high shopping expenses *require* (not “were caused by”) you to have a lot of money.

    Just like a decrease in local entropy requires a greater increase in entropy elsewhere. The former isn’t *caused* by the latter, but the latter is a prerequisite.

  45. #45 Verbose Stoic
    July 11, 2013

    That last point really should be the end of it. Things that are thermodynamically impossible do not occur. But natural selection does occur, and it demonstrably has the power to lead to increases in anatomical complexity. On a small scale you can see it happening, and that is enough to show that no principle of thermodynamics rules out evolution.

    This is a very bad argument, since the creationist counter is “Well, if it really does happen but really does violate thermodynamics, then it would be a miracle and we would clearly need a God to do it”. You can’t avoid answering a question about whether evolution violates the laws of thermodynamics by saying that it happens and so therefore it really doesn’t.

  46. #46 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    July 12, 2013

    Is that “argument” still around? It should not be so hard to understand that the earth is an open system. Really arguing that life cannot get any more complex because of the 2nd law is fairly equivalent to arguing that an organism cannot grow because of the 2nd law. When a seed grows into a large tree, or a zygote grows into a human, that also constitutes a massive increase in (local) complexity and order.

    Most importantly, it is laughable to use the argument from the 2nd law of thermodynamics and then suggest as an alternative its clearest imaginable violation: a divine miracle.

  47. #47 Birger Johansson
    July 12, 2013

    I wonder if the creator they believe in looks like a Black Monolith or like the Engineer in Prometheus…
    — — — — — — —
    Going off on a tangent a bit, the recent confirmation of H. Floriensis aka hobbits as a separate human species *should* cause the fundies problems -but will not, as they ignore stuff that are inconvenient.
    Now we have four, possibly five human species living 30.000 years ago: We (H. sapiens Sapiens), Neanderthals, “Hobbits”, Denisovans and a possible fifth species hinted at in DNA from hybridization with Denisovians.

    How are the fundies going to shoehorn all this into Genesis. Are the hobbits the offspring of mortals and elohim? Leftovers from a previous creation?

  48. #48 MNb
    July 12, 2013

    @45 VS: “This is a very bad argument”
    Yes, but it’s also irrelevant and so is your reaction.
    Like mentioned several times on this page: the local decrease of entropy caused by evolution is more than compensated by the increase of entropy of the Sun.
    That’s why science works better than philosophy and theology – you can check things my measuring them.

  49. #49 Michael Fugate
    July 12, 2013

    “This is a very bad argument, since the creationist counter is “Well, if it really does happen but really does violate thermodynamics, then it would be a miracle and we would clearly need a God to do it”. You can’t avoid answering a question about whether evolution violates the laws of thermodynamics by saying that it happens and so therefore it really doesn’t.

    Sure, because we have so much evidence that miracles occur…..

  50. #50 Blaine
    July 13, 2013

    Even if the whole YEC critque of evolution using thermodynamics was correct, it still doesn’t change the fact the YEC has been positively FALSIFIED. Why are you people engaging these morons?

    That felt good.

  51. #51 dean
    July 16, 2013

    “Why are you people engaging these morons?”

    Because these morons are still trying to work the crap they spew into science classrooms – and despite not being left alone they still make the occasional progress.
    Imagine what would occur if their lies were not called out.

  52. #52 eric
    July 16, 2013

    VS:

    [Jason]
    That last point really should be the end of it. Things that are thermodynamically impossible do not occur. But natural selection does occur…

    [VS]This is a very bad argument, since the creationist counter is “Well, if it really does happen but really does violate thermodynamics, then it would be a miracle and we would clearly need a God to do it”.

    Three points.

    One: its actually a fine argument because creationists typically argue that natural selection really doesn’t happen; instead, God created species separately and they don’t evolve (or merely change within kinds). AFAIK there are none, zero, nada creationists arguing the position you’ve stated above, i.e. that natural selection violates the 2LOT, therefore God miracles himself up some speciation via natural selection.

    Two: Jason’s argument will still be effective against creationists trying to fool the public with some (claimed) nonreligious ID hypothesis. Cdesign proponentists cannot publicly claim divine miracle as a mechanism without giving the game away about who their designer must be. Jason’s argument is just fine against them, because there is absolutely no mention of (and thus no exception for) intelligence in the LOTs.

    Three: I think you do bring up a good point, that Jason’s point could probably be made a bit clearer. It reads a bit post hoc. I think a better way of making his same point is: physicists and chemists are aware of evolution for 150+ years. They have not seen any thermodynamic reason to object to it, or revise the 2LOT. So it must not violate the 2LOT the way most physicists and chemists understand it, else it would not now be considered a modern “law of physics.”

  53. #53 情趣用品
    http://www.exlair.com
    July 22, 2013

    My relatives always say that I am killing my time right here at internet, but I know I’m getting knowledge every day by reading this kind of pleasant posts.

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