Pharyngula

I get email

I have to go catch a plane to Seattle, so I’ll leave you all with a little exercise. This random bit of creationist email just sailed in over the transom—it’s simple and to the point, and isn’t even afflicted with the usual random font stylings I get. It’s still just as kooky in its substance, though. Can you spot the logical error? Can you explain it plainly and simply?

Entropy tells us that each system in nature tries to find its state of least energy, or simply rest. Nature contains a lot of structures we could define as having order like a snowflake. But his are just states of optimization of energy state. This order is fundamentally different from the order of a cell. A cell uses the concept of entropy by disintegrating matter, to convert lower order into higher order for its own purpose. That is what distinguishes life from matter. Matter passively undergoes entropy and life actively uses entropy. This is a fundamental property of life, whose building block is the cell. The only configuration in nature that manages this is the cell or its offspring, human craft.

Like an apple never falls upward a cell will not be created by coincidence, but like humans can build planes to conquer gravity, the first cell must have been created to conquer entropy.

I doubt all those who has problem to see this simple logic. Either they are just stupid, or they fear something.

Well, gosh. I wonder whether this creationist is just stupid, or what he fears.

Or if you’d prefer your lunacy gibbering and incoherent rather than pompous and smug, here’s something fun: a comment that came in overnight at the Panda’s Thumb. Chris Torvik thinks DNA is 5th dimensional. It’s got ALL CAPS YELLING, it’s got misspellings everywhere, and it’s got the word of God (after years of this, I have come to the conclusion that God is dyslexic and isn’t too good at using a keyboard). Have fun!

Comments

  1. #1 forsen
    June 30, 2007

    The amount of caps used usually stands in direct correlation to how amusingly looney a particular creationist piece it. The Office of the Messiah remains my favourite, though.

  2. #2 Caledonian
    June 30, 2007

    Entropy tells us that each system in nature tries to find its state of least energy, or simply rest.

    Wrong! That’s not what entropy is. More to the point, the concept actually being described violates Newton’s First Law of Motion: an object in motion, or at rest, remains in motion or at rest (respectively) unless acted upon by an external force.

    Aristotle thought the world worked differently. He relied upon his intuition. And so is this creationist. Aristotle had a greater arete than the creationist, though.

  3. #3 Brownian
    June 30, 2007

    You said it, Lago. For a moment I was worried the writer was going to argue that a creator must be responsible for phlogiston.

  4. #4 Hank Fox
    June 30, 2007

    Heh. Funny that he used an APPLE, a living thing, as the “matter” that can’t fall uphill. Considering his main point, it’s a mistaken example.

    What he says overall is so muddled it’s hard to pick out the chief point. However, without going into all that business about the creation of the cell … to ME it looks like his underlying point is something about entropy, but looking at it only as a closed system, with no outside input of energy. He seems to be saying (in metaphor-speak) that water always flows downstream or downhill, except where life is involved, and then it flows upstream/uphill.

    If so, the first part of his assertion is already wrong, because water can “fall” upstream/uphill, completely naturally, in several ways.

    First, it can flow upstream/uphill in a wave or vortex. The crest of a wave, either a temporary surface ripple or a standing wave in a stream, rises above the level of the surrounding body of water. Part of a vortex flows literally upstream. The volume of water both in a wave and vortex is small, and is powered by the much larger flow of water in the downstream direction.

    Second, it can splash. Anyplace where a flow of water drops a certain distance, you can find droplets flying upward from the landing point – some of them even higher than the lip of the original falls. Anyone who has stood near a good-sized waterfall has felt the misting of cool droplets rising out of the thing.

    In both cases, a bit of the water appears to defy entropy, until you realize that it’s not a closed system. There’s a constant flow of new water (energy) coming into the area you’re observing.

    Which bring up a third way water can flow uphill: It can be evaporated by the sun, a really noticeable source of outside energy, so that it rises as vapor even higher than the original body of water.

    If this guy is serious about the natural processes of matter only cause things to seek a state of rest, he’d have to explain how rain gets into the sky.

    In the case of life, there is noplace on earth where you can just focus on some small isolated part of the stream and demand that “entropy” work there according to some strict always-downhill rule. As long as the streams flow and the sun shines, there’s a supply of outside energy to drive this apparent uphill motion.

    It’s not a closed system.

    HOWEVER … the MAIN mistake this guy has made is a more basic one: He believes the outside world has to live up to the stuff in his head, rather than the other way around.

    It’s a classic delusional mistake. Rather than observe the outside world and attempt to DESCRIBE it in progressively more accurate detail (the main goal of scientific research, I’d say), he thinks he can come up with some appealing mental model and then PRESCRIBE it for – force it on – the outside world (the main goal of religion).

    I see him standing near a scenic waterfall and crying “No, no, the rocks above the waterfall CAN’T be wet! I refuse to believe water can flow uphill! It’s just not natural! IT’S SOME KIND OF TRICK YOU PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO PLAY ON ME!!”

  5. #5 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2007

    Can you spot the logical error?

    Which of them? :-)

    The first error is what Caledonian objects to – entropy isn’t equivalent with minimizing energy.

    It is true that maximizing entropy in a closed system means that we will have reached equilibrium. But that equilibrium is a balance between minimizing energy and maximising entropy.

    To see that, we can extract any surplus energy G from the system by temporarily connecting it to another system. We have G = U – TS, where U is the internal energy and S is the entropy. Minimizing U and maximising S (keeping a constant temperature T) will get us to an equilibrium where we can’t extract more energy (G = 0). The new equilibrium could be any equilibria, so min energy and max entropy is a property of any equilibrium.

    The second error is that physical laws are redefined to be special in cells by excluding them from nature and other matter.

    The third error is to assume that a decrease in entropy is special for life. But it can happen spontaneously by statistically violation of the classical law (with low probability), or deterministically in parts of open systems that are set up to do so. It is what makes biology, geology, climate and technology interesting.

  6. #6 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2007

    Can you spot the logical error?

    Which of them? :-)

    The first error is what Caledonian objects to – entropy isn’t equivalent with minimizing energy.

    It is true that maximizing entropy in a closed system means that we will have reached equilibrium. But that equilibrium is a balance between minimizing energy and maximising entropy.

    To see that, we can extract any surplus energy G from the system by temporarily connecting it to another system. We have G = U – TS, where U is the internal energy and S is the entropy. Minimizing U and maximising S (keeping a constant temperature T) will get us to an equilibrium where we can’t extract more energy (G = 0). The new equilibrium could be any equilibria, so min energy and max entropy is a property of any equilibrium.

    The second error is that physical laws are redefined to be special in cells by excluding them from nature and other matter.

    The third error is to assume that a decrease in entropy is special for life. But it can happen spontaneously by statistically violation of the classical law (with low probability), or deterministically in parts of open systems that are set up to do so. It is what makes biology, geology, climate and technology interesting.

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2007

    Perhaps I should add that the statistical violation is because the modern statistical formulation describes an ensemble of systems, which means that singling any specific out guarantees that we will see ‘violations’ if we look long enough.

  8. #8 brian t
    June 30, 2007

    “each system in nature”

    Define “system”, Herr Creationist. The Earth? Not a closed system – the Sun pumps energy in to it, and has done for as long as it has existed in any form.

    So, what about the energy in the Solar System? Our Galaxy? Follow this back to its logical origin, and you’re asking where all the energy in the Universe came from. Which we don’t have a comprehensive answer for today (2007 CE), but is that a reason to put one’s faith in a god? A god so petty and small that he watches you in your bedroom, on this planet, in this vanishingly small corner of the Universe? Humbug.

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    July 1, 2007

    Yes, DNA is quartary the way computer code is binary.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    July 1, 2007

    Yes, DNA is quartary the way computer code is binary.

  11. #11 Steevl
    July 1, 2007

    Not sure what the relevant logical fallacy is, but taking a phenomenon which is constantly happening all around us and then asserting that it can’t happen (and therefore God does it) is a pretty stupid form of argument. Unfortunately it appears to be the only one natural religion has.

  12. #12 philos
    July 1, 2007

    Professor Dawkins provides a nice summary of the entropy argument, this coming from a debate with Professor Andrew McIntosh who claimed evolution violated the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics:

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,453,The-Only-One-in-Step,Richard-Dawkins

  13. #13 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 1, 2007

    Err… the gibbs free energy is the enthalpy minus the entropic energy, not internal energy. U – TS is Helmholtz energy.

    Thank you, seems I was confused.

    Helmholz free energy, right. I threw away the pV term (assuming constant volume and pressure, the later somewhat approximative/unrealistic, in order to simplify) without checking if there was a particular name for the more constrained thermodynamic measure.

    From the above confusion you can probably guess that I’m not a chemist. (At least, I think they use Gibbs a lot.) :-)

  14. #14 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 1, 2007

    “Helmholz” – Helmholtz.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 2, 2007

    One can create entropy, but one can’t destroy entropy.

    While that is a technically correct description of how entropy behaves, I think it is confusing for the description of what entropy is. Entropy is a state function like pressure, volume, energy or temperature, not an object. (The statistical physics version makes this clear: entropy is a function of (a statistical ensemble of) microstates.)

    It is like saying ‘one can create volume, but one can’t destroy volume’. The usual formulation that “entropy will increase” is more to the point, IMHO.

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 3, 2007

    Keith:

    Agreed. A state function is defined as a property of a system that depends only on the current state of the system. It has a measure of some form, which is derived from a model representation.

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