Sep 05 2013

The Second Law of Thermodynamics – Again

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41 Responses to “The Second Law of Thermodynamics – Again”

  1. Insomniacon 05 Sep 2013 at 8:30 am

    Nice post Steven, but didn’t you rather mean “Gollum” ?

  2. The Skeptical RNon 05 Sep 2013 at 9:20 am

    While creationists beliefs are blatantly incorrect I believe the thinkers fueling their fallacies ought to be called out for intellectual dishonesty. The usurping of science to promote their position while denying truths like climate change and using today’s state of the art technology to litter the internet with mindless assertions reveal their prerogative to embrace that which is convenient not true. Until the creationist faithful see the individuals running that show as the P. T. Barnum’s they are, it will be very difficult for them the grasp the real world.

  3. RNAworldon 05 Sep 2013 at 9:22 am

    “Natural (unintelligent) forces do not do macroscopically describable things that are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view.” Actually, they do all the time and there are lots of examples even if you don’t want to use living things as an example. When interstellar gas clouds condense into stars and planets there is a decrease in the entropy of the gas becoming the star or planet. The gravitational force is being used to make this “improbable” event occur. Also, many chemical reactions seem to violate the second law. The general form of a reaction A+B=C is reducing entropy of the reactants since there are half as many product molecules. Energy may need to be added for bond formation or it may be released depending on the chemical kinetics. There is no actual violation of the second law, of course, but the system itself may spontaneously become more ordered.

  4. locutusbrgon 05 Sep 2013 at 9:31 am

    i don’t know if I agree with your premise. I think if a tornado went on for 16 billion years it would eventually form a house randomly.

  5. Inajiraon 05 Sep 2013 at 9:47 am

    A good article but I gave up halfway because it gets too convoluted. The creationists just want to get us in knots though, they don’t even understand their own arguments and the mental gymnastics are quite clear.

    locutusbrg: I asserted a similar thing to my Bible Education teacher (this was about 20 years ago) but she just couldn’t grasp the concept. Figures.

  6. Chad Joneson 05 Sep 2013 at 9:48 am

    Steve,

    As a physical chemist I would like to point out the real flaw in the second law argument is not that the earth isn’t a closed system. While that’s true, the real flaw is that “disorder” is not a very rigorous explanation of the second law. Examples like your tornado one are helpful to help conceptualize entropy, but in a very rigorous sense they don’t really have anything to do with entropy at all. The truth is that you are very entropically similar to a “primordial soup”.

    This is one of the arguments I address in my blog post here: http://www.thecollapsedwavefunction.com/2012/08/arguments-against-evolution.html

  7. Steven Novellaon 05 Sep 2013 at 10:45 am

    Locutus – I disagree. I guess eventually it must be the case, but even in 16 billion years a random force like a tornado would probably never build a house out of rubble. There are simply too many disordered, non-house- states. For that you need come cumulative process, like evolution.

    Chad – I completely agree. Creationists use the concepts of entropy and thermodynamics very loosely, like they do with “information.” However, even accepting their concept of entropy, their arguments fail.

    To clarify – it is not “my” tornado example, it is Sewell’s, which he borrowed from previous creationists. It is there go-to analogy (a tornado in a junk yard making a jumbo jet). Regardless of how this relates to actual entropy, the average person can understand why a tornado is never going to make a complex structure or device out of junk. So, I still need to point out that a tornado is a disanalogy to evolution, which involving living organisms, which use energy to increase complexity and reproduce more complex organisms.

  8. scottdon 05 Sep 2013 at 10:56 am

    Adding to Chad’s comments above …

    “Tends toward disorder” does not mean “relentlessly and continually moves toward increased disorder”. In a system that “tends toward disorder”, there can be local fluctuations of increasing order (see also Simpson’s Paradox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson's_paradox). Given enough time, there will be such fluctuations *of any arbitrarily large magnitude*, with larger fluctuations becoming less and less frequent.

    So it’s really a moot point.

  9. scottdon 05 Sep 2013 at 11:01 am

    Btw, by “local fluctuations”, I meant local in time.

  10. trurlon 05 Sep 2013 at 11:57 am

    It seems to me that their “interpretation” of the 2nd Law would not only rule out evolution but life itself, even if intelligently created. Unless they think that life is sustained supernaturally as well, which I’m sure many creationists do though they never seem to argue that point.

    He also seems to be saying something similar to the old macro vs micro evolution. Why do they refuse to understand that macro-evolution is just an accumulation of micro-evolution.

    They always seem to pick one piece of the puzzle, randomness of mutations, and leave out the other piece, the “ratcheting” effect of natural selection that gives a direction to the accumulated changes and keeps them from just being a “drunkard’s walk”.

  11. Chad Joneson 05 Sep 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Steve,

    Sorry, I realize it’s not “your” analogy. I’ve heard it plenty of times before. I meant “your” analogy in that you wrote it down, not that it was your actual argument.

  12. Aardwarkon 05 Sep 2013 at 12:20 pm

    I agree that the “second-law” anti-evolution argument is void on more than one count.

    However, there is an interesting nuanced distinction between the way evolutionary processes result in complex organisms and the way a jumbo jet would, eventually, be rightly expected to self-assemble out of an infinitely existing junkyard.

    Personally, I do not subscribe to the “lucky accident” school of thought, but to the “continuity thesis” of Iris Fry and to much older ideas of B.S. Haldane. In too short terms, this is the idea that Nature, among other things, seems to favor transitions from astrophysical to chemical to biological (to who-knows – ‘post-biological’) evolution when conditions of the system are appropriate – no extreme improbabilities involved, just a sequence of plausible steps.

    But it is precisely the ‘sequence of steps’ part that is the key – natural selection, at all levels, tends to favor and preserve some states, and this means preserving information to provide a starting point for possible next steps. It’s not like monkeys suddenly type ‘Hamlet’ or Boeing 747 suddenly assembles. And, of course, if entropy of a particular subsystem is reduced when a step is made, it is compensated for by increase of entropy elsewhere.

    As usual, only in the fifth paragraph I come to my point. This time the point is – the ‘jumbo jet’ assembly in near-infinite time has also been thoroughly discussed in astrobiological literature. It is nothing else but the problem of ‘freak observers’ – also known as Boltzmann Brains.

    It goes like this – in case that the Universe will, as it seems to be the case, keep expanding (and existing) forever (or for a really long time), even the smallest random fluctuations in matter/energy flow are expected to lead to any possible assemblage – including some that would have aspects of life and intelligence (and an infinite progression of nearly-assembled airplanes, of course).

    Please note that the possibility of Boltzmann Brains is dependent on parameters defining our Universe – most of all the cosmological constant. But what I wished to say is that Steve and Locutus are both right, in a way – the self-assembled plane – or tornado-built house – may be possible under some scenarios, but they would, in essence, be Boltzmann Brains – not life arisen through (modern- or extended-synthesis) evolution – and not a part of Fry’s continuum or Haldane’s ladder, as we are.

  13. jasonnybergon 05 Sep 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Easy, instant, and irrefutable responses to “2nd-law” arguments:

    A) Air conditioners actually work, providing an easy example of a machine that uses energy to locally reduce entropy (while that of the overall system increases), and…

    B) Ask Granville Sewell why his own body is able to maintain its integrity over decades without succumbing to “entropy…” His argument does not merely avoid biological processes, it denys their existence.

    Singling out evolution with “2nd law arguments” in the face of LIFE is like picking on a particular grain of mineral at the beach, arguing it’s not actually a piece of sand.

  14. Bernard Leikindon 05 Sep 2013 at 12:32 pm

    ” 3b. Natural (unintelligent) forces do not do macroscopically describable things that are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view.”

    Water freezing in a pond during a winter cold spell is an example of “natural (unintelligent) forces” lowering the entropy of an open, localized system.

  15. AstroLadon 05 Sep 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Aardwark,

    Sean Carroll has a very recent post on Boltzmann Brains:
    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/08/22/the-higgs-boson-vs-boltzmann-brains/.

    AstroLad

  16. Thadiuson 05 Sep 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I find the use of the “tornado example” to prove that natural phenomenon cannot decrease entropy to be hilarious as the tornado is itself proof that natural phenomenon can decrease entropy. Water settled on the ground has more entropy than water heated by the sun, rising into the atmosphere and creating a complex and self perpetuating storm system. In their own example the refutation of the core of their argument is apparent and iron clad. Even the “best” creationist arguments are nothing but poorly thought out and desperate attempts to save face. I wonder if the fact that they are always on their heels , even when making their strongest points ever crosses their minds?

  17. BobbyGon 05 Sep 2013 at 3:34 pm

    “The earth is not a closed system, it receives energy from the sun. The total entropy of the earth-sun system is spontaneously increasing, and the local decrease in entropy of the earth’s biosphere therefore does not violate the second law.”
    __

    Drunkard’s Walk. Occam’s Razor elegance. One need only assume 3 things — all of which exist: [1] a single-celled organism capable of reproducing (and implicitly the concomitant forcing function “left wall of zero cells”), [2] a stable energy input nurturing it/them, and [3] a LOT of time.

    Voila! You end up with, after 4+ billion years across this particular iteration, the Neurologica Blog.

    And people like Michele Bachmann et al.

    One need not assume “purpose,” a “drive toward complexity.” No “tree of life,” a “shrub of life,” as the late Dr. Gould noted.

    I once had a Fundie kid drop from my “critical thinking” class right after I noted this example in the attempt to point out the difficulty in differentiating “argument” and “explanation”. He should have gone to bible school, not a public university.

  18. ccbowerson 05 Sep 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Locutusbrg-

    To expand on what Steve wrote (when he said that you need a cumulative process like evolution), the reason the tornado/house analogy is not a good one here is that it is directional- in that it has a specific form that needs to be created (a house) through the process. Anything short of a house, even the creation of a wall, ladder, table, boat, etc, would be viewed as failing to achieve the goal of a house. It is not apt to view evolution in that way. Evolution does not have a particular end goal.

    It is the warped creationist version of evolution has a directional and progressive idea of what should result from evolutionary processes (usually viewing human beings as the “goal” of evolution). This is the where the incredulity comes from. It is the lottery fallacy to think of the unlikelihood of what has actually taken place, without realizing that there are many many many other possibilities that we would call life if they did take place.

  19. locutusbrgon 05 Sep 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Steve, CCbowers
    I cannot agree.
    A theoretical tornado that persistently occurs for billions of years. Like lets say jupiter’s spot. Not the same thing admittedly. Lets just say it ranges in a set region endlessly and without end for untold millennium sure why not. You are saying that the debris field could not produce a livable structure that would qualify as a “House”. Would it be made of concrete and asphalt roofing and wired for electricity…..No. Could it be a log cabin sure why not? What qualifies as a house is a semantics argument.
    I agree that randomness is not cumulative that is why it took so long to get to “life”. Then the acceleration traits in the fossil records supersedes randomness due to the cumulative nature.

    My point was poking holes in his argument, not yours. Even using his terrible framework it fails.
    Evolution personal incredulity also involves denial of time scale among other fallacies and the possibilities that this implies.

  20. Davdoodleson 06 Sep 2013 at 1:45 am

    This greasy co-opting of sciency stuff when it suits their dimestore magic mission, and willfully ignoring science when it doesn’t suit, is quite grotesque.

    It’s so dumb, and so obvious what they are trying to do, and so pointless, it makes me shudder. Literally shudder and make an urghling sound.

    I’m urghhhling for humanity.
    .

  21. BillyJoe7on 06 Sep 2013 at 8:04 am

    …well may you urghle, you urghhling urghhhler.

  22. BillyJoe7on 06 Sep 2013 at 8:26 am

    “They always seem to pick one piece of the puzzle, randomness of mutations, and leave out the other piece, the “ratcheting” effect of natural selection that gives a direction…”

    Actually, they can now stop at mutations.
    Some evolution-ignorant microbiologists have given them…wait for it…directed mutation!

  23. ccbowerson 06 Sep 2013 at 10:24 am

    locutusbrg-

    Looking at what I wrote, with what do you disagree? You miss my point, I think.

    To grant the tornado argument any legitimacy, you are granting too much. Life did not arise by the jumbling together of disparate random parts like a house forming from a tornado. You are then relying on time alone to create this house. Life and evolution is qualitatively different in that there are selection processes. Again, looking at it as waiting for a tornado to create a house to form is a creationist perspective- we should not think of evolution as a random throwing together of parts until a human is formed. Its not that evolution happened to have happened once life formed (like a house happened to be formed from a tornado), evolution is more fundamental than that. Without it there is no life.

  24. Skepticoon 06 Sep 2013 at 10:44 am

    So he’s using an argument by analogy to justify why evolution would violate the first law. Hilarious.

    Don’t you love the way creationists accept science that they like when they think it supports their belief? But they’re quite happy to discard science they don’t like. They never seem to see the contradiction.

  25. Kawarthajonon 06 Sep 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I always thought that life is an example of dramatically increased disorder. When the universe was simple, young, and had a very low level of disorder, there were only a few parts (i.e. a force and a couple of extremely hot elements). Life exists because that system has become much more disordered (now with improved elements, like oxygen, carbon, phosporous, etc.., as well as new forces that froze out of the one force that united them all), which didn’t exist when the level of disorder was low. Now that we’ve got a good amount of disorder, matter can diversify in a way they never could earlier on in the universe, including globbing together to make RNA, DNA and complex proteins. I always thought that the increasing complexity of life was an example of increased disorder, because now you need more and more complicated parts to make a creature. I always thought that increasing the number of parts means more disorder, because instead of a few simple molecules (i.e. CO, H2O, etc.), you have millions of different molecules (i.e. proteins, sugars, etc.).

    Of course, it seems like I’m wrong, based on the comments above. I blame the fact that I don’t have a mind for Math and, therefore, did poorly in the Sciences, even though I loved them the most.

  26. ConspicuousCarlon 06 Sep 2013 at 6:47 pm

    The problem with a tornado creating a house is that monkeys like the letter “S” too much. That ought to be fairly self-explanatory for anyone with half a brain. But just in case someone doesn’t understand, I guess I can explain it.

    Ten years ago, some hard-working scientists in England decided to test the “monkeys + typewriters = Shakespeare” hypothesis:

    Researchers at Plymouth University in England reported this week that primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word.

    “They pressed a lot of S’s,” researcher Mike Phillips said Friday.
    http://www.lawrence.com/news/2003/may/10/six_typing/

    I always remember that. It made me giggle a bit at first. I don’t know why I thought it was funny, but the important thing is that the typing wasn’t random. Maybe monkeys who were truly tapping at random keys would have produced something at least worthy of being read while sitting on a toilet. But, as revealed by science, it wasn’t random. The monkeys’ preferred behavior was to type things which were actually less likely to form words than you would estimate if your calculations assumed random output.

    I suspect that tornadoes are the same. Tornadoes probably exert very non-random forces on the materials they encounter, rather than constantly arranging everything in a random order, and that non-random influence is probably one which makes the emergence of a house even less likely than a series of purely random arrangements. For example, the force of a tornado, within an area the size of a house, is mainly in a single direction and usually ends with a harsh impact. That very well may never produce a house.

  27. sonicon 08 Sep 2013 at 10:57 pm

    The ‘tornado in a junkyard’ analogy comes from Fred Hoyle- an astronomer (and atheist). Hoyle’s work includes “the Synthesis of the Elements from Hydrogen” written in 1946. In 1957 his most famous paper “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars” came out. It explains how the heavier elements came to be.

    Anyone who says we are ‘stardust’ is using Hoyle’s work to wax poetic.

    Hoyle also coined the term ‘big-bang’ although he didn’t much care for the theory and worked on ‘steady state’ theories until his death.

    In another interesting analogy, Hoyle compared the odds of getting a single functioning protein by chance combinations of amino acids to the chance of a solar system full of blind men solving the Rubic’s cube simultaneously.

    Apparently it was the calculations regarding the synthesis of carbon that had a large impact on his thinking –

    Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
    —Fred Hoyle

    As far as I know, Hoyle remained an atheist- although it appears he might have become somewhat a deist in his thinking.

    Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate … . It is therefore almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect … higher intelligences … even to the limit of God … such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.
    Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1981), pp. 141, 144, 130

    Anyway– now you know where the quote comes from– the atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle– not a creationist.

    I’m not versed in the second law arguments… it seems a mathematician would probably accept a mathematical proof– so I’m wondering if there is a mathematical proof that the second law would allow evolution.

  28. DocBillon 09 Sep 2013 at 8:42 am

    Sewell has been on this Second Law jag for about a decade. He puts forth the same argument over and over and over again. Now, he’s “publishing” in the Discovery Institute’s pseudo-scientific blog, BIO-Complexity. It’s sad, really.

  29. BillyJoe7on 09 Sep 2013 at 9:11 am

    “Would you not say to yourself…”

    No.
    Would you?
    Or are you just content quoting the poorly thought out ideas spouted by scientists of a bygone era.

    Where’s their Theory of God?
    Hell, God doesn’t even rise to the level of an hypothesis.

  30. Aardwarkon 09 Sep 2013 at 9:58 am

    Once again,

    1) Self-assembled aircraft or monkey-authored dramas are not an appropriate analogy for processes of evolution – whether astrophysical, chemical, biological or (somewhat speculative) post-biological.

    The analogy is poor because these examples are conceived as pure randomness at work, but with no selection steps.

    Evolution is, however, the working of selection on random variations in multiple steps – each step dependent on the previous. Though variations need not necessarily be random in the absolute sense of every possible change having an equal probability to happen – as we discussed earlier.

    I also acknowledge that tornado forces exhibit some non-randomness as well, as commented above, but I suppose Hoyle meant us to ignore that and merely think of them as fully random, in order to prove his point.

    However, this point does not really disprove evolution, since the analogy is deeply flawed. It is rather a convincing argument that evolution NEEDS natural selection in order to work – as actually discovered by Darwin and Wallace.

    2) Self-assembled airplane does not fundamentally contradict the second law of thermodynamics – it is not impossible, just nearly-infinitely improbable. In a Universe stretching infinitely in space-time, such (and all other) things are bound to happen somewhere along the asymptotic expansion, if truly endless.

    This possibility is usually discussed as ‘freak observers’ or ‘Boltzmann Brains’ – but if these exist, they are not really products of “our kind of” evolution, as outlined in the Modern (or Extended) Synthesis.

    3) The example of Hoyle is an excellent way to show that there are more than two possibilities to look at how the world we observe today – living and non-living – came about (i.e. hard-core – historical ‘Darwinism’, which contained now-discarded ‘strong gradualism’, or fundamentalist creationism). One can be an atheist, a natural scientist, and a steady-state promoter, and Hoyle was all this and much more. Observations just seem to have proved him wrong about the steady-state model of the Universe – which should not diminish the greatness of things he did discover, like mechanisms of nucleosynthesis. Nor the greatness of his mind.

  31. ccbowerson 09 Sep 2013 at 10:24 am

    “Anyway– now you know where the quote comes from– the atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle– not a creationist.”

    It is nice to know, but it is irrelevant to the substance of the discussion regarding the current use of the analogy (otherwise it is the genetic fallacy). No one here has said that creationists invented the idea, but it fits with a creationist understanding of evolution. The analogy is not apt for many reasons, particular the issue of mechanisms of selection as I mentioned earlier.

  32. Wayneon 09 Sep 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Steven,

    Thanks for exposing the fallacious arguments of creationists. But they’ve already posted their reply on their blog:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/09/responding_to_g076341.html

  33. Wayneon 09 Sep 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Jassonyberg,

    ////) Air conditioners actually work, providing an easy example of a machine that uses energy to locally reduce entropy (while that of the overall system increases), and…////

    Creationists will dismiss that example saying that the air conditioner was designed by an intelligent agency.

  34. BillyJoe7on 10 Sep 2013 at 9:03 am

    “Thanks for exposing the fallacious arguments of creationists. But they’ve already posted their reply. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/09/responding_to_g076341.html

    This is a piece by Michael Egnor.

    (Egnor is a neurosurgeon who has found god and believes he has evidence of an afterlife.
    The evidence he provides is so mind numbingly stupid it’s hard to believe he is actually serious)

    Egnor is so ignorant of evolutionary biology that it is impossible to know where to start.
    Like all creationists, he confuses evolution with abiogenesis.
    He frames Steven Novella’s replies as answers to questions he is not actually addressing.
    In this he is either ignorant or deceitful.
    He boldly states without any arguments whatsoever that natural selection cannot be an explanation for the decrease in entropy on Earth, and he boldly states without any arguments whatsoever that teleological intelligent design can provide that explanation.

  35. a_haworthrobertson 10 Sep 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Steven Novella needs to be aware of this article challenging his blog post (NB written by another intelligent design/creationism advocate):
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/09/responding_to_g076341.html
    “Merely asserting that “the sun did it” is not adequate to explain a local reduction in entropy. If it were, one could explain the existence of anything– a building, a computer, a jet plane — just by asserting “the sun did it,” without invoking any other mechanism. – See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/09/responding_to_g076341.html#sthash.QsmRrGCT.dpuf
    But I thought primitive microbes, and then plants, ‘learnt’ to make food from solar energy via the process of photosynthesis? Is a ‘designer’ required to help them do that?
    “How can evolution be a sufficient mechanism to explain the dramatic reduction in entropy in living things”.

    The creationist argument, in general, appears to be “entropy is increasing so evolution is impossible – or if entropy locally is not increasing, evolution is no explanation for this and instead God did that by instant planned and designed creation”.

    As expected the article makes no mention whatsoever of photosynthesis (or food chains).

  36. BillyJoe7on 10 Sep 2013 at 5:24 pm

    a_haworthroberts,

    “Steven Novella needs to be aware of this article challenging his blog post”
    And you need to be aware that two of us have already covered that challenge. ;)

  37. a_haworthrobertson 10 Sep 2013 at 10:54 pm

    BillyJoe

    Is that available online?

  38. a_haworthrobertson 12 Sep 2013 at 3:16 pm

    As usual, Novella is ignoring me.

  39. BillyJoe7on 13 Sep 2013 at 9:00 am

    ….why should he bother when I have already dealt with it…right above your first comment here!
    May I suggest you read the other comments before posting your own.

  40. BillyJoe7on 13 Sep 2013 at 9:49 am

    In any case, SN has responded to Michael Egnorant in his new post.

  41. a_haworthrobertson 13 Sep 2013 at 2:06 pm

    BillyJoe7

    My apologies. I delayed posting the Egnor article here and I think when I first viewed the comments your comment of 9.03 am on 10 Sept hadn’t yet been made.

    I will take a look at the new post. Including to see whether he acknowledges my comment (and yours) as appropriate.

    Ashley

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