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A question about the intersection of evolution and thermodynamics

A question about the intersection of evolution and thermodynamics



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From this 2014 article in Quanta magazine by Natalie Wolchover there is a quote from a physicist with an intriguing idea about evolution:

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.”

Jeremy England's idea is that the attributes associated with life have a lot to do with absorbing and dissipating energy. He insists he is not saying Darwin is wrong, and that his thermodynamics-based idea in some sense subsumes Darwinian evolution.

(The Quanta article links to a recent paper of England's which is somewhat technical, but deals with bacterial replication and thermodynamics. I include the link to give a sense of his ideas in his own words.)

My question is whether his idea, taking it at face value, might furnish a better explanation of something already explained in Darwinian terms or fail to account for some detail of current evolutionary theory?

So if someone had a lot of examples of different aspects of evolution s/he might be able to say, "Here is a situation in which the thermodynamics do not work out as England suggests but which is explained in evolutionary terms," or conversely, "Here is something contrary to evolutionists' expectations that seems to be pretty well explained by the thermodynamics." I suspect that there are several candidates and England's paper gives a hint in one direction.

Thanks for any insights.

Some helpful reading:

  1. Thermodynamics, Enrico Fermi (1936) [Dover reprint].
  2. Understanding Thermodynamics, Ness (1969) [Dover reprint].
  3. What is Life?, Schrodinger (1944).
  4. Entropy Production… , Crooks (2008).
  5. Schneider and Kay, Life as a manifestation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Math. and Computer Modeling 19 (6-8): 25-48 (1995).

The last paper is a very readable and non-technical introduction to this topic. If one works through the equations in Chapter 7 of Ness and ref. 4 the idea should be quite clear. Basically, systems (both nonliving and living) which are at some remove from equilibrium devise ways to dissipate energy that involve a decrease in entropy, increasing the entropy of the surrounding system.


Getting long for a comment

I can only comment that evolution does not proceed towards thermodynamic optimum. Adaptation is thermodynamic optimization but evolution is directionless. Otherwise the extant species would not suffer from tradeoffs (which they have even in their usual habitat). Establishment of a self replicating cell may be thermodynamically driven and given the conditions, irreversible; macroscopic evolution is like die roll where some states are randomly⁺ selected and eliminated.

⁺Not really random but a complex non-linear function which seems unpredictable

You can imagine a chamber with particles exhibiting brownian motion. Assume that particles have a random size distribution (lets say they are crystals of different topologies). Now if you keep a separator with few holes wide enough for a just one particle of a given size to pass. Then you'll end up getting only few particles of a narrower size distribution on the other side. This no way ensures that these were the most thermodynamically stable particles.


A question about the intersection of evolution and thermodynamics - Biology

I probably won't get an answer to this one. but entropy says the universe is breaking down. evolution says the universe is getting better! Please explain this.

This idea has been put forward by many people to try to prove that evolution is impossible. However, it is based on a flawed understanding of the second law of thermodynamics, and in fact, the theory of evolution does not contradict any known laws of physics.

The second law of thermodynamics simply says that the entropy of a closed system will tend to increase with time. "Entropy" is a technical term with a precise physical definition, but for most purposes it is okay to think of it as equivalent to "disorder". Therefore, the second law of thermodynamics basically says that the universe as a whole gets more disordered and random as time goes on.

However, the most important part of the second law of thermodynamics is that it only applies to a closed system - one that does not have anything going in or out of it. There is nothing about the second law that prevents one part of a closed system from getting more ordered, as long as another part of the system is getting more disordered.

There are many examples from everyday life that prove it is possible to create order! For example, you'd certainly agree that a person is capable of taking a pile of wood and nails and constructing a building out of it. The wood and nails have become more ordered, but in doing the work required to make the building, the person has generated heat which goes into increasing the overall entropy of the universe.

Or, if you prefer an example that doesn't require conscious human intervention, consider what happens when the weather changes and it gets colder outside. Cold air has less entropy than warm air - basically, it is more "ordered" because the molecules aren't moving around as much and have fewer places they can be. So the entropy in your local part of the universe has decreased, but as long as that is accompanied by an increase in entropy somewhere else, the second law of thermodynamics has not been violated.

That's the general picture - nature is capable of generating order out of disorder on a local level without violating the second law of thermodynamics, and that is all that evolution requires.

The idea of evolution is simply that random genetic mutations will occasionally occur that lead an individual organism to have some trait that is different from that of its predecessors. Now, it is true that these mutations, being random, would probably tend to increase the "entropy" of the population as a whole if they occurred in isolation (i.e., in a closed system). That is, most of the mutations will create individual organisms that are less "ordered" (i.e., less complex) and only some will create individual organisms that are more complex, so overall, the complexity goes down.

However, evolution does not take place in a closed system, but rather requires the existence of outside forces - i.e., natural selection. The idea is that there can be some environmental effect that makes organisms with a particular mutation (one that makes them more "complex") more likely to survive and pass their genes on to the next generation. Thus, as generations go by, the gene pool of the species can get more and more complex, but notice that this can only occur if the gene pool interacts with the outside world. It is through the course of that interaction that some other form of entropy (or disorder) will be generated that increases the entropy of the universe as a whole.

If the above is too esoteric, consider a simple analogy: a poker tournament. In poker, good hands are less likely to be dealt than bad ones - for example, the odds of getting three of a kind are much less than the odds of getting two of a kind. So in a poker tournament, most people will be dealt bad hands and only a few will be lucky enough to be dealt good hands. But it is the people with good hands who will be more likely to win and "survive" to the next round. So the "outside forces" (in this case, the rules of poker) acting on a random distribution (all the poker hands that were dealt) will tend to select out the best, least likely ones.

For further information, the Talk.Origins website has an extensive discussion about the evolution/thermodynamics controversy.

This page was last updated June 27, 2015.

About the Author

Dave Rothstein

Dave is a former graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at Cornell who used infrared and X-ray observations and theoretical computer models to study accreting black holes in our Galaxy. He also did most of the development for the former version of the site.


5 Answers 5

This is a throughly debunked canard by creationists. Look up in the sky on a sunny day, and look at an incredible source of energy for the earth. For a basic primer on evolution, go to this page and then avail yourself of the many links available. You do seem to have a severe case of misunderstanding and just plain bad information that you have been exposed to.

As a UNIVERSE, things are indeed overall going to more entropy, but locally, we see entropy decreasing all the time. Or do you doubt that you were born? Going from an egg and sperm, to a full grown adult would seem to violate your understanding of the second law of thermodynamics. As has been repeated, the earth is not a closed system. Local entropy is decreasing all over the globe, all the time. Of course, on the whole, in our solar system, because of the way our sun works, and all the other elements of the universe, we are still seeing a net increase of entropy in the universe. And in several trillions upon trillions of years, the ultimate fate of the universe (as best as we can tell) will be ultimate entropy, known as heat death.

Since this is a tiresome canard, I shall refer to a rebuttal written by a Science Writer that goes by the pseudonym Calilasseia who has this to say (forgive the writing style, he is British, and slightly miffed at having to drag up such an inane argument) (Also, this large block of text is reproduced with permission at any location on the internet, as noted originally on the cited web page):

[27] Tiresome canards about evolution and the laws of thermodynamics.

And how tiresome these canards are. Not least because they've been debunked in the past, even without reference to relevant scientific literature, by people who pay attention to the scientific basics. Once the relevant scientific literature is consulted, these canards become visibly asinine.

I'll deal with the Second Law of Thermodynamics to start with, because that one is a creationist favourite, though when creationists parrot this specious nonsense, they merely demonstrate that they know nothing about the relevant physics, and certainly never paid attention to the actual words of Rudolf Clausius, who erected the Laws of Thermodynamics, and who was rigorous when doing so. Therefore, let us see what Clausius actually stated, shall we?

Rudolf Clausius erects this statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

In an isolated system, a process can occur only if it increases the total entropy of the system.

Now Clausius defined rigorously what was meant by three different classes of thermodynamic system, and in his work, specified explicitly that the operation of the laws of thermodynamics differed subtly in each instance. The three classes of system Clausius defined were as follows:

[27a] An isolated system is a system that engages in no exchanges of energy or matter with the surroundings

[27b] A closed system is a system that engages in exchanges of energy with the surroundings, but does not engage in exchange of matter with the surroundings

[27c] An open system is a system that engages in exchanges of both matter and energy with the surroundings.

Now, Clausius' statement above clearly and explicitly refers to isolated systems, which, thus far, have been found to be an idealised abstraction, as no truly isolated system has ever been found. Indeed, in order to create even an approximation to an isolated system in order to perform precise calorimetric measurements, physicists have to resort to considerable ingenuity in order to minimise energy exchanges with the surroundings, particularly given the pervasive nature of heat. Even then, they cannot make the system completely isolated, because they need to have some means of obtaining measurement data from that system, which has to be conveyed to the surroundings, and this process itself requires energy. Physicists can only construct a closed system, in which, courtesy of much ingenuity, energy exchanges with the surroundings are minimised and precisely controlled, and to achieve this result in a manner that satisfies the demands of precise work is time consuming, expensive and requires a lot of prior analysis of possible sources of energy exchange that need to be minimised and controlled.

However, the Earth is manifestly an open system. It is in receipt not only of large amounts of energy from outside (here's a hint: see that big yellow thing in the sky?) but is also in receipt of about 1,000 tons of matter per year in the form of particles of meteoritic origin from outer space. Some of these 'particles' are, on occasions, large enough to leave craters in the ground, such as that nice large one in Arizona. That particular dent in the Earth's surface is 1,200 metres in diameter, 170 metres deep, and has a ridge of material around the edges that rises 45 metres above the immediate landscape, and was excavated when a meteorite impacted the Earth's surface, generating a blast equivalent to a 20 megaton nuclear bomb. Hardly a characteristic of an isolated system.

Indeed, physicists have known for a long time, that if a particular system is a net recipient of energy from outside, then that energy can be harnessed within that system to perform useful work. Which is precisely what living organisms do. Indeed, they only harness a small fraction of the available incoming energy, yet this is sufficient to power the entire diversity of the biosphere, and the development of organisms of increasing sophistication over time. Scientists have published numerous papers (twelve of which are known to me, and this is an incomplete inventory of the extant literature) in which calculations have been performed demonstrating that the utilisation of energy by the biosphere, and by evolution, is orders of magnitude too small to violate thermodynamic concerns. Relevant papers in question being:

Entropy And Evolution by Daniel F. Styer, American Journal of Physics, 78(11): 1031-1033 (November 2008) DOI: 10.1119/1.2973046

Natural Selection As A Physical Principle by Alfred J. Lotka, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 8: 151-154 (1922) full paper downloadable from here

Evolution Of Biological Complexity by Christoph Adami, Charles Ofria and Travis C. Collier, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 97(9): 4463-4468 (25th April 2000) Full paper downloadable from here

Order From Disorder: The Thermodynamics Of Complexity In Biology by Eric D. Schneider and James J. Kay, in Michael P. Murphy, Luke A.J. O'Neill (ed), What is Life: The Next Fifty Years. Reflections on the Future of Biology, Cambridge University Press, pp. 161-172 Full paper downloadable from here

Natural Selection For Least Action by Ville R. I. Kaila and Arto Annila, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Part A, 464: 3055-3070 (22nd July 2008) Full paper downloadable from here

Evolution And The Second Law Of Thermodynamics by Emory F. Bunn, arXiv.org, 0903.4603v1 (26th March 2009) Download full paper from here

All of these peer reviewed papers establish, courtesy of rigorous empirical and theoretical work, that evolution is perfectly consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I cover several of these in detail in this post, and it should be noted here that the notion that evolution was purportedly in "violation" of the Second Law of Thermodynamics was rejected in a paper written in 1922, which means that creationists who erect this canard are ignorant of scientific literature published over eighty years ago.

While covering this topic, it's also necessary to deal with the canard that entropy equals 'disorder'. This is a non-rigorous view of entropy that scientists engaged in precise work discarded some time ago. Not least because there are documented examples of systems that have a precisely calculated entropy increase after spontaneously self-organising into well-defined structures. Phospholipids are the classic example of such a system - a suspension of phospholipids in aqueous solution will spontaneously self-assemble into structures such as micelles, bilayer sheets and liposomes upon receiving an energy input consisting of nothing more than gentle agitation. In other words, just shake the bottle. Moreover, the following scientific paper discusses in some detail the fact that entropy can increase when a system becomes more ordered, a paper that was published in 1998, and hence, has been in circulation for over a decade now:

Gentle Force Of Entropy Bridges Disciplines by David Kestenbaum, Science, 279: 1849 (20th March 1998)

Kestenbaum, 1998 wrote:Normally, entropy is a force of disorder rather than organization. But physicists have recently explored the ways in which an increase in entropy in one part of a system can force another part into greater order. The findings have rekindled speculation that living cells might take advantage of this little-known trick of physics.

Entropy, as rigorously defined, has units of Joules per Kelvin, and is therefore a function of energy versus thermodynamic temperature. The simple fact of the matter is that if the thermodynamic temperature increases, then the total entropy of a given system decreases if no additional energy was input into the system in order to provide the increase in thermodynamic temperature. Star formation is an excellent example of this, because the thermodynamic temperature at the core of a gas cloud increases as the cloud coalesces under gravity. All that is required to increase the core temperature to the point where nuclear fusion is initiated is sufficient mass. No external energy is added to the system. Consequently, the entropy at the core decreases due to the influence of gravity driving up the thermodynamic temperature. Yet the highly compressed gas in the core is hardly "ordered".

STOP PRESS: as if to reinforce this point, my attention has just been drawn to this scientific paper:

Disordered, Quasicrystalline And Crystalline Phases Of Densely Packed Tetrahedra by Amir Haji-Akbari, Michael Engel, Aaron S. Keys, Xiaoyu Zheng, Rolfe G. Petschek, Peter Palffy-Muhoray and Sharon C. Glotzer, Nature, 462: 773-777 (10th December 2009)

The abstract is suitably informative here:

Haji-Akbari, 2009 wrote: All hard, convex shapes are conjectured by Ulam to pack more densely than spheres1, which have a maximum packing fraction of φ = π/∫18 ≈ 0.7405. Simple lattice packings of many shapes easily surpass this packing fraction2, 3. For regular tetrahedra, this conjecture was shown to be true only very recently an ordered arrangement was obtained via geometric construction with φ = 0.7786 (ref. 4), which was subsequently compressed numerically to φ = 0.7820 (ref. 5), while compressing with different initial conditions led to φ = 0.8230 (ref. 6). Here we show that tetrahedra pack even more densely, and in a completely unexpected way. Following a conceptually different approach, using thermodynamic computer simulations that allow the system to evolve naturally towards high-density states, we observe that a fluid of hard tetrahedra undergoes a first-order phase transition to a dodecagonal quasicrystal7, 8, 9, 10, which can be compressed to a packing fraction of φ = 0.8324. By compressing a crystalline approximant of the quasicrystal, the highest packing fraction we obtain is φ = 0.8503. If quasicrystal formation is suppressed, the system remains disordered, jams and compresses to φ = 0.7858. Jamming and crystallization are both preceded by an entropy-driven transition from a simple fluid of independent tetrahedra to a complex fluid characterized by tetrahedra arranged in densely packed local motifs of pentagonal dipyramids that form a percolating network at the transition. The quasicrystal that we report represents the first example of a quasicrystal formed from hard or non-spherical particles. Our results demonstrate that particle shape and entropy can produce highly complex, ordered structures.

So as if the Kestenbaum paper on entropy driving ordered systems, and the empirical evidence from phospholipids were not enough, we now have this. Consequently, the message to creationists is simple: don't bother wasting your time posting the "evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics" canard, because it is now well and truly busted.

Some creationists, however, erect a related, and in some respects, even more asinine canard, that evolution somehow violates the First Law of Thermodynamics. Guess who provided us with rigorous statements about this law? That's right, Rudolf Clausius again. Let's see what he actually stated with respect to this, shall we? The Clausius formulation of the First Law of Thermodynamics is this:

The increase in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of energy input into the system via heating, minus the energy lost as a result of the work done by the system upon its surroundings.

The mathematical expression of which is:

If the process is reversible, then this can be recast in terms of exact differentials by noting that δW is equal to PdV, where P is the internal pressure, and V the volume occupied, and that δQ is equal to TdS, where T is the thermodynamic temperature and S is the entropy of the system. Therefore this becomes dU = TdS - PdV.

Oh look. Clausius explicitly framed the First Law of Thermodynamics in terms of energy exchanges within a system. He did NOT assume constancy thereof. Indeed, the rigorous framing of the First Law of Thermodynamics explicitly takes into account the possibility of a system being a recipient of energy that can be used to perform useful work. Therefore creationist canards erected about the First Law of Thermodynamics are null and void for the same reasons as those erected about the Second Law of Thermodynamics - said canards not only ignore completely Clausius' original and rigorous formulations of those laws, and ignore completely that Clausius framed his formulations around energy exchanges between a system and its surroundings, but rely upon outright misrepresentations of those laws.

Indeed, Clausius had energy exchanges in mind with respect to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as well, which is why the statement on entropy was framed in terms of an isolated system, which engages in no such exchanges with the surroundings. When energy exchanges are taking place, the operation of the Second law of Thermodynamics within such systems is subtly different.

I also wanted to add a bit about your silly assertion that it's only a theory. Trust me, it's a fact, and is rejection of reality on a wholesecale level to assert anything but. The mechanisms by which evolution happen are also quite well understood, but there are fine points that are still being worked out. Evolution is a theory in the same way gravity is a theory, only that we actually know a great deal more about evolution than we do gravity.

6 Scientific theories are NOT guesses.

This is a favourite (and wholly duplicitous) canard beloved of creationists, and relies upon the fact that in everyday usage, English words are loaded with a multiplicity of meanings. This is NOT the case in science, where terms used are precisely defined. The precise definition apposite here is the definition of theory. In science, a theory is an integrated explanation for a class of real world observational phenomena of interest, that has been subjected to direct empirical test with respect to its correspondence with observational reality, and which has been found, via such testing, to be in accord with observational reality. It is precisely because scientific theories have been subject to direct empirical test, and have passed said empirical test, that they ARE theories, and consequently enjoy a high status in the world of scientific discourse. As a consequence of the above, anyone who erects the "it's only a theory" canard with respect to evolution will be regarded with well deserved scorn and derision.

If you want a good visualization of evolution, maybe this picture will help you with some shorthand: THAT is a logical process that seems to escape people who deny evolution. Again, I suggest you read up more at one of the earlier links provided.


The Institute for Creation Research

The study of biological processes and phenomena indicates that significant evolutionary developments are not observable in the modern world. Similarly the great gaps in the fossil record make it extremely doubtful that any genuine evolution, as distinct from small changes within the kinds, ever took place in the past.

There is one consideration, however, which goes well beyond the implications of the above difficulties. Not only is there no evidence that evolution ever has taken place, but there is also 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.

The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word "evolution" is of course derived from a Latin word meaning "out-rolling". The picture is of an outward-progressing spiral, an unrolling from an infinitesimal beginning through ever broadening circles, until finally all reality is embraced within.

"Entropy," on the other hand, means literally "in-turning." It is derived from the two Greek words en (meaning "in") and trope (meaning "turning"). The concept is of something spiraling inward upon itself, exactly the opposite concept to "evolution." Evolution is change outward and upward, entropy is change inward and downward.

That the principles of evolution and entropy are both believed to be universal principles and yet are mutually contradictory is seen from the following authoritative definitions:

As far as evolution is concerned, the classic definition of Sir Julian Huxley is as follows:

Thus, in one instance, "all observed systems . go from order to disorder," and in the other, "the whole of reality . gives rise to an increasingly high level of organization in its products." It seems obvious that either evolution or entropy has been vastly over-rated or else that something is wrong with the English language.

The entropy principle, however, is nothing less than the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is as universal and certain a law as exists in science. First, however, before discussing the Second Law, we should define the First Law and, for that matter, thermodynamics itself.

Thermodynamics is a compound of two Greek words, therme ("heat") and dunamis ("power"). It is the science that speaks of the power or energy contained in heat, and its conversion to other forms of energy. The term "energy" is itself derived from the Greek word energeia ("working"), and is normally defined as "the capacity to do work." In modern scientific terminology, "energy" and "work" are considered equivalent, each measured as the product of a force times the distance through which it acts (foot-pounds, in the English system of dimensions). Something which has "energy" has the "capacity to do work" . that is, the capacity to exert a force through a distance."

The concept of "power" is closely related to that of "energy" except that the time factor must also be taken into account. Power is the work done, or the energy expended to do the work, per unit of time measured in foot-pounds per second.

The First Law of Thermodynamics

Since all processes are fundamentally energy conversion processes, and since everything that happens in the physical universe is a "process" of some kind, it is obvious why the Two Laws of Thermodynamics are recognized as the most universal and fundamental of all scientific laws. Everything that exists in the universe is some form of energy, and everything that happens is some form of energy conversion. Thus the Laws which govern energy and energy conversion are of paramount importance in understanding the world in which we live.

Isaac Asimov defines the First Law as follows:

Asimov makes a very interesting point when he says concerning this Law: "No one knows why energy is conserved." 4 He should have said, of course, that science cannot tell us why energy is neither created nor destroyed. The Bible, however, does give us this information.

The reason why no energy can now be created is because only God can create energy and because God has "rested from all His work which He created and made" (Genesis 2:3). The reason why energy cannot now be destroyed is because He is now "upholding all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

The Second Law in Classical Thermodynamics

The First Law is itself a strong witness against evolution, since it implies a basic condition of stability in the universe. The fundamental structure of the cosmos is one of conservation, not innovation. However, this fact in itself is not impressive to the evolutionist, as he merely assumes that the process of evolution takes place within the framework of energy conservation, never stopping to wonder where all the energy came from in the first place nor how it came to pass that the total energy was constant from then on.

It is the Second law, however, that wipes out the theory of evolution. There is a universal process of change, and it is a directional change, but it is not an upward change.

In so-called classical thermodynamics, the Second Law, like the First, is formulated in terms of energy.

In this case, entropy can be expressed mathematically in terms of the total irreversible flow of heat. It expresses quantitatively the amount of energy in an energy conversion process which becomes unavailable for further work. In order for work to be done, the available energy has to "flow" from a higher level to a lower level. When it reaches the lower level, the energy is still in existence, but no longer capable of doing work. Heat will naturally flow from a hot body to a cold body, but not from a cold body to a hot body.

For this reason, no process can be 100% efficient, with all of the available energy converted into work. Some must be deployed to overcome friction and will be degraded to non-recoverable heat energy, which will finally be radiated into space and dispersed. For the same reason a self-contained perpetual motion machine is an impossibility.

Since, as we have noted, everything in the physical universe is energy in some form and, since in every process some energy becomes unavailable, it is obvious that ultimately all energy in the universe will be unavailable energy, if present processes go on long enough. When that happens, presumably all the various forms of energy in the universe will have been gradually converted through a multiplicity of processes into uniformly (that is, randomly) dispersed heat energy. Everything will be at the same low temperature. There will be no "differential" of energy levels, therefore no "gradient" of energy to induce its flow. No more work can be done and the universe will reach what the physicists call its ultimate "heat death."

Thus, the Second Law proves, as certainly as science can prove anything whatever, that the universe had a beginning. Similarly, the First Law shows that the universe could not have begun itself. The total quantity of energy in the universe is a constant, but the quantity of available energy is decreasing. Therefore, as we go backward in time, the available energy would have been progressively greater until, finally, we would reach the beginning point, where available energy equaled total energy. Time could go back no further than this. At this point both energy and time must have come into existence. Since energy could not create itself, the most scientific and logical conclusion to which we could possibly come is that: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth."

The evolutionist will not accept this conclusion, however. He hypothesizes that either: (1) some natural law canceling out the Second Law prevailed far back in time, or (2) some. natural law canceling out the Second Law prevails far out in space.

When he makes such assumptions, however, he is denying his own theory, which says that all things can be explained in terms of presently observable laws and processes. He is really resorting to creationism, but refuses to acknowledge a Creator.

Entropy and Disorder

A second way of stating the entropy law is in terms of statistical thermodynamics. It is recognized today that not only are all scientific laws empirical but also that they are statistical. A great number of individual molecules, in a gas for example, may behave in such a way that the over-all aspects of that gas produce predictable patterns in the aggregate, even though individual molecules may deviate from the norm. Laws describing such behavior must be formulated statistically, or probabilistically, rather than strictly dynamically. The dynamical laws then can theoretically be deduced as limiting cases of the probabilistic statements.

In this context entropy is a probability function related to the degree of disorder in a system. The more disordered a system may be, the more likely it is.

Note again the universality expressed here&mdashall real processes. Isaac Asimov expresses this concept interestingly as follows:

Remember this tendency from order to disorder applies to all real processes. Real processes include, of course, biological and geological processes, as well as chemical and physical processes. The interesting question is: "How does a real biological process, which goes from order to disorder, result in evolution, which goes from disorder to order?" Perhaps the evolutionist can ultimately find an answer to this question, but he at least should not ignore it, as most evolutionists do.

Especially is such a question vital, when we are thinking of evolution as a growth process on the grand scale from atom to Adam and from particle to people. This represents an absolutely gigantic increase in order and complexity, and is clearly out of place altogether in the context of the Second Law.


Hypocrisy Watch: Jerry Coyne, Dr. Hedin’s Persecutor, Turns to Teaching Religion in the Science Classroom

Here’s a revealing bit of hypocrisy from Jerry Coyne, who instigated the affair that led to Ball State University’s gag order against intelligent design and the intimidation and silencing of physicist Eric Hedin. Coyne gave as one of his objections to Hedin’s seminar on the "Boundaries of Science" that it was taught at a public university. Hence Dr. Hedin’s offering a bibliography with books favorable to and critical of ID violated the First Amendment’s church-separation requirement.

Apart from that bogus challenge, BSU president Jo Ann Gora in her official condemnation, hailed by Coyne as a "victory," censured the introduction of "religious" subject matter in a science course, period. There was no indication that she would welcome it in a private university setting. In Ball State’s handing of the case, Hedin was also investigated for teaching "religion" despite being untrained in a relevant academic field.

But look. Now village atheist turned avocational persecutor Dr. Coyne himself has gone ahead and taught about religion in a Duke University science course — not an interdisciplinary one like Hedin’s, but a straight science class. That is despite the fact that he’s certainly untrained in religious studies. To the contrary, religion is a subject on which he regularly demonstrates himself to be blockheadedly uncomprehending.

I addressed, by Skype, an introductory evolution/genetics class taught by my ex-student (and now chair of biology at Duke) Mohamed Noor. They are reading my book and asked lots of questions. As usual, most of those questions were about the intersection of science and religion — students are really curious about that. Several students had also read ID books and asked me about Haeckel’s "fraud," as well as more conventional creationist questions about why evolution didn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (a softball!).

From a glance at the Duke course catalogue, he appears to be referring to “Biology 202L. Gateway to Biology: Genetics and Evolution.”

Duke is a private university, but consistency should have required that all of Coyne’s (and Gora’s) other problems with Hedin’s teaching apply no less to Coyne’s teaching in Dr. Noor’s class. In fact, they should be even more relevant since the class is not an interdisciplinary one. Recall that when Dr. Gora banned speech about ID at Ball State, she cited the supposed First Amendment concern collaterally, as what Coyne called an "added bonus." Her key point was that "Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate."

Or is it? Coyne instructed a course on "evolution/genetics" about what he himself terms "religion": specifically, "the intersection of science and religion," intelligent design, "creationist" challenges to evolution based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and no doubt more along the same lines.

In his mind, it is acceptable to teach about religion in a science class, so long as you are condemning it. It’s acceptable to teach about intelligent design, so long as you are condemning it. It’s acceptable to teach about "Haeckel’s ‘fraud,’" as long as you’re minimizing it. It’s acceptable to teach about challenges to Darwinian evolution based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, so long as you’re denying that the challenges have any force to them.

In other words, in teaching religion in science class, you’re OK so long as you stick to an approved script. Ironically, in another post, Coyne complains about scholars who speak from a text: "Why do some academics, especially in the humanities, insist on standing in front of an audience and reading from their manuscript?…There is simply no excuse for an academic reading a paper in public." But in today’s world of science teaching, if your subject matter takes you anywhere near intelligent design or the Darwin controversy, reading your lecture verbatim may be the safest course.

Later, if anyone charges that you committed a thought crime, uttering a sympathetic word about ID, you can produce the transcript to prove your innocence. (Though what if somebody claims you said something dangerous in an unscripted Q&A with students following your prepared remarks? A chill thought.)

Meanwhile, on a positive note, it’s good to see that biology students at Duke, an elite university, are so up on intelligent design, reading "ID books" and familiarizing themselves with critiques of evolutionary icons like Haeckel’s fraudulent embryo drawings. That’s a welcome confirmation of the scope of our impact, notwithstanding the efforts of Coyne, Gora, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and other censors.

UPDATE: For a special invitation to Dr. Noor’s students, see here.


Introduction

A common argument against evolution is that the theory contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics that claims disorder, or entropy, always increases or stays the same over time. This law has plenty of everyday examples. Buildings break down over time, and food spoils if not eaten soon enough. In both cases, the amount of disorder increases with time, but the opposite is never true. Buildings don’t strengthen themselves, and no amount of waiting will cause rotten food to become edible again. But because evolution results in an increase in the order and complexity of species—which is a decrease in entropy—some critics claim evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.


Abstract

This paper addresses a key issue confronting ecological and evolutionary biology, namely the challenge of a cohesive approach to these fields given significant differences in the concepts and foundations of their study. Yet these two areas of scientific research are paramount in terms addressing the spatial and temporal dynamics and distribution of diversity, an understanding of which is needed if we are to resolve the current crisis facing the biosphere. The importance of understanding how nature responds to change is now of essential rather than of metaphysical interest as our planet struggles with increasing anthropogenic damage. Ecology and evolutionary biology can no longer remain disjointed. While some progress has been made in terms of synthetic thinking across these areas, this has often been in terms of bridge building, where thinking in one aspect is extended over to the other side. We review these bridges and the success or otherwise of such efforts. This paper then suggests that in order to move from a descriptive to a mechanistic understanding of the biosphere, we may need to re-evaluate our approach to the studies of ecology and evolutionary biology, finding a common denominator that will enable us to address the critical issues facing us, particularly in terms of understanding what drives change, what determines tempo and how communities function. Common ground, we argue, is essential if we are to comprehend how resilience operates in the natural world and how diversification can counter increasing extinction rates. This paper suggests that thermodynamics may provide a bridge between ecology and evolutionary biology, and that this will enable us to move forward with otherwise intractable problems.


EVENTS

Why is it always 10 questions? Couldn’t they just ask one really good question? I’d prefer that to these flibbertigibbet deluges of piddling pointlessnesses that the creationists want to fling at us. I think it’s because they want to make sure no one spends too much time showing how silly each individual question is.

A few years ago, Jonathan Wells came up with his 10 questions to ask your biology teacher &mdash they were largely drawn from his book, Icons of Evolution, and they were awful &mdash they were only difficult to answer if you knew nothing of the science and accepted the dishonest pseudoscience Well presented as “scholarship”. NCSE has all the answers you need I think they hoped to stump a few school teachers here and there by feeding students with a collection of questions the students wouldn’t understand, but that might hit a few gaps in the teacher’s knowledge.

Now Dembski and some guy named Sean McDowell have a new list of Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design. Once again, it’s mislead-and-confuse time.

1. Design Detection
If nature, or some aspect of it, is intelligently designed, how could we tell?

Design inferences in the past were largely informal and intuitive. Usually people knew it when they saw it. Intelligent design, by introducing specified complexity, makes the detection of design rigorous. Something is complex if it is hard to reproduce by chance and specified if it matches an independently given pattern (an example is the faces on Mt. Rushmore). Specified complexity gives a precise criterion for reliably inferring intelligence.

OK, so? Give me an independently specified pattern created by intelligent design to match against, say, a beetle. I can compare Lincoln’s face on Rushmore to photos, paintings, and death casts of the real person’s face, and can say that there’s sufficient similarity on all details to rule out the possibility that Rushmore is a natural accident. Where’s the design template for Odontolabis femoralis?

2. Looking for Design in Biology
Should biologists be encouraged to look for signs of intelligence in biological systems? Why or why not?

Scientists today look for signs of intelligence coming in many places, including from distant space (consider SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Yet, many biologists regard it as illegitimate to look for signs of intelligence in biological systems. Why arbitrarily exclude design inferences from biology if we accept them for other scientific disciplines? It is an open question whether the apparent design in nature is real.

Nobody says you can’t look for signs of design in biological systems so do it already, creationists! Of course, you have yet to explain where you’re going to find that independently given pattern that specifies Odontolabis femoralis. You haven’t even explained yet what artificial/design mechanisms were used in the construction of that beetle. The natural explanation has the advantage that it only postulates mechanisms that we’ve seen to operate we don’t have to imagine a magical gene lathe operated by an invisible man.

I wouldn’t encourage a grad student to waste his time looking for design in biology because the concept is so vaguely defined and so malformed to be useless. Productive science is about getting results, and I don’t see any path given to generate useful data from this design hypothesis.

3. The Rules of Science
Who determines the rules of science? Are these rules written in stone? Is it mandatory that scientific explanations only appeal to matter and energy operating by unbroken natural laws (a principle known as methodological naturalism)?

The rules of science are not written in stone. They have been negotiated over many centuries as science (formerly called “natural philosophy”) has tried to understand the natural world. These rules have changed in the past and they will change in the future. Right now much of the scientific community is bewitched by a view of science called methodological naturalism, which says that science may only offer naturalistic explanations. Science seeks to understand nature. If intelligent causes operate in nature, then methodological naturalism must not be used to rule them out.

Who? Man, these guys have got intent and agency etched deep into their brain, don’t they?

The rules of science are entirely pragmatic &mdash we do what works, defined as a process that produces explanations that allow us to push deeper and deeper into a problem. That’s all we care about. Show us a tool that actually generates new insights into biology, rather than recycling tired theological notions, and some scientist somewhere will use it. We’re still waiting for one.

I am amused by the use of the word ‘bewitched’ to categorize people who don’t invoke magical ad hoc explanations built around undetectable supernatural entities, however.

4. Biology’s Information Problem
How do we account for the complex information-rich patterns in biological systems? What is the source of that information?

The central problem for biology is information. Living things are not mere lumps of matter. Life is special, and what makes life special is the arrangement of its matter into very specific forms. In other words, what makes life special is information. Where did the information necessary for life come from? Where did the information necessary for the Cambrian explosion come from? How can a blind material process generate the novel information of biological systems? ID argues that such information has an intelligent source.

We know that chance and selection can generate information. This is not a problem at all.

ID can argue that Bozo the Clown put the information there. It doesn’t make it true.

5. Molecular Machines
Do any structures in the cell resemble machines designed by humans? How do we account for such structures?

The biological world is full of molecular machines that are strikingly similar to humanly made machines. In fact, they are more than similar. Just about every engineering principle that we employ in our own machines gets used at the molecular level, with this exception: the technology inside the cell vastly exceeds human technology. How, then, do biologists explain the origin of such structures? How can a blind material process generate the multiple coordinated changes needed to build a molecular machine? If we see a level of engineering inside the cell that far surpasses our own abilities, it is reasonable to conclude that these molecular machines are actually, and not merely apparently, designed.

No, the molecules in cells do not resemble human-made machines, except in the sense that they use the forces of physics and chemistry to do work. I notice that our own machines do not require supernatural forces to explain them why should cellular machinery demand them?

Notice the sleight of hand there: they say we see a “level of engineering” in cells, therefore they are designed. They beg the question. Cells are not engineered. We have an alternative explanation, that they are evolved, which does not require conjuring up unknown forces.

6. Irreducible Complexity
What are irreducibly complex systems? Do such systems exist in biology? If so, are those systems evidence for design? If not, why not?

The biological world is full of functioning molecular systems that cannot be simplified without losing the system’s function. Take away parts and the system’s function cannot be recovered. Such systems are called irreducibly complex. How do evolutionary theorists propose to account for such systems? What detailed, testable, step-by-step proposals explain the emergence of irreducibly complex machines such as the flagellum? Given that intelligence is known to design such systems, it is a reasonable inference to conclude that they were designed.

“Irreducibly complex” systems exist in biology. The catch is that they can be easily generated by natural processes, and IC does not imply intent or design. We explain complex organelles like the flagellum by looking in the cell for related structures that show potential paths to the structure we know of natural processes, like gene duplication, cooption and exaptation, and coevolution that can produce features that exhibit irreducible complexity in the final state.

That last sentence is a classic non sequitur. We know that human beings build penis-shaped objects that does not imply that Bill Dembski’s penis is made of silicone and has an on-off switch, let alone that someone made it in an injection-molding machine.

7. Similar Structures
Human designers reuse designs that work well. Life forms also reuse certain structures (the camera eye, for example, appears in humans and octopuses). How well does this evidence support Darwinian evolution? Does it support intelligent design more strongly?

Evolutionary biologists attribute similar biological structures to either common descent or convergence. Structures are said to result from convergence if they evolved independently from distinct lines of organisms. Darwinian explanations of convergence strain credulity because they must account for how trial-and-error tinkering (natural selection acting on random variations) could produce strikingly similar structures in widely different organisms and environments. It’s one thing for evolution to explain similarity by common descent–the same structure is then just carried along in different lineages. It’s another to explain it as the result of blind tinkering that happened to hit on the same structure multiple times. Design proponents attribute such similar structures to common design (just as an engineer may use the same parts in different machines). If human designers frequently reuse successful designs, the designer of nature can surely do the same.

Camera eyes evolved independently multiple times because there are a limited number of ways to build an image-forming light-detection device. An eyeball with a light-sensitive sheet on the back (a retina) and a lens in front is a natural way to do it. When we look at the octopus and human eye, though, we also see a host of differences: the octopus eye has a more efficient retina that puts the light collectors at the front of the light path, and instead of channeling all the outputs from the photoreceptors into a single point that creates a blind spot, the output neurons project in a diffuse array out the back of the eyeball.

They also use different molecular pathways to generate a response &mdash we have ciliary photoreceptors, they have rhabdomeric photoreceptors. Why, it looks as if both lineages have been carrying out blind tinkering to produce something functional, and the there are deep differences under the superficial similarities!

So, why didn’t the designer use similar eyeball modules in humans and octopuses? You don’t get to argue that the designer used the engineering principle of recycling similar modules in different lineages while ignoring the fact that there are substantial differences between those two kinds of eyes.

8. Fine-Tuning
The laws of physics are fine-tuned to allow life to exist. Since designers are capable of fine-tuning a system, can design be considered the best explanation for the universe?

Physicists agree that the constants of nature have a strange thing in common: they seem precisely calibrated for the existence of life. As Frederick Hoyle famously remarked, it appears that someone has “monkeyed” with physics. Naturalistic explanations that attempt to account for this eerie fine-tuning invariably introduce entities for which there is no independent evidence (for example, they invoke multiple worlds with which we have no physical way of interacting). The fine-tuning of the universe strongly suggests that it was intelligently designed.

Oh, please. I’d be more impressed if the constants of nature were not calibrated for the existence of life, and we were here anyway. Now that would be eerie. That the universe has laws that are consistent with our existence does not in any way imply that it was designed.

9. The Privileged Planet
The Earth seems ideally positioned in our galaxy for complex life to exist and for scientific discovery to advance. Does this privileged status of Earth indicate intelligent design? Why or why not?

Many factors had to come together on earth for human life to exist (chapter 9). We exist in just the right place in just the right type of galaxy at just the right cosmic moment. We orbit the right type of star at the right distance for life. The earth has large surrounding planets to protect us from comets, a moon to direct important life-permitting cycles, and an iron core that protects us from harmful radiation. Moreover, the earth has many features that facilitate scientific discovery, such as a moon that makes possible perfect eclipses. Humans seem ideally situated on the earth to make scientific discoveries. This suggests that a designer designed our place in the world so that we can understand the world’s design. Naturalism, by contrast, leaves it a complete mystery why we should be able to do science and gain insight into the underlying structure of the world.

Isn’t this the same concept as ‘problem’ 9? We belong to a scientific/technological society it is unsurprising that we live on a world in which that is possible. Again, I’d be more baffled if the features of this planet conspired against scientific discovery, but we made them anyway.

10. The Origin of the Universe
The universe gives every indication of having a beginning. Since something cannot come from nothing, is it legitimate to conclude that a designer made the universe? If not, why not?

For most of world history, scientists believed the universe was eternal. With advances in our understanding of cosmology over the last forty years, however, scientists now recognize that the universe had a beginning and is finite in duration and size. In other words, the universe has not always been there. Since the universe had a beginning, why not conclude that it had a designer that brought it into existence? Since matter, space, and time themselves had a beginning, this would suggest that the universe had a non-physical, non-spatial, and non-temporal cause. A designer in the mold of the Christian God certainly fits the bill.

Question begging again? Is this the only trick they know?

How do you know that something cannot come from nothing? Here, take an hour, and a physicist will explain that you can get a universe from nothing. Physics is stranger than creationists can imagine, and it’s always irritating to see incompetent ignoramuses like Dembski and McDowell think they can bamboozle us by invoking a physics they don’t understand.

(I showed this video before, so it may be familiar to you.)

The Christian god was a god-man who had a distinct and transient anthropoid form. I don’t see how the origin of the universe in some kind of quantum foam points to a dead Hebrew rabbi.

Ho-hum. Another collection of bad questions that assume what they intend to demonstrate, and another uninteresting exercise in tired apologetics from the Discovery Institute con artists.


Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design

Why is it always 10 questions? Couldn't they just ask one really good question? I'd prefer that to these flibbertigibbet deluges of piddling pointlessnesses that the creationists want to fling at us. I think it's because they want to make sure no one spends too much time showing how silly each individual question is.

A few years ago, Jonathan Wells came up with his 10 questions to ask your biology teacher — they were largely drawn from his book, Icons of Evolution, and they were awful — they were only difficult to answer if you knew nothing of the science and accepted the dishonest pseudoscience Well presented as "scholarship". NCSE has all the answers you need I think they hoped to stump a few school teachers here and there by feeding students with a collection of questions the students wouldn't understand, but that might hit a few gaps in the teacher's knowledge.

Now Dembski and some guy named Sean McDowell have a new list of Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design. Once again, it's mislead-and-confuse time.

1. Design Detection
If nature, or some aspect of it, is intelligently designed, how could we tell?

Design inferences in the past were largely informal and intuitive. Usually people knew it when they saw it. Intelligent design, by introducing specified complexity, makes the detection of design rigorous. Something is complex if it is hard to reproduce by chance and specified if it matches an independently given pattern (an example is the faces on Mt. Rushmore). Specified complexity gives a precise criterion for reliably inferring intelligence.

OK, so? Give me an independently specified pattern created by intelligent design to match against, say, a beetle. I can compare Lincoln's face on Rushmore to photos, paintings, and death casts of the real person's face, and can say that there's sufficient similarity on all details to rule out the possibility that Rushmore is a natural accident. Where's the design template for Odontolabis femoralis?

2. Looking for Design in Biology
Should biologists be encouraged to look for signs of intelligence in biological systems? Why or why not?

Scientists today look for signs of intelligence coming in many places, including from distant space (consider SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Yet, many biologists regard it as illegitimate to look for signs of intelligence in biological systems. Why arbitrarily exclude design inferences from biology if we accept them for other scientific disciplines? It is an open question whether the apparent design in nature is real.

Nobody says you can't look for signs of design in biological systems so do it already, creationists! Of course, you have yet to explain where you're going to find that independently given pattern that specifies Odontolabis femoralis. You haven't even explained yet what artificial/design mechanisms were used in the construction of that beetle. The natural explanation has the advantage that it only postulates mechanisms that we've seen to operate we don't have to imagine a magical gene lathe operated by an invisible man.

I wouldn't encourage a grad student to waste his time looking for design in biology because the concept is so vaguely defined and so malformed to be useless. Productive science is about getting results, and I don't see any path given to generate useful data from this design hypothesis.

3. The Rules of Science
Who determines the rules of science? Are these rules written in stone? Is it mandatory that scientific explanations only appeal to matter and energy operating by unbroken natural laws (a principle known as methodological naturalism)?

The rules of science are not written in stone. They have been negotiated over many centuries as science (formerly called "natural philosophy") has tried to understand the natural world. These rules have changed in the past and they will change in the future. Right now much of the scientific community is bewitched by a view of science called methodological naturalism, which says that science may only offer naturalistic explanations. Science seeks to understand nature. If intelligent causes operate in nature, then methodological naturalism must not be used to rule them out.

Who? Man, these guys have got intent and agency etched deep into their brain, don't they?

The rules of science are entirely pragmatic — we do what works, defined as a process that produces explanations that allow us to push deeper and deeper into a problem. That's all we care about. Show us a tool that actually generates new insights into biology, rather than recycling tired theological notions, and some scientist somewhere will use it. We're still waiting for one.

I am amused by the use of the word 'bewitched' to categorize people who don't invoke magical ad hoc explanations built around undetectable supernatural entities, however.

4. Biology's Information Problem
How do we account for the complex information-rich patterns in biological systems? What is the source of that information?

The central problem for biology is information. Living things are not mere lumps of matter. Life is special, and what makes life special is the arrangement of its matter into very specific forms. In other words, what makes life special is information. Where did the information necessary for life come from? Where did the information necessary for the Cambrian explosion come from? How can a blind material process generate the novel information of biological systems? ID argues that such information has an intelligent source.

We know that chance and selection can generate information. This is not a problem at all.

ID can argue that Bozo the Clown put the information there. It doesn't make it true.

5. Molecular Machines
Do any structures in the cell resemble machines designed by humans? How do we account for such structures?

The biological world is full of molecular machines that are strikingly similar to humanly made machines. In fact, they are more than similar. Just about every engineering principle that we employ in our own machines gets used at the molecular level, with this exception: the technology inside the cell vastly exceeds human technology. How, then, do biologists explain the origin of such structures? How can a blind material process generate the multiple coordinated changes needed to build a molecular machine? If we see a level of engineering inside the cell that far surpasses our own abilities, it is reasonable to conclude that these molecular machines are actually, and not merely apparently, designed.

No, the molecules in cells do not resemble human-made machines, except in the sense that they use the forces of physics and chemistry to do work. I notice that our own machines do not require supernatural forces to explain them why should cellular machinery demand them?

Notice the sleight of hand there: they say we see a "level of engineering" in cells, therefore they are designed. They beg the question. Cells are not engineered. We have an alternative explanation, that they are evolved, which does not require conjuring up unknown forces.

6. Irreducible Complexity
What are irreducibly complex systems? Do such systems exist in biology? If so, are those systems evidence for design? If not, why not?

The biological world is full of functioning molecular systems that cannot be simplified without losing the system's function. Take away parts and the system's function cannot be recovered. Such systems are called irreducibly complex. How do evolutionary theorists propose to account for such systems? What detailed, testable, step-by-step proposals explain the emergence of irreducibly complex machines such as the flagellum? Given that intelligence is known to design such systems, it is a reasonable inference to conclude that they were designed.

"Irreducibly complex" systems exist in biology. The catch is that they can be easily generated by natural processes, and IC does not imply intent or design. We explain complex organelles like the flagellum by looking in the cell for related structures that show potential paths to the structure we know of natural processes, like gene duplication, cooption and exaptation, and coevolution that can produce features that exhibit irreducible complexity in the final state.

That last sentence is a classic non sequitur. We know that human beings build penis-shaped objects that does not imply that Bill Dembski's penis is made of silicone and has an on-off switch, let alone that someone made it in an injection-molding machine.

7. Similar Structures
Human designers reuse designs that work well. Life forms also reuse certain structures (the camera eye, for example, appears in humans and octopuses). How well does this evidence support Darwinian evolution? Does it support intelligent design more strongly?

Evolutionary biologists attribute similar biological structures to either common descent or convergence. Structures are said to result from convergence if they evolved independently from distinct lines of organisms. Darwinian explanations of convergence strain credulity because they must account for how trial-and-error tinkering (natural selection acting on random variations) could produce strikingly similar structures in widely different organisms and environments. It's one thing for evolution to explain similarity by common descent--the same structure is then just carried along in different lineages. It's another to explain it as the result of blind tinkering that happened to hit on the same structure multiple times. Design proponents attribute such similar structures to common design (just as an engineer may use the same parts in different machines). If human designers frequently reuse successful designs, the designer of nature can surely do the same.

Camera eyes evolved independently multiple times because there are a limited number of ways to build an image-forming light-detection device. An eyeball with a light-sensitive sheet on the back (a retina) and a lens in front is a natural way to do it. When we look at the octopus and human eye, though, we also see a host of differences: the octopus eye has a more efficient retina that puts the light collectors at the front of the light path, and instead of channeling all the outputs from the photoreceptors into a single point that creates a blind spot, the output neurons project in a diffuse array out the back of the eyeball.

They also use different molecular pathways to generate a response — we have ciliary photoreceptors, they have rhabdomeric photoreceptors. Why, it looks as if both lineages have been carrying out blind tinkering to produce something functional, and the there are deep differences under the superficial similarities!

So, why didn't the designer use similar eyeball modules in humans and octopuses? You don't get to argue that the designer used the engineering principle of recycling similar modules in different lineages while ignoring the fact that there are substantial differences between those two kinds of eyes.

8. Fine-Tuning
The laws of physics are fine-tuned to allow life to exist. Since designers are capable of fine-tuning a system, can design be considered the best explanation for the universe?

Physicists agree that the constants of nature have a strange thing in common: they seem precisely calibrated for the existence of life. As Frederick Hoyle famously remarked, it appears that someone has "monkeyed" with physics. Naturalistic explanations that attempt to account for this eerie fine-tuning invariably introduce entities for which there is no independent evidence (for example, they invoke multiple worlds with which we have no physical way of interacting). The fine-tuning of the universe strongly suggests that it was intelligently designed.

Oh, please. I'd be more impressed if the constants of nature were not calibrated for the existence of life, and we were here anyway. Now that would be eerie. That the universe has laws that are consistent with our existence does not in any way imply that it was designed.

9. The Privileged Planet
The Earth seems ideally positioned in our galaxy for complex life to exist and for scientific discovery to advance. Does this privileged status of Earth indicate intelligent design? Why or why not?

Many factors had to come together on earth for human life to exist (chapter 9). We exist in just the right place in just the right type of galaxy at just the right cosmic moment. We orbit the right type of star at the right distance for life. The earth has large surrounding planets to protect us from comets, a moon to direct important life-permitting cycles, and an iron core that protects us from harmful radiation. Moreover, the earth has many features that facilitate scientific discovery, such as a moon that makes possible perfect eclipses. Humans seem ideally situated on the earth to make scientific discoveries. This suggests that a designer designed our place in the world so that we can understand the world's design. Naturalism, by contrast, leaves it a complete mystery why we should be able to do science and gain insight into the underlying structure of the world.

Isn't this the same concept as 'problem' 9? We belong to a scientific/technological society it is unsurprising that we live on a world in which that is possible. Again, I'd be more baffled if the features of this planet conspired against scientific discovery, but we made them anyway.

10. The Origin of the Universe
The universe gives every indication of having a beginning. Since something cannot come from nothing, is it legitimate to conclude that a designer made the universe? If not, why not?

For most of world history, scientists believed the universe was eternal. With advances in our understanding of cosmology over the last forty years, however, scientists now recognize that the universe had a beginning and is finite in duration and size. In other words, the universe has not always been there. Since the universe had a beginning, why not conclude that it had a designer that brought it into existence? Since matter, space, and time themselves had a beginning, this would suggest that the universe had a non-physical, non-spatial, and non-temporal cause. A designer in the mold of the Christian God certainly fits the bill.

Question begging again? Is this the only trick they know?

How do you know that something cannot come from nothing? Here, take an hour, and a physicist will explain that you can get a universe from nothing. Physics is stranger than creationists can imagine, and it's always irritating to see incompetent ignoramuses like Dembski and McDowell think they can bamboozle us by invoking a physics they don't understand.

(I showed this video before, so it may be familiar to you.)

The Christian god was a god-man who had a distinct and transient anthropoid form. I don't see how the origin of the universe in some kind of quantum foam points to a dead Hebrew rabbi.

Ho-hum. Another collection of bad questions that assume what they intend to demonstrate, and another uninteresting exercise in tired apologetics from the Discovery Institute con artists.


Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics Favor Evolution?

The second law of thermodynamics has long been a topic of discussion in the evolution/creation debate. What is the second law of thermodynamics? Let us start with the first law of thermodynamics—that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. While the total amount of energy is conserved, energy can be transferred and converted into different forms. We observe that in these changes, energy becomes less useful to us. To quantify this observation, physicists define a term, entropy, to describe how un-useful energy is. Thermodynamic entropy is defined by energy divided by temperature, expressed on an absolute scale. The preferred unit of energy is the Joule (J), and the preferred absolute temperature scale is Kelvin (K), so entropy is properly expressed in J/K. The second law of thermodynamics can be stated a number of different ways. The simplest form is that entropy never decreases. We normally use the letter S to represent entropy, and the Greek letter ∆ to represent a change, so mathematically we express the second law of thermodynamics as ∆S ≥ 0.

This expression shows that, while entropy can be increased, it cannot be decreased. This peculiarity introduces an asymmetry that makes the second law of thermodynamics fundamentally different from the first law, and from many other laws of physics. While other physical laws permit changes that can go either way in time, the second law works only one way. Any process that follows other physical laws is permitted, as long as entropy does not decrease. Thus, the second law imposes a direction to time, so some physicists and philosophers refer to the second law of thermodynamics as time’s arrow.

Technically, the second law of thermodynamics applies to the universe as a whole. The entropy of the universe cannot decrease, though it may increase, and it often does. Thus, the universe has an ever-increasing entropy burden. If the universe were eternal, the universe would have had more than ample time to have reached a state of maximum entropy. We observe that the universe is far from a state of maximum entropy, so the universe cannot be eternal. This point is significant, because until about a half century ago, many scientists thought that the universe was eternal, despite this clear indication by the second law of thermodynamics to the contrary.

While the second law of thermodynamics applies to the universe as a whole, we also can apply the second law to subsystems of the universe. We usually call a subsystem of the universe a system. A system can absorb energy from other parts of the universe so that thermodynamic entropy decreases. How is this possible? The entropy changes of surrounding systems that donate the energy to the system in question have corresponding increases in entropy that more than offset the entropy decrease. For instance, consider two objects that have different temperatures. If we bring these two objects into thermal contact so that they exchange heat, we find that heat (a form of energy) flows from the hotter to the cooler object until the two objects are at the same temperature. At this point, heat flow ceases. The initially cooler object absorbs energy, so it experiences a positive heat flow. We use the letter Q to denote heat, so we express its heat flow as ∆Q. Since the initially hotter object supplies the heat for this transfer, it experiences a -∆Q heat flow. That is, the heat flows of the two objects are opposite and equal. This is a consequence of the first law of thermodynamics.

However, the entropy changes of the two objects will not be opposite and equal. Let TH be the temperature of the initially hotter object and TC be the temperature of the initially cooler object. Both TH and TC continually change in a complex way until both are equal. Entropy is the heat flow divided by temperature, so at each moment the entropy change of the hotter object will be ∆SH = -∆Q/TH, while the entropy change of the cooler object will be ∆SC = ∆Q/TC. These two quantities are complex functions of time, but the numerators will be the same at each instant. Note that ∆SH always will be negative, while ∆SC always will be positive. Furthermore, TH always will be greater than TC, so |∆SH| always will be less than |∆SC|, so that the sum of the entropy change will be positive. Always. This is why we observe that heat always flows from hotter to cooler and not the other way around. If heat were to flow from cooler to hotter, that would produce a decrease in entropy, a violation of the second law of thermodynamics.

As mentioned earlier, the second law of thermodynamics can be expressed many different ways. We do not have time to discuss most of these, but it is important to discuss one. An important manifestation of entropy is that it measures the amount of disorder. Since entropy continually increases, or at least cannot decrease, it follows that disorder must increase, or at least not decrease. If disorder cannot decrease, then order cannot increase. It is this version of the second law of thermodynamics that leads to discussion of the naturalistic origin of life and biological evolution. Living organisms obviously are highly ordered systems, far more ordered than non-living things. The naturalistic origin of life would require that non-living things gave rise to living things, which would amount to an increase in order and thus would appear to violate the second law of thermodynamics. Furthermore, biological evolution would be the development of life over time, which involves increasing order, which also appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics.

Evolutionists have offered various theories of how the naturalistic origin and development of life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. One approach is to note that the second law of thermodynamics applies only to isolated systems. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy with its surroundings. A closed system exchanges energy but not matter with its surroundings. An open system exchanges both matter and energy with its surroundings. Living things are continually exchanging both energy and matter with their surroundings, so they clearly are open systems or occasionally closed systems, but are not isolated systems. However, merely being an open system does not automatically mean that entropy decreases. Life depends upon a huge number of complex biochemical reactions continually operating. These biochemical reactions operate opposite to the direction that they would naturally proceed. That is, living things synthesize simpler molecules into more complex ones. The inputs are matter (the less complex molecules) and energy (required to bond the more complex molecules), which is why living things are open systems. However, these inputs are insufficient in themselves to circumvent the second law of thermodynamics. The direction of the chemical reactions normally is decay from the more complex to simpler molecules, the opposite of what living things require to exist. How do they do this? Living things have complex machinery in the form of organelles (within cells) and structures such as tissue, organs, and systems (in the case of multi-celled organisms that convert matter and energy into the complex molecules required for life). Ultimately, the construction and operation of these machines is regulated by DNA, also included within cells. Both the physical machinery and the coded instructions represented a tremendous amount of order within living things. Some people call this order information. How could this order or information come about naturally?

The physical chemist Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003) wrote extensively on dissipative structures as a mechanism that he thought would bring about self-organization. Dissipative structures (a term coined by Prigogine) refers to structures that that can come about when an environment is far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Self-organization describes an orderly arrangement that occasionally appears to arise in matter spontaneously. A crystal is the best example of this. For instance, salt dissolved in water can form into crystals, an orderly array of units of sodium chloride. However, there are at least two problems with this analogy to living things. First, the salt + water system is an open system. It can and does exchange energy and matter with its surroundings in order to precipitate salt crystals. That is, salt crystals do not spontaneously form from a salt water solution. Second, crystals are simply ordered sequences which contain very little actual information. Salt crystals lack specified complexity, i.e., their structure is caused by the properties of their constituent parts and not imposed by some outside intelligent process as is the case for living organisms.

Nevertheless, Prigogine and others have argued that materials that formed into the first living things somehow organized themselves this way, though it is not clear at all how, given that these materials do not form ionic bonds as crystals do. Furthermore, any simple structures that might occasionally form small ordered regions fall many orders of magnitude short of the complexity required for any form of life. Evolutionists argue that selective effects, such as those that supposedly drive evolution , could preserve and accumulate this order until finally life came about. However, even crystals that form out of solution, such as salt, cease to produce any more order once they form. If anything, once crystals form, they accumulate defects in their crystal structure, which is less ordered and hence follows the second law of thermodynamics. That is, even open systems generally follow the second law of thermodynamics. To expect that life somehow developed from this is a gross extrapolation. Despite this, Prigogine received the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on this.

In similar manner, evolutionists propose that once enough order arose to allow for DNA and the machinery of cells, further random changes led to increased order. Again, the appeal is made to the magic of open systems. But merely being an open system in not sufficient to contradict the second law of thermodynamics. The moment after a living thing dies, the machinery and coded instructions still remain. Furthermore, a just-deceased organism is capable of exchanging matter and energy with its surroundings, making it still an open system. However, the indescribable spark of life is absent, and the machinery no longer works. The chemical reactions go in the direction that will re-establish thermodynamic equilibrium, and the molecules become less complex, not more complex. Given this, the appeal to an open system to rescue the day for evolution is not demonstrated and amounts to hand-waving and gross extrapolation.

Unfortunately, not all discussions of the second law of thermodynamics and biological evolution from a creation perspective have been as well thought out and presented as they ought to have been. Hence, both sides have committed some errors. The problem for creationists is that we have yet to generate a rigorously formulated entropy-based hypothesis that clearly shows that life cannot arise through natural undirected processes. However, evolutionists generally have failed to produce a reasonable argument which agrees with observation that the second law of thermodynamics does not prohibit evolution .


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