Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bill Dembski, Isaac Asimov, and The Second Law of Thermodynamics

According to Bill Dembski, "The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics has never been a friend of materialistic evolution." [Granville Sewell on the 2nd Law]. His authority for such a ridiculous statement is none other than Granville Sewell, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas, El Paso. Biochemists have never had a problem with the 2nd law or evolution.

This is a good time to remind people of a famous quotation by Isaac Asimov—a biochemist— from his 1981 essay, The “Threat” of Creationism.
Creationists have learned enough scientific terminology to use it in their attempts to disprove evolution. They do this in numerous ways, but the most common example, at least in the mail I receive is the repeated assertion that the second law of thermodynamics demonstrates the evolutionary process to be impossible.

In kindergarten terms, the second law of thermodynamics says that all spontaneous change is in the direction of increasing disorder—that is, in a "downhill" direction. There can be no spontaneous buildup of the complex from the simple, therefore, because that would be moving "uphill." According to the creationists argument, since, by the evolutionary process, complex forms of life evolve from simple forms, that process defies the second law, so creationism must be true.

Such an argument implies that this clearly visible fallacy is somehow invisible to scientists, who must therefore be flying in the face of the second law through sheer perversity. Scientists, however, do know about the second law and they are not blind. It's just that an argument based on kindergarten terms is suitable only for kindergartens. [my emphasis - LAM]


  1. Asimov wrote a famous short story about a big-time violation of the second law of thermodynamics.
    I've always enjoyed this one.

  2. snowflakes form, don't they? And yes, a "ram pump" can make water run uphill without any outside mechanical engine.

  3. The irony of course is that God is the ultimate violator of the 2nd law. But don't let that stop you, Dumbski!

  4. The irony of course is that God is the ultimate violator of the 2nd law. But don't let that stop you, Dumbski! Don't forget the first law! Any interaction between an immaterial being or soul and matter such as your body (mind/body problem) violates the 1st law of thermodynamics because 'new' energy enters the closed system of the universe. How something that isn't energy such as a immaterial mind can generate energy to interact with the body can be explained must be a put down to a miracle I suspect. Every banal thought that's lead me to move a digit or scratch or stretch is therefore a miracle. Lot's of them happening then, guess miracles aren't so uncommon.

  5. It would be interesting to see the world through 'entropy goggles(TM)'

    I'm not a physicist so I'm guessing... but presumably the sun would still look very bright. The air would twinkle with thermal disorder. People would appear quite a bit dimmer because there is a great deal of order being maintained (at least in the short term). A time lapse sequence of a fertilised egg growing into an adult would look like a growing blot of darkness - but presumably surrounded by a halo (oh the irony!) of brightness as order is abstracted from food leaving greater 'waste' entropy.

    Now extend the time lapse photography to a species....

    Want to borrow my entropy specs Dr. Dr. Dembski?

  6. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. It can convince you that an argument this idiotic and this sloppy is actually profound. It can convince you to publicly make a raging jackass out of yourself, by rambling on and on, based on a stupid misunderstanding of a simplified, informal, intuitive description of something complex. -- Mark Chu-Carroll

  7. Probably Bill Dembski forgot that there is zero law (temperature principle) which, I guess, stimulate the process of biological evolution.

  8. Meanwhile, I hate the description of the second law as having something to do with "disorder" (whatever that is). While an increase in entropy may correlate with things that to the human aesthetic seem "untidy," a messy room or a shuffled deck of cards has no more entropy than neat versions of the same, yet these examples are often used to explain entropy. "Energy dispersal" is a much better metaphor.