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Sunday, February 26, 2012

A "Simple" Argument for Intelligent Design Creationism

Once again, it's time to remind people of a famous quotation by Isaac Asimov—a biochemist— from his 1981 essay, The “Threat” of Creationism [see Bill Dembski, Isaac Asimov, and The Second Law of Thermodynamics].
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]
Now, let's look at this video from: Are You Looking for the Simplest and Clearest Argument for Intelligent Design?]. Keep in mind that one definition of a "simple" argument is one that is suitable for kindergarten students (and IDiots).

This video was posted on the leading IDiot blog Evolution News & Views. It tells us a lot about the quality of their science and their commitment to truth.


  1. "Adding comments has been disabled for this video."

    As is pretty much the case on every creationist video.

  2. Also: I think it's funny that creationists go through such lengths to talk about how spectacularly designed the universe is for life, and then attempt to argue that the laws of the universe had to be violated in order for life to come about. Apparently they don't think the universe is *that* well designed.

  3. Sewell is correct in a limited sense. Hes correct that biologists are wrong when they claim evolution doesnt violate the 2nd law because the earth is an open system. As I recall he says that if thats valid it should apply to closed systems as well. Hes wrong because complexity CAN increase in closed systems, at least until the internal energy is used up. The characterization of entropy as order/disorder is a simplification from 1st year chemisty classes.


    1. "biologists are wrong when they claim evolution doesnt violate the 2nd law because the earth is an open system"

      Nope. The 2nd law states that in any closed system, natural processes have dS > 0. If the system is not closed, one simply cannot make any statement about dS. See e.g.

      [...] in any closed system whose volume and internal energy are fixed the entropy S tends to a maximum, and when this is achieved all change ceases and the system is in equilibrium. (J.S. Dugdale - Entropy and Its Physical Meaning, Taylor & Francis, 1996)

      The commonly used statement of the law of increase of entropy is: "If a closed system is in a configuration that is not the equilibrium configuration, the most probable consequence will be that the entropy of the system will increase monotonically in successive instants of time". (C. Kittel, H. Kroemer - Thermal Physics, W.H .Freeman, 1980)

      So any claim about evolution of biological systems violating the 2nd law is fundamentally senseless since any organism on Earth (and the Earth itself, by the same token) is an open system.

    2. Yes, you CAN make statements about entropy in open systems. All you need to do is to account for the entropy associated with the energy being input into, AND EMITTED FROM, the system.

      Sewell knows this. He puts it (in his paper, linked at the YouTube site) as the entropy "imported across the boundary." What he doesn't realize is that the enormous magnitude of the increase of entropy of the universe associated with EMISSION of radiation from the earth completely overwhelms the purported entropy decrease due to living beings.

      (Mathematical details available here:

      The more fundamental problem, though, is that no one has EVER shown that life process DO decrease entropy. Accounting for the entropy associated with bodily emissions (exhaling, defecating, etc.) would, I'm pretty sure, more than compensate for any decrease of entropy associated with growth, reproduction, and evolution. If such things even can be quantified, which I doubt.

      tl;dr: Don't use the argument that "entropy doesn't apply to open systems." It's wrong.

    3. "Don't use the argument that "entropy doesn't apply to open systems." It's wrong."

      The entropy is a function of state of a system and can be happily defined for any kind of system (open or closed) if you can think of it at least as mentally separated from the outer universe (up to some field terms which could still partially screw up the count). It is the second principle of Thermodynamics which obviously does not apply to open systems. Take for instance as system the gas molecules in a closed box bearing a little hole on a side and place it in the vacuum: the entropy at the very beginning has some positive value S_0 > 0 while after a time long enough you will have nothing left in the box and the final entropy will be rigorously 0; that means the entropy has naturally decreased in the considered (open) system.

  4. Hardly surprising, the first qualification for a creationist/IDer is in bare faced lying.

  5. They don't understand evolution, they've just been told it's A BAD THING.

    They also don't understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics, they've just been told that it contradicts THE BAD THING.

    They can dress it up in jargon, but that's what it comes down to. Their "understanding" of the 2nd law wouldn't just make *evolution* impossible, it would make *life* impossible. If they had the first inkling of a scintilla of a modicum of a clue, they'd be railing against the 2nd law as well. And if they had a proper actual clue... then we wouldn't be discussing this at all.

  6. The laws of thermodynamics were discovered in the 19th century because intelligent designers - the very clever engineers trying to design ever better steam engines - ran up against limitations on what they could intelligently design. Why would one look to intelligent design if one came across an example of a something which violated the laws of thermodynamics?
    If there is a violation of the laws of thermodynamics in the world of life, then it is found in processes like reproduction, development and metabolism, not only evolution.
    Very often one can find these two faults in arguments against evolutionary biology: Even if the argument had some point to it, (1) intelligent design does not resolve the problem (2) the argument applies at least as appropriately against reproduction.

  7. The video is drivel. But probably enough for the uneducated to take seriously. Regrettably, someone at some time invented the "order/disorder" explanation, which is of no physical value since these cannot really be quantified, except perhaps using statistical mechanics; and "order/disorder" allows these specious comparisons of cities to deserts, ignoring all the increase in entropy due to the building of the city from its components.

    Near the end of the video, I heard him saying that there was nothing new in Lenski's experiments, as though the simple statement was refutation - reminded me of the cops at an accident who tell you to "Move along; nothing to see here" when anyone with eyes in their head can see otherwise.

  8. Actually Sewell is right about one thing. He says that the local decrease in entropy seen as life forms grow and reproduce cannot just be explained by saying that there is an increase of entropy elsewhere He points out that

    it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.

    and he then says that

    all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments,

    and he leaves the impression that that is not enough. Alas, he ignores the simple fact that it includes the sunlight which enters, and powers, the biosphere!. So he's completely right, except for missing a major point of high-school (or even middle-school) biology. If he were right about everything, not only would he have proven that evolution couldn't occur, he would have proven that plants can't grow.

    He taught at the University of Texas - El Paso. It is very very sunny there. I hope he wore sunblock and didn't just ignore all that solar radiation that was striking him.

    1. I think that Sewell was not wrong on that: in the broad sense, "radiation" means the whole electromagnetic spectrum, including the visible light.

    2. That plants can't grow, that life is impossible, and that intelligent designers can't design.

      But I suspect they know quite well that their argument does not work. They are openly dishonest. They hold to something they know their public has no grasp about whatsoever, and thus they can sell it. Snake-oil all of it.

      Once I asked one of them to identify the entropic barrier that would appear when a selected subpopulation reproduces that does not appear when any other population reproduces. The answer? I was trying to shift the burden of proof. I asked if he really thought that cars were built against entropy. He said yes! I couldn't believe it, so I first made fun of the guy and his title (biophysics, he claims). But then I asked what was that much energy for when building cars. The answer? "Of course! You materialists think that everything is evolution." Yeah, I made the very same face you are making. The latter was quite the desperate attempt at just answering anything, deviate the attention from the obvious. They know the consequences of their claims. They lie openly and unashamedly.

  9. Joe,

    I dont think Sewell is forgetting about sunlight. Hes claiming that if 'complexity' can increase in an open system it should be able to increase in a closed system as well and he thinks this shows that evolution conflicts with the second law. Hes correct on this point but wrong overall because complexity CAN increase temporarily in a closed system. Its easy to think of examples - the best being the very simple system of several cubic parsecs of hydrogen over 20 billion years.
    His mistake comes from conflating entropy with complexity and that is based on the example given in all freshman chem classes that uses statistical mechanics to derive entropy from the system consisting of gas in a jar