Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nature vs. God. The 2nd law of Thermodynamics and Philosophical Dualism

As a motif for the force of nature, feelings about the
green man are ambivalent and  confused. But he lurks
 in the  subliminal pagan recesses of Western thinking.
This post explores the God vs. Nature dualism that is endemic to much of Western thinking. To illustrate this I use as an example a post by Christian fundamentalist Danny Faulkner who writes articles for Answers in Genesis. In the twin article of this current blog post I approved of YEC Jonathan Sarfati’s treatment of the second law of thermodynamics; Sarfati advised YECs not to use it to challenge evolution. Unfortunately I can’t give a similar recommendation to Ken Ham’s tame astronomer Danny Faulkner. His article on the subject can be found here: hxxps://answersingenesis.org/physics/second-law-of-thermodynamics/

Nearly half of Faulkner’s article is his attempt to explain the second law of thermodynamics to his lay audience.  We have to get about half way into the article before Faulkner starts to betray his failure to grasp the nuances of this topic.  So far I haven't been impressed by this fellow's performance; he seems to lack intellectual incisiveness. (See here and here). But the tame scholars at Answers in Genesis are not there to convince those with an adequate grasp of science, rather to impress a lay audience of fundamentalists (which includes Faulkner’s boss Ken Ham) with the letters after their names and technical sounding arguments.

 Tame scholar Danny Faulkner and his AiG boss, YEC theme park manager Ken Ham.
Below I use the usual format of taking quotes from Faulkner's article followed by my own comments:

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. (My emphases)

MY COMMENT:  The first sentence here is misleading: The second law of thermodynamics tells us that global order cannot increase, whereas it does not prohibit increases in local order as we shall see. Entropy is an intensive property of matter not an extensive property; that is, it refers to a value integrated over an isolated region and is therefore not a differential law. 

As we can see from the above quote Faulkner is locked into the natural forces vs. God dichotomy. For Faulkner the idea that the cosmos generated living things from non-living matter is a necessary condition for a “naturalistic” origin of life and is likely to be viewed by him as dangerously subversive of his faith. This taboo exists because in Western dualist thinking profane “natural forces” are set over and against sacred divine activity. The subliminal thinking is something like this: “If nature did it then that means God didn’t do it. Therefore if nature did it faith is compromised”. The scenario of “molecules-to-man-evolution” is perceived, to quote Faulkner, as a requirement for the Naturalistic origin of life. For the YEC fundie this subversive concept must be opposed at all costs. Fundamentalists may use the cover rationalisation that they are simply following their literal interpretation of the Bible, but I propose that this is just a proximate cause – the real underlying cause is their philosophical acceptance of Western culture’s God vs nature dualism.  This dualism is enshrined in de facto Intelligent Design’s explanatory filter.

However, notice that Faulkner hedges his bets: He says that the emergence of life appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics; he doesn’t say that it actually violates the second law. Faulkner is bright enough to know that he can’t provide any rigorous proof of a contradiction between the second law and evolution.

Faulkner goes on to talk about open 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?

MY COMMENT:  Faulkner ought to have qualified that first sentence. It really should have read:

However, merely being an open system does not automatically mean that entropy decreases locally.

This sloppy expression by Faulkner seems to be an outcome of him failing make it clear that entropy is an extensive rather than intensive variable.  An open system interacts with its environment which immediately invalidates the statement of the second law which pertains to isolated systems only.  This means it is then conceivable that a open system could undergo a decrease in entropy local to that system. But as Faulkner has tried to tell us above openness doesn't guarantee a local increase in order, it only makes it possible. However, there are open systems where there is a local increase in order .e.g life.

Living structures are open systems. Their processes of growth and replication entail considerable increases in local order. That the processes of growth and replication decrease the entropy locally is not, of course, a violation of the second law, for if one demarks a sufficiently large boundary to isolate the living system and its environment one finds that globally there is an overall increase in entropy; that is, the local increases in order wrought by the activities of life are purchased at the price of increases in disorder elsewhere. Life achieves these natural local entropy decreases, as Faulkner admits, as a product of the natural biological machinery it has on board. But Faulkner has said nothing of the significance of this: Most dualists who are not vitalists would identify the processes of life as natural activities and these natural activities, as Faulkner admits, bring about local increases in order without globally violating the second law. Faulkner has avoided explicitly stating that the local increases in order are achieved by life using what most dualists would refer to as natural means.

Of course, current science tells us that the ability of life to increase local order comes about as a result of the implicit information present in the machinery of life. But that sets up a potential taboo for the Genesis literalists: For if this local order enhancing information can be present in life then it is conceivable that the information needed to generate life in the first place is implicit in our physical regime. i,e, in nature.  Hence, a "Pagan Green Man" alert may be triggered in the fundamentalist mind.

But even Genesis literalists must be able to comprehend that a God who is capable of  downloading sufficient upfront information into living structures to enable them to naturally increase local order might go a step back and front load the requisite information, by other means, into the physical regime. If such was present then just as life is able to bring about the local reverse entropy “miracle” of growth and replication, so it is alternatively conceivable that a divinely ordained physical regime might contain the information to bring about the local decreases in entropy needed for emergent life and yet without any violation in the global law of overall entropy increase. This possibility is not acknowledged by Faulkner in spite of his effective admission that life is able to bring about local increases in order by "natural" means; for example, whenever a child is born it is evidence that a “molecules-to-man” miracle has taken place! However, if the cosmos has generated life from non-life it raises an outstanding question: If life has been generated by the cosmic system where is the requisite front loaded information?  More about that later.

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.

MY COMMENT: Faulkner’s first point: If evolution has occurred then it is properly envisaged as an open system which, like crystal formation, exchanges matter and energy with the environment. Therefore if the physical regime of Earth has generated life from non living matter then in this sense it would be analogous to the salt water system, contrary to what Faulkner claims. But the meaning of Faulkner’s use of the term “spontaneous” here is problematic. The growth of crystalline structures entails regions of increasing local order because transcendent physical laws act as envelopes of constraint on the random motions of particles. If the Earth has generated life in analogy to the way crystals form it could only do so if the physical regime supplies the requisite information in the form of constraining envelopes of possibility. According to the way Faulkner is using the word “spontaneously” such a process would not then classify as “spontaneous”.  I can only think that what Faulkner means by “spontaneous” formation is if a system somehow “magically” generates the configurations of life without the requisite up front information being implicit in the physical regime. As William Dembski’s work has shown this is a silly idea. But just who is claiming that evolution is a “spontaneous” process in the sense of Faulkner’s meaning of the term? I don’t think any scientist with their heads screwed on properly would subscribe to this straw man version of evolution whereby life is thought to emerge from a system without some constraining physical regime embodying the requisite information.

Faulkner’s second point is as equally confused; this confusion results because he doesn’t resolve out the different meanings of the term “information”. Let us start by taking its Shannon meaning, i.e.  –log(p) where p is the probability of an event. The conditional probability of salt formation given our physical regime is high and therefore as far as conditional probability is concerned the Shannon information of salt crystallisation is low. But the absolute probability of crystal formation is minute: Given the whole space of possible configurations highly ordered crystalline structures are a tiny class and thus their probability as a class is negligible. This negligible probability means that a high information value is associated with the absolute probability of crystalline structures. However, if we understand “information” in terms of data compressibility then it follows that crystal structures, whose data content is highly compressible, contain little irreducible information. Of course, living things having much more variety of structure are therefore far less compressible and correspondingly carry much more information in this sense. But then using the word “information” in the same sense it follows that truly random sequences, because they are incompressible, hold a lot more information than ordered living structures! With the foregoing in mind we can see that Faulkner completely misses the point. In absolute terms salt crystals have an extremely low probability i.e high information or “surprisal” value. Moreover, they have been manufactured by the algorithms of a relatively complex physical regime that under Faulkner’s own conceptions is likely to fall within the category he calls“specified complexity”.

Faulkner’s last sentence in the above quote is evidence of the dualist mold in which he has (unconsciously?) cast the issue. Implicit in Faulkner’s thought here is an assumed dichotomy between the properties of the physical regime and the action of an eminent intelligence which is envisaged to be imposed on a physical system from without.  As we have seen, in dualist thinking the properties of the "natural" physical regime stand in contra-distinction to the action of intelligence. Dualists like Faulkner habitually and probably unconsciously assume God’s action is analogous to an alien intelligence that arranges a configuration as per, for instance, the 2001 monolith which would otherwise be very unlikely to appear without intelligent action. Hence Faulkner betrays his conception of God as a kind of alien-of-the-gaps doing stuff that the physical world can't otherwise do. He therefore needs alien-of-the-gaps type activity as evidence of God's existence.  But it appears not to enter Faulkner’s cognizance that the totalising God of Christianity is intimately involved with every action of his creation whether by permission or by choice and that would include all the activities of the physical regime.

As far as humans and aliens are concerned matter has a motive power of its own apart from them. But this perspective should not be imputed to the Christian God who is both immanent and eminent. From a divine point of view matter doesn’t have a power of its own.  Given that the Christian God is so intimately involved with his world, the information required to generate life from non-life could conceivably be ever immanent in the physical regime. But against the backdrop of dualism’s alien-of-the-gaps thinking a cosmic regime which succeeds in generating life without the presence of an ancillary intelligence threatens to render redundant the dualist God who is needed to make good the “gaps”.

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.

MY COMMENT: This is mad. As far as I’m aware nobody is suggesting that crystal formation bucks the second law of thermodynamics any more than does life’s routine ability to introduce local order to huge quantities of matter by “natural” means. Neither is anybody suggesting that open systems buck the overall trend of a global increase in entropy. However, I agree that the local order increases seen in crystal formation are a far cry from the increases in local order that would be required of a cosmic system which, through as yet unidentified information resources, generates living structures.

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.

MY COMMENT: There is a straw man here: Just who is suggesting open systems contradict the second law?  I'm fast coming to the opinion that Faulkner really doesn't understand the second law.

In evolution there is no appeal to any open system magic. Living things are open systems which, as I have repeatedly said, bring about huge increases in local order without contradicting the second law. Those who propose evolution, as far as I’m aware, are certainly not saying that because evolution is an open system it is either a) allowed to contradict the second law or b) being an open system in and of itself is a guarantee of local increases in order; system openness merely means that local increases in order become logically possible, but not logically necessary. 

All the appeal to open systems means is that the increases in local order demanded by evolution are not a necessary violation of the second law requirement that entropy increases globally. Of course, the question of whether this has actually happened and the whereabouts of the information needed for it is the 64 trillion dollar question. But to attack evolutionists as if they are blatantly contradicting the second law is a straw man. Evolution, as proposed by the academic establishment, contradicts the second law no more than does life when it brings about local increases in order.

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.

MY COMMENT: Current ideas of how life manages to annex huge quantities of matter to bring about considerable increases in local order result, it is believed, because life holds the requisite information in the form of the biological machinery needed to organise matter – even Faulkner seems to have admitted this as we have seen. So quite what Faulkner means by the  “indescribable spark of life” I don’t know. Is Faulkner suggesting that some kind of dualistic vitalism is involved with the very day to day maintenance of life?  Who knows!

When will this man understand that evolution no more makes appeal to “open systems magic” than does crystallisation or the growth and replication of life? To work, all these systems require a) up front information built into the physical regime and b) open boundaries so that local increases in order are achieved at the expense of global decreases in order.

In particular the living processes of growth and replication are, I guess, what Faulkner would admit to be “natural” systems routinely creating “molecules-to-man” regions of local organisation. But this sets a dangerous precedent for dualists like Faulkner: For it then becomes conceivable that a physical regime presided over by an immanent omnipotent deity could well have the wherewithal to generate life. Faulkner’s underlying God vs natural forces philosophy presents him with a stark choice between God and “nature”; or God and the "Green man" if you like! But we must bear in mind that Faulkner is not addressing scientists who can see through his YEC sales pitch but fundamentalist rank and file who want to hear what they want to hear.

At this point let me give my usual disclaimer. Given that the living process of growth and replication is a “natural” system  capable of creating regions of local order without violating the second law it doesn’t automatically follow that the “natural” physical regime can do the same thing. As I keep saying I have my doubts about the existence of the spongeam which is the mathematical object containing the information needed for conventional evolution.

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.

MY COMMENT:  Clearly Faulkner is one of those people he criticises: His arguments are badly presented if not poorly thought out. But he’s right on this score: YECs, along with alien-of-the-gaps IDists,  have failed to show that the cosmic generation of life contradicts the second law. What people like Faulkner do not understand is that the second law doesn’t directly address the question. The second law only pertains to global entropy and not to local entropy and therefore it doesn’t bar huge local increases in order if the requisite information is present as we observe on a routine basis as life grows and replicates. Furthermore, what YECs like Faulkner don’t comprehend is that the answer to whether evolution is allowed or disallowed is not addressed by the second law but rather by the information implicit in the envelopes of constraint which could conceivably favour huge increases in local order sufficient for abiogenesis. Confirming the existence or nonexistence of such constraints (whether implicit in current known physics or new physics) from first principles (as opposed to observation) is currently beyond our science, it seems. My opinion, however, is that both YECs and IDists have failed to take account of the activity term in the creation of information; see here for more on this subject.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Dark matter, dark energy and matter; all the same thing?

The unexpected orbital velocity curve associated with galaxies. 

When she's not pushing de facto ID's dualist dichotomy of God did it vs. Natural forces did it, reporter Denise O'leary can be a useful read. Being part of North America's anti-academic-establishment, anti-liberal right wing lobby, 0'leary sniffs out the stuff that doesn't fit easily with current ideas, to the discomfiture of established science.  She means mischief of course, but the upside of that is that she reports those erratics and anomalies which are the fuel of scientific revolutions.

So, along these line I was very interested to see this post of hers entitled Understanding of dark matter  muddier due to new findings on the ID website Uncommon Descent. She quotes this article from Inside Science.  Viz:

Now researchers examining 153 galaxies find that by looking solely at where stars and gases in those galaxies are located, they could precisely predict the anomalous ways in which they moved. This may hint that dark matter is more strongly coupled to normal matter than currently thought. It could also indicate that dark matter does not exist and that another explanation is needed for the discrepancies that dark matter models were invoked to solve, said study lead author Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist and chair of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

I find that v. interesting because my own theory of gravity as a manifestation of quantum non-linearity would mean that matter and those galactic gravitational anomalies should go together. In the theory I've developed (see here) "dark matter" doesn't exist but quantum non-linearity produces a modified gravity which explains the anomalies. In fact this theory tenders explanations for both the apparent existence of dark matter and dark energy. As the theory in effect identifies "dark matter" and "dark energy" with matter itself, then it follows that matter and the putative effects of dark matter and dark energy are the effects of one realm rather than two potentially independent classes of matter. If dark matter and dark energy actually existed then further explanation would be needed to account for this association. But if matter, dark matter and dark energy are of a piece then the reason for the association would make sense.

All that's easy to say of course. I've only partially quantified my dark matter and dark energy theories. I must admit I am not heavily motivated to take it much further because I tend not to have much confidence in my own theories, those "left brain" creations. Steve Pinker calls the left brain the "baloney generator".   But nevertheless generating baloney can be fun!

Why I wrote my book: See here

Saturday, September 24, 2016

YEC guru advises YECs not to use entropy arguments against evolution.

Set in stone: The Boltzmann entropy equation: Entropy as a function of statistical weight. 

I was intrigued by this article on the YEC web site Creation Ministries International*. At last I have found some sensible advice on the second law of thermodynamics coming from a fundamentalist source.  The article contains the replies by YEC guru Jonathan Sarfati to the queries of a YEC follower who has an engineering degree but who was nevertheless struggling to understand the second law of thermodynamics and whether or not it can be used to support YEC opposition to evolution. In fact the article is entitled How useful is the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an argument against evolution?

Below I quote bits of the article and interleave my comments.

 YEC follower: I heard an example used by an atheist to show proof of self-organizing systems or increased complexity by way of a naturalistic manner. This is done to support molecules-to-man evolution. The example is: As two hydrogen molecules come together with an oxygen to form water they say it is proof that the complex can come from the simple without help from God in some kind of autopoietic (?) fashion perhaps

My Comment: Observe the worry caused by this YEC’s implicit dualism; he takes it for granted that the whole debate can be cast into a dichotomized naturalism vs. God mold.  Given this mold, if it were ever shown unequivocally that the cosmic status quo has the informational wherewithal to generate life then this YEC may have a problem; to him and, ironically,  to atheist detractors who also subliminally hold on to this dichotomy, the cosmos then looks suspiciously “autopoietic"; that is, able to generate living configurations "without help from God".  This fear is in fact encouraged by the de facto IDist’s botched “god intelligence-of-the-gaps” epistemic filter, an epistemic which requires physical explanations to fail before the presence of an intervening intelligent agency is declared.

YEC follower: My first reaction when I heard this was to bring up the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Indeed, complexity seems to increase but at the expense of heat loss as an exothermic reaction where some (or most? don’t remember right now) of the heat is never to be recovered again. This shows entropy of the system/universe as a whole, an enemy of their attempt to see this as an autopoietic system…… Would the entropy of the heat/work available in the system support a refutation on the biblical creationist’s part regarding the impossibility of any system to ‘self-organize’ due to the Second Law. Am I leaping too far at this point?

My Comment: He’s aware that the second law doesn’t rule out local decreases in entropy as long as they are outweighed by increases in entropy elsewhere in the closed system, but he is confused about the implications of this for both evolutionists and fellow YECs: For evolutionists (and not as this YEC follower suggests) the global rundown of the universe is not a necessary problem because that run down is still consistent with local increases in order, increases which potentially might include the development of life. This YEC follower, however, is troubled by the possibility of local increases in order because from the perspective of his dualistic paradigm of God vs. nature he senses it may ultimately play into the hands of evolutionists.

YEC follower: I may be heading in two directions at once on this since a discussion of Thermodynamics may be all that’s needed without dragging in a secondary one regarding Information Theory or something. Although I’m not sure how to apply Information Theory to the water molecule formation yet, I would like to if it fits somehow or helps the creationist refutation.

My Comment: He’s hankering after the common YEC canard that the second law is a self-contained mathematical argument refuting evolution with all the certainty of physical law. This, as it turns out, is a will-o-the-wisp for YECs. He’s better following through with information theory (as Sarfati himself advises. as we shall see below), but that will take him into deep waters he wants to avoid.

YEC follower: Next, I was stumped for a while on trying to decide what to do with ‘endothermic’ reactions. If an endothermic reaction borrows heat from its surroundings then it only temporarily stores heat until released by another type reaction later perhaps. Maybe like a tree? Would not a tree be something like an endothermic reaction that increases in apparent complexity from a seed to a full grown specimen drawing in energy from its surroundings, IE. the sun?

My Comment: Once again the recurring theme is that our YEC follower senses those manifest local increases in order set a bad precedent for his subliminal God vs naturalism paradigm; for perhaps somehow evolution is one of these temporary local increases in order? And yes, biological systems routinely increase local order by organising huge quantities of less ordered matter. They can do this because they have the informational recipes in the form of DNA instructions along with mechanisms to read them and thence churn out proteinised matter. So, if life is a "natural" system that can considerably increase local order perhaps hidden up in the physical status quo is sufficient information to bring about local increases in order such as would be needed for evolution? Or perhaps not! Who knows! The proof of this either way may be computationally irreducible and therefore beyond human analytical solution.

YEC follower: With Information Theory and molecular genetics telling us that the seed has all it needs to be a tree, it indeed then ‘borrows’ energy from the sun for a time building in ‘apparent’ complexity through a type of endothermic system. However, in the end the tree would finally give up this ‘borrowed’ energy in the form of heat exothermically by way of being burned, eaten, or chemically rotted away perhaps. This would then be an end process like the exothermic formation of a water molecule in a ‘Second Law supporting’ event, again upholding the previous idea of increased entropy in the system.
So, do I drag in Thermodynamics, Information Theory, Autopoiesis, or what to draw up a good article on this idea of the humble water molecule?

My Comment: He’s confused. Yes, as he suggests there is the run down into a total entropy increase which ultimately will effect everything, but in the meantime our physical regime clearly allows local increases of order as the routine growth of life shows. So the question remains; could those local increases of order become so large as to allow macro evolution ? If they did then somewhere the requisite information is implicit.
Sarfarti, YEC guru, responds: (My emphases in bold): The reaction 2H2 + O2 → 2H2O occurs because it is exothermic, which pumps heat (Q) into the surroundings, thus by definition increases their entropy by Q/T. This outweighs any loss because of the higher ordering of the water molecules.

Also, the order in the water molecules is based on the chemical properties of the component atoms. This is very different in kind from the organization of proteins and DNA. My response to an evolutionary science writer explains this in more detail as does my book By Design.

Endothermic reactions I’ve touched on in this article I co-authored for the homeschooling magazine The Old Schoolhouse: Scientific experiments for homeschoolers.

I tend not to use entropy arguments at all for biological systems.

I must admit that I hardly ever refer to the second law, although as a Ph.D. physical chemist I am well qualified to do so. Without meaning to brag, if I don’t use it, then few people should; instead, concentrate on the information argument. I’ve seen both creationists and evolutionists make mistakes in their discussions; see for example The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to critics. But for a sound discussion on second law arguments, which are strongest when dealing with chemical evolution (origin of life from non-living chemicals), see the chapters from The Mystery of Life’s Origin.

I tend not to use entropy arguments at all for biological systems. I have yet to see the calculations involving either heat transfer or Boltzmann microstates involved for natural selection. Until creationists can do that, they should refrain from claiming that organic evolution contradicts the Second Law; a trite appeal to “things become more disordered according to the Second Law” is inadequate.

Origin of first life is different, since natural selection can’t occur without two or more self-reproducing entities.

I hope these comments are helpful.

My Comment: That’s the most sensible statement I’ve seen from a YEC about the second law of thermodynamics; I largely agree with it. But at what point do those awkward local increases in order permitted by the second law become taboo for a dualist YEC?  The second law in and of itself is far too loose a law to be used as a standalone disproof of evolution. As Sarfati rightly implies it all swings on the question of the ultimate origin of the information present in living structures. We know for example that biological systems routinely and massively increase local order - "naturally"!! In this case, however, we know where the "natural" informational mechanisms are located; namely, the DNA recipes and their associated reading and “writing” machinery. It is therefore conceivable that information for evolution resides somewhere in the physical regime; perhaps in the laws of physics or some other aspect of the physical regime not yet understood; basically there is no unassailable argument which pins down the source of that information; either it’s part of the physical regime’s status quo or it is patched in ad hoc by a deity or alien intelligence. As regards the possibility that this information is implicit in our physical regime, Sarfati implies we need to know the breakdown of the microscopic statistical weights per macrostate. This would then tell us the likely path the physical system will take through the space of macrostates as its global order runs down. But this calculation is a huge many body problem and no one knows the answer, and that includes YECs as Sarfati frankly admits. But the second law in and of itself provides no short cut answer to that problem as some naive YECs  and IDists have tried to maintain.

Sarfati mentions the book The Mystery of Life’s Origins. I looked at three of the relevant chapters of this book in the Darwin centenary year of 2009 (See here, here and here) and it became clear to me that these chapters don’t address the question of how the information needed for life is applied; whether through the constraints of the physical status quo or whether that information is patched in ad hoc on occasions by some alien intelligence.


Where many YECs and IDists go wrong is that they don’t acknowledge the potential and critical role of the information implicit in the constraints introduced by the physical regime. It is these constraints which determine the macro evolution of the system. The second law only tells us that the system will likely move toward the macro states of greatest statistical weight – not a particularly startling conclusion. But it is the constraints of the physical regime which will tell us if the macro states through which the system passes as it moves from a macro state of lower statistical weight to a macro state of higher statistical weight include localised regions of high order such as organic structures.

The pertinent question, a question not answered by the second law, is how the information implicit in the system is applied: Is it part of the God ordained constraints of the physical status quo or does God behave like an “alien-of-the-gaps” who on occasion down loads information into the system? Dualists who hold to an implicit God vs nature paradigm have little option but to support the alien-of-the-gaps concept of divine intervention in the "natural order" of things. Given the immanence of God and the failure of alien-of-the-gaps' science of interventions, at least in its YEC and IDist manifestations, this seems an unlikely option. 

However, if the information needed for evolution is part of the physical status quo that would require the spongeam to exist, a mathematical object whose existence I doubt**. Hence, through my two projects, Melancolia I and the Thinknet project I’m probing the idea that the physical regime has bestowed upon it some of the necessary features of an intelligent system; chiefly the ability to embark on searches of huge numbers of cases using expanding parallelism and then collapsing the search envelop in favor of some sort of selection. This activity, as I show, is capable of creating (local) information especially if teleological selection is adopted. But even under these conditions it doesn’t necessarily follow that the second law is contravened.

But be all that as it may I concede that Sarfati has done science a service in advising YEC followers not to use the second law against evolution. In a future post, however, I intend to look at what Ken Ham’s tame research guru, Danny Faulkner, has written on the second law. I have not been impressed with Faulkner’s work (See here and here for example) and it’s no spoiler to let it be known he makes a pig’s ear of it as do many YECs and IDists. 

* On CMI: Creation Ministries International are the YEC organisation who had the misfortune to get caught up in the sordid John MacKay Affair.
** The reasons for this doubt are based on the overwhelming statistical weight of disorder. See this paper for details. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Disorder and Randomness

Meccano Microcosm: Obsessed with the mystery of randomness, I made this machine blending order and randomness at the end of the 1970s as an agreeable pass time. See here  for the story

I have recently compiled a book-length electronic document containing some of my earlier writings on disorder and randomness. This compilation can be accessed as a PDF here  I worked on this subject as a hobby throughout the 1970s and 1980s and I now publish what was originally a typescript. I have, however, enhanced the content as well as the format.  The current publication is edition 1, but it is likely that I will re-read the document in a few months time and produce edition 2. After a while I get bored with reading the same old text and I have to wait some weeks before the desensitization wears off and I can continue to spot errors, omissions and naiveties. 

Below I reproduce the introduction to the book: 


This book deals with the subject of randomness. It presents a personal record of my engagement with a topic which, early in my thinking career, presented itself as something of fundamental importance: The algorithmic nature of deterministic physical laws seemed relatively easy to grasp, but what was this thing called indeterminism? How would we know when it was operating?  Above all, what was this strange discipline of predictive statistics? It was strange because no one expects its predictions to be exactly right. A naive philosophical stance might think that a miss is as good as a mile and therefore anything registering less than 100% truth as nothing short of 100% error; but no, in statistics the concepts of approximation and nearness figure prominently and give the lie to fundamentalist sentiments that anything less than absolute certainty isn’t worthwhile knowledge.

In the short Sherlock Holmes story The Cardboard Box, Holmes solves a particularly tragic crime of passion; both the killer and his victims are ordinary people who against their better judgement are driven by overwhelming human emotions into a conflict that leads to murder. If you got to know these people you would find none of them to be particularly immoral by human standards. In a cool moment they would likely condemn their own hot blooded actions. After bringing the matter to a conclusion in his usual consummate and controlled way, Holmes betrays a rare moment of being completely at a loss as to understanding the meaning of the affair. The details of the crime he guided us through, where all the clues formed a rational pattern which Holmes alone completely understood, stand in stark contrast to his utter mystification at the human significance of the story as a whole:

“What is the meaning of it, Watson?” said Holmes, solemnly, as he laid down the paper.  “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But to what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

In this expression of the problem of suffering and evil, chance and meaninglessness are seen as be related: A world ruled by chance is purposeless, or at least it is difficult to discern purpose. Although the exorable mechanisms of determinism can themselves conspire with chance to generate meaningless scenarios lacking in anthropic significance, the background fear expressed by Holmes is that chance is ultimately sovereign. For Conan Doyle’s Victorian God-fearing character this was unthinkable. Today, of course, it is no longer unthinkable, although for many a very uncomfortable thought. But what is “chance” and just why should it come over as the epitome of meaninglessness and purposelessness? Since the rise of the quantum mechanical description of reality chance figures very strongly in today’s physical science and raises profound questions about the nature and meaning (or lack of meaning) of chance’s manifestation as randomness in the physical world.

Arthur Koestler in his book The Roots of Coincidence spelled out some of the paradoxes of chance events and their treatment using probability theory. In his book Koestler’s interest in the subject arises from his interest in those extrasensory perception experiments which make use of card guessing statistics and where there is, therefore, a need to determine whether the outcome of such experiments is statistically significant. Perhaps, suggests Koestler, the apparently skewed statistics of these experiments are bound up with the very question of just what randomness actually means. After all, in Koestler’s opinion randomness itself seems to have a paranormal aspect to it. To illustrate he gives us a couple of examples where statistics has been used to make predictions: In one case statistics was used by a German mathematician  to predict the distribution of the number of German soldiers per year between 1875 and 1894 kicked to death by their horses. In another case Koestler remarks on the near constancy of the number of dog-bites-man reports received by the authorities in New York. In response to the idea that probability theory leads to an understanding of this kind of “statistical wizardry”, as Koestler calls it, he says this:

But does it really lead to an understanding? How do those German Army horses adjust the frequency of their lethal kicks to the requirement of the Poisson equation? How do the dogs of New York know that their daily ration of biting is exhausted? How does the roulette ball know that in the long run zero must come up once in thirty seven times if the casino is to be kept going? (The Roots of Coincidence, Page 27)

I have to admit that for some time after reading Koestler I too was puzzled by the success of probability theory’s paradox of being able to predict the unpredictable. At the time I knew how to use probability calculus but I had really no idea how and why it worked. Later on in his book Koestler introduces us to mathematician G. Spencer Brown who was researching probability in the 1950s. Of him Koestler says:

...among mathematicians G. Spencer Brown proposed an intriguing theory which attempted to explain the anti-chance results in card guessing experiments by questioning the validity of the concept of chance itself. (The Roots of Coincidence, Page 102)

Koestler tells us that Spencer Brown proposed that ESP statistics “pointed to some anomaly in the very concept of randomness”. Koestler goes on to quote Sir Alister Hardy who sponsored Spencer Brown:

…It remained for Mr. G. Spencer Brown of Trinity College, Cambridge, to suggest the alternative and simpler hypothesis that all this experimental work in so called telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psycho-kinesis, which depends upon obtaining results above chance, may be really a demonstration  of some singular and very different principle. He believes that it may be something no less fundamental or interesting – but not telepathy or these other curious things – something implicit in the very nature and meaning of randomness itself… In passing let me say that if most of this apparent card-guessing  and dice influencing  work should turn out to be something very different, it will not have been wasted effort; it will have provided a wonderful mine of material for the study of a very remarkable new principle.  (The Roots of Coincidence, Page 103).

Koestler says that Spencer Brown’s work petered out inconclusively. But whilst we continue to feel that we really don’t understand why it is that probability theory works then Brown’s ideas remain plausible: Perhaps we’ve got probability theory wrong and this accounts for the unfamiliar statistics which apparently show up in paranormal research involving card guessing and dice influencing. Whether or not there was something to Brown’s ideas, at the time I first read Koestler in the early 1970s I couldn’t tell. But for me the “near miss” effectiveness of probability calculus was a nagging problem that remained with me for some time. At university I had taken it for granted that there was no mystery in probability theory, but a social science student whose name I have long since forgotten challenged me with Koestler’s comments. These comments made me realize that I although I could use probability calculus I didn’t really understand why it worked. However, by the time I finished the work in this book, although inevitably there were still questions outstanding, I felt fairly confident that the kind of thing Spencer Brown was looking for did not in fact exist if true randomness was in operation. In the epilogue I briefly take up this matter along with the question raised by Sherlock Holmes.

During the mid-seventies I had dabbled a little with quantum theory with the aim of trying to make anthropomorphic sense of it, but after a while I shelved the problem for later. (The sense I did eventually make of it is an ongoing story I tell elsewhere). However, in the 70s my dabblings with quantum theory gave way to what was in fact, for reasons I have already given, a philosophically more pressing problem; Viz; the nature of randomness and probability. In any case the probability question arose very naturally because probability is at the heart of quantum theory; if I didn’t understand the meaning of the language of probability in which quantum mechanics was formulated how I could understand the nature of quantum theory? The gradual shift in my interests from quantum theory to probability started to produce results immediately. I pursued the idea of taking disorder maxima of binary sequences and rediscovered the statistics of Bernoulli’s formula by way of a very long-winded maximization proof. But as I continued with this line of inquiry it become increasingly apparent that probability and randomness are not the same thing: Probability is to do with our information or knowledge about systems and, in fact, arises in connections where randomness is not present (I have presented more on the subject of probability in my 1988 paper on probability). Randomness, on the other hand, is to do with patterns, specifically, as we shall see, patterns about which practical algorithmic methods of prediction reveals only maximum disorder. This means that a pattern can be disordered and yet not probabilistic; for example, if we have a book of random numbers generated, say, by some quantum process, the pattern is going to be disordered or random, but in the sense that the book has captured the pattern and it can now be thought of as part of human knowledge this pattern is no longer probabilistic.

As I propose in the epilogue of this book, the reason for the close connection between probability and disordered patterns such as generated by quantum processes is that disorder is epistemically intractable until it becomes a recorded happened event; for as this work attempts to demonstrate randomness is not practically predictable by algorithmic means; therefore up until the random pattern is generated and recorded it remains unknown to those who only have available practical methods of making predictions. A random pattern is thereby probabilistic by virtue of it being intractable to practical algorithmic precognition.

The bulk of the mathematics in this book was written in the late seventies and eighties. I eventually produced a typescript document in 1987 and the contents of this typescript provide the core of the book. Like most of my work, all of which is a product of a private passion, this manuscript will be of no interest to the academic community as they have their own very professional way of answering similar questions; the book presents the record of a science hobbyist. As such it is only of autobiographical interest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Epistemic Notes

The evidence: Guide lines but not tram lines. 

The following are some responses I made on Facebook to a link publicising this article by and evangelical atheist, George Felis. Felis is of the opinion that "faith" is a moral failing which willfully flies into the teeth of the evidence with nothing but a fideist  rationale, if rationale it can be called. It's true that there are fideist Christians out there who respond in such a way, but the author of the article is over generalizing. In fact even fideists, although they won't admit it, are trying in their perverse way to come up with an embracing world view, based on evidence - in their case what is to them the overwhelming evidence of their intuitively felt gut feelings.

My responses below take the view that world view synthesis is an epistemically risky business; it is an activity which trades-off evidential rigor against far reaching narratives which attempt to make sense of the big picture - usually some kind of anthropic sense. World views can be as rational as the sparse evidence allows, but they lack epistemic authority and are inherently tentative and exploratory in my opinion. To use a Christian metaphor; they are a kind of pilgrimage.

Disclaimer: I would concede the point that when it comes to world view synthesis with its open ended fields of evidence different people join different dots of evidence with different narratives and therefore epistemic humility is in order. However, I don't accept that this can be true, without gross rational violations taking place, when it comes to basic science such as the spherical Earth, and its position in space and time. In the case of Flat Earthism, Geocentrism and Young Earthism, Moon landing conspiracy theorism etc. a fanciful world view is filtering down to the basic science level and corrupting it.

The following has been amended from its original form to enhance readability and content. 

Timothy V Reeves
You don’t have to be a theist to see that this article doesn’t stack up epistemically. All, repeat all, attempts at getting a epistemic handle on the world involve “joining the dots of data” with theoretical narratives that to a lesser or greater degree tax our imaginations and the robustness of our epistemic methods. It is an epistemic error to believe that there is such a thing as some non-contentious standard of “reason and evidence” that take us inexorably and mechanically toward the truth. 

You often hear the cliché “There isn’t a shred of evidence for X”. It is a cliché used by both fundamentalists and evangelical atheists. A much more realistic epistemic scenario is that human beings imaginatively fit the data to the narratives with varying degrees of success. Just how successful depends on the criteria we find in the science of science i.e. meta-science i.e philosophy – a very debatable area. But overall there is a generalised method used by all: Fitting a world view to the accepted data in order to try and make sense of that world i.e. world view synthesis. Some people commit to a world view and others are floating voters

In spite of Aumann’s “agreement theorem” we expect disagreements in this general epistemic process as it is highly dependent of people’s different and open-ended pools of experience, mental traits, context etc. I would probably depart from James Knight on this point. 

It’s interesting to see that Felis quotes the Christian fideists: All fideists I have come across, when probed, reveal that they are actually using the general method of “dot fitting” – perhaps not very well, but they are trying. Fideist assertions, such as quoted by Felis, are there to give conclusions which are actually based on (bad) implicit background reasoning a sacred inaccessibility and authority and thereby apply moral duress in order to dissuade close examination. "Don't analyse it!" cried one aficionado of the Toronto Blessing 

But then Felis himself, as an evangelical atheist, is also trying to apply moral duress; he is accusing those who don’t agree with him of moral failing, as do many Christians; that’s why I would call him “evangelical"

Timothy V Reeves
An article I wrote: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/.../evidence...

NOTE: Somebody replied that the above sketch is in line with psychological picture that people tend to fit narratives to data retrospectively. 

Timothy V Reeves I had this long email correspondence with James Moar (See below) where we discussed this issue of "narrative weaving". I think I took the line that as far as world view synthesis is concerned all Christians can offer people is "a best fit narrative" and acknowledge that sometimes the fit doesn't seem that good; after all, we're going for the big picture here and epistemic trade-offs are inevitable. I think James Moar felt that this wasn't in line with the committed tone of the Bible. He's probably right, but then the Bible is true to the culture of the day and we can't expect it to be aware of what is probably an epistemic universality which seems to be even built into our neural make it. I'm a Christian myself but as you can see I probably wouldn't classify as evangelical! I don't accept that studied detachment is a sin; as a general value epistemic humility must be maintained at all times (2 Cor 10:12ff)

Timothy V Reeves Although, as I often say, there is a general epistemic “method” which involves a contention/dialogue between narrative and “data” it is clear that the formal methods of the physical sciences don’t always have a natural portability to other disciplines. E.g one could paraphrase Simon's paraphrase as follows:

"One cannot apply physical science's epistemic methods to historical narratives because historical ontology is far more complex than the relatively simple objects of the physical sciences (e.g. water boiling at 100C at sea level, and so forth)."

Although I would contend that history, sociology, political science, philosophy, and even theology do employ a generalised epistemolgy that puts narrative and “data” in dialogue, specific methodologies between disciplines are very different. E.g in the humanities the methods are less formal and consequently the conclusions more contentious than in the physical sciences; that, I suggest, is down to a difference in the complexity of the objects they are dealing with. However, Feyerabend even puts a question mark over the physical science’s claim to formal methodology. The take home lesson: Our epistemology is not robust.

There seems to be some kind of trade-off between ontological complexity and epistemic authority: The physical sciences come over with more assurance in their conclusions. Accordingly, I would rate disciplines in order of their claim to convince: Viz: the Physical sciences, economics, history, sociology, philosophy, and theology. So, if you are going to hazard a world view synthesis that attempts to give the big picture you expect a loss of epistemic authority. In fact you might have to go as far is to admit it is a speculative and conjectural venture. 

The fact that I rate theology as having the lowest epistemic authority no doubt puts me beyond the pale for those Christians of fundamentalist persuasion who try to convince us of the divine authority of their opinions. 

I think James got it very right when he says (See above) 

QUOTE: Here's why. Analyzing Christian belief is not like analysing scientific data - it is more like analysing love…..[and following paragraphs] UNQUOTE

I would certainly go a long with all that! When it comes to theology it is very difficult to generalise from the diversity of personal experience which acts as the nutrient bed nourishing faith. But the trade-off here is that the subjective component of theology means its epistemic authority is considerably lowered. It is my (non-evangelical) opinion that if an atheist claims the “God narrative” makes no sense of their experience then this claim should be respected as a genuine statement made with good conscience. 

Let me answer Simon's question as to whether or not faith is simply an a priori affair where evidences are coped with post hoc; that is, faith conclusions are authoritarian, inflexible and will suffer no potentially challenging dialogue with evidence: I think Simon is likely to be right if one throws one’s lot in with some tight knit Christian sect; sectarian authoritarianism and its claim to divine authority puts one under huge duress to uphold the party line and seek a justifying narrative post hoc, ergo propter hoc. I’ve been involved with evangelicals of one sort or another for many years now and I have to admit that this does happen especially among the fundamentalists of the persuasion. I myself have in the past been under duress to follow suit. However, I’ve long since rebelled because it all so transparently has its roots in human foibles, fears, failings and epistemic insecurities. In particular, in reaction to the latter there is often an attempt to re-establish  epistemic authority using a kind of "The Emperor's New Clothes" social pressure. Much of authoritarian sectarian Christianity has consequently failed to earn its right to intellectual respect as far as I 'm concerned.  Its bad reputation is well deserved!

My own pilgrimage is probably succinctly put as a “God seeking” journey into the unknown. This comes out of what is for me the plausible conjecture (back to James proprietary experience point!) that we are on the inside of some huge immersive (personal) intelligence. My faith is the sum total of my pilgrimage which is in a very unfinished state. Consequently, I believe I have no grounds to badger an atheist into belief....all I can do is show people where I am at personally (which is very unfinished business) and respect the consciences of those who differ in their own journey of life.