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.