Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Study Refutes Old Creationist Argument

A new study has shown that entropy (or thermodyamic disorder) actually creates orderly and complex crystals.

This ought to be the final proof that the creationist argument from entropy is FALSE. Their argument goes something like this:

Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that everything tends toward disorder, while evolutionists claim that throughout history life has become more orderly. Therefore, the Second Law disproves evolution.

I refuted this argument as follows on page 120 of my book, Atheism and Naturalism:

This totally misunderstands what ‘disorder’ in the thermodynamic sense is. Thermodynamic ‘Disorder’ is simply energy that is not available for use. Evolution does not violate this law because usable energy is supplied to living things by the sun.

Now it looks like we all have something easy to point to to totally blow the creationist argument out of the water and show that they are fundamentally wrong in their interpretation of 'entropy'.

8 comments:

Laura said...

Very interesting on the entropy. I hadn't heard about that. As someone who was raised in Kenhamland, I find myself woefully behind in science as an adult. Thank you for your site!

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

The standard response to the creationist's misuse of the 2nd law doesn't actually address the core of their argument in a positive sense. Just because order can arise despite entropy doesn't prove that for instance a snowflake might accidentally turn into Superman's fortress of solitude. Creationists are still left with that WTF? taste in their mouth, like we've pulled one over on them. And their basic sensibility at least needs to be directly addressed. Why do replicators get to just keep replicating indefinitely?

The standard evolutionist polemic certainly leaves the door open, but I'm still looking for a peer reviewed paper that demonstrates we *know* can keep replicating for 4 billion years without sputtering out despite what natural selection can salvage. These are qualitative claims and it's not very scientific to just assume it works to the *extent* necessary.

Anyway, I've been following up on google alerts with "error threshold" but those tend only to talk about the hurdles of abiogenesis. "Extinction threshold" is closer, because that's more about evolution as it's going along, but seems to only represent the negative side of what I'm looking for. "Indefinite hereditary replicators" seems to be what I'm looking for, but the papers I've found so far seem to merely presuppose everything is kosher after they get over the error threshold. I'm looking for explicit on the spot positive proof that we know replicators can just keep replicating without eventually succumbing to entropy. Computer simulations, math proofs, experiments...something. Geez. Someone has to have addressed this head on, right?

This is actually a side research project of mine, but I thought perhaps you might know something I don't. Any help?

AIGBusted said...

WOE,

I think you might be misunderstanding thermodynamics. When I talk about having an 'orderly house' or an 'orderly desk' I am using the word 'order' in a completely different way than 'order' in the context of thermodynamics. Thermodynamic 'order' is just energy that is available for use.

"Just because order can arise despite entropy..."

The study I cited showed that 'Order' the way human beings colloquially use the word (as in an 'orderly' desk) arises not just 'in spite' of entropy, but BECAUSE of it.

"Why do replicators get to just keep replicating indefinitely?"

Because they can? I mean, unless something comes and destroys every replicator on earth or some genetic disaster happens that drives all replicators extinct, they will keep doing what they do.

The genetic disaster could happen in the following way: Somehow if every replicator population on earth dwindled past what population geneticists call the 'minimum viable population' then eventually natural selection would not be able to cope with the bad mutations and everything would go extinct. Obviously this has never happened to the direct ancestors of any species alive TODAY because if it had happened then they would not be here.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

I understood your use of the article and nothing I said was contrary to it. That order arises in the ordinary sense *because* of entropy still doesn't prove the case of a crazy person that the self organizing properties of ice can naturally form something as complicated as Superman's Fortress of Solitude. The issue of "how far does this go?" (in a specific case) is still left unaddressed in a positive sense as I said all along and creationists have only been corrected on remedial scientific errors that don't get to the heart of the issue they've brought up.

Don't you see that you've portrayed replicators as though we've established some kind of (to use a Newtonian metaphor)"once in replication always in replication" law that I don't think is actually an official scientific law. It's an assertion. That's not good science or PR. We have something that needs to be justified in more depth. It is only natural to assume a copy of a copy of a copy, even with relative fitness selection, will overall naturally degrade even if not up against overwhelming circumstances (like you mentioned). Now, that may not actually be the case. But how do we *know*?

If you don't know, you don't know. That's fine. But, if I were a creationist, I wouldn't have good reason to listen to you on this point. We're really arguing from *other* general evidence that evolution occurred and the precedence of the success of naturalistic explanations, but technically it is possible that some kind of "vitalism "is actually necessary to sustain the process lest it fizzle out at some point before 4 billion years is up. That is a lot of replicating.

So far, I think the actual reason our brute sensibilities are defied (we do generally expect copies of copies of copies to degrade) is because of the exponential nature of replication in the wild. We aren't used to dealing with those kinds of numbers. It's like asking people how much money they will have if you double their money from just one penny on the first day and every day after that, at the end of the month. Maybe a hundred bucks? Isn't it like actually a few million or something? Don't recall, but the ginormous numbers involved changes the overall statistics of the fitness landscape and allows for a persistence of fitness we wouldn't necessarily expect with our knee jerk reactions. You are much more likely to get (and keep) a viable replicator and even one that is a little better if you have TONS of replicators.

That's just my own hypothesis though. I'm not sure. And I don't see something specific in the scientific literature. Only hints and certainly nothing outright demonstrated. So I keep looking.

The PR problem is no one is thinking like this or says this kind of stuff to creationists. They are too busy being hung up on the misuse of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics to actually tackle the problem. :s

Ben

AIGBusted said...

"That order arises in the ordinary sense *because* of entropy still doesn't prove the case of a crazy person that the self organizing properties of ice can naturally form something as complicated as Superman's Fortress of Solitude."

What has that got to do with anything? First of all, I'm going to ignore the comment about superman's fortress and assume that you just mean some really complicated and organized thing (like a plant or an animal).

The point of my blog post is that entropy does not prohibit evolution and that creationists were mistaken in thinking so. Not that entropy drove the formation of ALL order. Natural Selection and mutation was what created biological organized complexity.

"Don't you see that you've portrayed replicators as though we've established some kind of...'once in replication always in replication' law that I don't think is actually an official scientific law."

I didn't establish any "law". If a population of replicators is not wiped out, if it does not dwindle down to the point in which the population suffers a genetic meltdown, then it will keep on replicating because natural selection will have originally only selected for replicators that replicate a lot, and, in a sense, have a 'will' to replicate ('will' is used in a metaphorical sense).

"It is only natural to assume a copy of a copy of a copy, even with relative fitness selection, will overall naturally degrade even if not up against overwhelming circumstances."

There's no reason to assume that something is going to degrade after replicating. Furthermore, if you actually read anything about population genetics, then you ought to know that scientists are quite aware of how much mutation happens and how much natural selection can handle. This is very basic stuff. No offense, but I would suggest that you don't know much about what you're talking about, and you'd be well-served to actually read some very basic population genetics material. You could google it and look for sites that explain this stuff. Or try and look at a college freshman/sophomore biology textbook.

On your comment about vitalism. Vitalism is a long discredited piece of pseudoscience. There's no reason to think that replicators would somehow just decide to quit replicating if they didn't have a 'vital force'. In fact, since the chemical make-up/genetic code of replicators is one of the primary factors that determines how a replicator 'acts' you would expect for a code to be naturally selected that maximizes the number of successful offspring that a replicator leaves behind. So any population of replicators will end up being made up of replicators that produce lots of offspring in practically every circumstance the replicator might be in.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

*sigh* So you reassert your assertion, and tell me to go do more research because I'm ignorant even though I've already told you that's what I'm doing? Does that make much sense, dude?

"I'm going to ignore the comment about superman's fortress and assume that you just mean some really complicated and organized thing (like a plant or an animal)."

Maybe you're not a nerd, but Kryptonian technology is based on crystalline structure of the tiny hand held control crystals (which build huge structures, just by tossing one in water). So the analogy is that even though snowflakes might be able to make limited organized structures, that doesn't prove they can do it on the level of fictitious Kryptonian technology. To just say something doesn't stop order from happening at some level, doesn't prove in a positive sense any level of order is possible.

"The point of my blog post is that entropy does not prohibit evolution and that creationists were mistaken in thinking so. Not that entropy drove the formation of ALL order."

Okay. Although, as I understand it, if entropy weren't possible, any increase in order would also be impossible. The exercise of our brains turning intentions into actions that increase order, still increases entropy as well, right?

I didn't establish any "law". If a population of replicators is not wiped out, if it does not dwindle down to the point in which the population suffers a genetic meltdown, then it will keep on replicating because natural selection will have originally only selected for replicators that replicate a lot, and, in a sense, have a 'will' to replicate ('will' is used in a metaphorical sense).

You basically *are* establishing a law. There's no difference in your claim between it being a law and it not being a law. Natural selection could select for replicators that have a relatively greater "will" to replicate, but just as I've been trying to point out, that doesn't prove it can and will cultivate replicators that have a sufficient "will" to replicate indefinitely. There could be an overall trend towards disorder, and selection picking out the fittest on that *relative* scale.

"Furthermore, if you actually read anything about population genetics, then you ought to know that scientists are quite aware of how much mutation happens and how much natural selection can handle."

Evolutionary biologists who understand the effects of mutation rates on populations in general aren't necessarily working with the math that would prove the replication process would go on indefinitely for billions of years. With modern corrective mechanisms in replicators, maybe the slope of decay takes ten million years to notice? Who knows?

Maybe they do understand it to that extent. That's great. I've never seen it demonstrated (and I have been looking) and especially never seen it demonstrated in the remedial literature. That's why I'm asking around. If it's so obvious, you should be able to link me to the evolution wiki or something and whoop, there it would be, right? But I imagine I won't get any more of an in depth answer than you've already given. And I've consistently shown how it is insufficient to conclusively demonstrate the point.

I also asked "Ask a Biologist" and they pointed me back to the resources I've already read. I don't think anyone is computing the nature of the issue I'm bringing up. I'll keep looking.

Thanks anyway,

Ben

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Oh, and one last thing on the natural expectation of disorder. We can make copy machines that literally build the parts for other copy machines. Let's say we make versions of these things that are fully autonomous and self assembling.

Would you (be honest):

A: believe in the law of replication which would imply no maintenance would ever be required (under normal circumstances).

B: Be at least somewhat skeptical about the ability of the technology to keep going and schedule regular check ups (even if it turns out they aren't needed).

Or C: Just plan on maintenance.

I would think a reasonable person would pick B and that's why evolutionists have to prove the law of replication I've proposed on behalf of your rhetoric. :D

Ben

AIGBusted said...

"just as I've been trying to point out, that doesn't prove it can and will cultivate replicators that have a sufficient 'will' to replicate indefinitely. There could be an overall trend towards disorder, and selection picking out the fittest on that *relative* scale."

What makes you think anything to the contrary is possible? How would it be possible?