Building Things With Sunshine

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I have said in the past that I think evolution is a hoot, and moreover, I have given reasons for thinking this. One of the reasons is that the idea of evolution runs clean contrary to the second law of thermodynamics. In response to this view of mine, an anti-theist web site (read more here) has offered the following:

“To finish this argument (hopefully once and for all) I will give a similar example but in relation to life.-

In ‘open’ thermodynamic systems energy is imported to turn simple compounds into complex ones, a perfect example of this is photosynthesis in which; water and carbon-dioxide are turned into complex carbohydrates.

The energy for this is imported from the sun, because the earth is not a ‘closed’ system, it is an open one.

If evolution is impossible relating to the second law, so is photosynthesis, which is obviously not the case.”

Let me go straight to my conclusion, state the problem, and then work back to the argument. My interlocutor is trying to explain things with photosynthesis, when what he needs to do is give an accounting for photosynthesis.

Entropy does apply in a closed system. Let’s say that I lock a bunch of plastic up in a box, and I figure out a way to keep it a closed system, keeping all new energy out. That plastic will degrade over time. Give it enough time, and we will have ourselves a little plasticine-like heat death in there.

Okay, now make it an open system. Unfold the box so that it is now a slab, and put the whole thing out in the mid-day sun. New energy is beating down on that stuff like nobody’s business. All this will do is accelerate the entropy. It won’t make the plastic into the intelligently-designed object that I have in mind for my illustration here, which would be a simple Zip Trip coffee cup with a logo on the side — a thousand times less complicated than any living cell. The energy from the sun will just speed up the degradation. With me so far?

But my questioner, taking me for a doofus, tells me in a learned voice that of course I am not going to get a plastic cup as a result of the sun beating down on a pile of plastic, for pity’s sake. But what I have done, says he, is that I have completely left out of my calculations this 3-D printer that is over here in this corner of our slab, and it can make plastic cups all day long — and it has a little solar panel on top that makes it run on sunlight. All the plastic cups you could ever want.

“Great,” say I. “How did the sun build the 3-D printer? That’s way more complicated than a plastic cup.”

In other words, in order for energy to be put to productive use, in any way that runs contrary to entropy, you need an exquisitely designed mechanism that can do that, and such a mechanism also requires an accounting. If it is a piece of marvelous engineering, I do confess that this makes some of us rubes think of a marvelous engineer.

You can’t just wave your hands over the magic photosynthesis machine, and say, “See?” Because many of us do see, and one of the things we see is the manufacturer’s information printed on the side of that thing.

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Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

There is a considerable amount of entropy in the biological diversity on the planet: number of species is entropy.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

That is, there may be problems with evolution, but it’s silly, and insulting to your opponents, to act like someone who didn’t even have college math can refute it. Actually, it’s exactly the same error an atheist who uses his reason to judge religions makes.

Rob Steele
Rob Steele
7 years ago

Tangent here.  Channeling entropy is what we do.  It’s what work is.  It’s the job God gave Adam and Eve.  It’s what makes Tetris fun.  Take the entropy from here and put it over there.

Michael D
Michael D
7 years ago

The proper target of this objection is naturalism, not evolution. Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism gives secular philosophers more headaches than the argument above. Also, talk to the folks at Biologos, who believe that evolution is entirely consistent with Christian theism. I’d like to hear why you think they are wrong. Beating up on naturalism may be child’s play, but that doesn’t mean evolution didn’t happen under the guidance of a designer.

Robert
Robert
7 years ago

How do we account for neaderthal, homo erectus, homo habilis, etc

Karl
Karl
7 years ago

Many evolutionists use energy as magic. The problem is that energy (minus intelligence) is destructive.  You can easily demonstrate this by putting a frog in a blender (along with some additional organic material) and then adding energy. While you will have all the ingredients needed for a “better” frog, I dare say that’s not what you will end up with.

David Douglas
David Douglas
7 years ago

Matt,
I don’t know what to make of “the number of species is entropy”.  Can you flesh that out a bit.  The variety of very highly ordered (very low entropy) things and all interacting perfect does not argue for more entropy but less.  Are you confusing extensive properties with intensive properties?

If not, how about fleshing this out.  Mathematically.
 

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Pr. Wilson: Is that a good metaphor? You can’t just presuppose it is, and then say “based on my metaphor I presupposed, you’re wrong. QED.” To make arguments, you have to know what the premises are. Here’s the definition of entropy. Can you follow it? If not, you aren’t qualified to make arguments about what entropy would or wouldn’t entail. I suppose if you want to say “What they really mean is X [which they do not] and if X, then they’re stupid.” But, that’s just circular.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Exactly how using a metaphor in an argument makes it not a presupposition is beyond me. Or are you trying to go back to the original post? We can do that if you want, but your response to me just assumed the metaphor.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

David: For some reason it won’t let me post my response to you. Google baez entropy evolution, and baez entropy evolution google plus.

Gabriel Rench
Gabriel Rench
7 years ago

Matt- who supposed what first?

Al Stout
7 years ago

Matt…  You probably meant that this was THE definition of entropy.  On that page it has the following:  “For a generally accessible and less technical introduction to the topic, see Introduction to entropy.”  If pastor Wilson cannot follow the first page or the page you linked, but can follow this third definition, may he continue to engage in the argument?  The world waits.

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Matthew N. Petersen wrote: “That is, there may be problems with evolution, but it’s silly, and insulting to your opponents, to act like someone who didn’t even have college math can refute it. Actually, it’s exactly the same error an atheist who uses his reason to judge religions makes. ” Doug never requires that his atheist opponents have a degree in religious studies.  He addresses their arguments on their merits.  What’s insulting is Matthew’s lame ad hominem against Doug’s credentials.  It’s also insulting to my intelligence for Matthew to suggest that the leading lights of Evolutionism have an answer to… Read more »

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Al: Don’t be a jackass. Just because he’s Pr. Wilson doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to pay attention to what his opponents are saying, or make arguments based on premises he does not understand.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Anyway, I highly doubt he has any idea what dS=dq/T, or dS >= dq/T, which is the first bit of the accessible introduction you linked. If you don’t understand the premises of an argument, you’re just making a fool of yourself if you try to refute the argument. And if your opponents have a complicated argument, that you are not qualified to understand, and you say “what’s really going on is X, and X is dumb” you’re being further insulting.

Al Stout
7 years ago

Matt, your assumption that I posted what I did because Pastor Wilson is who Pastor Wilson is as opposed to who Matthew Petterson is, may show that you are not following the definition of jackass…. Here is a link

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Al: Fine. Why are you more interested in insulting me, than in whether Pr. Wilson actually makes a tolerable argument? Why act as if he’s qualified when he’s not? Why act as if he’s exempt from actually understanding the position he’s critiquing?

St. Lee
7 years ago

Matt, how can I put this as gently and diplomatically as possible … you do know that you are not nearly as smart as you think you are, don’t you?
                                                                                                                                                                         And I say that in the most loving way possible.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

St. Lee: Pr. Wilson isn’t either. And if I point that out, suddenly, I’m the one who thinks I’m all smart? Wow.

Al Stout
7 years ago

Matt, I am a smartass and it gets the best of me at times.  Having said that… I don’t assume that Pastor Wilson does not understand the principles involved.  Your bias is showing.  In my link there are a bunch of words prior to the mathematical expression of entropy, whole paragraphs even, and I am going on the assumption that Pastor Wilson can read.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

And Al: I know you posted what you did to insult me. But you insulted me for maybe thinking Pr. Wilson should try to understand what his opponents are saying before he attacks them. And you implied that in fact, he doesn’t need to understand what his opponents are saying. So, why not? Because he’s Pr. Wilson? Do you hold your opponents to the same standard? Whatever they throw at Christians it’s good enough? Somehow I doubt it.

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Matthew N. Petersen seems to have gone full ad hominem at this point.  I take this as a sign that he doesn’t have the answer to Doug’s question either.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

We cross-posted there. Sorry for still fighting after what I take as something of an apology.

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Matthew N. Petersen is trying to spin a narrative that if Doug doesn’t already know the answer to his question about entropy, then it must be because Doug is not listening to his opponents.  If this is the case, why doesn’t Matthew just give the answer?  Are we just supposed to take Matthew’s word for it that Evolutionism has found the answer?  How did the sun build the 3-D printer?

Al Stout
7 years ago

Matthew… Do you hold that the entire universe is open or do we eventually get to the point where even in these subsystems (photosynthesis, evolution, clock making) are enclosed by something, outside of which nothing penetrates? 

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

In the wikipedia article, there are several paragraphs that try to explain what the mathematics actually mean, and all come before the table of contents–that is, as the introduction. No, reading a five paragraph introduction to your opponents position does not qualify you to critique it, any more than Jerry Coyne reading an introduction Hart’s book qualifies him to critique it.

Wesley
Wesley
7 years ago

So Doug asks for an accounting for photosynthesis but the response is “You don’t have a college math degree”?  Whether it be photosynthesis or 3-D printers, information must be created from chaos and nothing, which actually is a mathematical impossibility (the chances of which are on the scale of “1 in (1020) 2000—or 1 chance in 1040,000” (http://web.archive.org/web/20051106023936/http://www.taemag.com/issues/articleid.18694/article_detail.asp)

_____

Surely entropy talk comes into play?

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Al: That’s not on point. If I decrease entropy in my fridge by cooling it, I still increase overall entropy. Same here.

St. Lee
7 years ago

Matthew, I guess I owe you an apology.  Clearly you are far too intelligent for me to be qualified to talk to you.   …or the opposite of that.

Wesley
Wesley
7 years ago

That would be 1 in 10^20^2000, or 10^40,000.  Sorry, the formatting killed it.
 

Al Stout
7 years ago

Matthew, I am told that you are a very nice guy. If we were sitting across from one another over a piece of pie I am going to bet that the term “jackass” would never escape our lips. When you made the ironic mistake of linking an article on informational entropy, while taking someone to task for not being able to follow an argument, I thought it fitting to present it in the same manner with which you were arguing your point.

Thursday
Thursday
7 years ago

There’s a bit of a switcheroo in Pastor Wilson’s arguments here. First, he argues that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.  It doesn’t, because the earth is not a closed system.  Pastor Wilson loses that argument, full stop. So, he switches to a different argument, which is that even open systems tend towards entropy.  That may or may not be true.  But it’s a totally different argument. The fact that Pastor Wilson has switched arguments without noting that he has done so indicates to me that he doesn’t much care about the actual arguments in this area. I therefore… Read more »

Doug Shuffield
Doug Shuffield
7 years ago

A good read from a mathematician on DW’s point is “Can ANYTHING Happen in an Open System?” – http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/sewell/articles/open.pdf
– Doug

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

Al: “The world waits.” Was an insult. That’s what I reacted against. But sorry I reacted. From what I understand, Shannon Entropy is the correct entropy. But I suppose I may be confused, but even if so, my point stands. I’m not saying I can defend it, or that I know what’s going on, but that I can tell that neither does he.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
7 years ago

In the article on “The Second Law of Thermodynamics” wikipedia says:

The time development operator in quantum theory is unitary, because the Hamiltonian is hermitian. Consequently, the transition probability matrix is doubly stochastic, which implies the Second Law of Thermodynamics.[36][37] This derivation is quite general, based on the Shannon entropy, and does not require any assumptions beyond unitarity, which is universally accepted. It is a consequence of the irreversibility or singular nature of the general transition matrix.

I may be wrong, but I believe this is at least one fundamental way to talk about the Second Law. (From reading the physicists, not wikipedia.) hence the link to the article on Shannon Entropy.

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

Pastor Wilson.
Good catch. Your opponent is begging the question.
Please inform us of your opponent’s response when he gets around to it.
 
 
 
 

Joseph Hession
Joseph Hession
7 years ago

My main problem with theistic evolution is that it makes no sense.

Al Stout
7 years ago

Ultimately we are in a closed system (perhaps?) yet the argument is that that smaller systems (refrigerators and the like) were organized within this ultimate system where they all contribute to an equalization of entropy across the whole. Who got that ball rolling? 

Thursday
Thursday
7 years ago

<i>Who got that ball rolling?</i>
Excellent point, but not one that tells much against evolution by natural selection.  Maybe someone needs to start the process, but that doesn’t mean the process can’t create things.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t keep up with the technical side of this, but something has been bugging me for years about this 3rd law thing:  am I missing something when it seems to me like “but the sun” isn’t an answer to the 3rd law dilemma, because the system that contains the sun is still a closed one by naturalistic assumptions? To put it in Doug’s language sure the sun is a source of energy, but who supplied the data to the 3-D printer that gets you from “lots of radiation bouncing around on rocks”… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

Second law, not third. See, I said I wasn’t good on the technical stuff.

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Thursday wrote: “So, he switches to a different argument, which is that even open systems tend towards entropy.  That may or may not be true.  But it’s a totally different argument. The fact that Pastor Wilson has switched arguments without noting that he has done so indicates to me that he doesn’t much care about the actual arguments in this area.” This is incorrect.  Doug didn’t switch arguments, rather he presented arguments for both the closed and the open case.  He dealt with each in turn.  Which is just a reasonable thing to do, especially when the opposition thinks they… Read more »

jay niemeyer
jay niemeyer
7 years ago

Hey Matthew N. Petersen,  Would you please define entropy proper – and explain how it is that Wilson is therefore “out of his element” so to speak regarding his argument? And please try and do this with plain English. You know, as though you were speaking to a mathematically illiterate audience. (It may be an audience of one: meaning your’s truly, but please indulge me.) As CS Lewis says, “If you can’t explain what you believe to a sensible, ordinary person, then you don’t really understand it very well yourself.” It seems as though you’ve got the learned lingo down; but… Read more »

Al Stout
7 years ago

Thursday… Given a closed systems propensity to equalize it’s energy, wouldn’t that require a creator for every subsystem?  Would they not, after their creation, immediately start to equalize themselves? Wouldn’t further organization be counter to entropy? 

Philip Comer
Philip Comer
7 years ago

Matthew N. Petersen – I happen to be an engineer who understands your wikipedia entry on information entropy in communication channels just fine. I also understand the more relevant, thermodynamics concept of entropy.
Now you tell me why there is something which is full of information rather than nothing at all. And when you’re done, tell me why, if we evolved, I should care about anything you just said.

JC
JC
7 years ago

I will respond in a matter of days,
there is need for respite to truly assimilate Doug’s retort and
think of a prudent response.
I respect Doug’s power of reasoning enough not to try and reel at the first bite.
Respect must be shown to the man, not the mans faith.
There is a difference.
“If there is one thing I dislike, it is the man who tries to air his grievances when I wish to air mine.”

Post script;
I never declared myself an atheist.

JC

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

@Philip Comer.                                                                                                                                                                                                When you are done with M.P.  if you could spare a moment or three to help me sharpen my thinking  on differentiating between information and material. (I believe its just the mind-body problem, but I have purposefully not reviewed that  for the exercise of working it through myself–er somewhat, since I am asking you to bounce some ideas off of).                                                                                                                                                                                                The motivation is a Christian and engineer with the moniker wrf3 who in engaging in this post at Vox Popoli  http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/01/mailvox-pressing-for-kill.html who takes the hard-materialist view that there is no difference between matter and information; i.e.… Read more »