Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Granville Sewell on natural processes, evolution and the second law of thermodynamics

Dr Granvill Sewell has just released a video outlining his concerns on the relationship between the evolutionary materialist view of origins and the second law of thermodynamics:

He had earlier observed:

. . . The second law is all about probability, it uses probability at the microscopic level to predict macroscopic change: the reason carbon distributes itself more and more uniformly in an insulated solid is, that is what the laws of probability predict when diffusion alone is operative. The reason natural forces may turn a spaceship, or a TV set, or a computer into a pile of rubble but not vice-versa is also probability: of all the possible arrangements atoms could take, only a very small percentage could fly to the moon and back, or receive pictures and sound from the other side of the Earth, or add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers with high accuracy. The second law of thermodynamics is the reason that computers will degenerate into scrap metal over time, and, in the absence of intelligence, the reverse process will not occur; and it is also the reason that animals, when they die, decay into simple organic and inorganic compounds, and, in the absence of intelligence, the reverse process will not occur.

The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection -- like other natural forces -- can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains, with human consciousness. Only the layman seems to see the problem with this logic. In a recent Mathematical Intelligencer article ["A Mathematician's View of Evolution," The Mathematical Intelligencer 22, number 4, 5-7, 2000] I asserted that the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of Nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way.1 . . . . 

What happens in a[n isolated] system depends on the initial conditions; what happens in an open system depends on the boundary conditions as well. As I wrote in "Can ANYTHING Happen in an Open System?", "order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door.... If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth's atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here . . . But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here." Evolution is a movie running backward, that is what makes it special.

THE EVOLUTIONIST, therefore, cannot avoid the question of probability by saying that anything can happen in an open system, he is finally forced to argue that it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn't, that atoms would rearrange themselves into spaceships and computers and TV sets . . . [NB: Emphases added. I have also substituted in isolated system terminology as GS uses a different terminology. Cf as well his other remarks here and here.]

Of course, his point is hotly disputed by those who hold that the open system nature of the earth is sufficient to account for the origin of life and of its body plans. But, his core point is a serious one. 

If you want, my own thermodynamics thoughts are here, and my wider survey on origins is here. Such thoughts are set in a wider worldviews framework, here on, in context.

I trust these considerations will be at least a spark to think for your own self about some truly momentous issues. END