2LoT trouble

Granville Sewell has a video up on YouTube:

Mark Chu-Carroll has a take-down of the argument here, but I’d be interested to know what the ID proponents who post here make of it.  It seems to me so self-evidently wrong, that I’d expect ID proponents to be rather keen to point out the errors, but it gets a shout-out at UD.

The reason it seems to me so evidently wrong is nothing to do with intelligent systems versus non-intelligent systems, but that quite simply, biological organisms do not violate the second law of thermodynamics, which states, as Flanders and Swann ineradicably taught me: you can’t pass heat from a cooler to a hotter:

In order for biological organisms to develop, reproduce, populate an environment, and evolve, they must utilise energy.  And they do. Plants store sunlight energy as sugar, and then use that to grow and reproduce.  Animals eat plants – or other animals, in order to gain energy, and grow and reproduce.  As a result, the heat is dissipated, the universe as a whole gets slightly cooler (though there might be temporary local rises, as when I tried to climb a little mountain in Anglesey yesterday), and will continue to do so, as far as we know, until the whole universe is a uniform temperature and no heat can pass from one region to another.

So the apparent argument that biological organisms violate the second law of thermodynamics, therefore intelligent design, is based on a completely false premise.  They don’t. There may be be perfectly good arguments for an ID but biological organisms violating the 2LoT isn’t one of them.  Do any of our ID-supporting members disagree with this?  If so, can you say why?

183 thoughts on “2LoT trouble

  1. William J. Murray: I think what Sewell is really arguing is that the particular kind of employment of energy and arrangements of matter we find in living thngs are so otherwise unlikely in consideration of general entropic effects that unless we explain it via the same mechanism that explains similar such unlikely arrangements (intelligent guidance), then the vanishingly small probability of such employments and arrangements should be considered in principle a violation of the 2LotT.

    So Sewell’s argument has nothing to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but it does in principle? 🙂 You are trying to have your cake and eat it, too, William.

  2. OM: What about the origin of the “designer”?

    Until we can study the designer(s) we cannot say anything about the designer(s), including the origin of or if there was an origin.

  3. So Granville Sewell’s argument that evolution violates 2LoT is another iteration of the argument from incredulity – the belief that life on earth is just too complex to have arisen by what is known of evolutionary mechanisms.
    And yet year by year more evidence comes to light that random events CAN produce new function and “information” in organic molecules. Year by inexorable year, actual experiments give insights into completely feasible ways in which complex, multiprotein structures could have evolved.
    And year on year, all those results are hand-waved away – hand-waved, not refuted by experiment or research – by the closed-minded IDists and creationists as they mill around in the ever-shrinking corner they have painted themselves into.

    Hence their main tactics – ban us from their blogs, or swear at us!

  4. So Sewell’s argument has nothing to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but it does in principle? You are trying to have your cake and eat it, too, William.

    I didn’t say it had nothing to do with the 2LoT, but rather that is about ordinary distriburtions of effects under 2LoT vs non-ordinary distributions, and that there are some extraordinary distributions that should be considered in principle violations of 2LoT patterning (unless intelligent manipulation is part of the explanation) even if they are not technical impossibilities under 2LoT.

    There is technically no way to claim that any event is a violation of 2LoT simply because we dont’ even know if the universe is a closed or open system, or if there are kinds of energy available we have no understanding of. I’m sure Sewell realizes this, so it is my charitable interpretation that he is making an argument about patterns, probabilities and classes of causes and when we should require an additional mechanism to explain the occurrence of a pattern that is well outside of the normal distribution of entropic effects. IOW, the spirit of saying: unless there is some explanatory mechanism at work here, this is not the kind of patterning we’d normally expect under entropy.

    As I said, I think he made a mistake in how he characterized his argument. If he actually believes that he can show the 2LoT to be technically violated, or believes he has absolutely proven it to be violated, then he’s wrong, because there’s nothing to violate, and no way to demonstrate it as having been violated.

  5. There are some things one should be incredulous about, especially when an argument offers only bare chance as an explanation.

  6. William J. Murray: There is technically no way to claim that any event is a violation of 2LoT simply because we dont’ even know if the universe is a closed or open system, or if there are kinds of energy available we have no understanding of.

    William,

    The 2nd law of thermodynamics is not about individual events, it is about processes. From the point of view of physics, a physical process (e.g., the transfer of heat from an ice cube to water in a glass) results in a specific change of entropy. If the system does not exchange heat with its surroundings then its total entropy cannot decrease. That is what the 2nd law says.

    Sewell’s argument is not very specific. He does not calculate the net change of entropy in any physical system. He just speculates that biological evolution results in an increase of information (ordered structures appear) and concludes that this results in a net decrease of entropy. He does not calculate that change in entropy, and neither does he take into account a possible positive offset in entropy that typically occurs in biological systems. Just by consuming food and converting that energy into heat you are producing oodles of entropy. The amount, which you can estimate on the back of an envelope, dwarfs the relatively meager quantities of information you may be producing by thinking. We can run the numbers if you are interested.

  7. William J. Murray:
    Elizabeth,

    You say “nothing violates the 2LoT” as if it is a prescriptive law. All the 2LoT is, is a description of noticeable patterns. There is – technically – no “law” to “violate”, if we’re just going to get technical and not observe the spirit of best interpretation.Anything at all can happen, and 2LoT not be “violated” because there’s nothing to “violate”. From a technical perspective, Sewell is arguing nonsense because, simply, there’s no prescriptive “law” to “violate” in the first place.

    I entirely agree that laws are not prescriptive. For example Hooke’s law is most interesting when it is violated. But to date we know of no violations of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. And if biology regularly violated it, you’d have thought that physicists might have noticed! More to the point, you can readily figure out that biology doesn’t do any such thing. Mike Elzinga has given a good primer. If Granville Sewell was correct, not only would evolution violate the 2LoT, so would the simple development of an organism from a seed. But it doesn’t. Sure, when a seed grows into a tree, what was chaotically moving carbon dioxide and nitrogen and water becomes fixed and ordered tree-stuff, but that doesn’t mean that entropy has decreased, and it hasn’t. In order to make that tree, solar energy has been used to do thework of tree-making, and there is now slightly less of it around in a form in which it can make trees. Sewell, has, in fact, simply equivocated with the word “disorder”. “Entropy” is sometimes defined as “disorder” but it is not “disorder” as in a chopped up tree, or even as in a bunch of air molecules and a shining sun that might “order” those molecules into a tree.

    He’s committed exactly the same fallacy as this one:

    A feather is light.
    What is light cannot be dark.
    Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

    You write:

    If, however, we are going by the principle of charity, then what Sewell is arguing is that the patterns that we use to characterize “entropy” and “2LoT”, and the pattern that is evident when humans design and build things, are two different kinds of patterns. One is like the tornado movie going forwrds, and the other is like a tornado movie going backwards.Although it is not technically impossible to see the tornado build a house, we do not expect to see it. It is not the same pattern of entropic effects we usuallly see – as clumsy and as vague as that statement is.

    In that case he is not making a physics point at all. He is simply arguing by analogy, which is not a valid form of argumentation. If your charitable interpretation were correct, his argument would be: Just as, in physics, entropy cannot decrease locally without energy input from an external source, so, in biology, patterns cannot increase in functional complexity without intelligent input from an external source.

    But he doesn’t seem to be using physics as an analogy (which would reduce his argument to mere rhetoric) but as an actual argument. And that argument is fallacious.

    The same is true of life and evolution; it is not the same pattern of entropy, or the same pattern of behavior under 2LoT, that we usually see. In that sense, both are indeed “violations” of the pattern normally associated with regular entropic effects under 2LoT. No, they are clearly not impossible, but they are clearly not the same. Something else appears to be going on to specifically direct energy to organize matter in such complex, functional structures, meaning it is reasonable to believe some additional mechanism is necessarily in play that is gaming the normal dispersion of effects into very unlikely scenarios.

    Yes, I agree that there “something else appears to be going on to direct energy to organize matter in such complex functional structures”. But that “something else” is not a violation of the 2LoT, as you yourself seem to acknowledge in your use of the phrase “to direct energy”. Sure, energy is being “directed”. Specifically, it is being stored, in various ways, but including proteins, sugars and fats, so that it can do work later for the benefit of the organism. But there isn’t any more energy than there was before, and more particularly, there isn’t more of it in a form available to do work. When solar energy is stored as sugar in the leaves of plants, some of that energy is dissipated. The plant benefits, but does not, and cannot end up with more usable energy than was put in. No energy storage mechanism, no matter how “ordered” it looks, is 100% efficient, and certainly not 101% efficient!

    IOW, even though there is no actual 2″L”oT to violate in the first place, what has been violated is the normal sequential patterning we associate with ordinary entropic effects. Sewell is trying to formally address that, IMO, and what is being offered in rebuttal here are, again, IMO, nothing more than technically valid appeals to bare possibility for no reason other than to avoid something rather obvious – something he uses the movie to demonstrate.

    No, no-one is offering “technically valid appeals to bare possibility”. That’s what Sewell seems to be adressing as a straw man. We are not arguing: oh look it’s just possible that all this could have been ordered by chance, without violating the 2LoT. We are saying that, intelligent designer or not, there is no violation to explain A tidy room has no less entropy than an untidy one. A volume of Shakespeare has no less entropy than the same volume of paper an ink before printing. A “warm little pond” of pre-biotic soup has no more entropy than the same pond with some self-replicating molecules self-replicating in it.

    IMO, this is what a lot of evo-mat argument boils down to: technically valid appeals to bare possibility to avoid the obvious larger picture that is staring us in the face.

    Except that this one doesn’t. Nor do any of them IMO, but for this one, the rebuttal is easier than for most. 🙂

  8. William J. Murray:
    There are some things one should be incredulous about, especially whenan argument offers only bare chance as an explanation.

    I entirely agree. “Chance” isn’t an explanation of anything.

  9. William J. Murray:
    There are some things one should be incredulous about, especially whenan argument offers only bare chance as an explanation.

    Good thing that evolutionary theory doesn’t offer only bare chance as an explanation then.

  10. William J. Murray:
    There are some things one should be incredulous about, especially whenan argument offers only bare chance as an explanation.

    Good thing that the theory of evolution doesn’t offer only bare chance as an explanation then.

  11. To me, an interesting point about this video is that it is an official Discovery Institute production. The production values are much higher than Dr Sewell’s own videos, and the narration is not Sewell’s own Elmer Fudd voice.

    Sewell knows he made a mistake in the past, and is trying to shore up his argument. His two tactics are to mischaracterize ‘compensation’ and to create a theory of ‘X-order’.

    Sewell tries to cast compensation as a kind of spooky action at a distance. It is not, of course – there is a high energy photon connecting the two parts of the system. Nor is X-order necessary in the sense that objects of type X must cross the boundary for X-order to increase. Sewell just refuses to engage with the idea that a photon from the sun can change the state of the Earth.

    Good luck getting Sewell over here, Elizabeth. A few years ago he left comments open when he posted at UD, and was forced to agree to disagree with commenters such as Nakashima on issues of basic physics. Since then he has learned to keep comments closed on his threads.

  12. Elizabeth: I entirely agree. “Chance” isn’t an explanation of anything.

    There is still a MAJOR, MAJOR point that is being overlooked by Joe G and William J Murray in all these analogies with tornados and house building.

    That point is that matter interacts with matter and condenses, releasing energy as it does so. If you miss this, you miss everything, including the second law of thermodynamics.

    In order to understand how far off the mark these analogies with house building and junkyard tornados are, let’s scale up the atomic and molecular world instead of going down and mingling with atoms and molecules.

    The electrical forces among atoms and molecules are enormous. There is nothing like that acting among junk in a junkyard or among boards of a house. Most objects in the macroscopic world are electrically neutral because electrical charges of the atoms and molecules very nearly cancel each other out.

    But down in the atomic and molecular world, the electrical force between two protons is 1.2 x 10^36 times greater than the gravitational force between them.

    The distances over which these forces act are on the order of 10^(-10) meters.

    The energies of chemical bonds are on the order of 1 electron volt (eV).

    The binding energies of solids like metals are on the order of 0.1 eV.

    The binding energies of liquid water (the energy window of living organisms) are on the order of 0.01 eV.

    There are physical processes in living organisms that are easily measurable on the order of 0.001 eV.

    Suppose we scale the ratio of electrical forces to gravitational forces up to our macroscopic world where we measure things in kilograms and meters.

    If kilogram-sized masses had electrical interactions that were as large relative to their gravitational interactions as we see in the atomic and molecular world; and if these forces acted over the same distances as in that atomic and molecular world, then

    1 eV scales up to 1.2 x 10^36 eV = 1.9 x 10^17 joules = 47 megatons of TNT

    If we also scale up the distances over which those forces act from 10^(-10) meters to, say, 1 meter, that is a factor of 10^10 in distance over which those forces act. Then the energy (force times distance) scales up with distance as well.

    So that 1 eV of chemical binding energy then scales up to 47 x 10^10 megatons of TNT in order to break the equivalent bond at our macroscopic level.

    Then 0.1 eV scales up to 4.7 x 10^10 megatons of TNT per pair of molecules in order to melt the analogous amount of metal.

    0.01 eV scales up to 0.47 x 10^10 megatons of TNT in order to boil a lobster.

    0.001 eV scales up to 47 x 10^7 megatons of TNT in order to switch on a channel for a sodium or potassium atom to pop through a membrane and allow nerve impulses to flow.

    One simply cannot use the interactions among the macroscopic things we see around us as analogies of what goes on in the world of atoms and molecules.

    In addition to the ENORMOUS forces acting among atoms and molecules are also all those quantum mechanical rules that place constraints on what falls out of all that jostling that goes on down there. There are no analogous rules acting among junk and boards.

    Matter condensing requires the second law of thermodynamics. Bonding simply cannot occur without the release of energy. Scaled up to the macroscopic world, such interactions and bonding would release enormous amounts of energy. It would be noticed.

  13. Elizabeth:
    I’m not convinced there is even much of a local decrease.If I build a house, I’m not decreasing entropy, I’m just building a house.It doesn’t have more usable thermal energy at the end than the materials did at the beginning.And I certainly have less.I will need my dinner.

    I’m building a studio for my wife at the moment. I’m losing weight!

  14. WJM

    There are some things one should be incredulous about, especially when an argument offers only bare chance as an explanation.

    Hmmm – Chance or Magic? How to decide? Fiiiiiight! (a jest that will not cross the Atlantic). For someone who fancies himself as Captain Logic, you are remarkably ready to relinquish it for something much more warm and fuzzy when it suits!

    You decry chance, and yet make an appeal to chance in asserting that, being a statistical phenomenon, it cannot be a Law. Presumably, then, there cannot be a Law of Large Numbers? Highly localised violations are always possible, just as quantum tunnelling occurs for electrons but not for planets. But we can make no appeal to this on any significant scale. (If we could, of course, we could just say the OoL was such a statistical fluctuation! But I am happy to consider the OoL as 2LoT-bound as every other chemical system).

    Incidentally, it does not matter whether the universe as a whole is open or closed. Our bit of it has a sun in it. Most of that energy dissipates, but we stand right in the path of a tiny fraction of that dissipating – that equilibrating – energy. Even without a sun, we have molecules on earth which possess varying degrees of free energy. That is all you need to generate an energy flow: there is a potential difference – a gradient – which, if the molecules are appropriately coupled, will cause the molecules to react, in a thermodynamically irreversible manner, releasing energy. No intelligence is required.

    This happens all the time. It is not Life, nor anything like, but it is not magic.

    Life does two things rather uniquely: it couples series of reactants in a stepped free-energy gradient in a manner that allows the energy of ‘fall’ to be converted into usable or storable forms. And, rather more well-known, it creates ‘order’ in the form of nucleic acids that form self-replicating systems with the power to create other copies with the same capacity.

    But the important point about the mechanism of energy capture is that it exploits the second Law of thermodynamics. So you’d better hope it is a Law! The reactions of Life feed electrons energised by the sun (photosynthesis) or ‘stolen’ from certain inorganic molecules (chemoautotrophs) into the top of a gradient of chemical potential and cascade them down the gradient of chemical potential, ultimately to a terminal electron acceptor (eg oxygen). If that didn’t work – if ‘2LoT’ was routinely violated – we would not be here.

    So we are left with the Origin. Your’ charitable’ reading of Sewell is an appeal to the necessity of agency to set up a complex system. But this system itself MUST NOT violate the 2nd Law, precisely because a viable living system must exploit it – that’s how living things get their energy. So then you are left with an appeal to Intelligence – not to overcome the second Law, but to orientate the First System in such a way that it can operate to exploit it. But to do that, you have to somehow suspend thermodynamic interaction – for thermodynamics is anything but chance.

    Your answer to this is to invoke some kind of Intelligence Plus. You ‘logically’ deduce intelligence as a necessary cause of pattern, and the fact that this intelligence has to suspend known laws of physics (and, somehow, exist) is a minor difficulty. I can’t say I have a clear idea of how natural forces might achieve the trick, but I don’t see how Intelligence is any help per se.

  15. Alan Miller,

    As usual, your post entirely mischaracterizes virtually everything I’ve written. I haven’t invoked magic anywhere. I haven’t decried chance; I’ve decried the use of bare chance as a scientific explanation. Etc.

  16. But William, where are you seeing “bare chance” offered as an explanation? And of what?

  17. Elizabeth,

    When an ID advocate refers to “chance”, they are not referring to a system supposedly devoid of all the usual, interacting fundamental forces and how they normally behave in their usual pattern-producing processes as they act on matter over time. Such a straw-man diversion is nothing but obfuscation, either deliberate or not.

    What the term “chance” refers to is that those present forces, in their normal, observed patterns of effects, usually produce a certain range of chance (meaning: not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence) effects. So, we have three potential operating agencies: natural law (and all the force/material interactions thereof), chance ( the range of patterned distribution one would expect from those force/material interactions), and (propositionally) intelligence, which is known to manipulate force/material interactions into patterns of effects that are well outside of the plausible normal range of non-intelligent effects.

    When one appeals to chance to explain that which falls well outside of the expected normal range of force/material patterns, they are appealing to bare chance for the explanation, because chance by itself must fill in the gap between what is normally produced by such force/material interactions, and something that is well outside of that normal range. It is like appealing to chance magic or a chance miracle.

    If you cannot admit that there is a profound difference between the movie going forward and the movie going backward and that it requires more than an appeal to the range of chance occurrences we can expect from the (unintelligent) process of force/material interactions to produce the backward movie, then we don’t have anything to argue, because it is my policy only to state the obvious when it comes up in a debate, not to get into arguments with those that deny it.

    I’ve never found arguments with those who deny the obvious to be fruitful on any level.

  18. William J. Murray:

    What the term “chance” refers to is that those present forces, in their normal, observed patterns of effects, usually produce a certain range of chance (meaning: not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence) effects.

    Evolution works as an iterative process with random genetic variation being filtered by non-random selection, and having favorable changes retained as heritable traits. Empirical evidence shows the process has been running for over 3 billion years.

    What is the “certain range” of effects such a long term iterative process can produce, and how did you determine its limits?

  19. I’ve never found arguments with those who deny the obvious to be fruitful on any level.

    What seems obvious may not be accurate. It may seem obvious that the Earth is flat. It may seem obvious that the sun moves across the sky. There have been fruitful arguments to the contrary.

  20. You aren’t responding to the intent of Elizabeth’s question. No one in biology is asserting that the movie goes backward, or whatever. The assertion of evolution is that dynamic systems can learn.

    That is to say, certain kinds of systems (living populations and GAs, for example) can be modified by feedback and pass the modification to subsequent generations.

  21. William J. Murray:
    Elizabeth,

    When an ID advocate refers to “chance”, they are not referring to a system supposedly devoid of all the usual, interacting fundamental forces and how they normally behave in their usual pattern-producing processes as they act on matter over time.Such a straw-man diversion is nothing but obfuscation, either deliberate or not.

    Not deliberate on my part, William.

    What the term “chance” refers to is that those present forces, in their normal, observed patterns of effects, usually produce a certain range of chance (meaning: not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence) effects.So, we have three potential operating agencies: natural law (and all the force/material interactions thereof), chance ( the range of patterned distribution one would expect from those force/material interactions), and (propositionally) intelligence, which is known to manipulate force/material interactions into patterns of effects that are well outside of the plausible normal range of non-intelligent effects.

    I think you have a category confusion here, William, even using your own definitions of Chance, which seem to me in any case not to be synonymous (“not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence” and “the range of patterned distribution one would expect from those force/material interactions”),

    Let’s start by defining an “agency” as something that produces an “effect”. A “law” is not exactly an agency” but let’s say that some agencies act according to deterministic laws (massive bodies, for instance). So how do we accommodate “Chance”? Not as a different kind of agent, according to your definition, but the probability distribution you’d expect from the combined effects of those deterministic agents, right? Often Gaussian, because of the Central Limit Theorem.

    So it seems to me we don’t have three (or rather two so far) agencies here, but two kinds of effects – deterministic effects from simple agents, and stochastic effects, with a predictable probability distribution from complex combinations of agents (let’s leave quantum effects out of this, for simplicity). And then we would have intelligent agencies – agencies that produce effects with probability distributions different from those we’d expect from complex combinations of agencies that are not “manipulated towards a goal”.

    In other words, according to my count, we have two kinds of agency, both of which produce a distribution of effects, but one is goal-less and the other isn’t. And you are saying, I think, that if the probability distribution isn’t what you’d expect under the hypthesis of a goal-less agency, you can infer an intelligent agent, right? Which is, of course Dembski’s argument.

    When one appeals to chance to explain that which falls well outside of the expected normal range of force/material patterns, they are appealing to bare chance for the explanation, because chance by itself must fill in the gap between what is normally produced by such force/material interactions, and something that is well outside of that normal range. It is like appealing to chance magic or a chance miracle.

    So, using my way of rephrasing what you are saying, this seems to amount to saying that some things fall outside the probability distribution expected of a goal-less agent. It’s not that “chance” is invoked to explain what we see, but that we are being too generous in our estimates of the probability distribution of effects from a goal-less system?

    If I am interpreting you correctly, what we should be focussing on what those probability distributions are for the candidate goal-less system. This, btw, is where I think Dembski goes wrong – he does not attempt to calculate the pdf for his null hypothesis (a goal-less system). But as far as this particular thread goes – where does the Second Law of Thermodynamics come in at all?

    If we are simply discussing what range of effects are possible from a goal-less system, and whether these effects include what we observe in biology, then let’s discuss that. But nobody is suggesting (apart from Sewell) that those effects include the violation of the 2LoT. Nobody is attempt to handwave away biological violations of the 2LoT as being due to “Chance” rather than “Intelligence”. What we are saying is that there is no violation to explain whether by chance or intelligence. It’s just isn’t an explanandum!

    If you cannot admit that there is a profound difference between the movie going forward and the movie going backward and that it requires more than an appeal to the range of chance occurrences we can expect from the (unintelligent) process of force/material interactions to produce the backward movie, then we don’t have anything to argue, because it is my policy only to state the obvious when it comes up in a debate, not to get into arguments with those that deny it.

    Of course there is a profound difference between the movie going forward and the movie going backward. And of course we don’t expect tornadoes to construct 747s from scrapyards. But when a person contructs a 747 from a heap of parts, that personis not violating the 2LoT. This is Sewell’s error.

    The person making the 747 is something much more complex than a tornado, is an intelligent agent, and, arguably (not by me) a product herself of an intelligent agent, but the fact that she can build a 747 is what needs explaining, not her ability to violate the 2LoT, because she doesn’t.

    When she’s finished, there will be more entropy that there was when she started. This will be as true if she builds a 747 as if she dismantles one.

    It’s just that she doesn’t need to be quite as smart to dismantle one as to build one.

    I’ve never found arguments with those who deny the obvious to be fruitful on any level.

    But William, sometimes I think you think that people are denying the obvious when they aren’t. We all agree that tornadoes can’t put houses back together again, while they can easily destroy one. Where we disagree with Sewell (and I expect you do too) is that when an intelligent builder puts a house back together she is violating the 2LoT. She isn’t.

  22. Hi Mike- There is still a MAJOR, MAJOR point that is being overlooked by you and the others:

    Would we even have tornadoes in a blind watchmaker scenario? Would we have the earth? Would we have gravity, the strong & weak nuclear forces and electro-mag?

    Again his argument pertains to naturalism- you have to explain the universe using the blind watchmaker wrt 2nd law.

  23. Could you please elaborate on this alleged non-random “selection”. Natural selection is a misnomer as it is nothing but a result and according to Mayr whatever works “good enough” is the result.

    Do you know what “empirical” means?

  24. William J. Murray,

    William J. Murray: When an ID advocate refers to “chance”, they are not referring to a system supposedly devoid of all the usual, interacting fundamental forces and how they normally behave in their usual pattern-producing processes as they act on matter over time. Such a straw-man diversion is nothing but obfuscation, either deliberate or not.

    In the ID publications that I’ve read, that is what is usually meant by “chance” — thus the distinction between chance and law. Dembski sometimes lumps the two together under the term “chance”, in which case he posits a dichotomy of chance vs. design rather than a trichotomy of law, chance, and design. But Dembski is inconsistent in his use of the term, and I suspect that most IDists would consider it strange to say that the sun rose in the east today by “chance”.

    Your description of one potential operating agency as “natural law (and all the force/material interactions thereof)” and another potential operating agency as “the range of patterned distribution one would expect from those force/material interactions” doesn’t make sense to me. To which of those operating agencies do we attribute the fact that half of a lump of Carbon 14 decays in 5730 years?

  25. And you are saying, I think, that if the probability distribution isn’t what you’d expect under the hypthesis of a goal-less agency, you can infer an intelligent agent, right?

    No, I’m saying that if the probability distribution under the current set of explanatory commodities is outside of what you’d expect, you need another explanatory commodity, whether that explanatory commodity is some other known force, process, or agency, that is identifiable as producing that kind of effect. IOW, it’s not just a gap argument that is filled in with intelligent agency; the effects could be way outside of the expected norm from the proposed explanatory commodities and still not be indicative of intelligent agency. Intelligent agency is only introduced as an explanatory commodity when its particular kinds of effects are noticed in the distribution.

    It’s not that “chance” is invoked to explain what we see, but that we are being too generous in our estimates of the probability distribution of effects from a goal-less system?

    I don’t know what you mean by “being too generous”. We know what the normal, expected probability distribution from any particular set of explanatory commodities is. There is a limit to how far one can take an effect outside of that distribution and refer to that set of explanatory commodities as a scientifically plausible and sufficient explanation for that effect, otherwise we are referring to miracles of chance as our explanation, or, as I call it, appealing to bare chance.

    Where we disagree with Sewell (and I expect you do too) is that when an intelligent builder puts a house back together she is violating the 2LoT. She isn’t.

    Yes, we agree on that. I don’t think anyone or anything anywhere at any time in our universe technically violates the 2LoT. I don’t think Sewell believes that either, but I’m not going to argue about what Sewell thinks. I’ll just say that if Sewell thinks he has demonstrated that life technically (via physics) violates the 2LoT, he is wrong.

  26. Joe G:
    Could you please elaborate on this alleged non-random “selection”.

    “non-random” in this case means not having a uniform probability distribution. That leads to differential reproductive success among the variations, one of the key aspects to the evolutionary process.

    Do you know what “empirical” means?

    Why yes, I do. If you don’t there are plenty on online resources where you can educate yourself.

  27. William J. Murray: No, I’m saying that if the probability distribution under the current set of explanatory commodities is outside of what you’d expect, you need another explanatory commodity, whether that explanatory commodity is some other known force, process, or agency, that is identifiable as producing that kind of effect.

    How did you determine that the probability distribution under the current set of explanatory commodities is outside of what you’d expect? I’d really like to see those calculations, especially all the data required for an accurate assessment.

  28. What is the “certain range” of effects such a long term iterative process can produce, and how did you determine its limits?

    It’s not my job to compute the limitations of explanatory commodities asserted by others as plausibly sufficient for the effects in question. That’s their job. I hardly have to refute that which hasn’t been demonstrated in the first place.

  29. I’ll just say that if Sewell thinks he has demonstrated that life technically (via physics) violates the 2LoT, he is wrong.

    2LoT is an observed fact rather than a theory. It’s just what we observe and quantify as a law. There’s no particular reason for it.

    Sewell is obviously not arguing that life vilolates 2LoT. He is arguing that evolution (or perhaps OOL) would violate it. He is simply wrong. Evolution is, in terms of energy usage, equivalent to metabolism. Living things turn raw elements into complex structures, and evolution turns populations complex structures into different populations of complex structures. The term in physics is work. Work does not violate 2LoT.

    Sometimes evolution produces an increase in complexity, but that is actually a rare event. Microbes are the modal form of life. Most things don’t get more complex. They just change.

  30. Thornton,

    If you’re going to argue that I have to have a mathematical worksheet to support my claim that a tornado building a house out of piles of scrap is outside of the normal range of expected results, then I reiterate: I don’t argue the obvious with those who deny it.

  31. William J. Murray: No, I’m saying that if the probability distribution under the current set of explanatory commodities is outside of what you’d expect, you need another explanatory commodity, whether that explanatory commodity is some other known force, process, or agency, that is identifiable as producing that kind of effect. IOW, it’s not just a gap argument that is filled in with intelligent agency; the effects could be way outside of the expected norm from the proposed explanatory commodities and still not be indicative of intelligent agency. Intelligent agency is only introduced as an explanatory commodity when its particular kinds of effects are noticed in the distribution.

    Well, I agree with most of that.

    I don’t know what you mean by “being too generous”.

    Overestimating the width of the probability distribution under our hypothesis. Or being too optimistic about where life as we know it would fall under that distribution.

    We know what the normal, expected probability distribution from any particular set of explanatory commodities is.

    Well, no, we don’t, necessarily. I’m glad you said that, because it’s a really key point. Estimating the expected probability distribution from an explanatory hypothesis is not straightforward. Nor is estimating the expected probility distribution under a null hypothesis (the more standard way of doing it). I think this is an important clue to the misunderstanding between us here, William: it’s not that evolutionists think that unlikely things are perfectly possible; it’s that we don’t think that what we observe is unlikely, given our hypothesis! This is where the definition of “chance” becomes important. You defined “chance” earlier as “not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence”. Now it is perfectly true that evolutionists claim that biology was “not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence”, and so, in that sense, and in that sense only, we could be said to be attributing biological phenomena to “chance”. But “chance”, in that sense, is not our explanation. Our explanation is a clear set of mechanisms by which complex systems of natural forces have a probability distribution of effects in which what we observe – we would argue is in the middle of the distribution, not the tails.

    So to repeat: we do not argue that life not being purposely designed is unlikely but that unlikely things happen “by chance”; rather we argue that life by non-design mechanisms is really quite likely under certain conditions.

    There is a limit to how far one can take an effect outside of that distribution and refer to that set of explanatory commodities as a scientifically plausible and sufficient explanation for that effect, otherwise we are referring to miracles of chance as our explanation, or, as I call it, appealing to bare chance.

    And, as I hope I have now made clear, that is not what any evolutionary scientist is doing. Or none that I know of.

    Yes, we agree on that.I don’t think anyone or anything anywhere at any time in our universe technically violates the 2LoT.I don’t think Sewell believes that either, but I’m not going to argue about what Sewell thinks.I’ll just say that if Sewell thinks he has demonstrated that life technically (via physics) violates the 2LoT, he is wrong.

    OK, cool 🙂

  32. William J. Murray:
    Thornton,

    If you’re going to argue that I have to have a mathematical worksheet to support my claim that a tornado building a house out of piles of scrap is outside of the normal range of expected results, then I reiterate: I don’t argue the obvious with those who deny it.

    I don’t think he was asking for that. What we are all interested in is the probability distribution for the range of results of evolutionary processes. Dembski implies that what we observe is at the extreme tail of that distribution, and therefore rejects it. But he does not compute the distribution.

  33. William J. Murray: What the term “chance” refers to is that those present forces, in their normal, observed patterns of effects, usually produce a certain range of chance (meaning: not deliberately manipulated towards a goal by intelligence) effects.

    But what does “deliberate” mean here?

    Consider a homeostatic process. It is, in some sense, monitoring its current status and changing its configuration is such a way as to maintain near stasis. Does that count as “deliberate?” And is it surprising if action oriented toward maintaining stasis happens to create patterns elsewhere as a consequence of that orientation toward stasis?

  34. That analogy only works if the configuration changer is stochastic.

    But I think it is useful to think of evolution as a homeostatic process rather than a hill climbing process.

  35. Joe G: Until we can study the designer(s) we cannot say anything about the designer(s), including the origin of or if there was an origin.

    Or if there is in fact, any design at all.

  36. Neil Rickert: But what does “deliberate” mean here?

    Consider a homeostatic process.It is, in some sense, monitoring its current status and changing its configuration is such a way as to maintain near stasis.Does that count as “deliberate?”And is it surprising if action oriented toward maintaining stasis happens to create patterns elsewhere as a consequence of that orientation toward stasis?

    The key difference, as I see it, between an intentional process and a non-intentional process, is that in an intentional process, the intentional agent selects actions that will most likely bring about a distal goal. In a non-intentional process, actions are selected by what is proximally advantageous.

    But both work quite well.

  37. I don’t think he was asking for that. What we are all interested in is the probability distribution for the range of results of evolutionary processes. Dembski implies that what we observe is at the extreme tail of that distribution, and therefore rejects it. But he does not compute the distribution.

    I’m not Dembski, I’m not making Dembski’s argument, so it doesn’t fall to me to support anything Dembski claims.

    If thornton is asserting that the proposed commodities are sufficient to produce the effects in question within the probabilistic range, it is his job to support that assertion when challenged. IOW, if you or he or anyone claims that “the tornado movie in reverse” is within the range of reasonable probabilistic outcomes, it’s not my job to prove (support) that it is not; it’s your job to prove that it is if I challenge your assertion.

    Similarly, if you or he claim that X commodities are sufficient to explain OOL, or that Y commodities are sufficient to explain acquisition of complex functional information within an acceptable probabilistic range in Neo-Darwinian evolution, then if I say “I doubt that, show me”, you don’t have a logical right to say “first, show us why your doubt has any scientific merit”.

    The onus is always on the claimant, not the skeptic/doubter that challenges the claim.

  38. Yes we can determine design in the absence of a designer. And we can also refute that design inference.

    Science, Rich….

  39. “non-random” in this case means not having a uniform probability distribution.

    Or having a random probability distribution- IOW it is meaningless wrt biology- as in what survives and what doesn’t, what reproduces more and why.

    Thanks, that is what I have always said and you have just proven. Good job.

    As Dennett said “There is no way to predict what will be selected for at any point in time.” and we already know we can’t predict what mutation will occur

  40. William J. Murray: I’m not Dembski, I’m not making Dembski’s argument, so it doesn’t fall to me to support anything Dembski claims.

    No, I’m just trying to sift out what argument you are making. It sounded a bit like Dembski’s. Now I’m puzzled. Would you like to address my post in full, re probability distributions?

    If thornton is asserting that the proposed commodities are sufficient to produce the effects in question within the probabilistic range, it is his job to support that assertion when challenged. IOW, if you or he or anyone claims that “the tornado movie in reverse” is within the range of reasonable probabilistic outcomes, it’s not my job to prove (support) that it is not; it’s your job to prove that it is if I challenge your assertion.

    But nobody is claiming this, William, as I’ve said several times!

    I have claimed two things:

    1. That even though a person can build/rebuild a house and a tornado cannot, that doesn’t mean that a person violates the 2LoT when she does so. You seem to agree with that, so that’s fine.

    2. That evolutionists (or whatever you want to call us) aren’t claiming that even though natural processes are extremely unlikely to produce life, by chance they might have done so – what we are claiming is that natural processes aren’t all that unlikely to produce life – or at least evolved life. And one strand of that evidence is the creative power of Darwinian processes as witnessed by genetic algorithms and evolutionary simulations – they reliably (i.e. with high probability) result in complex virtual life forms with some pretty neat functions.

    Similarly, if you or he claim that X commodities are sufficient to explain OOL, or that Y commodities are sufficient to explain acquisition of complex functional information within an acceptable probabilistic range in Neo-Darwinian evolution, then if I say “I doubt that,show me”, you don’t have a logical right to say “first, show us why your doubt has any scientific merit”.

    hmmm. What do you mean by “acceptable probabilistic range”? Isn’t that precisely the point at issue?

    The onus is always on the claimant, not the skeptic/doubter that challenges the claim.

    No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a general rule about where the onus lies.

  41. The tornado analogy is not only irrelevant to any argument about the assembly of atoms and molecules, it completely mischaracterizes chemistry, physics, biology and evolution.

    It makes the explicit and erroneous assertion that boards and junk flying around randomly do not stick together into some form of useful structure by chance, however slim, and therefore it is all “spontaneous molecular chaos” with atoms and molecules.

    And then the argument goes on to assert that, while such a slim chance is some kind of statistical fluctuation that is not ruled out by thermodynamics, these kinds of things don’t happen in the lifetime of the universe.

    The analogy is irrelevant because junk and house debris do not interact with the kind of forces and rules that atoms and molecules do. There is not a charge-to-mass ratio for boards, nails, fenders, and old transmissions. The analogy is completely irrelevant because it uses things that do not behave like atoms and molecules as an analogy to how atoms and molecules behave.

    The example that I gave with actual numbers is still being overlooked. If house parts and car parts and junk interacted with the strengths and the rules of quantum mechanics, the energies would be enormous.

    One electron volt scales up to something on the order of 10^10 megatons of TNT along with a set of quantum rules that would snap thing together in whatever configurations fit within the constraints of quantum mechanical rules.

    Scale yourself down to that level and imagine yourself among things that are flying around with energies on the order of 10^10 megatons of TNT and slamming together and sticking with such force that energies on the order of 10^10 megatons of TNT would be required to pull them apart.

    Atoms and molecules don’t come together in the form of houses and 747s. Chemistry and physics produce compounds and enormously complex assemblies under the action of strong forces and quantum mechanical rules.

    Attempting to gauge probabilities and chance occurrences in chemistry and physics from looking at a tornado is a completely bogus exercise.

    Electromagnetic forces that are 10^36 times larger than the gravitational force.

    Quantum mechanical rules that place constraints on how things snap together.

    Energies that are 10^10 megatons greater that gravitational potential energies.

    Chance has nothing to do with any of it at the atomic and molecular level.

    It is not a tornado-in-a-junkyard down there.

  42. Mike Elzinga: “The analogy is irrelevant because junk and house debris do not interact with the kind of forces and rules that atoms and molecules do.”

    This is a very important point that illustrates the very misleading ID argument that “junk”, (here collections of atoms in “allowable according to the laws of physics” configurations), are somehow peers of individual atoms and molecules.

    They are not peers of each other, rather one is a “subset” of the other, and they have different properties associated with them.

    What the ID crowd is implying with this analogy, is that atoms and molecules can be piled beside each other like junk with out regards to anything other than the tornado.

    Try that with a pile of magnets.

    There are configurations of a collection of the magnets, that will not be allowed due to the properties of the magnets themselves, without regard to the best efforts of the tornado.

  43. As a simple example, compare a shoebox containing a couple of dozen ordinary marbles with a shoebox containing a couple of dozen magnetic marbles.

    Put the lids on the boxes and shake them. Then open the boxes and look at the difference in the arrangements.

    Yet this is just an extremely simple example that still doesn’t capture all the complexities of interactions of atoms and molecules.

  44. William J. Murray:
    Alan Miller,

    As usual, your post entirely mischaracterizes virtually everything I’ve written. I haven’t invoked magic anywhere. I haven’t decried chance; I’ve decried the use of bare chance as a scientific explanation. Etc.

    William,

    As I emphasised, “Chance vs Magic” was a joke (hence: “jest”). To someone like me who regards intelligence as an evolved property of physical media (brains), that is all that is left at the origin of life. I was jokingly trading your incredulity against my own – what you call chance is no more “Chance” (to me) than what I call magic is really “Magic” (to you).

    Still, since you think I miss your point every time I address you, I will henceforth leave you to pontificate sans my input.

    Best Regards

    Allan

  45. William J. Murray: T: ” What is the “certain range” of effects such a long term iterative process can produce, and how did you determine its limits?”

    It’s not my job to compute the limitations of explanatory commodities asserted by others as plausibly sufficient for the effects in question. That’s their job. I hardly have to refute that which hasn’t been demonstrated in the first place

    But it is you job to support your claims.

    You say natural processes are limited to a certain range of effects. It’s your job to show what that range is, and how you established it.

    If you can’t then all you are doing is making unsupported assertions. Unsupported assertion carry zero weight in determining scientific veracity.

  46. William J. Murray:
    Thornton,

    If you’re going to argue that I have to have a mathematical worksheet to support my claim that a tornado building a house out of piles of scrap is outside of the normal range of expected results, then I reiterate: I don’t argue the obvious with those who deny it.

    No one asked you about tornadoes and houses. You were asked to support your argument that it’s too improbable that observed natural processes are capable of producing the biological variation we now see.

    If you can’t do the calculations due to lack of data that’s fine. We’ll file your idea under “unsupported assertions” and give it all the scientific gravitas it’s due.

    Science’s evidence for naturalistic evolution doesn’t rest on undoable probability calculations. It rests on millions of pieces of consilient and corroborating data. Unfortunately for you, your argument does rest on undoable probability calculations.

    Looks like you need a new argument.

    I don’t argue the obvious with those who deny it.

    Funny, I heard the same reasoning from a geocentrist who claimed it was obvious the sun revolved around the Earth.

  47. Science supports the claim and all you can do to try to get around it is throw eons of time around- YOUR claim of natural selection proves it is just a statistical artifact- that says it is very limited.

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