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. No one knows if it is even feasible, so don’t ask about probabilities- naturalistic evolution has never been observed to do much of anything, Thorton.

    IOW just attempting any calculation is giving your position the benefit it doesn’t deserve

  2. William J. Murray: 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.

    I’m not sure what William J Murray is attempting to assert here, but the demands he makes for others to “show him” have been met many times over. They are all around him even as he types on his computer.

    One cannot demand that someone prove that the universe works the way it does while also demanding that they buy into ID/creationist misconceptions and misrepresentations as well. Of course the universe doesn’t work the way ID/creationists say it does. The only answer to that demand is, if that is the way they think the universe actually behaves, then they are right, it couldn’t work that way.

    So what does any of that have to do with chemistry and physics?

    The scaling up of the energies of interaction from atoms and molecules to our macroscopic world requires nothing more than high school physics and chemistry. Most high school chemistry and physics students can learn the exercise. You simply scale up work (force times distance) by the factor by which force is multiplied times the factor by which distance is multiplied.

    In doing so, force times distance gets scaled up by a factor of something like 1.24 x 10^46 which means that 1 electron volt gets scaled up to something like 10^10 megatons of TNT. More accurate calculations that account for the shapes of potential wells get pretty much the same result. It is not a difficult calculation.

    One simply cannot ignore entire fields of chemistry and physics and then claim that it is someone else’s responsibility to offer “proof” of the claims of science. If ID/creationists are unwilling to pick up a high school chemistry or physics textbook; and especially if they continue to remain totally unaware of the universe around them, then they are implicitly telling everyone that they refuse to look. Any further “discussion” with them simply becomes pointless.

  3. 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.

    I never made such an argument that I’m aware of.

    I’m not sure what William J Murray is attempting to assert here, but the demands he makes for others to “show him” have been met many times over.

    Where have I made such a demand, and where has it been met ‘many times over”? I think you’re confusing me with someone else.

  4. WJM said: “The onus is always on the claimant, not the skeptic/doubter that challenges the claim.”

    Agreed.

    WJM said: “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.”

    As far as I can tell, neither Thorton nor anyone else on this thread made any such claim.
    But here is your claim:

    WJM:” 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.”

    Since this comment was given in response to a thread with the topic *biological organisms violate the second law of thermodynamics, therefore intelligent design*, one naturally assumes that you speak of the probability distribution for either OOL or the current gamut of biological variation. If not, you will need to specify what event or phenomenon you think one should calculate a probability distribution for. Either way, it would be necessary for you to show that this claim has any merit, i.e. show the probability distributions you have in mind, how you determined them, what your explanatory commodities are, and how they figure into the calculations. Note that nobody but you brought probability distributions into the conversation.

  5. William J. Murray: I never made such an argument that I’m aware of.

    My apologies if I misunderstood you. Can you please clarify then what your point was in a thread about “2LoT disproves evolution” when you started talking about probabilistic resources being insufficient?

  6. My apologies if I misunderstood you. Can you please clarify then what your point was in a thread about “2LoT disproves evolution” when you started talking about probabilistic resources being insufficient?

    Most of what I have commented on in this thread was characterizing my impression of what Sewell meant via the videos. Most of the rest of my comments here were about pointing out the difference between scientific plausibility and an appeal to bare chance because – IMO – that’s the real argument Sewell is trying to make.

    As far as I know, I’ve never claimed that it is “too improbable” for non-ID commodities to generate OOL or to manufacture new complex functional information via neo-Darwinism; all I’ve ever done (again, to my recollection) here is ask those who claim non-ID commodities are sufficient explanations (to scientific plausibility and not bare possibility) to demonstrate them so (in a categorical sense) – but I don’t think I did that in this thread.

    The reason I don’t make such claims is because I’m not qualified either in math or evolutionary biology to back such a claim up. I try not to make claims I can’t meaningfully argue for. I don’t pretend that my beliefs about ID or Neo-Darwinian evolution are rooted in a sufficient understanding of the math or biology involved.

  7. William J. Murray: As far as I know, I’ve never claimed that it is “too improbable” for non-ID commodities to generate OOL or to manufacture new complex functional information via neo-Darwinism; all I’ve ever done (again, to my recollection) here is ask those who claim non-ID commodities are sufficient explanations (to scientific plausibility and not bare possibility) to demonstrate them so (in a categorical sense) – but I don’t think I did that in this thread.

    Which is exactly what science has been doing for the last 150 years. There are literally millions of published scientific papers with evidence for the mechanisms of evolution. There are thousands of museums and laboratories where you can see the evidence firsthand. There are thousands of colleges and universities where you can study the evidence at the undergrad and graduate levels, perhaps even do some original research and add to the understanding yourself. There’s so much evidence that even people who have studied it their whole lives can only know the details of a tiny bit of it.

    So where’s the problem?

  8. William J. Murray: … all I’ve ever done (again, to my recollection) here is ask those who claim non-ID commodities are sufficient explanations (to scientific plausibility and not bare possibility) to demonstrate them so (in a categorical sense) – …

    Well, just what does a “sufficiency explanation” mean in this case?

    In mathematics, a sufficiency demonstration means what it says. For example, it is sufficient to show that the nth term in an infinite series does not approach zero as n goes to infinity. Once that is shown, no more attempts to find a limit are required; the series doesn’t converge. The demonstration is sufficient.

    I have no idea why a scientist would say that “X commodities are sufficient to explain the origin of life.” That doesn’t sound like what a scientist would say.

    And I don’t have any idea what “Y commodities are sufficient to explain acquisition of complex functional information within an acceptable probabilistic range in Neo-Darwinian evolution,…” means. I can’t imagine a scientist saying that.

    What science does know is that (1) there are billions upon billions of examples of matter condensing into all sorts of complex systems, (2) the rules by which this occurs have been teased out by taking matter apart, (3) we can even use this information to make complicated stuff and we’re getting better at it, (4) none of these rules prohibit living organisms from arising from non-living matter, and (5) there does not appear to be any rule or law of physics that would intrude anywhere along a chain of complexity that would forbid the origin of life.

    So the natural question any scientist would ask is, “What is the recipe, or recipes, that lead to the origin of life?” It is likely to be a very complicated recipe, but if we find it, it may turn out to be much simpler than we thought it would be.

    I suppose that one could argue that the discovery of a rule that intrudes to prevent things like the origin of life from occurring would be “sufficient.” But how could one know that nature wouldn’t find a way around such a “rule” by employing something analogous to catalysis, for example? It happens all the time.

    Attempting to demand “sufficiency” in the presence of such complexity seems churlish. One is perfectly free to remain disinterested in science and to always find excuses to remain skeptical. However, that is not going to stop scientists from continuing their search on the basis of what we already know.

    More disturbing, however, are papers like this one by Sewell, as well as others by Abel, Dembski, Behe, and all the crowds at the DI, AiG, and the ICR. This sham of concocting pseudo-science as an argument against real science is not an honest attempt at understanding; nor is it even honest skepticism for that matter. For something like fifty years now these kinds of “criticisms” have been political; and they are designed to induce disbelief and grass-roots opposition to science based on grotesque misrepresentations of what science actually knows.

    Science is extremely interesting and exciting to do. But there certainly are a number of very angry people in this country who seem to be dead set on turning off the interests of young people.

    If Sewell really had in mind an important critique of the second law of thermodynamics, the first place he should have submitted his paper was to Physical Review Letters. And he should have done this only after running it by some physicists before he made a fool of himself.

    What he actually did speaks volumes about motive.

    I’ve been watching this kind of behavior for something like 50 years now. Calling out this behavior doesn’t appear to work for long. This thermodynamics argument was put on the shelf several times by the ID/creationist community; but then it is brought right back out again after a few years. Sewell is simply doing it all over again.

  9. So where’s the problem?

    Evidence that there are many evolutionary mechanisms that exist and papers that describe how they act is not evidence that they are sufficient explanations for all the categories of effects they are claimed to be sufficient explanations of. Until they are categorically demonstrated to be sufficient explanations for the novel generation (over whatever time frame is involved) of a functioning respiratory or nervous or immune system (microbe to monkey, so to speak), there is no reason to assume they are capable of the task.

    Well, just what does a “sufficiency explanation” mean in this case?

    Sufficient explanation means that nothing else is required to make the explanation scientifically plausible.

    Mike Elzinga and Thornton: Are either of you mathematicians or evolutionary biologists?

  10. William J. Murray: Evidence that there are many evolutionary mechanisms that exist and papers that describe how they act is not evidence that they are sufficient explanations for all the categories of effects they are claimed to be sufficient explanations of.

    To the satisfaction of those who actually study and work in the field they are.

    Until they are categorically demonstrated to be sufficient explanations for the novel generation (over whatever time frame is involved) of a functioning respiratory or nervous or immune system (microbe to monkey, so to speak), there is no reason to assume they are capable of the task.

    They have been demonstrated capable of producing the biological variation we see, to the satisfaction of those who actually study and work in the field.

    Sufficient explanation means that nothing else is required to make the explanation scientifically plausible.

    Nothing else is required to make the current theory of evolution scientifically plausible, to the satisfaction of those who actually study and work in the field.

    Again I ask, what’s the problem?

  11. Joe G:
    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.

    No, you should learn about the SLoT, and that the term “blind watchmaker” is meaningless, especially in regard to the SLoT, and that no one has to explain the universe to you with regard to the “blind watchmaker” and the SLoT.

    What is your actual point about the SLoT? Are you saying that the SLoT isn’t true? Are you saying that evolution doesn’t occur? Are you saying that an extra cosmic being performs miracles that defy the SLoT? Are you saying that the universe and life forms were and are specially created? Are you saying that a God did it? Are you saying that a God designs and causes tornadoes and everything else?

  12. William J. Murray: Evidence that there are many evolutionary mechanisms that exist and papers that describe how they act is not evidence that they are sufficient explanations for all the categories of effects they are claimed to be sufficient explanations of.Until they are categorically demonstrated to be sufficient explanations for the novel generation (over whatever time frame is involved) of a functioning respiratory or nervous or immune system (microbe to monkey, so to speak), there is no reason to assume they are capable of the task.

    This is true in a sense, William – there is no reason to assume it, although given the evidence in support, it is often useful to do so. However, there are certainly no grounds to claim that the mechanisms we know of are sufficient. We never will know whether our models are sufficient and there is a sense in which we can be confident that they never will be. The way science works in practice is not by “falsification” but by comparing the fit of competing models to the data. And no model is ever, or can be, a perfect fit – perfectly sufficient.

    Sufficient explanation means that nothing else is required to make the explanation scientifically plausible.

    Ah, well, if that is what you mean by “sufficient”, then I disagree. Our models are perfectly “plausible” – or they wouldn’t be scientific models. They need to invoke mechanisms that can be shown to work, and which predict new data.

    William J. Murray: As far as I know, I’ve never claimed that it is “too improbable” for non-ID commodities to generate OOL or to manufacture new complex functional information via neo-Darwinism; all I’ve ever done (again, to my recollection) here is ask those who claim non-ID commodities are sufficient explanations (to scientific plausibility and not bare possibility) to demonstrate them so (in a categorical sense) – but I don’t think I did that in this thread.

    In that case, we probably don’t disagree much about ID. My beef with ID (why I said it was “fallacious” in another thread) is that ID proponents (Dembski, Behe, Meyer, Abel, and others) claim to produce probability values for non-design models so low that they render it false, and ID the only valid inference.

    In contrast, no evolutionary scientist qua scientist claims that the probability of non-ID is so high as to render ID false. ID is unfalsifiable, because it is compatible with any data, including data that are also compatible with non-Design. A non-Design mechanism could account for every single observation, and yet Design be true.

    So if all you are saying is that you are skeptical of current evolutionary theory – fine. We all should be. There are certainly things that current evolutionary theory does not readily explain, including, but not restricted to, the origin of life.

    It’s the jump to an actual ID inference that we find fallacious. Or I do, anyway.

  13. Joe G:
    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.

    As far as you. I, or anyone else knows, this universe may have come from a Big Bang that was one of a whole series of such – the rest of which simply re-imploded in the first few yoctoseconds because a set of mutually compatible laws, forces, energies, constants – whatever – failed to become established.

    That’s as good a theory as any of yours. I shall test it immediately after breakfast or after my apotheosis, whichever is the later.

  14. It is unclear to me quite how the ‘anti-chance’ adherents expect science to represent the answer to their implicit challenge. If known ‘natural’ causes are a sufficient explanation in principle for the observed patterns in Life, within the strictures of the ‘real’ 2LoT or any more metaphorical version – a vague Law of ‘Pattern’ – how could we convert that into a ‘proof’ that is digestible by people with

    a) Very little science, on the whole.
    b) A deep-seated desire to believe in a higher power.

    ?

    b) shouldn’t even be relevant, but it so clearly gets in the way of any open-minded desire to understand the science. You go to university to pass exams, get a qualification, get a job. You make an effort. If you don’t try and understand the science, you fail. But if you are just arguing on the internet, testifying or trying – for whatever personal reason – to dismiss what the scientists say, how much effort do you put in? Well, in the case of a notorious few, the effort is clearly absolutely enormous, but it is directed entirely towards NOT getting it.

    But laying such trolls aside, even sincere advocates seem to me to be sealing themselves in an intellectual cave into which we could not infiltrate this ‘proof’ even if it were available. Which is just how they want it. Unless you can prove that undirected Nature could get from microbes to monkey, evolution has nothing? No more effort is likely to be put into understanding this imaginary definitive, digestible proof than is put into the currently available more disparate strands of the science that underpins the current consensus. It could pass all the peer review in the world, but there’s something wrong with it, somewhere … there’s gotta be!

    Show me a Creationist and I will show you someone with a shaky grasp of science. Engineers who think cells are just like tiny jumbo jets; mathematicians and astrophysicists who think that probability is all you need to invoke in assembling protein, or that complexity is the sole preserve of Intent; computer programmers who think that DNA is ‘just’ information; nature lovers who think species are anchored to some essential ‘type’ by invisible, undetectable threads; logicians who think that Natural Selection is only a process of ‘removal’ (so is sculpture), or that molecular interactions are governed by ‘chance'; people of every stripe who fail to understand the significance of the genotype/phenotype distinction for evolution and complexity, or the manner in which Life obtains and distributes energy (and its fascinating, deep link with ‘information’, not through bogus conflations of definitions of entropy, but through that remarkable molecule, ATP) …

    … and the challenge is to prove that it isn’t like their misconception says it is!

  15. No, you are mistaken as the blind watmaker just refers to materialism- I will call it sheer dumb luck if you like as that is all it boils down to.

    And yes your position needs to explain the universe.

  16. Thornton, you didn’t answer my question. I would also like to ask it of Allan Miller, and I still need to hear from Mike Elzinga: are any of you evolutionary biologists or mathematicians?

    Elizabeth: I disagree with much of what you wrote in response, as I often do, but I don’t find debating you on those items to be fruitful. I just didn’t want to leave you thinking that we were largely in agreement.

  17. William J. Murray:
    Elizabeth:I disagree with much of what you wrote in response, as I often do, but I don’t find debating you on those items to be fruitful.I just didn’t want to leave you thinking that we were largely in agreement.

    heh.

    Well, we do seem to be missing each others’ points, I guess :)

    But if you are not inferring ID from the low probability of any alternative, then I don’t have a problem with your position.

    And I would, in fact, be interested in hearing from you how you disagree, but I understand if you don’t think it would be fruitful.

  18. William J. Murray:
    Thornton, you didn’t answer my question. I would also like to ask it of Allan Miller, and I still need to hear from Mike Elzinga: are any of you evolutionary biologists or mathematicians?

    WJM,

    No. I have a degree and research experience in biochemistry/molecular biology. My current profession is software design. From these, I have a pretty good grounding in the fundamental nature of the things we discuss – how DNA and proteins work, what information means (and why DNA is not), why the genotype/phenotype distinction is important, for evolution and for the individual organisms thrown up by the process, what molecular Common Descent predicts, how energy flows between molecular configurations, how complexity builds from the bottom up, the apparent limits to intentional design as chaos takes over.

    My mathematics is poor, frankly, and hence (since “evolutionary biology” is highly mathematical), my formal evolutionary biology is not up to the standard of my first degree. But I have made strenuous efforts to redress that, to read and learn and grasp the population-level processes, by writing my own computer models and wading through textbooks. I’m no expert – but then, many evolutionary biologists know bog all about chemistry!

    I’m also a keen naturalist, and am familiar with the ways in which individuals of the same and other species interact, the commonality of their constraints, and the way exponentiation held in check by a finite world works in replicative/selective systems right from polymerising DNA in a test tube, or digital ‘solutions’ in a GA, through E. Coli in a chemostat, right up to herds of elephants or grasses in a pasture. (It’s all about copying!).

    In short: jack of some trades, master of none. If you want a professional evolutionary biologist’s opinion, see Joe Felsenstein.

  19. William J. Murray: Sufficient explanation means that nothing else is required to make the explanation scientifically plausible.

    If that were required of science, then Newtonian science should never have been adopted.

    Not only was it never shown that nothing else is required – we eventually went to relativity and QM because clearly something else was required.

    All that science actually requires, is sufficient explanation to lead to further research and further growth of knowledge.

  20. William J. Murray:
    Thornton, you didn’t answer my question. I would also like to ask it of Allan Miller, and I still need to hear from Mike Elzinga: are any of you evolutionary biologists or mathematicians?

    I am not a professional mathematician or evolutionary biologist, although I have college level training in both. I’m a Senior Systems Engineer with 30+ years experience for a company that develops remote sensing platforms – spacecraft, UAV, submersible – for studying the Earth’s environment.

    Like Allan Miller above, I am also a keen naturalist. I dabble in geology, collect fossils, study the local fauna and flora. I also read the scientific literature regularly (Nature, Science) to keep up with the latest scientific developments in biology and genetics.

    Any arguments I offer here will be supported appropriately and will stand or fall on their own merits, not on my CV.

    Now please answer my question. What reasons besides your own personal incredulity do you have for saying current evolutionary theory is not scientifically plausible?

  21. So your mysterious position doesn’t need to explain anything- got it- all science so far.

    Look YOU made the accusation pertaining to the blind watchmaker- don’t blame me because you can’t support it.

    I

  22. What reasons besides your own personal incredulity do you have for saying current evolutionary theory is not scientifically plausible?

    There isn’t any way to test it.

    How can we test the claim that accumualtions of random mutations can construct new and useful protein complexes?

    So perhaps you coyld start by presenting a testable hypothesis pertaining to necessity and chance- good luck

  23. It seems to me that if one were to watch a movie showing an adult slowly reverting to a toddler, then to a fetus, and shrinking to a blastula, while the cells are merging, stands of DNA joining together (spewing out unlinked nucleotides), shrinking into an embryo which separates into gametes, it would be just as obviously “unnatural” as a tornado assembling a house.
    I think this shows how misguided the linkage between thermodynamic entropy and complexity is.

  24. Joe G:
    So your mysterious position doesn’t need to explain anything- got it- all science so far.

    Look YOU made the accusation pertaining to the blind watchmaker- don’t blame me because you can’t support it.

    I

    Actually, you are claiming that science is wrong and that you are right, but you either can’t or won’t support your claims, or even clarify your claims when asked questions about them. You must think that science is obligated to prove everything to your personal satisfaction and if it can’t it must be wrong and you must be right about whatever it is that you think you’re right about. Science doesn’t work that way.

    If you want to affect science I would suggest that you gather whatever evidence you think you have and present it in a well written paper that you submit to a reputable peer reviewed journal. Complaining about science on the internet may make you feel as though you’re accomplishing something but it won’t change the way science is done and it won’t get your claims accepted by science.

  25. Joe G:
    So your mysterious position doesn’t need to explain anything- got it- all science so far.

    Look YOU made the accusation pertaining to the blind watchmaker- don’t blame me because you can’t support it.

    I

    I didn’t make any accusation pertaining to the blind watchmaker. You’re the one who uses that term and you’re the one who can’t or won’t support your position (whatever it is) with evidence and by answering relevant questions. I get the impression that you are very young and not well versed in scientific subjects. It would behoove you to expand your education in science at a good college, after you finish high school, and then you should have a better interpretation of how science works.

  26. Thorton:

    Any arguments I offer here will be supported appropriately and will stand or fall on their own merits, not on my CV.

    I think this is important. The logic of the arguments can be probed by anyone, even though we may have to take the evidence itself on trust to some extent. But that is always true within science itself – when papers are peer-reviewed, the reviewer does not actually re-run the analyses to check the math, or check that the data really are as reported. What is reviewed is the coherence of the argument, and whether the hypothesis that is claimed to be tested was in fact tested.

    Often reviewers raise an alternative interpretation of the data. This should (and generally is) welcomed, and the paper modified.

    It’s probably worth pointing out that the peer-review process isn’t simply a vetting – it’s part of the scientific process itself, and papers that do get published are usually revised in light of reviewers comments. Sometimes several times. Even when a journal rejects a paper, the paper usually will be revised in light of the reviewers’ comments before submission elsewhere. At least I normally do that.

  27. Elizabeth: It’s probably worth pointing out that the peer-review process isn’t simply a vetting – it’s part of the scientific process itself, and papers that do get published are usually revised in light of reviewers comments. Sometimes several times. Even when a journal rejects a paper, the paper usually will be revised in light of the reviewers’ comments before submission elsewhere. At least I normally do that.

    Many years ago I was attending a meeting of the American Physical Society. That year it happened to be held in Washington DC.

    In one of the plenary sessions, Victor Weisskopf was giving a talk on the history of The Physical Review, of which he had been the editor for a number of years.

    Weisskopf was noting the rapid increase in the number of publications in that journal that resulted in its being separated into a number of different specialty areas; and he also noted the rather rapid deterioration in the quality of the papers being submitted.

    To illustrate how the journal was growing in size exponentially, he visualized the journal sitting on a long shelf and imagined the velocity at which the right-hand end of the journal was increasing with time.

    He then used the current velocity and acceleration to calculate the time in the future when the right-hand end of the journal was traveling faster than the speed of light. And then he said, “But that’s ok because there wouldn’t be any information in it anyway.”

    It was a good physicist’s joke which brought the house down.

  28. Elizabeth: I think this is important.The logic of the arguments can be probed by anyone, even though we may have to take the evidence itself on trust to some extent.But that is always true within science itself – when papers are peer-reviewed, the reviewer does not actually re-run the analyses to check the math, or check that the data really are as reported.What is reviewed is the coherence of the argument, and whether the hypothesis that is claimed to be tested was in fact tested.

    Well, I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. When I review a paper with math in it, I do check whether the analysis is correct (as long as the math is not too difficult for me – if it is I tell the editor), and I expect the same from reviewers who review my papers that have math in them. To some extent the same holds for data. Meta-analyses are quite popular these days, thanks to online availability of papers and meta-analyses tools (e.g. the metafor R package), and reviewers should check IMO, if possible, whether the right numbers from the papers were used in the meta-analysis (surprisingly often this is not the case), or at least sample a few papers.

    /rant

  29. Just reposting this (from the coin-toss CSI thread) to a more appropriate home. It’s part of my campaign to give Gravity the credit it deserves for being the True Creative Force in the Universe! :0):

    Elizabeth:

    So if you want to conclude an Intelligent Designer from the fact that the universe is non-uniform (lacks entropy, essentially)

    I’m not sure about that bit in parenthesis. IANAP, but shortly after the Big Bang, the entropy of the universe was presumably lowest, and has been getting higher ever since. Yet when entropy was lowest, the universe was (again, presumably) quite uniform. But the ‘energy available to do useful work’ was high. The extreme density may have had something to do with the ability of energy to equilibrate in such a circumstance. We have since had expansion, which reduces available energy (or smears it out, at least), but at the same time, that bizarre force gravity has made some very non-uniform distributions of matter (or ‘crystalline energy’, one might New-Age-ily call it) . Where those collections are big enough, nuclear fusion is ignited which releases vast amounts of energy from that matter (and makes ‘chemistry’). That energy is not retained by the same force it was when it was matter, so it is free to equilibrate – to rush outwards into space and become unavailable for work.

    Essentially, when you have mass, moving towards equilibrium (increasing entropy) actually involves creating a non-uniform distribution of matter. Responding to the ‘pull’ of gravity converts the potential energy into kinetic energy of fall, with entropy-increasing energy losses on conversion and on arrest of fall. You have to put energy back in if you want to move the masses apart again.

    If you don’t have mass the equilibrium situation (no gradient) is a uniform distribution in space. But if you do have mass, the equilibrium is a uniform surface – again, no gradient, quite literally. But I am emphatically not a physicist, so am prepared to be told that is all bunk! :0 )

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