# Configuration and Configurational Entropy

From Wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Configuration_entropy

In statistical mechanics, configuration entropy is the portion of a system’s entropy that is related to the position of its constituent particles rather than to their velocity or momentum. It is physically related to the number of ways of arranging all the particles of the system while maintaining some overall set of specified system properties, such as energy. The configurational entropy is also known as microscopic entropy or conformational entropy in the study of macromolecules. In general, configurational entropy is the foundation of statistical thermodynamics.[1]

The notion of configurational entropy is used a lot in one of the founding books of ID, Mystery of Life’s Origin. In some material science texts, entropy is divided into thermal and configurational entropy. I’m not so sure there is a difference between “configuration” and “configurational” entropy. Some physicists seem to not like this partitioning of entropies into thermal and configurational (as is done in material science texts).

There has been debate TSZ about whether the computation of entropy should involve position or configuration. Mike said, “if it’s not about energy, it’s not about entropy.” I disagreed, and even though Mike is far more senior than I since I’m merely a dabbler, and Mike is a professional, when I studied statistical mechanics, position was included in the calculation of entropy, and hence the importance of the Liouville theorem.

Here is an article from the entropy site from a professor of Chemistry. I think it is a balanced viewpoint:
Configurational Entropy Revisted.

Positional entropy focuses on the number of positions in space that can be occupied by the molecules of a system. Then, to the extent that more positions exist after a process than before, the greater is the entropy increase in the system. Configurational (positional) entropy has a distinguished history. Developed from classical statistical mechanics, it was the basis of Pauling’s 1935 determination of the residual entropy in ice (1), Bent’s brilliantly simple development of the entropy of mixing in 1965 (2), and more recently, such publications as Craig’s use of the cell model in presenting entropy change in mixing (3). There is no question about the correct values obtained from such calculations via configurational entropy change, the facile steps in the procedure, or its being the only practical method for calculating entropy change in some complex areas of thermodynamics.

The fact that thermal entropy (measuring changes in energy distributions) yields the same results as positional entropy (measuring numbers of positions in space) means that there is no reason that positional entropy with its usual lengthy or superficial support via probability need be presented to students in general chemistry. (There is equally no reason why professionals may not continue to use configurational entropy if it fits their preference,) Beginning students—overloaded with new material as they are and increasingly “concrete minded” rather than enjoying abstractions—should not be presented with positional entropy in general chemistry.

## 48 thoughts on “Configuration and Configurational Entropy”

What makes me laugh is when you say things like:

Here is an article from the entropy site from a professor of Chemistry. I think it is a balanced viewpoint:

Perhaps you should find a “balanced viewpoint” that you can also learn from re: fossils? As right now your viewpoint is “balanced” like a see-saw with but 1 rider.

2. I’m going to let Sal figure this one out on his own. No hints from me. It’s too simple; and Sal can’t even understand that basic high school calculation that scales up the charge-to-mass ratios of protons and electrons to kilogram-sized masses separated by distances on the order of a meter.

This fairy dance is getting too boring.

3. The word “thermodynamics” begins with the letters “thermo”. That should hint that thermodynamics has something to do with heat and/or energy.

We change configuration almost continuously in computers, with only very small energy requirements. Configuration changes need not involve energy changes.

Even the Wikipedia entry that you quote mentions energy levels in its definition of configuration entropy.

The reason that we laugh at UD posts on thermodynamics, is that the UD posters simply don’t get it. Even Granville Sewell, a research mathematician, doesn’t get it. The arguments about organization that are made at UD (even ignoring that those arguments are bogus anyway), those arguments have very little relation to thermodynamics.

Nothing could be clearer, than that the UD posters on the 2nd law of thermodynamics are spouting nonsense.

4. Perhaps Sal could enlighten us by calculating the before and after entropy of the Lenski genomes.

5. What amazes me more than lack of understanding that the 2nd Law of thermodynamics refers to thermodynamics is this odd view that probability is a property of a pattern, as opposed to the probability of that pattern given some generative process

The idea that something that is highly improbable under some condition can be virtually inevitable under others seem to be entirely missing from the thinking.

I blame Dembski.

6. What amazes me more than lack of understanding that the 2nd Law of thermodynamics refers to thermodynamics is this odd view that probability is a property of a pattern, as opposed to the probability of that pattern given some generative process

The idea that something that is highly improbable under some condition can be virtually inevitable under others seem to be entirely missing from the thinking.

I blame Dembski.

I think the blame can go back at least to Morris and Gish in the 1970s if not to A.E. Wilder-Smith even earlier. Here is Morris in 1973. And here is Morris again. Nearly all of Morris’s stuff is still up over at the ICR website. They never throw this stuff away; they retract “for the moment” and then haul it right back out again in a few months or a couple of years. They recycle everything from those earlier years.

This video of Thomas Kindell, who was a protégé of Morris and Gish, shows him as he recites the snarky catechism of the ICR almost exactly in this video. This was often the way Gish and other debaters such as Walter T. Brown did it.

Dembski, Behe, and the rest of them inherited the notions that biology conflicts with the second law of thermodynamics from those earlier creationists. What Dembski tried to do was make the argument “quantitative” with his CSI business; but the misconceptions were already rampant in the “scientific” creationist community. The tornado-in-a-junkyard may have come from Hoyle; but Morris was already citing Asimov’s popularizations that conflated disorder with entropy.

Asimov didn’t believe that evolution and the origins of life conflicted with the second law of thermodynamics; but creationists never mention this.

Sal and Sewell are trying to salvage this hackneyed argument by trying to “prove” that physicists and chemists are in disarray over the meaning of entropy. Sewell desperately wants to salvage his “argument” by finding a definition of entropy that he can conflate with thermodynamic entropy and the second law. It’s not going to happen.

Sal pretends to “disagree” with me; and that is simply another hackneyed creationist tactic of trying to appear to be able to “stay in the game” with experts. Sal is simply trying to elevate his status in the ID/creationist community. I’ve seen it so often that all I can offer is a sardonic smile as we watch him fall on his face failing at high school physics and chemistry.

7. I don’t think it’s nearly as homogenous as you imply, Mike. I think most IDists sincerely think they have a good case.

And science is complicated. It’s not easy to see, when faced with a counter-argument that goes against your own conclusion, that the other person isn’t equivocating or nitpicking or whatever, and it does happen in both directions.

While some misrepresentations are clearly culpably negligent (I’m thinking Denyse here), many are misunderstandings not helped by poor explanations from scientists, coupled with inflated claims about how certain science can be.

The fact is that we do NOT know how life got started on earth, and the fact that most of us see no reason not to expect there to be an answer in physics and chemistry really DOES reflect our bias towards “natural” explanations.

8. What amazes me more than lack of understanding that the 2nd Law of thermodynamics refers to thermodynamics is this odd view that probability is a property of a pattern, as opposed to the probability of that pattern given some generative process

This is why I keep bringing up that little high school physic/chemistry calculation. It is a common exercise in intorductory physics when students are asked to compare the relative sizes of the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force. Some chemistry instructors also have their students do this calculation.

The original “scientific” creationists somehow got the notion from the second law that everything falls apart if left on its own. That was partly due to their misconceptions about the second law.

If everything falls apart when left on its own, then coins, strings of letters, dice, and junkyard parts are to them perfectly adequate stand-ins for atoms and molecules. They never looked back; and now this later generation of ID/creationists take what they inherited from the ID/creationists as “gospel.” They apparently really believe they have discovered what blind, materialistic, atheistic scientists refuse to see. Or at least that is what they want to tell their children.

I don’t think it’s nearly as homogenous as you imply, Mike. I think most IDists sincerely think they have a good case.

But they, to a person, avoid the science; and they have been doing this for decades.

Those of us who were around when the scientific community got blindsided by the earlier “scientific” creationists at first thought we could clear up misconceptions by careful explanations. Many of the scientists who were lured into debates had no clue of the socio/political nature of the trap into which they were lured; and that generated a lot of anger when the debates turned out the way they did.

I know many evangelicals here in the US; and many of them are nice people who don’t approve of the debating tacitcs of these ID/creationists. And I also know some of the teachers who have been attacked by people like Gish. I have visited evangelical churches and have sensed their hostility toward the secular world.

Unless one grasps the socio/political nature of the ID/creationist movement – especially the political nature of the leaders of this movement – it is difficult to appreciate the deceptive nature of their debates. There is genuine fear and loathing of secular society in those tactics. Many of their followers blurt out their fears and loathings in public in unguarded moments.

9. Lizzie writes:

I think most IDists sincerely think they have a good case.

I think that reflects better on your character than on theirs.

In one sense you are correct. The typical intelligent design creationist probably firmly believes, despite all lacking or contrary evidence, that their religious beliefs are true.

Observation of their behavior, however, does not support the hypothesis that they think they can support their scientific claims. Science is not important to them, their religion is. If they can mangle scientific concepts to speciously appear to support their views, they will do so. If they cannot, they will happily ignore those concepts.

IDCists don’t care if they have a good case. For the vast majority, there is no amount of evidence or argumentation that could possibly change their minds. “One cannot reason someone out of an opinion they were not reasoned into” and all that.

10. Lizzie,

As you surely know, ID is a weapon in an ideological war between the religious right and liberal progressives. The fact that there could be versions of intelligent design hypotheses that are science does not change this.

You have to make assumptions to see a point of opposition as a scientific misunderstanding. Those assumptions are almost certainly wrong.

You must have heard of Kurt Wise, who confronted with the findings of science knew that both science and creationism could not be right. He rejected the science, for to him it is by far the lesser “truth”. He is not an outlier.

11. If it was simply an argument, then fine, but what we have with the CDesign Proponentsists is a whole mathematical edifice that is fundamentally flawed, and large numbers of supposedly qualified people who frankly should-know-better when it comes to the applications of these principles. It’s not just how life on earth came about, but its entire development, and they are attempting to use physical and chemical principles to explain their position.

Lizzie:
I don’t think it’s nearly as homogenous as you imply, Mike.I think most IDists sincerely think they have a good case.

And science is complicated.It’s not easy to see, when faced with a counter-argument that goes against your own conclusion, that the other person isn’t equivocating or nitpicking or whatever, and it does happen in both directions.

While some misrepresentations are clearly culpably negligent (I’m thinking Denyse here), many are misunderstandings not helped by poor explanations from scientists, coupled with inflated claims about how certain science can be.

The fact is that we do NOT know how life got started on earth, and the fact that most of us see no reason not to expect there to be an answer in physics and chemistry really DOES reflect our bias towards “natural” explanations.

12. davehooke writes:

As you surely know, ID is a weapon in an ideological war between the religious right and liberal progressives.

Not just “liberal progressives” but anyone other than their sectarian brethren. As an anarcho-capitalist libertarian, I can assure you they are waging their culture war against my values as well.

13. The argument that they are honest implies they are either stupid or willfully ignorant.

I have long accepted fine tuning as a sane approach to the theological aspects of this. I have no problem with someone believing the game was rigged.

But science is about how things work. ID is not satisfied with fine tuning. Most ID proponents also reject evolution, and especially they reject common descent.

14. Patrick: Observation of their behavior, however, does not support the hypothesis that they think they can support their scientific claims.

I think they think they can. But most (like most who accept evolution, for that matter) aren’t really in a position to defend it, they accept it because people who seem to know what they are talking about accept it and it seems to make sense.

The thing that makes me rather angry is when people who really do have the capacity to think the things through just refuse to address the gaping holes they must know are there. Dembski for one. Not Meyer, probably, he’s not a scientist.

Cornelius Hunter maybe. Granville, although I’ve known plenty of fine mathematicians who never actually use units and so fail to notice when they apply an equation to something with different units that they are making a different empirical prediction, and possibly violating an important assumption.

And now Robert Sheldon. Gah.

15. petrushka:
The argument that they are honest implies they are either stupid or willfully ignorant.

Hmm, where have I heard something like that before?

“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

😉

16. If it was simply an argument, then fine, but what we have with the CDesign Proponentsists is a whole mathematical edifice that is fundamentally flawed, and large numbers of supposedly qualified people who frankly should-know-better when it comes to the applications of these principles. It’s not just how life on earth came about, but its entire development, and they are attempting to use physical and chemical principles to explain their position.

Indeed. The “arguments” from people who should know better are mind boggling; but this is how ID/creationism has been since its formal inception in 1970.

Everything we are seeing on those thermodynamics threads over at UD is exactly how ID/creationist mud wrestling has gone for nearly 50 years now; and it goes on in every area of science.

Back in the 1980s and 90s we started seeing the ID/creationists projecting their tactics onto their enemies and accusing them of doing exactly what the ID/creationist community has been doing ever since Morris founded the ICR and Gish taunted biology teachers in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

If anyone hasn’t done it – I don’t blame anyone if they find it too nauseating to watch – take a look at the entire video of Thomas Kindell’s sneering caricatures of “evolutionists.”

Here is advice on how to debate an “evolutionist” at the Revolution Against Evolution website. That site is pretty typical of what we have been seeing in the ID/creationist movement from its beginning. And of course, everyone is familiar with the ICR and AiG. The Discovery Institute is a politically expedient spin-off from these YEC beginnings. So is the “Reasons to Believe” website.

If you type “how to debate an evolutionist” into your search engine, you will come up with many examples that contain complete sectarian caricatures of “others” they love to hate.

Compare what you read and see in those documents and videos with the accusations and caricatures being made over at UD. You can see almost the entire history of the ID/creationist movement and its attitudes. This is what they think of science, the secular world, and “evolutionist,” “materialist,” “atheist” scientists.

It’s not about the science; it’s sectarian politics. Sectarians like this have been demonizing “others” for centuries. ID/creationism has become their “scientific” justification for their attitudes toward secular society and its “evils.” They have acquired considerable political influence in Right Wing politics in the US; and they have gerrymandered voting districts so that they cannot be voted out of the US House of Representatives and some state legislatures.

17. I think they think they can. But most (like most who accept evolution, for that matter) aren’t really in a position to defend it, they accept it because people who seem to know what they are talking about accept it and it seems to make sense.

Intelligent design creationists such as those at UD fundamentally do not care if they can support their claims. All that matters is that those claims are congruent with their religious beliefs. Unlike those who accept evolution, not one IDCist evinces the slightest interest in learning about the underlying math and science. Not only would doing so pose a risk of learning yet more that challenges what they’ve heard in church, it is simply not why they parrot Dembski, Behe, and the rest of their pseudo-science pantheon. All they really want is the veneer of scientific respectability for their irrational sectarian beliefs.

Take any of the arguments presented at UD as an example. Not one is what convinced its proponents of the validity of intelligent design creationism. Behe even admitted as much under oath at Dover, noting that “the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.” (From Judge Jones decision.) Those arguments are apologetics, starting from unquestioned and unquestionable religious axioms, not a search for truth.

18. Lizzie:
But why would anyone feels so strongly about something they thought wasn’t true?

I actually have an answer to that, because I participate on a bunch of forums.

The answer is that religious belief is perceived as socially useful, even if false. People who accept this line of reasoning are especially adamant that religion is necessary to keep the rabble in line. They must believe in an active, interfering god, or they would destroy society.

You have seen this argument countless times at UD. It’s their most frequent fallback. Perhaps you never connected it with the willingness to be dishonest.

*Edited for spelling.

19. Petrushka’s answer is a good description of the views of the leaders. Based on my experience growing up in a religious region, the answer for those providing the “butts in the pews” is that their personal sense of identity is tightly coupled to their church. Their entire family belongs, all their friends belong, everyone they interact with day-to-day belongs. A challenge to their beliefs isn’t just an intellectual exercise, it is a threat to everything important to them.

Even if they occasionally have doubts, they never voice them. In fact, doubt may actually result in a stronger response against whatever is perceived to be the cause.

Intellectual honesty is clearly very important to you (and I share that value). It is relatively far down the list of priorities for the typical intelligent design creationist.

20. The whole point of “faith” is that it exists without or in spite of contrary evidence. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called faith.

Now one can be honest and have faith without evidence, but I have problems accepting that one can be honest and have faith that is contrary to evidence.

I can also accept the proposition that people can have different standards for evidence beyond reasonable doubt. I think it was quite reasonable to doubt evolution for the first 80 years after Darwin. Perhaps even up to the point of the discovery of DNA.

But after a while it becomes flat earth faith.

21. But why would anyone feels so strongly about something they thought wasn’t true?

Those links I provided in the above comment have many of the answers to that question. Thomas Kindell appeals to many of these sectarians. Listen to the words and the caricatures he uses. Look at his quote-mining. He is painting a picture of the evilness of secular society and its “movers and shakers.”

In addition to that “how to debate an evolutionist” link, the other link to “Revolution Against Evolution” has a 19 minute video on the home page with two men discussing their experiences preaching to the “atheistic world” they live in. Everybody is out to get them. They seem like nice, avuncular old gentlemen, but listening to them talk reveals what they teach in their churches.

I don’t know how it is in the UK – I haven’t had direct experience there – but here in the US we run into it in just about every community around the country. It is especially bad in the South; but these kinds of churches are everywhere in the US. And they are very political.

I should add that they bend and break science to fit dogma because dogma is right according to them. It is the science community that is blind to the evidence; it says so in their bible.

22. Oh, I think they share that value. I have lost count of the times I have been called “intellectually dishonest” and an “equivocator” or “obfuscator”.

My hunch is that it is because it is perfectly possible to hold two incompatible views at the same time and be under the impression that one follows from the other.

I’ve found myself doing it. It’s like those impossible objects with three prongs at one end and a handle attached to two bars at the other. You can easily think it’s something you could pick up.

Usually the problem is inadvertent equivocation. Like not noticing that Shannon entropy is measured in bits and thermal entropy in joules. Or that heat and temperature aren’t the same thing, or that random as in unmodelled, isn’t the same thing as random as in unintended.

Or that if you want the bathroom next to the bedroom, you are going to have a beam at knee height across the staircase.

Allegedly, as a child, I coined the word “compossible” as in: “these two things are not compossible”. I think it’s all too easy to think that two things are compossible when they aren’t, and that it is “obvious” that they must be.

23. Oh, I think they share that value.I have lost count of the times I have been called “intellectually dishonest” and an “equivocator” or “obfuscator”.

That is evidence of projection, not shared values.

24. Perhaps treading on forum rules, but I think adherence to “faith” is not compatible with adherence to evidence.

The mindset is completely different. Faith requires you to interpret evidence so that it comports with preconceived notions of facts.

Empiricism requires you to compose and continually adjust your interpretation to obtain the best possible fit. (Incidentally, this is the very thing most ridiculed by IDers.)

25. davehooke: As you surely know, ID is a weapon in an ideological war between the religious right and liberal progressives. The fact that there could be versions of intelligent design hypotheses that are science does not change this.

As you surely know, “Darwinian” Evolution (the MES) is a weapon in an ideological war between atheists and religionists. The fact that there could be versions of evolution hypotheses that are science does not change this.

I mean, when people need a weapon, they’ll use whatever they have at their disposal. But don’t pretend those zany religious fundamentalists are any more to be blamed for it than their New Atheist zealot counterparts. A zealot is a zealot.

26. Depends what you mean by “faith”. If you mean believing things without adequate evidence, that’s fair enough.

If you mean something more like “trust”, that’s a bit different, and it’s what a lot of people mean by “faith”.

27. I thought it would be obvious that I mean something beyond trust.

I think trust is earned, so I see no difference between trust and positive expectations based on experience.

By faith I mean belief in the elements of a creed, the belief in facts promoted by a religion.

Mainstream Protestants have several articles of faith, and there are rather nebulous in my understanding. A person inclined to non-belief could easily rationalize the concept of Jesus being alive as continuing to have influence,

28. I think the views of IDers are being mischaracterized. Patrick had it right when he said

Those arguments are apologetics, starting from unquestioned and unquestionable religious axioms, not a search for truth.

Since the Firing Line debate in the 90s I’ve concluded that IDers start with the certain knowledge that a god created the universe and life on earth and then interpret any evidence they encounter to that belief. This may be unreasonable but what follows from that is not. They certainly shouldn’t be considered deceptive. If I had a mathematician friend who showed me pages of equations that ended with the proof : 1+1=3, I’d tell him ( or her) hes wrong. I don’t need to understand the equations, I already know its wrong. I might even falsely claim to find the error, simply to save him the embarrassment of showing it to his peers, but this is not lying – I know its wrong. IDers have this same certainty.

29. Lizzie,
My intuition tells me that most of the UD crowd are from the born-again branch of American Protestantism, and are more than likely conservative evangelicals over 40 years of age. As such they were/are culture war activists. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but that does explain their advocacy for ID as an apologetic. The actual cognitive dissonance, however, arises from their spiritual rebirth.

People who come to the church as adults often do so because their lives shattered. Freedom of choice led them astray to a great and terrible despair. But in surrendering control to the Lord they found salvation, healing, and became (much) better, moral people. In short, rigid structure and outside demands allowed them to flourish whereas autonomous responsibility was like a tempting but deadly poison.

To such a wounded person, anyone or anything that endangers their new-found lifestyle (like objective skepticism of biblical literalism) in effect threatens their life. As they see it, their choice is to A. continue being saved at the risk of being wrong on science (which is not sin), or B. risk falling into bad habits for the sake of science (which is not just sinful, but damnable). Even if such a person does not believe that their moral compass is threatened by evolution, they may fear that many others won’t be so lucky.

Their faith is genuine, deep, but immature. Accepting a more nuanced view of the Bible may take many, many years (if at all). Until they do, science isn’t going to make any inroads to their souls.

30. Many comments in this thread are touching on a topic I find very interesting : Why people believe the things that they believe. We all have biases. We all have prejudices. We all selectively interpret new information, but how can so many people come to the wrong conclusion about evolution. Religious bias may be the ultimate explanation but I’m more interested in proximal explanations.
What makes it so interesting to me is that so many IDers are extremely intelligent and know a great deal of science…so how exactly do they go wrong? One way, I think, is that they approach evidence with extreme myopia. The evidence for evolution is immense, mutually consistent and often mutually supporting and interlocking. They will take one field cited as evidence and search for a handful of anomalies or exceptions or unanswered questions. Very often the exceptions actually ‘prove the rule but that wont matter. They’ll claim they’ve shown that the whole field is worthless and evolution is in serious doubt. They can’t or wont see the larger picture.

31. Gould speculated that the underlying problem is pride. First we were bumped from the center of the universe, then we were bumped from the center of the solar system. Religious pride fought these battles and lost them.

And now, evolution is saying we’re not even the crown of creation, we are just a contingent temporary accidental ramification of a mindless grinding process lacking any purpose or direction. And that is simply too much for many people to swallow.

The great appeal of Western Abrahamic religion is that it makes us special, privileged, and most of all intentional. It tells us we are a higher life form, superior in all ways that matter, and created deliberately so by the very creator of the universe.

In a very real sense, if evolution as understood by biologists is how things work and how we just happened to crop up, then life has no meaning in the views of the creationists. It means there was no fall or resurrection, there’s no salvation, no eternal soul, no absolute moral rules. You probably could not even imagine a more dire threat, which must be rejected with instinctive conviction. Everything else is threadbare rationalization.

32. bill: As you surely know, “Darwinian” Evolution (the MES) is a weapon in an ideological war between atheists and religionists. The fact that there could be versions of evolution hypotheses that are science does not change this.

I mean, when people need a weapon, they’ll use whatever they have at their disposal. But don’t pretend those zany religious fundamentalists are any more to be blamed for it than their New Atheist zealot counterparts. A zealot is a zealot.

I agree in that the theory of evolution is a threat to biblical literalists. It has no other political use for an anti-theist, since other theists either accept evolution or are indifferent about it.

The religious right, more specifically the Christian right, is not just waging an ideological war against atheists though. There are many theists who have an enlightened view of abortion, homosexuality, non-traditional families, secular laws, separation of church of state, and the other hot issues.

You do touch on an important point. Just because a (non-creationist, scientifically-minded) person might have no choice but to accept the theory of evolution as a good approximation of an aspect of reality, it does not mean that position is apolitical.

33. What makes it so interesting to me is that so many IDers are extremely intelligent and know a great deal of science…so how exactly do they go wrong?

I think you are giving ID/creationists too much credit for knowledge they don’t have.

I would suggest that they don’t know as much science as they appear. The vast majority of ID/creationist debaters – and I am including the PhDs in that – cobble together lots and lots of quote mined statements of others and dump tons of crap on their opponents. To someone who doesn’t know the real story, it can look impressive.

However, I and a number of others have actually tested the knowledge of these debaters; and the results are interesting. Not one of them can pass concept tests of basic concepts in high school biology, chemistry, and physics. Nevertheless, they, to a person, jump immediately into advanced topics and pretend to speak with authority in every area of science.

For example, take a look at the thermodynamic “arguments” of CS3, kairosfocus, Robert Sheldon, and bornagain77 over at UD. They toss out tons of crap, and none of it even comes close to getting elementary concepts right.

This ID/creationist behavior cuts across all the sciences. Take any ID/creationist debater and ask yourself how likely it is that that person can be so knowledgeable in so many advanced areas of science. What they do in debates is a debating tactic of making lots of statements that are dead wrong; but they throw out so much junk that nobody can answer all of it before they get another load dumped on them.

You can’t even do a double-take on a particular statement before they have rolled on to a dozen more ludicrous assertions. They all do it; it is part of that culture. Their naive followers are in awe of their “erudition” and “knowledge.”

This tactic has even been given a name; it is called the Gish Gallop, after Duane Gish who honed this tactic and taught it to his many followers. The tactic allows them to ride on the back of, and gain visibility and the appearance of credibility from, any knowledgeable scientist they can lure into a debate.

One of their radio personalities, Bob Enyart, has developed the tactic of appearing to ask “profound questions” of his opponents. His radio following think he is extremely knowledgeable and wise; but it’s a trick. He doesn’t know anything. Those of us who have expertise in an area he pretends to be able to debate can see the trick. Anybody who has expertise in a given area can see it. But when one is on his territory, he controls the debate.

An afterthought:

If these ID/creationists are so smart, why in something like 50 years have they produced nothing in science? They can’t do research; they muck it all up because they can’t even formulate a research program that produces results. And it is not for lack of money; they have lots of it. They just spend it all on propaganda.

34. I would suggest that they don’t know as much science as they appear.

I’ll agree with Mike on that. The ID proponents come up with some horribly garbled stuff.

35. Mike Elzinga: I would suggest that they don’t know as much science as they appear. The vast majority of ID/creationist debaters – and I am including the PhDs in that – cobble together lots and lots of quote mined statements of others and dump tons of crap on their opponents. To someone who doesn’t know the real story, it can look impressive.

I don’t think quote mining is as much a part of their repertoire as it used to be. Nowadays I think they read up on a topic thoroughly, not to learn it but to look for what they perceive to be weaknesses. Often they do a good enough job that it takes an expert in the field to find the mistakes. How many phd biologists could debate Wells on junk DNA or Luskin on human ancestors or biogeography without preparation? The mistakes IDers make are serious and blatant, but they’re buried very deep. Its not like the old timey creationists who you can refute from what you barely remember from High School.
What the commenters say on UD about thermodynamics is irrelevant. What Sewell says is what matters since he is a representative of the DI. Now he has made serious mistakes in his assertions about the second law ( although I think hes correct in asserting Asimov was wrong with the compensation argument ) but reviewers at some journal didn’t catch those flaws until Matzke (?) pointed them out, and there’s no reason to suspect they were ID sympathizers.
William Lane Craig is the only one I’ve seen using the Gish Gallop recently. It seems to me that Meyer, Dembski, Wells, Nelson etc have mostly been honing their arguments and rhetoric and they’re VERY good at it. They frame a topic with their own questions, their own terminology, their own logic and they subtly leverage in the idea that it requires a designer. I have to say I have a begrudging admiration for them, though of course this is what they’ve been working on full time for the last 20 years or so.
I’m still wondering what goes on in their heads. There is Behe’s published review paper that documents that most laboratory adaptations were loss of functions. I can believe Behe really doesn’t believe that RM+NS can account for complexity. And then there is Luskins disgracefully bad attempt to refute the human chromosome 2 fusion. This argue-your-opponents-points-at-all-costs mentality is to me the best indication that ID is not a reasonable intellectual pursuit.

36. petrushka:
I thought it would be obvious that I mean something beyond trust.

I think trust is earned, so I see no difference between trust and positive expectations based on experience.

By faith I mean belief in the elements of a creed, the belief in facts promoted by a religion.

Mainstream Protestants have several articles of faith, and there are rather nebulous in my understanding. A person inclined to non-belief could easily rationalize the concept of Jesus being alive as continuing to have influence,

Oh, yes, it was obvious. Apologies. Mine was a generic “you”. I guess, being raised in a religion without a creed (Quakers), I’ve always tended to think of faith rather more broadly.

And I do think that people, even religious people, often use the word in that way: “have faith, it’ll be alright”.

And it can be self-fulfilling, in a positive way. If you trust a person who hasn’t earned it, they can often rise to the expectation.

37. RodW,

What Sewell says is what matters since he is a representative of the DI. Now he has made serious mistakes in his assertions about the second law ( although I think hes correct in asserting Asimov was wrong with the compensation argument ) but reviewers at some journal didn’t catch those flaws until Matzke (?) pointed them out, and there’s no reason to suspect they were ID sympathizers.

The publishing industry is as overloaded and overworked as is nearly every journal editing staff. A lot of junk gets through and some good stuff doesn’t. That is the unfortunate nature of swamped institutions whether they are in the business of making money or simply trying to do the best job of getting the best papers. Everyone in the science community is aware of the issues. It doesn’t hurt these publishing houses if they can get some heads-up from people who keep an eye on the gamers.

Sewell is an example of what I am referring to; and I think experts in the relevant areas of any science can spot the problems with any of the ID/creationist “arguments.” Most of us in the science community don’t waste time debating these characters; the time is better spent on educating the public and serious students as well as getting on with the full-time business of research.

Sewell’s paper was ripped to shreds both here at TSZ and on Panda’s Thumb long before he submitted it to that “Cornell” conference. The errors are so blatant that they show up in his abstract. Even worse, Sewell doesn’t even get units right when plugging his “X-entropies” into his equation. High school students are taught to check units.

Whatever he is attempting to claim about “compensation” is completely irrelevant to any discussion of thermodynamics and evolution and the origins of life. He doesn’t know how that word is used; and experts, if they use the word at all, use it colloquially and know what it means.

The point is that ID/creationists of the current generation still carry all the misconceptions and misrepresentations of the second law and entropy that they inherited from Henry Morris and Duane Gish. Their conceptual errors run all through their calculations of CSI and everything else Dembski, Sewell, Abel, et. al. have written. They all have it completely wrong, and that thread of conceptual errors has been a constant from Henry Morris to the present day. It doesn’t take 50 years to learn thermodynamics; and their errors are egregious and start with misconceptions at the high school level.

And the ID/creationist penchant for fishing around for “problems” in scientific research is not even close to what scientists actually do when grappling with outstanding questions and looking to put together research programs to answer those questions. If ID/creationists were really finding research questions that need answers, then why have 50 years gone by with absolutely nothing accomplished by any of them?

I am one of the older generations who have been around for the entire time this ID/creationist movement has been politically active, starting in the 1970s; and there are still a bunch of us around who have been keeping track. In the areas for which I have expertise, I see no change in ID/creationist misconceptions and misrepresentations; and I am pretty sure, from what I have seen, that the experts in other areas can report similarly.

This argue-your-opponents-points-at-all-costs mentality is to me the best indication that ID is not a reasonable intellectual pursuit.

🙂

Well, you’ve nailed a key identifying feature of the ID/creationist movement. This is one of the few methods they have of trying to make it seem that there is an intense debate going on in the scientific community about evolution. This was exactly what Morris and Gish did and instructed their followers to do at the ICR.

Once the science community got over its naiveté about the socio/political nature of ID/creationism, very few, if any, scientists will debate them any longer; it’s a waste of time. No more free rides on the back of working scientists. Now the arguments take place on the internet among ID/creationist followers and anyone who likes to debate them just for jollies or to learn how to debate. But that is not how science progresses.

38. Perhaps they believe so strongly that their conclusion is correct, that they rough out a model and hope that it can be sculpted to fit. This is where the ID approach is fundamentally non-scientific – Science is a search for the truth, whereas ID already has the truth, and they are looking for a model that allows their truth to fit with the facts.

39. Lizzie:
But why would anyone feels so strongly about something they thought wasn’t true?

What is it they feel strongly about? It seems to me that ID trrows up every possible objection to evolution and hopes something will stick.

The only non-negotiable assertion is that our existence is intentional.

40. Ultimately there are even scientists who fall for this sort of problem. Einstein in his famous ‘God does not play dice’ objection to Quantum Mechanics and Edward Witten in his absolute certainty that String Theory is correct. This sort of thinking can lead them down the wrong path, and no doubt often has, even with genui9ne non-religiously motivated scientists. On the other hand, we have the meandering explorers of science, like Feynman, who just see where the thinking takes them when you stick to physical principles (even he has said that renormalization is absurd, but it works). Still sometimes this bullish approach to thinking you’re right works. Pendry for example was said by some to be wrecking his career over sticking to negative refractive index, but now Photonic crystals are at the heart of a number of up and coming technologies. IDers may well be thinking they belong in this mould – Bullish pushing of their theory meaning it will eventually be accepted, regardless of what people say right now, like Pendry or Galileo or even, in an ironic twist, Darwin before them who pressed on and eventually were accepted. Sadly though, it is cargo cult science yet again – they delude themselves into thinking they are in that group and they are doing what those scientists did, when all they are doing is copying the superficial motions of their forbears, but not actually doing revolutionary science.

RodW:
Many comments in this thread are touching on a topic I find very interesting : Why people believe the things that they believe. We all have biases. We all have prejudices. We all selectively interpret new information, but how can so many people come to the wrong conclusion about evolution. Religious bias may be the ultimate explanation but I’m more interested in proximal explanations.
What makes it so interesting to me is that so many IDers are extremely intelligent and know a great deal of science…so how exactly do they go wrong? One way, I think, is that they approach evidence with extreme myopia. The evidence for evolution is immense, mutually consistent and often mutually supporting and interlocking. They will take one field cited as evidence and search for a handful of anomalies or exceptions or unanswered questions. Very often the exceptions actually ‘prove the rule but that wont matter. They’ll claim they’ve shown that the whole field is worthless and evolution is in serious doubt. They can’t or wont see the larger picture.

41. [creationist]And since society has never been destroyed the god does in fact exist. QED.[/creationist]

42. Over at UD you can see the thread:

Admitting significant errors in my understanding of physics – — speed of light theories.

Way to go Sal. How do you suppose your significant errors in physics translate into being right about entropy? Elsewhere we hear that Sal is good at math, so good, in fact, that he got kicked out of a casino.

43. In my view, there is no real problem with configurational entropy, a valid and mainstream concept based in statistics. What is a problem is the notion of “configurational work”, as developed in the book The Mystery of Life’s Origin cited in the original post. To its authors, this is the work required to transform a random sequence of a protein into a particular sequence of a functional protein, a transformation that the authors acknowledge is required. However, there is no such reorganization of proteins. Never has been. Another problem is that the authors assume that, because a typical modern protein has 100-300 amino acids coded by 3 times that many nucleotides in DNA, so too must have the first ancestral genetic material. So they calculate the improbability of assembling a protein of 100 amino acids, as if that is relevant to ancestral cells.
Setting aside that issue, the configurational entropy in a modern protein (and its DNA) was “paid for” in assembling the very first ancestral genetic material (this remains the holy grail of spontaneous origins ideas) and has been transmitted, with mutation and augmentation bit by bit over time, all the way to modern cells.
The authors’ calculation of the energetics involved inflate the costs by a little over 50% and inflate the improbability by a factor of 4 x 10^116.
Goes to show that ID ideas do not good science make.

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