Does intelligence violate the 2LoT?

Granville Sewell’s argument that evolution does so, therefore evolution must be caused by intelligence, rests on the odd assertion that intelligence (our own, for instance) does violate the 2LoT.

Bruce David, a UD poster I have a lot of respect for, writes:

I realize that to say that something, anything, violates the Second Law is an anathema to most people who have had a normal scientific education. And I have had the experience on these threads of explaining Dr. Sewell’s point in what I thought was very clearly reasoned prose to people like Elizabeth Liddle, who is intelligent, a scientist, and generally does give her fellow commenters a respectful hearing, only to get the terse response, “Nothing violates the Second Law.”

However, Dr. Sewell’s point, as I understand it, is that both life and human activity in fact do violate the Second Law, and in the case of humans it is clearly our creative intelligence that does this. And if ID is correct, then it is only intelligence that does this. Personally, I think it is a point worth making, even if it falls on deaf ears most of the time. And also, I think that precisely because it contradicts one of the most respected principles of science, and because of the implications for the nature of intelligence and thus the nature of human beings, that it has massive implications for science, philosophy, spirituality, and religion, and therefore, again, needs to be brought to light.

Yes indeed.  If ordinary human intelligence regularly violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that would indeed have massive implications, for all kinds of things, not least our energy requirements.

hmmm.

80 thoughts on “Does intelligence violate the 2LoT?

  1. Sewell responds to the same post as David did, sheepishly affirming his point.

    Eric,

    Believe me, I understand what you are saying. “Evolution violates the second law” is always sure to incite a riot. Even many ID proponents, who like Dembski’s specified complexity idea and don’t realize it is essentially equivalent to what I am saying, give me the cold shoulder. I usually try to say, it violates the underlying principle behind the second law, that is slightly less provocative. Probably a better solution is to simply say, “the second law only applies to unintelligent causes.”

    I have been saying essentially the same things for 10 years now, and it has been distressing to me how few ID proponents are willing to touch this topic, at least until recently—I seem to be making a little progress now. As the quote from “Basic Physics” in my video essentially says, if a tornado really did turn rubble into houses and cars, this would not violate any other law of science; and if four unintelligent forces of physics really did rearrange the basic particles of physics into humans, airplanes and books, I’m pretty sure that would not violate any other widely recognized law either. So I’ve never understood how you can argue for ID without ever even mentioning the second law. I guess this argument has been so associated with “creationists” like Gish, that ID folks are afraid of the association. But you can be wrong about some things, and right about others.

    So it looks like Liz is right: Sewell does seem to think that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. That’s astonishing.

  2. Well, not only does he think that evolution (if true) would, he seems to think that ordinary human intelligence does.

  3. Elizabeth:
    Well, not only does he think that evolution (if true) would, he thinks that ordinary human intelligence does.

    Well, Sewell never expressly says that intelligence violates the 2nd law. However, if you read his comments at UD in context, it appears that he does think so. Bruce David quoted above suggests

    However, Dr. Sewell’s point, as I understand it, is that both life and human activity in fact do violate the Second Law, and in the case of humans it is clearly our creative intelligence that does this.

    Sewell, while not directly confirming that Bruce’s reading is right in the following comment, does not deny that and is clearly satisfied that some people are starting to get it

    I have been saying essentially the same things for 10 years now, and it has been distressing to me how few ID proponents are willing to touch this topic, at least until recently—I seem to be making a little progress now.

    Oh, brother.

  4. And we are still waiting for any evidence that blind and undirected processes can produce a living organism from non-living matter.

    Ya see, it takes EVIDENCE to refute what Sewell is saying. And your position still doesn’t have any…

  5. I think it’s the core of his argument, come to think of it. I was distracted by his stuff about closed and open systems. But that is irrelevant. He seems to regard it as a given that intelligent systems violate the 2LoT:

    Probably a better solution is to simply say, “the second law only applies to unintelligent causes.”

    But oddly, he doesn’t really attempt to demonstrate this, being fixated on evolution.

    I wonder if he realises just how radical that assumption is (obviously he doesn’t consider it unfounded).

  6. I guess his reasoning is that because intelligent human beings can order things, that therefore we can decrease the entropy of what we are ordering.

    But does he really think we can do this without using energy?

    Possibly, yes, if he doesn’t think, for instance, that minds have anything to do with brains.

    In which case, his argument is not so much that evolution violates the 2LoT, but that minds are non-energy-consuming orderers.

    More hmmm.

  7. Elizabeth:
    I guess his reasoning is that because intelligent human beings can order things, that therefore we can decrease the entropy of what we are ordering.

    But does he really think we can do this without using energy?

    Possibly, yes, if he doesn’t think, for instance, that minds have anything to do with brains.

    In which case, his argument is not so much that evolution violates the 2LoT, but that minds are non-energy-consuming orderers.

    More hmmm.

    I think that’s exactly their point. Human brains consume lots of energy and produce amounts of entropy that dwarf their informational output by orders of magnitude. But this is not a problem for IDers. All the intellectual work is done by minds, which are different from brains and do not produce entropy. Brains may not violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but minds do.

    And of course there is the greatest of all minds out there that is not associated with a brain. Well, most of the time.

  8. In that case his argument about evolution and the 2LoT assumes its consequent.

    Or, at any rate, to make his case, he needs to show that the order we attribute to evolution is achieved without using energy. Our case is that evolution achieves order by using energy, not that evolution can achieve order without doing so.

  9. Elizabeth: Or, at any rate, to make his case, he needs to show that the order we attribute to evolution is achieved without using energy. Our case is that evolution achieves order by using energy, not that evolution can achieve order without doing so.

    To be precise, it’s not just about energy, it’s about specific kinds of energy (energy vs. heat). So Granville needs to show that the order he is talking about can be created without producing an offsetting amount of entropy. Humans produce humongous amounts of entropy by consuming high-quality energy (stored in chemical bonds) and dissipating it in the form of low-quality energy (heat).

  10. Anyway, I cordially invite Granville Sewell and Bruce David (and anyone else from UD – Eric?) to explain the reasoning behind their case that intelligence violates the 2LoT, or to put it in Granville Sewell’s own words, on what ground he claims that “the second law only applies to unintelligent causes.”

  11. olegt:
    And of course there is the greatest of all minds out there that is not associated with a brain. Well, most of the time.

    In keeping with Lizzie’s wishes concerning the tone of this forum, I shall refrain from making the obvious joke about the sponsor and leading contributors to A Certain Web Site.

  12. Elizabeth:
    Anyway, I cordially invite Granville Sewell and Bruce David (and anyone else from UD – Eric?) to explain the reasoning behind their case that intelligence violates the 2LoT, or to put it in Granville Sewell’s own words, on what ground he claims that “the second law only applies to unintelligent causes.”

    I would be interested in hearing Granville Sewell’s defense of that claim as well, but reasoning alone is insufficient. I have a degree in chemical engineering — I want to see his math.

    “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.”
    ― William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

  13. Great chemical engineering- well just step up and demonstrate that blind and undirected chemical processes can produce a living organism from non-living matter and Sewell is refuted.

    Evidence, not rhetoric, is required in this case.

  14. What does anyone mean when they say something violates the 2LoT? Unless there is a clear understanding about what is actually being said here, the parties will simply argue past each other. IOW, if one is going to challenge Sewell, one has to know what Sewell actually means when he says what he says.

    The relates to the communication problem in another thread. I’ve noticed that different ideological groups simply mean different things even when they use the same terminology; and more, they interpret how others say things according to their view of who is using the term.

    Note that at UD, in the thread Elizabeth links to, Sewell stated:

    I usually try to say, it violates the underlying principle behind the second law, that is slightly less provocative.

    In his paper A Second Look at the Second Law”, Sewell makes the case that thermal entropy is not a special case – that the diffusion of “order” in any case, due to the probabilistic distributions associated with natural processes, can be equally called an entropic (under 2LoT) process:

    From (5), it follows that St ≥ 0 in an isolated, closed, system, where there is no heat flux through the boundary (J•n = 0). Hence, in a closed system, the entropy can never decrease. Since thermal entropy measures randomness (disorder) in the distribution of heat, its opposite (negative) can be referred to as ‘‘thermal order’’, and we can say that the thermal order can never increase in a closed system.

    Since thermal entropy is quantifiable, the application of the second law to thermal entropy is commonly used as the model problem on which our thinking about the other, less quantifiable, applications is based. The fact that thermal entropy
    cannot decrease in a closed system, but can decrease in an open system, was used to conclude that, in other applications, any entropy decrease in an open system is possible as long as it is compensated somehow by entropy increases outside this system, so that the total ‘‘entropy’’ (as though there were only one type) in the universe, or any other closed system containing the open system, still increases.

    However, there is really nothing special about ‘‘thermal’’ entropy. Heat conduction is just diffusion of heat, and we can define an ‘‘X-entropy’’ (and an X-order=−X-entropy), to measure the randomness in the distribution of any other substance
    X that diffuses; for example, we can let U(x, y, z, t) represent the concentration of carbon diffusing in a solid, and use Eq. (3) again to define this entropy (cρ = 1 now, so Qt = Ut ), and repeat the analysis leading to Eq. (5), which now says that the ‘‘carbon order’’ cannot increase in a closed system.2

    His tornado movie demonstrates this in terms of probability distributions of the matter the tornado is moving around. What “violating the 2LoT” (in terms of X-order and X-disorder) means here is that natural forces have distributed the materials in the tornado (in the time-reverse video) into a highly ordered state (not thermal order, but X-order) that is highly improbable given the number and kinds of distributions normally associated with equilibrium (disorder)-seeking natural processes.

    IMO, to focus on the fact that such order is not “prohibited” by the 2nd law misses Sewell’s point entirely, where violation simply means “natural forces have produced an increase in X-order that cannot be expected (explained) via normal 2LoT-obeying natural processes. Although 2LoT allows it, and so it is not a “violation” in that strict sense, it is a violation of what we can reasonably expect from 2LoT-obeying processes.

    IF Sewell is correct in his paper that the 2LoT is translatable beyond thermal distribution into any X-order, It is clear that intelligence “violates” the 2 LoT in terms of what can be normally, otherwise expected from natural processes, because humans generate virtually infinite increases in X-order on demand. Nowhere else in nature is this kind of apparently infinite capacity to generate X-order (redistribute stochastic distributions into highly selective order capable of doing work) in virtually any format (information, heat distribution, elements, chemicals, materials, sound, etc.) found.

  15. William J Murray: “……2LoT-obeying natural processes…”

    Then why not call it something else?

    ID refers to the “2LoT” to make it sound like real scientific principles are being applied instead of just an improbability argument.

  16. So if only I were a creationist physicist, I wouldn’t have to keep paying my power bill every month, I could create the necessary energy just by thinking? Kewl! From that understanding, all that remains is a bit of engineering.

    Perhaps more seriously, it’s sort of neat to conceive of all life as requiring the constant injection of entropy from nowhere (or wherever the creationist god lives), just to keep our molecules organized. And here I’d always thought we did this by eating food and making use of a tiny percentage of the chemical energy we get from it. What a surprise to learn that the “breathairians” are right, and eating is just an unnecessary nervous habit – we’re being Divinely supplied with all the energy we need (deprived of the entropy we think we’re creating?) without it. I’m left wondering why people starve. Do you suppose their thoughts aren’t anti-entropic enough? Shame on them!

    Great chemical engineering- well just step up and demonstrate that blind and undirected chemical processes can produce a living organism from non-living matter and Sewell is refuted.

    Evidence, not rhetoric, is required in this case.

    I had always thought reproduction satisfied this requirement. We take in ordinary chemicals, and part of the output is new organisms. I have no idea how to show whether this process is “blind and undirected”, so that seems to be the crux of the matter. Unlike Joe, I’m not qualified to judge the blindness or directedness of chemistry based on my theological interpretation of each specific reaction. Maybe there IS an indetectible Director busy thinking the entropy away as we digest, grow, and reproduce. As Joe keeps telling us, any OTHER proposal requires evidence, defined as whatever is capable of persuading Joe he might be mistaken.

  17. Sewell’s tornado argument is not a good analogy.

    A tornado cannot cause fission, fusion or any chemistry at all.

    As Mike Elzinga has mentioned many times, the matter we are talking about are not pieces of wood or roofing tiles, there are chemical and electrical processes involved.

    The tornado analogy implies trying to make a stew by throwing potatoes at a piece of meat.

  18. William,

    As soon as you equate entropy with “disorder” and attempt to argue by equivocation, you’ve demonstrated the same error that Sewell committed. I strongly recommend Mike Elzinga’s summary of entropy and the second law that he helpfully provided here on this very site.

    I also challenge anyone who feels competent to discuss this topic to first provide their answers to Mike’s concept test. If you can’t do those simple calculations, you literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

  19. William J. Murray:
    What does anyone mean when they say something violates the 2LoT? Unless there is a clear understanding about what is actually being said here, the parties will simply argue past each other. IOW, if one is going to challenge Sewell, one has to know what Sewell actually means when he says what he says.

    Well, more importantly, one has to know what the Second Law of Thermodynamics means, which is, fortunately, clear. But I’ll leave it to the physicists to explain 🙂

    Suffice it to say that if Sewell was correct, and intelligence (our own) was capable of violating the second law, we would be able make fridges that didn’t get hot at the back.

    The relates to the communication problem in another thread. I’ve noticed that different ideological groups simply mean different things even when they use the same terminology; and more, they interpret how others say things according to their view of who is using the term.

    Yes, that’s true, and I’d say that there is a huge equivocation at the heart of Sewell’s fallacy – specifically concerning the word “order”. However, the great thing about science is that it requires clear operational definitions, and so we can refer to those when figuring out what a scientific claim actually means. Sewell appears to have failed to do this.

    Note that at UD, in the thread Elizabeth links to, Sewell stated:

    I usually try to say, it violates the underlying principle behind the second law, that is slightly less provocative.

    Yes, but that doesn’t really help.

    In his paper A Second Look at the Second Law”, Sewell makes the case that thermal entropy is not a special case – that the diffusion of “order” in any case, due to the probabilistic distributions associated with natural processes, can be equally called an entropic (under 2LoT) process:

    From (5), it follows that St ≥ 0 in an isolated, closed, system, where there is no heat flux through the boundary (J•n = 0). Hence, in a closed system, the entropy can never decrease. Since thermal entropy measures randomness (disorder) in the distribution of heat, its opposite (negative) can be referred to as ‘‘thermal order’’, and we can say that the thermal order can never increase in a closed system.

    Since thermal entropy is quantifiable, the application of the second law to thermal entropy is commonly used as the model problem on which our thinking about the other, less quantifiable, applications is based. The fact that thermal entropy cannot decrease in a closed system, but can decrease in an open system, was used to conclude that, in other applications, any entropy decrease in an open system is possible as long as it is compensated somehow by entropy increases outside this system, so that the total ‘‘entropy’’ (as though there were only one type) in the universe, or any other closed system containing the open system, still increases.

    However, there is really nothing special about ‘‘thermal’’ entropy. Heat conduction is just diffusion of heat, and we can define an ‘‘X-entropy’’ (and an X-order=−X-entropy), to measure the randomness in the distribution of any other substance X that diffuses; for example, we can let U(x, y, z, t) represent the concentration of carbon diffusing in a solid, and use Eq. (3) again to define this entropy (cρ = 1 now, so Qt = Ut ), and repeat the analysis leading to Eq. (5), which now says that the ‘‘carbon order’’ cannot increase in a closed system.2

    Which is, essentially, saying that a “substance X that diffuses” must diffuse. But not all subtances and processes result in diffusion. So the “Second Law of Things that Diffuse” isn’t a general law at all, and things that don’t diffuse don’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If it were so, any crystalisation process would violate the 2LoT, and not even Sewell, AFAIK, claims that crystals do this. When water vapour sublimes into hoar frost, is the 2LoT violated?

    His tornado movie demonstrates this in terms of probability distributions of the matter the tornado is moving around.What “violating the 2LoT” (in terms of X-order and X-disorder) means here is that natural forces have distributed the materials in the tornado (in the time-reverse video) into a highly ordered state (not thermal order, but X-order) that is highly improbable given the number and kinds of distributions normally associated with equilibrium (disorder)-seeking natural processes.

    Yes, but nobody is claiming that tornados assemble houses (Hoyle notwithstanding). What Sewell needs to demonstrate is that when a builder assembles a house, which is a commonly observed phenomenon, that the second law of thermodynamics is being violated. He doesn’t even attempt to demonstrate this, and indeed it is not true. The builder needs to eat, and while working off her calories on the building site, her armpits, at least, will get quite steamy.

    She has demonstrably violated the Second Law of Tornadoes, but there is no law that says that builders have to observe that one, only the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Which is why she uses anti-perspirant.

    IMO, to focus on the fact that such order is not “prohibited” by the 2nd law misses Sewell’s point entirely, where violation simply means “natural forces have produced an increase in X-order that cannot be expected (explained) via normal 2LoT-obeying natural processes. Although 2LoT allows it, and so it is not a “violation” in that strict sense, it is a violation of what we can reasonably expect from 2LoT-obeying processes.

    No. It is a violation of what we can expect from a tornado. But it’s perfectly reasonable to expect it from a builder, unless you, or Sewell, can demonstrate that builders aren’t a “2LoT-obeying process”.

    Sewell’s argument is of the form:

    As do not do X
    All As do Y
    Bs do X
    Therefore Bs do not do Y.

    It’s fallacious.

    IF Sewell is correct in his paper that the 2LoT is translatable beyond thermal distribution into any X-order, It is clear that intelligence “violates” the 2 LoT in terms of what can be normally, otherwise expected from natural processes, because humans generate virtually infinite increases in X-order on demand. Nowhere else in nature is this kind of apparently infinite capacity to generate X-order (redistribute stochastic distributions into highly selective order capable of doing work) in virtually any format (information, heat distribution, elements, chemicals, materials, sound, etc.) found.

    Well, first of course, he’s not correct. He’s proclaiming a new law entirely, a law that says that “Only intelligent things can produce an increase in order”. This is clearly false. We see ordering processes all around us, most of which are not normally attributed to intelligence. Of course, Dembski would argue that only ordering that exhibits chi>1 can be reliably attributed to intelligence, and we can argue about that,but that has nothing to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. None of the ordering we see, whether intelligent or not, violates that law. All ordering processes, whether intelligent or otherwise, result in increased entropy, whether it’s the hot air coming out of my fridge or my mouth, or simply the latent heat released when a water vapour droplet crystalises into a snowflake.

    At best, Sewell’s invocation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics serves as a metaphor for Dembski’s Specified Complexity argument. But it can be no more than that, because intelligent agents do not violate the 2LoT. Or, if they do, he has to demonstrate it.

  20. Toronto,

    I don’t think the argument he is making is best made (or even should be made) via the 2LoT, but rather upon some other case of expected statistical distributions of matter via natural processes; but in reference to “X-order”, the case he is making – right or wrong – is that there is no difference between expected distributions of heat and expected distributions of anything else. Whether he is right or wrong there in how it relates to the 2LoT, I don’t know.

    What I do know is that intelligence produces categorical distributions of matter we do not expect from any other known phenomena or any other collection of force/material interactions. All other known natural forces and process act against what intelligence generates, so to speak, reducing such artifacts over time towards a state of apparent order equilibrium if they are not maintained by intelligence. What intelligence creates always, eventually, falls into disrepair, disorder, collapse and failure left to natural forces.

    If we make a sharp knife, we do not expect that knife to become more sharp if we do not maintain it. If we dye cloth, we do not expect that dye to become brighter or more intense over time. If we create an engine, we do not expect it to become more efficient and powerful left to natural forces. We do not expect natural forces to add a bathroom to our house or make our computers run faster; this is because intelligence moves matter into patterns and distributions that are against the grain of all other known forces acting on intelligence’s creations.

    If this is an equivocation or an improper understanding of 2LoT, IMO that’s largely irrelevant to the meat of the argument – that intelligence defies and contravenes the normal natural order of things.

  21. William J. Murray:
    Toronto,

    I don’t think the argument he is making is best made (or even should be made) via the 2LoT, but rather upon some other case of expected statistical distributions of matter via natural processes; but in reference to “X-order”, the case he is making – right or wrong – is that there is no difference between expected distributions of heat and expected distributions of anything else.Whether he is right or wrong there in how it relates to the 2LoT, I don’t know.

    Well, he’s wrong. So you are right, it not a good way of making the argument. And it is also, on its face, fallacious. He is not saying “Dembski’s argument is a bit like the 2LoT”, he’s saying that intelligence violates the 2LoT (or that the 2LoT only applies to unintelligent systems). This is, simply, wrong.

  22. Elizabeth: Well, first of course, he’s not correct. He’s proclaiming a new law entirely, a law that says that “Only intelligent things can produce an increase in order”. This is clearly false. We see ordering processes all around us, most of which are not normally attributed to intelligence. Of course, Dembski would argue that only ordering that exhibits chi>1 can be reliably attributed to intelligence, and we can argue about that,but that has nothing to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. None of the ordering we see, whether intelligent or not, violates that law. All ordering processes, whether intelligent or otherwise, result in increased entropy, whether it’s the hot air coming out of my fridge or my mouth, or simply the latent heat released when a water vapour droplet crystalises into a snowflake.

    You say earlier in your comment here that “one has to know what the Second Law of Thermodynamics means, which is, fortunately, clear”. I agree that SLoT has clarity in terms of precise semantics, and is not at all ambiguous in terms of scientific processes, but the SLoT as a concept for public consumption, has a massive clarity problem. “Order” seems to be the tripping point, and Sewell, who’s in a position where’s it’s nothing short of embarrassing to make this mistake, symbolizes the problem SLoT has in public’s mind.

    Way back in college a professor committed the “Messy Room Mistake”, in introducing the concept of entropy and the SLoT to the class. He used a just cleaned kid’s bedroom where the socks where neatly folded and organized in the drawer, and all the clothes hung in the closet and the bed made, and contrasted that with a messy, disorganized room, with the bed unmade, clothes and toys strewn all about. The “messy” room was analogously to depict a “higher entropy” context, and while there’s an understandable bit of pedagogy, there, that beginning point sent the whole class down a mistaken path.

    The thermodynamic entropy of a just-cleaned room and that same room all messed up with everything strewn about is the same. To test it, burn them both down to fine ash, and see what kind of energy you can release in the process for each. It will be the same.

    If you aren’t paying attention to the scientific semantics, the SLoT appears to be saying something much more general and anthropocentric then it does. Humans seize on this notion of “order”, and get the concepts disastrously wrong. “Order” is a term of art in thermodynamics, and like so many other scientific terms (e.g. “information”), it’s not at all what the non-scientific definitions and uses of the term entail.

    Sewell’s fixation on intelligence signals a kind of local maxima in this confusion, a logical extreme in that misconception. He’s thinking about “order” as something like the “order” of a just-cleaned room, and has detached his concept from thermodynamics, the “T” in SLoT. Organized bookshelves may only (or just typically) come to be as the result of intelligent agents, but this is perfectly no problem for SLoT. Any intelligent agent, human or otherwise, has to consume energy to organize the bookshelf, and some of that energy is lost to the “unavailable for work” pool, inevitably, and the overall entropy of the system increases, even as the bookshelf gets more and more “ordered” in the Sewell-misconception sense.

    Which, I know, is largely to reiterate what you just said. So much of the ignorance and confusion on this hinges on equivocation on the term “order”. Sewell equivocates on this gratuitously, and I think a possible path for making progress on this dispute is to just agree not to use that problematic term and resort to more wordy, but precise terms in hashing this out.

  23. William J. Murray: I don’t think the argument he is making is best made (or even should be made) via the 2LoT, but rather upon some other case of expected statistical distributions of matter via natural processes;

    Well, this is directly opposite to what Sewell is saying. He insists that the 2nd law is an integral part of the ID argument:

    Believe me, I understand what you are saying. “Evolution violates the second law” is always sure to incite a riot. Even many ID proponents, who like Dembski’s specified complexity idea and don’t realize it is essentially equivalent to what I am saying, give me the cold shoulder. I usually try to say, it violates the underlying principle behind the second law, that is slightly less provocative. Probably a better solution is to simply say, “the second law only applies to unintelligent causes.”

    I have been saying essentially the same things for 10 years now, and it has been distressing to me how few ID proponents are willing to touch this topic, at least until recently—I seem to be making a little progress now. As the quote from “Basic Physics” in my video essentially says, if a tornado really did turn rubble into houses and cars, this would not violate any other law of science; and if four unintelligent forces of physics really did rearrange the basic particles of physics into humans, airplanes and books, I’m pretty sure that would not violate any other widely recognized law either. So I’ve never understood how you can argue for ID without ever even mentioning the second law. I guess this argument has been so associated with “creationists” like Gish, that ID folks are afraid of the association. But you can be wrong about some things, and right about others.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Dembski is less extreme in this regard. He does not go all the way to say that the 2nd law is violated by intelligence. In No Free Lunch, on pages 170-173, he stops short of saying that Maxwell’s demon and other intelligences violate the 2nd law and instead introduces “a 4th law of thermodynamics,” expressing the conservation of specified information. A brief excerpt:

    CSI, whose source is ultimately intelligence, can override the second law. It is not fair, however, to call this overriding of the second law a violation of it. The second law is often stated nonstatistically as the claim that in a closed system operating by natural causes entropy is guaranteed to remain the same or increase. But the second law is properly a statistical law stating that in a closed system operating by natural causes entropy is overwhelmingly likely to remain the same or increase. The fourth law, as I am defining it, accounts for the highly unlikely exceptions.

    Dembski is coming at it from the same position as Sewell, but he tries to maintain a veneer of respectability. 🙂

  24. William J Murray: “I don’t think the argument he is making is best made (or even should be made) via the 2LoT, but rather upon some other case of expected statistical distributions of matter via natural processes;…

    You’re absolutely right.

    Not only you, but all the Evos who understand the 2LoT have been telling him that very same thing over and over.

    The argument he is making, like you say, is statistical and no different than Dembski’s, which is, life is too improbable to have arisen without “before life actually existed”, intelligent guidance.

    The 2LoT, by association, is being used to lend credibility to a bad ID argument.

  25. I agree that SLoT has clarity in terms of precise semantics, and is not at all ambiguous in terms of scientific processes, but the SLoT as a concept for public consumption, has a massive clarity problem. “Order” seems to be the tripping point, and Sewell, who’s in a position where’s it’s nothing short of embarrassing to make this mistake, symbolizes the problem SLoT has in public’s mind.

    Yes, I think this nails it. “Order”, in human thinking, means rearranging things to make them simpler for human thought processes to deal with. From the 2LoT perspective, ANY arrangement of books is thermodynamically equivalent to any other. It’s just molecules sitting around. Shuffling the books around in such a way that humans can more easily find a specific book doesn’t increase thermodynamic order in any way, it just consumes energy to reshuffle.

    “Disorder” simply does not refer to “a less convenient arrangement for human purposes.” The difference between a living organism and a rock is, the rock doesn’t require the consumption of energy to maintain its state, addling little to entropy. Living organisms require a great deal of entropy-increasing maintenance. Far from violating 2LoT, living organisms demonstrate it. In spades.

  26. Flint: Yes, I think this nails it. “Order”, in human thinking, means rearranging things to make them simpler for human thought processes to deal with. From the 2LoT perspective, ANY arrangement of books is thermodynamically equivalent to any other. It’s just molecules sitting around. Shuffling the books around in such a way that humans can more easily find a specific book doesn’t increase thermodynamic order in any way, it just consumes energy to reshuffle.

    Dembski, by the way, understands that. That is why he introduces his “fourth law of thermodynamics.”

  27. Dembski, by the way, understands that. That is why he introduces his “fourth law of thermodynamics.”

    That work is required to move objects to a specific order?

  28. olegt: Dembski, by the way, understands that. That is why he introduces his “fourth law of thermodynamics.”

    Maybe so, but I guess I didn’t understand Dembski. If I’m reading you and him correctly, he says 2LoT is not a law, but rather a statistical distribution, and that entropy actually decreases at the far end of the curve! And that by the greatest of good fortune, this tiny area of decrease just happens to support his theology. Which quite clearly he used to “find” this statistical anomaly — that is, his theology told him it HAD to exist, and how and where to look.

    Why I don’t understand is, why can’t this statistical distribution be used to build perpetual motion machines? Clearly these rare exceptions are not random according to Dembski, we are all living instances. Apparently so that our specification (derived in hindsight) can be preserved, or some such.

  29. From Bruce David again:

    Hi all,

    I’d like to expand a little on something I said in comment #8:

    It implies that intelligence, including our own, is not a feature of the material universe (“in the world but not of it”).

    The reason I say this is that it is commonly accepted that the physical universe, acting according to natural law (the four forces, etc.) obeys the Second Law of Thermodynamics, in its commonly understood generalization that entropy, or disorder, always increases in a closed system, and as Dr. Sewell points out, never increases faster in an open system than the order that is being imported across its boundary.

    Now it is a requirement of the materialist world view that the actions of intelligence can be completely explained by physical human brains acting according to natural law (again, the four forces). However, as Dr. Sewell’s analysis demonstrates, human intelligence routinely violates the Second Law. This means that either 1) the Second Law is invalid in this particular situation, that somehow our brains, even though a part of the natural world, are an exception to the Second Law, or 2) our intelligence has a non-material component, that our creativity is in fact a “supernatural” phenomenon, which implies, yes, that we are in fact non-material beings in our essence.

    Since the Second Law has been universally and repeatedly verified for physical systems, this is strong evidence for the existence of the soul, along with NDEs, OBEs, past life regression, etc.

    I think that this is why materialists resist (or more commonly, simply ignore) Dr. Sewell’s reasoning—they subconsciously realize that to accept it means that they have to accept either that the Second Law isn’t a always true for the material world or that there are aspects of human beings which cannot be explained in material terms at all, both of which would be highly distasteful to a materialist, particularly the latter.

    Bruce is good – he’s unpacked Sewell’s argument and clearly laid it out from its premise to its logical and remarkable conclusion. But of course, in so doing, has revealed the flaw in the premise:

    “However, as Dr. Sewell’s analysis demonstrates, human intelligence routinely violates the Second Law.”

    If it did, they would have a point. But it doesn’t, so they don’t 🙂

    We are just back to Dembski.

  30. Intelligence=Magic

    This is clear from the ID assumption that intelligence can create sequences that violate the probability bounds of the universe, whatever that means.

    Intelligence, as we all know, routinely poofs ideas into existence that are fully formed from the head, not the product of incremental acquisition.

    Inventions like the light bulb are the inspired creation of lone, immaterial intelligence, not the result of centuries of testing and fiddling. I know this because I read it at UD.

  31. As Behe’s analysis demonstrates, Design is a property of an object just like mass or color, clearly visible to everyone whose theological preconceptions require that they “see” it. Materialists can’t see what’s not there because their “worldview” blinds them!

  32. I’ll post the concept test here again for convenience.

    You will note that Sewell cannot use his “calculations” to do this test. Sewell would have no clue about how to do this test.

    In every case when this test has been posted before, ID/creationists change the subject; and they usually try to change it to the origins of life, as though the origin of life violates the second law.

    No matter, ID/creationists cannot understand the point of this test. Yet it is a basic test of student understanding of important concepts.

    **************************************************************

    The following is an elementary concept test.

    Take a simple system made up of 16 identical atoms, each of which has a non-degenerate ground state and a single accessible excited state.

    Start with all of the atoms in the ground state.

    1. What is the entropy when all atoms are in the ground state?

    2. Add just enough energy to put 4 atoms in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    3. Add more energy so that 8 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    4. Add still more energy so that 12 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    5. Add more energy so that all atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    6. Rank order the temperatures in each of the above cases.

  33. William J. Murray: What does anyone mean when they say something violates the 2LoT?

    2LoT is a well known part of physics. There is no confusion about what it means.

    Sure, uneducated people might use the term without knowing what it means. But we would not consider Sewell to be uneducated. He is knowledgeable enough to be a professor of mathematics. Yet his 2LoT argument is stunningly stupid. Religion seems to do that to people.

    His tornado movie demonstrates this in terms of probability distributions of the matter the tornado is moving around.

    His tornado movie demonstrates that Sewell has heard of tornados.

    A tornado is a region of lower entropy than the surroundings. Even if Sewell is confused about 2LoT and is talking about a non-thermal sense of order, the tornado is still more highly ordered than the surroundings.

    If Sewell’s argument is correct, then tornadoes cannot occur naturally. Every tornado would have to be the result of intervention by an intelligent designer.

    As said above, Sewell’s argument is stunningly stupid. The tornadoes that he depicts in his video are already clear counter examples to what he claims to be proving.

  34. William J. Murray: IMO, to focus on the fact that such order is not “prohibited” by the 2nd law misses Sewell’s point entirely, where violation simply means “natural forces have produced an increase in X-order that cannot be expected (explained) via normal 2LoT-obeying natural processes. Although 2LoT allows it, and so it is not a “violation” in that strict sense, it is a violation of what we can reasonably expect from 2LoT-obeying processes.

    Nobody is missing Sewell’s “point;” we are highlighting Sewell’s FUNDAMENTAL MISCONCEPTIONS.

    Entropy has nothing to do with disorder. The second law has nothing to do with everything coming all apart and decaying.

    There is no such thing as “X-order” in physics. Sewell just made it up. There are no violations taking place in a movie being run backwards; there are misrepresentations taking place. The misrepresentations are equating tornado debris with atoms and molecules.

    Heat flows from high temperature to low temperature. Do you know why? Do you know what heat and temperature are?

    When you divide the amount of heat by temperature, the same amount of heat divided by a larger temperature is smaller than the same amount of heat divided by a lower temperature. Clausius called it “entropy” to give a common mathematical expression a name. It is a convenient way to calculate; and it has nothing to do with “disorder.”

  35. Joe G:
    Great chemical engineering- well just step up and demonstrate that blind and undirected chemical processes can produce a living organism from non-living matter and Sewell is refuted.

    Evidence, not rhetoric, is required in this case.

    That leaves you out then.

    Sewell’s assertions have already been refuted, many times.

    Can you just step up and demonstrate the origin of the original “intelligent designer”, or that the original “intelligent designer” originally designed anything original, or that it can originally produce an original living organism from original non-living matter, or that it can originally produce original non-living matter?

  36. Mike Elzinga:
    I’ll post the concept test here again for convenience.

    You will note that Sewell cannot use his “calculations” to do this test. Sewell would have no clue about how to do this test.

    In every case when this test has been posted before, ID/creationists change the subject; and they usually try to change it to the origins of life, as though the origin of life violates the second law.

    No matter, ID/creationists cannot understand the point of this test.Yet it is a basic test of student understanding of important concepts.

    **************************************************************

    The following is an elementary concept test.

    Take a simple system made up of 16 identical atoms, each of which has a non-degenerate ground state and a single accessible excited state.

    Start with all of the atoms in the ground state.

    1. What is the entropy when all atoms are in the ground state?

    2. Add just enough energy to put 4 atoms in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    3. Add more energy so that 8 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    4. Add still more energy so that 12 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    5. Add more energy so that all atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    6. Rank order the temperatures in each of the above cases.

    Mike, I am failing your concept test. Can you help?

  37. Mike Elzinga:
    When you divide the amount of heat by temperature, the same amount of heat divided by a larger temperature is smaller than the same amount of heat divided by a lower temperature.

    I wish someone had told me that 45 years ago 🙂

  38. Elizabeth: Mike, I am failing your concept test. Can you help?

    Sorry, for some reason I though you had already seen it.

    Here it is with answers.

    **************************************************************

    The following is an elementary concept test.

    Take a simple system made up of 16 identical atoms, each of which has a non-degenerate ground state and a single accessible excited state.

    Start with all of the atoms in the ground state.

    1. What is the entropy when all atoms are in the ground state?

    2. Add just enough energy to put 4 atoms in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    3. Add more energy so that 8 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    4. Add still more energy so that 12 atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    5. Add more energy so that all atoms are in the excited state. What is the entropy now?

    6. Rank order the temperatures in each of the above cases.

    ****************************************************
    This is a simple example of a thermodynamic system comprised of constituents that can have only two-states (often referred to as a two-state system). Each atom can be either in its ground state or in a single excited state.

    In calculating the entropy, we are going to take the natural logarithm of the number of available microstates and then multiply that number by Boltzmann’s constant kB.

    So we are interested in the number of ways that we can have p atoms out of n atoms be in an excited state with the rest in the ground state.

    But this is simply the number of combinations of n things taken p at a time; or

    nCp = n!/((np)!p!).

    For the ground state, there is only one way to have all atoms in the ground state.

    The natural log of 1 is 0. So the entropy is zero in the ground state with no energy.

    For 4 atoms in the excited state, 16C4 = 1,820

    Then ln(1820) = 7.51

    For 8 atoms in the excited state, 16C8 = 12,870

    Then ln(12870) = 9.46

    For 12 atoms in the excited state, 16C12 = 1,820

    Then ln(1820) = 7.51

    And, finally, there is only one way to have all 16 atoms in the excited state, so ln(1) = 0. Thus the entropy is zero again with the system having a total energy of 16 units.

    If you want all steps from 0 to 16, they are:

    {1, 16, 120, 560, 1820, 4368, 8008, 11440, 12870, 11440, 8008, 4368, 1820, 560, 120, 16, 1}.

    Their logarithms are:

    {0, 2.77, 4.79, 6.33, 7.51, 8.38, 8.99, 9.34, 9.46, 9.34, 8.99, 8.38, 7.51, 6.33, 4.79, 2.77, 0}.

    We can then multiply each of these logarithms by Boltzmann’s constant, which depends on what units we are working in (joules per Kelvin, eV per Kelvin, or whatever we have adopted for our energy units and temperature scale). For purposes of illustration, we can just set Boltzmann’s constant equal to 1, so the above list is the entropy of each macro-state.

    To compare temperatures, we need to know that 1/T = rate of change of entropy with respect to the corresponding change in total energy.

    For purposes of illustration, we can take each step in energy as one unit. Then the changes in entropy for each step become

    {2.77, 2.01, 1.54, 1.18, .88, .61, .36, .12, -.12, -.36, -.61, -.88, -1.18, -1.54, -2.01, -2.77},

    which are the reciprocal temperatures.

    Then the temperatures are (recall that we have set Boltzman’s constant to 1 for illustration only):

    {0.36, 0.50, 0.65, 0.85, 1.14, 1.65, 2.80, 8.49, -8.49, -2.80, -1.65, -1.14, -0.85, -.065, -0.50, -0.36}

    In the beginning stages, the entropy is increasing with the added energy. So the reciprocal temperature is positive. But as number of atoms in the excited state approaches 8 from below, that rate of increase of entropy is approaching zero. This means that 1/T is approaching zero; which means that T is getting larger and larger.

    As the number of atoms in the excited state goes beyond 8, the entropy is now decreasing with increasing total energy. So just beyond 8 atoms in the excited state, 1/T is near zero but negative. This means that T is large and negative.

    As the number of atoms in the excited state keeps increasing beyond 8, the entropy now decreases even faster with increasing total energy. Therefore 1/T remains negative, and T remains negative but becomes less and less negative.

    So, extrapolating to systems containing on the order of 1023 such atoms, we enter the realm where the energy steps become very small; almost continuous. The number of microstates at each energy step is enormous and changing more rapidly than an exponential.

    The temperature starts out at a minimum positive value, increases to positive infinity as half of the atoms go into the excited state. But immediately beyond the halfway point, the temperature jumps to negative infinity and then approaches smaller negative values as the number of excited atoms approaches the total number of atoms.

    What does one take away from this little exercise with two-state systems?

    (1) Entropy has nothing to do with spatial order. Those atoms could be embedded randomly within any matrix of other atoms that don’t respond to the energy input, or they could be lined up in a definite pattern. It makes no difference to the entropy.

    (2) Entropy can increase from zero with energy input, go through a maximum, and then decrease again to zero as total energy continues to increase. And as energy is drained from the system, entropy can increase from zero, go through a maximum, and then decrease back to zero.

    So you can’t conclude that bathing things in energy “makes things worse.”

    (3) Entropy has nothing to do with everything coming all apart and “falling into decay” or into “simpler forms.”

    (4) The entropy can change within any system only if the individual constituents of the system can exchange energy with each other. If they could not, then the system would stay in whatever microstate it is in, and there would be only one microstate (entropy zero).

    But such a system cannot “communicate” with the outside world either. And we wouldn’t know what particular microstate it is in (chew on that one, “information wags”).

    Such a system would be isolated, but the entropy could still be stuck at zero. It is difficult to construct such a system, but they can be closely approximated in the lab.

    We would not be able to do this exercise of n things taken p at a time if it were not possible to have various combinations of atoms containing the same total energy; i.e., if the atoms couldn’t exchange energy with each other.

    (5) This system is representative of the “population inversions” necessary to produce lasing in a gas laser (such as a HeNe or a CO2 laser for example). It can also apply to “spin systems” of atoms with a nuclear magnetic dipole moment immersed in a magnetic field.

    (6) ID/creationists know absolutely nothing about entropy.

    (7) None of the ID/creationists understand the concept of temperature, whether it be the empirical temperature or the proper statistical mechanics notions behind temperature.

    (8) None of the ID/creationists understand the connections between temperature and entropy or why the entropy of a system has nothing to do with its spatial configuration or “order/disorder”.

    (9) None of the ID/creationists understand that entropy has nothing to do with the place an organism occupies on an evolutionary scale.

    For example, no ID/creationist understands that a juvenile animal, with half the dimensions of an adult, contains one-eighth the volume and, therefore one-eighth the entropy. By ID/creationist “logic,” adult animals “have less information” or are “less advanced” then are their juvenile offspring.

    (10) In particular, Sewell’s “paper” is meaningless; he doesn’t know how to calculate entropy or what it is. And we know exactly why he would never consider submitting his “paper” to Physical Review Letters; choosing instead to ferret out an overworked editor with an understaffed set of reviewers working for a small mathematical journal.

    There is not one formula used in the calculation of entropy that indicates anything about “order” or “disorder” being calculated. Entropy has NEVER been about disorder. The second law of thermodynamics has NEVER been about everything coming all apart and falling into “decay”. If that were true, what would be left to decay?

    None of the ID/creationist concepts about entropy are found any textbook used in the training of physicists. They never were. Some of the best textbooks around were in print when Henry Morris started his war on evolution in the 1970s. Those textbooks are still in print and are still used today.

    The ID/creationist misconceptions about decay come from the fact that we living organisms live in a very narrow energy window in which one of our most important compounds, water, is a liquid. We are soft-matter creatures consisting of significant quantities of material that is loosely bound. The temperature boundaries of liquid water are extremes to us.

    (I see the sub and sup tags aren’t working.)

  39. We do not expect natural forces to add a bathroom to our house or make our computers run faster; this is because intelligence moves matter into patterns and distributions that are against the grain of all other known forces acting on intelligence’s creations.

    But we do expect that, over time, a large clump of interstellar gas will coalesce into a solar system with planets on which chemical reactions will lead to greater and more diverse chemical reactions, entirely by natural forces.

  40. Thanks, Mike. The only thing I got right was that the the first and last had the same entropy. However, I assumed that they would have maximum entropy, not minumum (because less opportunity for the energy to move around).

    So what I don’t get (apart from getting that I didn’t get the concept) is: if entropy in the universe is increasing, does that not mean that the heat is getting more uniformly spread? In which case, why do the uniform states have the most entropy?

  41. I didn’t quite follow that either. Minimum entropy, in my limited understanding, meant maximum ability to do work, because of maximum energy-state differential. How much work can a system do when all constituents are in exactly the same state? What sort of exchange can take place?

  42. I have written a number of posts at Panda’s Thumb basically making fun of Sewell’s arguments (most recently here), because his arguments are not just about intelligence and the Second Law, they are meant to apply more generally. He is arguing that life in the biosphere cannot become bigger and more complicated because there is no flow of energy that can explain that. And that is intended to apply to the whole history and evolution of the biosphere, long before it contains any intelligent organisms.

    He argues that in any region the concentration of (for example) energy cannot increase unless there is specifically a flow into the region. And he says that

    … if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here. [Granville Sewell Mathematical Intelligencer, 2001]

    The argument “proves” too much. It does not just show that tornados cannot produce computers, it shows that plants can’t grow. (And there is empirical evidence that plants can grow). And the reason that they can grow is that the “radiation” that is entering the biosphere is not just cosmic rays but the enormous flow of solar energy that powers the growth of (almost all of) the biosphere.

    I realize that this thread is specifically about intelligence and the 2LOT, but I don’t think we should ignore that Sewell’s arguments apply to the evolution of the biosphere (and the growth of plants) and they are blatantly wrong. Many people have pointed this out over the years. Sewell’s equations could be entirely correct, but if, in applying them to life, he ignores a basic point of middle-school science — that the biosphere is almost entirely powered by solar radiation, then he is egregiously wrong. And if you live in El Paso, Texas and ignore the existence of that solar radiation, you will get badly sunburned.

    The intense frustration so many of us have with Sewell and his arguments is not that he has made some lethal point about intelligence and evolution. It is because his argument encourages people to forget their middle-school science and wrongly conclude that it has been shown that all evolution violates the 2LOT.

  43. Elizabeth: Thanks, Mike. The only thing I got right was that the the first and last had the same entropy. However, I assumed that they would have maximum entropy, not minumum (because less opportunity for the energy to move around).
    So what I don’t get (apart from getting that I didn’t get the concept) is: if entropy in the universe is increasing, does that not mean that the heat is getting more uniformly spread? In which case, why do the uniform states have the most entropy?

    The second law of thermodynamics says that ENERGY spreads out among accessible states. It is another way of saying that energy flows in the direction of momentum transfers. The point that is constantly overlooked in this statement is the fact that matter interacts strongly with matter and condenses. Condensing means falling into mutual potential energy wells that develop as a result of those interactions.

    In the process of condensing, energy must be released. In the process of being released, it goes somewhere else in the form of a photon, a particle, or a phonon. If the energy can leave the system, the system stays bound. Energy transfers take place in the direction of momentum transfers. Momentum is carried by photons, particles, and phonons (there is more richness with all the other particles in the elementary particle zoo, but the essentials are the same).

    Entropy is word that can only be use in the context of condensed, interacting matter. It has no meaning for a particle without structure.

    Entropy, in statistical mechanics, refers to the number of accessible ENERGY microstates that is consistent with the macroscopic state of the system (its total energy, its temperature, pressure, volume, magnetization, electric charge, etc.). It refers to how energy is distributed among those microstates; it says absolutely nothing about the spatial ordering of those microstates.

    For an ISOLATED system (no heat or matter can flow in or out), the system comes to equilibrium when all microscopic processes spread the energy with equal probability among themselves. They do this because matter interacts strongly with matter. This is the general rule in nature. This is the rule that ID/creationists always get wrong.

    Then for an ISOLATED system, the entropy is just Boltzmann’s constant multiplied by the natural logarithm of the number of accessible microstates, Ω, i.e.,

    S = k ln Ω.

    It’s the logarithm of a number; not order.

    More generally (we did this on another thread), when the system is in contact with a much larger system at constant temperature,

    S = – k Σp(j)ln p(j)

    where p(j) is the probability that the system is in the jth microstate, and the sum on j is over all accessible microstates. Remove the system from contact with the larger system and isolate it, and the entropy goes to a maximum as given by the first expression (matter interacts with matter) in which all probabilities become equal.

    Notice that the expression is just the average of the logarithms of the probabilities. Averages contain no hint of order; you can average in any order you choose.

    The more important role of entropy is in the way it acts as a state variable that connects the other macroscopic state variables of a thermodynamic system together. We already mentioned

    1/T = ∂S/∂E.

    This holds at the classical level as well.

    The remarkable property is that those above expressions, derived by Boltzmann and Gibbs, play the same role as

    dQ/T,

    the mathematical expression in classical thermodynamics to which Clausius attached the name “entropy.”

    Note that there is no hint of “order” in this expression either; it is a continuous summation.

    Using the expression “maximum entropy” as being synonymous with the “inability to do work” refers only to an isolated system or a system in equilibrium with its surroundings.

    In such a case, if all microstates are equally probable, the temperature is the same everywhere, there are no energy gradients because the energy is being passed back and forth between system and surroundings with equal probability. So no net momentum and energy transfers take place in any direction. Macroscopically this means there is no way to harness momentum and energy flow in one direction in order to do any work. There is no net “hammering” in any particular direction.

    The statistical fluctuations in energy are on the order of the reciprocal of the square root of the number of particles making up the system. When that number is on the order of 10^23, those fluctuations are very small.

    For example, in an ideal gaseous system involving large numbers of particles whizzing around, the temperature of the system is proportional to the average kinetic energy per degree of freedom. For example, if there are N particles moving in three dimensions, there are 3N degrees of freedom in the system.

    Temperature gradients then mean energy gradients in which momentum transfers are taking place primarily in the direction of the gradient. Put a piston in there, and get work out because it gets a net hammering in a given direction.

    By the way, the reason for Boltzmann’s constant is due to a historical accident in which the empirical temperature scale and the size of a unit of energy were established independently. It couldn’t be calculated directly until Avogadro’s (Lochscmidt’s) number was determined.

  44. Mike Elzinga: Entropy, in statistical mechanics, refers to the number of accessible ENERGY microstates that is consistent with the macroscopic state of the system (its total energy, its temperature, pressure, volume, magnetization, electric charge, etc.). It refers to how energy is distributed among those microstates; it says absolutely nothing about the spatial ordering of those microstates.

    OK, thanks, I think I get it. I’ll let you know when I’ve slept on it!

  45. btw, I’m trying to figure out how to make sup tags available to everyone in comments. Also I’ve installed a latex plug-in, but that only works in posts, not comments (not even for me). I’ll keep working on it….

  46. Joe Felsenstein: The argument “proves” too much. It does not just show that tornados cannot produce computers, it shows that plants can’t grow. (And there is empirical evidence that plants can grow). And the reason that they can grow is that the “radiation” that is entering the biosphere is not just cosmic rays but the enormous flow of solar energy that powers the growth of (almost all of) the biosphere.

    Having gone round and round on this with creationists numerous times now, I wholly agree with your point here, but can say that will be entirely unconvincing to the creationist you are responding to.

    From the other side, the understanding is that plants grow as an artifact of intelligence. It’s only because they were designed to cheat the SLoT that plants can do what they do. I’ve pushed that back to the formation of stars, in efforts to avoid the magical thinking about how biological processes arise, but to no avail. The collapse of matter into a star decreases entropy in the star itself, while overall entropy increases (as it must), but even so, this example, too, falls victim to the “magic of intelligence” response; stars only form that way, creating local decreases in entropy, because that’s the way God as an intelligent agent designed that physical system to work.

    Left to it’s own devices (?), so to speak, gravity wouldn’t do what it does, stars would not form, etc. At points it sounds like the creationist (who is typically a Christian, in my experience) is advancing something like the Islamic idea of occasionalism, but really this is just a “turtles all the way down” style appeal to intelligence as magic; whoever pointed out the “intelligence = magic” thing upthread (petrushka?) hit on the key insight.

    The creationist will easily “defeat” all these points, no matter how far up the chain you go. Their argument can’t prove to much to be refuted empirically, because it’s a tautology in their view. What empirically appears to “order” or “organize” or “structure” is by definition an artifact of intelligence, either directly or indirectly. This has the unfortunate effect of pretty much nullifying any empirical test of the argument. The only way the evidence could look that way is by design, per their axiom.

  47. But that’s equivalent to saying that the reason that there was low entropy in the first place is because God made it that way. Which comes down to Anselm.

    It’s not the argument Sewell is making. He’s saying that the 2LoT only applies to non-intelligent things, and holds that there are non-intelligent things for which it holds.

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