Mark Perakh posted Entry 1873 on January 2, 2006 10:09 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1868

The young earth creationists (YECs) used to refer to the 2nd law of thermodynamics as an allegedly insurmountable obstacle to evolution. When their critics pointed out that the 2nd law, as used by creationists, is only valid for “closed” (or “isolated”) systems and therefore is not an obstacle to evolution on our planet which is an open system receiving energy input from the sun, the YECs suggested various specious arguments designed to circumvent this limitation of the 2nd law. With time, as straightforward young earth creationism gradually retreated to such fringe outlets as Answers in Genesis, the Institute of Creation Research, and Hovind’s entertainment shops (being replaced by intelligent design movement as the main anti-evolution force), reference to the 2nd law of thermodynamics has rare been heard as an anti-evolution argument.

However, this pseudo-scientific argument has not been completely abandoned by anti-evolution forces, both of YEC and ID varieties. From time to time it recrudesces in writing of this or that advocate of creationism.

One example of such a misuse of the 2nd law of thermodynamics is a recent article by professor of mathematics Granville Sewell titled “Evolution’s Thermodynamic Failure” (see here ).

When so great a “scientist” as Pat Buchanan endeavors to speak about evolution ( see here) there is little to be surprised about when he displays ignorance – Buchanan is a “pundit” of dubious integrity, with no credibility as far as any science is concerned, so we can’t expect from him a reasonable discourse about anything scientific. Likewise, when some of the fellows of the Discovery Institute assault evolution theory, distortions and misrepresentations are the order of the day, because that is how they earn their keep. However, when a professor of mathematics at a qualty university misuses thermodynamics, one only can shrug in astonishment.

Since I am not a mathematician, I would never try discussing the quality of Sewell’s mathematical publications. Perhaps he is a very good mathematician. That is not for me to judge. However, having taught all parts of physics, including thermodynamics, statistical physics, physical kinetics, and other related disciplines, for over half a century, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels, I feel qualified to judge Sewell’s thermodynamic exercise. I find it depressingly fallacious.

Let me quote certain passages in Sewell’s essay and briefly comment on them.
Sewell starts his essay with the following words:

In the current debate over “Intelligent Design,” the strongest argument offered by opponents of design is this: we have scientific explanations for most everything else in Nature, what is special about evolution?

I don’t know where Sewell found the quoted statement: he provides no references. I can’t recall such statement offered as “the strongest argument… by opponents of design.” To me it looks more like a straw-man erected by Sewell to enable him easily defeat this allegedly “strongest” anti-design argument.

This telling start of Sewell’s thermodynamic exercise portends the overall level of his critique of evolution theory (ET). Indeed, as we read Sewell’s tract, what we see described under the label of evolution theory looks more like a caricature of that theory. Of course Sewell is not a biologist and is not expected to discuss evolution theory on a professional level, but if this is the case, would it not be more sensible to leave the discussion of the strong and weak features of ET to experts (as they have been doing day in and day out in thousands of papers in scientific journals and on conferences and meetings)? I guess that if some biologist not versed in mathematics endeavored to critique Sewell’s mathematical output, Professor Sewell would shrug off the dilettante’s exercise with a disdainful smirk.

Since I am not a biologist, I’ll limit my discussion of Sewell’s essay to narrow thermodynamic topics.

The main argument against the ET used by Sewell seems to be based on thermodynamics, and specifically on its famous 2nd law.

Before delving into the essence of Sewell’s main argument, let me provide a few more quotes from his essay.

Sewell writes,

The first formulations of the second law were all about heat:: a quantity called thermal “entropy” was defined to measure the randomness, or disorder, associated with a temperature distribution, and it was shown that in an isolated system this entropy always increases, or at least never decreases, as the temperature becomes more and more randomly (more uniformly) distributed.

First of all, this statement is historically wrong. When Clausius introduced the concept of entropy, it was not connected in any way with “randomness” – such a connection was discovered much later, and not in thermodynamics per se but rather in statistical physics. Furthermore, the expressions “temperature distribution” and “temperature becomes more and more randomly (more uniformly) distributed” are rather imprecise. Temperature T is a thermodynamic parameter which has meaning only for macroscopic assemblies of particles. T has no meaning for infinitesimally small volumes. We can meaningfully discuss temperature gradients, because the concept of a gradient does not require consideration of infinitesimally small volumes. However, the concept of a “distribution” involves the concept of a “distribution function,” which necessarily incorporates values defined for infinitesimal volumes where the concept of T is meaningless.

Sewell further writes,

The fact that order is disappearing in the next room does not make it any easier for computers to appear in our room – unless this order is disappearing into our room, and then only if it is a type of order that makes the appearance of computers not extremely improbable, for example, computers. Importing thermal order will make the temperature distribution less random, and importing carbon order will make the carbon distribution less random, but neither makes the formation of computers more probable.

Note here the expressions like “order is disappearing in the next room,” “Importing thermal order,” and “will make the temperature distribution less random.”

While expressions like “entropy flows into the system,” are common in thermodynamics, they are just metaphors. Entropy is not a substance which can literally “flow” from or into a system. Entropy is a measure of disorder and the actual mechanism of its decrease in one place and accompanying increase in another place is statistical. It is realized via random motion of particles chaotically exchanging their energy and momenta through collisions. Likewise, expression like “order is imported,” have no literal meaning, but Sewell uses such expressions as if they reflect the actual influx (“import”) or outflow (“export”) of some non-existing substance called “order.” This metaphoric language sheds no additional light on the discussed phenomena, more so because his expressions like “temperature distribution becomes less random” are simply confusing as the temperature is essentially a macroscopic quantity having no meaning for infinitesimally small volumes and therefore a distribution function for temperature cannot be defined.

Defenders of Sewell may argue that I am nitpicking here on some insignificant semantic details. Perhaps this is so and these semantic details have no bearing on the essence of Sewell’s argument. They have a bearing, though, on the overall credibility of Sewell as the interpreter of subtle nuances of thermodynamics he evidently pretends to be.

Here is another quote:

Natural forces, such as corrosion, erosion, fire and explosions, do not create order, they destroy it.

Without a further “nitpicking” regarding the term “forces” being applied to corrosion and erosion (which are, strictly speaking, not forces but processes), Sewell’s thesis is contrary to well established facts which testify that there are many spontaneous natural processes that create order. Has Professor Sewell never heard about self organization which occurs spontaneously and has been observed many times in various systems?
Has Sewell never heard about, say, Benard cells, a Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, spontaneous ordering in various colloidal systems, etc., etc., etc.? (See, for example, Niall Shanks, God, the Devil, and Darwin).

Regarding erosion, it certainly may cause destruction of information-rich structures. For example, erosion may result in a gradual deterioration of the Mount Rushmore carvings. However, in other cases erosion can create sculpture-like images. Has Professor Sewell never heard about erosion spontaneously creating amazing structures looking like animals, people, bridges, and the like? I’d recommend Professor Sewell travel to Russia and visit there the Dombai region in the North Caucasus. He may see there an amazing phenomenon – a mountain named Sulakhat – which looks like a sculpture by an accomplished artist in the shape of a young woman on her back, but is, in fact, an accidental grouping of rocks.

If the gradual destruction of, say, the Great Buddha sculpture is an example of the destructive force of erosion, which, according to Sewell, “destroys order,” then the appearance of sculpture-like images due to erosion, by the same logic, should be construed as creating order (of course this is, in fact, rather an example of creating the illusion of design).

Here is how Sewell offers his main claim:

…. the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way.

Having announced the quoted claim, Sewell proceeds to elaborate, aiming to prove that the 2nd law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution.

I’ll concentrate now on Sewell’s thermodynamic argument.

Since Sewell’s argument is based on his interpretation of entropy and of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, perhaps it is proper to start with a brief discussion of what these concepts entail (see also my essay here ).

Sewell interprets entropy as a measure of disorder. In the context of this discussion, I readily accept such an interpretation. Here, though, my agreement with Sewell ends. IMO, the rest of his discourse abounds in faulty assertions, incorrect examples, and unsubstantiated conclusions.

As a preamble to the discussion of Sewell’s piece, let me conduct a brief excursion into the chapter of thermodynamics dealing with entropy and the 2nd law.

The concept of entropy was introduced by Clausius in a specific form as

equation

Clausius noticed that while dQ is not a real differential but just an infinitesimal amount of “heat,” (because heat Q is not a function of state) the inverse temperature 1/T is what mathematically is referred to as integrating coefficient. Unlike dQ, the quantity dQ/T is a real differential. Integrating dQ/T produces a function S of the system’s thermodynamic parameters (such as pressure P, volume V, temperature T, magnetization B, etc.). This function (named “entropy” by Clausius) is a “function of state,” in many respect similar to temperature (with an important difference – T is an intensive, whereas S is an extensive property).

COMMENT. While entropy is legitimately construed as a thermodynamic parameter, or as a system’s “property” similar to the way volume, pressure, temperature, magnetization, etc., of a system are referred to as system’s “properties,” in fact entropy is not a physical property of system’s material constituents. For example, for a gas consisting of molecules, entropy is not a property of molecules, but a measure of disorder in the molecules’ distribution over locations in the volume they occupy, and/or of their momenta, etc. The term “property“ is used in thermodynamics in a semantically different way than in, say, material science or physics of solids where the term “property” is reserved for ,say, mass, magnetization, polarization, strength ,elasticity, and other physical properties of a material, determined by its structure.

Clausius found that function S is an invariant of a reversible adiabatic process or of any reversible cycle (similarly T is an invariant of a reversible isothermal process or of any reversible cycle). Reviewing various processes and cycles, Clausius postulated that, in an irreversible process, the net entropy summed up for all participants of the process always increases. This postulate cannot be rigorously proven, but has been accepted, based on an extensive analysis of multiple situations, as the 2nd law of thermodynamics. (This law has many differing definitions discussed in textbooks on thermodynamics; however, for the purpose of this review adopting the above not quite rigorous definition is quite proper, because creationists usually base their thesis about the 2nd law allegedly prohibiting evolution, explicitly or implicitly, on a formulation dealing with the prohibition of entropy’s spontaneous decrease).

From the very beginning, it was realized that the postulate prohibiting a spontaneous decrease of entropy could not be substantiated for “open” systems. If a system has been chosen as such part of the universe whose boundaries allow for energy ingress or egress, then the entropy of such a system may change in various ways and its decrease is possible. The actual behavior of entropy in such an “open” systems is determined not by the prohibition of entropy decrease, but by local conditions, and is not limited to entropy increase (although the net entropy of the universe will only increase in every irreversible [i.e. in any real] process, regardless of which system it occurs in). Hence, even in its initial non-statistical rendition, the prohibition of entropy decrease was only formulated for closed (or isolated) systems, including the universe as a whole, or any part of it whose boundaries prohibit egress and/or ingress of energy and matter. Hence, alternatively, the 2nd law can be stated as “the net entropy of the universe necessarily increases in all irreversible processes.” In this formulation, the universe is considered a closed system (as there is nothing beyond the universe, no egress from or ingress to the universe of energy or matter can take place, which is what the concept of a closed system is all about). Since all real processes are irreversible, the 2nd law is a very general statement about the natural world.

It may be pointed out that Clausius’s formula for entropy is just a particular case since there are an infinite number of functions all suitable to serve as “entropy.” The sole requirement for a function to serve as “entropy” is its being an invariant of a reversible adiabatic process. Adiabatic process is such where there is no energy flow through the system’s boundaries. This is a limiting case wherein, unlike in any other processes, entropy remains constant. A reversible process is just an idealization as all real processes are irreversible, so the entropy of the universe necessarily increases in all natural processes, while the entropy of a part of the universe that is an “open” system may decrease as well, depending on the local conditions and the energy flow.

Moreover, the units (like Joule/Kelvin) of Clausius’s entropy are not inherent in this quantity. In theoretical physics, entropy is viewed as essentially a dimensionless quantity. (See, for example, L. Landau and E. Lifshits, Statistical Physics.)

A substantial impetus for a deeper interpretation of entropy was provided by the realization (by L. Boltzmann) that entropy is a monotonic function of the number of microscopic states accessible for the system. Boltzmann suggested a convenient logarithmic transformation from the “thermodynamic probability” W, which equals the number of accessible states, into Clausius’s entropy:

equation

where k is the Boltzmann coefficient whose value was chosen to make Boltzmann’s statistically defined S coincide quantitatively with Clausius’s S.

Boltzmann’s work was instrumental in realizing the statistical nature of laws of thermodynamics (notably of the zeroth, the first, and the second laws). Laws of thermodynamics are not statements of absolute truth but just postulates, justified only in a statistical (probabilistic) sense. The predictions of the laws of thermodynamics are pointing to the most probable behavior of a system rather than to the 100% definite behavior. However, for sufficiently large system and for sufficiently long periods of time, the probability of a system behaving according to the laws of thermodynamics is so overwhelming that behavior contrary to the laws in question can usually be safely excluded.

The fact of the 2nd law (in its formulation prohibiting spontaneous entropy decrease) having a reasonable interpretation only for closed systems is profound. Indeed, what does the 2nd law say about open systems considered separately from the rest of the universe? Nothing in detail, except for stating that the reversible ingress of heat into it causes its entropy to increase while a reversible egress of heat causes entropy’s decrease.
While asserting that in a closed system entropy cannot spontaneously decrease, the 2nd law cannot say anything like that about entropy’s behavior in open systems. As far as the 2nd law goes, in open system’s entropy can increase, decrease, or remain constant. Therefore any attempt to apply the 2nd law, in its formulation prohibiting entropy decrease, to open systems, is meaningless.

Entropy of an open system, whose boundaries allow for energy ingress or egress, can spontaneously decrease without contradicting the 2nd law. Contrary to Sewell’s thesis, there are many situations where entropy of an open system decreases spontaneously, and this in no way contradicts the 2nd law.

Does Professor Sewell not know, say, about the spontaneous solidification of melted metals? If a melt is cooling down, (as an open system does when the surrounding is cooler than the melt) at a certain temperature the disordered liquid spontaneously converts into crystalline structure of a solid, and its entropy spontaneously decreases. Sewell’s ruminations about “import of order” from the surrounding does not shed any additional light on this trivially known notion, as it is just Sewell’s peculiar way to assert the simple fact: while heat “flows” out of the system, the temperature and entropy of the sample drop, but the entropy of the surrounding, and with it of the entire universe, increases, thus satisfying the 2nd law (as the universe is considered a closed system).

Likewise, if a sample of a ferromagnetic material is heated up, at a temperature above its Curie point, it converts into paramagnetic state where the strong order in its spin structure disintegrates (and entropy increases, in agreement with the heat influx). However, if left intact in a cooler surrounding, the sample will spontaneously cool down (as per the 2nd law) and below its Curie point a strongly ordered spin structure will spontaneously set in, with a concomitant entropy decrease (and this is not at all contrary to the 2nd law).

The above explanation leaves no place for any interpretation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics as allegedly prohibiting evolution: the 2nd law contains nothing justifying such a conclusion.

If Sewell’s conclusion about the 2nd law prohibiting evolution were true, life would be impossible. A living organism constantly (and successfully) fights against entropy increase. Were the organism a closed system, it would not be able to survive as all processes within the body would, as the 2nd law postulates, lead to the increase of entropy, and thus to the body’s rapid disintegration. Luckily, organisms are open systems and the 2nd law does not prohibit entropy decrease in such systems, hence not prohibiting increase of complexity or of informational contents of the system.

As a female becomes pregnant, a process starts wherein the entropy of the fetus, and with it of the entire female body gradually decreases and this is in no way contrary to the 2nd law because this law does not prohibit entropy decrease in open systems. The mass of the fetus increases along with its development, and entropy is an extensive quantity, this contributing to the increase of the total entropy of the “mother + fetus” system, but the differentiation of the fetus’s tissues is a domineering process resulting in a net decrease of entropy of said system (with a concomitant increase of the universe’s net entropy).

An animal’s body constantly exchanges energy and matter with its surrounding, so it is an open system for which entropy decrease is possible. Were Sewell right, such growth and development would be impossible, as would be the evolutionary process. The very existence of Sewell as a living person testifies against his anti-evolution pseudo-thermodynamic arguments.

There is a case where the decrease of entropy is an observed fact. In this process another (non-thermodynamic) law is at work, ensuring entropy decrease. Such a law was suggested to be that of gravity (see, for example the online discussion of papers by Stewart and by Davies).

As living organisms constantly fight against their entropy’s increase, it is achieved at the cost of the overall increase of the universe’s entropy, thus meeting the requirements of the 2nd law. As the universe has been constantly expanding since the Planck time, the number of accessible states is increasing thus enabling the increase of the total entropy of the universe despite the existence of locations whose entropy decreases (caused, for example, by living organisms, or by gravity, which is one of those forces working against entropy increase).

The 2nd law has other limitations as well. For example, the 2nd law is not applicable to systems of small size, or for short periods of time. In a small system (say, consisting of only 100 particles) the probability of a non-uniform distribution of the particles is reasonably large, so a spontaneous increase of order is not as highly improbable as it is for large systems. This is better interpreted as considering entropy (like temperature) as an essentially macroscopic concept, having little meaning for small systems, and no meaning whatsoever for microscopic systems. This limitation may (or may not) be of consequence for the problem of abiogenesis, since the spontaneous generation of primitive original replicators might not have required the assembly of a large number of particles, so the 2nd law in such a case would not have imposed restrictions upon the outcome of the reactions.

Likewise, during short periods of time, fluctuations in the particles’distribution may result in a temporary increase of order. This does not contradict the 2nd law, which is true only statistically and is not applicable for short times or small systems.

Although the problems of abiogenesis (the origin of life) are beyond evolutionary biology, Sewell seems to conflate in his arguments two different problems – that of the evolution of the living organisms and that of the origin of life. In this vein, he repeatedly refers to laws of probability. Since Sewell is a mathematician, he is supposed to be versed in probabilities on a professional level. Unfortunately, his arguments based on probabilities are no better than similar arguments offered many times before by “creation scientists” of various kinds and shown many times over to be irrelevant to the question of origin of life.

I have discussed this point at length before (see, for example, the chapter on probabilities in my book Unintelligent Design, or online see here ) so I’ll not repeat this discussion here.

Sewell further refers to Michael Behe’s notorious book Darwin’s Black Box and to the concept of Irreducible complexity (IC). He seems to have uncritically swallowed Behe’s argument, and shows no familiarity with the devastating critique of Behe by many mainstream scientists. Since I have made a modest contribution to the critique of Behe’s book (see, for example, chapter 2 in my book Unintelligent Design, or online here and here ) as well as in my article in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov-Dec 2005 issue, I see no need to repeat my anti-Behe notions here. The recent evisceration of Behe’s views by the plaintiff’s attorneys at Kitzmiller vs DASD trial (see here ) and in the Judge Jones’s decision (see here ) have vividly shown Behe’s inability to say anything of substance in defense of his IC concept.

Sewell further writes,

…there is no proof that natural selection has ever done anything more spectacular than cause bacteria to develop drug-resistant strains, where is the overwhelming evidence that justifies assigning to it an ability we do not attribute to any other natural force in the universe: the ability to create order out of disorder?

Doesn’t this passage remind one of an episode during the Kitzmiller trial? When Behe claimed the absence of any scientific data about the emergence of IC systems, the plaintiff’s attorneys placed upon a table a pile of 58 peer-reviewed papers and 9 books doing exactly what Behe claimed to have never been done. While Behe, in his amusing self-assurance, might not have realized it, the judge and every unbiased observers construed this episode as a milestone on the way to completely discrediting Behe.

Likewise, claiming the absence of “proofs” for ET, Sewell just reveals his lack of familiarity with the pertinent literature. The fact of speciation (often referred to by creationists as “macroevolution”) has been firmly established by observation and experimentation (see, for example Jerry Coyne and Alan Orr’s book Speciation or online for example, here or here .

I believe the above quotations are sufficient to see Sewell’s essay for what it is – a groundless diatribe which could be expected from a semi-literate emotional anti– evolutionist, but sounds preposterous coming from a professor of mathematics.

(A general remark: evolution theory cannot be proven or rejected by applying any mathematical equations or laws of physics. ET is an empirical science based on immense experimental and observational material. The fact of evolution has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, although mechanisms of evolution continue to be discussed by evolutionary biologists. If certain mathematical equations or laws of physics seem to contradict ET, the reasonable explanation is that the equations or laws in question have been misapplied or misinterpreted.)

Sewell’s essay ends with the following sentences:

The development of life may have only violated one law of science, but that was the one Sir Arthur Eddington called the “supreme” law of Nature, and it has violated that in a most spectacular way. At least that is my opinion, but perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn’t, that, under the right conditions, the influx of stellar energy into a planet could cause atoms to rearrange themselves into nuclear power plants and spaceships and computers. But one would think that at least this would be considered an open question, and those who argue that it really is extremely improbable, and thus contrary to the basic principle underlying the second law, would be given a measure of respect, and taken seriously by their colleagues, but we aren’t.

In fact, the 2nd law of thermodynamics is not really “the supreme law of Nature,” although it is one of the widely applicable and highly plausible postulates of science. However, anti-evolutionists often exaggerate its significance and applicability. A common thesis of anti-evolutionists has been the assertion that according to the 2nd law “everything” in nature tends to decay, degenerate, and lose its ability to be used. They often offer examples such as talking about a glass that fell on the ground and broke, which will never spontaneously recombine into a whole glass. While this statement is correct in itself, it in fact has little to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics (as should be clear from the explanation of that law given above). Likewise, the assertion by anti-evolutionists that “everything” in nature tends to decay, etc, is an exaggeration. Recall the adage “diamonds are forever.” Items made of gold, platinum, iridium, rhenium, molybdenum, tungsten, stainless steel, and many other materials may remain intact indefinitely. Some metals (liked gold) are corrosion-resistant simply because of their electrochemical properties. Some other resist corrosion because on their surface spontaneously appears a thin but very strong layer of oxides, protecting the item from corrosion. If this layer is mechanically removed, say by filing the surface, it immediately spontaneously reappears. A gold item, if left alone, can remain intact indefinitely long, regardless of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The same is true for many other materials, such as various semiconductors, dielectrics, etc. The assertion about “everything” necessarily decaying is an exaggeration, often used by creationists to “prove” that the 2nd law makes evolution impossible.

I wish to point now to the concluding sentence in Sewell’s essay, where he complains that anti-evolutionists are not “taken seriously by their colleagues,” and are not “given a measure of respect.”

I’d like to ask Professor Sewell whether or not he agrees that when “respect” is requested, it should be a two-way street?

In an essay I wrote with Wesley Elsberry (see here) we documented multiple examples of ID advocates using insidious comparisons of their adversaries with the Nazis, Soviet communists, Salem judges, the Taliban, Lysenko and other similar personalities and regimes.

After I published my book Unintelligent Design and posted a number of anti-ID and anti-creationism essays on the internet, I was honored by pro-ID and pro-creationism advocates with such signs of respect as publicly calling me in their posts stupid, moron, pest, liar, hypocrite, “close,” and other similar nice appellations. I was accused on pro-ID sites of lying about my list of publications and patents. I was accused of not being able to comprehend simple mathematics, of not comprehending “plain English,” of deliberately trying to misrepresent ID, etc., etc., etc. Other critics of creationism often get a similar treatment from advocates of both ID and YEC. The “great philosopher” of ID William Dembski, who never published a single word in response to the essence of my critique of ID, called me, apparently trying to be witty, “Boris Yeltsin of higher learning.” While the meaning of that appellation remains Dembski’s secret, nobody would interpret it as a manifestation of respect and of a serious attitude to my work.. Professor Sewell, when requesting respect, please don’t forget the saying “Doctor, heal yourself.”

My thanks to Nick Matzke for pointing to Sewell’s essay, and to Marshall Berman, Andrea Bottaro, Glenn Branch, Pete Dunkelberg, Gordon Elliott, Wesley Elsberry, Erik, Paul Gross, Art Hunt, Mark Isaak, M. Kim Johnson, Steve Reuland, Jason Rosenhouse, Douglas Theobald, and the entire PT team for pithy comments.

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Comment #67058

Posted by Bob bob on January 2, 2006 11:59 PM (e)

Excellent post.

If Professor Sewell is so confident that the 2nd law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, why hasn’t he tried to publish in a peer-reviewed journal? It’s telling when someone sneaks an essay about evolution into the appendix of a math text book.

Comment #67062

Posted by H. Humbert on January 3, 2006 12:28 AM (e)

Were Sewell right, such growth and development would be impossible, as would be the evolutionary process. The very existence of Sewell as a living person testifies against his anti-evolution pseudo-thermodynamic arguments.

Exactly. If entropy works the way creationists describe, mere growth would be impossible as well.

Comment #67065

Posted by JohnK on January 3, 2006 12:55 AM (e)

After readers finish checking their “carbon order” pace Sewell to be sure they aren’t disintegrating, they can gain some insight into Prof. Granville Sewell from his articles on his son Christopher’s site.

Comment #67066

Posted by Antti Rasinen on January 3, 2006 1:13 AM (e)

Excellent article! This is exactly the reason Panda’s Thumb is such a stellar resource.

Comment #67077

Posted by djmullen on January 3, 2006 2:31 AM (e)

Excellent article, but 99.9% of Granville’s readers will skip right over it. Too long and too much information. (And no pictures!) We need to make it much, much shorter. My suggestion:

The sun converts hydrogen into helium, giving off enormous amounts of radiant energy in the process, and this increases the sun’s entropy.

Living things on the earth use the sun’s energy to convert raw materials into more organisms, lowering the earth’s entropy in the process.

One particular form of earthly life is called “human” and female humans use the sun’s energy to create new humans in their womb.

Those humans will then use the sun’s energy to “rearrange the fundamental particles of nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, [which] appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way [if you don’t know jack about physics].”

If it’s your magazine’s policy to have intelligent men write foolish articles about fields they are ignorant of, making your magazine look like a convention of cranks in the process, then I suggest you solicit further articles from the creationist/ID movement. They won’t fail you.

Comment #67078

Posted by djlactin on January 3, 2006 2:39 AM (e)

A small suggestion. Whenever entropy decreases in an open system, the decrease is more than matched by a consequent increase in the entropy of the universe at large. For example, crystallization releases heat; gravitational collapse releases heat; metabolism releases heat.

This is a consequence of allying the three laws of thermodynamics.
1) (matter-)energy cannot be created or destroyed.
2) the entropy thing
and
3) 100% conversion of energy to work is impossible.

here’s my argument using the analogy that d(entropy)/dt = “flow”

a living system accelerates the flow of entropy and harvests a small portion of the difference between the normal and accelerated flow rates to generate WORK, which is used to build a local (and transient) increase in order.

the consequence of the third law is that this conversion is inefficient an therefore that overall, the presence of life causes things (“the universe”?) around it to break down FASTER than they would in the absence of life. in fact, life accelerates decay and is therefore completely compatible with the second law, even on this ‘universal’ level.

Comment #67079

Posted by Carol Clouser on January 3, 2006 2:59 AM (e)

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.

Comment #67084

Posted by Tim Hague on January 3, 2006 4:22 AM (e)

Superb piece. I’d seen the original Sewell article and I was waiting for someone with better knowledge of physics than my own to do a detailed rebuttal.

On the point that the piece is too long and complicated I would suggest wrapping it up in the pithy one liner:

“The very existence of Sewell as a living person testifies against his anti-evolution pseudo-thermodynamic arguments.”

Comment #67085

Posted by Eugene Lai on January 3, 2006 4:40 AM (e)

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.

Who suggests this will go on forever? Why would this bother atheists?

Comment #67086

Posted by Stuart Weinstein on January 3, 2006 4:46 AM (e)

Carol writes “But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.”

Does the word “asymptotic” mean anything to you?

Where in blazes to you get the idea that as one goes back in time entropy of the Universe can’t approach a finite, positive value?

Comment #67089

Posted by Mike Walker on January 3, 2006 4:54 AM (e)

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.

I guess we could simply redefine the Universe as something that is not required to obey the 2nd law of thermodynamics instead? No? Then why should God be exempt? Because the Bible says so? As a Christian you have some very interesting and troublesome problems to consider…

Comment #67091

Posted by Eugene Lai on January 3, 2006 5:02 AM (e)

I guess we could simply redefine the Universe as something that is not required to obey the 2nd law of thermodynamics instead? No? Then why should God be exempt? Because the Bible says so? As a Christian you have some very interesting and troublesome problems to consider…

All signs point to that the universe as we know it will end one day. So what? How is this proof for god?

BTW, I heard that Carol is a jew…

God is exempted because god is God is GOD is G-O-D.

Comment #67094

Posted by djlactin on January 3, 2006 5:15 AM (e)

Eugene et alii: i think you misunderstood the direction of Carol‘s arrow.

What’s the problem? All she’s saying is that at the beginning of the Universe, entropy was essentially 0 (i.e. that the Universe was nearly perfectly ordered).

This makes perfect sense to me, since everything that was to become the Universe was packed into a mind-bendingly small volume (by my extremely limited understanding of string theory [only by reading Brian Green’s “The Elegant Universe” twice– I’m a biologist, not a cosmologist!!], no dimension can be smaller than the Planck length [1.6 x 10^-35 m]). Near Perfect order = near 0 entropy!

Personally, I don’t see any problem with this nor how it has any relationship to (a)theism at all.

Comment #67095

Posted by Chris Ho-Stuart on January 3, 2006 5:19 AM (e)

djmullen wrote:

The sun converts hydrogen into helium, giving off enormous amounts of radiant energy in the process, and this increases the sun’s entropy.

This is a common error. The Sun is actually an example of a local decrease in entropy; a common phenomenon in the natural world and a further demonstration of the ignorance involved in creationist invocations of thermodynamics.

The common claim made in response to creationists is that any local decrease of entropy on Earth is compensated by a greater increase in entropy in the Sun. This is wrong.

So where is the entropy increase to satisfy the second law? It is in the vast cold reaches of empty space, which is receiving hot radiation from the Sun. There is a continuous flow of energy from the Sun (a hot object) into empty space (a cold reservoir). So it is empty space that increases in entropy as the Sun decreases in entropy. The Earth taps into this energy flow, receiving hot radiation from the Sun, and then re-radiating this into empty space as infra-red radiation (much cooler). The radiation in balances the radiation out, but the radiation in carries less entropy.

Here are some sample calculations. Consider 1000 J of thermal energy from the Sun. The Sun’s surface is about 5700 K; and the Earth’s surface is about 290 K. The Sun decreases in entropy by 1000/5700, which is about 0.175 J/K. The Earth increases in entropy by 1000/290, which is about 3.45 J/K. So this energy from the Sun actually involves the Earth increasing in entropy. Of course, this cannot be the end of the story. The Earth is an open system, and it radiates back out into space. That 1000 J increase in thermal energy will eventually radiate back out into space, which has a temperature of about 2.7K; this 1000/2.7, or about 370 J/K entropy increase in the universe outside the solar system.

It is the capacity of Earth to taken in hot energy, and then dump it into cool space that allows local thermodynamic systems to do useful work on Earth.

Comment #67096

Posted by Eugene Lai on January 3, 2006 5:23 AM (e)

I thought Carol is projecting into future; Having read djlactin post I now realise she is really projecting into the past.

In that case, I would think two word “Big Bang” would suffice.

The rest of my response remains intact: So what? How is this proof for god?

God is exempted because god is God is GOD is G-O-D.

Comment #67100

Posted by Lars on January 3, 2006 5:34 AM (e)

... wrote:

Excellent article, but 99.9% of Granville’s readers will skip right over it. Too long and too much information. (And no pictures!) We need to make it much, much shorter. My suggestion:

The sun converts hydrogen into helium, giving off enormous amounts of radiant energy in the process, and this increases the sun’s entropy.

The problem with this description is that it is just plain wrong. There are two errors:

First (minor):
Stellar fusion is not increasing entropy. Fusion of four particles (hydrogen) into only one (helium) that remains in the sun actually decreases entropy for statistical reasons.

Of course the additional escaping photons and neutrinos are increasing the entropy of the surrounding universe.

Second (major):
Giving off enormous amounts of radiant heat is not increasing but decreasing the entropy of an open System.
Remember, the change of entropy is dS=dQ/T. Giving away heat is a negative change of heat, so dQ is negative. Since T is positive dS will be negative, too.

Again you will find the increase of entropy in the surrounding universe: For example if the sun gives away 1000J at a temperature of 6000K the suns giveoff of entropy would be 0.17J/K.
The surrounding universe gets the same amount of energy, but since its temperature is only 3K its entropy will increase by 330J/K.

Comment #67102

Posted by Pastor Bentonit on January 3, 2006 5:42 AM (e)

Mark Perakh wrote:

An animal’s body constantly exchanges energy and matter with its surrounding, so it is an open system for which entropy decrease is possible. Were Sewell right, such growth and development would be impossible, as would be the evolutionary process. The very existence of Sewell as a living person testifies against his anti-evolution pseudo-thermodynamic arguments.

…a succinct summary of the whole piece! Isn´t the “SLOT” argument discredited even in creationist circles, nowadays?

Comment #67108

Posted by Lars on January 3, 2006 6:07 AM (e)

Of course the very existence of Sewell as a living person might be a heavenly miracle.

But what if I, as an atheist, am assembling a computer? Am I doing a heavenly miracle then, too?

If I can do heavenly miracles, could not the evolutionary process like science is describing it happen as a heavenly miracle, too?

But of course if this kind of heavenly miracle is so common it might be more convinient to simply describe it as the way nature works according to its laws.

Comment #67112

Posted by Wilfred de Bondt on January 3, 2006 6:22 AM (e)

Items made of gold, platinum, iridium, rhenium, molybdenum, tungsten, stainless steel, and many other materials remain intact indefinitely.

Not completely true. On a timescale much larger than the lifetime of the sun, they are not. Furthermore stainless steel is a composite material and perhaps not the best example to give? For example, it does rust.

Comment #67118

Posted by djmullen on January 3, 2006 6:58 AM (e)

Posted by Chris Ho-Stuart on January 3, 2006 05:19 AM (e) (s)

djmullen wrote:

The sun converts hydrogen into helium, giving off enormous amounts of radiant energy in the process, and this increases the sun’s entropy.

This is a common error. The Sun is actually an example of a local decrease in entropy; a common phenomenon in the natural world and a further demonstration of the ignorance involved in creationist invocations of thermodynamics.

djmullen: Hey, great! They can hire me! Anybody know how much they pay?

Comment #67126

Posted by Raguel on January 3, 2006 7:43 AM (e)

I’m no scientist but whenever I see this particular argument, I wonder why no one talks about Gibbs free energy. IIRC a reaction can be spontaneous and have a reduction of entropy as long as the reaction is sufficiently exothermic.

Comment #67133

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 7:58 AM (e)

Hey Carol, why do you think science shoudl consider your religious opinions as “evidence”?

Comment #67135

Posted by djlactin on January 3, 2006 8:06 AM (e)

Raguel:

as long as the reaction is sufficiently exothermic

means that for such a reaction to proceed spontaneously, the entropy increase in the surroundings must exceed the entropy decrease of the reaction system. no violation there.

Comment #67140

Posted by Carol Clouser on January 3, 2006 8:44 AM (e)

Folks,

The point is that if as we go back in time the entropy of the universe (a closed system) MUST continue to decrease (in the context of the second law), and entropy cannot be less than zero, then we are in tight corner. Either the law is violated or the universe had a true beginning. Either scenario is fertile territory for creation by God.

Now, how does God relate to entropy? Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles, and God is not particulate, the law and the concept of entropy do not apply. This is somewhat akin to Mark’s comment above that the law is not applicvable to systems of a small number of particles.

Comment #67143

Posted by Renier on January 3, 2006 9:04 AM (e)

Carol, if he is not particulate, is he then perhaps a wave? Or, if we go small enough (as you imply), he can be both, but then we won’t know where he is. Hey, we don’t, so perhaps he is a photon. This would explain being many places at once? On the other hand, he would not exist, until he is observed now, would he? Have you observed him? If not, then let’s keep this discussion towards the things we do observe. That’s what science is all about, remember?

Comment #67147

Posted by harold on January 3, 2006 9:24 AM (e)

Granville Sewell appears to be a rather poor Christian.

Christianity teaches humility and honesty.

Sewell makes arrogant commentary on a subject of which he is ignorant. Clearly, he pridefully assumes that his expertise in mathematics somehow confers a near-psychic ability to be an expert in other fields, without taking the time to learn anything about them.

His verbose and pompous writing style is indicative of an ego bursting with arrogant hubris.

While his statements are more deluded than dishonest, they are to some degree dishonest as well.

An experienced academic, he could have easily checked the facts before publishing.

He bandies his expertise in one field to trick the innocent reader into mistakenly assigning him expertise in another field altogether.

I don’t know much about American Spectator. I do know that they, and Professor Sewell, have profoundly embarrassed themselves with this nonsense.

Comment #67150

Posted by k.e. on January 3, 2006 9:45 AM (e)

Carol you are loosing energy WWWWWHHHHHHHhhhhhyyyyyy…..?
Wow g-d did what ?

Oh you provide evidence… of course… now I see it with my own eyes
You better get that off to the Nobel Committee before Blast or Huddle sees it :)

So just how did the the macroscopic particle dictate the Grand Old Program to those really nice people that decided to take a LOOOONG holiday from Pyramid Building ?
Or even smuggle in all those verses into the ghetto in Babylon where the conquers of the day decided to “relocate” the chosen people instead of the normal practice of the day …killing them all …
Or where does Cyrus the Great the Persian empire builder who allowed each belief system to flourish through local Kings and he was given the Gentile title “The King of Kings” who restored the chosen Babylonian exiles to home and encouraged them to build their temples since after all THEIR GOD had decided that in a multicultural Kingdom it would be much better to have a reality system that moved the g-d thingy idea further out into the universe and jazzed things up a bit so good and evil were decided on a day of judgment at the end of the world instead of at the end of a battle which previously had the nasty habit of denuding the landscape of useful slaves.. when a messiah thingy would come on down them ol steps to heaven to reward them all for being good and not wiping out their neighbors.

Much easier to rule competing races when you’ve figured that one out!
Then I digress.
Where were we?….oh yeah…creating reality.
Magic thing reality…especially when you want to rule the world.

Comment #67160

Posted by AC on January 3, 2006 10:17 AM (e)

I am reminded of an article that came up on Google News this morning. It begins thusly:

The start of a new year is always full of some amount of trepidation about what unknown tangents the future will bring. Then a rapper gets shot and you realise that this year will be just the same.

And here we see that people are still trying to argue against evolution via the second law of thermodynamics, and Carol is still holed up in the twin alamos of First Cause and quantum mechanics with her vanishing God.

Same s***, new number.

Comment #67164

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 10:25 AM (e)

I was going to take a shot at rebutting Sewell’s essay, but Mark’s done such a complete job, I’m not going to even try.

I have one general comment about entropy and evolution, though. The idea that as organisms evolve, their entropy somehow decreases, seems to be a product of sloppy and perhaps religious thought, and has very little scientific validity. We don’t know what the entropy of a ‘typical’ 100 g organism in the Cambrian was, compared with a 100 g mammal today, but there is absolutely no reason to believe it was higher; in fact, since the mammal is likely to be warmer, all other things being equal, the Cambrian animal is likely to have a lower entropy. A 200 lb human probably has about the same entropy as a 200 lb calf, and likely has a higher entropy than a 200 lb alligator (except on a very warm day).

The configurational entropy of the human genome is minuscule, and if I had to define it, I would have to count the number of possible DNA base permutations of the human genome (easy) vs. all the permutations that leave a human essentially unchanged (hard). But even comparing the genome of a human with the conjectured genome of a reptilian ancestor, it’s not at all clear the configurational entropy of our genome is lower.

Even if you compare the entropy of a 200 lb human with the entropy of 200 lbs of rock, we don’t win on the ‘more ordered’ sweepstakes.

Comment #67177

Posted by Bob O'H on January 3, 2006 11:12 AM (e)

Carol, if he is not particulate, is he then perhaps a wave? Or, if we go small enough (as you imply), he can be both, but then we won’t know where he is.

Perhaps he’s a piece of string.

Bob

Comment #67179

Posted by jim on January 3, 2006 11:17 AM (e)

… or pasta.

Comment #67180

Posted by dre on January 3, 2006 11:24 AM (e)

I’m an atheist, and I’m not worried about the universe. I’m worried about people.

Comment #67183

Posted by Flint on January 3, 2006 11:32 AM (e)

Carol:

Either the law is violated or the universe had a true beginning. Either scenario is fertile territory for creation by God.

ANY scenario is fertile territory for creation by God. Since saying “X causes Y” and saying “X causes Y AND god(s) exist” are the same (and adding gods adds no explanatory power whatsoever), why not? It’s just the other side of the same coin - if gods add nothing useful, leaving them out subtracts nothing useful.

I’m willing to consider that the universe had a beginning. It certainly seems that way from what we know today. To the best of my knowledge, we have only hazy speculations as to how our (or any other) universe came into existence. Conditions “before” our universe are inaccessible to us, and may not even be meaningful. If you wish to say “AND god(s) exist”, again, why not? The only good reason I can think of is “the gods dunnit” has been proposed as an explanation countless times, but (so far) never correctly. This seems to serve mainly as an idle place-holder until someone with enterprise, curiosity, and a sufficient knowledge base comes up with a more useful explanation, one that actually works.

Meanwhile, Sewell’s effort sounds vaguely familiar. Kind of like arguing indirectly that God must be actively carrying bumblebees around, since he has “proved” they can’t fly.

Comment #67187

Posted by AR on January 3, 2006 11:44 AM (e)

In comment 67112 Wilfred wrote:

Furthermore stainless steel is a composite material and perhaps not the best example to give? For example, it does rust.

No, Wilfred - if you have an item made of stainless steel and it “rusted,” then somebody sold you not real stainless steel. The genuine stainless steel (there are many kinds of such, although all of them are iron-carbon alloys doped with metals such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, etc.) do not “rust” even in a highly oxidizing environment. A good example is 18/8 type which contains 18% of chromium and 8% of nickel; adding some molybdenum makes it even more corrosion-resistant. So, the example of stainless steel is legitimate.

Comment #67188

Posted by Glen Davidson on January 3, 2006 11:45 AM (e)

Perakh does an excellent job regarding entropy. I would note, however, that Sewell makes many mistakes on most of the issues mentioned in his article, some of which I responded to here (as well as re SLOT):

http://tinyurl.com/dl8vq

He even supposes that gaps in the fossil record are more pronounced at the higher levels than at the species level. Well, I’m not going to repeat what I wrote at the above link, I just thought I’d mention the universality of the incompetence displayed in the article, and make that link in case anyone was interested in his additional errors.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #67190

Posted by Glen Davidson on January 3, 2006 11:52 AM (e)

Perakh does an excellent job regarding entropy. I would note, however, that Sewell makes many mistakes on most of the issues mentioned in his article, some of which I responded to here (as well as re SLOT):

http://tinyurl.com/dl8vq

He even supposes that gaps in the fossil record are more pronounced at the higher levels than at the species level. Well, I’m not going to repeat what I wrote at the above link, I just thought I’d mention the universality of the incompetence displayed in the article, and make that link in case anyone was interested in his additional errors.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Oops, I should have checked out the link in “Preview” mode, since the link above takes one to the wrong place in the thread. Here’s the correct place (post # 50):

http://tinyurl.com/coh95

Comment #67191

Posted by jim on January 3, 2006 11:53 AM (e)

AR wrote:

The genuine stainless steel (there are many kinds of such, although all of them are iron-carbon alloys doped with metals such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, etc.) do not “rust” even in a highly oxidizing environment.

This is nitpicking and Off Topic but…

Unlike gold, platinum, osmium, etc. stainless steel technically *does* oxidize. However, the oxidized surface layer forms a protective coating that prevents oxidation of the bulk of the material.

I studied this stuff extensively in my materials engineering classes and can even tell you why some alloys form these protective layers (e.g. Al and stainless) while others do not (e.g. most other alloys of steel) - if you’re interested.

Comment #67193

Posted by Corkscrew on January 3, 2006 11:55 AM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.

Since entropy is expressed as a first order differential equation with no boundary conditions, any attempt to integrate it will introduce a single constant of integration. The upshot is that, just as you can’t tell where on a racing track the start line is just by knowing the speed of one of the cars, it’s impossible to judge where zero entropy occurs. In fact, I could just state that the entropy of my room should be taken as the zero point and that all entropy calculations should be made relative to that. In which case my room would presumably have had negative entropy at some point in the past.

Trying to put an absolute value to entropy is like trying to find ground level when there’s no ground.

Comment #67194

Posted by steve s on January 3, 2006 11:59 AM (e)

Carol reminds me that we atheists need a kind of Index to Theist Claims, modeled on talk origin’s Index to Creationist Claims.

Comment #67197

Posted by k.e. on January 3, 2006 12:10 PM (e)

DRE u r onto it the one thing all the Creationists completely avoid is the “Sermon on The Mount” they seem to “religiously” ignore it and if JC were alive today I’d bet he would be an athiest. :)
From Wiki

To many, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship, and is considered as such by many religious and moral thinkers, such as Tolstoy and Gandhi.”

Comment #67198

Posted by steve s on January 3, 2006 12:10 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition.

I’m ashamed that you’re in my field. I really am.

Comment #67199

Posted by Bob Carroll on January 3, 2006 12:15 PM (e)

A minor quibble about an incredibly good essay: Gold and platinum do not form protective oxide coatings. They simply resist oxidation. Aluminum, a highly reactive metal, does however form such a layer. It’s all due to thermodynamics. :)

Comment #67201

Posted by Alexey Merz on January 3, 2006 12:22 PM (e)

AR wrote:

if you have an item made of stainless steel and it “rusted,” then somebody sold you not real stainless steel. The genuine stainless steel (there are many kinds of such, although all of them are iron-carbon alloys doped with metals such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, etc.) do not “rust” even in a highly oxidizing environment. A good example is 18/8 type which contains 18% of chromium and 8% of nickel; adding some molybdenum makes it even more corrosion-resistant. So, the example of stainless steel is legitimate.

Stainless steel may not “rust” under most circumstances, but it certainly does corrode though oxidative mechanisms.

Comment #67202

Posted by jim on January 3, 2006 12:28 PM (e)

Bob,

Agreed. See my post comment-67193 for more details.

Not all metals oxidize (e.g. Au and Pl). Some that oxidize form protective coatings (e.g. Al & stainless steel). Others that oxidize do not form protective coatings (e.g. Fe).

Whether a reactive metals forms a protective coating depends upon the nature of the crystalline structure of the metal oxidide. Those metal oxides that form crystalline structures compatible with the metal’s unoxidized crystalline structure form proctective coatings (e.g. Al). The metal oxides whose crystalline structure are significantly different from the crystal line structure of the unoxidized metal do not form protective coatings (e.g. Fe).

Comment #67204

Posted by djlactin on January 3, 2006 12:44 PM (e)

carol did you ever read my post?! perhaps can make my statement clearer: entropy had its minimum value at the origin of the universe. it has been increasing since. how hard is this to understand??

how has any of this pertain to any deity?!

Comment #67207

Posted by Andrew McClure on January 3, 2006 12:56 PM (e)

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.

1. Entropy isn’t exactly a quantity you can measure, not the way you’re talking about it. There’s no big “entropy of the universe” counter or anything. The only thing you can measure is changes in entropy. (Corkscrew said this better, but he used the language of calculus, which I’m assuming you won’t understand because:)

2. Your mathematical reasoning doesn’t even make sense. Consider the equation “y equals two to the power of x”. It is always increasing, which means the further back on the number line you get it is always decreasing toward zero. This cannot go on forever, right? Actually, it does go on forever. No matter how far back in the equation you go, it never reaches zero. But even this doesn’t exactly matter, because:

3. Many cosmologists and atheists actually do accept the idea that the universe as we know it had a specific beginning point, and see nothing odd or troubling or theistic about this. This is called the “big bang theory”. Perhaps you have heard of it.

Comment #67209

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 1:02 PM (e)

Trying to put an absolute value to entropy is like trying to find ground level when there’s no ground.

This is false. The Third Law gives us a zero for entropy.

Comment #67210

Posted by Glen Davidson on January 3, 2006 1:03 PM (e)

Items made of gold, platinum, iridium, rhenium, molybdenum, tungsten, stainless steel, and many other materials remain intact indefinitely. On a piece of a noble metal or alloy, a thin but very strong layer of oxides appears spontaneously, protecting the item from corrosion. If this layer is mechanically removed, say by filing the surface, it immediately spontaneously reappears. A gold item can remain intact indefinitely long, regardless of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The same is true for many other materials, such as various semiconductors, dielectrics, etc. The assertion about “everything” necessarily decaying is an exaggeration, often used by creationists to “prove” that the 2nd law makes evolution impossible.

As has been pointed out exhaustively, the noble metals indeed do not form oxide coatings. Stainless steel does, and I believe that tungsten, molybdenum, and rhenium (less sure about rhenium) also form oxide coatings (titanium as well). This is why they are not considered to be noble metals.

But this is mostly beside the point. However fine the article in general, we must note that thermodynamically all of those metals decay and degrade in some manner. The iridium-platinum kilo standard is soon to be replaced by a more universal standard, because no matter how inert iridium-platinum is, it is not entirely inert. Gold can form compounds (even being found combined with tellurium “in the wild”), and so can all other metals. Gold and the platinum group elements (PGEs) dissolve into molten metal to increase entropy, which is why most of these elements sunk into earth’s core long ago. The fact that gold and the PGEs may remain kinetically unscathed and maintain their forms in a relatively pristine form does not in the least change the fact that over time gold bars are expected to lose metal and thereby to disperse (assuming that they are not re-formed using their lost metal), no matter how slowly this might occur.

I have to give Sewell this one, in fact. None of these metals is likely to do anything but decrease in order under ambient conditions, no matter how slowly the decrease in order occurs. While “natural processes” do re-concentrate gold and the PGEs into ores and sometimes into visible metallic pieces, in the conditions in which we keep metals, the only expectation is loss of order, and dispersal of the metal into the environment. Of course Sewell is an idiot not to ask how we came upon concentrations of metal ore in the first place, and so he fails to recognize that the entropy of metals both increase and decrease under geologic conditions–but then we knew that.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #67211

Posted by Eric S on January 3, 2006 1:06 PM (e)

What if the universe is NOT a closed system? We’ve all heard about dark energy as a hypothesis for the continued expansion and even acceleration of expansion of the universe. But new ideas in string theory suggest that gravity could “leak” out of our universe through the extra dimensions predicted by string theory. Would this constitute an “open” system? And if our universe is just the result of two branes colliding in a larger “multiverse” where time may not exist, where then is the room for a Creator? After all, if God can exist outside of space and time as we know it, so can a multiverse.

And besides, if the universe/evolution/life requires a “designer”, I want to know who designed the designer.

Comment #67220

Posted by island on January 3, 2006 1:34 PM (e)

What if the universe is NOT a closed system?

What if… Santa Clause didit?

What if… Aliens didit?

What if… god didit?

Is this an ID theory?

One missing piece of the puzzle can turn the interpretation of evidence completely around, which proves that cutting-edge theoretical speculation has no business in origins science, until and unless it is proven to be the one final theory of everything.

Until then… you’re stuck with the observed universe.

What if… Mary Poppins didit?

What if…

Comment #67221

Posted by Andrew McClure on January 3, 2006 1:35 PM (e)

Trying to put an absolute value to entropy is like trying to find ground level when there’s no ground.

This is false. The Third Law gives us a zero for entropy.

Okay, but if I am not terribly mistaken, the third law (thus spake wikipedia: “As temperature goes to absolute 0, the entropy of a system approaches a constant.”) discusses an upper bound for entropy, not a lower bound as Ms. Clouser is expecting “zero” to be.

Moreover (again, if I am not mistaken) that constant value for entropy is one which is specific to the system; each closed system should have a different “zero” the way you’re phrasing it, so the number line is a relative sort of thing. And this constant is asymptotic rather than a value which is actually reached– I don’t think absolute zero temperature is actually attainable.

Please correct me where I am wrong.

Comment #67222

Posted by Tice with a J on January 3, 2006 1:44 PM (e)

Mark Perakh wrote:

If Sewell’s conclusion about the 2nd law prohibiting evolution were true, life would be impossible.

Thank you, thank you. This point escapes so many people.

Comment #67224

Posted by Tice with a J on January 3, 2006 1:49 PM (e)

Eric S wrote:

Would this constitute an “open” system?

Yes, but the wrong kind. The earth is an open system that lets energy in, thus allowing cool things like life. A gravity-leaking universe would let energy out, dooming the universe to an early grave (“early” being measured in cosmological terms, meaning billions upon billions of years, so you can relax).
There’s no sure evidence of them yet, but I think it would be peachy keen if there were parallel universes interacting gravitationally with our universe.

Comment #67225

Posted by Scott on January 3, 2006 1:50 PM (e)

Carol, who said entropy can’t be “negative”? Perakh pointed out that “entropy is viewed as essentially a dimensionless quantity.” Without deimensions, or units, there is no absolute scale. Unlike temperature, which has an absolute zero point, it appears to me that there is no notion of a “zero” entropy state, or even a positive entropy state. It’s all “relative”.

Comment #67228

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 2:01 PM (e)

I’m not happy with Wikipedia’s definition. Entropy will reach a constant value at 0 K as long as the heat capacity has a reasonable functional dependence on temperature (linear or higher); that comes from the definition of entropy, and doesn’t require a law. The Third Law says that for a pure substance at equilibrium, the entropy will go to zero at 0 K, not to a constant.

The Third Law is an experimental regularity; the microscopic basis of the Third Law is Boltzmann’s equation, which says that the population of any state at equilibrium at 0 K is zero, except for the ground state. If the number of occupied states is one, and S = k ln W, then as long as W = 1, S = 0.

Comment #67231

Posted by drakvl on January 3, 2006 2:06 PM (e)

Don’t forget geothermal energy. There are these little tube-shaped lifeforms at the bottom of the ocean that get their energy from fissures in the earth. Again, a high-entropy source of energy, but I bring it up for completeness’s sake.

Mark Perakh wrote:
“A general remark: evolution theory cannot be proven or rejected by applying any mathematical equations or laws of physics. ET is an empirical science based on immense experimental and observational material.”
So basically, observation trumps calculation. Yeah; but I wish you would have chosen another way of saying that. My first impulse was: “but don’t the laws of biology come from the laws of physics?”, because I at first thought you were saying that physics doesn’t apply to ET because ET is biology. (Though from what I understand about math and physics, all the theoretical work in relavent fields is supportive of ET.)

Andrew McClure wrote:
“3. Many cosmologists and atheists actually do accept the idea that the universe as we know it had a specific beginning point, and see nothing odd or troubling or theistic about this. This is called the ‘big bang theory’. Perhaps you have heard of it.”
This is the real funny thing: Carol states that the universe must have had a beginning, and yet many Christians apparently reject Big Bang theory. A while back, I saw a billboard along the highway which read “Big Bang? You’ve got to be kidding me. –God” Then again, I do live in Louisiana, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the presence of religious people who are ignorant of science, who have the power to raise funds for a billboard.

Comment #67232

Posted by Moses on January 3, 2006 2:08 PM (e)

Comment #67079

Posted by Carol Clouser on January 3, 2006 02:59 AM (e) (s)

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase. So the earlier in time we look, the entropy of the universe should be decreasing, to ever smaller and smaller values. This cannot go on forever, since entropy cannot be negative, by definition. All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.

Wow, this is one of those things the the religiousoids frequently drop into conversations while being so self-centered in their world view they can’t even see the world view of those that are not like them. Here’s a clue Carol, seeing as I’m going to live, barring accident or misfortune, maybe another 50 years (coming from a very long-lived family) I just can’t get worked up what’s going to happen BILLIONS OF YEARS PAST MY DEATH.

Rather, I’m more concerned about raising my progeny to be decent, kind people who don’t try to inflict their world view on those around them. But, to also stand up against those rude little gits that seem to think it’s okay for them to do so at every opportunity and whine and cry “victim” when you don’t let them…

Comment #67233

Posted by Flint on January 3, 2006 2:14 PM (e)

If Sewell’s conclusion about the 2nd law prohibiting evolution were true, life would be impossible.

Sheesh, isn’t this the entire point? That in order for life to happen in defiance of this law, the Christian God must be busily, actively propping up life processes by supernatural means?

Let’s phrase it as a creationist does: The SLoT proves that without Divine intervention, life could not happen. Therefore there IS divine intervention. Doh.

Comment #67235

Posted by island on January 3, 2006 2:21 PM (e)

The second law proves that life is a practically necessary means to break rocks.

Course… that doesn’t fit real well with either side’s belief system, but it does fit the truth that neither want to reconginze, quite well.

Well enough, in fact, to represent a valid scientific hypothesis.

Go figure… a real live natural design theory, and all I had to do was leave politics in the government.

Comment #67236

Posted by Stig of the north on January 3, 2006 2:22 PM (e)

Why would any christian be so concerned about the topic of entropy as described and defined by physicists? Perhaps, inside their own closed system of belief there lays beneath the surface a grudging respect for science in general as evidenced by the incessant attempts to add to it their own flavour of scientism. The walls that they have erected around themselves in maintainence of their system of belief reveals however the true source of their interest, that is fear. Fear that if a concept such as entropy or evolution and all that both entail were to be accepted within the community of true believers, those walls may someday come crashing down. A form of fatalism therefore seems to purcolate up through their arguments and worries, so much so that an all or nothing attitude for them is at play. Perhap Sewell,Behe and all the others who aid and add very little or nothing to scientific knowledge should be characterized as perverbial metaphors themselves, each taking up the mantle of that which they fear most. As such Sewell is the entropic process in action, an action not applicable to the endeavours and methods of science however, but to that which he is most concerned, his religious belief. How ironic it would be that that fatalism of the metaphorical Sewell, might indeed be bringing entropy’s process into the institution, he fears for so much.

Comment #67237

Posted by David Heddle on January 3, 2006 2:23 PM (e)

I must say, I think Perakh was spot on.

Some of the comments, however, are atrocious.

For those of you arguing about entropy being “relative”, the situation is not so simple. In other words, you are wrong. You are advised to study not the second but the third law of thermodynamics.

As for the big bang not bothering atheists, well that is certainly not universal statement. Both Hoyle and Eddington, to name just two, were quite concerned about the theological implications.

Comment #67238

Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 2:24 PM (e)

I see Carol Clouser is back. When I read her and see lines such as:

“Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles”

I have to look at that and ask: what does that mean? does it mean anything? is what it says actually the case?

OK I got the “macroscopic system of particles” part, that’s fine. what is a phase space? and what states are we talking about. is that like water or ice? or spin states?

I just wait for someone else to point out the flaws in her flawed thinking.

geeezzz susss

Comment #67239

Posted by Andrew McClure on January 3, 2006 2:25 PM (e)

island wrote:

The second law proves that life is a practically necessary means to break rocks.

Course… that doesn’t fit real well with either side’s belief system, but it does fit the truth that neither want to reconginze, quite well.

Well enough, in fact, to represent a valid scientific hypothesis.

Go figure… a real live natural design theory, and all I had to do was leave politics in the government.

What?

Comment #67241

Posted by Corkscrew on January 3, 2006 2:25 PM (e)

Gerard Harbison wrote:

This is false. The Third Law gives us a zero for entropy.

It would probably be more accurate to say that the third law defines a zero for entropy. I take your point though.

Comment #67246

Posted by Laser on January 3, 2006 2:36 PM (e)

Andrew McClure wrote:

Okay, but if I am not terribly mistaken, the third law (thus spake wikipedia: “As temperature goes to absolute 0, the entropy of a system approaches a constant.”) discusses an upper bound for entropy, not a lower bound as Ms. Clouser is expecting “zero” to be.

Moreover (again, if I am not mistaken) that constant value for entropy is one which is specific to the system; each closed system should have a different “zero” the way you’re phrasing it, so the number line is a relative sort of thing. And this constant is asymptotic rather than a value which is actually reached— I don’t think absolute zero Kelvin temperature is actually attainable.

Please correct me where I am wrong.”

It’s not you, it’s wikipedia. There are numerous statements of the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics. The one closest to wikipedia’s is, “The entropy of a pure crystalline substance approaches zero as the temperature approaches absolute zero.” Only certain substances (those that are pure and crystalline would have zero entropy at zero Kelvin (absolute zero). The 3rd law sets a lower bound for entropy, one that is theoretically achievable at zero Kelvin.

You are also close to correct that zero Kelvin is not attainable. It can be shown that it is impossible to reach zero Kelvin in a finite number of steps using a reversible adiabatic process. It is possible to get incrementally, and asymptotically as you note, closer to zero Kelvin, but you’ll never get there.

Maybe one of the physicists here can help me out, but I don’t think that it is meaningful to talk about the temperature or the entropy of the universe at its creation. As noted above, temperature and entropy are statistical properties of collections of particles. My understanding of the Big Bang is that the universe started as a singularity. Is it meaningful to talk about the temperature or entropy of a singularity? Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. If that’s the case, then it’s meaningless to talk about the entropy decreasing back to the beginning of the universe, if it was undefined at the beginning of the universe.

Raguel wrote:

I’m no scientist but whenever I see this particular argument, I wonder why no one talks about Gibbs free energy. IIRC a reaction can be spontaneous and have a reduction of entropy as long as the reaction is sufficiently exothermic.

Good point, Raguel. Gibbs’ brilliance was to relate the quantity of a system to the entropy of the universe. The entropy of the universe increases for spontaneous processes, but how do you determine the entropy change of the universe for a process? Gibbs related the entropy change of the universe to a quantity (later named in his honor) of the system under study. In short, dG(system) = -T*dS(universe). So, you can see what will be spontaneous by measuring the free energy change of the system. Gibbs energy shows that processes such as crystallization are spontaneous even though they increase the “order” of the system.

Comment #67250

Posted by David Heddle on January 3, 2006 2:39 PM (e)

kevin wrote.

I see Carol Clouser is back. When I read her and see lines such as:

“Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles”

I have to look at that and ask: what does that mean? does it mean anything? is what it says actually the case?

OK I got the “macroscopic system of particles” part, that’s fine. what is a phase space? and what states are we talking about. is that like water or ice? or spin states?

I just wait for someone else to point out the flaws in her flawed thinking.

Carol’s statement is correct, possibly mod nit-picking. If you don’t know what a phase space is, then it is certainly reasonable to ask. It is not sensible, however, to lob insults at someone while you express ignorance–and is especially embarrassing (for you) given that, as I said, her statement that you quoted is correct. Entropy is related to the number of available states.

Corckscrew wrote:

It would probably be more accurate to say that the third law defines a zero for entropy. I take your point though.

No, actually it isn’t more accurate to say it that way.

Comment #67251

Posted by jim on January 3, 2006 2:43 PM (e)

David Heddle wrote:

Both Hoyle and Eddington, to name just two, were quite concerned about the theological implications.

Umm, that was like 50 years ago and before much of evidence for the “Big Bang” (I prefer “Whoop, there it is!”) theory was discovered!

There are also both dead. Way to keep up with developments.

Comment #67252

Posted by island on January 3, 2006 2:45 PM (e)

What?

A second interpetation is that life is a very physics-practical means for satisfying the second law of thermodynamics.

Choose your maker.

Comment #67255

Posted by island on January 3, 2006 2:49 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'B'

Comment #67256

Posted by David Heddle on January 3, 2006 2:49 PM (e)

Jim,

That’s irrelevant to the question at hand which was, in effect, did the concept of the big bang bother atheists? It surely did, in some cases. Conclusive proof of the big bang means only that most of those opposed to it on theological grounds would ultimately, though grudgingly, accept it. It does not diminish the fact that the opposition existed. If you think about it, I’m pretty sure you can grasp the concept.

Comment #67257

Posted by island on January 3, 2006 2:51 PM (e)

Both Hoyle and Eddington, to name just two, were quite concerned about the theological implications.

It requires an unfounded leap of faith to assume that thermodynamic structuring isn’t perpetually inherent to the energy of the universe.

There are also both dead. Way to keep up with developments.

I’ll bet that this clown thinks that Einstein’s GR with a cosmological constant isn’t the most conservative mainstream approach to explaining an expanding universe, until “keeping up with developments” means something more than WHAT IF… lol

Comment #67260

Posted by jim on January 3, 2006 3:06 PM (e)

David,

Of course it bothered some scientists. At the time the initial objections to the “Big Bang” were presented, there was very little evidence for the “Big Bang” (and it would be more properly termed a hypothesis). In fact, what evidence did exist was equally well explained by both the “Steady State” and the “Big Bang” hypotheses.

As such, scientists split their support between the two competing ideas. As more evidence was discovered that supported the “Big Bang” and not the “Steady State” theory, more scientists sided with the “Big Bang” hypothesis.

Now that we have a vast body of evidence that supports the “Big Bang Hypothesis”, it is more properly called a theory.

This is the nature of science.

FYI 1, “conclusive proof” doesn’t exist in science. In science a “theory” is only accepted as long as our observations continue to support it. When/if our observations falsify a theory, we’ll either modify the existing one or develop a new one that better explains our observations.

FYI 2, as our experience with ID proves, scientifically disproving an idea hardly ever sways the opinion of people that reason based upon “theological grounds”.

FYI 3, that some people were once bothered by the “Big Bang” hardly proves that all atheists were bothered by it at some point in the past or that any atheists are currently bothered by it now.

I sincerely hope (without any evidence) that you can grasp these concepts.

Comment #67263

Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 3:12 PM (e)

heh heh I see David H is here too….

“Carol’s statement is correct, possibly mod nit-picking. If you don’t know what a phase space is, then it is certainly reasonable to ask. It is not sensible, however, to lob insults at someone while you express ignorance—and is especially embarrassing (for you) given that, as I said, her statement that you quoted is correct. Entropy is related to the number of available states.”

I lob them because I’ve read her posts before, and yours too….oh look feathers left behind….and webbed foot prints…….

can anyone prove me right that Carol’s statement is meaningless?

Comment #67265

Posted by Lars on January 3, 2006 3:18 PM (e)

Gerard Harbison wrote:

I have one general comment about entropy and evolution, though. The idea that as organisms evolve, their entropy somehow decreases, seems to be a product of sloppy and perhaps religious thought, and has very little scientific validity. We don’t know what the entropy of a ‘typical’ 100 g organism in the Cambrian was, compared with a 100 g mammal today, but there is absolutely no reason to believe it was higher

Imagine you have a room filled by gas. Now you begin to arrange the molecules of your gas into growing clusters. Since all atoms in a cluster have to move into the same direction and you cannot put single molecules into the space between clusters the number of possible microstates for one given macrostate is decreasing. So by definition entropy is decreasing.

Now look at the early earth. The atoms which you will find later in organisms are now found in gases like CO2, CH4, H2O, NH3 and N2. with the emergence of life you will find these atoms first in complex macromolecules, then in bacteria, later also in eukariotes and than in multicellular organisms of perpetual growing size.
This increasing average size of organisms alone will decrease the entropy of the worlds hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen inventory throughout evolution.

A similar thought you can make about complexity. You can add microstates for a given macrostate by exchanging molecules between different areas of an organism. But the less uniform the chemical composition of the organism throughout its body is, the less freedom you have in doing this without disturbing the structure and thus changing the macrostate. So less uniform the chemical composition throughout the body means less entropy.

The more complex an organism becomes, the more different kinds of areas with different chemical composition it will have. So the entropy of a 100 g modern mammal is lower then that of a ‘typical’ 100 g Cambrian animal,simply because it has more different cell and tissue types with different chemical composition.

Comment #67267

Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 3:20 PM (e)

I should have looked at the whole quote:

“Now, how does God relate to entropy? Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles, and God is not particulate, the law and the concept of entropy do not apply. “

=

Since entropy has to do with large numbers of particles and god is not a particle therefor entropy is not related to god.

Well David and Carol Sherlock, since god is a concept and entropy is a concept you would hope to find some link between them but since entropy is an actual physical feature of the world and god is nothing but a concept stuck in some people’s head its obvious there’s no link at all!

so all that stuff about states and phase space is just fancy words that contribute nothing to the argument.

Comment #67270

Posted by Tim Hague on January 3, 2006 3:24 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

“If Sewell’s conclusion about the 2nd law prohibiting evolution were true, life would be impossible.”

Sheesh, isn’t this the entire point? That in order for life to happen in defiance of this law, the Christian God must be busily, actively propping up life processes by supernatural means?

Let’s phrase it as a creationist does: The SLoT proves that without Divine intervention, life could not happen. Therefore there IS divine intervention. Doh.

I think you’ve missed the point here Flint. My understanding of what Mark Perakh is saying here is that everyday life in general would be impossible. Giving birth to a baby and have that baby become an adult would be impossible. I don’t think Mark’s original reference was to the origins of life…

I haven’t yet seen a creationist argue that God’s intervention is required every second of every day in everything that we do. That we wouldn’t be able to digest food and make cells without God etc etc. Unless you think that IS their argument?

Comment #67272

Posted by William E Emba on January 3, 2006 3:29 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

But the universe as a whole IS a closed system, is it not? Thus the expectation, based on the second law, is that its entropy will continue to increase….

The 2nd law is a mathematical relation that arose in classical physics.

The idea that it extends mindlessly to cosmology, as quoted above, is hopelessly naive, to put it politely. Most of classical physics has been successfully extended to general relativity and cosmology, but questions about the thermodynamics of the universe as a whole are extremely unsettled. Even talking about the “total energy” of the universe is close to meaningless, an unrealized limitation inherent in general relativity that confused physicists for about half a century.

In particular, any real understanding is expected to depend on yet-to-come advances in string theory, loop gravity, or even weirder stuff not yet identified. The classical picture is worthless.

Comment #67273

Posted by Andrew McClure on January 3, 2006 3:29 PM (e)

Gerard Harbison wrote:

I’m not happy with Wikipedia’s definition

Perhaps then you should consider editing the wikipedia “third law of thermodynamics” page to clarify what it says.

However– the form of the third law that you and laser are quoting is actually given by that same wikipedia page, as a “special case”, related to specific systems, such as a crystal lattice.

Is wikipedia’s “approaches a constant” version a proper generalized form of the third law, or is wikipedia just spouting gibberish?

Also:

1. May I assume that the third law of thermodynamics as you and laser have stated it does not actually apply to “the universe”? As far as I am aware, the universe is neither a pure nor crystalline substance.

2. Reading up on Boltzmann’s definition of entropy, it appears that I was initially incorrect and entropy is, in fact, a real quantity with a specific defined lower bound of zero. However, it still seems to me that Clouser’s initial statement (about “going on forever”) is still incorrect. It may be true that (because of the second law) entropy in a closed system may only increase with time, and (because of the Boltzmann definition of entropy as the number of available states) the entropy cannot go below zero– but these two facts are insufficient to conclude either that time has a beginning point, or that entropy has ever reached a minimum. Would you agree or disagree with this?

3. I can’t seem to find anywhere the third law of thermodynamics stated as an equation. This is making it very difficult for me to grasp exactly what it is saying. Does a formula for the third law exist?

4. If the general (i.e. applies to everything not just idealized substances) form of the third law Wikipedia references actually exists, does the “constant” it refers to necessarily represent a lower bound, or could it be an upper bound? (It would seem very surprising to me if all closed systems were bound to decrease in entropy as they approach zero in temperature, as that would, unless I am missing something, seem to imply that no closed system could ever decrease in temperature with time.)

Comment #67275

Posted by Flint on January 3, 2006 3:36 PM (e)

Tim Hague:

I haven’t yet seen a creationist argue that God’s intervention is required every second of every day in everything that we do. That we wouldn’t be able to digest food and make cells without God etc etc. Unless you think that IS their argument?

Yes, at least some of them seem to be saying exactly this. And it’s at least pretty clear to me that this underlies the SLoT argument. The processes of life as we know them ALL violate SLoT according to the creationist conceptualization, moment to moment.

On the other hand, I don’t see this made explicit very often. Usually the argument is made at a high level, that “evolution violates entropy”, without any detailed analysis of what this means in practice. But what else could it mean?

Comment #67279

Posted by David Heddle on January 3, 2006 3:48 PM (e)

Jim,

You are still missing the boat. The argument is not that an atheist will not concede the big bang in the face of the evidence, but rather that it was, demonstrably, resisted by some on theological grounds. That is the only point I made, and it is beyond refute.

Your FYs are silly. Science does have proof. For example, we have proved the earth isn’t flat. We have proved the earth isn’t the center of the solar system. Anyone who thinks otherwise is studying too much philosophy of science and not enough science.
Also, I was quite careful not to say “all” atheists were bothered by the big bang.

Kevin,

Your original comment #67238 quoted Carol writing:

“Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles”

That’s what I commented on. There was nothing about God in what you quoted. Responding to my comment, you ask in #67263

“can anyone prove me right that Carol’s statement is meaningless?”

The answer is no, because her statement, as much as you don’t want it to be, is correct.

You then in #67267, through a standard PT ploy of moving the goalposts, enlarge Carol’s quote so that it now includes a theological component, and pretend that is what you really meant all along. But it is clear you were making fun of her scientific statement, even though you, by your own admission (what is a phase space?) do not know what you are talking about.

Comment #67280

Posted by Ed Darrell on January 3, 2006 3:49 PM (e)

I haven’t yet seen a creationist argue that God’s intervention is required every second of every day in everything that we do. That we wouldn’t be able to digest food and make cells without God etc etc. Unless you think that IS their argument?

I have seen that argued often over the past four years.

My experience is that these arguers are so far out of mainstream knowledge that it does little good to argue with them. One needs to consider whether they are addressing a wider audience – and if so, a rebuttal is required, but I don’t have the magic bullet.

The theological implications of the “constant intervention” idea are quite wild. Consider, for one example, what this means for out-of-wedlock babies, for cancer or a simple infection, for weeds …

Comment #67282

Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 3:54 PM (e)

ho ho ho!

what I first wrote was:

“I see Carol Clouser is back. When I read her and see lines such as:

“Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles”

I have to look at that and ask: what does that mean? does it mean anything? is what it says actually the case?”

I read her line and asked myself ….does it mean anything?

Then I wrote:

“I should have looked at the whole quote” when the answer was clear. These words mean nothing. I wasn’t making fun of carol’s “scientific statement” I was making fun of her in her totality of being.

Comment #67283

Posted by William E Emba on January 3, 2006 3:58 PM (e)

People should learn history before jabbering about the 2nd law versus evolution. (They should also learn mathematics, physics, biology, but these topics are well-explained here by others.)

Boltzmann, who connected the thermodynamic concept of entropy with randomness on the atomic level, was highly influenced by Darwin and his concept of natural selection. In brief, Boltzmann wanted to understand how emergent properties could possibly arise out of randomness. He discovered that entropy–a concept introduced by Clausius without any mention of randomness–was one such property.

Ludwig Boltzmann (1886) wrote:

If you ask me about my innermost conviction whether our century will be called the century of iron or the century of steam or electricity, I answer without hesitation: it will be called the century of the mechanical view of Nature, the century of Darwin.

(Quoted in Engelbert Broda Ludwig Boltzmann: Man, Physicist, Philosopher.)

Boltzmann was far ahead of his time: he would go on to claim that our minds, our culture, and our spirituality are products of evolution.

As an aside, note the utterly brainless silliness of relying on the 2nd law to conclude that “everything would have to be random”. Entropy itself has a nonrandom direction, so if you believe in the 2nd law, you have just admitted that there are nonrandom emergent phenomena built on random input. Game, set, and irrefutable match.

Comment #67284

Posted by Zeteo Eurisko on January 3, 2006 3:58 PM (e)

Sewell’s claim can be reduced for the general reader. Consider the following, where he quotes himself in the article:

Granville Sewell wrote:

order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door…. If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth’s atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here (it would have been violated somewhere else!). But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.

His issue is with the fact that the “order” added to the earth – “radiation and meteorite fragments” – does not appear to him to be the kind of order that could generate “humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias.” He simply does not believe in a process that can change the kind of order added into the kind of order produced. The root of his claim is that any process that could make this change violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Therefore, the point of his article can be reduced to: There is no process that can decrease the entropy of the earth in such a way that would result in the biological order around us without violating the second law of thermodynamics.

I think it helps to summarize his hypothesis in this way. Previous criticisms of this hypothesis apply; for the general reader, the criticisms should be similarly summarized.

Comment #67288

Posted by jim on January 3, 2006 4:13 PM (e)

David,

You are obviously incorrect about your position being “irrefutable”, since I quite clearly *am* refuting it.

Re: Scientists and the “Big Bang”
My point is at that point in time, the “Big Bang” and the “Steady State” were roughly equal in the eyes of scientists.

Since the “Big Bang” was being promoted by a priest and could easily have been considered religiously motivated, some scientists resisted it *on principal*. However, once evidence was discovered that clearly favored the “Big Bang” and was inconsistent with “Steady State”, scientists overwhelmingly began to favor the “Big Bang”.

My point in all of this is that the *scientists* (regardless of religious beliefs) followed the evidence. Creationists on the other hand ignore the evidence.

So do I agree that some people (that happened to be atheists) at one point disagreed with the “Big Bang”? Yes.

Do I agree that this proves some sort of theological conspiracy on the part of scientists? Since nearly all cosmologists (regardless of their theological motivations) now accept the “Big Bang” as the most likely explanation for the beginning of the Universe, the answer is quite clearly NO.

Re: My FYI’s are not silly and apparently they were (and still are) necessary too:
You mistake “proof against an idea” (aka falsifiability) which science can provide, with “proof for an idea” which science cannot provide.

For example:
Scientists *can’t* “prove” evolution is true.
Scientists *can* “prove” that the Earth is not flat.

Comment #67289

Posted by Tim Hague on January 3, 2006 4:15 PM (e)

Flint:

Yes, at least some of them seem to be saying exactly this. And it’s at least pretty clear to me that this underlies the SLoT argument. The processes of life as we know them ALL violate SLoT according to the creationist conceptualization, moment to moment.

On the other hand, I don’t see this made explicit very often. Usually the argument is made at a high level, that “evolution violates entropy”, without any detailed analysis of what this means in practice. But what else could it mean?

I had assumed it was about macroevolution/speciation. I think most of the creationists/ID types I have talked to accept some levels of microevolution, they just don’t accept major new features appearing in existing species - thus the so-called SLoT violation.

I think what Mark was saying that the creationists hadn’t thought their arguments through - i.e. that the same SLoT argument against evolution applies to all natural processes. I mean - this argument would have to apply to all life on earth - and viruses too. God would have to be directing everything continuously. God would be to blame every time we got ill. I can’t see religious types using this argument too often.

Comment #67290

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 4:21 PM (e)

Andrew McClure wrote:

May I assume that the third law of thermodynamics as you and laser have stated it does not actually apply to “the universe”? As far as I am aware, the universe is neither a pure nor crystalline substance.

You would be correct. Boltzmann’s statistical definition of entropy might be more applicable, though even so, I’m not sure how you work with an ensemble of universes :-). But in any case, entropy cannot be less than zero. In fact, if entropy is non-zero, entropy cannot be less than k ln 2.

I can’t seem to find anywhere the third law of thermodynamics stated as an equation. This is making it very difficult for me to grasp exactly what it is saying. Does a formula for the third law exist?

S(0 K ) = 0?

One other point someone made about the Gibbs energy; remember the Gibbs energy is only relatable to the total entropy at constant pressure.

Comment #67291

Posted by Flint on January 3, 2006 4:31 PM (e)

Tim Hague:

God would be to blame every time we got ill. I can’t see religious types using this argument too often.

But you see the direct inverse all the time - God is constantly thanked when someone gets well. But by implication, God *could* have prevented the illness or injury in the first place and chose not to. Many people thank God for every meal they eat, which implies that God *could* have let them starve. In general, believers thank their respective gods for everything that satisfies their preferences, without blaming those gods for everything that does not.

Note that this applies to far more than simply constant intervention to let cells work. It also applies to every aspect of fate and kismet - God is responsible for any stroke of perceived good fortune, even “negagive good fortune” (i.e. “thank God I didn’t catch the measles” or “thank god it missed me”). So my argument is that believers in fact DO regard their god as being one of continuous micromanagement of all aspects of our lives, but choose only to recognize His divine efforts when they approve of the results.

Comment #67292

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 4:32 PM (e)

Lars:

You have no idea how non-uniform the composition of a Cambrian animal was, or whether that’s different from a modern animal. I see no reason why evolution should give rise to an organism with more non-uniform distribution of chemical components. And the number of microscopic states in even a very simple system is so astronomical that the contribution of macroscopic structure to the entropy is negligible.

Comment #67293

Posted by steve s on January 3, 2006 4:39 PM (e)

Christians like Ken Ham say I should reevaluate my atheism because the big bang is wrong.

Furthermore, contrary to the naïve pronouncements of many who should know better, it is not in any sense a matter of ‘looking into a telescope and “seeing” the big bang billions of years ago.’ As always, observations are interpreted and filtered through worldview lenses. Those who developed the big bang were guided by secular worldview filters just as much as those who are now crying that the emperor has no clothes. They wanted a universe that created itself; their opponents want an eternal, uncreated universe. From a Christian perspective, both are in open defiance of their Creator’s account of what really happened.

Christians like Chuck Colson say I should reevaluate my atheism because the big bang is right.

Today, advocates of the Big Bang think that their theory is a substitute for God. But it’s just the opposite. Hoyle rejected the Big Bang in spite of the evidence because he knew that the Big Bang pointed irresistibly to the existence of God.

Both camps can suck it.

Comment #67294

Posted by Lars on January 3, 2006 4:44 PM (e)

Gerard Harbison wrote:

I’m not happy with Wikipedia’s definition. Entropy will reach a constant value at 0 K as long as the heat capacity has a reasonable functional dependence on temperature (linear or higher); that comes from the definition of entropy, and doesn’t require a law. The Third Law says that for a pure substance at equilibrium, the entropy will go to zero at 0 K, not to a constant.

Wikipedia’s definition is seen less often but is actually physically more accurate.

Gerard Harbison wrote:

The Third Law is an experimental regularity

Absolute entropies cannot be measured by experiment, only entropy differences. The experiments supporting the Third Law are only showing that the entropy difference of educts and products of reactions between pure crystalline substances is tending to go to zero with temperature going towards zero. But zero entropy difference means only constant absolute entropy for different substances. To set this constant entropy to 0 is only done by convention.

Gerard Harbison wrote:

the microscopic basis of the Third Law is Boltzmann’s equation, which says that the population of any state at equilibrium at 0 K is zero, except for the ground state. If the number of occupied states is one, and S = k ln W, then as long as W = 1, S = 0.

The thermodynamic definition of entropy is dS = dQ/T. So entropy is only defined as a difference not as an absolute value.

So unfortunately any statistical defined Entropy of the type S = k ln(W) + A (A being an arbitrary constant) is equivalent to the thermodynamic entropy. This is because the first step in showing this equivalence would be to create an entropy difference like this:

dS = S1 - S2 = k ln(W1) + A - (k ln(W2) + A) = k ln(W1) - k ln(W2) = k ln(W1/W2)

Since it is impossible to get the value of A by measurement, it is possible to set it arbitrarily to zero.

Again physical reasoning gives you only a constant entropy at T=0, setting this constant to zero is only done by convention.

Comment #67295

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 4:45 PM (e)

So my argument is that believers in fact DO regard their god as being one of continuous micromanagement of all aspects of our lives, but choose only to recognize His divine efforts when they approve of the results.

Hey, spare the rod and spoil the child.

Comment #67299

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 4:59 PM (e)

Lars wrote:

Wikipedia’s definition is seen less often but is actually physically more accurate.

No, I’m afraid not. See my previous point. Wikipedia’s is a far weaker statement than the Third Law.

So unfortunately any statistical defined Entropy of the type S = k ln(W) + A (A being an arbitrary constant) is equivalent to the thermodynamic entropy.

Who gave you permission to add an arbitrary constant? Would you like to take a chisel to Boltzmann’s tombstone to carve an extra A? :-)

Comment #67300

Posted by David Heddle on January 3, 2006 5:01 PM (e)

Lars,

The entropy constant is NOT arbitraily chosen to be zero. There are cases in thermo (e.g., equilbria of gaseous reactions) where the knowledge is necessary.

The 3rd law does more than “allow” one to pick (roughly speaking) S(T=0) = 0. If only differences in S were the only way that S was ever relevant, then we could have picked that without the 3rd Law. The third law can be viewed as postulating that S(T=0) is 0 (apart from degeneracy), not as a choice or a convention.

Comment #67318

Posted by Russell on January 3, 2006 5:31 PM (e)

David Heddle wrote:

I must say, I think Perakh was spot on.

Oh, I do hope you won’t hesitate to share that assessment with your fellow IDists. Call it a hunch, but I doubt many of them will agree with you.

Some of the comments, however, are atrocious.

“Atrocious”?
Meaning - what? - you disagree with them? You find them uncivil? A combination of the two? How would you characterize the comments of some of your more truculent co-religionists? (DaveScot, BlastFromThePast… hell, the Great Demksby himself come to mind.)

Comment #67319

Posted by JONBOY on January 3, 2006 5:32 PM (e)

At what point in creation (relative to the big bang) was hell created by God? and is hell one of the available states that entropy applies to.If so,will hell eventually cool down and cease to be a threat for atheistic scientist.I realize this is a theological question,but it seems that Carol and David are more than capable to answer it

Comment #67327

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 5:46 PM (e)

will hell eventually cool down and cease to be a threat for atheistic scientist

gives whole new meaning to the phrase, “when hell freezes over”.

sorry, it was just too obvious >:)

Comment #67342

Posted by tgibbs on January 3, 2006 6:16 PM (e)

Here is where Granville essentially assumes his conclusion:

The fact that order is disappearing in the next room does not make it any easier for computers to appear in our room – unless this order is disappearing into our room, and then only if it is a type of order that makes the appearance of computers not extremely improbable, for example, computers. Importing thermal order will make the temperature distribution less random, and importing carbon order will make the carbon distribution less random, but neither makes the formation of computers more probable.

This is the point at which he departs absolutely from thermodynamics–there is absolutely nothing in thermodynamics about “type” of order or entropy, so no such conclusion can be derived thermodynamically. This sneaky switch is an key to all Creationist attempts to use thermodynamics to refute evolution. Like a magician, he attempts to cover the switch with a superficially plausible metaphor–introducing a temperature difference will not cause computers to self-assemble, therefore there must be some particular “type” of order that is required.

But of course, there are all sorts of ordered structures that do self-organize under such conditions; computers just don’t happen to be among them. So instead of the right “type” of order (a thermodynamically nonsensical concept) you just need the right type of “stuff.” But by introducing this notion of a magical type of order, he hopes to distract the reader from the considering the fundamental (and completely nonthermodynamic) issue of whether living organisms fall into the class of things that self-organize when provided with a source of free energy.

In the end, it reduces to yet another disguised version of Paley’s argument, with computers in place of the watch: “Watches (computers) don’t arise spontaneously; living organisms are like watches (computers); therefore living organisms cannot arise spontaneously.”

Comment #67345

Posted by Jason on January 3, 2006 6:26 PM (e)

Temperature T is a thermodynamic parameter which has meaning only for macroscopic assemblies of particles. T has no meaning for infinitesimally small volumes.

I got into an argument over this with someone who was completely ignorant and kept referring to the “temperature of a molecule.” Since I am a chemist who was taught no more advanced thermodynamics than was required of me, my knowlege doesn’t go past about 1900. I was corrected by a physicist who brought up various quantum equations to show me that there is a way to define the temperature of a single molecule (yeah, but measure it!). To me, it’s not the same thing at all to talk about the temperature of a molecule because it has completely different ramifications than the temperature of a glass of water. So I was corrected, and a single molecule can have a temperature and even entropy (as long as it has energy).

Comment #67347

Posted by CJ O'Brien on January 3, 2006 6:29 PM (e)

by introducing this notion of a magical type of order
Exactly.
It should also be noted that Behe’s IC and Dembski’s various attempts at Laws of Conservation of Information, CSI and the like are all the same sort of magic, and they all fall under the same sort of analysis Dr. Perakh gives here.

Comment #67350

Posted by Scott on January 3, 2006 6:36 PM (e)

Does the physical expansion of the universe have any effect on the entropy of the universe? That is, if there is no energy entering the universe, but the space in which the existing energy exists is growing, would that necessitate an increase in entropy, even absent any irreversible processes?

Comment #67353

Posted by Jason on January 3, 2006 6:40 PM (e)

Entropy is a measure of disorder and the actual mechanism of its decrease in one place and accompanying increase in another place is statistical.

I couldn’t edit.

Saying entropy is measuring “disorder” merely confuses the issue and causes many problems of understanding down the road.

http://www.entropysimple.com/content.htm

Read “Briar Patch #3”

http://www.entropysite.com/cracked_crutch.html

Entropy is simply the measure of energy no longer available to do work.
Period.

This may or may not result in something resembling (to us) loss or gain of order.

Comment #67354

Posted by Carol Clouser on January 3, 2006 6:46 PM (e)

David Heddle,

Thanks for enlightening the folks here about some basic physics while I was gone.

Folks,

So, after all the usual loud mouths here have spewed their silly insults and jumped up and down and sideways trying to refute another post of mine, it seems that some have finally figured out where the truth lies. The ignorance of basic physics displayed in this thread by those pompous characters is exceeded only by their ignorance of theology and philosophy.

The bottom line is this. The second law of thermodynamics is a strongly accepted principle of science, at least as strong as evolution. Entropy is not DEFINED as a differential equation of any order, and one may not arbitrarily add any constant to it. It is a well defined quantity that cannot go below zero. There is every reason to think that it is applicable to the universe as a whole, which is a closed system, such that going back in time we MUST see an ever decreasing entropy. It cannot approach some constant value (asymptotically or otherwise) because it is a dynamic system. So the law must either be violated at some point (intervention) or stop at some point (true beginning, ex nihilo).

Some smart guy asked “Who designed the designer?” Well, the point is that the logic of the situation dictates the existence of an entity that has no features, no particular parameters and therefore no design.

Comment #67357

Posted by Jason on January 3, 2006 6:57 PM (e)

On a piece of a noble metal or alloy, a thin but very strong layer of oxides appears spontaneously, protecting the item from corrosion.

No! What protects a noble metal from corrosion is it’s electronegativity. They just don’t like oxygen so much. There may be a degree of oxygen adsorption on the surface, but this is by no means a layer of gold oxide.

Maybe you’re thinking of oxophilic metals like aluminum, titanium, etc. that don’t corrode because the oxide layer is very stable, even in the presence of water. In iron there’s this sort of layer too, but the presence of water makes the layer pit which exposes more of the metal to oxidize. If you stuck a shiny piece of Iron in a dry but oxygen-rich atmosphere, you wouldn’t see any corrosion (at RT).

Comment #67358

Posted by Worldwide Pants on January 3, 2006 6:58 PM (e)

Carol, what is the difference between a featureless, parameterless entity and a nonexistent entity?

Comment #67359

Posted by Eugene Lai on January 3, 2006 6:58 PM (e)

Carol, “Big Bang” could have replaced your entire paragraph. Just about every one here accepts the Big Bang.

Some smart guy asked “Who designed the designer?” Well, the point is that the logic of the situation dictates the existence of an entity that has no features, no particular parameters and therefore no design.

Well that excludes your god then. As a start, he does not qualify as “no features, no particular parameters”.

Comment #67360

Posted by Lars on January 3, 2006 7:00 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #67362

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 7:06 PM (e)

If you stuck a shiny piece of Iron in a dry but oxygen-rich atmosphere, you wouldn’t see any corrosion (at RT).

if you want to see some really FUN oxidation of a metal, try sticking a lump of shiny pure sodium or potassium in a toilet bowl sometime…

ahh, high school physics pranks. those were the days.

Comment #67364

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 3, 2006 7:16 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

Entropy is not DEFINED as a differential equation of any order, and one may not arbitrarily add any constant to it. It is a well defined quantity that cannot go below zero. There is every reason to think that it is applicable to the universe as a whole, which is a closed system, such that going back in time we MUST see an ever decreasing entropy. It cannot approach some constant value (asymptotically or otherwise) because it is a dynamic system. So the law must either be violated at some point (intervention) or stop at some point (true beginning, ex nihilo).

I agree it can’t go asymptotically to anything. The lowest value S can have that is greater than zero is k ln 2. But what you haven’t shown is why it can’t simply go to zero and remain there as t goes to minus infinity. Or why it wasn’t zero at the instant of the Big Bang.

Comment #67368

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 7:22 PM (e)

Carol, why on earth do you think science should consider your religious opinions as “evidence”?

Comment #67369

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 7:24 PM (e)

if you want to see some really FUN oxidation of a metal, try sticking a lump of shiny pure sodium or potassium in a toilet bowl sometime…

ahh, high school physics pranks. those were the days.

Yes, I did the old “sodium metal down the sink” routine too.

I also had a hand in helping to, uh, liberate the biology lab’s fruit flies. ;)

Comment #67370

Posted by Jason on January 3, 2006 7:26 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

The bottom line is this. The second law of thermodynamics is a strongly accepted principle of science, at least as strong as evolution. Entropy is not DEFINED as a differential equation of any order, and one may not arbitrarily add any constant to it. It is a well defined quantity that cannot go below zero. There is every reason to think that it is applicable to the universe as a whole, which is a closed system, such that going back in time we MUST see an ever decreasing entropy. It cannot approach some constant value (asymptotically or otherwise) because it is a dynamic system. So the law must either be violated at some point (intervention) or stop at some point (true beginning, ex nihilo).

Wow. How can I begin to explain your level of misunderstanding?

There are several DEFINITIONS of entropy, but they are all differential equations, as far as I can remember.

Please spell out some of the every reasons that one can define the entropy of the universe as a whole. Do you KNOW if the universe is a “closed system” or not?

It cannot approach some constant value in what system? In the whole universe?

If all entropy can do is decrease, as you say, then it MUST be approaching some value, whether it’s zero or not doesn’t matter!!!

I love how you juxtaposed those two sentences to logically cancel each other out.

going back in time we MUST see an ever decreasing entropy.

It MUST be approaching a limit.

It cannot approach some constant value

WHHHAAAAA????

Comment #67371

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 7:26 PM (e)

David Heddle,

Thanks for enlightening the folks here about some basic physics while I was gone.

Hey Carol, why don’t you tell Heddle why the New Testament is full of crap?

Hey Heddle, why don’t you tell carol why the New Testament is NOT full of crap?

After all, if both of you are claiming to speak on behalf of God, and you’re not saying the same things, then one of you is wrong.

Which one?

Comment #67372

Posted by Jason on January 3, 2006 7:28 PM (e)

if you want to see some really FUN oxidation of a metal, try sticking a lump of shiny pure sodium or potassium in a toilet bowl sometime…

hehe, I work with K metal in a drybox all the time.

Oh, and I have thrown it in water. weee :)

Now, just expose some cesium to a moist atmosphere…

Comment #67373

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 7:29 PM (e)

Christians like Ken Ham say I should reevaluate my atheism because the big bang is wrong.

Furthermore, contrary to the naïve pronouncements of many who should know better, it is not in any sense a matter of ‘looking into a telescope and “seeing” the big bang billions of years ago.’ As always, observations are interpreted and filtered through worldview lenses. Those who developed the big bang were guided by secular worldview filters just as much as those who are now crying that the emperor has no clothes. They wanted a universe that created itself; their opponents want an eternal, uncreated universe. From a Christian perspective, both are in open defiance of their Creator’s account of what really happened.

Christians like Chuck Colson say I should reevaluate my atheism because the big bang is right.

Today, advocates of the Big Bang think that their theory is a substitute for God. But it’s just the opposite. Hoyle rejected the Big Bang in spite of the evidence because he knew that the Big Bang pointed irresistibly to the existence of God.

Both camps can suck it.

Perhaps Carol and/or Heddle would be so kind as to explain why science should give a flying fig about EITHER religious opinion …. ?

Comment #67380

Posted by PaulC on January 3, 2006 7:40 PM (e)

I think the key problem with all of these arguments is the conflation of entropy (a well defined concept) with something like “organized complexity”, which is very hard to pin down, but definitely is not entropy.

Actually a lot of living processes result in an increase of entropy (number of possible microstates in the macrostate) while simultaneously increasing what we think of as organized complexity.

For instance, I could conceivably build a terrarium environment with several varieties of plants dependent of light, water, and some mineral fertilizers and perhaps even a more elaborate micro-ecology with animals that fed on the plants and on each other.

Aside from a few seeds and eggs I would need to start this system, the initial components could be low entropy indeed. Conceivably, all the mineral components, including the water could be in highly ordered crystals at close to 0 degrees Kelvin. I could enclose this in a device such that an external energy source would produce light as well as some initial heat to mix the components. Eventually, the plants would begin to grow and the eggs would mature. Later these living things would interact and reproduce. I’m not aiming at a self-sufficient ecology here, so I could use as much energy as I want to filter out pollutants and keep the system going in perpetuity.

What would emerge would show both an increase of “complexity” in the sense of interesting stuff going on–a whole little environment with growth, behavior, and reproduction–and an increase in entropy in the thermodynamic sense–i.e., initially I went to heroic efforts to limit the statistical distribution of most of the component matter to molecules in a crystalline lattice but in the process of adding energy I created a stochastic system with many possible microstates.

If my energy source was a fixed amount of fuel initially in a low energy state, I could even claim to have a closed system. In accordance with the 2nd law, the entropy of the system would increase over time. But that increase would look nothing like decay and deterioration at least as long as the usable energy lasted.

Obviously, this is not equivalent to evolution, because I started with some components of life. However, these components did not somehow reduce the entropy. They did contribute to some other intuitive phenomenon through self-replication, but this phenomenon has nothing at all to do with entropy. Entropy has unmistakably increased in the process of turning an uninteresting, easily described system into a complex system full of intricate relationships.

Note that you could repeat the above thought experiment for any amount of material resources starting with the same number of initial living components. Thus, even if you imagined them to impart some kind of “negative entropy” it would be hard to explain how a fixed amount of it could convert the state of an arbitarily large amount of additional matter. And, in fact, it does nothing of the sort. Entropy is not a lack of organization. Self-organization is not a magical reduction of entropy. The two concepts have little to do with each other.

Comment #67382

Posted by PaulC on January 3, 2006 7:52 PM (e)

I wrote:

conflation of entropy (a well defined concept) with something like “organized complexity”

The quoted part should be “lack of ‘organized complexity’”.

Obviously, this is not equivalent to evolution

I mean not equivalent to abiogenesis. Of course, evolution could conceivably occur given a large enough system run for long enough, but the point of the thought experiment is simply that an increase in entropy can actually take the form of growth and development rather than mere decay.

Comment #67384

Posted by tgibbs on January 3, 2006 7:54 PM (e)

Does the physical expansion of the universe have any effect on the entropy of the universe? That is, if there is no energy entering the universe, but the space in which the existing energy exists is growing, would that necessitate an increase in entropy, even absent any irreversible processes?

I think that this is a very interesting question, which I’ve never seen addressed by a cosmologist. The universe is believed to have been at thermodynamic equilibrium immediately after the Big Bang, which means that entropy would have been maximal. On the other hand, entropy is clearly submaximal today. So if the maximal entropy of the universe has not changed, and if the 2nd Law applies to such cosmological processes, then the entropy of the universe would have to have decreased, and the expansion of the universe would have to constitute an input of free energy.

On the other hand, if the expansion of the universe increases the maximal entropy possible, which seems plausible, then it is possible that the entropy of the universe today is greater than that right after the Big Bang. Which raises the possibility the expansion of the universe is itself in some sense thermodynamically driven, which would fit with the notion of expansion being an irreversible process.

Comment #67385

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 8:04 PM (e)

Yes, I did the old “sodium metal down the sink” routine too.

Having a basically unlimited supply in HS (thanks to a rather supportive chemistry professor), I used to use it to create rather elaborate model ship explosions as well. It was amazing how well that stuff would mimic a powder magazine explosion with the right influx of water and the right size chunk of sodium placed in the model ship’s hull. Quite spectacular.

yes, science IS fun.

Comment #67388

Posted by Russell on January 3, 2006 8:13 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

[Entropy] is a well defined quantity that cannot go below zero.

Well, if you say so… But from back in my chemistry days, I seem to recall that the entropy of a given compound was calculated by summing the entropy differences associated with chemical reactions transforming the corresponding elements into said compound, having defined the entropy of each element in its pure, crystalline state at 0°K as zero.

In theory, the fact that you could transform element A into element B - and that such a transformation would involved entropy changes - suggests to me that while there may be some kind of “absolute total entropy”, as you suggest, it would have to represent the sum of the “chemical entropy” - which is the only kind I ever think about, and the only kind that I believe is under consideration in discussions of abiogenesis and biological evolution - and “nuclear” (and perhaps other) entropies. The definition of the chemical “zero point”, however, is just that: a (more or less arbitrary) definition. So, whereas I have seen some fairly “well defined” equations for entropy changes, I’m not aware of any “well defined” descriptions of the kind of absolute entropy you seem to be describing. I’ll be grateful for any references that will set me straight.

There is every reason to think that it is applicable to the universe as a whole, which is a closed system…

Frankly, I find this glib to the point of meaninglessness. Creationists of various stripes get their knickers in a twist when we “extrapolate” mutation/selection to speciation. It seems to me that leap is infinitesimal compared with the extension of the concept of “closed system” to the universe as a whole.

So, once we change “there is every reason to think that…” to a more honest “one might hypothesize that…”, and “the universe as a whole, which is a closed system…” to “the universe as a whole, which might or might not be considered a closed system for the present purposes…”, there’s really not much for the mind’s eye to gaze upon.

…, such that going back in time we MUST see an ever decreasing entropy. It cannot approach some constant value (asymptotically or otherwise) because it is a dynamic system.

I wonder if that would make sense to me if I were more of a physicist. Again, thinking as more of a mere chemist, I’m thinking about a conventional explosion. As I trace back the “dynamic system” comprising the components of the explosion (the de-expanding gases, the re-integrating shards, the reverse combustion of the fuel…) I do indeed see the entropy approaching a constant pre-detonation value. Aside from the fact - as alluded to above - that I find extrapolations from closed systems to entire universes and beginnings of time somewhat useless, what’s wrong with my analogy?

So the law must either be violated at some point (intervention) or stop at some point (true beginning, ex nihilo).

Despite my reservations, outlined above, I’ll grant you that a lot of “laws” break down when we extend them to the Big Bang (or from finite systems to the universe, for that matter), but your parenthesized interpretations are, as The Rev. Dr. will be glad to remind you, your religious opinions - nothing more.

By the way, I find it somewhat offensive when this sort of generic condescending insult is offered without some sort of delimitation:

So, after all the usual loud mouths here have spewed their silly insults and jumped up and down and sideways trying to refute another post of mine, it seems that some have finally figured out where the truth lies.

Should we assume that all who have taken issue with your comments are loud, silly, prone to jumping about, and destined eventually to recognize that The Truth lies with you?

Comment #67390

Posted by Carol Clouser on January 3, 2006 8:22 PM (e)

Worldwide Pants,

The difference is, one exists and can act, the other does not and cannot.

Eugene Lai,

I don’t know what you are talking about. Any sophisticated concept of monotheism incorporates the idea of a non-physical entity as the diety.

As far as the big bang is concerned, this makes it clear that it must have been ex nihilo. That is difficult to swallow. Why would a universe suddenly appear out of unmitigated nothingness, for no discernable reason? What happened to “cause and effect”, so cherished in science?

Gerard Harbison,

A universe with entropy stuck at zero (or any other fixed value)for any length of time is untenable. There is too much going on. May I remind you that constant entropy is viewed by the second law as a limiting condition.

Jason,

I specifically referred to approaching “a constant value” that is a value that then remained fixed, not just any value. As to your other “points”, go back and read my post carefully.

Comment #67396

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 8:48 PM (e)

for no discernable reason

there’s the key right there, Carol. scientist follow what the evidence supports, which currently is a big bang, but doesn’t necessarily postulate any “motive” for it.

when you speak thusly, you place yourself firmly where you always do, arguing from a god of the gaps perspective.

not surprising any more, really.

Comment #67398

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 8:51 PM (e)

Carol, why is your religious opinion about the New Testament better than Heddle’s?

Oh, and why should science give a flying fig about either of them?

Comment #67399

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 8:52 PM (e)

Carol - I challenge your assertion that you were once a science advisor to a school district.

your horrid lack of understanding and rampant confusion you exhibit time and time again don’t suggest to me any comprehension of general scientific principles that would have warranted your hiring as a science advisor on anything but a public anti-science committee.

prove it. i gotta see the school district that would actually have paid you anything as a science advisor, or relied on your “expertise” in any fashion whatsoever.

Comment #67400

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 3, 2006 8:52 PM (e)

It was amazing how well that stuff would mimic a powder magazine explosion with the right influx of water and the right size chunk of sodium placed in the model ship’s hull. Quite spectacular.

Alas, we only did the “push the model out onto a pond, then shoot it with pellet guns till it sinks” thingie.

Comment #67405

Posted by Carol Clouser on January 3, 2006 8:56 PM (e)

Russell,

Many calculations of entropy changes, such as those you described, are simplified by assuming a convenient and arbitrary zero point and calculating the change going forward. I would not read too much into that. It is a tactic employed in energy calculation as well (assigning a value of zero to a location infinitely far away or at sea level) and other applications.

The universe is a closed system, by defintion of the term. And the fundamental assumption in physics, the fundamental science, is that a set of laws exist to govern the behavior of the entire universe. Any other view has been discredited centuries ago. There is nothing “glib” about this. Laws that break down at the big bang are defective and need to be repaired.

My harsh rematks about loud mouths were directed at the uncivil characters that prowl this blog and need to be put down occassionally, just to set the record straight. Other times I just ignore them. Please be advised you were not an intended target. One idiot on this thread went so far as to announce his ignorance of what I was discussing, yet he postulated the axiom that Carol must be wrong and asked others to help him demonstrate how Carol is wrong. When others pointed out that I was indeed correct, he repeated the plea. When it was yet again pointed out that I was correct, he repeated the demand for help in somehow showing Carol to be wrong, because wrong she must be, whether or not he has any idea of what I am saying.

Comment #67406

Posted by Lars on January 3, 2006 8:57 PM (e)

Gerard Harbison wrote:

Lars wrote:

Wikipedia’s definition is seen less often but is actually physically more accurate.

No, I’m afraid not. See my previous point. Wikipedia’s is a far weaker statement than the Third Law.

Stronger is not necessarily better.
Stating entropy to be an arbitrary constant at T=0 can be backed up experimentally and is so by definition a law.
Stating entropy to be a zero at T=0 can not be backed up experimentally and is so by definition a convention or if you want a postulate, but not a law.

Gerard Harbison wrote:

Lars wrote:

So unfortunately any statistical defined Entropy of the type S = k ln(W) + A (A being an arbitrary constant) is equivalent to the thermodynamic entropy.

Who gave you permission to add an arbitrary constant? Would you like to take a chisel to Boltzmann’s tombstone to carve an extra A? :-)

Who allowed Boltzmann to add an arbitrary constant? Setting this constant to zero is just as arbitrary as any other value.
And of course this idea is not my invention but you can find it in any good thermodynamics textbook if you read not only the formula but also the text between them. (a short survey on my own bookshelf gave me 4 out of 4).

But surley I would not want to carve anything into Boltzmann’s tombstone since I find the convention to put the constant to zero very convenient and thus reasonable. :-)

David Heddle wrote:

The entropy constant is NOT arbitraily chosen to be zero. There are cases in thermo (e.g., equilbria of gaseous reactions) where the knowledge is necessary.

Show me just one formula where a change of values for entropies without changing of their differences would change the expectations for the outcome of an experiment!

Of course for using values for predictions you have look them up from thermodynamic tables. And since it would not be very convenient tu list all possible differences between different substances there you will only find the differences for heating each substance from T=0 to standard temperature. Since the entropies at T=0 are all the same you can use these values for calculating differences between different substances.

David Heddle wrote:

The 3rd law does more than “allow” one to pick (roughly speaking) S(T=0) = 0. If only differences in S were the only way that S was ever relevant, then we could have picked that without the 3rd Law. The third law can be viewed as postulating that S(T=0) is 0 (apart from degeneracy), not as a choice or a convention.

Without knowing that entropy to be constant (3rd Law) you could not pick any constant value for it!
So, yes, the 3rd Law says it is “allowed” to pick (roughly speaking) S(T=0) = 0. But actually doing it is, if you want to be accurate, as you said a postulate. But a postulate is not a law

Comment #67414

Posted by Eugene Lai on January 3, 2006 9:09 PM (e)

Carol wrote:

I don’t know what you are talking about. Any sophisticated concept of monotheism incorporates the idea of a non-physical entity as the diety.

Yes you do. Non-physical and “no feature, no particular parameter” are not the same. Non-physical is itself a feature, a parameter.

What about “man is created in the image of god”? How’s that non-physical? What is the image of a non-physical entity? Be clear about your attributes of god.

As far as the big bang is concerned, this makes it clear that it must have been ex nihilo. That is difficult to swallow.

Not at all. No one here finds it difficult to accept big bang. If evidence supports it, then it is accepted *gladly*. It is just that evidence to support your god is non-existent.

What happened to “cause and effect”, so cherished in science?

It still is cherished. We just don’t go around labeling everything that we can’t explain as god’s work.

Even if we grant that the universe has a supernatural cause, you still need to establish that your god is the cause. Ken Ham and Kent Hovind is just as quick claiming that their god is the one. You have not begun to establish that. You have not begun to establish your old testament god is at all compatable with this “no
feature, no particular parameter, no design” being that you postulate as the cause of the universe.

Comment #67418

Posted by Joe Blough on January 3, 2006 9:42 PM (e)

Timothy Birdnow, at the Birdblog, responded to Perakh by saying:

Dr. Perakh uses the usual slight-of-hand tricks and agressive tactics which are the hallmark of Liberalism, and Darwinists.

Comment #67420

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 9:46 PM (e)

Dr. Perakh uses the usual slight-of-hand tricks and agressive tactics which are the hallmark of Liberalism, and Darwinists.

there’s that projection kickin in again.

standard debate tactic of right wing extremeists.

I thought we outgrew the “i know you are but what am i” argument in elementary school, yes?

Comment #67422

Posted by Moses on January 3, 2006 9:56 PM (e)

Carol the Cultural-Religioso Imperialist wrote:

My harsh remarks about loud mouths were directed at the uncivil characters that prowl this blog and need to be put down occasionally, just to set the record straight.

What’s the Bible say? You reap what you sow. You came in here on a lie. You then lied about it after you were caught and engaged in much dissembling about your lying. As far as I can tell, you’ve never really recanted or apologized.

You are, also, apparently unrecognized by yourself, a very patronizing and belligerent person. Even today, your first post was dripping with the smug religious superiority and a put down of “atheists” at the hand of entropy:

“All this leads to some very interesting and troublesome problems for cosmology, particularly if one is an atheist.”

That comment was all about the insult. Way to start the posting day, but with an insensitive and offensive comment designed to denigrate people for their beliefs. Congratulations you whining hypocrite.

Oh, and if your quote isn’t exact, it’s because I used the spell checker and accidentally corrected some of your spelling errors. Just want to be clear that it was an accident. Not part of the evil atheist conspiracy.

Comment #67425

Posted by steve s on January 3, 2006 10:02 PM (e)

Birdnow makes some pretty stupid statements on that post.

Comment #67426

Posted by Steviepinhead on January 3, 2006 10:04 PM (e)

Ohhh, Carol, don’t let ‘em steal your heart away!

Comment #67428

Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 10:28 PM (e)

“One idiot on this thread went so far as to announce his ignorance of what I was discussing, yet he postulated the axiom that Carol must be wrong and asked others to help him demonstrate how Carol is wrong.”

HEY THAT”S ME!! I was objecting to

“entropy is related to the number of states in phase space “ as something without meaning.

“When others pointed out that I was indeed correct, he repeated the plea. “
Others? YOU mean that Heddle nutcase!

“When it was yet again pointed out that I was correct, he repeated the demand for help in somehow showing Carol to be wrong, because wrong she must be, whether or not he has any idea of what I am saying.”

I read her stuff and I say this can’t be right. and yes “wrong she must be!”

IN the end I figured it out myself on post 67267

“Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 03:20 PM (e) (s)

I should have looked at the whole quote:

“Now, how does God relate to entropy? Well, since entropy is related to the number of states in phase space available for a macroscopic system of particles, and God is not particulate, the law and the concept of entropy do not apply. “

=

Since entropy has to do with large numbers of particles and god is not a particle therefor entropy is not related to god.

Well David and Carol Sherlock, since god is a concept and entropy is a concept you would hope to find some link between them but since entropy is an actual physical feature of the world and god is nothing but a concept stuck in some people’s head its obvious there’s no link at all!

so all that stuff about states and phase space is just fancy words that contribute nothing to the argument.”

when I read stupid posts I sometimes feel the brain cells leaking out my ears.

Comment #67429

Posted by steve s on January 3, 2006 10:37 PM (e)

Carol’s comments are, for the most part, not merely wrong but crazy. However, “entropy is related to the number of states in phase space” is correct.

Comment #67430

Posted by Russell on January 3, 2006 10:41 PM (e)

some genius named Birdnow allegedly wrote:

Dr. Perakh uses the usual slight-of-hand tricks and agressive tactics which are the hallmark of Liberalism, and Darwinists….
I thought we outgrew the “i know you are but what am i” argument in elementary school, yes?

Not to be too judgmental of our dyslexic (or having-learned-English-later-in-life) friends, but I suspect there’s a rough correlation between being able to learn the basics of spelling and being able to outgrow “i know you are but what am I”.

Comment #67432

Posted by Kevin from NYC on January 3, 2006 10:55 PM (e)

Thanks Steve!

as I say I figured out that those words don’t add anything to the argument. I guess my whole post was a bit snarky but I’ve read her stuff before.

Comment #67436

Posted by dre on January 3, 2006 11:36 PM (e)

HOLY CRAP! THIS ARGUMENT IS ANNOYING!

I don’t have the scientific credentials to make Carol Clouser look foolish on facts alone. I don’t want to be shouting from the peanut gallery, either, so I’m not just going to shout that she’s a mule-headed jerk. Nobody cares what a lurker like me thinks, anyway. But here I am getting all jacked up about some disembodied, one-sided argument. Maybe I don’t have the willpower to prevent myself from venting…

It is MADDENING to read her nonsense! Some of you probably see her as an antagonistic troll, but her half-ass limp-along claims sound entirely sincere to me. How can you tell the difference? If she IS sincere (and all the others like her), how can she (and they) not absorb ANY of the information presented to her? HOW? How can one badly written, 1700-year-old book trump libraries, laboratories, mountains, a whole UNIVERSE of evidence? How can someone stagger through life holding on to that rotten sliver of self-hating “hope” that demolishes all logic?

And why does she dis like a twelve-year-old?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGH!

Comment #67439

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 11:42 PM (e)

How can one badly written, 1700-year-old book trump libraries, laboratories, mountains, a whole UNIVERSE of evidence?

well, I’m sure Carol will answer your question with “Faith”; however I would suggest a more plausible alternative is denial.

Comment #67441

Posted by BlastfromthePast on January 3, 2006 11:48 PM (e)

Dr. Perakh, if I may, I’d like to point out some statements of yours that I find disconcerting.

You begin your response to Dr. Sewell’s by questioning his ‘standing’, if you will, in this debate on evolution. Here is your quote:

I guess that if some biologist not versed in mathematics endeavored to critique Sewell’s mathematical output, Professor Sewell would shrug off the dilettante’s exercise with a disdainful smirk.

Yet the fundamental assertion of Darwinists is that of ‘random’ mutation, a probabilistic concept. Seeing that thermodynamics is at base statistical; and as mathematics treats of statistics, and, further, how the whole basis of modern evolutionary theory hinges on mathematical arguments concerning probabilities, I don’t see how it would be a really big stretch for the good professor to comment on the probabilities involved with RM+NS; whereas, a biologist commenting on highly theoretic mathematical disputations would be something, very likely, that is completely out of his league.

You next, criticize his use of what you call ‘metaphor’:

While expressions like “entropy flows into the system,” are common in thermodynamics, they are just metaphors. Entropy is not a substance which can literally “flow” from or into a system. Entropy is a measure of disorder and the actual mechanism of its decrease in one place and accompanying increase in another place is statistical.

Likewise, expression like “order is imported,” have no literal meaning, but Sewell uses such expressions as if they reflect the actual influx (“import”) or outflow (“export”) of some non-existing substance called “order.”

I think it’s fair to ask: Is it, then, only metaphoric language that supporters of evolution use when they say that ‘order’ can increase because life/earth is an ‘open’ system?

Sewell writes (from a 2001 article):

“order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door…. If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth’s atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here (it would have been violated somewhere else!). But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.”

Isn’t this the nub of the issue? If it is but ‘energy’ (radiation) and small amounts of random matter (meteorites) that ‘enter’ the ‘open system’ that is earth, then HOW is that energy and matter transformed into ‘order’? (Yes, ‘order’ isn’t a substance; it has to do with arrangements and associations of matter, but it is still possible to talk about ‘order’ versus ‘disorder’) It seems to me that if the sun were to stop radiating energy, this would lead to a greater ‘order’, in that liquid water (oceans) would become crystalline (frozen). It would appear, then, that it is not the sun that explains order, but the fact that the earth is able to radiate energy away itself. So how does the fact that the earth radiates away energy explain the presence of cars, computers and encyclopedias?

Concerning his statement about erosion, you had this to say:

If the gradual destruction of, say, the Great Buddha sculpture is an example of the destructive force of erosion, which, according to Sewell, “destroys order,” then the appearance of sculpture-like images due to erosion, by the same logic, should be construed as creating order (of course this is, in fact, rather an example of creating the illusion of design).

But I thought ‘order’ wasn’t a substance; so how could it increase? Or decrease? Now, if by erosion, one means the entry into a stream of water of minerals previously crystallized in rocks through oxidation and the mechanical effects of water, then, according to notions of entropy, entropy has increased—which means, metaphorically, that ‘order’ has decreased. But it is a molecular ‘disorder’ that has resulted. And if there is a ‘form’ to be perceived as a result of this erosion, it is a form, so I would suppose, that is present in the mind, and not anywhere in nature. (Form, to me, is a transcendent property of nature; it is not anything intrinsic to it. Only ‘minds’ can detect ‘form.’ But, this is another discussion.) So while ‘information’ might be eroded from Mt. Rushmore, the increase in entropy from the erosion of Mt. Rushmore, or Mt. Everest, is the roughly the same.

What I consider Sewell’s main assertion—not the one you’ve indicated—is exactly that the number of macroscopically describable phenoma are not that many. He writes (from the full article found in the Appendix of his book):

Although it is true that we sometimes are not sure what the second law predicts, it is not true that there are so many macroscopically describable phenomena that the second law cannot be expected to hold when applied to all of them—there are relatively few simply describable phenomena. It is not true, as the new argument asserts, that there are so many types of order that computers and TV sets need no explanation.

More or less in response to Sewell’s assertion, you have this to say:

Contrary to Sewell’s thesis, there are many situations where entropy of an open system decreases spontaneously, and this in no way contradicts the 2nd law.

It seems to me that your examples of ‘spontaneous’ solidification of metal and of ferromagnetism being lost and then restored are examples of reversible processes. You state more than once that ‘real processes’ are ‘irreversible’. Doesn’t this then mean that the processes you cite are not ‘real’ examples? How can these trivial processes possibly explain the ordering of nucleotides and the complexity of proteins? Isn’t that exactly the ‘improbability’ that those who wish to invoke evolution must somehow overcome? (Sewell writes: “In these simple examples, I assumed nothing but heat conduction or diffusion was going on, but for more general situations, I offered the tautology that “if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.”)

You next say that to state that the 2nd Law prohibits evolution is tantamount to saying that life itself is impossible. But doesn’t that assume exactly what must be demonstrated, namely, that nature, unassisted in any way, is capable of producing life? Isn’t that what evolution is supposed to prove? To note the ‘extreme improbability’ of ‘order’ emerging—contra the constraints of the 2nd Law—doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. It means that it can’t be done ‘randomly.’ Maybe water erosion can create the appearance of a bridge, but can a hurricane pass through a junkyard and create a 747? Only humans—intelligent beings—can do that.

While I think you completely right that thermodynamics doesn’t apply to systems of small size, Sewell writes: “One critic [Rosenhouse 2001] wrote ‘His claim that “natural forces do not cause extremely improbable things to happen” is pure gibberish. Does Sewell invoke supernatural forces to explain the winning numbers in last night’s lottery?’ But getting the right number on 5 or 6 balls is not extremely improbable, in thermo-dynamics ‘extremely improbable’ events involve getting the ‘right number’ on 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or so balls! If every atom on Earth bought one ticket every second since the big bang (about 10^70 tickets) there is virtually no chance than any would ever win even a 100-ball lottery, much less this one. And since the second law derives its authority from logic alone, and thus cannot be overturned by future discoveries, Sir Arthur Eddington [Eddington 1929] called it the ‘supreme’ law of Nature.” And, of course, to code for Cytochrome C, there needs to be 300 ‘ordered’ nucleotides.

Finally, you write:

Likewise, the assertion by anti-evolutionists that “everything” in nature tends to decay, etc, is an exaggeration. Recall the adage “diamonds are forever.” Items made of gold, platinum, iridium, rhenium, molybdenum, tungsten, stainless steel, and many other materials remain intact indefinitely.

If I’m not mistaken, physicists talk about ‘proton’ decay. It has an extremely long life, perhaps 10^35 years. But if ‘protons’ can decay, then how can it be said that “other materials remain intact indefinitely”? And if you threw the gold ring or diamond bracelet into a fusion reaction (the ‘sun’), would they remain ‘intact indefinitely’?

While you think it no more than ‘metaphor’ to talk about ‘importing order’, I think Dr. Sewell makes a very important point is saying not just any decrease in entropy (increase in order) will do, but a decrease that will help overcome the ‘extreme improbability’ of computers and cars spontaneously arising.

Comment #67444

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 3, 2006 11:56 PM (e)

Yet the fundamental assertion of Darwinists is that of ‘random’ mutation

if you keep mischaracterizing entire schools of theory, as you seem wont to do most times, I don’t see why we should let you play any more, Blasty.

I truly hope nobody actually TRIES to correct you, as so many have done before.

now go back to your cave, like a good little troll.

Comment #67450

Posted by WhirlingBlade on January 4, 2006 12:42 AM (e)

BlastfromthePast wrote:

Isn’t this the nub of the issue? If it is but ‘energy’ (radiation) and small amounts of random matter (meteorites) that ‘enter’ the ‘open system’ that is earth, then HOW is that energy and matter transformed into ‘order’? (Yes, ‘order’ isn’t a substance; it has to do with arrangements and associations of matter, but it is still possible to talk about ‘order’ versus ‘disorder’)

One problem in SLOT-based discussions is that people are constantly conflating entropy and “disorder” (and indeed redefining the terms). It helps to remember that the SLOT is really about thermal diffusion. Entropy is just a way of measuring that diffusion. The distinction is subtle but important. It’s as if we were arguing over miles-per-hour and cm-per-second, when what we are talking about is simply velocity.

So, from the standpoint of thermal diffusion, it’s quite possible for “order” to arise from “disorder”. Imagine a large, perfectly random cloud of dust in space. It is inevitable that that cloud will turn into a sphere, which is clearly more “ordered”.

In SLOT terms, what is happening is that the dust contains potential energy due to gravity. A collapse to spherical shape releases some heat. The salient point is, “order” is sometimes an intermediate state in thermal diffusion.

Living organisms are a prime example of this. Life tends to accelerate thermal diffusion in it’s environment, by releasing the stored energies OF it’s environment. This is completely in line with the SLOT, and in fact the argument could be made that life is a consequence of it.

If you look at the planet Earth as a problem in thermal diffusion, how do you get that energy distributed? A nice hot core is fine for IR radiation, and radioactive isotopes will do their part. However, slap an advanced civilization on that planet, and not only does it glow at night, you get to beam terawatts of energy into space.

Once all the relevant chemical energy has been efficiently exploited, you get an accelerated usage of the radioactive materials. Once THAT’s gone, the race just folds up shop, quiet as you please - or spreads to other planets to start “consuming” THEM.

That’s a bit of a nihilistic perspective, but the point is none of it conflicts with the SLOT in any way, and can be construed as an expression of the SLOT.

Comment #67455

Posted by Bob O'H on January 4, 2006 1:41 AM (e)

steve s wrote:

Carol’s comments are, for the most part, not merely wrong but crazy. However, “entropy is related to the number of states in phase space” is correct.

Correct, but totally vacuous. It’s like saying that a person’s height is related to the number of atoms in them.

Bob

Comment #67464

Posted by Renier on January 4, 2006 4:17 AM (e)

Carol wrote:
The bottom line is this. The second law of thermodynamics is a strongly accepted principle of science, at least as strong as evolution.

Glad to see you admit that EVOLUTION is a strongly accepted principle of science. Why the hell then are you bickering and denying evolution?

Carol, Blast and Heddle, the holy threesome, all here in one thread.

Comment #67466

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 5:29 AM (e)

Lars wrote,

Show me just one formula where a change of values for entropies without changing of their differences would change the expectations for the outcome of an experiment!

The law of mass action for gaseous reactions. See, for example, eqn. 139 in Fermi’s thermo book.

Comment #67467

Posted by djmullen on January 4, 2006 5:37 AM (e)

I was in high school when the big bang vs steady state arguments were at their height and I don’t remember hearing of any atheists objecting to the Big Bang. There may have been a few, but I never heard of them. In fact, I didn’t hear of any of this so-called atheist objection to the Big Bang until a few years ago when it seems to have appeared out of nowhere in the creationist press.

I DO remember a close friend telling me about a talk his pastor (Missouri Synod Lutheran) gave to his church youth group, vehemently insisting that the universe was created by God circa 4000 BC and deriding the Big Bang as a satanic theory designed to destroy good Christians’ faith in the Bible.

Which was kind of ironic because this was several months after Penzas and Wilson announced the discovery of the microwave background radiation from the Big Bang.

Comment #67468

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 6:11 AM (e)

djmullen,

The very name “big bang”, given by Hoyle, was meant to be derisive.

Eddington said:

Philosophically the notion of a beginning of the present order is repugnant to me. I should like to find a genuine loophole. I simply do not believe the present order of things started off with a bang

He also stated that “the expanding Universe is preposterous… it leaves me cold” and “We [must] allow evolution an infinite time to get started.”

The point is, there were certainly atheists opposed to the Big Bang. It’s documented, not invented. And as Eddington’s comment suggests–the lack of very strong proof at the beginning of the bb theory (although there was some–but not the microwave background) allowed the atheists to express their philosophical objections. Today, given the overwhelming proof, such objections are impossible.

The Catholic Church, by the way, was giddy about the big bang, declaring it as proof of God.

Comment #67471

Posted by Lars on January 4, 2006 7:19 AM (e)

David Heddle wrote:

Lars wrote:

Show me just one formula where a change of values for entropies without changing of their differences would change the expectations for the outcome of an experiment!

The law of mass action for gaseous reactions. See, for example, eqn. 139 in Fermi’s thermo book.

Wrong!

This law gives you the Gibbs-Energy (or driving force) gaseous reactions in accordance to the partial pressures of the reaction partners. The Main Point here is that this Gibbs-Energy is a difference.

The Formula is:

G = G° + RT∑(ni * ln(pi))

Even if you derive The Standard-Gibbs-Energy G° from Standard-Entropies it is a difference. So you need differences of Standard-Entropies.

You never use the Standard-Entropies directly.
But by calculating the differences any arbitrary constant Entropy for T=0 is canceled out.

Comment #67472

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 4, 2006 7:31 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'quote.'

Comment #67475

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 7:41 AM (e)

Lars,

No, I’m not wrong. The equation I referred to is too complicated to post, but it involves the additive entropy constant explicitly.

I’ll quote Fermi, from his thermo book, chapter VIII, “The Entropy Constant.” (Yes, the great physicist and Nobel Laureate devotes an entire chapter to what you have characterized as a “convention.” I am looking for his entire chapter devoted to choosing the gravitational PE constant to be zero at infinity, but so far I have not found it.)

Fermi wrote:

We have already found, however, that cases arise (for example in dealing with gaseous equilibria, Chapter VI) for which the knowledge of this constant becomes important. In this chapter we shall introduce and discuss a principle that will enable us to determine the additive constant appearing in the definition of entropy.

(Emphasis added)

Comment #67477

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 4, 2006 7:57 AM (e)

Setting this constant to zero is just as arbitrary as any other value.

Nope. S is directly related to the partition function - essentially the number of occupied states of the system - by S = k d(T ln Z)/dT (keeping volume constant).
Adding an arbitrary constant in effect eliminates that fundamental relationship. These days, the standard entropies of real gases are actually calculated statistically, not measured.

There is nothing arbitrary about the definition of entropy.

Comment #67478

Posted by steve s on January 4, 2006 8:02 AM (e)

Comment #67455

Posted by Bob O’H on January 4, 2006 01:41 AM (e) (s)

steve s wrote:

Carol’s comments are, for the most part, not merely wrong but crazy. However, “entropy is related to the number of states in phase space” is correct.

Correct, but totally vacuous. It’s like saying that a person’s height is related to the number of atoms in them.

Bob

did you see the comment above, which said

“I was objecting to “entropy is related to the number of states in phase space “ as something without meaning.”

That’s what I was responding to.

Comment #67479

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 4, 2006 8:12 AM (e)

Dr. Perakh, if I may, I’d like to point out some statements of yours that I find disconcerting.

Blast, no one cares about your ignorant uninformed opinion. (shrug)

Carol, I’m still waiting for you to tell us why Heddle is wrong about the New Testament.

Heddle, I’m still waiting for you to tell us why Carol iswrong ab out the New Testament.

And I’m still waiting for either of you to explain why science should give a flying fig either way.

Comment #67483

Posted by carol clouser on January 4, 2006 8:42 AM (e)

Reneir,

I never argued anywhere that evolution is anything less than a strongly accepted principle of science, nor did I ever “bicker” or “deny” evolution. I challenge you to examine all my posts here since I arrived a few months ago for a shred of evidence to support your statement.

What I did argue is that the widespread assumption that a literal reading of Genesis contradicts evolution is entirely incorrect, and that this fact is made very obvious when one looks carefully at the original text of Genesis.

Comment #67485

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 9:03 AM (e)

Carol,

I know what you face. Given the choice between (a) the Bible being consistent with science (it is, of course) which, when exposited, opens the door for reconciliation between science and Judaism and Christianity or (b) maintaining that the bible is absolutely inconsistent with science, the atheist almost always chooses (b). In spite of the political advantages (not to mention the truthfulness) of (a), they would, in large part, prefer to keep their bogeyman.

Comment #67487

Posted by Wislu Plethora on January 4, 2006 9:20 AM (e)

There are a lot of smart people here, but the smartness is compartmentalized into the various scientific, legal and (gulp) engineering disciplines that form the core of each individual’s expertise. Being an engineer myself, I have to rely on my own limited education in, and more involved independent study of, biology, physics, chemistry, etc. in order to be able to form reasonable opinions. When someone like Heddle, a presumably well-educated physicist, abdicates his intellectual currency in favor of ridiculous religious prevarications, he also gives up any hope he’ll ever have for credibility when he’s actually telling the truth and using his training to explain something to someone not as knowledgeable as he is. So when Heddle talks about SLOT, entropy and thermodynamics in general–subjects upon which he should be able to speak with a reasonably authoritative voice–people like me have to assume he’s doing so with an ace up his sleeve. He’s betrayed his scientific credibility for what he thinks is a few pieces of silver. Too bad, that.

Comment #67494

Posted by carol clouser on January 4, 2006 10:34 AM (e)

Wislu Plethora,

And the loss is entirely yours.

David,

If folks here would use a scalpel (in the finest scientific tradition) instead of a sledgehammer approach, they would be able to cut through the dense foliage and come to understand that you and I are really on their side. Is there any hope?

Comment #67495

Posted by Tim Hague on January 4, 2006 10:36 AM (e)

David Heddle,

you appear to have missed a choice on your list. You have given us (a) the bible is consistent with science and (b) the bible is absolutely inconsistent with science.

How about © parts of the bible are inconsistent with science (depending on how literally you read the bible), but not all of it. Which is where - I suspect - you will find your atheists, and also many of your christian scientists.

Comment #67496

Posted by steve s on January 4, 2006 10:37 AM (e)

The only thing Heddle has told the truth on, so far, is the thermodynamics stuff. Everything else–statistics, fine tuning, atheism, the bible–he’s a zealous idiot about.

Comment #67497

Posted by Tim Hague on January 4, 2006 10:39 AM (e)

That should be a ( c ) not a ©. At least I know how to do © now!

Comment #67498

Posted by Wislu Plethora on January 4, 2006 10:44 AM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

Wislu Plethora,

And the loss is entirely yours.

That was precisely my point, you nitwit. It’s the cause of the loss that I was lamenting.

Comment #67500

Posted by steve s on January 4, 2006 10:45 AM (e)

Tim: I suspect the only reason he picked that false choice was because in a real one he loses. Or maybe he’s just that ignorant, in which case he could have just asked some atheists, I suppose. The bible is consistent with what people 2000 years ago knew about the physical world, which is nearly nothing. If you want to know something about the physical world, you turn to physics, not the bible, just as if you want to know something about nutrition, you consult a nutritionist, not deuteronomy.

Like it or not, PZ Meyers is right: taking religion seriously is silly.

Comment #67502

Posted by AC on January 4, 2006 10:48 AM (e)

Carol wrote:

The difference is, one exists and can act, the other does not and cannot.

I still await my burning bush, Carol.

Any sophisticated concept of monotheism incorporates the idea of a non-physical entity as the diety.

Any sophisticated mind realizes that the idea of a non-physical entity is one of humanity’s most persistent fantasies.

As far as the big bang is concerned, this makes it clear that it must have been ex nihilo.

Ex nihilo as far as this universe is concerned, certainly.

That is difficult to swallow.

Come now, Carol. You’re the one suggesting that “non-physical entity” has meaning. If your imagination can conjure spirits, why can’t it entertain the possibility that our universe was generated within some “larger” framework? That’s at least as reasonable as Goddidit.

Why would a universe suddenly appear out of unmitigated nothingness, for no discernable reason?

“Unmitigated nothingness” is increasingly anachronistic, as is the insistence on “reasons”. However, in light of these two things, it is almost a given that you would cling to God.

Comment #67503

Posted by Flint on January 4, 2006 10:51 AM (e)

Given the choice between (a) the Bible being consistent with science (it is, of course) which, when exposited, opens the door for reconciliation between science and Judaism and Christianity or (b) maintaining that the bible is absolutely inconsistent with science, the atheist almost always chooses (b).

Amazing. Heddle is so religion-bound that he can’t help but think that atheists must use the bible as their guide one way or another. But in fact, atheists couldn’t care less what someone else’s magic book says or how he chooses to interpret it. Should atheists have to sit down and think about whether their effort to test hypotheses are or are not consistent with every interpretation of every holy text anyone has ever worshiped? Why bother?

Maybe the Holy Book of Woohoodoohoo really IS absolutely consistent with science. Why should this matter one way or another? Carol and Heddle just can’t seem to grasp that their faith is not relevant. They may think they have found some way to rectify irrelevant but indelible beliefs with science, and maybe they’re satisfied they have done so. Science itself does not care and should not care. Presumably there are perfectly competent scientists who have never even heard of Heddle’s bible.

Even if the bible IS absolutely consistent with science, how does this change anything about science at all? Science doesn’t hinge on whether anyone with any particular set of religious beliefs can or can not find some way to accept the scientific method without compromising their beliefs.

Comment #67506

Posted by jim on January 4, 2006 11:00 AM (e)

Like it or not, PZ Meyers is right: taking religion seriously is silly.

I disagree.

Taking silliness seriously is religion.

Comment #67508

Posted by i like latin on January 4, 2006 11:04 AM (e)

Given the choice between (a) the Bible being consistent with science (it is, of course) which, when exposited, opens the door for reconciliation between science and Judaism and Christianity or (b) maintaining that the bible is absolutely inconsistent with science, the atheist almost always chooses (b).

What would the scientologists say?

Perhaps we should ask Homer Simpson about thermodynamics. Doh!

BTW, has anyone figured out if the SLoT argument was intelligently designed?

Comment #67509

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 11:09 AM (e)

Flint:

But in fact, atheists couldn’t care less what someone else’s magic book says or how he chooses to interpret it.

You are so wrong! They care a great deal. In fact I am about to post on my blog regarding the “bats are birds” problem.

Every time I blog about how the Bible is consistent with science, I get lots of comments from atheists about how the Bible teaches bats are birds, pi is 3, insects have 4 legs, rabbits chew their cud, etc. Obviously they care a great deal about what the bible says.

Comment #67513

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on January 4, 2006 11:22 AM (e)

Mr. Heddle:

Every time I blog about how the Bible is consistent with science, I get lots of comments from atheists about how the Bible teaches bats are birds, pi is 3, insects have 4 legs, rabbits chew their cud, etc.

Emphasis mine.

Most atheists don’t give a flying fig about what any ‘holy’ book says, but can’t stand smug little fundies trying to co-opt the respectability and intellectual honesty of science by pretending that their pet Scriptures are consistent with it.

You stop making fallacious claims, people will stop calling your bluff.

Comment #67517

Posted by Ubernatural on January 4, 2006 11:29 AM (e)

If Carol and Heddle are right and “the” bible doesn’t conflict with science, we could say:

2+2=4 or

2+2+GOD=4

Do the math.

/proves black is white and gets run over in the nearest crosswalk.

Comment #67524

Posted by AC on January 4, 2006 11:39 AM (e)

David Heddle wrote:

Given the choice between (a) the Bible being consistent with science (it is, of course) which, when exposited, opens the door for reconciliation between science and Judaism and Christianity or (b) maintaining that the bible is absolutely inconsistent with science, the atheist almost always chooses (b). In spite of the political advantages (not to mention the truthfulness) of (a), they would, in large part, prefer to keep their bogeyman.

Nice false dichotomy. In reality, however, the bible being consistent with science is an indefensible position, largely due to its broadness, but ultimately due to the claims plainly made in the bible. Many bible-believers who seek this reconciliation stop at “let there be light” as an inspired poetic description of the Big Bang, and other such superficial assertions. On the other hand, literalists go much further in their assertions, and thus meander (often naively) into the gaze of science.

But you and Carol don’t do so naively. You both have science backgrounds. As a result, you are both examples of the human mind’s treacherous ability to accurately observe the world while suffixing the superfluous “because of God” onto every observation.

I only care about what anyone’s “holy book” says in so far as they present it as a substitute for scientific study of the world. Likewise, the two of you are “on my side” only in so far as you strive for accuracy regarding the mutually-observable world. If you also see ghosts that in no way alter your perception of plain facts, then I’m happy to let you enjoy your comforting metaphysical icing.

And that is not an insult or a moral condemnation. It’s just my opinion of religion.

Comment #67527

Posted by Russell on January 4, 2006 11:49 AM (e)

“The bible is consistent with science”…hmmm. Seems to me like a nutty idea, on the face of it. But way off topic for this thread. What do you say we pursue this over at After the Bar Closes?

Comment #67533

Posted by carol clouser on January 4, 2006 12:03 PM (e)

David,

The Hebrew OHF technically means “one that flies”. A related Hebrew word used in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus meaning “winged” is KANAF. Frequently the Bible puts them together, as in OHF KANAF. The meaning of ATALEF is not at all clear, as is the case with a few other Hebrew names of organisms. This has been the case for millenia and has effected the kosher laws.

I do not at the moment have access to the appropriate passages to be able to comment within context. I should be able to do so later today (in a few hours).

You certainly are correct about the classification system employed in the Bible.

Hope this helps.

Comment #67543

Posted by dre on January 4, 2006 12:24 PM (e)

David Heddle said:

You are so wrong! They care a great deal.

Man, you are NUTS. We can’t ESCAPE the dang Bible because of our backward society’s remarkable reliance on superstition, but that doesn’t mean we CARE about that stupid book! It’s just a really old Dianetics! I am an atheist that doesn’t care about the Bible or Christianity, except that the Bible and Christians are always imposing their retarded flimflam on my life and the lives of billions of others. My friends (yes, I, an atheist, have many and intelligent compatriots, believe it or not) are primarily atheists, and none of them give a damn about the Bible either.

Everyone will acknowledge that the Bible is influential literature, but I prefer the societal influences of Cervantes or Mark Twain. Hell, even Dr. Suess has more positive potential for education than the Bible. It really is THAT SIMPLE. It’s just a damned book.

You are apparently unable to remove yourself from a confined little mental space where everything works according to your underdeveloped imagination. Nearly every debate that arises on this (otherwise enlightening) blog centers around ignorant claims made by narrowminded Christians! It’s pointless! David Heddle is not going to change his mind, he’s just going to keep spouting! The trolls will never give up!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRGH!

I CAN’T READ PT ANYMORE!

Comment #67545

Posted by dre on January 4, 2006 12:26 PM (e)

Not that anyone really cares.

Comment #67546

Posted by Ubernatural on January 4, 2006 12:27 PM (e)

So then, it appears that the bible is not the foremost authority on the science of taxonomy. Could it be that there are other sciences in which the bible is not the foremost authority, or even have anything to say about??

The meaning of ATALEF is not at all clear

Are there any other words in the bible where the meaning is not at all clear? Seems to me like the bible does a whole lot of erring in clarity.

Comment #67547

Posted by Andrew McClure on January 4, 2006 12:29 PM (e)

I’m still trying to figure out, is entropy a relative property where “zero” is just a convenient conventional marker, or an absolute, measurable quantity where zero is actually meaningfully zero and you can’t go below it. I still see people actively asserting both in this thread. Are there simply two definitions of entropy in play here, and different persons are working with different ones?

Wikipedia (yes, I know, not the best source, but I don’t have a better one at hand) gives two definitions of “entropy”. The thermodynamic definition of entropy, introduced by Rudolf Clausius, where change in entropy is equal to change in heat divided by absolute temperature; and statistical entropy, introduced by Boltzmann, where entropy is an absolute value, equal to a constant times the natural logarithm of “the number of possible states in the system”.

By the Clausius definition above, on the face of it I see no good reason why any particular entropy value could be described in non-relative terms. No absolute markers are defined or even really important, as far as I can see; we’ve got a differential, and that’s all we have to work with. By the Boltzmann definition however entropy itself is defined as a discrete quantity, and “zero” is obviously both meaningful and an absolute lower bound, since there will always be at least 1 possible state.

Are these two definitions of entropy the same, or not? Because if the two definitions are describing the same “entropy”, that seems to say to me that entropy has an absolute zero-like lower bound even if we are working with the differential, thermodynamic definition (even if we can’t experimentally measure that absolute value, it’s still there). What is going on here?

(My exposure to thermodynamics is entirely in the context of atmospheric thermodynamics, where entropy only matters to the extent it is useful in state equations– so we were given the impression the former was the formal definition of entropy, and our coverage of the third law was limited to “don’t worry about the third law, we don’t care about that”. So I’m rather lost here.)

Comment #67551

Posted by Russell on January 4, 2006 12:49 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

Many calculations of entropy changes, such as those you described, are simplified by assuming a convenient and arbitrary zero point and calculating the change going forward. I would not read too much into that.

No, indeed I don’t. But you seemed to suggest there is such a thing as “absolute” entropy; that the entropy of a gram of sugar, for instance, could be stated - not just the entropy changes converting carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in their standard states into sugar. Did I misread?

The universe is a closed system, by defintion of the term.

While I agree that the universe is a “closed system” in an important sense, I’m not convinced that the definition of a closed system as used in thermodynamics can be extended across the spatial and temporal extent of the universe. But what do I know? Other physicists out there - please comment.

And the fundamental assumption in physics, the fundamental science, is that a set of laws exist to govern the behavior of the entire universe.

Well, I’m OK with all that. But consider: In biology we have a “law” - generally associated with Louis Pasteur - that all living things are descended from progenitor living things. Obviously, this breaks down if you extend it too far into the past. Similarly, extending calculations of the total entropy of the universe back to the beginning of time - especially when I’m not so sure I can know the total entropy of a gram of sugar - seems to me an exercise destined never to rise above the level of speculation.

Comment #67552

Posted by CJ O'Brien on January 4, 2006 12:50 PM (e)

The meaning of ATALEF is not at all clear…This has been the case for millenia and has effected[sic] the kosher laws.

So, if it “tastes like chicken,” then it’s OK?

Comment #67557

Posted by steve s on January 4, 2006 1:05 PM (e)

Care is a vague word. In one sense, i care about what the bible says, in another, I don’t. I care about what it says in the same way I care about what the Koran says if Bin Laden reads it to mean “Go kill Steve right now” In the sense of wondering if the ravings of some middle eastern primitives impact my understanding of the universe, then no, that would just be irrational.

Comment #67559

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 4, 2006 1:09 PM (e)

Andrew McClure wrote:

I’m still trying to figure out, is entropy a relative property where “zero” is just a convenient conventional marker, or an absolute, measurable quantity where zero is actually meaningfully zero and you can’t go below it. I still see people actively asserting both in this thread. Are there simply two definitions of entropy in play here, and different persons are working with different ones?

No, there aren’t two definitions. Back in the 19th century, it was reasonable to treat the entropy like other thermodynamic functions that have only an arbitrary reference point. That viewpoint became obsolete in the early 20th century. Entropy can now be calcuated from first principles for most relatively simple systems using statistical mechanical methods, and it is no longer sensible to treat the entropy at 0 K as an arbitrary quantity. In fact, we now have experimental values for the 0 K entropy for some systems - such as carbon monoxide - that don’t form perfect crystals, and can’t come to equilibrium near 0 K on a experimentally realizable timescale.

If the 0 K entropy of carbon monoxide were set to zero by convention, one would by integrating the heat capacity, obtain an incorrect value for the standard entropy at ambient temperatures, and that entropy can be calculated to at least four figure accuracy from first principles.

Far too many people on this thread are dishing out complete twaddle with complete assurance.

Comment #67561

Posted by Laser on January 4, 2006 1:12 PM (e)

Andrew McClure wrote:

Wikipedia (yes, I know, not the best source, but I don’t have a better one at hand) gives two definitions of “entropy”. The thermodynamic definition of entropy, introduced by Rudolf Clausius, where change in entropy is equal to change in heat divided by absolute temperature; and statistical entropy, introduced by Boltzmann, where entropy is an absolute value, equal to a constant times the natural logarithm of “the number of possible states in the system”.

By the Clausius definition above, on the face of it I see no good reason why any particular entropy value could be described in non-relative terms. No absolute markers are defined or even really important, as far as I can see; we’ve got a differential, and that’s all we have to work with. By the Boltzmann definition however entropy itself is defined as a discrete quantity, and “zero” is obviously both meaningful and an absolute lower bound, since there will always be at least 1 possible state.

Are these two definitions of entropy the same, or not? Because if the two definitions are describing the same “entropy”, that seems to say to me that entropy has an absolute zero-like lower bound even if we are working with the differential, thermodynamic definition (even if we can’t experimentally measure that absolute value, it’s still there). What is going on here?

The Boltzmann (statistical) definition has been highly successful in understanding entropy, at least in terms of chemistry. As someone noted before, entropies of substances are now calculated to a high degree of certainty using statistical methods.

To answer your question, statistical mechanics shows that the Boltzmann definition of entropy yields the Clausius definition if applied to a large number of particles. That is, they are both consistent.

The 3rd Law of Thermodynamics posits that the minimum value of entropy possible is zero, and that can only occur at zero Kelvin. The 3rd Law is, like any other “law” of science, a statement of behavior supported by tremendous evidence. There is indeed ample evidence that the entropies of many substances approach zero as the temperature approaches zero Kelvin. It is the basis of the “absolute” entropies. In fact, absolute entropies are also called 3rd Law entropies because they start with the fact that entropy is zero at zero Kelvin.

For calculating entropy, enthalpy, or Gibbs energy changes in atmospheric processes, you could use either entropy definition (Boltzmann or Clausius). For your purpsoses, knowing the change in these quantities was probably sufficient, so you could use the Clausius definition.

Because the Boltzmann definition relates to the microscopic level and what’s going on at the scale of the atom, it is probably viewed as the more powerful definition.

Comment #67564

Posted by Andrew McClure on January 4, 2006 1:16 PM (e)

OK, thanks.

Comment #67565

Posted by Laser on January 4, 2006 1:18 PM (e)

Gerard Harbison wrote:

Far too many people on this thread are dishing out complete twaddle with complete assurance.

That’s true. I’m not sure if you’re lumping me in with that group, but I left out residual entropy because it doesn’t add anything to the discussion (such as it is).

Comment #67567

Posted by Gerard Harbison on January 4, 2006 1:27 PM (e)

laser wrote:

I’m not sure if you’re lumping me in with that group,

Not at all.

Comment #67572

Posted by Russell on January 4, 2006 1:29 PM (e)

Far too many people on this thread are dishing out complete twaddle with complete assurance.

I, on the other hand, am dishing out complete twaddle with no assurance whatsoever.

So you’re saying I can know the “absolute entropy”, let’s say, of a gram of sugar - not just the changes relative to the corresponding elements.

What is it? (or, more seriously, how do I calculate it?)

Comment #67580

Posted by carol clouser on January 4, 2006 1:48 PM (e)

Russell,

As some other very recent posters have correctly pointed out, entropy is an absolute quantity with zero as a lower bound. The differential equations involving the quantity S are, of course, correct, but are not the defining statements for entropy as we see it these days. Would you not think it a bit strange and convoluted that a quantity would be defined solely by making statements about changes in the quantity?

Also, there are laws and there are laws. The word is frequently misapplied, just as theory and hypothesis are. There never really was a law against spontaneous generation, no matter what the typical biology text says. Just a statement that it (spontaneous generation) is highly unlikely to occur (yet again) under the changed conditions on earth (now teeming with life), so that if you see life anywhere the odds are overwhelming that it descended from other life.

Another example of a phony “law” that comes to mind includes “bode’s law”.

But the SLOT, like the laws of motion and gravity are serious laws. We do expect them to hold and would be amazed if they were ever found to be violated. This is why the courts routinely reject patent applications that are deemed to violate the SLOT (known as perpetual motion machines).

Comment #67584

Posted by Laser on January 4, 2006 1:56 PM (e)

Russell wrote:

So you’re saying I can know the “absolute entropy”, let’s say, of a gram of sugar - not just the changes relative to the corresponding elements.

What is it? (or, more seriously, how do I calculate it?)

According the
NIST Webbook
It is… (drum roll) 392.40 J/mol K. Ta da!

Calculating it is somewhat tricky, depending on your comfort level with calculus. You need to find the heat capacity of sucrose (which I what I assume you mean by “sugar”, just plain table sugar). The heat capacity data must span the temperature range of very cold (5 K) to room temperature. Then integrate the heat capacity divided by temperature from zero K to room temperature (or whatever temperature you’re interested in). As Gerard pointed out, what you get might be incorrect if sucrose does not form crystals in which the molecules are almost all completely aligned. (I don’t know whether that’s the case or not.)

There is another way to calculate it using statistical mechanics. It has been over 10 years since I did such a calculation, and I don’t remember enough to describe it off the top of my head.

Comment #67613

Posted by W. Kevin Vicklund on January 4, 2006 2:53 PM (e)

Carol Landa wrote:

Would you not think it a bit strange and convoluted that a quantity would be defined solely by making statements about changes in the quantity?

No, I wouldn’t. In fact, I work with such a quantity daily as an electrical engineer. It’s known as electrical potential, or more commonly, voltage. All voltages are referenced to an arbitrary potential (often called ground). There is no absolute ground.

Comment #67659

Posted by Robert Parson on January 4, 2006 4:30 PM (e)

There has been a good deal of confusion in this thread concerning the Third Law of Thermodynamics - which is not a surprise, since there is a good deal of confusion about it in the textbooks, even in some of the better ones. The best discussion I know of is in “Statistical Physics”, by Gregory Wannier. (Wannier was an exceptionally careful thinker.)

Lars is correct - the Third Law does not require us to set the entropy equal to zero at T=0. It merely permits us to do so. The physical content of the Third Law is that as T ->0, the entropy change associated with any process - any transformation of the system into another system - vanishes. This allows us to say that all systems have the same entropy at zero temperature. Also, every system has a higher entropy at any nonzero temperature than it has at zero temperature (this follows from the fact that the heat capacity Cv is positive, which is required by certain thermodynamic stability criteria). So by convention we set the “universal floor value of the entropy” equal to zero.

David Heddle has misunderstood Fermi - note that on the same page from which David quotes, Fermi correctly states the Third Law as:

“The entropy of every system at absolute zero can always be taken equal to zero” and follows up with “It is obviously convenient to choose one of the states of the system at T=0 as the standard state O introduced in section 12.”

As for Boltzmann’s formula S = k Log W, as presently interpreted it does incorporate the convention S(T=0) = 0. However, in Boltzmann’s interpretation it did not do so (note that Boltzmann’s equation preceded the Third Law by quite a few years.) This is because Boltzmann’s formulation was based on classical statistical mechanics, in which the “state” of a system is a continuous quantity. The “number of arrangements” or “number of complexions” of a classical system is not absolute (since the states can be arbitrarily finely grained), it is a relative quantity. A change in the scale of measuring coordinates and momenta produces a multiplicative factor in W, which results in an additive constant in S. I doubt that the idea of entropy as an absolute quantity ever entered Boltzmann’s head. However, when we carry Boltzmann’s formula over to quantum statistical mechanics, W does become an absolute quantity since the states are now a discrete set (I’m assuming that the system is confined to a finite volume so that the spectrum is discrete.)

As someone has pointed out upthread, it’s not really a good idea to talk about the “entropy of the universe” in any literal sense because on cosmic scales the laws of thermodynamics have to be modified to take into account general relativity. But it’s perfectly reasonable as a shorthand way of saying, “in any spontaneous process, the entropy of the system together that of its surroundings must increase” - just take care that the scale of the system and any surroundings with which it interacts is small compared to, say, a galaxy.

Finally, a minor technical quibble wrt Mark’s excellent post: the entropy is not in general given by dS = dq/T but rather by dS = dqrev/T, where dqrev is the heat flow in a hypothetical reversible process. In any real process, dS is greater than dq/T. (No doubt Mark left this out for brevity as it plays no role in his argument, but I didn’t want someone else to get confused - I’ve seen a lot of students come to grief over this point, as confusing dq with dq_rev can cause no end of trouble in solving problems.) This leads to a very pretty and very useful statement of the Second Law that is correct for open systems as well as closed ones:

For any spontaneous process, dS >= dq/T

where dq is the heat flow across the boundary of the system.
If the system is closed, dq = 0 and you get back the law of increase of entropy. If the system is open, you can use the formula to calculate how much heat has to flow out of the system in order for the entropy of the system to decrease. By combining this inequality with the First Law (dq + dw = dE), you can easily derive the usual expressions involving Helmholtz or Gibbs Free Energy in the special cases of constant volume or constant pressure systems.

You can conclude immediately, for example, that in an endothermic reaction the entropy of the system must increase, but in an exothermic reaction it can decrease (and you can calculate just how exothermic it has to be.) Of course, you can do all of this by assuming that the system and its surroundings form an overall system that is closed, and then require that the overall entropy change of the composite system be positive - in fact, this amounts to doing the exact same mathematics with different words attached to the equations - but I find it useful to emphasize that you do not actually have to use this sort of language, you can instead focus on the system itself. The laws of physics are usually easiest to apply when formulated locally, and thermodynamics is no exception.

Comment #67682

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 5:34 PM (e)

Robert Parson has misunderstood Fermi. He has read only the first page or so of the chapter, where after making the crystal clear statement that I quoted:

We have already found, however, that cases arise (for example in dealing with gaseous equilibria, Chapter VI) for which the knowledge of this constant becomes important. In this chapter we shall introduce and discuss a principle that will enable us to determine the additive constant appearing in the definition of entropy.

Fermi then has a brief classical discussion–at which time he makes the statements Parson quoted–but then goes on to a QM discussion where he shows that the Entropy constant can be determined (not chosen) just like he promised in his intro.

Fermi writes (p. 141)

The arbitrariness associated with pi (#microstates–Fermi uses the term dynamical states), and therefore the entropy also can be removed by making use of the principles of the quantum theory

By limiting the edge of phase space cells to Plank’s constant–in effect the theory is regularized and the arbitrainess is gone. Fermi writes (p. 142):

all indeterminacy in the definition of pi, and therefore in the definition of the entropy also, disappears.

Comment #67687

Posted by Paul Flocken on January 4, 2006 5:50 PM (e)

Carol Clouser wrote:

Some smart guy asked “Who designed the designer?” Well, the point is that the logic of the situation dictates the existence of an entity that has no features, no particular parameters and therefore no design.

Carol you seem to be rather enamored of logic. Can I take it to be that you really seem to think that logic is important? That it should be taken seriously by one and all?

Carol further wrote:

The difference is, one exists and can act,

That is an assertion. Evidence?

I have another question, but it can wait.

Sincerely,
Paul

Comment #67689

Posted by Robert Parson on January 4, 2006 6:03 PM (e)

David Heddle is confusing thermodynamics with statistical mechanics. The entropy of statistical mechanics is conceptually a very different thing from the entropy of thermodynamics, although it becomes numerically equal to it in the limit of a large system.

The Third Law of Thermodynamics implies that all systems at equilibrium have the same entropy at the absolute zero of temperature. It does not prescribe a value for this zero-point entropy - it cannot, since no measurable quantity depends upon this choice.

The statistical mechanical definition of entropy has several conventional features - the base of the logarithm, the proportionality constant, and an additive constant. These are all chosen so as to make the connection to thermodynamics as simple as possible. There is nothing to prevent us from writing S = k Ln W + 2.7 - that would correspond to a thermodynamic entropy in which the universal lower bound was 2.7 instead of zero. Just as there is nothing to prevent us from choosing a different value for k, or a different base for the Log - that would simply correspond to measuring entropy in different units.

Comment #67692

Posted by David Heddle on January 4, 2006 6:18 PM (e)

Having taught both level thermo and stat mech at the grad level I think I know the difference. If you want to insist that (since I am using his book as a source) Fermi’s definitive statements are really meaningless, that when he writes “all indeterminacy in the definition of pi, and therefore in the definition of the entropy also, disappears” he really means “except for the arbitary additive constant which we knew about before this chapter but in spite of the stated purpose of this chapter is still in place (which renders this chapter meaningless)” then go right ahead.

The discussion in this thread was along the lines “entropy is relative, only differences matter.” That is certainly true in most calculations–however a QM treatment demonstrates that it is not strictly true.

Almost everything in stat-mech, not just the entropy, is (or can be) conceptually different. Not just the entopy. Nevertheless, pressure in stat-mech is the same pressure we talk about in thermo (although conceptualized differently), and entropy is the same entropy.

Comment #67708

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on January 4, 2006 7:26 PM (e)

Carol, I’m still waiting for you to tell us why Heddle is wrong about the New Testament.

Heddle, I’m still waiting for you to tell us why Carol is wrong about the New Testament.

And I’m still waiting for either of you to explain why science should give a flying fig either way.

Comment #67726

Posted by Mark Perakh on January 4, 2006 8:30 PM (e)

In two days since I posted the review of Sewell, close to 200 comments appeared in this thread. I think such a large number of comments makes the thread unwieldy. Moreover, while some comments were relevant and insightful, a substantial fraction of comments deviated from the topic, and, unfortunately, some commenters chose to be rude, insulting, and arrogant. I shall not name these people, who seem to be so sure of possessing the ultimate truth that they feel entitled to pounce on those who disagree with them by calling names and denigrating their opponents. I feel uncomfortable seeing such a behavior regardless of whether or not the offenders share or reject my position.
In view of the above, I shall, after having posted this message, close comments for this thread.

Before doing so, I’d like to thank all those commenters who submitted messages of substance, regardless of whether I agree with their arguments. Of course, I especially appreciate those comments where their authors commended my essay, but I also value comments critical of it.

A few words about the debate regarding entropy, the 3rd law of thermodynamics, and other similar points. I wondered why some of these points invoked such a debate – they are in fact uncontroversial and commonly accepted in physics. For example, as Robert Parson correctly wrote, it is a commonly accepted view in physics that in classical statistics entropy has no definite value (while its behavior is determined by Nernst theorem stating that as the temperature of a system approaches absolute zero, its entropy approaches a certain value which, however, includes an arbitrary constant). On the other hand, in quantum statistics, as a system approaches absolute zero, its entropy approaches zero. There is no debate about it.

Some commenter wrote that he could meaningfully define temperature of a single molecule. I’d be surprised if he indeed could do so. I expect that, whatever his definition of such T will be, it certainly will be not the same T as the conventional thermodynamic temperature is.

Some commenters pointed to my passage about corrosion resistance of noble metals. I must concede that this particular passage in my text was sloppily formulated and there is nobody to blame but myself. I did not mean to say that gold’s corrosion resistance is due to an oxide layer (as is the case with some other metals) but when I re-read the pertinent paragraph in my text, I saw that it certainly created an impression that the point about passive film could be understood as related to gold. I have made a necessary editing in that paragraph - the corrected version is available at TalkReason website see here and I will make a similar correction in the post here shortly.

Robert was also right to point out that when discussing the universe as a whole, classical thermodynamics is inadequate and cosmology has to be delved into, accounting for the general relativity. Related to this point, there was a debate here about the value of the entropy of the universe at the initial moment of its existence. I believe there is no commonly accepted view on that point, although the prevalent interpretation seems to be as follows: nothing can be said about the universe before the Planck time. At the Planck time the universe is believed to have been fully disordered so its entropy had maximum possible value for the situation in point. As the universe has been continually expanding after the Planck time, its expansion has been continually creating more and more accessible states, thus opening ways for entropy increase, according to the 2nd law, above its value at the Planck time. Gravity caused local entropy decrease, as clusters of matter coalesced, but the universe’s expansion was the domineering process ensuring the net entropy increase.

There also was some debate here as to whether entropy can consistently be viewed as a measure of disorder. I am inclined to think that within the framework of physics, entropy indeed can be quite consistently viewed this way (see my essay here). Some physicists disagree. As to biology, I have no firm opinion – I just do not feel qualified to pass a judgment on this point. The questions of, say, entropy change in the process of protein molecules’ folding, may pose a problem to such an equating of entropy and disorder, but I am not prepared to say anything definite about this.

Regarding Robert’s comment stating the Clausius equation was good only for reversible processes, it is correct. While I did not write a subscript “rev” for dQ, I thought my text was clear enough to imply this was dQrev.

So, good luck to all – I am going to close comments to this thread.