Science Writers of New York LinkedIn GroupPosted: January 26, 2012
I posted my ideas on SWINY because I think it is a promising news story.
I have a PhD in physics, and I get my understanding of evolution from reading biology textbooks and peer-reviewed articles. Advocates of intelligent design and creationism engage in pseudoscience in order to promote religion, and the likes of Richard Dawkins engage in pseudoscience in order to promote atheism.
I was shocked to see the American Journal of Physics say the same thing about the second law of thermodynamics and evolution that Richard Dawkins did. I explained why in an email to the author of the article, but have not gotten a response. The responses here were just mindless abuse, except for the correction about entropy decreasing or increasing.
In the article [Emory F. Bunn, “Evolution and the second law of thermodynamics,” American Journal of Physics (2009) 77(10):922-925], Dr. Bunn calculates the change in the entropy of Earth’s biosphere due to evolution and compares it with the change in the entropy of the Sun. The article is pure pseudoscience.
The honest explanation of why evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics is that the law is an absolute truth. The second law is like saying the odds of getting heads when you flip a coin is 50%.
The idea that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics comes from biologists. The primary structure of a protein is a string of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids. Hence, the chance of getting a large protein by random chance is 600 to the 20th power. The average size of a protein is 300 amino acids, but an English sonnet is about 600 letters and there is research about getting a sonnet by random chance. Since evolution took 3 billion years, there is not enough time for proteins to evolve by random chance.
What follows is two quotations about thermodynamics and evolution. In the second reference, the author calculates the odds of getting the DNA of a protein that contains 300 amino acids.
“Considered thermodynamically, the problem of neo-Darwinism is the production of order by random events.” (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, “Chance or Law,” in Beyond Reductionism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, The Macmillan Company, 1969, page 76)
“Title: Natural Selection and the Complexity of the Gene
“Subtitle: Conflict between the idea of natural selection and the idea of uniqueness of the gene does not seem to be near a solution yet.
“First paragraph: Modern biology is faced with two ideas which seem to me to be quite incompatible with each other. One is the concept of evolution by natural selection of adaptive genes that are originally produced by random mutations. The other is the concept of the gene as part of a molecule of DNA, each gene being unique in the order of arrangement of its nucleotides. If life really depends on each gene being as unique as it appears to be, then it is too unique to come into being by chance mutations. There will be nothing for natural selection to act upon.” (Nature, Vol. 224, 1969, p. 342)
The Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Glenn Branch, cited the American Journal of Physics article to prove evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. I emailed my critique of the article to the NCSE but there has been no response. I also posted my views on the websites of Christians in Science (CiS) and the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA).
A PhD in biology on the CiS forum disagreed with me and gave me a ridiculous lesson on probability theory. I suggested that he read The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, a book written by two mainstream biologists from Harvard and Berkeley (Mark Kirschner and John Gerhart).
An English sonnet is like a large protein because it has 600 letters and 27 different kinds of letters. Saying that the primary structure of a protein evolved by natural selection is like saying a computer randomly selecting 600 letters can produce a sonnet in 3 billion years.
Gehart and Kirschner report a calculation for the phase “to be or not to be” using two models. The first model ignores natural selection and assumes individual letters are randomly selection. The second model simulates natural selection by keeping “to” when that pops up, and generating the rest of the phrase. The second model also does not randomly select letters but only dictionary words. This corresponds to the theory that clumps of amino acids are subject to random mutations, not just individual amino acids. The second model produces the phrase in a short amount of time. The first model takes millions of years.
Gerhart and Kirschner do not say how long it will take for a computer to produce a sonnet using the second model. The reason they don’t say is that nobody cares. The primary structure of a protein doesn’t even begin to describe the complexity of life. No biologist thinks that natural selection explains the complexity of life. Natural selection only explains adaptation. I’d be very interested in any biology textbook or peer-reviewed article states that natural selection explains the complexity of fish.
The true reason that evolution does not violate the second law is that the second law is absolutely true. It is like saying the chance of getting heads when you flip a coin is 50%. However, the probability calculations done by biologists are very similar to the probability calculations done in statistical mechanics. It is not unreasonable to say evolution violates the second law.
The conflict between mainstream biologists and creationists (also advocates of intelligent design) is a conflict between atheists (and liberal Christians) and Protestants. I call it a conflict because it is not a disagreement between intelligent people about evidence. Protestants and atheists both fail at the level of intelligence. Their cognitive abilities don’t rise to the level of reflective judgment. Ordinarily, intelligence is a measure of how long it takes someone to grasp a concept, insight, or theory. In the case of religion, there is so much conflict, anxiety, and bias that people are inhibited from thinking intelligently. They can’t grasp concepts no matter how much time they have.
I went to a Catholic college and am intelligent enough to grasp and formulate four answers to the question, “What caused the Big Bang,” and four answers to the question, “What is the relationship between the mind and the brain.” I give myself an IQ of 100% because I know 8 out of 8. If anyone is interested, I’ll be glad to enumerate the 8 answers.
There are four possible answers to the question of what caused the Big Bang.
1) God caused it.
2) An evil angel caused it. A finite being would have a motive to create a universe. That there is so much human suffering means the angel might be evil.
3) There is no cause. Animals don’t ask questions, only humans do. Just because a human asks a question doesn’t mean there is going to be an answer.
4) The scientific method will discover the cause at some point in the future. This is the answer judged to be true by rational people.
There are also four possible answers to the question of what the relationship is between the mind and the brain:
1) There exists material and immaterial substances (dualism).
2) The mind is an illusion (materialism). There is more evidence for this because molecules exist, but ghosts and spirits do not.
3) The brain is an illusion (idealism). There is more evidence for this than for 1) and 2). See, for example, the movie titled, “The Matrix.”
4) It is a mystery. This is the solution judged to be true by rational people.
The anonymous reviewer said of the pdf file I uploaded to the American Journal of Physics,“This manuscript….unsuitable for publication.” The pdf file obviously wasn’t intended for publication. It was submitted after the editor told me he didn’t want to discuss the article titled “Entropy and evolution” anymore and after I complained to the president of the American Association of Physics Teachers about the misinformation in the article. The document also contained three links to other articles on the internet and very lengthy quotes about evolution from scholarly works.
The reviewer also said, “The laws of thermodynamics apply to all physical systems. Any time there is a meaningful split between ‘microstates’ and ‘macrostates,’ it makes sense to compute entropy.”
I suppose this is correct. When you take a deck of playing cards out of its wrapper the entropy is log (1/ 52!) joules/degree. But it is not true that the entropy is this multiplied by Boltzmann’s constant: 1.38 X 10 (-28). The AJP article computes the entropy of the biosphere using the Boltzmann constant.
The authors may have made this mistake in good faith. But this reviewer, whoever it was, certainly was not acting in good faith. Also, the AAPT and the AJP are not acting in good faith in refusing to publish a retraction.
There is a clue that explains how such an absurd article could survive peer-review. The first article said, under the acknowledgment heading: “Two anonymous referees made valuable suggestions that improved this article significantly.” The referees many have been atheists eager to refute the creationist the article mentions by name (Henry Morris).