Sunday, May 29, 2005
PZ Myers has too much fun over at Pharyngula. He gets to make fun of a steady stream of creationists, each seemingly more clueless than the last. Swatting them down might get boring after a while because it's just not that challenging, but why not enjoy yourself while doing a service as well.
The latest victim is Babu G. Ranganathan at a site called Intellectual Conservative. While it is considerate of the site to distinguish itself from ordinary conservatives, it is certainly asking for trouble to label yourself "intellectual" and then write things that are not only spectacularly incorrect, but hoary old chestnuts that have been debunked over and over again. This time, it's the old "evolution is inconsistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics" canard.
The simple fact is that the law of entropy precludes macro-evolution from ever occurring. Entropy is the measure of increasing disorder in a system. The natural (or spontaneous) tendency of matter and of all of energy is toward greater disorder -- not toward greater order or complexity as evolution would teach. This tendency towards disorder that exists in all matter can only be temporarily overcome if there exists an energy converting and directing mechanism to develop and maintain order.Ugh, that is just horrible. But the entire article is redeemed for me by this bit:
It doesn't matter whether a system is open (unlimited energy) or closed (with limited energy), entropy occurs in both systems. In fact, scientists discovered entropy here on our very earth, which is an open system in relation to the sun. It is not enough just to have sufficient energy (an open system) for greater order to develop. There also has to be an energy converting and directing mechanism.Wow! Scientists have discovered entropy here on our very earth! Stop the presses!
PZ points to the talk.origins article on this issue. But actually I think the discussion is not precisely on point; while it's true that "entropy" is not a precise synonym for "disorder," it's not a completely misleading definition, and it's not the essence of the mistake that is being made by creationists. The mistake is one that Ranganathan seems to know he is making, yet insists on making anyway: the Second Law only says that entropy increases in closed (isolated) systems, which the Earth is not. For an open system such as the Earth, the Second Law simply has nothign to say, one way or the other. If, on the other hand, you were to take a living organism and completely isolate it by putting it in a sealed box, guess what: it would die, increasing its entropy all the while.
Life on Earth is possible because we are very far from thermal equilibrium, a state of maximal entropy. The Sun is a hot spot in a very cold sky; that means that the Earth can absorb high-energy photons from it, and radiate them away at lower (infrared) wavelengths. This process greatly increases the overall entropy of the Solar System, no matter what the piddling little organisms here on Earth are doing. Imagine what would happen if the situation were different, without a hot spot in a cold sky -- if the entire sky were the same temperature, everything on Earth would quickly equilibrate at precisely that temperature, and motion and life would be impossible.
It's a characteristic feature of crackpots in any field, as seen in the Einstein skeptics as well -- a sneaking suspicion that the so-called experts could be so completely stupid as to miss a point that is so obvious any high-schooler could come up with it. Or an Intellectual Conservative.
Update: via Chris C Mooney and the Poor Man, news that Tech Central Station is now also publishing pro-creationism pieces. This one is also quite enlightening, as it makes clear the extent to which Intelligent Design not only involves a logical fallacy (who designed the designer?), but insists that the designer is something we don't know anything about, and explains precisely nothing.