The Disingenuous “Thermodynamics” Argument

January 20, 2011

You know, I still keep seeing the second law of thermodynamics being used as an argument against evolution, despite multiple thorough rebuttals. So let me add a few words of my own in an effort to stem the flow of stupid.

The argument, loosely summarized, goes like this:

  1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that entropy must increase in any closed system.
  2. Since life from non-life requires complex molecules to form from simple molecules, life could not arise by chance, because this would violate the 2nd Law.
  3. Since mammals and birds and fish are all more complex than single-cell organisms, they could not have evolved, as a system cannot become more complex over time.

The rebuttals for this are, quite simply:

  1. The Earth is not a closed system. We receive about 1.3 kJ of solar energy per square metre per second, every second, always.  The second law of thermodynamics does not apply.
  2. Life from non-life is abiogenesis, not evolution. But abiogenesis is thought to have been driven by heat and chemosynthesis, so again there is an input of energy.
  3. Lastly, and most ironically, the very people who claim that single celled organisms couldn’t possibly become complex, multicellular organisms, themselves grew from a single cell. So it’s good enough for them, but not any other organism. And secondly, the argument using thermodynamics against evolution proposes, instead, the sudden appearance of all living things. Like that doesn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics. Sheesh.

But wait, there’s more. You see, the argument that evolution is impossible because of the second law was widely promoted by the likes of Drs. Henry Morris and Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research. Please note that these gentlemen, at the time they made these claims, had doctorates in Engineering and Biochemistry respectively. Which means they understood the laws of thermodynamics, and would have known that the argument was wrong. Which means they were blatantly lying.

The fact that this argument is still being presented as evidence against evolution is appalling, and shows just how ill-informed the anti-evolution movement really is.  Feel free to send anyone you find using this argument to this page, or for a more torough thrashing, to the Talk Origins Thermodynamics FAQ.


Economic argument against the woo

October 20, 2010

XKCD for the WIN:

Thought of the day

June 20, 2010

A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.
-John Burroughs

Thought of the day

March 16, 2010

Strong leaders are visionaries, not accountants.

Connie Weber

Not as dumb as (you think) they look

November 21, 2009

A common argument against past human achievements – that they are either fraudulent, or the result of superhuman intervention – is the supposed impossibility of those achievements. The Nazca lines, the pyramids, astronmical discoveries, Stonehenge etc.  A whole field of woo, starting with von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? is based on the premise that past humans could not have been clever enough to do things, simply because we, today, don’t know exactly how they did it.

The argument devolves to “I can’t figure it out, so how could they figure it out?” or, more simply “Nobody in the past could possibly be smarter than me.”

That’s why I love this TED video. It shows a simple device invented millenia ago, but I would wager far fewer than 1% of people alive today – especially in the developed world – could figure out how to make one.

Another blow to “Irreducible Complexity”

November 4, 2009

As reported in Science Daily, Dr. Joe Thornton at the University of Oregon has reconstructed an evolutionary sequence of an “irreducibly complex” system – alosterone and its receptor.

“Our work demonstrates a fundamental error in the current challenges to Darwinism,” said Thornton. “New techniques allowed us to see how ancient genes and their functions evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. We found that complexity evolved piecemeal through a process of Molecular Exploitation — old genes, constrained by selection for entirely different functions, have been recruited by evolution to participate in new interactions and new functions.”

Quote of the Day

October 29, 2009

As a dancer and choreographer I’ve spent a tremendous amount of my life defending something that’s very hard to see. I mean, people see dance, they see the dancers, but they have trouble understanding why it’s valuable, what you are trying to say.  And in some ways I feel that’s reflected in what I learned initially from the physicists. It’s very abstract, it’s hard to see, people have trouble trying to understand it. It has tremendous value to us as a civilization but it’s not easy to explain.

 -Liz Lerman