In an April 2, 2007 post, I noted the similarity between my second law argument (“the underlying principle behind the second law is that natural forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view”), and Bill Dembski’s argument (in “The Design Inference”) that only intelligence can account for things that are “specified” (=macroscopically describable) and “complex” (=extremely improbable). I argued that the advantage of my formulation is that it is based on a widely recognized law of science, that physics textbooks practically make the design argument for you, all you have to do is point out that the laws of probability do (contrary to common belief!) still apply in open systems, you just have to take into account the boundary conditions in the case of an open system (see A Second Look at the Second Law ).
However, after making this argument for several years, with very limited success, I have come to realize that the biggest disadvantage of my formulation is: it is based on a widely recognized law of science, one that is very widely misunderstood. Every time I write about the second law, the comments go off on one of several tangents that sometimes have something vaguely to do with the second law, but have in common only that they divert attention away from the question of probability.
So I have decided to switch tactics, I am introducing Sewell’s law: “Natural forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view.” I still insist that this is indeed the underlying principle behind all applications of the second law, the only thing that all applications have in common, in fact. But since even the mention of “second law” draws such “kneejerk reactions” (as Philip Johnson put it), let’s forget about the second law of thermodynamics and focus on the underlying principle, Sewell’s law. My main point is still the same as before, that natural forces cannot rearrange atoms into computers and spaceships and the Internet here, whether the Earth is an open system or not. But now you cannot avoid the question of probability by saying the second law doesn’t really apply to computers and spaceships (although most physics textbooks do apply it to the breaking of glasses and burning of libraries, etc); whether the second law applies or not depends on which formulation you buy. But it seems to violate Sewell’s law. Unless, of course, you believe that it is not really extremely improbable that the four forces of physics would rearrange the basic particles of physics into computers and TV sets and libraries full of novels and science texts; in that case I can’t reach you.