Since my Cornell conference contribution has generated dozens of critical comments on another thread, I feel compelled to respond. I hope this is the last time I ever have to talk about this topic, I’m really tired of it.
Here are two scenarios:
1. A tornado hits a town, turning houses and cars into rubble. Then, another tornado hits, and turns the rubble back into houses and cars.
2. The atoms on a barren planet spontaneously rearrange themselves, with the help of solar energy and under the direction of four unintelligent forces of physics alone, into humans, cars, high-speed computers, libraries full of science texts and encyclopedias, TV sets, airplanes and spaceships. Then, the sun explodes into a supernova, and, with the help of solar energy, all of these things turn back into dust.
It is almost universally agreed in the scientific community that the second stage (but not the first) of scenario 1 would violate the second law of thermodynamics, at least the more general statements of this law (eg, “In an isolated system, the direction of spontaneous change is from order to disorder” see footnote 4 in my paper). It is also almost universally agreed that the first stage of scenario 2 does not violate the second law. (Of course, everyone agrees that there is no conflict in the second stage.) Why, what is the difference here?
Every general physics book which discusses evolution and the second law argues that the first stage of scenario 2 does not violate the second law because the Earth is an open system, and entropy can decrease in an open system as long as the decrease is compensated by increases outside the Earth. I gave several examples of this argument in section 1, if you can find a single general physics text anywhere which makes a different argument in claiming that evolution does not violate the second law, let me know which one.
Well, this same compensation argument can equally well be used to argue that the second tornado in scenario 1 does not violate the second law: the Earth is an open system, tornados receive their energy from the sun, any decrease in entropy due to a tornado that turns rubble into houses and cars is easily compensated by increases outside the Earth. It is difficult to define or measure entropy in scenario 2, but it is equally difficult in scenario 1.
I’ll save you the trouble: there is only one reason why nearly everyone agrees that the second law is violated in scenario 1 and not scenario 2: because there is a widely believed theory as to how the evolution of life and of human intelligence happened, while there is no widely believed theory as to how a tornado could turn rubble into houses and cars. There is no other argument which can be made as to why the second law is not violated in scenario 2, that could not equally well be applied to argue that it is not violated in scenario 1 either.
Well, in this paper, and every other piece I have written on this topic, including my new Bio-Complexity paper , and the video below, I have acknowledged that, if you really can explain scenario 2, then it does not violate the basic principle behind the second law. In my conclusions in the Cornell contribution, I wrote:
Of course, one can still argue that the spectacular increase in order seen on Earth is consistent with the underlying principle behind the second law, because what has happened here is not really extremely improbable. One can still argue that once upon a time…a collection of atoms formed by pure chance that was able to duplicate itself, and these complex collections of atoms were able to pass their complex structures on to their descendents generation after generation, even correcting errors. One can still argue that, after a long time, the accumulation of genetic accidents resulted in greater and greater information content in the DNA of these more and more complex collections of atoms, and eventually something called “intelligence” allowed some of these collections of atoms to design cars and trucks and spaceships and nuclear power plants. One can still argue that 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 computers and laser printers and the Internet.
Of course, if you can come up with a nice theory on how tornados could turn rubble into houses and cars, you can argue that the second law is not violated in scenario 1 either.
Elizabeth and KeithS, you are welcome to go back into your complaints about what an idiot Sewell is to think that dust spontaneously turning into computers and the Internet might violate “the basic principle behind the second law,” and how this bad paper shows that all of the Cornell contributions were bad, but please first give me another reason, other than the one I acknowledged, why there is a conflict with the second law (or at least the fundamental principle behind the second law) in scenario 1 and not in scenario 2? (Or perhaps you suddenly now don’t see any conflict with the second law in scenario 1 either, that is an acceptable answer, but now you are in conflict with the scientific consensus!)
And if you can’t think of another reason, what in my paper do you disagree with, it seems we are in complete agreement!!