In the Forgotten Creationist/ID book endorsed by Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, there was mention of a landmark physics paper by Leo Szilard. The paper dealt with a long standing problem of Maxwell’s demon. The paper was not immediately about the problem of design, but it sparked later questions by Robert Gange and others about whether a mindless biotic soup can somehow have sufficient insight about itself so it can build the computerized self-replicators that characterize life.
First, Gange describes the problem of Maxwell’s demon, and why Leo Szilard’s solution was important:
The organizational intricacies of protein reflect information on a scale that a Supreme Intelligence can produce, but that nature cannot. To see why this is true, let’s think about a small imp who became known as “Maxwell’s Demon.”3 We will allow the imp to control a tiny window that connects two adjoining compartments. In your mind’s eye, imagine two boxes joined by a common wall. In the middle of the wall, picture a tiny window that connects one box to the other. On one side of the window there’s a shelf where the imp is perched.
The imp is able to open or close the window at will, and without effort. Both boxes contain air and from time to time, as a result of this air, a gentle breeze blows against either side of the window. The imp is told, “Open the window if the breeze on your side is strong; otherwise keep it shut.”
Now this may seem like a simple request, but the question is, can the imp obey the instruction? Although it may seem like something he can do, it turns out that were he to successfully perform the required task, he would violate one of the most fundamental laws of science. It’s worthwhile to learn why this is so, because we will not only uncover a fascinating insight regarding the origin of life, but we will also discover the answer to something that stumped the whole world for over half a century regarding Maxwell’s demon.
We’ve said that each of the two boxes contains air. But air consists of tiny molecules which are atomic specks so small that about 10 thousand billion will fit onto the head of a pin. Furthermore, these miniscule dots are in a state of constant motion; we sense them each time we feel a breeze. A strong breeze means that they’re moving fast whereas no breeze means that they’re hardly moving.
Now suppose the imp opens the window each time a strong breeze occurs. If he consistently does this, all the fast-moving molecules will pass through the open window and into the box on the other side. But since he keeps the window closed when there is no breeze, the slow molecules will remain in the box where he’s standing. Thus, the imp has succeeded in separating the fast and slow air molecules, putting the fast ones into the one box, and keeping the slow ones in the adjoining box. From a scientific point of view, faster air molecules mean a higher temperature and an increase in pressure.
Therefore, our imp has created a pressure and temperature difference between the two boxes; i.e., he has created energy!
But how can Maxwell’s demon work? How can he create energy? This question baffled the world for many years, and no one was able to offer a satisfactory answer. Scientists asked, “Why can’t an imp open a window?” If he could, he certainly could separate the fast- and slow-moving air into separate compartments. The fast-moving molecules will travel to one side, and the slower ones will remain in the other.
No one questioned the fact that, at least in principle, the imp had created energy. Let’s see how we know that this is true. To show that the imp has created energy, we can wait until he’s collected all the fast-moving air on one side. When that is done, we’ll open the window, but this time keep it open. Air from the high pressure side (box with the fast-moving molecules) will rush through the opening and into the other side. If a generator wheel is located near the window during the time it’s open, the resulting gush of air can be made to turn the wheel of the generator and, thereby, make electricity. Therefore, the imp does create energy. But here’s our dilemma: It’s impossible to create energy in a closed box! So no one could figure out how the imp could do it!
Death of a Demon
Maxwell invented his demon in the 1800s, but not until 1929 did a scientist named Leo Szilard find the answer. The imp can’t create energy — not because he’s unable to open and close the window, but because he doesn’t know when to do so. In other words, he doesn’t have the information necessary to identify which air molecule is moving fast and which is moving slow. But what’s even more important, it costs him energy to acquire the information he needs! In fact, Szilard did a careful analysis showing that it costs more energy than the imp can recover.4 Simply put, the process of creating energy forces you to lose it! We can phrase it yet another way: Information is equivalent to energy in the sense that to have one means you can create the other.
Gange extrapolated the ideas in Szilard paper and argued that something in a disorganized state like a biotic soup cannot self-organize itself because the problem of a soup gathering the requisite information to build life in a closed system will actually create more disorganization! Hence life will not spontaneously arise in a closed system.
Gange asserted that the problem of a system spontaneously creating novel life-giving information is like the problem of perpetual machines. Whether Gange was successful in reframing Szilard argument for perpetual motions machines into the problem of OOL, I’ll let the reader decide, but here is the landmark paper by Szilard that was finally available in English:
I just found some nice info on Leo Szilard from wiki. He was a first rate scientist. From wiki:
Leó Szilárd (Hungarian: Szilárd Leó; German: Leo Spitz until age 2; February 11, 1898 – May 30, 1964) was a Hungarian-American physicist and inventor. He conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein’s signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb. He also conceived the electron microscope, the linear accelerator (1928, not knowing Gustav Ising’s 1924 journal article and Rolf Widerøe’s operational device) and the cyclotron. Szilárd himself did not build all of these devices, or publish these ideas in scientific journals, and so credit for them often went to others. As a result, Szilárd never received the Nobel Prize, but others were awarded the Prize as a result of their work on two of his inventions.
The photos above is Szilard with Einstein.
I think the ID community has very very good arguments against OOL outside of thermodynamics. I’m hopeful that the study of thermodynamics will help the ID cause, but it must be an informed and careful study. I provided the above paper for those interested in the technical details of the subject.
Szilard dealt with thermal entropy, an interesting project for the ID community is reframing Szilard argument into an ID argument and in a way that is accessible for popular consumption. Right now some of the arguments are a bit too technical and need a little more rigor.