Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Answering Kirk Hastings: Second Question for Darwinists

This post is part of the ongoing saga to answer the questions asked by Kirk Hastings of the defunct Evidence 4 Faith podcast. This post addresses the second question of Kirk's "Top Ten Questions for Darwinists."

2) According to Darwinism, why do living things become more orderly and complex over time, but everything else in the universe eventually descends into disorder and chaos?
This question has several problems with it. First, it makes a false claim about evolutionary theory. “Darwinism” does not assert that “living things become more orderly and complex over time.” Kirk is exhibiting a common misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, that evolution is always an upward progression, a march towards some sort of genetic perfection. In reality, evolution is merely the chronicle of how creatures have changed over time.
The evolution of whales is very well documented in the fossil record. They are spectacular creatures exceedingly well adapted to their environment. Thier ancestors however had functional legs. The loss of those legs is a loss of complexity. Whales lost the ability to walk on land. This is hardly the only example. It’s currently theorized that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. It’s hard to argue that the modern chicken is somehow “more complex” than a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Creationists such as Kirk Hastings confuse being better adapted to an environment with being “more” evolved by some standard.
Of course, Kirk could argue that I’m focusing on semantics, because the misnomer that a better adapted creature is necessarily more complicated is not the REAL issue behind his question. What Kirk is really getting at with this question is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the law that’s probably misrepresented by Creationists more often than any other. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a fascinating topic on its own, but for the purposes of discussing evolution the first line of the Wikipedia article on the law is a good starting point:
The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium—the state of maximum entropy - Wikipedia
The influential Creationist site Answers in Genesis (AiG) discusses Thermodynamics in the article The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Curse. Despite the tradition of Creationist writing using the Second Law of Thermodynamics as “proof” that evolution is impossible, the AiG article gives a fairly even handed summary of the law. It starts with a summary of the kinds of “Systems” involved.
Physicists define three types of thermodynamic systems: isolated, closed, and open. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy with its surroundings. A truly isolated system does not exist as a subset of the universe, but we can approximate an isolated system very closely. A closed system can exchange energy but not matter with its surroundings. An open system may exchange both matter and energy with its surroundings.  - Answers in Genesis
The key argument used by Creationists is that the increase in entropy in an isolated system means that the increase in an organism's complexity necessitated by, for example, evolving a compound eye from eye spots, would be impossible, because everything is supposedly in a constant state of decay. This argument hinges upon the idea that the Earth is an isolated system, receiving no new energy from outside. In order for this fundamental principal of the universe to hold, and for evolution to occur, Earth would need to be receiving a steady stream of energy from an outside source, something massive, something that’s been chugging along producing energy for Earth for as long as life has been developing. What could possibly fit the bill?
Oh, right, the Sun.
why do living things become more orderly and complex over time..?”
The core misunderstanding for Creationists is the fact that the Earth is, by and large, a “closed” system. People who use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to argue that Evolution is impossible are doing so in part because they misunderstand what a “closed” system means. It means the Earth can exchange energy with the universe around it, but not matter, at least not in any meaningful way most of the time. The occasional extinction-level asteroid impact makes us something of an open system, but by and large we get a steady stream of energy from the sun. Life on Earth is able to evolve because of the energy pouring in from the sun. That energy allows for heat disparities which in turn allows for processes to thrive that generate information.
“but everything else in the universe eventually descends into disorder and chaos?”
The universe itself is, so far as we know, is an isolated system. Nothing is reaching in to pump energy or matter into the universe. Everything within it is moving towards energy equilibrium, maximum entropy. 

AiG represents, in many ways, the Creationism mainstream. As a major source of information, other Creationists get their reference points from it. Unfortunately for Kirk, even AiG is moving away from using the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an argument against Evolution. They even list the argument on their Arguments Creationists Should Avoid page. Kirk is out of step with his Creationist betters and peers in relying on the, frankly embarrassing, argument of Thermodynamics.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny how he accepts the "Scientism" of The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.