Congruent to spending the late nights of my youth writing letters, I also used to read and watch the endless documentaries, debates, and intellectual battles of the ant-theists versus the theists of the world. One such battle included the late Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson, who had worked together on the DVD ‘Collision’ for their forthcoming book ‘Is Christianity Good for the World?’… I also had the pleasure of debating Doug. You can find our final blows below. Unfortunately, I have lost the first post which used entropy, and the second law to challenge Doug’s denial of evolution. Below, is his response to that, and then, my own. We made this public in 2013.
Building Things With Sunshine
I have said in the past that I think evolution is a hoot, and moreover, I have given reasons for thinking this. One of the reasons is that the idea of evolution runs clean contrary to the second law of thermodynamics. In response to this view of mine, an anti-theist web site has offered the following:
“To finish this argument (hopefully once and for all) I will give a similar example but in relation to life.-
In ‘open’ thermodynamic systems energy is imported to turn simple compounds into complex ones, a perfect example of this is photosynthesis in which; water and carbon-dioxide are turned into complex carbohydrates.
The energy for this is imported from the sun, because the earth is not a ‘closed’ system, it is an open one.
If evolution is impossible relating to the second law, so is photosynthesis, which is obviously not the case.”
Let me go straight to my conclusion, state the problem, and then work back to the argument. My interlocutor is trying to explain things with photosynthesis, when what he needs to do is give an accounting for photosynthesis.
Entropy does apply in a closed system. Let’s say that I lock a bunch of plastic up in a box, and I figure out a way to keep it a closed system, keeping all new energy out. That plastic will degrade over time. Give it enough time, and we will have ourselves a little plasticine-like heat death in there.
Okay, now make it an open system. Unfold the box so that it is now a slab, and put the whole thing out in the mid-day sun. New energy is beating down on that stuff like nobody’s business. All this will do is accelerate the entropy. It won’t make the plastic into the intelligently-designed object that I have in mind for my illustration here, which would be a simple Zip Trip coffee cup with a logo on the side — a thousand times less complicated than any living cell. The energy from the sun will just speed up the degradation. With me so far?
But my questioner, taking me for a doofus, tells me in a learned voice that of course I am not going to get a plastic cup as a result of the sun beating down on a pile of plastic, for pity’s sake. But what I have done, says he, is that I have completely left out of my calculations this 3-D printer that is over here in this corner of our slab, and it can make plastic cups all day long — and it has a little solar panel on top that makes it run on sunlight. All the plastic cups you could ever want.
“Great,” say I. “How did the sun build the 3-D printer? That’s way more complicated than a plastic cup.”
In other words, in order for energy to be put to productive use, in any way that runs contrary to entropy, you need an exquisitely designed mechanism that can do that, and such a mechanism alsorequires an accounting. If it is a piece of marvelous engineering, I do confess that this makes some of us rubes think of a marvelous engineer.
You can’t just wave your hands over the magic photosynthesis machine, and say, “See?” Because many of us do see, and one of the things we see is the manufacturer’s information printed on the side of that thing.
A RESPONSE, TO A RESPONSE, TO MY BELATED RESPONSE TO PASTOR DOUG WILSON
After a conversation with Pastor Doug Wilson I decided to write an article stating I went against his opposition of evolution (explained as a contradiction to the 2nd law of thermo-dynamics). This is his response here.
A retort to a retort.
ANALOGIES (AT DAWN);
Allow me to offer this analogy in response to yours (as you are focused so readily on the very instance of ‘beginning’).
If you and I were not philosophers, but movie critics – and we had walked into a theatre past the first 15 minutes of the showing,
would we watch the middle and the ending, and from both (and context) but with no finite ‘proof’
be able to -discern what the beginning entailed, with me so far?
or would it be wiser to say,
‘ignore what we know about the middle and the end, since we cannot prove the beginning let us
make our own story, at least then our beginning will be as plausible as ‘our’ middle and end!’
First, to meet your tricky analogy itself; may i change a few factors?
Instead of synthetic plastic cups being the object we wish to achieve, let us say we wish to achieve change- the definition of evolution.
Start with what we have,
a great rock, one iota of carbon, two of hydrogen and another of oxygen;
keep this system open, and put a star an appropriate distance away;
now leave for a few billion years to cool.
What do we attain?
‘intelligently-designed object’ ;
If we can see a gradient, we can assume that the gradient will continue under the same environmental constraints.
We see ‘features of design’ more astutely named natural selections performing to a gradient (side note of correlation and included reason),
now while that could be (wrongly) perceived as a form of intelligent design, it ‘should be’ perceived as natural.
I understand that YEC believe the earth is mere thousands of years old (in which the plastic slab you speak could of outlasted the
dinosaurs!), and in this they must omit the billions of years it would take for single-cells to become
multi-celled organisms, and how it would also be hard to factor a ‘bible absolutists’ logic to the time-frame it would take
for these changes to occur, -but if the same absolutist does not adhere to certain scientific fact i.e. -carbon dating, then our still growing
understanding of evolution would surely be a branch too far?
Should we make our own story yet?
My answerer taking me for a fool, tells me with his tongue thoroughly chewed, that plastic cups are all he wants,
and i am trying to explain how a chunk of plastic metastasised into a 3-d printer!
If we are following his analogy he fails to admit there is a line behind this 3-d printer, and in that line we see,
a 2-d printer (Homo neanderthalensis)
a type writer (Homo florsiensis)
a pen and paper (Homo erectus)
a quill with ink (Homo habilis),
a chisel and a block of stone,
and a stone behind that,
and yet there are no labels, but reasons they have come to be – naturally.
You see now why the analogy was perfect for his point, but completely self-serving.
Let me finish with a philosophical question;
Is it not circular for the conscious to say – in the only coordinates that could sustain them,
‘this point on the universal map must not be an oasis, the odds are so against it!
but a vacation home, built by a glorious builder’.
Anything that is possible, given enough time is highly probably,
the idea of chance being a factor, doesn’t make any sense.
It is a misnomer that the odds against us being able to exist play any factor in the probability of that happening to ‘us’,
when you have to be conscious to calculate them.