Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Davison on Cornell ID Class and More

This thread is to give Dr. John A. Davison a chance to give his thoughts regarding the developments in one of the nation's premiere Intelligent Design courses at Cornell. The discussion of the Cornell class is being hosted on an un-affiliated weblog:


Dr. Davison has peer-reviewed articles related to Intelligent Design. I'm honored he would visit this weblog. I will post more facts about Dr. Davison in the comments section.

Dr. Davison, you're thoughts on the Cornell class or anything else you'd like to inform the George Mason students are welcome.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Harold Morowitz on the 2nd Law

Dr. Morowitz is a professor at George Mason. While he was still a professor at Yale he testified in the landmark case Mclean vs. Arkansas 1982. He specifically criticizes creationists for misinterpreting his literature.

Q: Are there any other respects in which the creation science treatments of
the origins of life on this planet is unscientific?

A: Well, they play rather fast and loose with the use of the second law of thermodynamics to indicate that the natural origin of life would not be possible.

Q: And can you describe for us what about the creation-science treatment of the second law of thermodynamics is unscientific?

A: They state the second law in terms of the spontaneous movement of systems from an order to a disordered state, and then they argue that since evolution and the origin of life involve states going from a disordered to more ordered states, that these transitions are inconsistent with the second law of thermodynamics.What they totally leave out in the original statement of these arguments is that the second law of thermodynamics applies only to isolated systems. In the statement that they use as the second law of thermodynamics, it applies to isolated systems where the surface of the earth is, in fact, not an isolated system, but an open system, and therefore, not subject to the constraints that they place on it in the isolated systems statement. (pp.501-502)

Q: Doctor Morowitz, I believe you testified that in addition to misstating the second law of thermodynamics, creation science literature also misapplies the second law of thermodynamics to conclude that evolution is not possible on earth. Is that accurate?

A: That is true.

Q: In what ways do they do that? What arguments do they use?

A: Well, again, the primary arguments are ignoring the fact that the earth is an open system, and that for open systems under the flow of energy, rather than being disordered, the systems, in fact, go from less ordered to more ordered states, so that
evolution, rather than being contrary to the laws of thermodynamics, is part of
the unfolding of the laws of thermodynamics.

Q: Can you give us an example of the ordering effect of energy flow in an open system?

A: Yes. If we took the case we discussed before, where we had two objects at different temperatures and we placed them in contact and there was a flow of heat in which they went to the same temperature, and we discussed the reasons why that was a disordering phenomenon, if we now take a sample of a substance that's at a uniform temperature and we place it in contact with a radiator and a refrigerator, there will be a flow of energy through that system from the hot source to the cold
sink, that will give rise to a temperature gradient within the system which is
an ordering of that system

Q: In the system, in the earth's biosphere system, what is the energy source?

A: For the surface of the earth, the principal energy source is the electromagnetic energy which flows from the sun.

Q: What is the energy sink, to use your word?A: The energy sink is the cold of outer space. That is to say, energy comes in from the sun, it would by and large convert it
to heat energy, that heat energy is reradiated to outer space.

Q: Is the ordering effect of the flow of energy through the earth's system what caused the formation of life on this planet?

A: Yes. Although the exact processes are not known, the primary driving force was certainly the flow of energy through the system.

Q: Do you know how life was formed, precisely?

A: Again, not in precise detail, although as I pointed out, it is an active area of scientific research, and at the moment one, as an enthusiastic scientist always feels, that we're getting close.

Q: Does creation science literature take account of the ordering
effect of the flow of energy?

A: No. Other than mentioning it in terms of an excuse when pressed, they then go on to say, although the flow of energy is capable of ordering the system, it does not do. so because such ordering requires, and to use their terminology on page 43 and 44, that "such ordering," according to the creation literature, "requires a program to direct the growth and a power converter to energize the growth."

Q: Of those requirements of a program to direct growth and a power converter, are those requirements recognized elements of the second law of thermodynamics?

A: Those are not part of the second law of thermodynamics. However, I should point out that there is nothing at all supernatural about an energy converter or a program to direct growth. Energy conversion occurs, let's say, in photochemical conversion or
electrochemical conversion. It's part of the ordinary physics and chemistry of
all systems. Likewise, a program to direct growth can well be encompassed under
the laws of nature, the laws of quantum mechanics, the laws of thermodynamics,
the periodic table, and the laws of nature, which are, indeed, a program to
direct the ordering of the universe.

Q: Doctor Morowitz, is the scientific literature regarding the ordering effect of the flow of energy well known?

A: Yes. It's certainly well known to all thermodynamicists.

Q: Is there a considerable amount of such literature?

A: There are a number of books, scientific books, there are a large number of journal articles on the subject. And it's even found its way into the popular press in the sense that in 1977 Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry, cited in part because of the results of his theory on the ordering effect in biological systems, so
that the matters we're talking about are extremely well known. (pp.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bad Arguments from the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

Even within the creationist community, there has been a divide among creationists as to the appropriateness of the 2nd law in arguing against evolution. I think it is fair to say, not every creationist feels comfortable using 2nd law arguments.

Walter Bradley:

"Strictly speaking, the earth is an open system, and thus the Second Law of Thermodynamics cannot be used to preclude a naturalistic origin of life."


However Walter Bradely, Charles Thaxton, and Roger Olsen wrote one of the most devastating critiques of naturlistic origin of life in 1984 that I've ever seen, and their book is considered the beginning of the modern intelligent design movement. Some of the chapters are available online: http://www.ldolphin.org/mystery/

Not all of our IDEA members (even the creationists in the group) are comfortable with the 2nd law being used for the case of design.

Integrating Information Theory, Physics, and Biology

An important popular science book on modern physics which ties information theory to physics is:

The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries Challenge Our View of Physical Reality

by distinguished physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin. It's very readable. Here is a review:

From Publishers Weekly: Recent breakthroughs in physics are causing a revolution in how scientists view the universe, according to Davies ( The Cosmic Blueprint) and Gribbin ( In Search of the Big Bang ). The authors survey the discoveries that have caused this shift from the traditional mechanistic worldview (which sees the universe as "a gigantic purposeless machine") to a less rigidly determined one that includes chaos, black holes, antimatter and even the possibility of multiple universes. They explore how it would feel to be swallowed by a black hole (one would be stretched and squeezed before being crushed into nonexistence) and why going through a wormhole, a kind of space tunnel, would allow one to travel backward in time. The authors explain why cosmic strings (which may stretch across the universe and outweigh galaxies) could fit into a single atom and how space can be curved. This accessible work also examines fundamental questions such as how the universe's "big bang" origin probably sealed its fate (it will end in a reverse process known as the "big crunch") and whether time is real or simply an illusion.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, one must realize that some of the best cutting edge scientific literature comes mixed with things we may find distasteful. There may be a lot of material that is irrelevant to information theory in the book, but that book is a good place to get description of the connections. This is probably the most readable book on the topic. The chapter, "The Death of Materialism" would be a good read.

The most important book linking Information Theory to Biology is

Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life by Hubert Yockey, 2004

it's a tough read and for a scholarly audience. It's is friendly to Darwinian evolution, but decidedly emphatic that the origin of life problem lies outside of science.

Because of specializations within the sciences, it is sometimes hard for various disciplines to alert the other disciplines of important relevant developments. It's even harder when an outside discipline (like information theory) begins criticizing the ideas in another discipline (like biology).

Pro-ID Peer Reviewed Paper on Origin of Life

It is therefore very natural that many scientists believe that life is rather a subsystem of some Mind greater than humans ...

At the encouragement of Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute and Dave Abel of the The Gene Emergence Project and The Origin-of-Life Foundation, Albert Voie submitted this work to a peer-reviewed journal.

Albert Voie has a PhD in Biology and a background in Artificial Intelligence.

(English is not his native language, and I would presume it is not the native language of the reviewers. I hope that will be taken into consideration.) Here is a link to the paper:

Biological function and the genetic code are interdependent

The Electronic Version of the Journal, Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals which includes this article is here:

Volume 28, Issue 4, Pages 845-1112 (May 2006)

The paper passed review, and was accepted August, 2005.

To give a little background, Dave Abel was a reviewer of Hubert Yockey's recent book on information theory and the origin of life. Abel's recent peer-reviewed paper on the origin of life entitled Chance and Necessity Do Not Explain the Origin of Life mentions the problems posed by Turing machines (computers) which appear in all biological systems.

Voie explores these ideas further and outlines important considerations. Computers of necessity must transcend the chemical and physical properties of the materials which make them. Voie illustrates why the origin of biological computers (or any other computer for that matter) can not be attributable to chemical and physical laws alone.

Congratulations to Albert Voie, and may more such papers be published.

My Personal Philosophy and Theology

by Salvador Cordova
Even though within the IDEA chapters, personal theology is considered irrelevant to scientific discussions, it is my policy to be open about private issues such as my religious beliefs and beliefs about origins.

I am a member of Gainesville Presbyterian Church (PCA).

I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, however I view my true conversion to Christianity to have occurred in my sophomore year of high school. I remained in the Roman Catholic church for 3 years after I became a Christian.

I believed in an Old Earth and in Darwinian evolution throughout my first years of high school. In my senior year in high school, I became an Old Earth Creationist after reading some material from the Institute of Creation Research (ICR), but I did not accept their claims for a young earth and quickly dropped my subscription to their literature.

About a year later I joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod which eventually got absorbed into the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). I subscribe to the basic tenets of the Westminster Confession of Faith with the exception of the issue of the Sabbath which I currently am undecided about.

I believe God's word was expressed inerrantly and by design ages ago, however, it is evident there are questions about the authenticity of a few passages of what has been handed down through the ages by fallible man. Such passages are readily identified in the footnotes of most Bibles used by Christian's today. However the major doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith do not appear to hinge on these contested passages, and neither does any major issue of my personal theology. I pray that one day the Lord will make clear the issue of the contested passages.

Readers of my ideas may be alarmed at my frequent quotations of writings that would be deemed heretical to the theology I personally subscribe to. The Apostle Paul was not adverse to referencing the sayings of individuals with non-Christian theology and world views to support his arguments for the Christian faith, and neither am I adverse to doing so. See Acts Chapter 17.

After graduating George Mason University in 2000, I seriously began entertaining the possibility of a young earth and universe, and recent special creation not only of life, but of the entire cosmos after Paul Davies work on speed of light decay appeared in the prestigious scientific journal Nature in 2002 and after 3 professors from my university publicly declared skepticism over the Big Bang based on their work in astrophysics.

I do not believe the issue of evolution, old earth, young earth should ever be used as a litmus test of someone's character. There is certainly a correct view of reality, and we can't all be right on the issue of origins, however, being undecided and even mistaken about what is empirically and historically true is not the same as being un-Christian.

Regarding the issues from a theological standpoint, I offer this view from my church:

Report of the Creation Subcommittee, Presbyterian Church of America (PCA)

I have found focusing on scientific issues rather than personal theology to be the most productive and non-confrontational approach. Thus, though Christ is central to my life, I hope the readers will appreciate, that for the sake of Christ, my main topic of discussion will be of a scientific nature, much like I would approach scientific issues in the secular work environment.

As the father of modern Intelligent Design movement said, "the first thing we need to do is to get the Bible out of the discussion." God has promised his truths will be revealed through His creation (Romans 1:20). That means we can see the truthfulness of that verse by actually removing theology from the question of origins. I will frequently resort to using naturalistic worldviews and assumptions as a working hypothesis to demonstrate the veracity of the claims of Romans 1:20. This is not a rejection of God's word, but an application of the method of argument Paul used in Acts 17. An excellent example of this method of deductions is illustrated by various Proofs by Contradiction.

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis insists we should not let the Bible out of the discussion. I disagree. This form of argumentation resorts to circular reasoning, and it is not honoring to the Christian faith to used circular logic to help heal the doubts of Christians in the scientific disciplines. The Lord commanded us to be wise as serpents. Arguments from circular reasoning are not consistent with that command.

The Lord said in John 10:38 that if one cannot believe His words, they can believe His works.

Finally, one may ask, how do we know what is true? Without a Creator granting us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to think, and world which is amenable to discovery, we would not know anything. I close with the words of a famous particle physicist who became a minister, John Polkinghorne. When asked how do we know what is true, he rightly responded "by God's gracious revelation".