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.
507-511)

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