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Fwd: 2nd law of thermodynamics
Subj: Re: 2nd law of thermodynamics
Date: 95-11-09 13:26:28 EST
The usual scientific creationist canard about 2nd Law is that it is best
defined as "the universe progressing from order to disorder/chaos." This
ludicrous defintion was even supported in the popular scientific literature
by Isaac Asimov who had an atheist's interest in depicting the universe as a
depressing doomed machine running down into inevitable heat death. This same
kind of attitude underlies the naysayers who predict that civilization will
"inevitably" degenerate into chaos if it becomes too complex. There is a
whole sci-fi genre dedicated to this view.
In fact the proper defintion of the 2nd Law is that the energy gradients (ie.
the free energy available to do work) in a closed system will inevitably
reach a point of equilibrium within a finite time. The "order" which is
being discussed is not that of a library with all the books properly
cataloged by subject and author. Rather it is the structure of the energy
gradients in the system. The energy is more "orderly" when it is more
concentrated in one place than in another. The "disorder" occurs when the
energy is distributed evenly through out the system so that there is no net
flow of energy from one part to another. So books in a library which are
properly cataloged are no more orderly in a thermodynamic sense than those
put on shelves randomly.
This is a critical point. We must not confuse thermodynamic order with other
levels of order such as the Dewey-Decimal system or the integral number line.
They are not the same. For example, when I had a house (before I was
married), there were books strewn all over the floor and furniture in piles.
They were not alphabetized and ended up in the piles just because I put them
there and they didn't move unless I moved them. After a while with no
specific plan of my own a pattern emerged. There was a clear path from the
front door to the couch, the TV, the kitchen, the bathroom, and the bedroom.
The books I consulted most often were on the tops of the piles and closer to
the couch or the bed. Technical books tended to collect around the couch
while fiction clustered around the bed absed on my reading habits.
Occasionally I would have to hunt for a particular book in the morass or
move a pile of books to get to another part of the room but for the most part
the house was ordered to my everyday needs without much effort on my part.
Essentially, the 2nd Law had ordered my house completely apart from any
deliberate or conscious system of my own. The house was not "disorderly."
In fact, for my needs it was properly ordered.
Living system are organized in this same way. They are not "alphabetized"
(ie. teleologically ordered) but "spontaneous" (ie. phenomenologically
ordered). That is why William Paley's "watchmaker" analogy from the 19th
Century is so very wrong. Watches do not assemble themselves. If you find
one in the road, you know that sometime,somewhere, someone (ie, a watchmaker)
had to assemble it. Organisms though DO assemble themselves and do not
require a "maker." All they need are parents and are thus the product of
unskilled labor. If you find a child playing in the road you do not assume
the existance of a child factory with an assembly line. Rather you look for
her mom and dad.
What about the complexity of multi-cellular organisms? Does that defy the
2nd Law? In actuallity, you are a much simpler organism than an amoeba ever
was! Why? Because the single-celled amoeba has to do everything for itself
(ie. reproduce, defend, repair, eat, sense and move). As an organism becomes
multicellular, the cells can specialize and thereby decrease the number of
tasks which each cell is required to do. As a result it is cheaper (food
wise) to keep a one-billion cell multicellular organism alive with
specialized histology than one billion free living amoebae.
To give you another analogy, if you were Robinson Crusoe with no resources
except your own ability, would you be able to build yourself a new automobile
every 5 years? No, you couldn't even do the research necessary to design the
car let alone gather all of the necessary materials and assemble it! Factor
in telephones, TV's, CD players, and household appliances and you see that a
technological society is in fact LESS taxing on the individual person than
Crusoe's island life. Why? Because by specializing occupations and using
the means of mass production (like the assembly line) you can make more high
tech goods per person than the Noble Savage could even dream of.
Civilizations like ours are actually favored by the 2nd Law and will not
spontaneously degenerate in barbarity despite what the sci-fi pessimists
would like to think.