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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Issues
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1356  Monday, 20 May 2002

[1]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 18 May 2002 10:51:36 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1340 Re: Issues

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Saturday, 18 May 2002 12:46:51 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1340 Re: Issues

[3]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Sunday, 19 May 2002 10:13:29 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1340 Re: Issues


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Saturday, 18 May 2002 10:51:36 -0600
Subject: 13.1340 Re: Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1340 Re: Issues

>I've mulled since my young teens the oddity that organic life itself
>(and most any other type of life that one would care to assert or
>ponder) contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. I know there's
>been a great deal written on this, which I haven't attended to for some
>decades. I'm happy to see that I'm in good company among some weighty
>Shakespeareans; not much citing of sources going on here.
>
>So, some possibilities which must be weighed in light of their lack of
>authoritative backing:
>
>1. Life's complexity and coherence is just an abberation, a randomly
>generated blip in the larger-scale tendency toward entropy.
>
>2. There is an intentional force promoting the development of
>complexity, and/or the environment in which that development is
>likely/possible.
>
>3. The second law of thermodynamics is wrong, or at least
>incomplete--only true at certain scales or in certain contexts.
>
>I mostly favor 3b, the "incomplete" theory, though 1 is in pretty much a
>dead heat for me.
>
>The most interesting approach for me would be to explore the ways and
>contexts in which the second law is wrong. What is it about the
>intrinsic nature of the universe that allows or encourages life's brash
>affront to that law?

The second law of thermodynamics applies to *closed systems*, but the
Earth is *not* a closed system; it is constantly receiving energy from
an external source (the sun).  There is nothing about organic life, or
evolution, which violates the second law.

For a concise explanation of why this common red herring of
anti-evolution writers is without foundation, see Robert T. Pennock's
*Tower of Babel*, pp. 78-82.

Dave Kathman

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Saturday, 18 May 2002 12:46:51 -0400
Subject: 13.1340 Re: Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1340 Re: Issues

> 3. The second law of thermodynamics is wrong, or at least
> incomplete--only true at certain scales or in certain contexts.

The law of entropy does not appear to be wrong or incomplete, but it
does postulate certain conditions which might make it seen wrong or
incomplete: It assumes a closed system and presupposes an existing state
of complexity.  The universe itself would be impossible if the law of
entropy applied without these conditions, as the universe is far more
complex and organized than the chaotic matter and energy of the Big
Bang.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Sunday, 19 May 2002 10:13:29 +0100
Subject: 13.1340 Re: Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1340 Re: Issues

>But there are many examples of individual
>evolutionary developments that result in less complexity. (Please don't
>ask me to cite them--haven't read about this stuff for years.)

Six or seven years ago a cave that had been sealed off from the rest of
the world for (it was assumed) many centuries was discovered, containing
a number of living organisms of varying complexity from microbes up to
arthropods. Incredibly, zoologists identified something like thirty new
species in this cave, which had evolved in complete isolation from every
other type of environment. The one I remember, because it was the most
striking, was a spider that, unlike its eight-eyed cousins, had no eyes
at all (there was, of course, absolutely no light in this cave).

The apparent "progress" of evolution does not contradict Newton's second
law: "complexity" in organisms, precisely because it requires a greater
movement of energy, is directly related to entropy. To argue that
biodiversity or increased complexity has resulted in increased
"coherence" is suspiciously teleological. Sufferers of cystic fibrosis,
appendicitis, sickle-cell anaemia, all the various, nasty forms of
cancer, etc., etc., etc. have all too real experience of how unstable is
the unwieldy system by which we reproduce. And in the end, golden lads
and girls all must like chimney sweepers come to dust.

Reference:

Apart from my old A-Level Biology textbooks, I guess the best place to
start looking (if not Darwin's masterpiece itself or Steve Jones's
recent rewrite, "Almost Like a Whale") is in the admirably lucid "The
Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins, Chapter 7 "Constructive
Evolution", esp. pp.217-223 of the re-issued Penguin edition of 2000.

On p.206 he likens evolution to the process of sculpting: "Nothing is
added to the block of marble. The sculptor only subtracts, but a
beautiful statue emerges nevertheless". Of course he goes on to say that
"mutation can add", but his basic idea of natural selection is as a
process of paring-down.

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