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The Appropriate Reaction to a Physical Theory of Life

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MIT physicist, Professor Jeremy England, has gotten quite a lot of media attention about his ideas in a 2013 paper in The Journal of Chemical Physics, “Statistical physics of self-replication.”

Quanta Magazine published an essay by Natalie Wolchover coining the work as “The New Physical Theory of Life,” which was republished by Scientific American and Business Insider. England was quoted:

“I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong. On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His theory explains how 1) groups of atoms in a dynamic environment, like the atmosphere or the ocean, 2) might arrange themselves over time to resonate with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic, or chemical work from those environments, and 3) produce more entropy back into said environment. The theory seeks to understand the underlying physics of how adaptations evolve and potentially how life began.

The Quanta essay got the attention of Salon writer, Paul Rosenberg, who titled his piece “God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified.” Rosenberg sees this work as an “epochal scientific advance” but seems to revel in using it as a “rebuke to pseudo-scientific creationists, who have long mistakenly claimed that thermodynamics disproves evolution.” England’s work shows how the thermodynamically-driven emergence and evolution of life would follow the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

And so it came to pass that Rosenberg’s essay got the attention of his targets.

Creation Ministries International’s Jonathan Sarfati and Carl Wieland tied England’s work to atheism, claiming that atheists “must” believe life came from non-living chemicals. Since specialists are not even close to articulating an exact mechanism, according to them “every so often media headlines trumpet the latest and greatest solution” to protect the atheist theory of evolution. The authors noted that England “is a long way from showing a mechanism by which the huge jump [from chemicals to life] could take place. [Emphasis is theirs.] They see his work as “avoiding the real issue,” that issue being how chemicals became cells.

Casey Luskin from the Intelligent Design community commented at The Blaze in his essay, “Another Challenge from Materialists Who Can’t Explain Origin-of-Life With Science.” He also finds England’s theory to be a shortcoming. “The fundamental problem with England’s theories, and Rosenberg’s polemics, is that sunlight and other forms of energy do not generate new genetic information, nor do they produce new types of biological machines,” he wrote. He thinks the failure of “materialist science” to produce a complete model for the origin of life shows there is a missing insight. “In our experience, only one cause generates new language-based information or machine-like structures: intelligence.”

Most recently, Meghan Walsh of OZY, wrote an essay calling England “The Man Who May One-Up Darwin.” Her interview focused on him as a person more than on his work. Turns out, England is Jewish, prays three times a day, studies the Torah, and spends much of his days changing diapers and brainstorming atop a yoga ball with his infant son.

Of all these essays, I like the first and applaud the last. The other three leave me wincing. So I guess it is my turn. My area of interest is what some would call the intersection of faith and science, although I prefer to think of it as viewing science in the light of faith—thereby untangling myself from mingled disciplines.

Before we even get to the paper, let us dispense with a few things. For one, science cannot punch God out over “the ropes” because God is not made of particles. If you believe in God, you see nature as Creation and science as the study of it. If you do not believe in God, then you see nature as nature and science as the study of it. You say nature. I say Creation, and I view all of it as intelligently designed.

Regarding the Second Law of Thermodynamics, England’s theory is not needed to answer the objections of the Creationists. Rosenberg noted as much. The Second Law states that entropy in the entire universe as a closed system increases with time. Evolution holds that organisms become increasingly more complex, so Creationists see evolution as a contradiction of this law. However, the Second Law refers to the overall entropy in the entire universe, not just the entropy on the earth. The earth is not a closed system and gets energy from the sun to power the increase in biological complexity. England’s proposal adds to this concept by showing how increases in complexity may still be driven by overall increases in entropy output back into the environment.

As for atheists who “must” believe that “life came from non-living chemicals,” should not we all? If living organisms are made of particles, and particles are composed of elements on the periodic table, and the elements obey the laws of physics, then as far as the exact physical sciences are concerned, life can, and did, evolve from non-living particles. The idea that life began as a miracle is an idea that science cannot measure. The idea that God created matter with laws that led to the organization of living things is not a contradiction of faith in God the Creator.

Also, the lack of a complete model for the origin of life should never be wielded as a reason to discredit research into that question. It is well known and accepted that all those mechanisms are not yet defined and that some of them may never be. High school and college biology text books preface the discussion of the history of research into the question of primal abiogenesis by acknowledging that scientists know it is impossible to determine exactly how life arose on earth. There is nothing startling about that honest truth.

A physicist, chemist, or biologist does not ask whether different forms of life were miraculously created because science relies on order and predictability. Should a physical scientist ask a question about the origin of life, he would ask how life originated from particles and evolved as a collection of particles. Then he would devise experiments to test those theories.

Physics is indifferent to life. Physics studies the organization of matter that biology declares living and nonliving. Fundamental to all scientific studies about life is the view that living things differ from non-living things primarily in their degree of organization, which brings us back to the work of Jeremy England. This Jewish father and professor is not “trumpeting” his ideas as a defense of atheism or materialism, nor is he trying to find one single physical characteristic that is unique to the mechanism for the jump from non-life to life (he is explicit about that), and he certainly is not avoiding any real issues.

England is doing what scientists do, especially physicists. Living things replicate, sense, compute, anticipate, respond, and use energy from their environment, and those processes can be studied thermodynamically. So he is considering living organisms strictly as organized systems of particles in which the distance, time, amount, temperature, and energy can be quantified in Newtonian terms to see if thermodynamics adds further understanding of 1) the difference between living and nonliving things and 2) natural selection because Darwinian selection does not fully explain the diversity of life.

England’s work is not intended to show how sunlight and other forms of energy “generate new genetic information” or “biological machines,” as Luskin criticized. There are millions of details between a fundamental physical theory and all the specific mechanisms involved in biological machinery. England’s work, as far as I can tell, is intended to add to the story of how the emergence of complex organization might be possible, how agglomerates of particles might respond to work from the environment and how they might self-reorganize to output more entropy, all based on established laws of physics. Yes, in the long term this understanding could shed new light on mechanisms.

Specifically, England’s approach is to consider organisms as a collection of microstates (arbitrarily defined) forming a macrostate (the organism) in a thermal bath (the environment). If an oscillating external field is applied to the collection of particles (work), just like any collection of particles the system can use this input to break bonds and form new bonds when the chemical equilibrium is disrupted. Chemists describe reversibility and irreversibility in terms of reaction rates and activation energies. Organisms operate far from equilibrium, which must also be taken into consideration.

What is of interest to the question of life-descriptors (i.e. facts that describe what is observed thermodynamically in living things) is how external time-varying work affects the entropy output back into the environment. Organisms cannot un-grow, so the irreversibility of these reactions is of particular interest. Newtonian physics tell us that statistical irreversibility of reactions has a direct relationship to the entropy output. In Darwinian terms, that means organisms that grow well reproduce well. More offspring equals more entropy, but that is not the only factor. In Newtonian terms, the durability of the system and ability to dissipate energy into the environment are also factors.

The physical question is: Why are the particles in a living organism organized the way they are during self-replication? The more “fit” self-replicator would be more efficient at taking work from the environment and producing greater entropy back into the surroundings.

England has derived an equation for what he terms “Driven Stochastic Evolution” in terms of:

  1. Order: All other things being equal, systems are under a tendency to disorder.
  2. Durability: As the system experiences fluctuations, there are kinetic activation barriers to bond breakage and formation.
  3. Dissipation and fluctuation: For irreversible systems (organisms) there needs to be reliably high dissipation of energy back into the environment.

Of course, in reality organisms live amid a constantly fluctuating environment of applied external fields, so they are continually responding.

In inanimate physical systems the tendency to become arranged by the external field is well known. This idea is at the core of nanotechnology, which seeks to harness the self-assembly of macromolecules to effect desired properties and functions. Rearrangement in response to environment is also common in proteins. One could say these processes are driven. Of all the ways organisms in populations can “self-replicate” (reproduce) there may be a driving force. An exciting aspect of England’s work is that it may show how organisms not only evolve, but physically anticipate future evolution by resonating with this driving force.

As test cases for study, England has proposed methods for studying self-replication in nucleotides and cell division in bacteria. There are experiments that can computationally model and test these ideas, so undoubtedly there is more to come not just from England’s group but from other groups interested in physical descriptors of living things.

England was quoted as saying, “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.” He is referring to long times, of course. As someone who has studied the almost life-like self-assembling capability of organic and inorganic molecules in an effort to artificially simulate just a few steps of the photosynthetic process, I understand what he means. Assuming plants did not miraculously appear in full maturity then yes, they emerged from organized inanimate matter on a planet illuminated by the sun. And it is exciting to ponder just how this amazing organization occurred! This research could add insight into the hierarchy of the natural world. Where is the hard line between life and non-life? What if there is not one? What if there is a more gradual hierarchy than we thought. Theologically speaking, it is noteworthy that the idea of hierarchies in the created realm is not foreign to Catholic thought.

While I am all for seeing science in the light of faith, I am not for polemics that confuse and accuse. This work shows that scientists indeed rely on the order and predictability of physical laws down to the particles that make up the bodies of living things.

The appropriate reaction to this paper is not jubilation at a perceived victory or accusation of terror in your opponent. Nor should this work be criticized for not detailing all mechanisms involved in biological machinery. Nor is it reasonable to suspect atheist agendas. Nor should anyone ever be criticized for being a methodical materialist when it comes to physical science. The appropriate reaction to this paper is curiosity, appreciation, and anticipation of the next paper.
 
 
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Dr. Stacy Trasancos

Written by

Stacy A. Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She teaches chemistry and physics for Kolbe Academy online homeschool program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She teaches Reading Science in the Light of Faith at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. She is author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press) comes out October 2016. She works from her family’s 100-year old restored lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband, children, and two German Shepherds remain top priority. Her website can be found here.

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  • Stacy,

    Thanks for your review of England's work. I think you're spot on.

    I especially liked these two lines:

    Also, the lack of a complete model for the origin of life should never be wielded as a reason to discredit research into that question...

    The appropriate reaction to this paper is curiosity, appreciation, and anticipation of the next paper.

    England's work needs to be appreciated for what it is: a tentative and big-picture approach to the origin of life question, and one of the most interesting developments in the field in a long time.

  • Great piece.

  • Pofarmer

    I think most of the Buss about England, is actually about this, more recent paper.

    http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.1875

    • That is a preprint, i.e. a submission not yet published in a journal. This same material was presented in a 2014 lecture, which I covered above. (Open the PDF to your link, and you'll find "driven stochastic evolution".) However, the "buzz" articles reference to the 2013 paper.

      • Pofarmer

        Thank you.

  • i think most of the fuss about England's paper is by people who don't know science and aren't familiar with the literature. If you read his paper (which I have just done) it's more about thermodynamic constraints for self-replication--heat in, heat out, entropy in, entropy out. The problem of non-equilibrium thermodynamics for self-replication and the origins of life had been considered earlier by the Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine, (see "Order out of Chaos" and references cited therein). Stuart Kauffman has written extensively on this and provided computer models; see his book "The Origins of Order and Self-Organization". (Kauffman was the model for the Scientist played by Jeff Goldblum in "Jurassic Park").

    The larger question not addressed by any who invoke statistical thermodynamics, chaos theory and the like, for the origin of life, is why are these laws operative. Whence the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which violates the principle of time reversal symmetry in physics? (See Roger Penrose's discussion of this, Chapter 27 in "The Road to Reality"). Whence, indeed, the laws of physics? If you say, "they're just there", then you leave an explanatory gap, and that gap can be filled only by a creating God, a God who in a Thomistic sense needs no explanation--He is the First Cause.

    All that being said, England's paper is a fine piece of work and you did a great job commenting on it Stacy.

    • The Second Law rests on physics that is generally expected to be invariant under time-reversal. It's more like the Second Suggestion, anyway. Though it's a very strong suggestion!

      Magnetic fields violate time-reversal symmetry. Many fields in QFT are not invariant under time-reversal. Everything is (as far as we can tell) invariant under Time-Charge-Parity reversal though.

      • Well, Paul, I think Roger Penrose would challenge that....read the chapter in his book. It is illuminating. Right on about the exceptions to time-reversal symmetry, but are they relevant to the Second Suggestion (neat term)?

        • I've read the book. I do think that the initial conditions of the universe are indeed surprising and as yet unexplained (although there are a few wild-eyed candidates). I think that's what Penrose is amazed by.

          But if he's saying that the second law implies that there's something in fundamental physics that violates time-reversal, he's wrong.

          • Pofarmer

            But, if multiverse theory is correct, doesn't that have some explanatory power? We are in the Universe that made us possible.

          • Some, but not much. A universe with a lot more disorder would have made us possible. On the multiverse prediction, we'd expect to see disorder almost everywhere new we look, but we don't. There's so much gratuitous order! Quoting Feynman:

            So far as we know, all the fundamental laws of physics, such as Newton’s equations, are reversible. Then were does irreversibility come from? It comes from order going to disorder, but we do not understand this until we know the origin of the order. Why is it that the situations we find ourselves in every day are always out of equilibrium?

            One possible explanation is the following. Look again at our box of mixed white and black molecules. Now it is possible, if we wait long enough, by sheer, grossly improbable, but possible, accident, that the distribution of molecules gets to be mostly white on one side and mostly black on the other. After that, as time goes on and accidents continue, they get more mixed up again.

            Thus one possible explanation of the high degree of order in the
            present-day world is that it is just a question of luck. Perhaps our
            universe happened to have had a fluctuation of some kind in the past, in which things got somewhat separated, and now they are running back together again. This kind of theory is not unsymmetrical, because we can ask what the separated gas looks like either a little in the future or a little in the past. In either case, we see a grey smear at the interface, because the molecules are mixing again. No matter which way we run time, the gas mixes. So this theory would say the
            irreversibility is just one of the accidents of life.

            We would like to argue that this is not the case. Suppose we do not look at the whole box at once, but only at a piece of the box. Then, at a certain moment, suppose we discover a certain amount of order. In this little piece, white and black are separate. What should we deduce about the condition in places where we have not yet looked? If we really believe that the order arose from complete disorder by a fluctuation, we must surely take the most likely fluctuation which could produce it, and the most likely condition is not that the rest of it has also become disentangled! Therefore, from the hypothesis that the world is a fluctuation, all of the predictions are that if we look at a part of the world we have never seen before, we will find it mixed up, and not like the piece we just looked at. If our order were due to a fluctuation, we would not expect order anywhere but where we have just noticed it.

            We therefore conclude that the universe is not a fluctuation, and that the order is a memory of conditions when things started. This is not to say that we understand the logic of it. For some reason, the universe at one time had a very low entropy for its energy content, and since then the entropy has increased. So that is the way toward the future. That is the origin of all irreversibility, that is what makes the processes of growth and decay, that makes us remember the past and not the future, remember the things which are closer to that moment in history of the universe when the order was higher than now, and why we are not able to remember things where the disorder is higher than now, which we call the future.

            This one-wayness is interrelated with the fact that the ratchet [a model irreversible system discussed earlier in the chapter] is part of the universe. It is part of the universe not only in the sense that it
            obeys the physical laws of the universe, but its one-way behavior is
            tied to the one-way behavior of the entire universe. It cannot be
            completely understood until the mystery of the beginnings of the history of the universe are reduced still further from speculation to
            scientific understanding.

            This quote comes from his lectures, but I took it from Sean Carroll's blog http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/12/29/richard-feynman-on-boltzmann-brains/

            It's a serious problem in cosmology, one that the Carroll Chen model partially addresses (whatever other problems that model may have).

          • Interesting conversation Paul...(Pardon the delay in my reply--off visiting grandkids). I've reread the Penrose's Chapter, and your interpretation is correct. Penrose regards the Second Law as "not 'fundamental' in the same sense, say, the law of conservation of energy...and perhaps the standard model of particle physics are fundamental". I would argue with that, but more of that below. Now the time reversal symmetry applies to situations for which one can not only predict dynamic behavior--positive values of the time parameter t--but "retrodict'--negative values of the time parameter, i.e. tell what a system was like before the present. For simple systems you can do this; for complicated macroscopic systems it is not always possible. Penrose talks about the Boltzmann definition of entropy, S= k ln V (V here being the volume in phase space) and that the second law expresses that as the system evolves in time, it moves into regions of greater V. If you tried to do a retrodiction, it would again move into a phase space region of greater V, violating the Second Law. He explains this away (as in the example of a gas expanding from a tank) by means of an external agency, and that, as you point out the Universe was initially in a very small volume of phase space. (There's a fine cartoon in one of his books of God putting a needle into the phase space map, picking out the extremely small--and improbable--volume.)
            So the "fundamental" equations of physics are symmetric under t --> -t (let's not fuss about magnetism, or combined t-parity symmetry) but time as a measure of change of macroscopic object does not have that same symmetry. Along with some empiricist philosophers of science (Bas van Fraassen, Nancy Cartwright) I would take the macroscopic behavior as more fundamental--the theory is there to "save the phenomena" and will change with time.
            The Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine has this to say about irreversibility (t not -->- t) and the Second Law in his book "Order out of Chaos":
            "The Second Law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, introduced irreversibility into the macroscopic world....While it [the Second Law] is consistent with dynamics, it cannot be derived from dynamics." p.16
            So if you're a realist--believe the laws of physics are a true description of reality, then you don't have a problem. If you're not a realist, you don't have a problem either, because the time symmetry in physical theories is not fundamental.

        • And about the connection between time-reversal problems with various fundamental laws and the Second Suggestion, I don't think so (although I don't know for sure). Most of the reason I don't think so is that you can get the (on average) macroscopic irreversibility of a system using only terms that are invariant under time-reversal (microscopic reversibility). It's something to think about, though.

      • Doug Shaver

        A strong suggestion indeed. Here's what Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington had to say on the subject (from The Nature of the Physical World (1915), chapter 4):

        The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

        • I think maybe he took the second law too seriously, but it's hard to say from his entertaining rhetorical style.

          The second law emerges naturally out of statistics of reversible physical systems. There's always a chance that a system will violate the second law in some small way. If you watch a fixed number of particles in a fixed volume long enough then arbitrarily large violations of the second law become inevitable.

          It's often straight-forward to calculate the chances that the second law is violated in a particular case, and compare that probability to the evidence for that particular case, to see ultimately how likely the explanation is.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you watch a fixed number of particles in a fixed volume long enough then arbitrarily large violations of the second law become inevitable.

            Do you mean something like all the molecules of a gas collecting in one corner of an enclosed space?

          • Yes.

          • Doug Shaver

            It doesn't violate 2LOT for all the molecules to go into one corner. It would violate 2LOT if they then all stayed there.

          • It's true that the molecules won't stay in the corner forever, but they will remain confined in that corner for an arbitrarily long period, so long as we wait long enough for that period. The molecules going from all through the box to all in one corner would involve a decrease in the entropy of a closed system, and that is a violation of the second law.

          • Doug Shaver

            but they can remain confined in that corner for an arbitrarily long period, so long as we wait long enough for that period.

            Assume a cubic space 1 meter on each side filled with a gas at 1 atmosphere of pressure at room temperature. At a certain instant the molecules all go to a corner and remain within a volume of 1 cubic centimeter for 0.01 second. If their thermal energy has not just disappeared, what keeps them there? We can explain how they got there without violating 2LOT, but unless we somehow suck all that energy out or insert a barrier, they're not going to stay there.

          • The entropy at t0 (molecules everywhere) is higher than at t1 (molecules all in one corner). The second law has been violated. The entropy of a closed system just went down.

            Depending on the initial conditions, the molecules could stay in that corner for an extended amount of time, say by bouncing off the two edges like a giant game of ping-pong, without losing or gaining any energy. There might be small deviations in that bouncing, and eventually the balls will hit each other and then scatter and fill the whole container.

            You seem to be confusing the second law with energy conservation.

            To avoid a pointless back and forth, just maybe say what you think the second law is, and we can work from there the next time around.

          • Doug Shaver

            The entropy at t0 (molecules everywhere) is higher than at t1 (molecules all in one corner).

            Show me the numbers, please.

            To avoid a pointless back and forth, just maybe say what you think the second law is, and we can work from there

            You'll get my answer when I've got yours.

          • No thanks.

          • Doug Shaver

            For an expression involving all these varaibles, see the Sackur-Tetrode Equation.

            Thank you. I'll have to do some more research before commenting further.

            I understand the basic idea of 2LOT in terms of energy gradients. A closed system has a fixed amount of energy, and its distribution must tend toward some average quantity over time. Energy will not spontaneously flow against a gradient: regions of the system with high energy will lose it to regions of less energy until all regions have the same energy. Thus a hot object in a cool medium will cool off and the medium will warm up until both are at the same temperature.

            This process cannot be reversed unless some portion of the system has energy that can be used to move thermal energy against the gradient. An isolated room with a gas-powered refrigerator can maintain a cold region within the refrigerator by pumping heat out of the refrigerator and into the room air, but only until the refrigerator's fuel is exhausted, at which time the refrigerator will begin warming and the air cooling, but the total energy of the system -- chemical energy of the fuel plus thermal energy of the air and the refrigerator's contents -- will remain constant.

            You are correct that entropy is not the same as energy conservation, but they are related by that gradient. To create, maintain, or increase any energy gradient requires work, and work requires the use of energy. But energy cannot be used unless it is available, and since it cannot be created, it has to already exist somewhere within the system, and in doing work, it has to move through the system. If the system is isolated, the energy that does the work stays within the system -- it cannot be destroyed. What the law of entropy says is that once any work has been done, there is never as much energy available for doing any additional work as there was to begin with. Whichever region of the system had the most energy now has a bit less, and the region with the least energy now has a bit more. To do any work at all, there must be an energy gradient, and that gradient is always reduced when any work is done. Eventually, in any closed system, there will be no gradient left, and so no further work will be possible.

          • Thanks for the longer reply. That does help clarify the confusion, some of which rests on unsolved problems in physics (and, many suspect, in big bang cosmology). The puzzle is how to get irreversibility from reversible laws. Feynman explains the problem very well in his lectures, in a part quoted by Sean Carroll, http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/12/29/richard-feynman-on-boltzmann-brains/

            With the hot and cold blocks, put them into thermal contact, and you are completely correct, the hot block always* becomes cooler and the cold block always* becomes hotter, until they are the same temperature. But if these hot and cold blocks comprise the universe, if they are a truly closed system, wait long enough after they've equilibriated, and they'll effectively reset. The block that was cold at the beginning will become cold again, and the block that was hot at the beginning will become hot again. The system will return again to its initial conditions. It's strange! Boltzmann was one of the people who predicted that this should happen (Poincare developed a formal demonstration of this), and tried to used this as an argument for how our universe could have arisen as a thermal fluctuation of a gas. His answer doesn't work (for reasons discussed in the link).

            But it is strange that a system in thermal equilibrium resets. It suggests to me that the second law is a function of the initial conditions of a system and statistics, and can be violated, and if given a chance over a long enough period of time eventually will be violated. That makes me think that the second law isn't so fundamental, a sentiment that is not uncontroversial.

            *(There's a very small chance that they won't, but that probability goes rapidly toward zero for large systems or long enough amounts of time)

          • Doug Shaver

            I've had no formal education in physics beyond the introductory courses required for anyone getting a college degree, but I've studied it as an interested layman for most of my life. Eddington's comment, as best I can tell, accurately represents the consensus of the scientific community regarding 2LOT. I have no problem in principle with anyone being skeptical about a consensus of experts, but I haven't seen a reason yet to think you've caught a mistake that the experts have either missed or simply ignored.

            So far, the best candidate I've heard about for a violation of 2LOT has been Maxwell's demon, and it has been shown to be not a real counterexample. Nothing about the law, as I understand it, prohibits reversals of the sort you have postulated, provided their duration is only instantaneous. If I correctly understand everything I have read on the subject, the law cannot be tested just by measuring a system at two instants. Maxwell's demon presented a real challenge because it hypothesized a closed system in which entropy was continually reduced over an arbitrarily long period of time and kept arbitrarily low thereafter. The challenge failed when it was demonstrated that there was no possible mechanism for doing this that did not involve a corresponding increase in the entropy of the mechanism itself.

          • I would recommend looking into this matter further, if you are interested. I've received my PhD in Physics, and as far as I can tell, all the physics I brought up agrees with the consensus picture on the Second Law. Poincare's recurrence theorem is well accepted in the field, and most think it requires a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Feynman thought that the Second Law was a result of initial conditions and laws of probability. Eddington discusses Boltzmann's proposal that the universe could have arisen from a violation of the second law within a maximum entropy state:

            A universe containing mathematical physicists will at any assigned date be in the state of maximum disorganization which is not inconsistent with the existence of such creatures. A. S. Eddington, Nature 127, 3203 (1931)

            Some of this depends on how the Second Law is defined, and there's some controversy on how that is supposed to be done. But most standard definitions would have it that Poincare's recurrence theorem requires a violation of the second law.

            My own opinion is that any law that allows for its violation (and even predicts it, in some cases!), even if only rarely, seems to me more like a very strong suggestion than some sort of invariant principle. This opinion doesn't require I find a mistake with what the experts think, since the predictions I get from my understanding are the same as they get from their understanding (as far as I can tell).

          • Doug Shaver

            I would recommend looking into this matter further, if you are interested. . . . Some of this depends on how the Second Law is defined, and there's some controversy on how that is supposed to be done.

            It's possible that everything I have read on the subject before I came across this thread was written by partisans of just one faction of that controversy. And I can understood if none of them wanted to acknowledge the existence of any controversy. I'll be on the lookout hereafter for anyone with credentials like yours who agrees with you.

            In the meantime, while acknowledging my own utter lack of relevant credentials, I have explained what I think 2LOT actually says, and I note that (1) you have not told me that it says anything else and (2) you have presented no reason to think that it ever is actually violated.

          • I have explained what I think 2LOT actually says, and I note that (1) you have not told me that it says anything else

            (1R) I think that's right. My understanding of the way you described the principle:
            Blocks A and B are in thermal contact. Initially, Block A has a higher temperature than Block B. Block A will cool and Block B will heat until the temperature of Block A equals the temperature of Block B.

            and (2) you have presented no reason to think that it ever is actually violated.

            (2R) If Block A & B comprise the whole universe, and if enough time passes after their temperatures become equal, eventually Block A will heat up again and Block B will cool again until they look virtually the same as they initially did. A cool block will become cooler and a warm block will become warmer.

            Neither of these statements is controversial. I'll leave it to you to decide whether you think that (2R) is sufficient to qualify as a violation of the second law.

          • Doug Shaver

            My understanding of the way you described the principle:

            As I understand it, what happens to Block A and Block B is a consequence of the principle, not a statement of the principle.

            I'll leave it to you to decide whether you think that (2R) is sufficient to qualify as a violation of the second law.

            Works for me. I think you and I have made our cases as well as we can in this context.

    • William Davis

      Well said. While I'm not a Christian, I think the question, "Why is the universe like it is" is a very important one, though one we may never be able to adequately answer (scientifically or philosophically).

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Hi duhem,

      Whence, indeed, the laws of physics? If you say, "they're just there", then you leave an explanatory gap, and that gap can be filled only by a creating God, a God who in a Thomistic sense needs no explanation--He is the First Cause.

      Why do you think the laws of physics need an explanation? It seems at least possible that we should consider the laws of physics as a description of how the universe operates or as relationships between the parts of the universe.

      Does the question why is the speed of light 3x10^8 instead of some other value actually have to ask an answer?

      • Hello Ignatius....I think we a have a fundamental difference in how we regard the "laws of physics"... One question, expressed the empiricist philosophers of science, Bas van Fraassen, Nancy Cartwright and Arthur Fine, is, are there "laws of physics". A second question, not answered by those who believe science explains everything, why should there be relations expressed mathematically? Or, as the great mathematical physicist Eugene Wigner put it, whence "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in explaining natural phenomena? Why not magic? Not every scientist or every philosopher regards these laws as fundamental, existing as a platonic reality.

        The Good Lord has been kind enough to give us some insight into understanding our universe, but that insight is limited. When you get down to fundamentals in physics there is still, as the theoretical physicist Bernard d'Espagnat puts it, a "veiled reality" .

        "The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment."

        So I think the laws of physics need an explanation in the sense that they are NOT fundamental--they don't explain themselves. But if you're satisfied with the notion that the laws of physics are more than human efforts to rationalize and understand the universe, that there is a platonic reality of physical laws...more power to you. You don't have to do a lot of soul-searching to understand what is it all about.

        • Pofarmer

          "more power to you. You don't have to do a lot of soul-searching to understand what is it all about."

          I think thats kinda the point. There is isn't really much evidence that it's "all about" anything. It seems to me that the Laws of Physics, via the Language of Mathematics, are what Humans have devised to understand the world around them. Maybe there's a better way?

          • William Davis

            I think it's probably that there is a better way, but what we have may be the best our minds can do. We haven't be evolved past cave men for very long. If we figure out how to further evolve intelligence, future science may become as incomprehensible to us as our science is incomprehensible to apes. Enhancing intelligence without unintended consequences is the problem, biologically at least.

            We are increasingly using forms of artificial intelligence to help with science. It's entirely possible that it will eventually surpass current human intelligence, but genetic engineering and biology may compete with artificial intelligence.

            I find this topic very interesting and important:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superintelligence

            What happens when science/technology feeds back on the very intelligence used to create it...

      • Lucretius

        Dear Mr. Ignatius Reilly:

        Does the question why is the speed of light 3x10^8 instead of some other value actually have to have an answer?

        I think theists are looking at it more broadly. It's not "why is the speed of light this," but more like "why is it that light always moves at the speed of light?"

        As Einstein puts it, we wouldn't expect such an order a priori, but rather chaos. Unless there is some principle in which things repeat and are predictable, we shouldn't expect them to be at all.

        Or as Chesterton puts it:

        The philosophical case against miracles is somewhat easily dealt with. There is no philosophical case against miracles. There are such things as the laws of Nature rationally speaking. What everybodyknows is this only. That there is repetition in nature. What everybody knows is that pumpkins produce pumpkins. What nobody knows is why they should not produce elephants and giraffes.

        There is one philosophical question about miracles and only one. Many able modern Rationalists cannot apparently even get it into their heads. The poorest lad at Oxford in the Middle Ages would have understood it.

        The question of miracles is merely this. Do you know why a pumpkin goes on being a pumpkin? If you do not, you cannot possibly tell whether a pumpkin could turn into a coach or couldn’t. That is all.

        Citation: http://www.chesterton.org/miracles-and-modern-civilisation/

        Christi pax.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I think theists are looking at it more broadly. It's not "why is the speed of light this," but more like "why is it that light always moves at the speed of light?"

          And why is that?

          As Einstein puts it, we wouldn't expect such an order a priori, but rather chaos. Unless there is some principle in which things repeat and are predictable, we shouldn't expect them to be at all.

          Is it possible for life to evolve without order? Perhaps thinking that order somehow points to other metaphysical conclusion is just another example of puddle thinking.

          That Chesterton passage was not enlightening at all.

          • Lucretius

            Is it possible for life to evolve without order?

            No. Chaos is unintelligible. If something is intellegible, it is ordered by definition. Since we can understand the evolution of species somewhat, that means it isn't chaotic.

            Remember also that a living thing itself is ordered.

            Perhaps thinking that order somehow points to other metaphysical conclusion is just another example of puddle thinking.

            Not really. Formal and final cause are just the explanations of that order. The laws of nature, which are the powers of matter, cannot be understood without appealing to ends, sources, telos, final cause, etc. Otherwise, such laws wouldn't exist, and causality is unintelligible. And since science is all about finding the causes of things, this philosophy is anti-scientific.

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No. Chaos is unintelligible. If something is intellegible, it is ordered by definition. Since we can understand the evolution of species somewhat, that means it isn't chaotic.

            Therefore, the existence of human persons --> order. We should not be at all be surprised to observe something that is necessary to our existence.

            Not really. Formal and final cause are just the explanations of that order. The laws of nature, which are the powers of matter, cannot be understood without appealing to ends, sources, telos, final cause, etc. Otherwise, such a law wouldn't exist, and causality is unintelligible. And since science is all about ding in the causes of things, than this philosophy is anti-scientific.

            Do you know what puddle thinking is?

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Ignatius Reilly:

            "Puddled thinking" seems to be a term used to dismiss arguments without a counterargument.

            That said, why is it that pumpkins stay pumpkins, and not become elephants or giraffes?

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, it means you are misrepresenting a necessary condition Y for a state of affairs X, as evidence that Y was designed for X.

            Order is a necessary condition for the human species, therefore it is not surprising that we observer order. Order is not evidence for design.

            That said, why is it that pumpkins stay pumpkins, and not become elephants or giraffes?

            Their molecular composition.

          • Lucretius

            You don't understand the fundamental question, but I also don't think I'm able to get you to see it. The question is too fundamental that you take your answer to it for granted. Can someone give me a hand in explaining it?

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why do you assume that you are right and it is others who do not understand?

            Personally, I know that I have misunderstood things in the past and will misunderstand things in the future, so I try not to always assume that someone else has the deficiency in understanding.

          • Lucretius

            I do understand the question, which is why I know you don't. If you did you wouldn't reply with the answer you did, However, I can't find the right words to explain it to you. And that's being nice. Another option is that you are just too blind to understand the idea, but I refuse to accept that.

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Exactly what question do I not understand?

  • Kraker Jak

    The idea that God created matter with laws that led to the
    organization of living things is not a contradiction of faith in God the
    Creator.

    Not especially outrageous thinking, considering that most atheists at least consider the possibility, or even probability of an existent designer intelligence behind the universe as a credible concept. There is as yet certainly no evidence that would rule it out

    • neil_ogi

      quote: 'There is as yet certainly no evidence that would rule it out' - how did you know.. yeah, i know, that the universe just 'pop' out of 'nothing'.. (krauss) no Designer, no aliens, no more science to study because all the things in the universe just 'pop'

  • Kraker Jak

    I think that some of you here are familiar with EN. I for one would like to like a chance to post there again....but as I am banned over there mainly due to my own fault. I am not allowed to express an opinion or comment there. Perhaps some of you would be willing to go on over and comment on this and other articles by Dr.Stacy Trasancos and others which are all featured there, it would certainly make their site more interesting if you did. They really need more theist input.

    http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.ca/2015/05/estranged-notions-appropriate-reaction.html#disqus_thread

    • Kraker Jak

      Well....replying to myself...I don't wonder why no new theists are commenting over at EN, especially given the short shrift and blatant contempt to which all theists and their beliefs seem to be subjected to as a matter of course. Andrew and his crew seem content, and even enthusiastic to continue with the bashing of theists, especially the Catholic ones. There is no extending of an olive branch to theists on their account. Though they claim otherwise.

      • Greg Schaefer

        Kraker Jak.

        I disagree.

        That is not to say that there is not a wide variety of styles among commenters, including varying levels of civility and temperateness, at EN (http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/), as is also the case here at SN. Some of the atheist/agnostic commenters at EN can be sarcastic and even harsh and contemptuous on occasion. But the same is true with some of the Catholic and other religious believers who comment here at SN and over at EN.

        In my experience, most of the non-theist commenters at EN engage with the ideas and beliefs at issue, rather than engaging in ad hominem attacks on other commenters with whose comments, views, beliefs and opinions they disagree or otherwise engaging in "the bashing of theists" as a matter of sport.

        There are a number of brilliant, incisive, thoughtful, highly intelligent and scientifically- and mathematically-knowledgeable folk who routinely comment at EN who formerly commented at SN but who have since been banned by the SN moderators (with apologies to others I may be omitting, I have in mind the likes of Andrew G, Geena S., Noah L., epeeist, prime numbers, staircaseghost) who are generally civil and engaging -- rather than invariably dismissive, contemptuous or belittling in tone -- even when vigorous in their responses to comments, ideas and beliefs they find lacking.

        While there are several long-time commenters at SN who rarely, if ever, comment at EN anymore and who are not orthodox or fundamentally conservative Catholics who do enliven the conversation and are consistently informative, interesting, challenging and occasionally provocative (thanks David Nickol and Paul Brandon Rimmer, among others), the conversation here is far the poorer with the loss of scientifically-, mathematically-, philosophically- and historically-informed comments from many of the atheistic commenters who were banned in two large purges at SN in the late summer of 2013 and January of 2014, as well as some "one-offs."

        It is true that some Catholic or other theistic commenters have encountered some rough sledding at EN, but that has as much to do with their tone, obvious contempt for non-believers, and their advancement of ill-thought out or repetitive and unsupportable arguments and beliefs. But a number of Catholic and other theistic commenters who have joined the conversation from time to time at EN (Jim Hillclimber, Father Sean, Johnboy Sylvest, and a couple others whose handles I've forgotten at the moment) engaged for significant periods on numerous threads. It strikes me that new Catholic and other religious believers are typically warmly welcomed when they begin commenting at SN when they seek to engage in robust discussion and don't expect automatic deference and respect to be paid to dogmatic religious beliefs.

        To his great credit, Andrew G at least maintains a public moderations board at EN that lists the identities of commenters who have been banned and the reason(s) for the ban. Despite repeated requests, Brandon and the other SN moderators have declined to do the same at SN.

        It goes without saying that atheists and non-theists disagree with the merits of all manner of religious beliefs, doctrines and dogmas. If they didn't, they presumably would join the ranks of the theists and religious believers.

        • Kraker Jak

          A rather long comment/diatribe in defense of En from someone whose name Greg Schaefer is not recognizable to me t on EN. Disagree all you want...
          You seem to be an obvious shill for EN

          • Greg Schaefer

            Kraker Jak.

            I would have thought it more obvious that my earlier post was intended more as recognition of the value added by certain commenters at EN banned from SN whom I personally find more enlightening and informative than a "diatribe" or a "defense of EN," as you would have it. There of course is insipid and tiresome commentary to be found on occasion at EN, just as there is at SN, or in far too many forums on the web.

            But, as you note, freedom reins. Even as to your implied characterization of me by your embedded cartoon. FWIW, I was merely disagreeing with your expressed opinion and did not call you, or intend to imply that you are, a pinhead simply because we have a difference of opinion on the subject. Perhaps your gibe should be directed at others who comment at EN and have crossed swords with you there?

            I'm afraid I hardly see the relevance of your point that I am not a frequent poster at EN. While tis true that I only post infrequently, and only on a very few occasions at EN, that is largely because I don't have the scientific expertise and knowledge to add meaningfully to much of the conversation at EN.

          • Kraker Jak

            Don't take the pinhead cartoon to heart...it was only meant to inject a bit of humor into our little exchange.Perhaps as WD thinks, I can be a bit of an a-- at times admittedly. Of course I really do not think of you as a pinhead.

          • William Davis

            I've learned that I have to be real careful with text based humor. It is incredibly easy for it to come across the wrong way. Maybe we'll figure out a way to fix that in the future :)

          • Greg Schaefer

            No worries, Kraker Jak. I'm a big fan of cartoons, especially of the political variety. Humor is invariably a good thing. In any event, I appreciate your clarifying your intent.

        • neil_ogi

          God's Not Dead!

          • Greg Schaefer

            Neil.

            I'm happy for you and your God.

          • neil_ogi

            i'm happy too, that your god aliens don't exist.. and that your god 'nothing' is just... nothing.. no creative power!

        • Lucretius

          Dear Greg Schaefer:

          I agree that Andrew, Geena, Mike Murry?, etc. are engaging, and would be worth having on SN. However, there are some on that blog which I completely understand why they are banned from SN.

          Christi pax.

          • William Davis

            Hope you don't mind, I just used your comment in a request to get Andrew and Geena back. I sent an email earlier this week but didn't get a response. Trying a different one today. Thanks for you honest opinion :)

          • Greg Schaefer

            Lucretius.

            Michael Murray still comments on SN. He's one of the relative few of the prolific or at least regular commenters at EN for whom that's the case.

            Most of them (including Andrew and Geena, regrettably, as I've opined) have been banned from SN. That, I believe, is in fact the entire raison d'etre for the existence of EN.

            Although Brandon has been unwilling to create a moderations board on SN similar to that Andrew maintains at EN, I suspect most of the regular EN commenters who have been banned at SN were banned because Brandon received a lot of emails and behind-the-scenes complaints from some of the more sensitive of the religious believers who follow the conversation at SN who didn't like the substance of the comments being made as well as, on some occasions and with some of the commenters, the more acerbic or sarcastic tone they occasionally employ.

            I know you had a rough go with some of the regular commenters at EN.

            Best.

      • Lucretius

        Dear Kraker Jak:

        When Andrew argued with me that there could be such a thing as a square circle, I realized that he is very confused on many things.

        Christi pax.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          His point was that under the taxicab metric circles are squares.

          Square circles are not a logical impossibility. You can get them if you choose the right metric. Square circles are impossible in the Euclidean metric, but not in the taxicab.

          This is not something that Andrew is confused about.

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Ignatius Reilly:

            Andrew is still confused, as he was then equivocating on the terms "circle" and "square."

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No he is not. He was pointing out that a square circle is a logical possibility. Why do you argue about mathematics with people who know a great deal more mathematics than you do?

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Ignatius Reilly:

            I claimed that a square circle cannot exist, and context would indicated I meant in Euclidean geometry. Andrew went and said that a square circle can exist, but in another style of mathematics, which is fine, but was irrelevant and misleading, as it makes it look as if a square circle is possible in Euclidean geometry.

            If Andrew wished to discuss squares and circles under another kind of geometry, he should have indicated so. But on an informal blog site, when people talk about squares and circles, they have in mind Euclidean geometry. I do think Andrew understands this, and so do you.

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is not a different style of mathematics. It is a different definition of distance.
            The point is that a square circle is not a logical impossibility.
            If Andrew understands this, then why do you label him as confused.

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Ignatius Reilly:

            If I say that a square circle is impossible given the axioms of Euclidean geometry, and Andrews says that a square circle is possible given another set of axioms, Andrew either:

            1) is confused on their differences, or
            2) is equivocating on the terms.

            Either way, he is confused, but since he seems to understand the differences between the different understandings of geometry, then (2) is the only other option to explain his argument,

            If you claim that a square circle is possible, contra Lucretius, you are equivocating, as I clearly had in mind Euclidean geometry with the statement that square circles can't exist. To claim that they do exist, but with a different definition, is to equivocate.

            If Andrew claimed that square circles can exist under a different understanding of geometry, then he would be fine :-) However, after I said that square circles don't exist, he specifically claimed that they do, which equivocates, as he is using a different definition of square and circle to refute my claim.

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Taxicab geometry satisfies all but one of the Euclidean axioms. In the original conversation you defined a circle (incorrectly) and then defined a square. From your definitions, square circles are not impossible.

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Ignatius Reilly:

            I went and asked someone more knowledgable on the subject, and he agreed with me that Andrew and you are equivocating:

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/2014/07/against-rationalism.html"

            The objection is based on the following: there is a very general notion of metric space, and in these metric spaces some ordinary geometric notions like circles and lines still make sense, but of course they are not what we have come to expect. So for example, in the plain with point pairs (x, y) of real numbers, we can define Manhattan or taxicab metric and a little bit of thought will tell you that the unit circle not only has the shape of a square, it instantiates the definition of a square.

            The relevant paragraph is:

            "“Woah! Stop right there!” says the apologist. “You equivocated on the meaning of distance!” To which I respond, by what right do you privilege one meaning of “distance” over another? Our use of the Euclidean distance as the common meaning of the word is not based in logic but experience; Euclidean distances model the physical world exceptionally well at human scales, so we naturally assume that's the intended meaning; but this is an a posteriori fact, not available to the Rationalist."

            But of course, the OP is equivocating, as by changing the metric midway he is changing the referents of the definitions; saying that the preference for the Euclidean distance over the taxicab one is a matter of experience is simply missing the force of the point, since the point is a purely *logical* one.

            The answer in itself is rather baffling: all these different metrics amount to different metric spaces, with different geometries. What these different geometries are is a mathematical fact that does not depend on the a posteriori fact of what geometry our space-time has, or if this way of framing the question bothers you, what models it best -- why should a "Rationalist" be bothered with this? That this question can only be decided if we actually look at reality? Is a "Rationalist" committed to holding that every possible question under the sun has an a priori answer? And what is this vaunted superiority of the "Empiricist"? In order to know that one of the two geometries fits best the actual spacetime, the Empiricist already has to know that the two are distinct quite apart from experiential considerations. So if the Empiricist damns the Rationalist for having to concede that the answer to one question can only be gotten by experience, the Rationalist can damn the Empiricist for the exact reverse.

            This wholy fictional debate between an imagineary Empiricist and a Rationalist sounds like a fight between paper tigers.

            Christi pax.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Who is this knowledgeable person?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Does this knowledgeable person also define a circle has having an infinite number of sides?

          • William Davis

            I went and asked someone more knowledgable on the subject, and he agreed with me that Andrew and you are equivocating:

            Did this person happen to be a math teacher? Fact is, both you and your "more knowledgeable" are factually wrong. I hope you don't trust this person too much. This handout does a good job explaining the topic.

            http://www.math.ucla.edu/~radko/circles/lib/data/Handout-348-421.pdf

            I'm a little rusty on something things but I was a wiz at math in school, nothing but straight A's. You have to have a mathematical system to even define a circle. We're talking math here not just the shape a 2 year old can recognize...I think this is another case where you and your friend do not even know enough to know that you don't know...

          • Lucretius

            Again, Andrew and Ignatius were equivocating on definitions. No one is denying that there are different geometries. Andrew is equivocating when he says that a square circle is possible, as the claim he is rejecting was clearly using the Euclidian definitions, and to refute the claim by changing the definition is sophistry. Square circles are not possible according to Euclides. I don't think anyone is foolish enough to argue that.

            Christi pax.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Great essay and I'll check back in when my brain doesn't hurt so bad from all the science!

    • William Davis

      Too many theories this week ;) I agree, great article.

  • Michael Murray

    Geena Safire has assembled a collection of background material which might be of interest here

    http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/estranged-notions-appropriate-reaction.html#comment-2036021176

  • Papalinton

    "Before we even get to the paper, let us dispense with a few things. For one, science cannot punch God out over “the ropes” because God is not made of particles. If you believe in God, you see nature as Creation and science as the study of it. If you do not believe in God, then you see nature as nature and science as the study of it. You say nature. I say Creation, and I view all of it as intelligently designed."

    Yes, the ever gradual but perceptible segue of the Christian God, from the personable Jesusgod, 'Our Father in Heaven ...' to the amorphous and indeterminate GOAB [ground of all being], the one not made of anything but yet, can hear your prayers, act on your behalf, miraculously save your child from cancer, smite enemies from a distance, and the personal protector of your family so long as they propitiate to the 'right one' and not the 'false one' else be damned for eternity.

    This change is best characterised by Emma Goldman [d.1940], Russian-Jewish-American activist and writer, as she so eruditely observed:

    "The God idea is growing more impersonal and nebulous in proportion as the human mind is learning to understand natural phenomena and [as] science progressively correlates human and social events ... God, today, no longer directs human destiny with the same iron hand as of yore. Rather does the God idea express a sort of spiritualistic stimulus to satisfy the fads and fancies of every shade of human weakness."

    Today, Trasancos, is absolutely correct. I say Nature. She says Creation. The $64 question is, and it is a fairly straight-foward one: Which concept is founded by a veritable and robust ontology and epistemological grounding, and which is founded on conjuration of the imagination? [Hint: From even a cursory glance into comparative religion, Christianity is but one version of countless and diverse conjurations of creation myths humanity has entertained over the course of its history, the vast majority of them already consigned to historical interest only. They were not consigned to history for the falsity of their narrative, rather they were forgotten and fell into disuse as society moved on. In other words they were forgotten. Today, to be sure, the Christian Creation narrative still possesses some currency in the highly competitive marketplace of ideas. But it is a DEPRECIATING ONE

    • Pofarmer

      I've heard many say they'll trace the link from the GOAB God to Personal savior God. But I've not yet seen it convincingly done.

    • William Davis

      It is pretty clear to me that theology has been replaced by science and philosophy. I think these are the only paths that lead to a legit understanding of reality/God. There is no reason to think God ever spoke to a man, but that doesn't mean that the concept of God is a completely useless one.

      • Papalinton

        " ... but that doesn't mean that the concept of God is a completely useless one."

        I tend to agree with you. It is useful in a psychological sense pretty much in the same manner a placebo is also useful. It is also useful in a literary sense in which we, the readers, can identify with an archetypal super hero through whom the didactic intent of the narrative is unfolded, righting the wrongs, triumphing over diversity, preserving one's integrity in times of crisis, living the good life, etc etc. It is a useful psychological and literary device.

        • Pofarmer

          I think you mean, " triumphing over adversity?

          • Papalinton

            Indeedie I do. Oops!

    • Lucretius

      Dear Mr. Papalinton:

      How is understanding of God that Christians believe today more impersonal than in the past?

      From the earliest times, Christianity has been a synthesizing sort of religion, going through systems of thought and abstracting the good and the true from them. Since early Chrisitians found themselves in an environment dominated by Greek philosophy, they synthesized some of the different schools of thought with Church doctrine.

      Christianity itself is the fulfillment of the "impersonal" philosophies of the Greeks and the "personal" myths of the pagans (and more importantly the Jews). What you claim is, in reality, actually the opposite: the Platonic One did not grow more impersonal with Christianity, but more personal. The philosophies of the ancient Greeks tended to contemplate impersonal deities, and the Christians flipped that around and defending that the Good, the Umoved Mover, etc., was in fact the very personal God of Abraham. In other words, Christianity didn't start with personal Jesus and decay into impersonal theism, but rather started with both the understanding of God from philosophy and the understanding of God from revelation, side by side. This is still true today, as Christians do still believe that the God of Classical theism is the God of Faith. The Ground of all Being is was the understanding of God even in Judaism, and also in the early Fathers, so, if I understand you correctly, God, as understood by classical theism, has always been taught by the Church.

      Christi pax.

      • Papalinton

        From the earliest times, Christianity has been a synthesizing sort of religion, going through systems of thought and abstracting the good and the true from them.. Since early Chrisitians found themselves in an environment dominated by Greek philosophy, they synthesized some of the different schools of thought with Church doctrine.

        Just as I pretty much discovered and concluded around the time I began to de-christianize myself after thirty years of living in a self-imposed ideological time warp. The Christian god is indeed synthetic, an ersatz amalgam of supernatural superstition garnered from Greek, jewish, and Pagan sources, collated under the rubric of Classical theism.

        How is understanding of God that Christians believe today more impersonal than in the past?

        That's the interesting irony. The Classical Theism God of David Bentley Hart and Edward Feser would not be recognised by the average pew warmer as the same Personal Theistic entity preached about by every priest, minister and pastor each Sunday, and promoted by Alvin Plantinga. 'Sophisticated theology'™ cannot agree in itself between a Catholic Feserian and Protestant Plantingan conjuration of what a god is.

        As an atheist, I generally say the unresolvable argument is simply a matter of socio-cultural taste out of which no meaningful outcome will ensue.

        I can see Lucretius, you're not much of a scholar of comparative religion, the study of which throws into such stark relief the utterly inane nature of these theological arguments, arguments that have been tossed around for millennia, and still, no one is any the wiser.

        I say it's time to set aside supernatural superstition for a better explanatory model than the morass that religions has proven to be. In taking an historical example, Dr David Eller astutely observes what we all know but some obdurately refuse to acknowledge:

        "Science and reason are SUBSTITUTIVE and ELIMINATIVE: new ideas replace old ideas. Religion is ADDITIVE and/or SCHISMATIC: news ideas proliferate alongside old ideas. For instance, the development of Protestantism did not put an end to Catholicism, and the development of Christianity did not put an end to Judaism. With science, we get BETTER. With religion, we get MORE."

        We need to move on.

        • Lucretius

          Dear Mr. Papalinton:

          Just as I pretty much discovered and concluded around the time I began to de-christianize myself after thirty years of living in a self-imposed ideological time warp. The Christian god is indeed synthetic, an er satz amalgam of supernatural superstition garnered from Greek, jewish, and Pagan sources, collated under the rubric of Classical theism.

          The association of Christianity with Greek and Pagan sources (as if Greek were separate from pagan in some way) is accidental, not essential. Christianity cannot exist without Jewish thought, but it definitely can without Greek of pagan thought.

          Are you a part of the group that sees Christianity as foundationally a bunch of myth synthesizing? Like how the Virgin Mary is "really" Isis?

          That's the interesting irony. The Classical Theism God of David Bentley Hart and Edward Feser woul d not be recognised by the average pew warmer as the same Personal Theistic entity preached about by every priest, minister and pastor each Sunday, and promoted by Alvin Plantinga. 'Sophisticated theology'™ cannot agree in itself between a Catholic Feserian and Protestant Plantingan conjuration of what a god is.

          Catholic and Orthodox are actually required to believe in the basics of Classical theism. Now, it is true that many may not understand it, which is fine, as religion, in the Christian sense, is for everyone, not just the intelligent and philosophically savvy. I honestly am appalled by the creationist movement, and think that they make Christians look terrible. But I also understand that we are not saved by secret knowledge, known only by the Enlightened(TM), but by Faith, so stupid Christians is not an impossibility (in fact, it is a fact). You are right that many Christians need to be more educated on what the Church teaches, but that doesn't falsify the Church in any way.

          Many serious atheists complain about the incompetence and lack of seriousness in Gnu(TM) Atheism. It obviously doesn't follow that atheism is intellectually false, but rather those who believe it are intellectually incapable. Same thing with Christianity. Just because the laymen are ignorant, doesn't effect the truth of the belief. This is a distraction from the question of whether what the Church teaches is right or wrong.

          Regarding the last part: who cares what Protestants think? They are all over the place, and they usually do not represent historical Christian thought. Catholics consider them schematics, so why do you even bring them up? How does the falsity of Catholicism follow from people disagreeing with it and/or breaking away from it?

          As an atheist, I generally say the unresolvable argument is simply a matter of socio-cultural taste out of which no meaningful outcome will ensue.

          Who said it was unresolvable? That, sir, is an assertion that has to be proven. You seem to have fallen into the despair regarding the knowability of religious truth. What about philosophical truth: can we know it? Or is science the only reliable way to truth?

          I can see Lucretius, you're not much of a scholar of comparative religion, the study of which throws into such stark relief the utterly inane nature of these theological arguments, arguments that have been tossed around for millennia, and still, no one is any the wiser.

          Seriously? First of all, I am knowledgable in comparative religion (notice the implicit ad hominem), and I have no idea what you are even trying to say. Are you saying all religions are the same? Or are you trying to tell me that the controversies between religions is unresolvable? The first one is nonsense, and the second one is asserted, not proven.

          I say it's time to set aside supernatural superstition for a better explanatory model than the morass that religions has proven to be.

          People have been saying this since at least the BCs, my friend. It has never happened yet, and it is unlikely to happen in the future.

          Anyway, what do you mean by "supernatural superstition for a better explanatory model?" How do you explain motion, efficient causality, and teleology? As far as I'm aware, all three can only be explained by a being that just so happens to have many of the characteristics of the Christian God.

          Science and reason are SUBSTITUTIVE and ELIMINATIVE: new ideas replace old ideas. Religion is ADDITIVE and/or SCHISMATIC: news ide as proliferate alongside old ideas. For instance, the development of Protestantism did not put an end to Catholicism, and the development of Christianity did not put an end to Judaism. With science, we get BETTER. With religion, we get MORE."

          This quote is nonsensical, First of all, it is implicitly assuming that religion being "Additive and/or Schismatic" somehow destroys the claims of different religions. The author is dodging the question of whether Catholicism is true by bringing up religion's "additiveness." It is really accidental to the Truth of Catholicism that many schematics broke from the Church, and that there are other religions. The Church's teachings (or any religion's tenets for that matter) are not falsified by people denying it and breaking away.

          I also wish to point out the subconscious "neo-worship:" the idea that new ideas are inherently better than old ones, and that old ideas are somehow "bad," which is a very, very silly philosophy: remember, fascism and communism were a new idea. How did they work out... Anyway, neo-worship allows one to complete dodge the difficult task of actually defending his beliefs, and allows him to dismiss those who disagree on the basis of "being old fashioned" and "not Progressive(TM)" and even "on the wrong side of history," instead of rejecting his opponents beliefs on the basis of argument (which is sadly what you and Dr. Eller seem to be doing).

          Second, what does Dr. Eller mean by "reason?" I hope he doesn't have philosophical schools in mind, because philosophy is as "Additive and/or Schismatic" as religion! And I won't even bring up the several competing theories in quantum physics.

          And third, and most devastating of all, is that you just complained that religion was becoming more and more nebulous and impersonal, which, in your opinion, would make religion "substitution and eliminative," as the old "superstitious" beliefs about God (again, in your opinion) are being replaced by the new rational beliefs. You are defeated by your own reasoning: you were arguing that religion is wrong because it has been evolving (again, in your opinion) into something more rational, and now you are arguing that religion is wrong because it doesn't evolve, but just adds new and new ideas on top of the old ones.

          Christi pax.

        • Lucretius

          Science explanation can not and will never be a substitute for theological explanation. It plays a far more important role than mere substitution. Much more germane to the issue, if theology does not take account of the scientific explanation in its deliberations, it remains nothing but a thought experiment, a thought fest, rudderless and anchorless, its metaphysics unhinged from the physics.

          Depending on what you mean, I'm inclined to agree with you.

          It remains an exercise in futility with no prospect of intellectual and philosophical growth as we witness THE TRENDS here. The religious explanation is waning as a tour de force because the community is becoming more learned and seeks a more comprehensive and robust explanatory paradigm, far more than what the ever increasingly inadequate prevailing religious explanation can offer.

          Actually, the opposite is true. Most people today have unexamined assumptions about things, which they don't question or rationally consider. To put it another way, these people think they are looking for explanations for things, but in reality they are only looking for explanations for some things, specifically complex things (like quantum mechanics), while ignore their assumptions for simple things (like change or existence or causality). To actually look for reasons for these simple and obvious things, the person graduates from being a fideist to being a rationalist.

          A good example of this is motion (change). Most people, including philosophers (although this is changing :-) ) hold an incoherent idea of change, ones which are refuted by Zeno. Descartes, who started this trend, took motion on faith: when he defined motion, be did it jokingly (and circularly). In other words, early moderns took motion on faith. Once one realizes he needs Aristotle's act/potency definition, than God actually follows from at least some of the Five Ways.

          To summarize, one of the reasons some people (you have an unfounded confidence that religion is dying out) are intellectually leaving religious thought is not because they are asking more questions, but rather that they aren't asking questions: they have unexamined assumptions they take for granted. If skeptics would be more skeptical, they would become more likely to be religious. "A little philosophy leads one to atheism, but much leads one to religion," says Francis Bacon. I can vouch for this: I myself am a skeptic turned religious.

          On another note, here's a question: what about our science today? According to Dr. Eller, the contemporary ideas in science are probably wrong, and will be substituted with new ideas some day. Do you really think this?

          Christi pax.

  • Kraker Jak

    Even if most agnostics and atheists consider the possibility, of
    an existent designer intelligence behind the universe as a credible
    concept. For the sake of argument assuming that being so, there is absolutely no reason to believe that any particular ism or so called revealed religion is worthy of credibility.

    • neil_ogi

      like the religious beliefs of atheists, they believe that they just 'pop'.. just like the universe, 'pop' out of 100% nothing.

      so why study science when all the things around us just 'pop'?

      i even read one atheist says: where did your God get the energy to create a universe? then i answered him, then where did your 'nothing' got its energy to create the universe?

      • Pofarmer

        The energy value if the universe is essentially zero, which means that the entire universe could just be a quantum event.

  • Peter

    I have said all along that the universe's journey from low to high entropy drives the creation of ever-increasing local complexity in order to contribute a greater overall entropy to the universe. This is manifested by the creation of complex matter from simple matter, of animate matter from inanimate matter, and of complex living matter from simple living matter through evolution. Entropy drives the creation of life and its evolution, which leads to two conclusions:

    Since the journey towards high entropy is universe-wide, so too will be the drive to create life and to cause it to evolve. This is a powerful argument for life and even intelligence throughout the cosmos. Second, for the universe to have evolved on a unique entropic path leading to widespread life and intelligence, it would have been precisely configured to do so from its inception.The perfect low entropy conditions of the early universe enabling this to have taken place denote design.

  • Doug Shaver

    Well done, Stacy. I've had serious disagreements with most of the articles you've posted here, but I like this one a lot. I saw a couple of nits I could have picked, but they're not worth the bother.

  • Mike

    Didn't aquinas refer to this 1,000 years ago when he said that the creator "embedded" these "potentialities" into prime matter itself? So to my mind this just strengthens the case for God.

    Doesn't YOS refer to this idea that the only reason we think of animals as just meat puppets and of matter as in a sense totally "dead" bc of the whole reaction against aristotle-thomism by the folks starting from descartes and on to newton who was alot like paley and denied any intrinsic telos in things?

    Anyway let's notice how rosenberg points his assault towards the easy straw man of creationists and something called "the right"....hmm i wonder why? ;)

    • William Davis

      Anyway let's notice how rosenberg points his assault towards the easy straw man of creationists and something called "the right"....hmm i wonder why? ;)

      The reason is simple, there are many more "creationist" Christians than otherwise. It isn't unreasonable to target the majority :)

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/06/01/gallup-poll-46-of-americans-are-creationists/

      • Mike

        plus it's fun to belittle weirdos for lefties ;).

        • William Davis

          The right does their share of belittling the other side, but that is no excuse. I'd be careful about calling nearly half of the U.S "weirdos".

          • Mike

            touche.

    • Doug Shaver

      Didn't aquinas refer to this 1,000 years ago

      I have read a little bit of Aquinas's work, and I've read a lot more about his work. So far as I can tell, he had no awareness of any modern scientific concepts that are relevant to the debate over either evolution or abiogenesis.

      • Mike

        no he was talking about god "imbuing" "prime matter" with its properties that matter was not 'dead' as we now suppose.

        • William Davis

          When you guy talk about "now" and "modern" you are typically referring to common stances held in the 70s and 80s. Time to understand science. It's amazing how often you guys get it wrong.

          • Michael Murray

            You mean 70 and 80 AD right ? Or BC ?

          • William Davis

            Take your pick ;)

          • Mike

            i think our side knows more about actual science that you folks but that's another discussion ;)

        • William Davis

          Short video and long video. Learn just how "non-dead" matter is perceived to be by modern science. (These videos are by Jeremy England, the topic of the OP)

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka8573QQKW4

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e91D5UAz-f4

          Idea for videos from Geena Safire at EN.

          • Mike

            yes i think modern science community is finally rejecting the simplistic mechanistic views of the old school atheists ;)

            thanks for these.

          • Mike

            btw what does the OP stand for?

          • William Davis

            "Original Poster" i.e. the poster of the article we are all commenting under (Stacy)

          • Mike

            original poster aha...thanks i couldn't figure it out.

    • Doug Shaver

      and something called "the right"....hmm i wonder why?

      Because in the United States, some conservatives have made evolution a political issue.

      • Mike

        well both 'sides' use it to rally their bases; the left says that mere evolution proves there's no God.

        • Doug Shaver

          the left says that mere evolution proves there's no God.

          Have you got a name to go with that claim? I've never heard a leftist make that argument.

          • Michael Murray

            In Australia the left-wing party has a strong part of it's financial and supporter base amongst right wing unions many of them run by socially conservative Catholics. I don't know what their position on evolution is but they certainly believe in the Catholic God.

          • Mike

            i hear it all the time...but as of late it is mostly implied/assumed it's a hidden assumption that "just of course" there can't be god if there is ëvolution.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yeah, there are people who think so, but most of the ones I've seen actually say it have been Protestant fundamentalists. These are the same folks saying that Catholics either are not real Christians.

          • William Davis

            That was/is my experience with Protestant fundamentalists. Evolution is a communist lie meant to destroy religion...

  • I believe the theme of this essay is that the
    distinctions among the sciences are matters of perspective, where each perspective
    does not void the multitude of other perspectives. Contrary to this and lurking
    in the background is the positive answer to the question, “Does physics answer
    all of the questions of science?” The negative answer would appear to deny the
    universality of physics, if not its validity. Also a negative answer would
    appear to require scientific justification. However, rephrasing the question
    eliminates such appearances, “Does physics ask all of the questions of science?”
    In this form the negative answer is clearly correct. The distinctions among
    physics, chemistry and biology are philosophical. Physics is the study of the
    mathematical relationships among the non-substantive and inanimate measureable
    properties of material reality. Chemistry is the study of the mathematical relationships
    characteristic of substantive, but inanimate, measureable properties, while
    biology addresses animate measurable properties. Substance and anima are not
    scientific concepts, but they are necessary to the distinctions among these
    sciences. Physics cannot explain chemistry as such or biology as such due to
    the confines of its own definition, its own perspective.

    • neil_ogi

      does physics has some 'creative' power? is physics the 'prime mover'?

      • Measurement is a human activity.

        • neil_ogi

          i think only conscious agents have creative power.

  • Daryl K. Sauerwald

    All that is important is the Bible is wrong about how man came into being,even if Intelligence played a part in existence as we know it,it had nothing to do with the creation stories of religion,in turn this proves the fallibility of creation stories and religious texts. BOOM!

    • neil_ogi

      you are so confident about england's theory to be true! what's new? is the 'alien' theory of panspermia ready to be thrown in the garbage?

  • neil_ogi

    if his theory is true, then subject it to experiment in the lab. if it fails, then that is another 'just-so' story!

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