Creationist Wisdom #538: Gracious Preacher

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Herald Times Reporter of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Wikipedia says the town’s name means “dwelling of the great spirit.” It’s titled Topic is complex, so let’s be gracious in addressing it. An icon below the headline will get you to the newspaper’s comments feature.

Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. But today’s letter is written by David Endorf. He’s pastor of St. John – St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Wisconsin. Excerpts from the rev’s letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

He begins by telling us that at the request of “one of my members” he is responding to a pro-evolution letter in that newspaper. This is the earlier letter to which he is responding: Belief vs. evidence. It’s brief, and it criticizes earlier creationist letters, saying only that they offered “one misapplication of the second law of thermodynamics, one incorrect metaphor of natural selection and two out-of-context quotes from famous evolutionary biologists.” It ended by saying: “I would invite a local pastor with a strong science background to help us out here.”

The rev boldly steps forward and says:

Let’s start with the application of the Second Law of thermodynamics, using the development of life on Earth as an example. Clearly this is an increase in order, but they respond by saying that Earth is an open system so the Second Law doesn’t apply.

How does the rev deal with that? You’re thinking that surely, he’s stumped, right? Wrong! He provides an answer we’ve never encountered before:

However there is no mechanism for the solar radiation that makes Earth an open system to start life, which is what is needed to make their defense work.

Aaaargh!! Let’s read on:

For now they theorize that life must have started on other planets and seeded Earth somehow. Because of course you can theorize aliens, just not God.

The earlier letter said nothing about that. The rev continues:

As far as the metaphor goes, it’s hard to respond to that because he [the earlier letter-writer] never really states his problem with it. It was never meant to represent how evolution works, only to point out the absurdity of random chance making a complex machine. That would certainly be an extraordinary claim, which would require extraordinary evidence, as Carl Sagan reminds us.

We’ve never seen a creationist rely on Sagan before, but if anyone actually did propose that “random chance” is responsible for everything, it would be appropriate. But of course, evolution isn’t about random chance suddenly assembling complex machines — or organisms. That is a ghastly metaphor. Mutations occur according to the laws of nature — so they’re entirely understandable, albeit unpredictable, and their preservation isn’t random at all. Here’s more:

Which leads us to the quotes. This is an oft-repeated claim by evolutionists that when they comment on how little evidence there is for evolution it’s taken out of context. Now sometimes they are correct, which we shouldn’t do.

Wow — the rev doesn’t approve of quote-mining. Or does he? Actually, he defends quote mining by saying this:

However, what happens much of the time is that they object to the conclusion that is drawn. In effect they are saying that they recognize the lack of evidence for evolution but you can’t use that to conclude that evolution lacks evidence. If they put the data out there then it’s fair game for anyone to use.

Aaaargh!! Here’s how the rev concludes his letter:

The reality is that nobody in 300 words is able to address topics like these in the manner they deserve, so let’s be gracious with one another.

Okay, dear reader. The rev wants us to be gracious. That’s a lovely thought.

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26 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #538: Gracious Preacher

  1. It’s hard to be gracious when there’s an uninvited slobbering moron drooling all over your dinner guests.

  2. For now they theorize that life must have started on other planets and seeded Earth somehow. Because of course you can theorize aliens, just not God.

    I wonder if this might be the fault of the final episode of the Druyan/Tyson Cosmos series? That focused at some length on the panspermic hypothesis, to the extent that Endorf — assuming he watched the series (he quotes Sagan, so I’d not be surprised) — was misled into believing science had abandoned other origin-of-life hypotheses in favor of panspermia. It concerned me at the time that some viewers could misinterpret that sequence.

    However there is no mechanism for the solar radiation that makes Earth an open system to start life, which is what is needed to make their defense work.

    That’s a classic.

  3. michaelfugate

    If they put the data out there then it’s fair game for anyone to use.

    At least we have data.

  4. Is someone able to answer for me as to what solar mechanism (or lack thereof) he is referring too? He’s not talking about that giant lightbulb in the sky is he?

  5. Ok I misread the passage. But my question still stands. To what solar mechanism is he referring? I assume he means a way in which the solar energy is used to create life.

  6. Seeing yet another abuser of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I’ve always wanted to somehow corner a typical YEC celebrity who claims that the LOTs render evolutionary processes impossible. I want to hear them explain why the Laws of Thermodynamics would render evolution impossible but not all other biological processes. After all, they seem to be saying that
    “Increasing order is impossible according to the LOTs.” Then why do we see pockets of increasing order all over the place?

  7. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas. A gigantic nuclear furnace. Where Hydrogen is built into Helium at a temperature of millions of degrees…

  8. michaelfugate

    I do get the feeling that they believe the 2nd law is only possible if their god is creating the order. Some believe their god is creating every human – guiding the development process from start to finish (in that case its attention must waver giving rise to birth defects) – in others it is “magic” in a DNA “blueprint” that somehow was placed their by this god. I then usually ask them about chemistry – which couldn’t be based on random molecular collisions under their model – but they always seem baffled by the order and complexity generated by endergonic reactions being similar. Science not their strong suite.

  9. They continue to put their drivel out there, and unfortunately because of their stature in the community,or the ignorance of their followers, or both, they accept this nonsense as credible arguments against science.

  10. Mike Elzinga

    The preacher starts out with:

    Let’s start with the application of the Second Law of thermodynamics, using the development of life on Earth as an example.

    My advice to the preacher: don’t start with the second law of thermodynamics if you don’t want to look like an idiot.

    This has been a topic that ID/creationists have NEVER gotten right in over 50 years. Just look at the thermodynamic idiocy going on over at UD at this very moment.

    They always try to word-game their way to the “answer,” but not one of them knows how to do a simple calculation that would demonstrate their understanding or demonstrate that the second law and entropy are not what they think they are.

    I have thrown a couple of little concept tests at a number of these characters over the years, and all I ever get back is slack-jawed, uncomprehending word games. They have no clue. None of them can’t do high school level physics, chemistry, or math; but they will sure babble on and on about the second law.

    Math PhD, Granville Sewell can’t even get units correct when plugging his “X-entropies” into a diffusion equation: and he has been trying for over 12 years now. Sewell has used the “highest level” math that I have ever seen in ID/creationism – third semester calculus, the del operator, and some partial derivatives; a big bamboozlement for his followers, so it must be correct, right?. But one can pick up his basic misconceptions in the abstract of his paper. Reading the paper simply confirms what is already evident in the abstract.

  11. Mike Elzinga

    thermodynamics, using the development of life on Earth as an example.

    My advice to the preacher: don’t start with the second law of thermodynamics if you don’t want to look like an idiot.

    This has been a topic that ID/creationists have NEVER gotten right in over 50 years. Just look at the thermodynamic idiocy going on over at UD at this very moment.

    They always try to word-game their way to the “answer,” but not one of them knows how to do a simple calculation that would demonstrate their understanding or demonstrate that the second law and entropy are not what they think they are.

    I have thrown a couple of little concept tests at a number of these characters over the years, and all I ever get back is slack-jawed, uncomprehending word games. They have no clue. None of them can do high school level physics, chemistry, or math; but they will sure babble on and on about the second law.

    Math PhD, Granville Sewell can’t even get units correct when plugging his “X-entropies” into a diffusion equation: and he has been trying for over 12 years now. Sewell has used the “highest level” math that I have ever seen in ID/creationism – third semester calculus, the del operator, and some partial derivatives; a big bamboozlement for his followers, so it must be correct, right?. But one can pick up his basic misconceptions in the abstract of his paper. Reading the paper simply confirms what is already evident in the abstract.

  12. Mike Elzinga

    Oops. I tried to correct a typo and ended up double posting. That last post is the corrected one.

  13. Our gracious rev says:

    there is no mechanism for the solar radiation that makes Earth an open system to start life

    This doesn’t even rise to the level of being wrong.

  14. @Prof. Tertius
    Then why do we see pockets of increasing order all over the place?
    I once gave the example of the formation of a snowflake. I was told that that is only a little violation of the 2LoT.
    I confess that didn’t have the sense to ask about a blizzard.

  15. The laws of thermodynamics apply also to intelligent designers.
    That’s why we can’t make a perpetual motion machine.

    If life is in violation of the laws of thermodynamics, then thermodynamics was not finely tuned to life.

  16. “However there is no mechanism for the solar radiation that makes Earth an open system to start life, which is what is needed to make their defense work.”

    This from a creationist, whose “mechanism” amounts to “And the Lord said ‘Abracadabra!’ and it was so.” And never mind that the “mechanism” by which solar radiation could start life has been laid out over and over–that it provided the energy needed to push organic chemical reactions toward complexity and eventually self-replicating life.

    As for the Second Law, if the creationists’ understanding of it were correct all life as we know it would be impossible, because complex organisms couldn’t grow from a simple egg or seed and even bacteria and viruses couldn’t grow or reproduce. Why these people keep recycling this moldy oldie is beyond me, but they bring it up every chance they get.

  17. Mike Elzinga

    @ Eric Lipps:

    Why these people keep recycling this moldy oldie is beyond me, but they bring it up every chance they get.

    It is central to the sectarian dogma that spawned this zombie argument; it has to do with the Fall. Furthermore, the ID spin-off that tries to word-game around the courts and the law depends on atoms and molecules coming all apart and requiring intelligent intervention to assemble and hold them together.

    None of the ID “calculations” – calculations that “forbid” molecular assemblies because of “all that unaccounted for information” – would stand if the second law didn’t mean what they want it to mean.

    You will find Grandville Sewell and his follower, Sal Cordova, trying to argue that there must be some “principle behind the second law” that is being violated. At the moment, Sal thinks it is the “Law of Large Numbers” from statistics. Sal flunked a high school level calculation about molecular interactions and still thinks it is all “spontaneous molecular chaos” down there (to use David L. Abel’s expression for the “problem” with evolution and the origins of life).

  18. The old-time atomists, going back to the Greeks, represented the classical materialistic challenge to religion. “Epicurean” became synonymous with “materialist”. De Rerum Natura by Lucretius was the surviving popular text up to modern times. And the explanation that it gave was that things happened by chance.
    Perhaps this is giving too much to the creationists, that they retain a memory of having “chance” as the enemy of theism.

  19. Say Rev. David Endorf, I’m a retired science teacher. I’ll agree not to pontificate on religion if you will agree to stop writing about science.

  20. Richard Bond

    Tom S:

    The formation of a snowflake does not violate the 2LoT in any way, because the latent heat of fusion of water is dissipated into the environment. This comprises a large increase in entropy.

    When I rule the world, I shall ban “disorder” as a synonym for entropy; at best it is a rather poor analogy, and it is frequently just plain wrong. In his The Feynman Lectures on Physics, section 1-44, Feynman introduces the concept of entropy and derives the 2LoT without once mentioning order or disorder. If a mere Nobel-winning physicist can manage without them, I would expect a Bible-informed creationist to be able to do so as well.

  21. @Richard Bond
    Of course, I know that. I was arguing that order can increase (which is what my correspondent was calling a violation of the 2LoT).
    For a YEC, I think that it would be interesting to hear how hydrodynamic sorting of the animal bones into the pattern of the fossil record is not an increase of order.

  22. Richard Bond

    TomS:

    Apologies for missing your point.

  23. Let’s start with the application of the Second Law of thermodynamics, using the development of life on Earth as an example.

    The SLoT is a law that is very wide in its applicability, as creationists are fond of reminding us. Creationists are also very fond of their carefully selected ‘examples’ but the SLoT also applies to: crystals forming, oak trees growing, a piece of elastic being stretched, a new species forming; it also applies to crystals dissolving, oak trees dying, elastic relaxing, and species becoming extinct. In short, more or less everything is an example of the SLoT in action. Examples are usually useless unless intended to mislead.

    Clearly this is an increase in order…

    Hold it preacher. The laws of thermodynamics are not only wide in their scope but also very precise. This is ‘clearly’ no place for smooth talking and hand-waving; ‘nature is not fooled’. You talk of ‘order’; please be precise about what you mean.
    The SLoT says that the change in entropy due to any process in an isolated system is always greater than, or equal to, zero.
    All these terms, including ‘entropy’, have very precise definitions; apart from anything else, the entropy of a system is a definite numerical quantity, usual expressed in joules per kelvin. Yes, entropy has been described as ‘disorder’ but this is substituting an imprecise term for a precise one. If you try to rephrase the pastor’s words as, ‘…the development of life on Earth…is a decrease in entropy…’ you are left with the unanswerable question, ‘What is this decrease expressed in joules per kelvin?’ It is unanswerable, not through insufficient knowledge but because the pastor’s statement is nonsense. (It is worth noting that the entropy of two similar sized rabbits is double the entropy of one rabbit – where is the increase in ‘disorder’ there?)

    …but they respond by saying that Earth is an open system so the Second Law doesn’t apply.

    But ‘they’ are wrong! There is no such thing, in reality, as an ‘isolated system’. But we know that the SLoT is very wide in its applicability, it applies to open systems as well. Note that the isolated system referred to in the definition of the SLoT given above, is part of the law, not where the law applies. (The magnitude of an electric current is defined by the force per metre between two infinitely thin, infinitely long, conductors one metre apart – a current of this magnitude can, indeed always does, exist in cables having no resemblance to those in the definition.)

    However there is no mechanism for the solar radiation that makes Earth an open system to start life, which is what is needed to make their defense work.

    Just hold it again preacher. We need some precise definitions here. Firstly, a ‘system’. You can choose whatever you like here. You want the Earth, right? But you need to define the precise boundary of your system. Do you want to include the atmosphere? How far out? Do you want to include the Moon? The choice is yours but it will affect your thermodynamic calculations.
    Now we need a better definition of ‘open’. Open is the opposite of ‘isolated’. Whether a system is open or isolated depends on its boundary. An isolated system has a boundary that: does not allow the transfer of matter, is rigid (does not allow the transfer of mechanical work), is adiabatic (does not allow the transfer of heat), and does not allow the transfer of gravitational, electrical, or magnetic fields. Nothing comes in and nothing goes out. Wherever the pastor chooses to draw his boundary, it fails to meet the criteria of ‘isolated’ on every one of those factors – and in both directions. Solar radiation is not the cause of the system being open. True, heat does come in from the Sun but the Earth does not keep on getting hotter, the excess heat is radiated of into place leaving the Earth at a fairly steady temperature in the long term. I could say the same about entropy but that would require too much explanation.
    So, what have we got? The Earth is a very complex system. It rotates on its axis, giving day and night, it orbits the Sun, giving seasons; the Moon orbits the Earth, giving tides. Radioactive decay causes the Earth’s core to be molten, this allows earthquakes and volcanoes. Rain falls, causing rivers and the erosion of land; this water returns in a cycle, the eroded sediment forms new land. The pastor decries the lack of a ‘mechanism’ to start life. But the mechanism (which I have barely begun to describe) is there before his eyes.

  24. Alan(UK) says:

    There is no such thing, in reality, as an ‘isolated system’.

    Except for the universe. But creationists insist that it too gets an occasional jolt of energy (or information, or something) from a transcendent source. So they don’t believe any isolated systems exist. That means their 2nd Law argument is meaningless.

  25. @Alan(UK)
    You point out, correctly, that the 2LoT applies also to open systems.
    Unfortunately, many of the supporters of science make the mistake of defending the 2LoT by saying that it only applies to close (or isolated) systems. Of course, the creationists try to make an issue of this mistake, but fortunately they are usually so inept that they can’t manage it.
    But, still, it is a mistake, and we should make that clear.

  26. Alan(UK) says:

    There is no such thing, in reality, as an ‘isolated system’.

    The Curmugeon replies:

    Except for the universe.

    To test this, it is necessary to consider the boundary of the system. The first problem is where to draw the boundary. As the Universe is expanding, ‘just outside’ will quickly become ‘just inside’ – that is, matter is crossing it. If the boundary is allowed to expand, then it cannot be considered ‘rigid’.
    Another problem is that the Universe is so very large and so very far from equilibrium. If a body were to reduce its temperature by radiating energy in the form of photons into space, then we could see its entropy decrease – but where is the corresponding greater or equal increase in entropy occurring? The photons just disappear off into the darkness and continue on their way without interacting with anything in the immediate future and probably never at all.
    The correct answer to this conundrum is to ‘go ask a cosmologist’. Certainly they can deal with problems like the entropy of a black hole.