Friday, September 02, 2005

(Entropy): It is impossible to obtain a process that, operating in cycle, produces no other effect than the subtraction of a positive amount of heat from a reservoir and the production of an equal amount of work.

This is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. I put it up there so I could get into a very curious bit of 'logical thinking' I have stumbled upon. Quite some time ago I got into the habit of reading online news from around the planet, just to get a broad perspective. Well I looked at an Islamic site to see what they were saying about the world and there was this article which 'proved' that evolution was impossible by using established science. The concept was that scientific Law discredited the 'theory' of evolution. They were crowing about how ignorant we were regarding our own science and in their statements was the one that went something like "The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics clearly states that chaos comes from order, whereas evolutionary theory states that life came from chaos and then became ordered." Brilliant. Like many ignorant people they take a concept from one branch of science and try to apply it to another. This is why people cannot figure out so many things about physics when they move from Newtonian physics to Relativity physics. Different set of rules.

Now, in my opinion evolution never said anything about order/disorder/chaos. What I understand evolution to present is that living things change, usually from environmental changes, and when those changes promote survival and cause changes in the DNA, those new changes may be passed on to their offspring. Thus it is entirely possible for a complex living organism to simplify itself under the correct environmental changes. For instance, if we declare a human being to be a complex living organism, then we can see that when society collapses, as in New Orleans after the hurricane, many people began to act more like cro-magnon man, swinging clubs, snorting after rotted food and raping various women. Or even if you look at death you see that the symbiotic relationship between the various living components of the human break down into their basic parts and crawl off into the soil to do their thing as bacteria and raw chemicals. That is very much like entropy, and entropy is part of the 2nd Law, so people get the idea that living things are primarily governed by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

It's so disturbing to see such 3rd century thinking in an otherwise 21st century culture. But then these are people who believe that when a woman is raped she has committed sex outside of marriage, which is adultry and is punished by stoning to death. These are the people who show mercy towards the rapee by forcing her to marry her rapist. So it's disturbing but not unexpected.

Last weekend I was at a birthday party for a friend's little girl. Her uncle was there, an old friend I used to visit with and play Runequest with. Somehow we got to talking about Islamist extremists and I brought up this crazy idea they were promoting that the 2nd Law cancelled out evolution. The man sat there with a thoughtful look and said, "That makes sense to me. Things go from order to chaos, entropy.... and evolution states that simple forms of life become complex forms and that's the opposite or entropy... so yeah I can see that." This is a man with a 21st century job programming shows for the Fox station in town.

Okay, what happens when you mix chemistry with biology, or biology with nuclear physics, or apples and oranges? It all depends. If you are talking about fruit, then apples and oranges and even tomatoes can be grouped together. They have similar properties. So do the berries from a Dolls-eye plant, but if you say "Fruit are healthy for you to eat every day," and you include Dolls-eyes as fruit.... which they certainly are.... you will die a painful death. So it's important to remember context. It is possible to use chaos theory to describe the movements of people in a crowd.... for certain things, but if you think that you can deal with your neighbor by using chaos theory, you will get nowhere!

In one context I am sitting here typing with my fingers making communication with somebody else. In another context there is a complex set of energies interacting in a chaotic manner according to the laws of relativity. If I stand on a moving train car and project something out ahead of me, it's speed is that of the train plus however much speed I put on it, allowing for air resistance, gravity, and other forces acting on it. But if the thing I project is a beam of light, it's speed is constant, right? Wrong. I once answered a question in science class correctly and got it marked wrong. The question was "What is the speed of light?" and I answered, "It depends." During the argument I showed the teacher that the speed of light is usually stated as 186,000 mps in a vacuum, but it varies as it is modified by it's environment, such as moving through a piece of glass or a mile of sea water. I failed the test, but I feel I made the point. It all depends on the environment.

If you wanted to prove that I was touching a brick wall you could argue that since I was leaning at a 45 degree angle against the wall, I must be touching it. But to PROVE it you would have to define what you meant by 'touching', what you meant by 'wall' and what you meant by 'me'. Seriously, I am a set of energy fields with no real boundries, and so is the wall. In theory I should be able to pass through the wall. In fact there are those who would argue that this question cannot be answered if by touching you mean coming in contact with the wall, since the wall is mostly a vacuum holding energy fields and I might merge slightly with the general region which we refer to as 'wall' and never would a single electron of mine smash into a single electron of the wall. There are others who might say that my perception of the wall and my perception of my body is what prevents me from passing through the wall. It's all relative.

So here's a guy with a reasonably good education who thinks that evolution is proven false by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and creationism must be taught alongside evolution in a science class to which the future movers and shakers of this country will attend. He stopped talking to me when I disagreed with him on these points. He considers me to be an ignorant person who can't think clearly... so sad, such a waste.

There are a lot of ways to phrase various Laws of physics and biology and even the term 'Law' changes depending on it's context. Since we cannot 'prove' anything beyond our own mind, we really can't prove evolution or the General Relativity Theory. But I am not an one celled living organism floating in a primordial ooze, and the nuclear weapon which vaporized Nagasaki worked just fine. I just can't wrap my head around why people want to be so pig headedly stupid and cherry-pick their terms in what they claim is a logical process establishing a point they already believed. They don't test their theory or try to understand an opposing one. They tell you to shut up and return to watching baseball on Fox.

I know I shouldn't expect people to want to debate rather than argue, but I know a doctor, a devout Muslim, and he delights in debating and testing ideas. He says it is part of his culture. After all, didn't Arabs give the world zero and algebra? They are deep thinkers. What about Osama? "He's an idiot defaming the name of Islam in order to reach out and grab power for himself!" Sounds logical to me. Our beloved Bush is an idiot defaming the name of Jesus in order to grab power for himself...

Evolution also has the concept that when a living organism cannot change in the face of a changing environment that organism will most likely die. Trouble is that in the case of the aforementioned Osama and Bush, they will take many thousands of people with them. That's evolution though, and as Rumsfeld would say if he understood enough about the subject to make a comment, "Evolution is messy business and sometimes innocent people get hurt."

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