In light of [my recent demolition of a purported improvement on the second law of thermodynamics][2l], an alert reader sent me [a link to this really boneheaded piece of work at Uncommon Descent by Granville Sewell][sewell].
Sewell is, yet again, trying to find some way of formulating IDist anti-evolution garbage in terms of the second law of evolution. Sewell’s been doing this for ages, and it’s been a
wretched failure. Naturally, according to Sewell that has *nothing* to do with the fact that his argument is a pile of rubbish – it’s all because people have been distracted by
arguments that came about because people don’t understand the second law of thermodynamics. It’s their confusion of 2LOT, *not* any flaw in Sewell’s argument.
So, he’s proposing a new law which he claims subsumes the 2LOT, and which he modestly names after himself:
>However, after making this argument for several years, with very limited success, I have
>come to realize that the biggest disadvantage of my formulation is: it is based on a
>widely recognized law of science, one that is very widely misunderstood. Every time I
>write about the second law, the comments go off on one of several tangents that sometimes
>have something vaguely to do with the second law, but have in common only that they divert
>attention away from the question of probability.
>So I have decided to switch tactics, I am introducing Sewell’s law: “Natural forces do not
>do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic
>point of view.” I still insist that this is indeed the underlying principle behind all
>applications of the second law, the only thing that all applications have in common, in
Only one problem… It’s not true. *Lot’s* of things that are highly improbable from
the microscopic point of view happen at the macroscopic point of view. A rainstorm – the
formation of water droplets from water vapor at a particular time in a particular place – is incredibly unlikely from a microscopic point of view, but it’s inevitable from a macroscopic point of view. *And*…
Ok, so there’s more than one problem. And the second one is in its way even worse than the first.
Sewell’s “law” isn’t just wrong; even if it were true, it couldn’t be a law: it’s not just not true, it’s *not* a scientific statement of *any* *kind*.
As I pointed out in the other “second law replacement” post, the second law is *not*
a statement that things tend towards randomness, or that things tend toward disorder, or anything like that. Those are vague, human language explanations that try to provide some
intuitive handle on the meaning of the law. But the law itself is a *mathematical* statement.
Someone like Sewell might ask, “What’s the difference?”. I’ll tell you the difference: using the real second law, I can make *precise* statements to describe real phenomena. (A friend of mine who’s a physicist insists that he wants the second law on his headstone when he does, only instead of saying “≥”, he wants it to say “>”. That is a precise statement; a *silly* precise statement, but a precise statement nonetheless.)
Using the second law, I can look at a description of a thermodynamic system, and say “That can’t happen.” I can do that with great precision: because it’s a formal mathematical system, I can use it as part of a formal modeling process, and describe what it says, and
based on that whether or not a given phenomenon is possible, and even model what the probabilities of some unlikely but possible events are.
“Sewell’s Law” doesn’t do that – it *can’t* do that, because it’s not a mathematical
statement, and in fact, Sewell *can’t* phrase it as a mathematical statement. It’s an
intrinsically vague statement – one which relies on the fuzziness of his “macroscopic” versus “microscopic”, and “improbable”. He can’t quantify these things, because they’re
imprecise by design.