As of 2/24/2008, Sewell has just responded to this, pretending that he just noticed it. To make discussions easier to follow, I have responded with a new post here, and I would appreciate it if comments could be posted there, to keep it all in one place.
My SciBling Mark Hofnagle over at the Denialist blog wanted me to take a look at the pseudo-mathematical ramblings of Granville Sewell. It actually connects with some of the comments in the thread about the paper by Dembski and Marks – Sewell uses part of the article to make the same kind of quantum nonsense claims that showed up here.
Sewell claims to have written a simulator which simulates the Universe, and is complaining that his supposed simulation didn’t produce things like computers or aircraft carriers. I say claims because I’m pretty convinced that he did no such thing. Actually programming a simulator like the simplest of the several he claims to have done, which produces the results that he claims it produced, would be an absolutely astonishing feat of programming, involving a quantity of data that’s more on the scale of Google than on the scale of Granville Sewell’s laptop.
Here’s what Sewell claims about the first attempt:
A friend read my article and said, computers have advanced a lot in the last seven years, I think we could actually try such a simulation on my new laptop now. So I wrote the program–in Fortran, naturally–and we tried it. It took several minutes, and at the end of the simulation we dumped the final coordinates of all the particles into a rather large data file, then ran MATLAB to plot them. Some interesting things had happened, a few mountains and valleys and volcanos had formed, but no computers, no encyclopedias, and no cars or trucks. My friend said, let me see your program. After examining it, he exclaimed, no wonder, you treated the Earth as a closed system, order can’t increase in a closed system. The Earth is an open system, you need to take into account the effect of the sun’s energy. So I modified the boundary conditions to simulate the effect of the entering solar radiation, and reran it. This time some more interesting things happened, but still no libraries or computers.
So, Sewell claims to have just knocked out a Fortran program which runs a particle-level simulation of the earth, based on classical mechanics, and to have run it on his laptop in “a few minutes”, and to have produced as a result, mountains, valleys, and volcanos. Remember that he’s claiming to be doing full physics – he’s working out the chemical reactions, the physical interactions, everything that’s involved in the environment of an earth-like planet. He claims to have programmed this himself, run it in a few minutes on a laptop, and to have then visualized the data with a simple MATLAB plot.
If he had actually done this – he worked out a way to implement a complete simulation like this that ran to completion in a matter of minutes – he’d be in line for a Nobel prize in physics. All he needs to do is make the data from a run of that program available, and I think we can pretty much guarantee him a date in Stockholm to collect his prize.
But that’s not all he claims to have done. He claims that his “friend” (who I suspect is as imaginary as this program he claims to have written) looked at the program, and saw that he didn’t do quantum physics:
My friend looked more carefully at the program, and said, good grief, you are using classical physics, you can’t simulate the effects of the four forces without quantum mechanics. He explained that according to quantum mechanics, the exact effects of these forces on any particular particle are impossible to predict with certainty, you can only calculate the probabilities. I said, you mean there is a supernatural force at work here?? He said, well, technically, yes, if you define the supernatural to be that which is forever beyond the ability of science to predict or explain–Sir Arthur Eddington said quantum mechanics “leaves us with no clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural”. But there is no reason to doubt that this so-called “supernatural” effect is completely random, you can simulate it using a random number generator. So I completely re-wrote my simulator, I used an IMSL random number generator with a user-supplied probability distribution to simulate this randomness, and computed the required probability distributions by solving the Schrodinger equations with my own PDE solver, PDE2D. Still no luck.
So, not only is Sewell himself a programmer of downright supernatural abilities – but his friend can look at a complete physics simulator, and, in a matter of moments, understand exactly what parts of physics are implemented, and what’s been left out.
I happen to be lucky enough to work at a company with some of the smartest, most skilled programmers in the world. We have a strict policy of code review – which means that every line of code is checked by a second programmer before it gets into a production system. So my coworkers are both brilliant programmers, and incredibly skilled at reading and comprehending code written by other people. But I don’t know anyone who could do what Sewell claims his friend did. I’ve never met anyone who could read code for a universe simulator that could simulate physics well enough to produce volcanoes, and could conclude that the code was correct, but that it didn’t include quantum physics.
But let’s say that Sewell is not only the greatest programmer in the world, but that his buddy is the second-best, and can just glance over Sewell’s Fortran program to see what he left out.
Of course, Sewell, being the genius and impeccably honest individual that we all know he is, claims complete ignorance of quantum physics up until this moment. He didn’t put it in originally, because he didn’t think it was important until his buddy pointed it out. But now that he knows about it, it strikes him – right out of the blue! – doesn’t quantum physics sound almost supernatural? And by golly, his friend reluctantly agrees with him. (And this, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that creationists have been doing the quantum shuffle, trying to shoehorn God into quantum effects for decades. Sewell knew nothing about that argument up until this very moment.)
So, now, Sewell sees the flaw in his system. He then completely rewrites his earth simulator. Not only that, he includes in it a complete and precise simulation of the quantum behavior of every particle in his simulation, using a partial differential equation solver. So he claims to have written complete and detailed physics simulator that can perfectly incorporate quantum behavior of each any every particle. And with this, he claims can still simulate the history of an earth-like planet – on his laptop in a matter of minutes.
I think that accomplishing that would easily win him another Nobel prize, in addition to the Nobel for the non-quantum simulator. All he’d need to do is publish the data. Wouldn’t that be a coup? A creationist professor from a diddly little school in Texas showing up all of the best and brightest physicists in the world, with something he did on a lark with one of his friends? Gosh, why do you suppose that he hasn’t published this? Hasn’t shown anyone the simulation? You think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for that?
I suppose that Granville, modest gentleman that he is, might not like the spotlight that these awards would generate. That must be why he only mentions this astonishing feat of brilliance in a piece of sloppy apologetics.
Anyway, let’s move on. Suppose that Granville and his buddy are the true geniuses that he claims they are, and that he has accomplished this astonishing feat, but that’s he’s two modest to publicly show his work and claim the awards that are his due. What happens next in his little game with his brilliant friend? Why, that should be obvious to you! His brilliant friend – the guy that’s smart enough, and understands math and physics well enough to nigh-unto-instantly notice the lack of quantum phenomena in Granville’- simulation of the universe – this spectacularly brilliant guy spouts out one of the stupidest, most pathetic, transparently wrong canards that is constantly harped on by creationist morons everywhere: the reason that the simulation isn’t creating intelligent life is because it doesn’t include the way that natural selection violates the second law of thermodynamics.
So Sewell’s friend is not only one of the smartest people in the entire world; he’s also a total moron.
What does Sewell conclude from this entire episode? Obviously, intelligent life must not have evolved on earth, because no matter what he did to his simulation, he couldn’t make intelligent life evolve in his simulated world.
I seriously wonder in Sewell actually expects anyone to be taken in by this bullshit. It’s so transparently ridiculous, so full of impossible feats that he claims to have accomplished, I find it difficult to take seriously that he thinks anyone will believe it. It’s so wretchedly dishonest, so obviously dishonest, that I’m truly astonished by it.
Here’s the scary part: all of the stuff I wrote above is a charitable interpretation of his little story. In fact, he never talks about intelligent life. He actually writes as if he expects computers and aircraft carriers to pop out of his simulation directly. According to his argument, if life is a product of the physical laws of the universe, and this non-supernaturally created life can create artifacts like aircraft carriers, then we should expect things like aircraft carriers to simply poof into being by themselves. It’s frighteningly stupid.
To give a sense of the stupidity of that – think about this metaphor. The heavy elements of the universe were created inside of stars. Everything starts with the simplest of matter – basically just hydrogen. Through fusion, helium, and then the heavier elements, are created. They’re scattered around by supernovas when stars die. Stars are natural phenomena – just billions of particles behaving according to the laws of physics. By doing this, stars produce heavy elements, like Carbon and Iron. By Granville’s argument, if we create a simulation of a universe without any stars, we should expect Carbon and Iron to come into being, just like they would if there were stars. If they don’t, then there must be something supernatural about stars.