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American Journal of Physics
Moderator(s): Randall D. Isaac
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6/9/2012 at 1:59:27 AM GMT
Posts: 140

I'll answer the rest later, due to time constraints right now, but let me focus on the first issue. You wrote "So, we agree that it is irrational to say heat from the sun decreased the entropy of the biosphere. Our disagreement is over whether or not Styer says this in the article. Is this correct?"

I'm saying it is correct to say that when heat is added to a system, the entropy will generally increase and not decrease. Styer is correct in his statement. He says the sun loses heat as it radiates heat. Therefore the sun decreases in entropy. Then he says that the surrounding "outer space", meaning the solar system area excluding the sun, increases in entropy due to heating from the sun. Styer is therefore quite consistent with the concept that more energy increases entropy. My disagreement is with your claim that Styer made a mistake.


6/9/2012 at 4:03:11 AM GMT
Posts: 60
This is an excerpt from the article: 

The Sun heats the Earth through electromagnetic radiation largely in the visible and near-infrared bands. The Earth radiates electromagnetic radiation largely in the far-infrared band into outer space, where it eventually joins the cosmic microwave background. The Earth itself remains almost constant in temperature, so the incoming radiant energy from the Sun must balance almost exactly the outgoing radiant energy into space. In short, the Sun heats the Earth and to a nearly equal extent the Earth heats outer space. Each of these "heatings” is accompanied by an entropy change. The change of entropy for a system at constant absolute temperature T, gaining heat Q quasistatically, is (Delta)S = Q/T.
If each of these organisms were evolving at the rate assumed in Eq. 2, the change in entropy of the biosphere each second would be − 302 J/K.

Styer is saying that heat added to the biosphere causes the entropy of the biosphere to decrease 302 J/K every second. What other interpretation is possible? 

The second mistake he is making is using the Boltzmann constant to transform an estimate of probabilities into something with the units of entropy.  It is like saying a box of ping pong balls has a temperature of 1,0000...0000 K, or that a deck of playing cards has an entropy of 0.0000....00000 J/K

The third mistake is that he doesn’t understand the true connection between entropy and evolution. Biologists perform probability calculations in trying to understand evolution, just like physicists perform probability calculations in trying to understand the behavior of a system of non-interacting particles.  
This excerpt sheds light on how such an absurd article could pass pier review:
Two anonymous referees made valuable suggestions that improved this article significantly.
It might have been the peer-reviewers who made the mistakes in the article. They may have been over-zealous in the opposition to creationism and intelligent design. 

David Roemer

6/9/2012 at 11:22:14 AM GMT
Posts: 140


  I'm afraid you're wrong on all three counts.

1. No, Styer is NOT "saying that heat added to the biosphere causes the entropy of the biosphere to decrease 302 J/K every second." He is saying that a calculation of the configurational entropy of organisms alone would amount to 302 J/K and then he points out that this is offset by heat from the sun. He does NOT state that this decrease is caused by the influx of heat. He goes on to point out that "In other words, at a minimum the Earth is bathed in about one trillion times the amount of entropy flux required to support the rate of evolution assumed here." He is very clear that the heat from the sun increases the entropy of the earth many times more than the decrease from the increased order in evolution.

2. The use of Boltzmann's constant is accurate. You have not yet given any reason otherwise. Boltzmann's constant is the correct proportionality factor between the density of states (you erroneously reprhrase that as 'probabilities'--it's not quite the same thing) and entropy. Styer has not made a mistake on this point.

3. I''m afraid it's not Styer who doesn't understand the relationship between entropy and evolution. He nailed it. Your comment, however, is neither plausible nor an accurate statement of evolution or of what biologists do.

6/9/2012 at 11:33:21 AM GMT
Posts: 140


  I"ve looked into your quotes on random assembly of proteins more deeply. Not a single one of your quotes says what you interpret it to mean. Note particularly the phrase "If left to chance," Each one of these authors is pointing out the vast number of possibilities and how a random process like that simulated by a computer composing a sonnet with each note selected at random, could not possible solve the problem. Not a single one says that this is how evolution works and that this is a legitimate simulation of evolutionary process.

  Like you did with Styer, you have misinterpreted all of these works and then accused them of saying things they haven't been saying. If it doesn't have reproduction with incremental variation, it's not evolution.

6/9/2012 at 12:39:31 PM GMT
Posts: 60

  1. I don’t understand the difference between my saying heat caused entropy to decrease by 302 J/K and your saying the entropy decrease of 302 J/K was "offset” by heat from the sun.
  2. It is just as absurd to use the Boltzmann constant to calculate the entropy of a biological system, as it is to say the temperature of a fertilized egg is 98.6 degrees. The temperature of a fertilized egg can’t be measured. What can be measured is the temperature of a blob of chemicals. 
  3. Concerning my contention that natural selection only explains adaptation (not common descent), it was your idea that I submit quotes proving this. A better idea is to ask the experts and authorities on evolutionary biology. Science and religion are both based on faith in authorities. In religion we believe things because God is telling us. In science, we believe in things because we read them in peer-reviewed articles. The AJP should retract the article because it doesn’t deserve to be in the canon of scientific truth.

David Roemer

6/9/2012 at 10:19:18 PM GMT
Posts: 140

1. Styer is pointing out that the second law of thermodynamics is not violated by the decrease in entropy in the evolutionary process because the total entropy is still increasing. He does not say that the energy from the sun causes the decrease in entropy in the biosphere. In this article Styer does not comment on what mechanisms caused the decrease in entropy in the biosphere.

2. It is not absurd at all to say that there is a temperature of a fertilized egg. It is perfectly accurate. It reflects the average atomic kinetic energy in the entire egg which is typically in near equilibrium with its surroundings. Boltzmann's constant is part of the definiton of entropy and is the correct way to calculate it from the density of states (different from the probabilit function).

3. My request for quotes was for you to show evidence that the majority of standard textbooks simulate evolution as computers composing sonnets by random selection of each note. Your selections showed your claim to be false. As for natural selection not explaining common descent, quotes don't suffice--and you didn't provide any--because you still need basic logic and data. I think by now every single concern of your about the Styer article has been proven to be false. AJP has no need to retract anything but I think you do.

6/10/2012 at 5:46:40 AM GMT
Posts: 60
1. Why doesn’t an unexplained decrease in the entropy of the biosphere violate the second law of thermodynamics? What is the point of doing a calculation proving that the second law is not violated when that calculation just proves that the second law is violated? I think most people reading the article will interpret it to mean that heat from the sun caused the entropy of the biosphere to decrease.
2. Temperature is a macroscopic variable measured with a thermometer. A fertilized egg is an extremely complex entity capable of producing a multicellular animal. It has too many tiny parts carefully arranged for its temperature to be measured. Temperature does not "reflect” average kinetic energies. The statistical mechanical connection between temperature and kinetic energy assumes there is a system with a temperature. You can’t use the fact that a fertilized egg has an average molecular kinetic energy to justify saying that it has a temperature. 

3. The question is not the importance of the model of a computer generating a sonnet by randomly selecting letters or words. The question is whether or not natural selection explains anything more than the adaptation of species to the environment. It is my understanding that all biologists agree that not enough is known about the innovations natural selection acts upon to explain the complexity of life. I suggest that we resolve this disagreement between us by asking professors of biology. 


David Roemer

6/10/2012 at 11:41:35 AM GMT
Posts: 140

1. The second law of thermodynamics just says the Gibb's Free energy must decrease, not the entropy. The latter (which is what most people think is the second law) holds only for the systems where internal energy (and temperature) is constant. So when water freezes, the entropy of the water decreases but the total entropy of the water plus the environment increases. Same with evolution. THe biosphere itself has a decrease in entropy but the total entropy of the system (biosphere plus its environment) increases so the second law is preserved.

2. David, we're talking average kinetic energy of the atomic nuclei within each molecule, the vibrational energy. Yes, this is well-defined in any collection of molecules, whether it be a fertilized egg or a 747 or anything else.

3. That 'disagreement' has long been resolved by every biology professor I know. I could name the ones I have talked with in a long list but there's no need to pull them into public. There is one angle where there could be a discussion, namely, the extent of the evidence. There are some who claim there isn't enough evidence for common descent because too many details are missing. It is true that much information is missing--historical records are gone for much of our history. So those who make such a requirement could say that common descent is not adequately explained. But given the wealth of evidence that does exist, such demands seem inappropriate. Just talk with leaders of genetic sequencing programs like the human genome project!

6/10/2012 at 2:50:39 PM GMT
Posts: 60
1) I don’t see the relevance of the Gibbs free energy to this topic. That variable just takes into consideration a system with chemical reactions.The second law does not say that entropy must always increase. An example of entropy decreasing is when hydrogen molecules under the force of gravity come together to form a star. I know that it is frequently said that when the entropy of a system decreases there is a greater increase in the entropy of the environment. However, I don’t understand this at all. All I understand is the thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of an isolated gas. In a gas, the molecules will fill up the entire container because that is the most probable distribution. The density of the gas is uniform except for small fluctuations over small periods of time. To calculate those fluctuations and time intervals, physicists assign a label to each atom: No. 1, No. 2, etc. In other words, the model of a gas is a deck of playing cards. The model Krischner and Gerhart use for a protein is an English sonnet.

2) The kinetic energy or vibrational energy of molecules is not relevant either. Kinetic energy is a microscopic variable and temperature is a macroscopic variable. 

3) It most certainly is necessary to bring biologists into this disagreement between you and me about whether the AJP should retract the article by Daniel Styer. The article is about evolutionary biology and creationism, not physics. The editor of the AJP, David Jackson, should have referred my comments to Styer for rebuttal. If Styer told me that a fertilized egg had a temperature, I could write to the college he works for and explain that he is not qualified to teach physics. 

Instead of doing this, Jackson, with the approval of the American Association of Physics Teachers, told me to submit my own article. An anonymous reviewer said I was mistaken, just like you. The AJP and the AAPT are using this review to justify not publishing the retraction. The leaders at the American Institute of Physics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are also not taking responsibility. The only organization taking responsibility for the article is the American Scientific Affiliation through you and all the members who are not supporting my efforts to get the AJP to retract the article. My correspondence with the AIP and AAAS as well as with the AJP and AAPT and an expert on thermodynamics at New York University is here:

David Roemer

6/10/2012 at 4:39:02 PM GMT
Posts: 140

1. Then you don't understand thermodynamics or the second law at all. The second law is expressed in its full form through Gibbs free energy. Your example of a box of atoms in a gas form is only one simplified way of explaining things. Understood more fully, thermodynamics refers to all physical systems.

2. Then you don't understand temperature, perhaps because you're only thinking of a gas while I'm a solid-state physicist.  Temperature is precisely connected to the vibrational energy of the atomic nuclei in any solid, liquid, or molecular submstance.

3. Biologists have already weighed in and the matter is settled.


Styer's article is correct and in claiming that it should be retracted you have shown a deep misunderstanding of thermodynamics.