Monday, October 16, 2006

Imagination Without Knowledge Is Ignorance Waiting to Happen - Part 2

In this part, it is certainly ignorance gone wild.

One of my pet peeve is people who barely know enough physics, but then do not feel the slightest bit of hesitation in using it for their own agenda. They see no problem at all in extending their ignorance into other areas without realizing the hysterical and illogical consequences. Of course, some people give them credit for having a wonderful imagination and cite that often-bastardized Einstein's quote.

One such example is the ongoing assault on The Theory of Evolution. Now keep in mind that this is NOT an essay on the validity of either the Theory of Evolution or Creationism/Intelligent Design (ID) (that would require a completely separate diatribe on my part). What I will do is look at two particular arguments that have often been used against Evolution by advocates of ID. These two arguments have a direct connection to physics. This is clearly a strong reason why the Evolution versus ID affects all of science and not just biological sciences.

1. Evolution is only a THEORY.

This stems from the pedestrian usage of the word "theory", meaning to nothing more than an educated guess, if that. It implies that a scientific "theory" is nothing better, not verified, or still not accepted. Again, nothing more than an educated guess.

This argument reveals the ignorance of how the word "theory" is used in science, and especially in physics. There are two broad dichotomy of the nature of scientific studies - experimental and theoretical. Experimental involves experiment! This includes data collection, analysis, phenomenological models, etc. Theoretical, on the other hand, involves either phenomenalogical models of experiments (same as experimental), or theoretical extension of preexisting ideas via ab initio derivation. So a theory is a mathematical/logical description of an idea.

Furthermore, saying something is just a theory somehow implies that a theory can "graduate" into a law or a principle. This of course is absurd. Laws, theories, principles, etc., are all the same. Each may have varying degree of certainty or varification, but it doesn't mean one is better than the other, or that they evolve into one another.

To attack Evolution by saying it is "just a theory" is also an attack on BCS Theory of Superconductivity, Quantum Field Theory, Band Theory of Solids, etc, etc. If one is aware of how successful those physics theories are, one would never make such an idiotic argument. So this is an example of an argument made based on ignorance.

2. Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Already, this is something that affects physicists, because inadvertently, our area is being dragged directly into this battle.

The argument comes from the apparent "understanding" of two things: (i) life beings are "ordered" structure and (ii) 2nd Law of Thermodynamics reflects an increase in entropy or, to put it crudely, disorder.

Now, I will not go into detail on why to equate entropy with disorder is inaccurate (that will be saved for another time). So let's assume that both (i) and (ii) are correct. ID advocates point to the fact that if Evolution did happen, it implies a trend towards order of our Earth system. Random distribution of atoms and molecules in primovial Earth somehow form ordered and more sophisticated conglomeration that eventually form life forms. Thus, the earth went from disorder to order. This clearly violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and thus, is not very likely. So evolution cannot be the explanation for life.

Again, such an argument is being made without an understanding of the 2nd Law, or even basic thermodynamics in the first place. The 2nd Law clearly states that in an ISOLATED SYSTEM (no energy or any kind going in and out), entropy cannot decrease. The earth is certainly NOT an isolated system. In fact, the earth DEPENDS predominantely on one source of external energy - the sun! So even if we consider the most simplified system, we have to consider the sun and the earth as the complete isolated system, not just the earth alone. Within this system, there is nothing to prevent one part of the system to have a lower entropy with time (example: carnot cycle). Thus, even if the earth does really have a lowering of entropy, this certainly does not violate Thermodynamics' 2nd Law.

One would be surprised that, even when this is already explained in several articles and books, that there are still numerous websites supporting creationism/ID that still carry this argument (do a google search if you don't believe me). Either the authors are not aware of how ridiculous such an argument is, or they are hoping that the readers are not aware of it, or not good in simple thermodynamics. This isn't a stretch of imagination because the general public do not have any significant understanding of basic thermodynamics principles and thus, can easily be fooled into thinking that physics has made evolution impossible! It costs nothing to perpetuate the lie.

These two examples, unfortunately, are just the few that illustrates how ignorance can lead to often serious consequences, either socially, politically, or otherwise. If one is going to use something as the foundation for an argument or an idea, it is illogical and irrational to not properly determine that one has something beyond just a superficial idea of it.



Harish said...

Hello there, Im pretty much new to physics. Been doing a fair bit of reading up off late though. I found your posts to be plain over my head and am not even sure if I enjoyed simply because I don't have the background to understand them. But, I do have some questions and would be much obliged if you could kindly clarify them.

1. Is it true that in quantum physics, imagination is a very real thing. If so, can you tell me what that means?

2. Did space and time start off at the same point?

3. How accurate is our perception of time? Is the big bang the beginning of human appreciation of time?

Please do let me know. The second question has had me think particularly for hours and Im still wondering!

Im sure that many if not all of my questions are plain gibberish to you. But do let me know if it is!

Waiting in anticipation.



gracefool said...

However isn't the universe by definition an ISOLATED SYSTEM? Doesn't the same argument apply to the whole universe?