Email exchanges with the Editor of the American Journal of Physics (February 1, 2012)Dear Dr. Jackson,
In an email the Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education (Glenn Branch) cited “Evolution and the second law of thermodynamics,” in the American Journal of Physics, October 2009 (Vol. 77, No. 10, pp. 922-925), to support the following statement made by Richard Dawkins:
The article cited by the NCSE gives calculations about the sun and evolution purporting to show that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, just as Richard Dawkins says. In my opinion, this article deceives many people about evolutionary biology. Because your journal is peer-reviewed I am hoping you take corrective action.
When creationists say, as they frequently do, that the theory of evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics, they are telling us no more than that they don’t understand the Second Law (we already knew that they don’t understand evolution). There is no contraction, because of the sun!” (The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, page 415)
Evolutionary biology studies the adaptation of species to the environment and the increase in the complexity of species as they evolved into mammals over a period of 3 billion years. The complexity of a chimpanzee can be grasped by studying the primary structure of proteins, molecular machinery involving dozens of proteins, and the development of the fully-grown chimp from a single cell. What biologists call natural selection explains adaptation, but it does not explain the increase in complexity of species. The following quote from Harvard and Berkeley biologists proves this statement:
The connection between the limitations of the theory of natural selection and the second law of thermodynamics comes from calculations biologists perform to understand the evolution of proteins. The primary structure of a protein is a chain of 20 different amino acids. Biologists calculate the probability of getting a protein by the random selection of amino acids. Given the time limitation, it is as probable as finding all the gas molecules in a container grouped together in one section of the container so that there is a vacuum in the other section. Performing calculations to show evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics implies that natural selection explains the complexity of living organisms.
Facilitated variation is not like orthogenesis, a theory championed by the eccentric American paleontologist Henry Osborn (1857–1935), which imbues the organism with an internal preset course of evolution, a program of variations unfolding over time. Natural selection remains a major part of the explanation of how organisms have evolved characters so well adapted to the environment. (Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, page 247)
The second law of thermodynamics is an absolute truth. It is like saying the chance of getting heads when you flip a coin is 50%. When a tree grows from a seed by absorbing oxygen and carbon dioxide there is no violation of this law. However, the idea of calculating the entropy of the tree and heat flows into the plant to prove this strikes me as being absurd. I may be wrong, but this is how I understood the article.
I give more quotes from biologists in the Youtube video titled, “The Truth About Evolution and Religion."
Very truly yours, David Roemer
Dear David Roemer,
I appreciate your email, but I honestly do not understand your point or what you think I should do about it. I read the article in AJP you refer to and note that it is quite clear in its assumptions and claims. It demonstrates that the presence of life on planet Earth does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. I don't understand why you think it is absurd to calculate the entropy to support this claim. That is, after all, the only way to determine whether the second law would be violated.
Sincerely, David Jackson
Dear David Jackson,
The first point I made is that natural selection only explains adaptation, not the increase in the complexity of life.The following quote is from a science writer, and Pinker and Bloom are not biologists. It shows a large number of people don’t understand this. The American Journal of Physics is spreading this misinformation:
The second point is that the calculations in the paper have no scientific value. You say that you disagree with me, but you give no references in textbooks or peer-reviewed journals to support your statement. Citing articles published by the American Journal of Physics doesn’t count because it is this journal’s integrity that I am challenging.
They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all.But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea,…Even Darwin said that it was hard to image how the eye could have evolved.And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection—the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects…Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it. (Christine Kenneally, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, pp. 59–60)
Very truly yours, David Roemer
Dear David Roemer,
I have neither the time nor the interest to enter into a philosophical debate with you on the details of evolution. The American Journal of Physics (AJP) is a peer-reviewed scholarly physics journal. If you believe AJP is spreading "misinformation," then you are welcome to submit an article stating your case.
Evolution and the second law of thermodynamics (manuscript ID no. 25055 submitted to AJP on February 24, 2012)The articles published by the American Journal of Physics, “Entropy and evolution” (November 2008) and “Evolution and the second law of thermodynamics” (October 2009) are based on a lack of understanding of thermodynamics and evolutionary biology.
The common descent of species refers to the evolution of mammals from bacteria over a period of 3 billion years. Adaptation refers to the evolution of traits that increase the chance of survival in the various habitats that cover Earth. While there is no easy way to draw the line between adaptation and common descent, natural selection is a theory that explains only adaptation. It does not explain common descent. In other words, natural selection explains why giraffes have long necks, but it does not explain how giraffes evolved from fish and fish evolved from prokaryotes.
I have I a license to teach physics in New York State and can lawfully teach biology if no licensed biology teacher is available. I would give my hypothetical class the following two quotes to support the above assertion. The first quote should be read slowly. The second quote is from a biologist who I think limits the explanatory power of natural selection more than most biologists:
Facilitated variation is not like orthogenesis, a theory championed by the eccentric American paleontologist Henry Osborn (1857–1935), which imbues the organism with an internal preset course of evolution, a program of variations unfolding over time. Natural selection remains a major part of the explanation of how organisms have evolved characters so well adapted to the environment. (Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, 2005, page 247)
The following is a quote from a science writer who thinks natural selection does explain the complexity of living organisms. You might ask the author what biology textbook or peer-reviewed article she got this idea from. Christine Kenneally, Steve Pinker, and Paul Bloom have PhDs in linguistics, not biology.
P. falciparum, HIV, and E. coli are all very, very different from each other. They range from the simple to the complex, have very different life cycles, and represent three different fundamental domains of life: eukaryote, virus, and prokaryote. Yet they all tell the same tale of Darwinian evolution. Single simple changes to old cellular machinery that can help in dire circumstances are easy to come by. This is where Darwin rules, in the land of antibiotic resistance and single tiny steps…There is no evidence that Darwinian process can take the multiple, coherent steps needed to build new molecular machinery, the kind of machinery that fills the cell. (Michael J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, 2007, p. 162)
This is the kind of misinformation the two American Journal of Physics articles are promoting. According to the second law of thermodynamics, an isolated system of non-interacting particles will either be in equilibrium or go to a state of greater disorder. In other words, nature goes from the more complex state of speed and location to the less complex state. The two articles report scientific calculations showing that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. Laymen interpret this to mean that natural selection explains the complexity of life.
They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all.But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea,…Even Darwin said that it was hard to image how the eye could have evolved.And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection—the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects…Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it. (Christine Kenneally, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, 2007, pp. 59–60)
A very understated measure of the complexity of life is the primary structure of a protein. A large protein has 600 amino acids connected together. Sickle cell anemia is caused by one amino acid in hemoglobin not being the right one, there being 20 different kinds of amino acids. Evolutionary biologists calculate the probability of getting the primary structure of a protein by the random selection of amino acids. They relate this probability to the time available for evolution, which is 3 billion years. I selected the number 600 because that is the length of an English sonnet, which is made up of approximately 20 letters. Professors Gerhart and Kirschner discuss the chances of getting an English sonnet from the random selection of words and letters in their award-winning book cited above.
These are the same calculations of probabilities used in statistical mechanics to relate microscopic variables to the macroscopic variables of thermodynamics. For example, the connection between temperature (T) and the average kinetic energy (KE) of a molecule in a gas is given by KE = (3/2)kT, where k is the Boltzmann constant. The two articles use an equation connecting entropy (S) with a quantity called thermodynamic probability (Ω): S = klogΩ.
This means there is a loose connection between evolution and thermodynamics. One might say:
However, the idea that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics is irrational because the second law is as certain as saying the odds of getting snake eyes in a dice game is 1/36. It is equally irrational to try to prove evolution doesn’t violate the second law by performing entropy calculations on living organisms. It is like calculating the entropy of a deck of playing cards with Boltzmann’s constant. A deck of playing cards has neither entropy nor temperature.
Considered thermodynamically, the problem of neo-Darwinism is the production of order by random events. (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, “Chance or Law,” in Beyond Reductionism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, The Macmillan Company, 1969, page 76)
There are more quotes from mainstream biologists in my Youtube video titled, “The Truth About Evolution and Religion.”
Also of interested to any teacher should be the dialog between me and a graduate student at Berkeley majoring in biophysics:
This is a link to an article by a mathematics professor that criticizes the two articles. The article itself contains three other links that may be of interest:
Report of reviewer sent to me by David JacksonThis manuscript criticizes two articles on the relationship between entropy and biological evolution that were previously published in the American Journal of Physics. The manuscript fails to present valid and clear scientific arguments and is entirely unsuitable for publication.
The manuscript begins with a desultory sequence of statements that fail to present any sort of argument or indeed to bear any relation to the articles supposedly being critiqued: there is a discourse on the meanings of the terms “common descent,” “adaptation,” and “natural selection,” followed by two quotations of no apparent relevance. Then, perhaps most bizarrely, aspersions are cast on the expertise of three linguists who are not mentioned in the original articles. The author claims that “this is the kind of information” supplied in the two articles under critique. If the author wishes to supply examples of “the kind of misinformation” in these articles, he should cite examples from the articles, not from pieces that bear no discernible relationship to them.
In the entire manuscript, I can find only one substantive criticism, namely the sentence “Laymen interpret [the calculations in the articles] to mean that natural selection explains the complexity of life.” The articles in question are extremely explicit in describing what they do and do not claim. The purpose of both articles is to refute the argument often raised by creationists that claims that the second law of thermodynamics renders evolution by natural selection impossible. They do not make the positive claim attributed by the author. The first article, by Styer, is extremely explicit on this point (see item 4 in the Appendix). I see no evidence that any “layman” has fallen into the error that concerns the author.
After this paragraph, the author resumes his stream of irrelevant observations. The next several paragraphs do not contain any argument clear enough for me to respond to. I will simply conclude by pointing out that the author displays a lack of understanding of standard thermodynamics when he remarks that “a deck of playing cards has neither entropy nor temperature.” The laws of thermodynamics apply to all physical systems. Any time there is a meaningful split between “microstates” and “macrostates,” it makes sense to compute entropy.
Email and letter exchanges with Dickinson College (Jan.17, 2013)Dear Dr. Morgan,
I'm trying to get Dr. David Jackson, editor of the American Journal of Physics, to retract the attached article titled, "Entropy and evolution." Equation 4b is an incorrect application of the Boltzmann equation for entropy.Dr. Jackson should have referred my critique to Daniel Styer, the author of the absurd article. Instead, he told me to write my own article. An anonymous reviewer said that I didn't know what I'm talking about. In this way, the AJP and its publishers are avoiding taking responsibility for the article. The responsibility now falls on your shoulders.
My correspondence about the issue is at
An article explaining why the AJP article is absurd is at
I'll be giving a lecture in New York City about the matter on March 15, 2013. In addition to Equation 4b, I'll be discussing the following:
- Darwinism only explains the adaptation of species to the environment, not common descent.
- Advocates of intelligent design and nonreligious dilettantes are inhibited from thinking intelligently and rationally about evolution because of anxiety about religion.
- It is an error to think evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics, but it is a more egregious error to think evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because of the sun.
There is no cost for the lecture and no ticket, but to obtain a reservation and the exact location and time click on the following link:
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/316545 (Reservation for "Pseudoscience in the American Journal of Physics")
While Dr. Jackson is a member of my department and I am currently the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, I do not have any editorial responsibility for, or control of, the American Journal of Physics.
Windsor A. Morgan,
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Director, Charles M. Kanev Planetarium
Dear Dr. Morgan,
I don't agree. Under ordinary circumstances, where there is a correctable error in a peer-reviewed journal or a disagreement about an approach to a topic, what you say would be true. But the AJP article contains a gross error and is a source of misinformation about evolutionary biology, a topic filled with religious implications.
By not disciplining Dr. Jackson, you are collaborating with the AJP, and its publishers, AAPT and AIP, to cover up its mistake in publishing the article. It is no longer just a mistake, but deliberate anti-religious propaganda. Dr. Jackson is teaching your students. You have a duty to put on your thinking cap and decide whether or not Jackson's behavior is within the bounds of decency.
Very truly yours,
February 22, 2013
Mr. William G. Durden
P. O. Box 1773
Carlisle, PA 17013
Dear Mr. Durden,
Dr. Windsor Morgan and Dr. David Jackson are not supporting my efforts to get the American Journal of Physics to retract an article published in November, 2008 (“Entropy and evolution,” Am. J. Phys., Vol. 76, No. 11). Jackson is the editor of the AJP and did not follow accepted procedures for a peer-reviewed article when an error has been pointed out. By his silence and inaction, Morgan is helping the AJP cover up its mistake. The Catholic Truth of Scotland published an essay I wrote in May, 2012, about the AJP article because of the connection between evolution and religious faith in the minds of many people. The following link makes it clear to anyone why the AJP article is absurd:
Dr. Stephen Barr and Dr. Randy Isaac are two prominent physicists who write about evolution and religion and who are Christians. They are also guilty of supporting the actions of the AJP and its publishers. Barr angrily wrote to me saying that I was wrong and was harming the Catholic Church. Isaac offered to “walk me through” the matter. Barr and Isaac were sincere at first, but their behavior changed for the worse when I replied to their condescending response to my allegations. This does not justify the negative behavior of your subordinates, but rather shows how important it is for the AJP to retract the article.
The theory of evolution is that mammals evolved from bacteria over a period of 3.5 billion years. Many who call this theory a fact think the theory that free will is an illusion is also a fact. Both theories are related to religious faith. Religion causes conflict between people, and conflict causes anxiety. Inhibition is a defense mechanism against anxiety, and many scientists are inhibited from thinking intelligently and rationally and behaving honestly about evolution.
Fact or theory, evolution gives rise to the question of what caused it. The theory of natural selection only explains the adaptation of species to the environment. In other words, natural selection explains why giraffes have long necks, but not how giraffes evolved from bacteria in only 3.5 billion years. Evolutionary biologists always speak of “adaptive evolution.”
This limitation of the explanatory power of natural selection gives rise to the erroneous idea that evolution violates the laws of physics, specifically the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics states that nature tends to go from order to disorder and that entropy either increases or remains the same. Entropy is a thermodynamic variable related to heat and temperature. The truth is that the second law of thermodynamics does not apply to the evolution of stars or biological evolution.
The AJP article says the second law is not violated because it only applies to isolated systems, not systems exposed to sunlight. This reasoning is literally unintelligible. The idea that evolution violates the second law is intelligible, but simply wrong. What makes the AJP article morally offensive is that it misapplies a standard thermodynamic equation to prove that the second law of thermodynamics is not violated. Anyone who can’t see that the calculation is nonsense should not be teaching thermodynamics. Anyone who remains silent about this outrageous article is a moral coward.
Very truly yours,
Mailed with a certificate of mailing
Email exchanges with Daniel Styer (December 21, 2013)Hello, David
I am just now reacting to your "Open Letter to Jesuits". When it arrived June I was backpacking deep in Idaho's Frank Church Wilderness Area ... if you're interested, you can read about my journey (which was physical, natural, and spiritual, all at the same time) through http://www.oberlin.edu/physics/dstyer/Backpacking.
Since I'm not a Jesuit (I am, in fact, a Quaker), I didn't give your open letter high priority. I've just finished my grading for the semester and I've gone back to look at it. Your letter and your webpage (http://www.newevangelization.info) led me to a creationwiki page. Although that page is anonymous, I take it that you are the author because of your gmail address, and because of the similarities between your biography and the one given for the creationwiki author. I've written a response to that page which I've attached.
Your web pages are full of reference to war and conflict: "evolution and the culture war"; the "conflict between science and religion". As a Quaker and as a physicist, I see no war and no conflict here. I hope that in this prayerful season you can follow the Beatitudes and obtain some peace.
Yours in truth,
This is the first time any physicist has contradicted me about my Creationwiki.org article. Emory Bunn told me he didn't have time to discuss it. David Jackson told me to submit an alternative articleof refutation to the AJP. Jackson should have told you about my correction of your mistake. It was up to you to defend your paper, it was not up to me to write an article.I submitted an article, nevertheless, which obviously was not intended for publication because it included computer links to other articles and videos. The anonymous review said I was wrong. With this deceptive behavior, David Jackson et al avoided taking responsibility for the article. I'v sent letters to the president of Dickinson and the chair of the physics department criticizing David Jackson's character. For presidents of colleges in New York City, I'v asked for appointments so I can explain to them why their physics chairmen were "moral cowards."
I had an exchange of emails with Walter Bradley, who wrote a paper relating the origin of life to the Boltzmann equation for entropy, over a year ago. He too used the Boltzmann equation for a biological system, but he spelled out what the underlying atomic system was. In your calculation, you just plug in a probability estimate. You don't relate the probability to any underlying microscopic states.
In any case, you should know that the Catholic Church, the United States Congress, and the American Association of University Professors are currently investigating my allegation that the American Journal of Physics is undermining the integrity of science in the U.S. and promototing atheism by refusing to retract your article and Emory Bunn's note. I keep track of all of my correspondence about your article at http://www.newevangelist.me.
I assume this is the first time you heard of my criticism of the paper. Why did you not know before this? Why didn't David Jackson tell you? My guess is that everybody knows the paper is absurd. They didn't want to embarrass you by bringing the matter to your attention. They also don't want to embarrass the atheistic culture in the U.S. by retracting the article.
Very truly yours,
My telephone conversation with you today about “Entropy and evolution” (Am. J. Phys., Vol. 76, No. 11, November 2008) was a replication of the written exchanges I’v had with Randy Isaac (American Scientific Affiliation), Stephen Barr (U. of Delaware), Emory Bunn (U. of Richmond), David Jackson (Dickinson College), Rev. Nicano Pier Giorgio Austriaco O.P. (Providence College), Robert G. La Montagne (Providence College), and Robert Richardson (New York University). The difference between you and the others is that you expressed a concern for my welfare and offered to help me.
In these exchanges, I have tried to explain why the article is atheistic propaganda with no scientific value so that an informed decision can be made about its retraction. I am demanding retraction, not just requesting it, because I vilify anyone who does not support retraction, the usual remedy for deliberate fraud. (See http://newevangelist.me/2013/04/12/national-science-foundation/ for an explanation of why the article is malicious.) For example, I explained to John Sexton, President of NYU and a former theology teacher at a Catholic college, that his physics chair (David Grier) is a “moral coward” for refusing to attend my planned lecture about the matter. I don’t think Grier is still the physics chair.
Their response to my efforts to help and guide them has not been to help and guide me. Rather it has been to create a false paper trail to support the continued publication of the article. The article supports with a fake calculation the atheistic myth that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. In our telephone conversation, you repeated this drivel. I am committed to getting the article retracted because it will prove how irrational atheists are about religion. One of the reasons I believe in the Bible is that people who are against religious faith tend to be ignorant, unintelligent, irrational, and dishonest about religion.
Your document (“CreationWikiReply”) has two parts. You claim the first part “suffices to show Davidmihjn’s critique is without substance.” The second part is a list of six errors I supposedly made about thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. My errors would be relevant if there was a disagreement between us about the article. I consider it a conflict, not a disagreement. A disagreement implies we have different judgments about evidence. I am saying you don’t understand the Boltzmann equation for entropy. I am questioning your intelligence and integrity, not your judgment.
In the first part, all you say is I am wrong because I am saying thermodynamics only applies to atomic systems. But you did not explain why this is wrong. I had this same exchange with Randy Isaac on the forum of the American Scientific Affiliation. I said: “A Boeing 747 in flight does not have a temperature.” Randy said: “Yes, it does.” Likewise, I said to you today: “A pendulum does not have an entropy.” You said, “The entropy is zero.”
I suggest that we focus attention on your statement that the entropy of a pendulum is zero and my emotional and intellectual reaction to this statement.
Very truly yours,