Cool Hand Luke: He Beat You with Nothing! The Atheist Search for the Origin of Life, Part 2: There Oughta be a Law
(For best results, start with Part 1):
‘There oughta be a law!’ is what you say when something doesn’t go your way but you think it should. It’s a complaint. You often say it in jest or in a tongue in cheek manner.
It is what Robert Hazen says (though not in jest) about the two laws of thermodynamics. There ought to be another one. Therefore, there is--it just hasn’t been discovered yet. Why does he say it ought to be out there somewhere? Because otherwise his quest to find life’s origin (or origins) is going nowhere. Why doesn’t he consider that maybe God created all things, as religious people have almost universally believed? Because he’s not a theologian. He doesn’t go there.
[Note: I have nothing against Hazen in particular. I have simply selected him as representative of a certain approach. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. Kudos to him for being the point man of his field. It is not as though Great Courses has ever tapped me to lecture on anything.]
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy may change form, but the net total stays constant. The second states that it doesn’t change form in just any direction, but always toward disorder. “Another way of stating the second law is that all natural systems tend to spontaneously to become disordered, or messier, if you will” he says in Lecture 1 of his Origins of Life series. “It turns out that any collection of atoms, including your shiny new automobile, a pair of new shoes, or even your body, gradually deteriorates.”
This observation will strike most people as a big Duh, but scientists have attached a name to this deterioration: entropy, a “measure of disorder.” Thus, as disorder increases, so does entropy. “There’s a lot of entropy in this room,” I used to tell my son, hoping to instill in him a love of science, before demanding he clean it up so as to placate my wife--ignoring his non-sequitur plea of, “Well, what about your room?”
“A lot of people find the second law of thermodynamics more than a little depressing,” Hazen says. Another Duh—especially when applied, as he does apply it, to “even your body.” It is why I prefer the term Golden Rule to Human Rights. The latter may contain a measure of good stuff, but even our own bodies do not respect our human rights, crapping out on us just when we need them most, ultimately shutting down altogether. The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," preserves all that is noble while discarding all that is pretentious about Human Rights.
But for Hazen, the greatest reason that second law is “more than a little depressing” is because it louses up his theory on life originating spontaneously. There oughta be a law to countermand that second one. Therefore, he assumes there is. For the rest of the course, he continues to speak of the concept of “emergence,” which he hopes will someday be recognized as a law.
As evidence for his proposed theory, he urges people to “look around you. You see houses, you see holly trees, hummingbirds, all of them remarkably ordered systems. And so, in spite of the second law's pronouncement that entropy inexorably increases, it's obvious that disorder is not the only endpoint in the universe.”
Any child knows why, when you “look around you,” you see houses. The Bible, which favors the child-like ones over the “wise and intellectual,” opens the topic with a self-evident “of course:”
“Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but the one who constructed all things is God.” (Hebrews 3:4)
The other “ordered systems” mentioned, holly trees and hummingbirds, and later, “a single living cell or an ant colony or your amazing conscious brain,” are among the “houses” constructed by God, per the reasoning of Hebrews 3:4. Why doesn’t Hazen consider this possibility? Because he is not a theologian, he explains in his opening lecture. With that pronouncement, the reasoning of most of the human race is dismissed.
He expounds on his concept of emergence in Lecture 8. Are there things clearly not alive that counter the second law of thermodynamics, that is, things that build up rather than tear down? There are! and he goes on to consider how water can sculpt sand.
Then follows a discussion of four factors at work in the shifting sand—and also in more “complex systems” such as the cell, the ant hill, or the human brain. There’s the “concentration of interacting particles, the degree of those particles interconnectivity, the energy flow through the system, and the time variation of that energy flow, and perhaps other variables as well.” Yes, maybe, he postulates, the same factors that formed the sand ripples and dunes also formed the emergence of life!
However, as he and everyone else instantly realizes, the brain, and other components of life, is more complicated than a sand sculpture. How much more? Alas, “we don't know how to assign numbers to different degrees of complexity. What is the complexity of an ant hill or the human brain? And what are the units? Every scientific measurement needs to have units, like kilograms or meters per second. We need to be able to say that [comparing] this system with that system has a complexity of so-and-so many hundreds of thousands of some complexity unit, and nobody knows how to do that.”
With no measurable units, who can say just how much more complex is the living cell from the sand dune? It will have to be in the eye of the beholder. The Hebrews 3:4 people will say ‘infinite.’ Hazen and his crew will say ‘a gazillion,’ though he concedes it could be near-infinite. “Oh, about 5 or 6,” say the philosopher-atheist-scientism-cheerleaders plaguing the social media community, who are quick to call anyone “stupid” who disagrees.
"It's clear we don't know everything," he understates in his first lecture. "In spite of the labor of countless thousands of scientists over the centuries we don't understand one of nature 's most transforming phenomena, the emergence of complexity." That’s a pretty big thing not to know, methinks, seeing that his entire vision depends upon it, seeing that he has to presuppose a new law to propose it.
Toward the end of their first contentious presidential debate in 2016, Trump and Hillary were challenged to say nice things about each other. Both rose to the occasion. Hillary complemented Trump’s family. Trump said of Hillary that she is tenacious—she doesn’t give up.
Let us say that of the Origins community, too, as represented by Hazen. They are tenacious. They don’t give up as they search for the law that oughta be. Probably, they have nice families, too.
To be continued: here
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