Commentary on Dr. Holloway's Treatment
of the Second Law of Thermodynamics

By Ross Olson
November 27, 2000

Dr. Holloway,

It is ironic that you start out your response to Ms. Fryman with another permutation of the "credentialism" argument. She is "a non-specialist," you say, and therefore not qualified to contradict your expertise. All you say in your biography, however, is that you "had two graduate level courses in thermodynamics, one as a chemist and one in a graduate school of meteorology." You also say that you have published 13 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Are we to assume that they were on thermodynamics? Unknown to you, Ms. Fryman's paper was indeed reviewed by an expert who agreed with the factual basis and the reasoning.

On the other hand, you have had little respect for the opinions of several experts whose credentials exceed yours. You sneered at "Thermodynamics and the Development of Order" edited by Emmett Williams, with contributions from three PhD's. You had no respect for the writings of Dr. Blick who taught engineering at Oklahoma University for 30 years.

I do thank you for continuing the interaction, however, because you have revealed the heart of the conflict. It is philosophical and perfectly unmasked in your statement below:

"The second requirement, if one is to prove that evolution violates the second law, is to derive all subsequent arguments from the accurate statement of the second law. In order to be accurate, this must be done in the same careful and rigorous way that is found in, for example, plane geometry."

It is quite clear that you treat the second law, as it was formulated 150 years ago, as absolute truth. You propose arguing inductively from that principle to its implications, disallowing anything that cannot be derived from it logically. That would be fine if it were divinely revealed truth and comprehensive. (But if I tried to do that, you would undoubtedly claim that such a thing does not exist.) You are arguing very much as the Aristotelian Scholastics did prior to The Enlightenment. All wisdom and knowledge were felt to be embodied in the writings of the past and were given presumptive authority that trumped new ideas --which were considered "rash."

Now I do not think you really want to get on the train of thought because there are other ancient authorities that you would have to face, something I suspect you would rather not do. But I also think you have forgotten how science is done. Observations are collected and hypotheses generated. These are tested and formulated into ever more general principles. If they pass muster, they are eventually accepted as Laws.

Even these "Laws," however, are considered tentative in the method of science. Some well-accepted principles have been overturned, such as spontaneous generation disproved by Pasteur. Others may eventually be swallowed up by more general understandings. For example, that is the hope of those seeking "The Theory of Everything" as some sort of principle unifying all the forces.

(I directed you to the web site of Common Sense Science http://www.CommonSenseScience.org regarding a novel way that group is doing just that by returning to classical physics, but you never responded.)

Also, let me remind you that early on in our private discussion, I allowed you the option of stating that although the classical formulation of the Second Law may not deal with it, there was indeed a general principle of tendency to disorder (which is experimentally verifiable.) You would not accept this possibility but persisted in your absolutist arguments. You insist that a seed growing into a plant does not violate the second law, which is undoubtedly true. But you claim to have no curiosity about the fact that an irradiated seed does not even sprout. Similarly, you point out that the second law is not violated by a car being assembled, and are blase about the fact that a pile of car parts left in the hot sun for a long period of time does not progress towards anything resembling a functional car.

In other words, you are stuck in an outmoded science and refuse to re-look at a 150 year old model, worked out in a very restricted testable scenario at a time when reputable people still believed that old rags produced rats and garbage produced maggots.

You are also stuck in a now rejected epistemology, used in a very selective way, in that you treat certain old formulations (not all) as received truth but pretend this to be a scientific outlook. You even use the format of reasoning used by the Aristotelian Scholastics in your inductive reasoning followed by mention of examples without analysis. You say, "For instance, plants and animals evolve."

That, in case you have forgotten, is the basic question, not one of your axioms. You also use the classical bait and switch by defining (in your posted debate with high school student Steven Macks) evolution as change over time, and having received an affirmative answer to that, seem to believe that you have proved amoeba to engineer evolution. (Although you claim to have no need to explain abiogenesis but apparently feel you should be allowed to simply assume that somehow life got here and you can start with that and still think you have a comprehensive view of origins.)

You also use, without understanding, examples of decreased entropy without increased information, such as formation of rain, snow or other crystals, as somehow helpful to your cause. You also refer to growth of living things as if it makes no difference that they are directed by an incredibly sophisticated microminiaturized program, and not by raw energy from the sun. (Talk about Voodoo science!)

Again, in your interaction with our Steven Macks, you have betrayed a lack of understanding of both genetics and the orders of magnitude of information necessary to, say, give an organism the physical and behavioral capacity for flight. You have written that baby deer look different from their parents and several species of deer are probably related. That is true. It is also true that all dogs are related. But it does not follow that there are no barriers to further change. You can breed dogs for as long as you want and you only get varieties of dogs. With fruit flies you can get thousands of generations and they are still fruit flies, often defective fruit flies, due to mutations, induced or accidental. (It almost makes you wonder if there is some sort of tendency towards loss or garbling of information, doesn't it?)

As to submitting the question to an expert panel of textbook writers (and these would be the members of that establishment that required you to "prove" that the second law did not forbid evolution in order to get your PhD) I have another question. Would Vice President Gore submit his election objections to the Republican National Committee? Or would Gov. Bush agree to binding arbitration by William Daley? There is a paradigm war going on, in case you haven't noticed. That is why academic freedom was denied in the granting of degrees by your alma mater. That is why creationists are vilified by academia and evenhanded treatment of the evidence is forbidden in most schools.

I am not saying that scholars are not bright people or even that they are devious; it is just that there is tremendous peer pressure in academia. You live or die by the will of your advisor or department head or tenure committee or task force on grant distribution. There are also strong emotional reasons to toe the line even if there is no outside pressure because, "if I said it, it must be true." Finally, for those who do not want to be accountable to a Creator, there is a powerful incentive to cling to any argument or intimidation technique that seemingly takes God out of the picture.

Ross Olson MD

(Ross Olson is a Pediatrician and father of four adult children. He is not an expert on thermodynamics but he is quite familiar with human nature, both his own and other people of all ages.)