Saturday, February 28, 2015

Atheism on the ropes

Lately, a new theory has been making the rounds that some popular publications claim “puts God on the ropes.” It purports a naturalistic explanation of life that eliminates the need for God.

Jeremy England, a young MIT professor, has proposed a theory that suggests that the Second law of Thermodynamics implies that life is not accidental but necessary. He is quoted in Quanta magazine as saying:

"From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life1.” 

This theory implies that life is an inherent and emergent property of all physical systems that behave according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This idea actually puts atheism on the ropes rather than Theism.
If life, with it's methods and properties – such as consciousness and rationality – are embedded in physical systems, that implies that rationality and consciousness are inherently part of those physical systems. Atheism implies that no one is ultimately there and that personality in humanity emerged from inherently impersonal processes. If this theory is true, then the attributes and methods of person-hood are inherently part of nature. If this theory is confirmed by experimental evidence, Atheism is falsified and the culture wars in science will shift to whether science provides better support for Classical Theism or Pantheism.

What England's new theory does not do is specify the conditions that must exist that would cause life to emerge. England carefully prefaces his big announcement with the preposition  “under certain conditions” because physical laws cannot specify  particular values until initial conditions are specified. John von Neumann and Howard Patte write the following to show why this is necessarily true:

What we need to understand is that physical laws are universal and must apply to all conceivable systems. Therefore laws are empirically moot with respect to any particular system until its particular initial conditions are specified. This requires information, and physical laws cannot specify this information2, 3.”

Patte and Neumann go on to lay the foundational principles of bio-semiotics, which is an approach to studying life which builds models that require both physical components and semantic components which cannot be physically defined but must be present a priori (prior to) to specify the initial conditions of any physical system. These additional constraints suggest that logical or semantic components of information must precede and ontologically transcend physical systems including the physical universe. This coheres much better with Classical Theism than with Pantheism.

1 A New Thermodynamics Theory on the Origins of Life

2 The Necessity of Biosemiotics: Matter-Symbol Complementarity Cited in
    3 Bio-Semiotics - The Intelligent Design of Life Revealed

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! Can't believe people are actually falling for this nonsense - but thanks for doing such a careful deconstruction and rebuttal! I've posted a link to this post on my own blog's social media sites (FB fan page and twitter account for apologeticsroadtrip,com)