Wednesday, September 14, 2005

on the Evolution vs. Creationsim debate

All this week The Daily Show is running a special report called "Evolution Schmevolution" and I was going to weigh in with my own belief on this topic. I started this post and got bogged down in long, boring explanations. This happens a lot, which, if you know me, you already know. So I started over and I'll try to keep it (relatively) short.

In the past, I have made several comments about spelling and grammar. I am aware of my own failings involving the use of commas. At least I know the difference between "their," "there," and "they're."

I am firmly in the Evolution camp. (Please spellcheck all hate-mail)

About the Daily Show, from the title ("Evolution Schmevolution") you might get the impression that this special report is pro-Creationism. It is not. If you are familiar with the Daily Show, you know that religion is ridiculed almost without mercy ("This week in God," "Papplication", etc) Plus, Kurt Vonnegut was the guest last night. How awesome is that?

Okay. I think the biggest argument Creationists make against the Theory of Evolution is that it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics. If you want to see the Creationist side of this point, here are two places to look:

There are also several sites by people more qualified than I am to refute these arguments, here are two:

Here is my take on this. Creationists misunderstand and/or abuse 2LoT. 2LoT does not say that the universe tends towards physical disorder. Disorder is a subjective quantity. What 2LoT basically says is that the universe tends towards an even distribution of energy. Physical disorder is a random and accidental consequence of this redistribution, like a tornado moving through a trailer park. Remember, however, that disorder is subjective. Wind blowing across desert sands can produce patterns that seem very orderly. When I was 13 a tornado passed through the woods not far from my home. Seen from above the fallen trees also seemed pretty orderly. Or try this: put a strong magnet under a piece of thin, but stiff, cardboard (cardboard from a cereal box works really well). Dump some iron filings (not a lot) on top of the cardboard. Gently flick the cardboard with your fingernail several times. Tell me that isn't order.

Another claim (I'm sure you can find it somewhere on the same sites, so I won't give new links) is that it is preposterous that such vast complexity could arise from simple beginnings.

Ok. This is not an argument. This is a statement of incredulity. Some people might think it preposterous that an 875 thousand pound 747 can fly. It does not prove or disprove anything. (In fact, I got pissed off the first time I saw the movie "Starship Troopers" when the guy on the talk show says "I find the idea of a bug that thinks offensive!" As if nothing could possibly exist that offends him.)

But I'll treat it as if it were. The following is not an analogy. It has nothing to do with evolution. It is only to illustrate the point. It is a mathematical structure called a fractal. Specifically, the Mandelbrot set.

It uses complex numbers, but I am not teaching remedial algebra. If you want to understand, but don't, get help from someone who does.

Simple beginnings: the basic equation is Z = Z^2 + C.
Z is initially 0+0i.
C is the point on the complex plane that we are testing.
To find out if a point is part of the set, iterate the equation several times
(Some people may see this as analogous to the many generations involved in evolution. It is not. But iteration of some sort is part of any means by which complexity arises from simplicity)
If, after several iterations (1000 is more than enough in most cases), |Z|>2, the point is not in the set. If the point is not in the set, illuminate it on the computer screen. The color is determined by the number of iterations before |Z|>2.
A mandelbrot set is extremely complex.
Once again, this has nothing to do with evolution. It merely shows that extreme complexity can arise from simple beginnings.

I am not going to try to de-bunk any Creationist claims. It cannot be done. All arguments for Creationism reduce to, "Because God wanted it that way." That is also not an argument. If you believe in God, it cannot be refuted. If you do not, it is meaningless. I have two questions though. First, if God created the complexity of the universe, He must be even more complex. I think no one will deny that. So how did God's complexity arise? And second, can someone give me a satisfactory explanation of the fig-tree incident (Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14)?


1 person has spouted off:

Anonymous said...

you ever see that Simpsons halloween episode wher Lisa accidentilly created a tiny universe with static electricity and coke? i think it was something like that. that could help explain why god's been rather silent the last couple thousand years....

Time for a God must be different than our perception. If you've been around forever, wouldn't time move slower? Wouldn't 100 years be go by in a flash?