Messiah College and Calvin College

email to Ted Davis on 8/27/2012
Dear Dr. Ted Davis,

I think you should know that if you don’t take any action at all, I’ll be bringing the matter to the attention of Dr. Phipps.

Dear Dr Roemer,

This is simply a threat. Shame on you—is this how you respond to people who don’t do your bidding? You dragged me into this entirely on your own, Dr Roemer. I don’t encourage you to contact President Phipps, not because I fear any action she might take—she fully supports my involvement with BioLogos, and she understands that you are simply on a crusade to cause trouble for me (and others), because we won’t help you fight your own battles—but because it will simple waste some of her very valuable time. I needn’t add, that you are doing that already with my time. If you raise this issue with me again, I will have no choice but to block your messages. I have classes to teach, and students to meet with, and your concerns are not high on the agenda.

Since you did not send me information about any articles you’ve written for “First Things,” I gather that you actually are not a writer for that magazine, as you claimed. At least, I can find no evidence of such activity.

Edward B. Davis
Professor of the History of Science
Messiah College
One College Avenue Suite 3030
Mechanicsburg PA 17055
tdavis@messiah.edu
Voice: 717-766-2511, ext 6840
Fax: 717-691-6046

Dear Dr. Phipps,

I think you should be aware of the conflict I’m having with a number of physicists and scientists about an absurd article published by the American Journal of Physics (Entropy and evolution, Nov. 2008). One of them is Ted Davis, who you are trusting to teach Christian students. His behavior is no worse or better than the behavior of a number of other scientists that I have confronted about this article.

The core of the article is an incorrect equation for entropy, a concept in thermodynamics. I think the only remedy is for the AJP to retract the article, a corrective undertaken usually in cases of fraud. I explain all this in an article published by The Catholic Truth of Scotland newsletter in May (http://www.catholictruthscotland.com/MAYnewsletter12.pdf). I’v attached a version of this article, as well as the AJP article, to this email. This Christian organization published my article because it squelched some statements made by Richard Dawkins about evolution and entropy. Granville Sewell, a professor of mathematics, gave a similar explanation for why the AJP article is nonsense in this link:
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/10/more_philosophical_than_scient052441.html
The AJP is using trickery to avoid having to publish a retraction. I’v recorded my email correspondence with the editor and publisher on my blog. The links are
http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/02/american-journal-of-physics/
http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/23/american-association-of-physics-teachers/
http://newevangelist.me/2012/05/06/american-institute-of-physics/
The first physicist I appealed to for support was Robert Richardson of New York University, where I got a Ph.D. in physics. In an initial exchange of emails, he was friendly and made a comment supportive of my criticism of the AJP article. But when he saw what I was getting at, he behaved towards me in a rude and insulting manner. The email exchange is here:
http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/22/physics-department-of-new-york-university/
The next physicist I interacted with was Randy Isaac, the Executive Director of the American Scientific Affiliation. On the ASA forum, I explained why the AJP article is wrong. Isaac’s comments were inane. Nonetheless, he is taking responsibility for the AJP article. He is saying publicly that the article is okay. I suggested to Robert Kaita, the President of the ASA, that he assign a moderator to another discussion between me and Isaac on the forum. Kaita has not responded to this request, effectively supporting Isaac’s dishonesty and the dishonesty of the AJP. My correspondence with the ASA is here
http://newevangelist.me/2011/12/07/american-scientific-affiliation-2/
Another physicist I contacted was Stephen Barr, who writes for First Things, just like Ted Davis. Barr is a prominent Catholic and an orthodox Christian. He does his best to squelch atheism and explicate the conflict between religion and science. To my shock and amazement, Barr criticized me in a email that was not responsive to my article but fully supported the AJP article.
The problem that Stephen Barr, Ted Davis, and Randy Isaac have is that they actually do not understand evolutionary biology. They are not biologists. Yet they write about evolutionary biology and think of themselves as experts. They are laymen, who learn about biology from reading magazines and popular books. They agree with the AJP article. The very suggestion that a peer-reviewed article about evolution is wrong is not something they can not deal with in a rational way.  My correspondence with Barr and First Things is here:
http://newevangelist.me/2012/08/02/first-things/
On the BioLogos forum, I recently posted a list of true statements about evolutionary biology that many educated people, even those who write about science, don’t understand or don’t know. I’m hoping this list will help you understand the importance of getting the AJP to retract the article. One of the most wonderful experiences is finding oneself in error. It helps you to understand how other people can be mistaken about something. Let’s help Ted Davis, Stephen Barr, and Randy Isaac have this experience.
  1. The theory of natural selection only explains the adaptation of animals to the environment, not common descent. Not enough is known about the innovations natural selection acts upon to understand how bacteria evolved into mammals in only 3.5 billion years.
  2. The only theory that explains common descent is intelligent design, but there is no evidence for ID. Many scholars think that what is wrong with ID is that it is “not science.”
  3. The second law of thermodynamics (entropy or disorder increases in an open system of non-interacting particles) does not apply to evolution. Some scholars think evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics and others think it does not. The second law also does not apply to the evolution of stars from hydrogen gas.
  4. The sun increases disorder in the biosphere because it heats things up. Some scholars think that evolution does not violate the second law because the earth is exposed to energy from the sun.
  5. The entropy of the biosphere cannot be calculated using the Boltzmann constant and an estimate of the thermodynamic probability of living organisms. An article published by the American Journal of Physics (Vol. 76, No. 11, November 2008) performs such a calculation. You can download this article at https://docs.google.com/open?id=0Bw0xQqr5YbtJQ09ybDR0ejd2TTA
I’ll be giving you a call to make sure you got the email, and to see if you want to discuss the matter.

Email to Clarence Menniga and Provost of Calvin College on 10/11/12. Subject: American Scientific Affiliation

Dear Clarence,

Why haven’t you responded to my review of your book on Amazon.com and the Open Forum of the American Scientific Affiliation? It indicates that you know the attached American Journal of Physics article (“Entropy and evolution”) should be retracted. Your comments about entropy and evolution are just a mindless repetition of the errors in the AJP article.

Your silence raises questions about your integrity. Your book criticizes creationists for distorting science. You and the AJP are lying about science, as I explained to the AJP. The AJP should have given my critique to the author of the article. If the author said I was wrong, I would have written to his college and told them he wasn’t qualified to teach physics.

I posted my explanation of why the article should be retracted in the Open Forum of the ASA. Randy Isaac replied with nonsense and Robert Kaita is letting him get away with it. The ASA is effect is helping the AJP cover up its error.

If the AJP retracts the article it will be very embarrassing for atheists. Atheists promote the scam that natural selection explains the complexity of life and that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. The truth is that natural selection only explains the adaptation of species to the environment, though there is no way to draw a hard line between adaptation and common descent. The truth is that the second law of thermodynamics does not apply to evolution, just as it does not apply to the evolution of stars.

My correspondence with physicists about this issue is at

http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/22/physics-department-of-new-york-university/

http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/02/american-journal-of-physics/

http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/23/american-association-of-physics-teachers/

http://newevangelist.me/2012/05/06/american-institute-of-physics/

http://newevangelist.me/2011/12/07/american-scientific-affiliation-2/

http://newevangelist.me/2012/08/02/first-things/

A version of my attached article was published by the Catholic Truth of Scotland:

http://www.catholictruthscotland.com/MAYnewsletter12.pdf
My YouTube video titled “The Truth About Evolution and Religion” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKaF8vX6HXQ) also sheds light on this issue.

What you and all the members of the ASA, especially those who profess to be Christians, is resign from the ASA.

Email sent on 10/18/12
Dear Clarence,

2. Natural selection means natural selection acting upon innovations. According to James Shapiro (University of Chicago), the old paradigm for innovations was random mutations and the new paradigm is genetic engineering. Natural selection only explains the adaptation of species to the environment. It does not explain how bacteria evolved into mammals in only 3.5 billion years. The only theory that explains this is intelligent design, but there is no evidence for intelligent design.

3 and 4. All you need to know about the evolution of stars is that the hydrogen atoms in outer space go from a large volume to a small volume. This is the exact opposite of what happens in the free expansion of a gas. The second law is not universal. The second law is absolutely true because a system of non-interacting molecules will always fill up the entire container it is in. I understand that the second law can account for and include chemical reactions. The second law does not apply to the evolution of stars or the evolution of life.

5. A living organism is not a sum of chemical reactions. A chemical reaction can be described with a balanced equation. A living organism engages in genetic engineering. If you place a single bacterium in a solution of sucrose, a set of proteins will ingest the sucrose and another set will transform the sucrose into new cellular matter. The number of bacteria will increase until the sucrose runs out. If you place the bacterium in a solution of sucrose and fructose, the bacteria will ingest the sucrose, but not the fructose, until the sucrose is gone. The bacteria will stop reproducing for a time. During this time, the bacteria create a new set of proteins that enable it to ingest and synthesize the fructose. This is called genetic engineering.

6. All substances, like an object made from FeO, have a temperature because it can be measured with a thermometer. A Boeing 747 in flight does not have a temperature. Since the concept of entropy is derived from the concept of temperature and heat, a Boeing 747 does not have entropy. Likewise, a living organism does not have entropy. The science articles that discuss the entropy of an organism are breaking the organism down into the parts that can be described with chemical reactions.

7. I noticed with interest your insight that the term complexity is not easy to define. Nevertheless, biologists consider a mammal to be more complex than a bacterium. Since we agree that the second law does not apply to evolution, what is it that we disagree about? Why don’t you agree that the AJP article is absurd? The article calculates the entropy of a biological system using the Boltzmann constant and an estimate of the thermodynamic probability. The connection between evolution and the second law is this: Physicists calculate the probability that all the molecules in a gas will huddle into one corner of the container. Biologists calculate the probability of getting the primary structure of a protein with the random selection of amino acids. They do the same kind of probability calculations.

8. The growth of a tree is not the result of chemical reactions. The biological process involves cell differentiation. The tree starts as one cell and becomes two identical cells, and then four identical cells. Then the cells start to change. The next eight cells are not identical. A grown tree has a large number of different cells. Your statement that it is the result of “natural processes” is quite puzzling. Are there unnatural processes? As I understand developmental biology, there is very little known or understood about how a single cell develops into a multi-cellular organism. This is one of the complexities of life, in addition to molecular machinery, genetic engineering, and the primary structure of a protein.

9. Again we agree that evolution does not violate the second law. The second law does not apply to evolution. It applies only to non-interacting particles and chemical reactions. Evolution is not the result of chemical reactions. Why then don’t you agree that the AJP article should be retracted?

In conclusion, saying evolution violates the second law is an ignorant way of expressing the limited explanatory power of natural selection. It is just as ignorant to say evolution does not violate the second law. It is unintelligent to say evolution doesn’t violate the second law because the Earth is not a closed system. The Earth is not a closed system because it gets heat energy from the Sun. Heat tends to increase disorder and entropy. The AJP article exceeds in stupidity and ignorance these ideas because it includes an incorrect equation for entropy.

The motivation for this nonsense is clear to me. Atheists don’t like to admit that intelligent design is a better theory, in some sense, than natural selection. They don’t like to admit that the second law does not apply to evolution because that sounds like saying evolution violates the second law. Saying evolution violates the second law sounds like creationism and intelligent design. Atheists are more interested in marginalizing intelligent design and creationism than in understanding and teaching evolutionary biology.

Email received from Clarence Menninger on 28 Oct 2012
David,

1.     The meaning of “genetic engineering” as you use it to describe the growth process of an oak tree, and presumably the growth process of any other living organism, is very different from the usual meaning of that term. The usual meaning is a modification of the genetic makeup of a living cell by human intention and human intervention. In whatever sense the growth of an oak tree is genetic engineering, it is self-engineering. I prefer to think of it as the product of God’s design, taking place as He intended it to.

2.     By “natural processes” I mean those events that take place without human intention or intervention. Well, I guess I intend to eat, and natural processes take over from there. Certainly the growth processes that you erroneously call “genetic engineering” are included in my “natural processes.”

3.     Quite a few years ago, Michael Polanyi wrote a brief piece entitled “Life is more than physics and chemistry.” I subscribe to that perspective. Nevertheless, life involves chemical processes. I don’t understand your aversion to considering chemical processes; God used/uses a lot of them in his design for living organisms.

4.     With this email, my participation in this conversation is concluded. I wish you God’s abundant blessings in your outreach ministry.


3 Comments on “Messiah College and Calvin College”

  1. Ben Winchester says:

    Hi Dr. Roemer,

    I was wondering if you might be interested in discussing this further. I came to this website via a comment you’d made on another blog, and I read most of the backstory of your arguments over the AJP paper with academia and editors. My background is in mathematics (undergrad) and materials science (PhD). I still work extensively with thermodynamics, and I TAed the 400-level thermodynamics class during graduate school. My advisor was Long-Qing Chen, if you wish to look up his (or my) publication record.

    I’m not completely sure that I understand the disagreement you have re: the equation used in the AJP paper. Boltzmann’s constant is appropriate for any equation of configurational entropy, even in biological systems or with a deck of cards. Can you elucidate your argument?

    • David Roemer says:

      The Boltzmann constant (k) can only be used for molecular systems or similar configurational systems (e.g., blackbody radiation). The kinetic energy of molecules in a gas can be related to temperature via the Boltzmann constant. But, if you have a box of ping-pong balls bouncing around, you can’t get a temperature for the balls with the Boltzmann constant and the kinetic energy of the balls.

      Likewise, the Shannon equation relates the probability of a deck of cards with its Shannon entropy. However, you can’t use the Boltzmann constant to say the thermodynamic entropy of a deck of cards is klog52! joules/degree.

      There is another way of seeing it. Consider a Boeing 747 in flight. Does it have a temperature? I don’t think so. It is made up of many parts and each part has a temperature, but not the plane itself. If it doesn’t have a temperature, it doesn’t have an entropy because entropy is derived from temperature and heat. Likewise, a seed planted in the ground does not have an entropy. The idea of doing a calculation of the entropy of a seed to show that the second law is not violated when it grows into a tree strikes me as being nonsense.

      • Ben Winchester says:

        Hmm. Well, you *could* get the temperature of a resting ping-pong ball via its kinetic energy. Even a stationary ping-pong ball is not really stationary, and moves on a tiny scale at a rate related to its temperature. But this movement drops off rapidly with increasing mass for an object, so it’s not a practical way to measure temperature.

        With a deck of cards, you can still say that the configurational entropy of just the *order* of the cards is k log (52!). This is completely dwarfed by the configurational entropy of the constituent atoms within each card, however. I.e., (possible configurations of atoms within a card) >>> (possible configurations of the cards).

        A Boeing 757 does have a temperature, or more accurately, an average temperature. That’s true of anything larger than a couple atoms: some parts can be hotter or colder, and what we call “temperature” is really just an energy distribution. It’s true for a gas in a bottle, or for a metal rod. If you look at the individual atoms in a “uniform” gas, you’ll find a range of kinetic and potential energies. That’s statistical mechanics.

        When we talk about the entropy increase from a melting piece of ice, we’re already talking about averages, since the ice didn’t have a uniform temperature before it melted, and it doesn’t have a uniform temperature afterwards, either.

        So while the calculating the entropy change of seed -> tree is a bit more complicated than for ice -> water, I don’t think it’s nonsense. (As I think about it more, the bulk of the entropy change would probably be in the transformation of H2O and CO2 into sugars and sugar chains, the entropy of which is really not that hard to calculate.)


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