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Just Too Simple! Needs More Math

Granville Sewell

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In an article for Human Events last month, I wrote a very simple introduction to intelligent design, and concluded by pointing out that to not believe in intelligent design, you have to believe that four known fundamental, unintelligent, forces of physics alone (the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces) must have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into Apple iPhones. A lot of nonscientists must have been impressed by my arguments, because the article now has over 1.2 "kilo-likes," more than some (but not many!) of Ann Coulter’s Human Events articles.

I don’t think my article impressed too many scientists, though. While the idea that a few unintelligent forces of physics could create Apple iPhones is hard for the layman to swallow, scientists know a lot about how such things can happen. Scientists who do origin-of-life research are making continual progress understanding how living things could arise from nonliving matter, and evolutionary biologists already understand pretty well how the first living things became more and more complex and developed brains, and we are learning more and more about the human brain, which is of course what designed Apple iPhones. And, after all, there is no law of science that forbids unintelligent forces from creating iPhones out of dust here, over a long period. The only law of science — the second law of thermodynamics — which forbids order from arising out of disorder only applies to isolated systems, and the Earth is an open system. The decrease in entropy represented by the creation of iPhones is easily compensated by entropy increases outside the Earth.

Well, I created the video below (with the help of my brother Kirk) which shows how silly this "compensation" argument is, by pointing out that the same logic could be used to argue that tornados running backward, turning rubble into houses and cars, would not violate the second law either. This video likewise seems to have impressed some nonscientists — the number of views is approaching 10,000 now. (Yes, I know that videos of babies playing Ping-Pong can easily get that many views per hour.)

The video still didn’t seem to impress many scientists, though: anyone can create a YouTube video, there’s no peer review at YouTube. So I published an article, "Entropy and Evolution," which makes many of the same points, in a more scientific manner, in the peer-reviewed journal BIO-Complexity. Notice that the conclusions follow very closely the argument in the last segment of my video.

Unfortunately, BIO-Complexity reviewers, though all well-credentialed academics, are notorious for refusing to discard, a priori, papers that question the scientific consensus on Darwinian evolution. They only seem to be interested in whether or not the logic and science are good. Thus if one of the goals of peer-review is to preserve in amber (or should that be formaldehyde?) the scientific consensus on controversial issues, some might say that BIO-Complexity is not really a peer-reviewed journal. Anyway, the article was still pretty simple, and hardly used any mathematics.

Well, I wrote another paper with similar conclusions, which was peer-reviewed and accepted by Applied Mathematics Letters in 2011. This paper did use a little mathematics, but unfortunately it was withdrawn a week or so before it was to be published, officially because it was "more philosophical than mathematical," though many of you know the real story, as reported here. I published a later version of this paper in the proceedings of a 2011 Cornell conference — here is my contribution — which was again peer-reviewed.

Apparently the problem with my Applied Mathematics Letters article was it only used a little Calculus III level mathematics, hardly worthy of a top journal like AML. I guess that’s why it was considered "more philosophical than mathematical." So now I am embarking on a bold new research project. I am going to write a paper on this topic which uses much more advanced mathematics. Maybe I can use my finite element program PDE2D to solve some difficult nonlinear partial differential equations, and model some relevant biochemical processes. I’m sure I could get the attention of the scientific community, and convince them that a few unintelligent forces of physics alone really can’t rearrange the fundamental particles of physics into Apple iPhones, if I could just figure out how to work some advanced mathematics into the paper.

So far I haven’t made much progress. Any suggestions?

Image source: Casey Bisson/Flickr.

Granville Sewell

Granville Sewell is professor of mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso. He has written four books on numerical analysis, most recently Solving Partial Differential Equation Applications with PDE2D, John Wiley, 2018. In addition to his years at UTEP, has been employed by Universidad Simon Bolivar (Caracas), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Purdue University, IMSL Inc., The University of Texas Center for High Performance Computing and Texas A&M University, and spent a semester (1999) at Universidad Nacional de Tucuman on a Fulbright scholarship, and another semester (2019) at the UNAM Centro de Geociencas in Queretaro, Mexico.



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