F Rosa Rubicondior: Life's a Beach. Order From Chaos

Monday 28 October 2013

Life's a Beach. Order From Chaos

Listen to any creationist pseudo-scientist and you'll be told that something can't come from nothing and that order can't come from chaos, because both of those violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What they really mean of course is that both of these show we can explain the Universe and life on Earth without invoking magic and magic designers, so they'd rather you didn't know they can both happen by perfectly natural processes. That would dangerously undermine their claim to power and influence and, most importantly, damage their income stream and mean they would need to earn an honest living.

I've already dealt at length with the nonsensical notion that nothing ever existed before there was something in Much Ado About Nothing so I'll now look at the nonsensical claim that order can't emerges from chaos without a magic designer, which I've also touched on with Order From Chaos.

What creationist pseudo-scientists won't tell you of course is that you can observe for yourself order emerging from chaos in, for example, the sand on a beach, as this photograph I took yesterday on a beach in Portugal clearly shows. What can be seen is structure within the otherwise chaotic arrangement of grains of sand due to the action of chaotically arrange water molecules and suspension of sand grains.

One of the great things about being an atheist and knowing a little about science is that you can recognise examples of emergent order and don't need to dismiss them because you have a superstition which says they are impossible. Look at the photograph and you will see a pattern of diamond shapes on the surface of the sand as the seawater flows off following the breaking of a small wave on a gently-sloping beach.

What happens is that a larger grain of sand is heavy enough to resist the carrying power of the flowing water and settles out. Then small eddies form behind it as the water flows around it and the main flow is channelled into a widening fan shape. This allows more sand grains to settle out in the widening zone downstream of the original sand grain. Repeat this a thousand times over a small area and the resulting interference pattern creates the system of criss-crossing micro-channels and a diamond lattice of newly deposited sand. Structure and order has emerged from chaos and all in complete accord with the laws of thermodynamics.

The driving force which has produced this is of course gravity. Gravity produces the flow of water over the sand and gravity causes the sand grains to settle out when the water loses the power to carry them. Just as gravity can account for structure emerging from the chaos of sand and water so gravity can account for the formation of galaxies, stars and stellar planetary systems.

The analogous force to gravity in living systems is natural selection. Just as gravity causes order to emerge from chaos, so natural selection causes gradual change to emerge from the chaos of random change in genes to produce variation. Just as gravity caused order to emerge from the chaos of randomly distributed particles in the Universe, so natural selection caused diversification to emerge from the chaos of random mutations in DNA.

For reasons of selfishness and greed and a desire to control through fear and superstition, creation pseudo-scientists would have you ignore wonders such as this to be found all around in nature and to dismiss them all as the product of magic, just like Bronze-Age goat herders did.

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