Granville Sewell is still an embarrassment

by Neil Rickert

When I last posted about Granville Sewell, I made a joke about it.  Sadly, Sewell is still at it.  As a mathematician, I am embarrassed when a fellow mathematician says something so foolish.  I suppose I shouldn’t be — it is well known that people can be very intelligent in their mathematics, yet make very unwise decisions elsewhere in their lives.

Sewell’s latest effort is “Just Too Simple,” posted at the Uncommon Descent blog.  It presents a youtube video (just under 15 minutes) with an updated version of his old argument about a tornado running backward.  I am not sure who is narrating the video, but since the narrator refers to Sewell in the third person, I assume that Sewell is not narrating it himself.

Sewell’s method of arguing is exactly what we normally see in religious apologetics.  By posting this kind of argument at UD, he debunks the frequently heard claim that ID is not an apologetic.

The new video begins with these words:

In the current debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design, the strongest argument made by Darwinists, is this: In every other field of science, naturalism has been spectacularly successful.  Why should evolutionary biology be so different?

What a strange thing to say.  I don’t recall ever hearing that as an argument for evolution or for Darwinism.  I might might have heard it as a side remark, but never as an actual argument.  If Sewell really thinks that is the strongest argument, then I can only conclude that he has never looked at any actual arguments and evidence in support of evolution.

But, of course, that’s the way apologetics works.  The apologeticist quite deliberately misrepresents his opponents, so as to make his opponents look foolish and stupid.  This is a practice commonly referred to as “lying for Jesus.”  And then, after such misrepresentation, these apologeticists are just as likely to tell us that their theism is the source of morality in the world.

Sewell’s aim is to refute evolution.  And, indeed, he completely demolishes the strawman version of evolution that creationists love to attack.  But that, of course, is the whole point of a strawman – to erect something that can easily be knocked down.

The argument that Sewell provides takes us back to his old theme, the second law of thermodynamics.  He argues that natural processes cannot produce the local lowering of entropy that we observe with biological systems, human made structures, etc.  He uses his old idea of a tornado running backward, and the improbability of that occurring, as the basis for his argument.

The trouble with Sewell’s argument, is that it is self-refuting.  It proves too much.  The weather systems, such as severe thunderstorms, are regions of locally lower entropy than their surroundings.  If Sewell’s argument were correct, that natural processes could not result in significant local lowering of entropy, then there would be no such weather systems, and there would be no tornadoes.

One would think that a mathematician such as Sewell, might be smart enough to recognize this problem.  Apparently, not.

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2 Comments to “Granville Sewell is still an embarrassment”

  1. Hi Neil,

    I am a christian who believes in theistic evolution, and so I am not supporting ID as science. But I think you are a little unfair here, just as you suggested an unfairness over at my blog:

    But, of course, that’s the way apologetics works. The apologeticist quite deliberately misrepresents his opponents, so as to make his opponents look foolish and stupid. This is a practice commonly referred to as “lying for Jesus.”

    I think that does happen. But I think the possible inference that the only apologists are on the christian side is mistaken Apologists exist everywhere, and they can all tend to this straw man (straw person?) error. For instance atheists do it all the time by erecting a silly definition of faith and then accusing christians of being ant-evidence and anti-reason – guilty as charged in some cases, but manifestly not in others. Perhaps you should have said “lying for Jesus” or “lying for Dawkins”. : ) (Not a fair parallel, but you get the point.)

    Only a minor point, but I thought worth making. Thanks.

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    • Apologists exist everywhere, and they can all tend to this straw man (straw person?) error. For instance atheists do it all the time by erecting a silly definition of faith and then accusing christians of being ant-evidence and anti-reason – guilty as charged in some cases, but manifestly not in others.

      Yes, I agree with that. And I have occasionally criticized atheists who do that.

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