to Table of Contents.
“Scientific” creationists also have destroyed their own credibility in every branch of science about which they have written by the tactics they employ in writing. This is especially true in thermodynamics, of which there are many distinct versions, depending on the application involved.2 This comes about because creationists view the laws of science not as do scientists on a quest, but as evangelists on a mission. They use whatever knowledge they may have not to further scientific understanding, but to forge apologetic defenses of the biblical truths they believe in. Here’s an example3 from one of my former bosses:
In teaching on-campus and at church, I have found that an understanding of physical laws, particularly the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, is essential to the defense of biblical truths. The Second Law has been particularly helpful in developing an apologetic against abiogenesis...
College of Engineering
Iowa State University; 1997
I will not rehash the earlier criticisms, preferring
instead to develop somewhat different lines of attack.
For example, previous critics of creation “science,” (I
among them,2 4)
described any number of remarkable mechanical devices that seem to defy
the second law of thermodynamics – so “backwards” do they seem to operate.
Among the more interesting examples is the hydraulic ram, reliable
versions of which have been in operation since the late 18th century.2
4 In response, creationists simply note that
all such devices were ultimately designed and built by an intelligent human,
whereupon they develop the false analogy that “intelligent design” also
pervades nature (which it does not) and assert that it, too, must have
been designed and created. It is best to anticipate this bogus explanation
for apparent design by explaining why science is totally justified in rejecting
intelligent design because it is rooted in supernaturalism. Accordingly,
I have dedicated space “up front” on why all supernaturalism is strictly
forbidden in modern science. This means that such notions as intelligent
design, miracles, creators, and such – however cleverly disguised – amount
to counterfeiture in science.
Another area short-changed by previous authors, is that of classical thermodynamics, particularly its technical aspects, and how it differs from the statistical and informational theories of thermodynamics that creationists exploit almost exclusively. Though risky for a popular article, a brief account of the classical theory of thermodynamics is given below, along with a some of the mathematical methods on which it is based. The purpose is to show how deviously creationists have misrepresented thermodynamics and, more importantly, what would really be necessary to prove that the second law renders biological evolution impossible. Fact is, thermodynamics does not rule evolution impossible. Creationists have only claimed it does, but have never demonstrated it with suitable calculations. Finally, I have outlined a thermodynamics-based approach I’d consider if asked to examine the relation between evolution and the second law. This approach strongly suggests that living organisms generate so much entropy, just staying alive, that life should never lower entropy anywhere, no matter what the rate or path of evolution.
Creationists love grand-sounding names with a ring of authority. So much so, that they named their two most prominent ministries, the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society, or ICR and CRS for short. But the members are not researchers so much as lay evangelists. They develop reams of counterfeit rhetoric, apologetics and polemics – CRAP for short. The “research” smacks of the “concordance approach” ministers use to prepare their sermons, which goes something like this. First, decide what is to be supported and what denied. (If in doubt, consult The King James.) Next, scour the publications and public utterances of scientists and compile a well-indexed database from these materials. The index should be of the key-word variety, much like biblical concordances, so that you can quote a snippet here, a passage there, etc., to defend everything you decided on beforehand. Defenses prepared in this way are called apologetics.
If you are defending the Bible, as creationists are, you’ll need a strategy to deal with the reams of things that flatly contradict your presuppositions. For this you prepare a litany of ad hominem attacks to intimidate all questioners, friend and foe alike, in hopes of diverting attention away from the embarrassing stuff. Ad hominem attacks prepared in this way are called polemics. Should embarrassing stuff ever come up, just fly off the handle with a few of your polemics.
For the most part, creation “research” is library work – the kind needed to prepare defenses of the creationists’ presuppositions. Creation “science,” is the organized body of CRAP that creationists have amassed. Because of its biblical basis,10 11 12 13 14 creation “science” is so deeply rooted in supernaturalism that modern science won’t give it a hearing – which infuriates the creation scientists and their grassroots supporters. This important issue is worth a closer look for two reasons. First, to see how the scientific denial of supernaturalism is justified and, second, to see how creationists tie supernaturalism into science and the laws of thermodynamics.
What disqualifies creationism from modern science is its direct dependence on things supernatural. This makes it religion, not science. Depending on the audience, creationists will either soft-pedal the supernatural – as when arguing to get creationism into public school science curricula – or they may flaunt it – as when addressing throngs of bible-believing supporters. Here are some of the religious ideas creation “scientists” and their supporters have advocated in the past:
Closed- minded as it may seem, modern science simply refuses to consider supernaturalism in any form. I like to put it this way:
Here are two of the many lines of reasoning scientists use to justify such harsh rejection policies toward supernatural explanations:
Modern science is simply the search for purely naturalistic descriptions and explanations for everything in nature.
A brief digression here on the disingenuousness of creationists as regards the credibility of their design evidence is in order. Creationists pretend that nature reeks of intelligent design, but they don’t really believe that this constitutes genuine scientific evidence for a designer. As proof, you need only consider this: if design in nature were actually supported by valid evidence, it could be used as evidence of a supremely advanced (but not supernatural) extraterrestrial-alien designer. That is, if the so-called evidences for intelligent design were cast as the handiwork – not of God – but of an alien designer, at least the idea could not be dismissed forthwith because of supernaturalism. Certainly, aliens could exist out there and their sciences and technologies, though not super-natural, could seem so, especially if they had evolved billions of years before us. So why don’t creationists just drop their fixation on the supernatural and try an “alien-designer model” instead of their “Inelligent-Designer model?” Because they want acceptance for their religious agenda, not for their so-called evidence. When their evidence from design is used to support the alien/designer idea, even creationists decry the argument as being bogus. This is a really nasty mess for creationists and more should be made of it, especially in debates.
The bottom line: Even when observed phenomena
defy all attempts at scientific explanation, science still cannot
budge on supernaturalism.
The most powerful branch of physical theory, and the most certain by far, is classical thermodynamics. Not surprisingly it is thoroughly atheistic, as are all viable theories of modern science. What is surprising, is the extent to which classical thermodynamics is “a-structural” as well as a-theistic. Classical thermodynamics all but ignores whatever substance or substances may be under consideration. It focuses instead on work and heat exchanges at the boundary of the substances in question. This total disregard for internal structural details is what makes classical thermodynamics so much more general and powerful than all its lesser siblings. Here in barest outline is a summary of classical thermodynamics.
The most basic objects in classical thermodynamics are the system, its surroundings and the boundary between the two. The system is simply that portion of the universe selected for consideration. Everything else belongs to the surroundings. The two together can be thought of as making up the entire universe, which cannot exchange any work or heat across its boundary (because there’s nothing out there). A thermodynamic system and its surroundings are separated by an imaginary envelope called the system boundary. It is only through this boundary that heat and work effects may be communicated to the system.
As mentioned above, classical thermodynamics cares not one wit about the fine structure of what’s inside or outside the system. All that matters is how much heat and work are exchanged and how it is done. The system may be a solid, liquid or gas, made of atoms, or molecules, or even pure light – the same calculation methods of classical thermodynamics apply with equal rigor. Not so for the statistical or information theories of thermodynamics, for they focus on the detailed atomic configurations of the substances involved, not on things like heat and work. Hence non-thermodynamic hypotheses must be introduced so that things such as “complexity,” can be defined well enough for calculations to be made. Unfortunately, even now there is no real consensus among the leading experts as to the definition of “complexity.”16 Without a clear, mathematical definition of complexity available, none of the entropy calculations needed by creationists can be made. Of course, this has not deterred them from conjuring up an abundance of “whopper-type” claims that evolution contravenes the second law of thermodynamics and therefore could never have occurred. So few individuals know anything at all about thermodynamics, that creationists have little difficulty exploiting these completely bogus second-law arguments in public. To see what a non-bogus thermodynamic analysis would entail, we must consider the laws of classical thermodynamics in a bit more detail.
That’s it. There is no fretting about how much of the energy went into which particles, or photons, or whatever, because no such entities are explicitly assumed to exist in classical thermodynamics. (Adding such hypotheses takes one out of the realm of classical thermodynamics and into that of statistical or informational thermodynamics, as mentioned above.) The first law, being a conservation principle, is easily taught to students, because analogous conservation principles are familiar from everyday experience. For example, if to a beaker containing W1 kilograms of water, you add a total of q Kg of water while removing a total of w Kg, the final amount of water, W2, will always be W1 plus q – w. Moreover, this will always be true, no matter how complicated the sequence of individual additions and removals may be. The same is true of energy inventories.
Just as the first law of thermodynamics is a general statement about the behavior of the state function, energy, the second law tells us the general behavior of another state function called entropy. The entropy change of a system for any change in state is defined by
In words, Eq. (8-27) says: take the system from state 1 to state 2 by a reversible path. To compute the entropy change of the system, divide each infinitesimal amount of heat by the temperature T at which it is absorbed by the system, and add all these quantities.
Entropy changes must always be computed by taking the system from the initial state to the final state by means of a reversible path. However, entropy is a state function, and this is independent of the path. Although these two statements sound contradictory, they are not, since
The entropy S is a function of state. In a reversible process, the entropy of the universe is constant. In an irreversible process, the entropy of the universe increases.
As we have remarked, the thermodynamic laws are not derived mathematically, but are general expressions of experimental findings. To “prove” the first law of thermodynamics, that energy is a state function, we showed that to deny its validity would be to say that creation of energy is possible, and all our experience tells us this is not true. To “prove” the second law of thermodynamics, we will demonstrate that to deny it implies that gases can spontaneously compress themselves, and that heat can flow spontaneously from cold to hot regions.
To do the thermodynamics correctly is not at all easy, but none of the creationists’ supporters understands it anyway, which is all the creationist purveyors of CRAP need to know. Why should they do correct analysis when it would only refute their second-law position anyway? Why not resort instead to a “whopper-filled” version that portends to rule out the possibility of evolution? And were someone to expose the hoax, who among the believers would be able to understand it anyway? None, actually, which again is why thermodynamics has become the apologetic tool of choice for so many creationists.
If creationists really wanted to prove that second law rules out evolution, there is one way and one way only to do it. Here are the steps:
According to creationists, the entropy of highly complex and organized configurations must be lower than the entropy of less complex, less organized ones. Clearly, if one cell is a highly complex, highly organized configuration in its own right, then surely an assemblage of, say, several trillion or so such cells should exceed the complexity of its individual cells by a factor of trillions, or so. This being the case, the entropy inventory of the assemblage must therefore be far, far below that of any of the individuals that make up the assemblage.
That this is definitely not the case, follows from the well-known fact that entropy, like energy, is an extensive thermodynamic property, which means that the entropy of n cells should be roughly n times the entropy of each individual cell. In the case of our example, the assemblage should have an entropy inventory that is several trillions of times larger than that of each individual cell. In other words, the entropy inventory does not go down with size, as the creationists’ complexity arguments would imply; rather it increases roughly in proportion to the number of individuals contained in the assemblage! There is no hint in the creationist literature that their thermodynamicists have addressed this seeming contradiction, which derives from the extensive nature of such thermodynamic properties as energy, entropy, enthalpy, Gibbs free energy, and many more. Now for the last idea of this article, which may prove the most interesting of all.
Were I a physiologist, I might explore this line of argument with more verve. As it is, I shall content myself to merely rough out the basic ideas. In the past, opponents have noted, quite correctly, that local entropy decreases – such as may be due to an evolving community of complex organisms – need not be regarded as violations of the second law. As long as entropy increases elsewhere overwhelm any local decreases, the entropy of the universe overall would go up, so that no violation of the second law need be considered. Rather than rehash those kinds of “closed system vs open systems” arguments yet again, I prefer to consider a more aggressive frontal attack on the creationists’ basic claim. Why take seriously their unproven, bald assertions that evolution to a more complex form implies a local reduction in entropy? They have asserted it, to be sure, but have never provided a quantitative calculation of any sort to support it, and I, for one, see no reason to take any part of it seriously. In fact, I suspect that no living organism, whether alone or in an evolving community, is capable of lowering any overall entropy inventory – local or otherwise – under any circumstances. This may seem a bit bold, but the chain of reasoning is rather simple at least in outline, if not in detail.
In every living organism, even those at rest, every cell has countless thousands, perhaps millions or billions, of irreversible processes going on inside. These are needed just to maintain a status quo. Some digestive processes would be going on, as would some respiratory processes and so on. (This is where knowledge of physiology would be handy, because I am not sure how many processes might be going on at any time, how rapidly their rates, or how irreversible each of them would be.) But the point is this, every one of them must be spontaneous, otherwise they could not proceed spontaneously without violating the second law of classical thermodynamics. But if they are proceeding spontaneously, as they surely must, then each of them must be churning out entropy at a net positive rate, as the second law dictates. And the more irreversible and rapid the ongoing process, the greater is the net rate of entropy production. Adding up over all the millions of such microscopic processes going on in each cell and then again over all the cells in the organism, we come to a startling realization: every organism even at rest must be continually generating incredible amounts of entropy inside its own cells and hence inside its own body. Moreover this must be going in every living organism, every second of every day of its life. Hence, the local environment – the one in which the biosphere is itself embedded – must truly be “bubbling over,” so to speak, with excess entropy being generated from within. And where is the local reduction in entropy to overcome all this – the one that creationists insist can not be adequately compensated for? The burden is on them to not only prove that their claimed local decrease actually takes place, but also that its magnitude is sufficient to overwhelm all that bubbling forth from inside all the organisms that make up any local ecology. I’m convinced they can’t do it, for the simple reason that it’s just nowhere to be found.
If every living organism continually churns out
substantially more entropy than it consumes – as in backward running internal
processes, say – then we are assured that the second law is conformed to
by every organism every second it is alive. This assures us that every
living community must also be in conformance, whether evolution by
natural selection is going on or not. In other words it doesn’t matter
one bit how natural selection may be pruning the gene pools at any given
time. The internal processes required to sustain life from minute to minute
automatically guarantee that all life will, individually and collectively,
will conform to the second law, no matter what kinds of weird new species
may evolve from the old.
2 Patterson, John W., “Thermodynamics and Probability," in Evolutionists Confront Creationists, pages 132-150. Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol 1, Part 3, April 30th 1983; Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, c/o California Academy of Science, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA. ( 2, 4-9) ( 2,4)
5 Bronowski, Jacob, “New Concepts in the Evolution of Complexity,” Zygon, Vol 5, pages 18-35, 1970. ( 2, 4-9)
6 Cramer, J.A., “General Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics,” in Origins and Shape, D. L. Willis, ed., American Scientific Affiliation, Elgin, IL, 1978. ( 2, 4-9)
7 Freske, S., “Creationist Misunderstanding, Misrepresentation, and Misuse of the Second Law of Thermodynamics,” Creation/Evolution, page 8, Issue IV (Spring), 1981. ( 2, 4-9)
8 Patterson, John W., “An Engineer Looks at the Creation Movement,” Iowa Academy of Science Proceedings, Vol 89, no. 2, page 55, 1982. ( 2, 4-9)
9 Franzen, H. F., “Thermodynamics: The Red Herring,” Chapter 9 in Did the Devil Make Darwin Do It?, D. B. Wilson, ed., Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1983. ( 2, 4-9)
10 Morris, Henry M. and Whitcomb, John C., The Genesis Flood, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, PA, 1961. ( 10-14)
11 Morris, Henry M., Scientific Creationism, (Public School Edition) Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, CA, 1974. ( 10-14)
12 Morris, Henry M., The Scientific Case for Creationism, Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, CA 1977. ( 10-14)
13 Morris, Henry M., The Twilight of Evolution, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI 1982. ( 10-14)
14 Weinberg, Stan, Reviews of Thirty-One Creationist Books, National Center for Science Education, Berkeley, Ca, 1984. ( 10-14)