Why Creationists Should Abandon Arguments Based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics
By Robert Holloway, Ph.D.
by Edward Blick
These comments are written largely in response to the recent article by Dr. Edward F. Blick on the TCCSA web site. However, because Dr. Blick's article is very similar to the usual Creationist line on this subject, my response is applicable to most recent writings by Creationists on this subject.
The controversy on this subject is at least 25 years old and in recent years it seems to have developed a bit more, although in 25 years, I have never seen an adequate treatment of the subject by Creationists. Dr. Blick's article is no exception. The original argument, as put forward by Creationists, is stated approximately as follows. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (according to Creationists) states that everything in the universe tends towards disorder. That being the case, evolution is prohibited because it is obvious that, in evolution, organisms are becoming more highly organized. If that were an accurate statement of the second law, then evolution would indeed violate it. However, that is not an accurate statement of the second law. Creationists typically try to make the second law much more sweeping than it is in reality. There are some very important conditions that Creationists typically leave out, perhaps in part because they do not understand them.
A Creationist, Emmett L. Williams, has stated the second law as I learned it in physical chemistry. Williams states (1) that, according to Clausius, the second law requires that the total entropy of the universe increases. Because entropy is a measure of disorder, this
statement of the second law appears to be the source of the mistaken notion that evolution violates the second law. However, there are two important words here whose meaning is often overlooked by Creationists. These words are "universe" and the word "total".
There are times when scientists need to use the second law on a scale smaller than that of the universe. In that case, the word "universe" can be replaced by the words "isolated system" and the resulting statement is still a valid statement of the second law. We can say, for example, that for any process that occurs in an isolated system, the total entropy must increase. Note that these conditions include the word "isolated" and "total", words that are often omitted by creationists in their writings. So it is not correct to say, as some Creationists have said, that everything goes to a condition of greater disorder.
We can even point out a few concrete examples where natural processes lead to lower entropy or greater order. For instance, ice has lower entropy than liquid water. When ice freezes on a pond, the ice goes to a more ordered state than the liquid and there is no violation of the 2nd law. Also, when water vapor condenses to rain, the liquid water has lower entropy than the vapor. If you want to confirm this, go to most textbooks on the subject of physical chemistry and you will find tables of entropy for various things including water vapor and liquid water. Entropy can be measured and it is not at all unusual for some component of a natural process to go to lower entropy.
Why is the freezing of water or the condensation of water vapor not a violation of the second law? For the simple reason that the ice or liquid water is not a closed system and the second law when expressed in terms of entropy (disorder) applies only to an isolated system. In a practical laboratory experiment, it is quite easy to create an isolated system. For the freezing of water, heat is given up to the surroundings, which produces an increase in entropy of the surroundings. That increase in entropy of the surroundings is greater than the decrease in entropy of the ice. This can be demonstrated by experiment and many such experiments give us confidence that there are no known violations of the second law. Note however, that it is the total entropy that must always increase and there is no requirement that the entropy of every part of a closed system must increase. It is this last statement that Creationists frequently misunderstand and it is the rock upon which their argument splits.
When confronted with the true explanation of their false argument, what do Creationists do? The typical response is almost identical to that of Dr. Blick. They change the subject! At first it may not seem to be a change of subject, because they do continue to talk about order, entropy, energy etc. But they are no longer using the second law as the source of their ammunition. In his article, Dr. Blick states with reasonable accuracy, the defense of Evolutionists to the original Creationist claim about the second law. He quotes Isaac Asimov, who correctly explained, that the increase in entropy of the sun more than offsets the decrease in entropy related to life and evolution. But after citing the defense of the evolutionists, what does he do? He merely claims, without proof, that the arguments are "exceedingly naive". He then rambles on about junkyards and beakers containing chemicals. These arguments may or may not be convincing, but they are clearly not based on the second law. Let's suppose these arguments are convincing. If correct, they may prove that evolution is impossible, but they do not prove that it is impossible because it violates the second law. Whatever the quality of Dr. Blick's rebuttal in regard to evolution, it is not a rebuttal that is based on the second law. The text that I am referring to here is the text that starts with the comment "This is an exceedingly naive argument...." and continues to the end of his article. Dr. Blick also quotes from Dr. Henry Morris regarding the four alleged requirements for a growth process. Again, whatever the quality of these arguments, they are not derived from the second law and are not an adequate response to the Evolutionist rebuttal about the second law.
I do not intend here to comment on the arguments of Blick and Morris (in Blick's article) in regard to evolution but unrelated to the second law. When they admit that the Creationist stance on the second law is mistaken, then that will be the appropriate time to broaden the subject. If Dr. Blick or the sponsors of the web site are unwilling to make that admission, then I see no reason to extend the debate to somewhat related but different and more subjective areas. The second law controversy is simple and objective enough that any honest and intelligent person should be able to see the problem through to its conclusion. There is nothing ambiguous about the second law. It is defined in very clear and simple equations. It is an excellent test to see whether Creationists will deal honestly with these issues.
I do want to point out the very clear outcome, that neither Blick nor Morris (in the text that Blick quoted) provide any solid evidence that evolutionists are mistaken in their interpretation of the second law. Even though Blick appears to understand the Evolutionist's interpretation of the second law, in at least one place, he repeats again the mistaken version of the second law so dear to Creationists. Blick says:
"Entropy (disorder) tends to increase not decrease. ...... Thus there appears to be little hope for the evolutionist in developing a satisfactory scientific theory to fit the concept of evolutionary origins. "
With that statement Blick returns to the same old mistaken statement of the second law that Evolutionists have shown to be in error. The problem here is that Blick's statement above is not an accurate statement of the second law and leaves out the very conditions that permit evolution. Dr. Blick is supposed to be rebutting the Evolutionist defense. Merely repeating the original creationist line is not an effective rebuttal of the defense offered by Evolutionists, a defense that alleges that the original Creationist statement of the second law is not adequate. In order to adequately refute the evolutionist defense, Blick needs to show that there is some error in the evolutionist's statement of the second law or that some other argument derived from the second law can adequately refute the Evolutionist's defense. He has done neither. Shifting the discussion to other alleged problems of evolution is not an effective way of showing that evolution violates the second law.
Intellectual honesty requires that Creationists abandon all arguments based on the second law of thermodynamics, because Dr. Blick and others have failed to show that evolution violates the second law. This is true even if they are correct (which I doubt) on the various arguments that they throw up as a smokescreen after discussing the rebuttal of the Evolutionists on the original mistaken claim by Creationists.
About the author: Dr. Robert Holloway is a radiochemist and is President of Nevada Technical Associates, Inc., a consulting and training organization working in the nuclear industry. He formerly worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and has published a number of scientific articles on the subject of radioactivity in the environment.
1. "Thermodynamics and Evolution: A Creationist View," In: Thermodynamics and the Development of Order, Edited by Emmett L. Williams, Creation Research Society Books, 1981.