15 Answers to John Rennie and Scientific American’s Nonsense--Argument #09
||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
9. [Creationists suggest that] the Second law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.
Mr. Rennie’s entire discussion on this point was as follows:
This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.
The Second law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word.
More important, however, the Second law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials (2002, 287:82).
Amidst the currently raging controversy centering on creation and evolution as the only two possible explanations for the Universe and all life in that Universe, a bitter battle is being waged in regard to the meaning and significance of two of the most fundamental laws known to science—the first and second laws of thermodynamics. For years creationists have presented (in articles, books, lectures, and debates) evidences against the General Theory of Evolution based on those two laws. During much of that time evolutionists, with rare exceptions, simply ignored creationists’ arguments. In the few instances where evolutionists bothered to acknowledge the arguments based on thermodynamics, they generally did so only in cursory fashion, most often by simply dismissing creationists’ arguments as efforts by those who were “uninformed” or “misguided.”
But all of that has changed—as is evident from Mr. Rennie’s comments. Evolutionists have heard the “call to battle,” and are answering that call. Now both creationists and evolutionists are actively engaged in the most serious kinds of efforts to portray to the general public the relationship that exists between the laws of thermodynamics and their respective origin models. And for good reason. The stakes involved are enormous! If creationists are correct in their statements of the laws of thermodynamics, and in their assessments and interpretations based on those laws, evolution is immediately and automatically ruled out by what those in the scientific community readily acknowledge as “the most secure generalizations known to science”—the laws of thermodynamics. Whereas in the past, evolutionists frequently ignored arguments based on the laws of thermodynamics, now those same evolutionists are reacting with a feverish pitch to creationists’ presentations based on those laws. For that reason, and because of the tremendous importance that the laws of thermodynamics do have to the creation/evolution issue, we believe that an examination of these matters is warranted.
Our English word “thermodynamics” derives from two Greek words, therme, meaning “heat,” and dynamis, meaning “power.” Thus thermodynamics is the study of heat power. Historically, the subject of thermodynamics arose from the study of heat engines. Currently, the subject of thermodynamics is much broader in scope, and involves the movement of energy and the conversion of one form of energy into another. Thermodynamics, as a field of study, is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that it acts as a “unifying” factor for all of the exact sciences, since energy is required for all natural processes (see Crawford, 1963, p. 1). It is this very fact—that all natural processes require energy—that makes thermodynamics of special interest in the creation/evolution controversy. Consider, for example, Sir Julian Huxley’s now-famous definition of evolution:
Evolution in the extended sense can be defined as a directional and essentially irreversible process occurring in time, which in its course gives rise to an increase of variety and an increasingly high level of organization in its products. Our present knowledge indeed forces us to the view that the whole of reality is evolution—a single process of self-transformation (1955, p. 278).
Sidney Fox, who pioneered much of the work regarding the “origin of life” in evolutionary scenarios, has noted that “evolution, however, has put together the smallest components; it has proceeded from the simple to the complex” (1971, 49:46).
Obviously evolution involves “transformation” or “putting together.” And, such natural transformations or “putting together” processes require energy. In fact, a process of evolution (like the one suggested by Huxley and Fox) would require tremendous quantities of energy, and many energy transformations from one form to another. Simply stated, then, our point is this: the process of evolution requires energy in various forms, and thermodynamics is the study of energy movement and transformation. Thus, the two fields bear a clear relationship. Scientific laws that govern thermodynamics also must govern evolution. Creationists and evolutionists alike generally acknowledge this fact. Creationist writers are quick to express agreement on this point (see Williams, 1981, p. 10). Most evolutionists agree that, in principle, thermodynamics does have a relationship to evolution, but some are quick to claim that this relationship may not be quite as distinct as creationists suggest. Willard Young stated: “In fact, thermodynamics is involved in every process of energy transformation. For this reason even biology is governed, in part, by the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, though not in the manner the Creationists would have us believe” (1985, p. 164).
The point, then, is clear. The laws of thermodynamics do regulate all energy-related processes. Evolution (even biological evolution) is dependent upon such energy-related processes. Thus, the laws of thermodynamics must regulate evolution. The question that obviously arises is two-fold: (1) what do the laws of thermodynamics say; and (2) what regulatory processes or restrictions are imposed on evolution as a result of the laws of thermodynamics?
Robert Mayer (1814-1878) was the first scientist to suggest the general principle that ultimately would become the first law of thermodynamics. Mayer observed: “I therefore hope that I may reckon on the reader’s assent when I lay down as an axiomatic truth that, just as in the case of matter, so also in the case of force [the then-current term for energy—BT/BH], only a transformation but never a creation takes place” (as quoted in King, 1962, p. 5). Today we often refer to the first law as the “law of conservation of energy (and/or mass).” Put into simple terms, the first law says that, naturally speaking, neither energy nor matter can be created or destroyed, but can only be converted from one form to another. The total amount of energy in the Universe remains constant. Scientists freely admit that, as Young put it, “the principle of the conservation of energy is considered to be the single most important and fundamental ‘law of nature’ known to science, and is one of the most firmly established. Endless studies and experiments have confirmed its validity over and over again under a multitude of different conditions” (1985, p. 165).
Although the first law of thermodynamics has serious implications for any evolution-based scenario, since Mr. Rennie mentioned in his article in Scientific American only the second law, we will restrict our comments here to that law. [For an in-depth discussion of the implications of the laws of thermodynamics in the creation/evolution controversy, see Thompson and Major, 1988.]
As men began to work with heat engines in the nineteenth century, the second law of thermodynamics came to be formulated. In 1824, Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), a French physicist, correctly noted that every heat engine requires a hot body (or source of heat) and a cold body (or sink), and that as the engine operates, heat passes from the hot body to the cold body. In such an engine, only a portion of the heat from the source can be utilized to perform useful work. The remainder is wasted. As a result of Carnot’s discovery, two scientists of his generation independently stated what came to be known as the second law of thermodynamics. German scientist Rudolph Clausius (1822-1888), and Irish scientist Lord Kelvin (William Thomson, 1824-1907), introduced concepts in 1850 and 1851, respectively, which ultimately became known as the second law. In 1852, Kelvin published a paper in which he delineated what was to become one of the most secure generalizations in all of science. In his treatise titled “On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy,” he set forth three propositions in which he summarized the concept that although energy is conserved (the first law), it is becoming less and less available for use (the second law). Energy is, to use Kelvin’s own words, “irrevocably lost to man and therefore ‘wasted,’ though not annihilated” (as quoted in Thompson, 1910, pp. 288-291). Clausius enunciated another form of the second law in 1854 when he stated that “heat cannot of itself, without the intervention of any external agency, pass from a colder to a hotter body” (as quoted in Glasstone, 1946, p. 217). Clausius also defined a quantity known as entropy—the energy per degree of absolute temperature that cannot be recovered as work. He thus was able to give succinct definitions of the first and second laws of thermodynamics in this form: according to the first law, the total amount of energy in nature is constant; according to the second law, the total amount of entropy in nature is increasing. Entropy (from two Greek terms meaning “to turn in on oneself ”) thus came to represent a measure of the lost usefulness (i.e., randomness, disorderliness) of the system.
Basically the second law says three things: (a) systems will tend toward the most probable state; (b) systems will tend toward the most random state; and (c) systems will increase in entropy, where entropy is a measure of the unavailability of energy to do useful work (see Wysong, 1976, p. 241). In “open” systems, energy may be lost to or gained from outside sources (i.e., the system is not self-contained). In “closed” systems, no outside energy or other “interference” is allowed (i.e., the system is self-contained).
Sir Arthur Eddington, the eminent British astronomer of the past generation, referred to the second law as “time’s arrow,” because it regulated the direction of all material events in time. That is to say, since the Universe is considered to be a closed (isolated) system, and since as time goes forward usable energy becomes less and less available, eventually the Universe will experience a “heat death”—that point in time when there is no more energy available for use. As Richard Morris observed, “The Second Law tells us that past and future look different; there will be more entropy in the future, and there was less entropy in the past” (1985, p. 121). Harold Blum seized upon Eddington’s phrase “time’s arrow” and authored a book titled Time’s Arrow and Evolution, in which he noted that “...all real processes tend to go toward a condition of greater probability.... Increase in randomness may be taken as a measure of direction in time.... The Second Law of thermodynamics predicts that a system left to itself will, in the course of time, go toward greater disorder” (1968, pp. 5,192,201).
The first and second laws of thermodynamics know no exceptions. As we have already noted, they are among the most secure generalizations of all of science. One writer put it this way:
It has been my experience that many people do not appreciate how uncompromising the Laws of Thermodynamics actually are. It is felt, perhaps, that the Laws are merely general tendencies or possibly only theoretical considerations. In reality, though, the Laws of Thermodynamics are hard as nails, and I have been told that the more one works with these Laws, the deeper respect one gains for them (Walters, 1986, 9:8).
Evolutionary writer Jeremy Rifkin, in his book, Entropy: A New World View, pointed out that “the Entropy Law will preside as the ruling paradigm over the next period of history. Albert Einstein said that it is the premier law of all science; Sir Arthur Eddington referred to it as the ‘supreme metaphysical law of the entire universe’ ” (1980, p. 6). Eddington also noted: “[I]f your theory is found to be against the Second law of thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation” (1930, p. 74). Isaac Asimov likewise observed that “in any spontaneous process, entropy either does not change (under ideal cases) or it increases (in real cases). Forgetting the ideal, we can just take it for granted that, in the real world about us, entropy always increases” (1962, pp. 57-58, parenthetical items in orig.). Several years after making that statement, Dr. Asimov went on to comment that “as far as we know, all changes are in the direction of increasing entropy, of increasing disorder, or increasing randomness, of running down” (1973, p. 76).
But what does all of this have to do with evolution? The fact is: the second law of thermodynamics strictly prohibits organic evolution, Mr. Rennie’s disclaimers notwithstanding. Evolutionists have attempted to downplay the problems in regard to thermodynamics and evolutionary theory. But the problems do exist, and are serious. All natural processes occur in a direction such that there is an increase in entropy (disorder, randomness). And natural processes tend to go spontaneously only one way. As King noted: “This ‘onewayness’ appears to be a very fundamental characteristic of natural processes. The Second Law of thermodynamics epitomizes our experiences with respect to the direction taken by thermophysical processes” (1962, p. 78). In defining the second law (or any other natural process), we speak of “spontaneous” processes, because any natural process is a spontaneously occurring one. Thermodynamically speaking, all isolated systems (and the Universe is accepted as an isolated system) proceed toward a state of equilibrium. That is to say, a system changes its state toward one in which the physical properties of the system are as uniform throughout as possible under prevailing conditions (King, p. 103). If the system is exposed to its surroundings, both the system and the surroundings will approach a state of equilibrium with each other. Natural processes proceed so that entropy increases. Movement toward a state of “maximum entropy” (equilibrium) is the norm, not the exception.
The evolutionist has accepted, and thus is forced to defend, a concept which states that in a closed system (the Universe) in which the second law of thermodynamics is operating (with all systems ultimately proceeding toward randomness and disorder), naturally occurring, spontaneous processes produced the order and complexity seen throughout both the living and nonliving worlds. But as Emmett Williams correctly observed:
The Second Law of thermodynamics is an empirical law, directly observable in nature and in experimentation. This law implies that the direction of all natural processes is toward states of disorder. From the standpoint of statistics, natural operations proceed in a direction of greatest probability. The most probable state for any natural system is one of disorder. All natural systems degenerate when left to themselves (1981, p. 19).
Even evolutionists admit as much. Isaac Asimov, surely the most prolific science writer of our generation, commented:
Another way of stating the Second Law then is “The universe is constantly getting more disorderly!” Viewed that way we can see the Second Law all about us. We have to work hard to straighten a room, but left to itself it becomes a mess again very quickly and very easily. Even if we never enter it, it becomes dusty and musty. How difficult to maintain houses, and machinery, and our own bodies in perfect working order: how easy to let them deteriorate. In fact, all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out, all by itself—and that is what the Second Law is all about (1970, p. 6).
Indeed, Dr. Asimov, that is what the second law is “all about.” What more could one say to get the point across? Every particle, every atom in every part of the natural Universe, as far as scientists have been able to determine, is subject to this natural tendency. It is equally as obvious, however, that there is no tendency on the part of matter to spontaneously and naturally organize itself from nonliving antecedents into living organisms, which then transform themselves to higher levels of complexity. As one scientist reminded us:
Let us now go back and consider once again what evolutionists believe has occurred on this planet by spontaneous, naturally occurring processes. Simple gases, such as methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water vapor, have transformed themselves in the presence of highly destructive energy sources, such as ultraviolet light and electrical discharges, into incredibly complex living cells. According to evolutionists, this was a progressive process that inexorably transformed matter to higher and higher levels of organization until finally the living cell arose—the most complex, the most unstable arrangement of matter in the universe... (Gish, 1981, p. 70).
The obvious question then becomes, “what process (or processes) could, in light of the second law of thermodynamics, be responsible for matter naturally, spontaneously organizing itself into living organisms as we see them today?” Evolutionists, of course, have an answer. The Earth, they suggest, is an “open system,” and thus partakes of the immense amounts of energy coming in from the Sun. It is this energy, as Mr. Rennie suggested in his Scientific American article, that ultimately is responsible for matter organizing itself into living forms. Given that immense energy, matter could “circumvent” the second law and spontaneously organize itself. In fact, we are being asked to believe that this is exactly what happened. Fourteen years before Mr. Rennie suggested that creationists have a fundamental “misunderstanding” about the second law of thermodynamics, Brent Becker, writing in the January/February 1988 issue of Creation/Evolution Newsletter, complained that “creationists get confused” over these points, and then stated that they “equate complexity with organization, disorder with disorganization, and information entropy with thermodynamic entropy. Further, they ignore the effect of physical and chemical laws when discussing entropy changes in open systems. It is these laws which provide the creationists’ ‘missing blueprint’ for transforming energy flow into organization” (8:19-20). As Rennie stated: “Our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials” (2002, 287:82).
Evolutionists must seek refuge in the “open system” argument, because it is the only option they have left. The formal statement of the second law would immediately be the downfall of evolutionary theory if accepted at face value since, according to the second law, entropy (randomness, disorderliness) always tends to increase in closed systems. And the Universe (so far as we are aware) is a closed system. Scientifically speaking, then, evolution would be plainly impossible, as it requires exactly the opposite of what the second law states is actually happening in nature (remember Huxley’s description of evolution as “an increasingly high level of organization”?). Yet evolutionists refer to creationists as “confused” or “ignorant” when we call into question the concept of evolution in light of the scientific facts surrounding the second law. The evolutionist says: “But the Earth is an ‘open system’ and the second law does not apply to open systems that have energy supplied from an outside source. It is this ‘outside energy from the Sun’ that causes evolution to occur.”
With all due respect, it is evolutionists like Becker and Rennie who have grossly misstated the issues. It is not creationists who are “confused.” Nor is it creationists who “ignore” physical and chemical laws. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. It is creationists who continually point out that the second law applies to open systems as well, and even has mathematical constructs to apply to such systems (see Morris and Parker, 1987, pp. 205ff.). Evolutionist John Ross of Harvard plainly stated the matter in a letter to the editor of Chemical and Engineering News when he wrote:
...there are no known violations of the Second Law of thermodynamics. Ordinarily the Second Law is stated for isolated systems, but the Second Law applies equally well to open systems.... There is somehow associated with the field of far-from-equilibrium phenomena the notion that the Second Law of thermodynamics fails for such systems. It is important to make sure that this error does not perpetuate itself (1980, p. 40, emp. added).
Evolutionists boldly (and correctly) assert that “the Earth is an open system.” Yet even they recognize that the second law of thermodynamics applies to the Earth—as an open system! Evidence for that is all around them. Energy supplies (coal, natural gas, oil, etc.) constantly are being depleted; animals and people die; decay is ubiquitous; etc. Entropy increases at every turn. Furthermore, as far as the Earth itself is concerned, every real system is an open system. There are no “closed systems” in nature (except the Universe itself). Emil Borel, the world-renowned Swiss scientist and mathematician established this years ago. Speaking of Dr. Borel’s efforts in this regard, Harvard astronomer David Layzer commented: “Borel showed that no finite physical system can be considered closed” (1975, 223:56).
You can bathe the Earth with energy from the Sun day in and day out, and it will not cause evolution to occur because, while energy from the Sun is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition. There are other factors involved besides just the need for energy. It is those conditions that evolutionists “ignore” and on which they are “confused.” A discussion of this “open system” argument, and the factors that prevent evolution from occurring even in such a system, is therefore in order.
Is it legitimate to suggest, as Mr. Rennie has, that since the Earth is an open system, evolution somehow could have “sidestepped” the second law and occurred anyway? No, it is not. And some evolutionists will admit as much. Charles J. Smith, writing in Biosystems, recognized that a serious problem does exist in this area. He stated:
The thermodynamicist immediately clarifies the latter question by pointing out that the Second Law classically refers to isolated systems which exchange neither energy nor matter with the environment; biological systems are open and exchange both energy and matter. This explanation, however, is not completely satisfying, because it still leaves open the problem of how or why the ordering process has arisen (an apparent lowering of the entropy), and a number of scientists have wrestled with this issue. Bertalanffy called the relation between irreversible thermodynamics and information theory one of the most fundamental unsolved problems in biology. I would go further and include the problem of meaning and value (1975, 1:259, emp. added).
Unfortunately, many of the rank-and-file evolutionists do not have even the slightest idea of the situation that confronts them regarding the second law of thermodynamics—a situation so grave that it has been called “one of the most fundamental unsolved problems in biology.” In the meantime, they go on parroting the timeworn cliché that “the second law applies only to closed systems, and since the Earth is an open system with energy available from the Sun, evolution can occur.” Smith is correct in saying that “this explanation, however, is not completely satisfying.” It is, in fact, vacuous. Let us explain why.
Merely having an energy field available to an open system does not mean that the system will somehow automatically become organized or increase in complexity. We know of no one who could make this very point more forcefully than the renowned evolutionists, George Gaylord Simpson and W.S. Beck, when they stated in their biology textbook Life: An Introduction to Biology:
We have repeatedly emphasized the fundamental problems posed for the biologist by the fact of life’s complex organization. We have seen that organization requires work for its maintenance and that the universal quest for food is in part to provide the energy needed for this work. But the simple expenditure of energy is not sufficient to develop and maintain order. A bull in a china shop performs work, but he neither creates nor maintains organization. The work needed is particular work; it must follow specifications; it requires information on how to proceed (1965, p. 466, emp. added).
These two evolutionary scholars seemingly have stumbled onto the very point that the creationists have been making for years. Energy alone is not sufficient to cause the evolutionary process to occur! Energy is a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition. Raw, unbridled, uncontrolled energy alone (like a bull in a china shop) is more damaging than helpful. It destroys; it does not build. Raw, unbridled, uncontrolled solar energy is no different. In order to be constructive instead of destructive, it must be managed or controlled. Here is where the evolutionists have made a grievous error in their thinking. Their response that “the Earth is an open system and has available to it the Sun’s energy that causes evolution to occur” confuses the quantity of energy (of which there is certainly enough) with the conversion of energy. The question is not whether there is enough energy from the Sun to sustain the evolutionary process; the question is how does the Sun’s energy cause, and eventually sustain, evolution? Or, put another way, the question is: what condition(s) must be satisfied to cause any finite system to advance to a higher degree of order, when the Universe as a whole is decreasing in order?
Simpson and Beck, as evolutionists, clearly stated what is necessary. They noted that a particular kind of work is required. They noted that it must follow specifications. And, they noted that it requires information on how to proceed. At this point, it would be appropriate to observe that these observations were made by evolutionists, not creationists. It may come as somewhat of a surprise to learn that these are the exact requirements that creationists have been suggesting for decades.
Earlier, we spoke of energy being a “necessary,” but not a “sufficient” condition. Let us now dwell on those conditions that would be both necessary and sufficient to cause the biosphere to evolve from lower to higher order. And, simultaneously, let us inquire as to how the evolutionist would propose that each of the conditions could be present and accounted for on a primitive, primordial Earth.
First, of course, it would be essential to have an open system. Second, it would be necessary to have adequate energy. Now, as we have already noted, the Earth is an open system. And, the Sun’s energy certainly is present in adequate amounts. But are these conditions alone sufficient to cause and sustain evolution? No, they are not. There are at least two other conditions (discussed in the next few sentences) that are absolutely necessary. Third, it is essential to have in place some kind of complex mechanism that can convert the available energy arriving from the Sun. The available environmental energy is of no avail unless it can be converted into the specific forms needed to organize and bond the components into the complex and ordered structure of the completed system. It is equally important to note that unless such a mechanism is available, environmental energy will be more likely to break down any structure(s) already present. Remember the statement of evolutionists Simpson and Beck that “the work needed is particular work.” The energy must be converted into specific forms. That requires an energy conversion mechanism of some sort (motor, membrane, etc.). Fourth, there must be present a highly specific program to direct the growth and employ the converted energy. That is to say, the energy must be “told” what to do, and how to do it, once it has been converted from its raw state into a usable form. Remember the statement of Simpson and Beck that the work “must follow specifications; it requires information on how to proceed.”
Link together all four of these criteria, and the necessary components become sufficient to perform the task. For example, in the case of a building, fossil fuels and human labor operate numerous complex electrical and mechanical devices used to erect the structure. But, this is accomplished according to an architect’s blueprint. The energy is available; the system is “open”; the energy conversion systems are present; and the specific program (blueprint) directs the ongoing construction.
Transfer that into the living world of plants. The process of photosynthesis, which is so complex that even today we do not fully understand it, converts sunlight into the building of the plant’s structure. Energy, air, water, sunlight, and other factors work together to produce the plant. The energy (sunlight) is available; the system is “open”; the energy conversion system (photosynthesis) is present; and the specific program (DNA) directs the ongoing “construction.”
Or, transfer that into the living world of animals or humans. In both animals and humans, numerous complex mechanisms (digestion, circulatory system, respiratory system, etc.) combine efforts to transform food into body structure, and into energy to maintain that structure. The energy (sunlight for the food; food for the body) is available; the system is “open”; the energy conversion system (digestion and all it entails) is present; and the specific program (DNA with its multifarious systems of the Krebs cycle, the Cytochrome C cycle, etc.) directs the ongoing “construction” in conjunction with the organelles of each cell. And so on.
To simply repeat the phrase that evolution can occur because “the Earth is an open system” ignores the fact that all four of these criteria are necessary in order for evolution to have sufficient cause to occur. The evolutionary process, if it did indeed exist, would be by far the greatest growth process of all. If a specific directing program and energy conversion mechanism are essential for all lesser growth processes, then surely an infinitely more complex program and more specific energy conversion system would be required for the beginning and continued success of evolution. Every stage in organic evolution would represent an immense and unprecedented increase in complexity (remember Huxley’s definition?) of a living system, and therefore (according to the list established by Simpson and Beck) would require all four criteria—not just raw, uncontrolled energy and an “open system.”
Where, in the evolutionary scheme of things, are the directing program and energy conversion mechanisms? Therein lies “one of the most fundamental unsolved problems in biology,” to use the evolutionist’s own words. Where in the Universe does one find a plan (a directing program) that sets forth how to organize random particles into particular people? And where does one find the marvelous motor or membrane that converts the continual flow of solar radiant energy arriving here on the Earth into the work of building chemical elements into self-replicating cellular systems, or of organizing populations of single-celled organisms into populations of humans over vast periods of supposed geologic time?
Last but not least, we would like to discuss Mr. Rennie’s suggestion that if the creationists’ interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics is valid, “mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.” Evolutionist Boyce Rensberger tried this same approach in an article (“How Science Responds When Creationists Criticize Evolution”) he wrote for the January 8, 1997 issue of the Washington Post. His statement was:
If the Second Law truly prohibited local emergence of increased order, there would be no ice cubes. The greater orderliness of water molecules in ice crystals than in the liquid state is purchased with the expenditure of energy at the generator that made the electricity to run the freezer. And that makes it legal under the Second Law.
Physical chemist Jonathan Sarfati, in a response to Rensberger titled “The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to Critics,” completely demolished arguments such as Rensberger’s and Rennie’s when he noted:
An energy source is not enough to produce the specified complexity of life. The energy must be directed in some way. The ice cubes of his example would not form if the electrical energy was just wired into liquid water! Instead, we would get lots of heat, and the water breaking up into simpler components, hydrogen and oxygen.
The ice example is thermodynamically irrelevant to the origin of life. When ice freezes, it releases heat energy into the environment. This causes an entropy increase in the surroundings. If the temperature is low enough, this entropy increase is greater than the loss of entropy in forming the crystal. But the formation of proteins and nucleic acids from amino acids and nucleotides not only lowers their entropy, but it removes heat energy (and entropy) from their surroundings. Thus ordinary amino acids and nucleotides will not spontaneously form proteins and nucleic acids at any temperature.
Rensberger also fails to distinguish between order and complexity. Crystals are ordered; life is complex. To illustrate: a periodic (repeating) signal, e.g. ABABABABABAB, is an example of order. However, it carries little information: only “AB” and “print 6 times.”
A crystal is analogous to that sequence; it is a regular, repeating network of atoms. Like that sequence, a crystal contains little information: the co-ordinates of a few atoms (i.e. those which make up the unit cell), and instructions “more of the same” x times. If a crystal is broken, smaller but otherwise identical crystals result. Conversely, breaking proteins, DNA or living structures results in destruction, because the information in them is greater than in their parts.
A crystal forms because this regular arrangement, determined by directional forces in the atoms, has the lowest energy. Thus the maximum amount of heat is released into the surroundings, so the overall entropy is increased.
Random signals, e.g. WEKJHDF BK LKGJUES KIYFV NBUY, are not ordered, but complex. But a random signal contains no useful information. A non-random aperiodic (non-repeating) signal—specified complexity—e.g. “I love you” may carry useful information. However, it would be useless unless the receiver of the information understood the English language convention. The amorous thoughts have no relationship to that letter sequence apart from the agreed language convention. The language convention is imposed onto the letter sequence.
Proteins and DNA are also non-random aperiodic sequences. The sequences are not caused by the properties of the constituent amino acids and nucleotides themselves. This is a huge contrast to crystal structures, which are caused by the properties of their constituents. The sequences of DNA and proteins must be imposed from outside by some intelligent process. Proteins are coded in DNA, and the DNA code comes from pre-existing codes, not by random processes.
Many scientific experiments show that when their building blocks are simply mixed and chemically combined, a random sequence results. To make a protein, scientists need to add one unit at a time, and each unit requires a number of chemical steps to ensure that the wrong type of reaction doesn’t occur. The same goes for preparing a DNA strand in a correct sequence….
Even the simplest known self-reproducing life form (Mycoplasma) has 482 genes, and it must parasitize more complex organisms to obtain the building blocks it cannot manufacture itself. The simplest organism that could exist in theory would need at least 256 genes, and it’s doubtful whether it could survive (2002b, emp. in orig.).
In an article titled “Some Thermodynamics Criticisms—and Answers,” creationist Carl Wieland addressed this very point in response to an evolutionary critic.
Again, we now discuss this in terms of information…. Break a crystal and you just get smaller crystals; break a protein and you don’t simply get a smaller protein, rather you lose the function completely. This is the equivalent of saying that the crystal has low information content that is simply repeated, while the protein molecule can’t be constructed simply by repetition, because there is no chemical tendency for amino acids to align in specific ways during polymerization. Those who manufacture proteins know that they have to add one amino acid at a time, and each addition has about 90 chemical steps involved (2002, emp. in orig.).
The three authors of a critically acclaimed book on chemical evolution, The Mystery of Life’s Origin, took great pains (and correctly so) to distinguish between order and specified complexity, reserving the former for low-information symmetrical structures such as crystals, and the latter for the high-information structures such as those in living things (see Thaxton, et al., 1984). Anti-creationists like Rennie and Rensberger quite frequently confuse order (repetitive, low information) with specified complexity (non-repetitive, high information). Creationists know better.
Evolutionists are quick to assert that creationists do not understand the laws of thermodynamics and thus form erroneous conclusions. Surely that same charge (which is nothing more than an opinion unsupported by the facts) will not be applied to the work of the two men who have been recognized as international authorities on thermodynamics, Gordon J. Van Wylen and Richard Sonntag. In their university textbook, Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics, at the end of the chapter dealing with the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy, their conclusion was as follows:
Quite obviously it is impossible to give conclusive answers to these questions on the basis of the Second Law of thermodynamics alone. However, we see the Second Law of thermodynamics as a description of the prior and continuing work of a creator, who also holds the answer to our future destiny and that of the universe (1985, pp. 232-233, emp. added).
With this conclusion we are in full agreement. It is a conclusion drawn from the scientific facts of the matter.