Creationist drivel – entropy

Posts in this series.

We haven’t seen much activity from remnant recently in his thread on the FFF about the famous old scientists who destroyed evolutionary theory before it was even thought of. I began to think that he’d given up. But happily he was back yesterday. He has a curious method: find an article from Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research or some other lunatic creationist website, and release the information a sentence at a time. I can only guess at his motive, but it seems that he’s trying to slowly reveal the information in such a way as to increase the anticipation of his readers. Or maybe he’s just trying to increase his post count by making twenty posts where one would do. All in all, more than a little bizarre.

What has always seemed even more strange to me is the general attitude that creationists, like the writer of the Evolution Handbook, have towards science. According to them, there are two types of scientific study:

  1. Scientific study that supports the idea of a god. This is called “good science” or some such term.
  2. Scientific study that doesn’t support the idea of a god. This is called “bad science” or some such term.

So whether science is “good” or “bad” depends on the relationship it has with a predetermined conclusion. And predetermined it is. As Answers in Genesis says in its Statement of Faith:

  • The scientific aspects of creation are important but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
  • The doctrines of Creator and Creation cannot ultimately be divorced from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You’d think that they might as well give up on science altogether, if they’re going to pick and choose what science to believe. But as long as they can isolate the “good” from the “bad”, then science can be regarded as an ally. Obviously they can’t dispense with science altogether – for example, they have to rely on quantum mechanics to even publish their misleading worldview, and in any case,  the Bible, the Qur’an or any other foundational religious book unsurprisingly have nothing say about the existence or otherwise of sub-atomic particles.

Unfortunately – from the perspective of both the crude creationists and the more “sophisticated” theists – religion, over several millennia, has not advanced our scientific knowledge by even a tiny scrap. Clutching at straws and failing to grasp them, the religious claim scientific support from the fact that many scientists, including some of the most iconic, have been religious themselves. remnant’s source does exactly this when he says, for instance, that Linnaeus was “an earnest creationist” without even attempting to explain why would this would make any difference.

Atheist scientists who consider the potential of scientific evidence for a god or the supernatural fall into two camps. Firstly, there are those like P Z Myers who think that, based on the properties of nature, and that existence itself is a natural phenomenon, that it is impossible for there to be any evidence for the supernatural. The idea of God is irrational. Secondly, the majority, exemplified by Victor Stenger, concede that while the faithful make claims that a god interferes in the nature world, then these claims can be tested empirically, and have so far in every case failed every objective test. Personally, while I welcome empirical testing of this nature, I lean strongly towards the former view – that gods are irrational. To reason is “to form conclusions, judgements, or inferences from facts or premises”, or in other words to identify and integrate percepts and/or concepts provided by the facts of reality. There are no facts that support the idea of a god or gods, and therefore gods are irrational because there can be no integration or conceptualisation involving such non-existent facts.

Theists often sort of agree with this while not accepting it. I recall a poster on the FFF, the wretched spgdmin, who complained that I was incorrect upon describing god-belief as “abandoning reason”, while just a few posts later telling me that reason was an insufficient epistemological method of identifying God, and accusing me of arbitrarily viewing reason as my own god, rather than an epistemological method which actually works. What could be more of an admittance of irrationality than that?

In this way, science can be looked at as a study of the rational as opposed to religious claims, which are a study of the irrational. William Lane Craig and others, no doubt, would disagree with this analysis – after all, Craig makes great play of the connections between his faith and reason, calling his book and his website Reasonable Faith. However, each and every one of his arguments have a disconnect between objective and rational evidence, and the conclusion he wishes to make.

Therefore (and after an 800-word preamble for those who are still here), we come to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which, like every other scientific law and against every argument for the existence of a god, is informed by reason. remnant’s source states:

Second Law of Thermodynamics (1850). R. J. E. Clausius stated the law of entropy: All systems will tend toward the most mathematically probable state, and eventually become totally random and disorganized (*Harold Blum, Time’s Arrow and Evolution, 1968, p. 201). In other words, everything runs down, wears out, and goes to pieces(*R.R. Kindsay, “Physics: to What Extent is it Deterministic,” American Scientist 56, 1968, p. 100). This law totally eliminates the basic evolutionary theory that simple evolves into complex. *Einstein said the two laws were the most enduring laws he knew of (*Jeremy Rifkin, Entropy: A New World View, 1980, p. 6).

Where do we begin? We are here, we are complex and conscious beings. Is the writer of the Evolutionary Handbook saying that we shouldn’t be here because the matter of which we consist should have run down, worn out and gone to pieces? That’s what his interpretation of the second law would strongly suggest, if he believes it to be true, which he evidently does. Or does he think that God has stopped the workings of the second law, in which case, is the second law even valid, never mind sound? If we take his view that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe then we must also take the view that God has created a law which he then broke and continues to break. Under what circumstances could this even be considered a scientific law? Even if the writer is trying to show that life doesn’t change, and that all life forms have stayed constant rather than becoming more complex, this too would be a refutation of the second law, which he apparently supports. So it’s clear that the Evolution Handbook is, to put it very mildly, somewhat confused.

The writer is also incorrect in his description of “basic evolutionary theory”. Evolutionary theory describes how organisms, over time, can become more complex but it doesn’t say that this is a necessity. Many organisms, mostly in response to their ecology, have lost certain functions that they once had, and although this is often compensated to some degree, again, this is not particularly necessary. There is plenty of evidence, when comparing similar life-forms,  to show that this is the case. Evidence of loss of functionality can be found by study of “fossil genes“. For a more thorough explanation, I recommend Sean Carroll’s book The Making of the Fittest. Carroll details several examples, perhaps the most fascinating of which is the “bloodless fish” of Bouvet Island in the Southern Ocean. These fish, almost uniquely, have lost the ability through genetic degradation, to form haemoglobin, essential in virtually all the animal kingdom. By doing so, their blood has become less viscous, and this, together with other changes, has allowed the fish to survive and thrive in the sub-zero world of the Antarctic. So it’s not just the move to complexity that makes evolution so fascinating.

We are also completely familiar with organisms becoming more complex as part of their own development. As Route_70 points out in the forum thread under discussion, as the Evolution Handbook understands the second law, we could not produce offspring. As he says, this limited understanding “excludes the possibility that a baby can evolve from a single-celled organism — a zygote — into a fully functioning human being IN ONLY NINE MONTHS!

So we can see, again, that the Evolution Handbook, in one short paragraph, is embarrassingly wrong in several respects. The writer appears to have made no effort at even a basic understanding of the subject, but also is probably impervious to the fact that he’s making a fool of himself, and his supporters like remnant are no better.

The second law is not like most other scientific laws. Although it is inviolable in an overall context it doesn’t determine what happens with 100% certainty, which is yet another mistake made by remnant and his source. Rather than what is certain, the second law describes what is overwhelmingly probable (like the law of large numbers) and therefore, outside that overall context, it can be called a statistical law.

The second law can be looked at in several ways, and initially it describes the tendency of any closed system to perpetually generate enough energy, as entropy increases, to maintain work for ever. The second law is the reason that perpetual motion machines are theoretically impossible. No such restrictions are applicable to open systems, however, although the overall effect (outside the open system) is still towards greater entropy. For example, energy that can be used for work comes from several areas, including the geothermal energy of the Earth’s core, from the burning of fossil fuels, and of course, from the Sun. We can power our vehicles or grow from simple to complex organisms by using this energy, but all the time the sources of this energy are running down. Therefore, because the second law refers only to closed systems, it doesn’t conflict with or “eliminate” evolutionary theory. Eventually it seems that entropy will increase such that the universe will suffer “heat death” – a hypothetical state of maximum disorder in which no work can be done. The cosmic microwave background radiation, so essential as support for the standard Big Bang model, is evidence that heat death is already overwhelmingly prevalent within the universe.

Creationists probably use the example of the second law, albeit incorrectly, as evidence against evolution more than anything else. Consequently, their incorrect understanding has been corrected more than anything else. I could go on but TalkOrigins have produced several rebuttals to creationist claims. See the CF section in the link below.

TalkOrigins – second law of thermodynamics.

CreationWiki have responded, but their responses consist in the main of semantic issues. Nowhere in this section of CreationWiki disputes that the second law and evolution are incompatible. They do make a point about the distinction between macro- and micro-evolution, but that is a totally different subject. Indeed, CreationWiki makes the point that “Creationists do not claim that increasing order is impossible” [because of the second law]. Someone should should have told them, as well as remnant and the Evolution Handbook writer, to get their act together.

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3 responses to “Creationist drivel – entropy

  • Daniel Taylor (Route_70)

    Now that I’ve had time to grow up a little bit, I have begun to question some of those things I was taught while growing up. Among those many things I must now include these so-called “Laws of Thermodynamics.”

    Now just what is a law? Are we talking about laws that were passed by majority vote of a group of representative constituents? These Laws of Thermodynamics, which have been around for a long time — at least 300 years — are actually nothing more than prima facie observations. There really are no “laws” here. In science there are theories — no laws.

    But we’ve come to accept these laws as apparently unassailable. But let me try: I shall write here of the second law only: “all matter tends from the complex toward the simple.”

    And why is this so? Why not the reverse? The answer to me is quite simple really. There is no law that dictates this to be so. No, the reason that #2 holds true for now is because of a fact that was discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929: the universe is expanding!

    With the expansion of the universe, and given that Law #1 is apparent (there is a finite amount of energy/mass) the amount of mass and energy in existence gets spread out. This spreading out naturally tends to “tear apart” any molecules and atoms that are not being directly affected by any localized amount of energy, so that due to the expansion, molecules and atoms tend to become less massive — they lose complexity!

    The offshoot of this is that were the universe to be contracting instead of expanding, Law #2 would state that all matter tends from the simple to the complex!

    Now recently cosmologists have determined that the rate at which the universe is expanding infers that the universe shall go on expanding ad infinitum until all mass and energy dissipate into nothing (I guess). Should it turn out that cosmologists are wrong, and that the expansion of the universe eventually reverses itself, then indeed, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, should there be anyone around to do it, will have to be re-written!

    • Headbutter of the Gods

      I don’t really understand entropy in terms of space. The universe as a whole is expanding but galaxies, when they are minimally affected by mutual gravity, are moving further away from one another rather than expanding themselves.

      Entropy increases when there are no differences in thermal energy – and therefore no exchanges of heat.A system reaches its maximum entropy (and maximum disorder) when there is no difference in energy that can be applied to do work.

      An oft-quoted example of entropy in action is ice melting in a glass of water – and this would happen whether the universe was expanding or contracting. It’s not space but time that entropy depends on, and the arrow of time only travels one way.

      I see from the TalkOrigins links that Victor Stenger thinks that an expanding universe will tend to decrease entropy (or slow the rate of increase). I’m not sure why he would think that, but he is a veteran theoretical physicist.

      Having said that, one feature of heat energy that doesn’t apply to other forms is that by its nature it is a spread-out thing, tending towards dispersal. Energy that is spread out is less likely to be transformed into other types of energy, so it’s easier to produce heat than it is to use it for the purpose of work. But this doesn’t mean that a contracting universe would involve a decrease in entropy.

  • Daniel Taylor (Route_70)

    Well, I am nol expert, and although I represented differently, I really did intend for my post to be a sort of speculation. I am going only on what I recall from my limited studies. The universe appears to be expanding, and since the sun appears to be using up its fuel, it would be assumed that all stars would be so doing, including those of the other galaxies. The galaxies themselves are not expanding, but they are dying, and in time will dissapate.

    I think the overall consensus is that just as a baby develops in its womb from a single cell to a multi-cellular organism, so the universe, although constantly developing new stars, is actually losing stars quicker than it is gaining them. The baby actually begins dying as soon as it is conceived — weird concept that.

    I recall reading speculations among scientists such as Hawkings and even Einstein that if the universe were to reach a point of return, where it begins to contract that the future could then be predicted. That point seems to be settled now, however.

    I am probably wrong about most of my understanding of science, but what I’ve presented is the science as I understand it.

    But the point of your original post is that the creationists are totally off-base in their use of entropy to prop up their preposterous beliefs.

    In regards to the decrease of entropy, I have not read much about it but there does seem to be much written about the conditions under which entropy can decrease. Am I wrong that I’ve read where a contracting universe could decrease entropy?

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