Answers in Genesis Rejects “2nd Law” Argument?

We recently posted Answers in Genesis Rejects “Created Old” Argument? Now their collection of rejects is growing again.

That collection is a peculiar feature maintained by Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of young-earth creationist wisdom. They have a small list of Arguments that should never be used. And here’s a supplemental list. There they’ve collected some of the absolute worst, most easily-debunked creationist arguments. This lets them pretend that they really don’t promote nonsensical claims. But of course they do.

In retiring certain worthless arguments, AIG is often careful to keep their options open. For example, when retiring the “created old” argument, they merely made a semantic change, because they’re still free to say that the universe was created “mature.” This is what passes for intellectual integrity in the strange world of creationism.

The same kind of slipperiness is evident today. We present to you, dear reader, some excerpts from AIG’s Arguments Christians Shouldn’t Use: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Began at the Fall.

The usual moronic creationist 2nd Law argument goes like this: “The second law of thermodynamics says that everything tends toward disorder, making evolutionary development impossible.” TalkOrigins debunks that here.

You no doubt observed from their title that AIG isn’t rejecting the whole stupid 2nd Law argument — just a peculiar variant that the 2nd Law started with the Fall — you know, Adam, Eve, and the forbidden fruit. So retiring this particular claim about the 2nd Law is trivial indeed. Okay, let’s get to it. The bold font was added by us:

Some Christians state quite categorically that the second law of thermodynamics began at the Fall. After all, it is obvious that things would not “run down” in a perfect environment, right? How could there be disorder in a world that God pronounced “very good”?

Did you ever hear that before? We didn’t either — or if we did, we paid no attention to it. Let’s read on:

The second law states that closed systems tend towards increased entropy — an increase in disorder. Another way to look at this is that the amount of energy available for work in a closed system is decreasing. The law allows for increasing the amount of order in a given system, so when applying the law, the system being discussed must be carefully defined.

AIG has a footnote to that, which says:

Applying the second law of thermodynamics to various systems to refute evolutionary ideas is appropriate, but it must be done carefully and considering the concept of open and closed systems. The law allows for increasing the amount of order in a given system, so when applying the law the system being discussed must be carefully defined.

As we said, they’re keeping their options open. You haven’t heard the last of the 2nd Law from AIG — or any other creationist. We continue with the main article:

So if things are “running down,” does it follow that this would not have begun until man sinned and brought about the effects of the Curse? Actually, this statement does not hold up under closer examination.

Then they give a few examples of physical processes that had to be occurring before the Fall, such as digestion and sunshine. You already know this stuff, but it’s probably shocking news to AIG’s usual readership. AIG then wraps up their little discussion of pre-Fall “very good” entropy by saying:

This concept can confuse people, which is understandable — considering we most often equate entropy with decay and thus associate this idea with the “running down of the universe.” However, some aspects of entropy are important for maintaining life, and these aspects are not “bad.”

How retarded to they think their readers actually are? It doesn’t matter. Here’s more:

Prior to the Fall, God upheld His creation perfectly. After man disobeyed God — which brought about the effects of the Curse — it was as if God withdrew some of His sustaining power (all the while still upholding the universe but not in a perfect state — giving us a taste of what life is like without Him). Thus we have a world that is suffering the cumulative effect of this increasing disorder (decay).

Careful now. We must always distinguish between necessary “very good” entropy and the unnecessary kind — Curse decay. These are very different concepts. And here’s the end of AIG’s article:

So the argument that the second law of thermodynamics began at the Fall is one that we believe Christians should not use.

It’s all so very clear. Now go forth and spread the word.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Answers in Genesis Rejects “2nd Law” Argument?

  1. These posts are always fun.
    On an order/disorder related note: Has anyone else ever thought that higher entropy should actually be considered to be becoming more ordered, not less? To me, equilibrium in temp and other things would be more orderly than the way properties are clumped together in organisms and masses.
    I know entropy really doesn’t imply “order” but I always think of this when I hear people consider life and the universe “orderly”.
    Go ahead, shoot me down now–I can take it. Speak physics to me.

  2. Lynn Wilhelm says:

    Go ahead, shoot me down now–I can take it. Speak physics to me.

    I’ve seen endless threads on science forums arguing about the definition of such words, and I don’t recall ever seeing anything get resolved. I suspect you’re contrasting “uniformity” with “structure” but I’d better let others play this game.

  3. My understanding is that entropy is the tendency for systems to go from a higher energy state to a lower energy state, (absent additional energy being added to the system from the outside). People naturally associate decay and increasing disorder with loss of energy, but within a large enough system, some areas might increase in order while others decrease, as long as the total energy of the system, as a whole, decreases.

    At least that’s my understanding.

    The flaw in the creationists use of entropy as an argument against evolution is that the earth is not a closed system – it gets a steady input of energy from the sun.

  4. Wait… did someone hack AiG and will (over time) tell Creationists to not try to refute evolution at all?

  5. The idea of entropy (I hope Gabe is not looking) is that things tend to move into their most probable state. So, the association with “disorder” comes from people not expecting, say, a gas to accumulate into the right corner of a recipient (be ordered). The corner state might be as probable as any other, but there are almost infinitely more states where the molecules are all over the place, thus the corner state has a very low probability. So low you will never see it.

    So, if you have concentrated energy, the tendency for it would be to dissipate. Life forms are very efficient energy dissipators.

    So, you can call dispersed energy “ordered,” it is all a matter of perspective. Some prefer to call the concentrated energy “ordered.” Fine by me too.

    I have read that this concept of entropy as disorder then jeopardized our later understanding of what entropy actually is about … If Gabe comes and destroys me, well, it will be because of the probability that he will find my explanation ridiculous, and thus might be entropically favourable. We will see.

    🙂

  6. S.C.

    I have the feeling that you had posted this already …

  7. gabo says: “I have the feeling that you had posted this already ”

    Really? I don’t remember. But it’s possible.

  8. Gabriel Hanna

    Oh, I came late to the entropy party! I am working really hard on an analogy, please be patient (you’ll have election returns to grouse about / applaud in the meantime).

  9. Gabriel Hanna says: “Oh, I came late to the entropy party!”

    Entropy parties aren’t very exciting unless you arrive early.

  10. Gabriel Hanna

    I’ve been trying to think of how to illustrate energy, temperature, and entropy with a deck of cards but it’s taking longer than I expected.

    Everyone has a piece of what entropy is, but I’m not sure anyone has the whole thing.

    @Lynn Wilhelm:

    to me, equilibrium in temp and other things would be more orderly than the way properties are clumped together in organisms and masses.

    It’s because entropy isn’t really disorder. A highly ordered system can still have high entropy.

    Every system has properties, and every system is made up of parts (let’s say). Some properties of the system are the sum of the properties of the parts (extensive properties). For example, the weight of your car is the sum of the weight of all its parts. Other properties (intensive properties) are not the sum of the parts. For example, the fuel efficiency of your car is not a property of any of its parts, and neither is its resale value.

    Entropy is an extensive property of a system. It is a measure of how many ways you can rearrange the system, without changing the properties you are interested in. A system can be highly ordered and have high entropy, but if the entropy is high the system will not remain ordered for very long. (How long is long depends on the system.)

    So for the example of a car, the properties we are interested in (let’s say) are mass, fuel efficiency, and resale value. If the resale value of the care is high, what’s the entropy of the car? The entropy must be low, because the paint needs to look good, the upholstery needs to be in good shape, etc, and there are only a few ways the car can look and still look good. If the resale value is extremely high, then the condition of the car is even more restricted–maybe it belonged to Marilyn Monroe or it was prominently featured in a notorious and titillating scandal. However, if the resale value is low then the entropy is higher. You can tear off the upholstery of the seats and permanently affix it to cover the windshield, for example, or weld the trunk shut, or attach the seats to the ceiling instead of the floor, any number of crazy things that don’t affect the other properties but would prevent a sane person from paying much money for the car. Or it could be otherwise fine but an unfashionable color, or maybe it is in mint condition but a cat died in it and no one can get rid of the smell.

    Now what has this to do with equilibrium? When two systems are at equilibrium temperature, they have distributed the energy of the two systems in such a way that the entropy is a maximum. That doesn’t necessarily mean the total system is “disordered”. It does mean that when one part gains heat the other will lose the same amount. It does mean that not all of the energy of the total system is available to do work.

    @Ed:My understanding is that entropy is the tendency for systems to go from a higher energy state to a lower energy state, (absent additional energy being added to the system from the outside).

    An isolated system at equilibrium wouldn’t change either one. Entropy doesn’t always have to increase. And entropy can change without changing the energy, and vice versa.

    @gabo:

    The idea of entropy (I hope Gabe is not looking) is that things tend to move into their most probable state. So, the association with “disorder” comes from people not expecting, say, a gas to accumulate into the right corner of a recipient (be ordered).

    The problem with that definition is that you can claim that every state is equally probable–it doesn’t make sense unless you talk about all the states that keep the properties of the system the same. As I indicated to Lynn that turns out to be a very restrictive definition.

    But once you’ve nailed that down, due to the laws of large numbers, in macroscopic systems the most probable state is effectively the ONLY state–universes will grow old and die while you wait for another.

    Life forms are very efficient energy dissipators.

    I suppose I’d quibble with that. Think of a fruit: so much sunlight collected over the course of a year, so many chemicals collected from the soil and water, placed in a small package which can be consumed in a short time. It’s true that the universe has more entropy in it after the fruit is grown, but you couldn’t say that it dissipated anything.

  11. I’m sticking with biology!
    Thanks Gabriel (and gabo). I’m sorry though, the car analogy doesn’t work completely for me.
    Gabriel said:

    So for the example of a car, the properties we are interested in (let’s say) are mass, fuel efficiency, and resale value. If the resale value of the care is high, what’s the entropy of the car? The entropy must be low, because the paint needs to look good, the upholstery needs to be in good shape, etc, and there are only a few ways the car can look and still look good.

    Why must the entropy be low if the resale value is high?

    The non car stuff you said is more clear.
    Gabrielalso said:

    Entropy is an extensive property of a system. It is a measure of how many ways you can rearrange the system, without changing the properties you are interested in. A system can be highly ordered and have high entropy, but if the entropy is high the system will not remain ordered for very long. (How long is long depends on the system.)…
    Now what has this [car example] to do with equilibrium? When two systems are at equilibrium temperature, they have distributed the energy of the two systems in such a way that the entropy is a maximum. That doesn’t necessarily mean the total system is “disordered”. It does mean that when one part gains heat the other will lose the same amount. It does mean that not all of the energy of the total system is available to do work…

    And in response to Ed:
    An isolated system at equilibrium wouldn’t change either [energy state?]. Entropy doesn’t always have to increase. And entropy can change without changing the energy, and vice versa.

    I think I get this.

    Really, my comment was about what “order” actually is. I’ve always had the feeling that order would be found when all properties were nice and even in the universe. No clumping, no high or low energy areas. Like spreading flour on a counter for rolling dough. Ideally, it should be evenly spread out with the same distance from particle to particle. (Gabriel, you do cars, I do baking!) I’d call that order, others call it disorder (at least when referring to the universe). But I suppose the point is that that is improbable in our universe. Is that right?

    It’s just semantics and since my view is a bit unusual I should probably drop it. The real point is I’ve always thought of this and was wondering if anyone else ever did.

  12. Gabriel Hanna

    @Lynn:Really, my comment was about what “order” actually is. I’ve always had the feeling that order would be found when all properties were nice and even in the universe.

    What physicists would call that is “homogeneity” or “isotropy” or some such.

    But I suppose the point is that that is improbable in our universe. Is that right?

    No, for thermodynamic systems it is the MOST probable thing. In equilibrium the system is “smoothed out” in such a way that there is no way to know how it got that way or how long its been that way–it “forgets” all about the “clumping” that it had.

    Imagine putting cream in coffee. At first you have a clump of cream inside a cup of coffee. Take pictures of it every minute or so. You get swirls and streaks at first, but eventually it settles down to one homogeneous cafe-au-lait color. If you made a movie of that homogeneous coffee, you could play the frames in any order and no one could tell, because it’s no longer changing with time. Stirring up the coffee again won’t separate the cream out. It can’t get back by doing “random” things.

    If you want to call the homogeneous coffee “orderly” you can, but you won’t have changed the physics of what’s going on. Of course you are free to use words any way you want, but be prepared for funny looks from other people.

  13. So, back to the creationist argument in regards to entropy. I think I understand Gabe’s explanations (which is very interesting – thanks!). On the other hand, a creationist point of view is that entropy is some sort of law that prevents an increase in complexity – thus natural evolution of more complex lifeforms from simpler ones violates the law. The more complex lifeforms have more organization, or order, or however you want to put it. My argument was that entropy did not apply to evolution of life on earth because the earth is not a closed system, and receives energy from the sun (and material from comets etc but that’s probably not relevant).

    Is that the correct argument to us, or should it be restated to better reflect what entropy really is?

  14. Gabriel Hanna

    @Ed:

    My argument was that entropy did not apply to evolution of life on earth because the earth is not a closed system, and receives energy from the sun (and material from comets etc but that’s probably not relevant).

    Most definitely living systems decrease their own entropy at the expense of the universe. Not just living systems. Any small system that receives a great deal of energy from a large system can have its entropy decreased–think of waves sorting pebbles on a beach, or water vapor crystallizing into snowflakes. The laws that govern entropy are always in effect, for open and closed systems, but they have different consequences.

    What biological systems do with entropy is not limited to them–it is the nature of the physical processes of entropy that produces this kind of spontaneous order. Spontaneous order doesn’t need a God to explain–it’s the norm in the universe. It’s physics.

    As I said, I’m trying to think of a card game that could make this very clear.

  15. I think I got it Gabriel. Thanks for hanging in there.
    I also get what Ed meant.

    But Gabriel, your response to my comment about homogenity being the improbable state in our universe seems to contradict what you say about spontaneous order being the norm. Is it that it’s the norm in our open system, but not the overall closed system of the entire universe where homogenity is the probable state? Or is it that the most probable state is not usually the norm?

    I like this physics lesson!

    A long time back, a creationist used the 2nd law on me to prove evolution wasn’t true. Back then, I’d forgetten the law, but quickly looked it up and told him that the Earth was not a closed system so he was wrong!
    This part is not really hard to understand. But I don’t think he cared. I now know he was spouting the same old arguments the AIG has now sort of retracted.

  16. Gabriel Hanna

    @Lynn:Is it that it’s the norm in our open system, but not the overall closed system of the entire universe where homogenity is the probable state?

    Not quite. The whole point of thermodynamics is to remove the time variable! Homogeneity is the most probable final state of any closed system. If the universe were totally homogeneous it would be dead. Nothing further would happen.* The time it takes for a system to achieve equilibrium is called the relaxation time. For a cup of coffee this time is seconds or minutes but for the universe it must be something like trillions of years.

    If you are talking about something that is evolving in time it is not easy to apply thermodynamics to it. What you have to do is apply changes to the system more slowly than the relaxation time, and then you can assume that the system is always near some equilibrium state and apply thermodynamics.

    So what has this to do with the Earth and living systems? Living systems aren’t in thermodynamic equilibrium-if they were they’d be dead. There are some aspects of thermodynamics that do apply, for example when it comes to cells. Cells have an extremely short relaxation time and the Sun, which fundamentally provides their energy**, changes very little in that short time. So cells can exploit energy from the Sun to increase their internal order and stay alive and it can all be explained with entropy. (It’s more accurate to say that the Sun is continually giving away order, trying to become homogeneous, and cells are siphoning some of it off and using it to offest their tendency to become homogeneous.)

    This is one reason why large organisms are multicellular. In a tiny cell, all the molecules that a cell might need diffuse around the cell hundreds or thousands of times in a second, purely from random thermal motions. In a cell the size of a human, thousands of years could pass before a molecule randomly vists every part of the cell, and so large cells need “machinery” to move raw material around, that small cells do not need.

    the Earth was not a closed system so he was wrong!

    My favorite response is, “If evolution is ruled out by the second law, then how do refrigerators work (or how does ice freeze)? Either the second law doesn’t work, or it doesn’t say what you think it does.” I usually follow up with “Do airplanes violate the law of gravity?”

    *Aside from random fluctuations that would reduce the homogeneity and get time moving again, for a while. The more extreme the fluctuation the longer it would go, but the less likely it would be. However, in an infinite amount of time everything happens. This is how you get the Consolation of Haldane, which is not very consoling AT ALL if you think about it.

    **Except for the bacteria that live on H2S from the deep sea vents, and the ecosystems that are based on eating them.

  17. Gabriel Hanna says:

    I usually follow up with “Do airplanes violate the law of gravity?”

    That’s good.

  18. Gabriel Hanna

    @SC: I stole it from Asimov. I first heard of the 2nd Law argument in his essay collection “The Planet that Wasn’t”, which came out about 35 years ago. Nice to see creationists catching up.

  19. Thanks again Gabriel. It gets clearer and clearer, but I still think I’ll stick to biology. Of course, this is behind it all anyway.
    I think I’ve heard you mention your 2nd law response before.

  20. Gabriel Hanna

    I still think I’ll stick to biology.

    You won’t be able to forget about the second law if you study cells. If you can take a course in biophysics you should.