Pseudoscientists love to use "abracadabra" words to dazzle an ill-informed audience, and for creationists, the word "entropy" fills the bill nicely. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that, in an isolated system, the entropy tends to increase. As entropy may be considered a measure of disorder, the orderliness of living systems and the complexity of organic molecules are taken by creationists to be a violation of this law of physics, requiring divine intervention.
An example of this sort of thinking is provided by Henry Morris (1989: 32, emphasis in the original):
The universe is not "progressing from featurelessness to states of greater organization and complexity," as Davies and other evolutionary mathematicians fantasize. It is running down - at every observable level - toward chaos, as stipulated by the scientific laws of thermodynamics. Local and temporary increases in complexity are only possible when driven by designed programs and directed energies, neither of which is possessed by the purely speculative notion of vertically-upward evolution.
An even less intellectual effort is provided by Ross (2004: 108):
One feature of the law of decay (the second law of thermodynamics, or the entropy law) seems especially beneficial in the context of sin: the more we humans sin, the more pain and work we encounter.
Thank God for torture chambers, and congenital diseases!
A perfectly adequate response to such nonsense is to point out that the earth is not an isolated system, and therefore the condition required by the Second Law is not met. We can surely say more than just this, however. After all, entropy is not merely some nebulous concept of disorder, but an exactly defined quantity in physics. For example, 18 grams of water at 25° C has an entropy of 70.0 Joules per Kelvin (Lide 2004-5: 5-18; 6-4). Since entropy can be calculated precisely, it is possible to determine what restrictions the laws of thermodynamics really place on evolution. To do this, we should first look at how entropy is defined mathematically.
The change in the entropy of a system as it goes from an initial state to a final state is
which simplifies to
if the temperature is constant throughout the process. In this equation:
S is the entropy in units of Joules per Kelvin (or J/K),
ΔS is the change in the entropy during the process,
Q is the flow of heat in units of Joules (or J) (Q is positive if heat flows into the object, and negative if heat flows out of the object), and
T is the temperature in units of Kelvin (or K).
For example, suppose that two cubes of matter at temperatures of 11 K and 9 K are brought together, 99 Joules of heat spontaneously flow from the hotter to the colder cube (as shown), and the cubes are separated. If the heat capacities of the cubes are so large that their temperatures remain essentially constant, the change in entropy of the entire system is
Notice that this change of entropy is a positive quantity. The entropy of any system tends to increase, as energy flows spontaneously from hotter to colder regions.
To examine the change of entropy necessary to generate life on earth, begin with a square, one meter long on each side, at the same distance from the sun as the earth (93 million miles) and oriented so that one side fully faces the solar disk. The amount of radiant power that passes through this area is called the solar constant, and is equal to 1373 Joules/second (Lide 2004-5: 14-2). In the absence of the earth's atmosphere, the entropy of this sunlight would equal this energy divided by the temperature of the sun's surface, known from spectroscopy to equal 5780 K. The result would give the entropy of this amount of sunlight as 0.238 J/K every second.
A more sophisticated analysis of the energy and entropy that reaches the surface of the earth is given by Kabelac and Drake (1992: 245). Due to absorption and scattering by the atmosphere, only 897.6 J of energy reaches one square meter of the earth's surface through a clear sky every second (731.4 J directly from the solar disk, and 166.2 J diffused through the rest of the sky). For an overcast sky, all the energy is from diffuse radiation, equal to 286.7 J, according to Kabelac and Drake's model. The entropy that reaches this square meter through a clear sky every second is 0.305 J/K (0.182 J/K directly from the solar disk, and 0.123 J/K diffused through the rest of the sky). For an overcast sky, all the entropy is from diffuse radiation, equal to 0.218 J/K (see figure, p 32).
So, for one square meter on the earth's surface facing the sun, the energy received every second from a clear sky is 897.6 J, and the entropy received is 0.305 J/K. If we are to apply these numbers to a study of life on earth, we must spread these quantities over the entire earth's surface (of area 4πr2) rather than the cross-section of the earth (of area πr2) that receives the rays perpendicular to the surface. Therefore, these numbers must be reduced by a factor of 4 to represent the energy and entropy that an average square meter of the earth receives every second, as 224.4 J and 0.076 J/K, respectively.
The average temperature of the earth's surface is 288 K (= 15° C = 59° F) according to Lide (2004-5: 14-3). To maintain this temperature, that one square meter must radiate 224.4 J of energy back into the atmosphere (and ultimately into outer space) every second. The entropy of this radiation is
Assuming sunny skies, this one square meter of ground gains 0.076 J/K of entropy every second from sunlight, and produces 0.779 J/K every second by radiating energy back into the sky for a net entropy creation rate of 0.703 J/K every second. In effect, the earth is an entropy factory for the universe, taking individual high-energy (visible) photons and converting each of them into many low-energy (infrared) photons, increasing the disorder of the universe. As long as life on earth decreases its entropy at a rate of 0.703 J/K or less per square meter every second, the entropy of the universe will not decrease over time due to this one square meter of earth, and the Second Law will be obeyed.
How much energy and entropy are contained in life on the earth's land surface, compared to a lifeless earth? The average biomass occupying one square meter of land is between 10 and 12 kg, mostly as plant material (Bortman and others 2003: 145). Taking 11 kg as an average,we can calculate how much energy it would take to create this biomass from simple inorganic chemicals. This can be done by reversing the process, and asking how much energy is released when combustion reduces plant life to ashes. The answer is the heat of combustion, which for wood (which we may take as representative of plant life) is 1.88 x 107 J/kg (Beiser 1991: 431). Multiplying these two numbers together, the energy required to generate the amount of life currently found on an average square meter of land is 2.07 x 108 J.
If this life is generated at the earth's average temperature of 288 K, its entropy decrease will be
The earth's bodies of water are relatively sterile, and can be ignored; if life on land can be generated, the sparse amount of life in water can certainly be generated as well.
We are now able to determine what restrictions the laws of thermodynamics place upon the evolution of life on earth. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, heat is a flow of energy and must obey the Law of Conservation of Energy. The average square meter of land surface on earth receives 224.4 J of energy from the sun every second, and contains
2.07 x 108 J of energy stored in living tissue. The ratio of these two values is
If all the solar energy received by this square meter is used to create organic matter, a minimum of 10.7 days is required to avoid violating the First Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, the entropy tends to increase. The average square meter of land may balance the entropy increase due to radiation by generating a maximum entropy decrease of 0.703 J/K every second through the growth of life without violating this law. The difference in entropy between this square meter with life and the same square meter in the absence of life is 7.18 x 105 J/K. The ratio of these two values is
A minimum of 11.8 days is required to avoid violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The Third (and final) Law of Thermodynamics, which states that S = 0 J/K for a pure perfect crystal at 0 K, has no application to creationism.
Shades of a Creation Week! As long as the evolution of life on earth took longer than 10.7 or 11.8 days, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics are not violated, respectively. Even for an overcast sky, these numbers increase to merely 33 and 43 days respectively. As evolution has obviously taken far longer than this, the creationists are wrong to invoke entropy and the laws of thermodynamics to defend their beliefs.
Of course, solar energy is not going to be converted into the chemical energy of organic compounds with 100% efficiency. It takes a growing season of several months to reestablish the grasses of the prairie, and forests can take centuries to regrow. What this study has shown is that the time constraints for these two laws are very similar. Can creationists seriously argue that there has not been enough time for the sun to provide the energy stored in the living matter we find on earth today? If not, then they cannot honestly rely on entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics to make their case, either.
Beiser A. 1991. Physics. 5th ed. New York:Addison-Wesley.
Bortman M, Brimblecombe P, Cunningham MA, Cunningham WP, Freedman B, eds. 2003. Environmental Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. New York: Gale Group.
Kabelac S, Drake FD. 1992. The entropy of terrestrial solar radiation. Journal of Solar Energy Science and Engineering 48 (4): 239¨C48.
Lide DR, ed. 2004¨C2005. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. 85th ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press.
Morris HM. 1989. The Long War Against God. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Book House.
Ross H.2004. A Matter of Days. Colorado Springs (CO):NavPress.
The chemical composition of fossilized vertebrate tissues is the result of the uptake, exchange, and loss of chemical elements, in two different sets of circumstances. First, during the life of the animal. ... Second, during the diagenetic evolution of the mineralized tissues (i.e., fossilization) this original organization of the chemical elements is altered ... [emphasis added]Statements such as these are so common in paleontological literature — especially as throw-away remarks in prefaces and introductions — that they tend to roll smoothly off the brain without critical evaluation. But this passage is quite ambigious. Fossilization, here defined as the “diagenetic evolution of the mineralized tissues,” is a process. Unmineralized tissues apparently cannot undergo fossilization. But can unmineralized tissues be fossilized? “Fossilized” also implies a process-dependent definition of “fossil,” because, under the time-dependent definition, becoming a fossil simply is a matter of getting old, something that hardly qualifies as a process; calling a bone “fossilized” simply because it is old would be as meaningless as calling an old chair “antique-ized.” So if unmineralized tissues can be fossilized, then there must be some way of becoming fossilized other than through fossilization, and T rex soft tissue could be described as “unfossilization-ized fossilized tissue.” But if unmineralized tissues cannot be fossilized, this would imply that unmineralized tissues cannot be fossils. What, then, are “fossil” leaves, soft-body animal “fossils”, and petrified wood?
This is fossilised bone in the sense that it’s from an extinct animal but it doesn’t have a lot of the characteristics of what people would call a fossil.As with Bocheren, this statement sounds reasonable until you think about it. “Characteristics of what people would call a fossil” presumably refers to decay of soft tissue, petrifaction or some other process. But what does “fossilized bone in the sense that it’s from an extinct animal” mean? Here Schweitzer clearly intended to use “fossil” in the time-defined way, but instead of simply using the word “fossil”, she adds the chronological qualifier “from an extinct animal” to “fossilized” — a term that connotes process. This leads to exactly the same confusion that we encountered in Bocheren. And again, as with Bocheren, I do not mean this as a critique of Schweitzer’s science. I cite these passages in order to demonstrate that we think so little about how we use “fossil” and related terms that even careful and accomplished scientists use them in careless and ambiguous ways.
A petrified substance, strictly speaking, is nothing more than the skeleton, or perhaps image, of a body which has once had life, either animal or vegetable, combined with some mineral. Thus petrified wood is not in that state wood alone. One part of the compound or mass of wood having been destroyed by local causes, has been compensated by earthy and sandy substances, diluted and extremely minute, which the waters surrounding them had deposited while they themselves evaporated. These earthy substances, being then moulded in the skeleton, will be more or less indurated, and will appear to have its figure, its structure, its size, in a word, the same general characteristics, the same specific attributes, and the same individual differences. Farther, in petrified wood, no vestige of ligneous matter appears to exist.More modern variants simply embellish this story with chemical language, substituting atoms, molecules, or minerals for “diluted and extremely minute” substances, for example. Pulling a book off my shelf at random, I encounter this:
After an animal dies, if it is to become a fossil, it must be buried before the elements destroy the carcass, completely…. After burial, minerals carried by percolating groundwater are deposited in vugs within the bone structure, or they may actually replace bone salts, literally turning the bone to stone. (Jacobs 1993: 47)Both passages give readers the sense that scientists have a pretty good understanding of what happens to fossils in the ground. In reality we have no such understanding. Indeed, it is only in the past 15 years that paleontological geochemists begun to address, in a serious and organized way, basic questions about why some things endure long enough to become fossils. To date, these efforts have revealed important details about the chemical behavior of some fossils in some settings, but we are a long way from the kind of systematic knowledge implied by the cited passages.
Bone is made out of calcium (sodium) hydroxyapatite, a mineral that is not stable at temperatures and pressures at or near the surface of the earth. This means that bones can change with time, which in turn means that most no longer have original bone matter present after fossilization. This is especially likely if the bone is bathed in the variety of fluids that is associated with burial in the earth. ... If, however, no fluids are present throughout the history of the burial … the bone could remain unaltered, which is to say that original bone mineralogy remains. This situation is not that common, and is progressively rarer in the case of older and older fossils.This explanation of what happens to buried bones is vastly better than most. It makes the important but seldom articulated point that bone will not necessarily decay just because it is unstable, and leaves open the possibility that unaltered bone and soft tissues can survive. The authors make no implausible claims, and it is possible that a century from now we will know that everything they wrote was entirely correct.
Would evolutionary theory have predicted such an amazing discovery? Absolutely not, soft tissue would have degraded completely many millions of years ago no matter how fortuitous the preservation process. Will evolutionary theory now state — due to this clear physical evidence — that it is possible dinosaurs roamed the earth until relatively recent times? No, for evolutionary theory will not allow dinosaurs to exist beyond a certain philosophical/evolutionary period. (Sherwin 2005)The discovery of intact T rex soft tissue indeed would challenge prevailing scientific thinking, if not, as the author claims, “evolutionary theory”. This discovery can be reconciled with the Tin Man story only by invoking extraordinary causes. These invocations come across as makeshift attempts to prop up an exhausted hypothesis — which in fact they are. From the same BBC article previously cited:
Dr Schweitzer is not making any grand claims that these soft traces are the degraded remnants of the original material — only that they give that appearance.Rich Deem, writing at the creationist site godandscience.org, explains:
She and other scientists will want to establish if some hitherto unexplained fine-scale process has been at work in MOR 1125, which was pulled from the famous dinosaur rocks of eastern Montana known as the Hell Creek Formation. (BBC 2005; emphasis added)
[Schweitzer] indicated that the bones have a distinct odor, characteristic of “embalming fluids.” Therefore, it is possible that the bones landed in some chemical stew that preserved the soft tissue inside from decomposition….The new study reveals that the cortical bone within T rex [femora] may, under certain conditions, retain cellular and subcellular details. Under normal conditions, fossilization replaces living material with minerals. In this case, the soft tissue was protected from degradation, possibly through some chemical process, then desiccated to prevent further changes. (Deem nd; emphasis added)Creationists know a weak spot when they see one, and dodgy phrases like “some hitherto unexplained fine-scale process” and “some chemical stew” advertise a weak spot like a giant gorilla balloon over a used car lot. The fact that the weakness is in our understanding of fossils, not of evolution or the age of the earth, is a subtle distinction that creationists do not make and their audience does not grasp.
Anti-evolutionists get a lot of mileage out of this chestnut because it uses scientific terms like “thermodynamics” and “entropy” to bolster their contention that evolution is unscientific. In fact, local increases in complexity/order are not only completely consistent with thermodynamics, but even expected by the theory. Nevertheless, anti-evolutionists contend: “Evolutionary theory stands in obvious defiance of the Second Law” and “Evolution teaches that life increases in complexity, and therefore defies the second law. …The second law says that everything in our world and in the universe is like a wound-up clock that is running down” (http://www.pathlights.com/ce_encyclopedia/Encyclopedia/18law03.htm or http://evolutionfacts.com/Appendix/a25.htm; see also http://www.cryingvoice.com/Evolution/Physics.html (link broken)). This ruse works best with an audience that is already inclined to hope that evolution is not true, and requires that the audience does not already understand thermodynamics. This burdens the defender of evolution with having to explain not only all of evolutionary theory but thermodynamics on top. I’ve found that the following explanation often works pretty well to help folks understand basic implications of the Second Law as it relates to life on earth and evolution.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics has to do with entropy — the entropy of the universe increases during any spontaneous process. A traditional way to understand this is that disorder increases in an isolated (closed) system. This is where some muffins come in handy.
One caveat: Do not look for the muffin example to cover all of physical theory comprehensively. It discusses entropy in terms of the classical theory of thermodynamics. Quantum mechanics and relativity theory put a different spin on it. Since we do not really have conservation of energy in general relativity, it is hard to say what a really comprehensive thermodynamics will look like once the physicists work it out. However, the more Einsteinian versions of thermodynamics thus far all look far worse for the anti-evolutionist objection than does the classical theory. For a more advanced treatment of classical thermodynamics, see http://www.entropylaw.com/.
1) The Bible is the written Word of God, and because we believe it to be inspired thruout [sic], all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all of the original autographs. To the student of nature, this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths.
2) All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during creation Week as described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since creation have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds.
3) The great flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Deluge, was an historical event, worldwide in its extent and effects.
4) Finally, we are an organization of Christian men of science, who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman, and their subsequent Fall into sin, is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only thru [sic] accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.