Thermodynamics and Origins


The authors see the second law of thermodynamics as man’s description of the prior and continuing work of a creator, who also holds the answer to the future destiny of man and the universe. 
(Sonntag and Van Wylen)


Einstein, whose relativity theory unseated Newton’s hallowed laws of motion, once spoke of the laws of thermodynamics as the only scientific principles he had real confidence would remain unaltered as science continued to progress. (Wysong) What are the implications of the first two of these laws for the study of origins?

The First Law of Thermodynamics – The Law of Conservation of Matter/Energy

The first law has been defined as follows: When a closed system is altered adiabatically, the total work associated with the change of state is the same for all possible processes between the two given equilibrium states. (Wark)

A more succinct and comprehensible definition might be something like this: Matter/energy may be altered (converted), but not created (from nothingness) nor destroyed (reduced to nothingness). The First Law teaches that matter/energy cannot spring forth from nothing without cause, nor can it simply vanish.

Implications of the First Law

The First Law, although not formally defined until the 19th century, helps make science possible. Science depends on the ability to identify cause-effect relationships. If matter/energy could spontaneously appear (and have effects on other matter/energy around it), scientists would never know whether a given observation was due to a rational cause, or to a spontaneous generation of matter or energy that was uncaused. Scientific conclusions would be on shaky ground. The Law of Causality is thus closely linked with the First Law of Thermodynamics.

The First Law also demands, if we accept it, one of two possibilities about the nature of the universe. One is that it has always existed, changing form perhaps but never having come from nothingness, or returning to the same. The other possibility is that it did not come from nothingness, but from a transcendant (that is, outside the universe) creator who is not subject to the laws within the universe.

Critics who have asked “if God created the universe, who created Him?” miss the following points. First, they have unconsciously granted to the Law of Causality the very property of self-existence (that is, an eternal, uncreated nature) that they are presuming God couldn’t have. A being who created the universe and the laws within it, who pre-existed them, would not be slave to those laws. And since the Law of Causality is a statement about relationships between multiple entities, the law could not even exist until one entity began the act of creating another one (at which point it would implicitly come to exist). Finally, most atheists who use this argument grant to the universe the exact property of self-existence that they deny God. They either deny the First Law of Thermodynamics and believe the universe came into existence from nothingness, or believe that it is itself self-existing. However, this latter position violates the unity principle – that a valid law of science that is found to apply anywhere, applies everywhere and to everything in the universe, including the universe as a whole.

The only position that appears to be consistent with the First Law of Thermodynamics, the unity principle and causality is that the universe was created by a self-existent external agent not subject to the laws operational in the universe it created.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics – The Law of Entropy

A technical reference to the Second Law notes: The entropy function always increases in the presence of internal irreversibilities for an adiabatic, closed system. In the limiting case of an internally reversible, adiabatic process, the entropy will remain constant. (Wark)

In plain English the Second Law states that entropy (that is, disorder) always increases or remains constant in a closed system. (As a practical matter, for any non-trivial system entropy tends to increase due to irreversible processes.) The entropy of an entire closed system can never decrease within that system. Since the universe can be modeled as a closed system the universe is considered to be entropic – that is, running down.

Implications of the Second Law

The Law of Entropy – that is, disorder – is a dagger aimed at the heart of Darwinian fundamentalism. It has two applications, the entropy of the entire universe considered as a single system, and the entropy of individual, open systems. In considering the significance of entropy for the universe consider the following quote by eminent evolutionary biologist Sir Julian Huxley:

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. (Huxley)

It is difficult to conceive a more direct attack on the law of entropy than this description of evolutionism. What is fascinating is the authors’ declaration that “our present knowledge” forces us to view “the whole of reality” as part of this upwards process. But as the Second Law makes clear, the universe (“the whole of reality”?) is entropic in nature. Contrary to Huxley’s assertion, all relevant scientific knowledge declares the opposite – that the Second Law is overwhelmingly supported by the data. Change, including biological change, does occur, but the transformation is to increasing levels of disorganization, as evolutionary biologists have now shown. (Spetner)

The Law of Entropy demands that we view the universe as “devolving” not “evolving.” In combination with the First Law of Thermodynamics the Second Law demands that the universe was most complex and orderly when it first came into existence. Models for the origin of the universe need to incorporate this fundamental fact to be scientifically credible.

The second application of the Law of Entropy on origins theory is the operation of entropy in smaller systems, such as planet earth, or individual life forms. Can entropy be reversed locally, to allow the evolution of life from simpler forms? After all, we observe the growth of complexity (local reduction of entropy) in many small systems, such as the growth of a tree from a seed, or of an adult human from a fetus, or of a house from a pile of lumber and nails. Darwinian fundamentalists argue that evolutionism is compatible with entropy at this level. Anti-creationist physicist Dr. Karl Giberson writes:

The second law applies only to hypothetical “closed” systems, which are systems that do not interact with any energy source outside of themselves. And living systems, by definition, are very interactive with external energy sources… Any time a system experiences an external interaction with an energy source, there can occur numerous apparent violations of the second law, in which order within that system appears to emerge spontaneously and remarkably from disorder. (Giberson)

This is known as the “open systems” argument. Darwinian fundamentalists declare that the Earth is an open system and that this eliminates any problem for Darwinism. They often belittle and ridicule their critics for “misunderstanding” entropy and open systems. (Gish) This may be because they know they are simply failing to address the anti-Darwinian argument regarding entropy.

It is entirely true that an open system is required for entropy to be locally reversed. However, this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Other conditions must also be present for complexity to develop. Generally an open system decays more swiftly than a closed one.

For example, consider a building that is sealed from the outside environment. Protected within this shield it will still slowly decay. Now open it to the elements – create an open system. Let the sun beat down on it; let lightning strike it; let wind run through it; let rain fall on it. The addition of undirected energy, be it light, kinetic energy, electricity, or anything else, will simply speed up the decay process.

In addition to an open system three other requirements must be met for entropy to be reversed at non-trivial levels:

  1. The energy coming into the system must be harnessed and converted into useful form by “machinery.”
  2. A “blueprint” must exist that specifies the reduced entropy state.
  3. Something must link the machinery to the blueprint, driving the use of energy in accordance with the blueprint.

All three requirements must be satisfied. For very simple levels of order such as crystallization or layering of sediments the laws of physics and chemistry and the structure of atoms and matter form an implicit ‘blueprint’ and ‘tooling’ that produces the observed order. This order prevents the formation of more complex order – crystals do not spontaneously evolve to more complex crystals, for example. Natural order driven by natural law thus prevents innovative evolution; it does not cause it.

For complex results the requirements must be highly specified to succeed. For example, a pile of lumber with loose, live, electrical wires flopping around on a construction site will not produce a house. Plugging power drills and band saws into the wires will not produce a house. Dropping blueprints off at the site will not produce a house. Only when workers show up who can read the blueprints and use the machinery, with power and raw materials provided, will the house be built. Moreover, if the wrong materials (tin foil and soap, for example) are provided, the house cannot be built. If there is no power, the house cannot be built. If they have the wrong tools (a sewing machine and computer, for example), the workers cannot build the house. If they have the wrong blueprint (for example, for a coffin or ship) the house cannot be built. When the specified requirements are lacking entropy will proceed unabated to the degree they are lacking.

Embryos take energy from food sources and use their cellular machinery, directed by genetic programming, to develop and become more complex. This complexity is specified by the genes and will not exceed the genetic programming. There is no analog between the development of an individual life form from pre-existing blueprints (genes) and the notion of the genetic blueprints themselves becoming more complex. The latter proposal does not meet the additional requirements specified above and thus constitutes a conflict with the Law of Entropy.

Sources & Further Study

Thermodynamics and Order FAQS,

Eddington, A.E., The Nature of the Physical World (New York: MacMillan, 1930).

Giberson, Karl, Worlds Apart: The Unholy War Between Religion and Science (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1993).

Gish, Duane T., Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1993).

Huxley, Julian, “Evolution in Genetics,” in What is Man?, J. Newman ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1955).

Morris, Henry and Gary Parker, What is Creation Science? (El Cajon, CA: Master Books, 1987).

Spetner, Lee, Not by Chance! (New York: Judaica Press, 1996).

Van Wylen, Gordon and Richard Sonntag, Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973).

Thaxton, Charles, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (Dallas: Lewis & Stanley, 1984).

Wallace, Timothy, “Thermodynamics vs. Evolutionism,”

Wark, Kenneth, Thermodynamics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988).

Williams, Emmett, ed., Thermodynamics and the Development of Order (Norcross, GA: Creation Research Society Books, 1981).

Wysong, R.L., The Creation-Evolution Controversy (East Lansing, MI: Inquiry Press, 1976).

…if 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. (Sir Arthur Eddington)

Revised 17 Jan 2002

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