The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Attributing False Attributes to Thermodynamics

Copyright © 1997 by Frank Steiger

Creationist arguments are often based on assuming that a scientific theory or law possesses an attribute that it does not, in fact, possess. The creationist thermodynamics argument is a typical example of how this technique is used to twist well established scientific principles into meaningless gibberish. The reader should refer to Chapter III of "Scientific Creationism," edited by Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research for specific details. This chapter can be summed up as follows.

Creationist claims:

  1. The second law of thermodynamics requires that all systems and individual parts of systems have a tendency to go from order to disorder. The second law will not permit order to spontaneously arise from disorder. To do so would violate the universal tendency of matter to decay or disintegrate.

  2. Creationists recognize that in many cases order does spontaneously arise from disorder: seeds grow into trees, eggs develop into chicks, crystalline salts form when a solution evaporates, and crystalline snowflakes form from randomly moving water vapor molecules. In cases like these, creationists have assigned an attribute that there must be a programmed energy conversion mechanism to direct the application of the energy needed to bring about the change.

  3. This energy conversion mechanism is postulated to "overcome" the second law, thus allowing order to spontaneously arise from disorder.

  4. Creationists believe that changes requiring human thought and effort, such as constructing a building, manufacturing an airplane, making a bed, writing a book, etc. are covered by the science of thermodynamics. Creationists believe that a wall will not build itself simply because to do so would violate the laws of thermodynamics. In building the wall, the stonemason overcomes the laws of thermodynamics!

  5. In the case of organic change, like seeds growing into trees and chicks developing from eggs, creationists believe that the directed energy conversion mechanism that overcomes the laws of thermodynamics comes from God.

Comments on the above five claims:

  1. The degree of thermodynamic disorder is measured by an entity called "entropy." There is a mathematical correlation between entropy increase and an increase in disorder. The overall entropy of an isolated system can never decrease. However, the entropy of some parts of the system can spontaneously decrease at the expense of an even greater increase of other parts of the system. When heat flows spontaneously from a hot part of a system to a colder part of the system, the entropy of the hot area spontaneously decreases! The ICR chapter states flatly that entropy can never decrease; this is in direct conflict with the most fundamental law of thermodynamics that entropy equals heat flow divided by absolute temperature.

  2. There is no need to postulate an energy conversion mechanism. Thermodynamics correlates, with mathematical equations, information relating to the interaction of heat and work. It does not speculate as to the mechanisms involved. The energy conversion mechanism can not be expressed in terms of mathematical relationships or thermodynamic laws. Although it is reasonable to assume that complex energy conversion mechanisms actually exist, the manner in which these may operate is outside the scope of thermodynamics. Assigning an energy conversion mechanism to thermodynamics is simply a ploy to distort and pervert the true nature of thermodynamics.

  3. The use and application of thermodynamics is strictly limited by the mathematical treatment of the basic equations of thermodynamics. There is no provision in thermodynamics for any mechanism that would overcome the laws of thermodynamics.

  4. Thermodynamics does not deal with situations requiring human thought and effort in order to create order from disorder. Thermodynamics is limited by the equations and mathematics of thermodynamics. If it can't be expressed mathematically, it isn't thermodynamics!

Creationism would replace mathematics with metaphors. Metaphors may or may not serve to illustrate a fact, but they are not the fact itself. One thing is certain: metaphors are completely useless when it comes to the thermodynamics of calculating the efficiency of a heat engine, or the entropy change of free expansion of a gas, or the power required to operate a compressor. This can only be done with mathematics, not metaphors. Creationists have created a "voodoo" thermodynamics based solely on metaphors. This in order to convince those not familiar with real thermodynamics that their sectarian religious views have scientific validity.

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