Thermodynamics and bible

February 26, 2014

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This picture was found on a BuzzFeed article of pictures that Creationists made regarding the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate. Click the image to see the Buzzfeed post.

The second law of thermodynamics is largely misunderstood. I will be the first to admit that I did not fully understand it at one point. The second law of thermodynamics says, “Every process occurring in nature proceeds in the sense in which the sum of the entropies of all bodies taking part in the process is increased.” Simply put, the entropy of a system always increases, it never decreases.

Entropy can be loosely defined as disorder. While this definition can pose some problems, it can be used to help understand what entropy is. This simpler definition can also feed into a Creationist misunderstanding of the second law,  and might be the cause of some of the confusion. Creationists use this to “prove” that the theory of Evolution cannot be correct because “order” coming out of nothing would be a decrease of entropy.  A decrease in entropy would then violate the second law of thermodynamics. While it may appear that a material object such as a rock would be an decrease on entropy from a cloud of dust, that is not the case.

Thinking about entropy in terms of “order” and “disorder” causes this confusion. Order and disorder are not part of the second law. The second law only states the the entropies of all bodies is increased. Misunderstanding the second law of thermodynamics as “order” vs “disorder” causes confusion when you look at the world around us. A better and more accurate way to understand the law would be the increase or decrease in “useful energy”. The easiest way I found to understand this is to think about an oxygen atom. O¹, one oxygen molecule has a lot of energy. When O¹ becomes O², there is a decrease in useful energy.

As you can see in this image, when oxygen bonds to oxygen, there is a double bond where four electrons are shared. This is a decrease in useful energy. To split these atoms apart, energy is going to need to be spent. All throughout this process, energy is being lost, increasing the entropy of the system. Water is another good example. When the two hydrogen atoms bond with the oxygen atom, each hydrogen atom shares its one electron with the oxygen atom, decreasing their available energy. To split these atoms apart again, you can perform electrolysis on the water, splitting it into free hydrogen and oxygen atoms, which would be a decease of entropy if you did not have to spend more energy to perform the action than the freed up energy that you get after it is completed.

But how does this apply to evolution and creation? I have my problems with Darwinian macroevolution, and the religious zeal that it is proclaimed with, but the second law of thermodynamics does not contradict it. While a strand of DNA is more ordered that the nucleotides, sugars, and phosphates that it is made of, the process of assembling this molecule expends energy. The energy expended in structuring the DNA molecule is a increase in entropy. The useful energy is deceased in the process. The second law of thermodynamics is not a defeater for evolution. The law is concrete and even biblical. Psalm 102 proclaims that God is creator, the universe is decaying, and God is above it all.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.

So please, fellow Christians, don’t use this as an argument against evolution. Common design, appearance of design, consciousness, the soul, objective morals, etc are all better arguments. The second law of thermodynamics is not anti-evolution, nor is it anti-creation. It is simply the way that the universe works, it is fading away and groaning as it waits to be renewed and recreated at the end of time.

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