Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics Prevent Evolution?

Creationists often mistakenly claim that the Second Law of Thermodynamics prevents evolution from occurring. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states,

“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.”

An Eagle while in flight appears to be violating the theory of gravity and the Law of Universal Gravitation. Is it?

We have energy at the Sun’s expense.

When we look more closely at other attributes of flight, physics and characteristics then we can deduce that the Eagle is not violating the theory of gravity or the Law of Universal Gravitation.

The same goes with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When looked at briefly without understanding the surrounding conditions and subsets then evolution can appear to be in said violation. Upon closer inspection and understanding of the theory then one ascertains the same thing about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and evolution ascertained about the Eagle.

We measure the degree of thermodynamic disorder by 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 Institute for Creation Research 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.

The overall entropy of an isolated system cannot decrease. However, the entropy of parts within the system can spontaneously decrease. They do so at the expense of a greater part of the overall system. In other words, if heat flows spontaneously from a hot part to a cold part, the entropy of the hot area decreases.

Entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder in a system. The entropy of a system is more likely to increase than decrease (but decreased entropy is not ruled out) because there is more disorder than order (but not all disorder – there is some order). The disorder in a system increases because at every stage some of the energy is wasted.

  • The first law of thermodynamics says that heat is just a form of energy and the total amount of energy in the world always remains the same.
  • The second law of thermodynamics says that heat energy will always flow from a hotter object to a colder one rather than the other way around.
  • The third law of thermodynamics says that it is impossible to go on taking heat from an object so that it reaches zero on the Kelvin scale.
  • The fourth law of thermodynamics says that if two objects are both at the same temperature as a third, then all three are at the same temperature – they are said to be at a thermal equilibrium.

Therefore, while the second law supports entropy, the first law insists that heat energy may decrease or increase as long as the transfers maintain the total energy balance.

AS represents the total entropy in a system. AS represents a given change in the entropy content of a system. q represents the amount of heat absorbed by a system. T represents Absolute Temperature. The equation is:

AS = q/T (1)

When heat is absorbed, the entropy of a system increases; when heat flows out of a system, its entropy decreases. The overall system of entropy (in a closed system) increases when spontaneous change occurs.

However, when spontaneous interacting of sub-systems of said closed system occurs, some may gain entropy and others may lose entropy. Irreversibility in thermodynamics is probable because the overall heat energy remains constant regardless of where it is going. The overall closed system maintains the same level of heat energy. The heat energy may disburse differently, but it is still the same “amount”. Spontaneous reversing of entropy requires a change in the surrounding conditions and that heat energy disbursement can shift.

As Frank Steiger said in his article The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Evolution, and Probability,

STEIGER: “It is important to remember that a change that has a high degree of probability under one set of circumstances may have a very low degree of probability under a different set of circumstances. To illustrate: If the temperature drops below freezing, the probability of water becoming ice is very high. The change from water to ice is thermodynamically irreversible. If the surrounding temperature should happen to rise above the freezing point, the probability of water becoming ice, or remaining as ice, is zero. Under these conditions the reverse change of ice to liquid water is also thermodynamically irreversible.”

Mark Isaac provides a detailed explanation of why Creationists often use this argument incorrectly:

ISAAC: “The confusion arises when the 2nd law is phrased in another equivalent way, “The entropy of a closed system cannot decrease.” Entropy is an indication of unusable energy and often (but not always!) corresponds to intuitive notions of disorder or randomness. Creationists thus misinterpret the 2nd law to say that things invariably progress from order to disorder. However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes couldn’t have more usable energy still?

Creationists sometimes try to get around this by claiming that the information carried by living things lets them create order. However, not only is life irrelevant to the 2nd law, but order from disorder is common in nonliving systems, too. Snowflakes, sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds, and lightning are just a few examples of order coming from disorder in nature; none require an intelligent program to achieve that order.”

If the Second Law of Thermodynamics worked the way Creationists want it to work, then it would also be counter to a supernatural creation, that a God created the heavens and earth out of chaos. Creationists explain this using supernaturalism. Whitcomb and Morris in their book The Genesis Flood (pg. 223) said,

WHITCOMB/MORRIS: “But during the period of Creation, God was introducing order and organization into the universe in a very high degree, even to life itself! It is thus quite plain that the processes used by God in creation was utterly different from the processes, which now operate in the universe!”

In other words, the creationists expect scientists to stick to the creationist’s incorrect version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but demand no such accordance from their creator. To do that would not justify their faith, would it?

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One comment on “Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics Prevent Evolution?

  1. […] This warrants an entirely different page because Creationists so commonly use it and it requires an extensive rebuttal. You can find out more about this fallacy in my article Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics Prevent Evolution? […]

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