Thermodynamics and Circular Arguments (27 June 2002)


Dear Editor

Thermodynamics and Circular Arguments

With the statement "if thermodynamics proves that evolution cannot occur, so much for thermodynamics" Dr. Mike Anderson (25 June) rejects the science of thermodynamics because of the alleged occurrence of evolution. Which should we give more weight: a measurable, well-established, practically applicable, science like thermodynamics OR the non-repeatable theory of evolution, which is supposed to have randomly generated sophisticated, self-replicating life at some stage in the very distant past? As Arthur S. Eddington said rather poetically "If your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for [your theory] but to collapse in the deepest humiliation." (Reference 1).

Dr. Anderson then objects that the second law of thermodynamics applies only to closed systems, and that open systems (like "evolution") do not show the same behaviour. In contrast, Dr John Ross of Harvard University states: "… there are no known violations of the second law of thermodynamics. Ordinarily the second law is stated for isolated systems, but the second law applies equally well to open systems. … There is somehow associated with the field of far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics the notion that the second law of thermodynamics fails for such systems. It is important to make sure that this error does not perpetuate itself." (Reference 2).

The second law of thermodynamics can be stated "For every naturally occurring transformation of energy is accompanied, somewhere, by a loss in the availability of energy for the future performance of work." (Reference 3). Alternatively "All real processes go with an increase in entropy. The entropy also measures the randomness, or lack of orderliness of the system; the greater the randomness, the greater the entropy." (Reference 4). An open system receives energy from an external source, and so it is argued that order can increase in an open system because the external source supplies the energy.

However, there are four criteria for a local growth process. Firstly, the system must be open. Secondly, there must be an external source of energy. Thirdly, there must be a coded plan. Lastly, there needs to be an energy conversion mechanism. (Reference 5).

Applying these criteria to the foetus in the womb - the system is open and there is a source of energy (the mother). From conception, the uniquely coded plan is contained in the DNA of that very powerful first cell. The cell also contains energy conversion machinery. Thus, local growth can be expected. This process (like all other physical processes) is subject to the laws of thermodynamics, since the order and growth of the foetus increases at the expense of the order in the rest of the universe.

Applying these criteria to evolution, however, in the absence of a Creator, no coded plan or energy conversion mechanism can be assumed. Because of the second law of thermodynamics, random processes will only serve to increase the disorder of any components, which, it may be hoped, would give rise to life. Just as a bull in a china shop represents an input of energy, the bull does not increase the order of the system by merely inputting energy. Similarly, leaving one's car in the sun results in rusting, not repair, despite the energy input.

Good science requires the intelligent application of energy to increase the local amount of order, since the natural bent of the universe to greater disorder (the second law of thermodynamics) needs to be overcome. In contrast, evolution teaches that order will arise spontaneously. If South Africa wants to take the lead in science and engineering, we would be better off teaching Biblical Creationism rather than the theory of evolution to our budding scientists and engineers.

Yours faithfully

Jeanine McGill

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