Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Give Up on Entropy - It's Gone Cold

Many years ago, when I began going back to church as an impressionable college freshman, I was subjected to the attempts of some Christians to use some nifty jiu-jitsu against science and as an argument for the existence of God. I'm sure you've heard's an old one, but it's still used. It goes like this: Since the second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy increases (entropy being another way of saying chaos or disorder), the fact that life on the earth has become more ordered, or complex, over time, must suggest that complex forms of life, in fact life itself, could not have come about through natural means. Here is a quote from
Naturalistic Evolutionism requires that physical laws and atoms organize themselves into increasingly complex and beneficial, ordered arrangements. Thus, over eons of time, billions of things are supposed to have developed upward, becoming more orderly and complex.

However, this basic law of science (2nd Law of Thermodynamics) reveals the exact opposite. In the long run, complex, ordered arrangements actually tend to become simpler and more disorderly with time. There is an irreversible downward trend ultimately at work throughout the universe. Evolution, with its ever increasing order and complexity, appears impossible in the natural world.

For a large percentage of my life I believed this argument and used it in my preaching. I did not ever question it. If you, like me, have heard, and perhaps found solace in this argument, I am sorry to be the one to show you that it is false.

Evolution in fact does not go against the 2nd law of thermodynamics, simply because "The order of life takes place amid great chaos, and the existence of life-forms does not appreciably alter the measure of entropy in the larger system in which life has evolved...In other words, the order represented by the existence of life-forms is insignificant in terms of measuring overall entropy...Evolution is a process, but it is not a closed system. It is subject to outside influence, and indeed draws upon the chaos in which it is embedded. So the Law of Increasing Entropy does not rule out the emergence of life and intelligence" (Kurzwell, Ray, 1999, The Age of Spiritual Machines, 12-13).

And so the argument for God's existence from the 2nd law of thermodynamics has gone cold. No doubt it will continue to be utilized by those who wish to prove his existence, but now you know better. At least I do.


Martin said...

You are correct, life does not violate the law of entropy. Yes, a person is more ordered than the food he/she eats, but only at the expense of a much greater amount of entropy overall. Think of a fancy meal, all nicely done- then think of what it looks like coming out the other end. Much more disordered.

C.L. Hanson said...

The entropy argument never fails to irritate me, and not just because the reason it's wrong is so simple (as you point out here).

It's stupid on a meta-argument level.

I want to ask these creationists: "So, you're saying that evolution contradicts one of the basic laws of thermodynamics in such a huge and simple way and the scientific community didn't notice? So all of these thousands of brilliant scientists spend their whole lives on research, and just haven't picked up on this argument that is so simple that someone with an elementary-school level of science education can understand it?"

It should be obvious that the scientific community would have a response to the entropy argument, and I would think that a person would take a couple of minutes to find out what are the objections to this argument before repeating it. Unfortunately, many don't.