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Response to Robert Holloway's Essay Critiquing the Creationist Use of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to Disallow Evoutionary Processes

by Helen Fryman

November 15, 2000

Holloway: These comments are written largely in response to the recent article by Dr. Edward F. Blick on the TCCSA web site. However, because Dr. Blick's article is very similar to the usual Creationist line on this subject, my response is applicable to most recent writings by Creationists on this subject. The controversy on this subject is at least 25 years old and in recent years it seems to have developed a bit more, although in 25 years, I have never seen an adequate treatment of the subject by Creationists. Dr. Blick's article is no exception. The original argument, as put forward by Creationists, is stated approximately as follows. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (according to Creationists) states that everything in the universe tends towards disorder. That being the case, evolution is prohibited because it is obvious that, in evolution, organisms are becoming more highly organized. If that were an accurate statement of the second law, then evolution would indeed violate it. However, that is not an accurate statement of the second law.

Fryman: I agree with Holloway that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is often misrepresented. I believe this happens on both sides of the fence, but that is not the argument here. Formally, the Second Law deals with heat distribution in a closed system and is expressed in a series of mathematical equations. Work is done, and order maintained, in the world as we know it due to heat-energy exchange. The Second Law states that eventually, in a closed system, heat-energy will reach equilibrium. This means that in such a system no more work can be done, which also means order, and life itself, cannot be maintained.

The argument is presented below by Holloway, as well as by many others, that the Second Law applies only to closed systems. The claim is that the infusion of energy into a system can, to some degree, at some times, halt, or even reverse the increasing entropy of the system. This would certainly be necessary for evolution to occur. Examples of this decreasing entropy resulting in order and even life are normally such things as snowflakes, ice, the maturation of a baby from a fertilized egg, and the growth of a plant from a seed. All of these are certainly increases in order. The primary question in the evolution/creation debates is then "But do these things present evidence that evolution does not contradict the Second Law of Thermodynamics and can therefore occur in harmony with natural law as we know it?" The answer is no. These examples do not work.

The first thing which must be stated is that the Second Law may apply formally and mathematically only to closed systems, but there is general acknowledgment that the entire universe we live in is entropic. Things burn up, wear out, become disorganized, and rot as a matter of course. What is interesting is that this is entirely in line with Paul's mention in Romans 8:21 that all creation is "in bondage to decay." This possible universal application is even mentioned as something which deserves attention in Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics, (3rd ed, 1985, by Van Wylen and Sonntag, Chap 7 p233)

"The final point to be made is that the second law of thermodynamics and the principle of the increase of entropy have philosophical implications. Does the second law of thermodynamics apply to the universe as a whole? Are there processes unknown to us that occur somewhere in the universe, such as "continual creation," that have a decrease in entropy associated with them, and thus offset the continual increase in entropy that is associated with the natural processes that are known to us? If the second law is valid for the universe (we of course do not know if the universe can be considered as an isolated system), how did it get in the state of low entropy? On the other end of the scale, if all processes known to us have an increase in entropy associated with them, what is the future of the natural world as we know it?"

It is for this reason that the evolutionist will quietly slip from discussing the formal Second Law in closed systems to what may be termed much more generally as a law of entropy on a universal scale and then declare that this is what is not applicable to evolution as there are obvious inputs of energy and obviously resulting localized decreases in entropy.

So let's admit at the outset that we are NOT dealing with closed systems when referring to the Second Law, or the generalized tendency towards entropy, when we are also discussing its compatibility with evolution. The very fact that evolution is being discussed by both sides in terms of decreased entropy means that both sides are tacitly admitting that we are no longer dealing with closed systems or a formal mathematical set of equations. So if Holloway wants to discuss entropy in terms of its compatibility with evolution, he has to understand that he cannot do what he has done below and then still claim that creationists, as the following statement from him says, are making too sweeping a generalization where the Second Law is concerned.

Holloway: Creationists typically try to make the second law much more sweeping than it is in reality.

Fryman: I am quite sure that if the Second Law of Thermodynamics had never been formalized, bicycles would still rust when left out, stars would still cool, and parts of me that I wish wouldn't, would still start sagging with approaching old age. Entropy happens. Stuff rots.

Holloway: There are some very important conditions that Creationists typically leave out, perhaps in part because they do not understand them. A Creationist, Emmett L. Williams, has stated the second law as I learned it in physical chemistry. Williams states (1) that, according to Clausius, the second law requires that the total entropy of the universe increases. Because entropy is a measure of disorder, this statement of the second law appears to be the source of the mistaken notion that evolution violates the second law.

Fryman: It does. Evolution by definition is directionless and without a goal. It has no defined path. Yet the evolution that is interpreted from the fossil record and claimed by evolutionists to be true is evolution from some kind of proto-bacteria to organisms such as an elephant, a fern, an eagle, and us. This represents giant leaps in meaningful information and complexity from the original postulated genome. Thus, while evolution may be claimed to be directionless, the direction that we do see historically is one of increasing complexity. This is the sticking point for the law of entropy. Evolution requires not just localized decreases of entropy but massive increases in complex organization. The only way this has been seen to happen evidentially is via intelligent control, a designed system to receive and use the energy, and regulated energy input into the system. The entire point about dynamite in a print factory or a tornado in a junkyard is that uncontrolled energy is destructive, not constructive. But naturalistic materialism, which is the governing faith behind evolution, forbids intelligent intervention, previously designed systems, or anything other than accidental restriction of energy flow into the system. Without intervention and design, our experience shows us entropy reigns, and entropy is exactly the opposite of the aforementioned increase in meaningful complexity which evolution requires. This is just one reason it is stated that the ideas of evolution contradict the law of entropy, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Holloway: However, there are two important words here whose meaning is often overlooked by Creationists. These words are "universe" and the word "total". There are times when scientists need to use the second law on a scale smaller than that of the universe. In that case, the word "universe" can be replaced by the words "isolated system" and the resulting statement is still a valid statement of the second law. We can say, for example, that for any process that occurs in an isolated system, the total entropy must increase. Note that these conditions include the word "isolated" and "total", words that are often omitted by creationists in their writings.

Fryman: "Isolated" is not necessary. As previously mentioned, when dealing with the concept of evolution, one is not dealing with isolated systems. In fact, most isolated systems are either artificial constructs or laboratory produced. Isolated systems are not common natural phenomena. Secondly, add all the energy you want to a system, and unless the rate of energy flow is intelligently controlled and/or the receptors in the system are designed to be able to use that energy (as in photosynthesis), the energy input will only increase the rate of entropy/disorder.

Holloway: So it is not correct to say, as some Creationists have said, that everything goes to a condition of greater disorder.

Fryman: "As some creationists have said"? That, to use the vernacular, is a cop-out. The discussion here is about entropy and evolution, not what some unidentified people have purportedly said. In the long run, however, I am wondering if Holloway will deny that eventually everything will go to a condition of greater disorder. If he disagrees, I would respectfully ask him for an example of some system which is in a permanent condition either of maintaining order or heat-energy, or increasing order or heat-energy. Despite localized temporary decreases in entropy, the statement is true that in the long run everything does go toward a condition of greater disorder.

Holloway: We can even point out a few concrete examples where natural processes lead to lower entropy or greater order. For instance, ice has lower entropy than liquid water. When ice freezes on a pond, the ice goes to a more ordered state than the liquid and there is no violation of the 2nd law.

Fryman: Water to ice is a reversible phase change which is the result of the design of the molecule. The order Holloway is referring to is the crystal lattice of ice which is the result of the way the oxygen and hydrogen molecules are formed, requiring their alignment that way when enough heat is removed. The order of a crystal lattice is, as well, not a meaningful order in terms of information, whereas evolution requires meaningful order and increased complexity. Ice actually shows decreased complexity compared to water, which can dissolve other substances, thus becoming more complex in that way by way of more connections with more substances. Ice crystals can only connect in one way and with each other. So while this appears more orderly in the sense of lining things up, it is far less complex and useful than water. This decrease in complexity at the expense of order is not a good example of the localized decrease in entropy which evolution can claim for evidence.

Holloway: Also, when water vapor condenses to rain, the liquid water has lower entropy than the vapor. If you want to confirm this, go to most textbooks on the subject of physical chemistry and you will find tables of entropy for various things including water vapor and liquid water. Entropy can be measured and it is not at all unusual for some component of a natural process to go to lower entropy.

Fryman: However, in order for it to do so, it must possess the design within itself to increase order. The genetic and other information in the fertilized cell is all there from the parents in order to regulate and order the child's growth in the womb and after. Whether it is molecular design, embryonic design, or any other kind of design, if design is not there, and if the conditions are not favorable, order will not increase 'spontaneously.'

Holloway: Why is the freezing of water or the condensation of water vapor not a violation of the second law? For the simple reason that the ice or liquid water is not a closed system and the second law when expressed in terms of entropy (disorder) applies only to an isolated system.

Fryman: The formal law operates only according to a closed system, as it is mathematically dependent and must reduce uncertainties for the sake of the equations. However the general law of entropy is present universally and can only be counteracted by a designed system, intelligent intervention, or both. It does not matter whether the system is open or closed.

Holloway: In a practical laboratory experiment, it is quite easy to create an isolated system. For the freezing of water, heat is given up to the surroundings, which produces an increase in entropy of the surroundings. That increase in entropy of the surroundings is greater than the decrease in entropy of the ice. This can be demonstrated by experiment and many such experiments give us confidence that there are no known violations of the second law. Note however, that it is the total entropy that must always increase and there is no requirement that the entropy of every part of a closed system must increase. It is this last statement that Creationists frequently misunderstand and it is the rock upon which their argument splits.

Fryman: I believe that the basic creation argument is not that entropy is the immediate result at all times, but that the tendency towards net entropy is inevitable in every system eventually. This is exactly what is in line with what is known about the universe at this point. The fact that entropy is also involved with the loss of meaningful information does result in the conclusion that evolution in totality violates the second law in general.

Holloway: When confronted with the true explanation of their false argument, what do Creationists do? The typical response is almost identical to that of Dr. Blick. They change the subject!

Fryman: I don't think you have found me doing that. However, I have a feeling the complaint here is not that the subject has been changed, but that the examples used to make the points were not examples Holloway favored.

Holloway: At first it may not seem to be a change of subject, because they do continue to talk about order, entropy, energy etc. But they are no longer using the second law as the source of their ammunition. In his article, Dr. Blick states with reasonable accuracy, the defense of Evolutionists to the original Creationist claim about the second law. He quotes Isaac Asimov, who correctly explained, that the increase in entropy of the sun more than offsets the decrease in entropy related to life and evolution.

Fryman: I fail to see where a change in subject has been documented. However the reference to the sun's input into the earth's system as an example is a very poor one. First of all, not all the sun's radiation reaches earth, so the idea of balancing the sun's increase in entropy against any decreases on the earth is a false argument no matter whose side it is on. Secondly, it is known that the sun's radiation is quite destructive and not only must the earth be protected (by intelligent design?), but that there must be systems already on the earth designed to incorporate appropriate amounts of the sun's radiation and use it constructively. This requires previous design, without which increased entropy is inevitable.

Holloway: But after citing the defense of the evolutionists, what does he do? He merely claims, without proof, that the arguments are "exceedingly naive". He then rambles on about junkyards and beakers containing chemicals.

Fryman: The evolutionist arguments here ARE naive (I am sure Asimov and others are aware of the facts mentioned in my last response), and Blick's references to junkyards and beakers was designed to demonstrate that without controlled energy input and intelligently designed ways to use that energy, there is no decrease in entropy. Increased energy generally results in an increased rate of entropy.

Holloway: These arguments may or may not be convincing, but they are clearly not based on the second law. Let's suppose these arguments are convincing. If correct, they may prove that evolution is impossible, but they do not prove that it is impossible because it violates the second law.

Fryman: Holloway has transferred himself freely between open and closed systems. Evolution does violate the general law of universal entropy, which is acknowledged by Van Wylen and Sonntag, as shown above. Universal entropy involves not just a distribution of heat to a point of equilibrium, but is a general referral to increased entropy, disorder, and loss of information. This, granted, is not the mathematical neatness of the closed system and the Second Law of Thermodynamics application to such, but given this acknowledged universal tendency towards entropy, it could easily be considered that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is simply a formalized subset of it which applies to the special circumstance of a closed system.

Holloway: Whatever the quality of Dr. Blick's rebuttal in regard to evolution, it is not a rebuttal that is based on the second law. The text that I am referring to here is the text that starts with the comment "This is an exceedingly naive argument...." and continues to the end of his article. Dr. Blick also quotes from Dr. Henry Morris regarding the four alleged requirements for a growth process. Again, whatever the quality of these arguments, they are not derived from the second law and are not an adequate response to the Evolutionist rebuttal about the second law.

Fryman: If that is the case, I hope this is more on topic for Holloway.

Holloway: I do not intend here to comment on the arguments of Blick and Morris (in Blick's article) in regard to evolution but unrelated to the second law. When they admit that the Creationist stance on the second law is mistaken, then that will be the appropriate time to broaden the subject. If Dr. Blick or the sponsors of the web site are unwilling to make that admission, then I see no reason to extend the debate to somewhat related but different and more subjective areas.

Fryman: Well, then, that will make this short and sweet, won't it?

Holloway: The second law controversy is simple and objective enough that any honest and intelligent person should be able to see the problem through to its conclusion.

Fryman: I think I am. I think I have.

Holloway: There is nothing ambiguous about the second law. It is defined in very clear and simple equations. It is an excellent test to see whether Creationists will deal honestly with these issues.

Fryman: I believe I have above. The mathematical series of equations defines the limited qualities of heat distribution in a closed system. As such, it is truly simply a subset of a much more generalized law which seems to indicate that everything eventually tends toward total disorganization without intelligent intervention, design in the system and controlled energy input. I have yet to see evolutionists deal honestly with this.

Holloway: I do want to point out the very clear outcome, that neither Blick nor Morris (in the text that Blick quoted) provide any solid evidence that evolutionists are mistaken in their interpretation of the second law. Even though Blick appears to understand the Evolutionist's interpretation of the second law, in at least one place, he repeats again the mistaken version of the second law so dear to Creationists. Blick says: "Entropy (disorder) tends to increase not decrease. ...... Thus there appears to be little hope for the evolutionist in developing a satisfactory scientific theory to fit the concept of evolutionary origins. "

Fryman: Blick's statement is absolutely correct and Holloway scorns it but does not answer it.

Holloway: With that statement Blick returns to the same old mistaken statement of the second law that Evolutionists have shown to be in error. The problem here is that Blick's statement above is not an accurate statement of the second law and leaves out the very conditions that permit evolution.

Fryman: Which are??? Secondly, Blick referred in what Holloway quoted as "Entropy...tends to increase, not decrease..." This is clearly a statement of the generalized and seen tendency of the entire universe towards disorder. Holloway is, it seems, purposely misunderstanding what Blick, Morris, and others are saying.

Holloway: Dr. Blick is supposed to be rebutting the Evolutionist defense. Merely repeating the original creationist line is not an effective rebuttal of the defense offered by Evolutionists, a defense that alleges that the original Creationist statement of the second law is not adequate. In order to adequately refute the evolutionist defense, Blick needs to show that there is some error in the evolutionist's statement of the second law or that some other argument derived from the second law can adequately refute the Evolutionist's defense. He has done neither.

Fryman: The only defense I have seen by evolutionists is to ignore the fact of universal entropy and claim that because earth is not a closed system the Second Law of Thermodynamics cannot be applied. Perhaps not. General entropy has too many contributing factors to fit neatly into the equations a closed system can yield. But the truth is the entropy is still the universal tendency towards disorder evident everywhere. It is very hard to argue a point which is repeatedly and intentionally ignored by one's opponents.

Holloway: Shifting the discussion to other alleged problems of evolution is not an effective way of showing that evolution violates the second law.

Fryman: Bringing up examples and discussing points of the ideas about evolution which cause further problems with the universal tendency towards entropy may not be to Holloway's liking, but that does not make the article ineffective.

Holloway: Intellectual honesty requires that Creationists abandon all arguments based on the second law of thermodynamics, because Dr. Blick and others have failed to show that evolution violates the second law.

Fryman: On the contrary, intellectual honesty must admit that the tendency towards entropy exists in more than closed systems and can be dealt with in discussions without ignoring it simply because it is not mathematically neatly expressed. It should also be mentioned that unless anything in biology can be declared a closed system (and I trust Holloway will mention if he considers anything in biology would fit this description), the formal Second Law is totally unrelated to biology or evolution at all. This is possibly the only mistake the general creationist arguments make, and it is the one capitalized on by evolutionists. But that kind of response by evolutionists is one that totally ignores the actual point being made: things, in any system, don't self-organize unless they have the design to use a moderated energy input in a way that allows them to organize. The only other option is intelligent intervention which then does the organizing itself.

Holloway: This is true even if they are correct (which I doubt) on the various arguments that they throw up as a smokescreen after discussing the rebuttal of the Evolutionists on the original mistaken claim by Creationists.

Fryman: The 'other arguments', not being brought forward here, cannot be discussed by me. However my suspicion is that they were intended to be demonstrations of why the strong universal tendency towards entropy forbids the idea of evolution from chemical soup to camel.

Helen Fryman is a retired educator, a free lance writer and editor on creation topics, a mother of six adolescent and young adult children and a grandmother of three. All roles have prepared her to be an effective communicator.