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2nd law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (2nd law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CF001:

The second law of thermodynamics says that everything tends towards disorder, making evolutionary development impossible.

Source: Morris, Henry M., 1974. Scientific Creationism, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 38-46.

CreationWiki response:

This is actually an overly simplified description of a more complex scientific concept. This problem often results when a complex scientific concept is stated in a manner intended to make it understandable to non-scientists. This statement in no way implies that order cannot be produced from disorder, but simply indicates that the natural trend is from order to disorder.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. The second law of thermodynamics says no such thing. It says heat will not spontaneously flow from a colder body to a warmer one, or equivalently, that total entropy (a measure of useful energy) in a closed system will not decrease.

This is a nearly accurate statement of the 2nd law, although entropy is actually a measure of unusable energy, not useful energy. However when entropy is examined statistically it can be considered a measure of randomness. Now the more random a system is the more disordered it is. The formula for statistical entropy is:

S = k ln w

S is entropy.

k is the Boltzmann Constant = 1.380 6504(24) X 10-23 J K-1

w is the number of equivalent equally probable configurations. This is a direct measurement of disorder.

Random or disordered systems have such a significantly higher number of equivalent equally probable configurations, that they can basically be considered inevitable. Now it is true that entropy is not equivalent to disorder, but entropy is logarithmically related to disorder. Entropy can be considered a measurement of disorder in the way that the Richter Scale is a measurement of earthquakes or decibels are a measurement of sound. The result is that it is accurate to call entropy a measure of disorder.


  1. J Philip Bromberg, Physical Chemistry, 1984, pg. 690] Note: This is a standard college textbook, and as far as can be determined, the author is not a creationist.
  2. Entropy on Wikipedia

This doesn't prevent increasing order because:

The claim does not say that the 2nd law totally prevents increasing order, but simply that there is a natural tendency towards disorder. No creationist using this argument would claim that the 2nd law totally prevents increases in order.

  • the earth is not a closed system; sunlight (with low entropy) shines on it and heat (with higher entropy) radiates off. This flow of energy, and the change in entropy which accompanies it, can and will power local decreases in entropy on earth.

True, but the same energy can and does power destructive forces that increase entropy on the Earth. The question is, how is the energy applied? This is where the 2nd law becomes inadequate to describe events fully, since it is so general that it does not deal with how energy is applied. However, when entropy is examined statistically, it is clear that the energy needs to be applied in an organized manner to reduce entropy, otherwise, the results will be random, thereby increasing entropy. The sun beating down on a pile of wood will not build a shed.

  • entropy is not the same as disorder. Sometimes the two correspond, but sometimes order increases as entropy increases. [Aranda-Espinoza et al. 1999; Kestenbaum 1998] Entropy can even be used to produce order, such as in the sorting of molecules by size [Han and Craighead 2000].

Actually, statistically entropy can be considered a measure of randomness or disorder. In cases like the sorting of molecules by size there is an organizing force. A combination of gravity, or centrifugal force, and the buoyancy force serves as the organizing force in this case. This type of sorting is not a totally random event, and as such it can produce a degree of order in a less organized group of molecules. No such laws or forces have been demonstrated to produce life from non-life, or produce meaningful genetic information within an organism.

  • even in a closed system, pockets of lower entropy can form if they are offset by increased entropy elsewhere in the system.

True, but once again, no one is saying that entropy cannot be decreased. This does not change the simple fact that the tendency is for entropy to increase.

In short, order from disorder happens on earth all the time.

True, but simply demonstrating this is not enough. It needs to be demonstrated that decreases on the scale needed for the origin and evolution of life can occur spontaneously.

2. The only processes necessary for evolution to occur are reproduction, heritable variation, and selection. All of these are seen to happen all the time, so obviously no physical laws are preventing them. In fact, connections between evolution and entropy have been studied in depth, and never to the detriment of evolution [Demetrius 2000].

The processes of reproduction, heritable variation, and selection are observed, but the only form of evolution that has been observed is variation within kinds of animals, sometimes known as microevolution. This type of variation is recognized by creationists and it represents an increase in entropy. This type of evolution is not what is at issue. What is primarily at issue is the origin of life, and amoeba-to-man evolution. Most of the observed heritable variations clearly represent an increase in entropy within the organisms. Much of the heritable variation needed for macroevolution requires a decrease in entropy, so just because microevolution is consistent with the 2nd law does not mean that macroevolution is.

Several scientists have proposed that evolution and the origin of life is driven by entropy [McShea 1998].

Interesting notion, but the origin of life represents a major local decrease in entropy. Claiming that the origin is driven by entropy requires more of an explanation than what is given here.

Some see the information content of organisms subject to diversification according to the 2nd law [Brooks and Wiley 1988], so organisms diversify to fill empty niches much as a gas expands to fill an empty container.

This is actually consistent with what creationists say about diversification.

Others propose that highly ordered complex systems emerge and evolve to dissipate energy (and increase overall entropy) more efficiently [Schneider and Kay 1994].

Even if true, life needs to come into existence before it can dissipate energy. The origin of life represents a major local decrease in entropy, requiring the consumption of energy. Without a mechanism for the process, such a claim for the origin of life is meaningless to the question.

3. Creationists themselves admit increasing order is possible. They introduce fictional exceptions to the law to account for it.

4. Creationists themselves make claims that directly contradict their claims about the second law of thermodynamics, such as hydrological sorting of fossils during the Flood.

Creationists do not claim that increasing order is impossible; these statements are a straw-man argument; a misrepresentation of the claim under discussion. This is a case of misrepresenting a claim so as to make it seem less reasonable than it really is. The real claim deals with the tendency for complex ordered systems to degenerate into disorder. In such cases the increase in disorder represents an increase in entropy, so spontaneously going the other way can be seen as a violation of the 2nd law, unless it can be shown how the available energy is converted to do the needed work. In the case of the origin of life no real conversion mechanism seems to be available.

Talk.Origins' argument is based mainly on the assumption that it is claimed that order cannot come from disorder. This is not the case, since even their own quote of the claim says, "everything tends towards disorder." The fact that the trend is towards disorder does not mean that order cannot come from disorder, only that the normal natural trend is from order to disorder.

The claims about how evolution is supposedly consistent with increasing entropy are vague at best. The two best statements deal with diversity and microevolution, and both statements are consistent with creationist positions.

It can be shown from a standard college textbook on thermodynamics that statistically entropy can be considered a measure of randomness or disorder. So while the claim's wording is overly simplified, it is essentially correct.

The one flaw in this claim is that, to violate the 2nd Law, a theoretical process would have to decrease entropy, without increasing it in the surroundings. The formula is:

dS universe = dS system + dS surroundings

dS = the change in entropy. The 2nd Law is not violated if:

0 > dS system


0 < dS surroundings



such that:

0 < dS universe

For evolution not to violate the 2nd Law, it needs to be shown that it fits the above conditions in all stages from the Big Bang to man.

  • The key mechanism proposed for evolution is mutations. Macroevolution requires many decreases in entropy. There are four main types of mutations: duplications, substitutions, additions, and deletions. Of the four, only deletions have a clear way of increasing the entropy of the surroundings. When a deletion results from radiation a particle of DNA can be sent flying. The other three have no apparent way of increasing the entropy of the surroundings, so a decrease in entropy by any of these mutations would seem to violate the 2nd law.
  • There is no apparent mechanism for the evolutionary origin of life and so there is no way of showing how it could decrease the surrounding entropy. In the apparent absence of a mechanism that meets the above conditions, it is reasonable to conclude that the evolutionary origin of life would violate the 2nd law.

Instead of claiming that the 2nd law is irrelevant and trying to make it look as though creationists don't know what they are talking about, evolutionists should try answering the difficulties with evolutionary mechanisms mentioned above. They need to show that there are mechanisms for macroevolution and the evolutionary origin of life that are consistent with the 2nd Law.