The second law of thermodynamics is one of the most fundamental laws of nature, having profound implications. In essence, it says this:
Every system, left to its own devices, always tends to move from order to disorder, its energy tending to be transformed into lower levels of availability (for work), ultimately becoming totally random and unavailable for work.
The entropy of a closed system cannot decrease.
R. J. E. Clausius stated the law of entropy:
All systems will tend toward the most mathematically probable state, and eventually become totally random and disorganized
(*Harold Blum, Time’s Arrow and Evolution, 1968, p. 201).
In other words, everything runs down, wears out, and goes to pieces (*R.R. Kindsay, “Physics: to What Extent is it Deterministic,” American Scientist 56, 1968, p. 100). This law totally eliminates the basic evolutionary theory that simple evolves into complex. *Einstein said the two laws were the most enduring laws he knew of (*Jeremy Rifkin, Entropy: A New World View, 1980, p. 6).
One implication of the second law is that heat flows spontaneously from a hotter region to a cooler region, but will not flow spontaneously the other way. This applies to anything that flows: it will naturally flow downhill rather than uphill.
Many scientists and engineers – including Rudolf Clausius, James Joule and Lord Kelvin – contributed to the development of thermodynamics, but the father of the discipline was the French physicist Sadi Carnot. In 1824 he published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, which laid down the basic principles, gleaned from observations of how energy moved around engines and how wasted heat and useful work were related.
Thermodynamics is the study of heat and energy. At its heart are laws that describe how energy moves around within a system, whether an atom, a hurricane or a black hole. The first law describes how energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed from one kind to another. The second law, however, is probably better known and even more profound because it describes the limits of what the universe can do. This law is about inefficiency, degeneration and decay. It tells us all we do is inherently wasteful and that there are irreversible processes in the universe. It gives us an arrow for time and tells us that our universe has a inescapably bleak, desolate fate.
Despite these somewhat deflating ideas, the ideas of thermodynamics were formulated in a time of great technological optimism – the Industrial Revolution. In the mid-19th century, physicists and engineers were building steam engines to mechanize work and transport and were trying to work out how to make them more powerful and efficient.
The second law can be expressed in several ways, the simplest being that heat will naturally flow from a hotter to a colder body. At its heart is a property of thermodynamic systems called entropy – in the equations above it is represented by “S” – in loose terms, a measure of the amount of disorder within a system. This can be represented in many ways, for example in the arrangement of the molecules – water molecules in an ice cube are more ordered than the same molecules after they have been heated into a gas. Whereas the water molecules were in a well-defined lattice in the ice cube, they float unpredictably in the gas. The entropy of the ice cube is, therefore, lower than that of the gas. Similarly, the entropy of a plate is higher when it is in pieces on the floor compared with when it is in one piece in the sink.
A more formal definition for entropy as heat moves around a system is given in the first of the equations. The infinitesimal change in entropy of a system (dS) is calculated by measuring how much heat has entered a closed system (δQ) divided by the common temperature (T) at the point where the heat transfer took place.
The second equation is a way to express the second law of thermodynamics in terms of entropy. The formula says that the entropy of an isolated natural system will always tend to stay the same or increase – in other words, the energy in the universe is gradually moving towards disorder. Our original statement of the second law emerges from this equation: heat cannot spontaneously flow from a cold object (low entropy) to a hot object (high entropy) in a closed system because it would violate the equation. (Refrigerators seemingly break this rule since they can freeze things to much lower temperatures than the air around them. But they don’t violate the second law because they are not isolated systems, requiring a continual input of electrical energy to pump heat out of their interior. The fridge heats up the room around it and, if unplugged, would naturally return to thermal equilibrium with the room.)
This formula also imposes a direction on to time; whereas every other physical law we know of would work the same whether time was going forwards or backwards, this is not true for the second law of thermodynamics. However long you leave it, a boiling pan of water is unlikely to ever become a block of ice. A smashed plate could never reassemble itself, as this would reduce the entropy of the system in defiance of the second law of thermodynamics. Some processes, Carnot observed, are irreversible.
Born in 1796, Carnot was the son of a French aristocrat named Lazare Carnot. His father was one of the most powerful men in France prior to Napoléon’s ignominious defeat; the family fortunes rose and fell dramatically throughout the young Sadi’s life in conjunction with that of the monarchy. Named for the Persian poet Sadi of Shiraz, Carnot learned mathematics, science, language, and music under his father’s strict tutelage. At 16, he entered the École Polytechnique, studying under the likes of Claude-Louis Navier, Siméon Denis Poisson, and André-Marie Ampère.
Following graduation, Carnot took a two-year course in military engineering in Metz, just before Napoléon’s brief return from exile in 1815. When Napoléon was defeated in October of that year, Carnot’s father was exiled to Germany. He never returned to France. Carnot the younger, dissatisfied with the poor prospects offered by his military career, eventually joined the General Staff Corps in Paris and pursued his academic interests on the side.
In 1821, he visited his exiled father and brother, Hippolyte, in Germany, where many discussions of steam engines took place. Steam power was already used for draining mines, forging iron, grinding grain, and weaving cloth, but the French-designed engines were not as efficient as those designed by the British. Convinced that England’s superior technology in this area had contributed to Napoleon’s downfall and the loss of his family’s prestige and fortune, Sadi Carnot threw himself into developing a robust theory for steam engines.
Heat engines work because heat naturally flows from hot to cold places. If there was no cold reservoir towards which it could move there would be no heat flow and the engine would not work. Because the cold reservoir is always above absolute zero, no heat engine can be 100% efficient. Steam engines work by burning fuel to heat up a cylinder containing steam, which expands and pushes on a piston to then do something useful. The best-designed engines, therefore, heat up steam (or other gas) to the highest possible temperature then release the exhaust at the lowest possible temperature.
Although the steam engine was fairly well developed by this time, the efficiency of those early engines was as low as 3% (most modern steam engines can get to around 60% efficiency and diesel engines in cars can get to around 50% efficient). Engineers were experimenting fervently with other mechanical means and fuels for improving that efficiency. Furthermore, there had been very little work delineating the underlying science by which it operates. The principle of energy conservation was fairly new and quite controversial among scientists at the time. It would be another 20 years before someone uncovered the mechanical equivalent of heat. When Carnot began his studies, he and his peers subscribed to the caloric theory, assuming that heat was a weightless, invisible fluid that flowed when it was not in equilibrium.
Carnot’s father died in 1823. That same year, Carnot wrote a paper attempting to find a mathematical expression for the work produced by one kilogram of steam; it was never published. In fact, the manuscript was not discovered until 1966. He then tackled the two fundamental questions concerning steam engines of his day: (1) whether there was an upper limit to the power of heat, and (2) whether there was a better fuel than steam capable of producing that kind of power.
The portion of the fuel’s energy that is extracted and made to do something useful is called work, while the remainder is the wasted (and disordered) energy we call heat. Carnot showed that you could predict the theoretical maximum efficiency of a steam engine by measuring the difference in temperatures of the steam inside the cylinder and that of the air around it, known in thermodynamic terms as the hot and cold reservoirs of a system respectively.
The inefficiencies are built into any system using energy and can be described thermodynamically. This wasted energy means that the overall disorder of the universe – its entropy – will increase over time but at some point reach a maximum. At this moment in some unimaginably distant future, the energy in the universe will be evenly distributed and so, for all macroscopic purposes, will be useless. Cosmologists call this the “heat death” of the universe, an inevitable consequence of the unstoppable march of entropy.
In his 1824 publishing Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, Carnot described a theoretical “heat engine” that produced the maximum amount of work for a given amount of heat energy put into the system. Carnot abstracted what he considered to be the critical components of the steam engine into an ideal theoretical model. The so-called Carnot cycle draws energy from temperature differences between a “hot” and “cold” reservoir. Although a theoretical construct, later in the century Carnot’s ideas inspired Rudolf Diesel to design an engine with a much higher temperature in the hotter of the two reservoirs, resulting in far greater efficiency.
Carnot knew from endless experimentation that in practice, his design would always lose a small amount of energy to friction, noise and vibration, among other factors. He knew that in order to approach the maximum efficiency in a heat engine, it would be necessary to minimize the accompanying heat losses that occurred from the conduction of heat between bodies of different temperatures. He also knew no real-world engine could achieve that perfect efficiency. As such, he came tantalizingly close to discovering the second law of thermodynamics.
As for the question of which substance yielded the highest amount of work, Carnot engaged in a discussion of the relative merits of air versus steam for what he termed the “working fluid,” but concluded that the maximum efficiency of an ideal heat engine did not depend on the working fluid. As he noted, “The motive power of heat is independent of the agents employed to realize it; its quantity is fixed solely by the temperatures of the bodies between which it is effected, finally, the transfer of caloric.” That is, the efficiency of the “Carnot engine” depends only on the temperature difference within the engine.
Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire did not attract much attention when it first appeared, only beginning to gain notice a few years after Carnot’s untimely death from cholera at the age of 36, among the myriad of casualties of the epidemic that swept through Paris in 1832. Most of his belongings and writings were buried with him, as a precautionary measure to prevent the further spread of the disease.
Described by contemporaries as “sensitive and perceptive,” but also “introverted” and “aloof,” Carnot was at least 20 years ahead of his time. In the short term, his work did not immediately lead to more efficient steam engines, or any other practical application. His lasting contribution was to set out the physical boundaries so precisely that Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) would draw on his work to build the foundations of modern thermodynamics in the 1840s and 1850s.
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Contradicts Evolutionary Theory
Evolutionist theory faces a problem in the second law, since the law is plainly understood to indicate (as does empirical observation) that things tend towards disorder, simplicity, randomness, and disorganization, while the theory insists that precisely the opposite has been taking place since the universe began (assuming it had a beginning).
Beginning with the “Big Bang” and the self-formation and expansion of space and matter, the evolutionist scenario declares that every structure, system, and relationship—down to every atom, molecule, and beyond—is the result of a loosely-defined, spontaneous self-assembly process of increasing organization and complexity, and a direct contradiction (i.e., theorized violation) of the second law.
This hypothesis is applied with the greatest fervor to the evolutionists’ speculations concerning biological life and its origin. The story goes that—again, in violation of the second law—within the midst of a certain population of spontaneously self-assembled molecules, a particularly vast and complex (but random) act of self-assembly took place, producing the first self-replicating molecule.
Continuing to ignore the second law, this molecular phenomenon is said to have undergone multiple further random increases in complexity and organization, producing a unique combination of highly specialized and suitably matched molecular “community members” which formed what we now know as the incredibly efficient, organized self-sustaining complex of integrated machinery called the cell.
Not only did this alleged remarkable random act of self-transformation take place in defiance of the second law, but the environment in which it happened, while itself presumably cooperating with the second law’s demand for increased disorder and break-down, managed (by some further unknown random mechanism) to leave untouched the entire biological self-assembly process and the self-gathered material resources from which the first living organism built itself.
Evolutionism takes its greatest pride in applying this same brand of speculation to the classic Darwinian hypothesis in which all known biological life is said to have descended (by means of virtually infinite—yet random—additional increases in organized complexity) from that first hypothesized single-celled organism. This process, it is claimed, is directly responsible for the existence of (among other things) the human being.
Perhaps the reader should be reminded (or informed) at this point that not one shred of unequivocal evidence exists to support the above described self-creation myth. Yet very ironically, it’s the only origins account treated in the popular and science media, nicely blurring in the public mind the distinction between bona fide science and popular beliefs.
To be sure, many corollary hypotheses have been produced to show how one or another biological or geological phenomenon—or an empirical fact gathered in any scientific discipline—might be explained in evolutionary terms (often not without the use of highly convoluted, incredible, and unprovable stories). But as Karl Popper observed, a theory that seems to explain everything really explains nothing. Popper insisted that a theory’s true explanatory power comes from making narrowly defined, risky predictions—success in prediction being meaningful only to the extent that failure is a real possibility in the first place. Evolutionists find ways to explain and/or produce after-the-fact “predictions” for any and every empirical fact or phenomenon presented to them—frequently ignoring established standards for logic and scientific method.
In the same manner, many evolutionists are so convinced of evolution as a “fact” that they are compelled to either ignore or dismiss the applicability of the second law to biological processes. The presupposition of evolution as “fact” leaves no alternative but that it must be possible in spite of the second law. But no one can explain satisfactorily how a presumed process of nature (evolution) has moved steadily towards higher arrangements of ordered complexity, when the foremost law of nature demands that (in Asimov’s words) “all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out, all by itself.”
Open vs. Closed Systems
The classic evolutionist argument used in defending the postulates of evolutionism against the second law goes along the lines that “the second law applies only to a closed system, and life as we know it exists and evolved in an open system.”
The basis of this claim is the fact that while the second law is inviolate in a closed system (i.e., a system in which neither energy nor matter enter nor leave the system), an apparent limited reversal in the direction required by the law can exist in an open system (i.e., a system to which new energy or matter may be added) because energy may be added to the system.
Now, the entire universe is generally considered by evolutionists to be a closed system, so the second law dictates that within the universe, entropy as a whole is increasing. In other words, things are tending to breaking down, becoming less organized, less complex, more random on a universal scale. This trend (as described by Asimov above) is a scientifically observed phenomenon—fact, not theory.
The evolutionist rationale is simply that life on earth is an “exception” because we live in an open system: “The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things.” This supply of available energy, we are assured, adequately satisfies any objection to evolution on the basis of the second law.
But simply adding energy to a system doesn’t automatically cause reduced entropy (i.e., increased organized complexity, or “build-up” rather than “break-down”). Raw solar energy alone does not decrease entropy—in fact, it increases entropy, speeding up the natural processes that cause break-down, disorder, and disorganization on earth (consider, for example, your car’s paint job, a wooden fence, or a decomposing animal carcass, both with and then without the addition of solar radiation).
Speaking of the general applicability of the second law to both closed and open systems in general, Harvard scientist Dr. John Ross (not a creationist) affirms:
“…there are no known violations of the second law of thermodynamics. Ordinarily the second law is stated for isolated [closed] systems, but the second law applies equally well to open systems … there is somehow associated with the field of far-from equilibrium phenomena 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.”
[Dr. John Ross, Harvard scientist (evolutionist), Chemical and Engineering News, vol. 58, July 7, 1980, p. 40]
So, what is it that makes life possible within the earth’s biosphere, appearing to “violate” the second law of thermodynamics?
The apparent increase in organized complexity (i.e., decrease in entropy) found in biological systems requires two additional factors besides an open system and an available energy supply. These are:
- a “program” (information) to direct the growth in organized complexity
- a mechanism for storing and converting the incoming energy.
Each living organism’s DNA contains all the code (the “program” or “information”) needed to direct the process of building (or “organizing”) the organism up from seed or cell to a fully functional, mature specimen, complete with all the necessary instructions for maintaining and repairing each of its complex, organized, and integrated component systems. This process continues throughout the life of the organism, essentially building-up and maintaining the organism’s physical structure faster than natural processes (as governed by the second law) can break it down.
Living systems also have the second essential component—their own built-in mechanisms for effectively converting and storing the incoming energy. Plants use photosynthesis to convert the sun’s energy into usable, storable forms (e.g., proteins), while animals use metabolism to further convert and use the stored, usable, energy from the organisms which compose their diets.
So we see that living things seem to “violate” the second law because they have built-in programs (information) and energy conversion mechanisms that allow them to build up and maintain their physical structures “in spite of” the second law’s effects (which ultimately do prevail, as each organism eventually deteriorates and dies).
While this explains how living organisms may grow and thrive, thanks in part to the earth’s “open-system” biosphere, it does not offer any solution to the question of how life could spontaneously begin this process in the absence of the program directions and energy conversion mechanisms described above—nor how a simple living organism might produce the additional new program directions and alternative energy conversion mechanisms required in order for biological evolution to occur, producing the vast spectrum of biological variety and complexity observed by man.
In short, the “open system” argument fails to adequately justify evolutionist speculation in the face of the second law. Most highly respected evolutionist scientists (some of whom have been quoted above with care—and within context) acknowledge this fact, many even acknowledging the problem it causes the theory to which they subscribe.
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