I’ve been surveying the creationist attempts at undercutting evolutionary theory on a scientific basis. I’m interested in this topic because I think there’s a lot of misinformation. A large number of people have been duped into thinking that these attacks are much more scientific than they are.
The claim that evolution violates the law of entropy is one that particularly annoys me. I think this is because it’s the most irresponsible attack. After taking an advanced high school physics course or a basic college one, a student ought to have enough information to understand why this critique is meaningless. The folks propogating this myth are guilty of incompetence at best… Even if they don’t know better they should have done their homework before claiming to understand this topic.
O.K. on to the issue:
Entropy is the energy that is lost in any interaction. For example, some of the energy in gasoline is actually used for what we want it to be used for… moving the pistons which move the wheels. But some of the energy goes to heating up the engine, which in turn heats up the hood, which in turn heats up the air. Similarly, most of the electricity that runs through a light bulb turns into light. But some is lost in the wires along the way; some is converted to heat energy, etc… The bottom line is that the energy we got out of a thing is less than the energy that goes into a thing.
A different way of stating this same principle is to state that a closed system will move in the direction of disorder. At the end of the day, we have less energy than we started with.
An often cited example is that if we begin with a well-organized desk or cleaned room and leave that room alone, it will grow messy. The overall order decreases.
Creationists and other anti-evolutionists begin with these principles… which are correct.
They state that the Earth began as a chaotic state and the abundunce of life forms on it are clearly more organized than the system’s original condition. Life could not have popped and grown increasingly complex, they say, because systems don’t grow more complex.
They leave out the fact that this all only applies to a closed system. If more energy comes into a system than is lost to entropy, then the system can increase an order. We pour more gasoline into the tank and mantain the engines orderly use of energy. We clean the messy room. We organize the desk. In the latter two examples, the energy poured into the system comes from the person doing the cleaning. The energy to organize the desk-system or room-system comes from the food eaten by the person doing the cleaning.
A different way of looking at the closed system-open system thing is to widen the view of the system itself. If all the relevant factors are included in the system, we see a total increase in the ammount of energy lost.
If the person is included in the system that was previously considered only as a room, the total energy is lost not gained. Just to keep the math easy, let’s suppose the person eats 1000 calories before cleaning his room. (10 of those silly little 100 calorie bags of oreos or something.)
The order of the system of the room might be increased: One hundred calories are spent straightening it up. The room has, in some sense, gained 100 calories.
But while cleaning the room, the person burned 900 calories through his exertions. The total person-room system has lost 800.
Here’s why evolution does not violate the law of entropy:
The metaphorical person in the system that includes the biosphere is the sun. It pours unimaginable amounts of energy to the earth. Plants capture a small amount of energy through photosynethesis. Virtually everything else that’s alive eats the plants or eats the plant-eaters, basically we’re all stealing energy from the plants who stole energy from the sun.
The important issue is that there is a net loss of energy in the sun-Earth system. The sun begins as a battery, drawing on it’s limited (though massive) stores of energy. Though some of this energy is captured most ends up being unusable. The equation works in the direction it’s supposed to, and evolution is still not disproven.