Creationist critique #4: Evolution violates the law of entropy

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.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

7 thoughts on “Creationist critique #4: Evolution violates the law of entropy”

  1. You really need to think about what your saying because the law of entropy DOES go gainst the theory of evolution. Things dont go from disorder to order. Energy is not the part of entropy that makes it what it is. The law of entropy by itself explains in life, everything goes from oder to disorder. But your mixing the ideas coming from the Second Law of Thermo dynamics which then talks about energy. The Law of Entropy is within that but not as mixed into with the energy as your stating it is. So it might be a good idea to stop trying to make up a bunch of irrevelent examples and ramble on about them to try and confuse people by making them think you know what your taking about when its not true.


  2. Anabel-
    I have to tell you I almost didn’t “approve” your comment. It’s not because you disagree with me. There’s plenty of people on this blog who do. (I’ll provide you with a variety of examples to save you your time, if you wish.)
    The reason that I almost didn’t approve your comment is that you stooped to the level of personal attack & insult. So please know that I’ll be thrilled to have a civil conversation with you. It’s fine for us to disagree. But you’ll be wasting your time and your breath if your next post on this blog has statements that tell me what “I really need to do” and if your next post states that “I’m trying to confuse people”… It’s quite an incorrect assumption that you make… My intent in all this is not to be rude, but to be respectful of your time when I write all this.
    Let me move on, then, to the body of what you’re saying. If I misunderstood, I hope you’ll correct me.
    Here are my understandings:
    The second law of thermodynamics implies the law of entropy. The law of entropy states that in a closed system, things go from an ordered state to a disordered state.
    If you are saying that there is more to the second law of thermodynamics than the law of entropy, I 100% agree.

    However, the law of entropy is the most relevant aspect of the 2nd law of thermodynamics for the points I want to make. It’s not me that focused on this. It was people who claimed that the mainstream scientific account of the beginnings of life violate the law of entropy who focused on this.
    My blog was a response to this claim. My position on the issue, based on my understanding of the law of entropy, is that there is no violation to the law of entropy.
    The reason that I take this position is that the law of entropy applies only to a closed system. It seems to me that the law of entropy couldn’t mean that no system can ever increase in order. We see scientific and every day examples that disprove this all the time.

    One example from science is that we can heat water on the stove. Increasing heat is an increase in order, scientifically speaking. Entropy doesn’t mean that we can’t heat water. It just means that we can’t use all the heat from our stove to heat the water. Some of the heat goes into the pan. Some of the heat goes into the air, etc.

    An example of an increase an order from our every day lives is watching a room being cleaned. A clean room is more ordered than a messy room. Entropy does not mean that it’s impossible to clean a room. It just means that some of the energy (calories) that the person cleaning had to use extra energy to go to things other than cleaning, such as mantaining body heat.

    Based on my understandings, entropy says that the energy that heated up the air from the burner– or the energy that heated up the air from the cleaner– is never fully recoverable.

    The sun’s heat is like the energy from the cleaner’s lunch or the heat from the burner. It’s bringing energy in, from outside the system to bring about an increase in order within a smaller system. When the burner, the person, or the sun are counted as part of the system, there is still a total less or order (usable energy) this is why evolution does not violate the law of entropy.

    I suppose it’s possible that these examples and explanations are irrelevant. But calling them irrelevant doesn’t really help myself or anybody else to understand why they are.
    It appears your pretty passionate about your position… I’m interested in hearing some details about what I have wrong and what is irrelevant about these details.


  3. Evolution does not go against the law of entropy. Evolution uses energy to create order. That is why we have to eat to keep going. No food — no energy — the result is entropy.


  4. I agree that “evolution does not go against the law of entropy.” That’s why I wrote this post.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “evolution uses energy to create order.”

    It is true that as animals we have to eat to keep going. It’s also true that if we don’t eat we don’t have energy. But I don’t believe that this sort of lack of energy is usually called entropy.

    The anti-evolutionists ask a valid question, that’s a bit wider than “where do animals get their energy from?”

    They note that systems can not get more organized unless you put more energy into them. The question they are asking is, “Where does this energy come from?”

    The answer is pretty simple: it’s the sun.


  5. You know, i used to use the “entropy” argument until i understood some things better. Entropy as it pertains to energy lost is a rather simple concept to grasp. If that’s all we’re talking about, then i accept the notion that during the time span of the evolutionary model the sun is a constant energy source which overcomes entropy.

    There are other facets to entropic behavior which ought to be considered:

    the first is recognizing that the process of entropy is what caused the formation of elements. Everthing that is resulted from this “cooling” process.

    in an environment that doesn’t suffer from entropy there is no guarantee that order is the end result. In fact it’s statistically unsupportable. Given the lack of evidence that order does arise from disorder in any circumstance should give pause to those who wish to claim with such certitude that this is so.

    Evolution – and more specifically, spontaneous generation – doesn’t account for the presence of information. There’s no rational reason to assume that living things should have come about at all through natural processes, or that there would be a mechanism to pass on genetic information without precedent.

    We should all be embarrassed a little when we declare with such faithless certainty that anything occurred beyond empiracle standards.


  6. I’m about half way to agreeing with you, Garret. Perhaps even 3/4’s of the way to agreeing with you.
    I’m unfamiliar with the claim that the formations of the elements resulted from entropy. I know that it’s quite likely that the fundamental forces (strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, gravity) became seperate as the universe cooled.
    My understanding is that the elements came about through repeated fusion in stats going supernova. There are some problems with explaining the heavier elements on this account, though, and I am not up-to-date on some of this stuff, so I’d be quite interested to hear about it.
    More specifically, on this point, I’m not sure how it relates to the question of entropy.

    I assume by the statement “In an environment that doesn’t suffer from entropy” you mean one which has energy coming in from the outside to make up for the energy being lost through entropy?

    One of the points about the creationist argument that I haven’t much explored, that I think that you’re getting to, is that some people say that we need to be careful. Thier is a very tricky and complex relationship between complexity and energetic.

    The evolutionists place a tremendous emphasis on the power of cumulative selection. The changes that occur must be ones which allow for more offspring to survive. Changes which will pay off in the future have absolutely no reason to pay off at all. Within this powerful limitation (which evolutionists sometimes ignore) I think a powerful case can be made for order arising from disorder.

    Suppose I am a bank robber and there are two high-tech safes I’m trying to crack. For simplicities sake, let’s work with the idea that the digital codes are 3 digits, 0-9.
    I’ve got these computer things that are going to test a series of numbers to break the codes. The first one works right: When it gets a number right, it “knows” it got the number right, and then it moves on to the second digit. When it gets this number right, it knows it, and moves on to the third.
    Such a device could not possibly take more than 30 attempts. It would get the first number right within 10, the second number right within 10, and the third number right within 10.
    If his other machine was broken and did not know when it got a digit right, it could take as many as a thousand attempts.

    The difference between these two machines is the difference between random order and cumulative selection. Evolution does not “know” in the cognitive sense when it gets a “number right”. But organisms which are adapted to their environment live on, and multiply.

    I think the relevance here is that the state of not knowing what number it is analogous to a disorganized state. Random variation can give rise to the appearance of order in these sorts of circumstances.

    It’s not all that different from determing that in a random sample, there are virtually no unstable molecules. We could say “Look how ordered this random sample is. There’s not a single molecule that only lives a fraction of a second.”
    It’s not ordered in the normal sense: it just appears that way. By definition, we wouldn’t expect to see a molecule that doesn’t survive very long.

    That said, you are exactly right about the orgins of life. Evolutionists haven’t given us a convincing account for an ancestor to DNA that could have randomly arisen and had the required cumulative-ness. (cumaltivality?)


  7. In regards to the Supernova formation of elements: whether or not the known natural elements have been in existence from the beginning or if they were formed locally, the process is the same. Is it not? i’m not an expert in ths field at all. But what you have is an extreme burst of energy followed by random acts of cooling.

    If element formation is local, one would expect to find many new elements formed from independent processes in other locales thoughout the universe. i don’t know of any proof that this is the case.

    My point was intended to be entirely focused on genesis. What you described as cumulative selection already assumes the presence of knowledge. Even the analogy of the safe requires the expectation that there’s a process at work with an expected result. What if the lock isn’t even a lock?

    My question is one of why we would assume that the pre-genesis processes should result in organic life? In the communities where this is accepted fact the notion that the confluence of proper conditions will result in life is reverse engineering speculation.

    Billions of dollars are being spent to gather a shred of evidence that this might be the case.

    Talk about your rabbit-trails.

    i’m curious if it’s a proper rendering of any form of entropy to suggest that without knowledge it’s axiomatic that complexity cannot arise from the simple. Maybe that’s a question for philosophers, but the exmple of ordered systems or environments like one would find in planetary rings or molecular communities doesn’t quite suit a debate on the functions of life.


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