Response to Helen Fryman on the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
By Robert Holloway
November 25, 2000
Helen Fryman's recent comments on evolution and the Second
Law of Thermodynamics are typical of the misunderstanding
of this law that so often permeates Creationist writings.
I think it is important to note here that Ms. Fryman has
never had any formal education in thermodynamics and so
her views can be considered as those of a non specialist
who does not have special expertise in this area. As with
most Creationists, her understanding of the second law is
only partially accurate and her logic and reasoning is
seriously flawed. Some have called this "Voodoo
The first requirement in understanding this issue is to
determine exactly what the Second law says and also what
it does not say. The second requirement, if one is to prove
that evolution violates the second law, is to derive all
subsequent arguments from the accurate statement of the
second law. In order to be accurate, this must be done
in the same careful and rigorous way that is found in,
for example, plane geometry. However, as I plan to show
here, Creationists can only prevail in this debate if they
misrepresent what is said by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Misrepresentation and distortion are a fundamental part of the
Creationist position on this issue. I don't say that the
distortion is deliberate on a conscious level, but in my
opinion it is deliberate on some level, because Ms. Fryman
and Dr. Olson have refused to have their views evaluated
by authors of thermodynamic textbooks, chosen by them at
random. Perhaps they are afraid of the verdict.
Ms. Fryman makes a number of mistakes in her response.
I don't think it is necessary for me to refute all of
them but I will refute some of them. As with most
Creationists, Ms. Fryman wants very much to use a
"generalized" statement of the Second Law. In her
words "stuff rots" or "Entropy happens". She also
asks if I will deny that "eventually everything will
go to a condition of greater disorder". I agree with
her completely on the above statements. Things do rot
and eventually everything will go to a condition of
greater disorder. But eventually can be a very long
time, even billions of years. In the meantime, while
we are waiting for the ultimate death of the universe,
some very interesting things can and do happen. These
things often involve a decrease in entropy and there is
no violation of the Second Law.
For instance, plants and animals evolve, people are born
and grow old and die, all without violating the Second
Law of Thermodynamics.
She and other Creationists want so badly to use only a
portion of the second law, the part that implies that
everything in the universe tends toward greater disorder.
But that is a simplistic and inaccurate statement of the
second law and cannot be honestly used without the very
specific conditions that are a part of the second law.
These very specific conditions that she wants to discard
are the very conditions that permit evolution. You cannot
be honest in dealing with the second law and choose only
those portions of it that you like and ignore those
portions that you do not like. This distortion and partial
use of the Second Law is so typical of the mistaken
arguments of the Creationists. Nor is it correct to add
things to the Second Law. The Second Law says nothing
about design or intelligence, for example, and yet in their
use of "Voodoo Thermodynamics", Creationists typically
add these concepts into their arguments. While it may be
possible for these arguments to seem plausible against
evolution, let's stick to the issue. The question
under discussion is whether or not evolution is
prohibited by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Therefore, in order to resolve this question, only
those arguments that are derived from Thermodynamics
have any relevance. Ms. Fryman falls into the same
trap as most Creationists in using these
irrelevant arguments. Ms. Fryman shows the weakness
of her case when she brings in these other arguments
that are not based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
I have repeatedly pointed out that Creationists, when
driven into a corner on this issue, almost always
change the subject. Ms. Fryman denies that and says
she did not change the subject. But it is certainly
changing the subject when she resorts to arguments
that are outside of the second law. She says for
example, that "without controlled energy input and
intelligently designed ways to use that energy,
there is no decrease in entropy".
This may or may not be true, but it is irrelevant to
any attempt to prove the evolution is prohibited by the
Second Law. Yet, this is the only position left to the
Creationists when backed into a logical corner. When
asked to show that the Second Law prohibits evolution,
they either must give a false statement of the Second
Law or resort to arguments unrelated to the Second Law.
Sometimes they do both and resort to the unrelated
arguments after they have been shown that they are
using an incorrect version of the Second Law.
Ms. Fryman makes a number of mistakes in discussing
the Second Law. She says that:
"The mathematical series of equations defines the
limited qualities of heat distribution in a closed
system. As such, it is truly 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".
Her statement is false and apparently is a part of
"Voodoo Thermodynamics" favored by Creationists.
In fact, the textbooks on the subject tell us that
there is only one Second Law of Thermodynamics,
which is mathematically defined with certain limits
and conditions. It is a fact that Creationists obtained
their vague, generalized and inaccurate statement from
the precise mathematical formulation of the second law.
Ms. Fryman has the historical record reversed. If
Ms. Fryman disagrees, I challenge her to provide,
from a commercial textbook on thermodynamics, the
generalized law that she mentions above. It does not
exist in the real world of thermodynamics, but only in the
dreams of Creationists. It is highly convenient for
Creationists to make a vague, generalized and inaccurate
statement that everything tends toward disorder.
But that is not the whole story and if stated in the
manner that she states it above is incomplete, inaccurate
and misleading. Those who are interested
in an accurate statement of the Second Law can find it
in my previous posts. Those who prefer "Voodoo
Thermodynamics" and false information can use
Ms. Fryman's version above. I do not mean to say
that Ms. Fryman's words above cannot be found in
a textbook. What I am saying is that if found, there
will be some qualifying statements that she omits
here. These qualifying statements are important.
The precise mathematical expression of the Second
Law was not obtained from a more generalized
statement of the Second Law. Rather, the word
expressions of the Second law were obtained from
the precise mathematical expression obtained by
scientists approximately 150 years ago. Creationists
then took the word statements of the Second Law and
massaged them into inaccurate statements that have
become the basis of their claims for the last 25
years. The audience of the Creationists, not being
specialists themselves, have uncritically accepted
these bogus versions, just as Ross Olson and Ms.
Fryman have done.
When the Second Law is properly stated and properly
interpreted, the definition allows for local increases
in order that in no way violate the second law. Such
local increases in order include thousands of different
processes, some guided by intelligence and some not
guided by intelligence. Evolution is just one of many
things that are not prohibited by the Second law.
Lastly, Ms. Fryman shows that she does not understand
the discussion of entropy and the sun's energy. The key
point here is that the Second Law requires that the TOTAL
entropy of an isolated system must increase. It allows
for the fact that entropy may decrease in one area of an
isolated system while at the same time increasing in another
area, as long as the sum total of entropy increases in the
entire system. The sun's rays that do not strike the earth
produce an increase in entropy. The sun's rays that do
strike the earth may produce (as in evolution) a decrease
in entropy. The Second Law is happily not violated as long
as the increase in entropy is greater than the decrease in
entropy of the evolving system. Since the fraction of the
sun's rays that strike the earth is much smaller than the
fraction that is lost to space, that necessarily satisfies
the Second Law of Thermodynamics and evolution is possible.
Note here that the Second Law does not require evolution,
it only allows it. But the whole argument is whether it is
allowed - not whether it is required. The typical
Creationist response at this point is to claim that other
things are required for evolution. That is a different
issue and is not relevant to support the original
Creationist claim that the Second Law Prohibits
evolution. Once the Creationist side admits that the
Second Law allows evolution, that will be the time
for us to discuss those "other things".
I challenge Dr. Olson and Ms. Fryman to submit the
Creationist view on the Second Law to several
authors of thermodynamics textbooks for evaluation.
I believe that not a single author of a commercial
texbook on the subject will accept the claim
that evolution is prohibited by the Second Law.
The logic involved will be "duck soup" to an
expert on thermodynamics and it will require only
a few minutes of their time to write a response.
It isn't even a close question but one whose
answer is immediately obvious to an expert in