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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 Thermodynamics".

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 thermodynamics.