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A Response by Ross Olson to
"The Second Law of Thermodynamics in the Context of the Christian Faith"
by Allan Harvey

For Dr. Harvey's original article click HERE.

This is the first critique by Ross Olson.

For Dr. Harvey's response to the critique, click HERE.

For a second critique by Ross Olson click HERE.

Date: January 7, 2002
Subject: Second Law
To: Allan H. Harvey steamdoc{at}aol.com
From Ross Olson ross{at}rossolson.org

I have read your essay "The Second Law of Thermodynamics in the Context of the Christian Faith" on your web site (http://members.aol.com/steamdoc/writings/thermo.html) and have a few questions and comments. I appreciate your willingness both to put your views in print and to invite interaction.

By way of introduction, I am a Pediatrician who went through a medical education with the impression that evolution (abiogenesis included) was supported by firm facts and accepted by all but a few soon-to-be-extinct intellectual Neanderthals. Thus I had to harmonize this with my faith and although there were times when I seriously doubted Christianity - and even the existence of God - eventually I came to the point where I could agree with everything secular science believed, but just maintain that God did it that way.

I was radicalized, however, when I read A. E. Wilder-Smith's "Creation of Life" and saw that the information in life could not have come about by chance or natural processes and that long ages of time did help but actually made it worse, as information was degraded and things returned to equilibrium. When discussing this with my former teachers, both Christians and non-Christians, I discovered that they did not really deal with these arguments, but just waved them off with statements like, "That doesn't impress me," or " I know where you are heading."

My own path then lead me to investigate more and more of the data, to engage in discussions and debates with people of varying opinions and recently to serve as webmaster for the Twin Cities Creation Science Association (www.tccsa.tc ) as well as my own site (www.rossolson.org.)

I hope you will have time to consider and respond to the points I bring up. Your article is systematic and concise. You point out many pitfalls in applying this law to biology and to evolution. Many in the creation camp, even young earth creationists, agree with your cautions about the use of the second law to contradict evolution and especially the problems with identifying the second law with the curse. The structure of your paper indicates to me that you may have made additions to the essay in response to previous interactions. I suggest that there may be a need to think it through again and integrate those various streams of thought.

It is true that the specifics of origins are not the core points of the gospel and a person can be saved, sanctified and even used by the Lord despite ignorance of - or even with gross misunderstanding of - these matters. Yet certain aspects of our understanding of Genesis chapters 1-11 can alter our concept of the nature of God and the reliability of Scripture. More on that later.

Also, although we should not unnecessarily alienate unbelieving intellectuals, those who wish to reject the gospel will always find a way to do so. Michael Behe, despite being willing to accept almost any kind of intelligent designer, including a nebulous pantheistic one, is lambasted by the hard-core naturalists just as hard as they pummel Duane Gish.

I notice that although you recognize that the concept of information entropy "is plausible enough to be taken seriously," when dealing with creationist arguments, you tend to revert to the classical definition of thermodynamics. For example, you maintain that energy from the sun can account for life on earth by balancing the entropy accounts. But is there not a qualitative difference between the formation of ice crystals, which have a repetitive and predictable structure, and the Encyclopedia Britannica? In other words, I would not expect raw energy applied to my computer's hard drive to write the next version of Windows or even to improve the existing version.

You also state that as energy flows from one environment to another, it can do work, but admit in a later section that to do so requires a mechanism to transform the raw energy into useful work. Still, after admitting this, you adopt the now common evolutionist response that abiogenesis is a separate question and that evolution assumes the presence of life and simply diversifies or improves it.

You write that the mechanism for a naturalistic origin of life "is not so clear." That is a gross misrepresentation! Rather, I think, you should have stated, as firmly as a physicist can state, that it is essentially impossible. This is because on a scientific level, we do not simply lack data, we actually have firm data -- that it does not happen and could not happen. And on a Biblical level, if the Holy Spirit inspired Romans 1, then God's existence, divine nature and eternal power are so plain from what has been created that those who do not see it are without excuse.

The same fuzziness exists in your statement that fetal development does not violate the second law. Here again you have glossed over the fact that the zygote contains both the information and the molecular machinery to produce a fully functional infant (and eventually an adult.) This is a totally different question from asking how that incredible mechanism came into being. It does not help your point to say that going from 2 human beings to 6,000,000,000 without violating the second law means that going from zero to two ought to be a minor consideration.

The functioning of a molecular machine does not explain the origin of that machine any more than the function of a computer by plugging it in proves that 60 cycle 110 volt electrical current can under certain unknown primordial conditions make computers spring up out of the raw materials. And if you are claiming that this argument falls outside of thermodynamics and in the area of "plausibility of chemical machines," then you really have to do more than just state that it is beyond the scope of your article - like maybe even admitting that it looks to be a pretty hopeless hypothesis.

I will mention again that there are many creationists, even young earth creationists, who are uneasy with the thermodynamic arguments against evolution. This is partly because of the very limited application of classical thermodynamics to life and the vague connections between classical and information thermodynamics. And many would agree with you regarding the question of whether the second law was in effect in the original unspoiled creation. Certainly there must have been flow of heat from warm to cool bodies to allow the sun to function as it does.

But there seems to be something else involved, which it is a bit perverse to deny, in that we do not see rocks piling themselves spontaneously into castles over long ages. To point out that a crew of stonecutters and masons do not violate the second law when they put together that castle misses the point that this requires the infusion of information and directed work. Professor Richard Dawkins' claim that mutation decreases information by increasing the number of possible states, but that natural selection increases information by decreasing that number, represents another example of switching definitions. He is using statistical thermodynamics when it is information that is needed for the genome to be built.

By the way, you off-handedly referred to information content of living creatures increasing by natural means. I hope you are not thinking of the statistical definition, because it does not help evolution. If you have another specific example, please lay it out. If that is the way life developed, there ought to be examples all over the place.

Also, I do not understand the connection you make between God intervening in the creation of life and His continued intervention. Logically the two are independent variables. God could have intervened then and not now, or now and not then, or both or neither. But, although Scripturally and experientially I believe God DOES intervene -- and I think you also do -- I do not think that your thermodynamic experiments can necessarily detect it. If God miraculously heals someone, it is a one time event not amenable to repeatable experiments. Further, the world is so full of anomalous data, it is difficult to contend forcefully that we can tie things down all that tightly.

Regarding your answer to the argument that the universe as a whole is a closed system and ought not have developed from chaos to order, you again revert to a simpler definition of thermodynamics and simply attribute it to a hot body cooling off, with little pockets of order developing at the expense of increasing disorder elsewhere. I think you have probably noticed that cosmologists, without renouncing their faith in the Big Bang, have betrayed concern about the amount of lumpiness that exists -- stars, galaxies, superclusters, etc. The whole universe seems to have too much structure everywhere, not just in little pockets.

But again, the crucial point is that solar energy does not create the order needed for life, but rather tends to break down existing order. This can be demonstrated experimentally, and if it is not entropy, then it is something else very firmly entrenched in the nature of the universe we know. Stanley Miller's synthesis of simple organic compounds from methane and ammonia only resulted in a net increase in those amino acids because he trapped them to avoid degradation. The energy that put them together is much more efficient at tearing them apart.

As to the relationship of a person's view of creation and salvation, I fully agree that a person can be a good Christian and believe in evolution. I was a missionary in Hong Kong as a theistic evolutionist. But when I discovered that there was powerful scientific evidence that life could not have occurred by chance, it greatly strengthened my witness. Basically, the evidence from design means that atheism is not intellectually respectable. People can certainly disbelieve if they want to, and they can always find a way to support that conclusion, but the best data says there must be an intelligent designer.

Further, in our pluralistic culture, if I simply say, "I choose to believe," or even "It has changed my life," another might respond, "That's nice for you, but don't impose it on me." Only an apologetic based on objective data can challenge that paradigm, such as the scientific data for design. Even Hugh Ross' approach, that the Big Bang requires a creator of the original cosmic egg, may be of some help although the hard core opponent will counter with explanations of something out of nothing based on "quantum fluctuations of nothingness," "imaginary time" or even acceptance of a pantheistic spirituality.

If the Bible turns out to contain unexpectedly accurate and confirmable information, for example the historicity of Joshua's attack on Jericho, it gives credit to Biblical statements about those things that cannot be directly confirmed, such as the existence of life after death and the judgment. If, however, the parts that are written as history, such as the Flood, turn out to be myth or exaggerations, then the whole fabric begins to unravel. It is a demonstrable phenomenon that when the Scriptures begin to be questioned, there is a slippery slope that leads, over two or three theological generations, to rejection of key tenets of the faith.

After all, if God had wanted to communicate long ages and evolution, He is surely capable of doing so. But if the Scripture is just a human stab at capturing the nature of the universe, maybe it is also wrong about whether homosexual behavior is really a problem. And maybe the claims that Christ is the only way are just ethnocentric exclamations.

Further, when God said that Eden was "very good," if that world included many hundred-millions of years of disease, death and struggle for survival, then God seems to be either cruel or uncaring. Moreover, He seems to use methods that are very tedious and wasteful, in sharp contrast to the Scriptural picture of a God Who intervenes spectacularly in Biblical miracles, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, God is patient, but He also notes every sparrow's fall and is not willing that any human should perish - although some will by their own choice.

If evolution is the way God created, then there was death before sin - it is even God's creative method. So why is death called the enemy and treated as an intruder? Why did Jesus have to die physically to conquer sin and death? The discussion, as you can see, gets a bit far afield from just thermodynamics. This is partly because, used by the atheist, rebuttal to thermodynamic arguments is important to make spontaneous appearance of life seem plausible. And, for the Christian, blanket acceptance of the secular paradigm makes God seem irrelevant if not non-existent.

I agree that Christians need to be able to communicate with scientific intellectuals, but not by throwing out things they should have kept or keeping things they should have thrown. The Bible is not something we just blindly accept as an irrational leap of faith in an absurd universe which otherwise gives us no hope! The Bible comes with its own chain of evidence, including miracles, prophecies, its explanation of the human condition and changes that occur in the lives of those who take it seriously. Science, as it has mutated in our present day, hanging on the edge between modernism and post-modernism, excludes the supernatural by fiat. By confusing methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, the supernatural is declared inappropriate as the answer to any question.

And, just to provoke you further, I think that there really is a strong case for a young earth. The unanimity of the opposition is related more to censorship and rationalization than intellectual superiority. Please peruse the Twin Cities Creation Science Association web site (www.tccsa.tc) for more information.

Thank you for reading this far. I will appreciate any feedback you have time to give, and would also like, with your permission, to post your responses on the web site.

Ross S. Olson MD