Second law of thermodynamics

Howard J. Van Till (
Wed, 16 Dec 1998 19:45:14 -0500

Mark McDonnel asked:

>>One of the arguments of the ICR has to do with the Second Law of
>>Thermodynamics. In his commentary on Genesis, Henry Morris says that
this law
>>is the scientific expression of the curse that God placed on the universe
as a
>>result of the fall. I was wondering if you could tell me, are there any
>>beneficial aspects to the Second Law. Would the Second Law have been
>>beneficial or even necessary in the perfect environment of the garden of
>>Or is the Law simply as the ICR describes it, a law of decay?
>>If you could answer this question, I would appreciate it.

Here are some brief comments that I recently gave to another person with a
similar question:

As I have often said, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a commonly
misunderstood (and often misrepresented by many proponents of recent
episodic creationism) description of an important principle of natural (I
prefer to say "creaturely") processes. To characterize it as "the law of
decay" in the way that Morris often does is, I believe, both inaccurate and
misleading. Here is a very brief set of comments:

The word "entropy" represents a quantitative measure of _thermodynamic_
disorder. _Thermodynamic_ order has many contributions, having to do not
only with the configuration, or structure, or form of something, but also
with types of energy, temperature differences, and the like.

The second law states that, in all natural processes, the entropy change
will be greater than, or equal to, zero. HOWEVER, it is essential to look
more closely. First, we must distinguish between a 'system' and its
'environment.' By 'system' we ordinarily mean some particular and localized
entity whose behavior is the focus of our attention. Its 'environment'
could be taken, if you like, to be the rest of the universe (even if only a
small portion of it is relevant to some process under consideration).

Stating the 2nd law more carefully now, we must say that in the course of
any natural process that takes a (system + environment) from some initial
state to some final state, it is the SUM of two entopy change values that
must be greater than, or equal to, zero. Correctly stated: [the change in
entropy of the system] + [the change in entropy of the environment] = a
value greater than or equal to zero.

Correctly understood and applied, the 2nd law does not in itself rule out
any natural process, including those that might be relevant to biotic
evolution, in which the entropy of the _system_ is decreased (thermodynamic
order increased). The law aplies only to the __SUM__ of two terms, not to
either term individually.

The real question is, Is the set of the Creation's formational capabilities
(for self-organizing, for transforming, etc) sufficiently robust to make
such evolutionary processes possible? Are there functional dynamic pathways
(processes made possible by creaturely capablities given to the Creation)
that will accomplish what biologists judge to have taken place in the
formational history of life on earth? I side with those who judge that the
answer is, Yes. I envision a 'fully-gifted Creation' capable of
accomplishing such remarkable things.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is no foreigner in a "good" Creation.
There are several ways of stating the law. These differing statements are
100% equivalent. If one is true, all are true. If one is false, all are
false. One statement of the 2nd Law is that heat will flow naturally
(wthout any form of "heat pump") only from a hotter to a cooler body.
Supppose that law were suspended. If that were so, then it would be
possible for heat to flow naturally from a cooler to a hotter body. A
person could walk outdoors on a hot day and freeze to death. NOT GOOD! :)

Howard Van Till