Re: Second law of thermodynamics

Kenneth Piers (pier@ursa.calvin.edu)
Thu, 17 Dec 1998 08:56:50 -0500

REPLY: To explicitly address your question as to whether or not there are
any beneficial aspects to the second law of thermodynamics, let me just say
that all of life as we know it would be absolutely impossible without the
second law. Just a couple of examples
1. The mixing of gases occurs spontaneously. Consider two flasks, one
containing pure oxygen, the other an equal amount of pure nitrogen. The two
flasks are connected by a glass tube with a stopcock. When the stopcock is
closed, each gas remains in its own flask. When the stopcock is opened,
oxygen molecules begin to move into the flask containing the nitrogen and
nitrogen molecules begin to move the other way. After some time the system
comes to equilibrium when there are equal amounts of the two gases in each
flask. The equilibrium system represents the state of maximum entropy. The
mixture of gases is "more disordered" or "more probable" or has "more
microstates" than does the system in which the two gases separated in their
own containers. We nnver observe the reverse process to occur
spontaneously. The mixture of nitrogen and oxygen would never on its own go
back to the original state of two separate gases in two different
containers. Such a change would represent a decrease in entropy. To bring
about such a change we would have to do considerable "work" on the mixture
of gases.
How fortunate that this is so. Suppose the reverse were true. Suppose
gases spontaneously separated from each other. What do you think would
happen to the air in the room I am sitting in (assuming for a moment that
my office is an isolated system)? Suppose all the oxygen in the air
separated from the nitrogen. Being more dense than nitrogen it wouild lie
near the floor, in the layer occupying the lowest 20% of the space of the
room (in fact, if the second law were not valid, it would be hard to
predict where the oxygen would go if it separated from the nitrogen). So I
would have to lie on the floor to keep breathing in and out. Bipedal motion
woould be completely impossible because my head would be in the nitrogen.
In fact I would be asphyxiated as I write this note since my head is about
40% of the way to the ceiling as I sit at my desk.
2. Consider the process of respiration. We breath in and out to sustain
life. This action provides oxygen which then combines with highly organized
(low entropy) food molecules such as starch and sugars to produce high
entropy carbon dioxide and water. During the chemical change much energy is
released enabling the body to carry on its vital functions. This entire
process is driven by the second law. During respiration, the entropy of the
universe increases. Without the second law, respiration would stop
immediately.
3. Without the second law none of the spontaneous changes that we take for
granted would occur. Water would not flow down hill, heat would not flow
from hot to cold bodies, and so on and so on.
So when Mr, Morris says that the second law is a law of decay and is a
result of the fall into sin, most of us, upon a little reflection, have to
say "shere poppycock".
Merry Christmas.
kpiers

-On 16, Dec 1998 7:45 PM "Howard J. Van Till" <110661.1365@compuserve.com>
wrote:

> 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
> Eden?
> >>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

Kenneth Piers, Professor Telephone:(616)-957-6491 (W)
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (616)-676-2056 (H)
Calvin College Fax: (616)-957-6501
GRAND RAPIDS, MI 49546 E-mail: pier@calvin.edu

"Meaning is the being of all that has been created...it has a religious
root and a divine origin." H. Dooyeweerd