Re: evolution and 2. law of thermodynamics

Bill Hamilton (hamilton@predator.cs.gmr.com)
Fri, 05 Nov 1999 12:52:16 -0500

At 12:19 PM 11/5/99 +0100, Inge Frette wrote:
>In his book "The battle for the beginnings" philosopher
>Del Ratzsch writes that evolutionists generally misunderstand
>creationists when the creationists argues against evolution
>basing the argument on thermodynamics.
>He writes that when the creationists uses this argument, the system
>they have in mind is the whole universe, and that the evolutionists normally
>respond with discussing biological systems on earth.
>On page 92 he writes
>"Critics of creationism almost without exception take this initial
creationist
>claim to be about purely biological evolution on the earth and respond that
>the Second Law applies only to closed systems, whereas the earth, receiving
>energy from the sun, is thermodynamically open. But since the system
>actually in question here is the entire universe, which is the "prime
>example"
>of a closed system, the response that the Second Law only applies to closed
>systems is beside the point creationists mean to be making in this case."
>
>Is Ratzsch correct when he argues that creationists GENERALLY have the
>entire universe (as a system) in mind in their argumentation ?
>Are the evolutionists that respond generally missing the point
>of the creationists?
>

I remember the first time I brought up the second law on talk.origins.
While I wasn't thinking of the whole universe as the system, I did think
the people who responded to me had missed the point. For the energy from
the sun to be employed, a system must be in place for using it -- something
that can turn energy into structure. After all, heating air just makes the
molecules move faster -- and they seemed not to be addressing that issue.
They seemed to be assuming the existence of such a system -- all of the
various chemical and physical processes involved in the development of
life. I am sure a good many creationists tend to think of the universe as
being the system in question. However, the entire universe does not seem
to me to be a fitting subject for a thermodynamic study of energy flows.
An object the size of the universe can be thermodynamically "lumpy" and
that can allow decreases in entropy at specific places without violating
the second law. I have heard that argument advanced in forums like
talk.origins. However, I suspect that answer is also very unsatisfying to
a creationist. It was to me at the time, since it seemed to me that there
was a legitimate question of _why_ lumpiness would develop.

I think in the end the creationists are asking for something very different
in the way of "explanation" from what their opponents offer. Creationists
want explanations that are absolute and point back to the creator.
Scientists seek explanations of natural phenomena in terms of the entities
in nature -- matter and energy and their properties. Such an explanation is
never final. Based on those different perspectives, it's hard to see how
the two sides can talk to -- instead of past -- one another.
Bill Hamilton
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William E. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D.
Staff Research Engineer
Electrical and Controls Integration MC 480-106-390
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