Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Can the theory of evolution be harmonized with the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

One of the arguments which creationists have used effectively against evolution is that the evolutionary hypothesis of the development of the cosmos and of the present organic world is contradicted by the entropy principle, the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Evolutionists, however, sometimes argue that there is no contradiction and that both can be true. It is well to let two leading evolutionists define the two concepts. Sir Julian Huxley, probably the world’s greatest modern evolutionist, has defined evolution as follows:

Evolution in the extended sense can be defined as a directional and essentially irreversible process occurring in time, which in its course gives rise to an increase of variety and an increasingly high level of organization in its products. Our present knowledge indeed forces us to view that the whole of reality is evolution—a single process of self-transformation. 7-4

Thus, evolution encompasses all reality: particles evolve into atoms and atoms into molecules and molecules into worlds and stars and galaxies; inorganic compounds evolve into living materials and these into more and more complex plants and animals and finally into man, who now presumably can intelligently control all future evolution.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is also known as the Law of Increasing Entropy. The outstanding Princeton bio-chemist, Harold Blum, describes this law in the following way:

The Second Law of Thermodynamics has as one of its consequences that all real processes go irreversibly. Any given process in this universe is accompanied by a change in magnitude of a quantity called the entropy . . . All real processes go with an increase of entropy. The entropy also measures the randomness or lack of orderliness of the system, the greater the randomness the greater the entropy. 7-5

Thus, according to Huxley, evolution is a universal law requiring that all processes lead irreversibly toward an “increase of order.” According to Blum, the entropy principle is a universal law requiring that all processes lead irreversibly toward a “decrease of order.” Each is exactly the converse of the other! It seems obvious, therefore, that one of them must be wrong. Since the Second Law of Thermodynamics is universally accepted as a basic principle governing all processes, has been verified experimentally thousands of times, and is consistent with all experience, there can be no doubt whatever that, if there is such a thing as a scientific law at all, this is it! Evolution, on the other hand, is simply a belief. No one knows how it works, or has ever seen it take place. It is not even a good scientific hypothesis, since there is no way to subject it to scientific test. It is certainly not a scientific law, as is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which it contradicts. Creationists, therefore, insist that the evolutionary philosophy must simply be wrong.

Evolutionists point to two possible ways out of this difficulty. One is to deny the universality of the entropy principle. Since man is quite limited in knowledge, and since he is able to make observations on only a very small part of the vast universe, he cannot be certain that the Second Law applies everywhere in time and space. Empirical measurements can never establish universal certainty.

This stricture is philosophically valid, of course. However, wherever and whenever the entropy principle has been subjected to scientific test, it has always worked, with no exception. Though we cannot be absolutely sure that the total entropy of the whole universe is increasing, we can say that, wherever it can be scientifically tested, the entropy in any given portion of the universe is increasing. Universal evolution, on the other hand, requires that the degree of order of at least most portions of the universe must be increasing (or at least increased in the past), but no scientific experiments have given any quantitative confirmation of this at all!

The other possible escape from the evolutionist’s dilemma is to say that the Second Law only applies to so-called “isolated systems.” There may well be an increase of order in an “open system.” Thus, a baby grows into an adult, two animals may multiply into a population of thousands, man’s store of acquired knowledge accumulates to tremendous proportions. Even in the inorganic realm, simple elements may combine naturally to form complex compounds, and molecules may grow into crystals of beautiful complexity. All of these are open systems and their increased organization is derived from a source outside themselves.

The evolutionist correctly points out that the earth itself is an open system, continually receiving energy from the sun, and that this can provide the basic source of power for maintaining the evolutionary process and the ever-increasing order which it entails. The same argument could be extended to the entire solar system and presumably to any finite part of the universe. Since the Second Law of Thermodynamics applies only to isolated systems, there is no reason why evolution cannot take place in an open system such as the earth. This, in fact, is the device Blum himself uses for reconciling evolution and entropy. 7-6

The creationist answers that although this is possible philosophically, it still is contrary to all actual scientific measurements. Although it is true that the Second Law has to be formally defined in terms of an idealized isolated system, it always has to be tested on open systems, because there is no such thing in nature as a truly isolated system! And wherever it is tested, it always works.

The entropy law, therefore, applies to open systems as well as isolated systems. This is why no machine or process is 100 percent efficient and why perpetual motion machines are impossible. This is why everything eventually wears out, runs down and dies.

Even those systems which seem to show increasing order for a time eventually lose out to the principle of decay. The crystal finally disintegrates, the adult finally dies, the population eventually stabilizes and finally disappears, the species becomes extinct, even great civilizations sooner or later perish as the result of outside conquest or famine or, perhaps, a nuclear holocaust. Thus, every apparent increase of order and complexity is, at best, only local and temporary, and at the cost of greater disorder to the environment from which it extracts its ephemeral ordering energy.

And even such a local and temporary increase of order can be accomplished only by means of some intricate process provided for the system for this purpose. The remarkable process of photosynthesis enables plants to utilize the sun’s energy and thus to grow. The fantastic processes of blood circulation, digestion, respiration, and others of similar complexity enable animals and men to grow. And both plant and animal life require the intricate coding and template structure of the genetic system for the maintenance of the species itself.

The infinitely greater increase of order implied in the evolutionary process must obviously require a far more wonderful and complex mechanism than any of these if it is to be even temporarily successful. But even after a hundred years of intensive study by thousands of scientists spending millions of dollars of research grants, the mechanism of evolution is still elusive.

The pathetic suggestion of mutation (basically a disordering mechanism operating in full accordance with the Second Law) and natural selection (a conservative principle which tends to maintain the status quo in nature) as the driving mechanisms for the organic phase of evolution illustrates the desperate extreme to which men will go to escape the clear and satisfying evidence, both in nature and in Scripture, of the fact of a completed creation.

Thus evolution can be defended against the Second Law of Thermodynamics by metaphysical speculations, but all the solid scientific and Biblical evidence is against it.

The Bible Has the Answers
By Henry Morris