email - May 2003

More Hot Email

We love getting email from Ron because his questions are sincere, honest, reasonable, and challenging. Last month we tried to answer his question about thermodynamics, but didn’t quite succeed. So, this month he sent us another email with two questions. The first question had to do with fossils, which we expect to deal with in a future newsletter. It is his second question that we want to address this month.

Question 2:

I have studied your response, posted on your site under "hot email" where you answer my question of second law of thermodynamics (SLOT) and how it pertains to evolution. While reading your article, I tried to see how Dr. Bailey (or other evolutionists) would have responded. I am not an expert with Thermodynamics, in fact, everything I know about it has been from your website. However, it seems there is still something missing for me. Dr. Bailey states "...the SLOT only applies to closed systems, not to the earth's biosphere", and therefore the SLOT cannot be used to disprove evolution. It seems to me your example of the Thermodynamic cow, shows that animals (and other life forms) cannot survive in a closed system (which was Dr. Bailey’s point). You also did mention, "...A cow is an open system", and that "...cows can only exist in a closed system for a finite period of time". With that being said, it seems that the SLOT does not apply to a cow sitting in a pasture. So, if I were to examine this point with Dr. Bailey, it seems he would tell me that the SLOT doesn’t apply to organisms because the earth is an "open system" and if you put an organism in a "closed system" they would die. Is there an example of something on earth that decreases entropy (goes from simple to complex) when heat is applied (and not from an intelligent direction from man, animals, etc, etc).

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration,


Last month we pointed out that global warming is controversial because the change in the average global temperature is so small that it is hard to measure accurately. This means that the net flow of heat into the biosphere (if any) is so small that the biosphere can be considered to be a thermodynamically closed system. So, the cow in a pasture is, in fact, in a (very large) closed system. But let’s not go over that ground again.

The two points to remember are (1) that everything happens because heat is flowing from a hot place to a cold place, and (2) when all the dust settles, heat will be more evenly distributed than it was to begin with.

Let’s go back to the snowflake example. Water evaporated at the surface of the ocean because heat was radiating into it to more evenly distribute heat. Then the water vapor froze in the upper atmosphere to transfer heat from the warm water vapor into the cold air at high altitude, more evenly distributing the heat. The snow fell to the ground, and heat from the warm earth melted the snow, more evenly distributing the heat. In every step of the process, heat flowed from a warmer place to a cooler place, more evenly distributing itself, and therefore increasing entropy of something and its surroundings.

Ice cubes floating in a tub of hot water will melt. A tub full of warm water won’t naturally separate into hot water and ice cubes. Heat naturally flows in such a way as to equalize its distribution.

It is possible, however, that a large tub of water might partially freeze at night and then melt during the day, only to freeze the next night. Some of the water freezes at night because the water releases heat when it freezes, which warms the cold night air, equalizing the distribution of heat. The ice melts during the day, absorbing heat from the warm air, cooling the air. In effect, the tub of water transfers heat from the warm daytime air into the cold night air, equalizing the heat.

Every natural process we observe can be explained in terms of heat flow that results in more evenly distributed heat (increased entropy). The origin of life from non-life can’t be explained in those terms. The burden of proof is on the evolutionists to either (1) show that there are exceptions to the second law of thermodynamics, or (2) show that there is a process that obeys the second law which explains how living systems could form naturally.

Ron supposes that Dr. Bailey would say that life can form spontaneously because the Earth is an open system. If he does say that, that isn’t good enough. What Dr. Bailey needs to do is, “Show us the heat flow.” If he can propose some plausible mechanism by which natural heat flow will assemble simple molecules into a functioning organic system, then we will listen.

We feel like a frustrated patent examiner listening to an inventor claim his electric motor can drive an electric generator which produces enough power to drive the motor and run a television set, too. We know that the laws of thermodynamics make that impossible. The same laws make it impossible for life to form naturally. Vague claims about “open systems” are no more convincing than claims of "unprecedented motor and generator efficiency".

Ron asks if there is an example of something that goes from simple to complex when heat is applied. Of course there are. It happens in oil refineries every day. Heat is used to manufacture gasoline. Gasoline is a complex organic molecule. Chemists can make sugar in a laboratory, if they consciously set out to do so, and arrange the conditions properly. They make artificial sweeteners, too. The list is endless. In every case, however, one can show that each step in the manufacturing process involves heat flowing from a hot place to a cold place, increasing entropy.

If Dr. Bailey thinks there is a thermodynamically sound explanation for how undirected application of heat can cause simple molecules to organize themselves into an organic system, let him try to publish it in Science or Nature. It has the same chance of getting past the peer review process as a perpetual motion machine has of getting a United States Government patent.

Ron put this question to Dr. Bailey, and sent us his response, which we published in the August newsletter.

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