The Creation Explanation
|The Changing World: Physical Laws & the Origin of Life|
The Energy Conservation Law
What significance does this fundamental law of science have relative to the problem of the origin of all things? Simply this: Science has never observed any process capable of bringing matter-energy into existence. Therefore, science can tell us nothing about the origin of the universe except that a power outside of and greater than the universe must be responsible, and further, that creation is no longer occurring.
The natural law of degeneration
The second great fundamental law governing energy was formulated as a result of efforts by engineers and scientists to improve the efficiency of steam engines in the early decades of the industrial revolution. They discovered that a certain portion of the heat energy produced by combustion of the fuel consistently could not be transformed by the engine into work, but was lost as unusable heat. Subsequently it was realized that all spontaneous processes increase the disorder or randomness in the energy and structure of matter. A concept called entropy is used to measure the increase in unavailable energy and disorder of a system. These observations were generalized in the Second Law of Thermodynamics: In all spontaneous processes the entropy of the system and its surroundings increases.
For a simple explanation of these ideas, imagine ten Ping-Pong balls arranged in a neat pyramid-shaped pile on the fourth step up from the bottom of a staircase, as shown in figure 2-2. Let these be very special Ping-Pong balls which are perfectly resilient so that they bounce without losing any of their energy. Two of the balls colliding can pass some energy from one to the other so that one then has more energy and the other less, but the total energy of the ten balls remains equal to the original energy total.
figure 2-2. It is highly probable that the carefully arranged pyramid of Ping-Pong balls will collapse and that the balls will bounce down the steps. Even if the balls were perfectly resilient so that they would bounce forever without losing their total initial energy, the probability that they might bounce back and reform the pyramid on the top step is essentially zero, even though exact amount of energy remains to accomplish the restoration to the initial condition.
Thus original energy total is simply the gravitational potential energy the balls possess in the elevated position on the fourth step. They also possess order in the neat pile. If they are slightly jarred, the pile will collapse and the balls will roll over the edge of the step and bounce down the stairs to the bottom. They will now be continually bouncing, continually transforming potential into kinetic energy and vice versa. Their original order is lost, both the order of the arrangement in the pile and the ordered storage of all their energy in the form of potential energy. Now the pile is no more, and the energy is partly potential and partly kinetic.
Most of the balls will be bouncing down on the lower landing, but occasionally a ball may be knocked by a collision so that it bounces back up to the original step where the pile was located. But it will soon bounce back down. And even though the balls have the right total amount of energy, it is exceedingly unlikely that all ten of the balls will spontaneously bounce back up to the fourth step and rearrange themselves in the form of the original pyramid, even after a billion years of random bouncing. The occurrence of such an event would be interpreted as almost positive proof of intervention by an intelligent, purposeful agent.
The equilibrium arrangement is for most of the balls to be bouncing down on the lower landing, with an occasional ball bouncing temporarily up onto an upper step. This more disordered final situation corresponds to a state of high probability, that is, of high entropy. Compared to this state of the system, the stack of balls on the fourth step is most improbable, corresponding to a state of low entropy. To cause the balls to return to the pile would require intelligently directed work. In fact, it seems very probable that some human being stacked up the pile of balls in the first place.
When the balls were still on the upper step, their potential energy could pretty easily have been coupled and used to do work as they came down the staircase. But after they are all bouncing wildly and unpredictably, it is more difficult to put their energy to work. Thus, available energy has been transformed into a form less available to do work.
Now to make the analogy explicit, the balls correspond to atoms and the pyramid to a highly structured, energy-rich molecule. The initial gravitational potential energy of the pyramid of balls on the upper step corresponds to the free energy of an energy-rich molecule. The natural tendency is for the molecule to break down, just as for the pyramid to collapse and the balls to bounce down the stairs. The free energy of the molecule can be coupled to do work, but once it has been transformed into random kinetic energy of disorganized atoms, it is exceedingly unlikely that the atoms will ever spontaneously put themselves back together into a molecule with the energy again stored as free energy in the molecule.
This example, though not a perfect analogy, illustrates the requirement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics that spontaneous processes always lead to a loss of free energy and an increase in entropy. Also illustrated is the corollary of the Second Law, the principle of equilibrium, which relates to the direction of spontaneous processes and to the final state reached by any process. Thus, all spontaneous processes, since they result continually in increased entropy, must be moving toward some state of maximum entropy under the limitations which are placed on the system. This state is called the equilibrium state, and when it is attained the process of change stops.
The Second Law is of great significance for the problem of origins, as is the First Law, which requires that observed natural processes cannot be responsible for original creation. The Second Law requires that the universe cannot be infinitely old, for if it were, the increase of entropy resulting from natural processes would long ago have brought the universe to a state of maximum entropy, i.e., the state of maximum disorder and zero energy available to cause continued change. This hypothetical final equilibrium state has been termed the "heat death" of the universe, a state in which all concentrations of energy and all differences in temperature will have been dissipated.
The scientists who worry about such supposed problems for the most part believe that the universe evolved into its present state by natural processes. Yet the Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to preclude the possibility of the natural evolution uphill to a highly ordered low-entropy universe. So concerned are some cosmologists with this impasse that they have actually tried to discover a way to reformulate the science of thermodynamics without including the concept of entropy.1 All reproducible observations of science, however, point to the universal validity of the entropy concept that spontaneous processes always produce increased entropy, i.e., increased randomness and decreased free energy.
1. Gal-Or, Benjamin, Science, Vol. 176, 7 April 1972, p. 15.