Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

The second law of thermodynamics forbids the formation of galaxies and solar systems.

Background

Creationists sometimes claim that the Big Bang was a "disordered" explosion, that galaxies and solar systems are ordered, and that the second law of thermodynamics forbids order from coming from disorder; if true, all of this would jointly entail that galaxies and solar systems could not have formed naturally.

Analysis

I. Entropy vs. disorder

First, read the section on entropy vs. disorder in my analysis of the claim that Big Bang theory contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. That section makes it clear that the creationist argument must be recast as the argument about entropy rather than about order and disorder. The recast claim would be that the Big Bang was an explosion, that states resulting from explosions have high entropy, but that galaxies and solar systems have low entropy, presumably meaning that the Big Bang

There are at least two serious problems with this argument.

II. The Big Bang was not an explosion in the familiar sense of the word

The Big Bang was not an explosion in the familiar sense of the word, but instead the smooth and rapid expansion of spacetime containing an almost perfectly uniform distribution of matter. In fact, the distribution of matter in the early universe was so uniform that until the results of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) came in, cosmologists were hard pressed to explain how this matter could eventually clump up into galaxies (Gribbin 1993). Likening the Big Bang to an explosion therefore is misleading on several counts, and there is no reason to expect its products to be anything like products of an explosion. (In case you are wondering, COBE revealed tiny irregularities in the early distribution of matter that became the seeds around which galaxies eventually formed).

III. The second law of thermodynamics permits local decrease in entropy

The second law of thermodynamics permits local decreases in entropy as long as they are offset by increases in entropy elsewhere. Galaxies and solar systems form by dissipating gravitational energy (as in models that employ gravitational attraction in galaxy formation), or by dissipating kinetic energy (as in models that employ shockwaves in galaxy formation), thereby increasing the entropy of the universe as a whole. Since their local reduction of entropy is purchased at the cost of an increase in entropy elsewhere, their formation does not violate the second law of thermodynamics.

Some creationists have asserted that the entropy of every system increases over time in the absence of a sophisticated conversion mechanism; however, neither is this true (as the example of crystallization is sufficient to show), nor does the second law of thermodynamics say anything like this, so creationists who make that claim do not so much appeal to established scientific law as invent whatever "laws"—false ones, at that—they find convenient.

References

 Gribbin J. 1993. In the Beginning: After COBE and Before the Big Bang. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Last updated: 15 Nov 2014

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