Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

The second law of thermodynamics rules out a natural origin of life.

Background

The claim is that the origin of life would have involved a local decrease in entropy, but that the second law of thermodynamics forbids entropy from ever decreasing. The claim misunderstands the second law of thermodynamics.

Analysis

I. The Earth is an open system

The second law of thermodynamics permits local decreases in entropy at the expense of greater increases in entropy elsewhere. Hence, as long as a system is open, the second law of thermodynamics does not forbid it from decreasing in entropy. Every environment in which the origin of life has been hypothesized to occur on Earth is an open system. For that matter, the entire Earth itself is an open system which receives energy primarily from the sun and emits it into space primarily as heat. Therefore, the second law of thermodynamics does not rule out a natural origin of life.

II. Is a complex conversion mechanism needed?

Some creationists respond that the second law of thermodynamics does not allow entropy to decrease even in an open system unless some complex mechanism already exists to catalyze the reactions in the open system. The second law of thermodynamics, however, does not contain such a provision. Even if such a mechanism were needed for the origin of life—and there is no reason to believe that it is—this would have nothing to do with the second of law of thermodynamics.

Last update: 12 Jan 2015

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