Thermodynamics and Theology:
Entropy, Disorder, and Sin

(and Young-Earth Creationism) 

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

    Why is a page about thermodynamics-and-theology in a website about origins?  Because some young-earth creationists, beginning with Henry Morris, claim that The Second Law of Thermodynamics makes evolution impossible.  This claim is intended to be partly scientific, because it seems (for those who don't understand thermodynamics) to be a good argument against evolution, and is partly theological, based on a theory that as a result of human sin a "perfect" creation — unaffected by sin, disorder, and decay — became subject to the dreaded Second Law.

    Here is a brief summary of my views about thermodynamics and theology:
  God designed and created the universe so the characteristics of natural processes would allow life.  The Second Law is an essential part of these cleverly designed characteristics, which allow the reactions that occur during life, and in sunshine and many other good things in nature.  Although miracles violate the Second Law (since it is an essential part of non-miraculous natural process), this does not limit divine action because God controls thermodynamics, not vice-versa.
    an I.O.U. — Inspired by constructive criticism from Brian Pitts, later (but I'm not sure when) I will revise this page, to make it more appropriately humble about "how the world could be" in the past, present, and future, about possibilities for God's initial creation (before human sin), current creation (including spiritual interactions), and future creation (of heaven).

    This is one page in a two-part series.  You can begin by reading either page:
    Theology of Thermodynamics (this page) shows that The Second Law is an essential part of the way God has cleverly designed nature; it is not about sin.
    Science of Thermodynamics shows that The Second Law is about mathematical probabilities for energy distributions, not disorder.

    Why am I writing these two pages?  My motives are similar to those of Allan Harvey, so I'll just borrow what he says in his page about The Second Law of Thermodynamics in the Context of the Christian Faith:
    My main purpose here is to dissuade my fellow followers of Christ from pursuing incorrect arguments based on a lack of understanding of the second law.  One might ask whether it is really important for Christians to think about entropy in a mature manner.  For many, it probably isn't.  But for those who engage in apologetics, and for those who might find themselves defending the faith to those who are scientifically literate, I think it is important for three reasons.
    The first is that, by abandoning these errors, we can focus more effectively on legitimate arguments for the faith. ...
    The second reason is the special responsibility to truth we have as people of God.  There is no room for falsehood in God's kingdom, even in the defense of the Gospel. We should be diligent in our efforts to avoid bearing false witness. ...  Worldly politicians or marketers may say "I don't mind using a little falsehood as long as it helps persuade my audience," but that is unacceptable for a Christian.  We who serve the God of truth should make a special effort to cleanse our words of all falsehood.
    Finally, there is the Christian witness to the world. ...  It is tragic that many think of Christians only as "those people with the crackpot arguments about a young Earth and entropy" and do not even consider the Gospel because they think it requires them to believe things they know to be as silly as a flat Earth. The myth that Christianity is for stupid people is widespread, and part of the blame must rest on some Christians. This harm to our witness will only be overcome if Christians refocus their message on central truths (like the fact that God created everything)... and repudiate those arguments (like the misuse of the 2nd law) that are simply incorrect.  Many will still reject and belittle Christ and those who follow Him.  But if the world is going to laugh at us, let it at least be for a central doctrine like the Cross or the Resurrection, or for our insistence on loving everybody, not for mistaken pseudoscientific arguments on peripheral issues.


    Theology and Thermodynamics

    The Second Law: Is it our enemy?
    God designed and created the universe so the characteristics of natural processes (governed by the force laws, values of constants,...) would allow life.  And the Second Law is an essential part of these life-allowing characteristics.   { Notice that I didn't say "natural processes... would produce life," because I don't think this is true. }
    In the natural world, the Second Law is our friend, not an enemy.  Without it we would not have the chemical reactions that occur during life, or nuclear-generated sunshine, or blue skies, or anything else that is familiar in nature.  The Second Law is not a curse; it is an essential part of what makes life possible.  For everlasting life with no death and decay, we need Jesus and the Tree of Life, not just a repeal of the Second Law!

    The Second Law in Life and Death
    Is there a correlation between the Second Law and bodily deterioration?  No.  The Second Law is operating, not just when our bodies deteriorate and die, but also when our bodies grow larger during youth and adolescence, when we stronger in response to exercise, when we feel refreshed after awaking from sleep, and when we recover from illness.  Consider a quickly growing infant, a healthy person in the prime of life, a sick person getting weaker every day, an old person whose body is slowly deteriorating, a victim of disease who is nearing death, a suddenly-lifeless corpse, and a corpse that has been decaying for a week or a decade.  Each of these is equally governed by the Second Law, which is what makes all reactions occur, including the chemical reactions that allow life, health, and growth.
    In the biochemistry of our bodies, the difference between life and death is equilibrium, not the Second Law.  While we're living, the biochemical reactions within our bodies are trying to reach equilibrium but (on the whole) are failing.  While we're living, biochemical energy — obtained from the food we eat and the air we breathe — keeps our bodies "away from equilibrium" but when we die the chemical reactions can finally begin to reach equilibrium, first in the life-giving reactions of metabolism and continuing through a long process of decay.  During the whole process, from conception to death and afterward, the Second Law is operating in the same way, so the chemicals can "do what comes naturally" in their reactions.

    Do miracles violate the Second Law?
  Yes, because the Second Law is an essential part of natural process, and God's actions are different during natural process and during a miracle.  But in Judeo-Christian theology, the actions of God are not limited by natural process or the Second Law.  In the Bible, God's actions were usually natural-appearing (with natural process being divinely guided sometimes, and perhaps always) and occasionally miraculous-appearing, with God deciding which type of action to use in each situation.  I think both types of action were used by God in the distant past (in the formative history of nature) and are still used in the present.  An essential part of natural process is the Second Law, which states that "highly improbable things don't happen," but God can make improbable things happen because God controls thermodynamics, not vice-versa.

    a brief interlude:
    Since I wrote this page (mainly in 1998 & 2000) I've discovered a web-page by Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham's young-earth creation organization) about "arguments we think creationists should NOT use" including the argument that "the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics began at the Fall," which should not be used because:

    This law [the Second Law] says that the entropy ('disorder') of the Universe increases over time, and some have thought that this was the result of the Curse.  However, disorder isn't always harmful.  An obvious example is digestion, breaking down large complex food molecules into their simple building blocks.  Another is friction, which turns ordered mechanical energy into disordered heat — otherwise Adam and Eve would have slipped as they walked with God in Eden!  A less obvious example to laymen might be the sun heating the Earth, but to a physical chemist, heat transfer from a hot object to a cold one is the classic case of the Second Law in action.  Also, breathing is based on another classic Second Law process, gas moving from a high pressure to low pressure.  Finally, all beneficial processes in the world, including the development from embryo to adult, increase the overall disorder of the universe, showing that the Second Law is not inherently a curse. ... (continued in the appendix)

    The Second Law: Is it a result of The Fall?
    An important part of a typical young-earth creationist view of thermodynamics (as advocated by Henry Morris, but not Ken Ham) is a proposal that our fall into sin (in Genesis 3) caused a radical change in the characteristics of nature, due to The Second Law (which wasn't operating before the fall) suddenly becoming active, bringing disorder and decay into nature.
    Theologically, a major claim of support for this radical "transformation of nature" comes from the "creation... [in] bondage to decay" in Romans 8:20-22.  But an examination of context (in Rom 8:12-25) shows that Paul is describing a contrast between our current life (check Rom 7:18-25 where Paul describes his struggles with sin) and our future life.
    Did human sin change the characteristics of nature?  When you study Genesis 3 (as described in "Sin and Salvation" below), notice that everything — the initial gift of life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) and its removal due to our sin, followed by our salvation and (in the future) God giving us back the tree of life — is for humans, not for cats and mice.  God never promised everlasting life to non-humans, and questions about death (for creatures to whom it was never available) should be based on this recognition, not on a doctrine (an extension of eternal life to all animals) that is not taught in the Bible.

    Sin and Salvation
  In Genesis 2, God says "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (NIV)  But in Genesis 3, Eve and Adam disobey and fall into sin, with three results:  The immediate intrinsic result of disobedience was a loss of their innocence and their intimate relationship with God, as described in Genesis 3:7-11.  Then two judicial results were decreed by God, as described in Gen 3:14-24.  The judicial penalty for sin begins (Gen 3:14-19,23) with a decrease in quality of life for all humans.  And the ultimate penalty (Gen 3:22,24) involves the tree of life:  God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  To prevent disobedient sinners from living forever, God removed the tree of life so they would not "eat, and live forever."  Without supernatural support from God (symbolized by the tree of life), Adam and Eve began to perish, with natural processes leading gradually to their eventual death.
    The fall into sin produced three results, one intrinsic and two judicial: a decrease in quality of relationship with God, a decrease in quality of life, and a loss of everlasting life.  The initial gift of life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) was offered to Adam, but was lost by his sinful disobedience.  Later, this gift of life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) was won back by the sinless obedience of Jesus, and is offered to all who will accept God's gift of grace: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)  The immortality taken from us in Genesis is given back to us in Revelation: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. ... Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." (Rev 2:7, 22:14).
    The "tree of [everlasting] life" was (and will be) a supernatural gift from God, not a property of nature.  God gave the tree of life to humans (in Gen 2:9), temporarily removed it (Gen 3:22) due to the disobedient sin of humans, and will give it back to humans (Rev 2:7, 22:14) through the salvation that Jesus earned for us and offers to us (John 3:16).  But the new creation will not be like the pre-Fall creation, as you can see by comparing the old (in Genesis 2-3) with the new (in Revelation 21-22).


    Here is a continuation of the AIG/Ham quotation from earlier:
  ... the Second Law is not inherently a curse.  Death and suffering of nephesh animals before sin would be contrary to the Biblical framework above, as would be suffering (or "groaning in travail" (Rom. 8:20-22)).  It is more likely that God withdrew some of His sustaining power (Col. 1:15-17) at the Fall so that the decay effect of the Second Law was no longer countered.

    The paragraph above describes the young-earth claim that there was no death (for higher nephesh-animals) before human sin.  This claim is examined in my page about Animal Death before Human Sin which includes these excerpts:

    Supernatural Protective Power
    Ken Ham & Jonathan Sarfati help us understand why life is what it is now, after God decided to "give us what we asked for: a taste of life without God" because of our sinful disobedience.  They describe life with God's full protective power: "In the Old Testament, we get a glimpse of what the world is like when God upholds things one-hundred percent.  In Deuteronomy 29:5 and Nehemiah 9:21, we are told that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, and yet their clothes didn't wear out, their shoes didn't wear out and their feet didn't swell.  Obviously God miraculously upheld their clothing, shoes and feet so that they would not wear out or fall apart as the rest of the creation is doing.  One can only imagine what the world would be like if God upheld every detail of it like this.  /  The book of Daniel, chapter 3, gives us another glimpse, when we read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking into an intensely blazing furnace yet coming out without even the smell of smoke on their clothes.  When the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe, upheld their bodies and clothing in the midst of fire (v. 25), nothing could be hurt or destroyed." (from Why is there death and suffering? )
    The supernatural protective power provided by God can be either miraculous-appearing (as in the furnace, or viewing the Israelites for 40 years) or normal-appearing (as in viewing the Israelites for a short time), it can vary from partial protection to full protection, and during a stage of history it can be universal (applied to all of creation at all times) or selective (applied to only some parts of creation at some times), and it can be physical and/or spiritual.
    Although it might appear that "the laws of nature" were different in Eden — since the good aspects of natural process (allowing life and pleasure) were not being balanced by its bad aspects (allowing death and suffering) — this would not be necessary because nature is not governed by the "natural laws" that were designed by God and are being sustained by God.  Instead, God is governing nature by sovereignly determining the protective powers that He does and doesn't use during each stage of history and in each situation during a stage.

    Protective Power in Two Views
    In the young-earth view of Ham & Sarfati, God provided full protective power for all of creation (or at least for all nephesh-animals) from the beginning and into Eden.  After the disobedient sins of Eve and Adam, God decided to make the protective power only partial and selective, until the new creation when full protective power (and more) will be restored, as described in Revelation 21-22.  Ham's young-earth view of protective power during history: full, partial, FULL.  { The "full protection" in Eden was physical but (since God allowed the fall into sin) was not spiritual, but the "FULL protection" in Heaven will be both physical and spiritual. }
    In my old-earth view, God provided full protective power in Eden for humans.  After the disobedient sins of Eve and Adam, God decided to make His protective power only partial and selective, until the new creation when full protective power (and more) will be restored.  In all of this, Ham and I agree.  But unlike Ham, I think that before Eden (and outside Eden?) the protective power was partial and selective, and was probably less than it is now because God was not caring for humans.  My old-earth view of protective power during history: partial, full, partial, FULL.
    { note: In my view, animals in Eden may have been fully protected, but it is possible — since the text says only that "the tree of life" was offered humans — that animals were not fully protected. }

    Did human sin change the fundamental characteristics of nature?  No.  Is there scientific evidence that The Second Law has been operating in nature since the beginning?  Yes.  Because light travels with a finite speed, astronomical observations let us "time travel" to earlier times in the history of nature.  When we see sunlight, we see light that was emitted by the sun several minutes ago.  When we see light from stars that are further away, we see light that was emitted even earlier.  For the nearest star (besides our sun) we are seeing light from 5 years ago;  the light we see from other stars was produced thousands or millions of years ago, and light from stars that are even further away was produced billions of years ago.  By studying the light that arrives from these stars (which are located at different distances from us and, due to the "time lag" that occurs before the light reaches the earth, show us what was happening at different times in the history of nature), we can see "what nature was like" at different times during the history of nature.  What we observe is that the basic characteristics of nature (in the nuclear forces, gravitational force, Second Law of Thermo,... that operate in stars to produce starlight) have not changed.  The characteristics of nature are the same, whether we look at starlight showing us the recent history of nature (from a few minutes ago, in light from our sun) or an ancient history of nature (from billions of years ago, in light from faraway stars).  According to these observations, the mathematical probabilities described in the Second Law (as explained in Part 2 of this page) have been with us for billions of years, since God created the universe.
    note:  Many young-earth creationists will say "ancient historical evidence is meaningless" due to their theory of Apparent Age.  According to this theory, God created the universe with a false history, with light reaching us (from faraway stars) that appears to have been produced billions of years ago, but actually wasn't, because the light was instantaneously created "in transit to us" when the universe was created a few thousand years ago.  Another page examines theories proposing Apparent Age.  If you believe in Apparent Age, all I can say is that the evidence provided for us by God (in the starlight that He created so it appears to be billions of years old) is consistent with the Second Law operating billions of years ago.  { By the way, Ken Ham and AIG don't like most "apparent age" arguments, either. }

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Here are other related pages:

Animal Death before Human Sin?

a wide spectrum of views,
by many authors, about
Sin, Death, and Salvation

The Second Law: Entropy and Evolution

Theology and the Universe:
Why is nature "just right" for life?
(anthropic principle, multiverse, or design?)

pages about "origins questions" by Craig Rusbult

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