A Rebuttal to Tim Wallace's "True Origin" Web Page

Timothy Wallace's Thermodynamics vs. Evolutionism, section of his "True Origin.Archive" web site consists of 17 pages of ad hominem arguments and invective directed against the thermodynamics web page in my web site. The following excerpts will illustrate the point:

Page 10: Steiger's blurring of the distinction between these two phenomena can logically be attributed only to either indefensible ignorance or a willful misrepresentation of the facts. [Here, Wallace is trying to convince the reader that classical thermodynamics does not apply to processes taking place in living organisms.]
Page 12: One is compelled to wonder why Mr. Steiger must rely only on man-made mechanisms to illustrate his claim that "spontaneous entropy decreases can, and do, occur all the time." [The answer to that question is that developing specific thermodynamic information for living cells is not possible at the present time. This is not to imply that thermodynamics does not apply to all systems, including living cells, but merely that its practical application is beyond the scope of present day science. One is compelled to wonder why, in his 17 pages of diatribe, Mr. Wallace has not described any mathematical procedure for determining the thermodynamic properties of living cells!]
Page 13: Steiger's own distortion of the facts of thermodynamics and biological process seems to indicate that it is in fact his "position" that challenges reality, for if he were right, such things as turbines, refrigeration units, industrial pumps, etc., would require no design at all, and would function satisfactorily with no energy storage or conversion devices! [If I am so ignorant of thermodynamics, how did I manage to pass the two all day written examinations for California Professional Engineer Registration? Tell me, Mr. Wallace, what is your mechanical engineering background that makes you such an expert on turbines, refrigeration units, and pumps?]
Page 14: Steiger attempts to ridicule the prospect that systems concerned with "constructing a building, manufacturing an airplane, making a bed, etc.," involve thermodynamics, implying that the changes in entropy inherent in the associated systems and processes are not covered by the science of thermodynamics. (Apparently Steiger does not believe the laws of thermodynamics to be universal.) [The laws of thermodynamics may be universal, but their application to any and all processes is not. This ridiculous statement of Wallace only serves to demonstrate his abysmal lack of real knowledge of the science of thermodynamics.]
Page 14:Another claim of Steiger is that...chapter 3 of "Scientific Creationism," edited by Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research states flatly that entropy can never decrease." This is an outright falsehood. Whether deliberate or not, it is an indefensible misrepresentation of the publication cited, the author of the publication, and creationists in general. [Really? Permit me to quote directly from Chapter 3 of Scientific Creationism:
p. 38:In any physical change that takes place by itself the entropy always increases. p. 39: Energy must always flow in such a direction that the entropy increases.
On p. 23: The Second Law (Law of Energy Decay) states that every system left to its own devices always tends to move from order to disorder, its energy tending to be transformed into lower levels of availability...

Page 14: Again refusing to face reality, Steiger claims that...

Page 15: It seems fair to say at this point that Frank Steiger hasn't done the math (or his biology homework)-and this seems to be his sole basis for these declarations , designed to evade entirely the perennial issue of life's ability to thrive in apparent contradiction to thermodynamic law.
[Look who's talking! In all 17 pages of Wallace's creationist thermodynamics misinformation, there isn't a single, not even one, mathematical equation to support his claims! On the other hand, my web page is full of mathematical support. If my math is incorrect, Wallace should point out the mathematical error. He hasn't done so. Without mathematical support, his specious arguments seem plausible to persons lacking a knowledge of thermodynamics, and this is the approach Mr. Wallace has used to criticize the thermo sections in my web page.]

Wallace repeatedly quotes from various sources statements to the effect that entropy can never spontaneously decrease. Evidently he doesn't understand that it is only the over all entropy that can not spontaneously decrease. This fact is very clearly stated in the mathematical laws of thermodynamics, as carefully explained in the same web page section that he so vehemently attacks!

Wallace claims that the mathematical rules that apply to inorganic and mechanical thermodynamics do not apply to thermodynamics changes in living cells. According to Wallace, thermodynamics does not permit molecular order (as in a living cell) to arise from disorder, but in the case of biological systems an "energy conversion factor" permits the cell to "violate" the laws of thermodynamics and produce order from disorder.

He correctly states that increased disorder is accompanied by an increase in a thermodynamics property called entropy, but lacking a background in thermodynamics, he assumes that any kind of increased disorder (for example, a bed becoming unmade) is accompanied by an increase in entropy. He does not realize that entropy is a specific, mathematically defined, quantity. There is a relationship between probability and disorder which states that increasing disorder is accompanied by an increase in entropy. This relationship was derived and explained in my web page and shown to be based on the probability of distribution of molecules in a gas. It is reasonable to believe that the probability/entropy relationship holds for molecular changes in living cells, but it is certainly not applicable to things like beds becoming unmade, erection of buildings, fenders getting dented, etc. There is a limit to the applicability of thermodynamics to anything and everything!

In order for the reader to understand the extent of the errors in Wallace's web site, it is necessary to present a brief overview of the basic thermodynamics mathematical relationships. For additional comment on a previous Wallace web page, click here.

Thermodynamics deals in a quantitative manner with the relationship between heat and work. Because of this, its applications must necessarily be limited to man-made devices and chemical changes for which heat and work parameters can be established. Unless and until these parameters can be established for cell growth in living organisms, the thermodynamics of living things must remain mere speculation. The only actual mathematical relationship between entropy and probability is based on the probability of distribution of molecules in a hypothetical "ideal gas." Creationists state that because a flame can not "unburn," its combustion must always result in a 100% increase in entropy. That statement is false, and not supported by the laws of thermodynamics. For example, the Servel gas powered refrigerators operate with a gas flame and no moving parts to produce an entropy decrease in the interior.

We will start with the equation shown on page 160 of Lewis and Randall, Thermodynamics, a standard text that should be familiar to Wallace, since he quotes from it:

H = TS + F

Where: T = absolute temperature, S = entropy, F = "free energy" (defined below), and represents an increase in a property.

Based on equation 4-9 of page 37 in Lewis and Randall, we may substitute for H and get:

E + PV = TS + F
Where E = internal energy.

F is the change in free energy content. Free energy is the energy available for cell construction or other useful work. The above equation holds for constant pressure P and temperature T, which closely approximate those of living things. V represents the change in volume taking place as a consequence of solar energy absorption. Compared to the other terms, PV is usually much smaller, so we may write:

E = TS + F

This equation is of fundamental significance. It shows that the solar energy absorbed in the process of photosynthesis is divided into 2 categories:

1. "Wasted" energy TS unavailable for growth, and
2. "Useful energy" F available for cell construction.

This equation also applies to the water wheel example that Wallace ridicules on p. 12. The water raised to a higher level corresponds to F; the water discharged to the lower lever corresponds to S. Thermodynamics is universally applicable to mechanical changes as well as photosynthesis!

In the case where solar radiation does not produce useful growth energy (for example, decay):

E = TS

(Again referring to the water wheel example, this case would correspond to all of the water going over the wheel with none being raised.)

In the case where useful growth energy is produced:

E = TS + F

We can conclude that, for equal amounts of internal energy increase E, there is less entropy increase in the case where free energy F is produced.

Wallace makes the following statements on page 7:

Raw solar energy alone does not decrease entropy-in fact, it increases entropy, speeding up the natural processes that cause beak-down, disorder, and disorganization on earth (consider, for example, your car's paint job, a wooden fence, or a decomposing animal carcass, both with and then without the addition of solar radiation.)

He goes on to state:

So, what is it that makes life possible within the earth's biosphere, appearing to "violate" the second law of thermodynamics? The apparent increase in organized complexity (i.e., decrease in entropy) found in biological systems requires two additional factors besides an open system and an available energy supply. these are:
1. a program (information) to direct the growth in organized complexity.
2. a mechanism for storing and converting the incoming energy.

True, there does exist an energy conversion mechanism in the photosynthesis process that utilizes F to manufacture cellulose from water and carbon dioxide from the air, but this process does not "violate" or "overcome" the laws of thermodynamics.

I do not dispute the reality of the existence of energy conversion mechanisms in living cells. But the contention that these mechanisms "overcome" the laws of thermodynamics, which (according to creationists) do not permit order to arise from disorder, is pure nonsense.

At this point the reader may feel that both Steiger and Wallace are nit picking over trivial details. Maybe Wallace doesn't understand the math, but both he and Steiger agree that an energy conversion mechanism exists, don't they? But there is a critical difference. Quoting Wallace on p.6 of his web page:

The presupposition of evolution as "fact" leaves no alternative but that it must be possible in spite of the second law. But no one can explain satisfactorily how a presumed process of nature (evolution) has moved steadily towards higher arrangements of ordered complexity, when the foremost law of nature demands that (in Asimov's words) "all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out, all by itself."

Creationists believe that this energy conversion factor is somehow lacking in the case of evolutionary change, and therefore evolution could not have occurred. There is absolutely nothing in thermodynamics to support this allegation.

The creationist "conversion mechanism" to "overcome the second law" is an artificial gimmick to evade the obvious problem in creationist dogma: that biological diversity in the growth of living things is permitted by thermodynamics, but biological diversity in the evolution of living things is, according to creationists, not permitted by thermodynamics. Creationist dogma is faced with an insurmountable credibility gap. Living things store chemical energy, just as a battery stores electricity, for growth, reproduction, cell change, and evolution! This energy's ultimate source is the cellulose at the bottom of the food chain, which obtains its chemical energy from the sun by way of the processes of photosynthesis.

Wallace's lack of understanding of, and contempt for, the mathematics of thermodynamics is exemplified by the following sttement on page 1 of his web site:

But while he may appear to have a handle on the mathematics and applied science of thermodynamics, Steiger himself steps out of the realm of scientific knowledge to defend the standard dogma of the evolutionist faith, using his own metaphors and semantic smoke and mirrors to make evolutionism appear immune to the best established scientific law known to man.

Wallace states that my web site is inconsistent with standard thermodynamics textbook knowledge, but provides no standard textbook thermodynamics information to back up his accusation. Since he has failed to show that the information in my web page conflicts with standard textbook thermodynamics, we can only conclude that Wallace is ignorant of the facts of thermodynamics. He substitutes his own "metaphors and semantic smoke and mirrors" for specific mathematical laws!

My comment on the Wallace's 1998 and 1999 revisions of his web site can be accessed by clicking on the dates.