A Reply to Tim Wallace Allegations

© 1998 Frank Steiger

I recently reviewed Tim Wallace's web page section titled Thermodynamics vs. Evolutionism. This section is devoted exclusively to an attack on two talk origins faqs that I authored on the subject of probability and the second law of thermodynamics. It consists of 15 pages of misinformation on the nature of thermodynamics, interspersed with numerous personal slurs. I have tried to condense Wallace's lengthy diatribe into the salient points in order to effectively respond to his charges.

In his attack on "Evolutionism," Wallace starts off with the statement:

...a handful of dogmatic evolutionists continue to vocally and energetically deny the truth concerning a simple matter of scientific knowledge: The second law presents an insurmountable problem to the concept of a natural, mechanistic process: (1) by which the physical universe could have formed spontaneously, and (2) by which biological life could have arisen and diversified (also spontaneously) from a non-living, inanimate world (both postulates form essential planks in the platform of evolutionary theory in general).

So what is this "scientific knowledge"? It's the assumption that the energy conversion mechanism necessary to bring all this about is necessarily missing, although it is present in the case of seeds sprouting into plants and eggs hatching into chicks.

The creationist second law argument is full of contradictions. They claim that: (1) Thermodynamics will not permit order to spontaneously arise from disorder. (2) Except in the case of changes in non-living things. (3) Order will not spontaneously arise from disorder in the case of living things. (4) Except in the case of the growth of living things. (5) Order will not arise from disorder in the case of the evolution of living things, because (6) in this case the energy conversion mechanism is missing.

In my talk origins faqs (the same information is also available in this web page at Second Law and Probability and Creationist Thermodynamics Argument) I have presented a great deal of information that is entirely consistent with any standard text on thermodynamics. Wallace does not refute any of this information, but instead resorts to personal attacks:

Steiger himself steps out of the realm of scientific knowledge to defend the standard dogma of the evolutionist faith, freely blending fact and fancy, using his own smoke and mirrors to make the fundamental premise of evolutionism appear immune to the best established scientific law known to man.

He goes on to state:

Not far into the more verbose of his two Talk.Origins essays Steiger attributes to creationists a wide-spread and totally false belief that the second law of thermodynamics does not permit order to spontaneously arise from disorder.

Wallace neglects to mention that I documented the statement with three referenced quotations by Henry Morris, President Emeritus of ICR. Furthermore, in his web page, Wallace states:

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 (for work), ultimately becoming totally random and unavailable for work. ...or... The entropy of a closed system cannot decrease. Evolutionist theory faces a problem in the second law, since the law is plainly understood to indicate that things tend towards disorder, simplicity, randomness, and disorganization, while the theory insists that precisely the opposite has been taking place since the universe began (assuming it had a beginning).

Then Wallace seems to contradict himself: referring to my web page, he states:

He correctly acknowledges that a less probable state may be reached by a system, only as long as it is an "open" system (i.e., able to interact with its surroundings) and there is an external increase in entropy exceeding the measure of system's internal decrease in entropy.

With respect to my statement that the second law does in fact permit order to arise from disorder (e.g. formation of snowflakes from water vapor molecules, crystallization of salts from solution, seeds developing into plants and eggs into chicks), Wallace has this to say:

Steiger fails to recognize the profound difference between these examples of low-energy molecular crystals and the high-energy growth process of living organisms (seeds sprouting into flowering plants and eggs developing into chicks). His equating these two very different phenomena reveals a serious misunderstanding of thermodynamics (as well as molecular biology) on his part, and he perpetuates this error in the balance of both his essays, as we shall see.

I made the following statement in the talk origins thermo faq:

The application of energy can reverse a spontaneous, thermodynamically "irreversible" reaction. Leaves will spontaneously burn (combine with oxygen) to form water and carbon dioxide. The sun's energy, through the process of photosynthesis, will produce leaves from water vapor and carbon dioxide, and form oxygen.

To which Wallace responded:

Apart from his ostensible intention to portray these two processes as "reversals" of one another, it seems to have escaped Steiger's notice that the process of photosynthesis does not function apart from the complex cellular apparatus inherent in leaves--it does not "produce" leaves, but is an inherent function of them. To postulate photosynthesis as a non-biological, independent "leaf-producing" phenomenon is to misrepresent it entirely.

Not really. The net result of burning leaves is carbon dioxide and water. The net result of photosynthesis is carbon dioxide and water forming leaves. The fact that a complex mechanism is involved in forming the leaves is irrelevant, because the use of thermodynamics does not require a knowledge of the detailed mechanisms by which the change is brought about. This is a fundamental axiom of thermodynamics. This can be confirmed in any legitimate text on thermodynamics.

Wallace continues:

Here Steiger blithely excuses himself from facing a most profound fact: Spontaneous, sustained decreases in entropy do not occur in nature apart from the presence of a design or plan and a means of storing and/or converting energy.
First we are told that no energy conversion mechanism need be accounted for. Then it is inferred that the changes in (and relationships between) heat and work within biological processes are somehow outside the realm of thermodynamics. Next comes a concession that okay, it is "reasonable to assume" that such conversion mechanisms "actually exist" (whew!), yet we are now firmly assured that the changes in (and relationships between) heat and work within biological processes are surely "outside the scope of thermodynamics"-and to disagree with Steiger here is to "distort and pervert the true nature of thermodynamics"!

I never disputed the fact that energy conversion mechanisms are necessary to bring about chemical changes in living things. I simply said that it was unnecessary to postulate mechanisms in using thermodynamics. I do take issue with the nonsense that the laws of thermodynamics are subservient to energy conversion mechanisms. In fact, it is the other way around. Creationists have painted themselves into a corner by the flat out statement that the second law of thermodynamics will not permit order to spontaneously arise from disorder, a claim that has been repeated ad nauseum by Gish and others.

Instead of making fools of themselves by displaying their ignorance of thermodynamics, creationists should face the fact that their position is based on assuming that an energy conversion mechanism for evolutionary change does not exist. (Given all the evidence for evolutionary change, this would be a difficult assumption to prove.)

The talk origin faqs and this web page clearly show that classical thermodynamics does not support the falsehood that the second law will not permit order to spontaneously arise from disorder. I have seen no evidence or scientific claim that statistical thermodynamics negates the second law as applied to macro systems. My web page does not deal with mechanisms, nor is there any necessity for it to do so. My message was/is simply this: thermodynamics does not negate the possibility of order spontaneously arising from disorder. Contrary to Wallace's ravings, it is a fundamental axiom of thermodynamics that mechanisms need not be considered in using the equations of thermodynamics. This fact is clearly stressed in any legitimate text on thermodynamics.

Based on his comments, it appears to me that Mr. Wallace's knowledge of thermodynamics is limited to creationist propaganda and that he has never actually studied the mathematical relationships that are the basis of thermodynamics. He is obviously unaware of the fact that thermodynamics laws exist independently of mechanisms, and this independence is what provides thermodynamics with its power to deal with heat/work relationships.

In attempting to portray my web page sections Thermo and 2nd Law as outside the realm of accepted scientific thought, Wallace states:

The following statements...from respected (evolutionist) scientists don't seem to reflect Steiger's perspective, effectively indicating that it is he who has resorted to distorting and perverting the true nature of thermodynamics in order to convince his readers that his naturalistic religious views have scientific validity:

I can't comment on first quotation, as the reference was not available to me; however I can comment on the second quotation, which is:

Closely related to the apparent "paradox" of ongoing uphill processes in nonliving systems is the apparent "paradox" of spontaneous self-organization in nature. It is one thing for an internally organized, open system to foster uphill processes by tapping downhill ones, but how did the required internal organization come about in the first place? Indeed the so-called dissipative structures that produce uphill processes are highly organized (low entropy) molecular ensembles, especially when compared to the dispersed arrays from which they assembled. Hence the question of how they could originate by natural processes has proved a challenging one.

Wallace conveniently neglects to finish the paragraph:

As before, creationist exhortations about violations of the second law need not confuse the issue because local decreases in entropy during self-organization do not imply any such contradiction. Overcompensating increases in entropy elsewhere need only be coupled with the self-organization process. Again, the paradox is only illusory and has only to do with how self-organization occurs, not whether it does. But again we must leave the realm of classical thermodynamics to seek explanation. [J.W. Patterson, Scientists Confront Creationism, L. R. Godfrey, Ed., W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1983, p. 110]

Then Patterson goes on to describe the theories of Prigogine et al on the application of statistical physics and instability principles to self-organization, concluding that:

The overwhelming majority of biochemists and molecular evolutionists who have looked into this matter realize that Prigogine's dissipative structures provide a very viable, perfectly natural mechanism for self-organization, perhaps even for the genesis of life from nonliving matter (abiogenesis). These structures can be induced merely by imposing strong temperature, pressure, or composition gradients. Indeed, those formed in certain laboratory-simulated, prebiotic broths have caused a rat deal of excitement because of their remarkable similarity to the simplest know forms of life.

It is quite clear that Wallace has either resorted to the old creationist trick of quoting out of context to misrepresent the views of the author, or has accepted without question some typical creationist flim-flam.