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Chemicals to Living Cell: Fantasy or Science? DVD
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

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Feedback archive Feedback 2002

Some thermodynamics criticisms — and answers

This week’s feedback is from Jonathan Sherwood of the USA, who gave permission for his full name to be used. In itself, the letter is not particularly negative, just some questions about the article Evolution, Creation, and Thermodynamics by Dr Carl Wieland on our website. But it wasn’t too hard to find out that Mr Sherwood is apparently a fervently anti-creationist science writer who has accused creationists of ‘misstating scientific principles such as the second law of thermodynamics’. We almost invariably find such charges come from people who have a quite amateurish understanding of the topic, but who might have some expertise in other fields such as biology or geology. So too it was here, where the issue has long since been answered, but it is still bandied around by anti-creationists. The letter is printed below, then reprinted with a point-by-point response on Dr Wieland’s behalf by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, whose Ph.D. is in physical chemistry, of which thermodynamics is an important part. [Ed. note: Subsequently, Mr Sherwood responded to one of Dr Sarfati’s thermodynamics articles, and Dr Sarfati replied — see Round 2]


This note is for Dr Wieland regarding the article ‘Evolution, Creation, and Thermodynamics’.

Dr Wieland,

You said in your article:
‘We see that it takes machines to make machines — it takes ordered systems to produce ordered systems.’
Given that the evaporation and redistribution of ocean water on the planet is certainly an ordered system, how is this not an example of a system that did not need an ordered system to produce it?

Second, you said:

‘A crystal of ice, for example, carries no more information than a single water molecule. The formation of a crystal involves molecules assuming a rigidly predetermined pattern — there is no growth in information or complexity, and again there is a pre-existing “code”.’
You’re suggesting here that crystals have a natural property that makes them align, and that life uses designed properties. How do you distinguish between a property that is natural and one that is designed?

Thank you, Jonathan [Sherwood]


This note is for Dr Wieland regarding the article ‘Evolution, Creation, and Thermodynamics’.

This article is over 20 years old. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but that many of the usual anti-creationist canards about thermodynamics became popular only after major books were published in the early 1980s, so were answered in later articles on the site. Really, you should have checked these as well, under Q&A: Thermodynamics.

Dr Wieland,

That’s Dr Wieland, thanx.

You said in your article:

‘We see that it takes machines to make machines — it takes ordered systems to produce ordered systems.’

Given that the evaporation and redistribution of ocean water on the planet is certainly an ordered system, how is this not an example of a system that did not need an ordered system to produce it?

Here is a case in point about targeting an old article. A major book refuting chemical evolution came out a few years after this, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984). This book distinguishes order and specified complexity, reserving the former for low-information structures such as crystals and the latter for the high-information structures such as those in living things—note the online chapters available. The difference is also explained at The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to Critics: Question 2: What about crystals? But at the time of writing, ‘order’ was being used in a well-understood way to refer to both, as even the above quoted portion indicates.

The above book even addresses systems like the above and Prigogine’s examples, mainly pointing out that such ordered (in the current way the term is used) systems have nothing to do with the specified complexity of life. Neither do they have anything to do with machines, which is what the above quote was about.

Also, there is actually order to produce order, in one sense. For any convection system, there are certain important boundary conditions, e.g. a definite order of heat source — intermediate systems — sink. Such boundary conditions do introduce information content — in this case, specifying a lowering of symmetry by introducing a preferred direction compared with an isotropic system with no dissymmetry. This is an application of the [Pierre] Curie symmetry principle, that an effect cannot have a dissymmetry absent from its efficient cause.

Second, you said:

‘A crystal of ice, for example, carries no more information than a single water molecule. The formation of a crystal involves molecules assuming a rigidly predetermined pattern — there is no growth in information or complexity, and again there is a pre-existing “code”.’

You’re suggesting here that crystals have a natural property that makes them align, and that life uses designed properties. How do you distinguish between a property that is natural and one that is designed?

Again, we now discuss this in terms of information. But a roughly equivalent formulation was discussed in the article you cite: break a crystal and you just get smaller crystals; break a protein and you don’t simply get a smaller protein, rather you lose the function completely. This is the equivalent of saying that the crystal has low information content that is simply repeated, while the protein molecule can’t be constructed simply by repetition, because there is no chemical tendency for amino acids to align in specific ways during polymerization. Those who manufacture proteins know that they have to add one amino acid at a time, and each addition has about 90 chemical steps involved.

Thank you,
Jonathan [Sherwood]

If, after studying the other articles under Q&A: Thermodynamics, you have any further questions, feel free to ask.

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.


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