Energy can be converted into work, and the law of conservation of energy states (the first law of thermodynamics) that the quantity of energy in the Universe must stay forever the same. Can one, then, convert energy into work endlessly? Since energy is never destroyed, can it be converted into work repeatedly?
In 1824, a French physicist, Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), showed that in order to produce work, heat energy had to be unevenly distributed through a system. There had to be a greater than average concentration in one part and a smaller than average concentration in another part of a system. The amount of work that could be obtained depended on the difference in concentration. While work was produced the difference in concentration evened out. When the energy was spread uniformly, no more work could be obtained, even though all the energy was still there!
In 1850, a German physicist, Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888), made this general and applied it to all forms of energy – not just to heat (thermal energy). In the Universe as a whole, he pointed out; there are differences in energy concentration. Gradually, over the aeons, the differences are evening out, so that the amount of work it will be possible to obtain will grow less and less forever, until all the energy is evened out and no more work is possible. This is the second law of thermodynamics, the conservation of energy being the first law of thermodynamics.
Clausius worked out a particular relationship of heat and temperature [H/T, measured in joule/kilogramme/Kelvin, and where ‘H’ equals heat (energy and ‘T’ equals temperature] which, he showed, always increases in value as the difference in energy concentration evened out [because energy is constant, but temperature drops]. He called this relationship entropy.
The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of the Universe is always increasing. Entropy is also referred to as ‘the arrow of time from cosmos to chaos’, the ‘heat death of the Universe’ and as ‘a measure of the disorder in any closed system’.
The increase of entropy in physical systems, which marks the direction of time, could not be explained by the laws of Newtonian mechanics and remained mysterious until the Austrian physicist, Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (1844-1906), clarified the situation by introducing an additional idea, the concept of probability.
With the help of probability theory, the behaviour of complex mechanical systems could be described in terms of statistical laws, and thermodynamics could be put on a solid Newtonian basis, known as statistical mechanics.
Boltzmann showed that the second law of thermodynamics is a statistical law. Its affirmation that certain processes do not occur – for example, the spontaneous conversion of heat energy into mechanical energy – does not mean that they are impossible but merely that they are extremely unlikely.
With the discovery of quasars and other mysterious energy sources in the Universe, though, astronomers are now wondering if the second law really holds everywhere, and under all conditions!
The second law of thermodynamics says nothing about energy generated using gravity and/or electromagnetism. If there is no atomic movement (zero, or nearly zero Kelvin) in a closed system theoretically, there would be no electromagnetism, but gravity should still be present.
Sometimes people say that life violates the second law of thermodynamics. This is (maybe?) not the case; we know of nothing in the universe that violates that law. So why do people say that life violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
Let us call the kind of entropy discussed above, thermodynamic entropy. The qualifier ‘thermodynamic’ is necessary because the word entropy is also used in another, non-thermodynamic sense as was also discussed.
Entropy is also used as we have seen to mean disorganisation or disorder. J Willard Gibbs (1839-1903), the 19th century American theoretical physicist, called it ‘mixedupness’. The American Heritage Dictionary gives the second definition of entropy as, “a measure of disorder or randomness in a closed system”. Again, it is a negative concept, this time the opposite of organisation or order. The term came to have this second meaning thanks to Ludwig Boltzmann.
Life is organisation. From prokaryotic cells, eukaryotic cells, tissues, and organs, to organisms, families, communities, ecosystems, and living planets, life is organisation, at every scale. The evolution of life is the increase of biological organisation, if it is anything. Clearly, if life originates and makes evolutionary progress without organising input from outside (again information), then something has organised itself.
Logical entropy (non-thermodynamic entropy) in a closed system was ‘decreased by life’. Logical entropy has nothing to do with thermodynamics. People are actually signifying this violation when they say that life violates the second law of thermodynamics. This violation, the decrease of logical entropy in a closed system, must happen continually in the Darwinian account of evolutionary progress.
Most Darwinists just ignore this staggering problem. When confronted with it, they seek refuge in the confusion between the two kinds of entropy. Logical Entropy has not decreased, they say, because the system is not closed. Energy such as sunlight is constantly supplied to the system. If you consider the larger system that includes the sun, thermodynamic entropy has increased, as required according to them.
Philip Kitcher gives an excellent example of this confusion in a popular 1982 treatise against creationism, Abusing Science. He is aware that entropy has different meanings, but he treats them as not different: “There are various ways to understand entropy... I shall follow the approach of classical thermodynamics, in which entropy is a function of unusable energy. But the points I make will not be affected by this choice”. What the Hell?
Scores of distinguished scientists have carefully examined the most basic laws of nature to see if neo-Darwinism is physically possible – given enough time (?) and opportunity (information?). The conclusion of many is that neo-Darwinism is simply not feasible. One major problem is (again) the second law of thermodynamics – entropy.
Creationists argue that it is well known that, left to themselves, chemical compounds ultimately break apart into simpler materials; they do not ultimately become more complex. Outside forces can increase order for a time (through the expenditure of relatively large amounts of energy, and through the input of ‘design’). However, such reversal cannot last forever. Once the force is released, processes return to their natural direction – greater disorder. Their energy is transformed into lower levels of availability for further work. The natural tendency of complex, ordered arrangements and systems is to become simpler and more disorderly with time.
If neo-Darwinism is a fact, there must be an extremely powerful force or mechanism at work in the cosmos. A force that can gradually defeat the powerful, ultimate tendency toward disorder brought by the second law. If such an important force or mechanism were in existence, it would seem it should be obvious to all scientists. Yet, the fact is, no such force of nature has been found scientifically.
What is the difference then between a stick, which is dead, and an orchid that is alive? The difference is that the orchid has teleology (information stored within a living thing) built into it. It is like a machine that is capturing energy to increase order. Where you have life, you have teleology, and then the Sun’s energy can be taken and make the thing grow – increasing its order [at least temporarily].
Where did this teleology in living things originate? It is important to note that the teleology (the ordering principle, the knowledge, the information, the program/algorithm) does not reside in matter-energy itself. Matter-energy, itself, is not creative as far as we know – although I must admit it does sometimes seem that way.
Teleology (‘telos’, meaning the end, or purpose, of a sequence) is anathema in modern natural, scientific thinking – science does not need foresight and planning – natural scientists fear, detest all foresight and planning! At least they fear it from Nature. According to modern science Nature has no purpose, no direction, no teleology, but then again there is entropy – ‘the arrow of time from cosmos to chaos’ [?].
Teleology is not new of course. Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) presented a cosmological version of it in 1903. Nor are objections to it new. Two hundred years ago, Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued in a similar way to show the falsity of the teleological argument for creation, and Voltaire (1694-1778) gave the Panglosses of the world a hard time in his book Candide (1758).
Teleology is the study of the evidence for overall design and purpose in nature. It proposes that the Universe was created for a purpose, and did not randomly leap into existence. Teleology has attracted the attention of many prominent philosophers and theologians such as Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, Newton, and Paley, all of whom devoted much of their life to this philosophical notion.
It has only been comparatively recently, however, that there has been recognition that design may also apply to gross features of the universe. In 1937, Paul Dirac (1902-1984) noted that the number of baryons (protons plus neutrons) in the universe is almost exactly equal to the inverse square of the gravitational constant, and to the square of the age of the universe.
Dirac, later in 1961, noted that these relationships would imply a narrow age range of the universe during which time life could come forth. Stars of the right type for sustaining planets capable of supporting life can only occur during a certain narrow age range for the universe. Similarly, stars of the right type can only form within a narrow range of values for the gravitational constant. It was this latter interesting fact that led for the search and documentation of other ‘coincidences’ that must occur simultaneously for life to exist on earth.
Some neo-Darwinian evolutionary biologists are trying to smuggle teleology back into organic evolution. The issue ultimately revolves around the ‘central dogma’ of neo-Darwinism and the ‘Weissmannian-barrier’. Essentially, that central dogma, the ‘bulwark’ against Lamarckian inheritance, is that organisms cannot store acquired information, therefore there is no inheritance of acquired characteristics, and thus no progressive evolution. Each generation is better adapted to the conditions of its current environment (once the 99% of unfit random mutations are eliminated through natural selection), but nothing more.
However, this ‘central dogma’ is constantly eroded. It turns out the DNA-RNA information flow is not one-way, that the human genome is full of ‘meta-information’ (i.e. information about itself and the location and sequence of genes), and that the environment (and perhaps the organism itself!) in some mysterious way may have some influence on the germplasm after all.
Metaphysics always turns to the question of teleology or purpose and meaning. Mysticism begins from the premise that there seem to be purpose in the universe – that curious constants which are the basis of the Strong Anthropological Cosmological Principle (the universe seems optimised for the emergence of conscious observers, which according to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, need to exist in order to collapse the universe’s wave function.)
However, this tends toward pantheism, in that this is ultimately part of Universe’s ‘Plan’ to save itself from entropy, a fact of necessity and universal law. The emergence of consciousness, reproductive (self-replicating), reflexive (self-organising), and then reflective (self-aware) systems, capable of preserving or even creating order, is part of this ‘Plan’.
It was Descartes’ dualistic worldview that provided the metaphysical foundation for the subsequent success of Newtonian mechanics and the rise of modern science in the 17th century, and it was here at their modern origins as part of this dualistic worldview (mind-body) that biology and physics (for example) were defined by their mutual exclusivity. According to Rene Descartes, the world was divided into the active, striving, end-directed inner part (the perceiving mind, thinking I, or Cartesian self) on the one hand, and the ‘dead’ physical outer part (body, matter-energy) on the other.
The physical part of the world (matter-energy, body), defined exhaustively by mass and its extension in space and time, was seen to consist of reversible (without any inherent direction to time), quality less particles governed by rigidly deterministic law from which the striving, immaterial life and mind, without any spatial or temporal dimension, was immune.
In the meantime, the Universe is going somewhere, but it seems that it is running out of steam.
Sorry, I was only wondering!