Thermodynamics? What’s that?

Thermodynamics! Doesn’t using that word make me sound smart? Unless you’re a scientist or an exceptionally well informed layman — layperson, sorry — I can say just about anything I want to about thermodynamics and you aren’t likely to know the difference. Right? If you just happen to be that scientist or exceptional layperson, then you know what it is:

Thermodynamics is the science of heat and other forms of energy and how they relate to each other and to matter.

Since I was a young man, I’ve often heard creationists state authoritatively that the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids biological evolution. These creationists are not scientists, of course. With few exceptions, they’re just people who slept through high school physics class and didn’t even take Biology because they were afraid of the dreaded E word. Evolution! But they heard somebody say “thermoynamics” and it sounded good to them.

I knew a little about the subject from my high school and college physics and biology classes (Which I did NOT sleep through. I slept through history and grammar classes instead.) but I wasn’t much of a skeptic back then. Also,  I was still a creationist myself, so I didn’t really think much about it. Still, it never made much sense to me.

In recent years I have become fascinated with both physics and evolution, and have studied both extensively. I’ll never be a scientist, but I’m confident that I can claim to have become a well informed layman about both subjects. So it is entirely natural that I have become interested in answering this question. And I have learned there is absolutely no basis for the claim. This is not just my own opinion, either. The vast majority of all scientists agree with me. (Or I agree with them. Or something.)

Anyway, just recently, I was informed by a creationist that evolution also violates the First Law of Thermodynamics (as well as the Second). This is absolute nonsense. There is no connection at all.

The First Law of Thermodynamics is also known as the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, and it simply states that the sum total of matter and energy in the universe never changes.

It  can be expressed in more technical terms and sometimes includes a few equations — trust a scientist to make things complicated, of course — but it all boils down to just that.

What this implies is that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Either can be converted to the other, and energy can be converted from one form to another; but the sum total of them never changes. Obviously, we can’t prove this is always 100% true all over the universe, but it makes sense. As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music a generation or two ago (and as I have been reminded recently), “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” At least, nobody has ever found an exception to the rule, and physicists believe it’s universal. For whatever it’s worth, I agree.

So what does this have to do with evolution? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s just an opportunity for people who don’t understand what they’re talking about to misuse scientific language and lead people into error with their big words.

The First Law of Thermodynamics has exactly NOTHING to do with biological evolution.



In a few days, I’ll write a little more about the SECOND Law of Thermodynamics and why it has nothing to do with evolution on earth, either. The reason is obvious to scientists and should be obvious to informed laymen, but it doesn’t always seem to be. After all, nothing is obvious until you think of it. So I’ll explain in very simple terms exactly why this particular natural law has nothing to do with the evolution we see around us.

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