Volume 10, Number 1

The Frying Pan Never Looked So Good

Mark Hartwig

We knew the thermodynamics issue was controversial. What we didn't know was just how controversial it really was...

As you may recall, our last edition of Origins Research (9:2) featured a three-way debate between John Patterson, Tracy Walters, and Peter Gordon on the subject of thermodynamics and origins. When we originally published this debate, we were not sure whether readers would be much interested in the topic. It soon became clear, however, that we had evoked not only a great deal of interest, but a good deal of emotion, as well. Almost immediately, we were inundated with correspondence and articles addressing different aspects of this issue. And we quickly realized that a follow-up edition on thermodynamics would be appropriate.

In this edition of Origins Research, we have attempted to pull together those articles and letters which address the widest range of significant issues in this controversy. As the reader will discover, this range is quite broad -- as is the range of opinion. Despite this diversity, several recurrent issues seemed to manifest themselves:

Impossibility of Evolution under the Second Law. this, of course, has been the primary issue in our debate over thermodynamics. Surprisingly, most of our writers -- creationists and evolutionists alike -- seem to agree that evolution is not intrinsically impossible under the second law of thermodynamics. Nonetheless, as creationists Robert Gange, Walter Bradley, and Robert Kofahl persuasively argue, the bottom line still seems to be that the second law of thermodynamics makes evolution and abiogenesis highly improbable.

Supernatural Origins. Along with the above, another major issue in this debate has been the question of whether the second law of thermodynamics demands a supernatural explanation for origins. Here, of course there is wide disagreement, with some arguing for supernatural origins and others against. Probably the best response to this question, however, was articulated by Robert Gange, who reminds us this is a philosophical issue rather than a scientific one. As Gange points out, calling something "unknown" is no more (or less) scientific than calling it "supernatural." In either case, the choice is a personal one, grounded on the individual's world view.

Energy Conversion. Unfortunately, another recurrent theme has been the question of whether thermal energy can be converted into mechanical energy. Much controversy was generated in response to the following statement by Walters:

...some forms of energy do not convert to other forms "of their own accord." An example of this is thermal energy, which cannot be converted into mechanical energy unless a capable engineer designs a system that includes a boiler, turbine, heat exchangers, etc. And even then, if a temperature difference does not exist between the two reservoirs, the thermal energy can never be converted to mechanical energy.

As Walters admits, the wording of this example was misleading. Despite the many objections to this example, however, the fact still remains that certain kinds of energy conversion or "work" are enormously improbable in the absence of intelligent intervention. One important example of this is discussed at length by Bradley: namely, the formation of DNA and proteins via condensed polymerization reactions.

Analogies and Evidence. One of the hallmarks of this debate has been an abundance of analogies. Sadly, many of these analogies have not been entirely relevant. When all is said and done, snowflakes, hurricanes, ram pumps, and spinoidal decomposition have little to do with evolution or the origin of life. Furthermore, as Francis Arduini argues in his letter, the issue cannot be decided by analogy but must be resolved on the basis of empirical evidence. Bradley shows that some useful frameworks have already been laid by Thaxton et al.[1] and Prigogine et al.[2]. But the empirical work still remains to be done.

Information Increase. A final recurrent theme in our thermodynamics debate has been the question of whether information can increase in a closed system. Several "examples" of informational increase are offered by our writers. However, many of these examples (i.e. microbes in a warm aquarium, mice in a greenhouse, the growth of organisms, the formation of snowflakes, etc.) reflect a fundamental and widespread misunderstanding of what information really is. For they fail to account for the incredible redundancy that characterizes these systems (see our tutorial on information). In fact, Gange shows that the formation of snowflakes is actually an example of information loss. Furthermore, although informational increases are certainly not prohibited under the second law, they become increasingly improbable as they increase in magnitude. And as some of our authors point out, the likelihood of producing even simple proteins from their more basic constituents (in the absence of a living system) is outrageously small.

Although the topic of thermodynamics and origins always seems to generate a good deal of heat, we hope that this issue of Origins Research will generate a bit of light on an otherwise obscure and often misunderstood topic. Actually, you will probably learn more than you ever wanted to know. So, with this edition we say goodbye to the thermodynamics issue for awhile.


Speaking of heat, I am sure many of you have at least heard about the February issue of Omni Magazine. If you don't already have a copy, you should make every effort to get your hands on one. It would be the perfect companion volume to your copy of George Orwell's 1984. Indeed, Omni's articles on "censorship" take the meaning of newspeak to stunning new heights (we're talking ozone, folks).

All humor aside, Omni's February issue exemplifies the kind of attitude that initially sparked the creation of Students for Origins Research. For this reason, we are particularly pleased to publish an open letter to Omni that was written by Chris Foreman. We believe Foreman's response captures the spirit of SOR's own position, and we join him in his insistence that scientific issues be decided by evidence rather than ridicule.

Mega Culpa

In the last issue of Origins Research (9:2), we published a review of Charles Hummel's book, The Galileo Connection, and enthusiastically offered it as a selection in our book catalog. Unfortunately, in our enthusiasm for the book, we overlooked the fact that one entire chapter was devoted to an exegesis of Genesis 1. Accordingly, our endorsement was not in keeping with the editorial policy of Origins Research, which is to focus on the scientific and philosophical issues surrounding the creation/evolution debate. We still recommend the book for its treatment of the history of science, but we will not be carrying it in our catalog.

However, because we feel that the history of science is important to the present debate, we are replacing this selection with the book God and Nature. Edited by David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, this volume covers the relationship between Christianity and science from the early Christian Church to the 20th century. From a recent review by Francisco J. Ayala:

God and Nature deserves only praise. It covers all the major hallmarks in the intertwined histories of science and Christianity with as much detail as could possibly be expected in 500 pages. The balance given to different personages can hardly be faulted; the scholarship and documentation are admirable (but not in the least obtrusive); the style is clear and often crisp...No better book exists on the subject.

What more can we say? SOR is proud to offer this book as one of our selections.

While we're on the topic of book reviews, be sure to catch Greg Wilkerson's review of Robert Gentry's new book, Creation's Tiny Mystery. Despite some reservations about Gentry's conclusions, Wilkerson believes that his book makes some important scientific contributions -- and also provides a unique perspective on the Arkansas creation trial.

Happy Birthday to Us

Whether you realize it or not, this issue marks the 10th anniversary of Students for Origins Research. Needless to say, those who have been a part of this organization from the beginning are particularly gratified at having reached this milestone. If you want to know more about SOR, what we stand for, and where we intend to go in the future, then you'll definitely want to read Dennis Wagner's article in this issue. Enjoy!


  1. C. B. Thaxton, W. L. Bradley, and R. L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. New York: Philosophical Library, 1984.
  2. I. Prigogine, G. Nicolis, and A. Babloyantz,Physics Today, November, 1972, pp23.

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Copyright © 1997 Mark Hartwig. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 3.13.97