In recent months you’ve often heard elected officials say: “I follow the science.” They are referring to the current pandemic; but hearing this mantra so many times raises a more general question: does our society in general really “follow the science”?
Increasing Entropy: A Supreme Physical Law
Science is typically defined as the concerted human effort to understand how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding. Few would dispute that the laws of physics are foundational to science. Gravity quickly comes to mind. Yet even more fundamental is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy. Sir Arthur Eddington, the British scientist who first verified Einstein’s general relativity, famously wrote in his book New Pathways in Science (1935):
The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. . . . If your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it to collapse in deepest humiliation.
Einstein echoed this sentiment: “thermodynamics . . . is the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced . . . will never be overthrown.”1
I explain the second law to undergraduate physics students with two examples:
- Every energy conversion produces both usable energy and unusable energy. The latter is called entropy. For example, coal, oil, or natural gas power plants are less than 50% efficient; more than half of the energy is wasted entropy. Solar panels and your car are even less efficient.
- Natural systems tend toward a state of disorder; intelligent, directed energy must be added to create order. As a simplistic example, suppose a completed jigsaw puzzle falls off a table onto the floor. The pieces will not re-assemble themselves; intelligent, directed energy is required. Since this energy only returns the system to a previously ordered state, it is effectively wasted; it represents increasing entropy.
People sometimes learn that the entropy of the universe is constantly increasing and fear it will overwhelm us. But entropy is not a thing; it is only a mathematical construction that attempts to quantify disorder and unusable, wasted energy.
The second law of thermodynamics is not speculation; it is experimentally verified physical law. It was first formulated by Rudolf Clausius in 1850. In the 1870s, Ludwig Boltzmann added the important concept of probability: although it is possible for natural systems to spontaneously reach an ordered state, it is extraordinarily improbable to the point of virtually impossible. Creating order requires directed, external interference.2 some of the significant scientific advances in the past 75 years in this context:
- Widespread vaccinations in the mid-twentieth century, minimizing or eliminating many diseases
- Transistors in 1947, followed by integrated circuits and the microchip decades later
- Satellites in the 1950s and humans on the Moon in 1969
- Mainframe computers using punch cards in the 1950s and personal computers in the 1970s
- Hand-held electronic calculators replacing slide rules in the early 1970s
- CT scanners in the 1970s, making most exploratory surgery unnecessary
- Readily available cell phones in the 1980s
- Universal access to the world wide web in the 1990s
- Today’s smart phones with more computing power than the systems that put men on the Moon
All these inventions and advancements involved the principle of increasing entropy with intelligent, directed external energy input. I was involved with growing gallium arsenide semiconductor crystals and fabricating integrated circuits in the 1970s; I can attest to the intellectual effort and energy needed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the same was required to create all these well-ordered, functioning systems.
Did Evolution Produce Order?
Along with these advancements, science has learned much over the past seven and a half decades about “how the natural world works.” The DNA double helix was discovered in 1953, followed later by the DNA code. In 2000, the human genome was sequenced. We have learned about the incredible complexity of the living cell (see any biology textbook), including many interdependent parts. Yet the standard theory of life is neo-Darwinian evolution, which holds that a complex system naturally self-assembled in less than 5 billion years by creating order out of disorder. This seems contrary to the second law.
Evolutionists offer plausible explanations based on mutations and natural selection, but the explanations seem inadequate in light of interdependencies such as the DNA repair mechanisms. An earlier article reported that DNA, the fundamental building block of life, is inherently unstable; it is kept together by extensive repair mechanisms housed within the cell. DNA could not have preceded the cell because it would have fallen apart, and the cell could not have preceded DNA because there would not have been any means of cell reproduction. External input of energy from the sun is not the answer; energy inputs must be directed to produce such exquisite order—including interdependencies in particular.
A Fine-Tuned Universe
Another important scientific advance was verification and acceptance (beginning in 1965) of the big bang theory. This advance discredited the centuries-old eternal universe theory and established that the universe had a beginning, just as Genesis 1:1 proclaimed. Additional observational data has established the extraordinary fine-tuning of physical constants and of many components of the universe. With only slight variations in hundreds of parameters, life and the earth as we know it would not be possible.3 The second law declares that chance cannot account for such fine-tuning. Nevertheless, the prevailing belief among modern cosmologists is that the universe naturally self-assembled following the big bang.4
Following the Science . . .
What’s wrong with this picture? We know the second law is fundamental to humankind’s technical advances over which we have control. Yet many people take a different attitude toward the “historical sciences” that describe things over which we have no control. The belief in undirected self-assembly of such complex life and of such a fine-tuned universe seems to reject the second law. So who’s following the science? The laws of physics do not turn off and on; by definition, a scientific law applies for all time in all places.
Let’s follow the science. The science says nature tends toward disorder. Self-assembly of the universe and life as we know it seems contrary to the law of increasing entropy, the “supreme law of nature.” A directed external energy input was necessary to create such glorious organization. What or who was that external source?
Christians believe the God of the Bible provides that directed, external energy source to fine-tune our universe for life as we know it, and then to create life itself. So, if we truly “follow the science,” we believe it leads to God.
*Thanks to my friend Paul Naberhaus for suggesting an idea which evolved into this article.
- Stephen Hawking, ed, A Stubbornly Persistent Illusion: The Essential Scientific Works of Albert Einstein, (Philadelphis: Running Press Book Publishers, 2007) 353.
- The second law is sometimes challenged by noting natural self-organizations such as a crystal lattice structure. However, this occurs due to the forces involved and to the fact that natural systems seek the lowest energy configuration, which is a consequence of the second law.
- Hugh Ross has written extensively about fine-tuning. See /search-results?searchQuery=fine%20tuning&mode=0.
- Some scientists implicitly acknowledge the improbability of such fine-tuning of our universe by proposing the multiverse theory. However, even this explanation faces plentiful problems, including a severe lack of evidence.