[This is an abridged version of a post at UD: A Designed Objects Entropy Must Increase for Its Design Complexity to Increase, Part 2. I post it under a different title at TSZ, because upon consideration, the new title should be above reproach. What I put forward should happily apply to man-made designs. A student recently wanted to challenge his professors regarding the 2nd law and evolution, and I pointed him to my essay. If that student is a creationist, at least I feel I did my job and made him understand science better than he would from most creationist literature. Hence, the rather torturous discussions at TSZ and UD had benefit in furthering this student’s understanding of science. If he is going to reject Darwinism, he should reject it for good reasons, not because of the 2nd law.]
In order for a biological system to have more biological complexity, it often requires a substantial increase in thermodynamic entropy, not a reduction of it, contrary to many intuitions among creationists and IDists. This essay is part II of a series that began with Part 1
The physicist Fred Hoyle famously said:
The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.
I agree with that assertion, but that conclusion can’t be formally derived from the 2nd law of thermodynamics (at least those forms of the 2nd law that are stated in many physics and engineering text books and used in the majority of scientific and engineering journals). The 2nd law is generally expressed in 2 forms:
2nd Law of Thermodynamics (THE CLAUSIUS POSTULATE)
No cyclic process is possible whose sole outcome is transfer of heat from a cooler body to a hotter body
2nd Law of Thermodynamics (THE KELVIN PLANCK POSTULATE)
No cyclic process is possible whose sole outcome is extraction of heat from a single source maintained at constant temperature and its complete conversion into mechanical work
In Part 1, I explored the Shannon entropy of 500 coins. If the coins are made of copper or some other metal, the thermodynamic entropy can be calculated. But let’s have a little fun, how about the thermodynamic entropy of a 747? [Credit Mike Elzinga for the original idea, but I’m adding my own twist]
The first step is to determine about how much matter we are dealing with. From the manufacturer’s website:
A 747-400 consists of 147,000 pounds (66,150 kg) of high-strength aluminum.
Next we find out the the standard molar entropy of Aluminum (symbol Al). From Enthalpy Entropy and Gibbs we find that the standard entropy of aluminum at 25 Celcius at 1 atmosphere is 28.3 Joules/Kelvin/Mole.
Thus a 747’s thermodynamic entropy based on the aluminum alone is:
Suppose now that a tornado runs into 747 and tears of pieces of the wings, tail, and engines such that the weight of aluminum in what’s left of the 747 is now only 50,000 kg. Using the same sort of calculation, the entropy of the broken and disordered 747 is:
Hence the tornado lowers the entropy of the 747 by disordering and removing vital parts!
And even supposing we recovered all the missing parts such that we have the original weight of the 747, the entropy calculation has nothing to say about the functionality of the 747. Hence, the 2nd law, which inspired the notion of thermodynamic entropy has little to say about the design and evolution of the aircraft, and by way of extension it has little to say about the emergence of life on planet earth.
Perhaps an even more pointed criticism in light of the above calculations is that increasing mass in general will increase entropy (all other things being equal). Thus as a system becomes more complex, on average it will have more thermodynamic entropy. For example a simple empty soda can weighing 14 grams (using a similar calculation) has a thermodynamic entropy of 14.68 J/K which implies a complex 747 has 4.7 million times the thermodynamic entropy of a simple soda can. A complex biological organism like an Albatross has more thermodynamic entropy than a handful of dirt. Worse, when the Albatross dies, it loses body heat and mass, and hence its thermodynamic entropy goes down after it dies!
So the major point of Part II is that a designed object’s thermodynamic entropy often increases with the increasing complexity of the design for the simple reason that it has more parts and hence more mass. And as was shown in part 1, the Shannon entropy also tends to increase with the complexity of the design. Hence, at least two notions of entropy (Shannon and thermodynamic) can increase with increased complexity of a design (be it man-made design, evolution made design, or ….)
“In order to explain the fact that the calculations based on this assumption [“…that by far the largest number of possible states have the characteristic properties of the Maxwell distribution…”] correspond to actually observable processes, one must assume that an enormously complicated mechanical system represents a good picture of the world, and that all or at least most of the parts of it surrounding us are initially in a very ordered — and therefore very improbable — state. When this is the case, then whenever two of more small parts of it come into interaction with each other, the system formed by these parts is also initially in an ordered state and when left to itself it rapidly proceeds to the disordered most probable state.” (Final paragraph of #87, p. 443.)
That slight, innocent paragraph of a sincere man — but before modern understanding of q(rev)/T via knowledge of molecular behavior (Boltzmann believed that molecules perhaps could occupy only an infinitesimal volume of space), or quantum mechanics, or the Third Law — that paragraph and its similar nearby words are the foundation of all dependence on “entropy is a measure of disorder”. Because of it, uncountable thousands of scientists and non-scientists have spent endless hours in thought and argument involving ‘disorder’and entropy in the past century. Apparently never having read its astonishingly overly-simplistic basis, they believed that somewhere there was some profound base. Somewhere. There isn’t. Boltzmann was the source and no one bothered to challenge him. Why should they?
Boltzmann’s concept of entropy change was accepted for a century primarily because skilled physicists and thermodynamicists focused on the fascinating relationships and powerful theoretical and practical conclusions arising from entropy’s relation to the behavior of matter. They were not concerned with conceptual, non-mathematical answers to the question, “What is entropy, really?” that their students occasionally had the courage to ask. Their response, because it was what had been taught to them, was “Learn how to calculate changes in entropy. Then you will understand what entropy ‘really is’.”
There is no basis in physical science for interpreting entropy change as involving order and disorder.