The basic biochemistry textbook I study from is Lehninger Prinicples of Biochemistry. It’s a well regarded college textbook. But there’s a minor problem regarding the book’s Granville-Sewell-like description of entropy:
The randomness or disorder of the components of a chemical system is expressed as entropy,
Nelson, David L.; Cox, Michael M.. Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry (Page 23). W.H. Freeman. Kindle Edition.
And from the textbook written by our very own Larry Moran:
enthalpy (H). A thermodynamic state function that describes the heat content of a system, entropy (S). A thermodynamic state function that describes the randomness or disorder of a system.
Principles of Biochemistry, 5th Edition, Glossary
Laurence A. Moran, University of Toronto
H. Robert Horton, North Carolina State University
K. Gray Scrimgeour, University of Toronto
Marc D. Perry, University of Toronto
Thankfully Dan Styer almost comes to the rescue as he criticized ID proponent Granville Sewell:
On 27 December 2005, Professor Granville Sewell’s essay “Evolution’s Thermodynamic Failure” appeared in an opinion magazine titled The American Spectator. The second paragraph of that essay conﬂates “entropy”, “randomness”, “disorder”, and “uniformity”. The third paragraph claims that “Natural forces, such as corrosion, erosion, ﬁre and explosions, do not create order, they destroy it.” Investigation of this second claim reveals not only that it is false, but also shows the ﬁrst conﬂation to be an error.
“Disorder” is an analogy for entropy, not a deﬁnition for entropy. Analogies are powerful but imperfect. When I say “My love is a red, red rose”, I mean that my love shares some characteristics with a rose: both are beautiful, both are ethereal, both are desirable. But my love does not share all characteristics with a rose: a rose is susceptible to aphid infection, my love is not; a rose should be fed 6-12-6 fertilizer, which would poison my love.
Is Entropy Disorder?
Dan Styer criticizing Granville Sewell
Almost well said. Entropy is often correlated with disorder, but it isn’t the same thing as disorder. Shoe size is correlated with reading ability (i.e., small shoe size suggests we’re dealing with a toddler, therefore non-reader). Perhaps “analogy” is too generous a way to describe the mistake of saying entropy is disorder. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Styer’s comment leads to this rhetorical challenge by physicist Mike Elzinga to creationists:
Where are the order/disorder and “information” in that? Creationists need to explain where Clausius’s coining of the word entropy means that everything tends to disorder and decay.
But to single out creationists for equating entropy with disorder? How about biochemists like Lehninger (or the authors carrying Lehninger’s torch), or Larry Moran or the founder of statistical mechanics Ludwig Boltzmann himself who suggested entropy is disorder.
“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.”
Boltzmann used a very poor choice of words. He (ahem) made a small mistake in a qualitative description, not a formal definition.
Chemistry professor Frank Lambert comments about Boltzmann’s unfortunate legacy of “disordered most probable states”:
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.
So in slight defense of Granville Sewell and numerous other creationists from Henry Morris to Duane Gish to Kairos Turbo Encabulator Focus for equating entropy with disorder, when we ask “where did they get those distorted notions of entropy?”, we need look no further than many biochemists and textbook authors from reputable universities, and unfortunately one of the fathers of statistical mechanics, Ludwig Boltzmann himself!
The 36 Science Textbooks That Have Deleted “disorder” From Their Description of the Nature of Entropy
Lehninger and Moran’s books aren’t on that list. Their books however did make the list of biochem books judged by some Australians as decreasing in fitness:
The initial impetus for this research was the discovery by the authors of a variety of common and consistent errors and misconceptions in pedagogical literature on the topic of thermodynamics in Biochemistry. A systematic survey was undertaken of material on thermodynamics in Biochemistry textbooks commonly used in Australian Universities over the period from the 1920s up to 2010.
Lehninger, Nelson and Cox
Garrett and Grisham
Moran and Scrimgeour
Jeremy M. Berg, John L. Tymoczko, Lubert Stryer in 2002
Here is chemistry professor Frank Lambert’s informal definition of entropy:
Entropy is simply a quantitative measure of what the second law of thermodynamics describes: the dispersal of energy in a process in our material world. Entropy is not a complicated concept qualitatively. Most certainly, entropy is not disorder nor a measure of chaos — even though it is thus erroneously defined in dictionaries or pre-2002 sources.
The is the correct Ludwig Boltzman Entropy as written by Planck:
S = k log W
S = entropy
k = boltzman’s constant
W = number of microstates
Also there is Clausius:
delta-S = Integral (dq/T)
delta-S = change in entropy
dq = inexact differential of q (heat)
As Dr. Mike asked rhetorically: “Where are the order/disorder and “information” in that?”
My answer: Nowhere! Most creationists (except guys like me and Robert Gange) don’t realize it’s nowhere.