The Church of Rationality

You can believe in whatever you want, but if you want to believe in the truth -- you must be rational.

  "In the absence of compelling reasons to believe, unbelief should be preferred."


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Misconceptions of Entropy


The Second Law of Thermodynamics simply states that “heat cannot pass from a colder body to a warmer body by itself.”

This concept can be extrapolated to include all potential energy sources, such as the potential in a battery.  Electrons will flow from negative to positive naturally, but never the reverse without additional energy input.  Why?  Because it is at the negative pole of the battery that all the electrons are originally.  This concept is saying nothing more than a high concentration of many things that can flow will tend to disperse into an area of low concentration if given an opportunity.  Potential energy dissipates until it becomes spent or homogonous within the system it is contained in.  The Second law can also be stated as follows:  “Energy in a closed system can never increase.”  “Energy” here means usable or potential energy, and “closed system” means without an additional outside source of energy.  Without additional energy, spent or dissipated energy will not return to a concentrated form, or back to a potential state.

Entropy is just the same idea in reverse paraphrasing “Entropy in a closed system can never decrease.   It speaks from the viewpoint of the dissipated state.  An increase in entropy just means more dissipation; a decrease means a return to potential or concentration.  The term is useful in physics to describe the ratio of useful to non-useful energy in a system.

The misconception here when applied to the debate about evolution and the universe is that entropy means that there is a tendency for everything to become disorganized, which is counter to evolution, where things become more organized and complex.  However, entropy is not about disorganization – nor is it about “everything”:

It is worth emphasizing here that entropy is not a measure of the "disorder" or "mixed-upness" of a system, … it is important to distinguish the definition of disorder in the context of entropy and the definition of disorder in the context of everyday usage.  In physics, the term "disorder" in this sense refers to a specific, well-defined quantity, while disorder in everyday usage is more akin to disorganization. ~ from Wikipedia

If one were to believe entropy has to do with organization or complexity, then we would have to assume that the most organized or complex state is one where potential is most concentrated, and the least organized or complex state is when it is at its most diffuse; so in the universe stars would be the most organized and complex objects.  This is obviously not true – the earth is infinitely more organized and complex than the sun.  Most anything in nature is more organized and complex than just concentrations of electrons, concentrations of heat energy – or stars.  There is also nothing more particularly organized about concentrations, than dispersions.    

There is certainly nothing stated in these laws that imply that all physical matter tends to dissociate and disperse.  Most physical matter does not represent potential energy (not unless you burn it or something to release energy contained in its chemical bonds).  Only those things that can flow can represent potential energy and dissipate over a larger area or into a larger volume (heat, electrons, water, air, gasses in general, etc.).

Your house does not fall apart because it is a source of potential energy that “tends” to homogenize outward over a larger area.  A corpse does not decompose because it is potential energy dissipating out toward areas of less density.  Things fall apart and decay, not to any intrinsic properties of the object to dissociate; but to outside factors, such as weathering and bacteria gnawing away at them.  Protect objects from outside elements that destroy them and they will last indefinitely.  Freeze meat to keep bacteria inactive and it will last indefinitely.  It actually takes energy to tear things apart.   

The second law of thermodynamics in no way implies that it itself causes a result opposite to that of complexity.  Just the opposite is true.  When potential energy dissipates it can cause work to be done and things to happen.  That’s the whole point of energy.  And, not only can energy be harnessed to do work, but it dissipates better through an ordered structure than a disordered one (the law of maximum entropy production), thus the dissipation of energy or the increase in entropy is what actually builds complex structures.  Evolution is completely consistent with the second law of thermodynamics and entropy.  It is the very entropic process of energy that makes evolution happen.