Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Debating a creationist

  1. Jan 3, 2006 #1
    Helloooo. I'm debating a creationist and he consistently is bringing up the laws of thermodynamics to try and 'prove' that evolution could have never happened. It doesn't matter how many times others and I try correcting him. He reverts back to his warped version of thermodynamics, stubbornly insisting that we are all wrong.

    So I'm appealing to authority here. I've considered e-mailing Stephen Hawking or someone famous, but that might take a while. Is there any physicist here who could write a message saying that the laws of thermodynamics do not contradict evolution? It could be as simple as: My name is ____. I am a physicist. I hereby state that evolution and the laws of thermodynamics do not conflict.

    In case you're wondering, the forum is FreeConservatives. They're the usual anti-science, fundamentalist christian group.

    Thank you, and you may procede to ignore me now. :tongue: Oh, and happy holidays.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2006 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Give it up. There are many ignorant people in this world. They can only be taught if they wish to learn. These fools have no desire to learn anything that will challenge their faith so there is no possibility of showing them the error in their illogic.

    Your best bet would be to find somewhere else to hang out.
  4. Jan 3, 2006 #3

    Doc Al

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I agree with Integral: Don't waste your time "debating" with the ignorant. I've done it myself, but I don't recommend it. "Debates" are always messy affairs, and are an art unto themselves. It's not enough to know the subject; An expert debater can convince the masses that black is white!

    (But I did have the pleasure in attending a debate at the NY Academy of Sciences--a rare event in itself, as NYAS doesn't usually give airtime to crackpots--in which Massimo Pigliucci (biologist) completely destroyed and humiliated (in my opinion) William Dembski (chief proponent of ID). It was a beautiful thing!)

    But for your own satisfaction, here are two sites that do a good job in debunking creationist claims about thermodynamics:
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  5. Jan 3, 2006 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I'm only a chemical engineering student, so I may not have enough authority to convince someone by just saying "It is so", but I do study a lot of thermodynamics and the argument that the second law of thermo contradicts evolution is one of those things that really gets on my nerves. One of the things these people always do is to come up with some fluffy statement of the second law like "order can not arise from disorder" and try to pass it off as the real law and use that to argue that evolution is impossible. This is definitely not the second law. For example it is possible for diamond- a highly organized crystaline structure- to form from graphite, which is more disordered. Of corse the word "disorder" does not have an exact meaning, though.

    A real statement of the second law is this:
    It is impossible to make a transfer of heat from a heat bath, at a uniform temperature, and obtain an equivalent amount of work, without causing some change in the thermodynamic state of some other body

    So this means, for example, that you could drop a bouncing ball on the floor and every time it bounced some of its energy could be tranfered as heat to the floor, making it bounce lower and lower every time. But the reverse of this process is impossible: you'll never see a ball at rest on the floor which suddenly starts to bounce because heat energy from the floor is transfered into it: this would require heat to be transfered from the floor and for an equivalent amount of energy in the form of work to be obtained without changing the thermodynamic state of another body-in violation of the second law.

    Notice that it does not say that it is impossible for work to be obtained from heat- just that it can't be obtained from a source at a uniform temperature without changing the thermodynamic state of another body. In the case of life there is another body which is constanly changing its thermodynamic state to allow work to be done on earth- the sun. It is just like it is impossible for the ball to start bouncing on its own, but you could certainly pick it up and drop it to start it bouncing. That is what the sun does: it provides work in the for of electromagnetic radiation to allow processes that would be impossible to occur if the earth were isolated. There is no contradiction of the second law in evolution.
  6. Jan 3, 2006 #5
    What you should bring up is an example of experiments where we can do things like build DNA molecules whose ends are designed to arrange in a certain way, and then the molecules self-arrange. Although this is prepared in a lab, it certainly indicates that a system can spontaneously self-align. http://gabriel.physics.ucsb.edu/~deborah/ this professor is doing just that.

    Also, you could point out that things like salt spontaneously form regular crystal solids without any external impetus. Evolution as it's written down has its weak points, but certainly this person isn't arguing for a different theory and is just arguing against the existing one, which isn't how science works.
  7. Jan 3, 2006 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Oh and by the way, don't bother emailing "famous people"... that's like emailing the secretary of education for help to study on your next test.
  8. Jan 3, 2006 #7
    Haha, what do thermodynamics have to do with evolution?
  9. Jan 3, 2006 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    There is a common argument that evolution conflicts with the second law since evolution is a process of increasing order and the 2nd law says that order decreases with time. Needless to say, it is a misunderstanding the 2nd law.
  10. Jan 3, 2006 #9
    Yes, it usually does come down to some freakish interpretation of the second law. Here is my response:

    Nowhere in the second law does it say that order cannot be created, it merely says that when you create order you will always lose energy in the deal. That the order is not created spontaneously (you always get out less than you put in).

    For example, if you use a battery to charge another battery you don't get the same energy stored in the second battery that you used from the first battery to charge it (some heat generated by the first battery is dissapated in the wires connecting the two batteries for example). Also, waiting for those encyclopedias to get alphabatized would seem to take forever if we let nature do it for us, right? So instead, we sort them and place them in order...and we burn energy from eating those Big Macs to do so in the process. Creating order within our bodies does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. The reason why ATP exists for example, is to provide energy to make the reactions that sustain our existence possible (and likewise, energy is lost in heat after each and every reaction with ATP in our body).

    Having said that, the ID proponents are questioning the entire theory of Evolution based on but one small part of it concerning the origin of life. The part of the theory questioned is the part that is passed on along with evolution that says that life arose spontaneously out of a liquid pool of random chemcials.

    A point in their favor, if you are impartial and can argue your case effectively, can be based on the following:

    At this time, there is no experimental evidence available to verify that lifeforms (any lifeforms) have been created from a pool of inorganic chemicals. This theory in many cases is presented to many students as a fact of evolution, when in fact there are no facts whatsoever to support it. The main experiment that led to the idea was the Miller-Urey experiment which showed that you can synthesize amino acids in a simulated early earth environment. From that it was extrapolated that ALL functions of the lifeforms evolved in a similar way, spontaneously, from the synthesis of such amino acids over time. It doesn't take a genius to see a problem with this, there is NO evidence that shows that the amino acids have the ability to organisize themselves without molecules such as DNA ordering them to and nobody has spontaneously created a DNA molecule in a pool of chemicals!

    Other attempt to provide evidence of the spontaneous creation theory have likewise suffered from the hole that they are supported from conjecture and not experimental evidence. For example, the endosymbotic theory explains how we ended up with special double membraned organelles such as mitochondria into our main cells. They "at some point" decided to merge with our growing pool of random chemicals during our early development. Again, the problem is that there is NO experimental evidence showing this to occur. The facts are that organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts are like completely seperate lifeforms in that they have their own DNA readily available and a complex membrane structure but are at the same time very much specialized to support the existence of us. Does this MEAN at one point they were seperate? It could be, but there are no *facts* to support it. The only fact is that right now the two lifeforms are NOT separate.

    The problem with the theory of the origin of life is that at present the Biological theory of the origin is an unsupported theory (and it's supported by other unsupported theories!).

    Now here is the problem I have with ID, it is not that it is any worse than the current theory of the origin of life, the problem is that it is ALSO an unsupported theory. It isn't like they are providing any evidence that disproves the Biological theory, they are merely (correctly) stating that it itself hasn't been proven to be true and are offering an alternative (which also hasn't been proven to be true). My main question to them would be, not that they are totally wrong, but what good is it to replace one form of speculation with another?

    In my view, rather than incorporate a new theory into Biology, both theories should be discarded until there is CONVINCING evidence that the theory proposed is correct. As it stands now, this whole debate isn't even about science (which requires evidence), it is about politics (which merely requires a hierarchy and THAT we have on both sides!). And if you have watched the political scene, you know that in politics nobody really "wins" arguments anyways so it is pointless to debate :wink:
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  11. Jan 3, 2006 #10
    There is this saying i really like, "you can lead a cow to the water, but you cannot force it to drink".
  12. Jan 3, 2006 #11
    There is evidence to support the endosymbiotic theory. Mitochrondria and plastids both have DNA similar to bacteria, dual membranes, fission, and tons of other functions uncommonly similar to bacteria. These are all facts. The assertion is not a fact, but endiosymbiotic theory doesn't have much to do with evolution.

    Evolution is convincing. Microevolution has been proved, and why would microevolution exist while macroevolution doesn't? Aside from reasons why macroevolution should occur paralell to micro evolution, lots of paleological evidence supports evolution to a point on the brink of fact. All intelligent design has is subjective, faith-based assertions. It's creationism's new cop-out.

    You are correct though, politics rather than logic rule the debate, and nobody really "wins."
  13. Jan 3, 2006 #12


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I would take the simplest approach by presenting a list of common examples of spontaneous self-organization which "appear" to violate the entropy principle. Examples would be formation of snowflakes, salt crystals in a glass of salt solution, sugar crystals as in rock candy (any form of crystallization), formation of weather systems (hurricanes, tornadoes, general circulation patterns), spiral (and other) structures in galaxies, flocking, and so on.

    However, you still won't get very far with the die-hard creationists because their next "line of defense" is the irreducible complexity argument which basically says that, yes, simple examples of self-organization exist but the really important things in the world are just too complex to have occurred spontaneously (intelligent design fills in the blanks!). Here's an example: http://www.darwinismrefuted.com/thermodynamics_03.html

    Fundamentally (no pun intended), when one is committed to a particular outcome in a "debate" no amount of logic, reason or facts will dissuade you from sticking to the game plan.
  14. Jan 3, 2006 #13


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    There's nothing wrong with arguing against a theory which is clearly wrong while not having another to replace it. I'm not saying the theory of evolution is wrong, I'm just saying this in principle.
    The claim is that life arose from a pool of organic chemicals. And there is evidence to support this. First of all- the fact that life on earth exists is evidence that it arose somewhere, and the fact that living things are composed of water and organic compounds supports the idea that it arose in a pool of organic compounds where the ingredients were available. Of course there are other possibilities as well and this is not as well established as, for example, the theory of evolution, but my point is that this idea is not based on nothing.
  15. Jan 3, 2006 #14
    I don't think any of the ideas being presented are based on "nothing". For example, as mindscrape pointed out there are plenty of facts that describe similarities between micro-organisms outside the body to things like the mitochondria that exist inside the body. However, there is no direct evidence showing such external bacteria incorporating itself into the inner workings of the genetic code of another living organism at present, and this is the problem, because THAT is the claim being made in the endosymbiotic theory! Science turns against it's own principles when it starts making claims before it has gained the evidence required to make such claims. I can't test the endosymbiotic hypothesis because there is no experiment available that can reproduce it (and in my view at least, if I cannot test it then it is not science!).

    Are the creationists completely baseless in claiming that purposeful order, as opposed to a certain randomness, is the driving force behind evolution? Taking a different approach, what in physics, for example, leads to the idea that there is not an ordered structure to ALL of the underlying processes at work on our small little planet? Even Einstein was convinced of the existence of a "God" (or some force beyond our experiences) that had to be responsible for the creation of such order and he discussed it frequently. The problem isn't that the claim is baseless, the problem is that there is no *direct* evidence to support the theory of ID. So while the idea is not totally far fetched, it is simply not science (it is only a possibly which cannot at the present be tested).

    In a somewhat weird way, both sides are doing the same thing (jumping to conclusions based on their beliefs and hunches, and not experiment). The debate cannot be solved by words for that reason...what it will take is some new evidence to emerge that can show conclusively that one side or the other (or both) are either right or wrong. Many scientists are working hard on experiments to test the theories on the origin of life (which at least leads to a notion of some progress in the debate), but so far none of them have been able to directly verify or disprove either theory. In the meantime, this is all just politics as usual.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  16. Jan 3, 2006 #15


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Are you saying that we need to actually watch something happen to develop a theory that says it did? What about cosmological theories like the big bang? Do we need to see a big bang in order to develop a theory that says it's possible? Do geologists need to observe continents break apart to develop a theory that says it once happened a long time ago? There are forms of evidence other than direct observation which can be very convincing.
  17. Jan 3, 2006 #16
    No, but keep in mind that those theories about the past gained their strength in the present because they were/are backed up by sound experiments conducted in the present that point towards those conclusions. For example, at one point it was debated about whether or not plate tectonics actually was taking place (forget Pangaea for a moment because that would be an even further stretch of the plate moving concept). As time went by, more and more experimental evidence emerged that tested the theory. Some of it was pretty convincing (especially once we could radioactively date rocks, and found they got progressively older moving away from ridges), and now we have even measured the movement of the plates with satellites (about 1cm a year from what I can remember).

    The fact that all of this evidence can be tested in the present for plate tectonics reinforces the idea that plates *are* moving now and perhaps could have moved at some point in the past. This suddenly makes the idea of this magical "super continent" breaking into different pieces and moving apart not seem so far fetched. Then when you re-examine the other weaker evidence for the theory of Pangea (fossil record in S.Africa/S.America, ice striations, etc.) the argument becomes overall stronger, but the main reason why it is stronger is because of the confidence built by modern experiments demonstrating that continents move. This theory did not become strong simply by stating "look man, Africa and S.America look like they fit together on a map, it was obvious since the beginning!," the argument is only as strong as the evidence behind it (and scientists doubted the Pangaea theory for years before some convincing evidence finally arrived within the last century).

    Contrast this to the situation we currently (and I stress currently) have with Biology. There is NO experimental evidence that directly shows lifeforms being spontaneously created from non-living things (in fact, part of modern cell theory states that this can't be the case).

    And so when a theory is proposed that the origin of life emerged spontaneously from non-living things, it is reasonable to be skeptical and ask things like: Ok, then why isn't this spontaneous creation process still taking place somewhere on the planet (perhaps at a hydrothermal vent)? Why have we not seen a single example of this occuring anywhere in nature? Why can't we reproduce it at all in the lab? Do we have any evidence in the present that points *directly* to this conclusion and no other?

    There needs to be SOMETHING we can observe in the present that strongly points to this taking place, but this is like explaining Pangaea theory before you have the plate tectonics theory to back it up. It doesn't mean the scientific community is wrong, it means the experimental evidence at the present is sorely lacking for this particular theory.

    At some point in our history it was thought that the planets were really the Gods. When people first suggested that they were not, the idea was not immediately accepted. It took overwhelming evidence and experiments that people could conduct for themselves that all pointed in that direction to convince people that these were simply big rocky planets and not divine beings. Now it is common knowledge that the planets are not Gods, even in religious circles, and if you become an astronaut you can even fly up there and walk on them to convince yourself further.

    I am not saying the current theory of the origin of life is right or wrong, what I am saying is that we lack the evidence at this point to convince people that it is right (hell, I am not even convinced it is completely right at this point, not at all...). And in science the evidence should create the conclusions and not the other way around, as Newton said:

    "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances."
  18. Jan 3, 2006 #17
    First of all, I'd like to thank each and everyone of you for helping me.

    Judging from some of the creationist's responses, appealing to authority won't help me anyway. They're using Walt Brown, an engineer (not that I've got anything against engineers!) as proof that a scientist supports the hydroplate 'theory'. The crackpot idea that water for a global flood came from underneath the continental plates and that it was released explosively into space where it formed comets and rained down as 'gentle' rain. Obviously, if they think an engineer who's been out of practice for twenty odd years is qualified for geology, they're beyond reaching with professionals.

    Renge Ishyo, I agree with you in that we don't know a lot about abiogenesis. It's really just a collection of hypotheses at the moment. So right now, when someone says that they know for sure that life came about in a RNA world scenario, it's a belief. But I'm sure that given a few decades, we'll learn more.

    Then of course, I would ask what a complex organ/organism/system looks like. How do you measure for complexity? Or maybe they'll deflect the question and go straight for the flagellum argument. Creationists are very predictable.
  19. Jan 4, 2006 #18

    Doc Al

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I'm going to lock this thread before it strays too far from the original topic of how thermodynamics is perfectly consistent with evolution into a full-fledged discussion of ID "theory" or Creationism (which does belong in Physics). I think we've given Nooj plenty of good responses to ponder.

    By the way, another thread on this topic already exists in Biology: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=100956
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?