Adam, Eve and Thermodynamics
First published in the Skeptic (Volume 12, No. 4, Summer '92)
One of the more frustrating things to come out of the creationist lobby is their erroneous appeal to thermodynamics in support of their opposition to evolution. No matter how many times it is carefully explained to them, they still insist that evolution cannot have occurred, since the second law of thermodynamics forbids any increase in the orderly structure of living organisms. They ignore our continued reiteration of the fact that the second law begins "In a closed system . .", and hence cannot be applied to places like the surface of the Earth, which is continually receiving energy input from the sun.
This article, however, is not concerned with the relationship between thermodynamics and evolution — that has been adequately covered in a number of other places. It deals with the wider implications of the second law of thermodynamics and the weird ideas creationists have about the origin of disorder in the universe.
Henry M. Morris is the guru of the creationist movement and so we must accept anything he writes as being definitive for modern creationism. He blames all the disorder we see around us on Adam and Eve - it's all due to sin. He writes this in many places, but perhaps most succinctly in a paragraph on page 38 of The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth, where he claims:
In the meantime, however, in so far as our present study is concerned, we can see now that the two basic laws of science, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, are merely man's scientific statements of the two revealed facts of: (1) a creation originally completed and now sustained by God's power, and (2) the curse of decay and death, superimposed on the creation by its Creator because of man's sin.
On pages 17 and 18 of the same book, another paragraph spells out very clearly that Morris does not accept that the second law of thermodynamics was operating in the Garden of Eden. The whole paragraph reads:
The answer can be only that the Second Law is a sort of intruder into the divine economy, not a part of either the original creation or God's plan for His eternal kingdom. God's description of the entire creation as "very good" must tell us that at that time there was no disorder, no deterioration, no groaning and travailing, no suffering, and, above all, no death in the whole universe, "the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them" (Genesis 2:1).
Morris seems to think that it is possible to change just one aspect of scientific knowledge and leave the rest unaltered. In common with other creationists he does not appreciate the unity of nearly all parts of science. The book Fallacies of Creationism by Willard Young (Detselig Enterprises Limited, Calgary, Alberta, 1985) contains a very brief section about the weird world we would have in the absence of the second law of thermodynamics. This article is an extension of Young's ideas - other sceptics may wish to extend this to more areas of the fascinating world around us. It will become clear that the absence of the second law of thermodynamics provides solutions to some previously puzzling aspects of what happened (or didn’t happen) in the Garden of Eden. But just remember, you read it in the Skeptic first. Maybe you could even provide your friendly neighbourhood creationist with this new information.
Let us start with something familiar to nearly all of us - brakes on motor vehicles (though Adam and Eve do not appear to have had even a chariot). At the top of many long, steep hills there is a warning notice, "Engage low gear". Those who fail to heed this may find themselves in difficulties due to overheated brakes and reduced efficiency (or, in the worst cases, complete failure) of the braking system. The energy of motion of the vehicle has to go somewhere and friction between the brake pads and the disc (or the brake shoes and the drum) turns it into heat energy, which is of no further use. Normally this is dissipated into the air, but on a long, steep hill heat may build up and adversely affect the braking system.
This is the most obvious manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics in today's world. Various forms of energy are transformed into heat, and gradually dissipated. Heat cannot be spontaneously changed into more useful forms of energy without most of the heat energy being degraded and becoming even less useful. Now imagine what would happen if the second law of thermodynamics was not operating. The energy involved in the motion of the car could not be turned into heat and dissipated. It would have to stay as energy of motion. This means that there could be no friction between the brake pads and the disc (or the brake shoes and the drum). Now just a minute! Friction is a vital part of the way the world works! On a cold winter's morning I warm my hands by rubbing them together - if there wasn't any friction between the skin on my left hand and that on my right hand they would stay cold! And when I build a sand castle on the beach for my children (or grandchildren) friction between the grains of sand keeps it in shape. If there were no friction it would simply collapse. Even worse, there wouldn't be any sand on the beach — it would all have slid to the bottom of the sea. I wonder what the banks of the four rivers in the Garden of Eden were made of? Perhaps someone else could explain.
Friction is such a vital part of everyday experience that we would find a world without it almost magical. Walking would be impossible. The first time I went roller skating I spent most of the first hour sitting down. My feet kept flying out from under me because of the very low friction forces with rollers between me and the floor. I found it a bit difficult to get moving. But if there were no friction at all it wouldn’t just be difficult, it would be impossible to start moving. Your feet would simply slide backwards every time you tried to move forward.
If there were no friction you wouldn't need oil in your car engine to lubricate the parts. But then your car wouldn't be able to take you from one place to another - the tyres couldn't get a grip on the road. But lack of friction would also provide an explanation for some creationist claims about the amount of water involved in Noah's flood. In their desperate attempts to provide a "scientific" justification for their religious ideas, we sometimes read that before the flood there were only very low hills and no high mountains. Then only a relatively small amount of water would be needed to cover everything to the depth specified in Genesis. But if there were no friction between particles of soil or rocks, there could be no hills at all! The whole earth would be a perfect sphere. Thus if all the mountains were covered with fifteen cubits of water the amount of water in the present oceans would be quite enough. Getting complicated and interesting, isn't it?
This all-pervasive slipperiness due to lack of friction explains a minor problem about Adam's descendants. Why didn't Adam and Eve have any children before they were kicked out of the garden? They were told to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28) so presumably they attempted to produce progeny. Assuming their reproductive equipment was much the same as in human beings today (perhaps some creationist could enlighten us if this is in error) they would first have to get together. But whenever that randy Adam made a grab for Eve she would have slithered straight out of his hands. The proverbial eel would have nothing on the slipperiness of Eve's skin. And it wouldn’t help if Eve wanted to indulge in a bit of matrimonial fun either. Adam would have been just as slippery as she was and just as elusive in a clinch. It must have been quite frustrating for the pair of them. Maybe that's why Eve went off and talked to the snake. Remember, you read about this first in the Skeptic.
But before Eve appeared on the scene Adam was told that he could eat any of the fruit on the trees, except for the banned tree (Genesis 2:16,17). Let us assume that the fruit was, at least in general terms, like fruit today. There would, of course, be the difficulty that the fruit, like Eve, would have slipped right out of Adam's hands. But suppose that somehow this difficulty is overcome. Adam takes a bite out of a juicy peach, and swallows it. What happens then? Well, stupid, his digestive system takes over and turns it into stuff useful for his body! But here we have another problem. The peach is made up of cells, and our creationist friends keep telling us that a cell is wonderfully complex. Adam's body could only use the contents of a cell by breaking it down. But, if there is no second law of thermodynamics, complex things remain complex and so the cells must remain unchanged. And even if this difficulty were overcome, breaking down the complex molecules inside the cell into smaller usable molecules and incorporating them into his body, would also be forbidden. Poor Adam! Maybe his digestive system was such that it absorbed the complete cells of the peach and incorporated them into his bodily structure, so that in time he would become more and more like a peach. Eve could have called him "Peachy", and, of course, that is the origin of Eve's "peaches and cream" complexion which we see in so many creationist illustrations of the Garden of Eden. There is the further problem that the udders of all the cows would be far too slippery for any attempt at milking to be successful. But if that was managed, extracting the cream from the milk would be a trivial problem. Without the second law of thermodynamics the cream would not form an emulsion with the rest of the milk, but would immediately float to the top for easy collection.
There is another problem associated with Adam and Eve eating fruit. Henry M. Morris assures us that there was no death before man's sin. But isn't fruit alive? On any reasonable definition trees (and everything on them) are living organisms. So eating fruit leads inevitably to the death of the fruit. Something is funny, somewhere. Or, and say this very quietly, is it just possible that Morris may be mistaken in his interpretation of the Bible?
Let us pass on to another topic- noise pollution. We are assured that in the Garden of Eden everything was perfect. But it must have been a very noisy place. In today's world any sound eventually dies away as the energy of the vibrations is gradually turned into heat in the air and is no longer available - this is the second law of thermodynamics in operation again. But if this conversion from sound energy to heat energy is forbidden, sounds will remain, and every time Adam called to Eve he would add more noise to the already noisy environment. To this we can add the trumpeting of the elephants and dinosaurs as they, too, went about the frustrating business of trying to "be fruitful and multiply". Just imagine what it would be like if all the sounds made from 4004 BC to the present day were still audible! We should be thankful that the second law of thermodynamics saves us all from being deafened.
There are many other topics which could be taken up, but I’ll limit myself to just one more. Henry M. Morris doesn't seem to have realised that he has provided an explanation for the apparent ignorance Adam and Eve showed about clothes - they didn't realise they were naked until after they ate the forbidden fruit. Now I don't know about other sceptics, but certainly whenever I look at my wife I know immediately whether she is wearing clothes or not. Why didn't Adam have this useful facility? It comes back, again, to the second law of thermodynamics. Light is yet another form of energy. When light falls on an object, some of it is reflected and some of it is absorbed. The absorbed part of the energy is turned into heat and becomes unavailable for useful work. The reflected part is what we see. Now if the second law of thermodynamics were not operating we could not have this conversion into (relatively) useless heat. In other words, all the light falling on an object would be reflected. Nothing startling in that, you say? Ah, but we distinguish many things by their colours - green leaves, orange carrots, my wife's pale pink skin which turns bright red when exposed to too much sunlight - or their brightness - on a bright summer day it's much easier to walk barefoot on a beach, where the sand reflects most of the light, than on an asphalt road, which turns most of the light falling on it into heat.
Leaves appear green because the dominant part of the reflected light is green, with the red and blue parts of the spectrum absorbed. If all the light were to be reflected, leaves and carrots and the grey striped shirt I am wearing at the moment would all appear white, the same colour as the surface of the sun; we can distinguish between a cement path and the grass alongside it by its brightness, as well as by colour. So when Adam looked at Eve she seemed to be the same colour as everything else. In fact, since she would have looked just as bright as everything else, Adam wouldn't have been able to distinguish her from whatever background scenery there was in the garden. So when he exclaimed, in delight, "Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh", he probably was speaking about how she felt to his sense of touch - he certainly couldn't see her bones! We can imagine him saying "If I push here, I can feel a bone, just like mine. And you've got a lovely slippery skin, just like mine. How about a kiss, darling?" and that's when he discovers that a slippery skin has drawbacks. According to Henry M. Morris, it wouldn't have been until after they ate the forbidden fruit that they were able to see each other and realise they were naked - but since this is a respectable family magazine, we will draw a discrete veil over what may have happened then. But remember, you read about it first in the Skeptic.
I haven't even mentioned some of the other weird phenomena we would experience in a world in which the second law of thermodynamics was inoperative. Somebody may like to take up the status of United Nations peace keeping forces - warring parties couldn't throw stones at each other since they couldn't hold them in the first place; weapons which relied on chemical explosives wouldn't work; and of course no nuclear reactions of any sort could take place, so the massive nuclear arsenals of the world would be useless. And if the parties to a dispute sat down at a negotiating table (which would be a very peculiar table, since neither nails nor screws could be used to hold things together in the absence of friction, and the chemical reactions involved in the setting of glue wouldn't work) they would promptly slide off and finish up on the ground - which would be quite level, so at long last we would have the much touted "level playing field".
All in all, it seems that Henry M. Morris has not thought out the consequences of his claim that the second law of thermodynamics only came into operation after Adam and Eve sinned. As in so many of his other writings, he shows a lamentable lack of knowledge about science, to say nothing of the way he continually confuses science and religion. Living in the Garden of Eden, as envisaged by Morris, would appear to be more like living in a world ruled by magic rather than in one governed by orderly laws. But then so much of creationist writing appeals to miracles when they can't find a scientific explanation that I suppose we must accept that they want the same to hold in the Garden of Eden. But as for me, I prefer a world in which the second law of thermodynamics ensures that I can see what my wife is wearing, that my digestive system works and that the brakes on my car work, even if it also ensures that the body is slowly rusting away.