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Monday, April 08, 2013

How things started, and the first and second laws of thermodynamics

The laws of thermodynamics rank as among the most important, perhaps the most important scientific laws. There are four such laws, but I will concern myself with only the first and second ones. These two are most obviously important in biology, and Im a biologist.

The Wikipedia article that the paragraph above links to says this in describing the First Law of Thermodynamics: . . . energy can be neither created nor destroyed. However, energy can change forms, and energy can flow from one place to another. The total energy of an isolated system remains the same. Energy changes forms in many ways. For example, the energy stored, in chemical form, in gasoline changes form to motion, heat, light and sound in an automobile. Matter is a form of energy, as Einstein indicated in his famous equation, E = mc2.

The First Law indicates that the universe has always been in existence. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a little harder to explain and define, but it says that all natural processes are irreversible. . . The reason is that entropy, which is a measure of the disorder of an system, is always increasing in an isolated system.

Heres an illustration of the Second Law:

Order and disorder

The lower half of the graphic shows a situation where entropy/disorder has increased, such that it is not possible to extract resources, including energy and various forms of matter, from the system, because the components are randomly dispersed. Suppose, for instance, that all the oil in the world was thoroughly mixed into the ocean. (Oil and water dont mix well, of course, but this is a thought experiment.) There would be no incentive to extract (or drill for, or mine) that oil, because it would take more energy to do so than we would gain from such extraction.

If the First Law has always been true, the universe (as an isolated system) has always been here. However, if the Second Law has always been true, and the universe has always been in existence, the entropy/disorder of the universe (as an isolated system) would have reached its maximum, because entropy, in an isolated system, increases with time, and always is so much time that this would have happened. It would not be possible for life to exist in such a universe.

But we do! How?

There are these possibilities:
1) The laws of thermodynamics have not always been true.
2) The universe is not an isolated system.
3) We have misinterpreted the effects of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics.

I shall ignore the third possibility. I dont think many scientists would take it seriously.

If either, or both of the first two possibilities are true, then the universe, or these two important laws, describing how the universe works, came into existence at some time in the past -- the universe, or these laws, or both, have not always been in existence. Let me put it another way. The First Law tells us that the universe has always been in existence. The Second Law tells us that, if the universe has always been in existence, it would be at a state of maximum entropy/disorder. It isnt.

This means that science has no good explanation for the origin, or the continued existence, of a livable universe. Stephen Hawking, and a co-author, have made an attempt. It is possible that Hawkings Grand Design will turn out to be true, but the Wikipedia article on Hawkings ideas has plenty of criticism of that attempt, including criticism by scientists who do not believe that there is a God.

The Bible says, in the classic words of the King James Bible, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) There is no attempt to prove anything. The statement just assumes it. This is a way out of the dilemma posed by the First and Second Laws. The universe was, as it were, jump-started by supernatural, God-caused, God-directed, creation from nothing. It hasnt always existed.

Most scientists believe that there was a Big Bang -- an initial act in the existence of the universe as we know it, at some definite time in the past. Such a belief does not rule out the existence of an all-powerful Creator. In fact, that belief is compatible with a belief in such a Creator. It may well be that God began the universe in that way.

It is not possible to scientifically prove, or disprove, the existence of God. (Even Stephen Hawking, who does not believe in God, has said so). But it is possible to believe it. Hebrews 11:3 says By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible. (World English Bible, public domain)

Thanks for reading.

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