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Discussion 3 to Meditation 797
A Hopefully Not Heated Argument

by: Paul W. Sharkey

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In my initial response to this challenge I was motivated by two factors:  First to avoid having to go into a detailed explanation of why the argument is based upon some very fundamental but also very common misunderstandings, misrepresentations and misuses of the science of thermodynamics and yet secondly to show (in one hundred words or less)[1] that it is not a “proof” in any case of any kind for any thing because even apart from its erroneous “explanation” of thermodynamics, it commits other logical and empirical fallacies leading to a contradiction.   In short, I had hoped to avoid writing a lesson in the history and philosophy of science by appealing to a few very basic principles of logic and fact.   However, now that another response has been submitted[2] -- one with the best of intentions and motivations, I am sure -- I feel compelled to provide the following more detailed response.  Even so, I am still loath to go into a very full accounting of the history, physics and appropriate applications of the “Laws of Thermodynamics.”  Anyone wishing that information can find in it several other easily accessible, even if not easily assimilated, places.[3] 

 

For some reason, the “laws of thermodynamics” (especially the “second law”) seem to be a favorite of many who want to try to make any number of creationist type theological claims.[4]   However, in virtually every case they can only do so by completely misunderstanding, misrepresenting and misusing the principles upon which they are based and the circumstances to which they apply.    

Most basically, thermodynamics is the science of heat and heat transfer.  Historically it originated with and parallels the development of other similar principles in physics and chemistry, such as the ideal gas laws.[5] It certainly has nothing to do with – nor has any valid implications for -- cosmogony, let alone theological creationism.   Contrary to popular opinion, the laws of thermodynamics -- not even the “second law” -- imply the “running down”[6] (end) of the dynamic universe, nor its necessitated creation (beginning) based upon the belief that otherwise “useable energy” would somehow be depleted.   The first give-away that this is not a scientific argument is that “useable energy” is not a scientific term.[7]   Using “useable energy” in this way is akin to trying to argue that the universe must have had an intelligent creator because otherwise there would be no such thing as military intelligence.

Scientifically speaking, there are both a number of different kinds as well as states of energy (forces) in which some (but not all) kindshave been shown to be related, but in which any kindmay manifest any state.[8] It is as important, however, not to confuse these categories of energy as it would be not to confuse colors with temperatures (or shapes) or time with space.   Blue is not thermally cool nor can it transform into a square, nor is time linear or circular.[9]   These kinds of mistakes may seem “common sense” due to colloquial usage (e.g., “red hot,”) but they have no basis in and are frequently even contrary to scientific fact.   Thus, it is not only contrary to fact to suggest that the “Second Law of Thermodynamics” somehow implies the eventual depletion of “useable energy” -- were it not for a creator god, notwithstanding any presuppositions about any particular theory of time or space -- it is a fundamental conceptual error suggesting a fairly profound ignorance of both physics and logic.[10]

The Second Law of Thermodynamics neither states nor implies that any kind or state of energy necessarily gets “used up” in a “closed” system and in fact, were it to do so, it would contradict the First Law which explicitly states the contrary.   What it does do is suggest that the distribution of energy in a closed system will tend toward equilibrium, statistical evenness, or entropy throughout the system and was based upon the observation of heat (energy) exchanges between systems.[11] Simply put, if two or more thermodynamic systems of differing thermodynamic magnitude potentials are brought together, the distribution of those potentials will eventually tend to become statistically uniform throughout the newly formed system created by their joining.   Nothing is “used up,” “comes to an end” or requires a beginning as far as the existence of anything is concerned.   In fact, to say that the universe is a “closed system” is to say, thermodynamically speaking, that it would be nonsense to suggest that it could even have a beginning or an end, for to do so would imply either that the system could somehow lose (use up?) its energy to something beyond itself – and thereby not be a closed system – or contradict the First Law prohibiting its (energy’s) creation or destruction.  Whether or not the universe is a closed system may be an open question but the contradictoriness of trying to hold that it is while at the same time attempting some erroneous and spurious misuse of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics is not.[12]   It is a contradiction -- pure, if not simple -- and any “proof” or “argument” employing it fails not just as a matter of contingency but of contradiction.

 

Footnotes:

  1. My reasons for this were also two:  First, I had misread and misunderstood the “challenge” in that I thought it had been one to encourage clear and precise brevity rather than a potentially open-ended discourse without resolution and secondly, having already earned a doctorate in philosophy (literally: “teacher of the love of wisdom – of knowing the difference between what one knows and what one doesn’t”), I was not concerned about being awarded another doctorate in ignorance – though I am sure I qualify! 

  2. Will Petillo, Discussion 2 to Meditation 797

  3. See for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermodynamics

  4. All one has to do is Google:  “Second Law of Thermodynamics” to find a plethora of them.  See for example: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-thermodynamics.html

  5. See for example: http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Ideal-gas-law

  6. The notion of the “running down” or eventual “heat death” of the universe seems to have originated with William Thompson and was popularized by Sir Arthur Eddington in his Gifford Lectures of 1927, whose purpose is the exposition of “natural theology” and the “general principles of Christian Conduct.”  See: http://www.giffordlectures.org/online.asp.   Contrary to that popularization (and the apparent theological teleology underlying it), it now not only appears to be theoretically flawed but also empirically false.  See Note 12 below.

  7. The notion of a “useable” anything is essentially a value-laden teleologicl one and not merely descriptive or scientific.  Useable for what purpose?  Its importation into any purported scientific discourse therefore renders that discourse unscientific.  One might perhaps try to substitute “available” in an attempt to avoid this problem but that does not get Mr. Marcellino’s argument out of the contradiction outlined in my original response -- except by begging the question -- because given E=mC2 the available potential energy would always be infinite.  See note 9 below.

  8. The categories kinetic and potential as applied to energy stem from the classical Aristotelian distinction between actual and potential as related to motion and can be predicated of any kind of force, energy or object under other categories of description such as chemical, mechanical, nuclear, radiant, thermal, etc. or even the fundamental forces: strong, weak, electromagnetic, gravitational. The idea of converting one kind of energy into another can thus be quite ambiguous and result in logical (and empirical) fallacies owing to confusion between categories -- as is all too often the case in these kinds of “arguments” purporting to “demonstrate” or “prove” the eventual “heat death” of the universe whether-or-not in order to argue for the “necessity” of its having been created by some supernatural cause.   No theory has yet been able to unify all the elemental or fundamental forces (See: Unified_field_theory ) and thus there is not even a theoretical basis necessitating such an eventuality in which all the energy, forces and masses of the universe coalesce into a unified “end” - and even if there were, and given the assumptions of time and potentiality, it would still not imply either an end-to or beginning-of the universe/existence or require some supernatural explanation of “why there is something rather than nothing.”  See also note 9 below.

  9. Among the most common and recalcitrant of category errors are those involving confusing the properties of time and space, notwithstanding Minkowskian spacetime.  In particular, fallacies involving the spatialization of time are so common and “rooted in common sense” that dissuading and disabusing their perpetrators of them sometimes seems beyond all rational hope.  (See: Henri Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity, et al.)  Given the inter-convertibility of mass and energy (E=mC[2]), the presence of energy would always (eternally) be a logical (potential) possibility even if the entire spatial fabric of the universe were to somehow be reduced to a single point-mass – unless time were also to cease to exist, which would then beg the entire question of the “proof” under consideration.  This is neither the time nor place to provide anything even approaching an extensive discourse on the related and differing natures of time and space -- nor is there here now time or space enough to do so – nor is it necessary to demonstrate that the original “argument” or “proof” proposed by Mr. Marcellino is in-fact contradictory and therefore false. Suffice it to say that usages such as “linear” and “circular” as predicated of temporality are metaphorical at best and can be quite misleading at worst and in any case, do not provide an “out” for even the contingent validity of Mr. Marcellino’s “proof.”

  10. Would that it were that the flaws in Mr. Marcellino’s “proof” were merely the result of its having been “poorly written” -- which it is that too.  The fact is, there are so many conceptual, logical, and empirical errors of expression and fact in it to have made me despair of addressing them all in my original response except to point out that it is contradictory and therefore false.

  11. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics

  12. If Mr. Marcellino had not set as a premise of his argument that the universe is a closed system, he might have avoided a contradiction but then whether he could have been able to argue for a supernatural cause of it all independent of the system – unless “nothing” is the super-natural cause – is, I suppose, an open question.  So, what does the current empirical evidence suggest? (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerating_universe) Not only is the universe not “running down,” it is in fact expanding and not only expanding but expanding at an accelerated rate potentially without limit except, perhaps (?) the velocity of light (?) at which point (pun intended) the entire universe would become an infinite mass – which, of course, it might already be anyway – “world without end, Amen!”