“The Laws of Thermodynamics Don’t Apply to the Universe!”

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Some Question Whether our Universe can be Considered an “Isolated System” 

by Jeff Miller, Ph.D.

Many in the atheistic community have realized various problems with their theories in light of what we know about the laws of thermodynamics. In order for atheism to be a plausible explanation for the origin of the Universe, matter must either be eternal or have the capability of creating itself (i.e., spontaneous generation). Yet the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that the first option is impossible, and the First Law implies that the second option is impossible (see Miller, 2007 for a more in depth discussion of the laws of thermodynamics and their application to the origin of the Universe). Upon grudgingly coming to this conclusion, but being unwilling to yield to the obvious alternative (i.e., Someone outside of the Universe put matter here), some have tried to find loopholes in the laws that will allow for their flawed atheistic ideologies to survive.

A common assertion being raised today by some is that the laws of thermodynamics do not apply to the Universe as a whole, and therefore cannot be used to prove that God played a role in the origin of the Universe. More specifically, some question whether our Universe can be considered an “isolated system” (i.e., a system in which mass and energy are not allowed to cross the system boundary; Cengel and Boles, 2002, p. 9). In their well-known thermodynamics textbook, Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics, Van Wylen and Sonntag note concerning the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “[W]e of course do not know if the universe can be considered as an isolated system” (1985, p. 233). Dr. Robert Alberty, author of Thermodynamics of Biochemical Reactions, is quoted as saying, “I do not agree that the universe is an isolated system in the thermodynamic sense” (as quoted in Holloway, 2010).

What if the Universe is not an isolated system? How would that fact impact the creation/evolution controversy? First of all, the creationist has always argued that the Universe is not an isolated system, or at least has not always been one. According to the creationist, in the beginning, God created the Universe’s system barrier, then crossed it and placed energy and matter within the system—thus making the Universe non-isolated. So, recognizing that the Universe is, in fact, not an isolated system would really mean that some evolutionists are starting to move in the right direction in their understanding of the Universe! Acquiescence of this truth by atheists in no way disproves the existence of God. In fact, quite the contrary is true. Admission that the Universe is not isolated does not help the case for atheism, but rather tacitly acknowledges a creator of sorts. [More on this point later.]

What this admission would do, however, is make some of the creationists’ arguments against atheism less applicable to the discussion about the existence of God—specifically some of the uses of the laws of thermodynamics and their application to the Universe as a whole. For instance, if the Universe is not an isolated system, it means that something or someone outside of the Universe can open the proverbial box that encloses the Universe and put matter and energy into it. Therefore, the Universe could be eternal, as long as something/someone is putting more usable energy into the box to compensate for the energy loss and counter entropy. Thus, the argument against the eternality of matter by way of the Second Law of Thermodynamics could potentially be null and void. Also, with a non-isolated system, it could be argued that the original, imaginary pre-Big Bang ball (which never actually existed—since the Big Bang is flawed [see May, et al., 2003) was not eternal in its existence. Further, it could be contended that it did not have to spontaneously generate in order to explain its existence. Rather, energy and matter could have been put here from a source outside of this Universe other than God.

From a purely scientific perspective, one of the problems with claiming that the Universe is not isolated is that such an assertion presupposes the existence of physical sources outside of this Universe (e.g., multiple universes outside of our own). And yet, how can such a claim be made scientifically, since there is no verifiable evidence to support such a contention? Stephen Hawking has advanced such an idea, but he, himself, recognizes the idea to be merely theoretical (Shukman, 2010). Speculation, conjecture, assertion—not evidence. As Gregory Benford wrote: “This ‘multiverse’ view represents the failure of our grand agenda and seems to me contrary to the prescribed simplicity of Occam’s Razor, solving our lack of understanding by multiplying unseen entities into infinity” (Benford, 2006, p. 226). Belief in the multiverse model is like proclaiming the existence of fairies just because you can imagine one. But such speculation is hardly scientific evidence—and that is the problem…

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image credit: Ian Chen