Note: The following treatment of the second law of thermodynamics makes a number of simplifications for clarity. In reality, entropy is not completely equivalent to “disorder” (in certain situations, such as liquid crystals in e. g. computer screens, entropy is relatively high but the “disorder” is relatively low) and the second law of thermodynamics is a statistical description of how particles behave.
Howard Bloom is a well-known publicist, having worked for Michael Jackson, Kiss, Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and many others. He is also an author and has written several books, including The Lucifer Principle and The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates and has had articles published in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the Washington post.
Since the middle of 2010, Bloom has been featured on the Youtube channel of The Amazing Atheist, such as episodes of Howard The Humongous. He has also created his own Youtube channel. Recently, Bloom was featured in a video entitled “Entropy is Wrong” explaining his views on entropy, stating that he rejects the second law of thermodynamics as applied to the big picture of the universe. Needless to say, this was a very controversial stance, leading to a lot of backlash.
In the video, Bloom makes the following line of reasoning (starting at around 3:45):
If you look at the big picture of the cosmos, from the big bang to the today, that 13.77 billion years of evolution, you do not find a universe falling apart. You do not find a universe tending towards disorder. You do not find a universe collapsing into a gray goo; a thermodynamic equilibrium. You find the opposite. You find a universe that doesn’t fall down the stairs continually, you find a universe that through some means we do not yet know in science, continually falls up the stairs.
Essentially, he thinks that there is a contradiction between the second law of thermodynamics and the naturalistic origin of cosmological “order”. If everything tends towards “disorder”, he asks, how is it that the history of the universe has involved the increase in cosmic “order” from subatomic particles to atoms to molecules to gas clouds to stars and to heavy elements? Since he accepts the naturalistic origin of cosmological “order” and believes that it contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, he is forced to reject the latter.
Creationists also think that there is a contradiction between thermodynamics and and the naturalistic origin of cosmological order. If everything tends towards “disorder”, they ask, how can cosmological and biological “order” arise purely through naturalistic means? Unlike Bloom (who is an atheist and not a creationist), the creationists attempt to use the second law of thermodynamics in a misguided effort to reject the naturalistic origin of “order”.
Both of these positions reduce to the notion that there is a contradiction between the naturalistic origin of cosmological/biological “order” and the second law of thermodynamics. In order to defeat the arguments Bloom provides against the validity of the second law of thermodynamics, it suffice to show that no contradiction actually exists and that the two principles are compatible.
Fortunately, biologists and physicists have already done that work for us. They have been responded to the creationist side for many decades and covered the compatibility between the second law of thermodynamics and cosmological/biological “order” in great detail. We can thus use their arguments to refute Bloom as well. Technically, it would suffice to just reference that literature (e. g. Patterson, 1983, pp. 99-116; Stenger, 1997; Perakh, 2004, pp. 208-209; Isaak, 2007, pp. 191-198 and many, many others) and be done with it. However, let us demonstrate this compatibility by enhancing our understanding of the second law of thermodynamics with three examples: ice, life and then finally the universe.
How can water freeze to ice?
What are you talking about? Of course water can freeze to ice! It happens every winter. It happens every time you make ice cubes in the freezer.
However, when water freezes to ice, the water molecules go from a higher entropy state (they are more “disordered”) to a lower entropy state (the water molecules are more “ordered” in the ice crystals). But doesn’t the second law of thermodynamics forbid such a decrease in entropy? Are physicists so blind to their immediate surroundings that they fail to see this alleged glaring error in their equations? As it turns out, not quite. Here is where it gets a little more complicated.
The second law of thermodynamics applies universally and states that a decrease in entropy on a global, macroscopic scale does not occur. In other words, the net entropy of the system and its surroundings together can never decrease. But there is nothing that prevents a local decrease in entropy (like the freezing of water into ice), provided that the entropy of the surrounding increase sufficiently so that the net entropy change of the system plus its surroundings is still positive. In this case, it is due to the heat transfer from the system (the freezing water) to the surrounding environment. That provides the entropy increase of the surrounding, so the net change in entropy for the system plus the surrounding is positive. So the total “disorder” has still increased, despite the fact that a local pocket of “order” has arisen in the form of ice crystals. This is entirely consistent with the second law of thermodynamics.
How can life exists and evolve?
If everything tends towards “disorder”, how can complex, multicellular lifeforms sustain themselves? Should they not be falling apart? Again, it is possible for local “order” to arise without contradicting the second law of thermodynamics provided that there is a sufficient entropy increase in the surroundings. In this case, the increase in entropy occurs in the sun and lifeforms derive their energy from the sun. Animals eat plants and plats use photosynthesis. Thus, the maintenance of life does not contradict the second law of thermodynamics.
What about cosmological “order”?
What about the universe? Surely, it does not have a surrounding like ice or a biological organisms? True, but pockets of “order” can and do arise in the cosmos without violating the second law of thermodynamics. This occurs because other places of the universe increase in entropy even more, so the net change in entropy for the universe as a whole is still positive.
As an added complication, the maximum entropy of a system depends on its volume. The larger the system, the larger the maximal entropy of that system. So the maximum entropy of an expanding universe increases as the volume of the universe increases. In fact, it increase is faster than the current increase in entropy. This means that, as the universe increases, there is more and more room for pockets of “order” to arise, because amount of possible compensatory increase in entropy in other places of the universe (i.e. the difference between maximal and current entropy of the universe) increases (Stenger, 2007, pp. 117-119).
The second law of thermodynamics does not contradict the existence of cosmological “order”. Local decrease in entropy can occur, as long as an increase in entropy occurs in the surrounding. As the universe expands, more and more pockets of “order” can occur.
Isaak, M. (2007). The Counter-Creationism Handbook. California: University of California Press.
Patterson, J. W. (1983). Thermodynamics and Evolution. In L. R. Godfrey (Ed.), Scientists Confront Creationism. New York: W. W. Norton.
Perakh, M. (2004). Unintelligent Design. New York: Prometheus Books.
Stenger, V. (1997). Intelligent Design: Humans, Cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics. Talk.Origins Archive. Accessed: 2013-07-24.
Stenger, V. (2007). God: The Failed Hypothesis. New York: Prometheus Books.