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Of Creationists and Air Conditioners

I've had some strange experiences during my time at Drexel. One day during sophomore year, I woke to hear a woman screaming curses at my window on the second floor of East Hall. She was apparently upset that we'd decided to decorate our window with a big plastic Santa Claus (the kind that lights up!) and a revolutionary war flag. The flag is yellow and sports a snake and the words "Don't tread on me." Apparently to this woman this combination meant that we were devil worshippers. I assure you I am no such thing; the worst charge that can be leveled against me is that my interior decorating skills are woefully under-developed. She was screaming curses, making demands, and saying things like "devil worshippers like you are the reason there's so many Muslims in the world." Don't look at me, she's the one that said it.

Interestingly enough, this was not my most unpleasant experience involving religious folk on campus. That came later that winter, when I came across a booth "giving away" hot chocolate. When they offered some to me, I think my first words were something along the lines of "What are you selling?" They weren't selling anything; they wanted only to talk. At that point the hot chocolate vendors began explaining that the second law of thermodynamics directly contradicted the theory of evolution.

I may not be a very good scientist, but I am a scientist nonetheless, and the things that they were saying nearly killed me. My throat swelled up as a dozen different arguments tried to force their way out at once, my vision became blurred by impotent rage, and when I awoke in a daze two days later in a dumpster, there was blood in my ears, that I can only suspect was forced from my body by pure, undiluted despair. I never got the chance to tell them why they were wrong, and I'm not sure I would have been able to seize the chance had I been given it, so great was my sadness at this ignorance of basic science.

So, religious beverage vendors and believers in creationism alike, please hear me out. I'm not saying that your beliefs regarding the origin of the universe are wrong; I'm just saying that one of your arguments is way off, and that you should be ashamed for abusing such crude and ignorant trickery.

The second law of thermodynamics is like any emo song: Things are bad now, and they're only going to get worse. Even if something good happens, it's not going to outweigh the bad things that happened at that same moment. It's all downhill from here. Creationists like to simplify this into one phrase: Order cannot arise from disorder. Their argument goes that since human beings are larger and more ordered than apes, the first fish that crawled out of the sea, or bacteria, evolution cannot be possible.

What the Creationist does by making this argument is wrong in a number of ways. First, we'll ignore the fact that he's using science as a platform from which to convince us that science is wrong. Second, he's making some assumptions: Human beings are actually not more ordered than the creatures we're thought to have evolved from. Bigger? Yes. More complex? Yes. Able to form larger, grander, more awesome thoughts? Yes. But more ordered? No. And here's why.

Order and disorder are, in thermodynamics at least, measures of heat. A room that is hot is more disordered than a room that is cold. Order and disorder are measured by a quantity called Entropy: Entropy goes towards zero as an object goes towards a temperature of absolute zero. So the size of human beings, or the complexity of their cells, or their ability to think, has nothing to do with order and disorder. It's all about the heat that our bodies put out as we live. The last time I coveted my neighbors' ass, I know I was pretty heated up, and that's the important thing to remember. Human beings are not more ordered than apes; we're just bigger and more complex. There's still all that waste heat being produced, and none of that violates the laws of thermodynamics.

There's another thing to remember: Creationists are short sighted. When you ask a Creationist how an air conditioner works, chances are he either won't answer, because he doesn't understand thermodynamics, or he'll mumble something about the Holy Spirit. Air conditioners make a room colder, and therefore more ordered, right? So therefore, by thermodynamics, it can't work. Incorrect! What is important is not the order or disorder of the room, it's the order or disorder of the whole system. The air conditioner spits more hot air out into the outer environment that it puts cold air into your bedroom; therefore, the overall disorder of the entire system (your room plus the wherever the AC exhaust goes) has been raised. If you don't believe me, take that air conditioner in your window and turn it around or stand behind it.

Let's say for a moment that my first argument was wrong. Somehow, someone proves absolutely true that human beings are more "ordered" than the apes from which we evolved. Thermodynamics still does not disprove evolution; even if humans get more ordered, as long as something elsewhere gets less ordered by a greater amount, everything's kosher, so to speak. Maybe earth is the room with the air conditioner in the window and the rest of outer space is the outdoors, so to speak.

If you're more interested in the subject, you can look on the internet for all sorts of other explanations. If you still don't believe me, I implore you to look into them. Just give it, say, twenty minutes and do some reading. That should be more than enough to convince you.

Creationists, I've been told that my writing has a harsh air to it, so take heart: there's nothing in thermodynamics that disproves intelligent design, or creationism, or whatever flavor of zealotry you prefer. On the other hand, there's nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, that disproves evolution.

Imagine, if you will, a pretty young lady. Now imagine her laying in a ditch by the railroad tracks, dress torn, face bloodied, bones broken, underwear inside-out around her knees, as if she was clearly the victim of some unspeakably horrible attack. That young lady's name was Science, and every time you use thermodynamics to bolster your arguments against evolution, you might as well be strangling her with her own panty-hose before dumping the corpse in a shallow, unmarked grave. Arguing that thermodynamics disproves evolution is like arguing that the Bible promotes slave-owning and murdering homosexuals: Both are arguments based on ignorance and only a passing knowledge of the subject at hand. Though I do not agree with your position, I know that you're better than using such crude trickery to try to convert believers. I don't even think there needs to be any animosity between us. If I may quote the 80s synth-pop legends Devo:

"God made man, but he used a monkey to do it / Apes in the plan, and we're all here to prove it / We walk like apes, we talk like apes / But we can do what a monkey can't do / God made man / But a monkey supplied the glue."

Be seeing you.

First Published in The Triangle, 7October 2005