Finding God at the Sears Tower! (or) The Existence of God and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

The History Channel has been running a series called Life After People It depicts what would happen to our cities and landmarks if all humans suddenly disappeared. As you might imagine, things tend to fall apart pretty quickly. What the series depicts rather graphically is the Second Law of Thermodynamics which is:

The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

What? You might say! Well, consider a cup of hot coffee that is placed on the counter. Over time the coffee will lose its heat (this is entropy) until it returns to room temperature (equilibrium). It is not in the nature of a cup of coffee to keep its heat or to get even warmer unless acted upon but some outside factor such as man or strong sunlight etc. This is the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the cup of coffee must follow it. Stated in a broader way, the Second Law of Thermodynamics and in particular entropy means that complex things tend to fall apart and go back to their basic elements without  something outside them to maintain them. Lets illustrate this using an example you might see on the series “Life After People.”

We’re at the Sears tower in Chicago, one of  the tallest buildings in the world. The massive building is like a small city with lots of  complex systems that maintain it. It is January 1, 2010 and suddenly all humans disappear from the planet. In the first moments there is little difference to the building except an eerie quiet. Music still plays in the elevators and the escalators in the lobby  move along. At 2:30 pm a small alarm goes off in the basement indicating to the boiler mechanic that the boiler needs a minor adjustment. But the boiler mechanic is not there. Heat slowly builds in the boilers and other alarms go off. But no one is there to hear or respond. The heat reaches a critical point by 3:30 pm and two major pipes burst spewing steam and boiling water. By 4:30 pm the boiler room has flooded to the point that several electrical panels short out causing a major portion of the building to lose power. In the building above the temperature begins dropping. Outside it is a frigid January day. As the sun sets mid afternoon, the once well lit and warm building descends into darkness and increasing chill. By 5:00pm the next day portions of the building near the external walls have begun to drop below freezing. Outside the temperature is hovering in the lower teens. Overnight the water in some of the pipes near the external walls begins to freeze. By noon the next day there is some thawing and then refreezing as the night temperatures drop. After several days of this pattern, several large pipes begin to break and water begins to flow freely in the upper floors and starts to leak out some of the window casements. The freezing and thawing begins to loosen some of the windows and, several months after man the glass starts falling to the streets far below. The building is now increasingly open to the weather and more and more the building suffers deterioration.

Well you get the point: Entropy is at work. This are falling apart and returning to their basic elements. In the months and years ahead rust and other corrosion will take a toll and the building will deteriorate to the point that it will begin to collapse. Finally, in the decades ahead complete collapse will have occurred and steel and rubble will be strewn all over State Street. In the centuries to come even the steel and rubble will return to dust and be overgrown by trees and forest. Without an indwelling intelligence and energy to maintain equilibrium, the Sears tower cannot stand. It looses its complexity and returns to the dust from which it came. This is the Second Law of Thermodynamics and particularly the principle of entropy illustrated.

But don’t you see, as the Sears Tower in Chicago needs  Man, so the created universe needs  God. Without  God’s indwelling intelligence and maintenance, entropy would cause all kinds of disorder in the universe and ultimately failure. The complex systems of this world would fail and return to their basic elements without some outside force acting upon them. Even the atheists who so love to talk about evolution have to see that evolution, in a way, is the  opposite, of entropy. The evolution of simple things into complex things cannot take place without an outside energy (and intelligence) causing it. Otherwise the Second Law of Thermodynamics is violated. A cup of coffee does not heat up on its own. The Sears Tower would not suddenly or even gradually appear out the earth as a fully functioning little city without a lot of outside energy and intelligence. It does not pertain to sand and rocks to evolve  into steel and then take shape as a fully functioning building with plumbing, electricity and computers. For this to evolve takes energy and intelligence, some force from the outside to act upon it.  The Sears Tower or a hot cup of coffee cannot explain themselves. Something outside of them must explain them.  The atheists want you to think that all this order came it to existence by itself and organizes itself. Well if you can tell me how the Sears Tower could suddenly or even gradually come into existence all by itself as a fully functional building, I might start to believe the atheist and secularists arguments. But as it is I think it takes a lot more “faith” to believe the atheist arguments than simply to admit the obvious, that this world has order that resists entropy because it is designed and indwelt by God who sustains it. A cup of hot cannot explain itself or maintain itself something or someone from the outside does this. Our bodies are far more complex that even the Sears Tower. What caused entropy to reverse and for the complexity to evolve? It had to be something outside of and this world bound by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Maybe it’s God!

So here is my Argument for the Existence of God Based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

  1. The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time until it returns to equilibrium. (i.e. things tend to fall apart and return to their basic elements without someone or something to cause their evolution into more complex things or to halt their tendency to entropy)
  2. But this world does manifest substantial complexity that manifests an evolution from the simple to the complex, a kind of reverse entropy.
  3. Therefore this world must be acted upon by someone or something outside itself that orders it and pushes back entropy.
  4. This someone or something we call God.

8 Replies to “Finding God at the Sears Tower! (or) The Existence of God and the Second Law of Thermodynamics”

  1. Erm… the closed system in this case is the universe. There can be a lot of decreasing entropy in our neck of the universe as long as there’s enough of an increase elsewhere to balance out.

    I’m also wary of a proof of God’s existence that implies He habitually acts against the natural laws He composed.

  2. The Second Law of Thermodynamics only applies to a closed system.

    The earth is not a closed system.

    Therefore, your article and argument fails.

    1. Curious as to why you do not consider the earth a closed system. It seems that is a debatable point. And what of the universe? Also I do not think my argument depends entirely on resolving the open/closed question. The essential question is, where does complexity come from when the tendency is for things to return to equilibrium? A cup of hot coffee does not suddenly leap into existence. Neither does the sears tower or you and I. Something must cause this and or maintain it, otherwise, it will trend to fall apart (entropy) and return to its basic components.

  3. An open system can decrease its entropy by receiving energy from outside the system. Within a closed system, the local entropy of a subsystem can decrease if it receives energy from another subsystem (where the entropy is increasing); the sum of the changes in entropy across all subsystems of a closed system will be positive (or zero, for a system in equilibrium).

    Thermodynamically speaking, that the earth is an open system is established by the fact of sunshine.

    One problem with this line of thought is that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is established by observation. If we could construct an example where it was violated, it wouldn’t prove God exists, it would prove the Law isn’t a “law” so much as a guideline (maybe sort of like Newtonian mechanics).

    1. Yes I think you are right. If we could construct an example where it was violated it wouldn’t prove that God exists. The word “proof” here is used in the historical Christian sense more to mean a demonstration of what we speak. If we could prove God exists in the modern notion of the word faith would not be necessary. When St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of five “proofs” for the existence of God he meant really “a demonstration” . So when I write my “proof” for the existence of God I do not claim to have removed the need for faith. Rather I mean something like this: “Tom when you speak of a closed system as needing energy from “outside the system” this is what we mean by God. That something is ultimately need from “outside the system” speaks to us of God. You may not agree it is God, but it demonstrates that something outside is needed. Ultimately we see this as God.

  4. I’m with you on the difference between the traditional and modern notions of “proof.” (Though as it happens we can know from human reason, and not only by faith, that God exists, right?)

    But the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a “law” in the modern sense. If it turns out that the entropy of the universe is decreasing, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that the universe is an open system. It could be that the “law” is only an approximation.

    Moreover, thermodynamics is of course a science of physics. The energy from “outside” that is necessary to decrease entropy is a physical energy. It’s possible, I suppose, that God is continually creating physical energy ex nihilo, but if so, I think theologians would have a great deal of revising of their own science to do.

    None of which is to say, I should add, that the order of the universe, and in particular of life on Earth, doesn’t point to its Creator.

    1. Thanks for the clarifying remark regarding the capacity of man to know by the light of natural reason that God exists. Your remark is an important reminder and a necessary distinction to what I said. To clarify my point, although it is possible for a person know from human reason that God exists, it is my understanding that the nature of this knowledge is not in the form of a scientific proof, as though we could measure God’s existence by pure scientific method. Rather the way of knowing is “proved” more in the original sense of the word. Namely that we can reasonably conclude to God’s existence based on a variety of ways of knowing and observing. Pure science, based on it’s rather narrow and specific focus on the material and measurable would probably not be able to prove in a purely scientific way (e..g measuring God’s presence on a scale) God’s existence. I don’t mind when a scientist says that the existence (or non-existence) of God is beyond the scope of its disciple to discern or even have an opinion. What I DO mind is when some scientists and many more non-scientists claim that science is the only legitimate way of knowing, as though philosophy, religious knowing, empiricism and the like have no place in the discussion of topics such as life, origins, and so forth. I do not think every scientist thinks this way. But many people in our modern age are dismissive of anything that is not science or physical matter. I think the scripture (esp. Romans 1) and the teaching of the Church regarding our capacity via reason to know that God exists has in mind more than physical sciences.

      Perhaps to sum up, my point in this article has been to suggest that science, using it’s own methodology points to certain paradoxes, and mysteries beyond its own ability at least currently to resolve other than by theorizing. THis is where faith, science, reason and philosophy can add to the overall human discussion of these matters. Science thus opens doors for those of us who think in religious terms to ponder as to God’s ultimate role in all this. My critique was against the pure atheist position not against science which I presume MUST offer explanations only from within its defined scope.

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