Creation/Evolution Journal

Announcing a Possible New Debate: The Second Law of Thermodynamics

On June 27, 1989, a public debate took place in Vienna, Virginia, between Dr. Edward E. Max and Dr. Duane T. Gish. During this exchange, Max expressed the view that Gish's argument on the second law of thermodynamics is pseudoscientific because it has been consistently stated vaguely (without defining boundaries or specifying the numerical basis for anything). Max then challenged Gish to, in a reasonable period of time, come up with a specific scientific analysis suitable for evaluation by trained experts in thermodynamics. In written form, this challenge was distributed to the audience and is reproduced below. Gish verbally agreed to accept the challenge and, in response to a letter dated July 12, 1989, from Creation/ Evolution, agreed in writing as well. The text of Dr. Gish's August 28, 1989, letter of acceptance immediately follows the text of Dr. Max's challenge.

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With the conclusion in Creation/Evolution of the rather wide-ranging and somewhat heated Brown-Lippard debate, space is now available for a more focused and calm discussion of the second law of thermodynamics. There is no requirement that Gish author his paper alone and no necessity that papers on both sides be paired together in each issue of the journal. Although the original deadline date of October 30, 1989, has passed, the challenge still stands, and Creation/Evolution remains ready to commence the discussion whenever Gish's paper arrives.

A Challenge to the Creationists

Two conflicting views of "creation science" have been expressed:

  1. Creationists believe that their "creation science" arguments against the theory of evolution deserve to be taken seriously as critical challenges to the validity of evolution. They have claimed that their views cannot receive a fair hearing through the normal route of publication in scientific journals because their submitted manuscripts would be rejected for publication by biased journal referees.
  2. Evolutionary scientists tend to view "creation science" as pseudoscience—that is, an attempt to bolster invalid arguments by the inappropriate use of scientific terminology and scientific-sounding arguments. In this view, pseudoscientific arguments succeed in debates before lay audiences only because these audiences are not well enough trained in science to see through a false argument when it is phrased with impressive scientific terms that they don't fully understand.

We would like to propose a challenge to help establish which of these two views of "creation science" is most accurate by focusing on a particular example of a creationist argument that many scientists believe is pure pseudoscience: the argument that the evolution model cannot be correct because it violates the second law of thermodynamics. Thermodynamic principles can clearly be used to assess specific models in a valid scientific manner; for example, the feasibility of the extraction of energy from the differential temperatures of ocean water can be determined by using appropriate numerical estimates of temperature, heat capacity, properties of the heat exchanger, and so forth, in calculations based upon the equations of thermodynamics. Is the creationist second law of thermodynamics argument based upon such a valid thermodynamics analysis, or is it simply a debating ploy that is effective with audiences who are not trained in thermodynamics and are easily snowed by scientific terminology?

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We now challenge Dr. Duane Gish to demonstrate, if he can, that the creationists' second law of thermodynamics argument is not pseudoscience by publishing the full scientific details of his analysis of the thermodynamics of evolution in a rigorous manner suitable for readers who are working scientists specializing in thermodynamics. Gish need not worry that biased journal referees will refuse to publish his analysis because at our request Frederick Edwords, editor of Creation/Evolution, has agreed to provide a forum for Gish. This challenge and a creationist response of up to ten typewritten, double-spaced pages (limited exclusively to a technical analysis of the evolution model in light of thermodynamics) will be published if received before October 30, 1989. If no response is received, then this challenge will be published alone, and readers will be left to draw their own conclusions as to whether the creationist thermodynamics argument is science or pseudoscience.

Creationists should be eager to respond if their second law claims are not simply a hollow pseudoscientific debating ploy and if they are sincere in their desire to advance their arguments outside the parochial readership of creationist-sponsored publications. Perhaps this challenge and the creationist response will be a step toward converting an often acrimonious battleground into a substantive exchange of ideas. If—as sometimes happens when mathematicians are forced to write out the technical details of what seemed to be a quite obvious proof—the creationists find that their second law argument against evolution cannot be rigorously and quantitatively supported, and if they therefore decline to respond to this challenge, we hope that they will demonstrate some intellectual honesty and refrain from using this argument in future debates.

Edward E. Max

Gish Accepts

I am pleased to respond to your letter of July 12, and accept the challenge to author an article explaining the creationist interpretation of evolution and the second law of thermodynamics. I do ask you not to set a definite date for a reply. As you know, I have an extremely busy schedule and to agree to a definite deadline for this article would be rather foolish on my part, especially if I were to secure the cooperation of one or more other creation scientists. You may publish the challenge in your journal with the indication that I do plan to answer the challenge and that this challenge will be published in a subsequent issue. I trust that these arrangements will be satisfactory.

I have great confidence in our case here, since I have read books by evolutionists on this subject and know that they have certainly not come up with an answer that the problem the second law poses for the theory of evolution. The old ploy of open systems and an outside energy supply is certainly not the answer to this challenge.

Duane T. Gish

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.