During the 41 years that I taught high school physics, I learned that getting kids to work on understanding concepts was the hard part of teaching. The concepts were easy if the student could see some application to their daily lives of what they were studying. If they did not see relevance they were not going to work on understanding. To that end I used to title our unit on thermodynamics “Break the Thermo Law and You Don’t Survive!” The three laws of thermodynamics are fundamental truths that apply to all of science. Theories that break the three laws of thermodynamics do not survive, and those laws have a great deal to do with cosmology and questions about creation. We would like to state these laws, and try to point out their application to questions related to life, death, and how we live our lives.


I used to tell my classes that this law says “You don’t get something for nothing.” What does it take to run your car? One student said “$2.00 a gallon.” We had learned how to calculate on the blackboard how much energy a gallon of gasoline produces, so I would calculate how far you ought to be able to drive your car on a gallon of gas. The answer usually came out to be something close to 1,000 miles. “Shoot--he can’t get that crate of his out of the parking lot on a gallon of gas” another student volunteered. “What’s the inconsistency?” I would ask, and then answer my own question by screaming “The First Law of Thermodynamics!”

The point is that the total thermal energy added to the car (the burning gasoline) will never be equal to the work done by the engine. There will always be energy lost to heat the engine, to friction, to incomplete combustion, and a variety of other energy consumption problems. This is simply a thermal statement of the Law of Conservation of Energy, and it applies to everything in life. We will never have cars, motors, or heating systems that are 100 percent efficient. Perpetual motion will never happen. There is always a price to pay for any energy that you use.

Planet Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and in fact, the cosmos all operate in conformance to the first law. If the cosmos started with a massive singularity of energy, then that total energy is equal to the work that has been done in the cosmos and the energy that still exists within it. Proposing that something can “pop into existence out of nothing” is not a possibility. Energy systems can change, but the first law will still apply. Quantum mechanics may show us ways in which energy systems change that are new to us, but the total energy of the cosmos has not changed even in quantum reactions. The fact that there are newly understood mechanisms of change does not invalidate the first law. Irtrons, branes, super strings, einsteinium holes, black holes, white holes, and worm holes do not change the laws. They change the ways in which the laws are applied, sometimes with remarkable methods, but you still do not get something from nothing.

At the beginning there was an incredible concentration of energy created at the point at which time and space were created. We know from Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 that this energy can appear as mass. Those of us who believe in God believe that “God is light” applies to this situation, that God just took some of His own essence and produced the singularity that led to the cosmos. Those who reject God’s existence have to believe that some entity that was extra dimensional did the same thing, but without wisdom, intelligence, or design. While we can argue about that entity, we cannot argue about the laws that describe how that initial singularity came to be the physical world in which we live, and became us as well. The first law of thermodynamics describes that in a profound way, and gives our world order, function, and predictability.


This statement of the second law is known as the Clausius statement, and what it describes is heat death. In any closed system, things tend to move toward a condition of disorder--called entropy. The law does not say that energy is destroyed--that would violate the first law. It simply says that there is always some energy that cannot be recovered in any physical process. Things always move toward a condition of disorder.

I used to have a student put a spoon on the table and while I was talking to the class, one end of the spoon would get hot and start to smoke. I would deny it was hot by picking it up at the other end and then putting it back right where I found it--where it continued to get hotter and hotter on one end. The class would go ballistic, and I would ask them what the problem was. After a barrage of nutty answers (it’s haunted, it’s an illusion, etc.) I would point out that they had faith in the second law. Common sense tells them that order (the cold end) cannot exist at the same time as disorder. I had an induction coil under the desk top that was heating the spoon, but we all know that one end cannot be hot and the other end cold. Gases diffuse because of the second law. We get old because of the second law. My favorite example is a teenager’s room, which becomes more and more disordered with time in conformance to the second law.

It is important to understand that all of these examples and discussions assume that no one is improving the order from the outside. If mother comes along and makes you clean up your room, then the room is no longer a closed system. Organizing energy is added from the outside. The second law applies to systems in which no organizing energy is added externally to the system. (The induction coil made the spoon an open system.)

There are enormous implications of the second law for cosmology. The second law says that like us, all stars and all galaxies will eventually die. The cosmos is not eternal, and there had to be a specific point at which there was no energy in an unusable form in the cosmos--no entropy. The biblical statement, that there was a beginning, is strongly attested to by the second law. We would like to point out that it is incorrect to apply the second law to the earth or to anything on the earth. Some creationists have attempted to attack evolution on the basis of the second law, but the earth is not a closed system. Photosynthesis works because the sun is adding energy to the earth. Biological systems can have energy added to them by any number of methods--light, radiation, heat, thermal vents, etc., improving their order. The second law verifies many biblical statements, but it is not a tool to attack evolution.


This statement of the third law is called the Nernst heat theorem, and like the other two laws, it just makes sense. If you were to reach absolute zero, then all atomic motion would stop. If electrons stop orbiting the positive center of atoms, what happens? Opposites attract, and the electrons would simply be drawn into the nucleus. Matter would simply dissolve. It is interesting that biblical passages talk about the fact that at the end of time matter will dissolve (2 Peter 3:10). If you stop time and all motion which depends upon time, then the third law describes positively what would happen--matter would dissolve. The point is that the design of the cosmos shows wisdom and purpose.

The laws we have mentioned and the multiplicity of other laws that are known to the sciences, all show that the creation is logical, comprehendible, and open to our understanding and by using the creation we can sustain ourselves on this planet. The evidence for the existence of God and for God’s creative action in the earth can be seen “through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-22). Understanding what God has done and something about how He has done it is what science is about, and it is a wonderful, useful, practical way to live and grow--physically and intellectually.

Note: Laws are quoted from the textbook Physics: Principles and Problems, Glencoe Publications of Macmillan/McGraw Hill, PO Box 508, Columbus, Ohio 43216, pages 256-259.

--John N. Clayton

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