Creation Insights

Revealing the empirical case for
intelligent design and Bible science.

Critique and Clarification of the FLT and Supernatural Creation of the Universe argument

The following is a critique by Dave Matson of the first thermodynamic law debate.

Dave Matson (DM) critique: One problem with your phrasing of the 1st law of thermodynamics is that your phrasing suggests that there are other means by which energy might be created. That thought is not a part of the 1st law, and any phrasing that suggests as much is misleading.

Pat Briney (PRB) response: The phrasing “natural means” was included to emphasize the context of the first law of thermodynamics (FLT) because without it, some asserted incorrectly, that based on this law, energy could not be created by supernatural means. This assertion is a misapplication of the FLT. The FLT does not describe events outside of natural phenomena, I use this phrase to emphasize and to clarify for others that the FLT applies only to natural phenomena.

DM critique: The second problem is that the 1st law deals with the conservation of energy. It says nothing about how energy might or might not be created. Thus, your phrasing is misleading on a second count.

PRB response: I am not citing the FLT in order to describe how energy was created. The idea of conservation is that there can be no more and no less energy than that which you begin with. If you have nothing, you will get nothing. According to the FLT, energy can change form but new energy cannot be created. I cited references in order to emphasize that the claim that energy cannot be created according to the FLT is not my personal and unique description, but is well known and stated this way by others. Thus, my phrasing accurately represents the FLT.

DM critique: Your statement of the 1st law is a subset consistent with the 1st law, but it also implies things that are not in the first law -- as well as not covering other things that are in the 1st law. Therefore, it is an inadequate representation of the 1st law.

PRB response: Thank you for acknowledging my statement as consistent with the FLT. Because the presentation addresses the origin of energy and is not a presentation on the principles of the First Law of Thermodynamics, my description addresses the aspect of the FLT that appropriately applies to the topic: origin of energy. The description I use is frequently used by others, and it is adequate for the given discussion. [The examples cited in the earlier email are as follows…

  • 3Dr. Robert H. Gowdy, Associate Professor, Chair of the Physics Department at Virginia Commonwealth University states on his web site at http://www.people.vcu.edu/~rgowdy/mod/022/imp3.htm that, "Although energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can be converted from one form into another."
  • At http://www.unlv.edu/courses/ENS100/devine/03chap/tsld014.htm, sponsored by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Dr. Darren Devine states the 1st Law of Thermodynamics as, "In any physical or chemical reaction, energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be changed from one form to another."
  • From Dr. Richard B. Hallick at The University of Arizona at http://www.blc.arizona.edu/courses/181GH/rick/energy/energy.html, he describes the first Law of Thermodynamics as, "Energy cannot be created or destroyed; different forms of energy are interconvertible."

My statement of the FLT implies no more than the statements made by others such as those just cited.

DM critique: As I understand it, the net energy of this universe seems to be zero or very close to it. Thus, it may well be the case that no energy was ever created in the first place! Just as zero can be written as a sum of -1 and +1, energy and negative energy (as gravity fields) can cancel out, leaving us with no net energy. In any case, quantum fluctuations in empty space, apparently inseparable from space itself, are constantly producing pseudo-particles which generally disappear as quickly as they came. Several leading theorists have tied this phenomena to the Big Bang singularity. Of course, we are just beginning to understand these things and should not be dogmatic. We have a great mystery, but it does not appear to require the non-explanation of a creator.

PRB response: Energy does exist, in many forms, which we call the universe. The idea that something comes from nothing (in any situation including origin of the universe) has been disturbing to many because it violates the FLT. Astronomer Robert Jastrow mused: “But the creation of matter out of nothing would violate a cherished concept in science—the principle of the conservation of matter and energy—which states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter can be converted into energy, and vice versa, but the total amount of all matter and energy in the Universe must remain unchanged forever. It is difficult to accept a theory that violates such a firmly established scientific fact” (1977, p. 32).
Presently, research using vacuum models to simulate a vacuum universe; do not involve absolute voids from which something comes from nothing. H.E. Puthoff writes, “Modern physical theory, specifically quantum electrodynamics (QED), tells us that the vacuum can no longer be considered a void. This is due to the fact that, even in the absence of matter, the vacuum is neither truly particle nor field free, but is the seat of virtual particle-pair (e.g. electron-positron) creation and annihilation processes, as well as zero-point-fluctuation (ZPF) of such fields as the vacuum electromagnetic field….” (The Energetic Vacuum: Implications For Energy Research by H.E. Puthoff, PhD Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin, 1301 Capital of Texas Highway S., Suite A-232, Austin, TX 78746, http://www.ldolphin.org/energetic.html, accessed 8/29/02).
Theoretically and experimentally, it has been shown that there is no true vacuum of absolute void. Thomas Valone writes, “…both theory and experiment have shown that there is a non-thermal radiation in the vacuum and that it persists even if the temperature could be lowered to absolute zero. Therefore, it was simply called the "zero point" radiation. Further proof is evident, as Dr. Forward points out in his tutorial below, when physicists have cooled helium to within microdegrees of absolute zero and still it remains a liquid! Only ZPE can account for the source of energy is keeping helium from freezing.” (Understanding Zero Point Energy. © 1999 Thomas Valone, M.A., P.E. Integrity Research Institute, 1220 L Street NW, Suite 100, Washington, DC 20005, http://users.erols.com/iri/ZPENERGY.html, accessed 8/30/02).
The idea of energy coming from nothing violates laws and experience in science. The FLT stands firm to this day. Observations in vacuum experiments show only that particles appear as they change in form from energy already present.

DM critique: You state: “There are three possible causes for origin of energy: 1) from nothing, 2) from something natural, and or 3) from something supernatural.” This overly-neat division misses the fact that, in all probability, we have an incomplete understanding as to what is natural. Clearly, we have much to learn about our universe. Perhaps a greater understanding will show that our universe came naturally from a greater universe by way of a singularity. That greater universe, and energy itself, may not even have a beginning! Indeed, the concept of absolute nothing may be a meaningless concept; it may be that some form of physical existence is inescapable. If that is true, then questions of ultimate origins are meaningless. However, the subject is too deep to pursue here.

PRB response: We will always have an incomplete understanding of what is natural, however, the three possible causes of energy origin as presented above sum well the possibilities needing to be considered. Explanations must conform to what is known not what is hoped for. This is the practice of credible science.
The proposal that our universe came from some preexisting universe of natural origin only serves to apply our arguments further back in time in another universe rather than to dismiss them. Thus, such a proposal serves no purpose in the discussion.

DM critique: We should humbly admit that we have a mystery here and not jump to unsupportable conclusions. Furthermore, postulating an intelligent, living creator is not a proper explanation in any case. (Isn't that the unspoken point of your whole argument?) We explain the unknown by relating it to the known, not by invoking a greater unknown! There is a big difference between creating a scenario that is logically consistent with the evidence at hand and actually explaining the evidence. The former takes in mythology, among other things; the latter advances our knowledge.

PRB response: I am not proposing to create an unsupportable, mystical scenario to explain the origin of energy. To the contrary, I am presenting the case that the evidence we have today shows that a natural cause is not only insufficient to explain the origin of energy but, indeed, the laws we know of today are contrary to such an explanation.
There are two popular explanations for this contradiction: 1) Ignorance of our world is the reason for forcing acceptance of an explanation that contradicts known laws of science, or 2) the universe was created supernaturally.
If one appeals to a natural explanation because of ignorance of how energy originated, then it follows that one must admit ignorance of knowing for certain that there is no supernatural cause. If one is willing to admit ignorance, then one must be open to the possibility of a supernatural explanation as well as a natural explanation. Appealing to ignorance of the natural world does not demand ruling out supernatural involvement.
The supernatural explanation is more plausible and preferable to natural explanations because of the fact that natural explanations contradict the laws that are understood today. Thus, I am not proposing an unjustified position for supernatural origins. The choice is between a natural explanation that contradicts established laws of science justified by the claim of ignorance of our world, or a supernatural explanation justified by the fact that natural laws known today will not permit a natural origin.
I argue that natural explanations for the origin of energy contradict today’s known laws and knowledge of the universe, and that the rational choice between origin explanations is the supernatural. Not only can it not be dismissed as a reasonable explanation, but the contradictions between natural explanations and known laws make the supernatural the only reasonable explanation.

DM critique: With regard to Argument IX: To reiterate, we do not know if energy has ever been created. Our universe may have zero total energy; if it does not then its energy may have been transferred naturally from a greater universe or physical reality that has no beginning.

PRB response: Energy exists, and the known laws governing the natural universe show us that it is impossible for it to have originated naturally. The idea of a net-zero-energy universe is a highly speculative attempt to explain how energy exists without violating the FLT. But two things suggest this idea is wrong: 1) the conservation of nothing is nothing, so the search for net zero does not solve the existence of energy, and 2) supposed vacuum experiments are not absolute voids and therefore do not show something coming from nothing. They in fact demonstrate that energy can convert in form from energy already present. And to reiterate, the suggestion that another, greater universe exists, only serves to apply our arguments back in time in another universe rather than to dismiss them.

DM critique: Our understanding of natural law is based solely on observations made of this universe, in its present form. What modifications might be required if, in fact, our universe is a subset of a greater physical reality is anyone's guess. We are just beginning to explore these issues, and much will certainly be learned. Such a reality may even be consistent with the known laws, given that scientific speculation of such is based on natural law. Thus, your conclusion is unwarranted. There is no need to invoke a supernatural explanation of the universe.

PRB response: Granted, science is a continual process of learning and discovery. However, explanations that contradict known laws of science are unwarranted. At present, a supernatural explanation is the most rational explanation for the existence of energy. It is warranted because it does not involve contradicting well established laws of the universe. As stated above, the choice is between a natural explanation that contradicts established laws of science justified by the claim of ignorance of our world, or a supernatural explanation justified by the fact that natural laws known today will not permit a natural origin.
At what point of contradiction to known laws do atheists propose to acknowledge the possibility of the supernatural?

Dave Matson, editor of Oak Hill Free Press and Flatwoods Publications.
Pat Briney, author of Creation Insights web site.

 

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