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Volume 10, Issue 3: Similitudes

Watch in the Handkerchief

Douglas Wilson

"Say, Samuel," I said. "I have a question."

Samuel nodded, sagely. "Yes?"
"Evolution requires an increase in complexity over time, does it not?"
"Well, yes. That's the point, actually."
"Well, okay then," I said. "Doesn't that conflict with the second law of-"
Samuel interrupted. "-thermodynamics. I know, I know. You creationists haul that chestnut out in every discussion I have ever been in. And it doesn't matter how many times we answer it—you must have an emotional attachment to this so-called entropy argument."
Jocko looked back and forth between us, puzzled. "Entropy argument?"
Samuel waved a hand wearily at me, resigned to hearing it one more time. So I obliged.
"The laws of entropy mean that, over time, randomness and disorder increase in a given situation. The theory of evolution requires the reverse of this-over time, randomness and disorder decrease as an organism becomes more complex. Thus what science knows about entropy and what they think they know about evolution are in conflict."
"Whoa," Jocko said. "That's a good one." He looked over at Samuel, who had a patronizing smirk. "Well, maybe it's a good one. What do you say to that, Samuel?"
Samuel took a long, deep, o-ye-of-little-faith breath, and then spoke.
"It is quite true that entropy increases over time in closed systems. But with open systems, with energy input from the outside, all bets are off. Creationists don't know the difference between an open system and a closed system, and until they learn such fundamental distinctions, they cannot be surprised that no one in the scientific community takes the slightest interest in them or in what they have to say."
"Ouch. That's hard," said Jocko. "But clearly fair. Open and closed systems seems to be a crucial disinction that we in the Church who are open to scientific wisdom must learn to make." He looked at me, apparently wondering if I had learned the distinction.
We walked down the road further, with me chuckling quietly to myself. After a few minutes of this, Samuel and Jocko said, "What?" together.
I had an old watch in my pocket which I had disassembled in preparation for just such an occasion. I hauled it out, showed them the pieces, and then wrapped the pieces up in a clean handkerchief. "Let these pieces of a watch take up their residence in this handkerchief, which represents a closed system."
"Okay," they said.
"Now we are all agreed that in this closed system, the pieces will not assemble themselves into a watch, but will rather deteriorate over time—entropy increasing."
"Maybe you are listening," Samuel said.
"Now if I understood you correctly, you are maintaining that if we open the system and the pieces start receiving energy input from the outside, the assembling of a watch becomes possible and does not contradict anything we know of entropy."
Samuel was looking a little more wary, but nodded again. "Okay."
"All right. Let's try that." I turned to Jocko. "Do you have a hammer?"
Jocko shook his head. "No."
"Well, this is a simple allegory. We should be able to come up with a hammer somewhere." So I rummaged around and had one soon enough. I then walked over to the storm drain by the side of the road and found a level stretch of concrete. The other two followed me. I laid the handkerchief and its contents out on the concrete, stood up, hefted the hammer in my hand, and grinned. Then I said, "Well, let's see about some energy input here."
I bent over, and hit the various watch pieces ten or fifteen times with industry and dispatch. I stood up after a minute of this, and looked down at the developing shambles.
"Hmmm," I said, "It seems to be going in the wrong direction. Looks less like a watch."
"Hit it again," said Jocko.
Samuel muttered sullenly, "You don't understand. You creationists will never understand."
"You are right about one thing," I said. "I don't understand how energy input will do anything other than increase the rate of entropy. I mean to say, look at my watch."
Jocko and Samuel both looked at the watch again. Jocko looked up at Samuel inquiringly.

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