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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

The Second Law of Thermodynamics,
Entropy, Personal growth & Transcendence

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Many in spite of all the evidence, still insist that “evolution” isn’t real. “It is just a theory” is one common comment--showing the person has no concept of what the word "theory" means in science. Gravity is also a theory. A theory is an explanation of how something works. Some theories have been “proven” as in supported with a large quantity of evidence, experiments, and testing. Some theories are untested, unproven ideas (hypothesis) of how something might work. Evolution and Gravity are proven theories.

Another common comment is that Evolution flies in the face of (doesn’t comply with) the Second Law of Thermodynamics which states that:

"... energy naturally flows from a state of greater organization to a state of lesser organization, from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation.” From “The Road Less Travelled” by M. Scott Peck. 1,2

Peck, is a psychiatrist.  What one might wonder does he know or why would he even care about entropy and the Laws of Thermodynamics.  I think his argument in this book has been the basis for the Christian argument against evolution. Or maybe he is just rephrasing the Christian argument. Peck points out the argument was also made by Buckminster Fuller in his book “And It Came to Pass—Not to Stay”.

Either way, I think it is a misleading argument, based on a misunderstanding of the issue and terminology. It shows a misunderstanding of how the laws governing inanimate matter apply to animate matter (living organisms, including humans). It shows a misunderstanding of the term “differentiation” and our anthropomorphic bias in making man the measure of all things.

We tend to forget that the lowly salamander can regenerate its lost tail. Humans have lost the ability to regenerate any lost part, except for the tips of their fingernails. 4 The amoeba can reproduce itself. Some species of fish, like the bluebanded goby, clownfish, etc, have been shown to have the ability to change gender in order to provide males to fertilize eggs and perpetuate the species. 3 Humans don’t have that capability. We are less differentiated. A more highly differentiated human by the way is one that we would call a “jack of all trades and a master of none.”

Single celled organisms do everything. They take in nourishment, process it, use it, and eliminate waste and when the time is right reproduce its self. The single cell is highly efficient (organized). Highly differentiated (not specialized), being able to perform many tasks. No wastage of energy. BUT!

If something happens to that single cell, it is “curtains”, “lights out”. Life is over.

So “life realized” (metaphorically speaking) that there could be some advantages to having more than one cell and multi-celled organisms appeared. If one cell is killed the others still have the ability to carry on and the organism lives. BUT!

These multiple cells have lost some abilities. They have become specialized (lower differentiation). Some cells are reproductive cells, concerned only with producing more organisms (eggs and sperm) and that is all they can do. Some cells are digestive cells, concerned only with processing nutrients, and aren’t capable of reproducing another whole organism.  Some cells work to eliminate waste. This is entropy at work, on the cellular level.

The whole organism (all of those individual cells together) is more advanced, has greater capabilities than the single celled amoeba but each cell has become less advanced, only capable of carrying out its specific assigned task. Some of the energy that could be used for work (to accomplish the tasks of the organism) is now used to communicate and coordinate the work of the various parts. So energy is wasted (or lost) on non-productive tasks.

The news has been filled with talk about “stem cells”. Stem cells are highly differentiated cells, capable of producing almost any other type of specialist cell (less differentiated cells).

The single celled organism performs all the basic functions to keep itself alive (and it does so quite efficiently) but that is all it can do. It can’t walk (or fly, or wiggle it’s way out of harms way), or talk (communicate its needs to other organisms), or think (that it is in danger and needs to figure out a way to reach safety).

Any school teacher will tell you that if there is only one child (one cell) in the classroom, the task of educating that student can be quite efficient, no energy wasted. Add more students (more cells) and the classroom becomes chaotic, children are unruly (egged on by their peers), a lot of energy is wasted trying to maintain order, and less energy is available to accomplish the task at hand—educating unruly minds. This is the Second Law of Thermodynamics at work. BUT!

That teacher will also tell you that there are many things that can be accomplished with lots of students in that classroom that can’t be done by just the teacher and one student.

One man can’t raise a barn, build an ocean going vessel, fly to the moon,………. Many men (and women) working together can accomplish all of these things and more.

This is the paradox of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.  Each cell does less but the many working together do more.

I first read Peck’s book in the mid 80’s. I was dusting off my book shelves last week and decided to read it again. I was surprised about how many of his ideas I had incorporated into my thinking without realizing it. That is the sign of a really good teacher. They teach you without you realizing that you are being taught!

I was also surprised that his thinking is still applicable to our problems today, 35 years later. Even though I don’t agree with everything he says, and think that he made a major error in his discussion about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, there is still value and wisdom in what he has to say.

He makes the main point (of his teaching and mine) quite well on page 166, where he was asked in a couples therapy session what the purpose and function of his spouse was. He replied, her purpose “is to grow to be the most of which she is capable”. As I have put it our purpose in life is to become the best that we can be.

One objection I have had to many religious teachings is they try to get their followers to subjugate their will to the Will of God (then the priest or minister proceeds to tell them what God’s will for them is) or they are taught to annihilate their Will altogether. I realized that you can’t subjugate or annihilate something that you don’t really possess, something that you have never actually found.

Peck says of page 97:

“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it.”

It took me a few years to fully comprehend and appreciate the wisdom of his words. This is another piece of his wisdom that I incorporated into my thinking without realizing where it came from.

People need to be encouraged, and prodded (forced) to grow, to find their selves, to develop their special and unique talents and abilities. Their natural tendency is toward laziness, it takes work and energy to grow. Sometimes the growth is actually painful as we have to face our own short comings and failures in order to learn what changes we need to make to grow, mentally, as well as spiritually.

I think the failure of many religions is this -- they have never encouraged their followers to grow, and develop, to become strong, self-actualized beings. Many religious leaders seem to be more interested in keeping people compliant and docile, subservient, under their control.

Peck talks about how infants have no Ego boundaries, they can’t distinguish between their selves and their mother or their environment. Gradually as they grow they become aware that they are a separate entity and begin to assert their individuality and become totally ME oriented individuals. Unfortunately some folks stop their development at this stage. We all know such people.

Wise parents and life experiences fortunately, help most of us move (to some degree, some more than others) beyond this ME oriented way of viewing the world (which is very organized and differentiated, the state of the one celled amoeba that does everything on its own, where everything serves its own purposes, where there is nothing else but its self) to a WE oriented way of viewing the world (where there are many highly specialized individuals doing their thing hopefully for the benefit of the whole rather than just for their own personal benefit).

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A few, very few, move even further to a realization of complete Oneness, with all things, going full circle from the stage of the newborn infant with no Ego boundaries, to the totally Ego centered individual, to the We oriented individual (one Ego equal among many others) back to no Ego (where there is no difference between the homosexual or heterosexual, the Buddhist or the Baptist, the Methodist or the Mormon or Muslim…). Entropy in action.

Some new age Gurus that claim they have reached this ultimate realization of Oneness seem to forget that even they are still a part of this earth bound plain, even they still have to eat and breathe clean air, and drink clean water. Even they still have to do their fair share of the work needed to keep this world working for all of our benefit.

Most of us have to work our way slowly and painfully towards that goal of transcendence and salvation, step by step. You can’t just declare that you “believe” and then assume that your transcendence, your salvation is achieved, your work is completed.

Yes this is what salvation is about, transcending your ME, Ego oriented self to make the connection with the Oneness, which many call God. This is what “life everlasting” is about.

Many of us catch fleeting glimpses of that Oneness, which is why I think religion can be so seductive for some. The music, the incense, the architecture, the magical chants and sacraments are all designed to help us transcend our earth bound existence. Some seek this transcendence with drugs and alcohol, extreme sports (for that fear factor high, adrenaline rush and sexual flush). Once the church service is over, once the music and drum beats stop, once the mountain top is reached, once the surfer is safely back on the beach, the feeling is lost and it is back to business as usual, until next Sunday or the next adventure.

Another seduction of religion is that it provides people with a “get out of jail free” card. They don’t have to do any of the work, Jesus paid for their sins, he did the work for them, all they have to do is pretend that they believe what they are told to believe. They also don’t have to accept any responsibility for their actions or their failures. “If” they can find justification and sanctification for their prejudices and behavior in Bible passages than they are free of any blame, they are only doing what God demands of them. Or so they think. If something good happens it is obviously because God is rewarding them for their virtue. If something bad happens….? Well that is the work of the devil or God is angry at others and venting his wrath on them.  They see themselves as the virtuous ones, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire, either way  God will give them their reward in heaven and punish the evil doers with everlasting torment in hell.

It was Carl Sandburg that said “the fog creeps in on little cat feet”. I think transcendence also creeps in quietly, on little cat feet. At least transcendence that is lasting and truly fulfilling. Transcendence that brings about a real change in a person’s character, in their behavior, in their words and actions.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics “states that energy naturally flows from a state of greater organization to a state of lesser organization, from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation.”

But it stopped there and that is where the Scientists and Physicists goofed. They failed to ask “and then what”? “What happens next?” Does life and the world as we know it just dissolve into nothingness? BUT the Bible (as well as the teachings of other religions) tells us that out of nothing came everything.

The Bible and other religious teachings made the error in describing that “nothingness” as being chaotic when it is actually highly organized and differentiated! That “nothingness” is the quiet calm of the Buddha (the state of Nirvana) and the perfection  (undisturbed tranquility) of God.

I think the Scientists and Physicists failed to apply the 1st law of Thermodynamics that states, “ The internal energy of an isolated system is constant and energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.” From Wikipedia. Don’t forget matter, all the things that we see and feel and touch are just another form of energy.

I think life and the world continues in a circle, from greater organization and higher differentiation, to disorganization and specialization, back to the greater and higher. You might say it meets its self coming and going.

The challenge in our lives is to make the full journey, going full circle, so that we can fully enjoy the fruits of our labor, before our physical death, when the journey is completed for us. Far too many stop far too soon, short of the goal.

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References used:

  1. book cover image W. Scott Peck, "The Road Less Travelled," Touchstone, 25th anniversay edition, (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. The second law of thermodynamics basically states that the universe is running down. At first glance, this seems to make evolution impossible because it produces species that are increasing in complexity. This is a false conclusion. If one looks at the sun-earth system, the sun is halfway through its probable life of 9 billion years and is clearly running down. But it produces light and heat that are fueling evolutionary and other processes on earth. Thus, evolution on Earth does not contradict the Second Law. The authors of creationist web sites know this . They have been contacted countless times. However, they still knowingly spread falsehoods.
  3. Krista Conger, "Study sheds light on stem cell role in regenerating fingers, toes," Stanford School of Medicine, 2011-AUG-24, at: http://med.stanford.edu
  4. "Sex change in fish found common," New York Times, 1984-DEC-04, at: http://www.nytimes.com/

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Originally posted 2013-JUN-16
Latest update: 2013-JUN-17
Author: Susan Humphreys

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