Religious thermodynamics

Entropic Creation (2008)
Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics (2008)
Left: the 2008 book by Helge Kragh discussing the cultural and religious responses to the second law of thermodynamics, from around 1860 to 1920. Right: the 2008 Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics by Vic Mansfield, showing an equation overlay stylized cover, which interjects on Buddhism, physics, quantum mechanics, entropy, arrow of time, and thermodynamics. [16]
In human thermodynamics, religious thermodynamics or theological thermodynamics can be considered as any variation on efforts to interpret a branch of religion, theological theory, the idea of god, or ancient scripture from a thermodynamic point-of-view or visa-versa. [1]

The subject of religion and thermodynamics was cogently outlined in American science historian
Erwin Hiebert's 1966 essay "The Uses and Abuses of Thermodynamics in Religion", thus indicating that the amount of material published in this field is large. [14]

Of the laws of thermodynamics, according to thermodynamicist Myron Kaufman, the second law has important philosophical and religious implications. [2] A typical example being Maxwell's demon, which is itself a religious metaphor, or the use of Prigoginean thermodynamics in New Age religious movements, as well as concepts such as the arrow of time or "heat death". [3] A popular book in religious thermodynamics is American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's 1978 The Road Less Traveled, having sold more than seven-million copies, which outlined Pecks' views on the relations between entropy, evolution, evil, and love. A noted individual in the second law vs. evolution debate is American engineer Henry Morris, who in the 1970s was the first to vigorously bring the second law into the discussion.

Interestingly, while in modern times the topic of religion and thermodynamics is marginal and often discredited, in the heyday of thermodynamics, the 1840 and 50s, many of the founders, such as James Joule, William Thomson, and James Maxwell had strong religious convictions behind their contributions. [4] In 1843, for instance, after conducting numerous experiments on the inter-conversions of various type of energy, e.g. electrical, chemical, gravitational, heat, work, etc., Joule stated "I shall lose no time in repeating and extending these experiments, being satisfied that the grand agents of nature are by the Creator’s fiat, indestructible; and that wherever mechanical force is expended, an exact equivalent of heat is always obtained." In other words, Joule believed that the first law of thermodynamics was decreed by the act or will of a deity.

Typically, theological thermodynamicists have degrees in both theology and a branch of science. One of the first, along these lines was English mathematician, scientist, and theologian Ernest Barnes who, in his 1927 The Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen, discussed the connections between religion and the first two laws of thermodynamics. [5]

To note, the use of thermodynamic logic in religion typically leads to biased or non logical results; in that, often, millennia old scriptures are sided with in favor of modern science, discoveries, experiment, and theory. [6] On the other hand, to understand the thermodynamics of certain human phenomena, such as morality, right or wrong, death, e.g. cessation thermodynamics, one is often drawn into historical interpretations, that border on various religious and philosophical themes.

The general view is that just as there is a logical separation of state and church so to should there be a separation of thermodynamics and religion. In spite of his suggested division, there have been many crossover writings on thermodynamics and religion. One of the earliest religious human thermodynamicists was Iranian engineer Mehdi Bazargan who in the 1950s developed a "thermodynamics of man" theory to explain Islam scientifically. Topics in religious thermodynamics include the thermodynamics of “good”, “evil”, and morality, among others.

One of the most oft-cited “supposed” issues in religious thermodynamics is the Boltzmann 1895 chaos interpretation of entropy in calculations of evolutions of isolated systems, specifically ideal gas phase systems, which state that such systems tend towards maximal entropy or maximal “molar disorder” (a Boltzmann term) combined with the older Kelvin 1862 heat death postulate, which states that the universe is running down. These two statements, however, are not a one-way translation skip-over to the description of all types of evolution, particularly that in which a periodic external heat source exists about a system - namely earth. In this situation, evolution occurs such that a working substance (an system of chemical species) is put in alternating contact with a hot body (the burning sun) and a cold body (the cool night sky) in a cyclical manner for a period of 4.5 billion years.

To cite one common mis-extrapolation of this chaos/running-down view of the second law, in 1981 author Harold Willmington stated that “evolution runs contrary to the second law of thermodynamics which describes the universe as a wound-up clock which is slowly running down … instead, evolution has all life being built up from the simple to the complex.” [8] The popularization of this statement and others like it have led to the wide-spread belief, for many, that the laws of thermodynamics are in conflict with evolution. This, however, is not the case.

The difficulty in clarifying the contradiction, to the appeasement of all naysayers, is, in particular, that the science of “human chemical thermodynamics” is a future branch of knowledge. The conception that a human being is, in reality, a “molecule”, specifically, a human molecule, is a little understood or used concept in science. As such, common historical refutations used to reconcile the conflict used by scientists are:

(a) evolving systems on earth are “closed”, not isolated, as compared to ideal gas systems.
(b) entropy decrease (of life forms) or "ordering" is compensated by entropy increase in the surroundings (such as in the sun).
(c) Life increases its order by feeding on negative entropy (Erwin Schrödinger, 1944).
(d) the decrease in “free energy” in evolving earth systems, itself being a function of entropy, enthalpy, and temperature, is the key governing energy quantity of directionality, rather than only entropy tendencies (the second law).

The modern view, however, is that life is a process of chemical reactions, occuring over the last 13.7 billion years, from the hydrogen ion molecule to human molecules (people), as visualized on molecular evolution tables, which are processes, from an earth-bound systems point of view (isothermal, isobaric, heat-driven systems), governed by the combined law of thermodynamics. [11]

See main: God
In religious thermodynamics, various hypothesized forces opposite to that of entropy are often theorized to be God. In 1999, for instance, author Holmes Rolston stated that: “one can posit god as a countercurrent to entropy, a sort of biogravity that lures life upward.” [9] In 2007, Indian chemical engineer DMR Sekhar postulated a theory of "genopsych" (genetics+psychology), which he conceived as "an extensive property running or operating counter to entropy" that (a) gives directionality to the process of evolution, (b) causes non-random variations in the genome, indicating creation of new information, (c) is the basis of native intelligence of plants and microorganisms, and (d) is god or a part of God inside of humans that has evolved people to their present form. [10] Sekhar's theory was an effort to find unification between genetics, evolution, thermodynamics, the Bhagavat Gita, and the Holy Bible.

Another religious thermodynamic postulate is that God created the low-entropy singularity or grandly-unified mass of energy that initiated the universe at the act of the Big Bang. [12] This conception derives from what has been called the “entropological proof” for the existence of god. [13]

In 1905, French physicist and thermodynamicist Pierre Duhem, a devout Catholic, argued that to draw cosmological or religious consequences from thermodynamics was unjustified. [15]

Islamic philosopher Abdul Karim Surush, for instance, argues that just as religion does not offer a plan for government, that any efforts to derive such a plan are fruitless. By extrapolation, Surush states that “dealing with social, economic, and political affairs requires special expertise and therefore must be entrusted to skilled professionals who are well versed in the modern social sciences of economics, sociology, and public administration. Surush states that religion cannot explain these dynamics or deal with questions raised and problems created by them, or specifically: [7]

“There can be no religious thermodynamics and, by the same token, there can be no religious politics and economics.”

The pinnacle example of a type of “religious thermodynamics” is that in which the second law of thermodynamics, which states that isolated systems tend towards maximal entropy (considered as a synonym of disorder), is used to negate or disprove the phenomenon of evolution.

1. (a) Crosson, Frederick J. (1967). Science and Contemporary Society, (section: “Thermodynamics and Religion: a Historical Perspective”, pg. 57). University of Notre Dame Press.
(b) Murphy, George L. (1991). “Time, Thermodynamics, and Theology”. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 26, no. 3, September.
(c) Theological thermodynamics - a reprint of the two classic (1972, 79) papers on the temperatures of heaven and hell.
(d) Russell, Robert J. (1998). “The Theological Consequences of the Thermodynamics of a Moral Universe”, CTNS Bulletin 19/4, Fall: pgs. 19-24.
2. Kaufman, Myron. (2002). Principles of Thermodynamics, (pg. 78). CRC Press.
3. Hanegraaf, Wouter J. (1998). New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, (pg. 163-66). State University of New York Press.
4. Coppedge, David F. (2000). "World's greatist creation scientists (from Y1K to Y2K)", Master Plan Productions.
5. Barnes, Ernest W. (1933). Scientific Theory and Religion: the World Described by Science and its Spiritual Interpretation (The Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen, 1927-1929), (pg. 230). The University Press.
6. An example would be the 1920s "spiritual energy", "noosphere", thermodynamic evolution theories of French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as well as the 2005 "genetic entropy" theories of American plant geneticist John Sanford.
7. Hunter, Shireen. (1998).The Future of Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations or Peaceful Coexistence? (pg. 104). Praeger Publishers.
8. Willmington, Harold L. (1981). Willington’s Guide to the Bible, (pg. 16-17). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
9. Rolston, Holmes. (1999). Genes, Genesis, and God: Values and Their Origins in Natural and Human History, (pg. 364). Cambridge University Press.
10. (a) Sekhar, DMR. (2007). "On the Incompatibilities of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Primary Instincts, Natural Selection, and the Properties of DNA." (8-pages). Submitted as article proposal to the Journal of Human Thermodynamics.
(b) Sekhar, DMR. (2007). "Genopsych and the God", Blog, July, 16.
(c) Sekhar, DMR. (2007). “Genopsych: Some aspects on Philosophy”, Dmrsekhar Blogs,, July 26.
11. Thims, Libb. (2008). The Human Molecule, (preview). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
12. Edwards, Rem B. (2001). What Caused the Big Bang, (pg. 283). Rodopi.
13. Landsberg, Peter T. (1999). Seeking Ultimates: An Intuitive Guide to Physics, (pgs. 231-32). CRC Press.
14. Hiebert, Erwin N. (1966). "The Uses and Abuses of Thermodynamics in Religion." American Academy of Arts and Science.
15. Kragh, Helge. (2008). “Pierre Duhem, Entropy, and Christian Faith.” Physics in Perspective, Vol. 10, pgs. 379-95.
16. Mansfield, Vic. (2008). Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics (entropy, 8+ pgs; thermodynamics, pgs. 132, 145). Templeton Foundation.

● Skekgg, Andrew. (2009). “The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics” (V), Andrew Skegg, Jul 7.

Further reading
● Williams, Emmet L. (1981). Thermodynamics and the Development of Order. Creation Research Society.
● Harvey, Allan H. (2000). "The Second Law of Thermodynamics in the Context of the Christian Faith", Sept. 03.
● Geisler, Norman, L. and Turek, Frank. (2004). I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Second law of thermodynamics, 76-78, 80, 84, 86, 90, 124-25). Crossway Books.
● Ankerberg, John and Burroughs, Dillon. (2009). Taking a Stand for the Bible (section: First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, pg. 108). Harvest House Publishers.

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