“Every several years or so, the major news magazines—Time, Newsweek, and the like—run a cover story about the origin and fate of the universe. “When did the universe begin?” and “When will it end?” are two of the questions investigated in such articles. The fact that the universe had a beginning and will ultimately die is not even up for debate in these reports. Why? Because modern scientists know that a beginning and an ending are demanded by one of the most validated laws in all of nature—the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
S—The Second Law of Thermodynamics
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the S in our SURGE acronym. Thermodynamics is the study of matter and energy, and the Second Law states, among other things, that the universe is running out of usable energy. With each passing moment, the amount of usable energy in the universe grows smaller, leading scientists to the obvious conclusion that one day all the energy will be gone and the universe will die. Like a running car, the universe will ultimately run out of gas.
You say, “So what? How does that prove that the universe had a beginning?” Well, look at it this way: the First Law of Thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. In other words, the universe has only a finite amount of energy (much as your car has only a finite amount of gas). Now, if your car has only a finite amount of gas (the First Law), and whenever it’s running it continually consumes gas (the Second Law), would your car be running right now if you had started it up an infinitely long time ago? No, of course not. It would be out of gas by now. In the same way, the universe would be out of energy by now if it had been running from all eternity. But here we are—the lights are still on, so the universe must have begun sometime in the finite past. That is, the universe is not eternal—it had a beginning.
A flashlight is another way to think about the universe. If you leave a flashlight on overnight, what’s the intensity of the light in the morning? It is dim, because the batteries have used up most of their energy. Well, the universe is like a dying flashlight. It has only so much energy left to consume. But since the universe still has some battery life left (it’s not quite dead yet), it can’t be eternal—it must have had a beginning—for if it were eternal, the battery would have died by now.
The Second Law is also known as the Law of Entropy, which is a fancy way of saying that nature tends to bring things to disorder. That is, with time, things naturally fall apart. Your car falls apart; your house falls apart; your body falls apart. (In fact, the Second Law is the reason many of us get “dresser disease” when we get older—our chest falls into our drawers!) But if the universe is becoming less ordered, then where did the original order come from? Astronomer Robert Jastrow likens the universe to a wound-up clock. If a wind-up clock is running down, then someone must have wound it up.
This aspect of the Second Law also tells us that the universe had a beginning. Since we still have some order left—just like we still have some usable energy left—the universe cannot be eternal, because if it were, we would have reached complete disorder (entropy) by now.
A number of years ago, a student from a Christian ministry on an Ivy League campus invited me (Norm) to speak there on a related topic. During the lecture, I basically told the students what we’ve written here but in a lot more detail. After the lecture, the student who had invited me there asked me to have lunch with him and his physics professor. As we sat down to eat, the professor made it clear that he was skeptical of my argument that the Second Law requires a beginning for the universe. In fact, he said he was a materialist who believed that only material exists and that it has existed from all eternity.
“If matter is eternal, what do you do with the Second Law?” I asked him.
He replied, “Every law has an exception. This is my exception.”
I could have countered by asking him if it’s really good science to assume that every law has an exception. That doesn’t seem very scientific and may even be self-defeating. It may be self-defeating when you ask, “Does the law that ‘every law has an exception’ have an exception?” If it does, maybe the Second Law is the exception to the law that every law must have an exception.
I didn’t go down that road, because I thought he would take exception. Instead, I backed off the Second Law for a moment and decided to question him about materialism.
“If everything is material,” I asked, “then what is a scientific theory? After all, the theory about everything being material isn’t material; it’s not made out of molecules.”
Without a moment’s hesitation he quipped, “A theory is magic.”
“Magic?” I repeated, not really believing what I was hearing.
“What’s your basis for saying that?”
“Faith,” he quickly replied.
“Faith in magic?” I thought to myself. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! If faith in magic is the best the materialists have to offer, then I don’t have enough faith to be a materialist!”
In retrospect, it seemed to me that this professor had a brief moment of complete candor. He knew he couldn’t answer the overwhelming evidence in support of the Second Law, so he admitted that his position had no basis in evidence or good reason. In doing so, he provided another example of the will refusing to believe what the mind knows to be true, and how the atheists’ view is based on sheer faith.
The professor was right about one thing: having faith. In fact, he needed a leap of faith to willingly ignore the most established law in all of nature. That’s how Arthur Eddington characterized the Second Law more than eighty years ago:
The Law that entropy increases—the Second Law of Thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation—well, these experiments do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.8
Since I could see that the professor was not really interested in accepting the truth I didn’t ask him any more potentially humiliating questions. But since we couldn’t ignore the power of the Second Law on our own bodies, we both ordered dessert. Neither of us was willing to deny that we needed to replace the energy we had just used up!”
Excerpt From: Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek. “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.” Crossway Books. iBooks.
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