Rational Faith

Detecting Design and Entropy on a Beach





We had the pleasure in vacationing in Jamaica this past summer. Of course we made it to the beach where I waded in and sat, enjoying the warm waters. As I looked around at the sand and rocks beneath the water I found a rock which  appeared to have the impressions of a leaf embedded in it. With the possibility of having found a fossil I was, of course motivated to look for more. I found another one which appeared to have impressions of some type in it. I made a mental note to find someone knowledgeable about fossils to take a look at these to confirm whether these are what I thought they are.

As I continued to look for rocks in the warm water I came across an item I didn't expect to find. It was perfectly square, about 1/8" inch thick, flat on the bottom with beveled edges on top. It was blue with white speckles on top with a shiny coat covering the top, and solid white on the bottom. Clearly it was a tile, likely ceramic, obviously the product of an intelligently designed process. Anything that is designed obviously requires a designer - that's undisputed so that's not what we're going to consider. The item under consideration today is this: why is it so obvious that the object - the square tile - was designed?

Items found on a Jamaican beach.
Items found on a Jamaican beach.

William Dembski, author of Intelligent Design[1], has identified how we recognize design and defines it in terms of contingency, complexity and specification. I discuss that in the context of the watch maker argument here. But these three items really boil down to one thing: probability. The reason that contingency, complexity and specification work together to indicate the presence of design is because they clearly and more importantly quite reliably (think extremely high probability bordering on certainty)   indicate something that has been designed.

But it's not just design that we recognize. We also recognize the result of natural processes. And in particular we recognize the processes that are the opposite of design. Processes that wear things down: rounding corners and straight edges - eventually wearing rocks down to little grains. These are recognizable processes of decay and erosion which increase entropy. Such processes do not create straight edges and they certainly don't create beveled edges.

Entropy can be defined as the measure of randomness or disorder in a system. The second law of thermodynamics states that in a closed, isolated system, the total entropy will always increase (going from low entropy (ordered state) to high entropy (disordered state))  - and never decrease. In the course of explaining the destiny of the universe (from his atheistic perspective) and the arrow of time, Physicist Brian Cox does a good job of explaining entropy.

Cox visits the abandoned diamond mine at Kolmanskop in southern Namibia where the effects of entropy are all around in the wind and sand swept decaying  structures in the desert.  While the wind blows the sand, he goes and sits beside a small pile of sand and explains:

"Entropy explains why, left to the mercy of the elements, mortar crumbles, glass shatters and buildings collapse. A good way to understand how, is to think of objects as not a single thing, but as being made of many constituent parts. Like the individual grains that make this pile of sand.  Now entropy is a measure of how many ways I can re-arrange those grains, and still keep the sand pile the same."

"And now let me create some order in the universe."[2]

[Taking a bucket sized castle mold, he makes a sand castle beside the sand pile, with four round towers with parapets at the corners . Cox places a small British flag on top and continues:]

"Now there are approximately as many sand grains in this sand castle as there are in the sand pile. But now, virtually anything I do to it [the sand castle] will mess it up, will remove the beautiful order from this structure. "

"Because of that the sand castle has a low entropy. It's a much more ordered state.

[Pointing to the sand pile]

"So: many ways of changing the sand grains without changing the structure: High entropy.

[Pointing to the sand castle:]

"Very few ways of re-arranging the sand grains without changing the structure, without disordering it: Low entropy"

He then ponders what would happen if he left his sand castle unprotected in the wind blown desert all day. He points out that it's obvious what will happen - the sand castle would "disintegrate" and become less ordered. To clarify further, he goes on, saying there's no fundamental law of physics that says the wind couldn't blow the sand from one place to another and deposit it all in the shape of a sand castle. But as he notes:

 "...it's just extremely extremely unlikely.  Because there are very few ways of organizing this sand so that it looks like a castle. It's overwhelming more likely that when the wind blows the sand around, it will take the low entropy structure - the castle - and turn it to a high entropy structure - the sand pile. So entropy always increases."[3]

And there you have our second way of recognizing design. We recognize it because the second law of thermodynamics says things will tend to a more disordered state. So it is highly, highly unlikely for nature to build a structure with a geometric shape - like a square - with sharp corners, beveled edges and a shiny top. That is a very highly ordered shape.  Thus  it is "extremely extremely unlikely" for  it to occur naturally. Just as it is extremely extremely unlikely for the wind to blow sand into the shape of a sand castle. Therefore the conclusion for both are the same: both the tile I found and the sand castle Cox made are the result of an intelligence directed process.

Cox uses the second law as it is often called,  to explain the arrow of time. Why does the future look different from the past? Why don't we see for instance, instead of a glass falling and breaking into many pieces; why don't we see  bits and pieces of glass coming together and forming a wine glass? One reason is the second law. The first example (breaking a glass) follows the law - going from low entry to high entropy. The second example - (making a glass with no intelligent process) -  breaks the law - going from high entropy to low entry.

As it turns out, the second law not only explains the arrow of time, it is also a reliable predictor of design. The natural process is for things to become more disordered, more random.  Thus if you find something that is highly ordered, with very low entropy, that cannot have happened by a natural process. That would break the second law. It would have to have been the work of a designer.

Now consider all the order we find around us. All of which points to a designer:

Consider the universe. Physicists (including Cox) acknowledge that the universe is highly ordered and  winding down to a disordered state. How did it get so highly ordered?  The fact that it is so highly ordered points to a designer.

Consider DNA. DNA is both highly ordered, and contains coded information.  How did it become so ordered? And where did the information come from? Natural processes can create neither. DNA clearly points to the existence of a designer who ordered it, created the code it operates by, and encoded the information in it.

Consider the cells that make up  your body. They are highly ordered, highly structured. Where did such order and structure come from? Darwinists will tell you "random mutation and natural selection." But random mutation assumes the existence of DNA. Natural selection selection assumes the existence of life. They have a chicken or the egg problem.  They cannot have a random mutation until 1) DNA is designed and created, 2) It is operating in a living creature 3) There is another living creature with which to reproduce.  And they can't have natural selection until they have 2 reproducing members of a species undergoing some kind of "evolutionary pressure" typically from yet another species whose origin they have no explanation for either.  Any scenario they come up with for the origin of life goes against the laws physics which they say they believe in: the second law  -  the principle that entropy (disorder) always increases; the law of biogenesis - life always comes from life; and the laws of genetics among others.

The second law guarantees that all these things must become more disordered over time, and thus eventually cease to function. And they are:

Cox on the universe:

"It's an inescapable fact of the universe written into the fundamental laws of physics. The entire cosmos will die." [4]

Geneticist John Sanford on the entropy apparent in DNA:

"The result is that all higher genomes must clearly degenerate. This is exactly what we would expect in light of Scripture—with the Fall—and is consistent with the declining life expectancies after the Flood that the Bible records."

"The problem of genetic entropy (genomes are all degenerating), is powerful evidence that life and mankind must be young."[5]

As to the cells in the body, since death comes to all, I trust no further evidence is necessary that they too eventually succumb to the second law. 

Since all these things were once highly ordered and are now displaying the effects of the second law, it points to the fact that all these things must at one point been highly ordered by a designer, an intelligence who made them that way. And with regards to life, not only must creatures have had a designer to design the physical body, there must have been an initial life giver. For the second law as Cox notes - predicts death for all things - even the universe; and the law of biogenesis assures  that no life will spring from the remains once entropy has reached it's maximum.

Thus in the atheistic world view eternal death is the fate of not only all living things, but the entire universe as Cox points out above.  Only the Christian world view has a solution to overcome the second law - the resurrection (John 11.25-25) and the new heaven and the new earth (Rev 21.1).  And this is not mere speculation.  Witnesses record that at the time of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, people long dead had the effects of entropy and death reversed and came back to life and appeared to many:

The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Matt 27.52-53

This offer of life is made to all, not just the "holy people."

 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
Jesus - (John 5.24)

Atheists and secular scientists will try to convince you that despite breaking these laws, the big bang and Darwinian evolution are still true.  They will tell you that life somehow, despite what we know to be true about entropy and biogenesis,  somehow lifeless chemicals became alive - though we never see that happening today.  Believing evolution must have happened elsewhere as they suppose it happened here,  secular scientists look for life on other planets, despite the fact that after over 50 years of SETI (search for extra terrestrial life) searching, none has ever been found. This dearth of detectable life in the universe has made the Fermi paradox - (Where is everybody?[6]) an even more acute problem for evolutionists. The  desperation of some to find extra-terrestrial life is almost palpable.

Who then has the more rational faith and who is making up stories? Those whose explanation of origin breaks the laws of physics they say they believe in? Or those whose explanation abides by the laws of physics, who realize that all the evidence points to an intelligence and a power outside of the physical creation that ordered everything in the beginning, who gave life to all and offers eternal life to all who will accept?

I submit the stories of the big bang and Darwinian evolution are just that - stories - fairy tales that clearly and obviously do not conform to the known laws of physics - particularly the second law. As physicist Sir Arthur  Eddington put it:

If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation—well these experimentalists 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.[7]

Secular scientists acknowledge that everything around us is experiencing the affects of the second law. Yet they seem unable to draw the proper conclusion about what that tells us about the origins of the universe and life. What does that tell you about whether such scientists are seeking truth in this matter or protecting a "pet theory" as Eddington put it?

It's amazing how much one little ceramic tile on a beach can teach about the ability to recognize design, and remind us of the design everywhere in the universe, and the impossibility that it came about by accident,  isn't it?


Duane Caldwell | posted December 11, 2017



1  Dembski, William A. Intelligent Design – The Bridge Between Science & Theology  Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999

2. Brian Cox, Wonders of the Universe episode "The Cosmos Made Conscious", BBC/Science Channel Documentary, 2011

3. Cox, Wonders of the Universe episode "The Cosmos Made Conscious"

4. Cox, Wonders of the Universe episode "The Cosmos Made Conscious"

5. John Sanford, Plant geneticist: ‘Darwinian evolution is impossible’, Creation 30(4):45–47
September 2008, https://creation.com/geneticist-evolution-impossible

6. There has been more than enough time, if evolution were true, for it to have happened on other planets and intelligent life to make its existence known as we do through radio signals sent into the universe. The fact that no extra-terrestrial life has ever been discovered is a powerful argument against the entire evolutionary worldview scheme. For more see:
Fermi Paradox, SETI Institute, accessed 12/10/2017, https://www.seti.org/seti-institute/project/details/fermi-paradox

7. Today in Science History, "Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington" accessed 12/11/17



All images - used by permission from the license holders as noted below

Jamaican Beach © 2017 Duane Caldwell
Jamaican Rocks © 2017 Duane Caldwell