An Interesting Quote from a Physical Chemistry Textbook (1971)

The following quote is from a physical chemistry textbook called “Introduction to Thermodynamics: Classical and Statistical” by, Richard E. Sonntag, and Gordon J. Van Wylen.  published by Wiley Press in 1971.

“The final point to be made is that the second law of thermodynamics and the principle of the increase in entropy have philosophical implications. Does the second law of thermodynamics apply to the universe as a whole? Are there processes unknown to us that occur somewhere in the universe, such as “continual creation” that have a decrease in entropy associated with them, and thus offset the continual increase in entropy that is associated with the natural processes that are known to us? If the second law is valid for the universe (we of course do not know if the universe can be considered as an isolated system) how did it get in the state of low entropy? On the other end of the scale, if all processes known to us have an increase in entropy associated with them, what is the future of the natural world as we know it?

Quite obviously it is impossible to give conclusive answers to these questions on the basis of the second law of thermodynamics alone. However, the authors see the second law of thermodynamics as man’s description of the prior and continuing work of a creator who also holds the answer to the future destiny of man and the universe”.

So back in 1971, there were some physical chemists who were able to insert some words about their faith into a standard textbook. That might certainly attract some controversy today, even though the authors make it clear where the science ends and the philosophical questions begin, what the unanswered questions are, and what are their personal beliefs in response to those questions.

In today’s world I am pretty sure that such language and the mention of a creator would be edited out of a science textbook, even with a disclaimer of  a philosophical side note. The anti-religion fervor among many academics would likely produce a resounding roar of condemnation, as was seen a few years ago when a paper published in the journal PLOS Biology mentioned the “creation of the hand”. The journal almost closed and apologies and retractions followed.

I think we can justifiably wonder if academic and scientific anti-theism derives solely from the fear of a religious intrusion into the magisterium of science, as is commonly put forward, or perhaps just as much from the suspicion among these very intelligent people, that theists might indeed have a sound philosophical and even scientific leg to stand on after all.

We have witnessed several instances of scientific revisionism when an acknowledged fact seems to point a bit too directly toward a theistic explanation. The denial of the genetic code as a true informational code, and the denial of the start of the universe with the Big Bang are two currently popular examples. Perhaps its time to fully and finally expose the false legend that all of science is kin to atheism, and allow academic scientists to return to the freedom to express their personal beliefs, as had apparently been the case in 1971.

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5 Responses to An Interesting Quote from a Physical Chemistry Textbook (1971)

  1. SheilaDeeth says:

    I remember Prof. Polkinghorne’s “extra” lectures that were so very well attended. He always included a touch of faith, as well as lots of fascinating mathematics, applied to curious subjects such as how a bee can fly. He was a very popular lecturer in the math departments at Cambridge. But of course, that was back in the 70s too. Not sure what things are like in England now, but I still associated anti-faith in science and anti-science in faith with the US rather than the UK. I hope we’ve not exported it.

  2. As long as the distinction between “science” as an epistemological system based in physical measurements and their logical relationships, and philosophy, metaphysics, or speculation is made clear, I don’t see any problem with the inclusion of the latter in broader presentations. Value, ethic, beauty, purpose, etc… are no less essential to the human condition than is an understanding of cause and effect. The problems seem to occur when approaches are confused with one another.

    “…scientists have learned that the starting-point of their investigations does not lie solely in the perceptions of the senses, and that science cannot exist without some small portion of metaphysics. Modern Physics impresses us particularly with the truth of the old doctrine which teaches that there are realities existing apart from our sense perceptions; and that there are problems and conflicts where these realities are of greater value for us than the richest treasures of experience.“
    — Max Planck, “The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics”, 1931.

  3. dgilmanjm says:

    If there are scientific reasons to mention God, why not mention him?

    There are excellent reasons for saying that the entire universe is an artefact.

    There are excellent reasons for saying that natural causes are not the reasons for life as we know it developing on this planet.

    • Of course I agree with you, Dennis. But the scientific community, at least the majority in academia, has grown strongly anti-religious in the past 50 years. There are a few signs this might be changing, but it will take a while.

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