There are several important aspects of the second law of thermodynamics that must be considered in discussing this issue. The most commonly cited issue is that of “disorder.” The term used to describe this disorder is entropy.1 The second law states that closed systems tend towards increased entropy—an increase in disorder. Another way to look at this is that the amount of energy available for work in a closed system is decreasing.2 The law allows for increasing the amount of order in a given system, so when applying the law, the system being discussed must be carefully defined.
So if things are “running down,” does it follow that this would not have begun until man sinned and brought about the effects of the Curse? Actually, this statement does not hold up under closer examination.
Actually, this “running down” is not necessarily bad, as it is responsible for many of the “good” things that happen around us every day. We could not digest our food without the second law being in operation. The breaking down of food into simpler molecules is a consequence of this process. The molecules are broken down to release the energy that is used to maintain the body and even provide for growth.
If Adam walked up or down a hill, he could not maintain his footing without a degree of friction between his feet and the ground. Friction is a process that converts kinetic energy into heat, another example of entropy.
Other examples would include the process of breathing (air moving from high pressure to low pressure) and the heating of the earth by the sun (a process that began on Day Four of Creation Week, obviously before the Fall). The sun is losing energy that is being gained by the earth.
Furthermore, imagine Eve kneeling down to get a drink from a cool stream. She cups her hands in the water and drinks. Adam then walks up to her, gently holds her hand that has been cooled by the water, and they walk about the Garden. Adam’s hand would warm Eve’s hand that had been cooled in the stream. This heat transfer would be yet another example of the second law in action. So entropy was in effect in the original perfect creation.
This concept can confuse people, which is understandable—considering we most often equate entropy with decay and thus associate this idea with the “running down of the universe.” However, some aspects of entropy are important for maintaining life, and these aspects are not “bad.”
Prior to the Fall, God upheld His creation perfectly. After man disobeyed God—which brought about the effects of the Curse—it was as if God withdrew some of His sustaining power (all the while still upholding the universe but not in a perfect state—giving us a taste of what life is like without Him). Thus we have a world that is suffering the cumulative effect of this increasing disorder (decay).
So the argument that the second law of thermodynamics began at the Fall is one that we believe Christians should not use.