EVOLUTION AND THE SNOWFLAKE
by Larry Vardiman, Ph.D.
Johannes Kepler, the yet-to-be famous astronomer, presented a
unique New Year's gift to his patron in the winter of 1611. The
scientist gave his benefactor a witty, reasoned discussion on why
snowflakes (more exactly, ice crystals) have six corners. Since
microscopes and diffraction instruments had not yet been invented,
no one really knew why crystals took the shapes they did. Kepler
(1) argued for the development of external shapes in crystals and
other natural structures by the fill-
Figure 1. A plane dendritic ice crystal
approximately 5inm in diameter.
ing of three-dimensional space with atoms in various packing
arrangements. He used analogies such as stacked cannon balls, bee
hives, and packing of geometric shapes. Since he was unable to
convince himself that the internal structure produced the external
shapes, Kepler erroneously concluded that there is a "formative
principle" which maintains six-cornered shapes. However, for his
efforts to understand the cause of crystal shapes and his
arguments which almost resulted in the correct explanation, he has
been called by some "the father of crystallography."
Ice crystals are still being studied today. It is not
completely clear, even now, why crystals grow into some of the
beautiful shapes like that shown in Figure 1. Since the growth of
ice crystals seems to result in greater order, or decrease in
entropy, some have attempted to justify the theory of evolution by
an analogy to crystal growth. We will discuss the current
research on ice crystal growth and why it does not support the
theory of evolution.
Larry Vardiman, Ph.D. is Acting Head of the Astro/Geophysics
Department at ICR as well as Head of Physical Sciences at
Christian Heritage College.
The hexagonal symmetry of an ice crystal is an outward
manifestation of an internal arrangement of the atoms in the ice.
Each ice molecule is V-shaped with an angle of 109 degrees between
the legs. Ice molecules are bound together in an open lattice and
form puckered layers with hexagonal symmetry. Each molecule is
surrounded by four nearest neighbors, so that each group has one
molecule at the center and the other four at the corners of a
tetrahedron, all at the same distance away. The molecules are
held in place mainly by electrostatic attraction between the
positive charge of the hydrogen atom and the negative electrons of
the neighboring oxygen atom. This is called a hydrogen bond.
Ice crystals grow as thin hexagonal plates or long hexagonal
columns, depending on temperature. Two faces can be defined for
ice crystals -the basal face and the prism face. The basal face
is typically the sur face which shows hexagonal symmetry. For
example, the basal face in Figure I is the surface facing the
reader. Both the upper and lower surfaces are basal faces. The
prism face is perpendicular to the basal face. It faces outward
from an arm or portion of an arm. This face does not exhibit
hexagonal symmetry. For some temperatures, the basal face grows
faster than the prism face, resulting in long hexagonal columns or
needles. At other temperatures, the prism face grows faster,
resulting in thin hexagonal plates, fern-like stellar crystals,
and dendrites like that shown in Figure 1. The fern-like dendritic
nature of crystals is caused by the humidity. The greater the
humidity, the more feathery the crystals will appear.
Hallet and Mason (2) have explored the reasons the basal and
prism faces grow at different rates as a function of temperature.
They have discovered that vapor molecules collect on the surfaces
and migrate across the surfaces to their final lattice positions.,
The rate at which the molecules migrate across the surface varies
with temperature, and is different for the basal and prism faces.
For some temperature ranges there is a net surface migration from
the basal to the prism faces, resulting in a plate-like shape or
habit. For other temperature ranges the situation is reversed,
resulting in a net flux of molecules from the prism to the basal
faces and the formation of columns or needles.
The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of
the entire universe always increases. The change in entropy can
be defined in terms of heat flow, volume change, pressure change,
energy available to do work, or order and disorder. Since we are
talking about ordered arrangements of molecules in a crystal, we
will discuss the concept of entropy primarily in terms of order
and disorder. Entropy can be calculated by taking the logarithm
of the number of different ways that a quantity of molecules can
be arranged so that the arrangement looks the same to an observer.
For example, suppose we have a box with a barrier in the middle.
On one side are black molecules and on the other side white
molecules. Now we take out the barrier and let them mix. How
has the entropy changed? Feynman (3) in discussing this example
"How many ways cou'id the molecules be distributed so that the
white molecules are on one side of the box and the black molecules
are on the other? On the other hand, how many ways could we
distribute them with no restriction on which goes where? Clearly
there are many more ways they could be distributed in the latter
case." Feynman concludes that the entropy is greater when the
molecules can be distributed. It is also evident that a box
originally containing all black molecules on one end and white
molecules on the other will become mixed with time such that the
black and the white molecules eventually will be evenly dis-
tributed throughout the box. The probability is so low that an
original mixture of black and white molecules will separate with
time into all black molecules at one end and white molecules at
the other, that one never observes such an event.
With this understanding of entropy, then, we can better state
the second law of thermodynamics. First, entropy measures
disorder. Second, the universe always goes from order to
disorder; the entropy of the universe always increases. Now, one
of the first questions is whether entropy in an "open" local
system can ever decrease. The second law only requires that the
entropy for the entire universe always increases. If a local
system undergoes a decrease in entropy, the surroundings must
undergo an increase in entropy. Thus, either an increase or a
decrease of entropy can occur in a local system. The issue is not
whether a decrease in entropy can occur, but rather, what is
occurring in the surroundings to cause the decrease in entropy?
For ice crystals to form, producing more order, heat must be
extracted from the local system and added to the surroundings, or
the surroundings must be made more disordered in some way. The
agent for causing this ordering of a local system and disordering
of the surroundings is the immediate or secondary result of an
action by an agent separate from the system. This agent must do
work to remove heat or add order to a system, if entropy is to
decrease. The increase in apparent order in the crystal is
actually caused by the loss of heat energy and the precoded
structure of the water molecules and their associated hydrogen
Whenever the ordering of a local system results in beauty,
symmetry, or function, this requires a predesigned code, and does
not happen by chance. Each physical agent operating at a higher
level must function with greater order and power than the effect
it produces. The ultimate cause which controls all secondary
processes must have infinite power and organizing intelligence.
Such a first cause is called God. Thus God either directly or by
secondary processes produces order.
The growth of crystals has been used as an analogy to support
the theory of evolution. The argument is made that since the
orderly growth of crystals is a natural process, the evolution of
life proceeding from simple to more complex is also a natural
process. However, we have shown that ice crystals only grow when
an outside agent is driving the process against the natural decay
process described by the second law of thermodynamics.
The theory of evolution suggests that increased organization
has developed simply by random processes. Prigogine (4), for
example, in attempting to make this argument, has stated ". . in a
non-isolated system there exists a possibility for formation of
ordered, low-entropy structures at sufficiently low temperatures."
However, random processes in the physical world always move in the
direction of greater total disorder, according to the second law
of thermodynamics. If simple physical processes like the mixing
of gases always becomes more disorderly, why should complex
biological processes naturally become more orderly? Prigogine (4),
after attempting to demonstrate self-organization in non-
equilibrium systems by random processes states, "Unfortunately,
this (self-organization) principle cannot explain the formation of
biological structures. The probability that at ordinary
temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to
give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated
functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small."
Furthermore, crystal order results from the withdrawal of heat
energy, whereas evolutionists argue that evolution s)ustains
itself by the addition of heat energy from the sun. The two are
not analagous at all. Still further, evolution is supposed to be
openended, continuing indefinitely its growth in order, whereas a
crystal, once formed deterministically by the precoded system
which produced it, is at a dead end, and can go no further toward
Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, is in perfect
agreement with the observation of order in the universe and its
decay with time. Nowhere is there any evidence in the Bible, or
elsewhere, that order slowly increases over long periods of time
by the process of biological evolution, or any other chance
The growth of ice crystals does not provide evidence to
support the theory of evolution. Ice crystal growth is consistent
with the second law of thermodynamics, and both are evidences for
God's oversight and care for His creation. God is a God of beauty
and order, and wishes for us to study His creation to learn more
about Him. He asks us to consider these questions further, when
He says, "Have you entered into the treasures of the snow?" (Job
(1) Kepler, Johannes, The Six cornered Snowflake, edited by Coliii
Hardie, Oxford Press, 1966, 74 pp.
(2) Hallett, J. and B.J. Mason, "-Ffte influence of temperature
and supersaturation on the
habit of ice crystals grown froni the vapour," Proc. Royal Soc.
A247, 1958, p. 440.
(3) Feynman, R.P., R.B. Leighton, and M. Sancis, The Feynmori
Lectures on Physics,
Addison Wesley, 1963, Chapter 46, pp. 1 9.
(4) Prigogine, Nicolis, and Babloyants, "Thermodynamics of
Evolution," Physics Today,
Vol. 25, No. 11, 1972, pp. 23 28.
Index - Evolution or Creation1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 78 | 79 | 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 | 86 | 87 | 88 | 89 | 90 | 91 | 92 | 93 | 94 | 95 | 96 | 97 | 98 | 99 | 100 | 101 | 102 | 103 | 104 | 105 | 106 | 107 | 108 | 109 | 110 | 111 | 112 | 113 | 114 | 115 | 116 | 117 | 118 | 119 | 120 | 121 | 122 | 123 | 124 | 125 | 126 | 127 | 128 | 129 | 130 | 131 | 132 | 133 | 135 | 136 | 137 | 138 | 139 | 140 | 141 | 142 | 143 | 144 | 145 | 146 | 147 | 148 | 149 | 150 | 151 | 152 | 153 | 154 | 155 | 156 | 157 | 158 | 159 | 160 | 161 | 162 | 163 | 164 | 165 | 166 | 168 | 169 | 170 | 171 | 172 | 173 | 174 | 175 | 176 | 177 | 178 | 179 | 180 | 181 | 182 | 183 | 184 | 185 | 186 | 187 | 188 | 189 | 190 | 191 | 192 | 193 | 194 | 195 | 196 | 197 | 198 | 199 | 200 | 201 | 202 | 203 | 204 | 205 | 206 | 207 | 208 | 209 | 210 | 211 | 212 | 213 | 214 | 215 | 216 | 217 | 218 | 219 | 220 | 221 | 222 | 223 | 224 | 225 | 226 | 227 | 228 | 229 | 230 | 231