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Evolution & the 2nd law?

Knepper, Marc A MKNEPPER at NMU.EDU
Wed Nov 22 13:44:05 EST 1995

Mark fry writes:

>The other day a physicist friend of mine said that he does not believe
>the theory of evolution, based on the laws of physics.  His argument went
>something like this:
>The theory of evolution, as it is generally presented, states that
>billions of years ago, some proto-organism arose from the primevil ooze.
>It presumably had some genetic material, encoding but a few "genes".
>Since then, more complex organisms have "arisin":  each of these more
>complex organisms contains more information in its genetic code.  This
>represents an accumulation of information and energy, or a tendancy towards
>more order in the universe.  This is in direcyt conflict with the second
>law of thermodynamics that states "the entropy of the universe increases
>in all natural processes".
>Even if the case of natural selection is considered (the differential
>survival and REPRODUCTION of those individuals with greater fitness) we
>still have an increase in proportion of genes that optimize survial in a
>given environment.  This again represents a tendancy towards more order.
>Extinction is consistant with the second law.
>His argument is not that of a crackpot, but seems to be based in the laws
>of physics.  I'm not sure if the basis of his argument (ie information =
>energy) is strong enough to support his argument.
>I know this a little out of the scope of this group, but I know that most
>of you are knowledgable about molecular evolution.  I would like to know
>what others think of this argument.
>"What does a physicist know anyway?"  ;)


I can't believe how often this completely faulty logic is used to
discredit evolutionary theory! It's *especially* disheartening when such
arguments are used by those who should know better, namely scientists.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy tends to increase *in
a closed system*, i.e. one that doesn't allow energy to escape or enter
from the outside. The earth and all living organisms are *not* closed
systems, but are *open* systems--energy is constantly being poured into
these systems from the sun. The universe is a closed system and is
becoming more disordered in accordance with the 2nd Law. I'm neither a
physicist nor a physical chemist, but I'm sure they would agree with
this as I have explained it.

If the earth were a closed system, then he would be correct, but take a
look around: all living organisms (open system) increase in order and
complexity throughout their development. How come no one argues that
embryogenesis is a violation of the 2nd Law?

I find that those who have the most trouble with evolutionary theory are
those who have a hard time reconciling their religious beliefs with
scientific evidence. But if they would just stop and think they would
realize that these two things do not have to contradict each other. I
consider myself a religious person, but I am also an evolutionist. If
there *is* a god, and he *is* omnipotent as most religions would agree,
then why *couldn't* this god use natural means, i.e., evolution, to
create life? Those are just my thoughts, since you asked for them.

I agree that this topic is beyond the scope of this list, but it's
interesting nonetheless.

Marc Knepper
Department of Biology
Northern Michigan University
mknepper at nmu.edu

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