Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

(David Roemer) #1

Many people mistakenly think that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics, according to which a gas fills up the entire container it is in. If you have a gas with N molecules in a container, there are N times N-1 times N-2 times N-3 … ways of arranging the molecules in the container. The second law is based on probability calculations.

Biologists, trying to understand where proteins come from, calculate the probability of getting the primary structure of a large protein. There are 20 raised to the 600th power ways of arranging 600 amino acids. In other words, getting a protein by random chance is like all the molecules in a container moving into a small section of the contain. Hence, the existence of proteins violates the second law of thermodynamics.

This is reasoning is mistaken because the probability calculation in thermodynamics has to do with the location of molecules in three-dimensional space, whereas the probability calculation in biology has to do with which amino acid is next to which. It is another example, like ID, of religious people being bad scientists.

However, there is a twist. The American Journal of Physics published an article (“Entropy and Evolution”) with an absurd calculation proving that evolution does not violate the second law. The second law only applies to liquids, solids, and gases. It does not apply to living organisms. The article disgraces every physicist in the United States.

The Second Law (and Discovery Institute) Defeat Evolution Once Again

Last I checked, living organisms are composed of liquids, solids, and gases!

Thus, The Laws of Thermodynamics apply to living organisms just as they apply to everything else in the matter-energy universe. I would invite you to cite even one standard physics textbook used in any major accredited university which states that living organisms are somehow exempt from the 2nd Law.

(Whether or not a particular published calculation is valid is another matter. But I’ve yet to see any standard reference resource or textbook claim that living organisms somehow operate outside the Laws of Thermodynamics. That would be absurd. It even sounds like something reminiscent of the olden days prior to Friedrich Wöhler.)

(George Brooks) #3

The Thermodynamics theme should be treated as a dead end. Whether the bodies of mammals are made of water or subatomic plasma, it just isn’t relevant to the discussion of Evolution - - as long as we are talking about Evolution as stoked by a sun with an average lifespan of 5 billion years or more.

To prove this to a skeptic, all we have to do is remind him/her that a completely unorganized cloud of gas (a massive cloud) in the vacuum of space, will find itself inevitably drawn together by the inescapable forces of gravity.

Eventually it will be a sphere of gases becoming so compressed and dense that it ignites into a furiously blazing ball of hot fusion. And through the process of fusion, this chaotic and formless blob of gas becomes a cosmic machine that converts hydrogen and helium into more “complex” molecules like carbon and oxygen!

As far as terrestrial evolution is concerned, the second law of thermodynamics becomes a non-issue. Let’s keep it that way. Just remember what the gravity field of a giant blob of gas does … all on its own … in the deep dark cold recesses of interstellar space!

Read the article on Stellar Nucleosynthesis … be inspired … do something productive … make a castle on a beach!

(Curtis Henderson) #4

@davidroemer, may I ask if this forum post will be different from the last? Would you like to articulate, then debate about a certain point? Perhaps you could begin by explaining the contradiction in your post?

Are you saying it is absurd, or it is not absurd to state that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics? Maybe we can hold off on the science of your selected article until you make a point.


I used to find that very few of my undergrads who were not physics majors had even a basic grasp of how The Laws of Thermodynamics applied to heat transfer engines (including plants and ecosystems.) If they had been exposed to Young Earth Creationist ministries, they tended to think in very general and vague terms of order versus disorder and assumed that “The Theory of Evolution has to be false because, otherwise, evolution would involve a gain in order.” Few understood the issues of local gains in order/local reductions in entropy (such as a huge tree growing from a tiny seed or an organism evolving from an ancient ancestor) occurring at the “cost” of considerable heat dissipation into the environment through routine metabolism. I used to ask the most skeptical, “If evolutionary processes somehow defy The Laws of Thermodynamics, then why doesn’t photosynthesis and population growth through reproduction also violate the LOTs?” It was amazing how many would then try to claim “The Laws of Thermodynamics don’t apply to living organisms!”

(David Roemer) #6

The zeroth law of thermodynamics is that you measure temperature with a thermometer. Can you measure the temperature of a pendulum with a thermometer? I think not. You can measure the temperature of the bob and the string, but not the temperature of the pendulum. The pendulum does not have a temperature or an entropy. No physics textbook is going to say a living organism does not have a temperature because the idea is so absurd.


Yes, there are various instruments which can measure the temperature of a pendulum.

Of course it does. It is easily measured if you apply the right instrument to the task.

I certainly agree with that. (Of course, I never ever claimed that living organisms don’t have a measurable temperature. In retirement I’ve returned to the family agribusiness and we measure the temperatures of living organisms on a regular basis.)

(Christy Hemphill) #8

I agree. @davidroemer please provide a clear assertion for discussion, or this thread will be closed. It is a waste of people’s time to spend fifty posts trying to figure out what you are even asserting or disagreeing with.


How about we all save a bunch of time and typing and just point out we have been down this road before?

Evolution and 2nd law of thermodynamics

Which just happens to be the most recent trip down memory lane that I could find.

Calling @davidroemer

(Phil) #10

Agree . Will close the topic as it covers ground that has been rehashed enough.

(Phil) #11