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

(Matthew Pevarnik) #21

I would probably say instead that traditional thermodynamics equations work easiest and best for studying/describing systems near equilibrium (which would be above and below star formation)- it gets quite complicated quite fast and they are much harder to study in systems that are far from equilibrium/driven by powerful external energy sources. They do ‘uniformly apply everywhere’ but it is just very difficult to apply the equations in far from equilibrium systems.

In his most recent papers, many of the simulated systems did tend to just dissipate out to ‘nothingness’ so to speak. But for some initial settings, the system ended up evolving to fix points far from equilibrium, vigorously cycling through chemical reactions by harvesting the maximum energy possible from the environment-living creatures also maintain steady states of extreme forcing like this. England’s work show that it can arise basically right away, without extremely long wait times. Ultimately what he’s showing is that as long as you can harvest energy from your environment, order will spontaneously arise and self-tune. There’s a lot more to be figured out here but it is very interesting to say the least.

(Ashwin S) #22

This was discussed with pevaquark. Let me just recap my understanding of where the science stands now.
Most scientists accept that the required complexity for life cannot arise in systems under thermodynamic equilibrium or near equilibrium.
There is a theory by a guy called prigogine in the 1970s which describe how systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium can create lower entropy in molecules.
Most of the origin of life science is centered on this idea. The idea is that under disequilibrium conditions (i.e constantly recieving high energy inputs); a set of more complex molecules are formed which are at low entropy. These molecules the use the Gibbs free energy available at the reduced entropy to enter a next level of organisation/complexity and so on till you arrive at the first living molecule.i.e nanomachines are formed which use an input energy to upgrade themselves.
I have shared a paper above from Allan Cottrell which describes this phenomenon.
The obvious question is how do molecules organise themselves into the required machines. There are two options:

  1. Many miracles of chance.
  2. There exists an organising principle in nature which achieves this.

One approach of the second option is a theory proposed by Jeremy England shared by @pevaquark. If I understood correctly, he proposes that the universe has a preference towards using more efficient (I.e better)methods to increase its entropy.Its almost like nature is searching for good ways to dissipate energy. Living molecules/organisms are an efficient way to increase the overall entropy level… And hence thermodynamic necessity drives the creation of life.
It’s a nice idea. However, there is no proof that the universe cares one whit about how efficient a system is at generating entropy.
There is another guy called Kauffman who claims that self organisation happens through an unknown organising principle.
Till someone is able to suggest an organising principle as necessitated by thermodynamics…
The emergence of life remains extremely improbable… i.e a series of miracles.

Till then… saying people who say thermodynamics is a problem for evolution are antiscience… or pointing to snowflakes, the sun etc as an explanation is disingenuous.

Edit: I would like to further state the implications of Jeremy England’s idea being true upon evolution-

  1. It would make mutations that produce novelty non random (because it would be the universe making organisms more efficient at dissipating heat and increasing entropy).
  2. Natural selection wouldn’t really matter… because the universe is conspiring to increase entropy by modifying life… Or maybe we could just rechristened it natural selection of thermodynamic fitness!
    I.e evolutionist would have a new God.- The universe.

(sy_garte) #23

Thanks for telling about those guys called Prigogine, Kauffman and England. I am actually quite familiar with their work already. Your comment doesn’t really address mine, which was a general caution about using the second law inappropriately. I happen to agree that the origin of life appears to be a miraculous event at the moment, but the most important, universally held view about the origin of life is that whatever the mechanism was, it was not evolution as we know if for the diversity of life from a last universal common ancestor. I think it is really important for everyone, especially those in the ID movement to always be sure to separate abiogenesis from evolution. At the moment, going backwards from LUCA, is a lot like going backwards from the Planck time.

The conclusion from the England work is not quite right. England, (and others, like Smith) are proposing that some metabolic cycles that are critical to, and probably part of the earliest life forms are very good at heat dissipation, and would therefore be thermodynamically favored on the early Earth. I dont remember seeing anything about a “preference” for this means of entropy increase, but I might have missed it. The conclusion that this could be a mechanism driving the origin of life is a conjecture, which takes no account (as England admits) of a host of other chemical and biological issues. As for Stuart Kauffman, his idea (and his book) called “Order for Free” is based on solid evidence and he presents some explanatory principles for his hypotheses, which are no longer terribly controversial. Prigogine, (a Nobel Laureate, btw) is also a pioneer whose work is now accepted as valid.


Well, I’m still skeptical if these “settings” in which these systems arise are more abundant than what you’d expect by pure chance (I.E. random fluctuations making a car self assemble). If the papers actually show that the probability of the initial settings being in a certain organization that results in this “chain reaction” of increasing order occurring is higher than chance, then this model is indeed very interesting. Like I said, I’m not completely convinced but your comments made me give a little more credit and wait to see what comes out of that.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #25

I personally wouldn’t argue for ‘pure chance’ and don’t think abiogenesis researchers would either. However one has the laws of nature that impose themselves upon matter- that can lead to many different ends: one of which being an idea like England’s.

The probability question I’d say isn’t the right question- Random chance can’t really bring many systems far from equilibrium. However if you have some kind of system that has a continual energy source then you can drive it far from equilibrium and England and the like have found such systems to favor far from equilibrium final states.

Fair enough! And I like this mentality! Give any researchers heck and let them defend their ideas :slight_smile:


Well, I’m not saying that a full unicellular organism popped out by pure chance, but I can imagine some nucleotides assembling “by chance” given the right situations to form the first self replicating RNA molecules, so it is “pure chance” up to some point and self assembly/tuning from then on. I don’t work in this specific issue in biology, but as far as I know that is not really an unorthodox view. Maybe @T_aquaticus can help on that.

I’m not questioning that it can happen, in fact we do know that it certainly has happened at least once, since we have life. What I’m questioning is if England’s models do show that the appearence of ever increasing energy dissipating systems is more likely than not. If it is just proving that it CAN happen, then it is a nice proof of concept of something we already knew, but doesn’t really add anything new to the how question. Maybe the journalists are just overstating the case to get more views and get interest in the area and England himself doesn’t actually claim that, but it does really look like they are claiming that England’s work does claim that (that the appearence of increasingly efficient energy-dissipating systems is somehow favored and thus the appearence of life is expected to happen as a natural part of that, instead of being pure chance).

Of course! That is how science should be done. :grin:

(Matthew Pevarnik) #27

I think the challenge with all ‘OOL’ (origins of life) research is that there’s a lot of different factors that go in to it. England’s research at MIT is just a fraction of the story but I am a big fan of his work and others.

For now it is really only based upon the simplest of systems- it certainly is not demonstrative of larger systems. Not to mention once you have any kind of self replicating system then the theory of evolution takes over and knocks the ball out of the park. But all of his systems had some kind of fixed final point that they got to and were not self replicating. His work is at the most basic level of organizing molecules into complex systems that increase entropy.

Quanta Magazine seems to have a well balanced coverage of his work- the post of theirs I cited had plenty of critique from other experts on OOL issues.

As many others have pointed out, @Ashwin_s, including @Sy_Garte whom I cannot speak highly enough- there is a significant difference between the second Law and the OOL vs the theory of evolution that begins well after the OOL.

(A.M. Wolfe) #28

Sy has already talked about this, but just to underscore: these really are two completely separate issues. “No evolution without abiogenesis”? Nonsense! It’s perfectly possible to believe that God created life in the first place and then used descent with modification to create the diversity of life that exists today. I should know, since it’s what I’ve believed for most of my adult life. The only way you can truly say “no evolution without abiogenesis” is if what you really mean by “evolution” is “evolutionism,” or scientific positivism.

(George Brooks) #29


Maybe what @Ashwin_s meant was the reverse:

“No abiogenesis without Evolution…” ???

(George Brooks) #30


I’m not sure why you attempt this fine point. Is there any indication that people who employ a thermodynamic objection have any comprehension of these fine points?

I favor using the macro-level of comprehension of thermodynamics to show that their macro-level comprehension is inadequate.

Giant clouds of interstellar gas form stars. How so, based on their thermodynamic objection?

That’s really all you have to show to bankrupt their thermodynamic objection. There is no need to go any more granular - - such as the nature of planets or what have you.

Suns appear out of chaotic blobs of gas… and we can’t even stop that from happening.
Period. Full Stop. End of discussion.

P.S. If you really really gotta add something… just point out that stars, in their death throws, create more blobs of gas… from which new stars can emerge. Nice system!

(Randy) #31

Although don’t some Christians believe that abiogenesis is still possible?

(A.M. Wolfe) #32

Indeed! …which is in fact why I said “most of” my adult life. :slight_smile:

(Randy) #33

Got it :slight_smile:

(Phil) #34

And in the pre-scientific era, abiogenesis was commonly held to be true by virtually everyone, with no real theological objection.


Sometimes I think that these hardcore objections to evolution or science in general are more people trying to find some kind of hard proof for God (that would be impossible without God, therefore God!) than actual theological troubles they see on them.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #36

I think I know what you meant by that … that if abiogenesis hadn’t happened, then there would be nothing for evolution to work on … and none of us here to argue about it. All true enough.

But here is another sense (that you probably didn’t mean, but I’ll respond to it anyway) … If speculations or arguments fail to demonstrate how abiogenesis could have happened >>> then that failure would imply a failure of the theory of evolution to explain the development of already existing life.

In that last sense, your statement would become utterly wrong.


But is that at least shown for those simple systems? (That the appearence of ever increasing energy dissipating efficiency is more likely than not?). I think maybe I should try to look the papers…even if I will probably take a lot of time to understand the mathematical concepts (thats if I can do that at all without undergoing a advanced math/physics course). Is there any particular paper of his you’d recommend me on this issue (maybe a good review)?

(Randy) #38

Good point. I recall when in grade school with Pensacola Christian Correspondence School, text “A History of the World from the Christian Perspective,” that “spontaneous generation” had been “disproven” in the 1600s. This was part of their apologetics against evolution and abiogenesis. The problem is that of a little knowledge–because ordinary abiogenesis doesn’t happen, doesn’t mean it can’t happen; and the classical relegating the problem to God makes us forget to look into things earlier. One of the gradients of further study, as I recall, was that people used to think all organic compounds were only made by life (carbon based, mainly). Now that we can make those, and are making more complicated things closer to life (viruses, etc) we are still pushing spontaneous generation to God as the only source. However, it still is likely one of Boyd’s house of cards.

Having gone through painful disillusionment with YEC, I am particularly chary of ID, because I don’t want to make more disappointment or doubt in God.

I would love to be able to find Heaven on Earth as an absolute evidence of God. However, C S Lewis once commented that the Soviets crowed that they didn’t find Heaven in space when they beat us out there. He said something about how he would be surprised and disappointed to find God there (if you know the reference, I’d like it–I can’t find it). I’m glad our faith doesn’t rest on our ability to search God out materially.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #39

I just wanted to point out that spontaneous generation is not the same thing as abiogenesis. The link you provided helped outline why spontaneous generation has been a rejected idea for hundreds of years now.

Hence why someone is not wrong when they point out that spontaneous generation is disproven BUT it is misleading/dishonest to use that as evidence against abiogenesis. I think these two videos are very clear in walking through both topics:

(Randy) #40

Thanks. I’ll watch those as soon as I can. So–if I get it right, spontaneous generation is the belief “that life can, on a daily basis, arise from nonliving material. Abiogenesis attempts to explain how life on Earth began.”

that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.