The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)
This arena today sees the clash of two fundamental concepts of science, which one will emerge victorious? In the Blue corner we have the Second Law of Theeeeeeermodynamics! Weighing in at hefty 158 years old and representing a foundational view of how energy is represented and the ability of systems to do useful work it is considered unalterable and universal in it’s application. In the Red corner is the Theory of Evolution by Nnnnnnnnnnnatural Selection! Weighing in at only 150 years this theory has become a cornerstone of modern biology and allows an unprecedented ability to combine disparate fields into a unified whole, a biological theory of everything.
Evolution comes out swinging jumping straight to the thrust of the argument and serving up the whole conclusion of the theory. “Variation in species is acted upon by natural means to produce, over geological time, changes that increase the adaptation of the organism to it’s environment and can thus cause the creation of new species.”, the Second Law of Thermodynamics staggers from the blow but shakes it off quickly and returns it’s own salvo. “Entropy in a system will increase over time, order cannot come from disorder and increasing information content of a species DNA through random processes represents an increase in order.”, Evolution is down! Can this be the K.O. for the theory? Wait! The Ref is stepping in, Second Law has made an illegal move!
The Ref has made his ruling, Second Law only applies to either the Universe as a whole or energetically isolated subsystems, Evolution considered on it’s own is not an isolated system and so the argument is invalid. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is disqualified! What an humiliating development. Evolution wins by default but fans of the Second Law do not look happy, it’s clear that this ain’t over folks.
The Post-bout Wrap-up:
“Well Jim, Evolution started strong but didn’t even get a chance to follow-up. The Second Law made a good attempt to hit back but fumbled, what happened?”
“That’s right Bob, this was a case of a poor matching of opponents. Fans love to think about these two giants battling it out but they are really on the same side and it’s just not natural for them to be in conflict.”
“You’re right on the nose there Jim, like Superman vs Batman, it’s just not right. The fans are thinking too narrowly in this instance, the Second Law is very specific in the areas it can be applied to. It can apply to the entropy state of the entire Universe as this can be considered the ultimate set of all things and so by definition is a closed system with no energy input from an external source. Or it can be applied to systems that are self contained and also do not have access to an external source of energy with which to reverse it’s entropic progression. Evolution meets neither of those categories, it does not cover the entire Universe and it is not an isolated sub-system as energy external to it is able to be used to build organisms and drive variation. The majority of life on Earth owes it’s existence to the energy provided by the Sun and this is a resource that can inject more than enough energy into the system to allow all the processes we see.”
“I know, right? No doubt about it Bob, this is a fight that’s just not meant to happen. I think though that we will still see confused fans trying to force this conflict for a long time to come.”
“I have to agree with you there Jim, well next up is the fight between Astronomy and Astrology, what do you think will happen?”
“You’re kidding right Bob?”
Given the milestones reached this year, the 200th birthday of Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his revolutionary and unfortunately still controversial theory, expect to see a few more evolution based posts than I usually allow myself. This satirical rant was inspired by a letter I happened read in the Waikato Times dating back to December 7, 2007, old but it riled me up. The letter can be found Here and is the second from the bottom. It’s ignorance is excusable, I myself am ignorant of a great many things, but it’s the stupefying arrogance that really bugs me, in the letter the writer relates how in school he/she was taught about both thermodynamics and evolution. In his view the two were incompatible and so the teacher must have been espousing evolution in blatant disregard of science thus turning evolution into a religion. The mere possibility that the writer actually misunderstood both concepts never enters his/her head.