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Thread: Evolution and thermodynamics

  1. #1 Evolution and thermodynamics 
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    Hello!
    I never heard of any incompatibility between evolution and the 2nd law of thermodynamics in scientific circles, however creationists are fond of claiming such an incompatibility exists. The strangest thing is that they even offer some quote from scientists:

    One from Roger Lewin:
    "One problem biologists have faced is the apparent contradiction by evolution of the second law of thermodynamics. Systems should decay through time, giving less, not more, order."
    A Downward Slope to Greater Diversity, Science, vol. 217, 24.9.1982, p. 1239

    and another from George P. Stravropoulos:
    "Yet, under ordinary conditions, no complex organic molecule can ever form spontaneously but will rather disintegrate, in agreement with the second law. Indeed, the more complex it is, the more unstable it is, and the more assured, sooner or later, is its disintegration. Photosynthesis and all life processes, and life itself, despite confused or deliberately confusing language, cannot yet be understood in terms of thermodynamics or any other exact science."
    The Frontiers and Limits of Science, American Scientist, vol. 65, November-December 1977, p.674



    Are the statement given by these scientists correct?
    Personnally, I question the validity of some claims like "system should decay" or that "spontaneously formed complex organic molecules must disintegrate"...

    What are your opinions?


    Last edited by termina; July 3rd, 2012 at 11:51 PM.
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  3. #2  
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    The strangest thing is that they even offer some quote from scientists:
    Not strange at all.

    Without reading the whole paragraph-article-paper-chapter-book, it's not always clear that such extracts mean what they're claimed to mean. For all we know, the previous (or subsequent) page, paragraph, sentence or even a phrase may put an entirely different complexion on what the person using the quotation is purporting to convey.

    With all these folks who oppose mainstream science, we have to be hyper-alert for quotes or graphs or data selected out of context, cherry-picked or, in the worst cases, creatively edited to show the exact opposite of the author's original work.


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  4. #3  
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    Quote Originally Posted by termina View Post
    Hello!
    I never heard of any incompatibility between evolution and the 2nd law of thermodynamics in scientific circles, however creationists are fond of claiming such an incompatibility exists. The strangest thing is that they even offer some quote from scientists:

    One from Roger Lewin:
    "One problem biologists have faced is the apparent contradiction by evolution of the second law of thermodynamics. Systems should decay through time, giving less, not more, order."
    A Downward Slope to Greater Diversity, Science, vol. 217, 24.9.1982, p. 1239

    and another from George P. Stravropoulos:
    "Yet, under ordinary conditions, no complex organic molecule can ever form spontaneously but will rather disintegrate, in agreement with the second law. Indeed, the more complex it is, the more unstable it is, and the more assured, sooner or later, is its disintegration. Photosynthesis and all life processes, and life itself, despite confused or deliberately confusing language, cannot yet be understood in terms of thermodynamics or any other exact science."
    The Frontiers and Limits of Science, American Scientist, vol. 65, November-December 1977, p.674



    Are the statement given by these scientists correct?


    What are you opinions?
    No. The first is from an article about the exact opposite and argues that increasing complexity is not only possible but inevitable.
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  5. #4  
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    Oh, and I should have said ..... The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is a bit of a red flag.

    When you see someone saying but... but... but... that can't be true, can't happen because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, take it with a big pinch of salt as you dust off your physics knowledge. Generally they're overlooking something really basic, like whether it is or isn't a closed system or there's a source of energy or something like that. Or they just don't know what they're talking about.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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  6. #5  
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    To rephrase adelady's point, since it is important and merits repetition: in delivering an argument it is effective for clarity to highlight difficulties with an idea, then to explore why these are merely apparent difficulties that can be ignored, or real difficulties that can be overcome. In such a presentation the difficulties should be presented in their most damaging light. Creationists have been known to quote ine such passages, taking them wholly out of context, to support their own case. This is at best ignorant and at worst deceitful - or, using their vocabulary, sinful.
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  7. #6  
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    Thank you all for your answers.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by termina View Post
    Personnally, I question the validity of some claims like "system should decay" or that "spontaneously formed complex organic molecules must disintegrate"...

    What are your opinions?
    To add a bit to the excellent responses you've gotten, please note that the "2nd law of thermo" argument against evolution is a very old one. Even though it's been thoroughly discredited, creationists/IDers keep pretending otherwise (and, as Adelady and others noted, IDers often employ quote-mining, quote-distortion and other dishonest tactics, presumably because they recognize that they have no legitimate arguments to offer). If you're interested in a detailed analysis of the arguments, you may want to read The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Evolution, and Probability.
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  9. #8  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    it's also worth noting that creationists are very good at selective quoting

    often a scientist writing a book will make an introductory statement, making it seem that a certain item is problematic, only to come up with an answer in subsequent paragraphs - creationists often lift out the paragraph that states the problem, and totally ignore the solution to it

    this is such a well-worn tactic that Dawkins in some of his books directs himself specifically to them with words "warning to creationists : do not use this statement to prove that ..."
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  10. #9  
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    Quote Originally Posted by termina View Post
    ... claims like "system should decay" or that "spontaneously formed complex organic molecules must disintegrate"...
    The argument regarding the 2nd law has been addressed above but I would add that the driving force towards equilibrium in systems that are not thermodynamically closed is not the maximisation of entropy but rather the minimisation of free energy. To demonstrate this: if entropy only ever increased then the water I've just put in my freezer will never freeze to form ice cubes.
    Last edited by nano; July 5th, 2012 at 07:06 AM.
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