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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and evolution

I thought that critics of Darwinism long ago gave up arguments based on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, but such arguments were recently posted on Answers in Genesis:

The principles of thermodynamics, even in open systems, do not allow a new functional biological structure to be achieved without new machinery already being in place.

Let’s put a bit more detail in here. The laws of thermodynamics have one law in particular—the Second Law of Thermodynamics—which says that in a closed system the amount of energy that is no longer available for useful work is increasing. This is energy “lost” to the system per unit degree of temperature, and it is called the entropy of the system. The principle of energy loss for useful work still applies in an open system, since there is no benefit unless there is a machine to use the energy added.

Energy is defined as the ability or capacity to do work. Energy can be added to an open system without regard to the availability of a machine to convert that energy into useful work.

Boeing 777s cannot be made in a car factory by adding loads of sunlight or electricity unless the machinery is available to use that energy to build Boeing 777s. Similarly the human brain cannot be formed from simpler machines just by adding energy if there is no machinery available to do this. Spontaneously forming of such machinery will not happen.

The conversion of a car factory to produce Boeing 777's concerns a purposeful macroscopic arrangement of parts, whereas the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics does not concern such an arrangement of parts. In the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, energy in a substance is uniformly distributed at the atomic or molecular level, as in the kinetic energy in the atoms or molecules of gases.

. . . .unlike macro machines, chemical machinery at the molecular level involves setting up proteins of hundreds and usually thousands of polypeptide bonds linking a string of amino acids. And each of these bonds is in a raised energy state such that, left to itself, it would break down and not stay in that state. To suggest, as some are saying, that the raised energy state would be maintained while natural selection favored, over many generations, single random mutations, one by one, to finally bring together the full complement of necessary amino acids is, frankly, thermodynamically absurd. This is never observed and is contrary to all thermodynamic principles of energy transfer.

DNA is generally stable and shows no particular tendency to spontaneously decay.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is often stated in ways that have nothing to do with biology, e.g.,

Kelvin statement: It is impossible to construct an engine, operating in a cycle, whose sole effect is receiving heat from a single reservoir and the performance of an equivalent amount of work.

Clausius statement: It is impossible to carry out a cyclic process using an engine connected to two heat reservoirs that will have as its only effect the transfer of a quantity of heat from the low-temperature reservoir to the high-temperature reservoir

I think that a good illustration of the effect of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is a closed system with two finite reservoirs at different temperatures plus an engine -- say, a Carnot engine -- that performs work by operating in a cycle in which heat is received from the hot reservoir in one stage of the cycle and heat is transferred to the cold reservoir in another stage. As the work is performed, the hot reservoir becomes cooler and the cold reservoir becomes warmer, and as a result of these temperature changes the engine becomes increasingly less efficient (in a Carnot engine with an ideal gas as the working substance, the efficiency is defined as the ratio of (1) the temperature difference of the reservoirs to (2) the absolute temperature of the hot reservoir). Eventually a point is reached where the temperature difference between the two reservoirs is so small that practically no work can be performed at all. However, according to the First Law of Thermodynamics, the total internal energy of the closed system is the same as it was at the beginning. What has changed is that this energy is no longer capable of performing work inside the system because that energy is now uniformly scattered in the form of a uniform temperature throughout the system whereas a difference in reservoir temperatures is required to perform work. The system has changed from an ordered system -- where higher-energy gas particles in the hotter reservoir are separated from lower-energy gas particles in the colder reservoir -- to a disordered system where the gas-particle energy is uniformly distributed throughout the system. This increase in disorder is represented by an increase in the total entropy of the system.

Wikipedia discusses efforts to use the "Gibbs free energy" concept to relate living things to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics:

In recent years, the thermodynamic interpretation of evolution in relation to entropy has begun to utilize the concept of the Gibbs free energy, rather than entropy. This is because biological processes on earth take place at roughly constant temperature and pressure, a situation in which the Gibbs free energy is an especially useful way to express the second law of thermodynamics. . . .

. . . .In the popular textbook 1982 textbook Principles of Biochemistry by noted American biochemist Albert Lehninger, it is argued that the order produced within cells as they grow and divide is more than compensated for by the disorder they create in their surroundings in the course of growth and division . . . .

In 1998, noted Russian physical chemist Georgi Gladyshev, in his book Thermodynamic Theory of the Evolution of Living Beings, argues that evolution of living beings is governed by the tendency for quasi-equilibrium, semi-closed, hierarchical living systems to evolve in the direction that tends to minimize the Gibbs free energy of formation of each structure. Variations of the Gibbs function of formation of a thermodynamic system at any stage of the evolution, for instance ontogenesis and phylogenesis, such as a social system, according to Gladyshev, "can be calculated by means of thermodynamic methods." Gladyshev calls this a form of sociological thermodynamics.

Similarly, according to the chemist John Avery, from his recent 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution, we find a presentation in which the phenomenon of life, including its origin and evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its basis in the background of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. The (apparent) paradox between the second law of thermodynamics and the high degree of order and complexity produced by living systems, according to Avery, has its resolution "in the information content of the Gibbs free energy that enters the biosphere from outside sources."

So some scientists have turned the tables by using thermodynamics to argue in favor of evolution, and it looks like some of their arguments are really bad -- for example, Gibbs free energy has no "information content." Personally, I don't feel that thermodynamics can be a good argument either for or against evolution.

Anyway, thermodynamics is a very abstruse subject. Thermodynamics is a very important subject in mechanical engineering but though I am a mechanical engineer I admit that I feel that I never completely understood it.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous elbogz said...

In its simplest form the second law of thermodynamics states that something is not going to go from a cold state to a hot state unless you add energy. From that, people, (and generally people that did not have to suffer though 2 semesters of thermo in college, like you and I), take that simple statement and say all sorts of crazy things.

The airplane analogy is just stupid. The Second law of thermodynamics says no such thing.

The other major flaw is that earth is not a closed system. There is this thing in the sky, called the sun, which adds tremendous amounts of energy to the system.

It is interesting to note that the laws of thermodynamics can not be proven. They are only observed, and no one has observed them to be wrong. They are called “laws” yet no proof exists.

But the thing you have to love most about thermodynamics is it has the “zeroth” law. What other science can you find that dares to have the zeroth law’

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 7:29:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

elbogz said...
>>>>> In its simplest form the second law of thermodynamics states that something is not going to go from a cold state to a hot state unless you add energy. <<<<<<

(You had a duplicate comment -- I deleted the duplicate. BTW, as a registered blogger.com blogger, you can delete your own comments, even on another's blog -- just use that little trashcan icon)

Yes, another statement of the 2nd Law is that heat will not spontaneously flow from a colder body to a hotter one (this principle is also contained in Fourier's law of heat conduction and in the Stefan-Boltzmann law of radiation heat transfer). Both statements appear to be related to one of my statements in the opening post:

It is impossible to carry out a cyclic process using an engine connected to two heat reservoirs that will have as its only effect the transfer of a quantity of heat from the low-temperature reservoir to the high-temperature reservoir.

>>>>> The other major flaw is that earth is not a closed system. There is this thing in the sky, called the sun, which adds tremendous amounts of energy to the system. <<<<<<

Yes, but the author of the AiG article argues that the 2nd Law is a barrier to evolution even in an open system:

The principle of energy loss for useful work still applies in an open system, since there is no benefit unless there is a machine to use the energy added.

I found a webpage with 118 different statements regarding the 2nd Law.

>>>>>> It is interesting to note that the laws of thermodynamics can not be proven. They are only observed, and no one has observed them to be wrong. They are called “laws” yet no proof exists. <<<<<<

Well, gravity is also called a "law" (though there are also "theories" of gravitation) even though no proof exists. And there are probably examples of other such laws.

There have been efforts to prove or analyze thermodynamics mathematically, e.g., statistical thermodynamics. Advanced mathematical thermodynamics has always been just a jumble of symbols to me -- an example is here.

>>>>> But the thing you have to love most about thermodynamics is it has the “zeroth” law. What other science can you find that dares to have the zeroth law’ <<<<<<

Yes, a lot of people are not aware that there are universally recognized zeroth and 3rd laws of thermodynamics. There are also 4th and higher laws but I don't think that these are universally recognized. I guess that when the zeroth law came along it was considered to be more fundamental than the 1st law but the position was already taken. The zeroth law seems trivial -- "two bodies in thermal equilibrium with a third body are in thermal equilibrium with each other."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 11:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim Sherwood said...

The AIG stuff seems to be the theory of Andy McIntosh, Professor of Thermodynamics st the University of Leeds. (See truthinscience.org.uk).

I believe Truth in Science is a creationist, rather than an intelligent design, website. But that doesn't prove that McIntosh's anti-Darwinist arguments are nescessarily wrong, of course.

Thursday, February 15, 2007 7:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Pentcho Valev said...

THE FUNDAMENTAL OXYMORON OF THERMODYNAMICS

The absurdity that entropy always increases would not hold "the supreme position among the laws of Nature" (A. Eddington, 1935) if Clausius had not deduced it gloriously from the fundamental oxymoron of thermodynamics:

THE FUNDAMENTAL OXYMORON OF THERMODYNAMICS: Any irreversible process is reversible; that is, any irreversible process can be closed by a reversible process to become a cycle.

Any textbook author who relishes deducing the supreme absurdity should initially introduce the fundamental oxymoron:

Peter Atkins, Physical Chemistry, 5th ed., p. 127: "Let the original change in the entropy of the system when the process of interest occurs be dS (this is the change we want to measure). The process need not be reversible, but we suppose that we can find a path that joins the same initial and final states and which is reversible."

For 140 years (Clausius deduced the supreme absurdity in 1865) the fundamental oxymoron of thermodynamics has been questioned once:

http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00000313/ p.39: "A more important objection, it seems to me, is that Clausius bases his conclusion that the entropy increases in a nicht umkehrbar [irreversible] process on the assumption that such a process can be closed by an umkehrbar [reversible] process to become a cycle. This is essential for the definition of the entropy difference between the initial and final states. But the assumption is far from obvious for a system more complex than an ideal gas, or for states far from equilibrium, or for processes other than the simple exchange of heat and work."

Pentcho Valev
pvalev@yahoo.com

Saturday, February 24, 2007 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Pentcho Valev said...
>>>>>THE FUNDAMENTAL OXYMORON OF THERMODYNAMICS: Any irreversible process is reversible; that is, any irreversible process can be closed by a reversible process to become a cycle. <<<<<

If any part of a process is irreversible, then the whole process is irreversible. The system may return to its original state but there will be irreversible changes in the system's surroundings.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics has been thoroughly analyzed, tested, and demonstrated. It is called a law and not a theory. Entropy is a quantifiable property of matter, e.g., values of entropy are included in steam tables and appear on Mollier charts. Entropy values are not absolute like values of pressure and absolute temperature but are based on some arbitrary datum. In my opening post's example of a closed system with two reservoirs initially at different temperatures, the change in the system's total entropy represents the loss of the system's ability to perform work.

As I said, the SLOT is a very abstruse subject. I never completely understood it and I don't want to spend time trying to understand it better. I figure that the more I talk about it, the more likely I am to say something wrong. My main point was just that I do not consider the SLOT to be a good argument either for or against evolution theory.

Sunday, February 25, 2007 10:16:00 AM  

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