Monday, 10 November 2008

Can we please all put it to bed now?

I've written a little on the fairly technical subject of thermodynamics, since it does tend to come up at an undergraduate level in medicine. One of the enduring myths about the thermodynamic laws, tirelessly perpetuated by creationists, is that evolution violates them. I've already explained (as have thousands before me) why this is simply a falsehood: simply put, evolution is no more miraculous, from a thermodynamic point of view, than growing a baby from a single cell, or watching snowflakes form. In each of these cases, there is a local decrease in entropy that is allowed because the embryo/snowflake isn't a closed system - it is an open system. (See here for definitions of these terms). And in an open system, entropy can decrease.

Another way to answer the creationist challenge to the second law of thermodynamics is to note that it "does not state that nothing can ever increase in order, but only that an decrease in one part must be accompanied by a greater increase in entropy in another." Enter Daniel Styer, a physicist, who has put some meat on this statement's bones.

Being exceptionally conservative with his estimates, he has calculated that, on earth "there's about a trillion times more entropy flux available than is required for evolution. The degree by which earth's entropy is reduced by the action of evolutionary processes is miniscule [sic] relative to the amount that the entropy of the cosmic microwave background is increased."

In other words, the requirement that evolution's local increase in entropy be paid for by a bigger decrease elsewhere is easy to meet. Really easy. To my knowledge, this is the first paper to bother to estimate actual figures for the topic, which makes it quite useful in debates.

The quotes are from a post over at Pharyngula, to be found here. Go read it, it's excellent.

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