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Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

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June 11, 2009 Tags: Creation & Origins
Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

"In a system, a process that occurs will tend to increase the total entropy of the universe."

How, then, can evolution claim that the complexity of species is increasing? Doesn't this movement towards order violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Such an argument is actually based on a misunderstanding of the law. The Second Law applies only to isolated systems, ones where there is no outside energy source. Thus, while the entire universe -- an isolated system with no net energy gain -- is moving towards disorder, parts of the universe may be influenced by outside energy sources. Evolution looks specifically at the Earth -- a system that is gaining energy from the sun. Because of this input of energy, the progression of living organisms towards order is not a contradiction of the Second Law, because the Earth is not an isolated system.

Furthermore, no one has ever successfully applied the Second Law to complex systems like living organisms, which themselves are more a collection of subsystems working together than a simple isolated system. The fact is that there are numerous examples of order arising from disorder in the natural world.

For more on the Second Law of Thermodynamics and how it relates to evolution, be sure to check out "Does thermodynamics disprove evolution?" in the Questions section at www.biologos.org.

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William Mayor - #49435

January 28th 2011

It might also be noted that there are two other problems with the 2nd Law.  First there is Maxwell’s Demon, which indicates that this “Law” is more a statement of our lack of knowledge then anything else, and secondly the observation that while there are an incredibly vast number of different ways that subatomic particles may combine in the universe (something like 2 to the n-1 power where “n” is the total number of subatomic particles), it is a finite number.  Further, both of these notions rely on the unproven and unprovable concept that matter/energy is the governing principle.  If instead, matter/energy is merely one factor along with “time”, “space” and “mind”, al;l of which influence and are influence by the others, then the question becomes far more complex.

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