Re: design: purposeful or random?

Pim van Meurs (
Thu, 13 Mar 1997 23:23:17 -0400

PM>Evolution in the broadest sense is also a statement in the vaguest

SJ: Agreed. Yet it is the same word "evolution" that is usually used with
no defintion or qualification in NE and TE arguments.

Evolution is defined quite well, extrapolating it to evolution of the
universe, origin of life, origin of the universe is inappropiate and

PM>If one claims that evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics
>one would expect some concrete evidence.

SJ" At the broadest level "evolution" and "the 2nd law of thermodynamics"
are at least apparently in conflict. The first postulates a
universal disorder to order principle, while the latter a universal
order to disorder principle. See my Ramm quote below.

Evolution is not at a universal scale while entropy increase only applies
on a large scale. So while the large scale entropy can only increase,
meaning the total entropy of a closed system (assuming for the moment that
the universe is closed), entropy on smaller scale can increase or decrease
as long as the total overal entropy change is positive. The
'contradiction' if any is all but spurious.

PM>Contradicted by Morris' own statements in scientific creationism.

>"there is no way of modifying the basic evolutionary model to accomodate
>this second law"

SJ: Apart from the fact that Pim misquotes Morris (Morris says "There
seems no way..." not "there is no way..."), this is actually a good
example of what Ratzsch means. Morris is discussing evolution in the
broadest sense:

SJ: "We are warranted, then, in concluding that the evolutionary process
(the hypothetical Principle of Naturalistic Innovation and
Integration) is completely precluded by the Second Law of
Thermodynamics. There seems no way of modifying the basic
evolutionary model to accommodate this Second Law." (Morris H.M.,
"Scientific Creationism", 1985, p45)

Morris is talking about evolution in the 'narrow sense' here. The previous
two paragraphs contain statements like "The mechanism of mutation and
natural selection are, to put it kindly, inadequate for such a gigantic

"Neither can it assimilate energy into a more highly organized form of the
structure it affects."

Morris is wrong on these counts btw.

PM>On the contrary, the far-equilibrium, dissipative nature of DNA
>makes evolution all but inevitable as shown by Prigogine for instance.

SJ: I doubt that "Prigogine" actually says this. Bradley & Thaxton
point out that "Prigogine is more modest in his own assessment":

"The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number
of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered
structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living
organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of
life in its present form is therefore highly improbable even on the
scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution
occurred." (Nicolis G., Prigogine I. & Babloyantz A.,
"Thermodynamics of Evolution," Physics Today, November 1972, pp23-31,
in Bradley W.L. & Thaxton C.B., "The Creation Hypothesis", 1994,

You might want to check out the article, Gish made the same mistake as
presenting Prigogine's introduction to what he was going to prove wrong as
if it were his belief.

"Prigogine's words were taken from the beginning of his article where he
summarized the position he was about to spend the next several pages
refuting. Perhaps Gish only read the first page".

Skeptic, vol 4(4), 1996, pp. 92.

I am waiting to get copies of the Physics Today article, but in the light
of Prigogine's own statements, I consider it extremely unlikely that Gish
was accurately representing Prigogine's beliefs. And that is an

"Prigogine...and others have suggested that a similar sort of
self-organization may be intrinsic in organic chemistry and can
potentially account for the highly complex macromolecules essential for
living systems. But such analogies have
scant relevance to the origin-of-life question. A major reason is"

First of all the discussion was about the 2nd law of thermodynamics being
violated by evolution. Not the origin of life.

"that they fail to distinguish between order and complexity. The
highly ordered movement of energy through a system as in convection
or vortices suffers from the same shortcoming as the analogies to
the static, periodic order of crystals. Regularity or order cannot
serve to store the large amount of information required by living
systems. A highly irregular, but specified, structure is required
rather than an ordered structure. This is a serious flaw in the
analogy offered. There is no apparent connection between the kind of
spontaneous ordering that occurs from energy flow through such
systems and the work required to build aperiodic information
intensive macromolecules like DNA and protein. Prigogine et al
suggest that the energy flow through the system decreases the system
entropy, leading potentially to the highly organized structure of DNA
and protein. Yet they offer no suggestion as to how the decrease in
thermal entropy from energy flow through the system could be coupled
to do the configurational entropy work required." (Thaxton C.B.,
Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery of Life's Origin", 1992,

The flaw here is that information entropy is similar to thermodynamical
Regularity and order are eactly how information is stored, in highly
dissipative systems af far equilibrium. If you could explain what they
mean by the last sentence because it does not appear to make sense.

PM>If this argument were to hold, we would be breathing O instead of

SJ: "O2" is hardly a "macromolecule"! Oxygen has *two* atoms -
bio-macromolecules have millions of atoms.

You miss the point, why would the argument only apply to macromolecules ?
It is the same argument on a smaller scale showing the argument to be
missing the point.

PM>The appeal to far-equilibrium thermodynamics is neither vague nor
>an appeal. It is an observed fact...

SJ: I think you should read a bit more carefully! Thaxton et al and I
would agree with you that "far-equilibrium an
observed fact". It is the claim that "open-system, non-equilibrium
thermodynamics" are adequate to explain "the origin of organization
and complexity in biological systems" that they are referring to as a
"vague claim".

The increase in complexity and organization of systems due to far
equilibrium thermodynamics is also an observed fact. Now the question is
does this apply to biological systems ? And the answer should be simple,
why not ? After all these are similar chemical systems ? DNA is a
dissipative structure, the energy ADT/ADP pathway is a dissipative
structure at far equilibrium.

I refer you to:

Aspects of chemical evolution, Advances in Chemical physics, volume LV ed.

Prigogine, Nonequilibrium thermodynamics and chemical evolution: An
overview, pp 43-62.

Stucki, optimization of mitochondrial energy conversions pp 141-167.

Ross and Richter, commentary: Dissipation regulation in oscillatory
reactions, applications to glycolysis. pp 169-170

Schoffeniels, Commentary: A complex biological oscillator, pp 171-176

Nicolis, Bifurcations and symmetry breaking in far from equilibrium
systems: Towards a dynamics of complexity, pp 177-199

Kaufman, Bifurcations in insect morphogenesis pp219-245

Thomas Logical descitpion, amalysis and synthesis of biological and other
networks comprising feedback loops pp 247-282.

Or "From being to becoming", Time and complexity in the physical sciences,
Prigogine, Freeman and Co, San Fransisco.

Prigogine shows how systems far from equilibrium evolve elaborate
structures: patterns of circulation in the atmosphere, formation and
propagation of chemical waves, aggreagation of single celled animals.

complexity and order does not happen in spite of the 2nd law of
thermodynamics but because of the second law of thermodynamics.

PM>and far better supported in observation and theory than the
>statement that 'evolution in some broad sense violates the second law
>of thermodynamics"

SJ: They are two completely different issues. There are some things in
science that are "far better supported in observation and theory
than" others - so what? Sometine the broader and more general a
theory the harder it is to "support" it "in observation and theory".
Consider the difficulty in "supporting in observation and theory" the
Grand Unified Theory of the four fundamental forces in nature.

Which still does not mean that the four fundamental forces do not exist or
have not been explained. The statement that evolution violates the second
law of thermodynamics has no foundation in fact at the 'narrow level' of
the meaning of evolution, that is the observed evolution of life on this

SJ: I do not necessarily claim that "evolution...violates the second law
of thermodynamics". Part of the problem is the vagueness of the word
"evolution". I would not claim it of microevolution for example, but
I might claim it of cosmic evolution.

Cosmic evolution, if you mean the Big Bang cannot be explained by the 2nd
law of thermodynamics since these laws became relevant a small fraction
after the onset of the explosion that started this universe. So while they
cannot explain the Big Bang (other theories try to) they are not
contradicted either.

PM>Mechanisms need not be defined for something to be true. Example:
>Gravity. But the emergence of complexity and order at
>far-equilibrium states is well-understood due to the bifurcation
>nature. Similar patterns show up in chaos and fractals, non-linear
>dynamical systems, limit cycles, hysteresis, frequency doubling

SJ: See above. No one is denying that. But that it is relevant to the
special type of "complexity" in living systems, eg. specified
complexity, ie. complexity specified in advance:

What is special about the 'complexity' in living things. And what makes
you believe that the complexity is specified in advance ?

"This has been quite a long, drawn-out argument, and it is time to
remind ourselves of how we got into it in the first place. We were
looking for a precise way to express what we mean when we refer to
something as complicated. We were trying to put a finger on what it
is that humans and moles and earthworms and airliners and watches
have in common with each other, but not with blancmange, or Mont
Blanc, or the moon. The answer we have arrived at is that
complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is
highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone. In the
case of living things, the quality that is specified in advance is,
in some sense 'proficiency'; either proficiency in a particular
ability such as flying, as an aero-engineer might admire it; or
proficiency in something more general, such as the ability to stave
off death, or the ability to propagate genes in reproduction."
(Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker", Penguin: London, 1991, p9)

Now you are talking about the non-randomness of natural selection. That
selective pressure and autocatalytic systems or hypercycles can lead to
increased complexity is also well known (Eigen, Kaufman). so there is
nothing inherently different about complexity. The complexity is not
specified in advance other than that if situations change the one best
adapted for the situtaion is most likely to succeed. Such experiments have
been performed in laboratories and found to happen. Is this a violation of
the 2nd law ? Not likely.

PM>Nope, evolution and entropy can be headed in the same direction.

SJ: No doubt. But when "evolution and [increased] entropy" are "headed
in the same direction" its more meaningfully called degeneration,
rather than "evolution".

Nope, that is a common misunderstanding of entropy and evolution. Entropy
can increase and there can still be a local increase in order at the
expense of the outside system. While at equilibrium such processes are not
very interesting, at far-equilibrium they are very interesting since this
is where the complexity and increase in order is almost inevitable.

SJ>random and degenerative process, whereas life represents an
>ordered and generative process. Entropy is the gradual equalization

PM>But it isn't degenerative under all circumstances.

SJ: At the level of the entire universe (which Ramm is referring to)
"entropy" is indeed "degenerative under all circumstances"

Irrelevant for evolution and life. That the universe might be dying of an
entropy death does not mean that it cannot lead to creation of life on its
The confusion of entropy at the 'entire universe' level and the entropy at
the level where evolution and life has taken place is common but leads to
a confusion in arguments.

PM>1955: A bit more recent would better reflect the present knowledge
>on this issue.

SJ: This is the usual evolutionist "out-of-date" ploy:

SJ: "Evolutionary biologists have a habit of ignoring the most pertinent
criticisms of their theory until they can decently call them
out-of-date" (Berlinski D., "Denying Darwin: David Berlinski and
Critics", Commentary, September 1996, p26)

1955 is quite a bit before the groundbreaking work of Prigogine. Heck, if
you quote from 1970 book on the evolution and transitionals of whales you
would get a completely different picture than when looking at modern day
literature. Science evolves and in some cases it is appropiate to point
out the data of the material.
This is such an example.

SJ:I would indeed be surprised if "the present knowledge on this issue"
differs in any significant way from what it was in 1955.

Surprise.... That's my whole point.

PM>And since there is such a system, there is no problem for

SJ: And how did that "system" come about in the first place *before*
there was any such "system" to harnessing the sun's energy:

The sun itself is enough to serve as such a system. The initial formation
of aminoacids for instance does not require more than the presence of UV

PM>Yep, so where is the problem ?

SJ: The "problem" is that there needs to be a " means of converting this
energy". How did these complex systems arise in the first place? We
don't see them arising spontaneously in nature today. As Behe points
out, no-one has ever attempted to explain the spontaneous origin of
such systems.

That is completely wrong. Behe shows an ignorance on this issue which is
not limited to this topic but I digress. First of all the Miller-Urey
experiment shows how from the pre-biotic soup, without the need for a
metabolic system, amino-acids could form. We even see complex systems form
spontaneously in nature all the time.

SJ>source of energy alone is not sufficient, however, to explain the
>origin or maintenance of living systems. The additional crucial
>factor is a means of converting this energy into the necessary useful
>work to build and maintain complex living systems from the simple
>biomonomers that constitute their molecular building blocks. An

PM>Indeed, so where lies the problem since such means and mechanisms
>exist plentiful. UV radiation, electric discharge, increased temperature
>mention but a few.

SJ: This is the energy. Where did the energy-conversion systems come
from in the first place? If you can answer it you will win the Nobel
Prize! I can answer it but I won't win the Nobel Prize!

then the answer must be less than scientific ? Let me point out to you
that the energy conversion systems lie in the simple thermodynamics of the
chemicals involved. A mixture of chemicals under the influence of a spark
can form more complicated structures known as amino-acids. So source of
energy is enough since the mechanisms for transforming it are present. If
your question is what causes the thermodynamic behavior of these elements
then we can discuss this.

PM>A useless question to ask about motives when there are none other
>than basic thermodynamics.

SJ: The point is that Naturalistic Evolution at its broadest level does
claim that:

SJ: "a group of simple, stable compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and
nitrogen" over "billions of years" did spontaneously "organize
themselves into a professor of chemistry".

Indeed, but why ask about motive ? THere is no need for motive for
chemical reactions to take place.

SJ: The fact that Naturalistic Evolution does not know "why" is another
reason why theistic models like Mediate Creation are superior to NE.
MC can not only answer how, but it can also answer "why".

Nope, it can but guess why. Naturalistic evolution can explain why it
happens based on thermodynamical considerations not on second guessing of
motives where there need to be none.

SJ>The answer to Pirsig's question is "intelligent design"!

PM>Since far simpler naturalistic explanations work why resort to
>a supernatural explanation?

SJ:Because the "naturalistic explanations" *don't "work"!

But they do work that is the problem with your reasoning.

PM>After all we observe that chemicals form more complex chemicals,
>why look for a purpose?

SJ: The short answer is that even Naturalistic Evolutionists "look for a

SJ: "Embryology and paleontology provide adequate documentation of the
`how,' but we would also like more insight into the `why.' In
particular, why should such a transition occur-especially since the
single-boned stapedial ear seems to function quite adequately (and,
at least in some birds, every bit as well as the three-boned
mammalian ear)?" (Gould S.J., "Eight Little Piggies", 1993, p106)

That is not a purpose that is looking for the explanation how it happened.
Need there be a purpose for chemicals to combine ?

SJ: Their problem is that Naturalism is devoid of purpose:

And that is why it is to be prefered over an assumption of purpose without
showing that such is necessary.

SJ: But Theism can answer "purpose" questions that Naturalism cannot.

It can speculate about something that might not exist and certainly has
not shown to exist. Purpose.

PM>But similarly a supernatural explanation causes even more
>problems as it requires an explanation of the origin of the

SJ: No. It is only the natural which "requires an explanation" and NE
can't even do that. The "supernatural", ie. the existence of God does
not require a further "explanation" other than that God is. After
all, NEs must either believe that: 1. matter (in one form or another)
was always there; or 2. matter just popped into being out of nothing.

Based upon theory and predictions of such theory, this might sound hard to
believe but it is real science rather than a desperate search for purpose
where there need or might be none. Leading to the postulation of a
supernatural force to explain our need for purpose. It suggest that the
problem lies more in the need for a purpose.

PM>Explain what is how violated when then?

SJ: As I said, I do not necessarily use the word "violated". I do believe
at the broadest cosmic level, the basic evolutionary principle of
disorder -> order is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics
basic principle that order -> disorder. At its biological level,
evolution is not contrary to the second law *if* there is an
energy-conversion system that can take energy and convert it into
order. But our uniform experience is that energy-conversion systems
require intelligent design and no one has even attempted to explain
how they could arise by purely naturalistic means.

Well, the problem lies in that evolution does not care about the cosmic
level entropy and that at the biological level, all is needed is an energy
flow and temperature. Since noone has shown that at the level of biology
the 2nd is violated by evolution and since our present understanding of
far-equilibrium thermodynamics shows no problems the suggestion that the
2nd is violated by evolution is irrelevant at the broader definition and
untrue at the narrower definition of evolution.

We see increase in order without a 'energy conversion' mechanism all the
time, unless you mean by energy conversion mechanism the thermodynamics of
chemicals and that we understand quite well. Now if your problem lies with
the origins of this mechanism, you can invoke a supernatural force and
evolution in the narrower sense can still be true. Or we can look at the
naturalistic explanations which give a scientific explanation of the
observed mechanisms.