Re: Origin of life, design & thermodynamics

Pim van Meurs (
Wed, 19 Mar 1997 20:52:44 -0400

>Pim: No. I do not see any reason why it would be a problem one way or
>another ? The distinction is to separate evolution from a process
>irrelevant for it. Evolution does not care how life came about it
>only addresses the evolution of this life <g>. But neither
>>abiogenesis nor evolution violates any laws of thermodynamics.

Paul: This is sort of what I thought you were saying. At this point, at
least, I guess I have to disagree with much of what you have said on the
subject. I think I would make a distinction between how
thermodynamics affects the origin of life and how it affects the rest
of the evolutionary process. Although I do not think the
thermodynamic problem is the only problem in the origin of life (it
may be relatively minor in the overall scheme of things), I think that
chemical thermodynamics does indeed pose a problem for those wishing
an entirely naturalistic (theistic, atheistic) or materialistic
(atheistic) explanation for the origin of life. I don't use the term
"violate," just problem.

Please explain, especially in the light that at present the advances in
chemistry in this area have shown little problems in the steps so far. Why
would thermodynamics be a problem for abiogenesis I ask you ?

>Pim: The point I think is that the second law of thermodynamics is
>not violated by evolution and also not by >abiogenesis. Both involve
>chemical reactions for instance.

Paul: Well, yes, both certainly involve chemical reactions. But this
rather sidesteps the issue of thermodynamics applied to chemical systems.
If I can use
a literary allusion, chemical reactions are not all equal. Some are
more equal than others. The main point of chemical thermodynamics is
to predict whether a reaction will have a tendency to proceed in a
certain direction or not. The problem arises, of course, when
reactions don't have a tendency to proceed in the direction one wishes
them to. Such is the case concerning the origin of life. There are
too many unfavorable reactions to ignore.

Well, let's see, simple chemicals -> aminoacids, amino acids -> polymers,
ATP, glucose and many more reactions have been shown to be feasible under
conditions that might have existed on the primordial earth. Furthermore
Fox's protocells might show the next step.

Paul: Why yes, as a matter of fact I do believe the complexity of living
things is special, or different than non-living things like patterns
of circulation in the atmosphere, propagation of chemical waves, or
aggregation of single-celled animals. Living systems are
self-reproducing, coded, information systems, for starters. So I

There are perfect examples of self reproducing systems that work. Are you
saying that the birth and growth of such systems requires a violation of
the second law of thermodynamics ? Or just the original formation of the
first 'life' ?
Fox's protocells reproduce, grow, respond to impulses. RNA is a chemical
which shows self-reproducing, coded, information and it is just chemistry.

Paul: suspect (on at least a couple of grounds) that what you are thinking
of as a thermodynamic explanation may not significantly apply to
biological systems.

I would be interesting in what these grounds are, since thermodynamcs
appears to be no problem for living systems.
If you believe that living systems are somehow different I would be
interested in an explanation of how and how the 2nd law of thermodynamics
forms a problem.