Origin of life, thermodynamics

Paul Brown (pdb@novell.uidaho.edu)
Sat, 22 Mar 1997 11:23:59 PST8PDT

The assumption of several on this list seems to be that no valid
concern exists regarding the laws of thermodynamics and life. I have
seen numerous posts here and elsewhere concerning thermodynamics and
popular conceptions of how the 2nd law of thermodynamics, in
particular, are mis-applied to the creation/evolution debate.
Creationists often do use poor arguments in this area, but I think I
agree more with Steve Jones on this. As far as I can tell,
thermodynamics does present a problem for chemical evolution. With
this in mind, I have written a little piece as an introduction, and
would like your feedback. I have found that the symbols don't
transfer to e-mail, so have tried to do the best I can. D = delta.
If most people have MS-word or something, I could send this as an

Three laws.
The first thing we probably must ask ourselves is: what are the 3
laws of thermodynamics? I assume that most readers already have some
familiarity with them, but we will briefly review them. The first,
simply put, is that energy (E) is conserved. The sum total energy of
a system and its surroundings remains constant. The first law can
be stated as DE = q + w where q = heat and w = work. The second law
concerns a property called entropy (S), and in contrast to energy,
entropy is not conserved. The entropy changes of a system plus its
surrounding are always greater than or equal to 0. The second law
can be stated as q less than or equal to T(S2 - S1) where
T = temperature (K) and S = entropy. A legitimate
statement that incorporates the second law, and pertains to living
systems, is that a spontaneous chemical reaction will proceed in such
a way that a minimum energy state and maximal entropy state (system +
surroundings) are achieved. A decrease in the entropy of a system
may occur, but this must be offset by a larger increase in entropy of
the surroundings. The third law tells us that when one obtains a
pure, crystalline substance, as the temperature (T) goes toward
absolute 0 (0o K), entropy goes toward 0 (as T -> 0o K, S -> 0). The
laws of thermodynamics are concerned with how energy and matter
behave, and I believe the first and third laws help us understand why
the second law is a problem for those wishing an entirely
naturalistic (theistic evolution) or materialistic (atheistic
evolution) explanation of origins. The primary point of application,
I believe, concerns the chemical origin of life.

Other questions.
The second question we must ask ourselves is: what are the conditions
that must be met for living systems to arise as related to
thermodynamics? The energy state of much of the chemistry of life,
as measured by the energy contained in the chemical bonds, is greater
than the energy state of the constituents (or, reactants) from which
it is formed. Additionally, the organizational state is one of
reduced entropy. Living systems require both the input of energy and
the simultaneous reduction of entropy. Thus, considering our earlier
statement concerning spontaneous chemical reactions, the questions
arise: how can living systems accomplish this task, and how might
they spontaneously originate?

To emphasize three important points,
when considering the spontaneous origin of life (just considering
thermodynamics and not other concerns), we must understand the
relationship between energy, entropy, and spontaneity.

How is this so far? Any disagreements? Clarifications? Editorial
comments? I have actually been writing a piece to post in another
location, and so I would appreciate comments, especially from those
who are familiar with these concepts.

Regards, Paul
Paul D. Brown
Dept of PSES, Ag Sci 242
University of Idaho
Moscow, ID 83844
Phone: 1 (208) 885-7427 or 885-7505
e-mail: pdb@uidaho.edu