Re: where's the evolution?

Kevin O'Brien (
Fri, 19 Mar 1999 21:41:35 -0700

Kevin L. O'Brien wrote:

>>Evolution does not work in either isolated or closed systems; it only
>>works in open systems.

Cliff Lundberg responded:

>So if the solar system were all there was to the universe, there could
>be no evolution?

No, because the solar system is itself a collection of systems, some open,
some closed. The open systems evolve, until they change to closed systems;
the closed systems may remain stable for a long period of time, but
eventually "degenerate" in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics.

>I don't grasp the preventive mechanism here.

For a system to evolve it has to be able to exchange matter as well as
energy with its surroundings. Once a system becomes closed, it may continue
to evolve for a short time, but eventually evolution stops once the matter
in the system "degenerates" beyond a certain point. After that the system
may remain stable, especially if it contains a great deal of matter, but
finally matter degeneration reaches a point where the system ceases to

Think of a system like a cell. As long as the cell remains
thermodynamically open -- exchanging both energy and matter with its
surroundings -- it not only lives but it can develop along whatever lines
its genetic makeup dictate. However, once the cell stops exchanging matter,
further development can continue only for a short time before the increase
in waste products and the decrease in food molecules causes the cell to shut
down all non-essential metabolic activity. At that point the cell can
continue to live for some time, but it will not develop any further.
Finally, when the amount of food particles decrease below the level needed
to keep the cell alive, it dies. The same is essentially true for a closed

>A closed
>system can always be partitioned conceptually; then you've got two or more
>systems, each open to the others.

Exactly; in fact the more open systems a closed system contains, the longer
it can remain stable before maximum entropy is reached, at which point the
system ceases to function.

Take the earth's biosphere for example. The biosphere is as good a closed
system as you are likely to find in that it receives energy from the sun and
transmits energy in the form of infrared radiation into space, but the
amount of matter it receives or expells is negligable even over billions of
years. The biosphere itself has not evolved since mantle outgassing ceased
some 4 billion years ago (when it changed from an open system to a closed
system), but it has continued to function because it is composed of billions
of open systems, all exchanging matter and energy with each other and their
surroundings, and all evolving on their own. Because the matter that is
available is constantly being recycled, with very little of it
"degenerating" into useless forms, the biosphere could remain stable for
billions of years more. In fact, it will probably fail only when it no
longer receives enough energy from the sun to keep the various open systems
functioning. However, if energy exchange continued unabated, eventually the
amount of useful matter would diminish to the point where the open systems
will change into closed systems, then die, eventually leading to the death
of the biosphere itself.


(Andrew?) "Cummins" wrote:

>>I've offered this challenge for years; no one has ever met the challenge.

Cliff Lundberg responded:

>Last year we had a challenger who kept offering $10,000 or so for some kind
>of proof. He was fun for a little while.

That was Joseph Mastropaolo, who kept trying to get people to bet on
ridiculous wagers that he thought demonstrated how unlikely evolution would
be. He left when the list shunned him.

Kevin L. O'Brien