In my previous post, I discussed the proper way to apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to a simple process: the freezing of water in a bucket. Now I want to apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the process of evolution. This is a difficult thing to do, because currently, there is no accepted mechanism for the process of evolution. Evolution might occur according to the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis; it might occur via punctuated equilibrium; it might occur according to the evo-devo view; it might occur as a result of facilitated variation; it might occur by some as yet undiscovered mechanism; or it might occur as a result of a combination of all or some of these mechanisms.
Even though there is no agreed-upon mechanism for evolution, some general statements can be made about the supposed process, and that should be enough to allow us to roughly apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to it. In general, evolution says that organisms increase in complexity over time. A single-celled organism, for example, eventually developed the ability (through some as yet unknown process) to cooperate with other cells, which eventually led to a multicelled organism. Clearly, a multicelled organism is more complex than a single-celled organism, so via that unknown process, “simpler” single-celled organisms gave rise to “more complex” multicelled organisms. These multicelled organisms began to develop (once again, through some as yet unknown process) more “advanced” features, so that eventually a large diversity of life formed.
The longer evolution had to work through its unknown process, the more complex living creatures became. Thus, while it took some time for the evolutionary process to create relatively “simple” multicelled creatures, it took more time for evolution to produce complex invertebrates, and it took more time for evolution to produce vertebrates. The more “advanced” the vertebrate, the longer it took for evolution to produce it.
I was reading Dr. Hunter’s blog yesterday, and he had a post about entropy and evolution. In that post, he cited an article that comes to the right conclusion on the issue, but for the wrong reason. In fact, I am surprised that it passed peer review, since it promotes a very bad misconception regarding the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Because both creationists and evolutionists do a very poor job of applying the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the concept of origins, I thought I would try to explain the proper way to interpret the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In the next post, I will then apply the Second Law to the concept of evolution.
Before I get started, however, let me tell you the overall conclusion. The Second Law of Thermodynamics DOES NOT forbid the process of evolution. I know there are many creationists out there who claim that it does, but they are simply wrong. In addition, I know there are a lot of evolutionists out there who claim that it doesn’t, but they do so for reasons that are often wrong. So let’s talk about the Second law of Thermodynamics and how to properly apply it to many situations, including the process of evolution.
A recent issue of Science has a very interesting article on blood platelets.1 As nearly any textbook that discusses human anatomy and physiology will tell you, there are three main types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. As indicated by the scanning electron microscope image above, platelets are the smallest of the three.
In addition, almost any textbook that discusses human anatomy and physiology will tell you that each blood cell is principally involved in one area of your body’s maintenance. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues, although to a certain extent, they also pick up carbon dioxide waste from the tissues. White blood cells are responsible for cleaning the tissues of debris and fighting off invaders. Blood platelets are involved in clotting the blood so that we don’t bleed to death from a small cut.
Interestingly enough, this article indicates that blood platelets do a lot more than what most textbooks tell you!
In a recent issue of Science, there are a couple of short articles (called “Technical Comments”) about Ardipithecus ramidus. If you don’t remember this fossil, nicknamed “Ardi,” it was originally discussed in an October 2009 issue of the same journal.1 It was a collection of severely-crushed and poorly-fossilized remains that took more than 15 years to analyze. This analysis included a digital reconstruction of large portions of the skeleton. The skull pictured here, for example, is a digital reconstruction based on the crushed bones that were found.
At the time, Ardi was hailed as an amazingly important discovery, because the authors of the study claimed that the fossil’s features clearly showed it was a part of the supposed evolutionary lineage between an apelike ancestor and modern man. Indeed, Science called it the “breakthrough of the year” and said:
Even the earliest members of her species, Australopithecus afarensis, lived millions of years after the last common ancestor we shared with chimpanzees. The first act of the human story was still missing. Now comes Ardi, a 4.4-million-year-old female who shines bright new light on an obscure time in our past.2
The short articles I mentioned above disagree with some of the conclusions of the original studies on Ardi.