Is the universe actually pro-life because of entropy?!

Does the “heat death” make life possible?
Michael R. Donohoe

Creationists get into trouble when they say that such complex order as life in a universe governed by disorder must be deliberate, an act of God. One thing that is pointed out to them is that entropy represents the statistical tendency toward disorder, not a rigid law somehow violated by every occurrence of order.

I’ve noticed something that is not what Creationists claim, yet it doesn’t seem to be acknowledged by science that I have been able to find. It could seem outlandish, yet with a little examination it appears irrefutable to me that evolution and life are in fact dependent on processes and conditions which by definition qualify as disorder. This even includes the ultimate state of cosmic disorder called the heat death in which it is assumed that all viable energy within the universe will have been expended.

I want to mention that more than once I’ve been taken for a Creationist, and more than once people have assumed that I am one of these people who apparently do not believe that earth has limited resources, or who think that things like overpopulation, ozone depletion, pollution, and global warming are not real threats. Such assumptions are as far off-base as they could possibly be. On a science message board a man in England became livid at what I suggested. Somehow I guessed that he was a teacher. To be exact it turned out that he was a high school science teacher. Eventually he did an abrupt about face and declared that I was correct, yet he was no less hostile than he had been before. A number of people with a deeper understanding of science, such as a science writer I conversed with online and a friend who teaches astronomy, were surprised by my observation, but they did see my point.

In the unauthorized collection of essays, The Theory of Everything, Stephen Hawking illustrates how the statistical tendency toward disorder demonstrates the arrow of time with a water glass falling off a table to shatter on the floor. He shows how this demonstrates time’s directional arrow, time being a one way street, in that the glass will not reform up on the table like a film run in reverse.

It’s established in the scientific picture that stars produce the stuff that earth and life are made of. Stars are essentially immense hydrogen reactors. Hydrogen burning in a star can become oxygen as well as helium, and helium can be burned into carbon. The progression of star fuel, hydrogen, into these other substances, is the aging of the star. As the star is comprised of less and less hydrogen fuel and more of these substances, it is progressing toward what occurs when a red giant star goes nova and explodes, dispersing the stuff that life is formed from. Apply the arrow of time. Anything in a star that is no longer hydrogen fuel, such modified hydrogen as oxygen, helium, and carbon, will not revert into hydrogen fuel any more than a shattered water glass will reform up on the table. The stars that go nova also will not revert into the stars they had been. While earth could conceivably be swept into a new star form during a future nova, the stuff of which earth is made will not un-burn or un-explode, and happens to provide the basis for carbon-based life forms such as ourselves.

Mixing is disorder. In the book, Chaos, James Gleick gives the example of a swimming pool with ink on one side and water on the other divided by a barrier. Remove the barrier and the pure water and ink will mix together into a disordered mess. In The Theory of Everything, Hawking gives the example of two types of molecules in a box, again, separated by a barrier. Simply remove the barrier and the two types of molecules in separate ordered states will mix together into one disordered mess. They will also not separate and reorder themselves. What if hydrogen and oxygen mix together? That’s how we get water, which, like carbon, is very handy for such life forms as ourselves.

My thinking is that ordered energy forms of the star and of the hydrogen and oxygen are lost, but that these ordered states must be lost, and become disordered, before new more complex forms of order can arise.

I became curious about topsoil. Fertile topsoil is formed through similar processes to soil erosion. In the latter case that this is disorder is apparent. What about when manure, ashes, and plants and animals decompose and mix into fertile life-sustaining soil? For dust art thou, and unto dust shalt thou return. The individual plants and animals will not reform but will sustain future generations of flora and fauna, which can then revert into soil.

Apoptosis is also known as programmed cell death. Our body replaces in the area of a million cells a second. If it does not do this as it should the result can be cancer. When, on the other hand, cells die more rapidly than they should it causes strokes and such diseases as Alzheimer’s. The cells that die don’t come back into existence like a shattered glass reforming on a table. Like the brake pads on a car, the cells must be replaced with new cells. Life barters with entropy, in the cycle of soil and plants and animals, and in the life, reproduction, and death of cells in our bodies.

Evolution itself demonstrates time’s arrow. Cells live and die within complex organisms that live and die within species that carry on, adapt, and evolve into new species, or become extinct. In the case of human beings, individuals rise and fall within cultures that carry on, evolve, or die out. So I don’t expect to awake tomorrow as one of my Celtic ancestors or as an Australopithecus or a pro simian or a lung fish, or maybe even as part of a long dead star, any more than Hawking’s shattered glass will reform on the table from which it fell.

Heat loss is considered by definition to be entropy. Apply this to the fact that the death of stars is a loss of viable energy in the universe and a drop in temperature on a cosmic scale. The death of stars is a progression toward the hypothetical heat death of the universe. When standing before a mirror, consider the former temperature of the air around you as well as the walls and floor and ceiling and of the mirror, and, of course, of you, yourself. A great deal of heat loss, entropy, and disorder factor into that moment. The fact that all forms are finite, from shattered water glasses to exploding stars, makes evolution and life possible. Would you rather reside at room temperature, or on the surface of a star? If the heat death scenario is accurate, one result of this eventuality can be seen in your reflection. Organic processes also happen to be the heat death in progress.

While it seems to strike many as counter intuitive, I don’t believe that I am the only person to make this connection, yet I can’t find any acknowledgment of it. You might think it would make an interesting aside when addressing disorder and the proposed heat death. Why does no one make any mention of this?
I have two thoughts about why that might be. One is that in reductionism there is a tendency to view things as isolated occurrences; nature as the sum of it’s parts. Stars, while undergoing the entropic process of aging, happen to produce the stuff that life is made of. While succumbing to entropy in the form of a nova, they happen to disperse that life stuff. In addition to this, if one is to view all of these events as disconnected happenstance, complexity and life can occur in a finite universe. Perhaps to make this connection would threaten an underlying bias in reductionism against any view of order as other than a purely random occurrence. I would not say that this observation is proof that a higher power is at work in nature, but I think it qualifies as an argument for the fine tuning of our universe and it does lend itself to the possibility that nature is more than purely random. Is what is classified as a statistical tendency toward disorder also a statistical tendency toward complexity that makes evolution possible, or maybe even inevitable? Is that why I never find any mention of this aspect of entropy? :smiley:

kaneslatranz, please don’t cross post threads here. It’s inconsiderate. I’m closing this one and leaving the one in Great Debates open.