Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Does Chaos Theory Refute Evolution?

  1. Oct 2, 2009 #1
    i apologize if my terminology is not correct because I am kind of new to this theology stuff.

    I know there is a theory, I'm not sure if it's chaos theory, that states that all things move toward disorganization or chaos rather than organization. This seems to be true in the broad sense of the universe today; however, it seems like most biological functions, processes, and adaptations do not follow this same pattern. The natural system seems to flow in an organized manner and all things seem to move toward organization and balance. In terms of evolution, how can amino acids have mutated into the many species we have today but still follow chaos theory? It just doesn't seem to add up; can both evolution and chaos theory exist, or are they separate and incompatible.

    As I said before, I'm not too educated on this subject so all ideas are welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 2, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    It's not chaos it's entropy - which says that the disorder of a closed system must increase.
    This is true, except the closed system includes the sun which generates quite a lot of disorder, more than enough to make up for a few bits of slime walking upright
  4. Oct 2, 2009 #3
    You are referring to the second law of thermodynamics that states roughly that in closed system, the entropy ("disorder") will either increase or remain the same. This does not contradict evolution because (1) evolution is not always an increase in "complexity" or "order" and (2) the earth is not a closed system, the sun radiates plenty of energy on the surface of the earth to sustain both life and evolution.

    I suggest reading up on the topic of evolution. Here are some easy and accessible articles and websites.

    Understanding Evolution
    15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense
    Index to Creationist Claims
  5. Oct 3, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    This is a bit off topic for the forum, but just to attempt to nail the point home, if this were true, it wouldn't only be impossible for life to form. All sorts of other things would also be impossible. You couldn't mold a shape out of clay, for instance: a shape being molded out of a lump of clay is an increase in order, right? And yet it happens, and the second law of thermodynamics explains why: fundamentally it's an input in heat that allows us to do work (like molding clay, or driving a car, or reproducing).
  6. Oct 6, 2009 #5
    The only problem you have their is that your intelligence harnesses that heat and inputs the information necessary to "create" an object of higher order. This fact does not prove creation, it simply makes it more complicated of an issue that can be dismissed with a single statement.

    I think that in order for unbiased scientific progression to occur in this field you can not actually refute intelligent design as "impossible". If you take the leap necessary to say that creation is impossible you are using some of the scientifically unfounded faith that the more adamant creationists use in saying that evolution is impossible because of x.

    Personally I am something of an agnostic, my scientific pursuits will be unhampered by my origin beliefs so I will attempt to avoid some of the more hot arguments.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2009
  7. Oct 6, 2009 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It doesn't require an intelligence to locally reverse entropy. The sun's energy causes atoms and molecules to form higher-energy, more complex configurations than they would in its absence.

    And that is what created the intelligence you speak of as well. It just took a more roundabout way.

    And a lot longer to get there...
  8. Oct 6, 2009 #7
    Saying that the addition of energy to a system does not prove that higher order is being generated. Entropy is not reversed simply by adding energy, it is the tool by which greater order can be added or removed. Without information being added to the system it is not possible for the energy to increase in order. A system must be in place to lay the template for the generation of a higher order.

    When you are making a soup on the stove you are adding heat to the items in the pot. This increase in order is only observed when you know that the objective is to make the soup from the raw ingredients. The soup itself is actually decreasing in order from the perspective of the individual ingredients. They are breaking down from their ordered individual selves to become a more complex system. To an outside observer who had no concept of the idea of soup you would be destroying those individual pieces. If you add too much heat the breakdown would continue until the ingredients would be unusable.

    In order for the successful generation of the desired effect information must be present.
    This is not to say that it is impossible for soup to naturally occur in nature, it is to say that without information it is not capable of being anything more than an increase in entropy or a decrease in order.
  9. Oct 6, 2009 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    DaveC426913 did not say that "adding energy generates higher order". His point was that in the sun, smaller atoms are fused to make larger atoms. That is creating "more complex configuarations".

    Randomness can produce order if there is some "mechanism" (not necessarily an "intelligence") selecting that order. That is the whole point of evolution- that "natural selection" is sufficient to produce today's species.
  10. Oct 6, 2009 #9

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    An air conditioner is not intelligent.

    Most parts of the US are experiencing gorgeous fall weather right now. Not true where I sit. It is currently 84 degrees Fahrenheit outside, humidity 87%. High 92 F. I am so glad that with the use of a bit of energy (but zero intelligence) my air conditioner can reduce the entropy inside my house.
  11. Oct 6, 2009 #10
    This is the fundamental difference though between the two theories is it not?
    One side is saying that this order can arise, given enough time, from less complex materials. The other side is saying that, given enough time, anything generated by this process would have succumbed to the effects of entropy as everything does in small local experiments.

    In order to prove or disprove either side you would have to observe the universe for a period of time comparable to the amount of time that has passed between origin and now. This is the only way an experiment could occur without the inclusion human generated information. This is to say that given enough time we would know whether or not one or both or neither theories are correct. Until that point both sides are merely arguing that evidence they have that supports there own theory is sufficient to disprove the others theory. This is simply not the case.

    In the meantime, it would be better to simply gather observations of our universe and only make statements as are advantageous to us at the time of a discovery. It does not really matter who is wrong or right from this standpoint. We will make advances scientifically regardless.

    In the meantime theistic evolutionists are quiet and tick away at the eons waiting to have enough data for positive or negative conclusions.

    (This does not bring to light any answers philosophically as to the relationship between the people on the different sides of the opposing view points Some would argue that a single solution would cause an end to conflicts between different view points. The same people who commit atrocities are more than happy to commit those atrocities regardless of the ideology that they may hold.)

    I think we may have digressed a bit from the topic of the thread as these questions often do, but I will go ahead and say that no, the "chaos theory"(entropy) does not refute evolution.
  12. Oct 6, 2009 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Except that last sentence you just wrote is completely and utterly wrong. This isn't the way things occur. If heat is being input into the system, in general entropy does not increase. This is what small local experiments show. And this is why we're able to build, for instance, motors, or air conditioners (as D H pointed out).

    It's also the reason why, for instance, tornadoes or hurricanes form. Both are highly-ordered structures, and both are produced, ultimately, by the heating of the Earth by the Sun.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2009
  13. Oct 6, 2009 #12
    Once again you are looking at a system with information. We are harnessing the results of expended energy when we add energy to a system. When you use an engine to produce work you are harnessing the expended energy of the fuel as it is broken down. In order to reverse entropy you would have to break the law of conservation of energy. The only reason that entropy appears to have been reversed is because the observer sees an increase in order or an increase in complexity. An increase in complexity is not the only indication of a reversal of entropy. A hurricane/tornadoes is weather phenomenon that results from a combination of thousands of individual forces acting on each other resulting in a natural phenomenon, not to mention the fact that the result of a tornado/hurricane is destruction and it will always be destruction you will never have a tornado building a house. This is not the point though.
    By your definition a reversal of entropy is anytime something appears to be more complex to the observer. Are not the individual particles still breaking down in one form or other. Whenever something is actually pushed to a higher level of true comlexity is it not at the expence of another element?
    Are we arguing whether or not adding energy causes things to rise to another level of complexity or are we arguing whether or not entropy occurs withen every reaction?
  14. Oct 6, 2009 #13


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I'm not really sure what your point is, or your stance in the discussion.

    I'm going to make one request/suggestion though, to all: let us eliminate the confounding factor of intelligence. There are plenty of examples of chaos, entropy and local reversal of entropy that are naturally occurring without complicating the issue by invoking an intelligence (regardless of wether that intelligence is supernatural or merely a human standing at a stove.)
  15. Oct 6, 2009 #14
    To be honest I'm not sure at this point what the objective of our discussion was either.

    I guess I am saying that if evolution occurs you can not say that it is occurring contrary to the laws of thermodynamics.

    I am also saying that stating that the added energy of the sun to the planet is sufficient to show the development of incredibly complex systems on the planet; is not a conclusion to the argument.

    I guess that is it in a nutshell.
  16. Oct 6, 2009 #15


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    The point is extremely simple: the entropy of an isolated system can decrease through an input in heat. That is all there is to it. We make use of this fact to build things like engines and air conditioners, but it also happens quite naturally under a variety of circumstances. None of your objections to this are in any way applicable to the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics doesn't give a rat's *** about things like "information" or "intelligence". They do not matter. As long as your system isn't closed, under the right conditions (which are quite common), you will get a decrease in entropy.

    This is, fundamentally, why this second law of thermodynamics argument is completely irrelevant when it comes to life: life on earth is powered almost exclusively by the tremendous influx in heat that comes from the Sun. The very fact that the Sun is shining on us, providing us with this tremendous influx in heat, makes it completely reasonable for the entropy of things on the Earth to go down. And this happens, all the time.
  17. Oct 6, 2009 #16


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I would make only one alteration:
    There are other forms of energy input from the sun that are not heat, UV being one.
  18. Oct 6, 2009 #17


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    No. Entropy creation and reduction is ongoing, so one only needs to measure long enough to ascertain the rate of entropy creation and reduction to find out if life on earth is violating the second law. And one need only look at the earth's energy balance to realize that humans are a mere footnote to the vast entropy generated by the sun.
    No scientist would ever argue such a point. The issue quite simply isn't useful. Please understand: the question of the implications of the 2nd law of thermodynamics for evolution is not brought up by scientists - it is only brought up by crackpots who wish to challenge evolution (or by people asking about what they heard a crackpot say).
  19. Oct 7, 2009 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Ah, fair enough. Heat is only thermal energy. Yes, there is also non-thermal energy, though I wouldn't count UV light as being non-thermal energy. It's just a particular wavelength of light, much of which will be thermal. The spectrum of radiation from the Sun isn't a perfect black body spectrum, though, so a lot of it might not be considered heat.
  20. Oct 8, 2009 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I do think that UV light interacts with chemistry in ways more complex than merely thermally. For instance, it aids in the creation of ozone by splitting gaseous oxygen. I guess it may depend on how broad a definition of "thermal" you use.
  21. Oct 8, 2009 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Fair enough.

    In any case, though, the principle is sound: systems on Earth can decrease in entropy due to the radiation coming from the Sun (for the most part...some comes from chemical or nuclear reactions of substances within the earth).
  22. Jan 16, 2011 #21
    (Note Chaos theory is about the butterfly effect and how small changes in initial conditions can create a large change over time.) The law of entropy applies to heat. It does not apply to a box of fish-hooks, nor to the complxity of matter over time. If you shake a box of fish-hooks they will become entangled and create an ever increasingly complex body. This is similar to the way that cosmic gas accumulates into balls - which eventually form Stars and Solar systems and galaxies. This is the nature of matter: it forms more complex systems over time - which is how we got the human brain. You may call this the law of reverse entropy - but that would be confused with the laws of thermodynamics. It would be simpler to just call it "The law of increasing matter complexity". This law states that "Systems tend to become more complex over time."
  23. Jan 16, 2011 #22


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    This is a misunderstanding of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics applies to everything in the universe. The second law of thermodynamics is a general law that basically states that over time, systems in less probable configurations will approach more probable configurations. When you look at the details of how this law is derived from statistical mechanics, you find that this law must hold for all systems with a significant number of constituent particles.

    To take your box of fish hooks example, over time those fish hooks will rust to the point where they're just a pile of dust that is blown away and mixed with other matter.

    Individual parts of the universe (such as biology) only appear to violate this law until you point out that these systems are not closed systems: an organism like a human is able to reduce its entropy because it is continually inputting energy (through food): the increase in entropy of the food is greater than the decrease in entropy that is used to do useful stuff (like thinking, running, reproducing).
  24. Jan 17, 2011 #23
    And individual life, perhaps unfortunately, can only hold up against increasing entropy for so long, as I am finding each day I grow older. "Time is the fire in which we burn".
  25. Jan 17, 2011 #24
    You have missed the point about the fish hooks. Over time they form a more complex system - because that is the more probably outcome. It is highly unlikley that they will remain untangled. Thermodynamics does not contradict increasing complexity - in fact it is agreement with it. The natural state of matter is to form more complex systems. As I said - a cloud of gas will bunch up into heavy balls - which form stars and planets - and create more complex atoms. This is an isolated system - becoming more complex. It is not breaking the second law of thermodynamics - because potential gravitational energy is being turned into heat (in the stars).

  26. Jan 17, 2011 #25


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    This notion of complexity, which defines tangled fish hooks are more complex than untangled ones, is a notion that simply has nothing to do with entropy or thermodynamics in general.

    Of course if you have a notion of complexity that is unrelated to entropy, you will be able to find systems that tend to get more complex due to increases in entropy. But you will also find other systems that get simpler as a result of an increase in entropy.

    Thermodynamics simply doesn't care about that. Instead, thermodynamics only deals with a the following sort of situation: systems tend to approach configurations where there are many more ways to replicate the observables.

    With the fish hooks example, a box of fish hooks has only a few, very specific ways of being ordered. But it has a tremendous number of ways to be tangled. So, by thermodynamics, we would expect the natural tendency would be towards becoming tangled.

    And by the way, the standard laws of thermodynamics simply don't work for self-gravitating systems. They needs to be re-written to take gravity into account, and unfortunately we just don't know how to do that yet (it would basically require quantum gravity).
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook