How is the maintenance of a highly ordered living system possible, given the tendency of the Universe to tend toward increasing disorder? Provide an explanation for the order of an organism, and an...

How is the maintenance of a highly ordered living system possible, given the tendency of the Universe to tend toward increasing disorder? Provide an explanation for the order of an organism, and an explanation for the order of successive generations of organisms. 

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This question has been batted back and forth, predominately between creationists and the science community, for a considerable amount of time. There are a number of resources that attempt to answer the many facets of this question in much greater detail; I have linked some of them below.

First, we should point out that this question typically arises from the attempt to apply the laws of thermodynamics to biological systems; this is not always an accurate or viable comparison to make. For example, the term "order" means something very different depending upon whether we're talking about thermodynamic entropy and enthalpy, or whether we're talking about the ordering of cell types and functions in an organism. In short, we cannot say that the existence of an organism is a contradiction to the fact that heat energy dissipates into its environment.

We can see, in day to day terms, how a highly "ordered" living system is maintained, by comparison to machines. For example, a refrigerator performs what appears to be a function that violates the tendency toward disorder; it creates a concentrated area of substantially colder air. However, if the refrigerator is not provided with electricity, this function stops, and the temperature of the air eventually equalizes with the rest of the environment. Likewise, the "order" of a living organism is only maintained through a constant influx of energy in the form of food; once the energy flow ceases, the order begins to break down, i.e. the organism rots.

This can be compared to the Earth itself as well; many of the earth's "orderly" functions, such as the existence of life and weather, are dependent upon an influx of energy (from the sun). When this flow of energy ceases in a few billion years, these orderly processes will cease as well.

Thus, life can coexist with a disordered universe if we agree to look at things on the same time scales; in the short term, the Earth appears ordered while the Universe as a whole is not. However, in the long term, the conditions that support this exceptional order will end, and the forces of disorder will take over.

We should also note that our certainty about the disorder of the Universe is not absolute; it very much depends upon whether the Universe has a finite or infinite lifespan, which we do not know yet.

The question about the order of successive generations is unclear; generations do not become "more ordered" than the previous one in any meaningful way. If this is meant to question how an organism with limbs and organs could evolve from bacteria, then the answer is, in a sense, a microcosm of the previous answer; "more ordered" life is greatly outnumbered by "less ordered" life. Life, and evolution, tend to favor variety, not complexity, as a system will try to operate in as lean and efficient a manner as it can. However, the real issue here is, again, the loose definition of the word "order". If evolution were impossible due to violating the laws of thermodynamics, then the operation of a refrigerator should be equally impossible.

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