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The Creation Explanation

Creation Explanation The Changing World: Physical Laws & the Origin of Life

The Open System Argument

Some evolutionary scientists counter the entropy argument against abiogenesis (spontaneous beginning of life) with the "open system argument." The Second Law of Thermodynamics or entropy law applies to closed systems and they point out that the surface of the earth is an open, not a closed system. That is, energy, mostly solar, continually flows into and out of the earth's surface layers. Supposedly this energy flow through the chemical systems of the primeval earth could have caused the original living cells to appear.4

The beginning of life on the earth, therefore, although involving a certain localized decrease in entropy on the earth, would occur at the expense of a far greater increase in entropy in the sun. Therefore, if the closed system includes the earth and the sun, the entropy would have increased in the system taken as a whole, even though living cells appeared on earth, with a resultant smaller entropy decrease there. So the entropy law would be fulfilled. This is the "open system argument" devised to overcome the entropy argument against abiogenesis. Technically, this argument has some validity.

Does this open-system argument invalidate the entropy argument against abiogenesis? Not really. If abiogenesis occurred, it occurred on the molecular level, not on the cosmic or Solar System level. The appearance of a living cell in some primeval chemical reaction pot would involve an intense local decrease in entropy (corresponding to an increase in complexity, information content, and free energy content). The entropy law when developed in terms of statistical mechanics (i.e., by a mathematical model for the interaction of large numbers of atoms and molecules) takes a form in which it can be used to predict the probability of such a local decrease in entropy. That is, the probability of the chance appearance of a living cell can be calculated based on the free energy content of the living cell compared with the free energy content of the buillding block molecules which are assembled to construct the living cell.

The probability of the chance formation of the smallest conceivable living cell (weighing 10-14 grams) in an ocean containing all of the necessary amino acids, nucleotides, and other building block molecules in an equilibrium mixture has been calculated by Professor Harold Morowitz in his book, Energy Flow in Biology.5 His calculated probability, based on the entropy law and a through study of the thermodynamic properties of living cells, is P=1/10340,000,000. This is one chance in the number formed by the number 1 followed by 340,000,000 zeros. In other words, the entropy law predicts that abiogenesis is impossible in this universe, even if it were trillions of times as large and old as it is alleged to be.

Nevertheless, the evolutionary theorists bolster their open system argument with both experimental and theoretical support. They point out that energy flow can be shown in some chemical mixtures to produce an increase in chemical complexity and free energy content.6 To this fact is added the recent results of the new theory of non-equilibrium thermodynamics. This theory, in the hands of Ilya Prigogine, the Russian-born Belgian theoretical chemist, predicts that energy flow can produce extreme non-equilibrium conditions under which "dissipative structures" are formed which have some degree of permanence as long as the energy flow continues or energy rich chemicals are available.7 The theorists simply extrapolate experiment and theory, proposing that, given sufficient time, dissipative structures could increase in complexity to become the first living cells.

This extrapolation is, however, totally speculative and seems to be unjustified by the facts. What has been observed experimentally has been limited to the maintenance of a somewhat elevated energy content, a more complex mix of chemicals, and the existence of rudimentary chemical cycles and visible concentration patterns in the mixture. Such systems have never been observed to exhibit the combination of properties and functions defining life: a stable complex structure, metabolism, growth, homeostasis, response to environment, reproduction, purposefulness, adaptability, and coded information which defines and controls these functions. Also significant is the fact that storage of radiant energy in sugar molecules is never observed in nature except in photosynthetic plants, and its transmission to the biologically crucial peptide bonds of proteins and the phosphodiester bonds of the DNA molecules which are genes is never observed in nature except in living organisms.

Experimental attempts to overcome these difficulties have taken evolutionary scientists to imaginary reaction pots on the hot sides of hypothetical primeval volcanoes and down into batches of catalytic clay minerals on the bottoms of imaginary primeval oceans, but the results of such studies, while interesting, are never really persuasive. This subject of abiogenesis(the spontaneous origin of life) will be considered in greater detail in Chapter-4.



4. Morowitz, Harold J., Energy Flow in Biology (Academic Press, New York, 1968), p. 120.

5. Ibid., p. 99.

6. Ibid., p. 68.

7. Nicolis, G. and I. Prigogine, Self-Organization in Nonequilibrium Systems (John Wiley, New York, 1977, pp. 429-427.

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