by Marinus Jan Marijs
Entropy a measure of disorder; the higher the entropy the greater the disorder.
The relationship between the thermodynamic quantity entropy and the evolution of life is expressed in what is called “Schrödinger’s paradox”, the paradox that living systems increase their organization despite the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
In the famous 1944 book What is Life?, Nobel-laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger theorizes that life, contrary to the general tendency dictated by the Second law of thermodynamics, decreases or maintains its entropy by feeding on negative entropy. In his note to Chapter 6 of What is Life?, however, Schrödinger remarks on his usage of the term negative entropy:
This is what is argued to differentiate life from other forms of matter organization. In this direction, although life’s dynamics may be argued to go against the tendency of second law, which states that the entropy of an isolated system tends to increase, it does not in any way conflict or invalidate this law, because the principle that entropy can only increase or remain constant applies only to a closed system which is adiabatically isolated, meaning no heat can enter or leave. Whenever a system can exchange either heat or matter with its environment, an entropy decrease of that system is entirely compatible with the second law.
The problem of organization in living systems increasing despite the second law is known as the Schrödinger paradox.
In 1982, American biochemist Albert Lehninger argued that the “order” produced within cells as they grow and divide is more than compensated for by the “disorder” they create in their surroundings in the course of growth and division. “Living organisms preserve their internal order by taking from their surroundings free energy, in the form of nutrients or sunlight, and returning to their surroundings an equal amount of energy as heat and entropy.
Thus, if entropy is associated with disorder and if the entropy of the universe is headed towards maximal entropy, then many are often puzzled as to the nature of the “ordering” process and operation of evolution in relation to Clausius’ most famous version of the second law, which states that the universe is headed towards maximal “disorder”. In the recent 2003 book SYNC – the Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven Strogatz, for example, we find “Scientists have often been baffled by the existence of spontaneous order in the universe. The laws of thermodynamics seem to dictate the opposite, that nature should inexorably degenerate toward a state of greater disorder, greater entropy. Yet all around us we see magnificent structures—galaxies, cells, ecosystems, human beings—that have all somehow managed to assemble themselves.
The common argument used to explain this is that, locally, entropy can be lowered by external action, e.g. solar heating action, and that this applies to machines, such as a refrigerator, where the entropy in the cold chamber is being reduced, to growing crystals, and to living organisms This local increase in order is, however, only possible at the expense of an entropy increase in the surroundings; here more disorder must be created. The conditioner of this statement suffices that living systems are open systems in which both heat, mass, and or work may transfer into or out of the system. Unlike temperature, the putative entropy of a living system would drastically change if the organism were thermodynamically isolated. If an organism was in this type of “isolated” situation, its entropy would increase markedly as the once-living components of the organism decayed to an unrecognizable mass (Wikipedia).
The solution of Schrödinger paradox seemed to be solved by the fact that biological systems are open systems and the second law of thermodynamics deals with closed systems. Biological life has a very high organization which is possible because of the energy the earth receives from the sun. This is a basic fact and there is an almost complete consensus within the scientific community that this solves Schrödinger paradox.
However in the second halve of the twentieth century the processes that take place within the sun where calculated.
Sir Fred Hoyle was an English astronomer primarily remembered today for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. In trying to work out the routes of stellar nucleosynthesis, he observed that one particular nuclear reaction, the triple-alpha process, which generated carbon, would require the carbon nucleus to have a very specific energy for it to work. The large amount of carbon in the universe, which makes it possible for carbon-based lifeforms (e.g. humans) to exist, demonstrated that this nuclear reaction must work. Based on this notion, he made a prediction of the energy levels in the carbon nucleus that was later borne out by experiment. However, those energy levels, while needed in order to produce carbon in large quantities, were statistically very unlikely. Hoyle was an atheist until that time. The concept of nucleosynthesis in stars was first established by Hoyle in 1946. This provided a way to explain the existence of elements heavier than helium in the universe, basically by showing that critical elements such as carbon could be generated in stars.
Roger Penrose, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, has calculated that the odds of our universe’s low entropy condition obtaining by chance alone are on the order of 1:10.10(123). And the odds of our solar system’s being formed instantly by the random collision of particles is about 1:10.10(60) [The Road to Reality (Knopf, 2005), pp. 762-5].
This data challenges the idea that “Schrödinger’s paradox” has been solved. (This because there is no explanation of the extremely high negentropy of nucleosynthesis in stars, and many other processes). This is not based upon a religious believe system, but on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.