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"Life Explains Life"? My Challenge to Dr. Novella on Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Yale University School of Medicine neurologist Dr. Steven Novella has replied to my post on evolution and the second law of thermodynamics.


Scientists then point out that the biosphere of the Earth is not a closed system, it received copious energy from the sun. In fact the total entropy of the Earth-sun system is increasing, but there is a local decrease in entropy on the Earth which does not violate the second law.

True. Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics.


Creationists have then attempted to counter this by saying that simply providing energy from the sun is not sufficient, you need to also have a mechanism by which that energy is actively used to decrease entropy. I and others have then pointed out that there is such a mechanism. The sun does not just heat the Earth. Life uses solar energy to create food, grow, do work, reproduce and, in short, locally decrease its entropy.

We are debating the explanation for the fact that life gives rise to low entropy. Therefore, Novella cannot invoke life as the explanation, because he is invoking the very thing we are trying to explain. The question is: how is it that life can create low entropy?

Novella goes on to repeat his nonsense answer: "Life did it."

If life can use solar energy to turn an acorn into an oak tree, then there is no second law argument to be made. Life uses energy from the sun to decrease entropy... It is a proven fact that life can reduce entropy. Plants make food, animals eat food, and they use energy from food to reduce entropy. We know that they do it and how they do it. This is not the question. It can be taken as an established premise -- unless Egnor is arguing that plants growing from seeds is a mysterious process unexplained by science.

220px-Steven_Novella_2008.jpgNovella seems incapable of providing an explanation for how life gives rise to low entropy. He merely insists that it does. We all agree that it does.

But how does life do it? Novella's answer -- "make food... eat food... use energy from food to reduce entropy" would be funny, if it didn't come from a man claiming to be a scientist who is making a serious argument.

We all agree that any valid theory of evolution must explain how it is that life gives rise to low entropy. There are two, and only two, kinds of processes known to create low entropy:

  1. Law-like processes (processes that occur in accordance with known physical laws -- gravity, quantum mechanics, Newtonian laws of motion, relativity, etc.). Crystals, planets, mountains etc. are low entropy aggregations created by law-like physical processes.
  2. Mind-like processes -- intentionally planned processes, such as machines, architecture, art, etc.

Any valid theory of evolution must incorporate at least one of these two processes if it is to explain the low entropy in living things.

Darwinian evolution -- natural selection acting on heritable random variation -- is neither law-like nor mind-like. It is not a valid theory of evolution, because it fails to provide either a law-like or a mind-like explanation for low entropy in life. Intelligent design and teleological evolution are both mind-like, and both offer a plausible explanation for low entropy in life.

So here is my question for Dr. Novella:

By your understanding of evolution, what explanation accounts for low entropy in living things? If you believe that there are explanations for low entropy other than law-likeness or mind-likeness, please provide them.

The assertion that "life uses energy to make low entropy" or "life explains life" is not an explanation, but an admission that you have no explanation.

Image credit: Steven Novella/Wikipedia.