According to the laws of nature progression is always downward. One of these laws is the Second Law of Thermodynamics which says that isolated systems cannot increase in complexity. For example, a wearing suit will eventually decompose. Thus Duane Gish said ”This [evolution] is a direct violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

Additionally, some say that Albert Einstein, the greatest physicist who ever lived, felt that evolution is a breach of natural laws (laws of conversation of energy and mass) since progression is always downward.

How can we reconcile evolution with natural laws and did Einstein reject evolution?

Sources, please

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 23:45

1 Answer 1

  1. First of all, I did not study in any detail what Einstein's views on evolution were; the following is just a trivial observation:

Our sun is constantly pumping energy into the ecosystem of the Earth. Most of the energy that the life forms on Earth are getting, can be traced to the sun (plus, the heat from the Earth mantle). All past, present and (presumably) future life on Earth depends on this energy source which obviously has to be taken into account when applying the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics to evolution. One can, of course, consider a larger system, namely the solar system. It is still not isolated, but let's ignore this for a moment. The increase in complexity on Earth due to evolution has to be balanced against the decrease in complexity of the Sun and the Earth core due to nuclear processes (which are behind the energy that we are getting). Once these two are exhausted (about 5-7 billions of years from now), that will be the end of life and, hence, evolution, on Earth. (I am simplifying quite a bit here.)

Einstein, of course, understood all this and would not have objected to a/the evolutionary theory on the basis of thermodynamics.

  1. Here are two Einstein quotes regarding evolution taken from:

*What about Darwin? All Species of Opinion from Scientists, Sages, Friends, and Enemies Who Met, Read, and Discussed the Naturalist Who Changed the World", by Thomas Glick, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

"In my opinion, a great era of atomic science cannot be assured by organizing science in the way large corporations are organized. One can organize the application of a discovery already made, but one cannot organize the discovery itself. Only a free individual can make a discovery. However, there can be a kind of organization wherein the scientist is assured freedom and proper conditions of work. Professors of science in American universities, for instance, should be relieved of some of their teaching so as to have more time for research. Can you imagine an organization of scientists making the discoveries of Charles Darwin?"

Albert Einstein, “On the Atomic Bomb,” Atlantic Monthly, November 1945, 43–45, reprinted in Einstein on Politics, ed. David E. Rowe and Robert Schulmann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 376.

"Darwin’s theory of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudo-scientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, because man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. As little as a battle between single ants of a hill is essential for survival, just so little is this the case with the individual members of a human community.

Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (New York: Citadel, 1995), p. 34.

Lastly, from Albert Einstein’s Voice for Evolution, by Glenn Branch:

Over the course of his life, Einstein wrote a lot and spoke a lot and moreover was widely consulted for comment on the issues of his day, so I hesitate to offer any definitive pronouncement, but it looks as though he never wrote or spoke extensively about evolution or evolution education. There are a few suggestive snippets here and there, however. For example, in 1939, speaking at Princeton Theological Seminary, Einstein famously decried conflicts arising “when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible.” The result of such an insistence, he explained, is “an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs.” It’s hard not to believe that the Scopes trial was in his thoughts then.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for writing this answer. The Sun sends dangerous radiation which harms and even kills bacteria. I am an advocate of evolution but how can entropy begin when, raw energy unshielded ultraviolet light from the sun decay any life forms. As biological molecules require amino acids, proteins, DNA, and RNA is untenable when radioactive UV light kills simple bacteria. Yes, the human body is a very complex machine, but the first cell (inorganic material) would have been not very complex at all. Why was it not harmed? Thanks for your answer. $\endgroup$
    – Turk Hill
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @TurkHill: I suggest, you ask these questions at biology.stackexchange.com: None of these is about the history of science. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2020 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ This is very close to the answer, except for the characterization about the 2nd Law's inexorable increase of entropy as a "decrease in complexity" when it's actually an increase. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Spencer: You are right, I will rewrite the answer when I have more time. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2020 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @TurkHill, it does not necessarily follow that biological life evolved in direct sunlight. Bear in mind that what we would think of as the formation of basic life is also just the formation of complex chemical compounds, and this is seen to happen constantly in many settings. It could also be that very basic biological life is constantly evolving spontaneously. $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 13:45

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