From this 2014 article in Quanta magazine by Natalie Wolchover there is a quote from a physicist with an intriguing idea about evolution:
“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.”
Jeremy England's idea is that the attributes associated with life have a lot to do with absorbing and dissipating energy. He insists he is not saying Darwin is wrong, and that his thermodynamics-based idea in some sense subsumes Darwinian evolution.
(The Quanta article links to a recent paper of England's which is somewhat technical, but deals with bacterial replication and thermodynamics. I include the link to give a sense of his ideas in his own words.)
My question is whether his idea, taking it at face value, might furnish a better explanation of something already explained in Darwinian terms or fail to account for some detail of current evolutionary theory?
So if someone had a lot of examples of different aspects of evolution s/he might be able to say, "Here is a situation in which the thermodynamics do not work out as England suggests but which is explained in evolutionary terms," or conversely, "Here is something contrary to evolutionists' expectations that seems to be pretty well explained by the thermodynamics." I suspect that there are several candidates and England's paper gives a hint in one direction.
Thanks for any insights.
Some helpful reading:
- Thermodynamics, Enrico Fermi (1936) [Dover reprint].
- Understanding Thermodynamics, Ness (1969) [Dover reprint].
- What is Life?, Schrodinger (1944).
- Entropy Production..., Crooks (2008).
- Schneider and Kay, Life as a manifestation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Math. and Computer Modeling 19 (6-8): 25-48 (1995).
The last paper is a very readable and non-technical introduction to this topic. If one works through the equations in Chapter 7 of Ness and ref. 4 the idea should be quite clear. Basically, systems (both nonliving and living) which are at some remove from equilibrium devise ways to dissipate energy that involve a decrease in entropy, increasing the entropy of the surrounding system.