The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems

by Daniel W. McShae and Robert N. Brandon

When animals have nothing to do they go to sleep. But humans have a drive to know and understand everything. Attentive humans noticed fossils and asked where they came from. Very intelligent humans invented the theory that life evolved over a period of 3.5 billion years. Marshaling the evidence, rational humans judge the theory to be true. Humans then ask: What caused evolution?

Creationists and advocates of intelligent design think that God did it. While there is evidence that God exists (free will, finite beings), there is little evidence supporting this theory. There is no evidence for the theory of natural selection.  This theory only explains how giraffes got long necks, not how giraffes evolved from bacteria. The reason is that a giraffe is so much more complex than a bacterium and 3.5 billion years is only about a hundred thousand trillion seconds (17 zeros). Not enough is known about the innovations natural selection acts upon for humans to understand how evolution occurred in so short a time. Evolutionary biologists generally speak of “adaptive evolution” in connection with natural selection.

Atheists, creationists, and advocates of intelligent design are responsible for the misinformation that natural selection is intended to be an explanation for the complexity of life. The author of the following quote has a Ph.D. in linguistics, not biology. Pinker is Steve Pinker (Ph.D. in linguistics), and Bloom is Paul Bloom (Ph.D. in psychology). Notice that Charles Darwin (Ph.D. in biology) doesn’t think natural selection explains the complexity of the human eye:

They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all. But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea,…Even Darwin said that it was hard to imagine how the eye could have evolved. And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection—the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects…Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it. (Christine Kenneally, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, pp. 59–60)

McShae and Brandon state the limitations of natural selection explicitly:

The history of life presents three great sources of wonder. One is adaptation, the marvelous fit between organism and environment. The other two are diversity and complexity, the huge variety of living forms today and the enormous complexity of their internal structure. Natural selection explains adaptation. But what explains diversity and complexity?” (location 78, Kindle)

The second bit of nonsense this book by mainstream biologists refutes is the idea that evolution obeys the second law of thermodynamics. In November, 2008, the American Journal of Physics published an article “Entropy and evolution” that includes an absurd equation combining thermodynamics and probability theory to prove that evolution does NOT violate the second law of thermodynamics. The article was probably written in good faith because there are a lot of books and articles about evolution and the second law of thermodynamics.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, a gas will fill up the entire container it is in because this is the most probable distribution of non-interacting molecules. In other words, nature goes from knowledge to lack of knowledge about the location of molecules, order to disorder, complexity to simplicity, or low entropy to high entropy. When shuffling a deck of playing cards the chance of the deck getting back into its original factory order is about one in 10, 000 vigintillion (67 zeros). I mention cards because physicists label the molecules in a gas No. 1, No. 2, etc. and a deck of playing cards comes automatically labeled. Notice that there are almost four times as many zeros in this number as in the time for evolution.

In trying to understand evolution, biologists use as a model for a protein, not a deck of playing cards, but the English sonnet. A protein has four levels of complexity, but the primary structure has hundreds of amino acids and each amino acid has to be in exactly the right location for the protein to work. As there are 20 amino acids and 26 letters, biologists calculate how long it would take a computer to generate a sonnet by the random selection of letters. (Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, pages 32).

Kirschner and Gerhart only report a calculation simulating natural selection for a the phrase “to be or not to be.” My guess is that nobody did the calculation for a sonnet because nobody cares. The primary structure of a protein doesn’t even begin to describe the complexity of life. The dozens of proteins that make the flagellum of a bacterium rotate is a static kind of complexity, like the primary structure of a protein. By contrast, genetic engineering is the ability of cells to detect changes in the environment and create new proteins in response to the change. The ability of a fertilized animal egg to develop into a multicellular animal is another example of complexity. The instinctual behavior of animals and the knowledge of grammar that human infants are born with are other “sources of wonder,” as the authors express it.

The only connection between evolution and the second law of thermodynamics is that evolutionary biologists and physicists both perform probability calculations. The AJP article singles out for criticism the creationist Henry Morris for saying evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. The article argues that the second law only applies to closed systems without mentioning the criterion that it only applies to non-interacting particles.

The second law of thermodynamics does not apply to very large numbers of hydrogen atoms in outer space because the force of gravity causes stars to be formed from these atoms. A living organism is anything but a system of non-interacting particles. This is the real reason evolution does not violate the second law. With the goal of understanding evolution, the earth is a closed system. It is true that the sun bathes the earth with its energy. But energy from the sun generally heats things up and makes them more disordered, not less disordered.This is the way the authors explain that the complexity of life has nothing to do with the second law of thermodynamics:

Based on what we have said so far, some will be poised and ready to make a leap, from the notion of accumulation of accidents to the second law of thermodynamics…. We advise readers against this, for their own safety. We are concerned that on the other side of that leap there may be no firm footing. Indeed, there may be an abyss. First, we think the foundation of the ZFEL [zero-force evolutionary law] lies in probability theory, not in the second law or any other law of physics. And second, our notions of diversity and complexity differ fundamentally from entropy, in that entropy, unlike diversity and complexity is not a level-related concept.  (location 220 on Kindle)