Information and Entropy – Top-down or Bottom-up Development in Living Systems?

Information and Entropy – Top-down or Bottom-up Development in Living Systems?

A.C. Mcintosh 

Energy and Resources Research Institute, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

31 December 2009
| Citation



This paper deals with the fundamental and challenging question of the ultimate origin of genetic information from a thermodynamic perspective. The theory of evolution postulates that random mutations and natural selection can increase genetic information over successive generations. It is often argued from an evolutionary perspective that this does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because it is proposed that the entropy of a non-isolated system could reduce due to energy input from an outside source, especially the sun when considering the earth as a biotic system. By this it is proposed that a particular system can become organised at the expense of an increase in entropy elsewhere. However, whilst this argument works for structures such as snowflakes that are formed by natural forces, it does not work for genetic information because the information system is composed of machinery which requires precise and non-spontaneous raised free energy levels – and crystals like snowflakes have zero free energy as the phase transition occurs. The functional machinery of biological systems such as DNA, RNA and proteins requires that precise, non-spontaneous raised free energies be formed in the molecular bonds which are maintained in a far from equilibrium state. Furthermore, biological structures contain coded instructions which, as is shown in this paper, are not defined by the matter and energy of the molecules carrying this information. Thus, the specified complexity cannot be created by natural forces even in conditions far from equilibrium. The genetic information needed to code for complex structures like proteins actually requires information which organises the natural forces surrounding it and not the other way around – the information is crucially not defined by the material on which it sits. The information system locally requires the free energies of the molecular machinery to be raised in order for the information to be stored. Consequently, the fundamental laws of thermodynamics show that entropy reduction which can occur naturally in non-isolated systems is not a sufficient argument to explain the origin of either biological machinery or genetic information that is inextricably intertwined with it. This paper highlights the distinctive and non-material nature of information and its relationship with matter, energy and natural forces. It is proposed in conclusion that it is the non-material information (transcendent to the matter and energy) that is actually itself constraining the local thermodynamics to be in ordered disequilibrium and with specified raised free energy levels necessary for the molecular and cellular machinery to operate.


entropy, evolution, free energy, information, intelligent design, machines, non-isolated systems


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