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What Can a Mathematician Contribute to the Evolution Debate?

My 2000 Mathematical Intelligencer article, “A Mathematician’s View of Evolution,” presented two arguments against Darwinian evolution. The first was the more traditional argument from “irreducible complexity” showing that, contrary to what Darwin believed, major advances in the evolution of life, like major advances in the evolution of software (I focused on my own partial differential equation solving software), cannot be built up through many very small improvements. I have since written several Evolution News posts on this topic, most recently “Why Similarities Do Not Prove the Absence of Design.”

The second point was that the development of an advanced civilization on a previously barren planet seems to violate — in a most spectacular way — the more general statements of the second law of thermodynamics, at least the basic principle underlying this law, even if the Earth is an open system. I have written on this topic for Evolution News numerous times in the last few years, most recently “Why Should Evolutionary Biology Be So Different?” I have continued to develop this argument further in scientific papers, which have passed peer-review four times (most recently in Physics Essays), and editor-review twice, as documented in the video below.

Although many other mathematicians and physicists find these arguments persuasive, the understandable reaction of most biologists  seems to be, “How can you possibly say anything important about evolution without even discussing the details of evolutionary theory?” But it is important to remember that this is not a new argument I invented. It is the age-old, intuitive observation that there is something very “unnatural” about advanced civilizations arising spontaneously on barren planets. My contribution is only to show how absurd is the “compensation” argument always advanced to silence anyone who draws the obvious conclusions.

Since I am not a biologist, my contributions to the debate about intelligent design versus Darwinism have been limited. Nearly everything I have written since the 2000 MI article has just expanded on one of the two points made there. My latest and clearest such contribution is a video (above) that I produced with the help of my brother Kirk. It presents these same two points, in reverse order: the second law argument is presented in the first 13 minutes.

But I believe anyone who takes the time to watch this video will realize that you can indeed draw some important conclusions about evolution without becoming an expert on evolutionary theory. In fact I think he or she will realize that sometimes it helps to step back from the details and look at the bigger picture, which is what I have always tried to do.

Photo credit: Math professor, by Ed Brambley via Flickr.