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Understanding energy cycle enriches life

By Robert McGowan
Columnist

Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

A few weeks ago I read a short newspaper article (statement, really). My first reaction was that of bewilderment, bewildered because of the inaccuracy of the central theme of the short piece.

The author of the article dwells on the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, and states that these laws negate the Theory of Organic Evolution. He writes that the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Theory of Organic Evolution contradict each other.

The writer’s conclusions are erroneous.

First, we all agree that the earth’s energy is derived from the sun. Whether it is the tomato we ate for lunch, or the gasoline in our cars, we know that the energy is derived from the sun, even though the energy in our gasoline was stored by plants and animal organisms millions of years ago.

Now, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that any spontaneous process results in a net increase in disorder, or entropy, when both the system and its environment, or surroundings, are considered.

Anyone reading these words knows that if you build your home and don’t keep it in good repair that it will fall into disorder. To keep that well-known fact from occurring we spend money on the up-keep. We work, and make the money. And, work requires energy. (One doesn’t have to take a course in college physics to know that! )

Now, we all know that the source of that energy is the sun, from the food we eat.

The textbook I used in teaching a course titled General Ecology carried the sentence: “Life in this closed system depends on a delicate and intricate array of chemical recycling systems developed through millions of years of evolution and driven by energy from the sun.”

The author of the ecology book further states that the sun loses about 4.2 million tons of mass every second in the production of this enormous amount of energy. The sun has probably been in existence for at least 6-billion years, and there is enough hydrogen left to keep it going for at least 8-billion years more. That’s correct 8-billion more years.

Only about one two-billionth of the sun’s energy reaches the earth’s outer atmosphere. Even this tiny fraction is equivalent in energy to about 100-million Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per day.

But, if we compared our spaceship earth to an apple, then all life is found within the skin of the apple, a very delicate skin which stresses in many ways at an alarming rate, and the rate is rapidly increasing.

It is a marvelous system. We should love it and respect it, and be wonderfully appreciative that we know as much as we know about the marvelous and beautiful phenomenon of Organic Evolution.

It is enriching to man’s philosophy of life to know that he is as part of it.


Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and former professor of biology at the University of Memphis. Contact him at (901) 828-6039 or via email at ellen1324@gmail.com.

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