Albert Szent-Gyorgyi's Theory of Syntropy and Creationism
by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.
Creationists have often discussed the principle of increasing entropy (the second law of thermodynamics), or the pervasive tendency for organized forms of matter to gradually disintegrate into lower and lower levels of organization. A city, if it were deserted would eventually disintegrate. The metal in the city would rust, the mortar in the buildings would crack, the wood would rot, etc. In time, less and less differentiation would exist until, if the area were a closed system (no new energy was brought in to rebuild the city), all of the molecules would be evenly distributed within a given area. Diffusion, the tendency for molecules to distribute themselves throughout an area, would occur.
For example, if a bottle of perfume is opened up in a sealed room, the perfume molecules, although at first concentrated in the bottle, will gradually spread outward from the bottle until the number of molecules per cubic centimeter found in the perfume bottle also will be found in all areas of the room itself (Anthony, 1963, pp. 35-36). Likewise, diffusion always results, if enough time elapses, in an even scattering of solute particles among solvent molecules. Given enough time, even solid objects break down and diffuse. Rocks, land and other solid objects are worn down by the movement of water, solid particles are moved by wind and by the growth of plants, to name a few of the more common methods.
Entropy also applies to energy. Energy diffuses until it is equally dispersed. For example, if a hot piece of metal is dropped into a bucket of water in time it will lose its heat to the water until the metal and water are the same temperature. In time the water will lose its heat to the air until the water becomes the same temperature as that inside the room. The room, in turn, loses its heat to the outside rooms, (McCormick, 1965, pp. 288-289). This diffusion would theoretically continue until the energy is equally dispersed throughout the universe. Even in energy transformations directed by man, some energy is forever lost. As in all energy transformations, there is a "tendency for some of the energy to be transformed to non-reversible heat energy" (Morris, 1963, p. 33).
However in the life process we commonly find what seems to be a decrease of entropy occurring. Living organisms cause increased organization, both in their own world and sometimes even in the world around them, reducing diffusion and in essence working to oppose the universal tendency toward energy and matter equilibrium. On the basis of the evolutionary hypotheses it is then postulated that a process of self-transformation has occurred, resulting in the conversion of a primordial disordered state, via increasing complexity, to a highly ordered state, and eventually the evolution from amoeba to mammal, and from mammal to man.
A main difference between amoeba and man is increased complexity, requiring some mechanism to counteract the second law of thermodynamics. In other words, there must exist something, a "force," to counteract the universal movement towards equal distribution of all matter and energy.
One attempt to deal with this was proposed by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. Szent-Gyorgyi, an eminent scientist born in Hungary in 1893, was educated at the University of Budapest and Cambridge. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his scientific research in muscle physiology in 1937. Szent-Gyorgyi is now the Director of Research at the Institute for Muscle Research in Massachusetts and has written a number of books on his research.
Szent-Gyorgyi postulates that there exists what he calls the "principle" of syntropy or "negative entropy." Realizing that entropy is a universal "force" which causes organized forms to gradually disintegrate into lower and lower levels of organization, he pictures the world as, in essence, a great machine running down and wearing out. The concept of syntropy postulates the existence of the opposite force, a force which causes living things to reach "higher and higher levels of organization, order and dynamic harmony." (Vargiu, 1977, p. 14). The basic problem as stated by Szent-Gyorgyi is "that there is some basic difference between the living and the non-living ... as scientists we cannot believe the laws of the universe could lose their validity at the surface of our skin," pointing out that the law of entropy, for some reason, seems not to prevail in living systems.
Although entropy is increasing, another force obviously is also operating. Thus we have the problem of the tendency for the world to gradually disintegrate into lower and lower levels of organization and the converse fact that "putting things together in a meaningful way ... is one of the basic features of nature" (p. 19, 1977). The contrast between entropy in the non-living world and syntropy in the living world is discussed by Szent-Gyorgyi as follows:
Inanimate nature stops at the low level organization of simple molecules. But living systems go on and combine molecules to form macromolecules, macromolecules to form organelles (such as nuclei, mitochondria, chloropasts, ribosomes, and membranes) and eventually put these all together to form the greatest wonder of creation, a cell, with its astounding inner regulations. Then it goes on putting cells together to form "higher organisms" and increasingly more complex individuals ... at every step, new, more complex individuals...at every step, new, more complex and subtle qualities are created, and so in the end we are faced with properties which have no parallel in the inanimate world ... (p. 15-16, 1977).
In postulating his theory of syntropy, Szent-Gyorgyi, perhaps unintentionally, brings forth one of the strongest arguments for creationism -- the fact that a body organ is useless until it is completely perfected. The hypothesized law of "survival of the fittest" would generally select against any mutations until a large number of mutations have already occurred to produce a complete and functional structure; after which natural selection would then theoretically select for the organism with the completed organ. This difficulty is summed up by Szent-Gyorgyi:
..."Herring gulls" have a red patch on their beak. This red patch has an important meaning, for the gull-feeds its babies by going out fishing and swallowing the fish it has caught. Then, on coming home, the hungry baby gull knocks at the red spot. This elicits a reflex of regurgitation in mama, and the baby takes the fish from her gullet. All this may sound very simple, but it involves a whole series of most complicated chain reactions with a horribly complex underlying nervous mechanism of the knocking baby and that of the regurgitating mother. All this had to be developed simultaneously, which, is a random mutation, has the probability of zero. I am unable to approach this problem without supposing an innate 'drive' in living matter to perfect itself. (p. 18-19, 1977).
Syntropy is similar to earlier theories which have been termed "vitalism" (Morris, 1966, p. 34; and Szent-Gyorgyi, 1977, p. 19). Consequently Szent-Gyorgyi's theory has been criticized as being little more than a variation of vitalism.
All non-living "organisms" wear away until they "break" through use, called "normal wear." A new car progressively wears out and eventually the car has to be replaced. Even if a car is not used, it rusts, rots, and decays from just sitting. The use of any mechanical unit causes the unit's eventual destruction. But use of living organisms, in time, causes them (unless other factors intervene as illness) to build up, to become stronger (DeVries, 1970), actually improve themselves as the physical fitness advocates today have abundantly stressed. Inactivity, though, causes organisms to decay, tear down, and in time "break down." If an arm were put in a plaster cast for several years, it would "wither away," becoming thin, emaciated, weak and useless. One of the major problems for living organisms is not activity but inactivity. The aging process is a different factor, evidently the accumulation of misuse, disease, stress, etc. Activity, in most cases, slows down the normal aging process. Thus use tears down non-life, but builds up life.
Szent-Gyorgyi states he plans to spend the rest of his life working on the above problem, because he feels, in essence, the present evolutionary mechanism is inadequate, i.e.:
... most biological reactions are chain reactions. To interact in a chain, these precisely built molecules must fit together most precisely, as the cog wheels of a Swiss watch do. But if this is so, then how can such a system develop at all? For if any one of the specific cog wheels in these chains is changed, then the whole system must simply become inoperative. Saying it can be improved by random mutation of one link ... (is) like saying you could improve a Swiss watch by dropping it and thus bending one of its wheels or axles. To get a better watch all the wheels must be changed simultaneously to make a good fit again. (p. 18, 1977).
Thus the problem. The solution Szent-Gyorgyi proposes (for which there is little direct empirical evidence) is that there must be an "innate force" in all living things which functions to improve the organism. However, Szent-Gyorgyi's concept of syntropy could just as logically and effectively be replaced by the creation hypothesis.
The concept of syntropy, while it does help explain some of the serious gaps in the theory of evolution, is still an appeal to a "natural" physical entity to explain the living world. If syntropy exists, it would seem possible to locate the organ or structures that causes syntropy to occur. The mechanism could be a single organ in the body similar to the hypothalamus, which directs body activity in a unified fashion, or it could be found in each individual cell. If it exists in individual cells, there likewise must be some outside mechanism of the cells, to coordinate this "drive to perfect itself" and make the body cells cooperate together. Otherwise individual cells would strive independently to perfect themselves, evolving in different directions, and in time cause disharmony and dysfunction in the organism.
The most important problem, though, is accounting for the cause or origin of this hypothesized drive. Can a "natural" means be found to explain the existence of this drive in all organisms as hypothesized? Could the natural selection hypothesis account for it? Is it hypothesized all organisms have the syntropy mechanism? If it was clearly beneficial, presumably evolution would consistently select against those organisms lacking syntropy. Yet if an animal or a plant is fully adapted to its environment there would be no need for syntropy, (i.e. it would only be needed until the organism reached a high level of adaptation). Beyond this it would seem that the drive would, if it continued to make changes, cause the organism, in time, to become less adapted to the environment. Once adaptation is achieved, the drive must somehow stop, or risk doing harm to the organism as environmental changes would require very limited readaptation. As most "low level" organisms are highly adapted to their environment, we could ask what causes some organisms to continue to "try to perfect themselves" so that they reach much higher levels of development? Do all animals seek to change in the direction of man? If so, why have most animals fallen far short? Has this "drive" failed in most animals?
Any drive to perfect an organism would not produce results in a single organism, but would express itself only through a number of generations. As this would not confer any survival benefits to the individual organism, the evolutionary theory would dictate that it would not confer any advantage, and thus could not generally have a selection advantage. The drive would have to cause a change primarily in the gametes or sex cells. Changes in the gametes could not be accomplished unless such changes would benefit a possible future organism. The drive is toward improvement, not random changes. How could the structure which is responsible for syntropy know specifically what changes to make to improve the whole organism? Does this structure experiment by trial and error and if so, what process of feedback does it utilize?
Syntropy clearly helps to account for a number of realities the evolutionary hypothesis cannot explain but, as noted above, there are a number of serious questions which mitigate against the theory. At present the concept of syntropy is primarily metaphysical, similar to Freud's ego, id and super-ego constructs. Importantly, though, the need to develop a concept such as syntropy clearly illustrates that scientists realize that there are serious problems with the theory of evolution, problems which are often ignored. The recognized need for the syntropy concept illustrates that the difficulties which have been stressed by creationists for some time are increasingly being recognized by evolutionists in the various evolutionary schools of thought. And once a serious examination of these problems is undertaken, scientists may begin to search for concepts which fit the facts much more adequately than the evolutionary hypothesis.
Anthony, Catherine Parker, 1963. Textbook of Anatomy and Physiology, St. Louis: The C.V. Mosby Co.
DeVries, Herbert A. "Physiological Effects of an Exercise Regimen Upon Men Aged 52 to 88" Journal of Gerontology 1970.
McCormick, W. Wallace. 1965 Fundamentals of College Physics, New York: The Macmillan Co.
Morris, Henry M. 1963. The Twilight of Evolution, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert. 1977. "Drive in Living Matter to Perfect Itself," Synthesis 1, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 14-26.
Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert. 1972. The Living State: With Remarks on Cancer, New York: Academic Press.
Vargiu, James. 1977. Editor of Synthesis 1, (Introduction to article by Szent-Gyorgyi, p. 14). Vol. 1, No. 1.
* Dr. Jerry Bergman is Assistant Professor of Education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His Ph.D. is from Wayne State University in Detroit, majoring in Educational Psychology and Evaluation and Research. He has authored several books and many articles in his field.