Nobel Laurette Szent-Györgyi’s Syntropy Theory
(Investigator 181, 2018 July)
Realizing that entropy is a universal force, Szent-Györgyi
pictured the world as a great machine running down. Because the law of
entropy would prevent evolution, Szent-Györgyi postulated that
there must exists what he called syntropy or “negative entropy” to
explain the creation of more complex structures from simpler ones.
Downs and Ambrose, 2001, p. 266) This counterforce, Szent-Györgyi
argued, must exist in order to explain why “putting things together in
a meaningful way…is one of the basic features of nature.”
(Szent-Györgyi, 1977, p. 15) As Scaruffi explained,
Szent-Györgyi proposed syntropy to explain “a drive towards
synthesis, towards growth, towards wholeness and self-perfection.”
(Scaruffi, 2003, p. 282)
Albert Szent-Györgyi was an eminent scientist born in Hungary in
1893. Educated at both the University of Budapest for his M.D. degree,
and Cambridge University for his Ph.D. He published his first
scientific paper while still a teenager and was awarded the Nobel Prize
in 1937 in physiology.
Szent-Györgyi developed his theory after 50 years of research on
the problem of evolution. (Szent-Györgyi, 1966, p. 153) The
fundamental problem that Szent-Györgyi identified is that there
exists a “basic difference between the living and the non-living” world
and “as scientists we cannot believe the laws of the universe should
lose their validity at the surface of our skin.” (Szent-Györgyi,
1977, p. 15) The contrast between entropy in the non-living world and
the living world was described by Szent-Györgyi, namely, the
greatest wonder of creation is
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 and subtle qualities are
created, and so in the end we are faced with properties which have no
parallel in the inanimate world. (Szent-Györgyi, 1977, pp. 15-16)
Syntropy postulates the existence of a force that causes living things
to reach “higher and higher levels of organization, order, and dynamic
harmony.” (Vargiu, 1977, p. 14) The theory of syntropy was also
proposed to provide a source of new genetic variation, thereby solving
the problem because evolution “offered no explanation for the origin of
the traits that are subjected to evolution.” (Piel, 2001, p. 324)
Szent-Györgyi used his molecular biological research findings to
reason about the entropy problem. His research left him with many
questions, such as why are all higher life forms “built of such small
units of approximately equal size? ... The electron microscope has
revealed a wealth of structure and organization within the cell.”
(Szent-Györgyi, 1963, p. 191) He explored how life is able to
develop “from the molecular dimensions to the higher sub-cellular and
cellular dimensions.” (Szent-Györgyi, 1963, p. 191) To determine
this requires exploring the wide gulf that separates life from
non-life, “a gulf which also separates molecules from higher
structures.” (Behe, 1996)
Szent-Györgyi’s theory of syntropy touches on one of the strongest
arguments for Intelligent Design, viz an organ generally is useless
until it functions because “survival-of-the-fittest” would select
against most all mutations until enough had occurred and until a new,
working structure improved the organism’s chances of survival. (Behe,
1996) Szent-Györgyi believed that the Darwinian mechanism proposed
to explain evolution will not work because, in order for a biochemical
system to function from one evolutionary step to the next, a chain of
reactions must occur in a precise order and time, just as the gears of
a Swiss watch must, and “if any one of the specific cog wheels in these
chains is changed” the whole system will become inoperative. Claiming
“it can be improved by random mutation of one link … [is] like saying
you could improve a Swiss watch by … 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.” (Szent-Györgyi, 1977, p.
These mutations would have to be passed on from generation to
generation until the set required to produce a survival advantage
existed as a unit. (Piel, 2001) Only then could natural selection
preferentially select the organism with the new functioning structure.
This difficulty is summed up by Szent-Györgyi in a speech that he
presented at Columbia University using the example of the red patch
located on the beak of herring gulls. This patch is critical for
feeding its young. First, the gull goes fishing and swallows a fish.
Then when home, the hungry baby gull pecks at the red spot which
elicits a reflex of regurgitation in mama, and the baby takes the fish
from her gullet. All this … involves a whole series of most complicated
chain reactions with a horribly complex underlying nervous mechanism.
How could such a system develop? The red spot would make no sense
without the complex nervous mechanism of the knocking baby and that of
the regurgitating mother. All this had to be developed simultaneously,
which, as a random mutation, has a probability of zero. I am unable to
approach this problem without supposing an innate “drive” in living
matter to perfect itself. (Szent-Györgyi, 1977, pp. 18-19)
For evolution to occur, the normal universal increasing entropy must be
overcome. In the words of Scaruffi, the paradox underlying
natural selection “is that on one hand it proceeds in a blind and
purposeless way and on the other hand produces the illusion of more and
more complex design. This continuous increase in information (i.e., the
spontaneous emergence of order) seems to violate the second law of
thermodynamics, the law of entropy.” (Scaruffi, 2003, p. 280)
Some force that not only opposes entropy, Szent-Györgyi concluded,
must exist to explain the phenomena observed in nature.
(Szent-Györgyi, 1977, p. 19) A major concern regarding evolution
that Szent-Györgyi wrote about in detail is the enormous
complexity of life, beginning his research in histology, the study of
Unsatisfied by the information cellular morphology could give me about
life, I turned to physiology. Finding physiology too complex I took up
pharmacology, in which one of the partners, the drug, is of simple
nature. Still finding the situation too complicated I turned to
bacteriology. Finding bacteria too complex I descended to the molecular
level, studying chemistry and physical chemistry. Armed with this
experience I undertook the study of muscle. After twenty years’ work, I
was led to conclude that to understand muscle we have to descend to the
electronic level, the rules of which are governed by wave mechanics.
(Szent-Györgyi, 1960, p. 2)
The differences between life and non-life, and how life could have
evolved, was of such importance to Szent-Györgyi that he once
stated he planned to spend the rest of his life working on this
problem. Szent-Györgyi explained that the symbol of a specific
molecule, such as riboflavin, expressed in the language of classical
chemistry, consists of simple geometric figures plus the symbols C, N
and H that are as simple as the building blocks of children.
(Szent-Györgyi 1963, pp. 193-194) Furthermore, the molecules must
properly interact with other molecules that must be “built with the
same precision. Our bodies are built of thousands of such different
molecules, and chains of molecules… I find it difficult to believe that
such an enormously complex system could have been built by blind,
random mutation.” (Szent-Györgyi, 1963, pp. 193-194)
The need to develop syntropy demonstrates major difficulties with the
mutational-natural-selection evolution model. These difficulties are
such that Szent-Györgyi concluded that the currently accepted
mechanism of evolution—random mutations—has “a probability of zero” for
producing life as we know it. (Szent-Györgyi, 1977, p. 19)
Syntropy, the counter force to increasing entropy, Szent-Györgyi
determined was necessary to solve the paradox that evolution proceeds
in a blind and purpose-less way which violates the second law of
Thermodynamics. (Scaruffi, 2003, p. 280) The main characteristic of
evolution, the tendency to decrease entropy—in contrast to the tendency
for inanimate matter to increase entropy (total equilibrium or total
diffusion, producing a maximum of entropy and a minimum of free
energy)—is a major problem. The solution Szent-Györgyi proposed to
this problem is that there must exist an “innate force” in all living
things that functions to counteract entropy and improve the organism.
Problems with the Theory
Syntropy theory proposes to account for several major difficulties that
Neo-Darwinism cannot explain, but several serious problems have
mitigated against the theory’s acceptance. Although the concept of
syntropy offers an explanation to some of the problems in the
evolutionary model, a scientific hypothesis must be validated
empirically before it can be accepted as science. The most critical
obstacle to the syntropy theory is accounting for both the cause and
origin of this hypothetical internal biological drive that counters
entropy. A mechanism must be found to explain the existence of this
hypothesized drive. A major problem with the concept of syntropy is it
is wholly metaphysical, similar to Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution.
Szent-Györgyi’s summary of the need for a concept such as syntropy
illustrates the difficulties in the current evolutionary model because
life “appears to be a revolt against the rules of nature … life is a
paradox. It is easy to understand why man always divided his world into
‘animate and inanimate,’ animate meaning ‘a soul,’ the presence of
which was needed to explain [the] queer behavior of life.”
(Szent-Györgyi, 1972, p. 26)
Szent-Györgyi’s proposal raises many important questions, and the
recognition of these is an important first step in revaluating the
validity of evolution. Syntropy attempted to respond to the fact that
Darwinism “proposed a mechanism for transmutation, involving natural
selection of random inborn variations—but this aspect of Darwinism
encountered continued objections from scientists for more than a half
century. Darwin himself waffled on mechanisms.” (Larson, 2001, p. 90)
Only when a serious examination of these problems is undertaken can we
begin to identify concepts that fit the facts better than the current
transmutation view that has dominated scientific circles for over a
century and a half. Szent-Györgyi recognized
intelligent design was everywhere in life and as he aged asked, is the
“‘Creator an anatomist, physiologist, chemist or mathematician? My
conclusion was that he had to be all of these and so if I wanted to
follow his trail, I had to have a grasp on all sides of nature.’ The
scientist added that he ‘had a rather individual method.’” (Moss, 1988,
p. 3) In his last correspondence with me Szent-Györgyi indicated
he has given up trying to solve this problem of entropy and evolution
and has moved on to other things.
Acknowledgments I wish to thank several people for their comments on an
earlier draft of this chapter including the late Albert
and Theodore J. Siek Ph.D., Bert Thompson,
Ph.D., and Clifford Lillo, M.A.
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