Heralded as a breakthrough in physics as revolutionary as quantum mechanics or relativity, media reports of ‘chaos’ theory talk of order being found in disorder, and similar wordings. Naturally, many have asked whether this somehow relates to entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and so forth. Is this really going to be a way of generating order from disorder, a way of overcoming the barriers to, say, chemical evolution?
Chaos theory refers to, among other things, the discovery of unsuspected patterns of harmony (even beauty) in apparently chaotic systems. Thus, for example, there is believed to be a superstructure of some predictability in the otherwise unpredictable behaviour of water flowing turbulently. The mathematics is involved, but it shows great promise as a useful tool in some areas such as weather forecasting, for example.
However, the type of ‘order’ (patterning would be a better word) which can be explained mathematically more readily by these principles—the ripple patterns in sand dunes, whirlpools in flowing water, and fascinating surrealistic shapes on computer screens, is of a different dimension entirely from information-bearing chemical sequences that characterize living things. Although voices of hope are already being raised in some evolutionist quarters that ‘chaos physics’ will somehow allow the universe to be seen as ‘creative’ of its own complexity in spite of the nasty old Second Law of Thermodynamics (the law of universal decay), no such wish-fulfilment is yet in sight. Because of the principles summarized by the Second Law, real functional complexity has a relentless tendency to break down, not build up except under highly specific conditions.1
Even Ilya Prigogine, who received a Nobel Prize for work on the problem of trying to relate the formation of such things as whirlpools from energy flow to the origin of life, has admitted that he cannot use his ‘non-equilibrium dissipative structures’ to explain the origin of even the simplest living thing. However, it appears that many, eager to escape the consequences of a created world, will embrace ‘chaos physics’ as if it really does offer such a way of escape.
‘New Age’ physicists, some of whom claim, for example, to see the ‘yin and yang’ of Tao in such things as the particle/wave duality of matter, will no doubt be delighted by the idea being touted by some chaos physicists of the universe being continually ‘creative’. They feel that it fits well with the Eastern mystical concept of the universe as being a ‘mind’, rather than being the product of mind (a crucial difference!). Already it seems that ‘chaos’ lectures are almost as well attended by New Age guru types as by physics students.
Chaos theory may be wrongly named, anyhow—it actually proceeds on very complex non-linear statistical laws! There is a danger for Christians in trying to see spiritual allegories in every new discovery, but one is hard put to resist pointing out that we are already used to accepting the existence of patterns in apparent randomness. For instance, the hand of God controlling the apparent randomness of human affairs. Should we, of all people, be surprised at the discovery of hitherto unsuspected levels of mathematical order, harmony, and beauty in this universe?
Although it is too early to give a calm assessment of the full implications of ‘chaos theory’ until some of the froth and bubble dies down, it appears that the following can and should be said at this point:
No-one has ever seen, or is likely to see, machine functions or project-oriented programs arise from any sort of chaos. The Second Law is not rendered insecure nor denied by ‘chaos physics’.
The major intellectual threat to Christendom, in the future and possibly already, may not be from the rationalist-reductionist, materialistic atheist position, but from some form of pantheistic neomysticism. We may smile at New Agers attaching quartz crystals to their car batteries to improve fuel economy by hooking into the ‘energies of the cosmos’, but there is an ominous trend towards Eastern-type mysticism not merely among New Agers and liberal Christians, but even in some of the highest echelons of science.2 Articles on chaos theory abound with New Age buzzwords and concepts. ‘Holistic’, ‘unified’, and ‘spiritually satisfying’ worldviews are said to emerge from this ‘new way of looking at the world’.3
This new area of understanding will undoubtedly be used (no matter how inappropriately) as a further cudgel against creationist Christians. Because of its complexity, there is a need for qualified, Bible-believing Christians skilled in both mathematics/physics and theology/philosophy to keep abreast with this new field to sort out the facts (‘baby’) from the presuppositional/philosophical baggage (‘bathwater’).
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