Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Institutional entropy and Christian Chaos

No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a body of lower temperature to a body of higher temperature.

Rudolf Clausius, German Scientist (1822-1888)
It is a direct result from the work of Clausius that the rate of change of Entropy increases in a thermodynamic system. While I appreciate that many of my readership are not scientists (indeed, I would hardly call myself a scientist) I hope that you understand sufficiently the consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as stated above - Entropy always increases.

Entropy is the amount of energy in a thermodynamic system that is not available to be turned into specifically mechanical energy, or work. In running a car, the amount of energy used in making it go is significantly less than the energy that you put into it and this difference is always increasing, much to BP's glee. Much of the energy is wasted as heat or as noise, and, as a consequence, it takes more and more energy to keep a system going, i.e. preserving order, as time goes on.

The amount of entropy determines the amount of disorder and so, if this increases, the system becomes more and more disordered. The physical laws stay the same, but the system becomes less and less predictable. In short, we end up with more and more chaotic behaviour.

That's the Science, but let's look beyond Science and at our own experiences of living. Is it objective to say that our society is becoming more and more fragmented, or is this purely our own opinion? Life is surely never entirely predictable, but there is always some small scale on which we can be confident that we can draw reasonable conclusions from the data. In the mathematical sense of the word, Life is Chaotic and we wouldn't expect anything else. One might say that Chaos gives Life its beauty, but then Chaos is also perhaps responsible for its ugliness too. Chaos is like beer. The more you have of it, the happier you feel, but the more likely you'll fall over - or worse, given some of the scrapes my former students find themselves in.

And then there's God. God brings order out of Chaos. What does this mean?

As a Christian, I believe that God is responsible for why there is something rather than nothing, though there is no undisputed Scriptural evidence for how He achieved this feat though Science gives us some convincing explanations. However, we find ourselves in a Universe which not only had stuff in it, but there are rule - law of physics - which determine how that stuff moves and interacts, or appears and disappears.

But, God's ordering influence is not related just to the physical but to the social as well. If one believes in an active Creator, it is clearly His intention that humans have some ordered society and that that we have a modicum of freedom in the way we interact. I believe firmly that humans were created to share in God's life as independent rational beings in our own right. It is that independence that causes the entropy of society.

Pope Benedict XVI said in visiting Croatia that "individualism ... gives rise to a vision of life without obligations". One might regard such lack of obligation as a positive, however there is always a price.

In the soundtrack to Metropolis, Jon Anderson speaks of the Cage of Freedom:
Cage of freedom
That's our prison
Where the jailer and captive combine
Cage of freedom
Cast in power
All the trappings of our own design
Blind ambition
Steals our reason
We're soon behind those invisible bars

On the inside
Looking outside
To make it safer we double the guard
Cage of freedom
There's no escaping
We fabricated a world of our own....
I would suggest that the Cage of Freedom is the entropy of our society. The more energy we invest in an individualistic system, the more it will be wasted because the only unit in the system is the individual. If the waste energy dissipates as heat then only someone other than the individual will be able to benefit from its warmth. The more energy the individual loses, the less it will be able to move, to function, to live except trapped within our cages of freedom.

It is individualism that does tear us away from God. So many liberal Christians think it's a good idea to campaign for people to be able to do what they want and proclaim that it's God's law and that any adherence to traditional teaching is a restriction of the Holy Spirit. What they have to show is that their interpretation of the Holy Spirit is compatible with what is actually present in Scripture and Tradition as has always been received. Of course, they are free to reject all this interpretation, but they then lose the right to criticise others for failing to see their reasons for rejecting the corpus of traditional thought. They also cut themselves off from those Christians who have gone before and who died in the faith that they now reject.
Of course, many of the Revivalists and Quakers have a much higher view of the individual's capability of accurately interpreting the movements of the Holy Ghost than Catholics who follow St Peter's dictum not to go in for private interpretation and St John's warning to try every spirit to see if it be from God. What does one test spirits against if one prefers one's own authority of interpreting Scripture to that which has been handed down? That's not to accuse Quakers of ignoring the body of Christian belief - they don't - but it does lead a lazy soul into misinterpreting that idea for their own ends.
Of course, there are lazy Catholics too who disregard the principles but they're usually easier to spot.
If Christianity is to have any impact on this rapidly fragmenting world, then it can only do so by offering to a chaotic, rapidly atomic, world an ordering principle - a life-ring to those drowning in entropy. Christianity must emulate the Creator by seeking His order in the Chaos and presenting it as something life-giving and, while not immediately safe, pointing towards a greater stability. Of course, there is a multiplicity of people who call themselves Christian but we each need to scrutinise our lives and our beliefs carefully so that we can indeed present something of the ordering principle of God to a world that fears order because it encroaches on its freedom to walk away from God.
We're not going to be able to rid ourselves of Chaos but, as I said above, there is always local order within a chaotic existence which, if we let it, will allow us to be carried along more peaceably than if we try to control it. It is God who provides such an order in His Peace which passes all understanding. Perhaps this is what the Christian can offer the world - the Peace of God.
But then we would need to be Peaceable in the first place, wouldn't we?

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