Monday, November 10, 2014

Waves of Sin, Waves of Merit

Watching the rain drops fall into a puddle is delightful when the rain is light enough for individual drops to disturb the surface sending out those concentric ripples across the water. Every drop affects the whole surface, though dissipation stops us from seeing the full effect.

It takes me back to a time when I studied water waves. There are some wonderful equations that explain the behaviour of water. My favourite has to be the Camassa-Holm system which I studied a while back. These equations model water waves in a shallow pond and we can see their predictions on the surface of the Earth. In comparison with the size of the Earth, the oceans are comparatively shallow which means that the Camassa-Holm system provides a good model for sudden impacts.

It was, with great sadness, that the same mathematics showed up in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The water waves, travelled inexorably, as predicted by the mathematical model, and thousands of people met their deaths. As a mathematician, it was all very well and good for me to predict the movement of the water, but there was nothing I could have done about it. One event (namely a collision of two tectonic plates) travelled across the ocean to wreak havoc and destroy people. For me, as a mathematician, I have never felt so helpless or so pointless.

One of the current theories for the state of physical reality (though this is actually quite old and I suspect some changes have happened since I last looked into it) is that the universe is actually a series of complicated ripples spreading on a vast drum-skin. In this theory, all matter and energy are essentially different modes of vibration. The Big Bang is simply the result of two such drum-skins banging together, according to Professor Turoc a decade or so ago.

If this is true, and it's not exactly provable and for that reason falling out of fashion, it seams that one ripple in the universe can spread dramatically.

I do believe in free-will very strongly, though I'm not sufficiently learned to understand precisely how I believe it. I believe that, however limited my abilities are, that I have a significant responsibility for my own actions that is only attributable to me and not external to me. That may be more expressible in terms of "free-won't" rather than free-will, since it is presently thought that we consciously choose not to do something rather than choose to do it,  but the effect is pretty much the same. Physics does not rule this out at all. Certainly our understanding of the universe is less deterministic than it used to be. Given that physics can only describe what is material, there is certainly a limit on what it can know about our abilities, and our free-will. You can't really use physics to answer all moral questions, otherwise PETA and the RSPCA will be most concerned about the welfare of Schroedinger's cat!

It does mean that my actions create ripples through the universe. How far they travel, I don't know - I'm not sure I can mathematically calculate the dissipative quantities of a non-mathematical concept. Nonetheless, what I do matters.

I know that God is responsible for the entirety of the universe. He is the reason for its existence as well as the reason for its continued existence. He it is that sets the ripples in motion, though for Him, all instants of time are in His present. And all ripples are good. They fulfill his purposes whether or not we impede them by our intention or not. Our sins spread through the universe, as do our merits. Of course, our merits we cannot attribute to ourselves but solely due to the goodness of God. Our sins we are responsible for through our own intention. We can choose to impede the goodness of God through our intentions and thus sin. We can choose to facilitate the goodness of God through our intentions. Whether we actually can impede or facilitate the goodness of God is another matter. I suspect that the answer is that we cannot, and I would cite (as always) Romans viii.28 for this.

As a Catholic, I believe that the merits of the saints affect my life and salvation. That is because these saintly folk have chosen not to impede the goodness of God. It is through God's grace that I am saved, unworthy though I may be for the sins that I have committed. The ripples that the saints have set in motion spread across my life as they spread across the universe, and I can use those merits to inspire and form my own intention because they have their origin solely in God Himself. The ripples of my sins affect those around me and, indeed, the Creation around me, but they only have their source in me since I am not God. If I follow saintly merits, I will find God, since as the ripples spread out from God, they return to God who is Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end. If I follow the ripples that come from sin, I will only find death since sin does not come from God, and certainly will not end in God.

When the rain falls harder, the surface of the puddle becomes a mass of ripples all passing through each other, causing much disturbance on the surface. Things become complex and less recognizable. The system becomes more chaotic and less determined. Our lives themselves are pulled one way and another by the demands made on our wills. We fear choice because it may mean that we will be swept along on a course that cannot be fully determined. The waves of the merits of the saints can influence our course and, given their source and their end, can put us back on a better route which may not be any less choppy. God has given us saints so that we can become saints ourselves. What waves will we choose to send out?

No comments: