Saturday, September 8, 2007

POST #6: Entropy, the Implications

Years ago, I adhered to the Young Earth Creationism (YEC) position; that is, I believed creation occurred over six 24-hour days at some point in the last 10,000 years. I was persuaded that this sort of time frame was required by what seemed to be a Biblical teaching that all death was a consequence of Adam’s sin. But I came to see that this theological construct stems from a wooden, literalist reading of Genesis and the New Testament, and that it is not the only reasonable way to interpret these scriptures. I also came to see that the notion of death being non-existent in our universe until about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago is completely untenable in light of scientific evidence. Earth is strewn with a history of death and species extinctions dating back some 3.7 billion years.

I also came to see that death and entropy are intrinsically linked. So, I set out on a search to discover the moment in time when entropy (and, with it, death) entered into creation. It seemed to me that this would be a critical understanding in theology. I soon learned that physics and cosmology have identified that moment, with a high degree of precision. And it dates all the way back to the creation moment (See my last post).

I identify this key passage in Romans with entropy (Many, but not all expositors do. Judge for yourself.):

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
– Romans 8:19-21 (NIV)

Follow this progression of observations:

1) At some point in time, the Creator chose to subject his entire creation to a principle of decay. This “bondage to decay” I understand to be entropy, the law of physics described in Post #4.

2) This subjection of creation to the bondage to decay in Romans 8:19-21 has been almost universally understood as a part of God’s response sin, part of a sin-related curse. So, in traditional Christian theology, this subjection has been connected variously with the sin of Adam, the Tower of Babel, or the Fall of Satan, etc.

3) However, we now know that entropy dates back to very first moments of this universe’s existence.

4) This would suggest that if entropy is God’s response to sin or evil, this sin or evil predates the creation moment, or the creation moment is commensurate with the onset of evil.

5) There will come a time when entropy will have run its course. Creation will be set free from its relentless entropic march toward death. And this moment of liberation, when entropy is halted in its tracks, is precipitated by an event identified as the revealing (or “manifestation”) of the sons of God.

The implications of these observations on theology, the purpose of God in creation, and specifically, the purpose of man, are profound. If the above observations are accurate, they suggest the God may have created this cosmos with the purpose of dealing with and exterminating evil. They suggest that entropy might be one of the tools which God is employing to accomplish this purpose. They further suggest that humankind plays a critical role in this plan.

Being raised in the evangelical church, I had always been taught something like this: God’s purpose in creation, particularly the creation of man, was fellowship. He created us so that we might come to know him, and we might enjoy fellowship with him. Indeed, it had long been a settled matter: “The chief purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

I’ve always loved the elegance and simplicity of that phrase from the Westminister Catechism. But I now question whether it is completely accurate. Without doubt I am to glorify God, and I do believe that eternity will be required to explore and enjoy our infinite Father. But “the chief purpose of man”? I have come to believe that God has a purpose for mankind that transcends fellowship. “The chief purpose of man,” I might suggest, “is to co-venture with God in his overarching plan to exterminate evil.” And far from minimizing the importance of fellowship with God, this overarching partnership in the conquest of evil creates a far deeper potential for camaraderie between God and man.

Some might fairly argue that these conclusions are a bit overreaching, and largely speculative. While I believe that this scenario, the entire cosmos existing as God’s response to evil and as his plan to annihilate evil, does have a foundation in Scripture, science, and reason, I confess that, to a degree, it does venture into the realm of speculative theory.

However, in future posts I will explore how this overarching story, when used as a template for various scriptures and theological problems, is reasonable. We will explore how it relates to the Biblical themes of resurrection, nonresistance, suffering, and the most explicit scriptural statements on the purposes of Christ’s coming, and man’s existence. We will see how it gives a better answer to the age-old Problem of Evil (theodicy) than those typically proposed by Christians. We will see how it relates to evolution, and how evolution ceases to be a feared atheistic threat to faith and becomes instead the elegant and awe-inspiring plan of God. We will discover in it a rational answer to the skeptics’ argument that earth, and mankind, are extremely insignificant in view of the utter vastness of the universe.

In my personal faith journey, I have grappled with these issues. I read the arguments of skeptics. Frankly, they often make more sense than the standard answers Christians offer. I have struggled with the Problem of Evil, and have not found the solutions offered by Christians to be at all compelling. Most atheists site the Problem of Evil as the primary obstacle to belief in God. In this new way of viewing creation, I have found satisfying, rational answers to such faith issues that have taunted me for decades. I invite you to explore these answers with me as these posts unfold.

P.S. This line of thought is often objected to on the grounds that entropy is necessary and good. It is true that within the bounds of this cosmos, driven as it is by the energy flow of entropy, we could not live without entropy. Because of entropy we are warmed by the sun, our food is produced; in fact, everything necessary for physical life is provided by entropy. But entropy is also the source of all natural disasters, of diseases, and ultimately, of physcial death. Entropy is itself a dying process. So while I must be clear in stating that entropy is not evil, we must not forget that it is by its essence, death. Entropy is temporary; it is not part of God's plan for the coming utopian heaven and earth.


Tom said...

I am reading the book "Why choose this book?" by Read Montague. He discusses reinforcement learning, evolution, and information theory and provides a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin: "The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next."

I'm still trying to digest this poetic and provocative statement. Does uncertainty drive life?

Cliff Martin said...


There is a lot more uncertainty in the way I view life and the cosmos than most theists would feel comfortable with. Sometimes I think of the very strange phenomena in quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle as being God's guarantee that the cosmic stage is not rigged. Old views of Calvinistic determinism, in as much as they were confirmed by Newton's Laws of Motion, are not thown in to great doubt (at least in terms of physics.

When you were a believer, did you lean to Calvinism? or away?

Tom said...

Well, there was what I was taught and what I believed. I was taught that we all have a sinful nature and can only be saved through accepting Jesus Christ. People who have not heard of Jesus (secluded tribes, aborted babies, etc.) would be judged differently. People that have heard of Jesus have the free will to accept Him. If they do, they will receive His grace and be saved. If a person sins and then dies before asking Christ for forgiveness, then that is not grounds for not being saved. Once-saved-always-saved, did not apply, however. Any judgment is public domain, meaning that God will provide the devil and the universe justification for every redemption.

I accepted all of this for some time, but in college began to take issue with the stance of man's sinful nature. I saw so many grays -- unbelievers doing good, believers misbehaving, believers thinking they were doing God's will but really hurting people, other animals behaving peacefully and in communion with the world....

I guess the gray could be dubbed uncertainty or entropy.

Cliff Martin said...


“Any judgment is public domain, meaning that God will provide the devil and the universe justification for every redemption.” I like how you worded that. That is what I believe. But most Christians I know do not have such a clear grasp of this as you do.

Tripped up over the doctrine of the sinful nature, huh? That’s interesting. You are certainly right about the lives and lifestyle of many so-called believers. These are questions that I choose to let God sort out. I know that Jesus said that many people who believe they are “saved” aren’t, and that religious folk will be surprised when they see who all is admitted into the eternal Kingdom. I don’t believe that doing good means much, because it typically leads to self-defeating pride, one of those most destructive of sins. As I have said elsewhere, I believe in grace that leads to forgiveness that gives us the opportunity to live guilt and shame free lives, unencumbered with religiosity and cycles of moral failure, reinforced by shame, leading to more failure. Granted, not all unbelievers appear to be trapped by that cycle. But Jesus does teach that all (believers and unbelievers alike) are ultimately slaves to sin, or servants of God. (Or, I suppose, a mix of the two!)

“ I guess the gray could be dubbed uncertainty or entropy.” Not sure I follow you, there.

Karl A. said...

You write, ““The chief purpose of man,” I might suggest, “is to co-venture with God in his overarching plan to exterminate evil.”” I like that (with some modifications suggested in a later post). It reminds me of Boyd’s and Eldredge’s writings, which themselves pick up themes from the New Testament (Paul and Jesus) about us ruling with Christ. (To an unbeliever this may sound like arrogance or a power grab, but you and I know that it is only by grace and not something we would ever deserve.)
On your point 4 “This would suggest that if entropy is God’s response to sin or evil, this sin or evil predates the creation moment, or the creation moment is commensurate with the onset of evil.”, this would suggest that some sort of heavenly rebellion occurred before the Big Bang. Or, could it be a “pre-emptive strike” against some expected rebellion? I suppose that option raises all sorts of thorny issues (similarity to GWB being one of them). Another possibility: the creation “subjected to futility” is not a reaction to any past or future rebellion but a “proving ground” where, in a time-bounded life, people could have the opportunity to respond to his love. In this way the universe and humanity would enjoy “planned obsolescence.” This possibility does not account for all “curses” placed upon us or the world, but it wouldn’t have to. Who says the “curse” needs to be monolithic, with a single cause? Every later instance of covenant-breaking (moral evil) could carry its own curse. What I’m exploring here, in a way that must certainly be painful for the reader, is that we may not necessarily need to conflate the “futile universe” with “the [single] curse”, just as you do not conflate physical death with spiritual death.

This post probably contradicts a post I’m making on the Problem of Evil series, but I’m just exploring other possibilities as to why God seemingly designed an entropic cosmos.

It seems a prime stumbling block to much of this thinking (yours and mine) is the “thorns and thistles” curse of Adam in Genesis 3, where the text states that much of the futility we experience in the world is due directly to man’s rebellion. Or is the recitation of this curse really just Moses’ anthropocentric attempt at explaining/understanding the existence of entropy in the world, as (one could interpret) the tower of Babel story is an attempt to explain linguistic diversity, which is otherwise well-explained by linguistic theory. Hmmm, not very comfortable with that “solution” either.

Cliff Martin said...


The nature of this blog is such that I keep recycling some of the same concepts as my own thoughts develop. So it is that this post, written earlier this year, revisits "the chief purpose of man" and includes some of my more current ideas.

In my view, the dignity of mankind, and the prospects for an eternal relationship with the Creator are both enhanced by the concepts I am developing here. In my view, a relationship with God is richer when it is a "by-product" of some great venture, rather than the end-all of creation. But even if God created us to be part of a solution, to co-venture with him, it does not diminish his purpose to bring us into close companionship, to not only utilize our services, but to win us as friends. So it could be said that he created us for relationship.