March 7th, 2007

Order and Chaos


photo credit: cybercassie

The second law of thermodynamics posits that “the entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.”

In layman’s terms, this essentially means that things have a natural tendency to break down over time, going from order to chaos. This, in a nutshell, is entropy: a gradual decline into chaos and disarray.

Hugh Nibley once wrote an fascinating treatise on order and chaos as it pertains to the temple titled The Meaning of the Temple (it’s well worth a read). Throughout the article he discusses the nature and purpose of the temple as it relates to these two elements (order and chaos). Stating that we cannot save ourselves from entropy, Nibley teaches that someone else must be there to do it:

Notice what atonement means: reversal of the degradative process, a returning to its former state, being integrated or united again—”at-one.” What results when particles break down? They separate. Decay is always from heavier to lighter particles. But “atonement” brings particles back together again. Bringing anything back to its original state is at-one-ment. According to the law of nature (those are Jacob’s words—according to the first principle), that could never happen.

And so in the temple we learn of Christ, He who effectuated the Atonement that we might be led from corruption to incorruption. Just as evolution requires an intelligent being at the helm to be feasible, so too does any type of chaos necessitate intervention to be put in order.

Also of note is this talk by President Kimball wherein he discusses how the home (a microcosm of the temple itself) is where chaos can be made into order.

The temple is not the only instance of symbolic order and chaos. The gospel is replete with such instances, as our eternal progression itself hinges on fighting off chaos and maintaining order through a higher power. Baptism is another such symbol, as Jeff Lindsay explains:

As one can read in the works of Mircea Eliade and others, such as Jewish scholar Jon Levenson (see his tremendous book, Sinai and Zion), the symbolism associated with ancient temples also includes the concept of taming the waters of chaos. Subterranean water beneath the Temple can symbolize primordial chaos conquered by the power of God in the Creation, and also represent the world of the dead. In this ancient paradigm, the temple is the axis mundi, the great axis of the world that joins the realms of the dead, the living, and the heavens. How well that concept fits with the restored LDS Temple, where the baptismal font, the lowest part of the Temple, provides the symbolic subterranean water in a sense, and plays a role in joining the realm of the dead to the living, freeing the dead who accept the Gospel and offering them the blessings of the heavens.

Just as through the Atonement we come out of a chaotic life into an orderly resurrection and eternal life, so too through baptism do we symbolically arise from the chaotic waters, born again into order.

Our quest in this life is to continually fight off the chaos that is everywhere prevalent. Without constant intervention, entropy will surely take effect and drag us down. As Nibley said:

The modern world is as unstable as a decaying isotope, but the temple has always been the same. The ordinances are those taught by an angel to Adam.

The eternal gospel of Jesus Christ is the key to bringing order to the chaos of our lives.

Read quotes about the temple on Quoty

4 Responses to “Order and Chaos”

  1. fontor
    March 7, 2007 at 10:35 am #

    I totally knew the guy that did the picture you used! When I was a kid, he used to work out of Spokane, and he had a shop and everything. I used to go visit, and see the word-prints that he made; he had a lot of them. So that was kind of fun to see that again.

    To your post. With your premises that you’re starting from, the conclusions you’ve drawn make sense. I do not think your premises are valid.

    You seem to ‘beg the question’ a lot in your post. For instance, you say that an intervening deity is necessary for the Resurrection and Atonement to take place, but these aren’t necessarily givens. I know you take them that way, but starting from there weakens your conclusions.

    The most problematic part is your idea that an intelligent being is necessary to ‘wind up’ a chaotic universe. Chaos and randomness are part of the universe, and yet it constantly produces orderly patterns. When you walk on the beach in the morning, you can see that the grains of sand have been sorted in size by the chaotic motion of the waves; pebbles up top, on down to the fine grains nearest the sea. But this order doesn’t require anyone to do it.

    Same with corrugations on roads. The forces exerted randomly by cars produces the (unfortunately) regular bumpity pattern. It would be silly to say that God made the corrugations, because we can explain it by purely natural means.

    Similarly, evolution does not require an intelligent being at the helm to direct it. If you don’t understand that principle, then you aren’t really grasping evolution.

    Evolutionary theory is capable of explaining the complexity we see around us without the need for a ‘designer’. Adding an intelligent designer to our explanation is a superfluous extra step. If we strike ‘God’ from the evolutionary process, our explanation loses nothing. Occam’s Razor, then, suggests that we do it.

    I’m saying this, not so that you’ll agree, but so that you’ll better understand what evolution is. Maybe you could add Dawkins’ ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ to your book list. It’s an interesting read, and then you’d be able to form opinions about evolution based on what evolutionary theory actually says. And then I wouldn’t be able to bop you upside the head (in a friendly way, of course) and tell you that you’re fighting a straw man.

  2. Connor
    March 7, 2007 at 2:04 pm #

    With your premises that you’re starting from, the conclusions you’ve drawn make sense. I do not think your premises are valid.

    Your atheism and my mormonism by nature have diametrically opposed premises. So, this is a given. :)

    …you say that an intervening deity is necessary for the Resurrection and Atonement to take place, but these aren’t necessarily givens.

    Do you claim, then, that man has the power to resurrect himself? When I die will I have the ability to do anything without divine assistance? Perhaps such questions should be interpreted rhetorically since you don’t believe in such things.

    I know you take them that way, but starting from there weakens your conclusions.

    Only when interpreted secularly. I’m not trying to convince a body of atheist secularist scholars as to the necessity of divine intervention for reverse entropy. When interpreted in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything I’ve said resonates perfectly.

    The most problematic part is your idea that an intelligent being is necessary to ‘wind up’ a chaotic universe. Chaos and randomness are part of the universe, and yet it constantly produces orderly patterns.

    When you walk on the beach in the morning, you can see that the grains of sand have been sorted in size by the chaotic motion of the waves; pebbles up top, on down to the fine grains nearest the sea. But this order doesn’t require anyone to do it.

    Ah, but who created and organized the waves, current, tide, lunar attraction, gravity, and all other physical elements necessary to govern such an event? You would argue, as the Illuminati do, for “out of chaos, order”. However, a corrupt tree can’t bear good fruit. Chaos cannot spontaneously produce order. Any alleged chaos in the waves that you argue for are merely part of a more organized system of events and action.

    It would be silly to say that God made the corrugations, because we can explain it by purely natural

    God didn’t make the corrugations, but you’re describing a system that has order (the repeated forces being produced by the car’s suspension) which is then producing this “chaotic” side effect.

    Similarly, evolution does not require an intelligent being at the helm to direct it. If you don’t understand that principle, then you aren’t really grasping evolution.

    Evolution can take on a myriad of names. I’m referring specific to the Darwinian line of thinking whereby sentient life forms have allegedly developed over time through random occurrences of nature without any higher being to intervene and guide the process.

    I’m not against evolutionary processes themselves, as I believe such tools can be used by God to bring about creation. However, as the watchmaker analogy stipulates, somebody has to be in control of the process from the beginning.

    Evolutionary theory is capable of explaining the complexity we see around us without the need for a ‘designer’. Adding an intelligent designer to our explanation is a superfluous extra step. If we strike ‘God’ from the evolutionary process, our explanation loses nothing. Occam’s Razor, then, suggests that we do it.

    This vague statement is far from convincing. I can simply turn it around and argue that evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining such complexity.

    Man can build robots which then act for themselves. But who built the robot? The robots might vote to use Occam’s Razor and throw man out the window because they are able to control events and cause certain processes to occur, and so remembering their own creator then becomes a “superfluous step” to them. But the man still created the robot, despite what the robots may believe.

    I’m saying this, not so that you’ll agree, but so that you’ll better understand what evolution is.

    Good, because I don’t agree. And while you may postulate that I don’t understand what evolution is, I feel I know enough of such logic to refute it based on my own belief system. Outside of that we’ll go nowhere other in circles, because as I pointed out at the start of this comment, our premises are wholly opposite.

    And now it’s time for lunch.

  3. Michelle
    March 7, 2007 at 11:41 pm #

    Got an interesting discussion going on, including the axis mundi, at http://bomgroupies.wordpress.com/.

  4. fontor
    March 8, 2007 at 1:16 am #

    Connor,

    I know your post is inspirational in tone, and that’s fine. I usually don’t comment on those because I realise we have different starting assumptions. But for this post, you’re bringing in science to make a spiritual point, and what I’m saying is that your knowledge of the science is incorrect, and I think you should be aware of that. Otherwise it’s ‘believe what you like’, and science isn’t like that. We do have opposite premises, but whose are better supported by evidence?

    Do you claim, then, that man has the power to resurrect himself? When I die will I have the ability to do anything without divine assistance?

    Again, it sounds like you’re assuming that resurrection and life after death are givens. It could be that we live as spirits after death and are resurrected. Or it could be that our brain is an organ responsible for the phenomenon that we call perception, and when the brain dies, perception stops and we experience nothing.

    Chaos cannot spontaneously produce order. Any alleged chaos in the waves that you argue for are merely part of a more organized system of events and action.

    I think I understand what you’re saying now — that evolution is random and therefore it can’t produce order. In fact, evolution is not random. Mutation introduces randomness into a population, but every organism in the population has to come up against natural selection, and either survives to reproduce or doesn’t. Natural selection is non-random.

    Since you found my Occam’s Razor paragraph vague and unconvincing, allow me to clarify.

    Occam’s Razor is a principle that, among other things, allows us to tell which of many theories is to be preferred. If two theories fit the data equally well, the simpler theory is the best, at least until more data comes along. There’s no reason to accept a more complex theory when a simpler one will do.

    So here we have two theories to explain the complexity around us:

    1] Evolutionary theory, which says that things evolved from simple to complex by gradual stages via the cycle of mutation and natural selection.

    2] Theistic evolution, which says more or less the same as 1], but adds that an intelligent being is guiding the process.

    Occam’s Razor says that 1] is the better theory because the ‘designer’ is an extra layer that sits on top of evolutionary theory, but fails to add anything to it. Saying ‘Goddidit’ is not really an explanation. Here we are trying to explain how complexity got here, and you postulate a very complex being at the very start! It’s a way to avoid an explanation.

    The watchmaker analogy is not a good one. Human-made things like watches and robots need watchmakers and robotmakers; natural things don’t. Your robot analogy is instructive, though. Robots would have ample evidence for their creator because they could all observe him or her coming over and adjusting wires, programming changes, or replacing parts. These are observations that any of the robots could make.

    On the other hand, in order to see any evidence for God’s (or Zeus’s or Shiva’s) existence, you have to put yourself in a kind of ‘faithful’ frame of mind where you look for evidence to support your view, and interpret it in a faith-promoting way. You must also make sure you keep maintaining this belief, as it can wear down due to time and exposure to other people’s ideas. In other words, the religious belief is the starting point, and observations to the contrary must be ignored to have ‘faith’. In science, the observation is the starting point, and any repeatable contrary observations would be enough to radically change or even destroy the theory. In this way, the scientific method drives knowledge forward in ways that religious beliefs systems are incapable of.

    I expect you’ll still disagree with materialistic evolution, but I don’t think you have any reasonable scientific basis for doing so.

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