Christian Hope and Thermodynamics

A friend of mine, Lucas Mix, (astrobiologist and college chaplain) has a great essay on his blog about the relationship between science and religion, specifically Christianity. He starts by pointing out that people who read the Bible with an inerrantist, infallibilist hermenuetic should have at least as difficult a time with the idea of Entropy as a Universal Law as they do with Evolution. A straightforward reading of the biblical story makes one expect that the Universe will eventually come to a steady, highly ordered state of existence, which is pretty much the exact opposite of arc predicted by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

But it can be, thankfully, more complicated than that.

He writes:

“Back to entropy.  From a scientific perspective, I use a story of a universe in which the second law applies.  I believe the universe will end in heat death.  It is a story of decline and disorder, but also a story that tells us important things about life (we eat to acquire energy, to heat our bodies and repair disorder, to continue living – humans as closed systems would die) and about stars (stars burn hydrogen to produce heat and to radiate heat and light), and about a hundred other things.  The second law tells us that if order is maintained, we really should look for an outside source of energy.  Science tells us about a universe of atoms moving toward heat death.

Christianity presents an alternative.  Christians recognize, and have always recognized, that matter moves toward heat death – or as Paul would say, death has dominion over the world of the flesh.  We also recognize that if you start looking at souls instead of atoms, the world looks a great deal different.  The Christian perspective has people coming into relationship with one another and with God.  Christ entered the world to ‘atone for sin,’ that is to make us one with God and one another (at one = atone).  The Bible states that the ‘Kingdom of God is at hand.’  It doesn’t mean that some sore of physical castle will appear from another dimension.  It means that there is a different lens through which to view the world, a spiritual lens, and through that lens, we see individuals forming communities of love.

Christianity cannot provide an alternative physical hypothesis about heat death (or for that matter evolution).  It is not a theory of atoms.  No one can prove Christianity scientifically, nor should anyone mistake it for common sense or irrefutable logic.  Anyone who says so is selling you something.”

Read his full essay here.

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 thought on “Christian Hope and Thermodynamics”

  1. The part I particularly enjoyed was one you didn’t quote:
    Today I want to talk about competing narratives about the world. If you are concerned that science and religion have different stories about the world, I share your concern. They do. Christianity has always, and always will recognize that it presents a different picture. This only becomes problematic when you feel you can only look at one picture at a time (an issue that will recur over and over in Wednesday’s Christian). I’m happy having both, or many, and using them as appropriate. I’m even willing for them to be incompatible (much as the wave and particle formalisms for light are incompatible in optics). I can have that kind of flexibility precisely because I seek knowledge for the sake of understanding rather than for it’s own sake. I have no vested interest in discovering a truth that I can hit people over the head with and force them to agree with me. I do have an interest in discovering truths that help me interact with the world in a productive way (science) and discovering truths that help me connect to God and neighbor (Christianity).
    That really resonated with me. It sounds like it was written by someone with a scientific background. He just said it so well, so much better than I could have.

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