Monday 15 September 2014

God and entropy

Did God make entropy a law of the known universe, or is entropy prior to God and God constrained by entropy?

Could God have made a world without entropy, could He have made this world without entropy - a world that was not tending to corruption and chaos - and if so why didn't he?


For the medieval 'scholastic' theologians, the mortal sub-lunar world was the place of entropy - of decay, death and sin - and the Heavenly world was a place of eternal and perfect harmony. Entropy was therefore pretty much a product of Satan and his demons (all entropy is evil, but not all evil is entropy).

But it is hard to make such a world picture coherent, and hard to understand how two such different worlds can have any meaningful relationship (i.e. an always-corrupting and death-filled world of entropy, versus an eternal and changeless world of perfection).


Although entropy is destructive of life, we moderns find it hard to imagine life without entropy; in the sense that any active process would seem liable to accumulate damage.

Or, to put it the other way around, if something is static, eternal and perfect - and therefore invulnerable to entropy - we find it hard to suppose that it is actually alive.

So the medieval view of divinity and Heaven seems to secure invulnerability to entropy only at the cost of something that sounds very much like death!


I think that a Christian requires that a life, a specific life, must have a distinctive and personal essence which is eternal and indestructible - despite entropy.

Rather than zero-entropy stasis; what I think this implies is an eternal, active, energy using-and energy-generating process acting to purge entropy from each eternally-living entity.

In a nutshell, this is the process of making form, structure, organization - as a fundamental principle.


So, anything alive is alive because of the form-generating principle; and also tends to lose form and die due to entropy - the end-result depends on the relative strength of these processes of form versus entropy.

On this earth, it seems entropy is stronger than form (death is stronger than life) - so all living forms will sooner or later be overwhelmed by entropy, and will die.

Eternal life requires the opposite predominance - of form over entropy, life over death - so that although (presumably) entropy continues to occur, it is continually purged and structure continues... forever.

The possible implication is that we inhabit this high entropy world for a reason to do with the domination of the process and tendency of change - corruption, ageing and sin. But also that this mortal life is temporary and will necessarily end in death. The domination of entropy will end.

And that our habitation of this entropically-dominant kind of world is not an accident, but in some way a part of God's plan for us.



Boethius said...

The laws of physics and nature were probably somewhat different before the Fall of Man.

"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now."

Don't forget that was original sin that brought to the world disorder,decay,disease and death.

The Fall was a cosmological catastrophe that affected the whole material universe.

It is not God that is responsible for entropy in our universe but Adam and Eve.

Adam G. said...

My intuition is that change requires entropy.

ajb said...


How does your view of the fall fit in with what we know about cosmology and evolutionary biology (humans are relatively late the the scene, and entropic processes were occurring beforehand)?

Leo said...


Order is a principle dear to LDS theology. These are questions I haven’t seriously thought about since college or at least since graduate school. Fortunately, the universe has managed to survive without my having the answer to your questions.

Entropy, as I understand it, is a product of statistical mechanics, i.e. of the laws of statistics and the laws of mechanics. Could these laws be otherwise? I cannot say. An ordered state can be obtained and maintained by effort, i.e. by the input of energy.

Philip Neal said...

Two points.

a) We need not suppose that heaven contains a static quantity of information. Presumably the saints grow in knowledge, and anyway there is supposed to be a constant flow of people coming in.

b) The modern concept of entropy is reminiscent of the medieval idea that evil is a privation, a lessening of order. Taking order to be the rough equivalent of information, privation corresponds fairly closely to entropy.

Unknown said...

This is why people study theology; even an introductory study of Christian theology and Thomistic philosophy would clear up all of these questions for you.

Heaven is not static; God is 'actus purus' and the saved will have an eternal pursuit and deepening into the infinite and unfathomable mysteries of God. It is never-ending motion, dance. It is "unchanging" only in the sense that its laws, its truth, its beauty, its life, its very nature, are all unfading and unchanging. But it has these things in such a creative and vivifying abundance, that there is no talk of it being boring or static.

Change and entropy enter through sin. It is expressed in the Latin Christian world by the term "corruptio," (corruption) which produces concupiscence and other defects of the good. Evil has no existence; it is a void in what does exist; everything that has being is fundamentally good and by nature not subject to corruption. The Greek term is "diaphthoros," or just "phthoros," which means essentially the same thing. God did not create corruption and entropy; entropy is the void in existence produced by creatures that use their freedom to defect from the pure being of God. Since men and the angels are set over creation as their proximate rulers, the corruption of men and angels introduces corruption into the cosmos even in amoral ways.

Boethius said...


Scientists are being misled in assuming the constancy of the laws of nature.

For example,the coupling constants may in fact not be constants which would affect the decay rates used in radiometric dating.

Since I am a thomist I believe that everything that happens,happens either because God wills it or because he allows it,may it be a change in a quantum state or a blink of a human eye.

Therefore I don't believe there was any randomness in the creation of life.

Though GR and QFT are highly successful theories the smallness of the cosmological constant, closed timelike curves,the seemingly arbitrariness of certain parameters,weird quantum phenomena etc...suggests we should be very humble about our mathematical knowledge and reevaluate what we assume about reality.

Modern scientists are trying put fit their knowledge in an extremely materialist metaphysical framework which a priori rejects any phenomena that may be "spiritual" in its nature.

In short scientists have been wrong in the past they could be wrong now.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - I think my intuitions break down before that point! What you may be saying is that in order to change, there must be an increase in entropy (temporary, transitional) which is then shaped into form - but that the increase in entropy is necessary.

What I like about that concept is that it provides a 'good' meaning and purpose for entropy - and also hints at a possible higher synthesis and understanding which includes both entropy and form.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - Increased entropy breaks down form liberates energy (e.g. heat) which - in an eternal universe - may suggest a process that creates both form and energy. Oh, I don't know...

Anonymous said...

As I understand it the laws of thermodynamics deal largely with probabilistic phenomenon. Entropy always increases (with a very high probability). That being the case it seems reasonable to me to think that their is a possible world in which entropy does not increase, although the probability of that occurring randomly is vastly smaller than rolling a billion billion dice and them all coming out as '6' for example. Since it is possible, albeit unlikely, for entropy not to increase, then it certainly seems plausible that God could create a universe without entropy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - I don't think that's right. The question here is rather whether the law of entropy/ second law of thermodynamics is an approximate formulation of a universal tendency - which applies to God and to all situations; or whether it is a law within God, and sustained by him, and therefore something which is localized and contingent.

If it was the first, then there could be no exception, not even by chance - because randomness operates within constraints.