Is God Really on the Ropes with the Latest Scientific Finding? A Theological Perspective on England’s Theory

Recently on an apologetic Facebook group, a person shared a piece by Salon Magazine. Salon Magazine is known for its sensationalism from an ultra-liberal perspective. The article is titled “God is on the Ropes: The Brilliant New Science that has Creationists and the Christian Right Terrified.” Rosenberg, the writer of the article, lightly describes the findings of MIT scientist Jeremy England, a scientist…it should be noted…who believes in God. Rosenberg then snidely denotes that,

 “If England’s theory works out, it will obviously be an epochal scientific advance. But on a lighter note, it will also be a fitting rebuke to pseudo-scientific creationists, who have long mistakenly claimed that thermodynamics disproves evolution…, the exact opposite of what England’s work is designed to show—that thermodynamics drives evolution, starting even before life itself first appears, with a physics-based logic that applies equally to living and non-living matter” (Rosenberg 2015).

Instead of basing one’s opinion on England’s discovery by Rosenberg’s pseudo-philosophical theory, I decided to peruse the pages of more credible scientific magazines, namely Quanta Magazine and Scientific American.

 Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, has provided a theory on why life exists. Wolchover, for Quanta Magazine, writes the following:

 “At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.” Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses. Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated. Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will, through sheer chance, tend to adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out. Eventually, the system arrives at a state of maximum entropy called “thermodynamic equilibrium,” in which energy is uniformly distributed. A cup of coffee and the room it sits in become the same temperature, for example. As long as the cup and the room are left alone, this process is irreversible. The coffee never spontaneously heats up again because the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against so much of the room’s energy randomly concentrating in its atoms” (Wolchover 2014).

Here is the kicker, Singer writes for Scientific American that,

“Although entropy must increase over time in an isolated or ‘closed’ system, an ‘open’ system can keep its entropy low—that is, divide energy unevenly among its atoms—by greatly increasing the entropy of its surroundings…Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time” (Singer 2014).

It must be noted that any scientific theory can be proven or disproven. Thus, if England’s findings survive the scrutiny of testing and the skepticism of the scientific community, then one must ask, does England’s theory pose a problem for Christian theism?

NO!!! In fact, it does just the opposite for three reasons.

With England’s system, life would be expected…if not mandated in such a system.

Wolchover writes that “according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill” (Wolchover 2014). That is, one will expect life to exist. Christian apologists use what is termed the teleological argument for God. The teleological argument states that the design in the universe must be accepted as the fingerprints of God. If England’s theory holds, then the teleological argument gains added strength. For, one would expect life to exist in such a universe as ours. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that the “chief end of man is to glorify God.” If England’s theory holds true, the chief end of the universe is to produce life. God, speaking to Job, said “Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth…Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together” (Job 38:33, 37b-38, NIV).[1]  God had a role in setting up the processes and even directing it. While the atheist will say, direction is not necessary; I would argue that the next point extracted from England’s argument makes a case tenable.

With England’s system, the universe would be open instead of closed.

Wolchover denotes that “Using Jarzynski and Crooks’ formulation, he derived a generalization that holds for systems of particles with certain characteristics: The systems are strongly driven by and external energy source such as an electromagnetic wave, and they can dump heat into a surrounding bath” (Wolchover 2014). That is, the process of life was greatly affected by external sources of energy. England’s theory works in what is called an “open system.” An open system is one that is influenced by outside sources. If I understand England’s theory correctly, entropy within an open system allows for life moreso than entropy within a closed system. That is, a universe that has an open system can and is influenced by outside forces beyond the scope of the universe itself…WHICH IS WHAT CHRISTIAN THEISTS HAVE BEEN SAYING ALL ALONG!!! The writer of Hebrews notes that “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).[2] Thus, if one could see the process of creation from the perspective of our universe, one would evaluate seemingly natural processes. However, if one were to evaluate the process of creation from a heavenly perspective, one would witness God speaking and directing the elements by God’s spoken word. God would introduce information into the natural sphere. Therefore, Rosenberg’s thesis does not follow. One other point needs to be noted from England’s theory.

With England’s system, conditions are essential.

Conditions are critical in England’s system. Life just does not come to be. Certain conditions must be met in order for life to exist, especially conditions from an external energy source. Thus again, as was noted before, the teleological argument is strengthened by England’s theory if it holds.

Conclusion

I find no problems for theism in England’s findings. In fact, England’s findings, in this writer’s opinion, actually strengthen the logic in thinking that the universe can be affected and influenced by external sources of energy. England theory does nothing to theism. Rosenberg does not consider the fact that creationists are correct in arguing that the Second Law of Thermodynamics combats the theory of evolution in a closed system. However, England has introduced a theory that allows for an open system. Again (and I keep saying this for a reason) if England’s theory holds, then an open system allows far more benefits for Christian apologists than what is lost in employing the argument from the Second Law of Thermodynamics. For an open system recognizes what Christians have known for a long time, that information and conditions are applied by an external source of energy…a personified Being of energy…which we know as God. As John reminds us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3).

 Bibliography

 Rosenberg, Paul. “God is on the Ropes: The Brilliant New Science that has Creationists and the Christian Right Terrified.” Salon.com (January 3, 2015) Accessed April 27, 2015. http://www.salon.com/2015/01/03/god_is_on_the_ropes_the_brilliant_new_science_that_has_creationists_and_the_christian_right_terrified/.

Singer, Emily. “A New Physics Theory of Life.” Scientific American.com (January 28, 2014) Accessed April 27, 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-new-physics-theory-of-life/.

Wolchover, Natalie. “A New Physics Theory of Life.” Quanta Magazine.org (January 22, 2014) Accessed April 27, 2015. https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/.

 Featured Image was taken by Kristian Peters and are cells from the moss Plagiomnium affine. They are organelles that capture sunlight in order to allow for photosynthesis (Wolchoer 2014).

[1] Scripture noted NIV comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

© April 2015. Brian Chilton

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