What Is Deterministic Chaos? For most of us, the word “chaos” means utter confusion. But in the world of science, “deterministic chaos,”1 refers to phenomena which appear to be completely random but which are actually “describable by mathematical equations, often very simple ones.”2 However, man cannot use any of these equations to make predictions about a chaotic system “unless its initial conditions are known with infinite accuracy – an impossible task.”2 Impossible for man, but not for God! As our Lord said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27 NIV).
Until recently, scientists have either ignored chaotic systems, or have made simplified assumptions about them. Indeed, they have obtained many of the “laws of nature” by assuming things that do not even exist – such as weightless pistons, frictionless pulleys, etc. – and by investigating only systems where these assumptions are reasonable approximations. We have been taught these “laws” and what we have been taught is quite contrary to the results of deterministic chaos.
Scientists reacted to deterministic chaos with disbelief until they were shown. They discovered, for example, that what they “knew” would happen was quite different from what actually happened when a cup of coffee cooled or water flowed into a simple waterwheel.3 Let’s examine some facts about chaos to see how they actually glorify God.
The Role of Chance In Chaos
It is to God’s glory that He can predict and control the weather far in advance. Man cannot! Weather is described precisely by a set of differential equations, but because they are non-linear, man cannot solve them – and the approximations require an impossible amount of computer time. Even if man had “a computer with as many transistors as there are atoms in the universe, he would be able to make accurate weather predictions only about 14 days in advance.”2 Small uncertainties which are the result of “chance” are amplified so radically by the simple differential equations that long-range predictions become unreliable. It is to the glory of God that chance plays so large a role in the weather because He controls chance. Scripture says, “The lot is cast … but its decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).
This sensitivity to small effects has been whimsically called “The Butterfly Effect” – “the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Peking China can later produce a thunderstorm in New York!”4 God knows and controls all such small effects! To save many lives from famine in ancient Egypt, He predicted the weather more than 14 years in advance and made it known to Joseph, who had time to prepare the nation for it (Gen. 41:17-57;45:5-11). And our Lord, by apparently minimal intervention, stopped a violent storm (Mt. 8:23-26).
Chaos And The Second Law Of Thermodynamics
Some Christians use the second law of thermodynamics as an argument against evolution because it appears to forbid the spontaneous self-ordering which evolution requires. However, as shown by Prigogine5 and his non-equilibrium thermodynamics, chaotic systems far from equilibrium can indeed rapidly and spontaneously self-organize into ordered systems. Prigogine also suggested that “such phenomena might one day explain how one gets from molecules to man”5 (evolution), earning him the enmity of some believers. But they should not reject the truth of his discoveries simply because those discoveries make the anti-evolution argument from thermodynamics less valid. There are strong arguments, other than the second law of thermodynamics, against the idea of the spontaneous origin of life required by evolutionary theory.5
Why Did God Create Things As Fractals?
Fractals are the rough, complex objects or formations produced by chaotic processes. They are called fractals because they have a definite, calculable fractional dimension. For example, the Koch curve, which models natural coastlines, has a dimension of 1.2618. Fractional dimension6 is a measure of the degree of roughness and is therefore useful to describe most of the objects we find in nature. Why? Because God used chaotic processes in creating them! Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones; trees, coastlines, lungs, etc. are all fractal-like.7
Let’s consider only a few anatomical structures. God arranged for the lungs, kidneys, heart, blood vessel system, brain, etc. to be structured as fractals because their fractal structure makes them so efficient! In order to have efficient transfers of fluids or gases, the tubes carrying them must have a huge surface area and still fit into the limited volume available in the body. Their fractal structure provides it! The circulatory system, for example, is so effectively designed that “in most tissue, no cell is more than three or four cells away from a blood vessel – yet the vessels and the blood take up little space, no more than 5% of the body!”8
Chaotic Processes Bring God Glory
It is to God’s glory that a complex organism like man is ever healthy! And “our health seems to depend on the fractal nature of structure and processes.”7 God’s glory can also be seen in His creation of that amazing organ, the human brain. It appears that chaos “underlies the ability of the brain … to generate novel activity patterns … that are experienced as fresh ideas.” In fact, “the controlled chaos of the brain … may be the chief property that makes the brain so different from an artificial intelligence machine.”9 God’s use of chaos in designing our brains thus appears to explain man’s ability to reason, to create, and to rule over nature. Meditating on man as God created him, the Psalmist said, “You … crowned him with glory and honor” and then exclaimed, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:5-9).
God’s glory is also seen in the beauty of all creation, and that beauty results from chaos! Every cloud, tree, mountain range, snow crystal, and every human body is different.10 God is glorified by the nearly infinite variety in what He has created and that variety results from the chaos originating in the non-linear operations of His “laws of nature.” Yes, “God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood by what has been made” (Rom. 1:20). And that includes not only “simple systems” but “chaotic” ones also!
What We Now Know
The science of chaos now shows that man must be more humble. Dead is the arrogant boast that, on the basis of the “laws of nature,” man could actually “predict the future for the rest of time.”11 We now know that man can’t even predict “the future behavior of a simple pendulum in all cases!”4 Thus our simplistic “laws of nature” can never be relied upon to predict what human behavior and values should be. God gives us Scripture to do that! Man can’t assume that the “laws of nature” prohibit the miracles of Scripture, nor that they forbid the passing away of the heavens and the earth, as apparently predicted in 2 Peter 3:8-10, for we now know that “the solar system … exhibits chaotic behavior.”4
As another has said, “Chaos theory does not represent a threat to the Christian faith, but in fact provides a new way or understanding the richness and complexity of God’s creative work and providential ordering of the physical universe.”4 We can indeed see the glory of God in chaos!
1. Gleick, James; Chaos: Making a New Science, Penguin Books, 1987.
2. Chemical and Engineering News, Jan. 21, 1991, p. 18.
3. Gleick, pp. 23-31.
4. Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, June 1997, pp. 75-83.
5. Dembski, William A. Ed.; Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design, Intervarsity Press; pp. 42, 128-134.
6. Gleick, pp. 94-102.
7. American Science, J/A 1987, pp. 355, 362-364.
8. Gleick, pp. 108-110.
9. Scientific American, Feb. 1991; pp. 78, 83-85.
10. Gleick, pp. 116-117.
11. Scientific American, Dec. 1986; pp. 46,48.
By Alan Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.