Using chaos to support theism: wrong again

Jesse The Radical is anything but. Mostly, he's recycling old pseudo-scientific refutations of atheism as if he really understands what they mean. Problem is, if he realy understood what they mean, he wouldn't be using them. Take this little doozy, for instance:

Chaos does not produce order. The universe has order, therefore, it could not have been produced by chaos. #atheist #fb

Well, OK, Jesse. Let's just see if you're right about that, shall we? First, let's define "Chaos". From teh wikipedias:

Chaos (derived from the Ancient Greek Χάος, Chaos) typically refers to a state lacking order or predictability.

OK, fair enough. That's fine. Let's just lay aside for the moment that no-one is saying that the universe was produced by chaos. Let's assume Jesse meant 'from' when he said 'by'. Can order be produced from the raw material of chaos?

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you... Langton's Ant

Langton's Ant is a wonderful little ant, and let me explain to you why.

From an initial disordered state, and with two simple rules, Langton's humble ant demonstrates that order can arise from chaos quite easily. The ant operates on a grid of squares, which can be switchable between binary states - in our case black and white. The ant then applies one of two rules depending on the colour of the square upon which it stands.

  • If the square is black, turn right 90o, flip the colour of the square and move forward
  • If the square is white, turn left 90o, flip the colour of the square and move forward

or, expressed as one line of pseudocode:


As you can see from the animation, The ant initially appears to wander aimlessly at first, however after a given number of iterations (dependent on the initial state of the grid), the ant starts to produce an ordered "highway" off into the distance.

That highway will continue indefinitely on a flat, single-colour grid. Order from chaos. No problem. Jesse refuted.

But "ah", you say. How does that apply to the Universe?

Well, quite simply. We know from our basic physics (remember that kids?) that four basic "forces" (well, three really but we'll ignore that) rule all the matter we know about.

  • Weak Nuclear Force
  • Strong Nuclear Force
  • Electromagnetism
  • Gravity

And we know from simple observation that there is lots and lots of matter in the universe for these rules to operate on. And we know from our friend the ant that with rules, disorder can easily produce order. And we know the Universe is ordered, right?

Well, sort of, not really.

Most of the universe is pretty disordered actually. But...there are localised lumps of order. We call these "Galaxies". Within those are further localised groups of order, "Solar Systems" and other large scale stellar objects, composed in turn of smaller 'ordered' objects, and so on, russian-doll-style right down to the smallest scales we know of. All of this order is governed, ultimately, by one or more of the four forces. On an astronomical scale, gravity rules the roost. On an atomic scale, Electromagnetism rules the world of atoms, and ultimately the molecules that 'stuff' is composed of. All "stuff" is governed by this force, or in the words of the old standby, teh wikipedias:

Electromagnetism fundamentally determines all macroscopic, and many atomic level, properties of the chemical elements, including all chemical bonding.

The atoms themselves are held together by the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force mediates atomic decay.

So those are the "rules" that operate through the entire Universe. They're constant and unavoidable, and have no need of maintenance. And they appear to be inherent in matter as we know it. Whither, then, Jesse's tweet?

Jesse's first premised has been shown to be flawed - we've shown disorder can produce higher order given the imposition of rules and we've shown that four basic rules exist for everything. So if the Universe was initially chaotic, and if, as Jesse claims, the big bang was an explosion, and explosions only produce chaos, how did we get order? Well, for one thing because explosions don't produce true chaos. Jesse is, I think, conflating the technical explanation of chaos with the colloquial usage.

There is no true chaos in the universe as we know it. Why?

Because we have the four basic rules.

I'll colloquialise them for you here, just to hammer the point home.

  • Stuff can fall apart, then combine later into other stuff (weak nuclear)
  • Really small stuff likes to bond together into slightly bigger stuff (strong nuclear)
  • That bigger stuff can interact over distances, transmit energy, bond into even bigger stuff, generally clump up and react together to produce different types of even bigger stuff (electromagnetism)
  • Large accretions of stuff tend to clump together on a really big scale, orbit round each other, and generally float about in the universe in an ordered manner (gravity)

As long as these interactions are in place, which we know they have been since the birth of the universe, chaos is doomed to defeat. Order will arise. Order cannot fail to arise, in fact. Chaos, on the level of our Universe, cannot really exist. Only localised disorder can be said to exist, and even then you're on shaky ground, because gravity and electromagnetism operate everywhere in the universe. The rules are inescapable.

So Jesse's strawman that  chaos produced the Universe is, well, not sound. Disorder may have been the raw material, but the thing that really made the universe into what we recognise was these four inescapable rules.

And it is at this point that the anthropic principle usually gets invoked. It's bunk, but I'll save that post for another day. If you're interested, start with the "criticisms" section of the wikipedia post. Then there'll probably be some blathering about abiogenesis, which is just chemistry - and again we're back at matter producing order from "disorder" according to some rules - there is no roadblock there, just a bunch of speculation about which particular pathway it went down in our case.

So anyway, in summary, Jesse, with all his usual style and flair, falls flat on his face with this single tweet, as per usual. But ultimately I got to introduce you to Langton's Ant and blather a bit about physics, so all is not lost.

Unless you're Jesse.

posted @ Thursday, September 17, 2009 7:43 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Using chaos to support theism: wrong again

Left by Gee Suss at 10/13/2009 12:41 AM
Science is also open to the fact that something could come from nothing.

(delta p)*(delta q) >= h/(4*pi)

It is a quantum-mechanical uncertainty relation, but to cut the explanation short, it basically states that anything can come out of a singularity, being maximally chaotic, they are complete entropy.

'anything can come out of a naked singularity—in the case of the big bang the universe came out. Its creation represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden, abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing.'
P. Davies, The Edge of Infinity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), p. 161.

Thus, the order in the universe, could quite easily have come from complete chaos.

(great blog btw ;)
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