With much consideration to the tormented religious mind, I often contemplate what it means to think of our species, or life in general, as a pocket of order.
A lot of atheists who are into the evolution-creation debate probably know about the ancient and tired creationist argument about the second law of thermodynamics.
Now, I really can’t feel too comfortable talking about thermodynamics after I’ve interpreted and scribed for a deaf student who actually went to a TD course. There, I got a good glimpse of what thermodynamics actually is about and I wasn’t surprised to find out it doesn’t offer any evidence of any gods or creators.
But, I still have some idea of what this law is about, and I’ll put it out before this gets too messy:
the second law of thermodynamics talks about a quality or a physical entity called “entropy”. The thing really only makes sense physically if you take it into consideration with mechanical qualities in gases (although I bet the quality has some parallel in other phases as well). In short, entropy is just another variable in equations designed to predict the behavior of gases (that’s as far as I went in one semester, at least!).
The interesting part about the second law of TD is that it can be, in a not-entirely-figurative-way, a term used to denote a sense of disorder. That’s quite interesting, because it is actually a fact that in certain systems (ain’t going there), the amount of entropy always increases unless there’s some work/external energy or in English, “external factors” operating on the system. To put it in an example, if you take a low-entropy gas and suddenly let it loose inside a large space/container, the atoms of the gas will, without interruption, aspire to become all messed up and pretty much evened-out throughout the space they’re situated in. The god of physics forgive me for the extremely loose and inaccurate description here. This can be called “disorder” because of a somewhat subjective definition for the word “order”, and in that case, I specifically remember what the professor said about “order”:
if you have a lot of ways of arranging a certain collection of atoms and, for some improbable reason (the improbable element plays a really important part here) – they tend to all arrange themselves in the same unlikely position – then the arrangement is considered ordered.
That said, order is nothing more than statistical euphamism designed to express improbable arrangements of matter in space.
The reason such arrangements, in the case of gases, for example, are improbable is because when there’s a large space for a collection of atoms to spread itself in, the energetic factors of each an every atom will always lead the atoms to be as evened out as possible as to minimize the amount of energy every atom has in accord to other atoms. This is just following a basic chemical and physical law: that atoms aspire to be in the lowest-energy conformation. This is not some strange devil in nature that has strange whims – this is simply and observed and yet unrefuted reality – to be quickly discarded once refuted.
That puts even more subectivity to the term “order” – it means that the order we’re talking about follows from a definition of improbability based on our ignorance of situations in which matter does not follow the laws of physics that we know of. Order is nothing more than a convenient way of expressing a phenomenon in reality as we know it. There’s nothing about this term that means “special characteristics in life”. The “order” we have has nothing to do with the “order and discipline” that exists in, say, armies, goverment, police forces, etc. Even that “order” is nothing more than an abstraction to explain away certain obsreved patterns.
The reason I’m going through this whole caveat is because I’m fascinated with what this whole “order” thing really means: it means that us living creatures are doing something that is physically unlikely in a closed system. It is, of course, 100% likely in a non-closed system, in which tiny pockets of order are formed in an ocean of disorder.
My mind really starts sailing off when I try putting it into a more poetic use:
I think about the course of human history and the fact that even today, when there’s regulation books in the amazon river, civilization is still a tiny pocket of “order” in a messy sea of chaos. The order that exists in civilization is, of course, nothing like the order that exists in gas atoms. Actually, even though I didn’t go that far in the material, the TD professor said that things get really wobbly when you get the liquid and solid phases and eventually even to describe simple conditions, you need statistical physics to reach convenient approximations.
So it’s really stupid to actually draw evidence from thermodynamics to anything us humans do. Which is not what I’m doing in this post.
What I am doing is trying to make a poetic comparison between the two:
The order in our lives, expressed in the comfort that today and tomorrow are not going to be too drastically different from each other, the knowledge that it is quite unlikely for us to get killed or to lose a family member or a loved one, and that if something bad does happen to us, then someone’s going to pay for it.
Of course, even in the western world, it’s not like that. I’ve lost loved ones, I’ve had todays extremely different than their respective tomorrows, and sometimes life is indeed turbulent and unpredictable.
However, in many places in the world, even right now, people are whimpering in fear just like their animal counterparts in the wild. Women who are constantly raped know that it can happen again and no one’s going to help them. Men and children will be attacked, their family members will not be expected to survive – they live in a chaotic world with no rules or even a slight attempt to enforce them.
And I consider the kind of world I live in, with blogs and police forces and lawyers and imaginary lines in the sand that people actually do not cross to be as unlikely as a pocket of order. I consider it a rather striking simile that it is unlikely to have this kind of law and order anywhere in the world and it is much more likely to be utter chaos.
For the better part of human history, people have been obeying the laws of the jungle to survive. Of course, this has become much more refined in the modern world: people are not killed, they’re bought. People are not tortured into faith, they’re brainwashed or even simply tricked into faith – all for the personal gain of the leaders who perpetuate these faiths.
So the course of human history eventually bubbled enough steam and on the mountains of corpses of the past grew a world of smiling, fat, self-serving average folk who think they got the world by the balls and that everything’s going to be okay.
But this “okayness” is, again, something very unlikely. Like in TD, to perpetuate such “order”, you have to put in a lot of “work” into it. I consider the order that I enjoy so much to be the product of a lot of hard labor for a lot of people who want the same thing. It’s a win-win deal. In Israel, every person serves in the army for 3 years and that way we don’t get thrown into the ocean. In America, people pay taxes, obey the law, or are forced to obey the law by the hard work of the government and law enforcement agencies. The order is perpetuated by the muscle of those who desire it.
But the idea that this is a permanent situation is an illusion -we will always have to work to live in such a sheltering environment and we will always have to deal with the challenges the future brings to keep this “order” alive. This order could slip off our fingers any moment, any minute, and throw us into the dark ages. Our women raped, our men murdered, our children enslaved – the easiest way and the stupidest way to get personal gain out of other human beings is simply to steal them or remove them – and without working hard for a rational and moral humanity, that’s exactly what we’ll end up getting.