The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Order from Chaos

This has been a pretty fun week, and it’s only Tuesday, After a bout of insomnia on Sunday night, Monday was a real drag. That is, until the end of the day when, as I was leaving work, I got into a conversation about knowledge, philosophy, science, and religion with my buddy Paul. Paul is a late-term grad student on BaBar, and secretly likes to discuss relgion, science, politics, consciousness, and knowledge. Okay… not THAT secretly…

We were into a long conversation about religious fundamentalism, and how it’s not true to its core religion. For instance, American Christian fundamentalists like to proclaim their religion out loud, and strongly advocate the injection of religion into public life. This is distinctly anti-Christian however – witness Christ saying, in Matthew 6:1 (New International Version), “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”, and in Matthew 6:5-7 (NIV), “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Paul and I discussed other such examples of hypocrisy in fundamentalism, and this led into a discussion of the laughable seriousness of the “Left Behind” series of books, and the lie of “Biblical literalism” (which **language**?) – there is no literalism for a single word in any language, only meaning given by context. Biblical literalism is a core fundamentalist argument against the scientific evidence of the age of the Earth, the universe, and the existence of macro-evolution.

Our discussion also turned to issues of knowledge, of order from chaos, of intelligence and consciousness and whether it can be scientifically investigated (is consciousness objective or subjective? If subjective, can science actually investigate it?). Interestingly, several things have happened since we discussed these issues.

First, and in reverse order, today a EurekAlert! was issued regarding some graduate student work on “order arising from chaos in a simple pendulum system”:
This result, if verified, would have interesting consequences for arguments about the inherent randomness underlying evolution being unable to lead to order (these are bad arguments on many existing levels – this adds one more level).

Second, when I arrived home last night I had in my mailbox a thick pamphlet, customized for San Francisco, about how these are the “End of Days” and I must prepare myself for Revelation. Yikes. Yet another example of how small datasets can lead to bad interpretations. I can’t count on one hand how many times throughout history religious zealots have taken war, disease, famine, and weather to indicate the “End of Days”. I’ll report more on this little booklet as I thumb through it.