Thursday, September 22, 2016

Overcoming entropy in our world

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is based on the concept of entropy, a characteristic of thermodynamic systems. Increasing entropy is a tendency toward "randomness" or "chaos" in a system. It is why heat energy always flows from high temperature to low temperature, and why no heat engine can ever be 100% efficient. To counter increasing entropy, one must add heat or do work on the system.

Others have expanded the concept of entropy beyond its roots in thermodynamics to other systems or more philosophical endeavors. In big data, entropy is the enemy of analytics. In the garden, entropy is the enemy of the meticulous green thumb.

Given today's news, it seems that entropy is well at work in our world. In Syria, especially in the area around Aleppo, violence is rampant in a tragic civil war, where the only losers so far are millions of innocent Syrian civilians. Tens of thousands are dead, and some 6 million have fled the war-ravaged territory, facing xenophobic resistance to their resettlement from Western nations, including the United States. Entropy seems to be unrestrained.

And it seems we have our own growing war in the United States, with battle lines drawn over violence. A friend remarked earlier this week that worlds are colliding with the proliferation of firearms on our streets and increasingly violent confrontations between law enforcement and citizenry. In Charlotte, violence has erupted over the shooting of a black man by police, and each party has retreated to their familiar scripts. Social media reports suggest that Wednesday night's protests were peaceful until police showed up in riot gear, apparently escalating the situation.

What force can we exert, what energy can we bring to bear to halt the increase in entropy in our world? The issues are complex, the ideologies are entrenched, reversing course seems impossible. But perhaps there is a way. Maybe we could start with a simple concept that every child of every race, nationality, and religion knows in one form or another: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Those of us who claim the name of Christ might acknowledge, not with our lips, but with our own actions, that every human being is the image of the Creator.

Overcoming entropy is hard. It requires expending energy, what is called "work" in thermodynamics. Applying the most basic concept of the Divine worth of every human being is hard work. But that is the only way forward.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.