Tuesday, January 14, 2014

He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

"Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, 'These are the conditions, now what happens next?'" (Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law)

  1. We often hear jokes about how the weather forecast is wrong. That's mainly because accurately predicting the weather is notoriously difficult if not impossible.

    a. For one thing, weather variables constantly change. Not to mention these ever fluctuating variables are at least in part dependent on other similarly fluctuating variables.

    b. Also, our atmosphere appears to be chaotic.

    On the one hand, it's true we have mathematical equations which help us model the weather. I'm referring to the Navier-Stokes equations which describe fluid motion and are used to model water flowing in a pipe and ocean currents, but also the weather. So it would appear there's at a minimum some a level of predictability in the system.

    On the other hand, non-linearity is a significant property in the Navier-Stokes equations.

    What's more, it's up for grabs what the solution for the Navier-Stokes equations is. Or, in fact, if there is a solution in the first place.

    In addition, as scientists have pointed out, the Earth's atmosphere is a (natural) non-linear system, wherein atmospheric conditions continuously change, and even small changes somewhere in the system could effect much larger changes down the line (cf. the butterfly effect).

    Say, for example, we make observations and take measurements of the system's initial conditions at t0 (e.g. temperature, wind velocity, atmospheric pressure, humidity). Our measurements would likely be approximations rather than exact figures which perfectly reflect initial conditions. Plus, though we can postulate these approximations are fairly accurate, they could nevertheless contain miniscule inaccuracies (e.g. a wind velocity of 123.5mph may in reality be 123.4567mph if accurately measured). However, given the chaotic nature of the atmosphere, these seemingly insignificant inaccuracies could accumulate and become magnified such that they later become significant inaccuracies. And we haven't even coupled this with the other aforementioned aspects like the constantly fluctuating conditions.

    As such, a tiny fractional change in turbulent flow could potentially become a large scale change. At least theoretically, it seems possible a little wisp of whirling air could become a tornado.

    BTW, this isn't limited to physical processes. It's at least theoretically possible humans and other creatures and their behaviors come into play as well.

  2. All that said, and as hinted with the Navier-Stokes equations and fluid dynamics, among other things, this isn't to say a non-linear system like the weather is necessarily random or that chaos is necessarily indeterminate. It may be quite difficult to discern patterns, predict movements, and so forth, but this doesn't mean patterns don't exist and can't be determined.

    Currently, weather measuring instruments as well as computer models are imperfect. However, future technology can improve.

    Or perhaps humans will never be able to track patterns in the weather. That's also quite possible. But that'd presumably be largely due to the fact that our cognitive faculties are finite. We can't get a bird's-eye perspective on the whole of our planet for starters.

  3. Like the weather, God's dealings with us may seem unpredictable and haphazard.

    This spurs some people like some atheists to ask questions along the lines of, why does God do this but not that? Why does God allow some people to starve but others to become prosperous? Why does God heal one person but not another?

    Many atheists ask not because they wish for bona fide answers, but in order to conclude there is no God. All is random happenstance or the like.

    Yet, just because we can't see why God would do x rather than y doesn't necessarily mean God doesn't have good reasons. Just because we can't discern any significant patterns in God's dealings with us doesn't necessarily mean there are no such patterns. We may not understand God, but it doesn't mean he doesn't exist, as many atheists are quick to conclude.

    Like the weather, God's interactions with us may seem unpredictable and haphazard. But also like the weather, this may not necessarily be the case. If we had a God's-eye perspective, then perhaps we could understand. If we could see the entire panoply of human history as God sees it, then perhaps we could begin to grasp an inkling of his ways.

    But unlike the weather, God is a personal agent, not a physical mechanism or process. He doesn't have to be predictable or determinate. Though he is faithful to his word, just as he does whatever he pleases. As C.S. Lewis might put it, "He is not a tame lion."

    Besides, contrary to what atheists would argue, it's not as if God is silent. I won't rehash them now, but there are various lines of argument for the Bible as God's word to us.

    And the Bible tells us, in part, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut 29:29).

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