Thu | Feb 27, 2020

Peter Espeut | Entropy or evolution?

Published:Friday | January 24, 2020 | 12:33 AM

As someone who has studied both the natural and social sciences, I have been fascinated by the concept of entropy. Entropy is defined as “the degree of disorder” in a system, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe is increasing; over time things become progressively more disordered.

That is fine for statistical mechanics, but does it apply to social systems? In the social, economic and political sphere, are things becoming more organized, or more disordered? Casual observation would seem to suggest that over time the entropy of Jamaica is increasing: neither political party seems to be able to come up with an effective plan for social control, and so disorder on our roads increases, crime and insecurity increases, and political corruption is rampant.

On top of that, neither political party seems to be able to create an equitable national education system, so despite throwing billions at the problem, some schools are excellent while others are substandard. Indiscipline in schools increases, while academic performance does not.

The gap between the rich and the poor is widening, which increases social discontent, and creates soil fertile for social disorder.

Some people’s interpretation of ‘freedom’ is leading to a sexual free-for-all, and a breakdown in the family. Casual sex leads to unwanted pregnancies, which must be disposed of by abortion; unwanted children are often not properly raised, producing dysfunctional members of society.

It is said that Jamaica has more churches per square mile and more different denominations than anywhere else in the world, the result of high religious entropy. At the same time, the spirit of ecumenism is low and declining; both the Jamaica Council of Churches and the Caribbean Conference of Churches are shadows of their former selves.

Challenging entropy as a governing principle is the theory of evolution which comes out of the biological sciences. Over time, this theory says, through mutation and natural selection, organisms become more ordered and complex as they adapt to their environment; sensory organs become more efficient, muscular arrangements become stronger, and brains become more powerful. Evolution leads to greater order in the world, and less chaos.

And in the social sphere, evolution in political systems has led to less monarchy and greater democracy, and a stronger civil society putting pressure on corrupt governments. More and more, states provide social safety nets for those least able to cope, reducing immiseration and economic deprivation.

WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY

And futile as the efforts at Christian unity sometimes seem, there is incremental positive change. In Jamaica three denominations – the Presbyterian, Congregational and Disciples of Christ – have merged to form the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Roman Catholics and Anglicans share a church building in Portmore – the Church of the Reconciliation. Catholics and Protestants collaborate in the training of clergy at the United Theological College and St Michael’s Theological College at Papine.

Both processes – entropy and evolution – operate at the same time in Jamaica and across the world: anabolism and katabolism; three steps forward, two steps backward. At the same time as there are calls for unity of purpose, political and religious tribalism works in the opposite direction. Who will gain the upper hand?

Every year, the Christian church celebrates the week between January 18 and 24 as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; today closes this Unity Octave. Stretching from the old Feast of the Chair of Peter at Antioch to the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, this annual effort seeks to promote the breaking down of the historical divisions between churches which each profess belief in the same God based on the same holy scriptures.

It is my prayer that we here in Jamaica will evolve towards greater unity among Christians, moving towards one fold under one shepherd (John 10:16). The entropic forces are strong. Can we overcome them?

Roman Catholic deacon Peter Espeut is dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.