with mathematical perfection came, in part, as the Greek philosophers
struggled with understanding a world of change and stagnation, of motion
and rest, of unity and diversity. Today, these questions of order and
chaos have found a new voice in growing field of "chaos theory."
Chaos theory is the study of forever-changing complex systems. This study
bases its conclusions on the concept that beneath the things we call
"random" patterns actually appear, implying order.
Pi can be understood as a critique on modernism. The
modern period (from 15th century until the first half of the 20th
century) attempted to understand the world through empirical observation
and the power of reason. As science made incredible advances with
Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, the theme was to "make the world
knowable." This theme was largely based on the assumption we live in
an ordered world created by an orderly God. As René Descartes suggested,
the world was a clock, a mechanical system managed by God the Clock-Maker.
With this metaphor in mind, conclusions about the world had to fit an
orderly system. During this era, all fields of knowledge were
systematized: biology, chemistry, sociology, psychology, logic, and even
theology. The goal for rational perfection peaked during the first half of
the 20th century. This summit can be seen in the cold
efficiency of logical positivism, international architecture, and the
artwork of Piet Mondrian.
Likewise, in Pi, Max Cohen seeks to make the world knowable, to
destroy the mystery and take apart the clock. But by the end of the movie,
he fully embraces the pain of knowledge and the consequences of this
pursuit, despite its rewards. He does the irrational to cope with his
quest for rationality: Max takes a drill to his brain.
What happens when the clock runs down? (Chaos Theory)
Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the first philosophers to completely reject
modernity, understood the end of this pursuit was nihilism. The quest for
a perfect system of knowledge would collapse on itself. In his words:
"There are no facts, only interpretations." Nothing we can place
our faith in, except maybe the creation of our pursuit. But this creation
is a beast. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it will and has turned against
The best example of how our science turned against us would be the
atomic bomb. The atomic bomb was the ironic last "tick-tock" of
our modern dreams for a well ordered utopian society. By the beginning of
the Cold War, this hope disintegrated into entropy and chaos. We lived in
fear of our own science. We developed the ability to destroy ourselves on
mass scale with atomic weapons. Our technology and knowledge made us less
human, not more so. The clock ran down. And our trust in science as an
unquestioned authority went with it.
With the postmodern condition, people are skeptical of absolute
knowledge to truly solve the world’s ills. In this condition, the
orderly God is not conceivable or receivable. There is simply too much out
there. Descartes’ mechanical metaphor does not comfort us. As Isaiah
59:14 states, "Truth has stumbled in the streets." Now truths
are seen as something that can only be socially constructed and locally
relevant. Universals are observed with skepticism and indignation. There
is only chaos, no order.
A World of Complexity
We have rejected the order theory. We live in a supposed
"information age" of complexity upon complexity. Possibly a
simplistic ordered universe seemed plausible, when the world was still in
the shadows of understanding. But as we have entered into a new light of
understanding, this idea does not fit our new model.
The Church is resisting this change, because it fought so hard to fit
the Christian-system into the modern world. To make Christianity
"work," the Church was seduced into believing it must conform
Christianity to a system. As Christianity became systematized we locked
arms with the modern world. What happens when the modern world dies? We
get pulled into the grave with it.
Stanley Grenz, in his book A Primer on Postmodernism, cites that
the birth of contemporary Evangelicalism is closely connected with the
"As modern thinkers, evangelicals have always used the tools
of modernity, such as the scientific method, the empirical approach to
reality, and commonsense realism. But the these tools became
especially important in the twentieth century, as evangelical
intellectuals attempted to understand and articulate the gospel with
eyes turned toward the challenge posed by the worldview of late
modernity—secularism." (A Primer on Postmodernism. Eerdmans
Publishing, copyright 1996, page 161)
Unfortunately, the great disaster of the Evangelical church has been
when it placed too much hope and faith in an ordered and understandable
universe, and not in the direct experience with God. This direct
experience is primarily mystical and not available for empirical
examination. But as the Church worries about its significance in
contemporary culture, it clings faster and harder to science and ordered
patterns of methodology. Even when protesting certain scientific theories
(like evolution), it still debates the issue playing by science’s rules.
The Church fails to consider alternative ways of understanding the world--
not through a mechanical model, but as a mystical God-bathed world open to
flux of change and chaos of daily life.
The world is more complex than the Church would like to acknowledge and
so we turn our back on the world. We take complex issues (such as poverty,
abortion) and expect God to pat us on the back for despising wisdom and
discernment, in exchange for simple catch phrases and coffee mug slogans.
Instead of wresting out these issues in our heart, we numb our reality
with cute one-liners. We insult the genius of God by taking the scripture
as an "easy-out" to understanding the world, instead of
marveling in its intricate beauty. I am not implying scripture cannot be
simple, but instead, that God’s revelation is an infinite one,
ultimately not bound by our simplistic interpretations. We do not
hesitate to be impressed by complexity of nature, but we complain because
the God of nature is not simple enough for our puny brains. This is a
Escape from Reason?
Embracing the mystery of God in a complex universe does not mean we
stop seeking out God. In fact, the very opposite is true. When we come to
understand how puny we are, the search is no longer a prideful attempt to
"take apart" God (as shown in Job 38-42); but this search
transforms into the very act of worship. Theology is doxology. Hosea 6:8
says, "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge." This
knowledge is knowledge of God. We are already reaping the problems of our
rejection. We don’t want theology. We don’t want to learn doctrine,
church history, or hermeneutics, because we have associated these things
with an out-dated clock model of the universe. Sure, we will leave that
"academic" task for the seminary students, but not the average
disciple. We are all students and we are slacking off on taking the
challenging, more complex (more messy), lessons of our faith. We willfully
seek out ignorance, possibly because underneath it all we are afraid that
we’re wrong. And if we search too deep we will see no answers, no God.
Asking questions is not a sign of a weak faith. Asking questions shows we
have a living faith that is not afraid to dig.
A God of Complexity
The modern Church fears chaos and complexity, often misquoting such
verses as 1st Corinthians 14:33 "God is not the author of
chaos/disorder/confusion" as a defense. This verse is specifically
referring to our worship. In truth, God has authored confusion and chaos
among enemy troops for the benefit of Israel. God has authored chaos to
stop the building of the tower of Babel. Miracles themselves are
interruptions in the order of nature to bring His plans about.
Everything God authors is in His good and sovereign plan. If we do fear
chaos, it should be holy fear of God-- the author of both chaos and order.
The contemporary use of the word "chaos" and how I am using
the word does not imply "no order." But instead, the order is
intricate, multi-layered, and in constant change and motion. Creation just
isn’t what we thought it was. Likewise, God, while unchanging, is
forever moving. Max Cohen reflects, "So maybe, even though we are not
sophisticated enough to be aware of it, there is a pattern, an
order." Yes, God is there. But in our prideful attempts to "take
the clock apart," what we may find is only our own invention of God.
In order to encounter the God who is truly there, we must encounter Him in
the mystery of His nature.