Hell, heaven, thermodynamics and Pelagian Heresy


When we ‘die’, the body, made up of cells arranged in an organized form begins to rapidly disorganize and disorder themselves because the physiological mechanisms that repaired disorder have stopped working.

By Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

In a feature article entitled "On Hell and Heaven" (2-10-2015), Prof. Carlo Fonseka speculated that "As octogenarians, Dr. Leo’s reason makes him believe in a future harmonious world of "ethereal music" in which he and I could indulge our passion for music. Unfortunately, my Reason tells me that when I die I will rot in accordance with the First Law of Thermodynamics.

However, before discussing death, Dr. Carlo discusses life itself, and quotes Dr. Leo Fernando's claim: "Anyone who leads a good life in accordance with the generally accepted moral and ethical standards should not 'bother about hell-fire'."

Prof. Carlo Fonseka has served popular science for many years and everyone should be thankful to him for his consistent championing of rational thinking. As an octogenarian, he may confuse the various laws of thermodynamics. The first law is a conservation principle– and says that whatever energy that Prof. Carlo has prior to death would remain conserved (unchanged) after death, if he were kept within a sealed container ("a closed system"). So, the first law says nothing about rotting, but preserving all the energy.

It is the second law of thermodynamics which says that any system will evolve to increase the amount of disorder in the world. In short, things get disordered and messed up. Hot bodies become cold. Corruption sets in. Things rot. When we ‘die’, the body, made up of cells arranged in an organized form begins to rapidly disorganize and disorder themselves because the physiological mechanisms that repaired disorder have stopped working.

In fact, real death (rather than ‘official death’) begins the very day that Prof. Carlo is born. Cells are born and organized to conform to the structure of the body specified by a person's DNA. Some cells may last a month, while others last only a day or less. As cells die, copying mechanisms make new cells. As you age, you are making copies of copies cells, and accumulate copying errors. Even the formation of errors is a feature of the second law of thermodynamics. So, ‘life’ transforming to death is a gradual process where the 'repair' is over-whelmed by the 'rotting' sanctioned by the second law.

Before you ‘officially die’ many body organs would have been fixed by surgeons and physicians. The young Dr. Carlo I remember from the 1970s, walking on hot embers to show that ‘fire walking’ is no miracle has "died" long ago. Given that the formation of human reproductive cells (e.g., ovulation) takes about a month, one may argue that the body of a person lasts about a month, when a new copy emerges. A significant part of the ‘identity’ of a person lasts as long as a major part of his/her DNA remains unchanged. However, even the DNA changes during the lifetime of a human being. Furthermore, the DNA alone does not specify identity completely.

I had discussed such matters in a semi-popular book entitled "A physicist's view of matter and mind" two years ago. There I had also referred to the Pelagian Heresy. After I published it, one of my colleagues e-mailed me saying that he had, "never heard of the Pelagian Heresy" until he read my book. Neither Dr. Leo, nor Prof. Carlo mentions the heresy although Church Fathers are mentioned. As octogenarians, they may have forgotten it.

The view that ‘living virtuously and exercising one's moral choice, and loving God would get you to heaven’ is the Pelagian Heresy. St. Augustine moved it. The Council of Orange asserted it, and many thousands of ‘heretics’ were condemned to death for professing that ‘living a moral life was sufficient to get to heaven’. Dr. Leo is surely aware of the Doctrine of Original Sin. Anthony Burgess's ‘A clockwork orange’, and Stanley Kubrick's film feature the errant adolescent Alex to explore the views of St. Augustine and Pelagius on the notion of Original Sin, and the freedom to choose Good or Evil. Even the Indian religions have an ‘original sin’ in the sense that a new born is believed to bring with him/her all the ‘karma’ of ‘previous births’. The child's future choices and capacities are limited by his/her ‘past karma’.

Modern science allows ‘freedom of choice’ to complex systems because such systems, though fully determined at the microscopic level by physics, have no pre-determined outcomes because of the extreme sensitivity of the equations to the details. Living organisms, or even turbulently flowing water are examples of such complex systems beyond prediction. In classical physics, this non-predictability arises already at the level of THREE interacting objects.

Even more strikingly, in modern quantum field theory, even just one particle in a vacuum is beyond prediction – only probable outcomes can be given. Albert Einstein never liked this, and complained that ‘God (i.e., nature) does not play dice’. Einstein believed that the quantum theory is incomplete since it gave only probable predictions. However, all evidence accumulated since the rise of the quantum theory show that Einstein is wrong here. Nature, to the extent we can know it, gives us probabilities and not definite predictions.

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