The Butterfly Effect and the Mystery of God

An MIT meteorologist, the late Edward Lorenz, is the originator of the butterfly effect. He maintained that in chaos theory, small events can have large worldwide consequences. Initial conditions matter, unpredictable attractors/variables occur and what happens next is anybody’s guess. We cannot track the connections well, even employing our brainiest scientific empirical methods.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario: Supposing an humble butterfly in Brazil flaps its wings. This stirs pollen next to a red howler monkey who sneezes. His comrades go screeching through the trees near a large herd of marsh deer, who stampede across the plain. There has been a drought, so the dust stirs, causing a change in the atmosphere. A storm brews and it moves northward. Over time, a tropical depression picks up speed. It spins around and through Mexico and heads toward the Gulf of Mexico. A hurricane blows toward Houston, where I am blow drying my hair. My dryer goes off when the power goes off. All this because of a little butterfly in Brazil.

Writers about the butterfly effect tend to extrapolate, suggesting that we take right actions to increase the probability of a good outcome, such as paying it forward, random acts of kindness, and making wise decisions. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, demonstrates how quickly and easily things can change, like social epidemics. Yet, as the Chinese folktale, “Good Luck, Bad Luck” suggests, what seems good can be bad and vice versa. Armchair philosophers warn us that dabbling in God’s business (attempting to consciously manage the lives of others) is not wise for us humans.

The butterfly effect is about stimulus and response including the chain of events between them. If this happens, then this will logically follow. Interestingly, a study found that those who have been incarcerated have weak skills in cause and effect. The latest neurobiological research reports that the brains of criminals are differently wired. My experience in working with children diagnosed as having reactive attachment disorder has illuminated me.  I have watched the effects of weak and ambivalent bonding of these youngsters with parental figures during critical developmental stages that cause them to have weak if non-existent consciences. They often become our sociopaths and psychopaths. At the other end of the continuum reside those with exceptional logic about consequences. They often seem luckier than the rest of us because they quickly make smarter decisions than we do.

This is a stretch, but what if God operates using the butterfly effect and that is why we humans have such difficulty catching Him in the act of intervention? Given that He is all knowing, He can easily predict the long term outcomes of even the smallest gestures. I am not prone to belief in pre-destination; however. He would step back and see how his creatures react (given our free will) and fine-tune as necessary. I like to think that God’s love for humans and His curiosity might allow him to “tweak” a few things now and then. God is a mystery to us; why wouldn’t we be a mystery to Him, too?