Agreed upon usage of "secular"?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #1

My son was just discussing with me the difference between secular and non-secular in general as well as with regard to states/nations. And I was reminded that I’ve probably been sucked into an improper or inappropriate usage of that word here in this forum. I’m “guilty” (if indeed my intended self re-direction here survives public critique) of acquiescing to the atheistic appropriation of that label.

According to my dictionary at hand (Merriam Webster), the first of several definitions is: “of or relating to the worldly or temporal” as in ‘secular concerns’. By that definition, science already always was (by definition I should think) secular. But what it most certainly is not is atheistic (or even agnostic) since both of those things are metaphysical propositions concerning themselves with the existence (for the atheists) or the knowability (for the agnostics) of that which is quite outside the worldly or temporal realm.

So I may need to retract my own usage of the phrase “secular science”, and henceforth view such a phrase more as a redundancy than as a qualifying descriptor for some domain that is alleged by some to be religion-free. It was in reaction to that latter usage that I’d been “sucked in”.

Regarding political entities, my first thought is that examples of non-secular states would be theocracies. Or what about nations that still have state churches? My son insisted that nations like Britain, despite their (albeit probably mostly ceremonial) sanction of a state church are sill solid in their identity as one of the “secular western states” simply because on a functional employment level, both private and public, there is a deliberate disallowance of religious considerations. So such a state in that sense remains secular.

Back to science, though, if we were to consistently follow through on this usage practice, we can freely practice secular science on and within any religious platform we wish, including atheism, as long as we don’t begin trying to bar the participatory/educational/professional involvement of others based on any such religious considerations.

Maybe I’m the only sinner here in this regard to this careless misuse of phrases, and if so, you can all celebrate that I’ve finally seen the light; but if not, I look forward to reactions and push back.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #2


I am going to disagree with you somewhat. Secular is a synonym for worldly. In the Bible the world per se is not bad in that it is God’s world, but when the world becomes worldly which means that it is divorced from God or considered independent of God it does become corrupt and evil.

I would say that when science is considered secular it is not bad, because most people think that God is behind the science of God’s world, but when some people insist that secular science means that God plays no role in reality, that is just untrue and unscientific.

Science cannot be said to be based on naturalism when Naturalism means Materialism, whether ontological or methodological, because science is based on Natural laws which are by nature are rational, not matter/energy. Materialism per se is false because the universe is more than a collection of particles. The universe is a cosmos of rationally ordered particles in time and space.

(Patrick ) #3

What are “rationally ordered” particles?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #4


Thanks for your reply. Regarding your first two paragraphs (and maybe even much of your last) … agreed, though I wasn’t thinking of ‘secular’ as a synonym for ‘worldly’ of the biblical sort. But if you do insist on that, then … yes.

Your last paragraph, though, may provoke more discussion. I don’t think we need to here raise the thorny issue of “methodological naturalism” which has been hammered on extensively in the past (but of course everything we discuss in such forums would suffer the same criticism … so if newcomers want a fresh rehashing of it, be my guest.)

But I will at least say this. While I agree that science is not based on naturalism, don’t you think it safe to say that it can operate within naturalism? If not, you may be forced to the obviously false conclusion that atheists cannot do science.


I should think this is simple in terms of entropy: ‘rationally ordered particles’ are those arranged in any patterned or purposeful manner ranging vastly in complexity all the way from a snow flake to a bacterium. Chaotically ordered particles might be like those in any gas or liquid or amorphous solids like glass. But we’ll see if Roger had something else in mind with the phrase. Indeed if my characterization above is what is meant then the universe would have a lot of chaotic as well as ordered particles. But the presence of order is what Roger is invoking. I’ll leave it to him to defend the notion that this refutes materialism since I don’t think I follow him in that particular argument.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5


I think your appropriate push back on how I am using ‘secular’ merits much more thought and response than I gave it in my first brief paragraph above. Can something be ‘secular’ in a good sense (as I have defended the word) without being ‘secular’ in the biblical sense of being worldly? And even in this latter sense I agree with you that ‘worldly’ should not be equated with ‘bad’, so there is already some tension on the concept even from a strictly biblical view. Can a ‘good’ sense of ‘secular’ be free exchanged with the label ‘non-sectarian’? … as in staying free of (but open to) particular religious commitments?

But as it is late here, I’m going to revisit this after a nights sleep to see if what other fresh insights might surface.

(Patrick ) #6

Alright. Not exactly a good description of entropy but passable. Note that the entropy of the universe at the time of the big bang was in its most ordered state (a quark-gluon condensate) with entropy close to zero and the universe’s entropy (disorder) has being increasing ever sense. Of course every now and then, a some local place entropy is lower like here on earth. But over time the entropy of the universe goes to complete disorder - like a widely diffuses gas.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #7


Rationally ordered particles means that H2 O is always water and never something else.

(Patrick ) #8

Well ice is more ordered than water which is more ordered than stream. Same H2O, different amounts of order.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #9


I do not know where you got that. Ice, water, and steam are all governed by heat or energy, not order. They are all H2O. Each form of H2O has its own order, which is different, but order is order, not more or less.

Now if you want to talk about entropy. Entropy is the dissipation of energy so there are no differences in a given medium. When there are no differences, there can be no changes needed for life. It is not the breakdown of order, because energy is still present, but the dilution of energy so it becomes uniform and changes or differences cannot occur without the input of energy from an outside source.

Entropy is the result of the limited nature of the universe, which means that it is not eternal and has a Beginning and an End. Entropy limits the universe, it does not limit God. It points to God as the Source of the universe and life.

Entropy applies to energy. It does not apply to matter, so it does not apply to H2O.

Dawkins believes in a monistic worldview, but logically a monistic worldview is static and does not change, because it is logically uniform. The triune worldview combines the dynamic and differences of dualism with the continuity of monism without the problems of both.

At the beginning of the universe there was no order because there was no energy and everything was uniform without order. At the end of the universe there is no productive order because all of the energy is spent so everything is uniform without order. The difference is the Word, the LOGOS, Who gave the universe rational form and productive energy.

(Patrick ) #10

I got that from the study of Thermodynamics. Entropy is the measure of order. Entropy is the numerical value of the order of particles. Entropy is also the measure of order in Information Theory. The same concepts are used to describe the order/disorder of particles in the Sun, in a plant, in the human brain are the same as with digital information in a computer memory.

Ice is more ordered than liquid water which is more ordered than steam. The entropy of ice is less than the entropy of liquid water and steam.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #11


The third law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of a perfect crystal at absolute zero, or 0 kelvin is zero. This means that in a perfect crystal, at 0 kelvin, nearly all molecular motion should cease in order to achieve ΔS=0. A perfect crystal is one in which the internal lattice structure is the same at all times; in other words, it is fixed and non-moving, and does not have rotational or vibrational energy.

This means that there is only one way in which this order can be attained: when every particle of the structure is in its proper place.

Quote from Wikipedia article on Entropy

I had to do some thinking and research, but I think that I have found the problem in your statement that ice is more ordered that water, which is more ordered than steam. My first question was, “In what basis or on what scale?”

The quote above answers that question. 0 K = no entropy because at zero K there is no energy or movement. It also links perfect order with the absence of movement and energy, which is where the problem lies.

The problem has its roots in traditional philosophy which claims that perfection is static, rather than dynamic. In fact we know that at 0 K there really is no order because order is based on movement, which there is none at 0 K.

Also when we talk about entropy on a normal scale (not at 0 K) we are talking about a situation where there is no change or movement, not because there is no energy, but because there is no transfer of energy from one microstate to another because the energy level is uniform. Therefore in this situation we have high entropy or order because we have no change, when in the 0 K situation we have no entropy or order because we have no change.

Therefore we have a serious contradiction between two kinds of “entropy.” To solve this problem I think we need to stop thinking of entropy as disorder. It is a different type of order. Similarly we should stop thinking of order as static. Order is dynamic.

The traditional model for entropy is the breaking of glass. This is the changing from an artificial order to a natural order. Breaking of glass does affect our world, but not the universe , so it is an inappropriate model. Our universe will run down when it runs out of limited energy, which well cause its natural processes to cease to function, not because of some lack of order, which is constant. Entropy is not disorder because its inventor Rudolph Clausius said it was.

(Patrick ) #12

On a temperature scale. Ice is lower temperature than water than steam. Entropy (order) lowest for ice (an ordered crystal), than water (high temperature more disordered than ice) then steam (higher temperature higher entropy most disorder)

Yes a glass on the table is more ordered (lower entropy) than a broken glass on the floor (disorder) In falling off the table the entropy of the glass increased. The universe started in a very ordered state at the big bang and has been increasing ever since. In trillions of years the universe will be a disfused gas with it largest entropy.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #13


Not true. The universe began out of chaos, no time, no space, no matter, no energy. I would not call the Big Bang, a horrendous explosion a very ordered state. If the universe is going from order to chaos, that means that evolution and intelligent life on earth are going against nature, which is what creationists believe. Do you?

The Big Bang began with great heat and diffuse particles which are counter to your depiction of order and low entropy. The end of the universe will be very cold, close to 0 K which is much closed to the scientific view quoted of low entropy and high order. At 0 K there is no energy so there is no energy, no weak force to hold atoms and molecules together, so even solids

In the Beginning quantum particles were not ordered into /energy/matter but squeezed together in a tiny ball. In the End quantum particles are again not ordered into energy/matter by 0 K, but now they are scattered throughout the universe.

In the Beginning order emerges from nothing and in the End nothing emerges out of order (entropy.)

(Patrick ) #14

The big Bang was in a very tiny volume. In that volume it was a fuild in equilibrium - a gluon-quirk condensate. the most ordered state of matter/energy ever to exist. Very low entropy (not zero). Ever since expanding volume - increasing entropy (disorder)

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #15


If Reality is your idea of disorder, you are welcome to it.

If the Big Bang is your idea of order, you are welcome to that also.

The price with buying into an irrational, speculative ideology is that you are stuck with its conclusions even though they fail to agree with Reality.

(Patrick ) #16

I am just stating my understanding of thermodynamics, cosmology, and entropy. You started this with your “ordered particles” suggestion.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #17


We have discussed these issues before, when you attributed the order of the universe and lack thereof to quantum physics.

Hawking has a different take on entropy, which he does not connect with temperature.

(Patrick ) #18

It turns out that Hawkins was wrong on the conservation of information (entropy) for black holes. It was recently proven than information is conserved by a black hole. Note the center of a black hole is low entropy (ordered state) whereas outside the event horizon of a black hole entropy is very large and increasing.

(system) #19

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