Chaos and Chaos-Complexity Theory: Understanding Evil Forces with Insights from Contemporary Science and Linguistics

By Warren, E. Janet | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Chaos and Chaos-Complexity Theory: Understanding Evil Forces with Insights from Contemporary Science and Linguistics


Warren, E. Janet, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


Demonology is particularly relevant today because of the growth of Christianity in the Global South. It is a difficult area of study for three reasons: this reality is inaccessible to the usual senses, biblical references to Satan and evil spirits are scattered and often obscure, and there are large cultural differences. Although not usually explicit and intentional, scholarly and popular writers on the subject can be classified into two groups: ontological maximizers and ontological minimizers. (1) The first group comprises most popular writers, as well as some academic authors. Perhaps, in an attempt to fill the biblical "gaps," they view the demonic "kingdom" as highly organized, with Satan as the commander in chief; there is a hierarchy of evil spirits, many with specific names and functions, which seek to attack Christians. The second group, largely academicians, believes demonology is not relevant in contemporary Christianity, or that evil spirits are symbolic of psychological projections.

I suggest many of the above inconsistencies can be addressed and perhaps clarified by considering, first, metaphor theory and, second, chaos-complexity theory as a model for demonology. The aim of this article is to apply insights from contemporary linguistics and scientific chaos-complexity theory to further our understanding of evil spirits. Using different models with which to understand a topic can provide a fresh perspective and perhaps further insight. First, I briefly review some biblical ambiguities, and then discuss those who maximize and those who minimize the ontology of evil. Possible solutions to the confusion are then investigated. The contributions of metaphor theory are discussed, in addition to its use by science with regard to evil. Next, chaos-complexity theory is described along with its application to theology. Finally, the application of chaos-complexity to demonology is discussed.

Chaos can have three meanings, which are related. In common usage, it means complete disorder; in ancient literature, including the Old Testament, it is juxtaposed to cosmos and is a metaphor for evil; and in science, it is used to describe phenomena that appear disordered but are actually governed by simple rules. The hypothesis of this article is that evil forces are, in fact, complex systems not amenable to classification or confident descriptions. Biblical chaos and scientific chaos are thus related. This relationship may shed light on the apparent ambiguity of biblical references as well as perhaps reconcile the ontological perspectives on evil spirits.

Biblical and Experiential Ambiguities

The Bible does not present a cohesive, consistent, and clear demonology; references are scattered, and there is ambiguity. The following examples illustrate this (without consideration of hermeneutical complexities). Numerous terms are used to describe spiritual forces of evil; some are fairly clear (demons), others more obtuse (powers); some are clearly metaphorical (darkness), others more personal (Satan). Evil spirits are often depicted as animals, including dragon (Isa. 27:1; Rev. 12:9), serpent (Rev. 12:9), locust (Rev. 9:3, 7), and scorpion (Luke 10:19; Rev. 9:3). They are described as inhabiting humans (Luke 22:3), animals (Mark 5:1-13), the air (Eph. 2:2), the earth (Rev. 12:4), the heavens (Eph. 6:12), and prison (1 Pet. 3:19). Some verses suggest that Satan is merely a servant of God (e.g., Judg. 9:23; 1 Cor. 5:5); other verses claim that he is an enemy of God who actively opposes Christians (e.g., Zech. 3:2; Matt. 13:39; 1 Pet. 5:8).

In the Old Testament, evil is primarily symbolized by darkness, the deep, and chaos. In the Gospel of John, evil is depicted as darkness, whereas in the synoptic Gospels, demons and unclean spirits are the favored terms. Within the Synoptics, there is ambiguity in the descriptions of demons with regard to number and name. For example, with respect to number, the unclean spirits in the stories of the synagogue and of the Gerasene demoniacs, are described by both singular and plural pronouns (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 4:31-37; Matt. …

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