Entropy, causation and prophetic typology

For some time I have been slowly working through a gargantuan post that aims to review and comment on each and every one of the 355 Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus (and there’s still a long way to go). In the course of that process I’ve had to put some thought into the concept of typology, which claims that some earlier entity or event (E0) is a type, or prefigure, of a later entity or event (E0+t). With regard to prophecy, the idea is that E0 is directed toward E0+t in a teleological sense – that is, E0 existed for the purpose of serving as a pointer to E0+t. As I see it, this is a type of retrocausality, in that we could say that we have E0 because of E0+t. My understanding is that this was commonly accepted as a valid perspective in the ancient world, which stands in contrast to a more modern, “scientific” conception of causality that operates only according to the arrow of time.

S = k log WHowever, I have also been reading Sean Carroll’s ‘From Eternity to Here’ which, if I’m understanding correctly, suggests that the temporal causality we see (that earlier events ’cause’ later events) is merely a macroscopic artifact of the universe having started in a low entropy condition. At root, all physical laws are reversible, such that there isn’t really a direction of cause and effect – there’s just a universal trend from lower to higher entropy because high entropy states are simply more probable than low entropy states.

So now I find myself intuitively balking at the nonsense of the retrocausality suggested by typological claims while simultaneously pondering this entropic perspective on time and the reversibility of physical laws, and subsequently wondering whether E0+t really can be a valid part of the explanation for E0. I’m not sure I’ve really wrapped my head around this, so I’m hoping for some additional insight from any readers who feel like they might have something to offer. In short, does a properly scientific perspective on time and causality lend credence to notions of retrocausality, such as we find in claims of prophetic typology?

Note that I am not suggesting that prophetic typology claims would thus become the best explanation for an identified relationship between E0 and E0+t as a result of this perspective. We can still identify the best (i.e., more probable) explanations according to the probabilistic description of entropy, which we perceive as a causal direction from past to future in accordance with physical laws. The question is only whether those prophetic claims are more compatible with a proper scientific perspective on causality versus the classical view of an inviolable temporal order from cause to effect.

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15 thoughts on “Entropy, causation and prophetic typology

  1. Travis I wondered whether you have considered perhaps one post per prophecy or related group of prophecies?

    That type of approach might make your analysis more accessible to those of us with less discipline to maintain our attention span.

    My rather simple approach to the matter of fulfilled prophecy is that most likely the Gospels were written as partly invented stories to imply fulfilment of prophecy.

    The misunderstanding Matthew displays in interpreting Zechariah’s donkey prophecy and the apparently totally fabricated account of Lazarus being raised from the dead cause me to conclude that there was a bit of creative writing going on.

    • Hey Peter. I’ve considered publishing the prophecy responses in batches but there are a lot of cross-references that are best handled in a single post. It won’t be the type of thing to sit down and read all the way through. If you’re interested, there is somebody else who is currently actively blogging through the same 360+ prophecies in single posts from a Jewish perspective: see http://nojesus4jews.weebly.com/365-prophecies.

      I agree that there was some fabrication in the Gospels to imply fulfillment and this process has really driven home just how much the NT authors sought to align Jesus with the Tanakh.

  2. Hi Travis, I have thought about this a bit, though from a different angle to you I think.

    I first came across the idea of backwards time in Paul Davies’ About Time (quite an old book now), and I was intrigued with it. I haven’t read Carroll’s book but my feeling is that these guys can show mathematically how time may be reversible, but a mathematical description doesn’t (I think) mean something can actually happen. Several examples come to mind.

    The irrational number “i” is extremely useful but it cannot actually exist.
    Stephen Hawking (I think) famously once said that the laws of physics describe how a universe would behave if it exists, but something needs to “breathe fire into the equations”. The laws don’t make something exist – though perhaps some people don’t agree with that.

    On prophecy, I think it is a mistake to assume one explanation works for all. I think there can be several aspects to OT prophecy.

    Jesus and the apostles could actually copy predicted events to show, or to claim, certain truths. Jesus riding on a donkey might be an example.
    OT passages could be re-applied or re-understood in the light of later events – this was a common approach to interpretation in first century Judaism. e.g. Isaiah’s prophecy to the king was re-interpreted to prophesy the virgin birth, or Psalm 22 relating to Jesus’ crucifixion.
    God, if one believes in he exists, could see the end from the beginning and lead people to say things with local meaning but also had long term meaning which they didn’t see. Isaiah’s words about the suffering servant or the coming king in Isaiah 9 might be examples.
    Prophets might genuinely see the future in some sense.
    Some things might be made up after the event.

    I don’t think the scientific ideas on causality are very relevant, except to help us be humble about what we know and don’t know. So I don’t think I am much help to you, but you asked for thoughts.:)

    • Hi Eric,
      To be clear, it’s not so much that I’m wondering whether science could be employed to support the prophecy claims through retrocausation – as if God needed the physical laws to be a certain way to make things work out – but rather that I want to be careful in my assessment so as to not make scientifically inaccurate claims about the relative validity of different perspectives. Regardless of whether there is a God who has organized space-time to create these trans-temporal relationships, I don’t want to make the mistake of saying something like “most typological claims are better explained as the future drawing from the past than as the past pointing to the future because causation always operates from past to future” if that is not in fact a scientifically accurate statement. This seems like one of the most intuitively reasonable objections one could make to typological claims, but I now have the sense that it doesn’t reflect a properly scientific understanding of causation. I think maybe it could be reformulated in terms of entropy but I’m not exactly sure what that would look like. I’m hoping that somebody with a better grasp on these concepts can help clarify.

  3. Yes, as Bob Dylan sang so many, many years ago: “It ain’t me babe, it ain’t me you’re looking for.” But I don’t think many would object if you made the common assumption about the direction of causation.

  4. Sorry for the late read, Travis. I’ve had this post sitting in my inbox ever since you wrote it. I could tell from the title that there was no point in trying to read it until I had a few minutes. Sadly, having enough time is not the only prerequisite for making an intelligent comment on this topic. :/

    For what it’s worth, I’ve come to the conclusion that time travel is simply impossible. It’s fun to think about… but I view it like Eric does. The mathematical principle may be reversible, but I don’t think there’s any physical possibility to it. Not that you’re necessarily thinking there is — I just thought I’d offer my useless opinion. 🙂

    On a related note, the closest we can get to time travel is looking out at the cosmos, since we’re seeing things as they were, not as they are. I think that’s really awesome, and I point it out to my kids as often as possible.

    • Hey Nate,
      Even if you don’t think you have much to offer, I appreciate the contribution. Having now finished the book (From Eternity to Here) and having read a few other articles on the topic, I think I have a better handle on how to view causality in terms of entropy, even if it is all still a bit muddy and non-intuitive. It’s a great read, by the way.

      As for time travel, you’re doing it on a continual basis – the question is more about whether we could ever place ourselves at a spacetime coordinate that we previously occupied and I’m very skeptical about that (as is Carroll, if I recall correctly).

  5. I may be way off topic, or just too practical for this post.

    But… what if the purpose for the prophetic typology was similar to the use of parables. Working to edify us in cultivating a subconscious mindset of expectation for P
    prophetic fulfillment of multiple, individually filed E0 in our minds. And the use of connecting dots that may not exist in our minds unail we form the ideas.

    And although physical time travel may not be possible, spiritual and emotional travel seems to be a necessity for life. Considering that we live with our emotions and thought patterns dyed in the ink of either our hope for upcoming E0+t, or what we understand of past E0.

    The use of memory, along with dreams/visions (time spent in unreal locations), hopes and aspirations, and memories, and the way the we prophetically connect the dots between all things relatable to our current focuses seems to be made increasingly accessible as we study biblical typology.

    Lol… im done now..

    • Hi Tyler,
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. If I’m understanding you correctly, I think you’re proposing something in line with traditional views of typology (as a divinely ordained foreshadowing of Jesus), but with more deliberate subtlety. Based on your “connecting the dots” statement, I gather that the proposed rationale for Yahweh preferring this more subtle approach is that it invokes the experience of epiphany, which in turn bolsters the strength with which we affirm the corresponding insight. This is an interesting observation and I think there’s probably a relationship between the allure of the experience of epiphany and the general religious affinity for revelation, hidden secrets and mystery. I’m not sure that this lends any credence to the claims of typology but it is an interesting aspect of the topic that I hadn’t considered.

      Regardless, my first reaction to this particular proposition is to ask why the realization of the typology did not “ring true” most effectively for the group which was most steeped in the typological sources. That is, if Yahweh had ordained the earlier events captured in the Tanakh as subtle pointers toward Jesus, why did Christianity thrive most in the diaspora and gentile populations but withered in the context of mainstream Judaism?

      Lastly, I would suggest that “the way the we prophetically connect the dots between all things relatable to our current focuses seems to be made increasingly accessible as we study biblical typology” is an artifact of inculcation. This is simply how our mind works, and does so across many different domains. If one exercises their pattern seeking skills in search of God working through typology, they are also going to be more likely to see God working in similar ways throughout their life and the world in general. There’s an old saying that “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. This speaks to our psychology more than anything else.

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