The Butterfly Effect

One of the most common examples of the macro-effects of micro variables is known commonly as “The Butterfly Effect.” It goes something like this: If a butterfly in China approaches a tree and decides to go left instead of right, the effect of its decision and the flap of its wings can cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. This popular insight is meant to highlight the effect of the smallest first causes on a macro-level. Calvinists use this popular chaos theory thought-experiment to support their claim that God must control everything, including the flaps of butterflies’ wings (and everything else from quantum particles to meteors). Otherwise, everything would be in constant chaos. There would be hurricanes everywhere if God wasn't holding them back. After all, we don't want to give the reigns of cataclysmic weather events to the butterflies! 

First, a little background on this loaded gun. In 1960, Edward Lorenz, an assistant professor in MIT's meteorological department ran a computer program that was intended to better predict weather patterns. To simplify a calculation, he rounded the value of one variable from 0.506127 to 0.506. To his shock, the results weren't just slightly different; they were vastly different. Apparently, the very subtle change of a minor variable had drastic effects on the resulting weather predictions. He theorized that the change amounted to the flap of a seagull's wings. Later, he chose the more poetic representation of a butterfly and wrote an academic paper entitled, Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas? This quickly became the textbook example of mathematicians and quantum physicists in the highly abstract field of chaos theory. Those who use this metaphor to prove a point typically get the implications of Lorenz's thought-experiment totally backwards: 

“The larger meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can readily track such connections, but that we can't. To claim a butterfly's wings can cause a storm, after all, is to raise the question: How can we definitively say what caused any storm, if it could be something as slight as a butterfly?” 1 

In other words, there are billions of butterflies out there. There are even more birds and animals with larger “footprints” on weather patterns. Not to mention the effect of the 7 billion people on the planet…and what we choose to do with our technology and industry. Irresponsible factory owners in China that pour oceans of filth into the air every day have a much, much larger impact on weather than all the butterflies in the world combined. 

“So a principal lesson of the butterfly effect is the opposite of [how people use it]:…’It's impossible for humans to measure everything infinitely accurately,’ says Robert Devaney, a mathematics professor at Boston University. ‘And if you're off at all, the behavior of the solution could be completely off.’ When small imprecisions matter greatly, the world is radically unpredictable.” 2

So, does God need to dictate the flap of every butterfly's wings? Would the world simply spin out of control if his hands weren't meticulously keeping everything under control? Could it be possible that God the Designer set up the boundaries of play in every sphere (quantum physics, biology, astronomy, etc.) and said within those boundaries “anything goes?” Yes. That is precisely the world we have. He is not micro-managing butterflies worrying about what natural disasters they may cause. He is rather beckoning each of us through the persuasive ways of the spirit to wake up and love the environment—the garden He has placed us in.