Sudden Phase Change

Imagine a basin of calm, liquid water. Perfectly still and pure. All of a sudden it is jostled, or a speck of dust falls in, and it freezes in a moment. The water must have started below freezing, yet it was liquid. This seeming contradiction can occur when very pure water is carefully lowered below freezing, so ice crystals never have a chance to form. The result is “supercooled” water. Supercooled water may remain liquid while cooled quite far below freezing. It’s easy to make in the lab or at home, and sometimes occurs in nature.

While the water is still liquid, it seems contradictory: below freezing, yet not frozen. If water below freezing is supposed to be frozen, why is this so easy to demonstrate? It just seems wrong.

Similarly, there is a sense in which we see the world today in a sort of tension. We look at the world around us, and have a sense of what it should be like, yet we see so much that doesn’t match that sense. Creation should be so beautiful and perfect, and yet there is so much ugliness. People should obviously live together in love and harmony, and yet there is so much turmoil. This often comes up when people think about a creator/deity. If one exists so good and powerful, why is there so much evil in the world? It just seems wrong.

So they both seem contradictory, and yet both are true.

I wonder if this isn’t a way to make sense of evil. The existence of an all-powerful, all-good deity seems at odds with the existence of evil. If omnipotent God is so good, how can there be evil? But perhaps the world is “supercooled”, existing in some sense in an unnatural state. The natural state of existence is that defined by its creator. This is simple: an omnipotent, perfect creator would create something perfectly, without defect. That is the natural state, just as crystalline ice is the natural state of water below freezing.

But for some reason, we exist now in an un-natural state, a state of tension between what is and what should be. There is evil, but it should not be. The creator is omnipotent, but not yet exercising that. What if we stretch the analogy a little further, and ask how the sudden phase transition might look in our world? Then we would see a sudden transition from our current state of affairs to the original nature. From an eternal perspective, we see that the question is not how or why, but when. For some reason, the world exists in an unstable state now, but it’s only a matter of time until the tension is released.

The key here is eternal perspective, to realize that local (even temporal) violations do not mean global violation. With an eternal perspective we can see the tension that exists, and expect the resolution at any moment.

The thing is, supercooled water is in an unstable state. Like a ball balanced on a needle, the slightest perturbation will knock it into a more stable state. Even more than that, if the water’s temperature continues to drop, it eventually reaches a point where no disturbance is necessary; it spontaneously freezes. Hence, the specific contrived circumstances that allow its existence are not permanent. Inevitably, something happens and the water enters its “correct” state.

We can stretch the analogy too far, but what if the world also unstable? Perhaps it is bound to revert to the natural, pure form, of its initial state. So what we perceive now isn’t right — the tension we feel is that between a perfect Creator and the imperfect creation, bound to be resolved. Reality strains at the incongruity of the current state, and waits expectantly for the correction. We only wish it wasn’t taking so long while we fume over the state of things, waiting for the phase transition. We speculate what the stable state must be like, and whether we fit in as part of the crystalline state, or are just a bit of impurity.

We do know the phase transition will occur, either individually or for the universe as a whole. This state is unstable, remember; it won’t last forever. The question is how we fit into the new order, either after our death or when creation is renewed. What do you think?

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