On 28 May 2003, Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003) died. A Russian-born physical chemist, he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on “the theory of dissipative structures.”
His best known work is perhaps the “Theorem of Mimimum Entropy Production” (1945). This theorem states that at local equilibria, the rate of entropy production (P) is a minimum defined by the second derivative, δS², a Lyapunov function.
His book Order out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (1984), co-authored with Isabelle Stengers (b. 1949), included some reflections on the convergence of theological and scientific thought regarding the mechanistic universe:
“At the origin of modern science, a ‘resonance’ appears to have been set up between theological discourse and theoretical and experimental activity—a resonance that was no doubt likely to amplify and consolidate the claim that scientists were in the process of discovering the secret of the ‘great machine of the universe.’ Of course, the term resonance covers an extremely complex problem. It is not our intention to state, nor are we in any position to affirm, that religious discourse in any way determined the birth of theoretical science, or of the ‘world view’ that happened to develop in conjunction with experimental activity…
“It must now be stressed that scientific discourse is in no way a mere transposition of traditional religious views. Obviously the world described by classical physics is not the world of Genesis, in which God created light, heaven, earth, and the living species, the world where Providence has never ceased to act, spurring man on toward a history where his salvation is at stake. The world of classical physics is an atemporal world which, if created, must have been created in one fell swoop, somewhat as an engineer creates a robot before letting it function alone. In this sense, physics has indeed developed in opposition to both religion and the traditional philosophies.
“And yet we know that the Christian God was actually called upon to provide a basis for the world’s intelligibility. In fact, one can speak here of a kind of ‘convergence’ between the interests of theologians, who held that the world had to acknowledge God’s omnipotence by its total submission to Him, and of physicists seeking a world of mathematizable processes.