Another person finds God in quantum mechanics

First Kenneth Miller, now physicist Paul Davies from Arizona State University.  On Krista Tippett’s NPR program, Speaking of Faith (transcript here), Davies struggles hard to reconcile God with science.  And where does he find our Elusive Lord?  In the supposedly upredictability of quantum-mechanical phenomena, of course!

Mr. Davies: Yes, there has always been this problem for physicists about an active God. If God does anything, God has to be at work in the world. And now, if we go back to the sort of universe that Newton had and the one that Einstein supported, the notion of a deterministic universe, a clockwork universe, then this becomes a real problem, because if God is to change anything, then God has to overrule God’s own laws, and that doesn’t look a very edifying prospect theologically or scientifically. It’s horrible on both accounts.

But when one gets to an indeterministic universe, if you allow quantum physics, then there is some sort of lassitude in the operation of these laws. There are interstices having to do with quantum certainty into which, if you want, you could insert the hand of God. So, for example, if we think of a typical quantum process as being like the roll of a die — you know, “God does not play dice,” Einstein said — well, it seems that, you know, God does play dice. Then the question is, you know, if God could load the quantum dice, this is one way of influencing what happens in the world, working through these quantum uncertainties. Now, some people certainly have pushed that idea. John Polkinghorne is one who’s spoken about it. Bob Russell for the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley likes that point of view of God not in any sense usurping the laws of physics, but working within the inherent lassitude that quantum physics provides. And it’s a possible way of God to gain cause or purchase in the world without changing any of the laws that we know.

Sometimes I wonder, when I hear stuff like this, if the people who say it really believe it, or if they’re only trying to reassure the nervous faithful that science really does allow for a theistic God.  Don’t they ever wonder why God would choose to work this way, rather than just acting more macroscopically?  Has the thought never crossed their minds that they’re making a virtue of necessity—indeed, playing a slightly more sophisticated god-of-the-gaps gambit?

And what if, some day, quantum “uncertainties” are shown not to be uncertain at all, but part of a deterministic process that we don’t yet understand?  Where would God go then? How could He continue to influence the universe?

After I read this, I had a thought.  I Googled “Paul Davies Templeton”.  Sure enough, Davies won the lucrative Templeton Prize in 1995.

Over at Rationally Speaking, Massimo Pigliucci dissects this nonsense in more detail.

109 Comments

  1. james
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I hope lassitude/latitude was a typo of transcription and not a misspeak.

  2. Neil
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Davies has been spouting this stuff for a long time now. Half his books have the word “God” in the title. Oddly, his book “The Fifth Miracle” on the origin of life, is oddly free of such nonsense, despite the ominous title.

    • Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      What are the first four?

      • ennui
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        let me Google that for you…

      • Neil
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        I don’t remember, but resurrection is one of them.

        • Brian
          Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          So resurrection came before life? Weird.

          • Neil
            Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

            Well, to his credit, he never discusses the other four miracles, just life, but the fact that he chose this title, as well as implying that life is a miracle, indicates his theistic state of mind. (The book itself is actually quite good–nothing an atheist would argue with.)

  3. Insightful Ape
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like grasping at straws.
    Either way this wouldn’t be the god in the bible. Intervention in quantum physics is one thing. Parting seas and walking on water are a different thing. The biblical god does violate the law of physics.
    But even if these guys want to claim that god somehow gets involved in quantum processes there should be a way to verify that. What if Dr Miller prays to the virgin for the results of the experiment to be one particular way, and so we can see if there is any truth to this claim?
    (If he agrees to convert to islam, though, should islamic prayer influence the quantum world and catholic prayer doesn’t).

    • Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Ken Miller will never jeopardize our moral independence by praying for something observable to happen.
      He is a nice guy.

  4. Jonn Mero
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes, Paul Davies is a well-known Templeton call-girl!

    • newenglandbob
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Dance, Paul, Dance!

    • articulett
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      I’d thank you not to deride the female sex worker by associating it with Templeton and their obfuscation for money endeavors. Whoring is honest work.

  5. Tulse
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    It looks like he’s moved god into literally the smallest gap possible.

    And Insightful Ape has an extremely good point, namely, how does tinkering with quantum mechanics produce macro-level miracles? How does quantum uncertainty allow enough leeway for revivifying a dead corpse?

    In any case, I don’t understand how such intervention is “permitted” under physical law. Certainly any significant deviation from quantum probability would be as observable as using loaded dice.

    Finally, what is the whole point of this approach, anyway? There is no room in physics for supernatural beings, period, regardless of how they might interact with natural laws. Saying that your ghost manipulates things through quantum states doesn’t make postulating a ghost any more palatable. I think this is an excellent example of someone who recognizes the incompatibility of his religious belief and his science, and tries to paper over the most egregious conflict rather than see the full silliness of his position.

    • Brian
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never had it explained to me how any non energy being (god, God, ghost) interacts with energy. The 1st law of thermo says the energy of a closed system is constant, which means only energy interacts with energy as the Universe is a closed system. Even if the universe isn’t a closed system, what mechanism allows non-energy to interact with energy? God, gods, and ghosts are non-energy. How do they fondle energy?

      • Brian
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        If the answer is ‘a miracle’! Then every thought, according to believers in souls, must be a miracle. That means miracles are so common place as to not be miraculous and beggars belief.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        With very big lassos and very tiny lassos.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps Jesus is both alive and dead at the same time.

      • bric
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

        aaaaaaaaaah I thought maybe God doesn’t like cats

      • Sigmund
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 4:16 am | Permalink

        But you only know which if you roll back the rock.
        Schrödinger’s Jesus?

        • Jeremy
          Posted March 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          Brilliant!

    • Posted March 10, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Couldn’t quantum indeterminism produce a macro-level miracle if enough reactions fell a certain way? It would be generous to say I even have a layperson’s understanding of quantum mechanics, so I could be totally off here… but if you had complete control over every quantum reaction, couldn’t you also make it so any possible chemical reaction occurred or didn’t occur at your whim? I mean, you could essentially defy entropy, right? Or am I wrong about that one?

      If you could defy entropy, then it is not difficult to see how a resurrection could take place. Just reconstitute all of the necessary molecules, etc…

      Not that this solves any of the other objections people have raised… but if the many-worlds hypothesis is true, doesn’t that mean there would be one world (well, actually several) where Jesus really did rise from the dead after three days, just by pure random chance?

      • Posted March 10, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Which, by the way, would really suck for the people in that universe. heh…

      • blue
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        so a reanimated three day old corpse in the Judean spring, eh? Ripe!

      • Peter
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        If the many-worlds hypothesis is true, and then for each of the several worlds in which Jesus really did rise from the dead just by chance, there are countlessly many more worlds where he didn’t, but people still claim that he did.

        • Posted March 11, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          Peter, I think that goes without saying. The (possible) existence of such universes does not in any way diminish my confidence that we are not living in one of those universes, any more than the existence of lottery winners diminishes my certitude that I am not going to win the lottery.

      • Hurin
        Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        I think you are right in your interpretation of “macroscopic miracles from quantum”. The second law of thermodynamics actually does derive directly from quantum theory in a branch of physics called statistical mechanics. Entropy is a consequence of the statistical distribution of quantum states.

        If you think about in in those terms though, you realize that god actually would be violating the laws of physics by intervening in the ways described. I’m not sure why a scientist would consider it preferable to have a god who scoffs at thermodynamics than one willing to violate relativity. In any case, it seems to me that you can either postulate the existence of a god who intervenes in the world, or a god who doesn’t violate the laws of physics: never both.

        A second fun point is that turning water into wine would still be chemically impossible, unless god was going to start rearranging stuff on a nuclear level, and presumably that would be noticeable (the giant mushroom cloud enveloping jesus might be a tip off).

      • Shahin
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure about the reactions but isolated miracles arent that much of an impossibility in QM. For example if i were to calculate the probability of dead person become alive again, I would get a very very small, but still non zero value. It would be less than 1 in 10^60 or something because thats when most physicists would just consider it zero. What it actually means is that if someone tried to raise the dead body to life again approximately 10^60 times then their is one chance that he will succeed. Now thats all what QM would tell me. But there is absolutely nothing that prevents the person from succeeding the very 1st time he tries!. He may succeed on the 1st attempt and he may not succeed even after attempting 10^60th time. So if God wants He CAN perform a miracle without ever violating QM.

  6. Wowbagger
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps that’s why there are so many religious types involved in science (despite the cognitive dissonance) – maybe for them it’s as much about discovering potential new gaps for their god as it is for increasing knowledge.

    When the only gap left small enough to cram a god into is on the quantum level you know the woo-soaked are running out of options.

  7. Posted March 9, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    The invocation of the magic word of “quantum” doesn’t solve the problem of the absence of any evidence of God tampering with nature. It doesn’t matter whether God works through quantum effects or plain magic: God still needs to create changes at the macroscopic scale if God is currently doing any work in our universe that is for the benefit of man. And we simply don’t see it happening.

    And besides, while the outcomes of a quantum process may be random, their probability distribution is anything but random. And it’s the averaging out of many quantum effects that we notice on our scale. If God is therefore still supposed to have any macroscopic effect on the world, it’s generally not enough to influence a single outcome – he’s going to have to skewer the entire probability distribution. Which is still a case of tampering with the laws of physics.

  8. TheBrummell
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Wait… so this destroys the fine-tuning argument?

    Either the universe is deterministic and precisely tuned to a large number of significant digits therefore God, OR the universe is fundamentally non-deterministic (quantum! QUANTUM! If I say the magic word enough, does it come true?) therefore God.

    You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s fine-tuned, or it’s got wiggle room.

    • Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      I have a handy of dealing with notions such this. Y0u all know it as OOccam’s razor.
      As a revolutionary thinker and as a Franciscan monk, Occam was faced with many complicated explanations of natural events. His principle was, when there are two explanations for the same event, to remove the extra propositions from the more complex one. Almost always, in the 14th century at least, the extra propositions to be removed were supernatural. As you can imagine he got into a lot of trouble with the church.

      • Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        I apologize for the accidental premature and unedited posting above.

        • 2EzCantHelpMyself
          Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          It’s ok, sweetie, it happens to a lot of guys…

          • Posted March 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            It happens to a lot of guys BUT IT IS NOT OKAY.

            Hahahahahahaha

    • Shahin
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      You dont seem to really understand the Quantum non determinism. The problem of fine tuned universe and QM uncertainty are not mutually exclusive as for example Hawking’s new theory about the start of the universe puts it. According which the universe before the big bang existed as quantum mechanical superposition of non singular states. One these non singular states was the one which could give birth to the universe we see today and at the time of the big bang the ‘wavefunction’ of the universe collapsed, (to put it in simple words) to that one ‘special’ state which ultimately produced our ‘fine tuned’ universe. But the question remains, why did that initial WF decided to collapse? and why did it chose that particular state to collapse to?

  9. Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I have a handy rule called parsimony, that is sometimes called Occam’s Razor.
    As a revolutionary thinker and as a Franciscan monk, Occam was faced with many complicated explanations of natural events similar to our discussion here. His principle was, when there are two explanations for the same event, to remove the extra propositions from the more complex one. Almost always, in the 14th century as now, the extra propositions to be removed were supernatural. As you can imagine he got into a lot of trouble with the church.
    The proposition that god plays in the latitude afforded him by quantum physics is easily removed without affecting the conclusion so I don’t need bothering myself about it any more.

  10. ennui
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    How long will it be before some apologist defines god as the “Poised Realm” between the classical world and quantum possibility?

  11. jose
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    When I throw a die, the result is uncertain. Therefore, God.

    Now give me that beautiful templeton money.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, jose, it needs to be 500-750 words, double spaced and published in the proper print or broadcast media. It also needs to whored up a bit. ;)

      • articulett
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        and don’t forget to add how compatible it all is (and how mean and nasty and unfair the naysayers are)

        sprinkle with straw men a plenty…

        oh, and get someone to pay your fee for a Pulitzer nomination.

        Voila’

  12. Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s Krista Tippett that hosts NPR’s Speaking of Faith.

  13. Neil
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Although the quantum god is a god-of-the-gaps, it has one great advantage over other gap-gods–it can’t be overturned by a future scientific finding. Quantum uncertainty is fundamental, not a measure of our present state of ignorance. So if you want to say that god determines how the wave function collapses, you do so with the serene confidence of knowing that you cannot be made to look foolish by a scientific discovery, like a fossil find. Perhaps that is why guys like Davies are fond of it.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      That is not necessarily the case. Though no one knows what to make of quantum uncertainty at present, it is possible that at some point an explanation may be found for it, like the “many worlds” interpretation promoted by David Deutsch.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation
      In the end it is possible that god may one day get squeezed out of this gap, just like he has been squeezed out of so many others.

      • Neil
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        Quite wrong. No matter what interpretation (many worlds–my favorite, copenhagen, decoherence, and a slew of others), quantum uncertainty is fundamental. It is not a matter that we DON’T know how the observed quantum state is chosen out of the Hilbert space of alternatives, but than we CAN’T know. This is not a matter of debate by adherents of any of the various interpretations.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

          True. We can’t know-it is unknowable by its nature. But what if one we find out why exactly we can’t know? Won’t the gap suddenly get too tight for a deity to fit in?

    • Tulse
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      Quantum uncertainty may be fundamental, but its statistical nature is extremely well characterized. As Deen noted earlier, any god that goes tinkering with quantum events will be throwing off the probability distribution of those events. That’s detectable.

      • Matt
        Posted March 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        Randomness has no memory. If you toss a fair coin 1000 times, you can toss 1000 heads in a row, and that is as likely as any other (ordered) possible outcome.

        For unordered outcomes, the only outcome that is less likely is tossing no heads. Still, if you look at it as an infinite process (which it can certainly be well approximated by), you do all sorts of tomfoolery and not have the aberration detectable.

        This isn’t to say that it isn’t completely implausible.

  14. jose
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    In fact, they don’t need quantums to explain God. They could say he’s just shy and sneaky so he hides behind the door when we’re in the room. This of course sounds ridiculous, so they need a flashy, sciency word like “quantum” as a justification instead, which is just as ridiculous but sounds so pro.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

      They could say he’s just shy and sneaky so he hides behind the door when we’re in the room.

      aha! so god IS the lightbulb in my refrigerator.

      I knew it!

      • newenglandbob
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        No, because the lightbulb has a function and does something.

  15. Jason A.
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    And the infinite power of god is reduced to making an alpha decay happen either right now or two nanoseconds from now.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      No, because his daytime job is making all the virtual particles appear and disappear everywhere. None of these are big tasks but they add up to full time deity-ness, I suppose.

      • Scott
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink

        … and I thought my job was shitty…

  16. Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Quantum indeterminancy elucidates Odin’s shape-shifting proclivity more than anything else.

  17. Wowbagger
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    New in the scientific apologist’s store: quantum turd-polish. Shines up your tired old evidence-free religion in seconds. Get yours now!

    • Posted March 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      It’s both a turd and a polish due to particle position.

  18. sologos
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Deen says

    >>>And besides, while the outcomes of a quantum process may be random, their probability distribution is anything but random.

    It’s interesting that randomness at one level produces lawfulness at another level. Individual coin tosses are always random, but in the aggregate ti approaches the lawful 50-50 range. Why should God have to tamper with chance? He created it(or at least as we see it manifest) as a property of the universe. Perhaps divine action should not be sought within a solely naturalistic context. If the supernatural and the natural are to continuously interact (the Judeo-christian concept), looking for this in the nature alone may be futile. We are limited by a methodology that excludes the supernatural.

    • Brian
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Nope, if there’s a patter in the natural, we can observe it. How do you think the supernatural interacts with the natural?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        It only interacts in the mind of a creationist.

  19. blue
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Shhhh… better not tell these guys about deterministic interpretations of Quantum Mechanics:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Broglie%E2%80%93Bohm_theory

    • Peter
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Guide wave theory doesn’t threaten observed quantum uncertainty–actually, it’s theoretically indistinguishable from non-deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics, because the hidden variables it assumes exists always remain hidden. So Davies should always have that gap to hide his god in.

  20. Artikcat
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I may be wrong but isnt here a sense of bewilderment about Paul Davies declarations? You surely aware of Stuart Kauffman, George Ellis, Freeman Dyson, Christian de Duve, Francisco Ayala to name a few distinguished scientists exploring similar “landscapes”-to call it something- as the one explored by PD? There are so many more. In my reading many of the “bewildering” declarations dont come from religious fundmentalists, but from scientists whom I admire. I am bewildered.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      There are two types of bewilderment.
      Type one is astonishment and awe at the universe. You can expect that from the pantheistic Einstein, even Dawkins.
      Type two is bafflement at platitudes trying to tie middle eastern myths with quantum physics. That is the kind of bewilderment I am experiencing now.

      • Artikcat
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

        Sorry ape, the first(s) meaning(s)I used was(s) confused, befuddled or perplexed, lured into the wild…both the bewilderer and the bewildered

  21. ckitching
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me, or is quantum mechanics particularly abused in these regards. Quantum physics proves we have “free will”/souls/etc. Homoeopathic medicines work on the quantum level so they can’t be measured by traditional studies. Mystic ‘eastern’ energy are quantum in nature. etc, etc. Slap the words quantum physics on it, and it seems people will believe anything.

    • Artikcat
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      So will many physicists

    • Neil
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      I think it is safe to say that no theory in physics has attracted more mystic cuckoos than QM. Relativity has its share of crackpots, but QM has been invoked for everything from ESP to the possibility of the second coming. Strange, because QM is practically pure computation. It is accepted by physicists even though it lacks “meaning” because it predicts how the natural world works to an amazing degree of accuracy, In other words, it is the exact opposite of theism, which supposedly provides “meaning” but can’t predict anything.

  22. Posted March 9, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Schrödinger’s cat is both crying and laughing at your abuse of quantum physics.

  23. Scott
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Um, is it not obvious that if the dice are loaded you’re not actually “playing dice”?

  24. articulett
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    QM says weird things happen; therefore my woo is true!

    Wow, QM is the all purpose belief justifier. Can’t find evidence to support your beliefs?– Just invoke QM! (Of course, do be aware that those with conflicting viewpoints can do so too.)

  25. Posted March 10, 2010 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    God tampers with the probabilites of quantum mechanics, but in a way in which we never detect them?

    As for me and Grandpa, we believe.

  26. agentwhim
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    I’m disappointed! I thought this would be one of those “I saw Jesus in a dog turd” stories.

    • Jeremy
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      It’s not?

  27. Ben01
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Two questions:
    1. does influencing these quantum uncertaintees affect us in any way in the real world?
    2. Isn’t it rather easy to see if uncertain means random, or selective based on situation?

    • jose
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      2. It doesn’t matter. Random doesn’t imply God in any way either.

      • TheBlackCat
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        I am just speaking from my own interpretation, but what I think ben is saying is that if God did work in the quantum realm, and he was the God of the Bible, then there should, at least in principle, be certain detectable non-random behavior within quantum mechanics that reflects God’s attempts to influence the course of events in the universe. In other words, even if God worked on the quantum level he should still, in principle, bet verifiable. Purely random quantum behavior, therefore, would be evidence against God (although it is hard to prove that something is truly random).

  28. Flea
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    “After I read this, I had a thought. I Googled “______ Templeton”. Sure enough, …”
    I like this. Its kind of a litmus test for honesty: The guy is a templeton boy: “Get in the fooking sack”.

    • SaintStephen
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      Hilarious! Thanks for posting it.

  29. SaintStephen
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    There are interstices having to do with quantum certainty into which, if you want, you could insert the hand of God.”

    Sorry. We don’t “want”.

    There are also “interstices” that Professor Davies could insert his loopy theory into, with my blessings; one in particular lies in close proximity to his own wallet.

    The Templeton Foundation archive, of course. What did you think I meant?

    ;-P

  30. Question
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Here’s one you might find interesting given that it directly relates to Jerry’s last few post here. It’s a review of Gould’s “Rocks of Ages” by Michael Ruse.

    A few snippets. All from the same review.

    ~”To show my unease, take the discussion at the end of Rocks of Ages. Gould speaks harshly of the contributions of speakers at a Templeton-sponsored conference..”

    ~”First, he is very critical of the attempt (by F. Russell Stannard) to interpret the God/Jesus relationship in terms of the complementarity of the wave and particle natures of the electron. “Wooly metaphor misportrayed as decisive content” says Gould. “I don’t see what such a comparison could indicate except that the human mind can embrace contradiction (an interesting point, to be sure, but not a statement about the factual character of God), and that people can construct the wildest metaphors [216].”

    ~”But with respect, why should not Stannard play with such ideas and metaphors and analogies? Frankly, I do not know if it makes ultimate sense to talk of the Trinity. How can one thing be something else at the same time? Generations of critics — many inspired by science — have gone after Christianity on precisely this point. Yet, if it turns out that scientists are now playing this game, talking about something apparently having contradictory properties, why should not the Christian see if there is help and understanding in the new science for the old religious belief? Is the wave/particle complementarity of the electron precisely what Christians have been claiming? You may not illuminate anything in the end — strictly speaking the point about Heisenberg’s Principle is that if an electron is taken as a wave at some instant then it is no particle, and conversely. There is no claim that the electron is a wave and a particle at one and the same time. This may all be too weak for the Christian. But surely it is legitimate for the believer to try to see if modern physics has a kind of understanding which throws light on Christian claims.”

    Gould’s quotes are priceless and Ruse simply doesn’t get it. So much for “we” again.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      You can find Ruse’s review of Gould here.

      • Question
        Posted March 10, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        I hesitated at offering a link, but thanks, Jerry. There’s other valuable points in that review. One is the striking misunderstanding of Gould’s NOMA by Ruse and how he attempts to save religion when there’s obviously nothing to save except if modifications prevail. This unfortunate circumstance has also been a thorn in my side by some of my fellow atheist. I do not necessarily accept NOMA in complete form, but I would not be so disrespectful as Richard Dawkins and declare Gould would have abandoned his idea now. Gould lived post 9/11 and actually wrote an opinion piece for the NYT’s on the terrorist act.

        However, for me, a kind of NOMA, a complete separation of science and religion/faith is the only way, the only rational way forward. The “magisteria” of religion is only so if Gould’s prescription is followed, a point lost on many of my fellow atheist. Gould also faced religion in a way I don’t share, though his was a historical and artful perspective, not one formed by reason, science and personal morality.

        Not only is the moral side of NOMA often misinterpreted, but a great example comes from that review.

        When Ruse declares:

        “But does this mean that – for all that you are trying to convince yourself that this is what you wanted all along – the person working from the domain of religion must simply give way passively, never revising his or her beliefs except to trim yet more from the content?”

        Say what? Of course Ruse must be blind here (as well as certain of my recent online atheist friends). Ruse would indeed ask and wish for modification of a belief that the earth is 6,000 years old no matter what belief system devised the “theory”. It is indeed religion which is dogmatic (goes without saying) and thus is the one in position to modify since science is already recognized as offering provisional truths, always prepared to modify when necessary.

        The other major problem in understandings seem to be this idea of a “true religion” (I’ve seen you, Jerry go in this direction). However, the point is that religion makes untrue and unsupportable claims. Even Harris recognizes what he calls the core truths of religion, which is simply meaning a deeper aspect to humanity, religion tapped it long ago but it is not the domain of religion specifically. In other words, to survive at all and to combat honestly, religion must give way. However, as we see in this post, Ruse’s review and by the countless overlappers of science and religion, the god of the gaps is alive and well and a false front is strongly maintained. Which makes the job of the skeptics most likely a long and arduous journey, it must be done with skill and understanding.

        • Tulse
          Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          a kind of NOMA, a complete separation of science and religion/faith is the only way, the only rational way forward. The “magisteria” of religion is only so if Gould’s prescription is followed, a point lost on many of my fellow atheist.

          I don’t think it is lost at all — I think the response is that every religion (except the most watered-down deism) violates NOMA by making truth claims about the physical world. There is no point in advocating for an ideal that is not realizable in practice.

          • Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

            I think a NOMA-esque type of rationale can be applied to non-deistic religions, as long as they dutifully avoid any sort of pursuit of evidence. For instance, the virgin birth… Clearly, contradicted by science — but a belief in the virgin birth can still operate in its own magesterium if the believer never seeks any sort of historical or evidence-based verification of the virgin birth. e.g. as soon as you say, “Well, Josephus wrote such-and-such”, this modified version of NOMA goes right out the window. But as long as the believer sticks strictly to, “I believe this based purely on faith, not on any rational concerns”, then a weaker version of NOMA applies.

            In other words, I still think it’s possible for a believer to apply a personal NOMA-esque philosophy, where science and their religion still have overlapping contradictory truth claims, but they inhabit separate magisteria in the sense that they never point to the same evidence and draw different conclusions.

            Note the one very important difference between this and classical NOMA: it does not restrict science and reason from attempting to answer questions of “why” and questions of morality and such. Reason doesn’t get penned in, except in the sense that it cannot comment on irrational beliefs, except to say that they are irrational.

            We all employ this weaker form of personalized NOMA to a certain extent, e.g. I don’t conduct double-blind randomized clinical trials to figure out which woman I am in love with ;) And that’s okay, I think — I am not denying science’s ability to understand the biological phenomena underlying my love for my wife. I’m just recognizing that I’m not really using reason personally in regards to that belief.

            I don’t think this is what Question was getting at though…

            • TheBlackCat
              Posted March 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

              That is not NOMA, the magisteria do overlap, some people just choose to ignore the overlap. Ignoring the overlap does not mean the overlap does not exist.

            • newenglandbob
              Posted March 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

              NOMA was a failed concept from the start. To have them non-overlapping would give science 99.999% and the some of the rest to religion and some to the social sciences.

            • Posted March 11, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

              @TheBlackCat: I think you are somewhat missing my point. First of all, absolutely I am agreeing there is an overlap in factual claims, and I should make it clear that I am in the camp that does not believe science and religion are compatible.

              What I am proposing as a weaker form of NOMA might be put more clearly as “don’t mix your epistemologies”. If people are going to ignore the overlap — and let’s face it, we all “ignore overlap” from time to time in the sense that not every single thought we have 24/7 is completely rational — then they should at least keep track of which truth claim stemmed from which epistemology. If you believe that science understands how conception works, but also believe in the virgin birth, then absolutely you have two contradictory, overlapping beliefs — but one can minimize the damage by recognizing that the “virgin birth” belief comes solely from faith, and that science/reason cannot possibly be used to confirm, bolster, or even apologize for this belief under any circumstances — nor can reason be used to take this belief as a premise and then go somewhere with it, e.g. you can’t say, “And because Jesus was born of a virgin, therefore 23 of his chromosomes were divine,” because that is mixing epistemologies.

              Does that make it any more clear what I am getting at?

        • Darrell E
          Posted March 10, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          Okay Question. I don’t suppose you could clearly state the ideas you are trying to communicate here? ‘Cause I do not understand WTF you are trying to say, though I do detect a whiff of what has come to be called accommodationism.

          Way to much waffling to pin down any clear thoughts. What, are you afraid you might give offense? If so you have taken your efforts to be tactful to such an extreme as to render your comment unintelligible.

          About all I got, and I am not too sure about this, is that you like Gould, you think that Gould’s NOMA idea is more sophisticated than just about anybody but you gives it credit for, and you have issues with Coyne and Dawkins and many other outspoken atheists over their ideas on how to engage religious ridiculousness.

          Am I correct so far? If not please correct me. If so then please go from here and clearly state your ideas. With no more than half the words you used originally.

  31. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Quantum uncertainty, eh? I say let him have his God who is indistinguishable from random chance; this is not even a position worth attacking.

    • articulett
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      But it is a position worth mocking.

      Certainly believers in such things would mock those who used QM to justify conflicting beliefs.

  32. Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I’m happy for the apologists to make this type of argument, largely because of this:

    And what if, some day, quantum “uncertainties” are shown not to be uncertain at all, but part of a deterministic process that we don’t yet understand?

    Indeed. If the God of the Gaps is now inhabiting a gap so small that it is literally a sub-atomic gap… Sounds good to me!

    And actually, quantum uncertainties and God really do have a lot in common. After all, neither one has any practical bearing on how we live our day-to-day lives…. ;)

    • MadScientist
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      I don’t agree because there will still be people who want to kill for their quantum god.

      • Notagod
        Posted March 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        Exactly and they do indeed kill for their god-idea! Nothing there but, the concept still infects human brains with the notion that if they kill and destroy the planet the jebus will give them a free ride.

        Or, another popular christian notion, that their jebus has or will provide sufficient resources so that it would be un-christian not to use all of everything up as soon as possible.

        Christianity is very destructive, in many ways.

  33. Badger3k
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    My big point is the “which you can insert, if you want…” – what does “want” have to do with it. I can want in one hand and, well, you know, in the other, and what is the reality I have – a hand full of shi……

    How about..”which you can insert, if you have sufficient evidence to justify the insertion…” ?

  34. MadScientist
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Werner Heisenberg discovered god but didn’t realize it – what were the odds? About the same as Schrodinger’s cat’s?

    Another proof that Einstein was just plain wrong when he said “god does not play dice!”

  35. Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Quantum mechanics is a set of scientific principles describing the known behavior of energy and matter that predominate at the atomic and subatomic scales.

  36. Shahin
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Well QM does allow for a God. Its odd most theists havent given much thought. Consider any quantum mechanical measurement , like for example measuring the position of an electron. Now most popular interpretation of QM( i.e Copenhagen interpretation) says that before the actual act of measurement, the electron did not have any position, it simply did not exist at any particular point in space.But when an ‘observer’ makes the measurement the electron’s ‘wavefunction collapses’ at any one of the infinite possible points and electron attains a value for its position. Now there is a theorem in QM called the Bells theorem which proved that if quantum mechanics is right (which it obviously is), then NO mechanism can predict the outcome of an individual quantum measurement. In other words, there is no law in nature that we can ever discover which would tell us where our electron will be found in any individual measurement. But one asks the question , “if there is no law which determines the outcome of individual measurements, then how does the electron SELECTS ONLY ONE POINT to appear out of the infinite number of points available to it?”. And this is true of every quantum event. Every event has only one outcome out of the many possible ones and who decides this outcome? Bells theorem says there is nothing in physical universe that can decide this. But since a decision IS made, Someone outside the constraints of the universe IS making these decisions throughout the universe. And we get an Active God!

    • articulett
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Why someone and not something? What evidence do we have that someone immaterial can exist? And how does Ken Miller get from there to Jesus.

      I guess if you rationalize it enough you can make something you don’t understand come from some sort of invisible magical dude, but it’s not scientific and could clearly be used to justify all sorts of magical scenarios I suspect.

      • Shahin
        Posted October 31, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        What difference does it make if its ‘something’ and not someone? the point is simply that there is nothing physical that decides the outcomes of individual quantum measurements. That is, whatever decides the outcome, cannot possibly be detected by any experiment. And if something cannot be seen or detected, then that is truely an immaterial, non-physical thing. Now if you want to treat magic or anything that appears to be unnatural, then strictly speaking the probabilities in QM are almost never exactly zero except in special cases. So all we do is that we consider any probability thats extremely small as negligible. And by the way there is nothing more ‘scientific’ than QM.

        • articulett
          Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          And by the way there is nothing more ‘scientific’ than QM.

          This opinion might have validity if you are talking about Hawking or Feynman– not so much when it comes to folks like Deepak Chopra or you.

          As far as science is concerned, consciousness (and, thus, decision making) require a brain. But if it makes you feel super special to believe otherwise, then, of course, feel free to do so. Most people here would require evidence before accepting such a premise.

          • Shahin
            Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Physics is and has been my field all my academic career and I dont know what are you trying to imply by saying “people like Deepak Chopra or You”???
            Secondly I am a theist and I do believe that There is a Creator who is indeed making these decisions and my belief has been strengthened by my study and research in Theoretical High energy physics. And if my proposition looks invalid to you then you should give your argument against me. As far as evidence is concerned, my evidence is the Bell’s theorem and the fact that QM is inherently indeterministic.

            • articulett
              Posted October 31, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

              Your strengthening of belief seems likely due to plain old confirmation bias.

              And I don’t argue against you– better physicists than you already have– Victor Stengor, for example. The more well known and published the physicist, the more likely s/he is to be an atheist it seems– or at least have no need for a god hypothesis.

              If your argument had validity, then real physicists who publish in peer review papers would be publishing this as evidence for gods or whatever it is you’ve convinced yourself this means. Instead you are using the same recycled sort of crap common to multiple mystical or magical beliefs– often ones which conflict with each other.

              If real physicists don’t take your “QM=God” equation seriously, why would anyone here? How do you know it doesn’t equal the Matrix, or reincarnation, or Scientology teachings or some other magical beliefs?

              QM means weird things can happen– it doesn’t really mean the weird thing that you’ve been indoctrinated to believe in happened. This is an old thread, so I doubt you’ll get many responses, but surely as a person who studies science, you must know where the burden of proof lies. You haven’t provided it.

              (Deepak Chopra uses QM to justify his new agey beliefs which may or may not be in line with your “god is the decider” beliefs.)

  37. Shahin
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    @Articulett
    Now if you want to give examples of great scientists who are atheists then I can give you examples of even greater scientists who were theists, even religious like for example Dr. Abdus Salam who won the Nobel prize for his electroweak unification. And as for Victor Stengor, he is an Experimentalist. And the easiest path to publishing research papers in physics is to become an experimentalist. If you dont believe me ask any university student who is involved in physics research. If there are scientists who are atheists then are also scientist who are theist and besides, how do you claim that most ‘real’ physicists are atheists? most may not be religious but most dont deny the possibility of a Creator either.
    As for are there ‘real’ physicists who have similar understanding of QM as I have, then of course there are for example Bernard d’Espagnat. Besides there is virtually no one in the physics community who believes that that there is any knowable physical process that determines the Quantum mechanical outcomes. Secondly, even if you do not agree with the views and philosophy of a scientist, you cannot disregard his contribution to Physics.
    And I did not talk about if weird things i.e miracles happened or not. My point is simple and straight forward if you can deny it then give your argument for . QUANTUM MECHANICS DOES NOT ALLOW THE POSSIBILITY OF ANY PHYSICAL PROCESS OR A LAW WHICH WOULD DECIDE THE OUTCOMES OF INDIVIDUAL QUANTUM EVENTS. This is the accepted position in Physics and this is todays science.

  38. Christopher
    Posted March 4, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I am a Christian and I believe in evolution. However, I know the Bible is partly wrong. But I believe every word of John and all other authors in the NT. Read stories of near-death expierences. Then read the New Testament, with the book of John being the most important. In life, John was always following Jesus. So his testaments are important.

  39. dchezik
    Posted June 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand how such smart people like Davies and Polkinghorne can think such absurd things!

    • dchezik
      Posted June 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t understand how such smart people like Davies and Polkinghorne can think such absurd things!”

      dc,You need to understand that being smart is no guarantee that you won’t believe some really stupid things. Galileo thought the tides were caused by the earth’s motion, which caused the waters of the oceans to slosh on the shores. Kepler thought “with high confidence” that Jupiter was inhabited, because it had moons for them to enjoy. Aristotle thought men had more teeth than women and that an object twice as heavy fell to earth twice as fast. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies. Jesus Christ believed in demon possession. Satan with all his cleverness actually thinks he has a chance to defeat an omnipotent God. (He doesn’t apparently know he’s going to get his ass kicked at Armageddon.) James Irwin, an astronaut, has spent a fortune financing expeditions to Turkey to search for Noah’s ark.
      So you can see just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you won’t believe some really stupid things. Did I mention John Milton with an estimated IQ of 200 believed a talking snake in an idyllic garden beguiled an innocent woman to disobey God and caused the damnation of the whole human race?

  40. Tom Cohoe
    Posted February 15, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    What does winning the Templeton prize have to do with anything? That it does seems to involve some kind of circular reasoning whereby “Winner of Templeton Prize” = “Prize kook”, therefore “Winner of the Templeton Prize” = “Prize kook!”

  41. Tom Cohoe
    Posted February 15, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Here is why the randomness of quantum mechanics is ideally suited as the seat of supernatural action (I promise I haven’t won the Templeton Prize):

    One should enquire what “supernatural” could reasonably mean before making assertions about the supernatural. Well, “supernatural” must be a subset of “not natural” if its normal use is to make any sense, so an enquiry about the meaning of “supernatural” may be aided by examining the meaning of “natural” or “nature”.

    Nature is what scientists study. If some phenomenon is observed, scientists study it to see if they can find some rule about it. If a rule is found, the phenomenon is a predictable part of nature. But what if a rule cannot be found because a rule does not exist? Many phenomena where once called supernatural, because we had no understanding of them – no rules where known which described the phenomenon as a predictable sequence of events. We removed them from the ‘supernatural’ category when we were able to find rules that described them. In time, the materialist assumption was born, that nothing is supernatural, that all phenomena follow rules or ‘laws’ of nature. The materialist assumption itself, is of course, not scientific, although it arises easily enough in people who spend their time studying natural phenomena as I have defined ‘natural’ or ‘nature’.

    In fact, however, a phenomenon for which no rule existed, would be a phenomenon which fell into the traditional category of ‘supernatural’ (in fact, many of the phenomena which we claim to have removed from the supernatural category where they were placed by those ‘ignorant and superstitious’ people of old still have aspects about them for which no rule has been found, and if quantum mechanics is true, likely never will be found – i.e., they are still, in some aspect, supernatural phenomena – lightning is an example).

    Quantum mechanics has randomness built right into it. Randomness is not some pathetic, weak, ‘escape’ for a theist trying to show how God could affect things in the natural world. It is the required hallmark of the ‘supernatural’. Claiming that God probably controls the non deterministic outcome of a quantum mechanical probability is not a ‘God of the gaps’ the way intelligent design theory is. I have read Micael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”. His errors are easy to find. The randomness of quantum mechanics is an integral part of the theory. Those who say that the theory is ‘incomplete’ are correct. Nature cannot be predicted on the basis of quantum mechanics. It is possible that another theory will ‘complete’ quantum mechanics, but after nearly 100 years of looking, most physicists are not hopeful about it. Even string theory retains the fundamental uncertainty of quantum mechanics.

    So, to those who ask, “what evidence is there for the existence of God” I say “quantum mechanics. Period.” Now I am well aware that there are “interpretations” of quantum mechanics which do away with the indeterminism of quantum mechanics, such as Hugh Everett Loyd’s “Many worlds” interpretation. Fair enough. I do not claim quantum mechanics as proof of the existence of God. It is just ‘evidence’ in the sense that we see that current science actually does allow for the existence of God (Polkinghorne is not crazy) in a way that the deterministic science of the nineteenth century did not, that the outlook for God is much better today than it was when Darwin postulated the theory of evolution, a theory which I strongly support. (a humorous aside concerning Everett’s Many Worlds and other such ideas, such as Tegmark’s 4 levels of multiverse’s: to all those atheists who ask, “if God exists, where is he?” there is the riposte to the atheists who escape God through these multiverse’s “If all these worlds exist, where are they?”)

    What is interesting about all of this is that the theory of evolution also has randomness built right into it. Far from it being a theory that would exclude God, as so many Christians have feared, it is the first scientific theory which specifically postulates the type of randomness through which a supernatural power can influence the macroscopic world without miraculous intervention in the world’s functioning. The random mutations of the theory of evolution end up as the basis by which species inhabit the Earth came into being. Theories such as Maxwell’s kinetic theory of gases have randomness in them, but the law of large numbers dictates that the microscopic random fluctuations will average out to a virtually deterministic mean at the macroscopic level. But mutations (where does the wave describing an ionizing photon collapse on a strand of DNA) are biologically *amplified* into differences that we can see and measure macroscopically.

    How could a random process carry intent? Isn’t Dawkins’ blind Watchmaker the inevitable requirement that the mutations are random?

    Well, no, Dawkins was thinking rather poorly the day he came up with that version of William Paley’s metaphor for God. It is we who are blind when no rule exists that predicts the randomness of evolution’s structural randomness. A one time pad, if the key is produced by a truly random process (inevitably, the process must involve measuring some quantum mechanically indeterminate phenomenon), can be used to code messages for which no rule can be discovered by an interceptor. Such a message, if the one time pad is used properly, is mathematically uncrackable. The randomness of the key is reflected in a completely random encrypted message. The encrypted message is produced by a wholly random process acting on the symbols of the unencrypted message. If the interceptor does not have the key, it is impossible for him to decode the message. Yet the receiver, carrying a copy of the completely random key, can read the message and follow its instructions. The randomness that the interceptors (analog of scientists observing that the mutations in nature are completely random) observe, makes the interceptors blind, not the Encoder of the message (analog of God) and not the Receiver of the message (analog of the DNA in nature).
    Funny thing, the Encoder is not purposeless, blind, without intent. Far from it, the Encoder can intend to have a certain target shelled and effect it through the medium of a message which is produced by a random process.

    Guys, if you want a clue that Richard Dawkins really isn’t that smart, understand that calling a Watchmaker who works through a random process a ‘Blind Watchmaker’ who cannot direct the watchmaking to an intended, purposeful end, is as dumb as it gets. It is 180 degrees wrong. It is scientists who are blind to the Watchmaker’s intent.

    Well, I can write a heck of a lot more about this, but it will have to end here.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 15, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Well, gosh, you wrote a heck of a lot considering you’re responding to a post from March of 2010.

      I disagree with your definition of “supernatural,” to start with.


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