Francis Collins sees God in quantum mechanics

Over at New Scientist, Andy Coghlan takes on BioLogos (Francis Collins’s new accommodationist website), and its theistic assertion that God can act through the “uncertainties” in quantum mechanics. (This is also an argument made by Kenneth Miller in Finding Darwin’s God.) Coghlan quotes BioLogos and then dismantles the argument:

“With quantum mechanical uncertainty and the chaotic unpredictability of complex systems,” Collins writes, “the world is now understood to have a certain freedom in its future development.”

This means, he goes on:

“It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognisable to scientific observation. In this way, modern science opens the door to divine action without the need for law-breaking miracles,” says Collins.

“Given the impossibility of absolute prediction or explanation, the laws of nature no longer preclude God’s action in the world. Our perception of the world opens once again to the possibility of divine interaction.”

So, because God somehow tinkers in a quantumy type way, it’s worth praying for divine guidance and intervention. To me, and to other scientists and commentators, Collins is straying into pseudo-scientific speculation simply to keep God in the earthly frame. Believing in God in the first place is by definition a leap of faith, and one that many scientists and many non-scientists are, after careful and reasonable thought, unwilling to take. For those who have trouble accepting that we’re a product of pure chance, there is the option of believing that God set everything in motion.

Larry Moran brings up the same issue over at Sandwalk. This is precisely the problem of strenuous accommodationism as typified by Collins’s website. It just can’t help insinuating itself into real science.  It is embarrassing to see a scientist straying into this kind of territory, and it smacks of desperation.

12 Comments

  1. Posted May 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely you have nailed it with the very last word of your post – “desperation”.

    To posit a “god” or “gods” is quite enough of a leap. To go on to say that what we understand about quantum mechanics can somehow, possibly, allow for an active interaction in the known universe of which we could not observe or comment on from a scientific standpoint AND to glean from that how to worship or communicate with that god(s), as well as have a specific knowledge of what the god is and wants – is very, very desperate.

    Hey, maybe that god hates us and is just fucking with us. Maybe it hates sycophantic worship and prayer. Maybe it doesn’t even notice us. But, no, they know that god not only has a way to interface with our reality, but they also know all about the god. Great.

  2. Posted May 7, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Well I don’t get it either. In the 16th century laws of nature were proposed as a form of divine action. So Biologos seems to be suggesting that God has to get around it’s own divine action by taking refuge in quantum mechanics. Are the laws now superior to the lawmaker?.

  3. Posted May 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Collins appears to be yet another person whose knowledge of modern physics isn’t worth the glossy tabloid paper it’s printed on and who, not knowing any better, reads “quantum” as “ZOMG SPOOKY RANDOMNESS”.

  4. MelM
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Did I miss the evidence for this hypothesis and the scientific tests of its conclusions? What knowledge gives rise to this as even a possibilty. “Possibility” is a real knowledge claim, not just a fantasy? An explanation based on a theory with no evidence is just a joke. (BTW, God’s tinkering with these complex quantum mechanical systems to achieve goals would seem to contradict their very nature as chaotic and unpredictable.)

    This doesn’t look like accomodationism since it makes God a direct causal agent in nature. “God did it”: just like the old fashioned creation science people.

    Accomodationism isn’t a sustainable position; if a god has not and does not interact with the universe, he’s quite worthless as a god.

  5. Posted May 7, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Wow, quantum, huh? Wooooo. This kind of reasoning is the tweedy cousin of Time Cube. Not any more sane, mind you.

    So if I get this right, God does play dice, but he uses loaded dice. XD

  6. newenglandbob
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Victor Stenger destroys these ‘god within QM’ statements in his just released book “Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness”. I finished reading it the other day.

  7. anthonzi
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    God. Of. The. Gaps.

  8. Posted May 8, 2009 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    I thought that Dr. Collins was AGAINST “inserting God in the gaps”.

    Is this somehow different?

  9. NMcC
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    “I thought that Dr. Collins was AGAINST “inserting God in the gaps”.”

    He is, but he’s such a good ‘accommodationist’, he can accommodate that too.

    Incidentally, is that BioLogos website completely dead (no, I don’t just mean from the neck up)? I’ve posted a few comments on it that have never showed up. This is understandable, as my comments weren’t exactly supportive of their position and they might have just binned them, but, as far as I can see, there are NO comments from anyone on display. At the start of their ‘Questions’ section, all of the ‘comments’ brackets (indicating the number of comments relating to each Question) are all at ‘0’ – and always have been.

    Having emailed them a week or so ago to ask what gives, I’ve still to recieve any kind of response.

    Are others experiencing this ‘ghost town’ atmosphere over there?

  10. Posted May 8, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    It’s different if it’s a quantum gap. Quantum is the magic word which makes everything OK! For example:

    “Smith! Why haven’t you filed your weekly expense report?”

    “Quantum physics!”

    “Dear, did you forget to book the restaurant for our anniversary dinner?”

    “Uh. . . quantum physics!”

    • newenglandbob
      Posted May 8, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Blake, that sounds like the Republican mantra that they use for the solution for everything:

      Q: “How can we cure cancer?”

      A: “Lower taxes”

      • Sili
        Posted May 8, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        And ban gay marriage.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Collins: proposes that his deity works through the “randomness” of quantum mechanics? This is embarrassing; this shows how religion can make a smart man sound, well, […]

  2. […] dollars, has set up a group called BioLogos to promote the harmony of science and religion. And, as Jerry Coyne points out, they’ve got some weird stuff on quantum mechanics: Even before Darwin’s […]

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