Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Master Stroke of Quantum Indeterminacy

To be sure, there is nothing about quantum indeterminacy at the base of our existence that proves it was the work of God. Or of a design to the universe clearly put there by an intelligent force to accommodate living things. However, if there is a God, consider what a master stroke quantum indeterminacy was. To create an orderly material world that didn't require constant intervention, the Creater had to make things obey defined laws. But if those laws were to run all the way down to the building blocks of matter, they would also have denied free will. They would have made it possible for His creatures (eventually) to figure out that all past events and all future ones could be inferred from a single reading of the state of the physical world at any given time.

Remarkably, what quantum indeterminacy does is to deny us the possibility of that ever happening. We cannot uncritically extrapolate the details of the present backwards to learn the past; and the future is what we make of it. Were this not the case, the future would be what our particles make of us. Instead, we are inextricably locked into the present, with our thoughts, words, and deeds helping to construct the future, a future that remains open to our own choices, to a world of possibilities.

Once He had fixed the physical nature of our universe, once He had ensured that the constants of nature would create a chemistry and physics that allowed for life, God would then have gone about the process of producing the creatures that would share this new world with him. He could have created anything He wanted, of course, by any means He cared to use. But He had already decided that the living world would be physically independent of direct divine intervention, and that life would find its support in the physics and chemistry that He was careful to create.

--Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God, pp. 251-2.


Thomas said...

How does this metaphysical interpretation of quantum physics, specifically the statement: "He had already decided that the living world would be physically independent of direct divine intervention," square with the cosmological view of the divine energies espoused in Orthodox panentheism?

Third Mill Catholic said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "Orthodox panentheism." However, Miller is a Roman Catholic, and his theological starting point in this discussion is distinctly Theistic. The beauty of quantam mechanics, in his estimation, is that one does not have to look for God in the gaps of our knowledge of the universe, which he suggests is an inherently DEISTIC conception of God. (Ironically this implicates both Creation Science and Intelligent Design as Deistic approaches!)

Quantam uncertainty gives the universe the freedom to be free, while at the same time affording the Creator freedom to interact with the universe without compromising its inherent freedom.

Thomas said...

What I mean by Orthodox Panentheism is the idea that the energetic presence of God is a constitutive and immanent part of the operations of the various forces in nature. As a non-expert in this field, my question is: How does such a notion fit with the idea of a universe operating (in a sense independently) in accordance with necessary natural laws.

Also, is not Miller's interpretation of the freedom following from the indeterminacy observed in quantum phenomena itself subject to the critique of gap theories?

Third Mill Catholic said...

I doubt very much that the Orthodox understand their position as panentheistic. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I understand panentheism as the assertion that nature is an extension of God, though God cannot be said to be contained by nature (i.e., he also transcends nature).

Be that as it may, Miller's position does not preclude the activity of God in nature. God's *active* will in nature not only upholds nature, but constitutes and maintains the very laws of nature. The contingency on the quantum level is a true contingency (actively willed by God), so that nature is free, in its ordinary course, to develop "on its own," and God is free to interact directly (as in the case of miracles).

You last question is a valid one, and is disputed by a minority of physicists who cannot accept, in principle, true contingency on the quantum level. If, at some point, we discover quantum indeterminacy is merely an illusion, i.e., that laws exist on the quantum level that produce inherently predictable outcomes, then this whole argument is dashed. At that point, the best hope for religionists will be Deism and determinism.

Thomas said...

My reference to Orthodox Panentheism was a reference to the work of Alexei V. Nesteruk. I don’t know much about the field, so I am not aware of how widespread it is among Orthodox theologians, philosophers, and scientists for that matter.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Thanks for the lead, Thomas. I'll check out this name. Blessings!