Mon, 3 Feb 1997 07:25:52 -0500 (EST)


I am neither a physicist nor a philosopher. So my questions arise out of
ignorance and a desire to be informed. I would appreciate any comments you
wish to make.

On January 28 you wrote:

"Forget biology, let's talk about physics. It certainly looks like quantum
theory is true and, if it is, then God really does appear to play dice with
the universe. Granted, one could interpret this in more than one way, but it
seems difficult to me that one could interpret this in a way that denies
entirely the role of stochastic processes in the creation. Quantum events
have "real world" consequences -- i.e, we can observe things that have no
"causes" in the mechanistic sense (recall "formal" causes, as Aristotle would
have put it, meaning that the quantum equations function as formal causes but
not as efficient ones)."

I have heard other physicists make the same comment as you did, "God really
does appear to play dice with the universe." I would like to ask in what
sense this is true? As I understand it, quantum theory explains events at
the atomic and sub-atomic levels. Is that correct? Does it also explain
events at more "macro" levels? For example do quantum events affect events
in the Newtonian world? Are gravity, the orbits of planets, the flight of
rockets, etc., affected by quantum events? How about optics, hydraulics,
mechanics, etc.?

In your own field of chemistry, do you "observe things that have no 'causes'"
that can be explained only by quantum theory?

In biology we know that random events occur, notably random mutations (within
limits) of genetic material. Can these be traced back to quantum events, or
are they explicable by probability theory? I have never heard that
probability theory is related to quantum theory.

It seems to me that if quantum events are the only events to which quantum
theory applies, then the statement made by physicists that God plays dice
with the universe is a philosophical statement, not an empirical one. It
seems to me it is the former. My understanding of Aristotle's theory of
causation is very superficial at best. But I was surprised to see you
referring to his "formal" cause to suggest how quantum mechanics might affect
the real world. At least that is what I think you are doing. Are physicists
beginning to use Aristotle's formal cause in their thinking about causation?

On the other hand, the "God-plays-dice" statement may refer to an unspecified
future research agenda, the purpose of which would be to discover empirically
the way that quantum events affect the larger macro world. If efficient
causes could be found between quantum mechanics and the Newtonian world and
the organic world then the statement that God plays dice would become
something different from a philosophical statement, which I believe it now

Thanks for any response you may wish to give to these questions and comments.