Re: causality

Paul Arveson (
Wed, 5 Feb 97 10:50:24 EST

Bob DeHaan writes:

> Paul [Arveson],
> Thank you for your concise summary of quantum theory in your note of Feb. 3.
> I appreciate your taking time and effort to respond. Now I have a couple of
> additional questions about the concrete application of the theory, if I may.
> First, in an oft quoted statement, Simpson wrote, "Man is the result of a
> purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind. He was
> not planned.xHe happens to represent the highest form of organization of
> matter and energy that has ever appeared" (The Meaning of Evolution, 1949, p.
> 344). Does quantum theory support Simpson's statement? Are there any
> arguments from the strictly scientific perspective (i.e.,
> non-theological/non-philosophical perspectives) that human beings are the
> result of purposeful and non-materialistic processes?

Statements like those of Simpson, Russell, Haeckel, Huxley etc. were
very influential in the first half of this century and contributed greatly
to the decline in influence of religion in the West, as you know.

I see these statements instead as a refining fire on theology. They
do not refute the Biblical God -- the God who is Spirit, who is sovereign
over all things -- but they may refute certain common conceptions about God.
In particular, the Newtonian conception of God as a mechanical actor in
the universe, a 'God of the gaps', is challenged.

> Second, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin stated, "There are two possible
> explanations for creation: that everything comes from chance and coincidence,
> or from design and purpose. The choice is between nonsense and sense. If
> there is no God, one cannot speak of sense in life, or of good and evil, or
> of ultimate purpose" (The Nine Questions People Ask about Judaism, 1975, p.
> 28.). How does quantum theory affect this statement? Has quantum theory
> made it untrue, irrelevant? Can one substitute "quantum events" for "chance
> and coincidence," thusly, "There are two possible explanations for creation:
> everything comes from *quantum events*, or from design and purpose"? IOW, is
> the concept of "chance" passe? and is the term "quantum events" an adequate
> and correct substitute?

People are not particles. More is different. We should not mix metaphors
so freely.

> But behind all these quantum events are not we, as theists, basically and
> theologically, Einsteinians? You stated, "A particular event selected from
> among these patterns may arise by 'chance'." Selected by whom, if not God?
> If God selects, is he playing dice? The only dicey thing I can see is there
> may not be a sufficiently large pool of quantum events from which God can do
> some choosing for the results He wishes to accomplish.

The question, as you put it, is very important and I'm glad you asked it
in this way. The answer is No. Remember Pascal: "The God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob -- Not the God of the philosophers."

God doesn't need anything but his own Word to accomplish his purposes
(Isaiah 55:11).

Quantum physics, by placing indeterminacy on a deeper level, was effective
in finally refuting the Newtonian/Laplacian deterministic/mechanistic
world view. For that we should be grateful. Because it also finally
refuted the deistic misconception of God as a Deus ex machina, a part of the
machine, who needs some mechanism to "explain" his actions. Quantum
'mechanics' also introduced important positive conceptions such as
complementarity and non-locality that may serve ultimately to clarify
our theological conceptions.

We must meditate on these things. Note that even though indeterminacy
changes our conception of causality, it is still PHYSICAL. Its subject
matter is matter. Books about this are classified in the physics section
of the library. But God is a Spirit. This is what I wrote about in my
last post.

Thanks for the probing questions. I'm sure George Murphy and Ted Davis
could do a much better job of responding (are you guys reading this?)
John Polkinghorne, in his books on providence, is probably one of the
most thoughtful writers on this subject, I believe. My own views on this
were developed by reading James Houston and Howard Van Till.

P.S. If you post a message to the ASA list, you don't have to post another
copy to me.

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
Code 724, Signatures Directorate, NSWC
9500 MacArthur Blvd., Bethesda, MD 20817-5700
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-4511 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)