Re: [asa] Contingency and Quantum Indeterminacy

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed Mar 19 2008 - 14:33:26 EDT

I respond to David with insertions.


>>> "David Opderbeck" <> 3/19/2008 11:23 AM >>>

In the ASA statement of faith, we use the term "contingent order."
Contingency is important in Torrance's thought as well as Polanyi's.

Ted: Yes, and yes. I think this is where it comes from here. Many ASA
members have been impressed by this particular way of thinking, and I'm
among them. The late Reijer Hooykaas, in "Religion and the Rise of Modern
Science," speaks in a similar way of "rational empiricism" (29).

Contingency is also part of Aquinas' teleological argument. Does the
of contingency as we use it require a creation ex nihlo, a big bang?

Ted: IMO, the kind of contingency spoken about by Torrance, Hooykaas, MB
Foster, Francis Oakley, and others, *requires* creatio ex nihilo. If God
was not/is not truly free to determine the nature of nature--which is what
this kind of contingency refers to--then we are left only with a much weaker
type of contingency, the contingency of our limited knowledge resulting from
our limited ability to know, which is not at all the same as our limited
knowledge of what God has actually chosen freely to do. Under the notion of
"contingent order," we can discover much of the order that God freely chose
to create (ie, give existence to and determine the character of), b/c we are
made in God's image and therefore (on this view) share to some extent in
God's own rationality. But, we still have to look hard to see which kinds
of order God freely chose to create, b/c our reason, though made in the
image of God's is simply not sufficient to put boundaries on God's will.

I had a lengthy exchange about this, relative to creatio ex nihilo and
process theism (which won't give this kind of contingency, IMO, since God
doesn't have the omnipotence needed to determine the nature of nature), here
on this list a few years ago with Howard Van Till. It should be archived.
I refer people there for more.

Now this is not the same thing as saying that the big bang needs to be
true, although frankly I really like that theory theologically, perhaps more
than I should like any scientific theory. As Ernan McMullin has pointed
out, it's highly consonant with Christian theology. Not a proof, and it's
subject to being abandoned by science, but highly consonant. Nevertheless,
creatio ex nihilo is a way of expressing God's omnipotence, and without that
I don't think that God is God. IMO.

does contingency relate to quantum indeterminacy, since states are only
represented by probability distributions? Are quantum probability
distributions completely open, or are they bounded by more basic physical

Ted: I haven't thought nearly as much about this one, and people who
actually understand QM (I doubt that I ever really did, and besides I've
forgotten most of the physics I once knew) had better answer this. I will
say only, with some hesitation for reasons just stated, that there is a
range of possible outcomes to a quantum event--I think these correspond to
what are called the "eigenvalues" of the relevant equation--so that what can
actually transpire is limited to these. Which one transpires is a crap
shoot, but not the range of possible outcomes.

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Received on Wed Mar 19 14:34:42 2008

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