Re: [asa] Contingency and Quantum Indeterminacy

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Wed Mar 19 2008 - 14:56:00 EDT

I think there is another approach to this, self-determination. I often
find philosophers claiming that this requires an absence of causation,
indeterminism. However, a proper analysis places it firmly in
determinism, but not the strict determinism that classic physics expects
in natural objects. That has no freedom. Self-determination requires that
the person is an initiating cause within a causal nexus. That is, one's
personal choice makes a difference within the allowance of causes. There
is no responsibility in either strict determinism, where one cannot do
differently, or in indeterminism, where things just happen without one's
control. This also requires that either hidden control of quanta or
quantum indeterminacy cannot be the basis of contingency.
Dave (ASA)

On Wed, 19 Mar 2008 14:01:03 -0400 "David Opderbeck"
<> writes:
Ok -- so someone says "the universe is not necessarily connected to God."
 I respond, maybe or maybe not usefully, "the universe is necessarily
connected to God in the sense that the universe is contingent on God's
will" -- wanting to reflect this Torrancian (if that's a term) notion of
"contingency." The other person responds with quantum physics -- nothing
in the universe is "necessary," says he; things "just happen" rather than
being caused to happen; and my thought reflects a discredited Thomistic,
mechanistic view of causation.

So I want to respond: quantum physics is perfectly compatible with
contingency as I've used the term -- in fact it demonstrates that God
didn't have to create this universe and that the universe isn't a
Newtonian self-sustaining machine. Further, quantum physics doesn't do
away with the notion of "causation"; it just means causation appears to
be probabilistic rather than deterministic. Would this response be fair?

On Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 1:46 PM, George L.
<> wrote:

I see that the responses to this have focused appropriately on David's
question about physics but it may be worth noting the theological
context. Torrance's ideas about the "contingent rationality" of the
universe motivated the inclusion of the phrase in the ASA statement. The
reference is to "contingent order and intelligibility," so that the
emphasis is more on the contingency of the rational patterns that
underlie the universe rather than with the contingency of individual
events, though of course the latter is not excluded. God could have
created other universes that are equally rational but obey rational laws
that differ from those of our universe. That's why, anter alia, we have
to observe the world & do experiments in addition to theorizing.
Or to put it another way, the answer to the question that Einstein said
interested him most - whether God had any choice in creating the universe
- is "Yes."
> > > In the ASA statement of faith, we use the term "contingent order."
Contingency is important in Torrance's thought as well as Polanyi's.
Contingency is also part of Aquinas' teleological argument. Does the
notion of contingency as we use it require a creation ex nihlo, a big
bang? How 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 laws? > -- David W. OpderbeckAssociate Professor of
LawSeton Hall University Law SchoolGibbons Institute of Law, Science &
Technology(ASA Member) >

George L. Murphy

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology 
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Received on Wed Mar 19 14:59:41 2008

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