Re: [asa] Contingency and Quantum Indeterminacy

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Mar 20 2008 - 08:53:36 EDT

The probabilistic character of QM doesn't mean that QM has no laws. & "nomological contingency" means that God could have created universes with different laws. E.g., God could have created a rational universe of point particles moving around in a Euclidean space with an absolute time in accord with Newton's laws. (Let c, G & h --> 0.) Of course life (probably) wouldn't be possible in such a universe but that's another matter.

If the atheist prefers, he/she can state this without reference to "God." I.e., simply say "another such univverse could exist." Of course the atheist may have to say that such universes "just happen" or, like Bertrand Russell, say that we just start with the universe as it is & refuse to ask the further "Why?" question.

Questions about causality are important but I think distinct from the issue of nomological contingency.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Opderbeck
  To: George L.
  Cc: ASA
  Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 2:01 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Contingency and Quantum Indeterminacy

  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 Thu Mar 20 08:56:22 2008

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