Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Hall of Shame: God, Evolution, and Quantum Mechanics

For those who claim that no religious scientists allow their scientific statements and beliefs to be infected with religion, here’s a counterexample. It’s from Francis Collins’s BioLogos website (funded by our friends at The John Templeton Foundation) and is a statement about how God may influence the world through quantum mechanics:

The mechanical worldview of the scientific revolution is now a relic. Modern physics has replaced it with a very different picture of the world. With quantum mechanical uncertainty and the chaotic unpredictability of complex systems, the world is now understood to have a certain freedom in its future development. Of course, the question remains whether this openness is a result of nature’s true intrinsic chanciness or the inevitable limit to humans’ understanding. Either way, one thing is clear: a complete and detailed explanation or prediction for nature’s behavior cannot be provided. This was already a problem for Newtonian mechanics; however, it was assumed that in principle, science might eventually provide a complete explanation of any natural event. Now, though, we see that the laws of nature are such that scientific prediction and explanation are ultimately limited.

It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation. In this way, modern science opens the door to divine action without the need for law breaking miracles. Given the impossibility of absolute prediction or explanation, the laws of nature no longer preclude God’s action in the world. Our perception of the world opens once again to the possibility of divine interaction.


This view is nearly identical to that of Kenneth Miller in his book Finding Darwin’s God. What this all means, of course, is that what appear to us to be random and unpredictable events on the subatomic level (for example, the decay of atoms) can really reflect God’s manipulation of those particles, and that this is the way that a theistic God can intervene in the world. And of course these interventions are said to be “subtle” and “unrecognizable.” (Theologians are always making a virtue of necessity. They never explain why, if God wanted to answer a prayer, he would do it by tweaking electrons rather than, say, just directly killing cancer cells with his omnipotence. Theology might, in fact, be defined as the art of making religious virtues out of scientific necessities.) And why did these interventions used to involve more blatant manipulations of nature (several thousand years ago, virgin human females gave birth to offspring, were taken bodily to heaven, and their offspring brought back to life after dying), while in more recent years the manipulations have been confined to the subatomic level?

And think about how ludicrous this theology really is. God: “Well, let’s see. Johnny’s parents have prayed for a cure for his leukemia. They’re good people, so I’ll do it. Now how to do the trick?. If I can just change the position of this electron here, and that one over there, I can cause a mutation in gene X that will beef up his immune system and allow the chemotherapy to work.” Why can’t God just say “Cancer, begone!”? (He apparently did that in Baltimore.) I already how the theists will respond: “That’s not the way God works, because we know how he works and it’s not that way!”

The BioLogos statement appears as part of the answer to the question, “What role could God have in evolution?” I submit that the statement is a scientific one that is deeply infected with religious views. The statement is this: “God acts by tweaking electrons and other subatomic particles, constantly causing non-deterministic changes in the universe according to his desires.” Further, the clear implication is this: “God intervened in the evolutionary process, tweaking some electrons to eventually ‘evolve’ a creature made in his image”. That is a religious statement masquerading as science. And that appears to be the view of some religious theists, especially those Catholics who adhere to the Church’s position that God intervened in human evolution.

Well, what happens if we find out some day that the subatomic “nondeterministic” changes really turn out to be deterministic? After all, quantum mechanics and its indeterminacy are provisional scientific theories; we might eventually find out that what appear to be totally unpredictable events really do have a deterministic causation. Where does Collins’s deity go then? Do you suppose for a minute that Collins and his fellow theistic evolutionists would say, “Right. Everything is in principle predictable after all. Obviously, there’s no room for God to intervene in nature, so theism is wrong.” I wouldn’t count on it.

Making quantum mechanics the bailiwick for celestial intervention is a God-of-the-gaps argument, no different in kind from many arguments for intelligent design. Do theistic evolutionists really want to make quantum mechanics God’s playground? Remember the words of the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the dangers of mixing science and faith:

If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.


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Republished from Why Evolution Is True

3 comments:

Stewie said...

very well written. especially the part where theologians making virtue of necessity really! i hate that and its always used by these arrogant theologians. why they try so hard to prove the relation between modern science and scriptures after its been found by scientists..
whatever the mystery is in the empty space or ani-matter and that, it most certainly can not be of a god's sign. especially not the one in the scriptures! who is more like a human!

mmfiore said...

The only reason the world appears to be random and chancy is simply because of our lack of knowledge and understanding. Quantum mechanics is science's way of giving up on the notion of obtaining a deeper understanding of things. There is however a new alternative to this philosophy.

We are a group that is challenging the current paradigm in physics which is Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. There is a new Theory of Everything Breakthrough. It exposes the flaws in both Quantum Theory and String Theory. Please Help us set the physics community back on the right course and prove that Einstein was right! Visit our site The Theory of Super Relativity: Super Relativity

Regis said...

At any rate, I liked some of the vadlo evolution Cartoons!