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Ken Miller, Science and the Nature of Reality.

September 11, 2009

I have been reading a lot of Ken Miller lately and reading St. Augustine’s commentary on Genesis. They have prompted some interesting thoughts I would share for you all to pick apart and stomp on. 🙂

Anyway, I have really appreciated Ken Miller’s books, Only a Theory  and The Search for Darwin’s God. Miller is not only a great scientist, but he is also a terrific writer. He has given me a greater understanding of how evolution works something I have been trying to really grasp in the past year. Even more, he has helped me understand how a person can be a Christian and still believe in evolution. 

The best way he does this is by his attention to detail and his honesty. When he demolishes ID, he does it by taking their claims seriously instead of dismissing it out of hand. And, take note everyone, he demonstrates scientifically why the theory is wrong through a number of different scientific examples. For the first time, I understood WHY from a scientific perspective why no one takes ID seriously rather than a dismissive, sarcastic attitude.  I have often asked for people to explain why ID wasn’t a valid scientific position as I really didn’t know. Finally, Miller was able to do so through his detailed explanations. This is an example of what open and honest dialogue about the real issues can do.

Evolution gives us a great understanding of how natural life developed on earth. There is no question about this. And, as Miller points out in Darwin’s God, this is what makes many Christians uncomfortable and atheists crow about the triumph of science providing explanations that crowd God out of the picture. We no longer need God to explain everything, atheists assert, science will do it for us. Miller points out that this tension is what leads to the vehment opposition to evolution and it’s teaching in the classroom in American schools. It’s not so much about science, but about a clash of worldviews.

Miller aruges that we don’t need such a clash, because both sides misunderstand evolution, science and what it’s supposed to do. On the Christian side, Miller shows how Christians let their fear blind them to the marvels of science. On the atheist side, Miller argues that atheist take science way too far and try to make it answer questions it’s not meant to answer or can’t answer. Science, as Miller describes it, is merely an investigation of how the natural world works, no more, no less. It can’t give us meaning or show we humans do the things we do. In doing so, he engages the SCIENCE on these positions, that is, religion, love, goodness, etc can be explained in an evolutionary sense. He says this, “All of these (scientific writers) have gone well beyond any reasonable scientific conclusions that might emerge from evolutionary biology. Without saying so directly, they have embraced a brand of materialism that excludes serious consideration any source of knowledge outside of science.”

Further, he writes that a hard core materialist postion is not just a bad philsophical assumtion, but, it’s also bad science. Miller demonstrates this by talking about the difference between biological science and Quantum Physics. This chapter was just awesome for me, as I have been interested in Quantum theory for some time. Miller makes the ironclad case for evolution and asks an interesting question, “Science has shown the material mechanisms, not spirits, were behind the reality of nature. It has found that each level of analysis was connected to the ones above and below in the same way that the functions of a clock is connected to the gears and shafts and springs within. And it had given mankind a new view of ourselves as material beings. Could there be anything left for God to do?”

He points out that while this is true about evolutionary biology, it’s not true when it comes to Quantum Physics. He explains through exploring how light is both a particle AND a wave, something had been considered impossible before Einstein and Planck. And, no matter how hard we try, we can’t understand or know everything about a particle, because on the Quantum level, and quotes Heisenberg, “Can nature possibly be absurd as it seemed to us in these atmomic experiments?”

Miller writes, “One years after the discovery of quantum, we can say that the answer is yes, that is exactly what nature is like. At its very core, in the midst of matter and energy, the predictable causality that once formed the heart of classical physics breaks down…” and he continues later, “it is important to appreciate that uncertainties on the quantum level DO NOT (empahsis mine) arise because of a gap in our knowledge…. on the contrary, the more accurately we measure individual events, the clearer it becomes that the outcomes of events are indeterminate.”

This statement is important because Miller is showing why this is not the dreaded “God of the gaps” theory. Instead, it’s hard science showing us just how crazy the universe actually is and how science is showing we most likely will not be able to predict events as we can on a biological level. We can predict things to some degree and with some certainy, Miller argues, because Quantum is not chaos.

Miller argues this fact destroys hard core materialism as a philosophy. It’s unsupportable by science. Mike’s wonderful article on proof falls apart on certain basic level assumptions. While it can be supportable on certain levels, ie, Christianity makes historical claims that should be provable, science on the quantum level destroys the idea it can be a hard core assumption that all must bow before. And, Miller drives the nail home when he says, ” This is something biologists, almost universally, have not yet come to grips with. And it’s consequences are enormous….The true materialism of life is bound up in a series of inherently unpredictable events that science, even in principle, can never master completely. Life surely is explicable in terms of the laws of physics and chemsitry. However, the catch is, the laws themselves deny us an ultimate knowledge of what causes what and what happen next. ”

This gets to the heart of what I have been saying that the distinctions between natural and supernatural  are not just unhelpful, they are patently false (thankfully, Mike’s article doesn’t do this). Further, they are not even Biblical. I cringe every time I hear Christians use those two words, as the Bible never really uses them. The Judeo-Christian view of the world sees the created order as things that are seen and unseen. Reality, as we know it, is much more complicated than viewing the world as supernatural or natural. It very well might be both. Miracles could be natural, and natural events could be miracles. A Christian position is that all of creation is both supernatural and natural. Such a position would be absurd, except for the fact is, it reflects reality as it is. God acts in natural and supernatural ways, it seems to us, but that’s not the way it seems to God. He acts in ways that are consistent with reality as it actually is, not what we percieve it to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT saying the interactiong between biology and Quantum theory proves God exists. However, it does drive an emphatic nail in the coffin of hardcore materialism as a worldview. As Miller writes about Dawkins and other self assured scientific commentators, “Dawkin’s personal skepticism no more disproves the existence of God than the creationists’ incredulity is an argument against evolution. What matters is a straightforward, factual, strictly scientific recognition that matter in the universe behaves in such a way that we can never acheive complete knowledge of any fragment of it and that life itself is structured in a way that allows biological history to pivot directly on these tiny undertainties. That ought to allow for even the most critical scientist to admit that breaks in casuality at the atomic level make it fundemntally impossible to exclude the idea that we have really caught a glimpse of the mind of God.”

Further, what Christians don’t see is that they play right into the hands of hard atheists when they embrace ID or YEC. Instead, they need to understand how the Bible actually talks about the world, rather than trying to fight a culture war that is a waste of time, money and addressing more important questions.

Ah, I can hear the posts now…..

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51 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2009 1:21 pm

    I have not read Miller in its entirety, only in abstract or shortened article form. However, my question when I hear is arguments is always – okay, I guess you can make a rational claim to agnosticism (i.e., the universe is weird and there is at least a theoretical probability that a god/gods exist), but when he uses these vague abstracts to get from the possibility of a god/gods to the Christian God & Jesus of the Bible, I can’t see how that follows.

    I don’t really even see how you can get to an interventionist god with his argument. My brother-in-law the astrophysicist says that Miller is essentially right on the quantum stuff (which I fully admit to not understanding), but that his view is still too overly simplistic – in the end, according to the brother-in-law, quantum events are both predictable and verifiable. In other words, even if you accept a god/gods that operate on the quantum level, any positive action taken by such a being should be observable and verifiable. So, if a god operates in such a way as to be indistinguishable from the natural processes of the universe, then the universe essentially operates as if there were no god.

    The problem I have with Miller is not the argument that there is some fundamental honesty in taking an agnostic view of the ultimate question of god, but rather the leap that he takes from this honest point to the idea that this point of honest agnosticism gets you some verification of Christianity or other, specific, religious practice.

  2. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    September 11, 2009 2:25 pm

    (WARNING…..RANT ALL OVER THE PLACE COMING….)

    I never really viewed Dawkins as a hard-core atheist. He’s hard-core science, but when pressed with the question as to whether there is a god or not, he only talks about the probability of whether there is a god or not.

    I would have to agree that there is no way to make any kind of leap from a god to any religion being correct. Really, I think it’s religion that caused the argument in the first place, because of various religious group using their belief in whatever god and practices to gain control. Each religion is fairly egotistical in their view that they are right. Some might allow for others that are similar to be right, but being too different sends them into denial that the other religion is viable. I don’t recall people being overly upset at others believing in a god, but people do get upset on what is done with that belief. Do they just believe, or do they feel the need to make up a bunch of weird rules and stories about it and force it onto others? Do they claim that their god said they have the right to rule over others?

    Religion ruined it’s own credibility thousands of years ago and it never seems to stop. For example, there are some states where an atheist can’t be elected. Also, remember the uproar that happened when people claimed Obama was Muslim? Ohhhh….so the Christians won’t allow someone of a different religion in office?

    “However, it does drive an emphatic nail in the coffin of hardcore materialism as a worldview.”
    —-Ok, so what does that ultimately mean for Christians? What ultimately are Christians looking for? To make more Christians? To force Christianity into the public classroom? To make laws declaring atheism illegal?

    I bring up the other things because I’m not concern about whether people believe there is a god or not. To me, that’s about as important as whether someone likes chocolate or vanilla ice cream. I’m concerned about what they plan on doing about their belief. What people do about their beliefs is a far, far bigger problem.

    Back to the book…
    “On the atheist side, Miller argues that atheist take science way too far and try to make it answer questions it’s not meant to answer or can’t answer.”
    —-I would disagree that morality, beliefs, and harder to quantify things shouldn’t be analyzed from a scientific view. These things will tend to tell us far more about our brains and why we are the way we are. Can you explain why some people decide to do some intensely terrible things? The answer might lie in something physiological. You can’t get away with saying some people are just evil. There’s a reason for it.

    Have you ever though that maybe we could end entirely the desire some people have to kill other people? What if we discover a particular protein added to a diet took that away? Do you think it’s really moral for us to let people just keep killing or do we find a cure for that behavior and administer it?

    There’s a billion similar questions l think are worth answering. It’s up to humans to make the world a better place whether you believe in a god or not.

  3. Andrew permalink
    September 11, 2009 2:31 pm

    Could there be anything left for God to do?”

    He points out that while this is true about evolutionary biology, it’s not true when it comes to Quantum Physics. […]

    Miller writes, “One years after the discovery of quantum, we can say that the answer is yes, that is exactly what nature is like. At its very core, in the midst of matter and energy, the predictable causality that once formed the heart of classical physics breaks down…” and he continues later, “it is important to appreciate that uncertainties on the quantum level DO NOT (empahsis mine) arise because of a gap in our knowledge…. on the contrary, the more accurately we measure individual events, the clearer it becomes that the outcomes of events are indeterminate.”

    Stuff like this from Miller (and a number of other writers) annoys real quantum physicists almost as much as the IDers annoy real biologists. The only reason he gets away with it, I think, is that QM is an inherently much harder concept to understand than evolution is, so there aren’t large numbers of erudite physicists writing popular books to refute him.

    The field of quantum mechanics is indeed a strange place, but it’s not somewhere where materialism breaks down or where you can hide conveniently smuggled-in gods.

  4. Andrew permalink
    September 11, 2009 3:01 pm

    Evolution gives us a great understanding of how natural life developed on earth. There is no question about this. And, as Miller points out in Darwin’s God, this is what makes many Christians uncomfortable and atheists crow about the triumph of science providing explanations that crowd God out of the picture. We no longer need God to explain everything, atheists assert, science will do it for us. Miller points out that this tension is what leads to the vehment opposition to evolution and it’s teaching in the classroom in American schools. It’s not so much about science, but about a clash of worldviews.

    That’s a nice story. There’s just one problem with it: it’s not true.

    The fight to keep evolution out of schools isn’t fueled by the atheists, they only make a convenient scapegoat. (If every atheist in the US was rounded up and shot tomorrow, the opposition to evolution in schools would continue just as strongly.)

  5. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 3:11 pm

    I’m not sure what part of the story you are refering to Andrew. My point is that Christians fear evolution because they think it’s an atheist conspiracy to destroy their beliefs. It’s certainly not true for most atheists.

  6. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 3:13 pm

    Having talked to a few quantum physics professors about this, Andrew, they think Miller is basically right. The point I didn’t right about was that Miller does recognize there is some structure in Quantum Physics. That’s really not his point. His point is that hardcore materialism breaks down, not softcore (insert porn joke here)

  7. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 3:19 pm

    I too would agree that you can’t make a leap to any god with what Miller (and I) think in regards to this point. Or rather, not yet.

    I would certainly hope that Christians wouldn’t force Christianity in the classroom nor make atheism illegal. And contrary to opinion, most Christians I know don’t want that either. Are there some who want that? Sure, there is. But, I think they are loud minority.

    I think what I’m looking for, is to show that belief in Theism has a rational, good basis for it’s belief. That’s it. No one that I know is looking to lock up atheists. Hell, I would even vote for one if I thought their positions were best for the country.

    As for your other points MCP, I think they are off topic. We can certainly talk about religion playing an evil role in the world, but that’s not really the point of this post. I have talked about it elsewhere. Yes, I understand that people aren’t upset with the belief, but rather, what we do with that belief. That’s certainly a valid discussion, but not one that is relevant to the post. Not trying to avoid, just trying to keep the posts on topic.

  8. September 11, 2009 3:19 pm

    Well: 1) being “basically right” about quantum theory leaves a lot of wiggle room; and 2) what do you mean by “hard core materialism”? Quantum mechanics is materialistic, its a natural process, not supernatural.

    If you mean that quantum events may allow a certain level of “randomness” to what might be seen as purely mechanistic processes, then I think are really taking issue with determinism, and not materialism per se.

    There is huge controversy surrounding determinism – fascinating stuff, but nowhere near being resolved or even having a clear consensus at this point.

  9. Matheus permalink
    September 11, 2009 3:23 pm

    I agree with Andrew here. The parts where he goes “Oh look Quantum mechanics is weird, therefore god exists” is complete nonsense.
    I still await this mythical figure of the advanced theologian, who can profess arguments for the existence of gods that both evades application of occam’s razor and survives the logical scrutiny of a 12 year old kid.

  10. September 11, 2009 3:40 pm

    I think what I’m looking for, is to show that belief in Theism has a rational, good basis for it’s belief. That’s it.

    I think you can rationally be a Theist (believing the possibility or being agnostic as to the question of whether god/gods exist), but not rationally be a Deist (positive belief in some specific god). One can certainly take the theistic viewpoint and then make the “non-rational” leap to deism. (Note I don’t say “irrational” as holding a positive belief in a supernatural entity may be entirely “rational” for a given person’s particular circumstance.)

    I highly respect Miller, and appreciate the immense work he has done promoting science and the acceptance of evolution. But, I do take issue with what I feel is basically an accomodationist stance in regard to the relationship of science and religion. And Miller always seems to want to have it both ways on this issue. When pressed, Miller will acknowledge that nothing in his arguments provide any positive support for the idea of an interventionist god, but he uses his arguments to support and bolster the idea of Christian worship in the United States, which for all but the most pointy-headed academics means a Biblical God/Jesus, that is personally concerned in the daily lives of every individual on earth, answers prayers, and conducts itself in a way that, if true, would be subject to testing, verification, and falsification.

    If people were theists, there would be nothing to argue about – theism, while it may provide a comfort or other psychological benefit to the believer, provides no support for truth claims about the nature of the universe; as soon as you move to deism, you are by definition making truth claims, and must be required to provide some positive evidence for such claims’ veracity.

  11. September 11, 2009 3:45 pm

    Basing this solely on your review here, I haven’t read the book:

    Miller seems to have a strange definition of materialism. It sounds like what most people would call “determinism.” I know Quantum Mechanics is often described in much more fuzzy terms and some new age types have tried to use it to justify a touchy-feeley universe…

    But Quantum Mechanics (QM) is materialism. The materials are just stranger than we thought, but they are still real and verified by experiment. I know Miller’s argument is not precisely the same as most God of the Gaps arguments. He’s not placing God in a gap created by our ignorance, but into a gap which our best theories say is fundamentally unknowable. He just seems to think he’s found the Ultimate Gap.

    There isn’t even a gap there at all if you look at things differently. If you subscribe to the Multiple Worlds Interpretation of QM, then there is no gap at all. God doesn’t get to choose what happens because all possibilities happen. We live in a completely deterministic multiverse.

    Another way many physicists understand QM is that certain properties of particles (like an absolute position AND speed together) simply do not exist. Neither of these interpretations makes any new or special place for God to inhabit.

    If you want to insist that God gets to decide whether a single photon lands here or there, this still places some strange constraints on his decision-making. It hardly seems to describe an omnipotent being.

    This gives me a great idea for a product though. The Quantum Ask God 8-ball. It could use some quantum-based random number generator and link the quantum outcomes to responses such as Yes, No, Maybe, etc. Then you can ask questions which God can answer directly! Like “should I give all my money to the next homeless person who asks for change?” or “is the Bible true?” or “should I invade Iraq?” Would Ken Miller (or anyone) trust that these answers are divine truths?

    None of the above is intended as a proof of God’s existence or non-existence, but it sounds like Miller is misrepresenting Quantum Physics in order to make it say something he wants to hear.

  12. Andrew permalink
    September 11, 2009 3:50 pm

    I’m not sure what part of the story you are refering to Andrew. My point is that Christians fear evolution because they think it’s an atheist conspiracy to destroy their beliefs. It’s certainly not true for most atheists.

    The part I’m referring to is the part where opposition to evolution is because “Christians fear evolution because they think it’s an atheist conspiracy to destroy their beliefs”.

    I’m sure that there are many Christians who fear that. But that’s not the reason they oppose evolution; just looking at the history of the controversy reveals that. William Jennings Bryan, for example, wasn’t opposing atheists; he was opposing his fellow Christians (see his failed attempt to become moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly over the issue) and he was motivated not by any atheist conspiracy but because he feared the consequences of teaching evolution.

    Those same reasons would keep today’s fundamentalist Christians fighting to keep evolution out of schools even if there were no atheists to blame for it.

  13. Andrew permalink
    September 11, 2009 3:53 pm

    Having talked to a few quantum physics professors about this, Andrew, they think Miller is basically right. The point I didn’t right about was that Miller does recognize there is some structure in Quantum Physics. That’s really not his point. His point is that hardcore materialism breaks down, not softcore (insert porn joke here)

    I think you’ve confused materialism with determinism here.

    Materialists (physicalists) have no problem with QM; it’s just an aspect of how matter behaves.

    “Hard” determinists are the ones who have a problem, since hard determinism postulates unbroken causal chains and the ability to predict the future course of events from the current state of the Universe, and QM does indeed interfere with that.

    These are entirely separate philosophical positions.

  14. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 4:09 pm

    Point taken.

  15. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 4:10 pm

    Hmm, good point, Andrew. I see what you mean.

  16. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    September 11, 2009 4:20 pm

    most Christians I know don’t want that either. Are there some who want that? Sure, there is. But, I think they are loud minority.

    You need to talk more to the undereducated voting masses I think. I think I have someone like 500 relatives in one county and we might be up to finally 20 having gone to college. Assuming around 18 of them remained Christian, that means 498 that would be perfectly happy if creationism was taught in schools. (yah…I know, you hear banjos, but I do too every time I go home.)

    Hell, I would even vote for one if I thought their positions were best for the country.

    I think you’re in the minority there. Plus, if I recall correctly, some states actually made laws to that effect, so in those places, your vote for an atheist wouldn’t count.

    As for your other points MCP, I think they are off topic. We can certainly talk about religion playing an evil role in the world, but that’s not really the point of this post.

    Some of that was spinning off of Edward’s comment of “but rather the leap that he takes from this honest point to the idea that this point of honest agnosticism gets you some verification of Christianity or other, specific, religious practice.”

    Do you think though that you can separate your god belief from your religion belief? I only know of a few and the rest all have some religious belief tied in. If you’re arguing for god, do you think you are not ultimately using that as a support basis for your religious beliefs?

    Let’s look at things a little differently. I have a friend who thinks we will find scientific proof of god some day. If we had proof, then what?

  17. Matheus permalink
    September 11, 2009 4:20 pm

    Well It is a simplification really, I do love to simplify things 🙂
    But the argument has no legs either way. Determinism or not, everything fits with the ‘theory’ of Yahweh. Can you think of any way that if we found out the universe was, it would disprove the existence of Yahweh? If the answer to this is no, then you know that nothing that we might observe in the universe proves it to be true either. Quantum mechanics included.

  18. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 4:27 pm

    Matheus,
    I actually erased my comment because I didn’t like it. 😉

    Hmm, I hear your question. I think, again, my whole point is not to prove that God exists. I have stated in a number of different places I don’t think this is possible.

  19. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 4:28 pm

    MCP,
    I’m not sure I know what you are asking. Do you mind clarifying for my allergy addled brain?

  20. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 11, 2009 4:35 pm

    The problem with the multiple worlds theory is the same with proof of God’s existence. Your theory relies on something can’t be verfied by science. I would certainly conceed that is true about God. Will you conceed this is true about the multiple universe theory?

    Again, I don’t think Miller is mispresenting QM at all. Once again, he is NOT putting forth the idea QM proves God’s existence. Far from it. What he is arguing is that it gets rid of hard core deterministic materialism. His argument is that the rules of science itself brings us to this position, leaving aside theism for a moment. It’s not a gap, it’s a scientific proof that the more we measure, the more we realize there are certain things we can’t grasp. This is what makes it different from God of the Gaps, as it relies on where the scientific data leads us. As you correctly pointed out, the only theory that would help here other than God is the multi-universe theory. If that’s where you want to go, I’m fine with that, let’s just not pretend it’s more scientific than the God theory.

  21. Andrew permalink
    September 11, 2009 4:43 pm

    I wonder if nested blockquotes work:

    Hell, I would even vote for one if I thought their positions were best for the country.

    I think you’re in the minority there. Plus, if I recall correctly, some states actually made laws to that effect, so in those places, your vote for an atheist wouldn’t count.

    There are indeed a lot of US states whose constitution or laws disbar atheists from public office, serving on juries, and so on. All of these are of course unconstitutional.

    As for being in a minority, it’s actually quite scary just how far in the minority that position is. See for example here for some quite horrifying statistics.

    (personally I’m quite glad not to be living in the US)

  22. Matheus permalink
    September 11, 2009 4:55 pm

    @Jonathan
    “It’s not a gap, it’s a scientific proof that the more we measure, the more we realize there are certain things we can’t grasp.”
    That’s not true at all. Quantum mechanics does not dictate that the universe is infinitely complex. It in no way ‘proves’ that there are gaps in the understanding of the universe.

    About the multi universe thing, it’s an application of occam’s razor, where the explanation “there are multiple universes, ours is just one that has these values for the physical constants” is simpler than “our universe is unique, and it accidentally has these values for the physical constants”.

  23. September 11, 2009 4:57 pm

    I don’t think Miller is mispresenting QM at all. Once again, he is NOT putting forth the idea QM proves God’s existence. Far from it. What he is arguing is that it gets rid of hard core deterministic materialism.

    Okay, granting all that for the sake of argument – again, I don’t think this actually gets you very much. It certainly doesn’t get you any support for a Christian God, or a Muslim God, or a Jewish God, or Hindu Gods, or . . . well, you get my drift.

    What Miller is doing is carving out a very narrow, very limited space in which the idea of the possibility of a/some “god/s” (little “g”) is supportable, or at least acceptable. But then, from this highly limited area of rational agnosticism, he – and I think you – want to unpack an argument for a scientifically-based God (big “G”) – and that just simply does not follow.

    The argument does not even provide any sort of support for a positive belief in a supernatural entity, it simply leaves an opening for the possibility that some sort of watchmaker-style god might exist. It is an argument for a sort of extremely ambiguous agnosticism – i.e., “there is at least a possibility that a/some god/s do/does/did exist.”

    One can certainly accept scientific rationalism and be a believer – this is nothing more than an empirical statement, as, demographically, most scientists self-identify as believers (at least in the United States). But I do think that such belief is dissonant, and that it is only possible because of the amazing talent our brains have for compartmentalization.

    For most people, such compartmentalization is harmless, and in some sense may even be seen as beneficial to the extent that it allows them to accept scientific truth even if they are unable to follow the science to the – I would argue – logical, atheistic conclusion.

  24. Patrick Truitt permalink
    September 11, 2009 5:31 pm

    @Matheus

    Just to be clear, many-worlds and multiple universes are not the same thing. The many-worlds interpretation of QM is sort of a misnomer. The many-worlds are really just different branches of one universal wavefunction, which all inhabit the same space-time as the branch we find ourselves in, with the same physical constants.

  25. Matheus permalink
    September 11, 2009 5:49 pm

    @Patrick Truitt
    Ah, I stand corrected then.

    But then, the many worlds seem to be an exercise in epistemology on how to imagine quantum processes in an intuitive manner. It doesn’t imply there really are many worlds.

  26. September 11, 2009 7:32 pm

    Edward-
    Maybe you messed this up, but your definitions of Theism and Deism are way off. Deism is not the belief in a specific god, but more specifically a Deity who is removed from the universe and not involved with it, which I know, some, including Mike Riggs, could adhere to. Theism on the other hand claims an interventionist God, one who is intimately tied up in his creation.

  27. September 11, 2009 10:52 pm

    @ Eric

    Ah heck!! You are absolutely right – exactly reversed the terms. Well, that is thoroughly impressive, no?

  28. September 11, 2009 11:52 pm

    I thought Theist was a very general term for anyone who believes in any god or gods at all? As in the opposite of an atheist. No restriction on it being an interventionalist god or whatever.

  29. Andrew permalink
    September 12, 2009 2:30 am

    While that would be the literal meaning, the term was actually introduced (in the 18th century or so) specifically to contrast with “deist”.

  30. September 12, 2009 5:27 am

    From: http://attributed-to-scott.blogspot.com/

    Scott:
    anything is possible.

    Rebecca:
    hmm, I don’t think it is

    Scott:
    bah! anything! follow quantum theory deep enough and its entirely probably that the universe is populated with chairs. in fact follow the logic deep enough and it becomes almost impossible that its not filled with chairs.

    ———-
    Given the sheer number of religions in the world with their own views of the correctness of their beliefs, its difficult to believe that anyone could be proved correct in the future that their own particular version of “god” exists in one shape or another. Science is very useful for explaining and discovering the physical world and the bits that make up the physical world, and all the other relevant bits.

    Science doesn’t explain religion, and I think that believers should accept science, including the bits that clash with their religion and just re-write it. The way they have with slavery, mixed fibres etc.

  31. Ray S. permalink
    September 12, 2009 8:34 am

    If Dawkins was out of his area of expertise in ‘The God Delusion’, why is Miller not likewise out of his area here?

    If Miller is ‘basically correct’, why is Dawkins not also basically correct?

  32. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 12, 2009 10:08 am

    What area are you refering to in regards to Dawkins?

  33. Ray S. permalink
    September 13, 2009 12:53 am

    One of the slams against Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ was that while being a first rate professional biologist, he was merely an amateur philosopher at best. He hadn’t the proper training and hadn’t read enough of the historical works of theology to criticize it intellectually. P. Z. Myers responded to this with his Courtier’s Reply. (Google if you must)

    Ken Miller also has impressive credentials in the area of biology; Quantum Electro-Dynamics, not so much. I think, assuming your transmission of his claims are accurate, that he overreaches what QED can tell us about Determinism, which I can only assume he wishes to title ‘hard core materialism’ for the purposes of obfuscation. ‘Materialism’ itself has several nonoverlapping definitions.

    I often hear refutations of determinsm based on appeal to unjust human punishment. If all our thoughts are nothing more than the predetermined results of a causal chain, then it is unfair to punish a criminal for a behavior he had no real opportunity to choose to avoid. But this argument only works if the judge has free will where the criminal does not. If determinism is true, then it does not matter what you think you are thinking, you really aren’t and that would be equally true for everyone. And that includes the appearance of free will even though you might not actually have it, again IF determinism is true.

    I don’t know if determinism is true or not. If it is, there is certainly nothing I can do about it even though I have the appearance of having free will. Even my apparent choice in such a case to sit back and enjoy the show is nothing more than another part of the grand causal chain.

    But if determinism is false, it still does not destroy or even damage the notion that the natural (material) world is all that exists. To do that you simply need to show evidence of something not of the natural world.

  34. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 13, 2009 10:15 am

    There is no way you can compare Dawkins understanding of philosophy with Miller’s understanding of QM, as Miller’s has been checked out by QM people, while Dawkins has failed every philosophy check, including philosophy people who don’t believe. They aren’t even in the same ballpark. Further, Dawkins was a scientist trying to do philosophy, while Miller is a scientist trying to do science.

    The Courtier’s reply is a fantastic example of false equivication/analogy, and therefore logically invalid. Everyone thinks this is a brilliant argument by PZ and Dawkins, but it just makes them look stupid. I wish the would drop it because it does them no credit whatsoever. Plus, I have even seen some folks claim it as a logical rule for debate, but it really isn’t.

    Check out this website on false analogy and other logical fallacies.

  35. Matheus permalink
    September 13, 2009 10:26 am

    There is no single evidence for the existence of gods, and that is enough for not believing. Anything else dawkins said in his book is unnecessary.

  36. Matheus permalink
    September 13, 2009 10:52 am

    Also, In his book, dawkins refutes correctly the most common reasons people have for believing. He does not commit any fallacies as far as I can remember. Can you point to these refutations of dawkins you speak of?

  37. September 13, 2009 2:24 pm

    Well, my name was invoked a few times, so you know I can’t resist interjecting.

    Eric Worringer:
    ‘Deism…which I know, some, including Mike Riggs, could adhere to.

    This needs clarification. I take theism’s god to be interventionist and personal. You can’t have intervention without personality, or else we’d be talking about a natural process, and we’d have atheism, and indeed, to the dismay of many deists, I argue that deism is essentially mystically flavored atheism.

    Deism’s god does not intervene, and his personality therefore has no meaning and no causal efficacy on the universe, if it even can be justifiably posited at all, as the features of a being tend to indicate what they do:
    If it has flat teeth, it (or it’s ancestors) probably ate plants.
    If it has genitalia, it (or it’s ancestors) probably sexually reproduced.
    If it has a personality, that’s indicative of social interaction and, most likely, peers.
    A non-interventionist god with a personality makes about as much sense as a car with a penis. And don’t even think about trying to use the trinity to invoke such a god’s peers. That doctrine is part and parcel revelation, and you have no basis to posit it on a ‘deus’ as opposed to the Christian ‘theos’.

    So in the end, I think most deists are really unitarian theists or mystically minded atheists.

    The one semi-deistic leaning I have is that I recognize that it is impossible to disprove or even demonstrate the unlikeliness of the idea that we’re all in ‘the Matrix’ of some sort, and that a sentient being (who undoubtedly evolved) controls it and is the ‘deus’ in question. This would be naturalistic of course, but such a theory lacks any kind of explanatory power or verifiability, so it’s worthless.

    Jon, I already concede that it is theoretically possible for a god to exist with many of the properties assigned by theists (as in the previous paragraph to which I’ll add the capability of intervention). It is whether the evidence for the many specifically Christian claims line up that I dispute.

    If you look carefully, you’ll note that my article didn’t posit a metaphysical model (like materialism) at all. It was entirely on epistemology. The gist was basically:
    If you’re going to posit stuff that that is unprecedented or thus far undemonstrated, then you bear the burden of proof.
    What I said is even true if the theistic model is accurate. It doesn’t depend on atheism or materialism at all.

    ***

    The others are, I believe, right when they say that what Miller is actually unknowingly targeting is hard determinism. I freely admit, that I’ve had to soften my stance as I tended to lean towards it. I’ve stopped referring to myself as a hard determinist because of this very phenomena in fact, but it in no way affects my materialism.

    Even if a process is stochastic, the averages still, when we step back and look at billions of them going on, are very predictable. That’s why you can walk without fear of falling through a hard floor. Indeed, that’s why you can even try to walk or fear, because the matter of your neurons behaves consistently. This is why Monte Carlo methods works. Stochastic processes yield highly predictable averages.

    I find that often, Christians seem to mistake proving some level of unpredictability or ‘irrationality’ in nature equates with indications that the biblical God is real.

    Remember, all objective claims stem from the ability to make accurate predictions. Christianity included. If you argue for a ‘random’ universe, you are working against materialism, Christianity, theism, and any other system that makes objective claims. You would be arguing for metaphysical skepticism, which is neither Christian or materialist.

    Thoughts?

  38. September 13, 2009 2:25 pm

    And no, I do not believe in cars with penises.

  39. Andrew permalink
    September 13, 2009 2:51 pm

    It’s also worth noting that while QM presents a serious challenge to hard determinism, it does not rule it out entirely for a number of reasons.

    Einstein’s famous “God does not play dice” quote was not talking about “God” in any sense that a theologian would recognize, but was really about the relationship between QM, determinism, and “reality”. He believed, counter to the Copenhagen interpretation, that QM was not “reality” but was instead built on top of lower-level properties that didn’t share QM’s bizarre features; this is what is called a “hidden variables” theory.

    Further theoretical developments (and some experimental results, though these are sometimes disputed) are generally agreed to have ruled out “local hidden variables” theories (the “local” part means that the hidden variables affecting measurements at a given point can’t be influenced by events at distant points). But different interpretations of QM differ wildly in how they handle this; there are (fringe) “nonlocal hidden variables” interpretations (which are deterministic), there is the “many-worlds” interpretation (which is fully deterministic and is probably the #2 interpretation in popularity behind the Copenhagen interpretation), and so on.

    So the issue isn’t anything like as simple as “QM, therefore not determinism”.

  40. Andrew permalink
    September 13, 2009 3:45 pm

    I don’t know if determinism is true or not. If it is, there is certainly nothing I can do about it even though I have the appearance of having free will.

    Determinism and free will aren’t necessarily incompatible.

    Broadly there are three positions on this:

    1. Compatibilism; this is the position that what we call “free will” can exist even in a deterministic world

    2. “hard” or “incompatibilist” determinism; “free will” does not exist at all (and determinism does)

    3. Philosophical libertarianism; “free will” exists and is acausal, and therefore determinism must be at least partially false

    Even position (2) doesn’t necessarily imply fatalism, which is usually what people are objecting to in discussion of free will vs. determinism. For example, in those experiments which have been done on the detrimental impact of “determinism” on moral behaviour, the “deterministic” primers which were used could better have been described as “fatalistic”, leaving open the question of whether determinism itself is responsible.

  41. September 13, 2009 5:20 pm

    Good point, Andrew, about Einstein’s opposition to the Copenhagen interpretation.

    Also, I think we engage in category error when we directly compare freewill to determinism. I think ‘freewill’ is best looked at as coming from our human perspective and being subjective, like beauty, meaning, etc. where determinism is a hard fact (I mean, assuming it’s true).

    Besides, we know we’re obviously causally influenced, or else our behavior and perceptions would be random, so when we try to find the ‘free’ part of our will, if we reject determinism, we would essentially find or more random number generators at the core of our thoughts. That’s not very ‘free’ either. If the Copenhagen interpretation turns out to be true, then this would exactly be the case I think. But in any case, when you break down the elements of thought, I don’t think there is really a good hard definition of ‘freewill’.

  42. Johann permalink
    September 13, 2009 5:43 pm

    The Courtier’s reply is a fantastic example of false equivication/analogy, and therefore logically invalid.

    Do elaborate, Jonathan. The Courtier’s Reply is a prettied-up assertion of what, to me, seems to be a basic fact – that theological expertise isn’t necessary to challenge the basic, foundational claims of theology, i.e. the existence of a deity.

  43. September 13, 2009 8:10 pm

    Yup that was pretty much what I was trying to say for you Mr. Riggs, you just do it with such more elegance. And, your a heck of a scripture mind if i don’t say so myself.

  44. Andrew permalink
    September 13, 2009 8:58 pm

    The one semi-deistic leaning I have is that I recognize that it is impossible to disprove or even demonstrate the unlikeliness of the idea that we’re all in ‘the Matrix’ of some sort, and that a sentient being (who undoubtedly evolved) controls it and is the ‘deus’ in question. This would be naturalistic of course, but such a theory lacks any kind of explanatory power or verifiability, so it’s worthless.

    “The Matrix” isn’t really an ideal example of this, since the Matrix differed from a normal reality in potentially testable ways (even discounting the glitches, agents and other “supernatural” phenomena, it would be difficult to impossible for it to simulate the results of certain neurological experiments accurately).

    Another example from fiction is the religion of “the Truth” from Iain M. Banks The Algebraist; while it’s not a central plot point, the state religion of the Mercatoria (a galaxy-spanning multi-species hierarchical polity) is based on the concept that since “the universe is just a gigantic simulation” is the only religious concept that has been independently invented by every single intelligent species, it is therefore the one most likely to be true; by promoting it (forcefully) the Mercatoria is (overtly) attempting to mess up the results obtained by the hypothetical entity or entities responsible.

  45. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    September 14, 2009 1:44 pm

    I’m not sure I know what you are asking. Do you mind clarifying for my allergy addled brain?

    It sounds like you are focusing here on just whether the idea of a god is feasible or not. Many groups believe in a god, but have very, very different things to say about it, and different rules they require of their followers. My question is two parts.

    1) If you managed to show there is a god, then do you think that necessarily leads to meaning christianity is correct?

    On this one, I already disagree, but I think the followers will say “there is a god, therefore we’re right.” There is still no basis for the bible nor the Christian beliefs, because no one really knows the nature of the god they speak of.

    2) If you managed to prove there is a god, where do you think that needs to go next?

    I don’t think it has to go anywhere, because again, no one knows the nature of the god they speak of. No one can accurately claim he likes worship, even bothers looking at people, or dislikes pork. More people claim god talks to them than anyone believes, and there’s no set of rules for proving whether that person is just nuts or whether they were really spoken to.

  46. Fauxrs permalink
    September 15, 2009 4:06 pm

    I will first of all state I havnt read miller or the book in question so I can really only speak to the summary givin in the blog post.

    Science, as Miller describes it, is merely an investigation of how the natural world works, no more, no less. It can’t give us meaning or show we humans do the things we do. This seems like a sentence fragment, I am not certain as to what is meant but I assume the sentence was meant to say …”it cant give us meaning or show why we humans do the things we do”.

    My reaction to that is mostly “so what”. first of all saying it cant give meaning is begging the question. Since it assumes there IS meaning, its also likely that there is no “meaning”, leastways in the definition many christians give to the word meaning in such a context, i.e. meaning of life, why are we here etc…Also why we do the things we do seems overly vague to me, does this include everything we do or just a subset of human actions? which actions in particular

    He points out that while this is true about evolutionary biology, it’s not true when it comes to Quantum Physics. He explains through exploring how light is both a particle AND a wave, something had been considered impossible before Einstein and Planck. And, no matter how hard we try, we can’t understand or know everything about a particle, because on the Quantum level, and quotes Heisenberg, “Can nature possibly be absurd as it seemed to us in these atmomic experiments?”

    Yes quantum theory is complex and not fully understood this is true however I fail to see the connection between present day physicists being unable to fully comprehend certain aspects of quantum theory and how it equates to belief in the supernatural being more rational. If someone could explain the connection I would appreciate it. Does theism offer new insight into quantum theory that science cannot.

    A Christian position is that all of creation is both supernatural and natural. Such a position would be absurd, except for the fact is, it reflects reality as it is. God acts in natural and supernatural ways, it seems to us, but that’s not the way it seems to God. He acts in ways that are consistent with reality as it actually is, not what we percieve it to be

    Reality is both supernatural and natural? Well if we define supernatural as unexplained (as yet) then I suppose so. If we define supernatural as the divine will of god then I would say, prove it. Unexplained is simply that, unexplained. there was a time in this world when we had no knowledge of germ theory, this did not lend greater creedance to the belief that demons created disease. There was a time when we didnt understand celestial mechanics, this did not necessarily increase the validity of geocentrism.
    when I hear that physicists cant explain certain actions in quantum theory I fail to see how that says anything other than they cant explain it, it doesnt lend strength to theories of the divine.

    matter in the universe behaves in such a way that we can never acheive complete knowledge of any fragment of it and that life itself is structured in a way that allows biological history to pivot directly on these tiny undertainties

    never? Never? does Miller know something physicists dont? Never is a very long time and to make such an astounding claim that science will NEVER comprehend some specific fact seems awful arrogant to me. Its possible he is correct of course, but hardly certain.

    That ought to allow for even the most critical scientist to admit that breaks in casuality at the atomic level make it fundemntally impossible to exclude the idea that we have really caught a glimpse of the mind of God.”

    Why does it relate? If breaks in causality at the atomic level are as yet unexplained, why do we even have to assume god? Why cant we assume it is as yet unexplained? If science is as Miller describes it, is merely an investigation of how the natural world works, no more, no less. Then why does god even enter into it, you cant test for god or at least no-one has figured out a rational method for doing so that I have heard, so far all I have heard is, science cant figure it out (Yet) so you cant rule out god.

    Why not just state Science cant figure it out (Yet).

  47. September 15, 2009 5:38 pm

    Andrew, I’m aware the Matrix is an imperfect analogy. I used it because I figure most people would know that I was just referring to the general idea, not the specifics. Those movies had lots of elements that were there to make an exciting story, not to be accurate. For example, I can’t imagine any way that real people would die if their avatars died. That’s just to add suspense.

    As a random side note, it occurred to me the other day that if this world is indeed a simulation, then that could explain the whole collapse of the quantum wave function thing. Basically, if the simulation saved some resources by just averaging and assuming small particles, but then rendered them completely upon our observation of them, we would expect to see the phenomena. That would make Maxwell’s demon more than just an illustration. But digress. I hope that was of at least semi-relevance 🙂

    ***

    I suspect that what Miller (and Jon) are getting at is that if there is a level of reality that does not seem to conform to predictable rules, then there is room for divine intervention without having to invoke a violation of natural laws. Rather, natural laws would include a ‘manual’ switch’ so to speak for God to use. It’s an attempt to eliminate the problems associated with ‘supernatural’ events. You’ll notice Jon scrupulously avoids the term ‘supernatural’.

    I think it would have merit if the evidence for the special claims of the Bible were good. It’s a decent mechanical model (at least at the current level of uncertainty we have about QM), but, as Miller recognizes, it’s completely insufficient to indicate any truth in Christianity or even theism.

  48. Patrick Truitt permalink
    September 16, 2009 1:15 am

    matter in the universe behaves in such a way that we can never acheive complete knowledge of any fragment of it and that life itself is structured in a way that allows biological history to pivot directly on these tiny undertainties

    never? Never? does Miller know something physicists dont? Never is a very long time and to make such an astounding claim that science will NEVER comprehend some specific fact seems awful arrogant to me. Its possible he is correct of course, but hardly certain.

    As Mike points out, Miller is probably referring to the uncertainty principle and the indeterminism in the universe as governed by quantum mechanics. Even as we improve our knowledge of the laws of physics, our knowledge of its properties will always be incomplete. I’m curious how Miller applies this to biological history, though.

    As a random side note, it occurred to me the other day that if this world is indeed a simulation, then that could explain the whole collapse of the quantum wave function thing. Basically, if the simulation saved some resources by just averaging and assuming small particles, but then rendered them completely upon our observation of them, we would expect to see the phenomena.

    Not sure that works. Wouldn’t the simulation use some deterministic algorithm to determine the averaging, which would act as a hidden variable? I could be misunderstanding you, though.

  49. Andrew permalink
    September 16, 2009 2:10 am

    Not sure that works. Wouldn’t the simulation use some deterministic algorithm to determine the averaging, which would act as a hidden variable?

    It would be a hidden variable, but the simulation could cheat and not keep it local. (That’s presumably also the loophole that the quantum theologians appeal to, since a God who messed around with quantum behaviour would also be a hidden variable in some sense, but not a local one.)

    At least as we understand things at the moment, the rules are something like this: the universe can’t be both local and have counterfactual definiteness (the ability to speak meaningfully about the results of measurements that you didn’t make). Bohmian hidden-variable theories deny the “local” part, the Copenhagen interpretation, many-worlds, and consistent histories and other decoherence theories deny CFD.

  50. September 17, 2009 10:58 am

    I dunno at all if it works. I’m out of my league with that one, so it was just a side note. 🙂

    I was thinking maybe that the net action of an object would be thought of as if it were made of trillions of small particles, but in reality be simply an average. Rather like we could describe a bar of iron as being 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but it really is made up of discreet particles simple vibrating at many different different rate that average out to our 60 degrees. In order to further the realism of the model, the quantum observer effect would take hold when someone attempted to actually look at it.

    This would be like how in a video game, detail textures are only rendered when they are at a certain distance from the viewer, or how distant objects are simplified with level-of-detail adjustments

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_detail

    It’s just a digression in any case. It has no bearing on my other views. 🙂

  51. Knockgoats permalink
    September 18, 2009 3:45 pm

    Theism/deism/atheism and determinism/indeterminism are completely orthogonal: you will find people with every possible combination of beliefs on these two axes, and there are no obvious contradictions within any combination. Miller, meanwhile, seems to have constructed himself a nice straw man called “hard core materialism”, then bashed it to pieces. Not very interesting, really.

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