Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VII

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI
In chapter seven, titled “Beyond Materialism,” Miller questions whether materialism spells the end of God.  First, he notes, that with the increasing knowledge of humans, which got dramatic boost with the rise of modern science, the place of gods and goddesses in the universe began to shrink. Miller puts it this way:
Then something happened. Something wonderful. A few of our ancestors began to learn the rules by which nature worked, and after a while, we no longer needed Apollo to pull the sun’s chariot across the sky.  We no longer needed Ceres to waken seeds from winter sleep. The movements of the sun and moon became part of a mechanism, a celestial machine in which each motion could be calculated and explained (p. 193).
Thus began the retreat of the gods in the natural world, and it has not stopped.  Science has continually filled gaps in human understanding of nature and the gods have lost their everyday role.  This situation naturally led to Deism, the idea that God was the great architect who designed the natural world.  Or, to use another more common view, God was the master watchmaker who constructed the natural world and its natural laws, then wound up the clock and let it go. Yet, Miller notes, Deism failed on two counts.  First, it failed because it did not line up with the view of God in the great western religions which views God as personal and involved in the world. The Deistic watchmaker has no interaction with the natural world on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps more significantly, Deism did not line up with the progression of scientific knowledge.  Deism might have persisted if scientific knowledge ended with a Newtonian universe of cause and effect dictated by concrete unbreakable laws.  Yet, science did progress, putting an end to the Newtonian, deterministic universe.  Enter quantum physics.

Max Planck, a German physicist, came up with quantum theory in the early 1900s.  Without getting too deep into the science, which frankly is beyond me, he theorized that light, which we knew behaved like a wave, also behaved like a particle.  He came up with a unit of light called a photon. Others noticed that these photons of light behaved rather strangely. These subatomic particles of light do not always behave according to fixed physical laws in a Newtonian way such that we can absolutely predict the results.  For example, Miller explains, a common household mirror reflects about 95% of the light hitting it. The other 5% passes right through the mirror.  The strange behavior of the photons occurs in that it is completely unpredictable which 5% of the photons will be reflected and which will pass through. Miller writes,
If we rig up an experiment in which we fire a single photon at our mirror, we cannot predict in advance what will happen, no matter how precise our knowledge of the system might be. Most of the time, that photon is going to come bouncing off; but one time out of twenty, on average, it’s going to go right through the mirror.  There is nothing we can do, not even in principle, to figure out when that one chance in twenty is going to come up.  It means that the outcome of each individual experiment is unpredictable in principle (p. 200). 
Take this further, and Werner Heisenberg came up which his “uncertainty principle,” in which he stated that the nature of subatomic particles is inherently unpredictable. What is the upshot of these developments in quantum physics, according to Miller?  It is that the universe is not a deterministic physical system that obeys physical laws in a Newtonian fashion.  Yes, on the macro level, this quantum indeterminacy behaves according to statistical averages, which allows scientific predictions on a large scale. This is why science works, and why the physical world largely behaves according to physical laws.  Yet, at its core, the system has a built-in uncertainty.  According to Miller, it is this quantum indeterminacy that allows for true freedom and frees us from a deterministic physical system. It frees us from a Deistic god who designs and winds up the watch and then leaves it to its own devices.  It leaves room for the workings of God in the world, while not impinging on a self-sufficient material universe.  Miller ends his chapter this way:
But the tools of science itself have discovered that scientific materialism has a curious, inherent limitation.  And we certainly left to wonder what to make of that.  It could be just a puzzling, curious fact about the nature of the universe.  Or it could be the clue that allows us to bind everything, including evolution, into a worldview in which science and religion are partners, not rivals, in extending human understanding a step beyond the bounds of mere materialism (219).


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