Thursday, January 10, 2008


A Universal Basis for Science and Religion, Part 9

Universal Basis: Part 9

One of the quotations that stuck in my mind long before I understood its significance was one that, in several versions, is attributed to Albert Einstein. He explained his objection to quantum mechanics by saying: "God may be a rascal, but he is not a gambler". It can be taken to refer to the gedanken-experiment of Schrodinger's cat, where a radioactive source is set up to trigger a lethal experience for a cat in a closed container. Clearly the cat is either alive or dead when the container is opened, but what is its state while the container is closed? Quantum theory would say that the cat is both alive and dead but, of course, the human observer can only observe a dead cat or a live one.

But Schrodinger's cat is a paradox only because the postulated observer is human. To a Deus ex Machina of the kind we defined earlier, the cat is clearly alive on one branch of its lifeline, and dead on another. Since the DeM observes both, there is no paradox. The paradox only exists if we expect that the human experimenter has the same powers as the DeM, which is clearly false to fact.

In the case of Einstein's quip, the false assumption is reversed. Since "God" is not limited to human perceptions, and would have at least the perceptions of the DeM, which is merely a mathematical model, there is no necessity for God to gamble: if there are two possible outcomes, God observes both. (At least the DeM can observe both if it cares to.) The assumption that God is as limited in its perceptions as we are, which is at the implicit basis of most, if not all, quantum paradoxes, is entirely unnecessary. Einstein's God clearly had feet of clay.

This kind of theological assumption, that the qualities of God should be restricted to something that has already been imagined by some human being, is what makes historical theology inferior to science as a species of intellectual endeavor. There is no reason for this limitation.

If we consider the evolution of human beings from a theological standpoint, there is no reason that God should have created us (presumably through the process of evolution) with a facility for thought that stopped with some particular theologian or prophet. Just as in science we keep poking at the present accepted set of natural laws to see if we can find a glitch, I suspect that God would have created in us a facility for doing our best to understand our experiences. We have an obligation to God (if there is one) to do the best we can, and not get intellectually lazy just because somebody has had a particularly striking theological insight. Jesus, Gautama and Mohammed were great contributors to the relationship between us and the universe, but they weren't gods, no matter what some may believe. If we can do better, if we can incorporate the understanding of new experiences into their insights, then we have the obligation to do so.

This essay has illustrated how science, as the study of the natural world, and theology, as the study of the order in the universe that we call "God", can work hand in hand to point a way for the human species to live in accord with the workings of the planet we reside on. We can hope that other creative scientists and theologians will work together to make these notions deeper and more universal.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?