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Criticisms of Quantum-Based Proposals on Divine Action

The causal joint in quantum-based proposals on divine action seems to outline a promising proposal as to how God might act in the world science describes.

However, both Peacocke and Polkinghorne reject quantum indeterminacy as a candidate for the causal joint. The link between the probabilistic world of quantum mechanics and the macroscopic world is still poorly understood (see Schrödinger’s Cat and the Meaning of Quantum Theory), nor is it known if there can be any equivalent to chaotic behaviour (where large effects are caused by small changes in initial conditions) within quantum systems. Except in devices designed to amplify them, the effects of quantum fluctuations tend to cancel out - the ‘amplification’ suggested by proponents of the theory is therefore rather questionable.See the causal joint in quantum-based proposals on divine action, mode 3. It may however be significant that two important candidates for loci of particular divine action - mutations in genetic material...

Among Peacocke’s objections are:

  1. his sense that ontological indeterminacy has to be taken seriously - God could not logically have the knowledge to determine the precise result of a quantum event, and if God were to alter such an event, God would have to alter a great number of others simply in order to hide divine activity behind the observed statistics.

  2. a conviction that this picture of God continually determining the outcome of processes established in creation is at variance with the very fruitful emphasis in the scientist-theologians that God has created processes which themselves can, when sustained by God, give rise to the novelty, diversity and complexity we so celebrate.

The case of quantum indeterminacy as a candidate for the causal joint is an important crux of interpretation in the area of scientifically-informed theology. At first sight it is an enormously tempting line of argument:

  • real freedom in agents, human and divine, requires an open future - genuine, ontological indeterminacy

  • the main (though not the only) interpretation of contemporary physics is that quantum systems possess such indeterminacy.

  • therefore, this is where divine agency can operate without detection, or interference in the autonomy of natural (particularly living) entities.

there seems a real consonance, or at least a genuinely good fit, between quantum theory - the most imaginative, ingenious and counter-intuitive element in natural science - on the one hand, and the demands of theology on the other.

However, as we have just seen, there are significant problems in making the argument cohere in detail. The science is not itself wholly coherent - the ‘measurement problem’ continues to bedevil quantum theory, and its metaphysical implications are still being argued out. Nor is the ‘fit’ the science offers, even judged at its most helpful, to the taste of every theologian.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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