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Physics and Faith 5. A Universe of True Becoming

The present on-line notes are preliminary notes that were revised for the Sunday of this presentation. PDF and .doc files of the overheads used for the revised presentation are available from the Physics and Faith home page or from the download page

 

Overview

Newtonian determinism is dead in science. Two developments in modern physics make determinism untenable.

Quantum physics tells us we absolutely cannot predict the properties of a particle no matter how well we know its past history. 

Chaos theory shows many if not most systems of nature are extremely sensitive to the starting conditions. A minute, nearly infinitesimal difference in the starting conditions can lead to completely different behaviors. Two different ways a butterfly flaps its wings in France can lead to two different weather patterns in Minnesota one month later. 

The laws of physics thus tell us the future is unpredictable. Our universe is a universe of true becoming, with a future open to change by individuals and by God.

 

Topics

1. The Death of a "Clockmaker God"

2. Theological Implications

 

 

1. The Death of a "Clockmaker God"

1.1. Newtonian Determinism

18th and 19th century physics was dominated by “Newtonian Determinism,” which purported that:

  • Given all the input parameters, the laws of physics can precisely predict the behavior of any phenomenon to any required degree of accuracy

  • Thus if we know all the initial or starting conditions of the universe, and had a sufficiently powerful computer, we could precisely predict the universe’s entire future

 

“Newtonian Determinism” is now untenable because of:

  • Quantum mechanics

  • “Chaos” Theory = Extreme Sensitivity to Initial Conditions = “The Butterfly Effect.” Chaos theory shows many if not most systems of nature are extremely sensitive to the starting conditions. A minute, nearly infinitesimal difference in the starting conditions can lead to completely different behaviors. Two different ways a butterfly flaps its wings in France can lead to two different weather patterns in Minnesota one month later. 

 

 

1.2. Quotations

 

“The statistical character of atomic events and the instability of many physical systems to minute fluctuations, ensures that the future remains open and undetermined by the present. This makes possible the emergence of new forms and systems, so that the universe is endowed with a sort of freedom to explore genuine novelty.”

-- physicist Paul Davies

 

 “In the 20th century, we have learned that whatever the physical world is, it is not a machine. It is not the world of clockwork regularity that it seemed to the people of the 18th and (to a large extent) the 19th century. The processes of the world is something more subtle and more supple than that…. the world is  world of true becoming, a world where the future is genuinely new.”

-- John Polkinghorne

 

 

2. Theological Implications

2.1. The Universe is a Rational Creation Endowed with Freedom to Explore Novelty

A Rational and Free Universe, “Wholly Other”

Two gifts given by God to the universe:

  • Rationality, Order, Regularity, Reliability (the Laws of Physics)

    • sign of God’s faithfulness

  • Independence and freedom; a universe “wholly other”

    • sign of God’s love

    • expressed in the built-in chance, happenstance given to nature, that allows the universe to evolve and give rise to novelty and new forms -- to become “creative”

 

Implications of a Creation “Wholly Other” and Theodicy (the problem of natural evil):

  • The freedom that God has chosen to give his creation to evolve and grow, to be novel and unpredictable, may be relevant in trying to explain the problem of natural evil.

  • it may logically require, for example, that God allow the rocks of an avalanche the “free process” to do what is in “their nature.”

  • The “free process” of the rocks may logically be “part and parcel” of the “free will” given to human beings.

 

 

2.2. Possibilities for Divine Intervention in the Universe

Two ways God might act unseen in the universe

  • influence the collapse of the wavefunction

  • influence his creatures (from butterflies to human beings)

 

 

2.3. Quotations

 

“the processes revealed by the sciences are in themselves God acting as Creator and God is not to be found as some kind of additional factor added on to the processes of the world. God, to use the language usually applied to sacramental theology, is ‘in, with and under’ all that-is and all-that-goes-on”

-- Arthur Peacocke

 

“God's intervention normally takes place within the laws that God has established to govern the universe through ‘general providence’. Miracles remain the exception to reinforce the rule. God is no cosmic tinkerer, and God's creation is not in need of periodic adjustment”

-- Mark Worthing

 

“..God  neither does everything nor does he do nothing, but he interacts, patiently and lovingly, with the process of his creation, to which he had given its own due measure of independence. This intermingling of providential grace with the freedom of nature means that divine action will not be demonstrable by experiment, though it may be discernable by the intuition of faith”

-- John Polkinghorne

 

 

 

 

 

Physics and Faith

 

1. Views of the Relationship Between Science and Theology

2. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer. Part I. The Laws of Physics. The Big Bang

3. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer. Part II. Quantum Cosmology. The Anthropic Principle

4. Rumors of a Designer Creator and Sustainer, Part III. The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

5. A Universe of True Becoming

6. Physics, The Fall, and The Final Things