The Language of God, Chapter 3
By B.J. Marshall
Collins spends only a few pages discussing quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle. He starts with a sentence that has nothing to do with anything, really. He mentions that “Newton was a believer who wrote more about biblical interpretation than he did about mathematics and physics” (p.78). I have no idea why Collins would include this other than to say, “Hey, look everyone! This guy’s a theist, and he’s really smart. You should pay attention to him.” And we’ve already seen the problems with that kind of thinking. He continues by setting up scientific determinism with a brief discussion of the marquis de Laplace, but then knocks it down with the uncertainty principle in order to save free will and a place for God to do His work. For added emphasis, he throws in a quote from Einstein and one from Hawking.
And that’s the main beef I have with this section – and he’s done it in the past, but I’ve saved up my frustration until now: quote mining. Twice now, he’s quoted Hawking, so let’s address those first:
We could still imagine that there is a set of laws that determine events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it (p.80)
This comes from Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” (For future reference, I’ll just call it aBHoT.) Too bad Collins didn’t read the very next sentences:
However, such models of the universe are not of much interest to us ordinary mortals. It seems better to employ the principle of economy known as Occam’s razor and cut out all the features of the theory that cannot be observed (aBHoT p.
Just because we could imagine a set of laws doesn’t make it so. I don’t see what point Collins is trying to validate by quoting material that suggests God could observe the universe without disturbing it. A god who doesn’t interfere at all with the universe seems like a useless concept. Collins himself admits that God likes to disturb things from time to time to perform miracles, but the prospect of verifying/validating a god who does interfere with the universe (either directly through miracles or indirectly through mere observation) seems highly problematic.
Collins throws in another Hawking quote when discussing cosmology, and this one was priceless:
It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us (p.75).
Hawking says this in the framework of having a universe with a specific initial configuration. He then – right in the next paragraph, no less!! – continues to discuss alternatives to specific initial universe configurations. The alternatives boil down to various models of inflationary growth of the universe. Hawking starts with describing Alan Guth’s inflationary model and discusses Linde, Steinhardt, and Albrecht’s “new inflationary model.” (aBHoT p.67-69). Hawking then talks about how the “present state of the universe could have arisen from quite a large number of different initial configurations” (aBHoT p.70). Hawking mentions later that we’d need a better understanding of quantum laws to figure out how the universe should have started off.
Ending this small section, Collins tosses out that perennial favorite of scientist quotes, “God does not play dice.” I won’t belabor the point greatly, since Ebonmuse already covered it here. I have to do some quote-mining of my own, but it’s really just alluding to the content of the page I linked to: here goes:
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
…the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.
Other posts in this series: