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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Omniscience and Quantum Uncertainty

(Yes, I do tend to use titles with "and". Doesn't seem worth refraining, if it comes naturally.)

My husband, Hoosier Gadfly, has said on occasion that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (and possibly other credible theories of quantum physics) precludes divine omniscience. I'm not convinced.

As I understand it -- though perhaps I don't -- Heisenberg's Etc. is essentially about measurement. Measurement may yield the most accurate knowledge, but if one is predicting the result of a very thoroughly controlled future event, one could be said to "know" that result. If, for example, one rolls a ball of a certain mass, whose surface has a known degree of friction, down a surface with a known incline, on a path from which no deviation is possible, for a fixed number of seconds -- and yet, for any reason, one is unable to perceive and measure the result -- one could calculate in advance where the ball would end up. That information would be essentially known, though not perceived at the time of the event.

If one postulates a Creator capable of thoroughly calculating in advance (or in some timeless manner) all the interacting events that would make up a universe and its history, that Creator would essentially know what would happen in that universe, even if unable to observe those events unfolding.

I should not attempt this sort of discussion when underslept and racing the clock to minimize tomorrow's undersleptness....


Paul Hager said...

What you are saying, in effect, is that God could have conceived/planned the universe and known its beginning and end states AND all states in between. This is particularly problematic for our assumed Deity because the best evidence is that the universe is not closed. To "know" at any given point the state of the evolving universe - which is what you posit – without measuring anything requires that God developed and maintained a perfectly isomorphic map of the universe He was going to create and to which he can refer once it is created. But, this meta-universe suffers from the same problems as the universe it is going to model. It is rather like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. This theorem states that in any formal mathematical system there are some propositions that cannot be proven using the rules and axioms of the system itself. (Note the discussion in the linked paper surrounding equation (1).) “Knowing” what is going on within the “system” – our universe – requires modeling it from the outside – the “metaverse”. But God’s metaverse merely displaces the same problems already noted into that system. To understand or “know” the metaverse requires a meta-metaverse, and so on.

Some of the greatest developments in science and mathematics in the 20th century are centered around the understanding that there are some things that are unknowable or unprovable. Some things may be knowable if they can be computed but the time required to compute them can expand indefinitely, making them essentially unknowable. The 20th was a bad century for omniscient, omnipotent, and (incidentally) omnibenevolent Dieties.

Perhaps a better way of conceiving of God is reminiscent of Buddhist theology: the universe and everything in it IS God. As close as I’ve ever come to religious thinking (after I pitched religion at age 13) was what I described as “God the embryonic”, which preceded my joke religion of the “Naked Singularity”. The idea was not original – it came from a lot of different sources, including SF writer Arthur C. Clarke. In essence it is that there is no God now but there will be – that the universe is evolving in the direction of self-awareness, with we humans being the only known (to us) example of the first stage in this evolution. In this conception, God is a race (or a group of races) of super-beings. Of course, these super-beings are constrained by the laws of the universe and are necessarily limited in what they can do – just like the God Creator we’ve been discussing.

Paul Hager said...

Addendum: apropos of "God the Embryonic" is the possibility that the universe is the way a god reproduces itself. Thus, the universe is rather like an egg. The God that laid this particular egg could well have little more knowledge about the workings of the egg/universe than, say, a chicken would about its egg.

The idea of all-knowning Deities seems to be a central dogma in a lot of religions. But I don't know why we should give that dogma any more credit than any other piece of dogma that even believers reject - for example, Young Earth Creationism is rejected by a lot of (most?) Christians.

Of course, the problem (for believers) with science debunking religious dogma is that after the dust settles the only thing that remains is a rather diffuse Deism/Theism.

Actually, I think the Christians I've gotten to know have done a pretty good job of accommodating their beliefs to the challenges of science. The people who seem most impervious to challenges to their dogmas are the eco-fascists.