"God doesn't play with dice": does QM's randomness really contradict religion?

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Everyone knows Einstein's popular phrase on Quantum Mechanics - "God doesn't play with dice", implying that the randomness theory that the universe "popped" into existence randomly doesn't align with Einstein's perception of God (which is Spinoza's). (Edit: as was noted several times, Einstein didn't make a theistic statement here. The issue for Einstein was the lack of systematic view that the randomness idea created.)

I'd like to question that and ask, must QM's random theory really contradict common God perception (Christianity, Judaism, etc)? Is there anyone who tried to make the theory compatible with a religious standpoint, or vice versa, make a religious standpoint that's compatible with QM?

Edit: as I see I haven't made that clear, I'd like to state that the main focus of the question is of creation of the universe.

Edit 2: separating Einstein's quote and the theistic issue, the question is in two parts: the theistic issue that randomness (may) have with the idea of intentional creation, and Einstein's issue with the mechanism system randomness creates.

Yechiam Weiss

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 3 468

1To notice, Einstein's god was a clocksmith god, not the providential god of Christianism. – Luís Henrique – 2018-02-11T12:45:38.437

@LuísHenrique yes, as I noted, it's Spinoza's God. But I count it in the same sphere of theism that's being attacked. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T13:08:03.557

I don't know this topic very well so I won't post an answer but I think that the are different religious views within christianity regarding the question of determinism, some being fatalists and others not. The question of free will and compatibilism is rather important for that matter since it plays a role in theology. I would say that determinism or indeterminism are both compatible with religion. – Quentin Ruyant – 2018-02-11T14:33:17.910

And also Einstein's sentence is probably a way of talking rather than a commitment to the existence of God. – Quentin Ruyant – 2018-02-11T14:37:33.400

@QuentinRuyant please see my edit. And no, Einstein's biggest (if not only) issue with accepting QM, even though it's mathematics was correct, is that sentence. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T14:39:44.493

8Just to be clear, physicists often use "God" not to mean "God" per se, but as a metaphor. In the particular case of "God does not play dice", God can be seen as a metaphor for physical laws. Playing dice specifically refers to the application of the Born Rule. Einstein isn't making a theological claim (even a Spinozan one) here; he's making an entirely physical claim... that all physical laws must be driven by mechanics, if you will. The Born Rule per se is fine (here); it just can't be "the real mechanics" because behaviors "don't just pop out of thin air". – H Walters – 2018-02-11T17:52:19.577

In addition to those @PeterJ mentioned in his answer you might want to see Shimon Malin's "Nature Loves to Hide". Malin is a physicist and the book is about the collapse of the wave function which is when the potentialities become actual. His philosophical approach rests mainly on Whitehead and Plotinus. – Frank Hubeny – 2018-02-11T18:01:19.913

1@YechiamWeiss thanks for the clarification. Now I agree with FrankHubeny that God in this sentence is probably metaphorical and I don't think Einstein was concerned about the origin of the universe, but rather with the fact that events after the origin of the universe are random. – Quentin Ruyant – 2018-02-11T22:30:09.190

@QuentinRuyant yes, I agree that that's probably what concerned Einstein, my mistake. And maybe this should be 2 different questions, about creation and about "after", but the core of them both is the main concern so I think opening a different question isn't the smart choice. Tell me if you think otherwise though. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T22:49:02.463

Of all the things why randomness, and why quantum mechanics? Classical mechanics allows randomness too, see Indeterminism in classical mechanics, and the problem of free will vs predestination predates even it. Both are purely theological doctrines that conflict regardless of mechanics. For proposed resolutions see SEP's Foreknowledge and Free Will. Also, there is no "common God perception", Hindu and Buddhist gods are very different, and some versions of Buddhism are atheistic.

– Conifold – 2018-02-12T02:55:08.930

@YechiamWeiss no that's fine, the question can be asked even if it's not what Einstein meant. – Quentin Ruyant – 2018-02-12T10:18:18.700

1@QuentinRuyant I hope the edits I've made cleared up the mess I created by combining both issues. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-12T10:29:11.270

Answers

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Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign.
- Théophile Gautier

came to my mind. It is a view that you can sometimes encounter in the Catholic Thinking. Quantum randomness would be a very effective way to hide for God that would also enable him to have full control of everything. He just need to make it look random. Note that while it was proven that there can not be any hidden local deterministic variables, alternative non-local determinism has been showed to be consistent with experiments. So this wouldn't be a problem for a non local God.

user103766

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 160

Excellent answer, which should be accepted. (Coming from someone with a PhD in Judaic theology). So this wouldn't be a problem for a non local God - God can make himself 'local' or 'non-local', depending on the what situation warrants. Miracles can be seen as extraordinary circumstances where the normally 'non-local God' deemed it appropriate to be manifest as a 'local'. Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign. Notable Quotable - tnx for that. – Vector – 2018-02-12T00:32:31.343

Note the disproof of hidden-variable theories depends on the fact that nothing can go faster than light. So if God could go faster than the speed of light (and wanted to), then a hidden-variable theory could be true. – PyRulez – 2018-02-12T02:25:45.880

7The idea that God would have to make use of something like an "effective way to hide" presupposes that He is subject to the laws of His own creation. That simply doesn't make sense according to what is understood of God - unless, of course, you're thinking about little gods like the Greeks invented. However the question itself also makes a similar assumption. – None – 2018-02-12T02:53:34.553

@PédeLeão Absolutely not. It only presupposes that He chooses to act within the framework He created. – jpmc26 – 2018-02-12T08:56:48.547

1@jpmc26. What's the point in presupposing that God chooses to subject Himself to conditions that would lead to hiding? Why go to the trouble of propping up a presupposition with a theory that makes less sense than what was presupposed? – None – 2018-02-12T10:32:44.950

1@PédeLeão It doesn't make less sense. It merely supposes there are things that might motivate an omnipresent, omnipotent God that we do not understand. The very idea that we would understand everything God does is what doesn't make sense. When we posit that God knows everything and can do literally anything, we're positing a being with two qualities that no human shares or can even really comprehend. In short, it merely puts God into the realm of the unknown, which is exactly where He would be if He exists. – jpmc26 – 2018-02-12T10:36:05.127

@PédeLeão Well, it means that God's actions are indistinguishable from God having not acted and a big coincidence; we can't point at something and say "that's a subversion of physical laws so God must have done it" if this is the case. – wizzwizz4 – 2018-02-12T15:58:19.743

Let me try to explain the "hiding place" idea; I've often had this thought myself, and I used to teach high school Physics, so here goes: QM creates a way for God to make it appear as though things are occurring randomly, while he controls the things He wants, while keeping the behavior of the world within the laws of Physics (i.e., avoiding open miracles). Why He wants to avoid open miracles is a whole other question (the most obvious answer is that it would obviate free choice in belief). So God is not so much hiding himself, but his actions behind the veil of probabilistic behavior. – Jeffiekins – 2018-02-12T17:02:26.717

1Sounds like the 'God of the gaps' to me – CriglCragl – 2018-02-12T22:09:08.363

Re "Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign."(Théophile Gautier), the way I recall hearing it is that "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.", Albert Einstein, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_einstein_574924 So who plagiarized (arguably paraphrased) whom???

– None – 2018-02-13T05:50:43.293

1This doesn't make sense. The randomness in quantum mechanics remains a well specified transition of probability functions; messing with this is still a violation of physics. It confers no advantage to hide effects inside these distributions, and a hypothetical god happy to violate human-derived physical laws could do so even without quantum randomness. I agree with Pé de Leão; you are "propping up a presupposition with a theory that makes less sense than what was presupposed". – Veedrac – 2018-02-14T13:21:08.393

@Veedrac - Agree with your comment. This is a very naive idea of God. God wouldn't need to be 'non-local' since he is always local, (spatial and temporal extension being mundane phenomena), and it seems unlikely he'd have to go to so much trouble to hide as to invent QM. But there is something in this. It may not be God that is hiding but just that QM reveals the immateriality of the Ultimate and the illusory or mental nature of extension. . . . – None – 2018-02-15T13:59:14.340

1@PeterJ "QM reveals the immateriality of the Ultimate and the illusory or mental nature of extension" → Randomness in QM comes about because QM deals in probability functions. This doesn't imply anything about inaccurate projections onto true reality or make any statement about the accuracy of perception. – Veedrac – 2018-02-15T14:58:33.367

@Veedrac Fair enough. I wasn't thinking of randomness here, which I don't properly understand and from which I can deduce very little. – None – 2018-02-16T12:51:20.030

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Einstein was a proponent of hidden-variable theory. The gist is that, if something appears random, then it's really just chaotically dependent upon information we don't have.

So, God (the universe) doesn't play dice. Subsets of it might, but Einstein held that a complete description of the universe would be fully deterministic. Any description reliant on randomness merely omits the hidden variables.

Nat

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 1 788

It's worth adding that in what he called his 'greatest mistake' he added a cosmological constant to his analysis of the universe so as to make it static, leaving the idea that it was expanding to be found by Hubble. Physicists, including Einstein, had a predilection to find a static eternal universe, and it isn't. They wanted it deterministic, and it isn't. – CriglCragl – 2018-02-12T22:15:37.570

1@CriglCragl The cosmological constant stuff isn't related to determinism. – Nat – 2018-02-12T22:35:55.403

I linked it because even Einstein went with what people thought in his time, and proved to be wrong. I thought that was clear? Determinism the same. – CriglCragl – 2018-02-12T22:57:20.137

@CriglCragl I'm not following. Einstein was mostly right about determinism. The cosmological constant is a weaker proposition, though Einstein's own criticism of it may've been a tad too harsh. – Nat – 2018-02-12T23:03:21.093

No he wasn't. Hence the EPR Paradox, and Aspect experiments that demonstrated entanglement. – CriglCragl – 2018-02-12T23:15:48.860

1@CriglCragl There's probably too much ground to cover there in the comments. We'll have to agree to disagree. – Nat – 2018-02-12T23:19:58.670

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Aristotle already points out in his Metaphysics that some philosophers took chance to be a cause. So in the very early thinking on physics chance wasn't ruled out as a cause.

It was ruled out in the modern era due to the success of Newtonian Mechanics that installed strict determinism as a principle of Nature and this was principally due to the influence of Laplace. However there were dissenters, for example in the book Philosophy & Physics, its pointed that Antonin Cournot, the 19th C French mathematician and economist, stated that chance ought to be considered as a cause in physical thinking. This view was of course vindicated in the early 20C when chance was discovered in physics - radioactive decay and then more fundamentally in QM.

This dethroning of Newtonian determinism had its dissenters , most prominently by Einstein. However he found the loss of locality in QM far more problematic. Given that General relativity was the culmination of a long search since Newton for local theories of physics, which was first achieved in electromagnetism and then gravity - this is not so surprising.

I don't see how taking chance to be a cause is problematic for either Islam or Christanity. As in both, the physical world is ruled by Gods law in the world which is then merely seen as physical law, and chance as a cause is nonetheless ruled by physical law.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 1

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I am just a layman but bear in mind that science describes the nuts and bolts of reality the methodological "why" and not the metaphysical "why" i.e. the purpose. It cannot as a matter of logic "explain away" God as some scientists may preen themselves on being able to do. As far as I know there is no rational explanation for the intelligibility of the umiverse (or why it should continue as Hume realized) - the existence of which is the basis of what we call laws of nature.

user30865

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation:

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This is a interesting question. I've never heard anyone arguing from QM to God, or nobody with a strong conviction and a sound knowledge of QM and theology. I'm not sure how such an argument could be made.

But there is plenty of literature arguing from QM to a religious standpoint. This is because, as the early QM pioneers noticed, QM is consistent with the Perennial philosophy. For a general survey of their views there is Ken Wilbur's Quantum Questions.

Three other writers come to mind. Bernardo Kastrup, who has worked at Cern, is making waves writing about Idealism from as scientific perspective. Also there is Ulrich Mohrhoff, who has written a student text-book called The World According to Quantum Mechanics - Why the Laws of Physics Make Sense After All. He endorses Schrodinger's view that the metaphysics of the Indian Upanishads is correct. The book is mostly maths but he makes the connection clear.

Note though that using QM as an argument for the Upanishadic view is not at all the same thing as using it to support commonplace theism. These two religious views are chalk and cheese. I see no reason why randomness or indeterminism should undermine the exoteric or objective idea of God but it does not bode well for Him, while QM seems to many people to be more or less a proof of the the Upanishadic view and the nondualistic idealism of advaita Vedanta.

If you can handle the maths then Ulrich Mohrhoff would be worth following up. If not, then Ken Wilbur's collection of quotations from physicists is non-technical and an easy way in to the issues.

user20253

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation:

First, thanks for this answer, I always love your answers as they follow much of my interest so I'll definitely read everything you've mentioned. But for the question, I'll let in a bit of context - many argue (perhaps falsely, but it seems genuinely applicable to QM) that the randomness idea proves that God doesn't exists - there's no order to the creation of the universe, at least not a systematic one as most religions believe in. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T12:00:08.900

1@YechiamWeiss: I'd replace systematic with teleological or intentional. It is hard for people to imagine a God that allows for randomness or chaos ruling at some basic level, even if it becomes lawful in macroscopic spheres, e.g. according to Chaos Theory (a reason I think the other answer has some merit even omitting ethical considerations). – Philip Klöcking – 2018-02-11T14:48:37.290

@PhilipKlöcking yes, thanks, that's a much better term. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T14:56:57.173

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I believe (by which I mean 'think') your "common God perception" refers to macroscopic activities, i.e., good/evil/etc don't apply to individual atoms, per se. And, for example, the microscopic randomness of molecular motions/transitions/whatever doesn't affect the completely deterministic nature of thermodynamics, which describes the statistically-mechanically-averaged behavior of ginormous ensembles of such individually-random molecules. The probability that all the air molecules in your room will suddenly and randomly migrate to the half of the room you're not in, leaving you to suffocate in a vacuum, is ... zero.

Likewise, the ginormous number of molecules in a single eukaryotic cell, like a neuron in your brain, completely overwhelms (like zillions of times overwhelms) any underlying molecular randomness. So your good/evil/etc intentions/decisions/actions/whatever can't be attributed to that kind of randomness. (Those Deepak-Chopra-like discussions conflating "quantum mechanics" and "brains" are utter foolishness, except that maybe he makes some money off of the utter fools who listen to that kind of cr*p. Don't drink the quantum Kool-Aid.)

Nevertheless, there's still plenty of room for non-random/intentional free will, which I guess "common God perception" requires. But it has nothing to do with quantum randomness; rather, it arises from the fact that deterministic laws can still lead to unpredictable behavior due to emergent chaos (e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory). And that kind of unpredictable-yet-deterministic chaotic behavior can emerge from extremely simple systems, much less brain complexity which is pretty much beyond any sensible comprehension.

So quantum randomness doesn't "contradict common God perception" on the one hand, by preventing the formation of non-random personal intentions/actions/etc; and determinism doesn't contradict it on the other hand, by pre-determining them all. Common sense, however, may or may not contradict it, depending on your point of view.

user19423

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation:

1I'm talking about creation, not ethics. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T13:12:47.900

Okay, creation-wise, "common perception" (both senses- and thinking-wise) applies to the visible macroscopic world, which doesn't exhibit microworld randomness, so that randomness would be irrelevant to "common perception". And Einstein's quote obviously refers to microscopic randomness, which is way beyond "common perception". So I'd suggest you're incorrectly conflating Einstein's microscopic remarks with "common perception". He was conjecturing about God's behavior in a regime that "common perception" never, ever considered. Who (among commoners) cares what God does with individual atoms? – None – 2018-02-12T05:37:20.490

(I'm not sure if I'm not mistaking terms here but) the idea is that the randomness makes for the universe to be a "cosmic coincidence" necessarily, and not, as Philip wisely said, "intentional". – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-12T06:57:39.920

@YechiamWeiss Oh, yeah, I now see Philip's similar comment, but I don't see why it's "hard for people to imagine a God that allows for randomness at some basic level", especially when it leads to non-random behavior at macroscopic regimes. Re "cosmic coincidence", yeah there are several such cosmological interpretations, and others without "coincidence". Personally, I prefer the Anthropic Principle -- if the world had been much different, life wouldn't have been able to develop, and we wouldn't be here to make remarks about any such different world. But is that coincidence? Necessity? God? ??? – None – 2018-02-12T08:02:17.210

A)it's hard to imagine a God that allows for randomness, in any level, no matter how small, because it seem to deny in some sense the idea of intentional creation (though it can be rejected by saying "we can't know the intentions of God, maybe this randomness isn't really random but really intentional", and that would've been a fine answer to my question). B) I don't seem to understand your last statement. "life wouldn't have been able to develop... But is that coincidence? Necessity? God?", I don't see what you're trying to say- this is exactly the question, what is your answer? – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-12T14:00:06.020

@YechiamWeiss Re Anthropic, I'm just saying that my view (along with many, but very far from all, people) of "why the constants of nature happen to be fine-tuned precisely to permit life" has absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about this topic. And I was further implicitly suggesting it's a mistake to try cosmologically arguing either +/- about it. And somewhat tangentially, somewhat off-topic (maybe ~33% on, maybe not), but I think you might (maybe ~33% might) find interesting, https://arxiv.org/abs/1709.02874

– None – 2018-02-13T05:35:39.637

@YechiamWeiss Re randomness, yes, exactly, the phrase "intentional randomness" is >>not<< an oxymoron. Not by any stretch. Even I, myself (no comparison with God intended:), have intentionally written (pseudo-)random number generators that served significantly useful purposes in the context of larger goals. And God could've had plenty of reasons for intentionally introducing randomness. Some of them very easily understandable within the context of existing humanly-constructed physical theories. And others, like you say, presumably beyond human comprehension. – None – 2018-02-13T05:43:05.023

OK now I understand your position better - the "don't make any metaphysical conclusions from physics". It's a sensible one, I personally don't support it, but I totally understand it. And regarding intentional randomness - yes, I think one of the question for those who support it is whether the intentions are knowable for humans or not. Maybe, as Einstein would've said, we'd at some point come up with a theory that makes sense of the randomness. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-13T07:23:34.723

@JohnForkosh: Just to clarify - I think the problematic part comes from the microscopic/quantum stuff obviously being "more fundamental" in some way. So if this is chaotic in nature, no matter how lawful it may appear in macroscopic events, the universe is in a very fundamental way chaotic. God is usually envisioned as having a plan, thus intentionality/purposefulness, which in turn is linked with following rules (however hidden they may be), i.e. lawfulness. The whole thing is closely linked to the problematic transition from QM to ordinary objects. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-02-13T20:27:17.923

On the other hand, I very much like your example how randomness is purposefully used to achieve certain outcomes in programming. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-02-13T20:27:58.900

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Einstein's quote is generally thought to be a claim of determinism along the lines of the 18th and 19th century "billiard ball" or "clockwork" version of mechanics, i.e. if one could precisely describe everything in the world, then one could predict the future with exactitude. Theologians of the Judeo-Christian variety are not of one mind with regard to determinism. Determinism could arguably exclude miracles or other forms of divine intervention. I specifically do not agree that the comment was regarding the creation of the universe, but rather argue that it was a statement about the evolution of the universe from some present state.

It does seem possible that a less fully determined model of the universe might open the possibility of an omniscient entity "steering" the universe along chosen paths, say encouraging certain molecules to polymerize on a nascent Earth to promote the formation of RNA or DNA and "populate" the natural world, or even forcing more recent improbable outcomes that did not violate other physical laws.

You might also want to review the line of thinking in quantum mechanics that deals with a mythical creature called Maxwell's Demon. Discussions of such a creature undercut my somewhat whimsical suggestion that some god's steering of the evolution of the universe and the emergence of life might be consistent with QM.

42-

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 121

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I would highly recommend reading Spitzer's "New Proofs for The Existence of God" which takes into account modern physics (and goes far further in depth than most books of its genre).

There are multiple arguments presented in the book, such as the fact that irrespective of which scientific theory you follow (short of a theory of a multiverse where every mathematical possibility exists because it has to [which has far more philosophical issues]), there has to be a reason for why the universe is an instance of that theory (supposing we actually arrive at a theory that truly models reality) and how it is actually material (Actual) as opposed to a Potentiality. Stephen Hawking (before he started trying to figure out loopholes in the problem) phrased this in the question:

What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?

The BGV theorem also suggests that current science points towards there being a definite need of a first cause, while most philosophers also argue that it is impossible to have an infinite past, due to the fact that we would have had to have accomplished the infinite past to get to the present, which is impossible (as opposed to an infinite future, which can be described as simply unending and provides no paradoxes).

Furthermore, as stated by user103766, there are also deterministic theories of QM, such as Bohmian Mechanics, which suggest that there are existent particles that move in a deterministic way, guided by a waveform.

The main issue in terms of QM in terms of being a stochastic theory is the question of Free Will. Does QM allow us to have any choice (and is this choice hidden away within the stochastic results of QM) or are all actions entirely random. This possibly actually provides more "room" for the possibility of Free Will than a deterministic Classical Mechanics does (especially in bizarre theories such as the Many Minds theory). However, philosophers should be cautious about this as it is an attempt to put Free Will in a gap of our understanding (and therefore has an analogue with the flawed God-of-the-gaps position). There are of course many alternative suggestions to this problem, such as Emergence or a Neo-Aristotelian perspective which tries to explain why Special Sciences are valid and model reality well, and how Free Will could arrive from structure.

Michal Paszkiewicz

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 181

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Addressing the QM question: No, QM's randomness does not contradict religion. Nor does it create a theistic issue. God knew the "best" method of creating a universe - and He used it! He knew that the "best" universe is obtained when He "interferes" the least with it. In keeping with this, all He did, was provide an unimaginable amount of energy and a few "assembly/interaction" rules. The creation of the Universe - as it is (QM's randomness included), was intentional!

Guill

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 1 686

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Keep in mind that god is not an exclusive words used by people who believe in divinity.

For non-religious, it is a pseudonym used for natural or chaotic systems (in contrast to synthetic systems as created by a conscious being such as a human).

Thus when Einstein said that, what he meant was that natural systems are not random and that they also follow a logical path (unlike what was claimed by QM at the time).

The statement had no religious context.

Adnan Y

Posted 2018-02-11T10:37:40.130

Reputation: 101

That was already cleared in the comments, thanks. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-11T23:19:35.440

1I see. Still those explanations seem specific to Einstein or physicists. Mine is much more general and while your question did not warrant it, I'd keep it if you don't mind. – Adnan Y – 2018-02-11T23:23:14.827