Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How Does G-D Work In This World?

Ever since I can remember I had a simple question, "How does G-D interact with the world?" However, if you think about it, this is probably the most complicated question one can ask about G-D. People always say that "G-D helps" and "G-D caused it to happen," but HOW did He help and HOW did He cause it to happen? There is a scientist/theologian quoted in "Discover" magazine in an article titled "Physics of the divine" in the March 2011 issue that has put forth a new theory about how, MAYBE, G-D interacts with the world. I find his theory very interesting, to say the least. I will try to hit the main points.

(The scientist/theologian is an Anglican priest named John Polkinghorne)

"I started with the statement that I believe G-D acts in the world, but He is not a show-off conjurer who violates the same laws of nature that He made." he says. "My questions was, Is there a way of describing G-D's actions that is consistent with science?"

.....Reviewing the evidence... Russell concluded that the best place to seek scientific support for G-D is in quantum mechanics, the physical laws describing the subatomic realm..... For people seeking a place for G-D in the physical world, the most important of those [peculiar] properties [in the quantum theory] is the uncertainty principle which states that you can never predict the outcome of a quantum experiment with certainty; you can only calculate the probability of getting a particular result.

As a result of the uncertainty principle, quantum events are starkly different from those in the familiar, large-scale world. [For example,] when you toss a coin, you could, in theory, make a foolproof prediction (heads or tales) if you knew every piece of information about the flip-- the speed and height of the toss, the movement of all the air currents in the room and so on. At the quantum scale, in contrast, equivalent events are intrinsically indeterministic: the universe simply does not contain enough information for you to predict a result. This fundamental indeterminism has been repeatedly confirmed in the lab. For instance, physicists have shown that two identical radioactive atoms will decay at different times. There is no way to explain why they behave differently or to predict the precise time of decay.
(There are more complications that are explained, but this is the theory of Polkinghorne of how G-D could intervene in the world. He also goes on to add chaos theory for different reasons.)

This theory is interesting, but there is also another convincing idea put forth by quantum physicist Antoine Suarez of the Center for Quantum Philosophy in Zurich in the same article. 

.... G-D seekers are better off pursuing another quantum effect, entanglement. In entanglement, two particles become twinned in such a way that the measurement of one always determines the properties  of the other, no matter how far apart they may be. Imagine setting up a pair of entangled "coins" (such as photons with a specific orientation), then giving one to Alice in Oxford and another to Bob in Zurich. When you ask Alice and Bob to flip their coins, they will both get heads or both get tails, even though the results of the tosses should be random and independent..... Suarez claims entanglement tests conducted with real photons in the lab suggest that quantum effects must be caused by "influences that originate from outside of space-time."

[After conducting an experiment that took time out of the equation Suarez discovered that he was wrong when he thought that] "by messing up the time-ordering in this way, it would be impossible for the photons to coordinate their paths." He was proven wrong. On every run, the photons still met the same fate. Whatever causes the twin photons to behave the same way, it must work independently of time.

These two ideas in no way prove G-D. However, it is very difficult to understand how G-D could interact with the world. Before I read about this theory I was always troubled by how G-D intervenes in the world. Everything seemed like it could be explained away through nature or choices of human beings. Rainbows are not the hand of G-D, but a beautiful occurrence that is seen in nature. Tides are natural occurrences. True, we can claim that nature was created by G-D, but at that point we never observe nature changing in a miraculous way, rather we see nature's laws holding tight, unchanging. How does G-D get involved?

I don't understand how people believe G-D just intervenes. In what way does he intervene? G-D influencing quantum events makes a lot of sense to me, especially according to the Rambam and Ralbag. Rambam tells us that G-D relates to the world through His angels (see here). How? Well, the Rambam tells us that when G-D wants to cause something to happen on earth He influences the Chayos (top level angels) and that starts a chain reaction that eventually leads to an action in the physical realm. Sounds like how quantum mechanics works. A teeny tiny event that, through Chaos theory, can affect the physical realm.

This idea allows us to understand the Ralbag and Rambam, I think, in a much clearer way. They say that G-D allows nature to take its course, unless the person is very righteous. So, G-D does not intervene in the world except for the very righteous. If that is true, how does He intervene for the righteous? This theory could, theoretically, allow us to understand how G-D intervenes, but allows the world to work through nature without a constant need for His intervention.

For a related idea see this post http://markset565.blogspot.com/2009/12/hashgacha-pratis-vs-hashgacha-klalis.html

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