September 12, 2007

Determinism (Part 2)


The material sciences will begin to give a hard definition to determinism through tangible applications. Newtonian physics set the stage (though the original idea is at least as old as the Greek Atomists) for science to take its turn at bringing order to the chaos. It starts with individual objects that are on the move, and predicts their future movements based on universal laws, like billiard balls on a pool table. If a player is precise enough (knows enough about his situation) then he can accurately understand where the balls will end up in the future. Any unpredictability arises from lack of knowledge not from inherent chaos.

The "billiard ball" hypothesis argues that once the stage of the universe has been set the rest of history follows inevitably from a series of cause and effect events. Ultimately there is order though it is hidden behind the great complexity of the universe. If it were actually possible to have complete knowledge of physical matter and all of the laws governing that matter at any one time, then it would be theoretically possible to compute the time and place of every event that will ever occur. The Deists would exalt causality, stating that everything is a result of the cause in front of it and attributing the first cause, the primary mover, as God.

Einstein would further the model of the deterministic universe by identifying time as a dimension with much of the same properties as space. This meant that my perception of a past, present, and future is an illusion. Time is a block, to be warped by gravity and speed to be sure, but a physical presence that assured that the future was as set in stone as the past. Think of it like a movie, the individual frames contain no motion, but when viewed in sequence the illusion of motion appears. This is a similar view that many Christians will make of time, especially Augustine, stating that God is outside the flow of time as its creator.

Quantum mechanics was the first major rival to both Newton and Einstein. When looking at the behavior extreme small scale particles, scientists started to discover a lack of predictability when applying traditional physics. As the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, at atomic scales the paths of objects can only be predicted in a probabilistic way. In other words, chance governs the underlying foundation of our world. It is still a deterministic model, but one with a lot more uncertainty built in then in previous theories.

Science puts some meat on the bones of philosophy, offering a variety of theories grounded in experimentation and observation. Unfortunately it is still offers a remote view; there is nothing about neutrinos that will affect our behavior as an individual.


Joshua said...

I am always fascinated by those scientists who acknowledge themselves to be so thorough in their thinking, so rigorous in their method and their logic and claim to have reached incontrovertible conclusions about the world around us. Despite openly recognizing that their method rely entirely upon inference and probabilities in order to construct universally understood (but not universally justified) laws. Their laws must out of necessity be tentative because they cannot study the entirety of nature in all its particularities and relations. They must assume uniformity although they cannot prove it beyond probability. Science is rigorous guesswork, but it is still guesswork from a logical perspective.

Christianity that takes its epistemology from Scripture can come to knowledge through rigorous deduction, which means that the conclusions are certainly true insofar as the premises are true. Now Science will reject the Biblical premises because they deny God, but they do so without having any certain reasons to justify their conclusions. That uniformity could exist without a creative mind to organize it is a greater leap of faith than Christianity's positing of God, for God has revealed Himself in His Word whereas Science has never observed (and never will) order and regularity emerging from mindless chaos.

Jacob Haynes said...

Be careful of switching the scientist with the materialist who is rejecting God. They like to use science as a background. Science in its truest form works from empirical knowledge. It does have to play guesswork in the beginning in order to focus the observation, but its primary goal will always be observation.

They will see aspects of creation much clearer then those of us who don't play with atom collides for a living; though I do agree unless they have the proper frame of reference their conclusions will sometimes be skewed. True scientists are much less a problem for Christianity, for setting their conclusion aside we find great observations of God’s created world. They probably weren’t after conclusions anyway (it is just that a bunch of data doesn’t pay the bills).