God and Quantum Mechanics, Part 2 – Anything Can Happen
"God does not play dice with the universe." – Albert Einstein
“Not only does God play dice, but…sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen” – Stephen Hawking
Einstein clearly stated that he was using “God” metaphorically. He was not a believer. The importance of the statement is “does not play dice with the universe." This states Einstein’s fundamental belief that the universe can’t be at its base probabilistic.
Despite Einstein’s position on God, there is a deep insight from quantum mechanics on the possible presence of God in the world.
It’s important to make a distinction between being truly random and just being probabilistic. For an event to be truly random, there must be no way to predict how it will occur. A fair set of dice is random. A loaded set isn’t random but is still probabilistic. When you “load” a die, you weight it off center towards one of the faces. It will tend to land on that face and display the face on the opposite side, which is a 6 or a 1 or ? depending on how you plan to use it, but it won’t land that way every time. You have to be careful about this. The more off center the weighting of the die is, the more likely you will get the result you want, but also the more likely other players will suspect the unfairness of it. Since they are unlikely to take kindly to this, you want to avoid that happening. The less you load it, the less likely you are to be discovered, but also the less likely it is to fall right, so you will have to play longer for the number of throws to be high enough so your loading will have a significant effect on your winnings.
This is the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. Some events are truly random, but most are weighted towards a certain outcome. In the case of everyday objects and their physics, the weighting is so extreme that we are very unlikely to see unexpected events unless there are hidden factors (like cheating) involved. Once again, it’s so unlikely that we literally trust our lives every moment to the outcomes. We drive cars, fly in airplanes, communicate on phones, walk on floors and the earth, always fully expecting the devices to work properly and the floor and earth to be solid beneath our feet.
But nothing in physics or any other science says it has to be that way. In fact, physics quite definitely says it doesn’t have to be that way. According to the best description of the universe we have, anything can happen.
God could hide perfectly in a world like this.
If God wants to meddle in everyday life, God is perfectly free to do anything God wants to do, and the laws of physics will permit it.
Think about this for a minute. Because of this, there is no way to prove or disprove the presence of God. If we went through our life 1,000 times and kept accurate records of each lifetime, we could detect with high probability whether or not God was messing with us. But that’s not us, either because we only live once or because we don’t keep records or because we don’t remember keeping them or just don’t remember where we put them. That means anything can happen, and we won’t be able to detect whether it was just the “roll of the dice” or an intervention by God.
Suppose you experience a highly unlikely event, something resembling a burning bush that speaks or the splitting of the moon. You say, “That defies the laws of physics”. Four other people standing around watching this say four different things. The first one says, “I don’t believe it. There must be something else going on we can’t see.” The second one says, “The laws of physics must be wrong. Let’s figure out how to fix them”. The third one says, “There’s nothing in the laws of physics that says that can’t happen, it’s just an unlikely occurrence.” The fourth one says, “It’s a miracle. God has moved in the world.”
Who’s right? If there are no hidden tricks and no new laws of physics to discover to explain it, you can’t know whether God acted or not. We don’t even have to assume that God acted cleverly to stay hidden. The laws of physics literally allow anything to happen.
We’re surprised by such an event because it’s so rare. We live in an orderly world (I know, it doesn’t feel that way) in which the dice are heavily loaded towards our expectations. What has happened in the past mostly happens the same way each time that the same circumstances arise, so we confidently use the past to predict the future assuming we have interpreted the past correctly.
Still, God or wild chaos could take over at any time, and we can’t know which it is by any experiment. This isn’t some offbeat psycho-philosophy, it’s the laws of physics. If God wanted to move freely within God’s creation without evidence of detection this would be an ideal set of rules for that creation.
What does this say about God? More thoughts next.
March 24, 2022