Newtonian Order out of Quantum Chaos?


(Joshua Hedlund) #1

So there’s a philosophical/theological idea that God, through creation, brings order out of chaos. Do you think there might be any kind of connection or association with the “order” of the classical/Newtonian elegant mathematical laws “emerging” in some sense from the “chaos” of the bizarre lower level quantum atomic level?

Here’s the train of thought that led me to asking this question:

I finally read Francis Collins’s book The Language of God. When discussing the anthropic principle and the improbability of our existence, he says:

There are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory is unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have.

Many of these values apparently have little room for variation for life, or really even atoms, to exist. I’ve read these sorts of arguments before. I knew that some scientists were skeptical of anthropic interpretations in part because of the hopes for further discoveries (grand unified theory, etc) that might show how some of those constants must have the values that they have, or at least have some dependency between some of them that reduces the overall improbability.

Given that it’s been several years since the book was written, I did some online searching to see if that number of “fifteen” constants was considered accurate and if it had been reduced or expanded by future discoveries. While the criteria understandably varies, a quick google of “how many fundamental constants” turns up several popular science articles putting the number at 26, with most of the constants coming from particle accelerator experiments that keep revealing new particles that apparently keep revealing independent constants, and apparently this unexpected complexity is somewhat disappointing to scientists hoping for an elegant simplicity to match other well-understood branches of physics.

So then I was thinking through the philosophical implications of all of this for theism. On the one hand, I want to interpret more constants as an increase in the improbability of our universe having those values by chance and thus in increase in the theistic implications of the anthropic principle. On the other hand, I feel like if we had found the expected simplicity instead, I would also want to interpret that as the clear further signs of that “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” that we’ve been observing ever since Kepler and Newton that I see as the beautiful elegant handiwork of our Creator. And I found it somewhat unsatisfying that I wanted to find a theistic interpretation either way.

Now while I pondered this in the back of my head, my wife and I have been watching through the new Cosmos series, partly to review it for a potential educational resource I’m working on and to satisfy my own curiosity about what its general vibe is toward religion and its potential harmony or conflict with science, and partly just to nerdily learn some science. Like Sagan before him, Tyson does some masterful depictions of many scientists through the ages who have uncovered the elegant predictable order of the universe. And he also gets into some of the weirdness of quantum physics. Seeing the contrast of order and chaos in this way led me to an astounding realization that was at once far more satisfying than my previous considerations:

What if crazy atomic behavior isn’t supposed to match the simplicity of the laws of motion because it’s either a metaphorical representation, or a literal manifestation, of the fundamental creative concept of God bringing order out of chaos?

I really like this idea and I don’t think I’ve come across it before, unless I forgot where and I pried it out of my subconscious, but I don’t know how rigorous it really is or if it’d stand up to scrutiny, so I thought this would be a good place to post it and see what people smarter than me would think about it.


(Chris Falter) #2

Interesting thoughts! I think you’re on to something. In a way, though, it’s not new. Have you read John Walton’s works? He shows how the Hebrew Bible depicts the God of Israel as bringing order out of chaos. Walton identifies that as one of the key themes of Genesis 1-3.


(Joshua Hedlund) #3

Thanks, Chris! To clarify - I am generally aware of that theme of God bringing order out of chaos (I haven’t read much Walton specifically though I am aware of him and have heard a couple interviews) and I certainly didn’t mean to imply any originally thinking in that regard - Rather, being aware of that concept, in a theological sense, I’m curious about the extent to which the relationship between quantum “chaos” and classical “order” could be seen as a scientific manifestation or representation of that concept.


(Larry Bunce) #4

Quantum chaos exists only at tiny scales. We cannot predict which molecule of a gas will hit a surface at any time, but we can measure a steady overall pressure of the gas. Scientists can tell exactly how many molecules will strike the surface in any given unit of time. The order out of chaos is continuous, but not miraculous.


(George Brooks) #5

Nope… parameters of tolerance exceeded…


(Jay Johnson) #6

I should preface this by saying that I’m not a scientist. I think it’s an interesting thought, but I’m not aware of anyone who has advanced it. Worse, there are so many crackpot ideas about quantum theory floating around the Internet, I’m not sure you (or I) could sort out the actual science from the pseudo-science. (Remember the movie “What the (bleep) do we know?” Lots of junk along those lines.)


(Joshua Hedlund) #7

That’s a pretty good caution! I mostly only know what I’ve gleaned from things like the semi-popular-science writings of Brian Greene and Richard Feynman… what with Heisenberg uncertainty, two-slit experiments, quantum leaps, particles apparently breaking causality or moving backwards in time or something, while it’s extremely likely that I misinterpret even the little that I can make any sense of, I at least get the sense that the scientists themselves find the quantum world, shall we say, less orderly than the classical world (and thus less orderly than they were expecting)


(system) #8

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