Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coyne, through detective work, discovers heretofore well-known facts about Paul Davies

Jerry Coyne is discussing Paul Davies's arguments, which are not unlike Ken Miller's, that God uses, or perhaps uses quantum indeterminacy as his means to impose his sovereignty on the physical realm. Now personally I don't believe that—or more accurately I have no reason to believe that—but theologically speaking it is a reasonable hypothesis.

What Davies argued (or rather has argued, for some time) is this:
But when one gets to an indeterministic universe, if you allow quantum physics, then there is some sort of lassitude in the operation of these laws. There are interstices having to do with quantum certainty into which, if you want, you could insert the hand of God. So, for example, if we think of a typical quantum process as being like the roll of a die — you know, “God does not play dice,” Einstein said — well, it seems that, you know, God does play dice. Then the question is, you know, if God could load the quantum dice, this is one way of influencing what happens in the world, working through these quantum uncertainties.
Again—these arguments do not appeal me. They have a certain evolutionary-psychology "just-so" quality that I find unsatisfying. And I hate using Heisenberg as an easy explanation for anything, such as free will. (Note to philosophers: keep your hands off of quantum mechanics--it's unseemly the way you embarrass yourselves.) But that is not the issue here. The issue is Coyne's response:
Sometimes I wonder, when I hear stuff like this, if the people who say it really believe it, or if they’re only trying to reassure the nervous faithful that science really does allow for a theistic God.
I could say something similar about many of Coyne's science/faith posts. I wonder if he really believes what he writes or if he is just trying to reassure the nervous faithful that science and Christianity are incompatible?

Coyne then adds a comment that is dumb beyond all expectations:
And what if, some day, quantum “uncertainties” are shown not to be uncertain at all, but part of a deterministic process that we don’t yet understand? Where would God go then? How could He continue to influence the universe?
Now Jerry you can argue, Dawkins-like, that you don't need to study theology to criticize religion—a position that I think is supportable. But that does not extend to science. There you simply must be on firm ground. If you are going to discuss physics, then you should not attempt write above your level.

Your question, Jerry, is more than a little analogous to asking "What if we found a Precambrian rabbit? What would the biologists do then?”

In other words, if you are going to posit a potential problem for an opponent's point of view, you ought to suggest a plausible scenario if you want to be taken seriously.

Coyne then refers us, approvingly, to a blog post by CUNY philosopher Massimo Pigliucci who writes, on this same topic:
A similar problem underlies this bizarre statement by Paul Davies: “We know this [the Big Bang] is now 13.7 billion years ago. Einstein's theory of relativity says this was the origin of time. I mean, there's no time before it. And Augustine was onto this already in the fifth century because he was addressing the question that all small children like to ask, which is, ‘What was God doing before he created the universe?’” Are you serious? So Augustine gets credit for the theory of relativity because he asked the rather obvious (and totally unconnected to relativity) question of how god was spending his non-time there before time was created? (Wait, does that question even make sense?) As I said before, why do these people think they can get away with this sort of pop metaphysics just because they sport a PhD in physics? (Emphasis added.)
Pigliucci's statement is so disingenuous I can see why it appeals to Coyne, who of course is a master of such arguments. Davies is not giving Augustine credit for General Relativity, as even the author of this chowder-headed blurb must clearly understand—but apparently is nevertheless willing to lie about just to score an unearned and worthless point. What Davies is clearly and unambiguously stating is that St. Augustine addressed the theological question of "before time, what then?" long before physics gave us reason to believe that that there was indeed, so to speak, a "time before time." But Pigliucci, using Coynesian sub-logic, lies and distorts: Isn't Davies a big fat dummy! He is trying to credit Augustine with General Relativity!

Then, as if we need more, another example of Coyne's reptilian ethics we have a final oddball attack on Davies. Leaving aside the details of Davies's journey—a fascinating story that if I recall correctly begins in atheism and is still progressing, we can summarize it as:

1) Davies begins writing on the intersection of science and faith
2) Later, Davies wins a Templeton (which are given for working the science/faith interface)
3) Davies continues writing on the intersection of science and faith

Coyne casts wink-wink nod-nod aspersions on Davies because he won a Templeton for work that he was already doing. He doesn't bother to make a substantive argument that the Templeton award is, in this case, somehow improper—he simply argues that a google of “Paul Davies Templeton” demonstrates that Davies is damaged goods. And he also announces the Davies Templeton award as a discovery his sleuthing uncovered—when everybody (except Coyne) in this niche realm of faith-science already knew about it—as they already knew about Davies's quantum arguments.

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