Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More soggy pantheism

In the August 2005 edition of Cosmos magazine (, there was an interview with string theory expert Michio Kaku. He provided another example of the muddleheaded, soggy pantheistic thinking that seems to come from many theoreticians. He says:

"I would say that I lean toward the God of Einstein and Spinoza; that is, a God of harmony, simplicity and elegance, rather than a personal God who interferes in human affairs."

"The universe is gorgeous, and it did not have to be that way. It could have been random, lifeless and ugly but instead it is full of rich complexity and diversity."

Indeed it is true that there is an asthetic quality to the universe, but how so and what? Supernovae remnants are truly beautiful viewed from a safe distance, but to any prospective lifeform in their path the beauty is moot. Rather, they are agents of destruction. So, we might say that the beauty of the universe is the echo of the voice of something beyond (call it God if you will) rather than the direct voice of God (following Tom Wright in his book Simply Christian).

Likewise, why isn't the universe (or maybe from the string/brane theorists perspective - the multiverse) devoid of life? This is a question that demands an answer better than, "that is simply the way it is" (so John Polkinghorne) and one which may equally have the answer "God" and "not-God" (so George Ellis). But what sort of god?

Of course, in science we now know more about how the experiment affects what you observe. For example, if a single electron is fired at two slits and a screen is placed behind them, then an interference pattern is observed. The electron behaves like a wave. However, if a detector is put at one of the slits, an interference pattern is not observed. So, what is my point?

If we seek to observe the universe in its mathematical form, studying its fundamental structure, then that is the sense of God/god we will observe. Harmony and elegance are a strong driving force in theory. However, as Kaku notes, from a fundamental simplicity arises great complexity. Furthermore, it is a myopic theorist who can reduce everything to the most basic level of description - this is a reducitonist slight of hand (see Murphy & Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology & Ethics). Therefore, since there are multiple levels of description of the universe, so there are multiple ways of viewing God.

The Abrahamic faiths speak of a God who interacts, not interferes with human affairs as Kaku would say. It is fine for him to dismiss such a god on the view of his physics, but in the full orb of human endeavour, it is a soggy myopism that simply won't do.

Furthermore, the reflections of the article's author are no less soggy. She writes

"felt freed,no longer dragged down by the sordid parameters of existence: the inexorable passage of time, ageing, death, oblivion ...there were other dimensions, parallel worlds, multiple universes far beyond anything an engineer carp could imagine. In the course of two hours I had become a convert to string theory and maybe even a believer in a God that composed the harmony of the Universe."

Again, we'd like to think that we can transcend ageing and death by deep contemplation harks back to the man in the save - is she a wannabe Platonist? If Kaku is an evangelist then the author is now a disciple, but it is a half completed gospel.

1 comment:

John said...

Hooray for Kaku.
These related references confirm (and extend) his intuitions.

After all we always refer to the UNIVERSE--meaning one, whole and indivisible.