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Previous: 2.6 Consciousness and process Up: 2. A Short History of Theistic Ideas Next: 3. A Way Forward

2.7 Quantum influences

Questions of how mind or God may influence physical reality have remained alive since Whitehead’s era and seem to be a focus of thoughts for those who might be inclined to theism but who do not find any suitable general framework. In modern times, physical reality tends to be described by quantum mechanics. One topical question is whether quantum mechanics allows the physical world to be influenced by consciousness or by God. Since quantum theory is indeterministic by itself--it only predicts probabilities--and since the existence of a conscious observer is often invoked to solve the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, it does seem that these influences on physics are possible.

Amit Goswami (2009) recently appears to be explaining theism, for example, when he says that “God is the agent of downward causation". One reading of this is true in theism, but Goswami turns it around. According to him, every instance of downward causation is God, so any experiment which demonstrates non-local correlations is therefore a proof of God. That is not the God of theism, and I find it farfetched to claim to have thereby ‘rediscovered God within science’.

Quantum physics may be indeterministic about the detailed choices between different outcomes for some classes of microscopic events, namely decoherent measurements, but it is not completely arbitrary. It makes very precise predictions for the probabilities of those outcomes, and, furthermore, the evolution of these probability distributions is completely deterministic.

Either mind influences the choice when decohering measurements occur (as Stapp (2007) suggests), or it changes the probabilities of different outcomes (as Saunders (2000) and Bielfeldt (2001) also consider). In the first case, the range of influence is extremely limited and hardly plausible in a dualist theory. In the second case, the non-physical input changes the probability rules of quantum physics in just the same way as dualist input would change Newton’s laws of motion if it were to influence classical systems. I conclude therefore, with Saunders and Bielfeldt, that it is very doubtful that any dualist or divine input into the operation of the natural world proceeds by exploiting the small residual indeterminism of quantum physics. Dualist control in quantum physics is no easier than in classical physics. That is, any influence of a dual degree must affect those properties of objects that are also measured by physics.

The challenge is to find a coherent theory which explains what, when, how and why those physical properties are changed. In order to meet this challenge, we first need a coherent and realistic account of existence and causation, preferably one that can be used for both physical existence and for minds. That is the task of Part II.

Before such an account of causation can be used within a scientific theism, there are several fundamental issues that need to addressed, especially where science and theism presently disagree. Several of these issues are addressed in the next chapter in order to find a new way forward to a theism that will give an account of God and nature and of their connection.


Previous: 2.6 Consciousness and process Up: 2. A Short History of Theistic Ideas Next: 3. A Way Forward

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