Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This one's not so dangerous

John DePoe wrote:

C. S. Lewis’s Lesser Known and Less Developed Dangerous Idea

Many people are familiar with the second argument that C. S. Lewis presents in chapter 3 of Miracles against naturalism. This line of reasoning has been extended and developed by Victor Reppert, and now it is referred to as “the argument from reason.” When I was re-reading Miracles, I noticed that Lewis brings up another argument against naturalism, which he ultimately leaves undeveloped.

The first, lesser known, argument that Lewis mentions against naturalism follows from quantum physics. Here’s the relevant paragraph from Miracles:

CSL: One threat against strict Naturalism has recently been launched on which I myself will base no argument, but which it will be well to notice. The older scientists believed that the smallest particles of matter moved according to strict laws: in other words, that the movements of each particle were “interlocked” with the total system of Nature. Some modern scientists seem to think — if I understand them — that this is not so. They seem to think that the individual unit of matter (it would be rash to call it any longer a “particle”) moves in an indeterminate or random fashion; moves, in fact, “on its own” or “of its own accord.” The regularity which we observe in the movements of the smallest visible bodies is explained by the fact that each of these contains millions of units and that the law of averages therefore levels out the idiosyncracies of the individual unit’s behaviour. The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails. Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really admitted something other than Nature. If the movements of the individual units are events “on their own,” events which do not interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part of Nature. It would be, indeed, too great a shock to our habits to describe them as super-natural. I think we should have to call them sub-natural. But all our confidence that Nature has no doors, and no reality outside herself for doors to open on, would have disappeared. There is apparently something outside her, the Subnatural; it is indeed from this Subnatural that all events and all “bodies” are, as it were, fed into her. And clearly if she thus has a back door opening on the Subnatural, it is quite on the cards that she may also have a front door opening on the Supernatural — and events might be fed into her at that door too.
JD: Lewis goes on to present his doubts about quantum theory (it sounds like he would have sided with Einstein and Schrödinger). Since he thinks this interpretation of quantum physics is highly suspect, he decides not to base an argument on it and moves on to the well-known argument from reason. I wonder what C. S. Lewis would say today about this argument in light of the staying power of quantum physics?
VR: I have seen several people, such as Nicholas Tattersall, Austin Cline, and Ed Babinski, take Lewis to task for his lack of understanding of quantum theory. But, to be honest, in light of the Hasker-Reppert 3-fold definition of naturalism (mechanism, causal closure, and supervenience) I don’t think naturalism has a problem with quantum mechanics per se. Of course naturalism has been historically understood deterministically, but there is no good reason to define naturalism in deterministic terms. So Lewis was right to base no argument on quantum mechanics.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I should'nt even start writing now as it is so late, anyway, I'm re-reading J.Gribbins 'Schrödingers Cat' & have been searching for mp3's on quantum ideas, which is how I ended up here.
The fact that even Feynman enthusiastically revealed his lack of understanding in respect of the 'two holes' experiment, as a way of conveying its mystery, surley implies a certain unfathomableness....