Don Page, Physics, and Theology

My last post was on Don Page’s article/talk Does God so Love the Multiverse, which (as far as I can tell) is an attempt to allow modern Christians to incorporate modern cosmological ideas into their theology. I don’t think the point of the paper was to win anyone to Christianity.

However, in this post I will analyze his Valentine’s Day 2008 Paper “Scientific and Philosophical Challenges to Theism.” This 25-page paper seemed more like a random musing of a quantum cosmologist who is attempting to reconcile contradictory ideas in his head. This summary is supported by the last paragraph of the introduction:

Generally I see science and religion as supporting each other, but there are certainly areas in both that puzzle me. Let me discuss some that to me have seemed to be the biggest challenges to theism, and give some thoughts I have had on them. These thoughts are certainly tentative, so I would certainly appreciate any help others can provide on these mysteries. [emphasis added]

2. The Afterlife Awareness Problem

Section 1 was the introduction, which doesn’t (and shouldn’t) add any arguments.

His first discussion starts off in a very theoretical place however. He begins by discussing the Doomsday Argument which states (in my limited understanding) that given the number of human beings that have existed one can predict the lifetime of the human race. It essentially assumes that we are more likely to be at least half-way to doomsday and therefore our species has a finite existence. This is a statistics argument, that I barely get, and still it seems very arbitrary.

Dr. Page’s issue occurs when he extends this idea to an afterlife and experiences after death. The issue would be that our present observations would be highly unusual (i.e. statistically unlikely) if there were a very long afterlife of experiences to accumulate. Another way to think of this (perhaps simpler) is that if the afterlife is infinite (or at much much longer than the length of our pre-death lives) than our experiences pre-death would have little overall weight in the total scheme of our experiences.

How he wraps his head around this contradiction is to (unlike normal people – and I say that with the utmost respect for Dr. Page’s intelligence) draw an analogy to theoretical physics (specifically Boltzmann brains), which lets him visualize a solution. He also brings up various quantum mechanical ways to think about it, and possibly considering the afterlife as a singe experience.

I think a simpler solution (not that I’m trying to solve issues for theism, but I appreciate solutions) is to not underestimate consciousness. When we’re young and have few experiences every experience seems to take a long time. However, as we age, time seems to go by faster and faster. We also have finite brain capacity (while alive), so many memories are forgotten to make room for more in the future. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that an infinite number of experiences could happen – we would just only remember a finite number of them (unfortunately), or else if there is an afterlife we may have access to superior functions.

Given that I had previously had faith in an infinite afterlife, though not quite 100% faith, this conclusion certainly seemed contrary to how I had interpreted the afterlife. It has bothered me ever since I first thought of it.

Overall: problem not so bad, potentially solved

3. Human Free Will

A simple statement of the problem:

the question of human free will … Is there any room for human free will in a universe with definite laws of nature and a definite quantum state? I.e., if the initial conditions and the dynamical laws of evolution are determined, how could humans act otherwise than what would be predicted by these initial conditions and dynamical laws?

He again launches immediately into solutions tied tightly to theoretical physics. First in that humans “could help choose the laws and quantum state of the universe,” however he identifies the obvious problem that causality is a one-way street and we haven’t been around since the universe’s day 1. He rebuts though identifying to theoretical reason why causality can’t go in reverese, so this could be the fact of the matter, however he says:

I do personally find it rather implausible that human free will choices can help determine the quantum state of the universe from the very beginning.

His bigger issue is that if God created everything for all time, including actions, causes, and entities, then it is logically impossible for free will to exist. However:

Now I will admit that if we had some independent existence and were not entirely created or caused by God, then logically we could have free will. God might adopt us, or at least our independent free will choices, within a universe that He otherwise creates.

He seems to want to reject the adoption idea (which seems similar to the ideas behind His Dark Materials trilogy.

Overall: Problem remains for traditional monotheistic religion

4. Divine Free Will and Information Content

This section goes between quantum cosmology and the ontological argument. He begins with an anecdote which essentially boils to the point: if this is a bounded deterministic universe, then God may have just wanted it that way (and is His Will).

The first issue he discusses relates to Anslem’s ontological argument. He deduces that if God is a necessary entity and His creation of the universe is also necessary then there is no way He can have free will. However, he is able to reject the argument since the ontological argument only requires the greatest necessary being (which isn’t necessarily worthy of the title “God”). He finishes arguing that if God were necessary He would have no information content. He fails to define information content, and I’m not fully clear on the implications of this argument.

Overall: If God is necessary he’s not worthy of being a god.

5. The Complexity and Probability of God

Here he quotes Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion. He considers the arguments of chapter 4 which “are not very tightly stated” so he enlisted William Lane Craig to help and figured the argument was:

1. A more complex world is less probable than a simpler world.
2. A world with God is more complex than a world without God.
3. Therefore a world with God is less probable than a world without God.

To which he asked Dr. Dawkins if this was appropriate and he quotes the response:

After circulating this form, I did get the obviously hurried reply from Dawkins: “Your three steps seem to me to be valid. Richard Dawlkins [sic]” (1 February 2007).

His response first questions the probability of complexity – namely whether premise #1 is accurate. One quote he names says God could make complexity over simplicity by simple choice, however, such a suggestion had the effect of “shaking {Dr. Page’s] fundamentalist physicist faith in the simplicity of the laws of nature.” He is therefore willing to grant the first premise as a scientist (who typically look for the simplest theories). He then moves to question whether God is complex, or adds any complexity.

He then contradicts his earlier statements of section 4 by saying if God is necessary He would be simple and therefore would add no complexity. The contradiction is that if God is necessary then He has no free will. This rebuttal to Dawkin’s argument makes the issue of section 4 stand and then God has no free will.

Overall: Don Page vs. Richard Dawkins – either Dawkins is right or God has no free will

6. The Problem of Evil and Elegance

If God is the best possible being and created everything, why does evil exist?

The traditional response he identifies quickly: because we have free will, however he realizes that natural evils (disease, disasters etc.) are not solved.

therefore I do not regard the problem of evil as sufficient for me to give up my simple hypothesis that God created and determined everything contingent other than Himself.

Once again Dr. Page turns to theoretical physics and assumes a solution coming from multiverse theory this time. He assumes that perhaps “God created all universes that are better to exist than not to exist.” Basically any universe with net Good vs. Evil is in existence. His analogy is that he has done some evil but it’s (subjectively) better for him to exist than to not (although some of his Phys 244/281 students may disagree).

The issue he finds is that he would expect slightly more elegance than ugliness in physics but not enormously more. His issue “is that the laws of physics are enormously more elegant than ugly,” and therefore it is questionable why such elegance exists. He basically claims that he has reformulated the problem of evil into the “problem of elegance.” However, anyone in experimental physics (not theoretical) will realize that the models put forth in theoretical physics do not hold as elegantly as we might like to believe. We are able to model a lot with simple equations, however, there is a lot that is much more difficult to model, and what I would be reluctant to call “elegant.” A simple situation (even in theoretical physics) is given by the difference between the Atwood’s Machine (a simple pulley system), and a swinging Atwood Machine (one of the masses on the pulley swings), the first can be easily solved, research only began on the second in 1982 and can only be analytically solved in a few situations.

Overall: The problem of evil remains, as well as the potential “problem of elegance”

7. Conclusions

Let me close with an aphorism that I coined to summarize my thoughts as a scientist and as a Christian:

Science reveals the intelligence of the universe;
the Bible reveals the Intelligence behind the universe.

The statement I most agree with from this paper is here: “Whether God is seen as probable or improbable
depends on one’s assumptions.”

Overall Don Page presents several issues to his theism that he has considered, and tries to reconcile them using his theoretical physics background. Several issues remain, but he clearly remains committed to his faith.

6 thoughts on “Don Page, Physics, and Theology”

  1. God: Ten Scientific Commandments.
    God has given to Physicists everything necessary to understand
    Him and His Genesis by Physical Laws and Formulas.
    Fundamental Theory of Existence:
    Ten Commandments
    1 The infinite vacuum T=0K. ( background energy space: E ).
    2 The particle:
    C/D = pi, R/N= k , E = Mc^2 = kc^2 , h = 0 , i^2= -1
    3 The spins: h =E/t , h =kb, h* = h/2pi
    4 The photon, the inertia
    5 The electron: e^2 = h*ca, E = h*f , electromagnetic field
    6 The gravitation, the star, the time and space
    7 The Proton
    The Evolution of interaction between Electron and Proton
    a) electromagnetic
    b) nuclear
    c) biological
    The Laws
    a) The Law of conservation and transformation energy/mass
    b) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle / Law
    c) The Pauli Exclusion Principle/ Law
    The test.
    Every theory must be tested logically ( theoretical ) and practically
    a) Theory : Dualism of Consciousness: (consciousness / unconsciousness)
    b) Practice : Parapsychology. Meditation.
    Best wishes
    Israel Sadovnik Socratus
    The secret of God, Soul and Existence is hidden
    in â?? Vacuum and Quantum of Light Theory â??.
    I want to know how God created this world
    I am not interested in this or that phenomenon,
    in the spectrum of this or that element
    I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details

  2. – Can a Rational Individual believe in God ?
    In other words:
    Can God be atheist, governed by scientific laws?
    Of course
    Because if God exists, He/She/It would necessarily
    to work in an Absolute Reference Frame and had set of
    physical and mathematical laws to create everything
    in the Universe.
    If we find and understand this Absolute God’s House then
    is possible step by step to find and understand God’s Physics
    Laws, which Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Planck,
    Einstein and many others scientists discovered.
    Has God known the formula: E=Mc^2 ?
    If God has known the formula why HE / SHE /IT
    didn’t write it in His Bible?
    The people created a God.
    No one knows what the external characteristics
    of this God are, a God who made himself known
    with the name ” I am who I am “.
    Is it enough for us in the XXIc ?
    Why wasn’t the formula E=Mc^2 written in the Bible?
    ===============. .
    Each religion uses a system of symbols
    (images, metaphors, ancient myths and legends ,
    beautiful stories) to explain its truth.
    But Bernard Shaw wisely remarked :
    “ There is only one religion,
    although there are a hundred versions of it.”
    It means that the source of all religion is one.
    And I try to prove this idea with the formulas and laws of
    physics. I don’t invent new formulas. I use simple formulas
    which ,maybe, every man knows from school.
    Is it possible? Is it enough?
    Yes. Because the evolution goes from simple to the complex.
    So, in the beginning we can use simple formulas and laws.
    For this purpose I explain what the first law of Universe is,
    and second law is and ………..etc.
    Step by step I create a logical system of the Universe.
    ============= . .
    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik. Socratus.
    ============ .

  3. Physics and Theology.

    About creators of God
    Everybody creates his God according to his own image and spirit
    If triangles made a God they would give him three sides
    / Charles de Montesquieu . Persian Letters, 1721 /
    If physicists made a God they would give him
    concrete physical parameters.
    Which parameters they can be ?
    We know that God is something Infinite.
    What is ‘INFINITY’ ? Nobody knows.
    The conception of ‘ Infinity’ we can find not only in Bible
    but in Physics too. Are they equal ? Are they different ?
    I think that ‘INFINITY’ is ‘INFINITY’ and can be only one
    for every knowledge, for every meaning.
    I think there isn’t special ‘INFINITY’ for Bible and special
    ‘INFINITY’ for Physics. I think the conception ‘INFINITY’
    is equal for every part of Science.
    Again and again the ‘INFINITY’ appears in many physical
    and mathematical problems.
    / Part Physics: Theoretical applications of physical infinity .
    wikipedia . org / wiki / Infinity /
    It means that ‘INFINITY’ is some kind of reality. (!)
    Does Physicists meet God In the Infinite ? (!)
    Does God live in INFINITE ? ( !)
    To understand this we need to find the answers to the questions:
    1) What is / are the physical parameters of the ‘INFINITY’ ?
    2) What is connection between the infinity and the concreteness ?
    3) What is connection between infinity and quality ?
    4) How to explain the unity and inconsistent character between
    the infinity and the concreteness ?
    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik Socratus

  4. Don N. Page wrote article:
    Does God So Love the Multiverse?
    But we don’t know how many Multiverse God love.
    Maybe infinite numbers .
    And therefore I ask: Why Does God So Love the INFINITY ?

Comments are closed.