Wednesday, November 14, 2012

God is chance

Everyone knows the famous quote from Albert Einstein, "I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos."   What most people don't know is that this statement represents Einstein's opposition to quantum theory, and Einstein was wrong!  Simply put, quantum theory describes the properties of elementary particles, electrons, protons and neutrons, and is based on probability.  Electrons are not distributed in discrete orbits as envisioned by classical theory, but are distributed in space.  One outcome of this theory is the "uncertainty principle" of Werner Heisenberg, namely that you cannot know the exact location and speed of an electron at the same instant.  For reasons that are beyond the scope of this little article, Einstein could not accept quantum theory as propounded mainly by Niels Bohr, and so he tried to find an alternative theory and failed (for further details see "Einstein: his life and universe," by Walter Isaacson). 
When faced with the world as we experience it, most people in the past have assumed that it was all put together by a man-like super-being named "God" (something I've called TBFIS "the big fairy in the sky").  But, the findings of science over the past few hundred years have greatly reduced the realm of God's authority.  Where once the weather was thought to represent God's whim, we now accept the science of meteorology, we watch weather patterns approaching every day on the TV.   When lightning strikes it is not a manifestation of God's anger (Zeus flinging his bolts of lighting) but a result of static electricity and the precise point of its strike is based on pure chance. 
It's human nature in times of difficulty to call upon an external omnipotent being for help. When people pray "God help me" or "God save me", what they are in effect saying is give me the luck/chance to survive this situation I find myself in.  Either its a natural event such as an earthquake, a storm, a volcanic eruption, or a man-made disaster such as a war or a burglary.  In all cases substitute the word "chance" for "God" and you get the same result, a prayer for chance to favor the prayee.  In other words, "God" is a synonym for "chance" or "luck" or "probability".  Everyone knows life is unpredictable and full of randomness.
Historically man has regarded himself as a model for God.  Some people aver that "God is love," but love itself is a human concept that is based on human inter-personal relations.  Spouses often wonder if their 'significant other' truly loves them, and of course all parents (well most anyway) love their children.  God's supposed love is really a human emotion writ large.  Even if the God is abstract as in Judaism and Islam (not so much in Christianity that believes in the Greek concept of a human son of a God), God still thinks like a man (or presumably a super-man).  That is why it is so threatening to religion to regard man as a product of biological evolution, of chance working over millions of years on the genome through various kinds of mutations to produce intelligent self-aware organisms. So next time you want to say "thank God" substitute "thank chance."  It doesn't have the same ring, but it's more accurate.


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