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God is Irrelevant

Timothy McGettigan

Einstein’s oft-repeated, and dogged insistence that “God does not play dice” is scientifically wrong-headed for a number of reasons. First of all, where science is concerned, God is irrelevant. Any references to God’s presumptive influence on the design of the cosmos represent an abdication of scientific reason.God is a supernatural conceptual construct, whereas science seeks naturalistic explanations for enigmatic empirical phenomena. As such, science and theology operate in two entirely distinct ideological ballparks (Gould, 2002). This is why scientists and theologians tend to squabble: scientists and theologians do not talk to each other, they talk past each other. Supernatural explanations for natural phenomena are scientific non sequiturs: claiming that God created the universe is the scientific equivalent of saying, “I haven’t got a clue.” Allusions to the supernatural provide zero information about the naturalistic processes that have driven the origin and evolution of the cosmos (Dawkins, 2006). For scientists, it is no more enlightening to attribute cosmic origins to God, than it is to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Henderson, 2006).

Additionally, by repeatedly and adamantly insisting that “God does not play dice,” Einstein betrayed a fateful conceit: Einstein immodestly equated his own thinking with that of a supernatural being. Presumably, Einstein evoked the notion of God in order to validate his critique of quantum physics in a fashion that (he hoped) would be more compelling than the bizarre empirical revelations that quantum scientists were generating. After all, God is the ultimate arbiter of truth, right?

Therein lies the rub. For theologians, God always gets the last word, however, for scientists, citing God as a reference is akin to pleading insanity (Dawkins, 2006).

For such a serious and gifted scientist, Einstein’s invocation of God constituted a far more dubious theoretical maneuver than any of the novelties conjured up by his opponents in the quantum mechanics debate. For starters, Einstein’s repeated references to God seem to imply a belief that he was graced with a form of superhuman insight that his colleagues lacked, i.e., it requires a superhuman intellect to comprehend the divine motives of a supernatural entity, no? Such hubris also emboldened Einstein to presume that anyone who failed to agree with his “superior” perspective was simply not smart enough to understand God’s divine will. Sounding more like a prophet than a scientist, Einstein explicitly prioritized faith in what he perceived as the right way to think over an unwavering commitment to rigorous empirical science. When it came to quantum physics, Einstein remained self-destructively deductive to the very end.

Deism and Determinism

Einstein’s anti-empirical faith in a rational universe is similar to the delusion under which hard determinists operate. For hard determinists to sustain the claim that the universe operates, at all times and places, in compliance with an inexorable chain of causality, determinists would have to know more about the universe than any mortal human could possibly comprehend. From the outset, Pierre Simon Laplace emphasized that omniscience was a fundamental component of the determinist perspective:

An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as of the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes (Quoted in Weinert, 2004, p. 197, emphasis added).

It would require nothing short of a god-like omniscience in order to be sufficiently well-acquainted with every aspect of the universe–large and small, known and unknown, and past, present and future–in order to make a compelling, fact-based claim that the universe uniformly adheres to deterministic principles. In the absence of such god-like omniscience, determinism is as unscientific as Einstein’s insistence that God is not a gambler.

Yet, even though humans are, by definition, not gods, even gifted scientists, such as Laplace, Einstein and Hawking, can fall prey to the delusion that they enjoy special access to deistically-inspired insights. Much as scientists often criticize theologians for dogmatically clinging to outmoded faiths, scientists also have a propensity for clinging to flawed but cherished deductive faiths (Kuhn, 1962). In this sense, determinism is very similar to many theological dogmas. Although their superhuman knowledge claims cannot be supported by empirical facts, determinists and theologians maintain an abiding faith in the “universal truths” that, they are convinced, their supernatural beliefs are certain to reveal.Indeed, it is because of such empirically-unjustified deductive dogmatism that many people have argued that, rather than being a rational antidote for religion, science is simply another form of religion (Miles, 2007). Hard determinism employs essentially the same type of teleological dogmatism as faith-based theologies, i,e., the universe is governed by an insuperable force that actively shapes the trajectory of events in such a way as to arrive at a predetermined outcome. Just as it is with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc., either you believe in the basic tenets of determinism, or you don’t. The problem with teleological dogmatism is that, even in the face of copious quantities of falsifying evidence (e.g., quantum uncertainty, the 4% universe, human super-adaptability, etc.), dogmatists often blithely reject any interpretation of the evidence that contravenes their faith.

Dawkins, Richard, 2006. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gould, Stephen Jay. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York: Vintage, 2002.

Henderson, Bobby. The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. New York: Villard, 2006.

McGettigan, Timothy. Evolution at the Speed of Thought. Los Angeles, CA.: WheelMan Press, 2013.

Kuhn, Thomas S., 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Miles, Grahame. Science and Religious Experience: Are They Similar Forms of Knowledge? Brighton, England: Sussex Academic, 2007.

Weinert, Friedel. The Scientist as Philosopher: Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries. Berlin: Springer, 2004.


About Timothy McGettigan

Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at Colorado State University – Pueblo. The Socjournal is an outstanding resource for all things sociological. Too often, the media examines social issues from a singularly economic perspective. If you really want to understand how the social world works, it's better to use a broader, clearer lens. In this column, I will discuss a variety of forces (technological, scientific, political, cultural, and, yeah okay, economic) that are currently reshaping the globe. Whether or not the world is changing for the better is an open question — and, thus, it's a question that I look forward to debating at length in this column.
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