Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview (2001+)
A Necessarily Inadequate and Perpetually Working Draft

CPDS Home Contact The Limits to 'Science, Reason and Critical Thinking'
Introduction +



About the Author: The author started his career with studies of engineering that provided familiarity with basic physical science. This was followed by ongoing independent study of debates about science and the philosophy of science. His career also involved a long study of the social sciences which are characterized by a much lower level of determinism than the physical sciences (see CV). He was involved in 'strategic management' processes (ie stimulating systemic change) in both government and economic contexts. He also had an opportunity to 'reverse engineer' the intellectual foundations of East Asian economic 'miracles - which various Asia experts suggested yielded significant results.  This led to understanding of civilizations in which Western assumptions about the relevance of rationality and deterministic laws in human affairs (which Western social sciences seek to discover and rely on) simply did not exist - and in which economic 'miracles' were achieved by changing (rather than understanding) causal relationships. Those methods were very familiar as they had paralleled the 'strategic management' methods the author had used and studied over many years. When the limitations in the ability of Newtonian science to account for the changes in the information state of physical systems that was implied by the Second Law of Thermodynamics were recognised in the 1980s, he started exploring what this might imply for 20th century physics. And in the context of the post-911 environment, he identified differences between major civilizations - which amongst other things resulted in recognition of the importance and complementarity of Western societies' Judeo-Christian and classical Greek heritages to the achievement of rapid progress in recent centuries. The former allowed the emergence of a social economic and political environment in which the use of abstract concepts as models of reality (ie rationality) could be effective. However it became clear that Western economics suffered a major defect in that tried to be a 'real' science like physics (ie to understand rather than to find ways to change causal relationships in economic systems). The feasibility of changing causal relationships in social / economic systems led to the exploration (recorded here) of whether similar processes might occur in physical systems - and thus that there might a need to review assumptions about the simple determinism of such systems. 

The first version of the following ideas was presented in the context of Ethical Renewal being a key requirement for the development of a more effective international order (in Competing Civilizations , 2001+). It followed a suggestion in the latter that:

"The radical individualism which has threatened to make individual liberty (and its political and economic advantages) unsustainable could be abated if the Christ-ian put-God-and-others-first ethical foundations that Western societies have tended to lose in the 20th century were rediscovered - and expanded into the international arena.

One reason to suspect that this is possible is that the philosophical objections to those ethical foundations are themselves in trouble. In particular 19th century science's ideas of a 'clock-work universe' have lost credibility. Moreover the basis of scientific worldviews that are seen to make metaphysical speculations futile are also suspect because it seems that many (and perhaps all) of the 'deterministic' causal relationships in nature which science seeks to identify (ie scientific laws) are both changeable and an inadequate basis for explaining such change. "

Some years ago it was suggested that it is now bad taste for philosophers to even raise the question of God's existence (Freeman P., 'No God in the Detail', Bulletin, 12/12/00). Moreover science is claimed to explain things so well that there is only room for a 'god of the gaps' (ie the areas where science has not yet quite got everything sorted out).  This, it can be noted, is the opposite of a view reportedly expressed in a different context by Christianity's founder about the limits to human knowledge (Matthew 11:25).

The ‘gaps’ in what can be known through science are massive because conventional science does not explain the 'indeterminism' that is needed to account for the origin / maintenance of order (even the origin of the order implicit in the laws of physics), and as outlined below this suggests that there really is 'something out there' which is the ultimate source of 'indeterminism' and order.

The assumption that ‘God has been removed [presumably by human science] as an explanation of the various mysteries and unexplained phenomena’ science now confronts is arguably a by-product to some extent of a failure to recognise a key limitation in conventional science, namely its search for complete determinism in the material universe (ie the view that the future state of a system depends only on its initial state and the laws of nature / physics that apply internally to whatever system is being studied).

Thomas Huxley (who invented the idea of 'agnosticism') suggested that: “The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.” Because of the limits to what can be verified by science, it is impossible to scientifically rationalize moving further from faith than Huxley's agnosticism.

Despite this it is clear that some have religious objections to considering the possibility of God's existence under any circumstances.

Some Prominent Scientists Have Religious Objections to Considering God's Existence

A prominent scientist, Stephen Hawking, has argued that it is necessary to avoid the notion of a 'singularity' (eg in cosmological theories about a 'big bang' origin for the universe) because a singularity would imply the breakdown of the laws of physics, and thus make it necessary to consider the possibility of God's existence to explain the universe's existence. However others argue that the notion of a singularity seems unavoidable (Grossman L., 'Death of the Eternal Cosmos', New Scientist, 14/1/12).  Moreover it was suggested in 2015 that recent observations suggest that the creation of the universe was a singular event and that the universe has been 'running down' ever since.

The universe has lived through many phases but new research shows that it has passed it peak. When universe was less than a second old and over 1bnC exotic particles could pop into and out of existence. As it cooled, it no longer can do that. After a few seconds it was a dense sea of protons and neutrons and after a few minutes a dense fog of hydrogen and helium - then little changed for 400,000 years. Then matter and radiation suddenly decoupled - and photons could stream across universe for the first time. Also hydrogen and helium became able to hold electrons to create neutral atoms. This has a role in origin of life - as neutral hydrogen is needed for molecular hydrogen - and this is needed to allow pockets of gas to cool and form stars. And stars are needed to form hevy elements. When universe was some hundreds of millions of years old, it was heating itself up as stars started irradiating adjacent material. Stars were blowing themselves up and dumping large quantities of heavy atomic species into space - producing many of the heavier elements we see today. Some may have collapsed into black holes - at the core of massive galaxies. Then structures resembling modern galaxies emerged in messy / violent forms - and for the next billion years they smashed together to form more massive systems. This continued for 3bn years - at which stage the peak of start formation was past. Since then the universe has been slowly dying. Star formation is infrequent. Dark energy started to dominate the energy content of universe.  The universe started cooling. GAMA survey investigated stars' energy output. Study of stars over past 5bn years shows that energy output is declining. Stars will last for bns of years. There is uncertainty about tole of dark energy. Universe is likely to continue to cool forever - and structures will move away from each other. The universe will cease converting mass to light - and become totally dark. The current phase involves the death throes of the universe [1] [CPDS Comment: Definitive statements about the first seconds / billions of years after creation of the universe are likely to based on theory rather than observation]

Many scientists have also speculated (apparently in the absence of evidence or any real prospect of getting evidence) about the possibility of a 'multiverse' (ie a series of parallel universes with different properties) primarily because our universe seems fine tuned to allow the emergence of conscious life.  If physical constants were not exactly what they are a universe could not have lasted long enough to (say) allow heavier elements to be developed probably through several solar cycles and conscious life to evolve on a remote heavy-element planet. The odds against this are huge. Thus those who do not wish to contemplate the possibility of deliberate creation speculate about a virtually infinite number of parallel universes in order to explain why one would have the requisite properties. And, explaining the 'strangeness' associated with quantum systems apparently now also requires speculating about the possible interaction between universes (see Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies, 2014)

These examples are noteworthy not only because they say something about the 'objectivity' of some science (ie some scientists only consider theories that conform to their religious assumptions), but also because (as argued below) the notion of fixed deterministic laws of physics may be the strongest argument against creation / evolution / change emerging simply from within the material universe - because such laws don't explain where information (order / non-determinism) comes from (including the particular information / order that is embodied in those laws themselves).

Why Material Reality Does Not Seem Self-sufficient

Scientists and philosophers may need to recognize that material reality is not self-sufficient as it seems likely that 'indeterminism' (ie something that counteracts determinism) from outside any given system is needed to explain the source of any order and / or change within it. The deterministic time-reversible laws of physics that conventional science aspires to identify can never in themselves be a sufficient explanation of order and / or change.  

Everything that exists (apart, perhaps, from the most fundamental particles) involves a system of relationships amongst its elements. An atom involves a system of relationships amongst protons, neutrons and electrons - and the protons / neutrons in turn involve a system of relationships amongst quarks. Molecules involve systems of relationships amongst atoms. Water and rocks involve systems of relationships amongst molecules. Planets involves systems or relationships amongst water, rocks etc. Living cells involve very complex systems of relationships amongst simpler elements. Bacteria involve systems of relationships amongst cells.  Human beings involve systems of relationships amongst their organs - and those organs in turn involve systems of relationships amongst their elements right down to cells, molecules and atoms. Human society involves systems of relationships amongst people and social-subsystems.

The behaviour / properties of any system is determined not only by the fundamental laws of physics (eg gravitation and electromagnetism) that apply to the simplest components of its elements (eg atoms and their constituent elements) but also by the nature of the relationships that exist amongst its elements. The nature of those relationships can't be predicted from the laws of physics or the properties / nature of its sub-systems.

Non-living / inorganic systems have quite stable relationships (ie will continue to exist for a long time even when the system is subjected only to the laws of physics). However living / organic systems are unstable in themselves - and thus provide more insight into the process of creation. At the most basic level living systems depend on an ongoing inflow, not only of the materials their elements are made of and 'free' / accessible energy, but also of 'something' that has the character of information (ie like the genetic instructions in DNA) that reinforces (or encourages changes in) the system's otherwise unstable order. That 'something' can't be just (say) energy - as energy arguably stimulates activity but not complex relationships.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics highlights the fact that any closed system (ie one affected only by the deterministic laws of physics) decays into its most probable state (ie so-called 'entropy’ increases; and ‘order’ disappears). The unstable order of living / organic systems disappears (almost) immediately, while more stable inorganic order breaks down over more slowly (eg consider the emerge of dust in a closed room). Though the decay of order in a closed system is a highly simplified situation compared with the huge complexity of the universe as a whole, it is in fact proof that, on their own, the deterministic laws of physics can not drive the creation of either unstable organic or stable inorganic order. 

An inflow of 'indeterminism' (order / information) from outside any system is needed to create order in the first place and prevent subsequent entropic decay. The dependence of living / organic systems on a constant inflow of neg-entropy (whose effect is clearer if it is called 'indeterminism') is well recognised. However the Second Law of Thermodynamics (ie the decay into disorder of closed systems that are only subject to the deterministic laws of physics) also applies to non-living / inorganic systems.

The inability of the mechanistic 'Newtonian' science of the 19th century (which involved, for example, gravitation and electromagnetism) to account for the emergence / maintenance of order has long been recognised by scientists. Identifying that limitation in ‘Newtonian science’ and thus the need to explain emergence of order some other way (because of the incompatibility of 19th century physics' determinism with the Second Law of Thermodynamics) earned a Nobel Prize for Prigogine in the 1980s. And Prigogine later argued that 20th century advances in science (eg general and special relativity and quantum mechanics) all suffer the same limitation.

Conventional science’s search for ‘determinism’ within the material universe limits it as a way of understanding change (eg creation, evolution). Evolution, for example, is conventionally assumed to be the result of random changes within a (say biological) system that make it more or less adapted to its environment and thus more or less likely to survive / reproduce. However deterministic science has no room for randomness. To the extent that non-deterministic changes originate internally in a system, this has to be the result of the delayed breakdown of order that was created by the earlier inflow of neg-entropy / order – or of the cessation of an ongoing inflow which had created / maintained order.

Notes on The Limits of a Mechanistic / Deterministic Science (working draft)

There are reasons to doubt the adequacy of mechanistic / deterministic assumptions about the behaviour of the universe - even in terms of modern science. Moreover increasing indicators are emerging from scientists that limits are being encountered:

  • the Newtonian science of the mid 19th century (when Darwin's evolution proposals were advanced) had a critical defect in that it assumed a simple determinism (ie that outcomes depend on the existing state of a system and fixed causal relationships which could equally run backwards or forwards in time).

It can be noted that:

  • in closed systems order always breaks down (ie 'order' is improbable and closed systems tend towards their most probable state under the influence of the laws of physics). The Second Law of Thermodynamics expresses this by saying that entropy (ie disorder) always increases in closed systems. This phenomenon can most easily be understood by considering 'living' systems. Such systems exist in a state of stable disequilibrium - because a constant flow of neg-entropy (ie free energy / information) from their environment (which is contained in (say) the food that they eat or solar radiation) allows that dis-equilibrium to be maintained. Cut off that flow of neg-entropy and the organism will die (ie order will break down). The Second Law of Thermodynamics indicates that this decay applies also to inorganic (ie non-living) systems. The latter embody order that is relatively stable (ie does not depend on an ongoing inflow of neg-entropy as living systems do). However when subject only to the influence of the deterministic laws of physics (ie in a closed system) that relatively stable order will decay but not be created;
  • Newtonian science (which involved purely mechanistic laws of nature) could not account for the fact that irreversible changes such as the breakdown of order could occur (see Prigogine I., Order out of Chaos). Prigogine won a Nobel Prize for pointing out that something other than the laws of physics must be involved to result in the loss of information that increasing entropy (disorder) revealed. He also argued that neg-entropy needed to be imported from systems' environments to counter the tendency towards the breakdown of order that the second laws of thermodynamics required - and that this could not be explained by deterministic physics;
  • A broader contention in Prigogine's work was that disturbances / flows emerge in far-from-equilibrium systems, and these translate into stabilizing feedbacks and thus explain how new order can emerge. However, while this is presumably valid, it does not in itself explain where new order comes from because:
    •  no system can get into a far-from-equilibrium state merely under the internal influence of deterministic physical laws which drive the decline in entropy / order. Inputs of neg-entropy / information from a system's environment are needed to get into a far-from-equilibrium condition in the first place. And:
      •  while such inputs can be provided by other adjacent physical systems this does not explain: (a) where the external neg-entropy / information inputs came from for the universe as a whole (eg at the time of presumed 'big bang'); and (b) how that external neg-entropy / information emerged in adjacent systems in a universe governed only by the deterministic laws of physics;
      • while far-from-equilibrium conditions in a particular system might generate feedbacks that resulting a stable order (eg a carbon atom), there is a need to consider how an identical stable order comes to exist in huge numbers of systems. This depends on the existence of components of such a system (eg the protons, neutrons and electrons that make up a carbon atom) that, when driven into a far from equilibrium state, can only form a limited number of stable orders (eg various different types of atoms). Prigogine's explanation of the emergence of order gets messy as one starts to consider what is being learned about the components of (say) protons. The further down one goes the more the components of 'things' like protons cease to be 'things' and (like electrons) are recognised to be fluctuations in fields;
      • the fact that external influences are required to account for the emergence / maintenance of order, means that there are limits to the presumed-universal laws of physics - as the latter do not yet include recognition that the outcomes they predict can be (and presumably usually are) distorted by inputs from outside whatever system that is being analyzed;
    • while inputs of energy can generate flows (eg consider the circulation in a pond or saucepan if the lower levels are heated from below). However it is difficult to see such flows as the basis for generating feedbacks that give rise to complex relationships. It will be suggested below, that economics provides a useful way of thinking about the process of generating order - because change happens over short periods and is thus observable. There is a major difference between introducing inputs to an economic system which have the effect of stimulating activity (eg investment) and those that have the effect of stimulating change in the way economic systems are organised (ie information). Introducing energy is equivalent to 'investment' in economic terms. What is probably needed to fully explain the development of order (and which scientists have never sought) is inputs of something that has the character of information;
  • Though Prigogine did not point this out, his primary conclusion also implied that the time-reversible determinism of Newtonian science was inconsistent with the view of evolution theory (and the Genesis account of creation) that things experienced qualitative changes;
  • Though the limitations of deterministic physics is most obvious in relation to 'living' (eg social / biological / ecological) systems (see below) similar problems also arise in relation to non-living systems because the latter can also suffer entropic decay and the effect of deterministic laws of nature within such systems can never explain where the order / information (whose collapse rising entropy indicates) actually came from;
  • though major scientific advances have since been made, mainstream emerging understanding still ideally assumes the internal determinism associated with Newtonian physics (which Prigogine asserted had merely been extended by Einstein's relativistic views of space-time and Schrödinger's' contributions through quantum mechanics). However this seems inadequate.

Purely materialistic theories see evolutionary change as the result of random internal variations, which produce features that better suit the current environment. However true randomness (and irreversibility) is incompatible with Newtonian physics and is not explained by recent developments such as chaos theory (which is also deterministic - see also The Benefits and Limits of Chaos Theories) any more than by quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics shifts determinism from physical 'things' to a wave function (and implies that small (apparent) 'particles' such as electrons and photons are a 'smear' on space-time rather than points / things whose position / velocity can be clearly defined). This implies that information about 'particles'  is not available, rather than that it changes over time. Though quantum mechanics is complex and rapidly advancing field of knowledge, the limitations on its ability to contribute to an understanding of creation / the emergence of information seem to be advancing at the same rate (see also Does Quantum Mechanics Explain Creation?).  Some physicists seem to believe that the only way in which the information locked into the atomic states of particles can be lost (ie true randomness can arise) is if they are sucked into a black hole [1] - and this is hardly an everyday occurrence. Others appear to believe (see below) that demonstrating the determinism of quantum systems improves science's ability to explain observed reality - whereas all it really does is eliminate quantum mechanics as the source of the indeterminism that must be coming from somewhere;

  • the development of systems (ie of relationships between elemental 'things' that are, separately subject to the time-reversible laws of physics) involves the emergence of new order / information / neg-entropy (because the behaviour of such systems - about which new information could be obtained by observation - depends on the relationships amongst their elements, and is not explainable simply in terms of whatever laws govern the behaviour of their elements). Creating or changing the relationship amongst elements results in the emergence of, or change in, the causal relationships (information / laws) that those relationships imply.

Elaboration: Thus it might be found (as an illustration only) that for some system an output x is initially governed by the relationship x = 3a + 2b but after relationships within the system change it might be that x= 4a + b + 2c. Such a transition in the causal relationships implied by the relationships within a system can't be explained in terms of time-reversible fixed laws that are supposed to determine the behaviour of the elements of the system.  The emergence of such new order requires that neg-entropy (free energy / information) be introduced from the system's environment, because the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which does not have any proven exceptions that the present writer is aware of) requires that the 'order' within any closed system decays over time (ie entropy increases);

  • there has been a long debate about whether or not the human brain is merely a computer. To deny this has been seen to require assuming that there is entire new world of physics that needs to be discovered. [CPDS comment: the view that the brain must be like a computer rests on the assumption that the universe must be computable as a whole because it is influenced only by deterministic laws. However as suggested below that assumption is likely to be wrong]

There has been debate for decades about whether the human brain in merely a computer. Outlandish thinking is required to suggest that it is not.  Scott Aaronson (MIT) argues that because brain exists inside the universe and because computers can stimulate the entire universe given enough power, the brain can be simulated by a computer (ie consciousness must be entirely logical and computational). The alternative view (eg as put by Roger Penrose) is that consciousness emerges from mysterious / exotic physics within neurons (see blog). He sees computers as algorithmic and logical - though human mind (he believes) transcends this, Computers are bound by physical and logical rules of universe. If the brain can transcend this it must interact with systems that exist outside the logical, algorithmic universe - and quantum world could be how this happens. Michael Shermer (Scientific American) argues that this is unlikely. Penrose believes that brain is so outlandish and bizarre that it can't be explained by current understanding of the universe. [1

  • a lack of reproducibility in efforts to advance scientific understanding is being seen as a crisis for science. [CPDS Comment: it may be that problems are arising in reproducibility because scientists are now exploring systems in which the effects of external 'indeterministic' influences on the relationships in any given system can no longer be simply ignored]

Traditional science may have outlived its usefulness. Reliance on empirical evidence may be too restrictive and cumbersome. Some now prefer clean computer models to messy / uncooperative nature - and this results in pseudo-science. There has been a flood of recent articles on the failure of modern science. It is believed that dubious laboratory practices (eg tweaking statistical analyses to get 'significant' results) are common. Real science must have results that can be repeated by different researchers - but in psychology reproducibility is often not achieved. And this is not the only field where that problem arises. Reasons have been suggested to believe that 50% of medical research yields invalid results. Others see the same problem in physics - because of getting rid of 'noise' in data sets to find valid new conclusions. Some see the problem as: (a) political - ie seeking only expected results; (b) overuse of statistics. The replication crisis in science is gaining public recognition - especially in relation to climate science [1]; .

  • it was seen as desirable to identified methods to most readily spot 'dodgy' scientific claims [1];
  • it was claimed that mainstream climate science has be accepted as true because it was the view of  the majority of scientific organisations. 'Appeals to authority' are logically invalid and have been discredited every time major paradigm shifts occur (see Scientific Debate on Climate Change);
  • in order to account for the 'fine tuning' of the properties of the universe it is often seen as necessary to assume the existence of a multiverse (ie huge numbers of parallel universes with randomly different properties). However this is not the only possible explanation - see below. Likewise the strangeness that is observed in quantum physics has been argued to require assuming that our universe is colliding  with another - an hypothesis that is not the only possible explanation (see below);
  • it has been suggested that there might be limits to science's ability to gain understanding because the laws of physics (related to the strength of the Higgs Field and the strength of 'dark energy') make this impossible [1]
It is noted further that:
  • as noted above living systems exist in a stable non-equilibrium state because they have a continual inflow of neg-entropy  from their environment - but cease to do so (ie die) in the absence of such an inflow;
  • though inorganic / non-living systems are not apparently held in stable disequilibrium by a constant inflow of neg-entropy / free energy, the formation of such systems can't be associated with any internally-driven increase in information / neg-entropy / free-energy without contradicting the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Thus if inorganic elements and compounds exist in states which are not their most probable this presumably reflects the importation of information / free energy from their environments at some time in the past. Furthermore quantum mechanics involves the notion of a 'wave / particle duality' whereby elementary 'things' (eg particles) have a wave-like character and thus perhaps (like sound and water waves) involve relationships between other apparent 'things'. If so, such elementary 'things' could be the product of a process of creation / evolution / development similar (though not identical) to that which apparently applies to social / biological / ecological systems;
  • the laws of physics (which are insufficient to predict or explain their own existence) might themselves also be the result of creative qualitative changes over huge timescales - perhaps by an external ‘something’. Both the precise values which various universal constants required for the universe to have attained its presumed (say 15bn year) age, and reported indications of changes to those constants over cosmological timescales [1] have interesting implications;
  • the decay of order in either living or inorganic systems that increasing entropy reflects, is likely to be the result of the termination of earlier neg-entropy inflows from the system's environment;  
  • suggestions by Richard Dawkins (in Climbing Mount Improbable) that improbable outcomes (eg complex biological systems) can be the result of huge numbers of incremental steps over long periods of time don't overcome the problem that none of those steps can be explained if the systems involved are merely being affected by time reversible physical laws.

Craig Venter, who first mapped the humane genome, argued that blind randomness can not explain evolutionary changes [1]

A disconnect has been seen between science as a means for gathering experimental evidence about the world and efforts that are made to develop mathematical models that allow the future to be predicted (see CPDS comments The Gap Between Experiment and Prediction).

The physical sciences comprise two elements: experiments to gather data about the universe around us and the theory that tries to make mathematical sense of those observations. Education in science involves sometimes incomprehensible mathematical theories combined with laboratory time with equipment that never quite works properly. There is a need to ask how well mathematics accounts for noisy information. Science is seen as a process of progressing by developing / falsifying theory. The key question about scientific prediction is whether it holds up against the data. 'Predictions' against past data is the first step - followed by its ability to predict the world as new data comes in. Current models in physics are robust - but they can't explain dark matter or the origin of the universe.  [1].


Creative qualitative changes seem always to depend to some extent on a system’s environment. Living systems (ie biological, ecological and social systems) are flow systems, and as they develop (both as a life starts and as life generally evolves) respond to their environment. A constant inflow of neg-entropy (information; free energy associated with matter in non-equilibrium states) from such systems' environment appears to be essential to maintain them in stable non-equilibrium states. Such inflows also drive change in internal (feedback) relationships which subsequently have a new 'causal' effect on the behaviour of the system.

This implies that:
  • the reductionist view (ie that the behaviour of a system follows from the characteristics of its components and natural laws) may often be incorrect;
  • Ockham's razor (a philosophical test that always prefers a simpler explanation to a more complex one) may be unreliable and bias those who use it towards 'reductionist' interpretations;
  • not only are variations within a system selected in accordance with whether they are adapted to their environment, but the variations themselves must reflect either the start or ending of information / neg-entropy flows from their environment. While genetic material is unstable, that instability does not seem likely to arise internally but rather from the breakdown of unstable equilibrium conditions that originated with information from its environment which could not be maintained without ongoing introduction of that information;
  • the assumption that genetic mutations are the raw material of evolution (eg Pomiankowski A., 'Evolution: 5 big questions (2); New Scientist, 14/6/03) may be an oversimplification of a far more complex reality;
  • it may ultimately be necessary to take account of information from the ‘environment’ of the material universe (eg of an external 'something') and of the 'Word of God' (if God is viewed as the 'environment' of the physical universe) as a feasible source of creation (and of trans-natural phenomena). Moreover knowledge about that 'something' would be intrinsically inaccessible through reason or science (both of which are simply derivatives of a given set of causal relationships in the natural environment - and thus not a way of dealing with changes in those relationships). The only way information about that 'something' would be accessible would be if it was super-naturally revealed in some way;

It is noted also that:

  •  At least some causal relationships in the material world seem to be able to be intentionally changed by introducing information / neg-entropy . For example, the main way in which knowledge impacts on economic systems so as to achieve growth /span>may involve changing the production function - by stimulating changes in the organization of economic systems (see Transforming the Tortoise, 1993  and Fixing Economics, 2012 which equate economic development with changes in causal relationships; and Amplification which relates this to economists' traditionally-unsuccessful efforts to develop theories of growth and development).  
  • there is frequently a 'factor x' which renders rational expectations or analytical predictions about human affairs invalid.

And one version of quantum mechanics suggests that (external) observers can have a role in determining the actual state of a system subject to a quantum wave function - based on what they choose to observe. Moreover the need for external ('analog') support to enable quantum systems (which can store vast amounts of information) to 'evolve' seems to be part of emerging / leading edge understanding of these phenomena.  (see below)

While the above does not suggest how neg-entropy from a system's environment can produce an 'evolutionary' change within it it is noted that:

  • there is likely to be order / neg-entropy in any system's environment a continuous flow of which could be able to maintain the system in a stable disequilibrium (this being the essential requirement to maintain living systems);
  • the breakdown of previously established internal order (due to the interruption of of the required flow of neg-entropy from the systems environment) would appear to involve a 'random' change (ie one that was inconsistent with the time-reversible laws of physics);
  • while one can not be certain, it seems most probable that a 'universe-creating' / 'miracle-producing' divine ability to create order would have something to do with an ability to directly, simultaneously and coherently influence the state of large numbers of quantum systems.

Any system that simply operated in the way that the conventional scientific laws of nature / physics on their own require would have been on a path to entropic decay a few seconds after the creation of the universe. It is only the periodic / constant inflow of neg-entropy / indeterminism from the system’s / universe’s environment (whose origin conventional science does not seek to explain) that prevents that decay.

What scientists primarily strive to do (namely develop internally deterministic laws on the basis of observations which project the future state of a system on the basis of its initial state), can never explain how things develop or are created, because such laws never takes account of the indeterminism / neg-entropy from outside the system which is critical to the emergence and sustainability of any order. Thus, while an internally-deterministic view of science can often be useful in explaining how the universe currently works, it seems to be out of its depth in explaining how it came to be that way or in fully accounting for how it evolves.

The gap in what science can explain is particularly significant for living systems. 

The limits of conventional science in dealing with living systems

The laws of physics predict the behaviour of the physical components of any system, yet they reveal little about the behaviour of complex living systems (ie biological / ecological / social systems) because the latter are much more influenced by higher order relationships that arise from feedbacks within such systems (eg how a society is organised). And, as noted above, the way in which living systems are organised depends always on information from the systems' environment, and on ongoing inflow of neg-entropy (ie information, free energy) to maintain the living system in a stable disequilibrium state.

Science has no way to take this into account - either in terms of the laws of physics (which don't on their own predict or explain the emergence of higher order systems) or in terms of the behavioural laws ascribed to those higher order systems (which can't predict the way in which they themselves will be changed by information from their environment).

The laws of physics, for example conserve information - ie under those laws information about any system is neither lost, nor gained (except under extreme conditions such as matter being sucked into a black hole). Yet real living systems don't behave that way.

The same problem applies in reverse to the question of how new order can emerge within any system to allow it to be become better adapted to its environment, as the laws of physics don't permit the loss of information that the randomness that is supposed to drive this requires.

Evolutionary change seems to emerge from external influences that an internally deterministic view of science has no way to get to grips with.

Towards Another Revolution in the Philosophy of Science

The above implies the need for another revolution in the philosophy of science.

There are many limitations on what can be known through science that have been well recognised in the philosophy of science (see The Limits to 'science, reason and critical thinking', 2010). For example induction (ie determining universal laws on the basis of limited observations) is logically invalid. And because of this it was recognised in about 1960 that scientific theories can never be proven true, merely not yet be proven false (thus giving rise to the notion of falsificationism’).

Now, at the very least, there is a need to recognise that conclusions reached about the future state of any system on the basis of conventional deterministic science will almost always be at least slightly wrong because of influences from outside that system that deterministic science does not take into account. Moreover such external influences are critical to the emergence, maintenance and change of the order within any system - because a closed system (ie one subject only to the deterministic laws of physics) will always collapse into disorder. And those 'external influences' will probably have the character of information (ie a complex structure) rather than simply being something like energy which merely increases the level of activity in a system. Moreover, when a serious effort is devoted to identifying and studying external sources of indeterminism, it may emerge that external indeterminism has reflected a creative intent (ie has exhibited a sense of direction) at some level. It might even emerge that the laws of physics themselves are the product of an intentional process - in which case the cosmological 'fine tuning' problem would be solved without any need to hypothesize 'parallel universes'.

The pursuit of another revolution in the philosophy of science (related to the limits of determinism) is probably overdue. It may be that it would be useful  to look at social systems (where it is possible to observe how change occur in economic systems and thus in causal relationships over short time scales) to get some understanding of what may happen in physical systems (and thus perhaps to the laws of physics) over cosmological time scales.

Should Physics Seek to Become a 'Real' Science Like Economics Should Be?

Physics has been seen as the most fundamental / ideal science because it deals with systems that are subject to fixed / discoverable laws (eg involving laws of motion, gravity, electromagnetism) - even if the process of discovering those laws (ie causal relationships) is still incomplete.  And with fixed physical laws it is possible to apply rationality / reason / analysis to try to reach conclusions about the combined effect of those various laws.

However, as noted above, the time-reversible internally-deterministic laws of physics do not explain how they were created, or even where the information content of those laws and of the physical systems that they apply to came from. Physics deals with systems that have been created by some process, stabilized and exhibit behaviours - but those behaviours can't reveal how those systems / behaviours came to be. Scientific 'laws' are are very useful in enabling partial understanding of the reality we observe. But they are limited.

Though there is clearly a need for care in drawing analogies, a case can be made that social systems (rather than physics) may provide useful insights into the process of 'creation' of the material universe also - because (as noted above) it is possible with such systems to make real-time observations of the emergence of new order / causal relationships (that are analogous to both the causal relationships embodied in material systems and the 'laws' of the physical sciences), rather than speculating about what might have happened billions of years ago when the universe was formed or gradually changed since then over immense time scales.

Changes in causal relationships (which parallel the laws of physics) are a recognised feature of ecological, biological and social systems. Indeterminism (eg information) from a social system’s environment often plays a key role in stimulating such changes, and the latter occur fast enough in social systems to see what is happening. Similar changes in causal relationship (ie the laws of physics) could well occur in much the same way in ‘physical’ systems but this would occur over cosmological time scales and presumably never be observable by scientists. Thus physicists face the ‘fine tuning’ problem of trying to explain why the universe has exactly the right physical properties to have reached its current state – and, despite Occam’s Razor, many resort to ‘multiverse’ theories (ie that there have to be an infinite number of universes so that one has out current universe’s properties - for which there is no actual evidence) to explain what we observe.

Economics has long sought to be a 'real science' like physics (ie sought to identify laws of behaviour of economic systems that could be used to predict future outcomes). This is economics' greatest weakness (ie the source of its inability to develop useful understanding of economic growth and development) - see Probable Breakthrough in Understanding Economic Development (2004) and Fixing Economics.

'New' economic growth theories (ie those advanced in the late 20th century) recognise that knowledge is the primary driver of economic growth. However economists generally seem to continue to ignore this because of their preference for quantities analysis of presumably fixed causal relationships in economic systems. Adding more 'energy' into economic systems (eg through fiscal or monetary policies) continues to be seen by mainstream economic as the key to improving economies' performance - though adding more knowledge would seem likely to make the greatest difference.

The key to better economics is not to seek fixed economic laws (like physics), but to focus on how the relationships that determine an economy's causal relationships can most constructively be changed by increased knowledge.

In order to now be respected as a 'real science', physics perhaps needs to be more like economics (and other social 'sciences') should be (ie recognise that causal relationships / order can be created, but that this can't arise merely from the existing elements and causal relationships within any system). Moreover introducing energy (to increase the level of activity within a system) is likely to be a very ineffective means of developing new order. There is arguably need to hypothesis and seek evidence of the introduction of 'something' (ie indeterminism) that has the character of structured information.

Addendum A: The Benefits and Limits of Chaos Theories

The Benefits and Limitations of Chaos Theories: In 2013 an economist suggested that a revolution in science had occurred because meteorologists recognised that weather forecasting involved unstable systems which critically depended on initial conditions.

Weather forecasts have improved over the last 40 years. Model predictions are regularly changed by experienced meteorologists, but they start with models which are accurate in assuming that the weather is unstable.  Weather forecasters used to just extrapolate current trends. Edward Lorenz then developed a system of three time-varying equations, starting from models of fluid dynamics, that, though simple (just three equations and three parameters), were nonlinear. Their behaviour was quite different. His paper, “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow”, revolutionised not just meteorology but science as well, because it introduced the concepts of chaos, complexity, and “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” into science. [1]

However, while such models better reflect the behaviour of complex systems, they remain deterministic and so do not explain how information can be gained or lost.

Another point of interest is the above observation that the predictions of unstable meteorological models need to be adjusted when they seem to predict what are seen to be unrealistic outcomes. It needs to be considered whether this is an artefact of such computer models (which necessarily don't reflect all of the variable and influences involved), or whether unstable weather systems themselves also need such adjustments, and if so how this occurs. There seems to be no reason to assume that minor influences on weather systems would be the source of their conformity to 'realistic' outcomes.

Addendum B: Does Quantum Mechanics Explain Creation?


Does Quantum Mechanics explain Creation? [preliminary notes]

Some physicists seem to believe that quantum fluctuations can explain the creation of the cosmos. However there seem to be problems with this view - quite apart from the question of where quantum systems themselves came from.

Information from Nothing? - email sent 20/2/13

Dr Jake Hebert

Re: A Universe from Nothing, Institute for Creation Research

I note with interest your critique of Laurence Krauss’s recent book (A Universe from Nothing). One suggestion you made was that quantum fluctuations can only be assumed to create a universe that has zero net energy.

“Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss presented in a recent book his claim that the laws of physics could have created the universe from nothing.1 Likewise, other physicists offer similar arguments.

They appeal to the well-known phenomena of “virtual particle” creation and annihilation. The spontaneous (but short-lived) appearance of subatomic particles from a vacuum is called a quantum fluctuation. These subatomic particles appear and then disappear over such short time intervals that they cannot be directly observed. However, the effects of these virtual particles can be detected; they are, for instance, responsible for a very subtle effect on the spectrum of the hydrogen atom called the “Lamb shift.” The short lifetimes of these virtual particles are governed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP), which says that a short-lived state cannot have a well-defined energy.

The HUP places a limit on the time that a quantum fluctuation can persist. The greater the energy of the fluctuation, the shorter the time that it may last. It is for this reason that virtual particles appear and then disappear after very short intervals.

Krauss and other evolutionary physicists argue that the universe itself is the result of such a quantum fluctuation. However, the HUP itself presents an apparent difficulty for this claim. One would intuitively expect the energy content of the entire universe to be enormous. Hence, even if one were to argue that the universe did “pop” into existence via a quantum fluctuation, the energy content of the universe would be so large that the corresponding time would be vanishingly small, and the newly born universe would then immediately vanish. It is, therefore, difficult to see how our enormous universe could have resulted from such a fluctuation.

Evolutionary physicists argue, however, that if the total energy content of the universe were exactly zero, then a universe resulting from such a fluctuation could persist indefinitely without violating the HUP. This is admittedly a clever argument. Have the “new atheists” found a genuinely convincing way to explain our universe’s existence apart from God?”

While I have no post-graduate physics qualifications and have not yet seen Professor Krauss’s book, I have an interest in a parallel issue related to the origin (not of energy) but rather of information / order / neg-entropy in the universe – and my attention was drawn to a TV debate in Australia (ABC TV, Q&A Series 6 / Episode 3) in which Professor Krauss was involved, so I looked at your commentary.

I should like to suggest a way of approaching another suggestion in your commentary (ie about whether the laws of physics can explain evolution).

“While the laws of physics and chemistry in our universe do indeed allow life to exist, they do not allow life to evolve. The laws of physics and chemistry simply are not favorable to the evolution of life.”

My speculations about this are referenced in How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'? This is the result of a lot of work in relation to change in ‘soft’ (eg social / economic) systems (which Professor Krauss suggested on TV is a much ‘harder’ area than physics) and then an attempt to consider the implications for biological / ecological systems and ultimately for physics. The basic point is that it seems that any laws of science that involve time reversible determinism (which definitely applies to most physical laws and, I suspect, even includes quantum mechanics which otherwise would not be a ‘scientific law’) are not in themselves sufficient to explain changes in the information state of any system. Thus at all levels (presumably including the universe as a whole) there is probably a need for outside information / neg-entropy to explain change / development in a system. Moreover it is possible to exploit this to arrange genuine ‘miracles’ in social and economic systems (ie outcomes that are not explained by or even compatible with the ‘laws’ that previous governed the behaviour of those systems). There is nothing particularly original about the latter as some traditional methods for problem solving that are used in East Asian societies with an ancient Chinese cultural heritage are based on ways of using information that: (a) achieve this effect; and (b) are radically different from the way Western societies use information in accordance with the rational / logical epistemologies that were inherited from classical Greece.

There may be a need for another revolution in the philosophy of science to recognise the limits of what can be explained by scientific laws. My speculations also include reference to parallel limitations in rationality that may perhaps require a revolution in philosophy also.

I would be interested in your response.

John Craig

Scientists seem to regard the explanatory power of quantum mechanics as improved (rather than impeded) by demonstrating that it is deterministic.

A quantum experiment shows that particles follow well defined trajectories - something denied by standard quantum theory. This might support Einstein's view that "God does not play dice with the universe'. Scientists have been befuddled by the quantum world for a century. Unlike classical world's clockwork precision, the quantum world in rife with randomness. This is illustrated by weird result of famous 'double slit' experiment. Bohm suggested in 1952 that quantum world only seems weird because not enough is known about it - and the reality would prove to be orderly. He argued that a photon is both a wave and a particle with a definite trajectory governed by the wave the particle rides on. This view was seen to have been discredited in 1992 by double-slit experiment where photons were fired at two slits. Bohm argued that photon would go through one slit or the other - yet it emerged that though a photons' waves should send it through top slit, it actually came through bottom slit. However experiments with pairs of entangled photons in Canada restore Bohm's view. One was sent through a slit (which slit being determined by its polarization) - and its trajectory followed. The other photon was kept outside the apparatus as a way of checking the polarization of the other (with which it was entangled) .  At the start the outside photon's polarization mirrored the path of its partner. But its polarisation kept changing - so that the probability of going through either state eventually became equal. The travelling photon is seen to have changed its partner's polarization. The trajectory of the moving photon is real - but the detector and the partner photon are unreliable witnesses. Bohm's theory is now being taken seriously again.

Moreover it appears to be believed that quantum systems can contain vast amounts of information, but would not be able to reproduce themselves or evolve without external intervention. Moreover the expectation that quantum computers would be capable of manipulating vast amounts of information implies that quantum particles retain, rather than creating, information.

Digital information (ie 1s and 0s) is black and white / yes and no. Analog information is richer - eg can take an infinite number of values. Whether digital music is better than analog remains uncertain. DNA is digital information about life - with three letter 'words' forming a four letter alphabet - and each word referring to an amino acid and sentences describing proteins (consisting of long strings of amino acids). Though DNA encodes life, it is not alive. The genetic basis for life is digital, but living beings are analog creatures (made of plasmas / tissues / membraces controlled by chemical reactions. DNA only comes to life in the right environment. New DNA sequences arise from mutations / reshufflings that are partly environmental and partly quantum mechanical. Variation and selection are not digital. The main characteristic of DNA is its persistence. One could say that DNA is fundamental basis of life - with living bodies as servants to preserve / reproduce DNA. But it is also possible to see life as fundamentally analog and uses digital memory simply to ensure accuracy in reproduction. Nerves and brains may seem digital - but they are more complex than digital processors. Analog information can always be mimicked by sufficient digital bits, but analog information is richer. Quantum information is richer again. In a quantum computer information is not stored in bits that can take just two values (ie 1 and 0) but rather as qubits. Quantum theory suggests that qubit is a superposition of 1 and 0 simultaneously - and the amount of 1 or 0 in the state indicates how probable it is to get 0 or 1 when the qubit is read. The state of a qubit is a continuous quantity - which shows that it can store infinitely more information than a classical bit. Increasing the number of qubits, increases the number of values needed to describe them exponentially. A 300 qubit computer (eg 300 atoms in a row) could contain more information than the position of every particle in the universe. The ability of physical particles to contain information has other consequences because of entanglement (ie particles that remain related in their spin even when separated by large distances). Materials have been found since the 1980s in which electrons exhibit this entanglement. A German physicist showed that suspending a piece of semiconductor in a strong magnetic field caused its electrical conductance (a measure of how easily electricity flows through it) to be quantised (ie only take on values that are multiples of a base unit). This unexpected result showed that quantum effects could arise in large objects. More examples of systems in which quantum particles behave in ways that would be classically impossible have been found - so the traditional view of electrons carrying charge through material now seems simplistic. Quantum matter can take infinitely greater variety of forms - which creates scope for quantum electronics and quantum devices capable of doing things never seen before. In early 20th century atomic nucleus was smallest matter know, while galaxy was the largest. Now microscopes and telescopes have expanded our vision down to 10,000 th the size of nucleus and 100,000 times size of galaxy. The visible universe out to 14 billion light years has been mapped - and infant universe can be seen emerging from big bang at 100,000 th of its current age. It was extremely smooth / uniform, though the density varied slightly. This primordial variation seems like quantum fluctuations of fields like electrometric field in vacuum. These were the seeds of galaxies, stars, planets and life. Quantum effects were vital to the origin of everything now visible. In future it may be possible to identify a universe before the big bang. Recently the Large Hadron Collider has allowed matter on tiny scales to be probed and confirmed the famous Higgs mechanism which determines the properties of elementary particles. Going further its may be possible to find another layer of organisation (eg new symmetries connecting matter particles and forces). Studies of quantum matter on more everyday scales reveals entanglements that are more subtle than previously seen - and which will come to dominate society. Digital computers have changed the world. However we are analog creatures - and using digital information is regressive (even though it can be cheaply / conveniently stored and copied. It is the 'dead' blueprint of life, rather than a living analog element. Quantum information is deeper / more subtle - though very fragile. The laws of quantum mechanics imply that it can't be copied. Quantum computers can't replicate themselves - and can't evolve without us or some other partner. A relationships between ourselves as analog beings and quantum computers may be of great benefit - and perhaps lead to the next great evolution of life. We can provide the definiteness and persistence, while quantum computers embody the more flighty, exploratory / wide-ranging component. We will ask the questions and the quantum computers will provide the answers. Just as digital genes encode our analog operations, we can be the operating system of quantum life. Just as DNA is surrounded by analog machinery to make us alive, so with analog computers we may be able to monitor, repair or even renew our bodies. Smart systems will be able to be developed to energy and resources are used optimally. New materials (eg carbon fibres for space elevators and antimatter technologies for space exploration) would seem possible. Quantum life would seem to have the qualities needed to explore / understand the universe (Turok N., 'Quantum future a great leap for analog beings', The Australian, 9/3/12)

Sydney University scientists have made progress towards the fundamental challenge of quantum computing by learning to predict and pre-empt the decay of these weird sub-atomic particles.  Quantum computers (currently only theoretically possible) harness the quantum properties of atomic particle (which can become 'entangled across vast reaches of space and exist in many states / locations simultaneously) to perform calculations that are well beyond current computers. The big problem is that the quantum bits are fragile and almost anything will cause them to break down (ie to lose their 'quantumness'. Big data and machine learning have been used to predict the life and decay of qubits - which matters because it overcomes the problem of trying to observe qubits when they are decaying.  [1

An hypothesis was advanced in 2014 that the interaction of parallel universes would explain all of the observed features of quantum mechanics without any need for uncertainty / probability.

Parallel universes are a science-fiction staple - but are they real. It is hypothesized that parallel universes are real - but they are not quite parallel and can thus collide.  This would explain all the bizarre features of quantum mechanics that are revealed by experiment. The idea of parallel universes has been part of quantum mechanics since 1957 as part of the many-world-interpretation' (MWI). Though quantum mechanics is a successful physical theory it requires interpreting because: (a) its formalism is remote from everyday experience (ie it involves a wave function in an infinite dimensional space; and (b) so-called Bell correlations involving quantum systems from a common source violate the usual laws of local cause and effect. Thus wavefunction formalism can't be replaced by anything in ordinary space. There are many ways of interpreting quantum mechanics - but each is strange in some way because of the weirdness of quantum mechanics itself. The MWI postulates that any time a quantum system is observed it branches into a bunch of new universes - one for each possible outcome of the observation. The MWI view has attracted criticism. A new theory would involve many worlds, but now otherwise be like MWI. That theory involves a gigantic number of world which exist continuously without branching. Each is not 'fuzzy' but has precisely defined properties (ie there is no Heizenberg uncertainty principle). If there were only one world it would evolve exactly in accordance with Newtonian mechanics - not quantum mechanics. Interactions between worlds is seen as the source of quantum mechanics effects - and includes a repulsive force between worlds with nearly the same configuration that prevents them ever coming together. Each world is equally real. Probability only arises because an observer can not be sure what world they are in - and only discover which it is after conducting an experiment. Under this theory there is no wave-function, no special role for observation and no fundamental distinction between the macroscopic and microscopic. This approach can reproduce all the standard features of quantum mechanics, including twin-slit interference, zero-point energy, barrier tunnelling, unpredictability and Bell correlations [1]

This implies that influences from outside any given 'universe' could account for the features associated with quantum mechanics - without actually requiring that those influences be other 'universes' (see below)

Divine Intervention: A Speculation

Divine Intervention: A Speculation - email sent 19/7/13

George Virsik

Re: Is being a scientist compatible with believing in God? Online Opinion, 19/7/13

Your article pointed to a core problem in the relationship between science and religion as expressed by Professor Lisa Randall.

“The problem is that in order to subscribe both to science and to a God - or any external spirit - who controls the universe or human activity, one has to address the question of at what point does the deity intervene and how does he do it. ... A religious or spiritual belief that involves an invisible undetectable force that nonetheless influences human actions and behavior or that of the world itself produces a situation in which a believer has no choice but to have faith and abandon logic - or simply not care.”

An alternative way of looking at this question perhaps involves recognising that science has limits in explaining the reality that we observe – in the sense that the time-reversible deterministic laws of physics do not account for the fact that things change (and change in unpredictable ways). This possibility is developed further in Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview. The latter suggests the need for a Revolution in the Philosophy of Science which would draw more upon observations in systems studied by the social sciences (where systemic changes driven by external information / neg-entropy inflows frequently lead to new causal relationships) rather than simply on what is observed in the physical sciences (where such changes seem to occur too infrequently to be readily observed). ‘Miracles’ (ie outcomes that are inconsistent with the way nature behaved in the past) are an almost everyday occurrence – though presumably not in systems studied by the physical sciences (see What is a Miracle?).

There seems to be a fundamental difference in thinking about such matters between Western societies with a classical Greek heritage, and societies in East Asia with an ancient Chinese heritage – in that the latter do not subscribe to the notion of abstract ideas that are the basis of rational thinking (and of science’s approach to understanding the natural world) – see Competing Thought Cultures and East Asia in Competing Civilizations. And as the latter elaborates disbelief in fixed causal relationships (ie in the relevance of abstracts) is associated with (neo-Confucian) methods for problem solving which involve social elites introducing new information in order to stimulate systemic changes (eg in social and economic arrangements) and the result can be genuine economic ‘miracles’ which arise in ways that are invisible to those seeking reductionist causes. Western economics has been unable to achieve or explain economic ‘miracles’ because it tries to be a ‘real science’ like physics. In other words, economists seek to understand the causal relationships within economic systems in order to predict the effect of new inputs – whereas more could arguably be achieved by changing those causal relationships (see Probable Breakthrough in Understanding Economic Development). However such ‘miracles’ would be incompatible with economics’ aspiration to be a ‘real science’.

If one looks at biological and ecological systems from this viewpoint, one can arguably see the same thing happening (ie information / neg-entropic inputs change past causal relationships in ways that would not happen if those systems involved fixed deterministic relationships like those conventionally assumed in physics). Living systems (like social systems) exist in a stable disequilibrium which is maintained by a constant inflow of information / neg-entropy from their environment. Changes in those flows from outside the system can potentially create or disrupt those stable disequilibrium arrangements – but changes in those flows are not visible to or detectable / predictable by those who simply study the affected system in itself.

The difficulty that scientists have in perceiving the possibility of divine intervention is perhaps that physics deals with systems where causal relationships are not often or ever observed to change. Thus what is needed to achieve this in an essentially invisible / undetectable manner (ie introducing new information that creates / changes causal relationships) is not understood.

John Craig

Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds

Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds - email sent 26/10/14

Howard Wiseman
Griffith University

Re: When parallel worlds collide … quantum mechanics is born, The Conversation, 24 October, 2014 (see outline above)

I was very interested in your article because of its implication that influences from outside a universe (ie the effect of interacting parallel universes) could account for all of the ‘strange’ features of quantum mechanics – and permit each particular universe to function on the basis of something like deterministic Newtonian mechanics.

In relation to this I would like to submit for your consideration that:

  • A purely deterministic Newtonian universe has no way to generate changes – such as those involved in evolution. It is not even clear that a wavefunction interpretation of quantum mechanics is sufficient to overcome that limitation – an hypothesis that is explored in Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview (2001+). Thus the latter concluded that some external influence was required to explain the fact that information increases and that things change / evolve / develop.
  • The influence from outside a universe that gives rise to the ‘strange’ features of quantum mechanics need not be parallel universes (a point which is made in Does Quantum Mechanics Explain Creation?);
  • It is easier to observe the way in which external influences lead to change from a study of social systems (eg economies) – as in those systems changes (including the development of causal relationships) occur in real-time rather than over cosmological / geological / evolutionary time scales. There is perhaps thus a need to rethink the nature of science to give more attention to the way causal relationships are created / changed rather than seeking what are presumed to be unchanging causal relationship (as suggested in Another Revolution in the Philosophy of Science?). The latter points out that economics has long aspired to be a ‘real science’ like physics – and that its search for understanding of the laws of economics has been a profound obstacle to the discovery of a proper understanding of economic development (which would require understanding of how causal relationships come to exist, rather than seeking to discover what causal relationships currently exist). It seems likely that physics would also benefit from exploring this issue.

I would be interested in your response to my speculations

John Craig

Response from Howard Wiseman - 27/10/14 - reproduced with permission
Thanks for your interest. I have to say I'm not convinced that other universes are necessary to explain evolution for example. `External influence' need only be from outside the organism, I think e.g. random events in nature.
Sorry I don't have time to engage more with your ideas --- very busy with responses to our new theory.

Reply to Howard Wiseman - 27/10/14

Thanks for your comment. I would greatly appreciate your permission to add it to my web-site.

The problem I see with your response is that ‘random’ events in nature are not explained by deterministic laws of physics. Prigogine won a Nobel prize for pointing to the limitations of deterministic Newtonian physics (ie he argued, amongst other things, that neg-entropy needed to be imported from an organised systems’ environment to counteract the breakdown of order implicit in the second law of thermodynamics – and that Newtonian physics did not explain how this could happen). Prigogine subsequently argued that the same constraint seemed to apply to 20th century developments in physics (an argument that I suspect is valid for reasons suggested in The Limits of Mechanistic Physics).

Your new theory presumably ascribes the ‘random’ events in nature that explain evolution to either: (a) the quantum effects that are a product of interacting universes; or (b) the breakdown of previously created order that is revealed by increasing entropy. However (as your article clearly stated) your theory also shifts a universe that is not interacting with ‘something out there’ back towards Newtonian mechanics and eliminates probability. It thus presumably eliminates both sources of truly ‘random events’ in nature (ie events that are not explained by mechanistic laws of physics).

Where does true randomness in nature come from under your theory? It can’t come from systems that exhibit deterministic chaotic behaviour. It can’t come from new relationships between previously separated elements in a non-interacting universe – because any outcomes would simply be the result of deterministic physics (ie there could be no gain or loss of order / information / neg-entropy).

John Craig  

Limitations in Scientific Facts and the New Cosmology

Limitations in Scientific Facts and the New Cosmology - email sent 8/1/15

Dr Paul Monk
Van Gelber & Monk

Re: Why did the almighty create mosquitos?, The Australian, 6/1/14

Your article suggested that there are limitations in ‘intelligent design’ theories (such as those recently espoused by Eric Metaxas) of the creation of the universe and of intelligent life. However your alternative hypothesis (involving conventional notions of evolution and ‘new cosmological’ speculations about a multiverse to overcome the ‘fine-tuning’ problem) also seems to contain serious limitations.

My Interpretation of your article: Eric Metaxas recently suggested that there is increasing evidence that the probability of the universe existing at all (much less intelligent life) is so small that this must be the work of an intelligent designer. Metaxas wants to believe in ‘God’ as the creator of the universe and intelligent life but his argument is flawed and is counter to evidence. His argument is based on increases in the number of factors needed to make life, and that there has been no progress in the search for intelligent life elsewhere. However there are indications of increasing numbers of habitable planets and the search for life elsewhere is really just starting. And even if Metaxas is right about the odds being huge against a fine tuned universe, we could still not infer God’s existence. A more plausible hypothesis involves Steven Weinberg’s hypothesis about a ‘multiverse’ – in which universes come and go in infinite variations – and we just happen to be in one that worked out this way. Metaxas makes no mention of the multiverse hypothesis – because he wants to embrace old theological answers. Problems with the notion of God as creator include: (a) why create a universe that is generally inhospitable to life; (b) why make life struggle through billions of years of evolution – rather than just places intelligent life in an ideally formed biosphere. And why create mosquitos? These things make sense in an evolutionary frame of reference, but are inexplicable with an intelligent designer. Also Metaxas not only infers that God exists, but that it is his God (to whom he can pray and who meddles in creation in arbitrary ways), and that God sent his son to save from their sins a species of intelligent primates that had evolved for billions of years on a planet in the middle of nowhere. This has no relationship with scientific fact or the new cosmology.

There seems to be a fundamental problem with conventional notions of evolution in that something more than the laws of nature that science seeks to discover is required to explain the fact that order exists and changes (see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview). Though this issue still requires further consideration, it seems very likely that neg-entropy (ie information / improbability / free energy) from outside any given system (including the universe as a whole) is needed to explain the emergence and evolution of order (eg of galaxies / ecologies / societies). In any closed system, order breaks down (ie entropy increases). Conventions notions of evolution envisages that ‘randomness’ within a living system initiates its response to a changing environment, yet something more than the determinism of the laws of physics is needed to explain where that ‘randomness’ can come from. Prigogine won a Nobel Prize for showing that the deterministic laws of Newtonian science could not explain randomness / improbability. The same constraint (ie determinism) seems to apply (for example) to systems subject to chaos, and to quantum systems (which involve uncertainty but not indeterminism). The most reasonable hypothesis seems to be that: (a) there is ‘something out there’ that drives the emergence and maintenance of order / improbability; and (b) when order within a living (eg ecological, biological or social) system ceases to be sustained by externally-sourced ‘order’ / neg-entropy / improbability, it breaks down and apparently ‘random’ behaviours can be seen to arise ‘within’ the system. This implies that influences from outside any system (and thus ultimately from a ‘something out there’) must play a role in evolutionary change. It does not imply that ‘something out there’ would have to be responsible for everything that happens. However ‘something out there’ has to be involved at some point in introducing non-deterministic / improbable order into the universe because the way we observe it to behave / change can’t be explained by the deterministic laws of physics.

Assuming that we live in a multiverse is not a convincingly more plausible hypothesis than that there is ‘something out there’ that created order / improbability and potentially influences evolution. The multiverse hypothesis certainly conforms with Atheists’ religious preferences - but in terms of evidence (or even working out how to get evidence) it is a way-out-there speculation. It was recently argued that the interaction between nearby universes could overcome the strangeness of the behaviours exhibited by quantum systems (eg see Wiseman H., When parallel worlds collide … quantum mechanics is born, The Conversation, 24/10/14). However there are simpler explanations than parallel universes of the ‘something out there’ which interacts with the universe everywhere and always, as an explanation of the strangeness of quantum mechanics (see Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds).

Your suggestion that the ‘almighty’ has done things that seem strange to human minds is undoubtedly valid. The fact that the ‘almighty’ can be expected to look at things differently was the subject of Job 38:4. I suspect that knowledge and a point of view that is vastly beyond human minds would be needed to answer your questions. There is no possibility of potentially falsifying the ‘something out there’ hypothesis through speculations about, or even the discovery of, life elsewhere in the universe. Likewise conventional science (which seeks to identify deterministic causal relationships through observation and experiment) has no hope of discovering the source of indeterminism / improbability. Moreover, ‘something out there’ has had a massive influence on human history for which no purely-human explanation has apparently been discoverable (see The Futility of Blind Men's Search Outside in the Dark for a Black Cat That Isn't There).

John Craig

What Should Anyone Actually Try to Prove About God?

What Should Anyone Actually Try to Prove About God? - email sent 29/6/15

Mr David Crews and Professor Louise Floyd

I noted with interest the reviews of Roy Williams’ book, ‘God Actually’, that you wrote for the Queensland Bar Association Journal in 2009 as representative Atheist and Christian believers respectively.

As I have an interest in this question, I should like (belatedly) to offer comments on those reviews which I have outlined below.

Outline of ‘The Atheist’s Review – David Crews’: The book deals with the ancient question of whether God exists. Williams’ book was coherent and ordered, but myopic because of its Christian orientation. Though many sources were quoted, it failed to be convincing. Williams appealed to logic / intelligence – which implies that only the intelligent can conceptualize God and rationalise a belief structure. This implies that an idiot is doomed to purgatory. It is an individualist / elitist analysis. To rebut renowned atheists Williams tries unsuccessfully to show that belief in God can be based on logical deduction from known facts. He does not address the passive atheist / agnostic view that one does not know or need to care about God’s existence. Williams only addresses questions such as ‘Why there is something, rather than nothing’. He first concludes that the universe gives evidence of having been designed. This assumes that humans know everything – rather than accepting that there are unknowns. Williams analysis is based narrowly on Christianity. None-the-less it covers a lot of ground – and parts were interesting though others were unconvincing (especially those related to suffering – which does not support the existence of God). Williams succeeds in causing readers to think deeply, but not in convincing readers of the existence of the Christian God.

Outline of ‘The Believer’s Review – Louise Floyd’: Roy Williams began by telling readers his own story – ie of his move from a secular world-view to belief. He argues that the elements of evidence for God should be examined as a whole, not separately. He considers diverse aspects and, while acknowledging difficulties, is an advocate for God’s existence. The complexity of the world and faith are part of the reasons for this. Williams refers to a great deal of literature related to Christianity. His work fills a gap in that literature – rather than being extremist. Also he is sincere. Ultimately Christianity is a faith – a belief. It is not about absolute proof. Williams acknowledges this and states his purpose as being to counter the claims (of Dawkins etc) who view Christianity with distain. He shows that Christianity is reasonable.

There seems to be a fundamental difference in perception about what Roy Williams tried to do – or should have tried to do. David Crews argued that Williams tried to, but did not, prove God’s existence, whereas Louise Floyd argued that that he should not be expected to do so – because belief is a matter of faith – and that all that was possible or attempted was to show that belief was not unreasonable.

While I have not read God Actually, I should like to draw attention to my own speculations about why it is reasonable to believe that there is ‘something out there’ (ie ‘something’ beyond a material universe that is just driven by deterministic laws of nature) and that that ‘something’ could not be humanly known unless it chose to reveal itself (see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview, 2001+). The fundamental problem is that the deterministic internal laws that scientists seek to predict the future state of any system can’t fully explain what actually happens. Non-deterministic influences from outside are also needed to explain the reality we observe – and there is no obvious source of such indeterminism.

Science is thus confronting serious obstacles in its attempts to understand reality. Scientists now hypothesise the existence of parallel universes to deal with the ‘fine tuning problem’ (ie to explain the highly-unlikely-but-essential properties of our universe). They also appear to need to hypothesise the interaction of parallel universes to explain the existence of indeterminism – for which the pervasive influence of a creator God would be a far simpler explanation, and thus the one that Occam’s Razor suggests that we should prefer (see Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds, 2014).

This is not absolute proof of the existence of the Christian notion of God. However it is clearly inappropriate to expect ‘proof’ of God’s existence through any of the non-spiritual methods available to humanity (eg reason or science). As Christians have maintained from the beginning, belief or disbelief in God is intrinsically a matter of faith. Thus Atheism (ie an absolute denial of God’s existence) is a religion based on Atheists’ faith just as much as any other (see Celebrating a New Evangelical 'Religion': Atheism, 2010+) and Atheists need to be more sceptical about their assumptions (see Escaping the Strictures of Atheism, 2015).

There are also purely human reasons to suspect that anyone who is passive about whether God exists is not thinking about their own best interests.

Firstly Christianity experienced explosive growth from nothing about 2000 years ago because Jesus offered his followers credible hope of eternal life. His early followers: (a) believed that they had seen something so extraordinary that God had to be involved – and thus that Jesus’ promise of eternal life to those who seek it had to be taken seriously; (b) took on the world in Jesus’ name though many paid for this with their lives; and (c) found that following Jesus’ teachings about life being guided by love rather than by legalism worked so well that their numbers exploded (ie grew at about 40% per decade) - until eventually the powers of their day complicated matters by seeking a ‘piece of the action’.

Secondly there are huge practical benefits because of the effect that the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed (ie of a relationship between God and individuals) has had on the way modern societies work (see Philosophy and Religion: The Case for a Bigger Picture View, 2010 and It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities, 2014). The direct individual accountability to God that Christianity involves provided a foundation for individual freedom from social coercion / moral legalism and this in turn enabled methods of abstract problem solving to be used with reasonable reliability. Thus, while sophisticated understanding is not required to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3), if the majority of a society are in it the obstacles to the use of abstract understanding that otherwise exist because of human moral legalism can be greatly reduced. However, if significant numbers of people then reject God’s Kingship in their lives, then the foundations of their liberty (and its practical advantages in terms of abstract / rational problem solving) must be lost (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions, 2003+; The Re-emergence of 'gods', 2015; and Islamist Extremists are not Alone in Favouring Pre-modern Social Systems, 2015).

Those who are passive about God are likely to be condemning both themselves and their communities to a dismal future.

I would be interested in your response to my speculations.

John Craig

Philosophical and Religious Implications of the Limits to Science

Philosophical and Religious Implications of the Limits to Science - email sent 18/7/16

Professor Brian Cox,
University of Manchester

Re: Liddle R., Brian Cox talks, science, snowflakes and God, The Australian, 16/7/16 (== Brian Cox: All the Rules Could be Wrong’, Sunday Times, 26/6/16

You were quoted as emphasising human uncertainties about science. I should like to suggest that this could perhaps be the foundation of another revolution in the philosophy of science – which would involve formally recognising the limits of what can be known through science. It could also add to the list of religions that that you reportedly reserve the right to criticise.

My Interpretation of the above article in which you were quoted: Brian Cox has a new TV show (Forces of Nature) on which he takes complex things and makes them explicable. It was inspired by Kepler’s essay which explained the six-sidedness of snowflakes in terms of the water molecule (whose angles can be explained in terms of quantum theory). Cox is in the School of Physics and Astronomy at University of Manchester. He believes there is no difficulty in explaining things – merely a perception of difficulty. He is an evangelist for science, its dispassionate methods. It is a philosphy of ignorance – in which nothing is initially known (a characteristic in which science is like democracy). He is concerned that politics is becoming extreme and dogmatic. It is the intellectual constructs of science that are important. Cox eschews belief – as nothing is known for certain (though there are some things that seem probable eg age of universe). Cox is less doctrinaire than Dawkins who has been derailed by fervent belief that God does not exist (and that only idiots would believe). Though Cox is a humanist he recognises that if one can’t know anything for certain, it is impossible to know that God does not exist. As a propaganderist for science, Cox does not want to alienate people by insisting that religion and science are incompatible. He never thinks about religion – and it would never have occurred to him. He reserves the right to criticise religion. The conflict between two modes of thinking (ie the intuitive and evidence-based analysis) clearly concerns him. He had spoken in Istanbul of the possible existence of a particle that might preclude the existence of divine creator – and then left quickly. His main interest is in what can be learned from colliding particles (at Large Hadron Collider). One recent discovery (ie the diphotron which could be a member of dark matter particles) suggested that the Standard Model of particle physics might need to be overturned. There is a lot of awe and wonder around us and it is good to have someone like Cox tell us about it, where it came from, how it happened and why we should revel in it.

There are widely recognised limits on what can be known through human reason (ie the use of abstract concepts as models of reality) – see The Limits to Science, Reason and Critical Thinking. Constraints on rationality are recognised (for example) in:

  • Economics where market economies are seen to have advantages because it is impossible for planners to obtain all the information needed for reliable centralised decision making; and
  • Public administration where unrecognised feedbacks can result in counter-intuitive and unwanted side effects of apparently desirable policies and programs.

The use of abstract concepts in reason (which parallels the notion of ‘laws’ in science) is derived from classical Greek thought. This has been influential in Western societies (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational Responsible Individual). It has, however, only worked reasonably reliably because individual freedom, which is uniquely derived from the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage, has enabled the creation of social / economic / political institutions in which problems could be sufficiently simplified (eg by a rule of law, democracy, market-economies) to overcome the failures of rationality that inevitably arise in complex social, economic and political systems.

Reliance on abstract concepts as a basis for rational and analytical problem solving and the individual freedom needed for compatible institutions are by no means universal (see Competing Civilizations). In particular East Asian societies with an ancient Chinese (rather than a classical Greek) heritage have a quite different approach to ‘knowledge’ (see East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic and Intuitive Ethnic Hierarchy). Limited attention is paid to abstract concepts. And there is no reliance on abstract ‘law’ in society (eg as a creating a ‘legal’ context for decisions by independent individuals / enterprises, or as a way of understanding social and economic systems).

Western economists often want to make their discipline a ‘real science like physics’ by understanding the ‘laws’ that govern the behaviour of economic systems so as to be able to calculate what inputs will maximize outputs. However post-WWII East Asian economic ‘miracles’ have been based on the assumption that there are no fixed relationships that can be expressed as economic ‘laws’ and that information should be used to change economic systems - and thus also change the ‘laws’ that govern economies’ behaviour (Understanding East Asia's Neo-Confucian Systems of Socio-political-economy). I was able to experiment with similar methods in a market economy context in Australia – and found that they could work (ie increase rather than merely calculate economic production) providing politics was kept out of the process. Some suggestions about the need to re-invent economics to emphasise changing, rather than understanding, causal relationships are outlined in Fixing Economics.

Similar limits on attempts to discover scientific ‘laws’ are likely to apply to biological / ecological systems because (as for social / economic systems) flows of neg-entropy / information into such systems determine whether causal relationship (the basis of behavioural ‘laws’) are either maintained or changed. For biological / ecological systems such changes are likely to occur over longer time frames than applies to social / economic systems and be much less susceptible to human manipulation. I also have a suspicion (though it is harder to be sure) that similar limits apply to physical systems – for reasons outlined in Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview. Deterministic laws (which apparently even quantum mechanics seeks to discover) can’t account for the loss of information associated with entropic decay or the gain in information associated with the emergence of new order (eg as a result of evolution). Closed systems (ie those subject only to the deterministic laws of physics) always experience the breakdown, rather than the emergence, of order. As for social, economic, biological and ecological systems it seems likely that some external source of ‘indeterminism’ (free energy / information) is needed to account for the emergence of order in physical systems.

If valid, there is then likely to be a need for a new ‘revolution’ in the philosophy of science – one which would make physics a ‘real science’ (ie a ‘science’ like a reformed economics might become) in which it is recognised that causal relationships can be created / changed by somehow manipulating inputs to any give system (including presumably the universe as a whole) of neg-entropy / information / indeterminism (see Should Physics Seek to Become a 'Real' Science Like Economics?).

I noted that you reportedly expressed concern about politics now becoming more extreme and dogmatic. A speculation about possible causes of that all too real problem (ie increased complexity, post-modernism and politicisation of public services) are suggested in an Australian context in The Church of Political Correctness Threatens National Progress.

I would be interested in your response to the above speculations

And finally I would like to wish you good luck in your apparent ‘mission’ of demonstrating to the world the need to avoid starting from pre-conceived assumptions. In relation to this it might be worthwhile (as your comments in Rod Liddle’s article implied) including Atheism amongst the list of religions about whose claims you publicly point out that it is necessary to be sceptical (see Escaping the Strictures of Atheism).

John Craig

The Gap Between Experiment and Prediction

The Gap Between Experiment and Prediction - email sent 12/10/16

Professor Geraint Lewis
University of Sydney

Another Revolution in the Philosophy of Science may be of interest re your observations about the gap between experiment and prediction in physical sciences (Peering into the future: does science require predictions?, The Conversation, 12/10/16 - see outline here).

It points to the fact that: (a) influences from outside any given system always affect what happens (and yet are not considered in any theory or the design of experiments); (b) those influences can have the effect not only of introducing ‘noise’ but also of changing causal relationships; and (c) it may be a good idea to regard (say) economics as a better starting point for developing a philosophy of science – because it deals with systems where the effect of such external influences are much more obvious over short time scales.

This is also significant in terms of current economic and political instabilities (see Alternatives to Monetary Policy) because economics has always tried to be a ‘real science’ like physics and thus to develop complex mathematical models to predict the future – where the real challenge is arguably to constructively change causal relationships in economic systems (rather than to predict what will happen if they remain unchanged) – see Fixing Economics

John Craig