Thursday Theology: against the physicists.

Many people say that Einstein was of the opinion that God does not play dice. He prefered to have simple mathematical models and not consider probabilities. Briggs, whom I’m quoting here, is a statistician, and uses these techniques correctly: to show that there is signal, something happening, not noise.

But no amount of modeling can deal with a category error. Brian Cox proves himself a midwit, because he misses that there are things you can’t measure. If we accept Kelvin’s position that if you can’t measure it is not science (and I’d argue that is a simplification) then we have to accept that there are things that no material instrument can measure, but as a latent class.


The old theologians knew this.

A mostly dead person is still alive, because alive is not dead. Once a person is all dead, only a miracle can bring them back. Which has happened. Several times.

Because some all dead have returned to life, we know that men have souls. For the soul is the living essence of a man. It is the thing itself that separates the living and the dead. A surgeon can coax the mostly dead man back to health. But only God can restore the missing essence that is life itself.

An essence is not made of stuff. It is a pure form, an intangible thing. The soul, then, does not have weight. It is also not any kind of energy or force. This is why physicists haven’t found it with instruments. And why they never will.

Cox’s, and many other scientists’, difficulty is with empiricism and materialism, the ideas that to be considered real a thing must be measurable, and that only measurable things exist. These aren’t unnatural ideas for scientists trained in the modern way, where measurement is king. Particles exist, they say, because they can be measured, albeit indirectly. Force fields, like gravity and magnetism, can be measured.

Therefore, inverting the thought, a soul doesn’t exist because it can’t be measured.

Physicists are not consistent in their metaphysics, though. Not everything they declare real can or has been measured, and not everything in which they believe is material.

Strings, for example, which are not ordinary three-dimensional objects, but of smaller dimension, are made, it seems, mostly of math—and math is not real stuff. Maybe strings are wrong, and it’s something else that are “below” quarks. There isn’t unanimity on the point: and anyway, no strings have been observed. Yet many believe.

This debate is not important to us. The idea that as things get more basic or fundamental they become more like math, or thought, if you like, is of definite interest.

Here the old theologians stand os one. There is no point in prayer if all is mechanical, or chance. But if God intervenes, then prayer is not merely a duty, but a great privilege.

7. Nay, I affirm in general, that particular events are evidences of the special providence of God. In the wilderness God caused a south wind to blow, and brought the people a plentiful supply of birds (Exod. 19:13). When he desired that Jonah should be thrown into the sea, he sent forth a whirlwind. Those who deny that God holds the reins of government will say that this was contrary to ordinary practice, whereas I infer from it that no wind ever rises or rages without his special command. In no way could it be true that “he maketh the winds his messengers, and the flames of fire his ministers;” that “he maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind,” (Ps. 104:3, 4), did he not at pleasure drive the clouds and winds and therein manifest the special presence of his power. In like manner, we are elsewhere taught, that whenever the sea is raised into a storm, its billows attest the special presence of God. “He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves.” “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still,” (Ps. 107:25, 29 ) He also elsewhere declares, that he had smitten the people with blasting and mildew (Amos 4:9). Again while man naturally possesses the power of continuing his species, God describes it as a mark of his special favour, that while some continue childless, others are blessed with offspring: for the fruit of the womb is his gift. Hence the words of Jacob to Rachel, “Am I in God’s stead, who has withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Gen. 30:2). To conclude in one word. Nothing in nature is more ordinary than that we should be nourished with bread. But the Spirit declares not only that the produce of the earth is God’s special gift, but “that man does not live by bread only,” (Deut. 8:3), because it is not mere fulness that nourishes him but the secret blessing of God. And hence, on the other hand, he threatens to take away “the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,” (Is. 3:1). Indeed, there could be no serious meaning in our prayer for daily bread, if God did not with paternal hand supply us with food. Accordingly, to convince the faithful that God, in feeding them, fulfils the office of the best of parents, the prophet reminds them that he “giveth food to all flesh,” (Ps. 136:25). In fine, when we hear on the one hand, that “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry,” and, on the other hand, that “the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth,” (Ps. 34:15, 16), let us be assured that all creatures above and below are ready at his service, that he may employ them in whatever way he pleases. Hence we infer, not only that the general providence of God, continuing the order of nature, extends over the creatures, but that by his wonderful counsel they are adapted to a certain and special purpose.

8. Those who would cast obloquy on this doctrine, calumniate it as the dogma of the Stoics concerning fate. The same charge was formerly brought against Augustine (lib. ad Bonifac. 2, c. 6 et alibi). We are unwilling to dispute about words; but we do not admit the term Fate, both because it is of the class which Paul teaches us to shun, as profane novelties (1 Tim. 6:20), and also because it is attempted, by means of an odious term, to fix a stigma on the truth of God. But the dogma itself is falsely and maliciously imputed to us. For we do not with the Stoics imagine a necessity consisting of a perpetual chain of causes, and a kind of involved series contained in nature, but we hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all things,–that from the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, he decreed what he was to do, and now by his power executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined. What, then, you will say, does nothing happen fortuitously, nothing contingently? I answer, it was a true saying of Basil the Great, that Fortune and Chance are heathen terms; the meaning of which ought not to occupy pious minds. For if all success is blessing from God, and calamity and adversity are his curse, there is no place left in human affairs for fortune and chance. We ought also to be moved by the words of Augustine (Retract. lib. 1 cap. 1), “In my writings against the Academics,” says he, “I regret having so often used the term Fortune; although I intended to denote by it not some goddess, but the fortuitous issue of events in external matters, whether good or evil. Hence, too, those words, Perhaps, Perchance, Fortuitously, which no religion forbids us to use, though everything must be referred to Divine Providence. Nor did I omit to observe this when I said, Although, perhaps, that which is vulgarly called Fortune, is also regulated by a hidden order, and what we call Chance is nothing else than that the reason and cause of which is secret. It is true, I so spoke, but I repent of having mentioned Fortune there as I did, when I see the very bad custom which men have of saying, not as they ought to do, ‘So God pleased,’ but, ‘So Fortune pleased.’ ” In short, Augustine everywhere teaches, that if anything is left to fortune, the world moves at random. And although he elsewhere declares (Quaestionum, lib. 83). that all things are carried on, partly by the free will of man, and partly by the Providence of God, he shortly after shows clearly enough that his meaning was, that men also are ruled by Providence, when he assumes it as a principle, that there cannot be a greater absurdity than to hold that anything is done without the ordination of God; because it would happen at random. For which reason, he also excludes the contingency which depends on human will, maintaining a little further on, in clearer terms, that no cause must be sought for but the will of God. When he uses the term permission, the meaning which he attaches to it will best appear from a single passage (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4), where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things, because nothing happens without his order or permission. He certainly does not figure God sitting idly in a watch-tower, when he chooses to permit anything. The will which he represents as interposing is, if I may so express it, active (actualis), and but for this could not be regarded as a cause.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1 Chapter 16

No, not merely the Protestants. Consider Aquinas, taken from the good Dr Briggs’ Blog.

7 However, some passages are found in Scripture, from which it seems that God is the cause of sinning for certain men. Indeed, it is said in Exodus (10:1) : “I have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and the heart of his servants”; and in Isaiah (6:10): “Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy… lest they see with their eyes… and be converted, and I heal them”; and in Isaiah (63:17): “You made us err from Your ways; You have hardened our heart, lest we fear You.” Again, in Romans (1:28) it is said: “God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient.” All these texts are to be understood in this way: God does not grant to some people His help in avoiding sin, while to others He does grant it.

8 Moreover, this help is not only the infusing of grace, but also external guardianship, whereby the occasions of sinning are taken away from man by divine providence and whereby provocations to sin are suppressed. God also helps man in opposing sin by the natural light of reason and by the other natural goods which He accords man. So, when He takes away these aids from some, according to the merit of their action, as His justice demands, He is said to harden or to blind them, or to do any of the other things mentioned.

Thomas Aquinas

James said it better. Do not say that God tempts us, or the fates. Our temptations arise from within us. And Paul notes that all temptations are common to our condition, but GOd will provide us a means to escape from it.

Again, for that we should pray.