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Time Out in the Science-Religion debate
Richard Lewis
October 17, 2005
The centuries-old debate between religion and science is currently focused, at least here in the United States, on the theory of evolution. It is generating a great deal of excitement, sound-bytes and fury on both sides.
Sorry to spoil the fun, but I would like to call a "time-out" on behalf of science so it can get its edifice in order before returning to the fray.
Modern science, as currently constituted, is a house divided: it is of two minds about the nature of probability. Starting with the classical concepts of Newton, science has elaborated a discipline that has had an extraordinary impact on our culture. And there is yet more to come. Genetics, with its child-of-God [hand-of-God?] manipulations of the genome, is opening up possibilities for good or ill at least on a par with that of nuclear energy.
Modern genetics has given us a good description, at least in broad outline, of what happened over the last 4 billion years of life on Earth. The great debate about evolution, these days at least, is about how and why it happened. If pressed, a geneticist will put this in high-concept form as: "Random, chance-and-accident changes to the genome sifted and selected by the necessities of Darwinian survival."
This is where we can put a finger on the schizophrenia afflicting modern science. The kind of probability that evolutionists are talking about is classical probability -- the coin-toss variety we are familiar with.
Suppose you throw a coin on a classical table and get a head. The probability that the second coin is also a head is 50%, as is the probability for a third or fourth coin, etc. This is the kind of classical probability that lies behind the "random chance-and-accident" of evolutionary thought. This is where any evolutionist who "reads beyond his field" starts to feel uncomfortable, for the classical concept of probability has been affected by physics and chemistry because it was found to be totally inadequate.
The quantum revolution, which has been going on now for over a century, has many strange and wonderfully weird aspects to it. But, at heart, it is basically a whole new way of looking at probability. For instance, in classical science, natural law determines what happens. In the new science, natural law determines the probability of what happens. In the classical view, probability is a result, while in the new science it is a cause. A subtle difference, it might seem, but one with enormous ramifications.
Secondly, quantum probability is more subtle than coin-toss variety. It can only be quantified and measured by numbers that have a size and a direction. So, for instance, a quantum probability can have a negative direction to it. It is only at the final step where probability becomes actuality, that these complex numbers collapse and can be measured with regular numbers, such as 50% (which, incidentally, is considered to have a direction of zero).
Quantum probability underlies all of the other stuff you might have encountered as "quantum weirdness."
Lastly, quantum probability is not at all like the coin-toss variety. Throw a coin on a quantum table (the real world, not the world of appearances) and you find two types of behavior -- neither of which is the familiar, classical one in use by evolutionists. There is the gregarious type (technically, the Bose-Einstein statistics): if the first coin is heads, the second coin is 100% heads, so is the third and fourth, etc. (If the first toss was tails, so are all the others.)
Then there is the exclusive type of probability (technically Fermi statistics). If the first coin is heads, the second coin is 100% tails. The third, fourth and fifth etc., all stand on their edges or refuse to stay on the table as the probability of either heads or tails is now exactly zero.
So why didn’t you hear about all this before, you might wonder. The excuse is, basically, that the quantum weirdness disappears, is hidden, when lots of things and large amounts are taken into consideration. This is mmnno obvious as otherwise classical science would never have been as successful as it is. Classical concepts of probability are, however, totally inadequate and wrong when describing, for instance, the structure of atoms or molecules. Totally. Yet the changes in the genome that have obviously occurred in the lineage of life on earth are anything but the massive and huge. They mmnno changes in single--though large--molecules.
The classical abolitionist assumes, however, that these changes were directed by classical probability. However, classical probability cannot even explain the hydrogen atom, yet it is claimed that it can explain the subtle shifts in the genome involved in evolution. I call this presumptuous! It is certainly without a shred of evidence.
So please, religion, give science a break, a time-out, to apply quantum probability to genetic consideration. Then we will be back to debate you.