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New Book, Cosmological Implications of Heisenberg's Principle, Argues for Purpose and Design in Nature


In 2014, I wrote about a book, Intelligible Design: A Realistic Approach to the Philosophy and History of Science. Now, one of the co-editors of that book, Julio Gonzalo, a computer scientist and physicist at National Distance Education University (UNED) in Spain, has written another book, Cosmological Implications of Heisenberg's Principle, published by World Scientific.

Much of Dr. Gonzalo's new book is fairly technical. However, many sections are easily accessible, starting with the prologue which features an interview with Manuel Alfonseca, an engineer at the Autonomous University of Madrid, about the popular materialist view that the universe came from nothing:

[T]hey confuse nothing with the vacuum. We know since 2500 years ago (Parmenides was the first to say it) that nothing cannot have any property, including existence. Therefore nothing does not exist. And from what does not exist, nothing can come. On the other hand, the vacuum (which is very different from nothing) does have properties: space, time, energy ... Quantum mechanics and the Heisenberg principle predict that the vacuum contains a certain amount of energy. However, the Schwinger effect (the spontaneous creation of particle pairs out of the vacuum by applying an electric field), which was predicted starting from this consideration, has not yet been confirmed, not even for electron-positron pairs, which would be easiest to generate. Therefore the assumption that a whole universe like ours could have come spontaneously out of the vacuum (never from nothing) seems a little far-fetched, given the current state of knowledge. (p. 3)
Gonzalo continues on the theme that the universe requires an "intelligent Creator":
Modern science is therefore a monumental proof that the natural world as well as man's intellect are contingent and are due to an all-powerful and intelligent Creator ... The deep and painstaking historical investigations of Fr. Jaki provide abundant evidence of the process by which Planck and Einstein, each in his own way, both driven by the clear evidence of their own creative work, arrive at the appreciation of an order in nature which is not man made or artificial but natural, contingent (we might add created) and therefore, independent of the observer.
Gonzalo treats the reader to an interesting discussion of the work of Max Planck and Albert Einstein. Planck discovered a correlation between the intensity of radiation emitted from a body and its wavelength -- a correlation which was "totally independent of the material making up the blackbody emitter" which suggested he had discovered "something which could well give the observer a great opportunity to go deep into the absolute character of the physical laws governing nature." (p. 7) Einstein similarly found that the speed of light is constant regardless of the relative movement of the observer and the emitter, leading Gonzalo to note that "Einstein affirmed that his theory should have been called the theory of 'invariance' rather than the theory of relativity." (p. 12)

Gonzalo discusses the theism of both Planck and Einstein and concludes that the fundamental invariant truths of nature they discovered point to an intelligent creator:

The world views of Planck and Einstein, the two towering pioneers of modern physics, as shown by Fr. Jaki, were and are perfectly compatible with a well done and orderly natural world and with the recognition in man's intellect of a genuine capability to understand it.

True science is a monumental proof of the fact that the universe is well made and contingent, and that so is man's intellect. Their existence requires therefore a necessary, all powerful and intelligent Creator. (p. 15)

Later, Gonzalo notes that the spectral distribution of black body radiation, Wien's displacement law (which describes how emitted radiation changes with temperature), the Stephan-Boltzmann law (which describes "the total amount of emitted radiation per unit volume in the whole frequency range from zero to infinity") allowed Planck to calculate various universal constants which "are independent of specific bodies and substances and necessarily keep their meanings for all times and for all cultures ... and can be designated as 'natural units.'" (pp. 88-90)

Gonzalo includes highly readable and informative biographies focusing on the accomplishments of many giants of 20th century physics, including Werner Heisenberg and his discovery that "one cannot determine simultaneously the position and velocity of an atomic particle." (p. 40) The ideas of uncertainty or indeterminacy have deep implications. As Gonzalo writes:

Indeterminacy in nature means, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, that nature "itself" is somehow "undecided", and therefore "free" to decide or not to decide. Let us quote Bohr, Heisenberg's principal mentor, in this connection: "one speaks of a free choice on the part of nature". He added that this phrase could be seen as implying "the idea of an external chooser", but he discarded it right away, to avoid giving the impression that he could consider seriously any genuinely transcendental Creator.

On the other hand, uncertainty means something very different. It simply means the lack of certainty in one's knowledge about natural reality or about aspects of that natural reality. p. 78)
Heisenberg's ideas suggested that probabilities are a necessary evil within physics, and that even if we had all knowledge of all things, we still could not predict with absolute certainty what will happen -- we could only give probabilities. This challenges determinism -- the idea that everything in nature is predetermined. So who or what ultimately decides what happens? As Gonzalo notes, some have seen this as evidence for "an external chooser." Whatever the case, these ideas directly contradict determinism and materialism. Physicist Stephen Barr explains his view of quantum indeterminacy:
[T]he death of determinism is not the only deep conclusion that follows from the probabilistic nature of quantum theory. An even deeper conclusion that some have drawn is that materialism, as applied to the human mind, is wrong. Eugene Wigner, a Nobel laureate, argued in a famous essay that philosophical materialism is not "logically consistent with present quantum mechanics." And Sir Rudolf Peierls, another leading physicist, maintained that "the premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being . . . including its knowledge, and its consciousness, is untenable."
Why does it destroy materialism? Because any material system is subject to the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. Only once a mind observes (or doesn't observe) some event can you have a definitive answer about whether the event did (or did not) happen. As Barr puts it: "As long as only physical structures and mechanisms are involved, however complex, their behavior is described by equations that yield only probabilities -- and once a mind is involved that can make a rational judgment of fact, and thus come to knowledge, there is certainty. Therefore, such a mind cannot be just a physical structure or mechanism completely describable by the equations of physics." Minds, therefore, cannot be strictly material entities or they too would be subject to such indeterminacy.

Nonetheless, Gonzalo notes that Heisenberg's principle does not prevent us from learning many things, for "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle gives very the useful order of magnitude of information about such an elusive microscopic physical particle as the electron neutrino mass" (p. 80) such that:

Calling Heisenberg's principle the principle of uncertainty reflects better its true meaning. That denomination, however, does not reflect quite well its positive potential to provide very useful information about a finite system. (p. 82)
He later puts it this way:
Heisenberg's principle sets very strict limits to the accuracy with which pairs of conjugated variables (position and momentum, energy and time) can be known in a finite system. At the same time it makes very useful specific connections between them and therefore can be taken as a source of positive information about that system. (p. 132)
Gonzalo thinks that religion contributed positively to the rise of science, and fears that the decline of religion in some Western countries could harm the future of scientific discovery:
As shown convincingly by S.L. Jaki, the crucial first steps in the development of modern science took place in medieval European Christendom, and in no other place, when Buridan (1300-1358) and Oresme (1325-1382) introduced the idea of inertial movement. ... Of course modern science, which has been capable of describing satisfactorily the constituents of elementary particles as well as the behavior of the furthest galaxies located at billions of light years from our Milky Way, a science whose cradle was unmistakably in medieval European Christendom acquired soon its proper autonomy and became independent of that Christian natural philosophy within whose premises was born.

Will modern science and technology be able to survive for very long after its metaphysical, epistemological, common sense foundations enter moral decomposition?

It is not at all clear. (pp. 131-132)

Whatever the case, it seems that modern discoveries of physics and cosmology like the Big Bang and quantum indeterminacy are very consistent with non-materialist worldviews as well as with the theory of intelligent design. These ideas suggest that there are forces outside the universe that sustain and direct it. But Gonzalo also sees the rationality and constant behavior of the universe as pointing to its original "createdness":
The final and most striking [way that] scientific cosmology [points] to the createdness of the universe is a sequel to the contingency of the universe. The contingency meant here is not its confused sequence, equivalent to an undefined indeterminacy. Contingency here means the utter dependence of something on something else. The actual specificity of the universe is a striking reminder of such dependence. Precisely because the actual cosmos is so specific, it should be easy to see the possibility of an immensely large number of other specificities. The actual specificity of the universe, which cannot be necessary, reveals therefore its dependence on a choice beyond the universe. Since the specificity of the universe is highly understandable, the choice underlying that specificity, a choice which also gives the universe its actual existence, must involve an intelligence and power which is supercosmic, that is, beyond the cosmos which for science is the totality of consistently interacting things. (p. 146)
He points to the fine-tuning of the cosmos for comprehensibility, as he continues: "Is it reasonable to assume that an Intelligence which produced a universe, a totality of consistently interacting things, is not consistent to the point of acting for a purpose? To speak of purpose may seem, since Darwin, the most reprehensible procedure before the tribunal of science. Baffling enough, it is science in its most advanced and comprehensive form -- scientific cosmology -- which reinstates today references to purpose into scientific discourse."

Gonzalo also uses classic fine-tuning arguments that the universe is fit for the existence of life on earth:

Shortly after the discovery of the 2.7K radiation, cosmologists began to wonder at the extremely narrow margin allowed for cosmic evolution. The universe began to appear to them more and more as if placed on an extremely narrow track, a track laid down so that ultimately man may appear on the scene. For if that cosmic soup had been slightly different, not only the chemical elements, of which all organic bodies are made, would have failed to be formed. Inert matter would have also been subject to an interaction different from the one required for the coagulation of large lumps of mater, such as protostars and proto-solar systems.

Yet the solar system ultimately emerged and with it that curious planet, the earth, which if placed at a slightly different distance from the Sun, would have undergone a very different evolutionary process on its surface. At any rate, the emergence of life on earth is, from the purely scientific standpoint, an outcome of immense improbability. No wonder that in view of this quite a few cosmologists, who are unwilling to sacrifice forever at the altar of blind chance, began to speak of the anthropic principle. Recognition of that principle was prompted by the nagging suspicion that the universe may have after all been specifically tailored for the sake of man. (p. 147)

Gonzalo has a lot more to say -- and it's very friendly to an ID-based viewpoint. For the rest, I suggest you check out the book.

Image: Hubble's Little Sombrero, by European Space Agency/Hubble & NASA.