Saturday, April 18, 2009

Victor Stenger and Quantum Gods

I take it to be an unassailable truth that what Taoism, Confucianism, Zen Buddhism, and the writings of Carlos Castenda have in common, they have in common with quantum mechanics. (R.I.G. Hughes)

One could be forgiven for assuming, from name alone, that 'Victor Stenger' is either a science-fiction writer from the 1950s, or a porn-star. On the latter front, one might be tempted to imagine that his first pet was called 'Victor', and his current place of residence is 'Stenger Avenue'.

In fact, Victor J.Stenger is a retired physicist, and one who has taken in recent years to writing a number of books promoting the naturalistic world-view, and denouncing religion and pseudo-science.

Stenger duly has a new book out, Quantum Gods, which identifies the ongoing need many people have to see something mystical in quantum theory. Stenger discriminates between quantum theology, in which people see evidence for God in quantum theory, and quantum spirituality, in which people see evidence for the fundamental role of the mind in the universe.

Whilst Stenger is correct to debunk this type of quantum mysticism, there seems little evidence that he has a knowledge of either philosophy or the philosophy of science, and this complacency leads him into error. For example, in his paper Where did the laws of physics come from?, Stenger argues that the laws of physics are determined by: (i) the empirical measurement data; and (ii) the need for coordinate-invariant laws.

Yet, to pose the question, 'Why does the universe possess the laws that we observe it to possess, and not some other possible laws?', is to imagine the possible existence of other universes with sets of empirical data satisfying different laws from our own. To argue that the laws of physics are the way they are, because the empirical data (and coordinate-independence) has constrained them to be such, is to mis-understand the problem at hand.

In another paper, A scenario for a natural origin of our universe, Stenger announces: "What I will show is that a mathematical model of the origin of our universe based on no more than...well-established theories can be precisely specified. This model is essentially the 'no boundary' model proposed over twenty years ago by Hartle and Hawking."

Again, however, Stenger's paper demonstrates an ignorance of the relevant literature in the philosophy of physics, some of which is somewhat less enthusiastic about the Hartle-Hawking ansatz...

The principles of scholarship dictate that a professional researcher should be acquainted with all of the relevant literature before putting pen to paper, yet Stenger, and for that matter, most of the physicists who write about philosophical subjects, do so with a blithe disregard for this principle. Curious.

1 comment:

David said...

I read your review with interest and, although brief, it was rich with insight. And I referenced you in my full-length rebuttal to Stenger: I have just started exploring your site and have found a great deal of value. Best regards, David Scharf