Book review: The Mind of God

The Mind of God:  The Scientific Basis for a Rational World

by Paul Davies (1992)

Davies articulates well several positions which I have also long held

  • It is the universe’s combination of orderliness and contingency that metaphysics must explain.
  • Multiverses and many-world versions of quantum mechanics won’t resolve the contingency issue, because the laws of physics themselves remain clearly contingent.  (To really get around contingency, you need to embrace full modal realism of the sort defended by philosopher David Lewis.  Surprisingly, some scientists, such as Frank Tipler, are willing to do this, making bizarre claims such as that the universe is a simulation and that mathematical consistency gives an ontological argument for everything.  Neither Davies nor I find this line of thought very credible.)
  • The idea that the laws of physics can explain how the universe appeared from “nothing” assumes that these laws have some existence that transcends the natural world they describe, a truly perverse assumption.
  • The principle of sufficient reason needs to be qualified to accommodate a contingent but orderly universe.  Some things but not others require explanation.

Davies’ own speculations force him most of the way through the classical cosmological argument for a necessary transcendent God, but he cannot fully accept classical theism because he sees strong, probably insurmountable, difficulties explaining how a simple, necessary God could interact with a contingent, complex universe.  (He is fair enough to point out that many other metaphysical positions, including versions of belief in transcendent laws of physics, have analogous interaction problems.)  He tentatively proposes a model, inspired by process theology, in which God establishes necessary probabalistic laws and potentialities but creatures/events decide by chance/”freedom” what is actualized.  I don’t think this will work, since the laws themselves are non-necessary.

There is an interesting attempt to apply ideas from information theory to give some precision to statements that the universe is “complex” but its laws are “simple”.  Since I don’t know anything about information theory, I enjoyed these parts of the book.

The Mind of God is intended for readers with no physics or philosophy background, but missing information is filled in succinctly enough to avoid boring other readers.

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