The Quantum Vacuum and God’s Existence

A common contention to the existence of God is that the assumption – whatever begins to exist has a cause – is false, and therefore invalidates the cosmological argument for the existence of God. This contention has arisen due to the apparent observations in the quantum vacuum that sub-atomic events behave spontaneously without any causes. In light of this common contention there are some good objections we can raise:

1. Firstly, the view that some events just happen, also known as indeterminism, for no reason at all is impossible to prove conclusively. Our inability to identify a cause does not necessarily mean that there is no cause.

2. Secondly, there are deterministic perspectives adopted by physicists to explain these so-called spontaneous sub-atomic events. For instance in the 1950s David Bohm showed there was an alternative formulation of quantum theory that is fully deterministic in its basic structure. [1] Commenting on Bohm’s theory Polkinghorne explains,

“In Bohm’s theory there are particles which are as unproblematically objective and deterministic in their behaviour as Sir Isaac Newton himself might have wished them to be. However, there is also a hidden wave, encoding information about the whole environment. It is not itself directly observable, but it influences in a subtle and highly sensitive manner the motions of the particles in just such a way as to induce the experimentally observed probabilistic effects.”[2]

What this means is that the apparent indeterminism present at the quantum level can be explained deterministically by this hidden wave that produces observed indeterministic or probabilistic effects.
However, since these two interpretations of quantum theory are empirically equivalent the choice between them will not be based on a scientific decision but on a metaphysical one. This leads to the philosophical objection to this contention.

3. Thirdly, from a philosophical perspective it is extremely difficult for these physicists (who adopt an indeterministic explanation of sub-atomic events) to justify their conclusions. This is because without the concept of causality we will not have the mental framework to understand our observations and experiences. In philosophical terms causality is a priori, which means knowledge we have independent of any experience. We know causality is true because we bring it to all our experience, rather than our experience bringing it to us. It is like wearing yellow-tinted glasses, everything looks yellow not because of anything out there in the world, but because of the glasses through which we are looking at everything. Take the following example into consideration; imagine you are looking at the White House in Washington DC. Your eyes may wonder to the door, across the pillars, then to the roof and finally over to the front lawn. Now contrast this to another experience, you are on the river Thames in London and you see a boat floating past. What dictates the order in which you had these experiences? When you looked at the White House you had a choice to see the door first and then the pillars and so on. However, with the boat you had no choice as the front of the boat was the first to appear.

The point to take here is that you would not have been able to make the distinction that some experiences are ordered by yourself and others are ordered independently, unless we had the concept of causality. In absence of causality our experience would be very different from the way it is. It would be a single sequence of experiences only: one thing after another. So to accept that sub-atomic events do not correspond with causality would be tantamount of denying our own experience!


[1] See D. Bohm and B. J. Hiley. The Undivided Universe. Routledge, 1993.
[2] John Polkinghorne. Science and Religion in Quest of Truth. SPCK. 2011, page 39

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Comments (5)

  1. What would Professor Krauss say about this? Your third point is very Kantian. Didn’t Kant argue that you can only make this point within the universe and not outside of the universe as we will be advocating a fallacy of assuming that what applies to within the universe also applies to the universe itself (the category of all things).

    • Good point. Your contention only applies if you view the universe as a category of things. However, I would argue it is far more coherent to say that the universe is a thing, it has a temporal-spacial boundary, like all other things within the universe. So what applies to all things with a temporal-spacial boundary can be applied to the universe which has a temporal-spacial boundary. I hope this helps.

      • , I would simply say that it is an ioennvenicnt thought to feel that things cannot go any other way, yet it could also be comforting to know that if things turn out miserably, I can take comfort in knowing that there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. It’s not about what comforts us. That is the same reason people tend to believe in god because it provides a level of comfort to them. the jadedconformist said, When I play a hand in poker and the dealer is shuffling I may as well go all-in each time because if I were going to lose all my money anyway, I might as well do it big. But you don’t know you are going to to lose all your money. You don’t know what is going to happen. Just because things are determined, doesn’t mean you are capable of pre-determining exactly what is going to happen. There are too many causal variables for you to determine. What you have described is known as Defeatism. Even this is an example of causality. You thinking that you are going to lose all your money anyway caused you to might as well do it big. In this case you were determined to that course of action due to your understanding of determinism. the jadedconformist said, I don’t think I could ever believe that our actions in the past do not affect us at all. I don’t believe that either. Cause and effect again. Obviously our past actions and experiences conditioned us, shaped us, caused us, into what we are today.the jadedconformist said, What I will agree with is that our actions cannot take full credit for where we are in our lives. Yes, because our actions aren’t even our own, they are the result of all the actionscauses that have come before our actions.the jadedconformist said, so long as we’re not relying on empirical data Who is not relying on empirical data? There are massive amounts of empirical evidence that suggests our world is wholly determined by the laws of physics which includes causality.

  2. At the level of physics the ceiatrnty of all effects needing a cause has never been shown to be incorrect. The question of prime cause’ can remain open as far as I’m concerned but a timeless oscillation of bang and crunch will do. Simple minds can believe’ in creation by a god who created godself (pc term) if they want.Travis? You do not believe’ in free will? But you use it all the time. In the complex mental world of inputs, learning, processing, deciding, and acting It is not the last cause that produces an inevitable effect as at the simple physical level it is a very complex set of stimulae resulting in an action OR the lack of action. You control the result to SOME extent by controlling SOME of the mental steps of the process, not all we are not in complete control of our actions, but sometimes make choices, consciously and unconsciously.I know this can’t be proved, nor can it be disproved, but in my humble opinion to claim There are no choices or options, only illusions of choices. There is only one path, one potential.’is sophistry, but fun none the less.The crux of you error is the one path, one potential’ bit. At the end we have all taken ONE PATH, but there were countless random inputs, and the path changed countless times. So the path does not stretch in front, just behind. It is NOT determined EXCEPT in individual instances. No result in the future is determined by the present state.Choice is certainly illusory sometimes, and absolute potential’ is as unreal as the future itself. It’s not whether we have choice or not its about knowing what choice IS. You should have defined this somewhere Travis, or maybe I missed it. Go well.

  3. Alhamdulliiah. i have transleted your artical in bangla…i got many respons from Bangladeshi atheists.thanks you brother Hamza

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