I haven’t posted for a while because I have been studying and focusing on my forthcoming book, but I want to say something about my current studies and thoughts on physics, divine action, and resurrection, inspired by observations and comments by readers, especially Spud.
Adapted and expanded from the discussion about my article “Christianity and Transhumanism Are Much Closer Than You Think” at IEET:
Spud and I often discuss the How and When of technological resurrection. I say that I have no idea of How and no idea of When, but scientists in the far future could know much more. Spud answers, that’s not good enough, we need to say something more precise now to keep people warm at night. Of course he is right, it would be nice to say something more precise, I just don’t know what to say at this moment, we simply don’t know enough physics yet.
“The wait is cosmological ages,” says Spud, “and who wants to wait up for that?” But I am not worried about When. From your perspective, you don’t have to wait cosmological ages. As far as your subjective experiences are concerned, you go to sleep and you wake up “the morning after” in a new world. The morning after could be billions of years in the future, but you don’t experience the time between going to sleep and waking up. This has been analyzed by theologians for hundreds of years. Be it two hundred or two billion years in the future, resurrection technology won’t be developed in our lifetime, but on the other hand whenever it’s developed it will offer subjective continuity to resurrected people, so why worry?
I don’t think we could understand How at this moment. But perhaps we could offer suggestive stories and throw-away models for God and resurrection, based on today’s physics. While being probably wrong because current physics is probably wrong, the throw-away models could convey the flavor of future theories. An example is Tipler’s model, which is based on today’s physics. I think Tipler’s mistake is thinking that we already know enough physics for eschatology, but at least he put his hands in the mud to work out a reasonably detailed story.
Understandable throw-away “something like that, more or less” models are useful because, even if they are wrong, perhaps they are not entirely wrong, or they are wrong in interesting ways that can help imagining better models. Leonardo’s detailed models of flying machines, based on the science of Leonardo’s time, were not entirely wrong and interestingly wrong, because they helped thinking about heavier-than-air flying machines, which were achieved centuries later, not by imitating birds flapping wings but by entirely different technologies.
The theologians quoted in “Christianity and Transhumanism Are Much Closer Than You Think” argue that miracles – and what’s resurrection if not the ultimate miracle? – don’t need to violate natural laws. God is smarter than that and can do miracles by using, as opposed to violating, the laws of nature.
A 19th century physicist would disagree, because 19th century physics is deterministic. A particle can go this way or that way, and if the laws of physics say that it must go this way, God can’t make it go that way without violating the laws of physics.
Contrary to 19th century physics, modern physics isn’t deterministic. Modern non-quantum physics is non-deterministic in practice due to chaotic dynamics, and modern quantum physics is non-deterministic in principle due to the random collapse of quantum wavefunction upon observation. Von Neumann distinguished between two fundamental quantum processes – Process 2, the deterministic evolution predicted by the equations of quantum mechanics, and Process 1, the random collapse of the wavefunction (quantum jump) upon observation. It seems, in fact, that observation forces the universe to make up its mind, choose one random way, and discard (or hide) previously existing information about alternative ways.
What counts as an “observation” is an open issue. Some physicist think that only observation by a conscious observer qualifies. In other words, your measurement equipment alone doesn’t collapse the wavefunction, but you do as soon as you become aware of the result.
Today, a common alternate view is that ultimate quantum reality is deterministic, but the unavoidable interactions and entanglement with the rest of the world force (apparently) individual quantum systems to (apparently) make up their mind very rapidly (decoherence) and choose one of the possible ways. The previously existing information about alternative ways is not discarded but transferred to the environment, where it is rapidly “lost in translation” into less and less accessible degrees of freedom and becomes indistinguishable from thermal noise. However, observation outcomes (which way?) for apparently individual quantum systems are still effectively random.
Things can go this way or that way, and both ways are compatible with the laws of physics, so God can choose which way without violating the laws of physics. Therefore God can tweak complex processes in space-time with messages hidden in random noise to choose the random outcomes of individual quantum events. God is omnipotent indeed, and works “below” the laws of physics.
Fred Hoyle imagined a hierarchy of Gods in the universe, from lower-case local gods all the way to an asymptotic cosmic God that emerges from the physical universe, comes into full being beyond time, controls space and time, seeds the universe with life, and keeps tweaking and fine-tuning the whole of space-time with subtle quantum messages and time loops. I am writing an article titled “A for Almighty” about Hoyle’s model.
Other scientists and theologians proposes physical theology and divine action (“theodynamics”?) models with a God that comes to full being in the far future, able to control space-time events anywhere, anytime, including here and now, with quantum messages that travel backwards in time, and able to establish self-consistent time loops that “cause” God Himself to exist. Something like the picture below (from my talk at the Modern Cosmism Conference in October, New York). John Cramer’s “Transactional Interpretation” of quantum physics, where time loops are central, comes strongly to mind.
God can do miracles, and resurrect the dead by copying them from the past. Personal resurrection isn’t included in Hoyle’s model, but could be consistently integrated with similar models. For example, God could encode us in time loops, or extract us from quantum noise – if information is not lost but encrypted in thermal noise, a sufficiently powerful God could decrypt it. As part of the Irrational Mechanics project, I plan to assemble a gallery of throw-away physical theology, divine action, and resurrection models.
Images from my talk at the Modern Cosmism Conference in October, New York.