This post will be relatively brief, as there isn’t much going on in Chapter 2 save Sproul doing his best to stuff as much straw into his strawman as he can before he begins tilting at the windmill of Quantum Physics. That said, there a few items in this chapter I would like to address.
Sproul’s main aim in this chapter is to imply… well, never mind, he asserts that the entire global community of scientists has abandoned logic and reason, and that it’s up to philosophers like himself to bring them around. Good thing he’s not arrogant about it or anything, eh?
He starts out by making a good, if rather obvious, point. He says that events that take place seemingly by chance seem to be so because we are ignorant of their cause. He provides the personal illustration of meeting a friend by chance at a train station. In assessing how such a thing happens, he writes:
Here the term chance describes an event that was not planned by the parties involved. However, it was not an event without cause. There were many causal factors involved that had both at that place at that time. The crucial point is that neither of us was there by the causal power of chance.
Well, he’s right, in a way, because we already know that chance is not an agency and has no causal power. This is the same strawman he’s trying to impose on the scientific viewpoint that simply is not a true representation of the scientific position.
Sadly, he actually does correctly characterize chance in this quote, but without realizing he has done so. He instead provides a conclusion unwarranted by his words. When he says an event that was not planned by the parties involved, he is actually close to the truth of it. Between him and his friend, there was no intention to meet, and yet meet they did. That is the description of chance. Chance describes events that happen in the course of nature without agency or intelligent intention.
Sproul then evokes Hume to further press the idea of “Ignorance of Real Causes.” He would have us believe that the concept of chance in modern quantum physics has somehow morphed into a causal agent, that Hume’s message has gone by the wayside.
He then brings Voltaire to the stage to drive the point home further, quoting him thus:
“What we call chance can only be the unknown cause of a known effect.”
It’s rather obvious that he evokes Hume and Voltaire in an attempt to intimate that these foremost enlightenment figures, who were also anti-religious, somehow knew something that science has willfully cast off in illogical adherence to its non-religious theories.
But that’s simply false. This falsehood really threatens to tear down the entire premise of this book.
He makes a couple more somersaults to try finish off the strawman, then he simply tells the lie again in full:
It has been said if we tell a lie often and boldly enough, people will begin to believe it. The assumption that “chance equals an unknown cause” has come to mean for many that “chance equals cause.”
Apparently that’s Sproul’s methodology, because he keeps telling this lie in hopes you’ll have bought it before he starts tearing it down.
In the foreword to Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, by David Bohm, Louis de Broglie (1929 Nobel Prize for Physics) is discussing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (which Sproul, in his deep misunderstanding, denigrates elsewhere.) In overly simplistic terms the Principle, which applies to Particle Physics, states that the very act of measuring either the position or the velocity of a particle has an effect on the particle so that only one value can be accurately measured, as the other value will be altered by that process. This presents a range of uncertainty into such measurements.
The construction of purely probabilistic formulae that all theoreticians use today was thus completely justified. However, the majority of them, often under the influence of preconceived ideas derived from positivist doctrine, have thought that they could go further and assert that the uncertain and incomplete character of the knowledge that experiment at present stage gives us about what really happens in microphysics is the result of a real indeterminacy of the physical states and of their evolution. Such an extrapolation does not appear to be justified. It is possible that looking into the future to a deeper level of physical reality we will be able to interpret the laws of probability and quantum physics as being the statistical results of the development of completely determined values of variables which are at present hidden from us. (emphasis mine in all three instances.)
What is de Broglie saying? In short, this pioneer (one among many) in Quantum Physics recognizes that there are hidden causes at work that are ascribed to chance not because chance is a causal factor, but because we are as of yet ignorant of those causes.
So Sproul is leveling charges in offensive fashion, calling scientists liars, claiming to be the one calling science back to its foundational philosophies, all based on this intellectual falsehood. Make no mistake, this is his preconception he is foisting on others in service to his closely held beliefs. The Strawman is complete.
It’s not pretty.
And it’s about to get worse. Stay tuned.