Games of Chance – Ch. 3 – Historical Straw

A couple weeks ago I was getting an itch to get back into addressing apologetics, just because that’s how I roll. I was going to go back to the Limbaugh book, and eventually I will, but I thought the R.C. Sproul book would be meatier. I think I’m wrong, but the sciency part of it still compels.

Originally Pastor Chuck and I were going to spar over this book, but after showing himself unwilling to address arguments directly and his continual deflections to his aspersions on my character, he finally backed out, read the book on his own, declared it perfect, and wandered off into the sunset. I figure I’ll just have to go it alone and hope someone else comes along to wrangle.

Or not.

When last we left off, Mr. Sproul (aka, Second Jesus) had built a massive Straw Man as the core of his entire argument – asserting that Quantum Physicists were ascribing “agency” to the concept of Chance. Since that seems to be the key to his entire premise, he’s now clearly going to ride that horse straight into the ground.

The danger in continuing this series is that we have already pretty much destroyed his core assertion regarding Chance. So addressing all of the tree branches of argument that spring from that one faulty idea may amount to just beating that dead horse to a pulp. We’ll see. It’s my blog, so if I get bored again, we’ll move on anyway.

So – Chapter 3:

Sproul begins reestablishing his assertion that science views Chance as an agent, rather than as a descriptive concept. Then he makes a very weird comment:

As an aid to mathematical models, chance surely works. As an aid to grasping real states of affairs, it fails, and fails miserably.

Is Sproul unware of what mathematics is? Well, considering he has zero concept of what Chance is, we shouldn’t be surprised, because they’re one and the same. Mathematics is simply a concept to aid in understanding the world. It is not a thing in and of itself, but simply a means of describing the world, quantifiying and defining functions and processes so that we can understand them more deeply and communicate that understanding to others. Like Chance, Math in itself is nothing. It is not an agency of any sort, and has zero causal power. It merely describes in shared terms what is being observed.

He then turns to darker work, trying to disparage the concept of Chance as it applies to Quantum science with older, failed scientific models that once were used to describe the universe, referencing Ptolemaic Cosmology. For the uninitiated, Ptolemy had come up with a model of the universe that was laughably inaccurate in truth, but that could closely model what was observed in the sky when it came to the movement of heavenly bodies. When something went awry, he tweaked the math till it fit again. He quotes a reknowned physicist who referred to the model as a “useful mathematical fiction.”

Then he refers to the “grand return of Chance” as another useful mathematical fiction. In fact, he says:

As a causal force, chance remains, even and always, a fiction.

Well, he’s right, but it’s a fiction he has created from whole cloth… And you want to see even better irony? From the next page:

Those today who insist on assigning to chance real power rather than a fictional function lack either Ptolemy’s understanding or his courage.

Well, what do you know? Sproul is describing himself there.

Anyway, after a particularly irrelevant golf story that he tries to wedge in, he gives us the RCS version of the history of quantum physics.

He illustrates the controversy that ensued with discoveries in quantum physics by quoting again from Mr. Ferris (I’m quoting here in part:)

…When a photon strikes an atom, boosting an electron into a higher orbit, the electron moves from the lower to the upper orbit instantaneously, without having traversed the intervening space… Those who find such considerations nonsensical are in good company.

Sproul hones in on that last line, which to me smacks as being taken somewhat out of context. Ferris is explaining the behavior of particles as observed by science. He does not express a belief. In fact, he expresses that they observe it and accept that they are observing it despite its seeming nonsensibility.

Yet Sproul takes that line and dives into the deep end with it, making the assumption that the fact that he finds it nonsensical is somehow an indictment of the science that made the observation. I can assure you that is not even remotely the case. Yet Sproul says:

This is a fascinating concept. Does it mean the electrons move and don’t move at the same time? Do they change positions without changing positions? Do they traverse space without traversing space? It would seem that to ask such questions is to answer them.

Yes, Mr. Sproul, it might seem that way, but just because your agenda requires you to denigrate good science doesn’t mean it is that way. But rather than humbly admit that the good scientist is being quite honest in describing phenomena that have yet to understand, he doubles down on his agenda and makes the following statement:

Now, we humbly ask, if the electron ceases to exist altogether, how do we know that it is the same electron that simultaneously appears somewhere else? Does the electron pass out of being and back into being? Is it destroyed and created at the same time? Does it exist and not eist at the same time and in the same relationship? If so, science is finished, wreced by maverick electrons that make knowledge of anything impossible.

First, it’s ironic that he claims to “humbly ask,” when his conclusion is the utmost in arrogance. Science is “finished?” Really? I’m sorry, I refuse to mince words. This is roundly stupid.

Does Mr. Sproul not realize that it is science providing these observations, and that it is scientists who are expressing simply what they observe despite the conundrum? That’s called intellectual honesty. If they were bent solely on fitting their observations into prior closely held beliefs, they would do what Sproul himself is trying to do – twist the observation to fit their agenda. It may be years, decades, before anyone knows the answer to those questions. He asks those questions as if they are accusations, indictments, somehow unanswerable, or as if he was the first one to think of them. Does he really not think that those are not the very questions they are trying to answer? With science? You know, where you hypothesize, devise a test, and then test, adjust and test again until the answer makes itself clear, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what the answer is in the end? Science does not have to find an answer that conforms to a prior written work. There is no need to align with previously uninformed assertions and beliefs.

He continues on by making a rather inept comparison of the behavior of quantum particles to asking students where they live and where they are now. He calls the quantum leap described above an “illusion.” He says that nobody is disputing that it gives the appearance of “quantum behavior.” He says all of this dismissively, of course. He then admits he doesn’t know how it happens. Of course he doesn’t. We know he doesn’t know why the particles behave this way, or appear to. Scientists who actually know this field don’t quite know it yet either. He seems to think it a revelation that he can’t explain it.

Then he brings it around almost nonsensically to Chance:

I am equally certain, however, that we must not attribute the cause of this mysterious activity to chance. To say that chance does it is to say that nothing does it.

Sweet Jesus, but this is ridiculous. Not one scientist claims that there is an agency called chance that is somehow making electrons appear and disappear in different places without traversing the intervening space. Rather the seeming random behavior of the particles means that scientists cannot predict the exact position or velocity of the particles due to whatever causes this observed behavior. Sproul has the cart squarely before the horse, not just because he so clearly misunderstands, but because he wilfully must in order to maintain his belief system and denigrate the work of science.

Even worse is his cloying insistence on equating “chance” with “nothing,” with the clear intent to ascribe only to God the ability to bring something from nothing, since chance is nothing, blah-blah-blah. Very transparent and very dishonest.

He quickly doubles down:

What is basically happening here is the tacit assertion that we can have effects without causes.

This is blatantly false. We do not yet know the causes. Not one scientist asserts these things happen without cause. When a scientist says something like this happens by chance, or says that the event is indeterminant, they are not ascribing agency to chance. They are describing the indeterminant nature of the event, and really, the limitations of our ability to observe and measure, even understand. They may hyposthesize a randomness that is reliant on too many unmeasurable factors to ever be able to accurately predict these quantum events. But nobody thinks that Chance is an agency in and of itself.

He then launches into a tirade that basically comes down to a sub-strawman dispute between the phrase “an effect without a cause” and “an effect without an apparent cause.” He calls scientists arrogant, asserts they’re claiming omniscience, and so on, when again it’s clear to any halfway objective observer that even a scientist who said that an effect has no cause would assume the world knew he meant “no apparent cause” because, well, they know the rules of logic and science. But Sproul has to ride this horse because he has a preconceived belief he wants to proffer to the reader. Misrepresenting this point is key to his entire edifice.

Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. He glaums onto the seeming random nature of quantum particles and kvetches about a couple of people tying them into Eastern Mysticism (a la Deepak Chopra, I assume.) For my non-believing readers, that may not seem like a big deal, but if you want to get Christians in a tizzy, convince them that science is trying to mainstream Eastern Mysticism, which they see as part of the evil New Age Movement. They’ll be sure that science is trying to replace their precious Jesus with mystic woo and even further distance themselves from any desire to actually evaluate their reality by the power of reason.

He goes so far as to say:

The attraction of quantum theory is not limited to Eastern religion. It is alluring for any philosophical school that seeks escape from reason and the binders of the law of noncontradiction. It is a grand privilege to argue without the constraints of logic. To be free of causality is to be free of logic, and license is given for making nonsense statements with impunity. Dialectical theologians love it because now they can legitimately speak of one-handed clapping and delcare that there is no God and Mary is his mother.

Do you see where he’s driving the reader? Right into one of the most tired saws there is – non-believers reject God so they can be free of his law, yada-yada.

He finishes up the chapter by pointing to the dichotomy between General Relativity and Quantum Theory. One of the biggest “problems” of science is that they seem, as far as we can observe, to be irreconcilable. In an effort to put God into that gap (which he’ll do in a later chapter, when he tries to supplant his strawmanned “Agency of Chance” with God) he says the following:

If the two views of physics are actually irreconcilable then we know at least one of them is false and must be discarded. If they are to be reconciled, it won’t be by appealing to nonsense views of chance.

Well, the only nonsense view of Chance we’ve been treated to is Sproul’s blatant strawman, so I guess in a way I have to agree with him there. But the truth is that Sproul is far out of his league making such statements. The truth of the matter, if and when we’re able to determine it scientifically, will likely be somewhere between the two extremes – or perhaps within that gap we’ll find the mechanics that tie the two concepts together.

We have to remember that all science – each scientific theory, each math formula, everyting is simply a way for humans to communicate our observations of the workings of the real universe with each other. Sproul however, needs to almost dogmatize these means of communication in order to create a throne to place his god upon.

It’s blatant, it’s transparent, and to this point, it looks pretty pathetic.

In the next chapter he’s going to dive into the Einstein and Bohrs. Surely it can’t get any worse?

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