Thursday, February 3, 2011

I believe in one world

I do believe the world exists. This may seem like a silly claim, but it engages with serious theological, scientific, and philosophical issues. Not only is the existence of God a contestable hyphothesis but so is the existence of the world.

In the Preface to Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics 3.1: Doctrine of Creation, the Editors Bromiley and Torrance state that Barth considers the radical position:
the supreme problem of theology is not the existence of God, as natural theology supposes, but the independent existence of creaturely reality.
Barth asserts that the whole doctrine of Creation is an article of faith, both that God exists and that the world [a creaturely reality independent of God] exists. Specifically, Barth writes:
the whole history of theology as a continuous fighting retreat in face of the irresistible advance of a rational and empirical science which on the very different grounds of a triumphant human self-conceit is quite sure of its subject. In preoccupation with only one side of the question, there has been a dangerous failure to realise that the question of creation is not less but even more concerned with the reality of the creature than that of the Creator. 
 Church Dogmatics 3.1: Doctrine of Creation, page 6.
When Barth wrote this more than sixty years ago, most scientists would have considered this quite silly. Today, logical positivists such as Richard Dawkins, would still take the view: the world is a non-contestable hypothesis, God is a contestable hypothesis. But not all scientists today have such a view.

Tony Leggett (who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003) has thought long and hard about quantum theory and the picture of the world it presents. In a short article in Science, The Quantum Measurement Problem [Is Schrodinger's cat dead or alive?] he makes the intriguing statement: 
Personally if I could be sure we will forever regard Quantum Mechanics as the complete truth about the physical world I think I should grit my teeth and plump for [the view that] Quantum Mechanics is the complete truth (in the sense that it always gives reliable predictions concerning the nature of experiments) but describes no external reality.

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