Tag Archives: Determinism

God Does not Play Dice

This quote is credited to Albert Einstein. It describes his belief in determinism. In a less famous quote, he says more explicitly

“If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord…. So would a being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.”

So, Al is on my side. When I say that the same initial  settings of the universe would always be guaranteed to produce the same outcome (the fundamental tenet of determinism), sometimes people like to bring up Heisenberg, who supposedly proved the universe is fundamentally random. However, we can never really prove that anything is not based on underlying deterministic phenomena. All we can show is that at this time we have not managed to determine the phenomena it’s based on. Heisenberg’s principle is based on what is observable, not what is existent. God may very well know exactly where a quantum particle is and its exact speed. It’s outrageous to claim that just because we can’t know something its inherently unknowable.

Isn’t it also outrageous to claim that we can know that God does not play dice? If we can’t measure the determinism behind a phenomenon, we can only speculate about whether it is deterministic or fully random. My argument is that the more we learn the more we see the universe following principles and rules. When taken to the extreme, I can admit this is only a philosophical argument without much basis in measurable science, but I do believe that there is no randomness, only order we haven’t yet discovered or can’t measure.

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Choose Determinism

dilbert_determinismContrary to the depressing implications of Dilbert’s soul-destroying cubicle, there is a comfort in believing in only one possibility. If the universe is a clock, why should anyone wonder what might have been if it had ticked in another way, because it cannot tick in another way. It is a logical basis for Buddhist serenity to believe that what is is all that ever could have been. What would or could be, will be, or it never would or could have been.

I feel like determinism serves for me as a kind of atheist equivalent to the all-powerful-god of other religions. Rather than saying “It’s God’s will,” or “God does everything for a reason,” I say “this was always to be,” secure in knowing that I did everything I could  because according to determinism I cannot do what I do not do.

Determinism can help us to forgive those who have hurt us. If we understand their actions are the result of their genetics and upbringing (nature and nurture), how can we blame them for where they ended up, even if that place brought us harm? Without free will, we free ourselves from the notion of evildoers. We can simplify our moral code to focus on the future – helping all people instead of worrying about who does and does not deserve our help due to notions of the choices they did or did not make themselves.

These choices people make are based on their understanding of the world, which necessarily comes from the world that they have lived in. Instead of sitting in judgement of people, we should work to make a world where the next generation can make better choices than we did. If you can do that while still keeping your notions of personal blame, then please, go ahead and do it. And tell me how you did.