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Clayton, Philip. “Tracing the Lines: Constraint and Freedom In the Movement from Quantum Physics to Theology."

Philip Clayton gives two reasons why constructive theology should engage in dialogue with quantum physics: it cannot afford the fideistic position that results from disengaging with science, and it should seek a more hypothetical, fallible, and revisionist method than traditionally allowed, thus opening itself up to the engagement without becoming fully relativistic. Clayton’s method will be to consider an array of interpretive models in a specific scientific field. He will then look for areas of compatibility with theology, in the process revising both theology and science. Eventually, he will repeat this activity across a variety of disciplines. But why should physics provide constraints on how God might act? Clayton’s response: it can do so if divine (or human) agency occurs in the physical world in conformity with physical law. This obviously holds for us, and it may indeed hold for the way God chooses to act. It thus becomes Clayton’s “wager”: the structure of the physical world sets parameters on, and tells us about the manner in which, God can act. He locates this position midway between those who give a purely subjective account of theology or who worry that quantum mechanics will not be helpful for divine action, and those who seek even stronger theological conclusions from science or possibly the convergence of science and religion.

Clayton then explores three quantum mechanical constraints on divine action. The first is the role of the observer. Minimalists focus on macroscopic measurements by an observer who is never within the quantum mechanical system being studied. Maximalists introduce subjectivity and consciousness in explaining a quantum experiment, despite the resistance of many physicists. Here Clayton finds another crucial issue at work: reductionism assumed by minimalists versus emergence and even dualism assumed by maximalists. The second issue is the “many-worlds” interpretation as represented by Hugh Everett, Bryce DeWitt, and others, compared with those who defend the irreducible role of subjectivity in nature, such as Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, John Wheeler, Henry Stapp, and Roger Penrose. Both of these interpretations are deeply influenced by metaphysics: physicalists who accept a branching universe versus subjectivists who view quantum mechanics as evidence of mind as irreducible in nature. Clayton then turns to his third issue, indeterminism and free will. He reminds us how the early defenders of the Copenhagen view saw the free choice of an experimenter as playing an irreducible role in the outcome of the experiment. Despite counterarguments, Clayton claims that ontological indeterminism remains a significant factor in these debates: it seems a necessary condition for an incompatibilist view of free will, particularly if incompatibilist free choices are to be enacted in the world. In turn one can argue that God so created the world as to allow for human freedom.

Clayton then argues that questions like these three show that physics and philosophy lie on a continuum, particularly when the philosophical questions are closely connected with physics research. Even theology lies on this continuum, though it is further removed from physics research than from philosophy. Clayton now turns to three additional issues. First he considers Bernard d’Espagnat’s ontology, terming it “Spinozistic Monism.” Here the state vector expresses properties of a deeper, underlying reality which we can never describe in itself but which is manifested in what we observe and which can be understood as Being. Next Clayton engages critically those who interpret quantum physics in terms of Eastern mysticism, including Capra, Bohm, and Wilber. Though their stress on holism may be compelling, their metaphysical conclusions, like any others, are options not directly supported by physics. Finally Clayton turns to theistic metaphysics, considering both classical theism and panentheism. Theism asserts that the world as it appears to us is real and that it has its origin in an ultimate principle called spirit. The divine spirit is an active principle in this world and is in many ways personal. Classical theism has advantages over the preceding views, but it can become problematic if it places too great a distance between God and the world; the analogy with human agency breaks down for a fully disembodied view of God. To Clayton, panentheism avoids some of these difficulties, particularly as it understands the world to be within God even while, as with classical theism, God is more than and distinct from the world. Here each physical event can be an expression of divine agency in a “top-down” manner which does not violate physical law. It also provides a metaphysics that coheres nicely with some of the interpretations of quantum physics previously discussed, particularly those which stress holism, veiled reality, interconnection, and interdependence.

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