Friday, December 23, 2011

God, Math, and the Multiverse

Mathematician Satyan Devadoss offers a Veritas Forum talk titled "God, Math, and the Multiverse" (video embedded below). I believe the talk is primarily aimed at non-Christian Caltech students.

On the one hand, I don't agree with everything he says. Plus, most of what's said only touches superficially on the subjects in the title. Although I'm fairly certain this is intentional; he probably only meant to offer a taste of Christianity to whet the appetite of the audience. On a lesser note, I'm of the opinion that questions in a Q&A session should be read by a moderator, not asked directly by the questioner since the potential for abuse is higher in the latter (among other issues).

Nevertheless, I appreciate the fresh perspective Devadoss brings to Christian apologetics. He shines new light on points many of us have probably heard before. His admiration for both the arts and math and sciences resonated with me as well since I'm likewise someone who has always had an affection and respect for "the two cultures." Not to mention he's an amiable and amusing speaker. I think he did a pretty good job in the Q&A session too.

And I appreciate the Christian students making the most of the event to invite people to explore Christianity further (e.g. gift certificates, free dinners, conversations).


  1. Patrick,

    What did you think about his answer to the question about his faith? He responded almost as if he'd never been asked that before.

    He is about to give this talk again here in Atlanta at the GA Tech Veritas Forum. One of my fellow church members is involved in organizing it.

  2. It was a fun lecture. I personally know very little about modern physics, but I fear that for some the lecture was overly simplistic. For example, one of the students asking a question (the first?) tried to point out to Devadoss that quantum mechanics completely replaced classical Newtonian mechanics because some of Newton's theories were just wrong. For example, Newton thought that bodies of matter have an attraction to one another. Yet, QM teaches that that notion is wrong. If I'm not mistaken, it teaches that bodies of matter leave an indentation in the fabric of space-time that results in gravity. While Devadoss is right in that there is a sense in which QM adds to classical mechanics, there is also a sense in which it replaced it. Devadoss wasn't willing (or wasn't aware enough about either of the two) to concede that to the student. If he had, then he would have seen the other point the student was trying to make. Devadoss was arguing that since the Enlightenment faith/religion was replaced by reason, when it shouldn't have been. Reason adds to faith just like quantum mechanics adds to Newtonian mechanics. HOwever, the student was trying to make the point that quantum mechanics replaced Newtonian mechanics and therefore Devadoss's argument actually backfires since if you press the analogy, reason would actually replace the many false religious hypotheses.

    Once again this shows the problem of over specialization versus over generalization. No one can be an expert on everything. So the specialist often ends up making mistakes when speaking about the overall picture (and his/her interpretation of it), while the person who doesn't have a specialization in a certain field tends to make errors about that field's finer points/details (which results in his overall interpretation being less credible).

    That's what I appreciate so much about W.L.Craig. He doesn't claim, and clearly he doesn't possess, expert knowledge on every field. But on those fields he does speak about, he has enough knowledge to speak on the subject with greater accuracy and precision then most other non-specialists. As problematic as some of his arguments are; and as premature as some of his conclusions are. I'm thinking here of his knowledge of cosmology.

    For example, when WLC is directly asked whether his cosmological argument proves only one transcendent cause of the universe, he will readily admit that it doesn't. Theoretically, it proves at least one transcendent cause, but doesn't rule out multiple causes. His defends ONE transcendent cause as being the preferred amount by appealing to the principle of parsimony (i.e. Occam's Razor) which recommends that we not multiply entities necessary to explain the phenomenon. On the one hand his sub-arguments are usually deductive and aim toward certainty. On the other hand, the over all cummulative case he makes by piling one argument on top of another is not meant to be conclusive but rather to lead to the most plausible conclusion/hypothesis. Since, his overall method is an abductive argument that reasons to (i.e. or "is an inference to") the best explanation. Van Tillian and Clarkian presuppositionalists know the problems with that kind of "Block House Method" of apologetics.

    Finally, as a mathematician, I was hoping Devadoss would deal with MUH (mathematical universe hypothesis) AKA the "Ultimate Ensemble"

    This theory too would rule out the need for a God. It seems so would
    "Modal Realism"

    Both have theological and pantheological implications that I would have liked to have seen explored.

  3. Mark said:

    "What did you think about his answer to the question about his faith? He responded almost as if he'd never been asked that before.

    "He is about to give this talk again here in Atlanta at the GA Tech Veritas Forum. One of my fellow church members is involved in organizing it."

    Hi Mark,

    Do you mean when a student asked him how he became a Christian? He just mentioned his mom was a Christian, that he was raised in a Christian home (originally in South India), and later he read N.T. Wright's three part series culminating in The Resurrection of the Son of God, which helped confirm his childhood faith. I don't think he said anything more let alone more personal.

    I wish he had said a bit more about himself though. But this move might've been a strategic move to keep the focus off himself and on Christian claims particularly the resurrection of Christ. Broadly speaking maybe he wanted to keep things on a more rational and less personal level.

    Also, this particular bit was addressed during the Q&A session. It might've been the first time he's ever done this sort of Q&A session. I take it he's had time to re-think how he'd answer in future Q&As. So it's possible he'll have a different and improved answer next time.

    His response might further be dependent on the audience. I've never been to Georgia but I know Caltech and California quite well. I would think California is bit more secular and liberal than Georgia. Although universities might be secular and liberal regardless of location. Maybe he was trying to consider how to frame his answer in light of the audience too.

    I don't know if he's Reformed but I don't think most of what he said wouldn't be inconsistent with Reformed theology. Although his analogies might not be palatable to all (e.g. wave-particle duality to free will-predestination). But he emphasized he wasn't a theologian but "just" a mathematician. At the very least it sounds like he is an evangelical.

    During the talk he likewise mentioned reading Tim Keller's The Reason for God. I think his approach and demeanor in the talk are similar to Keller's in a lot of ways. I mean he strikes me as a more urbane individual. Someone who would fit in well in a cosmopolitan church like Keller's Redeemer Pres. I could be wrong but I don't think he'd fit in as well with, say, a more traditional or "historic" Reformed church.

    BTW, I've also participated in Veritas Forums. They're good for addressing general Christian apologetical issues. But the speakers aren't necessarily always the most orthodox evangelicals, I don't think. It's a mixed bag. So that could be something else to consider.

    Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but hope it helps somewhat? Please feel free to ask again if not.