Huffington Post recently published an article by Deepak Chopra entitled “Why Physics Needs God but God Doesn’t Need Physics,” and it’s either a thoroughly enjoyable or incredibly frustrating piece, depending on whether or not you enjoy the sort of well-marketed hubris and sophistry at which Chopra excels.
Chopra contends “that physics can’t escape its meeting with God.” Physicists, he writes
… are going to need God to solve some fundamental questions about reality. Even more irritating to them [physicists], God exposes the current crisis in physics. After promising us that physics will one day have the answer for where the universe came from, what it’s made of, and where human beings belong in the cosmos, today physics may actually be farther away from an answer than ever. Such is the nature of the crisis.
Never mind that addressing concepts of belonging has never been the purview of physics. Never mind that research into the universe’s origins is a study, and will take as long as it takes, regardless of arbitrary deadlines set by Chopra or anyone else. As he portrays it, physics failed to meet his “answers to everything” release date, so we have to go back to the old product: God.
God enters the picture through a word that most scientists heatedly reject: metaphysics. It’s barely an acceptable term and for all practical purposes has nothing to do with the day-to-day activity of doing physics. Metaphysics is about an invisible reality…
… metaphysics is a higher order of explanation, which is something we use every day. If you look at cars on the road, at one level they are physical objects randomly turning left and right, arbitrarily stopping at various buildings, only to start again at unpredictable intervals. But at a higher level of explanation, each driver has a purpose in mind; therefore, the turns, starts, and stops aren’t random but purposeful — they mean something. The cars they drive are a means to an end, and if you don’t understand the end, learning about the means has limited value.
Without quibbling about the term, let’s consider the implications of the comparison.
Chopra uses as his example an activity that is clearly “purposeful,” from the perspective of a guiding external entity (humans), in order to posit that human life is itself purposeful to a guiding external entity (God). We are meant to accept, with no evidence, that because cars are created and guided, we must be, too.
But with a little modification, Chopra’s comparison breaks down. We acknowledge, because we can demonstrate that it is true, that a vehicle turns right at an intersection because it is guided in doing so. But what if, say, a turn signal goes out? Is there a “purpose” to a burnt out filament? Certainly, we could invent a higher purpose or a guiding hand (e.g. angry spirits), but without evidence to indicate it, why would we do so?
In short, when the scenario is not carefully crafted to suggest outside guidance, it seems absurd to fall back to it as a source of explanation. But this is precisely what Chopra suggests we do, in reference to our own lives.
To this end, he continues on to claim that, despite scientists’ efforts to separate them, physics and “metaphysics” simply cannot be separated.
Using its best efforts to offer explanations that remain entirely physical, physics has offered no credible explanation for where the universe comes from, how mind works, where time and space originated, and what the basic “stuff” of the cosmos is.
While Chopra criticizing anyone for answers that lack credibility is a delicious irony, it bears noting that this is nothing more than a “God of the Gaps” argument: we don’t know, and I don’t like the answers physicists have given, therefore God. It is as illogical today as it was when pious people in eras gone by attributed just about everything for which they had no explanation — storms, illness, good crops, etc. — to God. “I don’t know” and “God did it” are not synonymous.
Despite being a terrible argument — relying on ignorance rather than evidence — Chopra makes it a centerpiece of his article. But the most vacuous assertion comes in the closing. After some commentary about the “isolation, arrogance, and self-willed blindness” of physicists who “scorch with tweets,” he concludes
The big questions about existence aren’t shop talk for mathematically savvy professionals working in arcane specializations. Existence is everyone’s business. That’s ultimately why physics needs God, and if God in fact is the source of consciousness — transcendent, immutable, without beginning or end, timeless, a field of infinite possibilities — it’s obvious that God doesn’t need physics. The beauty of this realization is that this field of infinite possibilities exists in us. It is here, now, and always. It is our very essence.
As with many of his assertions, Chopra doesn’t even attempt to justify how he leaps from “if this is true” to “it is true” to “we’re composed of God stuff too.” Even if we were persuaded that, since science hasn’t answered every question, there must be a god after all; how do we know that he/she/it is a “field of infinite possibilities”? And, if we accept that, how does it follow that “our very essence” is this same quasi-material, this “field of infinite possibilities”?
Apparently, it’s not just physics that God has no use for, but logic as well.