International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Mind of God: Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning

by Paul Davies

Introductory Essay by W. A. Phillips

Paul Davies is an eminent theoretical physicist, whose scientific contributions range widely across cosmology, gravitation, and quantum field theory, with particular emphasis on origins of the universe. Though he consistently sees things from a rigorous scientific perspective and subscribes to no conventional religion, he refuses to believe that the universe is a purposeless accident. He was awarded the 1995Templeton Prize for contributions at the interface between science and religion. This book is aimed at the general reader, and records his personal quest for ultimate meaning in the sciences of mathematics, physics and cosmology. Its title was taken from Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief History of Time’ which concludes that if we were to understand why we and the universe exist, then we would know the ‘mind of God’.

In this book, Davies discusses a fundamental paradox that concerns the apparent contrasts between time and timelessness, being and becoming, the generality of physical laws and the particularity of initial conditions and individuals. Many other questions are raised: Can the universe create itself, i.e. is a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe possible? Is time linear or cyclic? How can we know something without knowing everything, i.e. given the reality of many highly non-linear holistic processes, how is it that analytic scientific methods work at all? Why does mathematics so successfully describe the physical world, and does it have any independent existence? What is the status of imaginary, simulated, or virtual worlds? Is the universe algorithmically compressible, i.e. can it be described by something simpler than itself? Can contingency arise from necessity? Does God play dice? Why is the universe the way it is?

In discussing these issues he compares the scientific evidence and theories with beliefs arising from various world religions (theistic, non-theistic, and pantheistic) noting both agreements and disagreements between the scientific and religious views. For example, he describes conceptions of the big bang that echo Saint Augustine’s view that the world was created with but not in time, and he outlines theories of quantum cosmology that echo Spinoza’s pantheistic views.

Though no final answers are proposed, several interim conclusions are drawn: Quantum theory can conceive of a universe with a finite age but no beginning. Given the laws of physics and suitable initial conditions nothing else is needed to explain physical reality, but that does not explain how and why those laws and conditions are ‘given’. Though the laws of physics are simple, they enable organized complexity to emerge. Principles of organized complexity are consistent with but distinct from the laws of physics. The analytic scientific method works because many physical interactions are predominantly local and linear; had they been non-local and non-linear their discovery would have been far less likely. A necessary and unchanging God is incompatible with change, evolution, and emergence. Much of our macroscopic world is chaotic and subject to quantal indeterminancy, e.g. sub-atomic interactions could cause a genetic mutation with large but unpredictable consequences for evolution. Organised complexity, e.g. as in biological systems, is only possible given very special physical laws and initial conditions. Why the laws and conditions of our universe meet those requirements remains a central mystery.

This book is written with great clarity. It is accessible to those with no training in the sciences on which he draws. Throughout, the mind of Davies is open, adventurous, and creative. His work on these issues has continued vigorously since 1992, when this book was first published.