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Is our Universe Deterministic? Some Philosophical and Theological Reflections on an Elusive Topic

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The question of whether or not our universe is deterministic remains of interest to both scientists and theologians. In this essay I argue that this question can be solved only by metaphysical decision and that no scientific evidence for either determinism or indeterminism will ever be conclusive. No finite being, no matter how powerful its cognitive abilities, will ever be able to establish the deterministic nature of the universe. The only being that would be capable of doing so would be one that is at once transcendent and immanent. Such a being is compatible with the God of the Christian tradition, which yields that a deterministic worldview is compatible with (yet does not necessarily lead to) a deterministic worldview. A more important point is that because science is never able to establish the determinism of our universe, it can never definitely rule out divine action except on metaphysical grounds.

Keywords: John Dupré; Wesley Salmon; chaos theory; determinism; divine action; immanence; indeterminism; logical possibility; metaphysics; physical possibility; transcendence

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2003.00548.x

Affiliations: Leiden University, Groningen, Netherlands

Publication date: December 1, 2003

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