Not only does God play dice, but… he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen. – Stephen Hawking
E.A Singer Jr. was a professor at the University of Pennyslvania who taught West Churchman and Russell Ackoff, students who would go on to contribute significantly to the field of Systems Thinking. In one of Ackoff’s lectures he describes how Singer’s ideas can help you redefine your ideas of God.
For a long time people believed in cause and effect – in things happening because of other things happening first. This was a mechanical, clockwork view of the world where a thing moved something else, which in turn moved something else. The entire world worked this way, from the movements of the stars to how the world itself worked – or that’s what people believed anyway.
If you accept cause and effect then it follows that for every effect there is a cause. But each cause is also an effect and must have a cause of its own. And as you work back you end up with a never ending chain unless you stop and decide that there must have been a “first” cause – the cause of all things. And that must have been God. This is the form of the proof for the existence of a maker, for that being that created the universe as a machine. And many of the major monotheistic religions will notice their model of God having a basis in this way of thinking.
Singer, on the other hand, argued that cause and effect is not all there is. He believed that that it was more complex – you could have something that led to something else but wasn’t in itself sufficient. Ackoff described this as a seed along not being enough for a plant – you also need water and sunlight. He called this a producer-product relationship A cause-effect relationship often ignores everything else as irrelevant. A producer-product relationship, on the other hand, looks at the things that are important in the environment as well as the main driver.
So what, you say, isn’t that just a multiple cause and effect situation?
Well, there’s something else that happened which put a spanner in the works of the world as a machine theory. If things are machines then you can understand them. But work like Heisenberg’s uncertainly principle started to show that there were things that we couldn’t know – that could only be approached in a probabilistic way rather than a deterministic one. In fact, we started to consider the possibility that something could happen as a result of the environment itself – life could arise through the interaction of elements in the universe in a way that didn’t require a prime mover – just enough time and ingredients that had a chance of running into each other.
In that sense God didn’t make the machine but is in the machine – in the environment itself – all around. The maker, the mover, the creator is the environment itself and the fact that it enables the conditions for things to happen – and they may or may not happen. But something happened and that’s why we are here.
And that’s the second argument for a God – it’s everywhere – around us and in us. And this model of God is closer to the ones Eastern religions have.
You don’t really have to believe in God – that’s a useful shorthand for wondering about how we came to be – but it’s useful understanding the distinction between cause and effect based reasoning and producer-product based reasoning. After all, many people spend a lot of time arguing about what kind of God they believe in. Perhaps they should be more interested in the kind of world they want to live in.
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