Wednesday wanderings 7/25/12

  1. Many Worlds?
  2. Obamacons.
  3. Auto-shaped ecclesiology.


Stephen M. Barr at Big Questions Online argues that quantum mechanics, which we have good reason to believe true, indirectly undermines philosophical materialism (a/k/a physicalism), which we have good reason to think as interesting and inconclusive as most (all?) of philosophy.

[W]hat if one refuses to accept this conclusion, and maintains that only physical entities exist and that all observers and their minds are entirely describable by the equations of physics? Then the quantum probabilities remain in limbo, not 0 and 100% (in general) but hovering somewhere in between. They never get resolved into unique and definite outcomes, but somehow all possibilities remain always in play. One would thus be forced into what is called the “Many Worlds Interpretation” (MWI) of quantum mechanics.

In MWI, reality is divided into many branches corresponding to all the possible outcomes of all physical situations. If a probability was 70% before a measurement, it doesn’t jump to 0 or 100%; it stays 70% after the measurement, because in 70% of the branches there’s one result and in 30% there’s the other result! For example, in some branches of reality a particular nucleus has decayed — and “you” observe that it has, while in other branches it has not decayed — and “you” observe that it has not. (There are versions of “you” in every branch.) In the Many Worlds picture, you exist in a virtually infinite number of versions: in some branches of reality you are reading this article, in others you are asleep in bed, in others you have never been born. Even proponents of the Many Worlds idea admit that it sounds crazy and strains credulity.

The upshot is this: If the mathematics of quantum mechanics is right (as most fundamental physicists believe), and if materialism is right, one is forced to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. And that is awfully heavy baggage for materialism to carry.

 If you haven’t got a clue what he’s talking about, you’re not alone, but the longish piece that so concludes will walk you down the path, step-by-step, to a rejection of materialism that might just be a way-station en route to a real destination.


The New American Conservative has a medium-length article on the genuine conservatives who supported Obama in 2008 and, in some cases, will do so again in 2012.

For my money, the most compelling reason to consider an Obama vote is foreign policy, and I’d even give him an edge on the economy, though I think both parties are in denial about the depth of the economic doo-doo we’re in and I strongly suspect that deeper woes await.

Because I think collapse is probably inevitable, I can think longer-term.

I’m now following GovGaryJohnson. Read between this line.


Fred Clark, the Slacktivist, is an interesting blogger. Eight days ago, he hit a triple, if not a home run, observing that “suburban isn’t the same as theologically conservative.” Particularly salient:

How has American Christianity shaped the suburbs? And how have the suburbs shaped American Christianity?

I contend that the latter influence has been far greater than the former. I believe, in other words, that American Christianity has been shaped by the suburbs far more than the suburbs have been shaped by American Christianity. To borrow a word from the Apostle Paul in Romans 12, American churches have conformed to the suburbs.

The effect of this has been huge and pervasive. It has tended to favor forms of church and flavors of theology that fall toward the conservative end of the culture-war spectrum, but it’s misleading to therefore refer to this as a more “conservative” theology. Radical changes and a massive break with the theology, traditions and institutions of the past aren’t usually the sorts of things we describe as “conservative.”

The suburbanization of American Christianity has had a huge impact on institutional and denominational structures. Automobile-shaped development has produced an automobile-shaped ecclesiology. The car has abolished the possibility of the parish. And that, in turn, has helped to redefine “neighbor” as a matter of preference more than of proximity — as optional rather than obligatory. That redefinition is rather significant, since “Who is my neighbor?” is kind of an important question for Christians.

(Italics added). Now the Slacktivist isn’t the first to notice that “the parish” – that one attended the nearest church, essentially – is all but dead. One doesn’t even attend the nearest church of one’s particular tradition, should one have something so quaint as a particular tradition. Rather, one gets in the car and drives to a church that “suits them” best.

And Clark, a card-carrying liberal, is spot-on about the very unconservative behavior of the typical culture warrior church.

There’s much that could be said about ecclesiology, which is part of what arrested my attention as I moved from Calvinist to Orthodox, and I hope to follow up this shout-out of “automobile-shaped ecclesiology” with some reflections on Darwinian ecclesiology.

I know that the word “ecclesiology” provokes widespread yawns, but you can’t escape it. If you profess Christian faith, you have an ecclesiology, even if it’s tacit and incapable of withstanding explicit articulation. And your ecclesiology tends to grown out of your Christology, than which nothing is more important.

But the hour is late, the day has been long, and the Sandman is waiting for me.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.