Imagine if you can, a block of glass in which you have imbedded a photometer. This photometer has only one purpose and that is to measure very accurately all light energy that strikes it. While you are imagining this, imagine also that you have a light source that you have calibrated very accurately so that you know exactly how much light you are shining on the surface of the block of glass. The question is: how much light gets to the detector and how much is reflected?
The answer is that 4 percent reflects and 96 percent goes through. Always, under any circumstance four percent of light will be reflected from a surface such as the one which we have imagined. And, it does not matter if the surface is glass or another substance that transmits light. Water is such a substance. That is how we get beautiful reflections when the surface of the water is just right. To the mind of the curious, another question occurs. How does the light decide which four percent will reflect? If you send light, one photon at a time, to strike the surface of glass or water, you will get 4 reflected out of every 100 sent. (A photon is the smallest possible unit of light; your eyes can almost, but not quite, detect one photon.) Which four? You can never be sure. It could be the first four, the next four, evenly spread out over the 100, not evenly or any combination possible. You don’t know, can’t predict and neither can anyone else. All that can be known is that four percent will ‘decide’ to reflect off of the surface.
Photons and questions such as those I have posed are the study of Quantum Mechanics. One of the basic ‘rules’ or ‘laws’ of Quantum Mechanics is that you never get to know exactly how a particle like the photon moves (or reflects or not) or where exactly it is. You only know the probability of what it will do. The quantum universe is just a numbers game. Surprisingly, our universe, the universe of planets, stars, galaxies, is at heart a quantum universe, built on the probabilities of Quantum Mechanics.
I just finished reading A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss which tells exactly how that came to be. Here is a link to a U tube lecture by the author. It is a good story and well told. Unfortunately, the author also has axes to grind about people who believe in God, creators and theology. Fundamentalists and biblical literalists take the brunt of his remarks about belief in god. But, who am I to criticize, they are also not well thought of by me, either. Professor Krauss, an admitted scientific skeptic, goes some distance beyond skepticism. Still, it is a good book and well written.
Professor Krauss asks a good many questions and quotes other scientists asking questions. My favorite was about Albert Einstein’s wanting to know if “God” had any choice in establishing the universe and the particular physics of our cosmos. Professor Krauss is careful to note that Albert’s God was not the God of the bible but rather a sense of the beauty and organization of the cosmos. I rather think, my God must be very close to that of Einstein; but, she is also the God of the bible. I just do not take all of the stories of God in the bible as literal or gospel, so to speak.
Getting back to Einstein’s question, did ’God’ have any choice in making the universe, macro and quantum size, function as it does. For the quantum universe it is easy to debate this theological question. (And it is a theological question, regardless of how Professor Krauss chooses to dismiss it.) Another way to look at this question is to ask: Could there be other physical universes with a different set of physical ‘laws’? Einstein didn’t know, Krauss doesn’t know, and I don’t know. Do you? As Professor Krauss points out, we may never know.
In the common place universe we can see with our own eyes, the question is not as theoretical. Our large size (from molecules on up) universe is just as driven by probabilities as the quantum universe is. This is especially true when it comes to disease and sickness. For example, we all know that if you smoke, you have a higher risk of getting lung cancer. Yet, there are people who have smoked and not gotten lung cancer. There are others that came down with lung cancer even though they never smoked or even been places filled with second hand smoke. Stuff happens. Stuff being probabilities.
The difference is that pain and suffering remove the theoretical mask from question of which photon will be reflected from the surface. In the large size universe it makes a difference which human gets a cancer cell that mutates into a death machine. But, it is still a matter of possibilities and probabilities.
Not far from where I went to grade school in Bozeman, Mt. there was a dry cleaning business. It wasn’t built until after I moved from the area but I went to school with people that lived nearby. Friends of my parents lived with their children West and North of where it was built. I read about how it polluted the ground water in that area, recently. The story related how families that drank water from shallow wells in the area seem to have a higher probability of having diseases and/or cancers. A daughter of my parents’ friends died of cancer many years later. She died in Puerto Rico. Now, I wonder. Did you drink the water, Mary Jane?
I don’t believe God had it in for her. Maybe, her number was just up and she could not run far enough from where she grew up.