Physics and faith

December 5, 2011

One of the things people say about Christianity is that Christians believe odd, impossible things. And well, they’re right. We do.

Virgin birth.

A being who is both God and human.

The existence of miracles.

The resurrection.

That’s just off the top of my head.

If we thought more about it, I’m sure we could add to this list. We Christians believe some odd, impossible things.

And that’s why I find quantum mechanics so comforting. Yes, comforting. Because it is odd and full of impossible things. Now, quantum mechanics  doesn’t prove any of what Christians believe. What quantum physics does is show us the oddness of the world. It is proof that rational, logical thought doesn’t completely explain the universe.

Now some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute, quantum mechanics is based on math which is rational and logical.” And you are right (At least I think you are. The math required to understand quantum mechanics is well beyond my abilities. I believe have to believe physicists when they tell me that quantum mechanics is based and supported by math.)

What I am talking about is the sort of rational, logical processes that allow us to think our way into a subject and understand it. You can’t think your way into quantum mechanics. It is simply too much at odds with the way the world that we know works.

I’m no physicist. but I find quantum physics fascinating.

Light can be both a wave and a particle.

A particle doesn’t exist in a particular location in space and time until it is observed.

We cannot know precisely both the location of a particle and its direction of motion at the same time.

The physical properties of a “thing” don’t exist until they are measured.

In the quantum world, milk can unspill and eggs unbreak.

And of course Schrodinger’s Cat.

That is just odd. Impossible. Not logical. Not rational. And yet it’s true.

To quote British scientist J.B.S.Haldane, “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” #

None of this proves Christianity, but it does undercut the argument that science is rational and Christianity isn’t.

We don’t “think” our way into quantum mechanics and we don’t “think” our way into faith. To be sure, we have to think and think hard about both. But thinking alone won’t do the job. At some point we have to do the work required to experience and understand both faith and physics. To truly understand, either quantum mechanics or Christianity, we have to enter into the practices, learn the disciplines of both.

The oddness of the universe makes the oddness of Christianity more believable. Physics doesn’t prove Christianity. But what quantum mechanics and Christianity both want to tell us is that the world isn’t exactly as it seems. It’s much, much more peculiar and much, much more wonderful than it seems.

# When Haldane lived the word “queer” meant odd or peculiar and was not a reference to one’s sexual orientation. Sometimes this quote is attributed to Arthur Eddington.

Here is a link to a video of a conversation between Stephen Colbert (out of character) and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It’s a bit long, 84 minutes, but well worth your time. It’s funny, smart and informative.

Originally posted at Conversation in Faith.


Physics and faith

This is an interesting view, but I find it unconvincing becasue quantum mechanics describes oddness in cases of very small time or distance that are outside our normal experience. 

Quantum behavior is not illogical. As you say, it is described mathematically, and mathematics is a branch of logic that is applied to science because it helps ensure that we are making logical deductions. Rather than being illogical, quantum mechanics seems unreasonable.  It defies our usual expections of how things work based on our normal experience.  But it is not that surprising that our our view of what to expect would fail to work when discussing scales of time or distance outside our experience.  

However, the things that seem odd about religion are in the realm that our expectations have been developed.  While quantum mechanics shows that strange things can happen in new areas of experience, it does not therefore suggest that it is more likely that strange things can happen in our normal range of experience that defy all of our expectations.  

While miracles are uncommon, the claims miracles such as those made by Christianity are common in our normal experience.  Every religion seems to make similar type assertions.  But what is also common in our normal experience is that they all seem to be false when dthey are able to be tested.  The founder of the Breatharians claims to survive on breath alone but is caught in McDonald's.  A preacher claims to know his followers problems by insight from Jesus but is caught using a hidden wireless microphone.  While not all claims of miracles have have been resloved, it is our common experience that all that have been reslsoved were false.  

Of course that does not make them wrong.  It just means that they must be accepted on faith.  But not on qunatum mechanics.


Thank you.




You are not the only person

You are not the only person bothered by my use of the word "logic". I meant it in the common, non technical sense of the word. But I understand your frustration, it bugs me when people use "theory" when they really mean "hypothesis".

I appreciate your point about quantum mechanics only seeming to affect very small time and distance. But, I believe, many physists think that there ought to be a relationship (of some sort) between the small arena we know quantum mechanics works in and our larger reality.Since we don't know that that relationship is, perhaps all we can say is we are unaware of how quanum mechanics affects our everyday reality?  Just a thought.

Thanks for reading and commenting.    Nancy

I'm not really anonymous

I didn't log in when I initially replied to your comment, then I realised I would be "anonymous". I'm used to responding on my blog where I don't have to log in to reply. Anyway, just wanted to clarify that I was the post's auther and was responding to your reply.

Wierd Physics and Christianity

You are missing the most crucial difference between physics and Christianity, is that the reality of Quantum Mechanics has been validated by testing and measuring trillions upon trillions of times.
QM is the most tested theory of science.
QM goes against all human intuition and logic  because our brains were made to survive and interpret the world from inside our own space-time scales. The properties of the macro and micro world seems utterly bizarre to us, but it has been VALIDATED and MEASURED. Computers are testimony to the reality of QM

The resurrection, miracles, the Virgin birth, etc. cannot be tested and validated, so it is faith.  This is a fundamental crucial difference between the two worldviews.
One has been tested and validated, the other is a matter of faith without empirical objective evidence and validations of hypothesis.

How many  worldviews exist in the world that are in conflict with each other? Millions?

How do I know which view of Reality is the most accurate? My own personal theory of the Cosmos, or my neighbors?

What method do I use to find out which is accurate? Testing and measuring

QM has been empiricaly tested and validated.

Christianity is based upon faith

, QM is not.

Joe, I was only trying to

Joe, I was only trying to comment on a very simple observation. Both physics and Christianity,each by their one distinctive methods, make a similar statement about reality that there is more to reality than meets the eye. I wasn't trying to say that somehow one proved the other or that they both use similar methods of deduction, they don't. 

I would suggest that not everything in the world can be tested and measured and that we need some other criterion to assess those things; but that's a whole other blog post.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Didn't mean to be anonymous

Joe I made the same mistake with your reply as I did with the first commentor. Once my reply is moderated, it will read "anonymous" but I didn't mean for it to. 

Deductive reasoning.

Interesting train of thought.  I've seen this before and perhaps went through it myself growing up.  Going straight to the point here... in essence it would only take a single miracle or exception to logic, to make it a usless tool.  It's all based upon the idea of consistency. Logic helps us evaluate statements.  If they contradict, then we know one of them is false.  When St Thomas of Aquinas applied it to the Bible and his religion, he faced these same problems you point out.  He tried to sneak around them by saying reason did not apply so he could contiue in his old beliefs.  This is now taught in school as an error in reasoning.  For if there is an exception, then our logic would be fatally flawed.  Turns out, so far, God (prayer, divination, etc.) has no part in our science.  It's not 1 + 1 + god's will = 2, it's just 1 + 1 = 2.  So far, we (all of us, not just 'scientists') have found no exceptions.  If you want a definition of God which holds up to reason perhaps you could say God is all of everything always, but that's a far cry from saying Jesus is God.

Keep thinking, you'll figure it out on your own.  If you need a starting place learn deductive reasoning and logic and then physics.  Until you have studied logic, you will not have the tools to really tell what's true and whats false.  ---Don't take my word for it, figure it out for yourself. LOL

I have to admit to never

I have to admit to never studing logic as a discipline, other than in the most rudimetary way. Would you say that logic is an adequate means of evaluation for everything? Or are there some things logic cannot adequately assess? 

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Impossible belief?

"We Christians believe some odd, impossible things."

No I think you meant to write "We fundamentalists believe some odd, impossible things."  Many Christians are able to view the world in modern terms, while still being committed to the truth, life, and way expressed by the historical Jesus of Nazareth; and if everyone followed that Way, the world would self evidently be a better place; nothing impossible to believe about that.

Believe me MIchael, no

Believe me MIchael, no fundamentalist would claim me! And I don't consider myself a fundamentalist in any sense of the word. I do consider myself a fairly orthodox Christian and so do believe in the divinity of Christ and the resurrection, etc. I do agree with you that if we did what Jesus said the world would indeed be a much better place.  Thanks for reading and commenting.