The one thing worse than a theology that attempts to draw connections between physics and God is a theology that believes it has no need of such connections, a theology that believes it can concoct the divine out of metaphysical whole cloth.—Philip Clayton, “Tracing the Lines” in Quantum Mechanics–Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action.*
What I will try to do first is to put forth some general considerations. Particular intersections of quantum mechanics with teachings of the Church are discussed in several posts on my blog (see the articles linked below and References**). For those who want to plunge into the deep end of this swimming pool, please go to two volumes published by the Center for Theology and Natural Science (in collaboration with Vatican Observatory Publications). The books are collections of papers presented at conferences called by Pope St. John Paul II to explore “Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action”: Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Cosmology *.
QUANTUM MECHANICS IS WEIRD!
Anyone who tells you they understand quantum mechanics is a liar.” attributed to Richard Feynman (in one form or another), Nobel Prize winner for work in quantum electrodynamics.
HOW QUANTUM MECHANICS INTERSECTS THEOLOGY
Let me bring up one very general question about quantum physics that bears on theology. Bernard d’Espagnat has suggested that quantum physics manifests a “veiled reality” . If that is so, can this theory then tell us what God is like, or would that also be “veiled”, hidden? Or, if God is not totally comprehensible to us–only partially intelligible–does that mean God and quantum mechanics are parallel mysteries? Read the linked article and decide; but whichever way you decide, it is clear that quantum mechanics does inform theology in this matter.
There are more specific stances that scientists and theologians take on how quantum mechanics might be relevant to matters of faith. Philip Clayton (Tracing the Lines*) has laid out five such positions:
- No reasons can be given, other than purely subjective ones, for any theological position (Cushing)
- Serious theological positions can be given in some cases, but quantum physics is too unclear…to give rise to helpful theological conjectures (Polkinghorne).
- Some constructive theology can be written…even if our conjectures remain highly speculative (Chiao, Clayton, Russell, Stoeger, Tracy).
- …Strong theological conclusions can be reached on the basis of modern physics (Dombs)… Intelligent Design theorists (Behe, Dembski) argue that evolution requires a prior intention and an in-built design on God’s part.
- The convergence between the conclusions [of quantum physics] and the teachings of [Eastern] religious traditions is so great that they should no longer be regarded as separate realms…but as one integrated whole [Bohm, Capra].
The names added in parentheses are those of physicists/philosophers/theologians who, according to Clayton, have taken the position in question. My own position is between 3 and 4.
I’ll now examine three different aspects of quantum mechanics that may intersect Catholic teaching: superposition, entanglement, the measurement problem.
ENTANGLEMENT AND NON-LOCALITY
Perhaps the most non-intuitive aspect of quantum mechanics involves the entanglement of two things, such that they seem to interact (instantaneously) even when physically separated at far distances from one another (the non-locality aspect). There are many experiments that verify this. The picture at the top of this article is one such: photons (light particles) are experimentally prepared to be “entangled” and then physically separated by half-reflecting mirrors such that one passes through an object and another not. Nevertheless there is an image (a cat) from the photons that do not pass through or near the imaged object (the cat).
Here’s a highly non-real example that illustrates entanglement. I’m going to use the conventional notation described above, | something, property > where the line and bracket indicate that “something” has some “property”. Let’s consider a man, who votes Republican, state |M,R>, and a woman, who votes Democratic, state |F,D>. They get married and in the marriage vows promise to vote the same way. So there results
|M,R> |F,D> (single)—>Marriage —> |M,F,married> =|M,R>|F,R> + |M,D> |F,D>
Voting Republican or voting Democratic is entangled between husband and wife:
if the husband is away from home on election day and casts his absentee ballot as a Republican, his wife–even though she does not know how he has voted–will always vote Republican; similarly, if the wife is away and casts an absentee ballot Democratic, the husband–without knowledge of his wife’s vote–will always vote Democratic. This is entanglement, action-at-a-distance.
The principle of special relativity, requiring that no information can be carried at a speed faster than light, is not violated (in real physics, if not the example), because no information is transmitted by the joint behavior of separated particles.
In the Divine Intervention Series on Quantum Mechanics* Michael Redhead gives an exhaustive treatment of the assumptions–determinism, non-locality, etc–required for entanglement to hold. In the linked article Redhead argues that entanglement and non-locality yield an “indeterministic”, a “holistic non-separability” interpretation of quantum mechanics, such that
“[this interpretation] allows ‘room’ for divine action on particular occasions…Holism is an anti-reductionist thesis that shows how every element of the universe has for its ground of being the totality of the whole, which pantheists would want to identify with God.”
What are the theological implications of entanglement? Eastern mystics hold that such entanglement shows that we are non-separable parts of a universe that is one entity and that the desired state is to immerse ourselves into that entity.
As a Catholic, I don’t believe that claim. In the Judaeo-Christian theology, God treats each of us as individuals, and when (or if) we attain heaven, we go as individuals. Indeed, if one examines the entangled state function, each “something” remains as an individual, even though there is a necessary connection between its properties and the properties of the “something else” with which it is entangled.
The vision of entanglement is not a new one; Dante foresaw it in the 14th century in The Divine Comedy:
“In its depths I saw in-gathered, and bound by Love into one volume, all things that are scattered through the universe, substance and accident and their relations, as if joined in such a manner that what I speak of is One simplicity of Light. I think I saw the universal form, of that bond, because, in saying it, I feel my heart leap, in greater intensity of joy.” Dante,Il Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, “The Final Vision””
One can also argue that entanglement justifies the relation between Jesus and us, as in the Parable of the King and the Final Judgment in Matthew:
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. [emphasis added] Matthew 25:37-40 KJV
THE MEASUREMENT PROBLEM
Two of the ways proposed to bypass the Measurement Problem have theological implications.Von Neumann proposed early in the development of quantum mechanics that the act of observation is a necessary (if implied) aspect of quantum theory, and, therefore it is this act of observation that induces the collapse of the state function; since the choice to observe is controlled by a mind, it is the mind that executes the collapse and registers the final measured state. The essential role of the observer’ is confirmed in experiments such as the delayed choice experiment. This reasoning can be used to support a Berkeleyan view of reality, that reality is that which is perceived, “esse est percipi” (to be is to be perceived). I’ve discussed this in a post, Quantum Divine Action via God, the Berkeleyan Observer, so please visit that post for an extended discussion.
In another answer to the Measurement Problem, the collapse of the state function upon measurement is eliminated. Instead of one state existing after measurement, all states continue to exist, either in alternate universes, or in alternate brain states. This interpretation–the Many Worlds or Many Minds–is advocated by some physicists and philosophers, but rejected by others because of its “ontological extravagance”. There is a significant theological consequence for this interpretation that has to do with the Molinist view of God’s Foreknowledge and Free Will. For an extended discussion of this, I refer the reader to my post, “Free Will and God’s Providence, Part IV”.
God is a mathematician of very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the Universe— Paul A. M. Dirac, Nobel Prize Winner for his pioneering work in quantum theory.
- The “veiled reality” underlaying quantum mechanics strongly suggests that science, per se, can not reveal all that can be known of God.
- Entanglement makes a deterministic view of the world unlikely and allows freedom for Divine Action.
- The “Measurement Problem” yields two significant implications for Catholic theology: one, a justification for a Berkeleyan view of reality, with God the “ultimate observer” maintaining the universe; the other, a many worlds/many minds interpretation of quantum mechanics that fits in with a Molinist account of God’s foreknowledge and free will.
*The linked reference to CTNS publications will show five icons for the books summarizing the Conference publications. Click on the upper left (pink) “Quantum Mechanics” icon and a column will appear on the right hand listing each author’s paper; click on the author’s name and a summary of his/her paper will appear. Do similarly with the “Quantum Cosmology” icon.
**Listed below, in addition to those given in the article, are posts on quantum mechanics. Links to web sites explaining quantum mechanics are given in these posts. Enjoy!!
Philosophic Issues in Cosmology 3: Mathematical Metaphysics–Quantum mechanical models for early stages of the universe.
God, Symmetry and Beauty I: The Standard Model and the Higgs Boson.
God, Symmetry and Beauty in Science II: A Personal Perspective