Quantum Physics & Christian Faith

Quantum physics sits at the intersection of faith and empiricism.
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Quantum physics sits at an intersection between belief and empiricism, exposing the interdependence between the two. Although the definition of what constitutes science is debated, it is generally accepted that science seeks to understand nature through a systemic and disciplined method, obtaining empirical evidence based on one’s perception. Quantum physics, the study of the subatomic, disputes classical physics by its introduction of the observer and the concept of potentiality, introducing in some measure the concept of faith.

1 Quantum Physics and Observation

Quantum physics describes the subatomic. At this level, Newtonian physics breaks down. Perhaps most surprisingly, a particle doesn’t exist specifically in an exact point in space and time until it is observed. Consequently, the exact physical property of the particle doesn’t exist until measured. At the quantum level, this is called potentiality, which describes probability of an action in terms of possibility, whose exact coordinates are not determined until there is intention -- the introduction of an observing mind. Quantum physics changes our understanding of nature.

2 Newtonian Physics

Newtonian physics purports that such a thing as an objective reality exists outside of observation and that this reality can be understood if the observer has the right tools. The view of reality based on quantum physics depends on the observer, resulting in a reality that shifts. There is no real world that exists without the observer changing it, which is a far cry from saying no real world exists, only that its qualities change when measured, preventing precise predictions. Newtonian physics traces actions to a cause. Quantum physics traces actions back to randomness and challenges many foundational views, including causality and determinism in measurement, creating a host of philosophical challenges to logic and causality.

3 Faith and Reason

The consequences of the discoveries being made in the field of quantum physics are still being understood. Nobel prize laureate Steven Weinberg explains that quantum physics is difficult to understand because the metaphors we use to describe our ordinary existence break down at the subatomic level. Quantum physics redefines our understanding of reality in such a way that exposes the fundamental act of faith in performing science. Physicist John Bell of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics calls this “muddle,” a word to describe our increasing inability to draw sharp pictures of the world, a reliance on our ability to understand those processes without seeing them.

4 Christian Faith and Science

Whether quantum physics disputes one’s Christian faith depends upon what consequences one draws from its philosophical implications. On the one hand, according to quantum physics, when you trace actions back to their source, you don’t discover God, but randomness, a fact that disputes determinism and a first cause, both concepts important to Christianity. On the other hand, connecting the observer to the workings of the universe on a subatomic level suggests a connection between an individual, intention and the physical universe, a concept friendly to Christian ideas about prayer and the consequences of those prayers in nature. Furthermore, the understanding of quantum physics due to its paradoxical nature and the inability to observe it directly is friendly to the concept of faith, “the evidence of things not seen.”

John Conway is a professor and writer who has been teaching for more than 15 years. He has written about a variety of subjects, including technology, science, literary theory, online education and culture. Conway holds an M.F.A. in creative writing and a Ph.D. in English.