QUESTION:

I’ve been looking a bit into Quantum Physics and Mechanics and recently found this question asked on Yahoo Answers:

Christians, two of the most fundamental concepts in quantum mechanics disproves your god. I’ll explain below. Just remember, you can’t say this is just a theory (even though a theory means an unproven fact in science) because we use these concepts for electron microscopes, transistors and a bunch of other technology, so obviously it’s accurate otherwise those things wouldn’t work. Also, these concepts are probably the two most proven and solid concepts in advanced physics, ever.

1) The uncertainty principal [▲(x)▲(p) > hbar/2] clearly says that the universe is undetermined and random. So why would you think god has any plan?

2) The Schrodinger equation [[i x Ρ](σ/σt)Ψ = (Η operator) x Ψ] describes in detail how the entire universe and what we perceive as reality works from the quantum level up, and it leaves no room for a god.

Why does it leave no room for a god? Well to keep it simple, it’s a probability equation. Ψ is the wave-function of the particle, and going back to the uncertainty principle, it’s impossible for this wave-function to be completely precise because acts pretty much completely randomly. If you still can’t understand why it leaves no room for god, then go learn about quantum physics. There is absolutely no possible way to interpret god into this concept.   Just so you know I’m not lyng about anything, here’s the derivation of the Schrodinger equation (so you can test it at home if you have enough money to set up the experiment):   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6d…    The uncertainty principal is pretty much straightforward so if you need proof of it then go learn quantum physics so you’ll be able to derive it and test it yourself.

Do you have any good ideas how to respond to something like this?

Answer:

You probably guessed that this is not a new argument. It just so happens that my PhD is in chemical physics and that I have taught quantum mechanics as a professor at the college level, so I am prepared to answer this question.

The argument that this person is making is essentially this. Because certain properties of the universe imply that reality is not completely determined (in other words, that what happens is a matter of probability and that things fundamentally cannot be measured with perfect precision), the God described in the Bible cannot be real. This fellow sounds really confident that he has proven his case. Unfortunately for him, this is far from a good proof that the God of the Bible does not exist.

What the uncertainty principle and Schroedinger’s equation IS evidence against is a strict determinism. Nineteenth century physicist Simon LaPlace believed that, using what we now call classical physics, he could, in principle calculate all that has ever happened and all that ever will happen. He believed that he had shown that we do not need God to explain physical reality. Using Ockham’s Razor (requiring the simplest explanation to any question), he proposed that he had proven there is no God. Then, about one hundred years later, physicists found that the physical world could not be fully described using deterministic equations. What happens is affected by what seem to be random events. The future is NOT certain. In other words, the future and the past are not pre-determined.

It is ironic that, in the past, some atheists tried to use classical, deterministic physics to prove that God does not exist, and now, two hundred years later, atheists are trying to use quantum mechanics, with its lack of determinism, to disprove God. Although the author is correct, that absolute determinism is not consistent with reality, he is incorrect that this disproves God.

I am afraid I have to get a bit theological here in order to proceed. Some Christian believers support Calvinism, which is theological system which includes a rather strict determinism. To use the words of the person you are quoting , Calvinists believe that God has a predetermined and unchangeable “plan.” If they were right–that there is no freedom of choice, that there is no free will, we could argue that the universe is completely determined by God, which, one could argue, is not consistent with the quantum mechanical world, which is not deterministic. God does not strictly determine what happent. There are some things which are “random” and not predetermined.

I believe that, even if the Calvinists were right, then the argument of this fellow would not be correct. The fact remains, however, that he is not correct in his understanding of the Christian God. The correct biblical teaching is that reality is not all determined by God. God has given us free will. Like the physical universe, what happens to us is not completely determined by God. God has a plan, but the plan includes uncertainty–it is affected by human will. The physical universe has a kind of “free will,” as measured by the uncertainty principle, and humans have a kind of spiritual/moral free will. If the Bible describes the human condition as not predetermined and the physical world is also not pre-determined, then how does this fellow’s argument hold? It does not. In fact, physical reality, with its non-predetermined reality is consistent with the spiritual and moral reality described by the Bible, in which human beings are free moral agents, with the ability to determine for ourselves what will happen in our own lives.

The person who submitted this to Yahoogroups is surely just parroting what he read elsewhere. To summarize, he is arguing that reality is not fully deterministic. Because, according to him, the God of the Bible is deterministic, then that God cannot be real. There are a couple of problems here. The God he is talking about is not the God of the Bible. God does not have a set, unchangeable “plan.” The second problem is that this person is ignoring the possibility of a supernatural reality which can exist above physical reality and can influence reality. Even if God’s relationship with the universe was determinisitc (remember: it is not!) , he could use his supernatural power to keep the universe on the course he intended. If he wanted to, God could continually direct the path of the universe so that the random/quantum mechanically determined events could still go on the path he had determined.

In the end, science, by its very nature, can never disprove the existence of the supernatural. By definition, science describes what is natural. That which is natural, by its very nature, cannot disprove the possibility of the supernatural–a thing which is greater than the natural. For this reason, even if this person was wrong–even if the Bible described a God who created a fully deterministic world–his argument would still not hold. Because he gets God wrong, his argument is doubly incorrect.

John Oakes




What do you think?