Quantum Mechanics and Faith

James K. Gruetzner (jkgruet@unm.edu)
Wed, 16 Apr 1997 23:36:39 -0600 (MDT)

I am forwarding the message below to ASA and SCICHR as the two lists
most able to assist. Unfortunately, the requestor is out of town, so
I was unable to get his permission to post his e-mail address. However,
I will collect and try to summarize the answers for the list.

The specific request is for books dealing with the topics of QM,
relativity, and faith, which could help the mathematics professor
with his questions.

Thanks in advance.

Yours in Christ, | ----Solo Christus----
James | In faith and in science,
James K. Gruetzner <jkgruet@unm.edu> | All truth is God's truth.
"A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Subject: Quantum Mechanics and Faith

Hi James-

Hope you remember me from the lthrn-l list. I had a question I thought you
might be able to help out with. The pastor of the church I attended while
on sabbatical at [University] a couple years ago called me last week. He
has a [University] mathematics professor in his adult inquiry class who is
asking things like "Doesn't quantum mechanics prove that the universe is
chaotic, and not purposeful as the Bible teaches, etc." This pastor and
I had talked a fair bit about faith/science issues while I was attending his
church, and so he called me for some help in answering this guy (according
to the pastor this prof. is in a sincere "searching" mode, not just being
difficult). In turn, I remembered your writing this post which I extracted
from the Project Wittenberg archives. Anyway, do you know of any books
written from a Christian perspective that addresses the sorts of issues you
touch on below that I could recommend?
For those interested, my post to Project Wittenberg follows:

In a recent post, Ed K. alluded to the "new science" as support for
a postmodernist worldview. While I am not competent to discuss the various
philosophies in any great detail, I can state that the evidences from the
sciences usually cited in support of postmodernism are, in actually, quite
weak in butressing that philosophy.
Without predjudice to the rest of his post, I would like to comment
on certain portions.

> The "new science" of course has ventured
> beyond this notion of certainty, into notions of relativity and uncertainty,
> and this has had an influence on the development of postmodern philosophy.

Both relativity and uncertainty were concepts within the "old
science." (More on "uncertainty" below.) With respect to relativity,
both "old" and "new" science see certain things as absolute and unvarying.
In the "old", space (length, height, width) and time were thought to be
constants. Relativity was described by (what are known as) Cartesian
transformations. For example,
You are driving down the freeway at 50 mph. A car passes you
doing 70 mph. Were you to measure the other car's velocity, you
would find it doing 20 mph *relative to you.*

The "new" science, OTOH, has the velocity of electromagnetic force
propagation (the speed of light) to be constant. With this as the
postulate of *certainty*, relativity is described by "Lorentz
transformations"--a slightly more complicated bit of algebra.
In this case, you would find the other car doing a tad more than
20 mph relative to you (a tad being on the order of 0.000000000000001
mph!). (This also assumes I didn't drop a sign somewheres. :-) )

The point is, *both* "old" and "new" have relativities and
absolutes--just *different* ones. Also, the "old" way is plenty
good in most circumstances--just keep below 60,000,000 mph and away
from large (e.g., sun-sized) objects!

> For theologians/pastors to suggest that "certainty" in the form of logical
> consistancy is the intellectual criterion by which truth is known
> demonstrates that they are presupposing a modernist understanding, one which
> has been largely rejected by current scientists. This is because the very
> act of investigating changes it. This is the so called Heisenberg principle
> of uncertainty I believe.

Here there's some more solid ground, but it isn't as vague as the
popular philosophies take it. The principle says, basically, that
for certain *pairs* of properties, it is impossible to measure *both*
of them to an arbitrary precision.
The usual example is position and momentum (which can usually be
treated as position and velocity). For example, if you could measure
the location of something at a given time *exactly*, you would have
absolutely no idea of what its velocity was; similarly, if you knew
it was going *exactly* 50 mph, you'd have no idea *where* it was.

This is generally not much of a problem, because you never know
exactly where something is or what its speed is. For example,
suppose your car was traveling at 50 mph +/- 0.0000001 mph. (I
know some speed traps which *wish* they could be that accurate! :-) )
You could know its location to within 0.000000000000000000000000001
inch or so. Not too shabby.

The key is, one can only be so accurate: but that's usually
accurate enough!

One other part of the "new" science which also has some
applicability, is the probabilistic nature of things. In the
"old" science, if, say, an electron had a certain amount of energy
and encountered a barrier of higher energy, the electron would
be bounced right back. In the "new" science, there is a *chance*
that the electron would pass right through the barrier!
Now you can't say in advance that any specific electron will
pass through the barrier, but you can say that a certain percentage
of them will, say 10%. And, in general, you're dealing with a large
number. So, if you have 1,000,000,000 electrons, about 100,000,000
will pass through in this case. (It might be 100,000,001 electrons;
it might be 99,999,999 electrons; or even 100,000,002 electrons, but
that won't make much difference.)

BTW, this sort of thing is not unknown in the "old" science, either.
Classical statistical mechanics is probabilistic in nature, too (although
it doesn't have the position/momentum uncertainty). The phenomenon
of the evanescent wave in classical (i.e., "old") optics is mathematically
identical to the electron tunneling mentioned above.

> I know less about this than I should, but it is a
> fundamental shift in mental consciousness, not on the part of just some
> postmodern philosophers who can be too easily written off, but by current
> scientific consciousness. The latter consciousness is closer to the biblical
> understandings of the way the world is than those modernists who claimed
> more for science than it has been able to deliver. In many ways the new
> consciousness opens the world again to the influence of belief.

From my point of view, the shift in scientific consciousness is too
often overrated. There have been changes, to be sure, but there's been
a lot more continuity. Where I think there is some derivative benefit
is a reinforcement of the idea that God is beyond our understanding.
In the elctron tunneling example above, science and logic can not
say in advance that a give electron will or will not go past the
barrier--but God can! Our own logic can not see how God can Elect
and Predestine to salvation, in a way consistent with the damned
*choosing* their fate. But God can.

Well, this was a bit long, but I believe still topical for this
group. God bless.

Yours in Christ,
James K. Gruetzner (jkgruet@unm.edu)