A Quantum Series, Volume 4: Does God Intervene?

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Faith and science have long been at war, right? Think again:

“Contrary to the stereotype that religious Americans are hostile to science, we find that they are interested in and appreciate science. Yet people of faith … view science through the lens of concern about keeping a place for an active God in the world.”

That’s a key finding from one of the most important analyses of religion and science produced in the last decade. The authors of that study—sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle—discovered that when science and faith do collide, it usually includes either a threat to Divine action, as quoted above, or a challenge to the value and sacredness of humans.

Now, what on earth does this have to do with our series on quantum mechanics? Quite a bit, actually, particularly as we now wrap up the series with probably the most significant link between quantum physics and Christian faith.

What if science—indeed, the very physics we’ve been slogging through—is actually the locus of God’s action?

A God of Action

The notion of divine action is anathema to many, if not most, scientists. Physicists are especially troubled by an interventionist God because that would mean that their sacred equations might not work all the time. Likewise, as the Ecklund-Scheitle study suggests, a God who acts in our world is a sacred belief of most religious Americans. But like Newton’s 3rd Law, these forces—science and faith—are equal and opposite, and the common reaction is to take sides.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga would step in here and note the difference between science and a metaphysical belief in naturalism—the idea that the natural world is all there is, ruling out the existence of supernatural entities. Plantinga famously rebuts naturalism, but also is clear that nothing in science can rebut the supernatural, or the possibility that a supernatural being could act in nature.

Setting that aside, some want a theistic God who doesn’t intervene in the natural world. Is that even possible? This is where quantum mechanics comes in. Remember the Copenhagen interpretation from last week —the idea of indeterminacy and that things at the quantum level exist in a range of possibilities before we measure them?

Well, if that is true, then God could act through those indefinite properties, influencing the results. The probabilities for one result or another wouldn’t be any different than what the equations suggest, but God could still be influencing those results—every time, or just occasionally. In other words, God could act in a way that does not offend physicists—there would be no way to know if there was an intervention—but still has an impact on the real world, something important to persons of faith.

These ideas were worked up in their most robust form by a group of physicists, philosophers, and theologians led by Robert J. Russell, himself a physicist and theologian. Their work is complicated and technical—it is quantum physics after all—but under the “Ministry Links” below, we link to a BioLogos piece that makes it more understandable.

Having doubts? Scratching your head? Then you’ll appreciate the first link below to a video where physicist extraordinaire—and atheist—Brian Greene acknowledges the possibility of divine action.

A Quantum Apologetic

In the very first entry in this series, I warned about drawing too many conclusions from quantum physics and the dangers of “God of the gaps” theologizing. There are many interpretations and understandings of quantum physics, and the pursuit of new knowledge is ongoing; new discoveries could undermine a God-acts-via-the-quantum theology.

With that said, there is still great apologetic force here. Those who use science to negate faith usually argue that given the laws of nature as we know them, God can’t act. But this is simply not true. Re-listen to that Brian Greene segment above. With our current understanding of physics, divine action at the quantum realm is entirely plausible.

That is a message for the skeptic and believer alike. Hopefully it can also be of comfort to your church—a response to all who are concerned about science challenging belief in the God of the Bible—a God who not only created, but remains very active in the world.



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