Sunday, April 24, 2011

Physics, Quantum Theory and the Search for God

In a recent issue of the science magazine Discover, writer Zeeya Merali probed the beliefs of a number of influential scientists (and scientists turned believers) as to whether there is evidence of God "within the fractured logic of quantum physics." In doing so, Merali uncovered a fruitful and diverse not-so-underground scientific dialogue on the subject. For as the theologian Nicholas Saunders told Merali: "Most physicists are amateur metaphysicists."

John Polkinghorne, the focus of Merali's article (and a particle physicist turned Anglican minister who has collaborated with such notable physicists as Nobel laureates Abdus Salam and Murray Gell-Mann), describes how he first started exploring the interface of physics and metaphysics with the premise that "God acts in the world, but he is not a showoff conjurer who violates the same laws of nature that he made."

While Merali never makes a clean break from the traditional but antiquated Western anthropomorphic idea of God as a 'Supreme Being' acting outside of space-time to influence events in the material world (and thereby human history), he does examine several specific areas at the leading-edge of science that leave room for, or necessarily imply, the operation of causative factors from beyond our understanding of space-time's seeming 'reality.' Three of these, quantum entanglement, the uncertainty principle and the collapse of the quantum wave function come directly from quantum theory, while a fourth is chaos theory itself.

In addressing quantum entanglement - the observation that objects which are spatially separated remain somehow "linked" to objects they were once closely associated with  - the quantum theorist, Antoine Suarez, of the Center for Quantum Philosophy in Zurich, explains that, "There is no story that can be told within the framework of space-time that can explain how these quantum correlations keep occurring."

Split photon experiment that demonstrates the extra-
temporal/extra-spatial effects of quantum entanglement.
"You could say," Suarez notes in his explanation of the latest split-photon experiment designed to further investigate the mystery of quantum entanglement, "(that) the experiment shows that space-time does not contain all the intelligent entities acting in the world because something outside of time is coordinating the photons' results."

"Physics experiments," says Suarez, "cannot demonstrate the existence of God, but this test shows that today's physics is compatible with all major religious traditions. There is," he notes, "strong experimental evidence for accepting that non-material beings act in the world."

While Suarez' choice of the word 'beings' is perhaps unfortunate, in that it summons up notions of the antiquated and mistaken notion of a man-like God beyond time and space, his notion of an extra-temporal/extra-spatial 'something' that is determinative of quantum effects is (so-far) unimpeachable, at least from the perspectives of physics. And, it is here that the thin philosophical membrane separating physics and metaphysics seems to be - at least - semi-permeable.

As Pilkinghorne, himself, concludes: "Physics asks how the world works, and when it answers that question it finds a very deep, marvelously patterned order. But it doesn't explain where that order comes from. I believe that the order is a reflection of the mind of God."

An interesting companion piece to Merali's article in Discovery, which never totally disassociates itself from the traditional Western Christian notion of a metaphorically embodied God external to man and the universe, is the following video interview of Dr. Amit Goswami, the renowned theoretical physicist who now serves in an advisory capacity to the Institute of Noetic Sciences. In it, Dr. Goswami observes:
"Let's count the ways that God is pictured. God is not just pictured as an old bearded person sitting in a throne in the sky majestically giving out judgment on us. That is a very, very narrow picture by a very, very narrow sect. . . . A quantum object cannot be explained unless we assume - seriously assume - that consciousness is the 'Ground of Being' and it chooses out of the quantum possibilities the actual event of experience."

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