Tag Archives: quantum mechanics

For God Rolled the Dice and the Universe Came to Be

roll-the-dicePhysics cannot describe what happens inside a black hole. There, current theories break down, and general relativity collides with quantum mechanics, creating what’s called a singularity, or a point at which the equations spit out infinities.

But some advanced physics theories are trying to bridge the gap between general relativity and quantum mechanics, to understand what’s truly going on inside the densest objects in the universe. Recently, scientists applied a theory called loop quantum gravity to the case of black holes, and found that inside these objects, space and time may be extremely curved, but that gravity there is not infinite, as general relativity predicts.

-by Clara Moskowitz
Space.com Assistant Managing Editor
“Space-Time Loops May Explain Black Holes”

Clara had me at “space and time may be extremely curved, but that gravity there is not infinite.” About forty years or so ago, I took my first Astronomy class at UNLV. Yes, I know. That was back at the dawn of time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, or at least it may seem that way to some of you. It certainly makes my knowledge of Astronomy rather antique compared to the advances science has made since that time. But I still enjoy reading a few popular (that is, easy to digest for the average person) articles on such topics.

In those undergrad days (the first time I was an undergrad), I wrote a couple of papers about areas of Astronomy that particularly interested me. One was the end products of stars. What happens to a star when it runs out of fuel to burn? If the star has a mass of three times or more of our own sun, it collapses into a black hole. When I was going to school, general relativity said that a black hole was a singularity and that its mass was infinite. Today, the latest theories suggest otherwise.

Exciting stuff.

My other favorite topic was Cosmology or the theory of the origin of the universe. I found a small book written by a Swedish scientist that involved Matter and Anti-Matter as active components in the origin of the universe, but it was a minority theory then. Today, it’s non-existent.

But Space.com has a really cool and readable article on what we know to date about the “Big Bang” and what followed afterward.

Probably a lot of Christians coming across this blog post are going to raise an eyebrow or two. At the little church were I worship, both the Head Pastor and one of the Associate Pastors have both told me they don’t believe in an “old universe.” They seem to believe, like many conservative Christians and not a few religious Jewish people, that the Earth is anywhere between about ten to fifteen thousand years old.

All of this millions and billions of years stuff as described in the Big Bang article doesn’t work for them. Why? Because of how they read the beginning chapter of Genesis which is literal. God created the Earth and everything else in six (they believe) literal days. The Hebrew word used for “day” in chapter one of Genesis is almost universally translated “day” as in a twenty-four hour period.

Given an inconsistency between human scientific observation and theory and the record of the Bible, they choose the Bible every single time. Biblical sufficiency pretty much demands it.

Or does it?

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-7 (NRSV)

sky-above-you-god1Especially the first verse of the above-quoted Psalm tells us that God is revealed by the universe itself. We should be able to look at the stars, examine the heavens, and understand that there is a God. This is known as general revelation or the environment and everything we observe in it reveals the existence of God. The more specific revelation, which gives us lots of other details, declares God as well. It’s the Bible.

But should the two revelations conflict? I would think not. We should see them both fitting together like interlacing fingers of the left and right hand of man. Even if a person has never seen a Bible or heard of Christianity and Judaism, simply observing the universe, all of creation in all of its details, is intended to illustrate that there is a God. The Bible reveals many of the specific details of how God interacts with human beings, using principally the Jewish people and the nation of Israel as a model.

So what do we do when the Genesis story and our astronomical observations and theories conflict? What do we do when the Bible says that the Earth (and presumably all of the universe) was created in six literal twenty-four hour periods, and astronomical observations and theories conclude that our solar system wasn’t formed until the universe was already nine billion years old?

A Bible literalist will say that the Bible is always correct and human scientific observation and theory is wrong. A scientist (one who is not religious) will conclude that the Bible is full of hogwash and our best scientific observations and theories present the facts accurately to the best of our ability to interpret them.

But what if they’re both right?

If we believe God and David as he wrote the nineteenth psalm, then the universe is supposed to be a revelation of God even as the Bible is, so they must agree.

But how can they both be right when on the one hand, we have a matter of six days and on the other we have billions and billions of years?

I don’t know.

Ultimately, I don’t have to know, but like Albert Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Actually, all that means was Einstein believed the universe should be founded upon solid, deterministic laws. He was probably thumbing his nose at Quantum Mechanics (QM) which is much more dependent on probably and uncertainty in the universe. But he sells the point that the universe should make some sort of sense, at least as far as communicating to human beings that only God could have brought the universe into being. The “Big Bang” was a “spoken Word” (If you’ll read the Big Bang article, you’ll see that the initial tiny, tiny fraction of a second of the start of the universe wasn’t an explosion as we think of such a thing).

Actually, it’s not the awesome vastness of the universe that communicates God to me but the incredible weirdness that QM describes. The idea that “atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops” inside a black hole is beyond bizarre and this, more than anything, tells me there is a God, one whose mind is incredibly and infinitely creative. His universe is shouting at us to pay attention. None of this happens by accident and no human being could have cooked this up.

The more we look, the more incredible and the more surprising the universe gets. We used to think that the universe was composed pretty much of ordinary atoms, the stuff we can see all around us every day. Now, we think that only about 4.3 percent of the universe is made up of atoms (75% hydrogen and 25% helium, with just an itsy, bitsy fraction of the rest being heavier elements, including the stuff that makes you and me), while the rest if full of much more exotic energy and matter.

According to an article by Stephen Hawking, God may well “play dice” with (or introduce uncertainty and some randomness into) the universe (there’s a notice at the beginning of the article that says I can’t reproduce any portion of the content, so I can’t include a quote…maybe Hawking’s cranky over his rather sad boycott of Israel…but I digress). It’s this uncertainly that, rather than suggest the universe came about through a random or unguided (uncreative, unintelligent) process, was built into the universe, and was the product of an infinitely creative mind and force…God.

I have no problem believing that the universe is more or less as we experience it; extremely old from the point of view of a human time scale. Why should God care? He exists outside of His creation, He’s timeless. Theories vary widely about how old modern human beings are, but I think the story of those early humans, our Adam and Eve, are the record of God’s creation of us and the creation of His relationship with us.

black-holeMaybe the only meaningful or reasonable historical record of God’s interaction with people is what we’ve experienced over the past ten or fifteen thousand years.

Everything I’m saying along these lines is highly speculative and I’m most certainly attempting to reconcile what human beings know about our environment and ourselves with my faith and trust in the God of Israel. If that’s being more than a little self-serving, so be it. It helps me sleep at night, and God knows I can use the rest.

I once heard an attorney use the phrase “hide the ball.” At the time, I thought she was referring to a children’s game, but I recently found out it’s a legal term. It means to withhold legal evidence. Legal teams sometimes “hide the ball” or withhold evidence from the court (a big “no-no” which could get an attorney disbarred) if that evidence could result in them losing their case.

Rather than refer to dice, I prefer to say that God doesn’t play hide the ball with the universe. That is, God doesn’t withhold evidence. What we see in our environment, from the tiniest particle to the largest galaxy (to the best that we can understand what we see), is what we get. Otherwise, God created the appearance of the universe to tell us a tremendous lie, and why would He do that?

He wouldn’t. But if God didn’t lie about the universe and He didn’t lie about the Bible, and if six literal days is different from 13.7 billion years or so (the estimated age of the universe), then God didn’t screw up, we did somewhere along the line. Biblical literalists assume scientists have screwed up, but I have to say, that’s pretty unlikely unless the entire scientific community devoted to cosmology for the last century or so are idiots or liars. I don’t think Biblical literalists are idiots or liars either, but I do believe that the beginning passages in our Bible cannot be interpreted with absolute literalism. Genesis One isn’t God’s “cookbook” containing the recipe for Creation.

Like Stephen Hawking suggests at the end of his article (although there’s no indication that Professor Hawking believes in a God of any sort), God may have a few tricks of His sleeve. Bible sufficiently just means that it contains enough information for us, not that it contains everything. The Bible fills in blanks in our knowledge of God that the universe doesn’t supply. I think the process works both ways.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Psalm 33:9 (NRSV)

One more thing. Please don’t imagine that I literally believe God rolled dice in order to create the universe. I just “warped” the above-quoted scripture to make the title. It sounded “creative.”


Schrödinger’s Free Will and God’s Sovereignty

quantum-mechanics-weirdAnyone who ventures more than ankle deep into the weirdness of quantum mechanics quickly realizes that reality is not what we once thought it was. From the time it was introduced, its most respected scientists have groped for new understandings of the nature of reality, often turning to mysticism and religion for answers.

Max Planck, who planted the first seed of the quantum model, was convinced by his studies that “There is no matter as such…the mind is the matrix of all matter.” Erwin Schrodinger, who established the basis of the wave mechanics behind QM, theorized that individual consciousness is only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness pervading the universe. Wolfang Pauli, another of QM’s most significant pioneers, turned to Carl Jung for clues of the mysteries with which he was dealing, writing essays about “the mystic experience of one-ness.”

In case you were hoping for a consensus, Nick Herbert (“Quantum Reality,” Random House, 1985, Chapter One) counts no less than eight diverse versions of reality generated by quantum physicists, several of them quite mystical, all of them—including the most pragmatic and most realist—exceptionally weird.

The real problem is that all of them seem to work.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Quantum Reality and Ancient Wisdom”
Originally written for a symposium on the works of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, held at Brandeis University in the summer of 2000.

I know that Quantum Mechanics (QM) and mysticism tend to turn people off, especially when you try to put them together, but for the way my mind works, this actually makes a lot of sense. I recently read John A. Sanford’s book Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John, which applied Jungian psychology heavily to the symbolism in John’s gospel. While I thought Sanford’s attempt to do so was anachronistic, reading how QM pioneer Wolfang Pauli consulted Carl Jung in attempting to understand the “weirdness” of what Pauli was addressing makes me realize something else was going on.

I’m not going to attempt the creation of some grand literary treatment of mysticism and QM, but I do want to revisit an old mystery and attempt to use aspects of QM, not necessarily as a solution, but as a proposal.

I’ve written a number of blog posts on the Calvinism vs Arminianism debate, thanks to my discussions with my Pastor. This includes The Bible as a Quantum Cookbook, which tries to put QM, Calvin, Schrödinger’s cat, and Talmud in the same hypothetical room together.

But I’ve wanted to write this sequel for a few weeks now and the opportunity presented itself.

I’m not the first to have this idea, though. There’s even a comment on a blog post providing a parody on TULIP that is relevant:

In a quantum universe i don’t see why one can’t be 100% Calvinist and 100% Arminian. Even closer to home, I don’t see why one can’t be both a post- and a pre-millenarian. OK, I’ll confess I don’t know anything about physics or even whether Schrodinger’s cat is alive or dead. But I do know that human language is not adequate to frame propositional statements about eternal realities. This isn’t relativism…things which occured in time (and in the scripural account of time) like the resurection are subject to the law of non-contradition. It either happened or it didn’t. But we can’t be led into bad metaphysics by the soterological speculations of the 16th and 17th centuries…Calvin and Arminius respectively.

-Mark Sunwall

So what have I got?

Schrodingers_catProbably nothing new, except that I have the need to write this if, for no other reason, than to get a few things out of my head and into the blogosphere.

You can find out pretty much anything you want to know about Schrödinger’s cat at Wikipedia, but in short, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. That means no actual cat was killed or allowed to live simultaneously or in separate states as a result.

Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

What does that have to do with the Calvinism and Arminianism debate? As you probably already know, the debate centers around whether man has free will to choose salvation or if God’s sovereignty forces us to have no choice. Can man participate with God in his salvation or must God unilaterally choose for man?

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

-Yogi Berra

If I apply Schrödinger’s thought experiment to the conflict, I come up with a resounding “I don’t know.” It’s the difference between Classical and Quantum physics.

For the Jew with traditional leanings, this could be welcome news. The old determinist view of reality accepted by Newtonian mechanics was certainly at odds with the classic Jewish worldview. Could QM allow once again for a world of divine providence, miracles and free choice, a world in which the creatures interact with their creator? Could it perhaps even provide us a better understanding of that legacy perspective?

-Rabbi Freeman

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6 (NASB)

Under heavenAccording to David, there is no inconsistency with our observation of the universe around us and our understanding of God. God made the universe and everything in it to point to the knowledge of Him. In other words, God doesn’t play “hide the ball” with the universe. What you see is what you get. Paul said the same thing in Romans 1:20, which is why no one has any excuse for a lack of knowledge of a Creative God.

But if Classical Mechanics doesn’t map to the Jewish view of the universe, is Judaism wrong or were the classical physicists? Again, that’s too big a question for me to answer, but I’m liking QM more and more all the time.

OK, no one really thinks that if you actually tried Schrödinger’s thought experiment with a real cat (which would be cruel) that you’d end up with a cat that is dead and alive at the same time. At the macro level, the cat would either be dead or alive. But Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics works pretty well, at least in theory, at the subatomic level. What does it do when you enter into the realm of the supernatural and the mystical?

Chassidic thought doesn’t have a problem with incorporating mysticism into its internal map of how man journeys with God, but that’s not going to satisfy the either/or literalist. The problem is, the either/or literalist is probably going to have trouble with the uncertainty of existence proposed by QM and thus the latest models for how we think things work in the universe around us.

And if you think QM is strange and even bizarre, imagine how things would look to you if you could actually experience God the way Ezekiel did, the way Paul did, or the way John did in each of their mystic experiences as recorded in the Bible. Those events make the puzzle of Schrödinger’s cat seem as simple as riding a bicycle.

Need one remind our orthodox Jewish scientists, who still feel embarrassed about some old-fashioned Torah truths, in the face of scientific hypotheses, that Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy has finally done away with the traditional scientific notion that cause and effect are mechanically linked, so that it is quite unscientific to hold that one event is an inevitable consequence of another, but only most probable? Most scientists have accepted this principle of uncertainty (enunciated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927) as being intrinsic to the whole universe. The 19th century dogmatic, mechanistic, and deterministic attitude of science is gone. The modern scientist no longer expects to find Truth in science. The current and universally accepted view of science itself is that science must reconcile itself to the idea that whatever progress it makes, it will always deal with probabilities; not with certainties or absolutes.

-Rabbi Freeman quoting the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

I’m sure this or any other part of Rabbi Freeman’s article won’t convince anyone who thinks in either/or terms to entertain the idea that, from a human being’s point of view, man has total free will and God is totally sovereign at the same time, and yet that’s the only reasonable answer that I can see. Until we actually look in the box, the cat is both dead and alive. Until we can acquire God’s point of view of the free will/sovereignty process, we have total free will and God is totally sovereign at the same time.

The thing is, Schrödinger can look inside the box anytime he likes and that sets the status of the cat on one side or the other: it’s either dead or alive once the box is opened. People can’t access God’s point of view directly. When we “lift the lid of the box,” we are opening the Bible. But the Bible is God’s viewpoint turned into human language. In the moment of “translation” from God’s thoughts to text on paper, we lose a great deal of meaning. We shift from perfection to sufficiency. We open the Bible and the cat is either dead or alive. But the state of the cat depends on which part of the Bible we’re reading.

Torah at SinaiHuman free will or a totally sovereign God? Somehow the answer is both. But if QM experts are weirded out by their own work, how much more should we be weirded out by the universe that God created us to live in?

If you absolutely have to come down on one side or the other of this debate, go right ahead. That means you are picking and choosing those parts of the Bible that either support man’s free will or that support God’s absolute sovereignty. That means you are dragging God and the Bible down into the mud with you. OK, Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says that the Torah is in the mud with us, so to speak, but I believe God, through Moses, was telling the Children of Israel that observing the mitzvot wasn’t an impossible task, not limiting the nature and character of the Word of God itself.

I think the Bible acts as sort of a “translation” of the Divine thought of God as filtered through the personalities and lives of the human writers. By definition, God and human beings had to enter into a partnership to create the Bible. Sure, God could have written it all by Himself without any human involvement, but he chose to let us participate. Does that make God any less sovereign and His Word any less perfect because people were also involved in the Bible’s creation?

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies (if I may take some liberties) that Calvinism and Arminianism are simultaneously correct and incorrect. Yet, when one “looks in the box,” so to speak, it seems to be one or the other. Only God knows what’s going on in the box without lifting the lid.

The Christian faith is kaleidoscopic, and most of us are color-blind.

-N.T. Wright
from his Forward to the book
The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight