Q. How can there be any meaningful interplay between physics and religion?
It is said that the universe was written in the language of mathematics, yet the bible is a mere collection of words. Therefore how can there be any meaningful interplay between physics and religion?
Both Mathematics and The Bible are – at one level – collections of symbols. But some symbols, if correctly interpreted, give a deep understanding of reality (eg e= mc2).
All religions seek to provide insights into the deepest levels of reality, so it is almost inevitable that there will be some interplay between the truths of physics and the truths of religion. But equally, they are addressing very different domains of discourse – religion necessarily involves persons and the relations between them, whereas physics seeks to be impersonal. Therefore the direct interplay will be sporadic. In John’s book Quantum Physics and Theology – an Unexpected Kinship he explores some of the remarkable parallels: deep reality often turns out to be very different from what common sense would suggest. The Trinity and wave-particle duality both seem “impossible” but end up being the only coherent way to account for all the relevant data in their respective fields.
Mathematics and words are both means for expressing concepts. In thinking about how science and the Bible relate, it will be the conceptual level that is important. I believe they have a complementary relationship.
Summary: They relate at the conceptual level.
Q. Randomness and Creation
I am a Christian professor on an American campus. I am continually hearing that the fact that the sub-atomic world is random and this fact denies a God as creator. My question is, “what effect would a structured or organized sub-atomic world have had on creation.” As water has unique properties that are necessary, is it possible that a random sub-atomic world is what makes creation possible?
First of all, the word “random” is somewhat slippery and hard to define. In the context of Quantum Mechanics (QM), we can take it as meaning “there is no physical way to predict with certainty the outcome of an observation (where the effects of QM are appreciable)” This of course does not say that there may not be other, non-scientific factors at work in influencing the actual outcomes. So it is perfectly possible that God might “fix” the outcomes of these uncertain observations in such a way as to conform with the overall probabilities given by the laws of physics. However the idea that God tinkers with reality to hide the true nature of the world seems highly implausible, and both John and I are much more inclined to believe that the indeterminacy of the fundamental physical laws reflects a deep fact about the nature of the Universe: that God has created it with real freedom inherent in the deepest level of creation. This seems to be part of God’s answer to the seemingly insoluble problem of “how can an omnipotent creator create a universe in which beings are free to choose to love Him and each other”.
It’s worth raising a couple of warning flags here: although the observations from measurements are probabilistic the Dirac Equation, which governs how the wavefunctions evolve over time, is deterministic. This is one of the factors that leads to the notorious “measurement problem” of QM to which there is no agreed philosophical or scientific answer (Roger Penrose for example has a conjecture that it involves gravity). John and I (and most working scientists) favour the “Copenhagen Interpretation” which essentially accepts that, in some undefined way, a “measurement” is a fundamental operation which forces the wavefunction to choose which state it falls into. However the “many worlds” interpretation, which suggests that there are an unbounded number of other universes in which the measurements just come out differently, has a growing minority of adherents – and seems to appeal particularly (though by no means exclusively!) to atheists and admirers of science fiction. The implications for such ideas as moral responsibility are mind-boggling.
To focus on your specific question: great scientists like Newton and Maxwell had no difficulty in combining a deep Christian faith with the idea that the fundamental equations of nature that they were elucidating were deterministic. However if the Laws of Physics were really fully deterministic then it is very hard to see how true freewill could exist though again many philosophers argue for a “compatabilist” view that freewill and determinism can go together, but this is not very compelling and seems to us to be motivated by a desire to evade the dilemma that physicalism denies freewill. However the “randomness” ,or more precisely “uncertainty”, that seems to be at the heart of the physical world does make it clearer how true freedom and freewill could emerge. This is especially true if you combine the uncertainty at very small scales with the effects of chaotic dynamics which can magnify the effects of very very small changes as complex systems develop over time.
John adds: Modern science has come to recognise that the processes that can give rise to genuine novelty have to be ‘at the edge of chaos’ where order and disorder, chance and necessity, creatively interlace. Otherwise things are either too rigid for anything really new to happen, or too haphazard for novelty to be able to persist. The intrinsic unpredictablities of quantum mechanics and chaos theory can be seen theologically as gifts of a Creator whose creation is both orderly and open in this way.
Our comment: Here is where atheism fails.
They raise this interesting idea “So it is perfectly possible that God might “fix” the outcomes of these uncertain observations in such a way as to conform with the overall probabilities given by the laws of physics. However the idea that God tinkers with reality to hide the true nature of the world seems highly implausible …” but we wonder if this is a central idea of theistic evolution? In other words, biological evolution is the result of quantum events and it is impossible to tell whether there was “tinkering” of outcomes to add non-natural information but yet conform with the overall probabilities given by the laws of physics. We see this as a way that Intelligent Design is compatible with theistic evolution. The problem for the atheist is there is no rational way to deny the possibility that “tinkering” and nature are both true. There is no rational way to prove they are exclusive.