Time, Eternity, and Quantum Mechanics

Dr. Rob Sheldon, MA Religion Westminster Seminary, PhD Physics UMd, ©2003

Table of Contents

  1. A Physics Introduction
  2. Eternity
  3. Prayer
  4. Quantum Mechanics
  5. Bohr's Dualism
  6. Bohm's Realism
  7. Interference
  8. Personal Truth
  9. New Physics
  10. The Problem of Evil & QM
  11. Prayer & QM

  1. A Physics Introduction
  2. What is the connection between physics and theology? As physics more and more turns to questions of knowledge and reality, it begins to impinge on theological and philosophical questions of epistemology and metaphysics. Thus we have seen a spate of books on the impact of QM on reality, or cosmology and human beginnings. We would like to turn the tables and ask, "what can physics learn from theology?" For example, what role does the Trinity play in our interpretation of QM? In this paper we propose an analogical connection between the two that may enlighten our understanding of both.

    Let us begin with physics. A sequence of ocean waves or ripples in a pond can be characterized by wavelength (the distance between wave crests), frequency (how often these crests hit the beach) and amplitude (height of the waves). Fourier demonstrated that any strange shaped wave, even if it looked like an elephant or a freight train, could be made up of many smaller waves of different frequencies and amplitudes (usually the speed of all waves is the same, and since wavelength times frequency is the speed, there is no new information in the wavelengths.) Thus any wave can be "decomposed" into a big sum of frequencies, a process known as Fourier analysis, named for the scientist who proved the theorem in 1807. A good example of this is the design of pipe organs (or modern electronic keyboards). As baroque musicians were aware, the right combinations of pipes (which represent different frequencies) could reconstruct the sound of trumpets, violins or woodwinds which is how the stops on an organ got their names. That is, the stops are a Fourier reconstruction of particular sound wave forms.

    Now mathematically, we can say that this Fourier process starts with, say, an elephant-shaped wave in space-time, a wave we can take a photograph of, and converts it to a collection of frequencies in Fourier-space that when plotted might possibly look like a mouse. That is, we can't take a picture of frequency space, but we can mathematically represent it with a graph, just as we could graph the elephant picture. In this way we can view time-space and frequency-space as equivalent realms connected by this Fourier process. So mathematicians call this changing from one space to another a Fourier transform (FT) which can go either forward from our space to frequency space, or backwards from frequency to our space.

    We cannot overemphasize the importance of the FT. Our ears have been designed to carry out this process, and our brains analyze in frequency space. The outer ear collects sound, conducts it down the ear canal to the ear drum which vibrates. Then the smallest bones in our body delicately transmit the vibrations from the eardrum into a peculiar spiral shaped tube, the cochlea, that starts out wide and narrows down. The cochlea is lined with little hairs, cilia, that when vibrated, send out nerve impulses to the brain. Now the low notes of the tuba have long sound wavelengths, and cannot "fit" into the narrow part of the cochlea, so that they vibrate hairs at the wide end. The high notes of the piccolo have short wavelengths, and vibrate the hairs at the narrow end of the cochlea. Thus the sound waves are sorted by frequency, and the nerve impulses coming out of the cochlea become a FT of the sound.

    At that point our brain takes over, and analyzes the frequencies. It is able to identify phonemes and thence words. It can analyze tones, and decide whether the speaker is a man or a woman. It can even recognize individuals from among thousands of speakers. Or in a 100-piece orchestra it can extract the oboe part. All by analyzing the FT. Finally the brain is able to carry out the inverse or backward FT and send signals to the vocal cords that enable us to sing in tune with the rest of the choir. All of this done so effortlessly we hardly feel like we are working at all. This is not true of computers, however.

    One hundred years ago elaborate mechanical machines were constructed such that as a stylus was traced along the outline of, say, our elephant curve, pins would fall and record the FT components. When digital computers were invented at the end of WWII, one of their tasks was calculating FT, which took minutes of calculations for every second of sound analyzed. Then in 1965 Cooley and Tukey discovered a technique to speed up the computation of FT using binary arithmetic. Their Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) took the computational world by storm. Suddenly computers could calculate FT as fast as the human ear in "real time". A senior project of mine in 1980 was the implementation of a FFT on a microcomputer, though because of kbyte memory limitations we could only handle 1/2 second of sound! Eventually the utility and importance of this problem led Intel and Texas Instruments to build specialized "Digital Signal Processor" (DSP) chips that did nothing but calculate the FFT, and these chips appear in a wide variety of consumer electronics. Now if your TV is able to remove "snow" and sharpen the picture, it is because of a DSP chip. If your walkman can play MP3 music, it probably has a DSP chip in it. If your computer can respond to spoken commands, or renders video games with amazing speed, it probably uses a DSP chip. The power of DSP chips, I repeat, lies not just in converting sound and images into Fourier space, but being able to manipulate the image or sound in frequency space and then converting it back into normal time space.

    Having established the importance of the FT, let us concentrate on several peculiar properties of this transform. If we hear a rich tone, say, of an oboe, then the FT has many frequencies and the transform appears "fat". But if we hear a pure, clear tone, such as a flute, the FT reveals a single frequency, a "skinny" pulse. Then if we take the pure flute tone and play it for a very short time, say 1/4 of a second, it becomes very difficult for us to tell what the note was, and the FT widens to a fat pulse. This is because a briefly played note can be viewed as a "boxcar" pulse multiplied by a pure tone, and since the "boxcar" pulse has lots of higher frequencies in it, they add to the flute tone and make it fatter. This observation leads us to a very important law known as Parseval's theorem, that the width of the pulse in real space multiplied by the width of the pulse in frequency space must be equal or greater than two pi (2 x 3.1415928...). That is, making the flute play a constant note for a long time transforms into a very skinny pulse in frequency space, and conversely, a very short note on the flute becomes a very wide pulse in frequency space.

  3. Eternity
  4. We are ready to start the analogical development of theology. Many controversies in theology hinge on the relationship between God, who dwells in eternity "where there is no shadow due to changing" and us humans who live in causal time, at the nexus between promise and past, in the ephemeral present now. We do not know the future, we cannot change the past, we live in rapidly moving present where our decisions make all the difference. Ethics, causality, life itself is a series of choices advancing relentlessly upon us like the water in a river, and leaving behind us the foamy wake of our choices. Yet God who lives in eternity has no choices, no causality, no mysteries. All of our life is laid out before him like a book. He has no questions, no ethical decisions to make. He knows our future and our past. How then do we connect these two realms? Does God's knowledge of our future mean that we have any real choices? Are we predestined to the future God knows? What if that future is eternal damnation? How does that knowledge impinge upon our temporal existence? How does causality, which is so vital to our ethics and responsibility, apply to eternity where all things are ever-present eternal truths? Can there be any communication between these realms?

    I would suggest that examination of the FT can give us great insight into these theological conundrums. For when we take an elephant wave that is barrelling toward us on the beach, and Fourier Transform it into frequency space, we eliminate time. It becomes a collection of frequencies frozen in eternity. In an extreme example, if we take an infinite train of perfect waves, a pure flute tone, and FT into frequency space it becomes an infinitely skinny pulse, a spike known to mathematicians as a "delta function". Conversely, a dramatic spike in our space-time, say a cliff shaped tidal wave transforms into an infinite train of frequencies in Fourier space.

    Taking this analogy to time, what is infinite in our spatio-temporal world becomes a single event in eternity, and likewise an eternal presence in eternity transforms into a single event in our time. Now we can see how many Biblical truths can be understood in a new light, for the singular death of Christ in history becomes an eternal kenosis in eternity. The Nicene Creed's "eternally begotten Son of God" becomes the baby squalling in a humble shed in Bethlehem. Or the everlasting tenacious lovingkindness of God in our time becomes the event of Creation in eternity. Or the continuous preservation of the saints in our time is an act, a single decision in eternity. And conversely the everlasting damnation of souls in eternity becomes a single temporal decision by a human soul to reject the Holy Spirit.

  5. Prayer
  6. But this analogy has further wonders to reveal. For the FT is a well-defined method to travel between the two realms. This has tremendous utility, as I alluded to earlier with the human ear and DSP chips. What then is the theological analogy to the FT itself? When God, who lives in eternity, wanted to communicate with us, who live in time, He did so through human speech, through the prophets and finally by sending His own Son, the divine word. And when the Son was on the earth, He prayed to the Father and commanded us also to pray. C.S. Lewis wrote that although God knows what is in our hearts before we even say it, yet He waits upon our prayers before He acts. There is something significant about words, both the divine revelatory word from heaven and our human words that rise up to heaven. Then I would say that like the FT, prayer and words are the transform between time and eternity. Our prayers are significant just as Jesus himself prayed to the Father. We return to the substance of prayer later, but first let us look at the usefulness of prayer.

    When our cochlea performs a FT on the sound we hear, we are able to process the frequencies, identify phonemes, understand speech, follow a melody, separate conversations, and perform all sorts of useful functions that were completely impossible in temporal space. Likewise when we pray, we are able to ask for things that are absolutely impossible in temporal space--healing for relatives, safety for journeys, relief from our enemies, vindication from accusations. And just as our brains are able to take that analyzed sound wave and match the frequencies with our vocal cords, so also our prayers enable us to hear God speak, to choose the right spouse, to find direction for our life, to answer the skeptic, to get healing for our bodies and relief for the soul. Thus the ability to transform from time to eternity and back again is the heart of religion, the essence of Spiritual power.

    It is no wonder then, that Paul says that "we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. For prayer is seen as the work of the Spirit. In this way the whole Trinity is involved and indeed necessary in this process. The Father lives in eternity, in unsearchable light, the Son lived in history, in our temporal time, and the Spirit is the communication, the transform between the two realms. Thus God dwells in both eternity and time. He both knows our decisions as everlasting constants in eternity, and his decisions in eternity are the infallible truths we cling to in our time. There is therefore no conflict between predestination and free will, for they are both connected by the FT of the Spirit. And by the same Spirit we are connected to the unsearchable riches of Christ. Therefore as we proceed with our explanation of this analogy, it will be helpful to remember these three roles of the Trinity because it will profoundly affect our interpretation of physics and quantum mechanics.

  7. Quantum Mechanics
  8. All the physics that we have discussed so far was known by 1807, but a completely unexpected application appeared in the 1920's. In 1924 deBroglie proposed that particles of matter--protons, electrons, atoms--all had wavelike properties characterized by a discrete size (a quantum) discovered by Max Planck in 1900. Application of Parseval's theorem to these matter waves led Heisenberg in 1927 to propose a similar relationship for matter, that the width of the particle position in space-time multiplied by the width of the particles position in frequency space (or momentum) was equal or greater than Planck's constant. This became known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and was a foundation stone of quantum mechanics (QM), the basis of Niels Bohr's interpretation of reality known as "complementarity". That is, even God cannot know the position and momentum of a particle with infinite precision.

    Why was this important? Isaac Newton had told us that F=ma, that all matter, m, responds to forces, F, by accelerating, a. Every action, every process, everything that happens does so through applied forces. Now from a mathematical viewpoint, the acceleration is a 2nd derivative of space-time, and when one takes a derivative, one loses a "constant of the motion", so that there are 2 constants of the motion not discovered by this equation. If one wants to have the entire system determined, then those two constants have to be supplied from some other source, which in mathematical jargon are called "initial conditions". What are those initial conditions? The position and the momentum. And now we see the problem, for QM says we will never discover both of them together, we will never know exactly what is going on, nor can God tell us because He doesn't know either.

    Einstein balked at this interpretation, and saw the limitation not as God's, but as man's. If there is a problem, Einstein argued, it is not with reality which must be the same whether an observer is there or not, rather it must be in our abilities to measure these quantities. The idea that the world is there when we are not looking is called "naive realism", and Einstein proposed several thought experiments intended to prove Bohr wrong. Each time, however, Bohr was able to refute Einstein, showing that his clever experiments could not violate the uncertainty principle, that Einstein could not measure both the position and momentum to better accuracy than Planck's constant. Einstein went back and worked on the problem some more, finally in 1935 writing a paper with Podolsky and Rosen demonstrating the counter-intuitive results of Bohr's theory, entitled "Can a QM view of reality be considered complete?" At first Bohr had no answer to Einstein, but then accepted the paper as a true expression of his theory. Einstein never accepted the consequences, because they violated the expectations of "naive realism".

  9. Bohr's Dualism
  10. If I am permitted to engage in some speculation here, we might say that Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation of QM corresponds to Descarte's dualism. This is consistent with what we know of Bohr's father's views, when he taught at the University there, so we might suppose that it was deeply influential on the young Bohr. Descartes argued that both body and spirit inhabit the same region of space, and yet are fundamentally different. The methods used to examine the body: MRI, dissection, vivisection, etc, are mutually incompatible with the methods that examine the spirit: interviews, interrogation, testimonies. We might even suggest that the more intensely we examine the body with dissection, pathology slides, or electron microscopes, the more we destroy any knowledge of the spirit.

    Contrast this view with another popular view of the mind/body problem, that of materialism or functionalism. A functionalist would suggest that the mind or spirit were just the brain states of the neurons firing, much as the software program that runs on the hardware machinery. They "exist" in completely different ways, which makes any duality a mere equivocation. Thus knowledge of one, say the software, tells us nothing about the hardware, nor does it preclude knowledge of the hardware. Indeed, we can and should know about both software and hardware simultaneously. Pushing this analogy, however, one can say that software is compiled into assembly language that refers to specific memory registers that hold 1's and 0's in physical flip-flop circuits that are triggered by rising edges of square wave clock pulses generated by an oscillator deep in the CPU that obeys laws of physics. So at its most fundamental level, functionalism is a fancy veneer of complexity masking a reductionist materialism. This is precisely what Bohr was opposing. On the contrary, Bohr was saying, we cannot remove the essential duality of nature, and the essential incompatibility of the two ways of knowing.

    So it might be expected that Bohr's dualism or complementarity principle was highly popular with those who opposed reductionist materialism. Unfortunately it also was a favorite of anti-materialists as well, those who followed the gnostic tradition of denying the importance of the material world altogether. For example, in theology there are those who would say that Jesus was just a man until John's baptism when the Holy Spirit descended and infilled him with the Spirit of God, making the Spirit primary over the body. Thus gnostics have seized on Bohr's ideas as support for a version of eastern mysticism, denying the importance of the physical realm (The Tao of Physics, and The Dancing Wu Li Masters are two such books.)

    Despite this gnostic tendency, dualism has been widely influential in theology and in the church. Descartes argued that it was the essential difference between men and animals, for men had souls imparted by God, whereas animals were mere machines. A recent NY Times article praises Spinoza for opposing Descartes' dualism, and claims that modern psychologists and neurologists are busy destroying the myth of mind/body separation (and replacing it with a form of functionalism). A memorable Moody Bible Institute science film dramatized a scientist who placed a dying patient on a doctors scale and was able to observe a sudden weight loss at the moment of death as the soul departed the body. In classic philosophy this view came to be known as "the ghost in the machine", and has been critiqued by philosophers such as A.J. Ayer.

    In contrast, theologians of the past half-century have argued against dualism not just because it leads to gnosticism, but because the Hebrew concept of body was not separated from soul. Indeed the entire Christian emphasis on the the resurrection of the body makes no sense under dualism, so that Paul writes about the death and resurrection of Christ as "foolishness to Greeks and stumbling block to Jews." The whole reason that Christians engage in bodily burials lies in this understanding of the body and spirit being one. Thus there is something very disquieting about Bohr's dualism.

    One further aspect of Bohr's dualism bears analysis. Many people view this unknowable nature of QM as refutation of Laplacian determinism, the view that all of life can be predicted by physical laws given enough starting information. That is, QM says no amount of prior information can predict the outcome of a QM system. Christians have interpreted this to mean that God in all his omniscience cannot predict the outcome of some events, allowing freewill to exist alongside predestination. In its more extreme manifestation such views become "open theology" or even Whiteheadian "process theology", whereby God is stuck in the flow of time as we are, subject to its vicissitudes. Like gnosticism, these extreme interpretations are clearly heretical, so we see how Bohr's dualism has been used as justification for any number of dubious conclusions.

  11. Bohm's Realism
  12. I would propose then, that Einstein's realism, as developed by Bell and Bohm contains the seeds of a Trinitarian interpretation of QM. Einstein argued for the real existence of real physical quantities independent of human observations, a view called "naive realism". In theology, we might argue for the real existence of real miracles such as the resurrection, independent of human observations. Contrast that with the revisionist interpretation of the NT which suggest that the historical event was irrelevant, that reality only existed in the minds of the observers who composed the NT (a view more in line with Bohr.)

    In 1961 John Bell took the now-famous EPR paper, and proved a theorem that naive realism or what he called "hidden variable theory" produced a different statistical result to the EPR experiment than QM. This permitted the EPR experiment to be conducted, which proposed that an explicitly QM system having two correlated particles, such as 2 photons, could be produced simultaneously so that they were twins, having exactly opposite properties. That is, physicists view conservation laws as the most deeply held properties of the universe--the conservation of energy, momentum, charge, parity and spin. So that if two particle "twins" are emitted simultaneously, they must have opposite properties to conserve these quantities. So if one particle heads east, the other must head west to conserve momentum. If one particle is spin up (think of a miniature bar magnet with the N-pole up) then the other particle must be spin down. Now Einstein argued that whether anyone is watching or not, if particle #1 is spin up, then #2 is spin down. Conversely Bohr's interpretation of QM argued that only after someone measures the particle will it know which way it is pointing. Einstein pointed out that if QM is true, then the measurement of #1 will seemingly instantaneously change the value of #2, no matter how far away, so as to have the opposite of #1. This Einstein could not believe, and thus he rejected QM for predicting such strange behavior.

    So John Bell's theorem paved the way for an experiment to make the measurement and see who was right. When the experiments were performed in the early 1970's, which because of the difficulty of producing good "twin" particles, took some time to be conclusive, it became more and more apparent that the QM prediction was correct, and naive realism failed. Most physicists took this as vindication of Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation, but a small coterie of realists struggled to adapt their theory, unwilling, like Einstein, to abandon their coherent realist world view for some pseudo-spiritual dualism.

    Now in 1952 David Bohm had worked out a novel interpretation of realism which allowed it to achieve the same statistics as QM, but at a price. He proposed that before particle #1 is measured, it is preceded by a quantum potential, or "pilot wave" in Schroedinger's terminology, that explores every nook and cranny of available space, and "tells" the particle where to go. When a measurement on #1 is made, this "pilot wave" instantly informs #2 what has happened and causes it to adapt its behavior. Such an instantaneous information transfer is called "non-locality" and violates another of Einstein's postulates, that nothing can go faster than the speed of light.

    Before I go further, perhaps we should list some disadvantages to non-locality. When a scientist does an experiment, whether it be feeding rats an experimental drug or searching for a fifth force acting on a falling weight, he is making the assumption that the experiment can be isolated from unnecessary outside influences and the only important effect is the one being considered. Contrast this scientific approach with astrology, which suggests that the position of the planets, the presence of comets, or the orbital location of the earth at the birth date all affect the behavior at the present moment. Many historians have argued that the rise of modern science in the Enlightenment, e.g. Francis Bacon, was all a consequence of turning away from "magical" explanations of "action-at-a-distance" and refining the locally isolated "scientific method". To accept Bohm's conjecture would, to many scientific minds, reopen the floodgates to a deluge of New Age magical explanations of nature. So we are left with two unhappy choices, either nature is essentially dualistic, or nature is non-local. (Other less popular choices have been proposed, including "reverse causation", many-worlds, and "scientific agnosticism", but since most of these explanations forgo "meaning" or "purpose", we ignore them here.)

    Can we, in this post-QM world, distinguish which interpretation is correct? I would like to suggest that once again, theology shows the way. We are all familiar with the omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolence of God, often as a preliminary to the problem of evil. Less advertised is the omnipresence or ubiquity of God. Ps 139 "if I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand will guide me..." And as Einstein tells us, space is time, so that if God is everywhere, he is also everywhen. This ubiquity in space-time corresponds to a single event, a single entity in eternity, and suggests to us a solution to the Bohmian crisis. If Bohm's non-local potential or "pilot wave" is everywhere, then it too must be a single event in eternity. With some concern about mixing metaphors, would it not be fair to say that this non-locality of QM potentials in space corresponds to God the Spirit? Colossians 1 says that Christ "upholds the universe by his word of power", which we would now interpret as the word spoken in eternity, now ubiquitous in space-time. Thus QM as it explains the foundations of its knowledge, discovers the word of God.

    Such an interpretation, of course, has great ramifications both in theology and physics, but since theologians have always stated something like this, it is physics that is affected the most. Let's start with a paper that appeared some years ago in the reputable New England Journal of Medicine. The authors report on an experiment first suggested by C.S. Lewis a half-century ago, namely, to carry out a double-blind test of the effectiveness of prayer. They compiled a list of hospital patients, divided it into test and control groups, and then sent the names of the test patients to local churches, synagogues and mosques in the area and requested prayer. The patients knew nothing of the prayer requests, the church members knew nothing of the patients. Yet to very good statistical significance, the test group recovered faster and better than the controls. Prayer works. We don't know how or why, but it is a scientifically demonstrable effect.

    Now the religion of secular science, methodological naturalism, would claim strict separation, duality if you like, between phenomena and noumena, between physics and philosophy, between people and prayer. The most amazing aspect of this story is not that prayer works (millions of Christians and Muslims and Jews already know this) but that NEJM would publish it. If nothing else, this article demonstrates that there are cracks in the monolith of scientific rationalism, that we are now living in a post-materialist age.

  13. Interference
  14. Another example is a bit more esoteric, but nevertheless very important in the world of physics. It concerns a piece of physics apparatus known as an interferometer. In this apparatus, light is sent through a beam splitter that traditionally was made by a bad mirror, a "half-silvered mirror", where half the light would go through, and half would get reflected. The split beam would then go down two separate but identical sides of the apparatus, reflect off good mirrors, and get recombined by means of a second half-silvered mirror.

    Now when we can treat light as a wave, as Thomas Young did who accomplished the first interference experiment in 1801, then splitting and combining waves generate interference patterns, where the crest of one wave cancels the trough of the other causing dark spaces, whereas when the crest of one wave matches the crest of the other, the light appears twice as bright. This pattern of bright and dark bands became known as "interference fringes", and are observed at the output of our second beam splitter.

    This neat description of light as a wave, however, did not survive Einstein's 1905 Nobel prize-winning paper in which he showed that light comes in packets, later called photons. As long as there are many, many packets, as in Young's experiment, no one notices photons individually, but if we dim the lights way down, we can essentially send one packet at a time into our interferometer. Then when that packet hits the first beam splitter, it doesn't turn into 2 half-packets, which is not allowed by Einstein's theory, rather it has to go through or get reflected. So by the time that photon makes it to the 2nd beam splitter, should we expect an interference pattern or not? It seems that a packet can't interfere with itself, so why should there be any fringe at all?

    But that isn't what we see. One photon makes one spot on our photographic film, of course, but little by little, one photon at a time, those spots build up an interference fringe pattern on our film, just as QM would predict. This is quite upsetting to realists, who would like to know how a single photon can interfere with itself. The QM interpretation would be that the photon goes both directions at once when it hits the first splitter, and so the "probability wave" of the potential 2 photons can interfere with itself before it hits the film and gets turned back into a particle photon again. "Nonsense" replies the realist, "I'll measure which side the photon is on, and then we can prove there no such thing as 'going both ways at once'"

    So the interferometer was modified to have special crystals inserted in each side-branch after the splitter. These crystals are similar to those found in green laser pointers. In a green laser pointer, a little red laser diode sends 2 red photons into the crystal and 1 green photon comes out. In this application we use the crystals backwards and send in a green photon and get two red ones coming out. One of the red photons we send into a detector that registers a blip, and the other continues on its merry way through the side-branch of the interferometer to be recombined at the 2nd splitter. Now we still have the same story about photons being split and recombined, but in addition, we have information about which side the photon went through. When we set up this modified apparatus, recorded the side with the photon, the interference fringes disappeared, replaced with ordinary single photon splotch. "Ahh", the QM theorist explained, "you disturbed the system by measuring it."

    "Wait a minute", said the realist, "I didn't touch the other red photon, I only looked at one of them, how can that be disturbing it?" "Well", says the QM theorist, "they are correlated red photons, and knowledge of one, implies disturbance of the other. Perhaps if you don't have any knowledge, you will not disturb it." So the experiment was modified. Instead of putting a detector right next to the crystal, the twin red photons that normally would tell us which side the original green photon travelled were redirected from each crystal to a 3rd beam splitter where they were recombined before sending them into a detector. Now we can only tell that somewhere a green photon has hit a crystal, but we don't know which side it came from. Immediately the interference pattern at splitter #2 reappeared. That is, even when splitter #3 is moved far, far away from the apparatus, nonetheless it controlled the interference pattern at #2. When we inserted it, the pattern reappeared, when we removed it the pattern disappeared. Somehow, the photons "knew" what we were doing. Or to put it differently, knowledge of the system had measurable effects. To use a physical word, knowledge was power.

    How can we reconcile this physics experiment with our theology? There is a deep connection between word and knowledge, between Spirit and Truth. Jesus said that the Spirit would lead us into all Truth, and that the Spirit would convict the world of sin (knowledge). We are even told that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. Thus we begin to understand C.S. Lewis' comment that God waits upon our prayers, for prayer is a manifestation of word and Spirit, which in a QM sense has measurable physical effects.

    So once again we see the necessity of the Trinity. Jesus prayed to the Father when he was on this earth because it had measurable effects. We pray because it has measurable effects. If we accept that the personalization of that measurable effect is the Spirit, then we can see how not just the temporal-spatial realm, and the eternity of God, but the transformation between the two is permeated with the presence of God. Note however, that nature is not God, nor is eternity God, nor the transform of prayer equal to God. The ubiquity of God in time still is a single event in eternity.

  15. Personal Truth
  16. Therefore we see why Paul tells us to "test the spirits", for there may be many such ubiquitous influences in our world that are nonetheless separate entities in eternity. Although we argue for a spiritual or non-local aspect to our reality, it must not be confused with the supreme entity of eternity, God. Conversely, however, it must not be treated as an impersonal force. Just as prayer is the expression of a person, that knowledge is a property of intelligence, so this non-local spirit is a personal expression of an eternal being. Jesus said, I am the Truth, telling us that there is a deep connection between observation and personality. That is, the strict separation between phenomena and noumena that began in the Enlightenment is beginning to crumble. As QM shows us, that observation changes the thing observed, we begin to understand the knowledge is personal. Now we see that not only is the acquisition of knowledge involve the observer, but the process itself by which knowledge is actualized and realized, the FT from time to eternity where Truth dwells, it itself a personal process. Thus we find again an expression of Trinitarian theology in our post-materialist epistemology, for the Truth lives in eternity, appears as data and events in our time, and is transmitted by the FT of the Spirit.

    What does it mean to say that Truth is personal? For one thing, it is important that we shed our Enlightenment prejudices about objective, abstract propositional truth. Rather truth carries with it ethical, moral and aesthetic dimensions all related to its essentially personal nature. For example, knowledge of how to build atom bombs is not a neutral, objective rational proposition, but a choice that carries with it ethical and moral repercussions. It is a knowledge that has precipitated a recent war. Knowledge is power, it is also persuasive and personal. In theology, the truth is not some sort of proposition about our status in salvation, or the historical evidence of a Jewish nation, rather it is the living interaction with a real person. We cannot own the Truth, any more than we can own a person. Nor can we relativize the Truth any more than we can misrepresent a friend. Rather we must have a relationship with the Truth, communicate with the Truth, dialogue with him and to the best of our ability, understand and know this person who is the Truth. Church conflicts then do not center on "who is right", but on who has a closer relationship with the man at the top. Thus moral failings, ethical behavior, holiness and purity are as important in these debates as orthodox theology.

    Likewise in physics, it is not enough that we have a self-consistent set of equations that match observations, but that these equations be aesthetically pleasing, that they must inform us not just about our single data set, but bring purpose and meaning to the other laws of nature in a pleasing and integrative way. The theory must have a telos, a purpose, a unity to become great physics, just as Einstein's vision of space-time took the physics world by storm. Yet implicit in that revolution was the long-suppressed seed of truth that purpose requires a person, that aesthetics requires an artist, that a design requires a designer. I say long-suppressed because of the incompatibility of this seed with the widely accepted indifference of materialist metaphysics. But now as we shed the shackles of materialism we are finally free to say what has long been denied--the creation reveals the glory of God. Let us never return to the sterility of the Renaissance view of abstract truth, to the dungeons of despair. Let us embrace and revel in the freedom of finding purpose once again in the face of personal Truth.

  17. New Physics
  18. Finally free then to inquire about the purposes of physics, we can explore the spiritual dimension of reality with the same tools of theory and experiment. We can explore not just the effect of prayer on bodily healing, but the effects of prayer on mechanics, on QM or nuclear physics. Indeed, many of these boundaries have long seen misunderstood pioneers, such as the parapsychology labs popular several decades ago. They have long endured the scorn of the scientific establishment, and retreated into the safety of innocuous experiments involving the guessing of playing cards or the triggering of unstable electronic circuits. Despite statistically significant results, no one has found a use or will admit to using these results.

    Now, however, that we have escaped the prison of objectivity, we can explore far more relevant applications of personal Truth. Is there danger that we revert to the magic of the medieval period, that we become inundated by pseudo-science New Age mysticism? Absolutely. We address those concerns a little later, but first let us develop the positive aspects of this new found freedom. My favorite example is the splash made by cold fusion about 10 years ago.

    Fusion is the process whereby the sun produces its energy, burning hydrogen into helium ash by combining four hydrogen atoms together in the crushing gravity at the center of the sun. We have tried for 50 years to duplicate that feat in the laboratory with magnetic bottles holding the 10 million degree hydrogen (since normal bottles would vaporize at this temperature), but without success. For if we could accomplish this magic, then we could use the abundant hydrogen of sea water and produce megawatts of energy for millions of years without running out of fuel. And if the two cold fusion scientists, Pons and Fleishman, were correct, we could do this magic on a tabletop for a few thousand dollars without the need for the billion dollar magnetic bottle presently envisioned.

    From a physics view the difficulty with nuclear burning of hydrogen is getting the protons in the nucleus close enough together to fuse them. Now QM tell us that these protons are wavelike, so that even when a huge potential barrier separates them, the waves can "leak out" or "tunnel" through the barrier and fuse. This tunnelling probability is an extremely sensitive function of the barrier height, the distance between the protons, and the wave energy, such that similar nuclei can have vastly different tunnelling probabilities from microseconds to millions of years.

    So when Pons and Fleishman proposed that filling up the noble metal palladium with hydrogen, which tends to snuggle in between the atoms of the metal, would bring the hydrogen almost as close together as the crushing gravity of the sun, it seemed entirely probable that the tunnelling probability would increase enough to begin a fusion reaction. Certainly the theorists thought so, and started churning out theory papers on the feasibility of the process. The frustrating aspect of this experiment was that the results weren't repeatable, and in fact, even the failures weren't repeatable. The consequence was that the scientific community has divided into two groups, a large contingent of skeptics and a smaller, secretive group of true believers. Why this polarization in what should have been a cut-and-dry experiment? Perhaps we are starting to see, even in physics, the same effects as reported by NEJM, the power of prayer.

    That is, the belief and prayers of true believers in cold fusion are affecting their results and causing this bifurcation in the community. This reminds me of a story related to me by a Christian college professor, who had been advised not to pray over his experiments "because if prayer doesn't work, it's a waste of time, but if prayer does work, no one will be able to repeat it." What was meant as a joke, now appears to have come true. But this non-repeatability of experimental prayer need not be seen as a drawback. It is nice when a magic bullet drug, like penicillin, works for every patient equally well, believers or unbelievers, but there are equally many examples when the drug doesn't work and the doctor says "all you can do now is pray". Likewise cold fusion may solve all the world's energy problems, but suppose it can be turned into tabletop bombs, perhaps it is fortunate that it only works, intermittently, with prayer.

    And now let us bring in theology. When Elijah stood on Mt Carmel and prayed for fire from heaven, this fire fell from a hard blue sky with no trace of clouds, consuming not only the sacrifice, but the stones of the altar and the water in the ditch. The usual explanation of a lightning bolt "out of the blue" neither fits the weather conditions nor the description of the damage. Lightning occurs with charge separation generated by friction with water droplets, but there was no water. Likewise, large electrical currents heat their conducting medium by Joule or frictional heating. Stones don't carry electricity, so the current must have been carried by the water which would have turned to steam. But a steam explosion would hardly fit the description of the heavenly fire "consuming" the stones, rather it would have thrown rocks and wood splinters everywhere. But what if Elijah had caused a cold fusion reaction through prayer?

    We have at least two more examples of this phenomena in the Bible, when Elijah twice calls down fire from heaven upon a military detachment of 50 soldiers from King Ahaziah. One might try to argue for random occurrence on Mt Carmel, but this explanation completely fails in these two examples. Therefore we might assume that this "measure of the Spirit", which Elisha covetted, has enabled Elijah greater control over the tunnelling probabilities of QM. And conversely it is the lack of the Spirit that has made the cold fusion experiments so sporadic.

    What then have we said? That "magic" has been introduced back into science. For if Truth is personal, we expect it to vary from person to person. But isn't the whole power of Science lie in its impersonal objective nature? Isn't this what lifted the West out of the morass of alchemy in the Middle Ages? Indeed it was, but as true experimentalists, we must be true to what we see and hear and not modify our data to fit our religion. We see and hear that prayer works, at least qualitatively. The only question remaining is the quantitative one. All we have said was that "the measure of the Spirit" is the quantitative measure of prayer.

    How then is this different from medieval magic? Well, for one thing, we have learned well the lesson of objective science, and we do not forget it. This personal approach is not in place of materialism, but in addition to materialism. It is as if we have learned the 2 dimensions of objective truth and have been given a 3rd dimension to view nature with. We are now able to do that which had been impossible in the era of objectivity. It is only after 5 centuries of materialistic science that we are coming to the limits of the technique, with medicine, QM, cosmology, microelectronics, computational speed, all reaching the end of their development. And despite the hype of nanotechnology or genome research or protein folding, we are finding that reductionist determinism is unable to crack the mystery of the origin of life, of cellular chemistry, of cosmological constants, of quantum cryptography. Rather we are finding more and more that the personal, the ends oriented, the telos, the irreducibly complex picture of the world cannot be understood with Newtonian machinery, with random chance, with reductionist rationalism. Thus real progress, real advance, real power awaits those scientists who address this personal aspect of knowledge.

    Again, how is this possible? Because the Truth is a person. He is not the arbitrary power of personality which traditional magic refers to. Rather He is as solid and real as a law of physics. He is an event in time, and ever-present in eternity. He is the eternally begotten, light from light, truth from truth, both real and personal, both particle and wave, both alpha and omega, both present and past and still to come, Amen.

  19. The Problem of Evil and QM
  20. We have earlier addressed the problem of evil from the perspective of Personal Truth. Here we want to look at the same issue from the perspective of QM. At the Enlightenment, Newton's mechanical view of the universe became the controlling analogy, the metaphysics of understanding both God and nature. Thus the trinity of time-space-matter and the calculus of time derivatives--motion, force and acceleration, could define all existence and its interactions. This mechanical view of the world is to be contrasted with the Aristotelian view which preceded it, which identified four purposes that explain all matter, and "desires" or "attractions" that account for its dynamics. Newton may have hit upon the more mathematically tractable description, but with the concomitant loss of purpose, telos, and passion.

    Now we come to the classic problem of evil, or theodicy. For if our mechanical metaphysics can describe all existence in terms of inherent properties of space-time matter, then we can likewise define God the same way, albeit with divine attributes. Whereas Aristotle, had he been a Christian, might have defined God in terms of purpose and passion, Newton's God was made of attributes and laws. Thus omniscience was an attribute of divinity that prescribed what God must know--everything. Likewise omnipotence is an attribute that prescribed what God must be able to accomplish--anything. And omnibenevolence was an attribute that describes how God must always act--kindly.

    So here we come to the first of many difficulties. How do we know what is knowledge or power or kindness? If God afflicts my wife with cancer, was that kind? Does God know precisely when that drunk would run the red light and kill the church organist on her way to church? Can God make a rock bigger than he can lift? All of these questions hinge on our understanding of these "omnis", but what is our understanding based on? Is it not merely extrapolations of our human abilities, greatly magnified? Or perhaps it is just the negation of our human failings? In which case, maybe it is just the projection of our invidious unfulfilled desires? Is that sublime enough to construct divine attributes from? Are not His ways higher than our ways as the heavens are higher than the earth?

    Yet there is another assumption we have absorbed from Newton, that there should even be such a thing as an attribute which God must follow. This may be true of a thing, or a machine, or an inanimate lump of matter, but should it apply at all to God? As a brief test, can we apply such attributes to ourselves? Can we say, our friend so-and-so is knowledgeable, wise and benevolent, therefore our friend must act in a way we can easily predict? And if exceptions are the norm instead of the rule, then why should we expect God to be better behaved than our friends?

    Another way of stating this same problem is to ask whether attributes have any meaning at all. QM tells us that some attributes, such as position and spin, happily coexist with each other so that we can independently verify either or both of them with measurement. On the other hand, some attributes absolutely detest each other, so that possession of one destroys any knowledge of the other. We have similar paradoxes in everyday speech, for we say "You can't have your cake and eat it too." This isn't so surprising until we run across pairs of incompatible attributes such as the position and momentum of a particle. Our Newtonian trained minds balk at this seeming incompatibility of what should be a well-behaved pair. Could it be that we have done exactly the same thing when we try to pair up the attributes of God--his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence? Perhaps this is just one more way in which QM destroys our mechanistic view of the universe.

    Finally we come to the problem of evil. If God possesses these three omnis, then why is there any evil at all in the universe? Leibnitz, who co-developed calculus with Newton, would have said that there isn't. He would say that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that God who is the supreme craftsman would have made this world machine without fault or blemish. Voltaire famously parodied this view in his novel "Candide", for it seems apparent to most of us who live less privileged lives than Leibnitz, that there is sufficient evidence for sin and suffering to think or wish for another world. Even Leibnitz never received the recognition for calculus that he felt he deserved. So it seems that this desire of Leibnitz or the Natural Theology of Paley, or the Deism of the British philosophers arose from a Newtonian concept that God must (by his attributes) have created a perfect, rational, machine-like world in which evil would be a major disruption.

    This is not the picture we get from the book of Job, nor the picture we get from QM. Some have felt that the Bohr dualism permits a freedom, an existence, a possibility for evil. In Rabbi Kuschner's view, God is powerless to prevent evil from creeping into the system perhaps through this QM loophole. I still find this dualistic view of good and evil less than satisfactory. It seems to presuppose a well-oiled machine in which the gremlins of QM are dropping sand into the gears. It would seem to me that we must abandon all attempt to objectivize good and evil. These are not abstract principles any more than the world is a machine. Rather good and evil are the expressions of personality. Perhaps to say that a tool is good, is to say that it functions well. But to say that a person is good tells us very little about the functioning of that person, rather it tells us about the choices, the heart, the personality. And if knowledge of our world is not mechanical, if knowledge draws us into the thing known, if truth is personal, then the good and evil of this world are not objective functions of a mechanical machine, but a reflection of the personality of both the one who made it, and the one who measures it. This is what QM is telling us, that we are one with the thing we observe.

    Simply put then, the existence of evil in the world is a consequence of evil in the heart of the one who observes it. We are incapable of knowing "the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil" without becoming part of process ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we cannot gain knowledge without also obtaining guilt, we cannot know without being known.

  21. Prayer and QM
  22. What is prayer? This is a much deeper question than it first appears. Let us avoid beginning with either the theological and the practical answer and start with the empirical answer as a way to refresh our thinking. We define prayer as something we say (words!) that have no material chance of being answered. That is, "don't shout" is not a prayer, but "God help me" is. Secondly, a prayer expects some action. "Isn't that wonderful" is not a prayer, while "bless Aunt Susy" is. Therefore from our empirical viewpoint, the question of "does prayer work?" is to ask a perfectly reasonable question, which might be stated, "does the positive outcome of a prayer request exceed the probability of the chance hypothesis?" Using this criteria, the NEJM showed that prayer was effective, with statistically significant improvement over the control group. They also found that religious affiliation didn't seem to matter in effectiveness.

    Now many evangelical Christians (and probably orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims) found this result paradoxical, because they believed in prayer and the NEJM materialists didn't, but they believed that it was only their prayers that worked, yet NEJM found everyone's prayers to work. That is, the Bible was very clear that the worship of idols, "that neither see nor speak", was a waste of time. Why then should someone else's prayers have any effect? One suspects that proponents of the post-modern "inclusive" religion of America would be overjoyed by the findings, and in fact, may have biassed the results by not reporting quantitative differences, only qualitative ones. Nevertheless, the paradox is that by allowing all religions equal effect, the NEJM findings undermine the exclusive claims of many of these religions.

    I would suggest that this difficulty is a false dichotomy, akin to "do you go out or at night?", or "do you walk to school or carry your lunch?". The problem is hardly an issue with a 3rd world citizen, who understands the issues far differently. When Moses confronted the magicians of Egypt, it surprised him not at all that they should duplicate his miracles, though I confess, it surprised me. Why? Because at the heart, the West hardly believes in miracles at all. Hardly, because they grudgingly admit that God can do whatever He wants to, but they neither expect, nor ask, nor observe such miraculous answers to prayer. They pray "if it be your will", or "help the doctors with the surgery". By our criteria above, those prayers can be answered without resort to a non-materialist miracle. In other words, they can't be falsified, and would therefore fail to exceed the probability of the chance hypothesis. Unless our prayer can be used as data in the NEJM study, it wasn't an empirically verifiable prayer. And that's exactly how we in the West want it, prayers that cannot be tested, because at the heart, we don't believe in them.

    Now if the West and 3rd world citizens have fundamentally different worldviews, which (or neither) is the original view? I propose that it is the West that has grown more skeptical. More specifically, it is the ongoing victory of materialism over the last two centuries that has so changed us and shaped our views of prayer and miracles. From Biblical times through medieval and reformation history, a word spoken had spiritual significance, a curse was important, so that a curse spoken without basis came back upon cursor's head. All we have left in our society today, is a slight disapproval for "bad language", and judging by Hollywood, baseless cursing is good for ratings, CD's and selling movies. Likewise blessing was so significant that Esau pleaded for a blessing after Jacob stole his. Neither blessing nor cursing seems to have any direct connection to asking God for a miracle, rather, it came true because the Biblical writer believed in the power of a spoken word.

    Now that QM has shown us that the materialist view is false, that the spoken word is the FT to eternity, that "keeping one's word" is a virtue not because of some economic business model, but because it lays a foundation in eternity, now we can begin to understand the significance of blessing, cursing and praying. All of these are connections, are information, are power lines between eternity and now. They have effects because they change the quantum potential, they communicate, they transmit information.

    Thus I do not believe either the Biblical authors and audience, or the 3rd world citizens today would be the slightest bit surprised by the results of the NEJM experiment. Where they would perhaps differ, like Moses and the magicians of Pharaoh, is in whose prayers are most effective. In other words, it is not a question of qualitative action, but quantitative effectiveness. We pray, not because prayer works a little bit, but because it works wonders. When once we recognize this incredible power of prayer, it is hard to stop. We should be praying not just for our experiments, not just for our exams, but for the really big things out there, the individual and corporate triumph of the Church in this depraved world. We need to be praying for the vindication of the oppressed, the overthrow of the wicked, and for the consummation of the world's one true hope and great salvation, the immediate and glorious return of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Soli Deo Gloria

Last modified by Robert Sheldon, March 23, 2004
email: r*bs@rbsp.info (remove asterisk)