Friday, May 11, 2007

Quantum theory and faith: A physicist’s thoughts

This from theoretical particle physicist Stephen M. Barr in “Faith and Quantum Theory” at First Things:

My own opinion is that the traditional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory still makes the most sense. In two respects it seems quite congenial to the worldview of the biblical religions: It abolishes physical determinism, and it gives a special ontological status to the mind of the human observer. By the same token, it seems quite uncongenial to eastern mysticism. As the physicist Heinz Pagels noted in his book The Cosmic Code: “Buddhism, with its emphasis on the view that the mind-world distinction is an illusion, is really closer to classical, Newtonian physics and not to quantum theory [as traditionally interpreted], for which the observer-observed distinction is crucial.”

If anything is clear, it is that quantum theory is as mysterious as ever. Whether the future will bring more-compelling interpretations of, or even modifications to, the mathematics of the theory itself, we cannot know. Still, as Eugene Wigner rightly observed, “It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts develop, that the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is an ultimate reality.” This conclusion is not popular among those who would reduce the human mind to a mere epiphenomenon of matter. And yet matter itself seems to be telling us that its connection to mind is more subtle than is dreamt of in their philosophy.

For many years, the fact that quantum mechanics destroyed the vulgar materialism we hear shouted on all sides as “science” has been an awkward topic. Maybe we need more bulls in the china shops. For why it only gets worse, go here.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

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