The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 34: “Quantum Leaps & Leaps Of Faith”

Back before Charles Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution put the institutional church on the permanent defensive, theology was considered the Queen of Sciences. Back then, mathematics was good for counting things. That was about it. It took a while for humans to realize they could use numbers as tools to solve complex mysteries about how the universe worked. Math, we realized, is a language that uses numbers and their values to describe things in place of words. But, math, it turned out, could do even more than that. With a firm grasp of math, one could approach the most essential questions facing us — why are we here? Is there a god? What is this all leading to? — not just hypothetically but with an eye to answering them.

Science — following the scientific method of thinking — produced mostly great results for humans. It’s produced some horrible things too. but that’s for another podcast. Albert Einstein used math to express the ideas in his head about how the universe really works — how we got here. He wasn’t the first guy to imagine the Big Bang, but his Theory of Relativity rasped how the Big Bang fit right in with the totality of the universe it created. Well, almost…

As we know — the closer we go back in time to the instant of the Big Bang, the more the rules the rest of the cosmos fall apart and break down. As the larger structures in the cosmos revert to their smaller versions, they stop behaving by any recognizable rules. In fact, completely unthinkable things can and do happen. Something can pop into being literally from nothing — and then vanish again. Things can be and not be at the same instant.

There’s something kind of “spiritual” about such a concept, no? Being and non-being at the very same instant — seems like a great party trick if one could get good at it. In the meantime, let’s sprinkle a little quantum mechanics atop our discussion and see what leaps to mind…

The Faitheism Project Podcast Episode 34: “Quantum Leaps & Leaps Of Faith”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…


Books:Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction John Polkinghorne Oxford Press 2002Reality and the Physicist: Knowledge, Duration and the Quantum World Bernard D’Espagnat Cambridge Press 1990
Notes:Introduction:N. Bohr: The world is not only stranger than we thought, it is stranger than we could think. “Now we see through a glass darkly…” I Corinthians 13:12a KJV
Physical processes in Quantum Theory are radically different than what every day experience would lead us to expect. The fact that entities can function as both waves and particles has brought us back, in a time when we thought we were close to a total understanding reality, to a world full of surprises. It showed us that “…our powers of rational prevision are pretty myopic.” (p. 87 Polkinghorne) Quantum Theory encourages us to keep our conception of what is reasonable fluid.

  1. Quantum Theory is just one example of a fundamental philosophical debate between realists and positivists.
    1. It made positivism a problem.
      1. Before Quantum theory positivism was a strong philosophical approach in which the whole of being was reduced to phenomena and phenomena to action. Every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof. Metaphysics and Theism were thus rejected. Instead, anything beyond science could be described as a linguistic reality but nothing more.
      2. For many positivists, the task of science was complete when an harmonious and accurate account of measured behavior was achieved. Ontological questions were an irrelevant luxury and best discarded. But since science is not telling us what the world is actually like, it seems much less worth the time, talent and treasure we have put into it.
    2. Realists believe that science is about discovering what the world is really like. Though the task is never complete, a tightening grasp of actual reality is the goal. This reasserts the importance of science. It supports the experience of many scientists that they are discovering what actually exists.
    3. “Scientific materialism,” put together the world of the positivist and the world of the realist in a way which saw consciousness as observable and subject to the scientific method. It held that physical reality is all that exists; as matter, motion and force. That is the whole of reality.
      1. It this narrow world is all there is, human development is narrowed as well leaving a “propaganda of frenzy, a propaganda of violence, a propaganda of Manichaeism” that is, stirring up people to violence through access to special knowledge, moves us forward. Marches, action beyond the law, assertion of power, erasure of enemies. This has taken form in multiple ways including fascism, Naziism, which transcend left and right.
    4. But Quantum Theory shows that the positivist world and the totality of experience are not one and the same thing. It rejects both positivism and scientific materialism.
  2. The Strange world of Quantum Theory
    1. Used to be able to say: if 2 phenomena are linked by a causal relation, then the cause is the one antecedent to the other. That was before quantum theory. Now the cause is the phenomenon directly dependent upon us (the observer). p. 215 D’Espagnat.
    2. There is an ontological difference between independent reality and the totality of experience. Life is not about independent reality but about the totality of experience.
    3. Our perceptual and intellectual faculties in large part measure phenomenon in the body of the real. (p. 215 D’Espagnat)
    4. But reality lies behind the things. p. 217 D’Espagnat
    5. Scientists see Quantum reality as real, through objectivity, but because of its intelligibility. It give us a clue to reality. (Which is in line with the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas)
    6. We have to change our key question from “Is it reasonable?” to “What makes you think this might be the case?”
    7. Even logic has to be modified in the quantum world.
    8. There is no universal epistemology: a single sovereign way to gain all knowledge.
    9. Instead, according to Heisenbergian uncertainty: how we know an entity must conform to the nature of that entity and the nature of the entity is know through what we know about it.
    10. What can be said depends critically upon what interpretation of the measurement process is chosen. This assigns a unique role to the observor.
  3. Think of phenomena as a live concert and the totality of experience as a CD of the live concert. The two certainly relate to each other but they are not the same thing. If an alien visited our planet and found a CD it is unclear that they would see the connection between the CD and the live concert. The fact that the two are not the same thing opens up all sorts of things beyond positivism.
    1. Reality exists but we cannot, in all probability, gain a complete knowledge of it. (Contra the scientific dogma that the real is totally intelligible (p. 204 D’Espagnat)
    2. Something lies beyond the totality of experience. It isn’t just empty.
    3. It opens the scientific mind to other conceptions that better reconcile human beings with themselves than positivism or scientific materialism.
  4. Assertions about reality post-Quantum discoveries
    1. “While independent reality refuses to tell us what it is – or what it is like – it at least condescends to let us know, to some extent, what it is not.” p. 208 D’Espagnat
      1. It doesn’t conform to schemes of mechanics
      2. It doesn’t conform to schemes of atomic materialism.
      3. It doesn’t conform to objectivist realism.
      4. We cannot hope to construct a scientifically exact model with concepts borrowed from mathematics. (p. 208 D’Espagnat)
    2. Reality is best described as “veiled”.
    3. There is an intrinsic non-locality in the quantum world. The general environment exercises an effect on quantum entities.
    4. Reality itself is prior to space-time. Irreversible time rules pertain to empirical reality. It is facts registered by a cool eye. But fundamental time of the veiled reality is not temporal in the narrow sense, not a mere ordering of phenomena but has to do with both humanity and being – it is some kind of bridge between them which we can only glimpse.
    5. The idea of art is reborn in seed of idea that independent reality is neither totally inaccessible nor totally reducible to trivial notions. p. 216 (D’Espagnat)
    6. A bit of metaphysics, rational activity not subject to demonstrative certitude, is not incoherent.
      1. It’s validity is judged by:
        1. Scope: It makes the widest possible range of phenomena intelligible.
        2. Economy: the more concise and parsimonious the strategy, the more attractive.
        3. Elegance; a lack of undue contrivances (which requires long apprenticeship to learn how to do this)
    7. Final cause becomes a possibility once again.
      1. We can return to idea of God as love acts in the manner of a final cause. (God as highest end of man and one day we will attain unity with him for all eternity) Preceded idea of God as creator or watchmaker which only developed after Galileo’s mechanistic view of reality made the idea paradoxical. p. 270 D’Espagnat



Let’s start with two by the terrific English religion writer KAREN ARMSTRONG. Her books “A History Of God: The 4000-Year Quest Of Judaism, Christianity & Islam” and “The Great Transformation: The Beginnings Of Our Religious Traditions” take deep dives into monotheism’s roots. Both are excellent.

For general background: Simon Sing’s “Big Bang: The Origin Of The Universe” and Bill Bryson’s indispensable “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” cram a lot of great knowledge into equally great writing. Pure pleasure.

Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” contextualizes human thought like few other works have.

Finally, I can’t recommend Jim Holt’s fabulous “Why Does The World Exist?” highly enough. He deftly leaps from science to theology as he attempts to answer that very tricky question.

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