Quantum Physics, Faith, and Observation

Dr. Stephen Barr, an astrophysicist at the University of Delaware, wrote a profound article titled “Faith and Quantum Theory” that has been on my mind as of late for a few reasons. The first is that as a theist much of my time is spent thinking about how to reconcile what can be seen with what cannot be seen and what to believe about both. I have found Dr. Barr’s piece  to be a fantastic justification for the belief in the metaphysical. His argument has some moving parts, but goes fundamentally something like this: the most widely accepted theory on quantum physics is dependent on probabilities, and if probabilities are to have any meaning at all to anyone, they must eventually culminate in a real event. Real events must be realized by a mind, and therefore for the natural world to have any meaning at all a Mind must have existed. This Mind is what we call God. 

 In order to explore Dr. Barr’s complex argument more deeply, I am going to write a little bit about quantum theory, only enough to get our feet wet with the idea. If you are already familiar with the fundamental theories about quantum physics, feel free to skip down to Barr’s solution.

 Disclaimer: I am not a physicist or a mathematician. Though this is a topic of interest to me, I don’t claim to be an authority on this subject. Read at your own risk…. 🙂

 Wave Particle Duality Paradox

Though there have been several Wave-Particle experiments, perhaps the most famous is Thomas Young’s experiment with electrons in 1927. It essentially demonstrated that electrons can behave as both waves (like sound waves or waves moving in water) and particles (pieces of matter). Adding further to the mystery of wave-particle duality is that once the electrons were studied more closely with measurement devices, they behaved differently than when they were not observed. The key to this experiment was that the observer of the electron made a difference in the outcome of the experiment.

 Schrodinger’s Equations

Schrodinger developed equations that essentially predicted how likely things are likely to behave like particles vs waves. His equations were remarkably accurate,  and the short and sweet of his findings is that the bigger things get, the more likely they are to behave like particles, and the smaller things get, the more likely they are to act like a wave.

If Schrodinger’s equations interest you, here is a good video to watch.

 The important thing to grasp about Schrodinger’s equations is that his equations yield probabilities, not definite realities. If Schrodinger’s equations are accurate, then they have, in Barr’s eyes, a profound philosophical implication on the very nature of Being, and would, therefore, be of ontological interest to us. Barr says,

 “It starts with the fact that for any physical system, however simple or complex, there is a master equation—called the Schrödinger equation—that describes its behavior. And the crucial point on which everything hinges is that the Schrödinger equation yields only probabilities. (Only in special cases are these exactly 0, or 100 percent.) But this immediately leads to a difficulty: There cannot always remain just probabilities; eventually there must be definite outcomes, for probabilities must be the probabilities of definite outcomes. “

 Barr goes on to explain that because physical systems are described in probabilistic terms, there must be a Mind to make any sense of anything at all:

 As long as only physical structures and mechanisms are involved, however complex, their behavior is described by equations that yield only probabilities—and once a mind is involved that can make a rational judgment of fact, and thus come to knowledge, there is certainty. Therefore, such a mind cannot be just a physical structure or mechanism completely describable by the equations of physics…A probability is a measure of someone’s state of knowledge or lack of it…”

 Barr goes on to explain that there are differing views of quantum theory that may circumvent the dependence on probability to explain the micro-world (Einstein, for example, believed that there were missing variables that would lead to definite outcomes rather than probabilities). However, if the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory is correct, I think Barr is correct in his reasoning that a Mind is required to make relevant and meaningful ontological statements about reality.  

 In conclusion, Barr believes that a Mind is necessary to make sense of the most widely accepted Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory because Schrodinger’s equations does not yield definite results, only probabilities. For those that have read this far, you may conclude two things: quantum physics can be used as a compelling argument for both free will, as probabilities best explain quantum reality, and for a Mind (God) who observes these realities.

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