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Big Science Questions and the Gospel, Part IV: Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics makes absolutely no sense. Basically, small particles act differently depending on whether they are being watched, either by a conscious human being or a detector machine (even if the detector is turned on after it has acted). I’m not going to rehash how we know, but the more details you get the more mind blowing it is (Brian Greene’s book The Elegant Universe has the best easy read description of said details). More and more refined experiments continue to close possible loopholes, so it looks like the crazy is true (despite, among other people, Albert Einstein spending the last half of his life trying to prove it false). 

If you said that particles behave this way back before we had evidence for it people would have thought you were nuts which, a priori, should make us more humble about the possibilities in the universe. One of the less sophisticated “atheist bro” arguments points out that our every day life works according to some principle, and some religious belief violates that principle (“how can Mary get pregnant as a virgin? Check mate!”), when on a meta level quantum mechanics teaches us that our everyday operating principles are most certainly not accurate guides for peeling back layers of reality. If quantum mechanics reveals a counterintuitive reality we can measure, how much more counterintive can layers of reality be that we can’t measure? (And yes, I know that quantum mechanics is a highly developed and tested science and virgin births aren’t, but that’s a separate issue).

Additionally, perhaps because the weirdness of quantum mechanics has led to a lot of woo woo, some secularists are often eager to point out that quantum mechanics is just a par for the course scientific mechanistic worldview, but it’s really not.

If it’s atoms all the way down, and my conscious brain or a sophisticated photon detector is also fundamentally just a bunch of atoms in a particular arrangement, there’s no a priori reason why those arrangements should change the present and past actions of a particle without actually touching or otherwise directly influencing them. Quantum mechanics teaches us that abstract, non-physical concepts like “awareness,” whether by us or the detector, are fundamental to the universe, so in a sense we have already scientifically disproven the super physicalist notion that on the most fundamental level there’s nothing more special about one grouping of atoms than another, since we know that certain configurations of atoms can change the nature of reality. Ultimately, I believe quantum mechanics provides us a peek into the reality that is so much richer and capacious with possibility (including religious ones) than anything we could have imagined before.

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