Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

One of the foundations of modern quantum mechanics is the Uncertainty Principle. This principle is not an assumption, but rather is derived from assumptions made with regard to the structure of nature. The basic statement of the Uncertainty Principle, however, is that it is impossible to know the values of certain characteristics to within an arbitrary accuracy.

If the Uncertainty Principle is a fundamental aspect of the universe, one could argue that God cannot be omniscient. So far, every experiment ever tested on matter has born out the practical implications of this principle and yielded the predicted results.

What does Christianity do with these results and how does their belief in an omniscient God fit into the picture?

share|improve this question
    
See also the Jewish take on this same issue over on Mi Yodeya. –  Caleb Nov 30 '12 at 15:31
1  
While you may understand the uncertainty principle, you have misstated it. It isn't that one can't know both position and momentum simultaneously but that both cannot be defined simultaneously... this may seem like a minor difference but it's critical to the question you seem to be posing. Given Copenhagen, precision in location necessitates imprecision in momentum. This isn't because we "don't know" it's because in Copenhagen they are each described as transformations of the other. I posted this as a comment rather than an answer because it's about science, not Christianity. –  Matthew Jun 4 '13 at 21:58
    
For an alternative approach, which embraces determinism in QM, consider the work of David Bohm. His framework "allows" for a deterministic reality that poses no affront to omniscience. As a theoretical physicist you understand that QM doesn't inherently describe "reality" but is a framework by which we can study the consequences of quantum behavior. –  Matthew Jun 4 '13 at 22:02
add comment

10 Answers

up vote 36 down vote accepted

To date, every test science has been able to make has been done on the created universe1. It is not possible to run the tests on the person or being of the creator directly. Thus what we know about God we derive from what He reveals to us2. His creation still tells us something about Him, but they are deductions from nature. Nature itself is not God3 and God is not bound to the rules of nature. On the contrary, rather than God existing somewhere inside the created universe and thus being bound to it's rules, the created universe exists IN him and thus is bound to obey the rules that He sets for it4. Likewise all things continue in Him and he upholds those laws as He sees fit, every second5.

  1. Hebrews 11:3 (ESV) By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

  2. Romans 1:20 (ESV) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

  3. Romans 1:25 (ESV) ...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

  4. Colossians 1:16 (ESV) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

  5. Colossians 1:17 (ESV) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

share|improve this answer
1  
@AdamRedwine: Logic is not the same thing as the laws of physics. Yes, I believe God is and always will be logically consistent. In fact I believe logic itself presupposes and depends on an orderly universe. Also you said yourself that the principle in question is derived from assumptions made with regard to the structure of nature. This is is also a kind of presuppositional logic that we also use, but with different assumptions to seed the pot. –  Caleb Sep 1 '11 at 20:43
5  
Great answer, @Caleb. We're in the age of uncertainty. Heisenberg and the quantum mechanicians taught us we can't measure with certainty. Godel taught us that our systems of logic are inherently limited. Cantor taught us that we can't even COUNT reality. Where does that leave us? Admitting that there is more in heaven and on earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy. –  user116 Sep 2 '11 at 0:23
1  
This answer makes no sense. If Nature is "in God" as you say, then by measuring Nature, we also measure God, at least partially. Thus, we know more about God through science. On the other hand you explicitly contradict this in the first part of the answer. Which is which? Is God knowable through science or not? Is Nature part of God or not? –  Sklivvz Sep 2 '11 at 7:24
1  
The fundamental reason that the HUP (and other natural laws) do not constrain God is that, as stated in the answer, He is not a member of the physical universe. Whether or not the universe exists in Him is irrelevant. As a computer programmer, I create programs that operate within the bounds that I have prescribed. This means that the programs can only do what I say that they can do (note that this doesn't necessarily imply that I mean to say everything the way I do!), but that does not constrain me. I can inspect or change any aspect of a running program at any time. –  Adam Robinson Sep 2 '11 at 15:09
1  
I certainly don't mean to reduce the complexity of creation to a simple analogy, but I think it's fitting in this particular case. Since the HUP is a logical deduction based on what we call "measurement", and it's only necessarily true for that particular definition. There is no need to assume that God would use the same means in order to "know" things about the universe. –  Adam Robinson Sep 2 '11 at 15:12
show 3 more comments

The apparent contradiction comes from the fact that you are misunderstanding the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. From Wikipedia:

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states precise inequalities that constrain certain pairs of physical properties, such as measuring the present position while determining future momentum of a particle.

Of course, God does not have to measure the present position of an atom, or its velocity, to know those values - precisely because he is omniscient!

share|improve this answer
3  
I have degrees in theoretical physics and nuclear engineering, I am quite confident that I did not misunderstand the Uncertainty Principle. –  AdamRedwine Sep 1 '11 at 21:20
3  
That doesn't really help move the discussion forward. If you define divine omniscience as "God knowing all that it is possible to know", though, it should resolve your objection, and hardly does any damage to Christian theology. –  gmoothart Sep 1 '11 at 21:29
1  
On further reflection, I think I'd rather define omniscience as "God knowing all true propositions". I still don't see how the uncertainty principle infringes in any way on divine omniscience. –  gmoothart Sep 1 '11 at 21:41
1  
Note: <remaining comments removed> -- Once these comment threads veer from helping or clarifying the original post, it's time to bring these "conversations" to chat. Please stop using comments for on-going discussion. Thank you. –  Robert Cartaino Sep 2 '11 at 13:49
add comment

We are limited by our perceptions. Have you heard the old mathematical thought experiment about an existence where everything was restricted to a two-dimensional plane, and if a sphere were to pass through this plane, it would appear to be a circle that grows larger and smaller without any discernible cause for its change in size?

If we keep this concept in mind and extrapolate a bit further out, it's not difficult to conceive of God as a being capable of measuring and understanding things that we, trapped as we are within our limited nature, are not capable of measuring and understanding.

We're also limited by our knowledge and our vocabulary. The concept of infinity is not something that we have any consistent way to reason about, especially not when mixing it with finite concepts, without arriving at bizarre contradictions. So attributing infinite attributes to God and then attempting to analyze him with finite logic is an exercise in futility. For all I know, maybe God can't get around the Uncertainty Principle, but he knows enough about how the universe works that he doesn't need to. Or maybe he understands some higher principle that we don't know about. Either way, it's kind of pointless to speculate about; something like this doesn't affect our salvation one way or the other.

The way I understand omniscience and omnipotence is that God has all the knowledge and power necessary to fulfill his will and bring to pass his plan, and that's enough to serve as a foundation for my faith. The details of exactly where the boundaries, if any, lie are irrelevant.

share|improve this answer
1  
The thought experiment is well known, but tragically flawed. I have written about the physics of extra dimensions and would be happy to share if you have a suggested forum. –  AdamRedwine Sep 1 '11 at 21:21
1  
@AdamRedwine: Is this material you can link us to? If so I think it would be acceptable to do so in a comment here. –  Caleb Sep 2 '11 at 9:11
    
@Caleb: Sorry it took me so long to get back to this. You are invited to read my Facebook note on the subject (facebook.com/note.php?note_id=110029810831). You might be interested in a few of my notes there. –  AdamRedwine Oct 20 '11 at 22:04
add comment

To state it simply, this question takes the presupposition that God, the author of creation, is bound by the laws he created for this universe. And he simply is not so bound. He is outside of this creation. Not only that, but he sustains this creation by his will - were it not for his continuing upholding of it, it would pop out of existence, quite possibly with the same Big Bang with which it popped in.

share|improve this answer
add comment

There have been several objections to Heisenberg and Bohr's interpretation of the Uncertainty Principle, most notably the work of Albert Einstein and Karl Popper. In the end it comes down to a question of belief - does the uncertainty principle only provide a mathematical description of a deterministic reality, or does reality really act that way? So even among prominent scientists, the question of what the Uncertainty Principle means at a metaphysical level is unresolved.

However, I don't believe that deterministic reality vs non is the most important determinant of the answer to this question. God created the universe and continually sustains it - there aren't waves and particles and whatnot apart from him, and there's no reason his reality can't be based on quantum formulae rather than just being a constant. He's not a "big guy with a beard sitting on a mountain somewhere observing," with the parts of the universe being somehow separated from him. The universe is (not in origin, but every second of every day) because He is. If it's just a probability cloud, he provides and understands that probability cloud.

share|improve this answer
    
The dream of the red king huh? –  AdamRedwine Sep 1 '11 at 21:17
1  
No, the HUP is proven beyond doubt (and accepted by Einstein). Popper is not a physicist... And it's NOT up to belief. It can be proven with a practical experiment the it does NOT merely represent ignorance of an underlying clockwork system. Please do not speculate about scientific facts you are not proficient in. –  Sklivvz Sep 2 '11 at 7:18
3  
The HUP is proven, but there are different interpretations of it, as you should well know. –  mxyzplk Sep 2 '11 at 11:39
add comment

The way I "square this fact" with my "belief in an omniscient God", is that since God created the universe, dimensions, time, etc, then He exists outside of them. What is uncertain to us is known to Him.

Referencing an article I wrote a few years ago,

Perhaps God is infinite to us, and to all who interact with Him, because He exists above the dimensions we can experience. If a planar projection is the shadow of a three-dimensional object, could it be that we, as three-dimensional objects, are projections or shadows of the fourth dimension in which we exist, that of time? And perhaps, since God created time for us, He exists in a realm above that of time. Certainly, if He has existed – eternally – since before time began, and will continue to exists eternally into the future, He can’t be bound by time (which would be irrational since He made it: you can’t really be bound by something you create).

share|improve this answer
    
My comment to Caleb applies also to you. The Uncertainty Principle is a logical conclusion based on the structure of the universe. You can say that you think the structure is different that the accepted model, but if you accept the standard model, you can't just say that what is uncertain to you is certain to him; that's not logical. –  AdamRedwine Sep 1 '11 at 20:22
    
@AdamRedwine - do you accept God created the universe? If so, then the conclusion that he is bound by it is irrational - how else could miracles have taken place (raising the dead, feeding the 5000, walking on water, etc etc)? –  warren Sep 1 '11 at 20:28
    
No, I do not accept that God created the universe. Nor do I accept any miracle claims. –  AdamRedwine Sep 1 '11 at 21:20
4  
@AdemRedwine, then we have a different presuppositional basis, and one that will ensure you won't find an answer –  warren Sep 1 '11 at 21:22
add comment

If you take the matter wave interpretation of quantum mechanics, the problem with the uncertainty principle is not that the measurements are imprecise, but that the actual distribution of the position and wavelength of a particle cannot be reduced to zero at the same time. So it can be viewed not that the momentum is unknown if the position is exactly fixed, but that the momentum is actually undetermined.

In that case, the uncertainty of momentum might not be a failure of knowledge, but simply a property of the object (which itself might be well known and understood), and therefore not be a problem for omniscience.

share|improve this answer
1  
This is true no matter the interpretation: HUP is fundamental to QM and is never a matter of measurement. –  Sklivvz Sep 2 '11 at 7:27
    
Thanks for the feedback, I don't know much physics (I'm a math person). Uncertainty principles also show up in areas of math such as Fourier analysis, where the problem certainly isn't ignorance (I think we understand sin(x) pretty well), but the definedness of the property in question for a function. –  Snarkyxanf Sep 2 '11 at 15:56
add comment

Christians don't hold a personal philosophy that revolves around which way an electron spins about its axis or doesn't spin or just disappears completely.

If monks spent all day contemplating the electron instead of contemplating Christ they would by hard pressed to find any joy in their vocation.

Suppose for instance that 3 postulants at St. Therese of Lisieux priory in Chattanooga, TN were assigned the task of completing a 9 day novena starting on March 16th and ending on March 25th (The Feast of The Annunciation).

The novena was to consist of being assigned one freshly minted hydrogen atom (a New Atom, if you will) and contemplating it, mediating on its mysteries. Then they were to report their findings to the abbot.

The first postulant went to his chamber and got out his microscope, at first he didn't see anything but upon further inspection he noticed an electron that spun around in a normal and ordered way. He concluded that God made the universe and set it in motion and knows all the possible outcomes. "God must be all knowing," he said to the abbot.

The second postulant went to his chamber and got out his microscope, he saw an electron right away but it was moving in a way he didn't expect. He leaned over closer and the cross around his neck popped out of his robes and the electron popped off it and bonded to a radioactive cobalt isotope in his cross which was otherwise going to poison him and give him cancer. "God must be all merciful," he said to the abbot.

The third postulant went to his chamber and got out his microscope, he didn't see anything at all. Then his chamber exploded and he was put in the infirmary until the end of Lent. Somehow the first and second postulants managed to track down the atom and brought it to him after Holy Thursday Mass. He examined it in the microscope and he saw 3 electrons spinning in perfect harmony around the atom. "God must be all powerful," he said to the abbot and his friends.

(And that, my friend is why we call the three days before Easter the Tritium, or in some circles Triduum)

The abbot concluded that they were all of them correct, but felt there must be a deeper mystery connecting the three findings. He never was able to find out what it was but he did come to a deeper understanding of God.

share|improve this answer
7  
I don't think that is a fair generalization of Christianity. I for one do believe in it in the same way I believe in gravity: it is an observation of the way things work in the created universe. My "believing in gravity" helps me considerably in my practical interactions with it. The uncertainty principle is no different. What I do not believe is that God is a part of His created universe and thus bound by it's "laws" -- laws that I believe He created and upholds in so far as that is His will. Thus I think the scope of the principle (however true for humans) cannot and does not apply to God. –  Caleb Sep 1 '11 at 21:52
1  
@caleb yeah, by 'believe' I mean 'put your faith in' or 'align your life to the ideal of' or 'propose as a meaning for everything'. Christians should be able to be completely illiterate and unscientific and have all the tools at their disposal for salvation. A person who puts their faith in science is at least as bad as a person who puts their faith in horses or princes. –  Peter Turner Sep 1 '11 at 21:57
4  
@Peter, you're not speaking for me in this answer. –  user116 Sep 2 '11 at 0:28
3  
@Peter: Then you really ought to edit your answer, because as written it reads as "Christians don't accept the validity of the uncertainty principle and we think those who do are fools," which makes you look bad and gives those who oppose us more ammunition. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 2 '11 at 2:17
2  
@Adam: which hints at the core problem with questions on Christians vs. Christianity: they risk turning into opinion polls rather than inspiring reasoned answers. And yes, I'm being a bit pedantic on this, but I've seen this tendency cause problems on other sites unless handled with care. –  Shog9 Sep 2 '11 at 14:51
show 3 more comments

The U.P. isn't a law about what can and can't be measured; it's a principle about what properties a particle actually has. A particle DOESN'T HAVE a precise position and a precise momentum at the same time. A particle DOESN'T HAVE an exact amount of energy at an exact time. The notion that a particle might have a precise position is a misconception, due to humans attempting to apply macroscopic concepts to microscopic entities.

Therefore, when speaking about the position, or momentum, or energy of a very small particle, there's nothing for an omniscient being to know. It's like asking whether God knows the colour of unicorns.

share|improve this answer
    
Snarkyxanf had similar reasoning and, while it is a reasonable position, it is not shared by all physicists. Thanks for the answer. –  AdamRedwine Feb 20 '12 at 22:41
add comment

The more you will learn about Quantum Mechanics, Infinity, Zero, One, Pi, and Randomness, the more you'll understand the omniscience of God in relation to the Uncertainty Principle.

Math, Science, Logic, and Reasoning are only bound to some point of certainties. And we humans are really good in these stuffs because that's what we can comprehend the most. But we cannot deny the fact that uncertainties do exist.

For example:

  • Trust
  • Faith
  • Hope

Although these uncertainties can't be measured accurately by any tool yet they play great roles in Science.

I trust the results of this journal/paper, so I'm gonna include it in my references. I have faith that this research will get published. And I hope in some ways I will be able to contribute to Science.

These uncertainties are driving us all the time without us knowing. Which is very powerful.

For me as a Christian, that's how I understand the omniscience of God in relation to the Uncertainty Principle

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to the site! This next is just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites?, and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Mar 8 at 1:13
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.