Quantum theory, theology and intuition

Fascinating interview with Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw in the FT (£/reg, alas), on the eve of publication of their book The Quantum Universe.

A key quote:

Cox and Forshaw’s book is a carefully guided tour through this quantum world – but an uncompromising one. It is an attempt to popularise without dumbing down. “We both have a view that physics is understandable to everybody,” Cox says, “if you just take your time and explain it. But it shouldn’t be simpler than that.”

The same ought to be true of Christianity: we should be seeking to communicate the gospel clearly, but we shouldn’t feel embarrassed or defensive about the fact that it is not something that can be grasped easily – that it is something that needs time and explanation.

Cox’s and Forshaw’s comments on quantum theory reminded me a little of the difficulties many have with the doctrine of the Trinity:

“It’s not technically difficult, but it’s intellectually challenging in the sense that the evidence tells you you have to think in a different way,” Cox says.

Forshaw says quantum physics is so counter-intuitive that “nobody got it right first. Everybody had to have their intuition beaten out of them by the data.”

In much the same way, it took the church several hundred years to have its intuitions about God’s nature “beaten out of it” by the biblical data.

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6 thoughts on “Quantum theory, theology and intuition”

  1. “Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies – these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.” -CS
    Lewis

    1. Well, fortunately the random line breaks in that First Things post save it from any excessive clarity of communication… 😉

      Bear in mind that when I say “communicate clearly”, in the context I mean “as clearly as a popular exposition of quantum physics” – which is about as parabolic, sensory and figurative as you can get (apart from the gospel).

      In short, there’s more than one way to be clear, just as there’s more than one way to be obscure…

  2. Agreed. Ergo…

    “My dear child, I commend to you /the evangelical law of economy/ in speaking and writing: Accounting for every vain, superfluous word – and economy of style. In these two mystical words lies the whole art of thinking and living. Everything that Demosthenes was thinking of when he repeated a single word three times is for me contained in the two words /economy and style./”

    Hamann, quoted from ZH V, p. 88; cf. ZH V, p. 177 in Betz, p. 8. I could do this all day. 🙂

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