Quantum Mechanics and the Bible
Can concepts in quantum mechanics aid our understanding of the spiritual world?
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“If we are seeking to serve the God of truth then we should really welcome truth from whatever source it comes” [John Polkinghorne, professor of mathematical physics, Cambridge, and Parish Priest]
Quantum mechanics claims that the electron can be a “superposition” of several states and places simultaneously. It is formless and lacks location (possessing only energy) until it is observed in some way. Can this superposition concept be applied to the spirit world mentioned in the Bible? The Bible claims God is Spirit and is invisible and formless – even illusory – to the human observer. Does quantum superposition help explain why God is simultaneously everywhere, as claimed in the Bible? And, given different earthly observation scenarios, does quantum superposition help explain how the formless God (an objective reality) can appear as a subjective reality i.e. visible to mankind via Jesus Christ?
Similarly, can the quantum mechanical concept of “entanglement” be applied to the interaction of Jesus with men? Can it help explain the healing of someone distant from the healer (Jesus)? Or can entanglement help explain Jesus’ instantaneous understanding of a man’s thoughts? And does the quantum concept that everything reduces to “energy and information” help explain the immense energy and implied understanding/design we observe in the universe today?
This article first summarises some basic quantum physics, and then postulates how these concepts might be applied to the biblical text.
What does Quantum Mechanics say about Reality?
Today science grapples with the concept of ‘reality’. It asks, “Is what we perceive around us real, or an illusion?” To quote Albert Einstein:
Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.
Some argue that there is both objective reality, and subjective reality, link. Objective reality means that something actually exists, independently of the human mind. For example, a computer game might be there in reality, but is only seen to exist when it is played i.e. observed by the mind. Otherwise the game is formless.
Likewise, we can ask “Does the electron actually exist?” It turns out that the electron has no internal structure and no physical size. But it does have energy. For example, if an electron is in the first energy level of a hydrogen atom (there are five levels), it must have exactly -13.6 eV of energy. But apart from it’s energy, the electron seems formless and illusory, link. Like the computer program, it only takes on form when it is observed – as in the famous Double-Slit Experiment. This demonstrates that electron “particles” fired at a double-slit screen actually behave as “waves” at the detector (wave-particle duality).
Because it is difficult to observe something that does not involve the mind, some maintain that objective reality does not actually exist. It is formless and only when observed by the mind is there form, link. When the description of something depends upon the mind it is called subjective reality, link. The scent of a flower is subjective reality since it depends upon the observer.
See also how Reality can be used to test the truth of the Bible.
in Quantum Mechanics
The Copenhagen Interpretation
The Copenhagen Interpretation deals with the question “why the same quantum ‘object’ may behave in different ways”. It states:
A quantum object doesn’t exist in just one state or another e.g. wave or particle, but in all of its possible states at once. It’s only when we observe its state that a quantum object is essentially forced to choose one probability, and that’s the state that we observe. [ Niels Bohr, 1920 ]
- Electrons possess a quantum feature called spin. In the presence of a magnetic field, the electron may exist in two possible spin states, and each electron, until it is measured, will have a finite chance of being in either state. Only when measured is it observed to be in a specific spin state.
- Similarly, superposition can be thought of as an equation that has more than one solution. When we solve x 2 = 4, x is in state 2 or –2 simultaneously.
- Classical computers encode information in binary bits (1’s and 0’s). In contrast, quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits) . A qubit can be in a superposition of 1 and 0 simultaneously, until its state is measured. Qubits are made using physical systems, such as the spin of an electron.
It is claimed that superposition is only possible if everything is energy at the most fundamental level, link.
Quantum effects tend to be easily disturbed. So setting up superpositions gets rapidly harder as the objects get bigger. That said, researchers have been steadily increasing the size at which superpositions can still be observed, link. Some claim that quantum superposition remains possible at the distances and timescales of everyday life, link, link. Others argue that quantum physics is really the study of how our universe works at its most fundamental level, regardless of size, link.
It should be pointed out that the quantum physicist David Bohm disagreed with the Copenhagen Interpretation, link. He proposed that particles are indeed particles – and at all times, not just when they are observed in a certain way (see later).
Visible Reality needs Observation
Bohr’s theory makes human observers the cause for an object to take a determined form i.e. it doesn’t continue to exist in all states while it is being observed. Moreover, reality is what you choose it to be, link, which implies that two observers may see two different objects. In other words, in the macro world reality is really subjective rather than objective (where all agree on the object).
To reiterate, according to Bohr, “reality” – the world as we know it – can only take place if some sort of measurement or observation takes place on the macro (human) level of existence. In other words, a particle becomes “real” only when observed, when we use the mind. Unless there is human interaction, so-called “particles” remain in a probabilistic energy-wave state and never ‘actualize’ in particle form at all. The total of all possible states in which an object can exist (e.g. wave or particle) makes up the object’s wave function.
Erratic Behaviour – Lack of Predictability
When an object is observed, superposition collapses and the object is forced into one of the states of its wave function. For instance, a coin can be heads or tails, but until we actually observe it, the coin can be considered to be in two states. Similarly, a quantum of light, or photon, will act as a wave or a particle depending on how we choose to measure, link, link. As discussed, this seemingly erratic behaviour is seen in the “Double-Slit Experiment” for an electron beam. Electrons arrive at the slit as particles, but the slit generates an interference pattern as though they were arriving as waves!
So a quantum particle behaves erratically in the sense that it is the quantum ‘system’ which chooses which state to manifest into, not the observer, link. At the current time, physicists don’t understand how systems “choose” which state to manifest into. No outside factor has been identified which causes this choice. There is no “cause” that precedes the observed “effect”.
That said, why is this erratic quantum behaviour not always apparent at the macro level? In particular, if observations really do make reality happen, why do our many observations all agree on one version of the Universe?
in Quantum Mechanics
Entanglement is another curious concept in quantum mechanics, link, link. Once particles like electrons have interacted they become ‘entangled’ so that what happens to one particle instantaneously affects the other no matter how far apart they are. The choice of measurement in one location appears to affect the state of the system in the other location, link. Since the communication of information is restricted to the speed of light (Einstein’s Special Relativity), some claim that this form of interaction between particles can only happen on the basis of their “sub-atomic energy“.
Looked at another way, some claim that particles are not communicating with each other across great distances and there is no faster-than-light communications. Yet quantum mechanics permits instantaneous connections between distant objects [Bell’s Theorem, 1964]. It is claimed “there can be correlation without communication” and the particles can be thought of as one object. Even when hundreds of particles become entangled, they still act as one unified object, link.
Whatever the mechanism, entanglement is real and passes test after test. It is thought to take place throughout nature, among the atoms and molecules in living species and within metals and other materials. Research is extending quantum entanglement to the macroscale, link.
One experiment used green fluorescent proteins (those responsible for bioluminescence) to demonstrate “polarization entanglement” between photon pairs. A change in the vertical or horizontal polarization of one particle was instantaneously reflected in the other particle. Since it’s possible to create quantum entanglement from biological particles, it becomes possible to make a biological substrate of entangled particles which can be used to build quantum computers, link, or an extremely fast and secure “quantum Internet”, link.
Summarising: entanglement produces correlation between the measurements and the mutual information between the entangled particles can be exploited. But since any transmission of information at faster-than-light speeds is impossible, then particles cannot be communicating with each other in the normal sense of the term.
Reality, Energy and Information
As discussed, reality (or more accurately, subjective reality) as we experience it seems to be the result of human consciousness interfacing with quantum levels of existence that are pure waves of energy. For instance, photons are tiny packets of energy that make up light and radiation. Moreover, this energy is best understood as information and what we think is real is actually only information that the brain receives and translates into a picture which we call (subjective) reality. So it is argued that, at the end of the day, “everything is energy and information”, link.
The physicist John Wheeler coined the phrase, “It from bit”, which encapsulates what a lot of physicists have come to believe: namely:
Tangible physical reality (the “It”) is ultimately made from information, defined in terms of (information) bits, link.
So in answer to the question: “How come existence?” Wheeler concluded that “Everything is Information – all things physical are information-theoretic in origin”, link. Information should really be put at the base, and matter, being derived from information, is on top of the pyramid: information is real, and matter is an illusion, link. Put another way, in order to define reality, it is necessary to take into account the role of information. Not surprisingly, information links to the concept of entropy, a measure of disorder whose irresistible rise seems to characterise our observed universe.
Bohm’s Reality Model
This model supports the concept that “everything is energy and information”, and Wheeler’s concept that “reality is ultimately made from information”. Theoretical physicist David Bohm proposed a new model of reality called the “Implicate Order”. The theory contains an ultra-holistic cosmic view; it connects everything with everything else. In principle, any individual element could reveal detailed information about every other element in the universe. The information of the entire universe is contained holographically and energetically in every single cell. The central underlying theme of Bohm’s theory is the “unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders.”
Bohm’s “Implicate Order” has been recorded in the complex movement of electromagnetic fields, in the form of light waves. The theory attempts to explain the bizarre behaviour when two subatomic particles that have once interacted (entangled) can instantaneously respond to each other’s motions thousands of years later when they are light-years apart. Bohm claims that this sort of particle interconnectedness requires “superluminal signalling” which is faster than the speed of light.
At the very depths of all existence Bohm believed that there exists “an immense background of energy.” He also believed that there is an underlying cosmic intelligence that supplies the information. For Bohm, intelligence was at the very core of the Implicate Order!
What is the implication of Wheeler’s “It from bit”? It implies that quantum mechanics isn’t really about reality, but just our best description of what we observe. Put another way, quantum mechanics tries to use the physics of things at the atomic level to create effects in the macroscopic world – the observable world. Unfortunately, quantum mechanics is still fuzzy about reality. As Einstein said before he died, “I’d be happy to know what an electron really is”.
But today we can summarise some key quantum concepts:
- Macro reality (what we see) is really subjective reality since the observed form is the result of observer interaction
- Quantum superposition and quantum entanglement are claimed to be extendable to the macroscopic scale
- Superposition collapses to a particular, observable state, but that state is not determined by the observer
- Everything reduces to energy and information
- All things physical are information-theoretic in origin: reality is ultimately made from information (which has been postulated to come from an underlying cosmic intelligence)
- At the very depths of all existence there exists “an immense background of energy”
Can these concepts help explain some biblical concepts, like the “physical” and “spiritual” worlds? Does quantum mechanics suggest that the observed physical world (a subjective reality) is only one state of a so-called ‘God-system’ – a non-negotiable objective reality? And is this objective reality an invisible, intangible, energy-interconnected existence based on unfathomably immense energy which we call the spiritual world? The Bible states that such a world exists (Luke 2:13).
Let’s examine possible correlations between concepts in quantum mechanics and concepts and events in the Bible.
Reality in the Bible
The Bible states that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) and is “invisible” to the physical observer (1 Colossians 1:15). Bible believers take this as “objective” reality – an undisputed fact, independent of human mind. God IS, period. But, as in the case of the electron, the invisible God seems formless and even illusory – until observed.
Using quantum concepts, such a formless unobserved God can be given form through observer interaction. The Bible claims that God in the form of Jesus appeared in various forms depending upon the situation/observer. These were different, “subjective” realities. For instance, Jesus appeared to John exiled on Patmos in supernatural radiance (Revelation 1:9-17). In this case John observed “in the Spirit” rather than from an earthly context.
Similarly, the form of Jesus changed from that of a normal man to a radiant Being when His disciples were with Him on the high mountain (Matthew 17:1-2). It seems Peter, James and John were placed in a particular observation scenario (up a high mountain) in order to see a particular form of God’s reality. Then, given another observation scenario, Jesus suddenly appeared in recognisable physical (but immortal) form as the disciples were gathered behind closed doors (John 20:24-29).
So, using concepts of quantum mechanics, it seems the invisible, formless God of the Bible (an objective reality) can be observed in several subjective realities, depending upon the observer scenario.
Superposition in the Bible
Superposition is defined as the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states or places at the same time, until it is ‘measured’. Is the concept of superposition in a quantum system extendable to a so-called God system described in the Bible (for want of a better term)? Suppose the God system of the Bible can ‘exist’ in several ‘states’, and when God is ‘observed’ then one of these states presents itself as subjective reality. Let State1 be a spiritual state, State 2 be a physical state, and States 3 and 4 be intermediate types of state. These four states could be viewed as the wave function of God, and, in principle, one will be selected upon observation.
State 1: After His resurrection, Jesus ascended to “fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). His invisible presence once more became universal and formless and the question of His location seems irrelevant. As at creation (John 1:1-2) His state was again a spiritual state (1 Corinthians 15:45). Let this be State 1. Does this imply that, when Jesus is formless – a purely unseen spiritual Being – then Jesus can be in multiple places simultaneously? Many believers certainly hope so. After all, Jesus said: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) – a promise to millions of believers today. Superposition helps to explain this mystery.
State 2: According to Bohr’s theory, superposition collapses when the system is observed. At this point just one of the several God-states appears as subjective reality. For example, State 2 appeared when Jesus is seen as a man discoursing amongst the Jews. He famously said “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). He was claiming His true spiritual identity (State 1), where He could be in multiple places simultaneously. But when He appeared physically to the Jews, superposition collapsed and His eternal Spirit nature was hidden. So when Jesus claimed He was before Abraham, His State1 identity was not apparent to the Jews, and they rejected Him.
States 3 and 4: There are several biblical texts which suggest that the so-called God system might appear to observers as a combination of State 1 and State 2; call it State 3. For example, as mentioned, at His transfiguration, Jesus’ body appeared to change to a brilliantly radiant God-like form, whilst retaining some human form (Matthew 17:1-2). Did the disciples briefly observed a unique and rare state of God? Again, when suddenly observed by His disciples after His resurrection (John 20:24-29, Luke 24:36-43), Jesus took on a unique form; call it State 4. He suddenly came through closed doors, but still ate a piece of fish in their presence.
It is important to remember that, when men observed states 2, 3 and 4, the essence of God (State 1) was still there, but unobserved. These observed states were images or reflections of the invisible God, (Colossians 1:15). But exactly how states 2,3 or 4 are chosen seems to be determined by the so-called ‘God system’. As occurs today, the historical followers of Jesus did not initiate, nor had control over the actual manifestation they observed. As discussed, unpredictability is a fundamental feature of the collapse of superposition.
Entanglement in the Bible
This is the ability for something to influence an “entangled” partner instantaneously and predictably, irrespective of distance. In other words, entanglement produces correlation (predictability) between the measurements. Entanglement is often regarded as a uniquely quantum-mechanical phenomenon, but it is not, link. Entanglement is real and passes test after test. So here we extend the concept beyond the quantum scale.
Consider some biblical events that may reflect entanglement:
1. Jesus repeatedly said “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). This is understood to mean one in action, thought and Being. Is this an illustration of “biblical entanglement”, where both elements of the Godhead (God the Father and God the Son) act as ‘one unified object’ – a cornerstone of quantum entanglement?
2. When Jesus healed the centurion’s servant remotely, the man was healed ‘at the same hour’ (probably instantaneously) at home (Matthew 8:5-13). In this instance, Jesus appears to have ‘entangled’ with the servant in the sense that His will for healing was mirrored in the servant’s healing. There was a predictability (of healing) in this entanglement. But, as with the physics of entanglement, Jesus’ healing mechanism remains a mystery.
3. God chose Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Clearly they were ‘entangled’ in purpose. So when Joshua needed more time to defeat the Amorites he commanded the sun and moon to ‘stand still’ (Joshua 10:12-13). Here we have two ‘particles’, one (Joshua) influencing the other (God), and when Joshua spoke in faith God’s response was predicable. As with healing, the mechanism of conveying Joshua’s command is a mystery.
4. Another example of what might be called ‘biblical entanglement’ can be seen in Psalm 139. Here the Psalmist David is amazed how God understands his thoughts, even “from afar”. Distance no problem. Also, God’s understanding seems instantaneous in the sense that what David is about to say is already known (verse 4). As in quantum physics, the mechanism of understanding is unknown.
5. In Psalm 139 we have the three key elements of entanglement: 1) two ‘particles’ (God and David) who have interacted and become entangled, namely, God chose David as king, and David trusted God, 2) God somehow conveys positive information to David, assuring him of His amazing Father-like care for him i.e. one ‘particle’ in the entanglement affects the other, seemingly instantaneously, 3) an unknown mechanism of conveying this assurance/information.
6. Jesus, being hungry, looked for fruit on a nearby fig tree (Matthew 21:18-19). But when He failed to find any He pronounced that the fig tree would never again bear fruit. To the amazement of the disciples, the fig tree immediately withered away. This event again has the elements of entanglement: 1) Jesus was entangled with the fig tree in the sense that it was part of His creation; 2) His pronouncement of death on the tree was instantaneously carried out (there was correlation); 3) again, the mechanism of conveying this command is unknown.
7. One of the strongest examples of biblical entanglement concerns the conveyance of absolute truth (information generated by some transcendent intelligence). In John 16:5-15 we again see the three key elements of entanglement: 1) the information source or ‘particle’ (the Holy Spirit), 2) the recipient ‘particle’ (believers, wherever they are, distance no object), and 3) an unknown mechanism of conveying this truth/information.
Energy, Information and Intelligence
Quantum physics claims that “everything is energy”. What does this mean? Using the concepts of positive and negative energy it is argued that the total energy in the universe is probably zero, link. This is because the “positive energy” in light, matter and antimatter is cancelled by the “negative energy” stored in the gravitational attraction between positive energy particles.
But when considered on a more local scale the available energy is huge. For example, the energy released by a thunderstorm is comparable to that of an atomic bomb, link. And this is dwarfed by the suns’ energy generation. The extreme pressure and temperature that exists within the sun’s core converts hydrogen atoms into nuclei of helium. This fusion process results in a mass–energy conversion rate of 4.26 million metric tons per second, producing the equivalent of nearly 1011 megatons of TNT per second (the “megaton (of TNT)” is a unit of energy), link .
Without the sun’s energy, life on earth would be impossible. And the energy needed to “dissolve the host of heaven and roll up the heavens like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4) is simply unimaginable. As theoretical physicist David Bohm remarked: “At the very depths of all existence there exists “an immense background of energy.”
Clearly, the fundamental component of creation is energy, as quantum mechanics suggests.
Information and Intelligence
Information is essentially raw data (‘the facts’), whilst Intelligence can be viewed as processed or analysed information. Bohm expressed this in reverse and believed that there is an underlying cosmic intelligence that supplies the information. Similarly, understanding and wisdom can be seen as the ability to analyse and place information in context to form a big picture. The Bible stresses the importance of understanding and wisdom:
- In Him [God] lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)
- The earth and the heavens are established by wisdom and understanding i.e. intelligence (Proverbs 3:19)
- Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding (Proverbs 4:7)
- God’s understanding is infinite: He even names the stars (Psalm 147:4-5)
Job chapter 38 describes God’s great understanding when it came to the creation of the earth and the heavenly constellations.
Clearly, as Wheeler concluded, information is the bedrock of our understanding of the physical world.
Concepts in quantum mechanics, like reality, energy, information, superposition and entanglement appear to apply to the real world, to (subjective) reality. For example, entanglement is thought to take place throughout nature, among the atoms and molecules in living species and within metals and other materials. A substrate of entangled particles could be used to build quantum computers.
So it is logical to ask if these quantum concepts can be seen in the biblical text. At the very least they raise some interesting questions. For example, quantum superposition might be a crude but useful aid to understanding the universality and objective reality of the invisible God, whilst also helping to explain the different forms of God’s subjective reality as seen in Jesus (especially after His resurrection). The different and unexpected appearances of Jesus before and after His resurrection seem to echo the unpredictability of the actual observed state after the collapse of quantum superposition.
Similarly, quantum entanglement might aid understanding of the unity of the Godhead/deity of Christ, the instantaneous healing over distance (remote healing), and God’s perfect and instantaneous understanding of human thought? Also, does the quantum claim that “all things physical are information-theoretic in origin” support the implication in Job 38 that God created the physical universe through His immense knowledge (bearing in mind that knowledge is processed information)? And do biblical claims of God’s immense power align with the quantum claim that “an immense background of energy” is at the depths of all existence (noting that ‘power’ is the rate of energy transfer)?