In today’s secular western world, science is commonly held to be the ‘truth’. Anything that contradicts it is therefore held to be false, and so the atheistic views of well known scientists such as Richard Dawkins are held up as proof that science and God are at odds. Science is perceived to be reasonable, empirical and verifiable and therefore it is a generally held view that any educated and intelligent person cannot help but follow the prevailing scientific view of the world. Religion, on the other hand, is seen at best as blind faith and at worse a mixture of ignorance and barbarity. Yet if we ignore the hype and the hysteria, there is a fair amount of scientific evidence that points to the existence of a spiritual dimension to the world. Quantum, has pointed to the existence of a supernatural, intelligent, conscious observer which (who?) exists outside of the universe. This would be, in most people’s book, be God, or at least a god. The experiment which points to this external observer is, of course, the infamous double slit experiment.
For those who are unfamiliar with this, Jim Al Khalili (an atheist and President of the British Humanist Association) has a very good video briefly describing this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9tKncAdlHQ). One of the conclusions he draws from the experiment is that an electron choses to behave as a wave or a particle depending on whether it is observed. In fact, some interpretations state that the electron does not really exists, but is instead a wave of probability until it is observed, at which point it decides how and where to exist. This is known as collapsing the wave function. ‘The electron seems to spring into existence as a real object only when we observe it!’ Heinz Pagel, 1981. This is part of what is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics.
All well and good, you might say, but what has some esoteric experiment got to do with the real world in which we live. Well of course, the experiment is very much part of the outside world. Everything is made up of atoms, all of which have electrons. We, as people are made of, among other things, electrons. If the existence of electrons is dependent upon an external observer, how are we then called into being? Presumably interactions with the world outside the observer. And what makes the world outside the observer real? Presumably the universe observing the world. Take the Copenhagen Interpretation literally, and you can state that a single speck of dust exists because the entire universe is observing it.
But what makes the universe real? Some cosmologists, including Stephen Hawking in his book, A Brief History of Time, worry that this implies that there must be ‘something’ outside of the universe observing it in order to collapse it’s probability wave function. As I have mentioned earlier, this ‘something’ sounds an awful lot like what most people would call God.
Quantum theory is also based upon Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy. This contradicts the old materialistic Newtonian view in which the universe ran in accordance with absolute laws of nature along predetermined grooves that could be predicted with certainty and precluded the possibility of any non physical ‘interferences’, and if taken to its logical conclusion, the concept of free will. Heisenberg, however, essentially says that at a quantum level nature is ‘open’; that there are many potential paths the universe can take and often nothing physical determines which one is taken.Vacuum fluctuations are an example. In a vacuum subatomic particles such as quarks will appear and disappear (which is impossible because by definition a vacuum is empty) with no apparent logic or pattern. The question therefore is, unless we accept that such particles are conscious and are able to manifest themselves at will of their own volition, what does influence them? What (or who) is the Prime Mover (with apologies to Thomas Aquinas rather than Aristotle)?
Moreover there is the principle of non locality. This essentially says that two subatomic particles at different ends of the universe will instantly respond each other’s behaviour. That’s instantly. Not very, very quickly, but instantly. It is as if they were joined by something, but since nothing physical can travel faster than the speed of light, and we know it would take many light years for anything to travel to the nearest galaxy, the question is, by what? Science would seem to imply, if not require a non physical (or spiritual) realm in order to make sense of this. In essence, science, a materialistic philosophy, is leading us to a non materialistic view of the world. This isn’t so much God being invoked to explain the holes in knowledge or understanding, but literally because materialistic concepts are unable in principle to make sense of ideas like quantum.
The more we learn, the more we realise how much we don’t know and what lies beyond the borders of human knowledge is always fascinating, even as we grab tantalising glimpses of what may be. As Hamlet said, ‘There is more in heaven and earth than your philosophy can even dream of, Horatio’. For myself, the question is whether human knowledge can, or indeed does, ever move forward to solving the great, immortal problems that have always faced us if we are forced to continually recycle concepts that sit within the limits of our understanding, and do not have the courage, or indeed the ability, to look outside these parameters. Although science has brought great benefits to mankind (as well as great horrors), to be trapped into a purely materialistic view of the universe means limiting our own ideas and our own knowledge to our own detriment.
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb