Is our understanding of the Bible not just limited, but actually flawed? Has our cultural inheritance led us to misapply ancient Greek thinking to the Word of God? As scientists reveal a Creation which functions in unexpected ways, alternatives to Classical Logic would seem to suggest so.
Schrödinger’s Cat is a famous thought experiment from the world of quantum mechanics. There is a box containing a cat. Also in the box is something small and radioactive, a hammer poised over a flask of poisonous gas, and a Geiger counter. If one of the radioactive atoms decays within the hour (we’ll say there is a 50% chance of it happening), the Geiger counter reading changes, the flask is broken by the hammer, and the cat dies. Aside from the obvious fact that Schrödinger did not like cats, is a famous quantum conclusion: duality. Until we open the box, we don’t know the result. What boggles most minds is that, from a quantum perspective, the cat is both alive and dead.
“But that can’t be”, I hear you cry. There is an interesting, if simple, reply: “Why not?”
Well, obviously, because it doesn’t make sense. Ah, but then comes the follow-on question: “How do we know what makes sense?” or perhaps better theologically phrased: “Who are we to say what makes sense?”
At the time of the quantum revolution, the two greatest minds in science were arguably Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr. Einstein hated quantum mechanics. One of the central tenets of quantum thinking is that you can only talk in probabilities, not in precise values. That is, you can never open Schrödinger’s box. In physics terms, you can never say where an electron is and where it is going. You can only discuss the possibilities, and when you try to observe it, the result actually changes. Likelihoods are held in an eternal balance, with no resolution. Einstein famously and frustratedly declared, “God does not play dice!” Bohr’s equally famous retort was, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do with his dice!” [There are different versions of these quotes, and I don’t know which is most accurate, but they all have the same gist]
It is easy to ignore the fact that our minds have been conditioned into Classical thinking. Logic is natural, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. It was invented. It is not the inevitable result of thought. It’s Greek. There are a number of interesting ways of trying to see Christianity through non-Greek, non-Classical eyes, but that’s a discussion for another day. We’re focusing now on quantum thinking versus Classical Logic.
Our understanding of things is based on the idea of states. Something is in a state. It is fixed at any given moment. I am here. On the sofa. Typing. I am not also asleep. In quantum thinking, there are moments where I might well be, within the quantum field, both typing and asleep.
So, what does this have to do with the Bible?
There have traditionally been two schools of thought surrounding the Bible:
- It all makes perfect sense, and all fits together neatly, because God wrote it, and that’s how He would have done it. (Inerrant & Infallible)
- It doesn’t make perfect sense, and doesn’t all fit together, because people wrote it, all with slightly different agendas, and copy editing wasn’t great in the first and second century AD anyway. (Errant & Fallible)
There are, of course, shades of interpretation between the two. For instance, God gave his word to people, who sometimes erred. Or, only the earliest, original language manuscripts are inerrant and infallible, and any translation, no matter how faithful, will necessarily add confusion and complication. Or, only the Textus Receptus is perfect. All of these conclusions are based on Logic, and are based on fixed states.
Like many Christians, I have felt uneasy with my own relationship with Scripture. What do you do with the apparent contradictions? Why does some of it seem at heart opposed to Jesus’ teaching? And I have felt, like many Christians, as though I have been holding two answers, one in each hand, with either the option to jam them together into some sort of synthesis (which often seems forced to me), or to choose one over the other (with the implication that I am weighing Scripture, which may or may not be a Scriptural attitude).
If God created everything, then God created quantum mechanics. If God created quantum mechanics, and gave us the tools to understand it, then He gave us a way of understanding apparent paradoxes in a new way.
What if we held onto our contradictions? What if we didn’t demand that they conform to Classical thinking? What if we allowed for seemingly opposed states to exist side by side, rather than forcing a conclusion?
What are the implications? Richard Feynman said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” Do we create a Bible that is totally understandable because it is actually totally understandable, or because we need it to be totally understandable? Is our real fear that in our limited thinking, anything other than a robust, tamper-proof, logical Bible will simply fall apart and mean nothing? Is the forcing together of contradiction a sign, not of clever hermeneutics, but simply of fear?
The lesson we can take from quantum mechanics is encouraging. While it contains contradictions, paradoxes and lack of resolution, it is not a collapsed house of cards, devoid of meaning. It is studied, it is progressing, and is even being harnessed. Within most of our lifetimes, computers which function on the principle of quantum mechanics will likely revolutionise computing. In simple terms, instead of the either/or, binary 0 or 1, of classical computing, a quantum bit can also be both 1 and 0. This is Schrödinger’s Cat made real, and early experiments show small processors producing revolutionary results. Quantum computing has paradoxes, yet holds the promise of ever greater achievement, of ever deepening knowledge.
Perhaps when we try to understand the Bible wholly and perfectly, and smooth out all the edges, and force together all the contradictions, maybe it is us who are telling God what to do with his dice. If all of this seems a bit non-Christian, a bit far fetched, think of this:
The original quantum idea in the West wasn’t scientific. It was the Trinity.