On Faith and Physics – The Amused Ponderings of One with Much to Learn | Horizons Fellow, Victoria Lu '19

As a student of chemical engineering and music, I have been afforded the opportunity to think deeply about several very different fields.  I become increasingly convinced that the further one travels into the depths of any given field, the more one will find God.  There are some fields that seem to lead us intuitively to theology - religious studies, philosophy, even biology.  However, my conjecture is that all fields lead to theology if explored deeply enough.  As a case example, I will briefly consider the intersection of theology and theoretical physics. 

As humans, we are three-(spatial)-dimensional beings.  (We exist in three dimensions of space and one dimension of time.)  Imagine a higher spatial dimension - the fourth dimension. As three-dimensional beings, we do not have the capacity to understand such higher dimensions.  We can, however, visualize the fourth dimension with an analogy. Imagine a two-dimensional being in a two-dimensional world.  Such a being can only see and understand what passes through its own plane of existence. As three-dimensional beings, we can interface with this two-dimensional world; we can pass through it and be seen by the two-dimensional being, or we can exist on an entirely separate plane in the third dimension such that the two-dimensional being has no concrete evidence that we exist.  As we pass through the two-dimensional world, the two-dimensional being understands only a fragment of who and what we are.  If I pass my arm through the two-dimensional world, the two-dimensional being sees the cross-section of my arm as a circle.  As I move my arm through the world from wrist to shoulder, the two-dimensional being sees a circle that starts small (my wrist) and grows larger (my upper arm).  What I know to be a cone-like cylinder (a single entity) the two-dimensional being perceives as a circle of changing diameter.  In the same way, if I place three of my fingers in the flat world, the two-dimensional being perceives three separate circles.  However, as a higher dimensional being, I know that my three fingers are really part of one and the same entity - my hand.  Could God exist in higher dimensional space? Possibly.  Perhaps the Trinity is like my fingers in two-dimensional space. We perceive the Trinity as three distinct persons all simultaneously the divine God, a mystery we will perhaps never understand.  Just as a two-dimensional being could never begin to understand the third dimension, perhaps higher dimensional space theory helps to explain how we will never understand the fullness of God.

In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that one can never simultaneously know both the position and momentum of a particle.  The more one knows about the position of the particle, the less one knows about its velocity and vice versa.  In the same way, we cannot possibly know God fully.  Perhaps God is unquantifiable due to his infinite nature; or perhaps he is unquantifiable because we can never simultaneously know all aspects of him; our knowledge of God is limited by his very nature in the same way our knowledge of a particle is limited by the quantum mechanical nature of such a particle. 

The wavefunction collapse phenomenon is most easily illustrated with the famous Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.  Imagine you have a cat in a box.  You cannot see into the box.  Inside the box is some radioactive substance that has exactly a 50/50 probability of decaying after one hour.  If the radioactive substance decays, it sets off a device which will release poison into the chamber, killing the cat.  If the radioactive substance does not decay, no such device is set off and the cat remains alive.  The thought experiment states that after one hour, the wavefunction representing this system contains both the living cat and the dead cat until the direct observation of the status of the cat determines its state as either dead or alive. In other words, the cat is both dead and alive simultaneously (and the radioactive material exists in both a decayed and non-decayed state simultaneously) until we observe its status. This act of observation which determines the state of the particle is known as wavefunction collapse.  While God himself is incomprehensible due to the vastness of his nature, the world he created was given into our keeping.  When he told Adam to name the animals, he was giving us dominion over creation (not so we could abuse it, but so we could care for it).  The act of our observation determines the state of matter.  This demonstrates how God created the world to respond to us, even if we do not recognize it.  He created the world forus, evidenced by the very nature of matter and observation.

This brief exploration of the intersection of theoretical physics and theology demonstrates two things. The first is that the enigma of God is the grand mystery of the universe that we can never hope to understand fully. The second is that, while we cannot understand the mystery of God, we can understand fragments of who he is and who he created us to be.  This example was limited in scope to a miniscule sample of the topics which could be discussed at the intersection of theology and theoretical physics.  However, as I consider sound, beauty, music, mechanics, chemistry, philosophy, economics, and mathematics, I cannot help but be led to their theological underpinnings.  (Certainly, there are an infinite number of fields aside from those listed in which one might be led to theology; I just do not happen to have explored them.)  Conjecture: all fields converge on one thing.  That one thing is Truth.

Victoria Lu is a ‘18-’19 Horizons Fellow. Learn more about this program here.