This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Theism, Quantum Physics, and the Multiverse

In a recent article on Big Questions Online (HT: The Gospel Coalition, see here), Stephen M. Barr asks whether thinking through the logical implications of quantum physics makes it easier to believe in God. In the next few paragraphs, I try to explain his argument as best I can. If you’re confused by my explanation, just skip down to the conclusion section of the article (for the original article, see here).

Anyway, here’s the gist of his argument…I think:

1. Materialism believes that “all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions.” Even our mind and thoughts are simply the products of physical processes.

2. Many people believe that “materialism” is synonymous with “scientific.”

3. Quantum mechanics depends upon probabilities, not certainties. We can never be certain, for instance, where a given particle is. We can only estimate the probability of its location is. This probability is represented by a wavefunction of the system. You can never describe with certainty what is going on within a system; you can only describe its probable state.

4. But things get weird when the system is “opened.” Everything changes when someone makes an observation into the system. The wavefunction collapses and an event reaches 0% or 100% probability. That is, we know that a particle is or isn’t at a given spot.

Now, if that doesn’t make sense, watch this video. I think it will sufficiently freak you out and help you see how crazy quantum physics is and how important the observer is:

5. Here’s where things get even more tricky. If there are only physical entities, minds are only the result of physical properties. What then? “Then the quantum probabilities remain in limbo, not 0 and not 100% (in general) but hovering somewhere in between.” In other words, observing a system shouldn't affect it like it does.

6. One way out of this conundrum for the materialist is the “Many Worlds Interpretation” (MWI). This holds that all possible outcomes in an event continue to exist.

In MWI, reality is divided into many branches corresponding to all the possible outcomes of all physical situations. 
If a probability was 70% before a measurement, it doesn’t jump to 0 or 100%; it stays 70% after the measurement, because in 70% of the branches there’s one result and in 30% there’s the other result! For example, in some branches of reality a particular nucleus has decayed --- and “you” observe that it has, while in other branches it has not decayed --- and “you” observe that it has not. (There are versions of “you” in every branch.) In the Many Worlds picture, you exist in a virtually infinite number of versions: in some branches of reality you are reading this article, in others you are asleep in bed, in others you have never been born. Even proponents of the Many Worlds idea admit that it sounds crazy and strains credulity.
The Conclusion

Douthat reaches the following conclusion:
If the mathematics of quantum mechanics is right (as most fundamental physicists believe), and if materialism is right, one is forced to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. And that is awfully heavy baggage for materialism to carry.
I agree with Douthat here. Materialists are so adamant in leaving God out of the equation, they will turn to the rather fanciful notion of multiple universes, or a multiverse, explanation of reality. I find this interesting because it is a similar conclusion described by Paul Davies in his book Cosmic Jackpot. In order to explain why this universe is so aptly designed for life, Davies notes that many appeal to the idea of a multi-verse. Because there are an infinite number of universes, of course it makes sense that one might look like our own.

Advocating for an infinite number of universes to explain quantum physics and the design of the universe seems to be a rather elaborate attempt to deny the existence of God. At some point Ockham’s razor comes into play.

I don’t believe that Quantum theory is inarguable evidence for Christian theism, but it does point to several things: (1) the materialistic worldview is incomplete, (2) the world around us is weirder than we know, and (3) there is a reality about us that is not merely physical in nature.


  1. Awesome post. That video was amazing. To put it into completely inadequate terms, Our God is an Awesome God.

  2. Nice.

    My advice, by the way, to any who enter into the apologetics of physics, is to be prepared for a couple of things. As usual, you can expect an attempt at intellectual bullying. By this I mean, expect lots of big words and "corrections" to your "understanding".

    In this article, Daniel mentioned Ockham's razor, which indeed is on the side of the theist in this debate. However, be careful not to state Ockham's razor as "the simplest solution tends to be the correct solution", as you will be told that isn't the correct definition. Instead, when using a plain English description, say "the solution which requires the fewest assumptions/givens tends to be the correct one". So far, I have yet to be shown that that is an incorrect characterization. Of course, be prepared to be told it doesn't prove anything as indeed, it is only a tendency.

    Another popular one in physics-based debates is the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy. A common way we are informed that our understanding of this applying to the complexity and appearance of design is flawed is that the law applies to closed systems only. Short of appealing to the multi-verse theory described in this article, our universe is a closed system. If anyone reading this is intensely interested in this from the point of view of the naturalist, I refer them to Brian Greene's "The Fabric of the Cosmos". In discussing entropy and quantum probability, he makes the following statement with a straight face: " is much more likely that the partially melted ice cubes you saw at 10:30 p.m. got there because a statistical fluke acted itself out in a glass of liquid water, than that they originated in the even less likely state of fully formed ice cubes." B.G. is a smart guy, but its scary that this type of conclusion can be arrived at and given priority over what seems to be simple reason because of its "mathematical elegance".

  3. The multiverse theory is basically like saying that we are here because we are here. It says nothing of mechanism. It's a sophisticated-sounding backdoor out of an otherwise desperate attempt to explain "what is" without God.