Schrodinger’s God

tumblr_mqj8e2rQV21sti3zno1_1280I’d like to qualify the analogy we shared at the end of the previous post. It was a favorite of James Loder. I’m a fan, but Dwayne is a real student of his thought. So the qualification on the use of quantum mechanics (QM) I’d like to make is to remind readers that for us QM is definitely not any kind of analogy of the Trinity. It is instead an instance of the kind of epistemic humility we think belief in the Trinity occasions. As predictable as the behavior of the quantum world is, its behavior continues to surprise and baffle all accounts of its ultimate treasure. Ask a particle-like question and the quantum world provides a particle-like answer. Ask a wave-like question and you get a wave-like answer. We’ve even invented new words (combining elements of both ‘particle’ and ‘wave’) to posit ‘that which is’ the quantum reality itself, even though these terms are ‘off the map’; that is, they exist only as descriptions of a reality we are forced to recognize but unable to capture in terms of any concept we have. It’s not like these new terms are categorically parallel to a general experience or manifest instance of a general kind of thing. They are unique.

The sort of epistemic humility we’re trying to express and advocate theologically for is forced upon us by the failure of language to account finally for the manifest experience of God (in Christ via the Spirit) in ways that simultaneously affirm and defy the given categories of our created contexts. As we’ve urged previously, this humility is palpable. It is felt and lived every time we open our mouths to speak of God or sing his praise (as opposed to its being just affirmed as a proposition and set on the shelf until we need to be reminded of it again). It is a kind of learned ignorance that journeys with you, the linguistic effects of God’s transcendence, and it is humbling. The experience of it can be surprising, upsetting, or chaotic. Again, as Denys Turner reminds us (Silence of the Word):

“So it is not that, first, we are permitted the naïve and unself-critical indulgence of affirmation, subsequently to submit that affirmation to a separate critique of negation. Nor is the ‘way of negation’ the way of simply saying nothing about God, nor yet is it the way simply of saying that God is ‘nothing’: it is the encounter with the failure of what we must say about God to represent God adequately. If talk about God is deficient, this is a discovery made within the extending of it into superfluity, into that excess in which it simply collapses under its own weight.”

In a similar vein, Karen Kilby advocates for many analogies of the Trinity because no one category will bear the weight of explaining the divine reality behind our experience of the full, manifest, transcendent treasure of salvation. The QM analogy is brought in simply to demonstrate that we are not entirely incapable of embracing such failure of our language. Even within the context of created things (i.e., QM) our language and categories collapse under the weight of experience and evidence. How much more humble ought we to be when speaking of the divine mystery of uncreated being? Particle and wave explanations of quantum behavior are both true so far as our language functions to describe things from a particular context under which we encounter the mystery in question. But each explanation also fails, even contradicts, other explanations when contexts are compared to one another. And all the while we admit, for good reason, that the final, ultimate reality in question, that which we name the “quantum world,” is not in fact self-contradictory but is an indivisible and meaningful unity. Even where apprehending the ‘essence’ of any created entity is concerned there is genuine ‘ineffability’ to be confessed (something Gregory of Nyssa knew centuries ago).

We’re advocating for a similar epistemic humility not just regarding how far our language and categories are able to take us in accounting for God as triune, but for how conflicted our explanations may often be in terms of their own semantic reach. The question is, have trinitarians successfully justified the claim that the Trinity is in fact a case in point were Christian faith must humbly embrace a transcendent triune mystery? In the case of QM, we have clear experimental evidence in ‘particle’ behavior to justify a particle explanation (so far as it goes), and we also have ‘wave’ behavior to justify a wave explanation (so far as it goes). Perhaps the challenge for Trinitarians is to show that there is, equivalently, divine behavior which justifies a ‘monotheist’ explanation as well as divine behavior that justifies a fully ‘trinitarian’(in terms of three ‘persons’) explanation. But it can’t be an argument against trinitarianism per se that it involves us in strange or contrary explanations of divine behavior taken as a whole (any more than the explanations of QM as ‘particle’ and as ‘wave’ are evidence that there isn’t a quantum world whose integrity isn’t truthfully described by both).

(Pictures here ).

This entry was posted in Trinity.

One comment on “Schrodinger’s God

  1. Jeff says:

    Tom: But it can’t be an argument against trinitarianism per se that it involves us in strange or contrary explanations of divine behavior taken as a whole (any more than the explanations of QM as ‘particle’ and as ‘wave’ are evidence that there isn’t a quantum world whose integrity isn’t truthfully described by both).

    Jeff: The issue at stake for this comparison is what is meant by “explanation” when quantum theorists use the term. They don’t mean causal accounting that is coherent. But then there goes any discernible historicity of the resurrection, death, and incarnation of one Jesus of Nazareth if you do. Because there also goes any discernible validity of analogical extrapolation for causal theorizing.

    It’s much easier just to hold on to the principle of causality and the LNC and recognize QT equations (and the related “language changes in the middle of the stream” that Bohr showed to be necessary) as highly successful heuristics for modeling certain temporal/spatial relationships. That way you haven’t denied anything that’s been seemingly empirically demonstrated and open theism still finds grounding in the highly intuitive principle of causality rather than just being another view on a huge menu of views.

    The minute you’ve conceded to QT more than that, you’ve abandoned causality and the LNC as principles. And from there, even inductive criteria seem arbitrary since there’s no way to know whether an event is more probably caused than not if causality isn’t a principle. Because there is nothing about uncaused events that is either expected or unexpected once you grant their possibility. Expectations, when non-arbitrary, PRESUME not only causality, but rational causality.

    This is why hard core quantum theorists seem to pendulum swing from extreme credulity to extreme skepticism. On the one hand, they’re certain QT is true. But on the other hand, since the truth of QT means, best we can tell, the falsehood of the LNC as a principle, all belief seems arbitrary upon reflection if QT is true–even the belief in QT. In that sense, QT, interpreted as an ontology rather than a mere modeling heuristic, is as self-refuting as is positivism. That’s probably why Einstein, Bell, Bohm, and other notable physicists thought the QT equations were NOT ultimately the true mathematical description of ultimate material behavior.


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