Columnists > Voices

Quantum faith

We can only think from point to point, but God fills the spaces

Issue: "Capitol stampede in Texas," Aug. 9, 2003

Just when you thought you had a handle on quantum mechanics, along comes quantum computing. Without going into detail (because I don't understand it, to tell the truth), quantum computing is based on "qubits" which can hold the 1-value and the 0-value simultaneously. This means that a string of only seven qubits could, with the proper laser manipulation, perform thousands of computations at the same time, far outpacing conventional machines that do their processing by clunky, value-exclusive bits.

There's more. Qubits can be atoms of any element, anywhere. "A computer in a cup of coffee" is how some describe it, conjuring uncomfortable images of nonhuman matter being induced to "think." And if to think, perchance to scheme: What's to stop my morning coffee from rising up in rebellion and splashing itself all over my bathrobe? I'm joking, of course. But perhaps not by much. Cutting-edge physics long ago zoomed past the empirical realm where causes can be tracked, effects measured, and consensus reached to say, "That's impossible."

Given the profoundly weird character of quantum theory, there was probably no alternative. Quantum theory posits that subatomic particles can actually hold two contrary states at the same time-can occupy two positions, or spin in opposing directions-until the moment they are observed (i.e., measured), at which time they are said to "collapse" in a fixed position. In fact, the very act of measurement determines a particle's state. Though quantum mechanics can't, by its very nature, be directly observed, the surrounding phenomena tend to validate it.

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Every step of quantum theory's development has been greeted in the scientific fraternity with exhilaration and apprehension. Einstein, for instance, called Heinsenberg's Uncertainty Principle "spooky." There's something mystical about it; something oddly alive and iffy, at a level where matter was supposed to be cold and set. On the quantum frontier, hard science quivers with the possibility of parallel universes and alternative realities and even wilder speculations-not just among science-fiction writers.

But "spooky" isn't the word. "Awesome" is more like it. In quantum theory I see a fleeting image of the paradox that has always resided at the heart of revealed truth: the apparent contradictions that haunt our faith. How can God be three persons in one unity? How can Christ be fully divine and fully human at the same time? How can God be good and yet allow evil? How can free human choices work out His preordained plan? And how can I suffer in this world through circumstances clearly opposed to God's decreed will, yet be confident that all is working together for good?

It's the nature of science to study things, because that is the nature of man. We live, as it were, among the atoms. Human lives and human civilization progress by making connections, between electrons and protons, individuals and events, ideas and goals. Because we think from point to point, we all-the microbiologist no less than the micromanager, the astrophysicist as well as the assembly-line foreman-tend to overlook the spaces. Yet thought itself appears to happen in space, as countless electrical impulses in the brain leap countless gaps. That should give us a clue to spiritual mechanics: We connect the dots, but God occupies the spaces.

"He [Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17). Do we grasp the dimensions of that statement? Not only did Christ once create, He also continually re-creates. How can a universe composed of zillions of uncertain particles cohere into any sort of unity at all? Because He never stops observing it. Christ is the determination of infinite ambiguity; Christ is the measure of every seeming paradox. "In Him all things hold together"-all possibilities collapse, and nature finds its true and final shape.

When my world is shattered, the first thing I do is look back over the pieces and wonder which of them led from there to here. If only I hadn't taken that turn or made that choice, if only I had acted or spoken otherwise.... But I'm obsessing over particles, when I should be turning to the spaces between them, where the God/man resides and mutually exclusive propositions collapse in unity. Einstein's objection to quantum theory was that God does not play dice with the universe. True enough; God doesn't play with the universe. He upholds it, in the gaps, forever reconciling spirit and flesh.

When the parts of my life don't appear to add up, I must seek Him in the spaces.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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