Divine Providence And Quantum Mechanics

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The concept of God and His discretion in creating the world as well as controlling its affairs was intensely debated and speculated among ancient philosophers and scientists. However the one general view, to which all the earlier schools of thoughts subscribed, was that God is the cause of existence of universe and He has largely a free hand in determining its affairs. In other words, it was considered beyond the capacity of ordinary human mortals to comprehend the functioning of earth, sun, stellar objects and the general universe.

Everything had been divinely provisioned for with His supreme will. This idea changed with the revolutionary mechanistic Newtonian worldview that, it seemed, altogether dispensed with the need of God. For record, its proponent Sir Isaac Newton was a devout Christian and an ardent believer in an absolute God (Hawking, 18). However when he laid down the three laws of motion, theory of gravity and laws of conservation of momentum and of mass he founded the structure of a deterministic model of the universe, that made God irrelevant to the functioning of the world.

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Newton’s laws of motion founded a system where objects prefer to stay in state of continuous rest or motion; that is they remain in a state of inertia. A change from this preferred state of inertia can be caused only by an external agent or force as Newton called. Thus if a person knows the direction and impact of the applied force on the objects, their further state can be mathematically calculated and accurately described.

This formed the basis of Newtonian mechanics that almost accurately predicts orbits of earth, the moon and various planets (Hawking, 17). It also correctly accounts for path and motion of objects around us under the action of external forces and help to determine their direction and acceleration. The universe of Newton worked under one grand law of gravity with numbers and under mathematical principles that were open for anyone to calculate and make accurate predictions about, in general, everything.

The essence of the theory under the deterministic model is that given a perfect set of information regarding the forces that act on life along with their velocity and position at some given point of time it is possible to calculate everything in the world, even including the past and future events (Casti, 54). There is nothing, theoretically, that is impossible to determine or predict if sufficiently careful observations and calculations are made. The Newtonian worldview treats universe like a giant clock set in motion.

It follows that irrespective of who started the clock, once the clock becomes operational it is always possible to follow it. Likewise once the universe is created, one set of events give rise to another set and carry forward the functions of universe. The implications of this model were disturbing to many people including Newton himself. If everything is calculable, determinable and predictable, it doesn’t leave much scope for an arbitrary Supreme Force that can intervene in the affairs at random will.

There is not any mystery or secret code hidden in the God’s kingdom and an observer can as accurately know about world as the God Himself can. God’s providence, in this case, ends with creating the world that can afterwards evolve on traceable lines. Despite creating ripples in the religious domains, the mechanistic model won over the scientific approach of the day and became an integral part of the classical physics.

The case in its favor was so strong that it led famous French astronomer and mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace to believe that with sufficient information there would be a complete set of laws that can define the past and future of universe, including all its components in accurate measures (Hawking, 57). The deterministic model held its forte until 20th century, when quantum mechanics emerged to change the perceptions once again. Quantum Mechanics: Origin Quantum Mechanics is one of the fundamental fields of physics that deals with atomic and subatomic structures of world at tiniest of the scales. The emergence of quantum mechanics was a result of the problem of hot body radiation, a phenomenon where classical physics blundered. According to calculations of classical physics, the energy radiated by a hot object would be theoretically infinite. The hot surface of the object would radiate electromagnetic waves, which according to laws of classical physic, contain equal amount of energy at all frequencies.

As the number of electromagnetic waves is infinite, the energy carried by them would also be infinite (Hawking, 58). This was an absurd result and it stalled scientists of late 19th century for a while. The solution was provided by Max Plank in 1900. Plank suggested the energy is not carried by electromagnetic waves continuously, but rather in packets or lumps, that he called quanta (Greene, 92). Each quantum can be understood as a discreet packet containing a fixed amount of energy. Plank further proposed that energy carried by a quantum is proportional to frequency of the wave.

The larger the frequency of the wave, the greater is the energy content of the quantum. This approach at once solved the absurdity of infinite energy of hot body radiation. Plank showed that in energy radiation of hot objects, higher frequency waves do not emit a single quantum, or energy packet, because the energy content of the quantum is greater than the energy available. Thus all the energy emitted is limited to a fixed number of lower frequency waves and hence it is finite (Hawking, 58).

The quantum approach changed the entire course of physics and scientific research in a short time. Its basic postulate is simple, that is energy is carried by all the electromagnetic waves and light in bundles or quanta. But its implications have been startling, revealing the inner complexities of atomic and subatomic world in profound ways. Quantum View Calculations based on quantum hypothesis of Plank tallied exactly with the experimental results in hot body radiation, validating the theory in scientific world.

The hypothesis of Plank was taken further and developed in full fledged quantum mechanics by such leading minds as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli and Erwin Schrodinger. However despite its advances and revelation of a complete new world of atoms, electrons, neutrons and protons, quantum mechanics did not seriously challenge the deterministic world view of Newtonian physics until 1925. By 1925 it was already known that laws of Newton’s classical mechanics could not be applied at subatomic levels.

The Newtonian ‘inverse square laws’ state that gravitational and electrical attraction forces are square of the inverse distance between two bodies. This entails that if the distance between two bodies is reduced the attraction would increase. According to this calculation, within an atom the attraction between an electron and nucleus would be so strong that electron would collapse to the nucleus in 10-9 second (Witten, 1125). Given that this condition existed, there would had been no atom, and consequently no matter in the universe at all.

However this is not the case and therefore Newton’s classic model was identified with at least one serious flaw. Quantum mechanics explained that electron do not collapse to nucleus because they are allowed to rotate only in certain fixed orbits around nucleus. It also showed that electrons exhibit properties of both the waves and the particles and displayed interference phenomena as well as photoelectric effect. This generated confusion among scientists as it was difficult to see how something can behave both as a particle and a wave simultaneously.

In attempts to explain the wave-particle duality of electron it was proposed by Max Born in 1926 that an electron wave should be interpreted from the viewpoint of probability. An electron is likely to be at place where magnitude of wave is large and less likely where magnitude is small (Greene, 105). The idea was worked on and developed further by German scientist Werner Heisenberg who showed in 1927 that it is impossible to find both the location and velocity of electron at the same time (Hawkins, 59). This theory is called as Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Born’s probability theory and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle produced a storm in the scientific and philosophical worlds that can be compared with one caused by Charles Darwin in 1859 with his ‘Origin of Species’. Born, and specially Heisenberg, had almost overnight brought down the deterministic model of Universe, that was revered even by the founding fathers of quantum theory such as Max Plank and Albert Einstein. The probability theory of electron wave and the uncertainty principle showed that no one could certainly vouch for the exact location or velocity of electron.

So far people had been accustomed to treat probability as an abstract mathematical concept that merely reflected incomplete human knowledge (Greene, 105). To think that universe is guided by a probability or chances was preposterous. But observations showed that when the experiments involving an electron are repeated over a number of times under exact conditions and identical manner, they showed different results for the position of electron, in agreement with their probability wave (Greene, 107). Significance of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle was even more startling.

Although on the face of it the principle was concerned with the fate of electrons, it equally applied to all the components of universe (Greene, 114). What it translates to is that nothing in the nature then can be described with accuracy as being certainly at some place in a certain position. As Stephen Hawking says, the future of the universe becomes entirely unpredictable if no one can find out the present state of the universe exactly (59). There were grave objections, warnings and admonishment to quantum theorists from their own more conservative peers.

However the conclusions were irrefutable and supported by all the experimental results that a predictable universe, one destined to complete its journey on a predetermined path, was no longer possible to envision. Its place was taken over by a universe where a number of possible futures where probable at the same time and the universe could evolve along any line without giving a prior hint towards its future course. Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Paradigm Quantum mechanics once and for all time ended the Newtonian paradigm of a deterministic world view.

Newtonian paradigm had given scientists a sense of security that one day, with sufficient information and processing capability, they would know everything about world and the universe. To philosophers it gave the sense of security that everything is preordained and events are following a perfect path from past into future. Quantum Mechanics has bereft the world of this sense of security. It shows that universe is inherently random, that it moves by chance and evolves by probability. There is no certain future and events can be guessed but never predicted correctly.

This proposition is startling but an inescapable result of quantum theory. Scientists abdicated their claims on completely understanding the working of world. And philosophers realized that universe is chaotic at its core and can run away in any direction. It is important to note that quantum mechanics does not entirely annuls Newtonian physics. For macroscopic objects and the general world, its laws are still as good as they were a century before because effect of quantum randomness is not very apparent at the macroscopic level. Its at the subatomic levels that they unveil their haphazardness.

However it still leaves us with the fundamental question: What about the role of God in the quantum world? As said in the last chapter, the Newtonian model made God’s providence irrelevant by describing a world which is completely predictable to its last core and therefore leaving nothing for God to do after creation. This model took the intervening power out of God’s hand and transferred entirely to the initial conditions and factors of the world. However, if quantum mechanics gets rid of deterministic model then does it, consequentially restores the intervening power back in the hands of God?

It appears that despite overthrowing its preceding worldview, quantum mechanics doesn’t offer any great respite to God. Rather it makes His role more doubtful in the affairs of world and universe. Einstein voiced this apprehension when he famously said, “God does not play dice with the Universe”. But quantum mechanics proves that in the subatomic realms of atoms, electrons, mesons and quarks, even God is unaware of what is going to happen next. It is chance alone that determines the actual result from an expected set of outcomes.

The idea of a helpless God, one who is unable to determine or predict about His own world has deep religious and philosophical challenges. Humanity has always believed in an omnipotent and absolute God with full control over His subjects. Newton put this absolute concept of God in jeopardy by proving that there is no absolute space. Newtonian God became stifled without much scope to act in a predetermined world. The quantum world, on contrary is not predetermined, rather its fundamentally unpredictable and capable to evolve in a number of possible ways, though no one can certainly say in which one particular way, not even God Himself.

The world is changing, expanding, and undergoing rapid transformations, but it is beyond the capacity of God to judge the direction of its transformation or execute any control over it. In developing the tenets of quantum mechanics, scientists have encountered results that are impossible to understand on intuitive reasoning or even to frame in a theoretical model. For example experiments have shown that if one attempts to observe a quantum system, the system changes its behavior. Moreover, as Richard Feynman postulated, an electron takes every possible path while traveling from one position to another (Greene, 110).

Experiments have also showed that even if a single electron is used in a double slit experiment, it passes with both the slits simultaneously (Hawking, 63). These theoretically bizarre and experimentally accurate results convinced a large number of scientists, including Neils Bohr and Heisenberg that the objective world is a misconception and exists only when it is observed. This led Einstein to ask that “Does moon exists only when someone is looking at it? ” (Bradley, emc2). Clearly quantum mechanics has pushed the physics into metaphysics.

In its own world it defies every intuition formed by observing the normal world and yet it is the fundamental part of the normal world. Many people have been humbled by recognizing that perhaps quantum mechanics is way nature wants to show humanity the limits of its capacity of understanding. And perhaps there is a God, careful not to allow His subjects understand the working of universe completely.


Casti. John L (1990). Searching For Certainty: What Scientists can know about the Future. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. Greene, Brian. R (1999). The Elegant Universe: Superstring, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. W. W. Norton & Company Hawking, Stephen (1989). A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Bantam Books. Copyrights: Space Time Publication 1988. Witten. Edward. Magic, Mystery, and Matrix. Retrieved from web. http://www. sns. ias. edu/~witten/papers/mmm. pdf#search=%22magic%20mystery%20and%20matrix%22 / 10. 04. 2006-10-06 Bradley. Ray. Philosophy of Science. Retrieved from web. http://www. eequalsmcsquared. auckland. ac. nz/sites/emc2/tl/philosophy/moon. cfm/ 10. 04. 2006

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