How Quantum Physics refutes materialism

Physics professor Stephen M. Barr explains how quantum physics makes the world view of materialism–the assumption of most of today’s atheists–scientifically impossible.

Materialism is an atheistic philosophy that says that all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions. It has gained ground because many people think that it’s supported by science. They think that physics has shown the material world to be a closed system of cause and effect, sealed off from the influence of any non-physical realities — if any there be. Since our minds and thoughts obviously do affect the physical world, it would follow that they are themselves merely physical phenomena. No room for a spiritual soul or free will: for materialists we are just “machines made of meat.”

Quantum mechanics, however, throws a monkey wrench into this simple mechanical view of things.  No less a figure than Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, claimed that materialism — at least with regard to the human mind — is not “logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.” And on the basis of quantum mechanics, Sir Rudolf Peierls, another great 20th-century physicist, said, “the premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being … including [his] knowledge, and [his] consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing.”

Barr goes on to explain in a technical but pretty lucid manner why this is the case, going into the mathematics of probability and why the observer has an intrinsic impact on the system being observed.   I can’t summarize it.  Read it yourself.  Here is his 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.

If, on the other hand, we accept the more traditional understanding of quantum mechanics that goes back to von Neumann, one is led by its logic (as Wigner and Peierls were) to the conclusion that not everything is just matter in motion, and that in particular there is something about the human mind that transcends matter and its laws. It then becomes possible to take seriously certain questions that materialism had ruled out of court: If the human mind transcends matter to some extent, could there not exist minds that transcend the physical universe altogether? And might there not even exist an ultimate Mind?

via Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God? | Big Questions Online.

HT:  Anna Williams

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Disclaimer: I’m no Quantum Mechanics expert.

    With that out of the way, it seems to me that the “many worlds” interpretation makes a good thought experiment to try to analyze and better understand the Schödinger paradox and its implications, but to hypothesize that it corresponds to a real, actual multiverse is to take the thought experiment too far, in my (very humble) opinion on the subject.

    The conclusion of the article is that, either you have to accept the notion that there are an infinite number of alternate realities, or you have to accept that there is something other than just the material universe.

    Being a Bear of Very Little Brain, I’m having trouble seeing how the conclusion follows, exactly. Couldn’t the materialist just say that maybe it’s just not yet understood how quantum probabilities work? That maybe someday it will be discovered that the probabilities are the result of a pseudo-random process that only seems random for now (like the “random” numbers generated by a computer, for example). Does the materialist really have to accept the (completely fantastic) notion of infinite realities?

    On the other hand, the MWI does nothing to explain Where It All Came From to begin with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Disclaimer: I’m no Quantum Mechanics expert.

    With that out of the way, it seems to me that the “many worlds” interpretation makes a good thought experiment to try to analyze and better understand the Schödinger paradox and its implications, but to hypothesize that it corresponds to a real, actual multiverse is to take the thought experiment too far, in my (very humble) opinion on the subject.

    The conclusion of the article is that, either you have to accept the notion that there are an infinite number of alternate realities, or you have to accept that there is something other than just the material universe.

    Being a Bear of Very Little Brain, I’m having trouble seeing how the conclusion follows, exactly. Couldn’t the materialist just say that maybe it’s just not yet understood how quantum probabilities work? That maybe someday it will be discovered that the probabilities are the result of a pseudo-random process that only seems random for now (like the “random” numbers generated by a computer, for example). Does the materialist really have to accept the (completely fantastic) notion of infinite realities?

    On the other hand, the MWI does nothing to explain Where It All Came From to begin with.

  • Michael B.

    “On the other hand, the MWI does nothing to explain Where It All Came From to begin with.”

    True. There’s no worldview you can pick that explains this problem. Consciousness may one day be explained, but the question of “why is there something instead of nothing” seems to be a paradox.

  • Michael B.

    “On the other hand, the MWI does nothing to explain Where It All Came From to begin with.”

    True. There’s no worldview you can pick that explains this problem. Consciousness may one day be explained, but the question of “why is there something instead of nothing” seems to be a paradox.

  • Jon

    @2 wow! Yup!

  • Jon

    @2 wow! Yup!

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  • neelesh maharaj

    Go vegan. Stop the murder of billions of animals. Stop the animal holocaust. See the real world. Quantum theory destroys materialism. There’s is a world beyond our eyes and our naïve believes. Quantum theory is deep introspection and deep thinking into who you are. Peace out.

  • neelesh maharaj

    Go vegan. Stop the murder of billions of animals. Stop the animal holocaust. See the real world. Quantum theory destroys materialism. There’s is a world beyond our eyes and our naïve believes. Quantum theory is deep introspection and deep thinking into who you are. Peace out.

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