Bell Goes Quantum

Bell Goes Quantum March 28, 2013

Speaking of bad uses for quantum physics, I see that Rob Bell has an interview on the Progressive Christian channel in which he gushes about the implications of quantum physics on spirituality:

It was Jeffrey Krueger at Time magazine last year who just said that with the Higgs Boson we are dealing with something spiritual. This is a mainstream, credible magazine saying that these latest discoveries at the fresh edge of quantum physics have a spiritual component.

First a minor point, it was Jeffrey Kluger – non Krueger – who suggested that the Higgs Boson should be Time‘s “person of the year”. Second, Kluger’s understanding of what the Higgs Boson is and what it does, and thus the foundation of his article, was taken to task by qualified physicists like Matt Strassler. A post from MIT suggested “Time’s Higgs Piece May Hold Record for Most Errors in Fewest Words“. Third, the idea that a mainstream news magazine is a reliable source for information about an arcane bit of physics is just adorable.

I know lots of scientists would be like “oh come one, that’s ridiculous,” but, you start talking about packets of energy that are 99.9% empty space, that are animated by probabilities and unpredictability, that somehow we’re able to harness into X-rays and iPods. What in the world? Actually, that’s the right way to put it: What in the world is this? And I think what’s happening, from my very basic layman’s perspective. You have the best scientists in the world talking with wonder and awe, which puts us into the land of poetry and theology and mystics. They all may be on the same team after all. And that’s just compelling.

This gets muddled. I don’t understand Bell’s suggestion here. Almost all scientists disagree with Bell’s understanding, and they understand the physics well enough to manipulate them into modern technology. But if these scientists speak poetically then … they agree with Rob Bell? I’m lost.

So these electrons firing randomly and forming pathways only when observed, leads you to say…?

Well, one of the things in the book I explore is simply involvement. For many people the fundamental way we see things is that we are these individual autonomous units. But when quantum physicists start talking about how things are affected when they’re observed, that just puts us all much more into a relational space.

It’s a bit of irony that a progressive Christian who interprets the Bible broadly and loosely wants to interpret the Copenhagen interpretation narrowly and literally.

So there is the power of the scientists in the lab and a white coat with a clipboard standing objectively over something, and there is a time and a place for that and we have lots of luxuries and conveniences because of this sort of understanding of things. But, at its core, the universe is far more inter-subjective; we are way more involved than we first realized.

“…luxuries and conveniences…” I think that line is telling. You’ll notice that science doesn’t give us medicine, energy and agriculture, all of which creates a society in which men like Rob Bell can be affluent enough to gad about writing incomprehensible prose, and gives him an audience with the leisure and health necessary to appreciate his brand of spirituality. Instead, science gives up inessential things like “luxuries and conveniences”. The implied sneer is unattractive.

I understand the drive to find some meaning behind the forces that animate our world. I am grateful every time I see a Christian draw theology from common descent or emergence. But you’re not going to help matters if you try to co-opt theories without understanding them, or get into pissing matches with the individuals who are trained and qualified to deal with those theories.

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