26 April, 2008

Quantum Predestination

God is Light, and in Him is no shadow of turning.

The history of man's understanding of light is a physicist's rollicking, mud-wrestling fest of scientific goodness. I've forgotten all the details, remembering only the ebb and flow of hard feelings on both sides. The Wikipedia article captures all the major events, but overlooks the intense competition and fiery conflict involved. The best insight the article gives comes at the bottom when it quotes the rock-star scientist, Richard Feynman, telling his audience that light is particles - full stop - and Carver Mead telling his audience in equally confident terms that light is waves, and so is everything else. And those two quotes are from now, not nearly a century ago when the mud slinging was in full splatter. The war around man's understanding of light may be over, but cleanup actions continue apace.

The first guy to describe light mathematically did it with wave equations. The next guy did it with particle equations. The thing is, waves and particles ain't the same thing. A wave is something that happens in the ocean, and a particle is something you throw into the ocean. When you talk about equations that describe light, you're talking about differences that extreme.

+ Waves go around corners.
- Particles don't notice corners.

+ Waves interfere with each other. If two peaks meet, they make a single peak twice as high. If a peak meets a valley, they cancel each other.
- Particles bounce off each other.

+ Waves can be polarized so only one kind works, like maybe left/right waves work but up/down waves get smooshed.
+ Particles don't vibrate, so polarizing particles makes no sense.

+ Waves don't knock electrons out of solar panels and make electricity.
+ Particles make solar energy possible.

+ Waves don't have any good reason to make "quantum leaps."
- Particles, also called, "quanta," are the defining point of a quantum leap.

So, physicists had a religious war.

The wave guys did math and experiments using diffusion grates and frequency-energy relationships, while the particle guys calculated about reflections and interactions. Then the wave guys came up with complex, hard to follow equations that fully explained the particle stuff in wave terms if you held your mouth just right and squinted just so. That's when the particle guys had to give up (except Mr Feynman, I gather). The particle guys could poke little holes in the wave-guys' equations, but they couldn't write equations that would explain all the diffusion grate and frequency stuff.

In the end, though, everyone had to swallow a little bile because the wave guys couldn't really make their equations work either.

And the reason no one's equations would work is really quite simple. Light is a particle-wave. Light is made of particles that vibrate like waves. The physicists were forced to say, "We're both right," and that breaks any debater's heart. But they only said because they actually were both right. Light particles seem to be kind of big and squishy and vibrating in a perfect frequency. So, when you shove them through diffraction gratings they act just like waves, but when you run them into solar panels they act just like particles.

It hurts to admit that the other guy is right, but it's not too bad once you've gotten over the initial shock of admitting that you were wrong. What's deadly difficult is admitting the other guy is right while you still have not been proven wrong at all.

That's what happened to our mud wrestling physicists, and that's what should be happening to our mud wrestling Calvinists and Arminians, too.

I hate to say, "We're both right." I really do. In most things mathematical, one person is wrong, and I tend to extend that thinking to theology. That's a mistake on my part.

The odd thing is that I still don't think the Calminians are right. Calminians tend to jetison the rightness of both sides and end up with a wishy-washy God and semi-responsible people. I think the truth is harder than that.

God does predestine, and does so absolutely. God chooses those whom He saves, and is not panicking over those whom He might have been able to save if only we'd evangelized more/better/perfectly. Those who are not saved are those whom God knew would not be saved before He ever created. He knew how it would end for each of us, what His actions would be that would influence us, and what He could have done it differently, and that He would do everything exactly as He has done it. If that's not absolute predestination, I don't know what is, but it's a little different from saying God created some people for some bizarre pleasure He might take in damning them.

To me, those are the wave equations.

The particle equations are true too, though.

Every man must decide, and there is no crutch upon which he might lean. The decision is his and the responsibility for that decision is his. God made us with a will that bestows on us the right to suffer the consequences of our actions. And God only judges us on our own actions. Neither the sins of the father for any previous generations, nor the decisions of our great Creator before time will be weighed in the balance. On the one side will be the requirements of our own conscience (gentiles) or of the law (Jews), and on the other will be our performance against those requirements (unsaved) or Christ's performance of those requirements (saved.) We must choose Him.

The thing that stirred me to write was not some new insight into the scripture, but into physics, so please forgive me if I don't state the two positions any more clearly than that. You've all heard it too many times any way.

The thing that interests me is that the physical world gives such a great example of a complex duality. There is not a human being alive who can understand or picture what light really is. We cannot hold the idea of a wave and a particle in our mind simultaneously when trying to describe something so ubiquitous as light. The first thing ever created is so bizarrely complex that we cannot picture in our minds, though we sense it every waking second.

Light fills the void of space, transmitted from every direction and into every direction, and exerts its influence on things as random as plant leaves, microwave dinners, radio towers, and my mood on a gloomy morning, yet the brightest of our minds cannot tell us what it really is. It exists and behaves predictably, but not definably. One set of equations defines half of what it does, while another set of equations defines the other half of what it does, and the two sets of equations seem both to exclude the other set.

It's not enough to say, "The truth is in the middle." There is no middle between equations. Equations are either true or they are false. If you find some happy camping ground between two equations, it's either because the new equation is true, or because you're living in a fantasy world.

[Amusingly, quantum physics, the deep science of light, says the same thing. Light exists at discreet energy levels, and never in between them. Imagine that your car could go 5 mph or 10 or 25 or 50, but not 17.3 or 26.1 or anything in between those 4 speeds. That's why they talk about a "quantum leap." It always takes a quantum leap for light to change energy levels because while it might change speeds from 5 to 10 mph, it will do it without ever going 7.5 mph. It leaps from one energy level to another.]

There is only truth. There is no space between truths for convenient half-truth. The truth is that God predestines absolutely, and the truth is that we are fully responsible for our actions. I am comfortable saying that those two things confuse me, but I'm not able to toss either of them aside, even if they seem to be unable to live together. And the science of light gives me permission to be that stubborn.

Does that help or hurt anyone's thoughts about predestination?


Milly said...

The boy sitting next to me here agrees with predestination only he said it began at the fall. Actually he said the apple. I pointed out that I believed that God knew they were going to eat of the fruit. Why else was it there?

His reaction “Interesting”

>The truth is that God predestines absolutely, and the truth is that we are fully responsible for our actions. I am comfortable saying that those two things confuse me, but I'm not able to toss either of them aside, even if they seem to be unable to live together

It doesn’t confuse me on this. While we are on this earth we are faced with many fruits of good and evil. If I were a parent who had never known evil then my children and others might constantly know how to trick me. If I had never seen the consequences, never owning up to my folly then I might easily fall prey to what Satan has done. God gave us is life to live so that we may fully appreciate Heaven so that we will want to be on our knees with arms reached out for Him. He wants us to want Him.

(I’m easily tricked, honestly, they get me at work. I fall for it every time. When will I learn?)

Phil Smoke said...

I agree with what you're saying. So does J.I. Packer - his little book I stumbled across a while back Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God opens with a discussion of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and uses your exact analogy of light as a similar "antinomy."

Scott said...

Good stuff!