Guest Article


Quantum Mechanics, Beyond all Reason

by Paul Ashley *

"God doesn't play dice" were the words voiced by Albert Einstein in his long running debate with Danish physicist Niels Bohr during the late 1920's. To that Bohr replied, "Stop telling God what to do." The disagreement over the newly developing theory of quantum mechanics stemmed from implications of indeterminacy at the most fundamental levels. Later Werner Heisenberg would formulate his famous uncertainty principle describing the relationship between inherently unknowable physical quantities. Einstein was disturbed because he could not reconcile such apparent "chances" in the nature of the universe. Most other scientists accepted the new theory and welcomed the discoveries of modern physics including the nature of atomic spectra, energy distribution, and particle interaction. Such knowledge eventually led to the development of such technological wonders as transistors and lasers. But Einstein resisted. Was it really because he believed that this inference of quantum mechanics threatened the nature of God? Perhaps R C Sproul in his book Not a Chance admirably refutes chance as a viable attribute of the universe. He writes, "The mere existence of chance is enough to rip God from his cosmic throne" (1). As he points out, some scientists, apparently including Bohr, would come to embrace chance as a viable explanation. Still others would go further to even welcome the implications as supportive evidence for a Godless cosmos. Nevertheless, was as some contend, Einstein's opposing alternative to chance intended as supportive of the God of the Bible? Einstein could not believe that God would have created a universe in which if man were smart enough, he could not figure it out. He once wrote, "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and action of men" (2.) Einstein's concept of the world was one which was apparently totally deterministic and followed natural laws which with enough knowledge and reasoning man should be expected to decipher. So strong was that belief that he went against his own admitted better judgment to introduce a "fudge factor" called the cosmological constant to his celebrated general theory of relativity (included gravitational effects) in order to preserve the concept of an infinite universe, a universe in steady state. One would reckon then that the alternative to chance is a universe totally determined and free running, governed strictly by laws of nature, hardly needing God, aside from creation. And if argument prevails God may not be needed at all. Both alternatives have indeed been used to espouse a belief in a natural cosmos, one without God. Random chance and strict naturalism... Two extremes which often lead to the same conclusion.

Is there "per chance" an alternative? One which those like Einstein may not have considered a suitable refuge. A cosmos not randomly ruled, though not wholly understandable by human reasoning or definable by laws of nature, at least not of mortal comprehension. I'm speaking of a world in which God plays an active and a personal role. A world in which a violation of the laws of nature does not undermine one's confidence in reality nor does it otherwise make impotent scientific investigation.

The laws of nature are established principles constructed of prescribed formalism based upon rules of logic, which are in turn established by reason. The formalism is conceived of the human mind, the logic is borne of human intellect, and the reason is bound by human understanding. For the wisest of men was left to say, "That which is far off, and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?" (Ecc. 7:24) and the Apostle later concluded, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33) Therefore, we can safely apply humanly derived laws of nature only to that which is subject to the laws of nature. If the Bible is to be believed, the vast majority of the cosmos is not likely in this category. That doesn't make the world any less real or unreasonable, only beyond reasoning, human reasoning that is. I can't understand the power of angels nor do I ever expect to, but that doesn't make them any less real. I often speak to non-Christians who possess a scientific background about the things of God and the first point to get across in order to establish a common ground for discussion is their realm of reality. Where is your bound of reality? What do you place inside of it? Does it include only that which is currently understood? Does it include that which you don't understand or believe to be understandable by laws of nature? Further, does it also include that which is not explainable by humanly derived reasoning? Everyone draws the line bounding reality along some defining course. Where that line is drawn makes all the difference in the construction of a concept for the cosmos. Draw the line too broad and random chance makes reality evasive and God irrelevant. Draw the line too narrow and strict determinism makes reality subject to natural limitations and makes a personal God unnecessary.

It is easy to lose a proper balance at this point. Herein lies the danger of both extremes. As Sproul points out chance relegates causality to a relatively minor role. However, causality, if limited to the natural, oversteps the bounds of God's transcendent control of the universe. Such natural causality forms the opposite pole of atheistic argument. Evidence of this may be seen by noticing that Sproul was able to enlist many quotes from secular atheistic philosophers and scientists in support of his case against chance. Voltaire, Hume, Descartes, and Sagan all believed in a strict naturalism. If this seems a bit unsettling, notice further that one might equally imagine an atheistic apologist quoting from Not a Chance (out of context, of course) in support of naturalism. One of the few sticking points would be the question of first cause. And if one accepts the logical premise which Sproul develops that the first cause must be self existent and if it is further assumed that no other attribute is required, then the first cause could just as well be a blob of matter and/or energy just before the Big Bang. After all, naturalism does not require intelligent design and neither does a self existent first cause if causality follows blindly.

You see it is when other attributes are associated with first cause that the naturalist often objects; when the name God is applied, intelligence and personality are generally implied. But a pantheistic God without these additional attributes would be no problem. The Christian theologian would of course object to such a restricted definition of God, as he should, but he should likewise also object to totally natural causality, for it leads to the same end. It should then not be surprising that many of the arguments of naturalists may be excerpted as strong statements for determinism and against chance.

Ultimate insight into the nature of the cosmos is not to be found in chance nor in natural causality alone. The Bible speaks not just of the natural but of the "super" natural as well. Nowhere is it implied that if man were smart enough he could figure it out. It is not simply a lack of knowledge, although that may often times be the case, but it is a matter of reasoning, "past finding out". The supernatural is beyond the natural laws as man and science define them. When Jesus healed the lame, or restored sight to the blind, natural laws were violated. Natural causality no longer has meaning. Miracles of God's providence may find their course in natural circumstance and the line between the natural and the supernatural may not always be fully clear, but what is certain with regard to the God of history is that there is indeed a distinct difference between the two. And it is at that line that natural causality ends and supernatural causality begins. As long as the existence of that line is understood there is no conflict with the realm of science. It should not be threatened. Quite the contrary. A realization of that which is beyond the legal jurisdiction of natural laws, if not also the understanding of human reason, is perhaps the greatest advantage of insight and lucidity for the scientist who is also a Christian.

It is here that the road of scientific thought truly diverges. The stepping stones of chance and strict determinism or natural causality have both served for paving the path toward naturalism. It is a God both transcendent and personal, the epitome of first cause, that created both the supernatural as well as the natural. And the road to true cosmology is paved with sure and solid stones, both natural and supernatural.

Where does such a concept of the universe leave science and scientific investigation? Science is clearly defined by rules of logic generally expressed in mathematical terms. Such formalism is used to describe laws of nature as they are observed and understood through human reason. These laws to the extent to which they are correctly understood are dependable and predictable. They follow rules for natural causality or as commonly referred to, cause and effect. Within the bounds of the natural, scientific investigation may find gainful service. But there is another realm of the universe which the Bible describes that is beyond the natural. Within this realm both science and the foundations of human reasoning may not be expected to appropriately apply.

Recognizing this grander picture of the universe can make scientific investigation much more insightful. But first one must possess a means of advancement to new knowledge or understanding. In scientific investigation experimental methodology coupled with a theoretical treatment of laws of nature constitute the tools of learning. This is called the scientific method. It is based upon the application of both deductive and inductive reasoning. By contrast, in the sphere of the supernatural a totally different means of achieving knowledge and understanding is necessary. Scientific method obviously no longer applies. But God has provided another method. It is divine revelation. The Bible is the text book as well as the primary reference. The Holy Spirit replaces human reason. The rules of causality apply but they are not the rules of natural causality or the laws of nature. In fact the Bible cautions strongly against the practice of relying upon human reason within this realm. (1 Cor2:10-13)

Respecting this understanding of the world, the domain of the natural gains a new perspective. With it certain implications are apparent. For example, the Bible is a book of history. The careful reader will recognize that it is filled with historical detail to establish context, setting, and relevance. It's intent for historicity is exhaustive. But the Bible speaks of supernatural effects of worldwide impact such as the creation, the flood, and the long day of Joshua. These are pre-historic events by any other human record. They are beyond observation or laboratory experiment. If indeed the laws of nature were superseded in such events, then the laws of nature cannot be used to extrapolate with precision backwards beyond these particular points in time. And so we would do well to be very careful in applying the laws of nature, limited by human reasoning, to develop any natural picture of the pre-historic world or its chronology. This is not to say that natural laws do not to some extent fill in the picture, but any postulation based purely upon naturalistic reasoning is in danger of great error.

Another intriguing inference of this larger world view is that if God is a personal God involved in history as the Bible says and other supernatural beings are part of this world, then the realm of the natural must at some point meet the realm of the supernatural. Furthermore, man is also, as the Bible describes, more than just a physical body. He has a soul or spirit beyond the natural. Therefore it should not be beyond conception to expect a point of departure for the laws of nature. Assuming that point to be observable it might easily be overlooked if one is not cognizant of such a possibility. There are many areas of scientific investigation in which unexplainable phenomena or circumstances have arisen. Throughout history some of these have eventually been reconciled with further knowledge or reasoning. One noteworthy example is the development of relativity theory. Eventually, a number of previously unexplained experimental observations were shown to support the new concept which then led to a significantly new level of understanding. In contrast another development, that of quantum mechanics, led to a circumstance which could not be so easily reconciled. From this mystery emerged the debate over the role of random chance on natural laws to which Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein exchanged volleys. The source of the dilemma was later articulated and formalized by Heisenberg. Reduced to postulate it became known as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, bearing his name. In simplest terms the principle states that because of the quantized or discrete nature of energy as presumed by quantum mechanics, the exact properties of matter and energy cannot at the same time be known completely. They may be formalized mathematically only by statistical or probabilistic means.

For example, a particle of matter such as an electron may have its position known exactly or its velocity known exactly but not both at the same time. Those who followed Bohr's thinking to its full conclusion would accept that the natural world was governed on some level by purely random phenomena, without causal relationship. On the other hand others, including Einstein, held to the strict belief that there was no place in the universe for non-deterministic phenomena. Either the theory could be harmonized with determinism or it was wrong. Einstein chose that it was wrong. Many conservative theologians and scholars might be tempted to chose the later conclusion also. This would warrant that Quantum mechanics would someday be proven inadequate or even wrong subsequently giving way to a more fitting theory to describe this aspect of the cosmos. And these scholars may well be proven correct. Certainly the former conclusion is not consistent with the God of the Bible. But consider for a moment an alternate conclusion lending itself to the recognition that God made a world of both the natural and the supernatural. Might there then be a point at which our investigation of the universe at its most basic level of understanding leads us to the edge of a cliff as it were. A precipice beyond which we peer, puzzled and confused, not able to apply natural reason any longer. As we look out over the expanse of the unknown we have a choice. To the pragmatic scientist randomness is an acceptable description of what he views. For the pure naturalist his only option is that he cannot yet see clearly; if he could all would be naturally explained. But perhaps rather than being just unknown, what lies beyond the ragged edge is actually unknowable by natural reasoning while still no less causal. The Bible tells us that man was created in the image of God. It also describes man as having a soul apart from the physical and a will to choose right and wrong. In these ways man is distinguished from God's other earthly creatures. Philosophers and theologians have long pondered the essence of man's freedom of will in a world of causality.

Consider a simple process such as the deliberate moving of the index finger from left to right. One could explain the physical motion by reference to the skeletal and muscular anatomy of the hand. Muscle cells contract on one side of the finger. The muscle in connected to bones which are compelled to a lateral motion. Continuing the physiological trail one would describe the nerves which provided electrical impulses to excite the muscle cells. Along the arm the nerve cells form a chain which sequentially deliver an impulse by electro-chemical action. The appropriate nerve terminates at the base of the brain. From there one finds that the nerve is given its impetus by a further pathway of nerve endings which are connected to tissue in the brain itself. If it were possible, the originating electro-chemical stimulus could be isolated to a cell or group of cells in a motor function area of the brain. Careful investigation might reveal even a particular chemical process in one or more cells where the original physical stimulus emerged. But if one continues with such analysis, one of two conclusions will likely be reached. The first possibility would render the complex process just described completely deterministic, that is to say if one were able to, a naturally causal sequence of events could be found to explain even the origin of the thought process which results in the finger moving from left to right. The implication being that every human action and thought is purely deterministic, natural, instinctive, and a fateful consequence of preceding events. The second possibility would, however, allow that at some point in the previous analysis of motor actions an autonomous thought which is not restricted by natural cause or determinism represents the source stimulus for all further physiological processes. In other words every free human thought which leads to a physical reaction exceeds the bounds of the laws of nature as science is able to define them.

What then of the implication of quantum mechanics? No one can be certain. Just the same it is interesting to consider that the theory of quantum mechanics appears to lead the thoughtful observer to the unnerving cliff, prompting the question of the limits to natural scientific thought. It is not in the question alone but in the possible answers that our concept of the universe is broadened. Certainly not random chance, but perhaps not total determinism either would explain the seemingly irreconcilable difficulty of this unknowable quantum world. It may be at such an end boundary of science where we find the beginning boundary of divine relationship with the world and with man.

The mysteries of quantum mechanical theory and its concepts have been characterized both as random chance or inadequate representations of deterministic reality. What appears to some to be random, to others inconsistent or at least lacking, may in actuality be a window between the "natural" and that which is beyond nature, the realm where supernatural causality finds expression in the natural, where the divine guides the simple, where freedom of will finds its origin. Such a consideration does not diminish God's sovereignty. Quite the contrary. Freedom of thought or will is a God given attribute. He reigns supreme above this or any marvel of human or even angelic nature. Certainly we will never comprehend, this side of heaven, the full majesty of God's creation. But He has made clear that He is a personal God, interactive with and in the creation. Further, He is a God who lives and dwells within man, "For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) However He chooses to accomplish His work, whether through the laws of nature and scientific formalism, whether through humanly discernible reasoning, or through divine "causality" beyond man's ability to apply equation or human reason with "ways past finding out", God's creation humbles all mortal praise.


1. R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), p.3.

2. Telegram sent to a Jewish newspaper in 1929 as quoted in Einstein's Universe by Nigel Calder, (New York: Penguin, 1980), p.230.

* Paul Ashley is a technical manager in a government research laboratory (US Army Aviation and Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama) where he has worked in the area of integrated photonics and electro-optical device development for 15 years. He is a graduate of Baylor University (BS Physics 1974) and Washington University (MA Physics 1976, MS Electrical Engineering 1977, D.Sc. Electrical Engineering 1978). He also serves as Minister of Education at a local Baptist Church and has taught courses in Bible Science, Bible History, and Church History for over 12 years.



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