Written by Vladimir Moss
Ever since the 1920s a gigantic paradox has opened up before the gaze of scientists. On the one hand, progress in discovering the laws of nature has increased apace; it would appear that there is no corner of the cosmos, and no aspect of its working, that cannot be understood in scientific terms. The Renaissance dream of universal knowledge appears within grasp. But on the other hand, the most fundamental science of all, quantum mechanics, which seeks to understand the sub-atomic particles and forces that underlie every material phenomenon, big and small, without exception, has discovered that the formulation of natural laws at the subatomic level is in principle impossible. The uncertainty or indeterminacy principle precludes any law governing the tiniest units of matter, space and time.
Thus it would appear that modern science has taken us back to the springs of paganism – that is, to the belief in fate, on the one hand, and chance, on the other. Fate, in the form of iron laws of nature to which there are no exceptions, governs everything at the higher level – that is, atoms, molecules and everything bigger and more complex up to the level of galaxies. In principle, therefore, given enough knowledge and intelligence and time, we should eventually be able to predict the behaviour of all things at this higher level. At the lower level, however, nothing is predictable – and not because of a lack of knowledge or intelligence, but simply because that is the way things are – fundamentally unpredictable. Thus the universe is lawful and lawless at the same time.
How is that possible? How can lawfulness be based on lawlessness, iron fate on insubstantial chance? A house that is built, not on rock, but on sand, cannot stand. And yet the house of modern science would appear to stand, at least as regards inorganic matter; otherwise how are we able to create such amazing technologies, which are rapidly transforming our world beyond recognition? In its own way, too, quantum physics appears to stand; while not a single event is predictable, in statistical groups precise predictions can be made. So the individual grains of sand are unpredictable; but in groups they are predictable. So fate appears to exist, as does chance; both are true, both must be affirmed if we are to do justice to what we see.
The solution to our dilemma is to be found in the first two verses of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void… And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Here we see that God created both the cosmic order that characterizes the heavens and the earth, and the lack of order, or chaos, that characterizes the void and formless abyss. In the rest of the first chapter of Genesis the continents and the seas, the plants and the animals, and finally man are created. Nowhere are we told that the original chaos disappears. Could it be that while the cosmos is being formed, together with its laws, the lawlessness of chaos continues to exist as the underpinning of law, as it were?
If this is so, then God the Lawgiver is the essential and only possible link between the lawlessness of subatomic reality, over which He “hovers”, and the lawfulness of atomic and supra-atomic reality, which He brings into being through His Word. In that case, however, we must modify the conceptions of fate and chance that we have received from the pagans. For if the laws of nature, or fate, are in fact created by God, then they exist only in accordance with His will, and can be suspended by Him at any time. In other words, what we call miracles, suspensions of the laws of nature, must be possible. On the other hand, if the Spirit of God “hovers” also over the formless abyss, then the events that take place in the abyss can no longer be considered to be random; for they are determined by God in accordance with His will. These quantum seem to us to be random, and may indeed be so, in that they do not conform with any law of nature. But every single one of them is willed by God, and therefore are not lawless in relation to the Lawgiver Himself; for “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14.33).
And so everything, both at the subatomic level and at the supra-atomic levels, is willed by God and for that reason is lawful, even if it seems lawless from a human point of view. There is no such thing as chance, real randomness! If there were, then there could be no meaning or law at any level; the lawlessness of subatomic particles would translate to lawlessness in every cosmic phenomenon. But in the beginning God created all things through His Word, or Logos, or Reason, and therefore is logical and reasonable – from the point of view of the Creator. He creates order out of chaos, law out of seeming lawlessness. This, if only they knew it, places a permanent check on the ambitions of scientists to know everything there is to know.
Let us go further. The fundamental unit existence, according to the modern physicists, is not a thing or an event, but a spectrum of possible things or events. Moreover, it exists as such only while it is not being observed. When the wave function is observed (by a physical screen or a living being), it collapses into one and one only of the possibilities that define it.
Now this idea creates hardly less serious problems for the classical view of the world as the idea of indeterminism. For it suggests that the objective existence of the world is tied up to an extraordinary, almost solipsistic extent with the subjective perception of that world. Indeed, the fundamental unit of objective reality, the quantum wave function, becomes real – that is, a single actual event, as opposed to a multiple spectrum of possible events – only when it is observed, that is, when it becomes part of subjective reality, when it is in a relationship with an observer…
That this continues to disturb the minds of scientists even to this day is witnessed by a recent cover story in the prestigious scientific weekly New Scientist: “Before observation, such quantum objects are said to be in a superposition of all possible observable outcomes. This doesn’t mean that we exist in many states at once, rather that we can only say that all the allowed outcomes of measurement remain possible. This potential is represented in the quantum wave function, a mathematical expression that encodes all outcomes and their relative possibilities
“But it isn’t at all obvious what, if anything, the wave function can tell you about the nature of a quantum system before we make a measurement. That act reduces all those possible outcomes to one, dubbed the collapse of the wave function – but no one really knows what that means either. Some researchers think it might be a real physical process, like radioactive decay. Those who subscribe to the many-worlds interpretation think it is an illusion conjured by the splitting of the universe into each of the possible outcomes. Others still say that there is no point in trying to explain it – and besides, who cares? The maths works, so just shut up and calculate.
“Whatever the case, wave function collapse seems to hinge on intervention or observation, throwing up some huge problems, not least about the role of consciousness in the whole process. This is the measurement problem, arguably the biggest headache in quantum theory. ‘It is very hard,’ says Kelvin McQueen, a philosopher at Chapman University in California. ‘More interpretations are being thrown up every day, but all of them have problems.’”
Now it is obvious that the vast majority of quantum wave functions are not observed by men or any scientific instrument. And yet they are constantly being actualized, as it were, making the transition from possibility to actuality. So who is observing them, making our lives actual and not just possible? The answer can only be: God. But of course, God is not just a passive observer of His creation: He is its Creator. It would not exist in any form, possible or actual, without His creative act. For in Him “we live and move and have our being” (Acts17.28).
Man is said to be created in the image of God, and one of the aspects of the Divine image, according to the Holy Fathers, is man’s freedom. In other words, man, like God, is able to make choices, actualize one out of a number of possibilities, thereby bringing order out of chaos. Thus I choose to type the letters and words of the present article, and not any other. I could have written something different, but I didn’t, and that is my choice, the manifestation of my creative freedom.
At the same time, my freedom is strictly dependent on God’s. I could not choose to write these words if God had not created, and sustained in being, both my soul and my body, and all the natural laws that govern the process of writing an article. To think otherwise, to think, like Nietzsche and the existentialists, that we are free in some absolute and godless way, is madness. And madness is chaos, the absence of reason, logic and law. Therefore I can deliver myself from this madness, and acquire sanity, only through faith – faith in God, and faith in myself as created in the image of God.
Let us pray, with the holy apostles, that God may strengthen our faith that God is the Creator, that He continues to be in complete control of even the very smallest of natural processes, and that without Him we can truly do nothing.
April 30 / May 13, 2019.
St. James the son of Zebedee.
St. Erkenwald, Bishop of London.
 Philip Ball, “Reality? It’s What You Make of It”, New Scientist, November, 2017, p. 29.