Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Physicist in Defense of Religion

     This essay will not be in support of any one religion, or of a lack thereof, or of anything in between. I consider myself an agnostic, so I don't know what I would be supporting even if I DID write a essay like that. Rather, I want to even the playing field. There are lots of proclaimed scientific arguments for the nonexistence of god (many of which are as faulty as they claim a belief in god is, but many of which have merit), but not many in support of the existence of a higher entity. I want to outline the two main reasons that I think faultless science may still allow for the existence of some higher power.
     The first reason is the Big Bang Theory (the scientific model, not the TV show, though the TV show is great). Contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang Theory is not a model of the origin of the universe, but rather a model of its early evolution and expansion and the criteria to which this must have adhered and the qualities which it must have produced. The Big Bang Theory can actually do very little to explain what the universe was like at its moment of creation, other than extrapolate that it must have had infinite density and temperature (which means infinite mass and infinite energy) and infinitely small size, and it can do nothing to explain where this singularity, this particle of infinite mass and energy and zero size, actually came from. This is a powerful point in support of the existence of some higher power which actually brought this singularity into existence.
     The second reason is the whole field of quantum mechanics. Most people who feel that science disproves religion seem to have a deterministic worldview; this means that they believe that, if we know the position and velocity of every particle in the universe and the forces at work, we can determine what the future of the universe and everything in it will be. This was considered true for a long long time, until the advent of quantum mechanics with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in 1927, at which point it was determined that it is an inherent quality of particles that certain pairs of physical properties can only be known with a certain extent of precision, such as position and momentum. Since then, despite Einstein's famous quote, "God does not play dice with the universe," it has been experimentally proven time and again that on a quantum level (meaning on the level of magnitude of very small particles like electrons) there are no deterministic answers, only probabilities. There's a pretty good chance that that electron will be somewhere in that electron shell of that atom, but there's also a higher-than-is-negligible chance that that electron is much farther out, or much closer in, or not in existence for a few seconds, or in two places at the same time for a few seconds. (Unless you've heard this before, I'm sure this is blowing your mind and you don't believe me at face value, but I encourage you to do some individual research on the subject and prove me right. Google is a valuable resource.)
     There's also a very very very minuscule, infinitely small chance that someone will completely stop existing all at once, if every particle in their body decides to stop existing at the same time. The reason I bring this up is that, if the universe is not deterministic and the particles that everything is made up of are controlled by probabilities, then it is very possible that a higher power would be able to use these properties to influence our daily lives. For example, neurons and synapses and the signals sent along them are very small and very delicate things; very small changes could conceivably show relatively large effects in the behavior of a person. Coupled with what is known in popular science as The Butterfly Effect, which states that small changes in initial conditions of a system can result in large changes in later stages of the same system, it is conceivable that a higher power could effect very large effects in the universe, seemingly without breaking the known laws of physics. This is what I choose to believe people mean when they say things like, "God works in mysterious ways."
     Beyond that, there's always the idea that science is continually changing. What we believe today could be proved wrong tomorrow. For some perspective, it wasn't until 1905 that Einstein solved countless paradoxes and problems in physics by challenging the notion of absolute time, and 230 years passed from Newton's proposition of the Law of Universal Gravitation to Einstein's proposition of gravity as a curvature of spacetime. More than anything else, this essay is a plea that you should listen to someone of any faith or lack thereof before dismissing their point of view.

For anyone interested in bite-sized tidbits of physics, visit Minute Physics's YouTube page, and be blown away.
Even Einstein, who revolutionized the world of Physics at least three times over, was wrong about quantum mechanics.

- Adarsh Nednur

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