Quantum Mysteries

  Picture this for a movie idea: Two men visit a medieval abbey in France, where a physics professor lectures them for hours on the meaning of life. Sounds deadly dull, doesn't it? But surprise: It's the theme of a trendy art film called Mindwalk, which has attracted a loyal band of devotees. Mindwalk is based on a book by physicist Fritjof Capra. In fact, it's little more than a series of lectures expounding Capra's personal philosophy-- which is that quantum physics supports Eastern mysticism. As one reviewer put it, the movie is little more than a "New Age seminar." But what does quantum physics have to do with New Age mysticism? Quantum mechanics has discovered that the parts of an atom--such as electrons--behave sometimes as particles, sometimes as waves. The reason this is so disturbing is that waves and particles have properties that are flat out contradictory. For example, a wave is spread out in space, while a particle is confined to a tiny region. Scientists often resolve the contradiction by saying an electron merely appears as a particle or wave-- depending on the kind of experiment we run. But if we determine what properties an electron has, some scientists conclude, then we are not merely passive observers; instead, we actively create something whenever we make an observation. For New Agers, this rings of Eastern mysticism, which teaches that the universe is a creation of our minds. As Capra puts it, "The electron does not have objective properties independent of my mind." In Mysticism and the New Physics, Michael Talbot says that "there is no physical world `out there.' Consciousness creates all." This mystical interpretation of the new physics is repeated in countless New Age books. But real physicists consider it totally bogus. After all, scientists don't affect experiments through their minds but through their instruments. Atomic particles are tracked using photographic screens and Geiger counters. No scientist even needs to be present for black marks to appear on a photographic screen or for a Geiger counter to click. No, whatever New Agers say, quantum mechanics does not deny that an objective world exists independent of our minds. And that means it is not really compatible with Eastern mysticism at all. The religion it actually favors is Christianity--for the Bible teaches that God created a real world, not just a dream of human consciousness. Does quantum physics lead to the New Age? As Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton show in The Soul of Science, this is one reason modern science emerged in the West and not the East. The early scientists were Christians, and they accepted the biblical teaching that the world is real and can be investigated by rational methods. You may have thought of quantum physics as an abstract theory far removed from our lives. But its impact is terribly near to all of us, since a misguided interpretation is opening the door to the New Age. Christians ought to be the ones teaching our children, writing books, and, yes, even producing trendy films to explain what the new physics really means. Otherwise we will continue to leave the field wide open to New Agers.


Chuck Colson



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