If a Tree Falls in the Forest

Yesterday I talked about Dr. Henry Schaefer's book Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? and what it says about the intelligent design debate. Today I want to talk about another part of the book that caught my attention: Schaefer's discussion of quantum mechanics. I realize that a discussion like this will sound a little bit intimidating. Fortunately, Schaefer does a good job of clarifying the subject for those of us who haven't spent years studying science. Quantum mechanics is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as the "science dealing with the behavior of matter and light on the atomic and subatomic scale." This field is a specialty of Schaefer's, and so he's very familiar with the popular argument that quantum mechanics supports postmodernism. He also has enough experience in the field to show that quantum mechanics does no such thing. The postmodernists' argument goes something like this: Scientists are unable to measure precisely both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same time. This phenomenon is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Some scientists believe that this inability is due to human fallibility. This is what Einstein was talking about when he said, "God does not play dice with the universe." He meant that it is not the laws of nature that are to blame when we can't make exact measurements; it is our own limitations. But postmodernists take a different approach, interpreting the uncertainty principle as a sign of human strength rather than weakness. As Schaefer puts it, postmodernists "claim that when we choose which property will be measured during an experiment, this is essentially equivalent to saying that we 'create' a particular property." In the words of science writer Michael Talbot, "It is the consciousness of the observer that intervenes and triggers which of the possible outcomes is observed." In other words, the postmodernist argument: There isn't any objective reality, only the reality created by the observer. You could say that this argument is a variation on the old question, "If a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" To that, the postmodernists would answer no. Schaefer begs to differ. He writes, "Experiments are obviously designed and directed by human beings. But this does not mean that the observer gives reality to the quantum event. One can always imagine a set of natural circumstances (involving no human being) that could give rise to the same quantum event." The postmodernist sees no objective pattern in the movement of molecules. But when you use a high-speed spectrascope, Schaefer says, you see a pattern and order that immediately impress the human mind as examples of design and "seem to be pointing to some sort of intelligible truth." That's another direct blow to the postmodern interpretation of physics. As Schaefer points out, to study science at all requires one to believe that "the universe is real, not illusory" and that "mankind . . . can discover order in the universe by rational interpretation." It's not the postmodern worldview that teaches this truth; it's the Christian worldview. It's just more evidence that, in science as in other fields, faith is a help, not a hindrance. For further reading and information: Dr. Henry F. Schaefer III, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? (University of Georgia, 2003). Read the table of contents from the book and read comments from others. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040308, "Science in the Light of Faith: A Valuable Perspective." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040105, "Scientists and Their Gods: The Question of Coherence." See also BreakPoint commentaries "Lost and Found" and "A New Ending to an Old Story." Jonathan C. Rienstra-Kiracofe, "God Is in the Details," Books & Culture, 23 February 2004. Read lectures by Dr. Henry Schaefer.
  1. P. Moreland, "What is Scientific Naturalism?Boundless, 4 March 2004.
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Chuck Colson


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