Demystifying the Faith – A Realm of Quantum Physics
Science has influenced and benefited our every aspect of life. Physics, in particular, plays a vital role in defining many cosmic secrets and other metaphysical phenomena. Classical physics, also known as Newtonian physics, had its constraints and discretions, thereby was limited to the macroscopic world and incompetent to define some hidden forces. With the emergence of Quantum physics, also known as Modern physics, the incompetence of physics was doffed. Top cosmic secrets and forces were unmasked. Science came with new driving force to explore the world beyond the macroscopic world. Quantum physics has come to symbolize complexity and most of us try to shy away from it. But, the fundamental reality is that if we put mathematics aside and find the right teachers, following arguments in Quantum physics is not any harder than any other scientific, religious, philosophical, logical or political argument.
Laplace, a famous French scientist who was a disciple of determinism, states: “We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.”
If our world is deterministic then the claims of atheist scientists are true and there is no room for Islam. If hard determinism is true then God does not exist and our claims about human soul are no more than those in previous decades about Santa Claus and in previous centuries about witches. Determinism theorizes that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes. It is usually understood to preclude free will because it entails that humans cannot act otherwise than they do. The theory holds that the universe is utterly rational because complete knowledge of any given situation assures that unerring knowledge of its future is also possible. If a mind, at any given moment, could know all of the forces operating in nature and the respective positions of all its components, it would thereby know with certainty the future and the past of every entity, large or small.
So, if determinism is true there is no need to invoke human soul, human free will and Providence of God. These three become agents that simply cannot influence our world.
Determinism is often taken to mean simply causal determinism: an idea known in physics as cause-and-effect. It is the concept that events within a given paradigm are bound by causality in such a way that any state (of an object or event) is completely determined by prior states. Within numerous historical debates, many varieties and philosophical positions on the subject of determinism exist. This includes debates concerning human action and free will, where opinions might be sorted as compatibilistic and incompatibilistic.
I, as a Muslim, naturally believe in free will and deny Hard Determinism. Philosophers have created four different combinations of belief (or disbelief) in free will and determinism. They have argued that either Determinism or Indeterminism is true, and also that Free Will either exists or it does not. This creates four possible positions. Compatibilism refers to the view that free will is, in some sense, compatible with Determinism. The three Incompatibilist positions, on the other hand, deny this possibility. They instead suggest there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will (only one can be true).To the Incompatibilists, one must choose either free will or Determinism, and maybe even reject both. The result is one of three positions:
1) Metaphysical Arena (free will, and no Determinism)
2) Hard Determinism (Determinism, and no free will).
3) Hard Indeterminism (No Determinism, and no free will either).
Going by this classification, I am arguing for Metaphysical Arena. I believe in free will and deny Determinism. The principle of free will has religious, ethical, and scientific implications. For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that individual will and choices can coexist with an omnipotent divinity. In ethics, it may hold implications for whether individuals can be held morally accountable for their actions. Quantum physics developed in the twentieth century provides explanation and avenue not only for our free will but also for God’s Providence. There are so many phenomena which, if we contemplate, are totally out of mind because we cannot underestimate them with the logic of our brain. As Newtonian laws are outmoded in Modern physics, we cannot coerce them. Similarly, we cannot superimpose the defined things of metaphysical cosmos to material physics cosmos. The divine revelations, the angels, the Resurrection, the death, the Heaven and the Hell cannot be acknowledged through material physics, rather can be extrapolated in means of metaphysical sciences.
The Miracle of Light – An Everyday Metaphor to Appreciate Quantum Physics.
The scientific conflict between particle and wave models of light has permeated the history of science for several centuries. The issue dates back, at least, to Newton. His careful investigations into the properties of light in the 1660s led to his discovery that white light consists of a mixture of colours. He struggled with a formulation of the nature of light, ultimately asserting that light consists of a stream of corpuscles, or simply particles. The wave model explains certain observed phenomena but the photoelectric phenomena are best explained by this corpuscular nature of light.
If you have ever watched a blacksmith holding a metal wire over a coal flame, you have borne witness to one of the great secrets of the universe. As the wire gets hotter, it begins to glow, to give off light. And the colour of that light changes with temperature. A cooler wire gives off a reddish glow, while the hottest wires shine with a blue-white brilliance. What you are watching, as any high school physics student can tell you, is the transformation of one kind of energy (heat) into another (light). As the wire gets hotter and hotter, it gets brighter. That’s because if there is more heat energy available, more light energy can be given off, which makes sense.
Why does the colour of that light change with temperature? Throughout the nineteenth century, this deceptively simple question baffled the best minds of classical physics. As the wire gets hotter and hotter, the atoms within it move more rapidly. Maybe that causes the colour (the wavelength) of the light to change? Well, that’s true, but there’s more to it. Every time classical physicists used their understanding of matter and energy to try to predict exactly which wavelengths of light should be given off by a hot wire, they got it wrong. At high temperatures, those classical predictions were dramatically wrong. Something didn’t make sense. Max Planck, a German physicist, found a way to solve the problem. Physicists had always assumed that light, being a wave, could be emitted from an object at any wavelength and in any amount. Planck realized that for this phenomenon the particulate nature, as suggested by Newton, was the key. He proposed that light could only be released in little packets containing a definite amount of energy. He called these packets or corpuscles of Newton as quanta. All of a sudden, everything fell into place. It was known that when some solids were struck by light, they emitted electrons. This phenomenon is called the photoelectric effect. Albert Einstein offered the best explanation of the photoelectric effect in a brilliant paper that eventually won him his Nobel Prize. He seized on the dual nature of light. Light was not only a waveform but is composed of individual quanta, later called photons. This understanding of the dual nature of light was needed to explain some of the phenomena that had been observed in the study of light. The wave theory of light did not explain the photoelectric effect but conceptualizing the light to be also particle solved this riddle. Einstein proposed that the energy to eject a single electron from the plate came from a single quantum of light whose energy (frequency) should be greater than the ejected electron. But the energy in each of those packets is determined by the wavelength, the colour of the light. With one stroke of genius, Einstein had shown that Planck’s quanta were not just theoretical constructs. Light really could behave as if it were made of a stream of particles, today known as photons. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics for this work.
Classical physics had prepared everyone to think of physical events as governed by fixed laws, but the quantum revolution quickly destroyed this Newtonian certainty. An object as simple as a mirror can show us why. A household mirror reflects about ninety-five per cent of light hitting it. The other five per cent passes right through. As long as we think of light as a wave, a continuous stream of energy, it’s easy to visualize ninety-five per cent reflection. But photons are indivisible. Each individual photon must either be reflected or pass through the surface of the mirror. That means that for one hundred photons fired at the surface, ninety-five will bounce off but five will pass right through. If we fire a series of one hundred photons at the mirror, can we tell in advance which will be the five that are going to pass through? Absolutely not. All photons of a particular wavelength are identical; there is nothing to distinguish one from the other. If we rig up an experiment in which we fire a single photon at our mirror, we cannot predict in advance what will happen, no matter how precise our knowledge of the system might be. Most of the time, that photon is going to come bouncing off; but one out of twenty times, on average, it’s going to go right through. There is nothing we can do, not even in principle, to figure out when that one chance in twenty is going to come up. It means that the outcome of each individual experiment is unpredictable in principle.
Any hopes that the strange uncertainty of quantum behaviour would be confined to light was quickly destroyed when it became clear that the quantum theory had to be applied to explain the behaviour of electrons also. Their behaviour in any individual encounter, just like the photon fired at the mirror, cannot be predicted, not even in principle. The photoelectric effect was leading the physics community to quantum mechanics. The unfolding of quantum mechanics was and still is a drama of high suspense. One hundred years after the discovery of the quantum, we can say that the answer is YES; that is exactly what nature is like…!!! Just because science can explain so many unknowns doesn’t mean that it can explain everything, or that it can vanquish the unknowable. At its very core, in the midst of the ultimate constituents of matter and energy, the predictable causality that once formed the heart of classical physics breaks down. Deep down nature is unknowable as the Transcendent God is Unknowable. It may be, this is where the finite meets the Infinite, and by the very nature of the meeting point, it is hidden in mystery and awe, an enigma or a riddle never to be solved!
The Islamic concept of God is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in each event that takes place in every cubic nanometer of the universe. He has full knowledge of all things. God listens to every thought and participates in each action of his very special creation – a minute bit of organized matter called humanity – that moves around on the surface of a tiny pebble (earth) in a vast universe. The Holy Quran declares:
Allah’s is the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and to Allah are all affairs returned for final judgment. (Al Quran 57:5)
Whereas the 19th-century physics was about to frame God out of a physical understanding of the universe, the 20th-century physics has turned the tables in favour of Monotheism. To the disbelievers, design in the universe is apparent but not real. For the theists, enlightened in science, the converse is true. The self-sufficiency of the universe based on the laws of nature is apparent and perceived only, and not real. Allah is the Law Giver and Sustainer of the universe. Both positions may be argued to some degree from modern science. However, only theism can offer a holistic approach, not only explaining our universe, but much more, from human morality and ethics to our history and personal experience.
When we approach science from this theistic perspective we find that our religion and science become one and our psyche finds contentment. If there is a ‘Personal God’ that hears human prayers then there has to be a way for the Deity to influence the physical world without breaking the laws of nature and making the study of science futile. Quantum physics may be the magical wand, whereby ‘Personal God’ can influence our world, without breaking the laws of nature. In His infinite wisdom, the Omniscient God provided for infinite means, at the quantum level, to maintain His divinity! He says in the Holy Quran, in Surah Hadid:
He (Allah) is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden, and He knows every little detail fully well. (Al Quran 57:3)
Quantum Physics, till now, seems to be that magical wand by which Allah has established His divinity on each and every quark, photon and boson. In doing so, He has not only provided for His Providence but also for our free will, while ensuring predictability and reign of laws of nature at the macroscopic level.
The author is a blogger, columnist and is currently working as a Guest-lecturer at Govt Polytechnic College Kulgam. He may be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.