December 14, 1900, is called the birthday of quantum mechanics. On this date German physicist Max Planck first presented his new quantum concepts. At this time it was generally thought that the classical physics of Isaac Newton fully explained all the physical processes of nature. Planck instead showed that many deep mysteries remained. For the past century, scientists have struggled with the meaning and implications of quantum mechanics. There are several different quantum interpretations, some of them quite philosophical. Certain experimental results agree with quantum theory to astounding accuracy. Other quantum predictions appear to defy common sense. A few scientists, both secular and creationist, reject the validity of quantum mechanics entirely. Creationist Thomas Barnes has offered one alternative model (Barnes, 1983).
Four Traditional Quantum Concepts
|Max Planck (1858-1947) German scientist, founder of quantum mechanics.|
Max Planck showed that the energy content of an object cannot be any arbitrary amount. Instead, energy occurs only in small discrete bundles called quanta. Increasing energy must not be pictured as a smooth ramp, but instead as a stairway (figure 1). Quantum effects only become apparent on the small scale of atomic particles. For larger objects, such as a person, the individual energy steps are extremely small and unnoticeable. Otherwise we might find ourselves living in a bizarre quantum world where everything happened in jumps, as with a blinking strobe light.
The second well-known concept is that light and matter show both wave and particle behavior. The light meter of a camera illustrates the particle nature of light. In this device, incident light photons collide with electrons, somewhat like marbles, and produce an electric current which indicates the light intensity. Likewise, the wave nature of electrons is used to produce magnified images in an electron microscope. As with energy quantization, the wave nature of larger objects is not noticeable.
|Figure 1. In the older classical view an object's energy may be any amount (a). In the quantum view, energy may only occur in discrete levels or steps (b).|
A third concept is called the Uncertainty Principle, formulated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927. It describes an inherent limitation on our measuring ability. For example, as we determine the position of a particle more precisely, its motion (actually momentum) and thus its future location become less well known. Likewise, precise knowledge of a particle's motion hinders knowledge of its present location. This limitation is far different from classical physics where it is thought possible to know an object's position and speed exactly. In this older deterministic view, the exact future course of an object theoretically can be calculated. The Uncertainty Principle invalidates this exact knowledge for any particle. Note that this principle does not place a limit on the Creator who makes the particles and rules in the first place, but only on ourselves.
Fourth, particles are usually described by such properties as their mass, speed, size, and electric charge. In quantum mechanics these quantities can be incorporated into a wave function, given the symbol y . This wave function is a descriptive model of particles. It is mathematically complex and unobservable. The square of y (with its complex conjugate) is found to give the probability of the particle's location, a very useful but poorly-understood concept. The wave function y can further be substituted into a famous equation constructed by Erwin Schrodinger in 1926. From this equation many particle properties can be calculated. Mystery cloaks these computational steps, although the results agree closely with experiment. The Schrodinger Equation cannot be derived from theory; it simply "works." Albert Einstein was uncomfortable with the equation and never fully accepted it.
New Quantum Concepts
Three newer quantum ideas will be presented. Each had enjoyed experimental success in recent years. First is the "nonlocality" of particles. Interference experiments show that a single electron somehow is able to "spread out" and pass through two separate openings at the same time. Instead of a single particle, the electron can be pictured as a "wave packet" which can shrink or expand with time. Similar experiments also have detected a single beryllium atom in two slightly different locations at once (Monroe, et al., 1996).
Second, it appears that certain pairs of particles can somehow influence each other even when widely separated (Pool, 1998). When one of the particles is disturbed, the remote companion, perhaps miles away, instantly reacts. This unexpected behavior has been compared to extrasensory perception or even voodoo. It has also led to intriguing claims about the possible instant "teleportation" of a person from one place to another. There may be a theological connection here with the future state and ability of believers.
Third, the Casimir Effect appears to show the existence of virtual particles that exist in a perfect vacuum. An infinitesimal pressure has been measured within a laboratory vacuum, apparently from these ethereal particles (Baker, 1997). The virtual particles are sometimes further used to explain the origin of the universe. Thus it is said that a quantum mechanical fluctuation of virtual particles long ago gave rise to the big bang expansion. However, this origin explanation fails for at least two reasons. First, the big bang theory postulates no preexisting space or vacuum. Hence there would have been no place for virtual particles to fluctuate. Second, virtual particles, if real, form as matter and antimatter in equal amounts. However our universe appears to consist almost entirely of ordinary matter. Antimatter is distinctly rare.
Several unsupported suppositions have been attached to quantum theory, particularly in popular literature. The Copenhagen Interpretation (CI) is named for the laboratory location of the Danish scientist Niels Bohr (1885-1962). This radical view states that reality and observation are directly related. Until an observation is made of an electron, the particle actually exists in several states or locations at once. The act of measurement then "collapses" the electron wave function to the particular place where the electron is actually found. One famous, extreme example concerns a box containing a cat which is either dead or alive. The CI view says that the unseen cat is somehow both dead and alive at the same time, until the box is opened. The act of opening the box then forces upon nature one choice or the other for the cat. There are New Age overtones in the Copenhagen Interpretation connection between mind and matter. The CI view conflicts with Christian theology on several points. It is by the Lord that all things consist, not by the hand of man (Colossians 1:17). Also, reality is independent of human observation, since God completed His creation before human occupation.
The Many Worlds Interpretation of Hugh Everett is even more bizarre than the CI. Everett suggests that with every laboratory measurement, and also with every decision a person makes, the universe splits into additional universes. The resulting multiple universes contain every possible outcome. When the box with the cat is opened, one universe continues where the cat is alive, and another where it has died. Every instant the plurality of separate universes multiplies toward infinity like a chain reaction. Each universe contains a mirror image of you with a uniquely different destiny. The absurdity of the Many Worlds view and the impossibility of its verification are obvious.
The Hidden Variables interpretation of David Bohm suggests that our quantum mechanics understanding simply is far from complete. There are yet unknown physical processes by which particles interact, even at great distance. This view may have some merit since our understanding of the Creation remains incomplete. God's ways are certainly "past finding out" (Romans 11:33). A final interpretation concludes that the universe is unknowable and will always defy common sense. Nature is said to be out of control and irrational. As a result we must simply live with conflict in science. This view of despair neglects God who, though living on a higher plane than us, operates a consistent and dependable universe.
There are several challenging ideas in quantum mechanics. It is no wonder that some scientists remain skeptical of the entire subject. However quantum mechanics has proven invaluable in many areas. There are no strong competing explanations for transistor and laser operation, radioactivity, chemistry quantum numbers, magnetic effects, and a host of other areas. Aside from the silly and heretical interpretations which some have imposed on it, there is no necessary conflict between creation and quantum mechanics. Only time will tell whether quantum theory endures or is replaced by some better but entirely different theory. Meanwhile the topic offers an intriguing look at the deeper details of God's creation. Quantum originator Max Planck expressed this same view in a 1937 address. He stated that science and religion wage a "tireless battle against skepticism and dogmatism, against unbelief and superstition," with the goal: "toward God!" (Gillispie, 1975).
Baker, Howard, "Fifty Years and the Force is with us at Last," New Scientist, 153, (January 25, 1997): p. 16.
Barnes, Thomas, Physics of the Future, 1983, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, California.
Gillispie, Charles C., ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. XI, 1975, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, p. 15.
Monroe, C., D.M. Meekhof, B.E. King, and D.J. Wineland, "A `Schrodinger Cat' Superposition of an Atom," Science, 272, (May 24, 1996): pp. 1131-1136.
Pool, Robert, "Score One More for the Spooks," Discover, 18, (January 1998): p. 53.
* Dr. DeYoung is Adjunct Professor of Astrophysics in the ICR Graduate School.