Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Logic and the Light of the World

I want to react to something Dr. William Lane Craig has been discussing. I don’t want to particularly criticize him, although I think he is led in certain directions in this discussion because of a commitment to Arminianism. Otherwise, I think he’s right. But I want to take the opportunity his discourse affords and advance my own take on it.

Read his answer to the question a reader submitted here regarding the attack by some physicists on logic based on an apparent tension between theories and principles of quantum physics and basic math. You may not understand what they are talking about, so it may not be worth your time to read it. Nevertheless, I’ll try to explain it in its simplest form.

Quantum physics is that part of physics that deal with the way atoms and things even smaller than atoms interact with each other. It’s an interesting world when things get that small. It doesn’t seem to work the same way as things do up in the normal world where we can see people and other things our size, from large buildings and mountains down to small gears for watches, needles and threads. There’s just a certain way that the world works that we are familiar with. But atomic things don’t seem to work quite the same way.

But it’s similar. Maybe we can imagine that atoms are like billiard balls being hit against one another. Except that some of the billiard balls are attached to each other with strong rubber bands and they are all being thrown against each other with so much speed and force it’s like they were being shot out of a cannon at each other. So instead of a normal game of pool, it’s dangerous and extreme. Very small things move with great speed and force.

When you play pool or have seen it played, can you always predict where the balls will go when they are broken up at the first shot? It’s really hard to do. There are too many factors that are impossible to measure and calculate. But there is generally a pattern to the break that one can guess at. So the first person hits the cue ball hard and hopes that something good goes in one of the holes. Most of the time, if a ball goes in a hole on the break, it’s one of the holes behind the triangle of balls that have been racked together for the first shot. There’s a certain probability that can be calculated in an attempt to predict what might happen: “70% of the time, a ball will go into the back pocket on the break.” Something like that can be said. This is called Probability Theory.

So it is with quantum physics. We expect that we should be able to predict what will happen in most circumstances. What circumstances are we talking about? Generally we look at a small system. If we have our eye on a single atom, we look at the atoms nearby it to see what effect they will have on the one atom. If you are playing pool, you don’t expect that some ball on a pool table in another pool hall across town will have any effect on the balls on your table. So there is a theory regarding locality in quantum mechanics. We don’t think that an atom on the other side of the earth, much less the other side of the galaxy, will have any effect on the atoms under our microscope.

The problem is that what we figure will probably happen doesn’t happen. In fact, sometimes we see very small particles behaving in unpredictable ways. It’s like they have a mind of their own. So what could cause them to behave differently? Is the Probability Theory wrong? Or is it that the principle of locality is wrong. Could something be influencing the balls on our little microscopic pool table from across town? When Craig mentions Bell’s Theorem, this is what he’s talking about.

So there are physicists who look at this and question the Probability Theory. Their ultimate goal is to bring into question our understanding of logic. However, Bell’s Theorem depends on the logic that is being called into question. So if the logic is wrong, then so is Bell’s theory – as well as the basis for the speculations these physicists are making.

If Bell is right in that we can dismiss neither the Probability Theory nor the principle of locality then the only answer is that the particle is behaving in some way predetermined.  If I understand this correctly, Craig doesn’t like this because he’s set on libertarian free will. He doesn’t like things that are predetermined. Once again, if I understand correctly, he likes the Probability Theory for the same reason. It adds the element of luck into the universe. So I’ve heard it often said among Christians that there is no luck because of God’s sovereignty. In this regard I believe the matter to be merely epistemological rather than normative. That means that it seems like luck to us because we can’t know all the facts, but the facts are still there. There are tiny elements that play into the mechanics of the universe that generate the results that appear to us to be random. In other words, they are not without a cause. Given Craig’s Molinism, I wouldn’t expect him to have a problem with this. There must be a way that God selects one possible future from another in the Molinistic system.

But I agree that it is the principle of locality that needs to be challenged. Let me try to explain from here to the end a simplified form of relativity and what I’m thinking in terms of things that are not local that can influence quantum particles.

Let’s say we are standing on a shoreline. Out in the water is a motorboat that comes tooling by. A few moments later and we are inundated by small waves generated by the boat. The waves were generated a few moments ago, but it took those few moments to get to us. By the time they get to us we can turn and see how the position of the boat is different than it was when it generated the waves now lapping at our feet.

Now let us pretend that the waves that are lapping at our feet are light waves. We need them to see. So the waves being generated now by the boat are not to us yet. We don’t see the boat where it actually is. We see the boat where it was when it made the waves. If we had a clock that was synchronized with a clock on the boat, we could come back together and check those clocks. As slow as boats usually go, we would see that the clocks were still reading the same time.

Ah, but if the boat were to amazingly move at somewhere near the speed of light, something would be different. When we came back together, our clocks would read differently. They would now appear to run at the same speed, but it would be clear that they experienced a different amount of time. This is called “time dilation”. If we do that math to explain the difference between the clocks, we would learn that the distance the boat traveled appeared to be different between the shore where we were standing and on the boat.

The appearance of the difference is that the boat travels slower than it should, given the speed that it is travelling. So while energy is pushing the boat forward, that energy appears to be lost from the perspective of the shore. Where does that energy go? Let’s make the same observation if the boat were instead an electron. So now we’re looking at an atom that has some electrons in orbit. If you remember your physical science class, the electrons are in orbit at specific distances around the nucleus of the atom. These specific distances are often called shells. But it’s not quite as simple as they led us all to believe in class. The outer electrons can have fewer electrons or the outer shell have extra electrons. This makes the atom an ion of one sort or another.

But there might be some extra energy in the system so one of the outer electrons might be up in a higher shell it normally would be. Add some extra energy and the electron might increase in speed to near the speed of light. It’s already close to the speed of light anyway, but it just jumps up a bit closer. Suddenly, it appears to the rest of the atom that the electron slows down. The only way it could do that is if it lost energy. As it slows down, it drops into a lower shell.

So what happened to the extra energy? It went out as a photon. The energy was released in a specific direction with a specific wavelength. This is electromagnetic radiation. This includes visible light, radio waves, x-rays, the whole gamut. It travels at a measurable speed until it hits an object and transfers its energy to that other object.

So my next question is: What did the electron experience when it gained and lost energy at the same time? This is pure speculation, but I submit it for your consideration. I think that as far as the electron is concerned, the distance between it and the object that the photon eventually touched was instantly negated and the electron hit that object slowing it down and bringing it back within its original frame of reference. For that moment, distance became irrelevant. That electron became subject to a non-local event according to the outside observer. The path of negation is represented in that frame of reference by the photon, which is a distortion of the space and time between the electron and the distant object.

My last question is this: Could there be other types of distortions based on other types of actions involving subatomic particles approaching the speed of light? I don’t see why not. It is this direction I would like to see physicists go. I think there could be much benefit for communication technology or some other information transfer.

But I want to make one last point that brings us back to the created order of this world. The material things of this world are ultimately constructed of energy. The material is the existential. The energy is, in part, the substantial. The difference is their relative temporal placement. But there is a substantial power that exceeds all the energy represented in the matter and energy of this world on which this world rests and draws its power. That is who we call God. I don’t mean to argue for the existence of God based on this, but rather to demonstrate His necessary substance as the basis for the material world. And so it is that in the beginning of all things, God created all things with intent and purpose. This neither Calvinist nor Arminian can deny.

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