Thursday, August 1, 2013

Divine/Quantum Uncertainty

In Theology on the Road to Emmaus, theologian Nicholas Lash writes:
As I understand it, the Christian account of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, is a doctrine of the unknown God inasmuch as it is never and nowhere appropriate to ‘stop the dance’, to interrupt the dialectic of experience and to say: this and this alone is what we mean by ‘God’; here and here alone is his presence and activity to be discerned.  (156) 
This sounds uncannily familiar to something else that fits in the category of things I don't understand at all. Quantum mechanics describes the "uncertainty principle" as a precise limitation on our capacity to know - at the same time - both the location and momentum of any particular physical particle. (This is admittedly the very sketchiest of definitions. Read more on wikipedia here.) In essence, we can pin down one or the other but never both. An element of the unknown will necessarily accompany any bit we do come to know.

It seems that Lash is saying something very similar about the nature of God. While we may be able to identify God's action or presence in one place or time, we must know - at the same time - that elements of God's action and present remain completely unknown to us. Not just because of our own finite limitations, but in fact because it is in the nature of God to elude our [tight-fisted?] grasp. This shouldn't frighten us (though it may unsettle our cognitive aspirations!) because it simply reflects the magnificent reality of a God who defies our human urge to reduce mystery to bare facts.

Furthermore, it seems this sort of uncertainty not only reflects something of God, but in fact is woven into the very fabric of our universe. Perhaps even the cosmos is designed to undermine our drive for certainty.

One of the best jokes I've heard offers a different take on the same theme:

A cop pulls an electron over.
Cop: "Do you know that you were going 90 miles per hour?"
Electron: "Oh great, now I'm lost."