SCIENCE UNDER ISLAM
Science Digest [SCID] for Thinkers
SCID006: GOD, REALITY AND PHYSICS
Prof S. M. Deen [University of Keele, UK]
Recently a group of us ex-professors were trying to understand some papers on Quantum Mechanics (QM) which focussed on Quantum reality. This inspired me to write this short piece on God, Reality and Science.
Given the fact that from the time immemorial every philosopher worth his salt has tried and failed to define reality, it would be presumptuous of me, a mere ordinary mortal, to try to define it. Nevertheless, we all seem to mean something when we say reality. Most people seem to believe that science (in particular physics) deals with reality and can perhaps help us to understand the Ultimate Reality, i.e. God. So, I wish to explore here what science says or does not say about reality and whether it makes sense to expect physics to lead us to God.
First observe that our intuitive understanding of things (including reality) is based on our day to dayexperience – common experience. Consider: I am writing this article, and hence it is a real event. If I am sitting next to you somewhere discussing things, then this is also a real event, in which both of usare real human beings, each with a head, a body, limbs etc. Is it the reality? Instead of seeing a human body, should we not see all the cells etc in it, as the reality? Further down, should we not visualise all the molecules, and still further down the atoms or even electrons, protons, etc as the deeper reality? Perhaps reality appears at many levels, and we can picture it and understand it. Now consider the electrons in our body. According to QM they are not quite there, as each electron is whizzing round the universe at all times in infinite speed (relativistic speed limit does not apply in the QM world), and what we have are the probabilities (strictly, probability densities). The whole of thecollection of electrons inside your body may not be there the next moment, some perhaps coming into my body and some of mine into your body, apart from others perhaps in the Andromeda galaxy and beyond, right up to the edge of the universe. That an entity such an electron is both a particle and wave at the same time, that it is here and everywhere in the universe at the same time, and that it can materialise instantly anywhere as particle when we try to detect it, is beyond our intuitive understanding of reality. But is this a more fundamental reality?
What does physics say about it? Three giants of QM are: Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr and WernerHeisenberg. Observe that Einstein got his Nobel Prize in 1921 on his work on early QM, in which he introduced the concept of “quantum” (pl. quanta). He was never given any Nobel Prize for the Theory of Relativity (that’s another story). Bohr and Heisenberg produced the final QM, using Einstein’s quanta. What do they say about reality?
BW (Bohr and Heisenberg) did not believe in the existence of reality at all. For them theories are instruments for making experimental predictions. According to Bohr: “There is no Quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how the nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature …”. They further said: the task of physics is to find observables (i.e. things that can be observed directly or indirectly by experiments) and to devise theories that are in accord with the observables. There is no reality, it does not exist in physics, and hence physics should not waste time and effort searching for it. According to them the apparent reality that we perceive, is subjective, which is created when we look for it. If we are not there looking for (observing) it, there would be no reality, they asserted.
In contrast Einstein believed in objective reality, i.e. reality exists independent of us (i.e. whether we exist or not). This reality, Einstein believed, is created by God the Creator [he did not believe in God the Carer – in a philosophy known as Deism]. Einstein believed that reality exists in the Quantum world which one day will be found. Today some physicists support Einstein on reality while many others side with BW. There are still others who are questioning the Einstein’s version of Quantum reality, but some of what they call realities are far beyond our normal comprehension, far more abstract and more complex than the description of the electron reality I have depicted above.
Summarising, according to BW, reality does not exist, it is created when human beings look for it. That is, there will be no reality if there were no human beings. Furthermore physics has nothing to do with reality. In that case, I submit, science (physics) cannot help us to understand the Ultimate Reality. In contrast, the Einsteinians believe in a God who has created this magnificent universe. The more we understand physics, the more we will appreciate this magnificence. But does this means that physics will directly lead to our understanding of the Ultimate Reality, beyond a deeper appreciation of the magnificence of His creation? I leave it to you to contemplate and decide.
If reality does not exist in physics, or if reality is different in physics from what we ordinarily perceive it to be, then there is implication on science-related over-interpretation of some Quranic verses, particularly those that some Muslims like to relate to physics from Big Bang to Higgs’ boson. This is another topic beyond the scope of this short piece. [see also my blog SCID005 on Higgs’ boson in www.scienceunderislam.blogspot.com]
© S. M. Deen, 2013.
Your comments and observations would be welcome at the blogsite
Note that comments are subject to editing as required by law