If researchers discovered evidence of a God, would they recognize what they had found? After all, no one is likely to peer into a telescope and find a bearded deity staring back. When scientists find clear proof of some reality, some being beyond the boundaries of our material universe will it even matter?
These questions are important because such discoveries have already happened and have been repeated over and over again for decades. Physicists have been wrestling with evidence of the “supernatural” for almost a century. Ask a physicist whether they have found God and they will generally deny it, but they probably won’t laugh.
The problem, if you wish to see it as such, begins at the origins of quantum theory and continues through decades of experiments and mathematical models. When working at the most precise, sub-atomic levels, some external factor seems to skew measurements.
Heisenberg described this problem in 1927 and it came to be called the Uncertainty Principle. Efforts to measure the speed and position of a particle produced a strange result. Only one or the other dimension could be successfully measured, never both. It was as if the act of measurement itself was introducing an additional factor in the process, skewing the outcome.
In its simplest summary, he described it this way: “The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.”
Arcane challenges that frustrate efforts to measure sub-atomic particles may not seem like a religious question, but Heisenberg recognized the implications of his discovery from the beginning. Since the Enlightenment, science has proceeded under the assumption that everything which is real is quantifiable. Reality is fixed. Everything real possesses an existence independent of our experience or observation of it. If a tree falls in the forest, it does indeed make a sound.
Human beings therefore may be complex, but we are the sum of our parts. Nothing real is “super”-natural. Every real phenomenon can, with some degree of scientific effort, be subjected to analysis. Choose any esoteric experience you like, from love to beauty to pain, and it can, with sufficient scientific effort, be reduced to a collection of spinning atoms.
Heisenberg’s research suggested the opposite; that forces outside our measurable, quantifiable, physical existence were not only real, but were capable of interacting with the physical universe in an empirically measurable way. While profound, the discovery did not create a lot of theists. It merely served as a challenge, inspiring physicists and cosmologists to dig deeper in search of physical explanations for this phenomenon.
Fast forward a century and cosmology is undoubtedly farther from a scientific solution to the challenges of quantum mechanics than ever. In fact, one could argue that the effort to find such a solution has been almost entirely abandoned.
The science is settled. Our universe has origins beyond the measurable bounds of our existence and forces outside the quantifiable universe influence quantum phenomena. Decades of discoveries in physics have taken us farther from the comfortable assumptions of Newtonian science into a world of permanent, unresolvable uncertainty.
Scientists generally assume that when faced with strange phenomena, a process of quantification and experiment will in time resolve the question in favor of a physical explanation. When it comes to the forces that created the universe and govern action at the sub-atomic level, that process is working in reverse.
The mathematical models and experimentation have given us Schrodinger’s Cat, Spooky Action at a Distance, the Observer Problem, the Many Worlds Interpretation, and String Theory. In order to preserve some semblance of belief in the quantifiable nature of the universe, we are being asked to accept the notion that there are infinite parallel existences and numerous undetectable physical dimensions. An infinite variety of other universes are coming into and out of existence all the time. Interaction with those universes brought about the Big Bang which launched our universe. All of existence may in fact be holographic data written on the core of a black hole.
Physicists, using the most sophisticated scientific methods to explore the origins of life, the universe, and everything are sounding more and more like stoned Hippies.
There is an alternative. We could apply Occam’s razor to the problem observed originally by Heisenberg. We could accept the simplest, most obvious conclusion from a century of math and experimentation in quantum mechanics – that the Newtonian idea of a contained, purely physical universe is false. Add a “God” of some sort and the math suddenly works.
When C.S. Lewis lost his wife, he compiled his thoughts into a small book called A Grief Observed. In one section he summed up the essential problem posed by a purely material approach to life:
If H. ‘is not’ then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared.
A God does not merely resolve a mathematical quandary; it fits with our experience and instinct. It is certainly strains the bounds of credulity less than the notion that all of existence is no more than some bubble in a celestial champagne glass.
So, have scientists found God? Quite possibly. What’s certain in light of a century of research is that atheism is a more difficult notion to support scientifically than a belief in God.
Why haven’t religious figures seized on this research? To arrive at the God-shaped hole in our understanding of the universe one must travel across long stretches of terrain deeply hostile to dogma. These discoveries confirm the Big Bang, natural selection, man’s evolutionary origins, and practically every other discovery that strict religious believers vigorously reject. Physicists may have found God, but they have not found Jesus or Allah or Siva.
What lies all around this discovery is an interpretation of the universe freighted with ambiguities. Those who look to religion for a sense of certainty will not like the God that Heisenberg tripped over. This is a God of metaphor, a disorganized, ambiguous figure perhaps better mediated by artists than by priests. Those who don’t need scientific proof of the creation story don’t need proof of God.
Do not expect to hear scientists, preachers, or prophets touting the discovery of God anytime soon. What you can expect to hear from cosmologists is an increasingly contorted line of explanations for the origin of the cosmos, explanations which cannot be subjected to experimentation and remain permanently beyond proof.
In other words, you can expect that cosmologists, in defiance of Occam’s razor, will continue to pursue one set of supernatural explanations of the universe in order to avoid settling on another simpler, more practical, but less palatable one. In that sense, scientists have found God, but we are all left to decide on our own what that means.