Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A prophetic quote?

It isn't very festive but it may explain my inattentiveness to the blogging community, I've been doing some work for a friend on the implications of quantum theory to belief in God. I've been looking at the Solvay conference of 1927, where the greatest Physics brains of the time were gathered to discuss the emerging science of Quantum Theory. On one side were Einstein, Planck and de Broglie, who although they first quantized matter and light into "chunks of energy" were deeply opposed to the randomness and wierdness inherent in the development of quantum theory. On the other side were Dirac, Pauli and Heisenberg, many years younger and willing to embrace anything the new theory had to throw at them.

From Heisenberg's memoirs comes this quote from Pauli, late one night at the conference, I hadn't seen it before and it made me shudder. We are living in the world he describes.

It's all bound to end in tears……society is in such danger whenever fresh knowledge threatens to explode the old spiritual forms. The complete separation of knowledge and faith can at best be an emergency measure, afford some temporary relief. In western culture, for instance, we may well reach the point in the not too distant future where the parables and images of the old religions will have lost their persuasive force even for the average person; when that happens, I am afraid that all the old ethics will collapse like a house of cards and that unimaginable horrors will be perpetrated.

This from a man who, though baptised a Catholic, was not much of a lover of religion. I can't help thinking that the Church's embrace of modern science under the maxim "Truth can not contradict Truth" should be more widely known. Too many think that the separation of faith and knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, is a reality and not a construct of the Enlightenment that went on to pollute most of 20th Century thinking.


Irene said...

Today, interpretation of this snippet can be made only by taking into account (1) the fact that this is not Pauli talking, but rather Heisenberg's memory of what Pauli said -- it expresses Heisenberg's views; (2) Heisenberg's role in Hitler's nuclear project (from which one can infer his ethics); and the serendipitous reconciliation of information theory and traditional spirituality (including Catholic) by Wiener (1948) and Bonewits (1970). Of course these affirm the Holy Father's position on truth and the compatibility of science and Catholicism.

Tom in Vegas said...

O Rita, you write about stuff I struggle with constantly: the impact of science on religion. My biggest hang-up is in the area of faith and neurology (I know this is not your area of expertise). Questions like “where” is the soul; and is religion/ religious experiences the product of human neurological activity, elude me. There are some pretty compelling arguments that attempt to substantiate and/ or undermine the traditional, theistic explanations that accompany these two inquiries. And while I can find some answers from religious sources to these questions, the responses I’ve come across are not what I would characterize as intellectually defensible. I push forward.

Irene said...

Tom --

Perhaps neurology is a little more familiar to me.

The soul, like God, is spirit. And like God (and any other spirit), it does not have a specific singular material location.

As to religion/religious experiences, the first is a linguistic creation, and the second probably is an emergent property of neurological activity -- but maybe that is not the entire story.