“And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:”
When I was a student at the University of Nottingham reading chemistry, there was some graffiti in a locker room adjacent to the physical chemistry laboratory. It read” “Heisenberg may have been here…” This childish joke refers to the discovery in 1925 of the Uncertainty Principle by physicist Werner Heisenberg. In reality, Heisenberg was not expressing doubt about his work on quantum physics. Uncertainty is an exact principle and is capable of being written as a mathematical expression. The Uncertainty Principle concerns, among other things, the fact that electrons sometimes seem to behave as particles, but sometimes as wave forms. We can attempt to determine the exact position of an electron, but then we cannot calculate its momentum, and vice versa. If a series of measurements are taken, and a statistical average, called standard deviation, is applied, we find that the product of the standard deviations of position and momentum is a constant.
Although Heisenberg was not an active Christian, his scientific work was informed by his Lutheran upbringing. In a speech in 1974, he said, “Where no guiding ideals are left to point the way, the scale of values disappears and with it the meaning of our deeds and sufferings, and at the end can lie only negation and despair. Religion is therefore the foundation of ethics, and ethics the presupposition of life.” Once again, this underlines that scientific progress has been possible only in a worldview informed by a Christian foundation – even if this has become somewhat opaque.
Author: Paul F. Taylor
Prayer: Thank You, Lord, that when we belong to You, there is no uncertainty, as we can be sure of Your love and faithfulness. Amen.
Ref: Heisenberg, Werner. 1973. “Naturwissenschaftliche und religiöse Wahrheit”. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 March, pp. 7–8. Image: Hydrogen Electron Wave Functions, Public Domain.