A Theology Lesson from Quantum Physics
Image: ESezer / Getty Images

When news broke this summer that Chinese scientists had engineered the successful “teleportation” of a photon over a distance greater than 300 miles, Star Trek fans around the globe rejoiced. It was, however, a belated celebration: Teleportation has been around as a serious theory for 25 years and has been a reality in the lab for 20.

On the other hand, one might argue the celebration was premature. If one defines teleportation as the transfer of an object from one place to another without crossing intervening space (what Scotty does when Jim Kirk is in trouble), then what the Chinese performed was not teleportation. The object, a photon, was not transferred, but information about the object—its quantum footprint, so to speak—was.

While Star Trek fans might be disappointed, scientists, technology companies, and the intelligence community are thrilled. Because teleportation, or “telephresis” as some scientists prefer to call it, happens instantaneously and without crossing intervening space, it may have the potential of providing hacker-proof communications security and next-generation cryptography.

This kind of teleportation is possible because of the strange interaction of subatomic particles, which physicists refer to as “entanglement.” According to Randy Isaac, a solid-state physicist and executive director emeritus of the American Scientific Affiliation, a particle can be entangled with another particle in such a way that their quantum properties, such as position, speed, and spin, are linked. An action performed on the first particle instantaneously affects its partner particle, regardless of the distance between them in space or, as Einstein taught us to say, spacetime.

Entanglement is weird, and though scientists have come to accept and exploit it, they do not pretend to understand it. Einstein himself refused to believe it, deriding it as “spooky action at a distance,” but it has turned out to be true. There is a connectedness in the universe that defies explanation. A change in a subatomic particle on this side of the galaxy will instantaneously make a difference in an entangled particle on the other side. This is not science fiction. It is science fact.

Subatomic particles are not the only things that are entangled in our universe. So are we. We are entangled with one another and even with creation—something we are only now discovering but which Paul asserted to be true in Romans 8. God designed humanity this way from the beginning. It is part of what makes us great. We are entangled with people we do not know, from places we have never been, at times we have not existed, in the deep past and in the unknown future.

The entire human race can be conceived as one large, interconnected thing, stretching across space and time. If we could see what God sees when he looks at humanity, we would not only see a hundred billion or so disconnected individuals but a human race that is more like a massive body with a hundred billion parts.

Human entanglement and the “spooky action at a distance” it makes possible are responsible both for the damaged state in which humanity now finds itself and the glorious future which awaits it. It made the consequences of the first Adam’s sin impossible for us to avoid, but it also makes the consequences of the second Adam’s obedience possible for us to share.

Theologians are just as hard-pressed to explain the mystery of humanity’s entangled relationship with Adam as physicists are to explain quanta’s entangled relationships with each other. While physicists talk about quantum field theory and supersymmetry and employ equations like Schrodinger’s Wave Function, theologians talk about federal headship theory and natural headship theory and employ concepts like covenant and imputation.

November
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A Theology Lesson from Quantum Physics