The Quantum Pope
Did the Pope really say that gay atheist priests are going to heaven if they follow him on Twitter? Perhaps modern physics can untangle this mystery.

I love quantum physics and I love popes.

While I was a physics major in college, I created a Facebook group called "Baptists Who Like Catholic Things." When Pope Francis began making some unusual headlines a few months ago, I did some quick calculations and realized that something quirky was happening in the fabric of Papal spacetime.

First, the Pope preached a homily in which he apparently said that atheists were redeemed – that everyone was redeemed, in fact. Then, headlines began popping up about the Pope's approval of gay priests. And at some point in all this, I was informed that I had gotten some time knocked off my purgatory sentence by following him on Twitter.

Thankfully, because of my science background, I was prepared for this barrage. I want to tell you how quantum physics put my mind to ease about the Pope.

The Observer Effect [and the atheist homily]

There's a recurring theme in the reports that follow each of these papal remarks: "Pope Francis is one of us (not one of them)." Like the Jesus of history, people are reading his words and then piecing together an identity for him that always looks curiously close to their own.

Following the Pope's homily that called atheists brothers, an article in The Huffington Post led with the Pope's emphasis on doing good as a principle which unites all of humanity, and the article contrasted him with other Christians who believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation. So, you see, the Pope is a humanist with a universal bent, like us.

Fr Thomas Rosica, a Canadian Catholic priest and journalist who works closely with the Holy See Press Office, offered some dogmatic clarity the next day: the Pope was just riffing on Vatican II. God, through Jesus, lets atheists do good works as a way of bringing them closer to knowing Jesus. Saying that atheists are "redeemed" is just Pope-talk for saying that Jesus died for everybody (news flash: the Pope isn't a 5-point Calvinist), and that some people who are atheists now will ultimately come to Jesus. So, you see, the Pope is a good Catholic, like us.

NPR needed to get a word in at this point, so they said that Fr Rosica's clarification was just "Vatican spin [that] tried to dampen the media hype" following "another example of this pope reaching out to an audience that goes well beyond the church." So, you see, the Pope is a media entity reaching diverse audiences, like us.

Why such confusion? Modern physics. One of the more interesting and frustrating aspects of quantum physics is the observer effect.

August 05, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments


August 13, 2013  9:25pm

I loved this article! What an interesting critique of how we all "view the world"...'cause, you know, everyone looks like us until they don't. That said, I probably love it because it "puffs me up" and "tickles my ears"...God, why is love so hard?!?!! Thanks for your work: Ur, Paul, and John!

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August 07, 2013  12:52am

"However, it seems that this article debunks the idea that there are hard facts in science and leaves the impression that scientists are just a confused as everyone else, including the Pope." Well, there are "hard facts" like gravity (which, btw, is still not fully explained so there are things that we just accept as, "there it is" with the hope that something might pop up later in another experiment, but even with that caveat, gravity is still in effect) and then there are, "We're just not sure what we're looking at, right now, but will give it a name because we want everyone to be on the same page when discussing this subject." and a classic example of that is dark matter. We have no bottles of dark matter, no pictures of dark-matter, and certainly no idea what dark-matter is...other than there is something there that the physicists call "dark-matter." It's there...but what it is...what it does???

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August 06, 2013  2:19pm

I wonder what the new media multi-lingual multi-cultural catholic priest Father Roderick would think about this. He is the new author of the book Geek Priest, founder of the Catholic Media network host of the podcast Daily Break and many other podcasts & videos, host of a catholic tv show in his native Holland among many other activities like cooking/food, journalism(he was covering the new popes visit to South America), health/fitness. Father Roderick is also/still a parish pastor/priest that still travels locally mostly by bicycle as he does not own a car.

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August 06, 2013  11:10am

I confess to being totally 'left-brained' and have always had difficulty with the hard facts of science. However, it seems that this article debunks the idea that there are hard facts in science and leaves the impression that scientists are just a confused as everyone else, including the Pope.

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Paul Pastor

August 06, 2013  8:13am

No worries. John is the physics geek. All I've done in that department is tour Fermilab as giddy as a toddler, and wonder why merry-go-rounds go faster when you lean into the middle. John wrote it, but since I published it, Ur says I "posted" it.

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August 06, 2013  12:37am

Oh.../facepalm@self...didn't see that little tagline. sorry Paul, my bad.

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David B.

August 05, 2013  11:46pm

John Daniel Raines wrote this and you can get some more time knocked off your purgatory by following him on twitter @captnsupremo

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August 05, 2013  11:07pm

I'm confused, who wrote this, it says at the end of the article posted by Paul Pastor but at the beginning it seems to site John Raines. I'm guessing John Raines but I don't seem to be the only one confused.

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August 05, 2013  5:31pm

I'm thankful there's a physicist on the Christianity Today thinks you should write more, Paul. As for the pope...I kept my hopes to a minimum in that I didn't expect a full 180 turn around of the RC, but it's good to see a solid 30 degree course change to it's previous heading. I still won't go back to being Roman Catholic, but...I still adhere to the mysteries that G-d is unknowably Holy, unendingly forgiving, incalculably merciful, and immeasurably gracious.

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Steve Martin

August 05, 2013  12:56pm

I love it when Popes, or anyone else, lifts high the cross of Christ for sinners. I hate it when people make excuses for our sin or even attempt to affirm that sin. May this Pope never back away from God's expose sinners. And may he never shy away from announcing the gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus.

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