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A Theology Lesson from Quantum Physics
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.
In both cases, the theories are useful without being complete. This is one reason an analogy like this—and it is only an analogy, not a source of evidence—is helpful. It reminds us that theories can be useful, even when we know them to be incomplete. The theories help us explore and explain other data both in the physical sciences (like wave/particle duality) and theology (like the necessity of the incarnation).
Because of the God-designed capacity for human entanglement, the choices of two men—the two Adams—has affected all humanity. The first Adam tripped and we fell. The second Adam died and we live. The first Adam’s trespass brought condemnation. The second Adam’s obedience brought justification.
The chief complaint against theological explanations of entanglement has always been its unfairness: Adam sins, and I’m condemned? He trips, and I fall? How is that fair? Clearly, it is not. Fairness is: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4). That is fair but it’s hardly better, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Thankfully, God is more than fair, as the apostle Paul points out in Romans 5:15: “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
This analogy, like all analogies, has its limits. Quantum entanglement is, according to Isaac, fleeting and hard to sustain. In contrast, Adam entanglement is stable and, as we inevitably discover, hard to break. But entanglement with Christ is eternal and provides a stronger bond than the forces of nature can establish.
The capacity for entanglement was not a design flaw, even though it left us tangled up in Adam’s fall. Through it, the Creator planned to reverse the fall by uniting himself to Adam’s race in the incarnation, and by uniting Adam’s race to himself in what theologians call glorification. Whatever wonders quantum entanglement brings will not compare to the eternal weight of that glory.
Shayne Looper is the lead pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, MI. He writes a syndicated column for Gatehouse Media and blogs at shaynelooper.com.