Lance Moore: Preaching on Quantum Physics?

By the Rev. Dr. Lance Moore
United Methodist Church (retired pastor and author)

Quantum Theory seeks big cosmic truths by looking at the nature of the tiniest sub-atomic particles, which sometimes act in paradoxical ways. Can this speak to our view of God in the postmodern era?

As a preacher, I learned three no-no’s for the pulpit: Don’t talk about Politics, Paradoxes, or Physics. The first P angers the congregation, the second P confuses, and the third P is a “pew lullaby.” And yet, I dare to discuss all three P’s in my new book, A God Beyond Belief: Reclaiming Faith in a Quantum Age. The book proposes a way around the formula of Preaching Physics = Snooze-fest. After all, TV’s #1 sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, managed to do the impossible: it made physics entertaining. The paradox of making the impossible possible is godlike territory, and fittingly, the earliest paradoxical question I ever faced as a child was about God. My older brother (who later became a physicist!) shared this classic riddle: “Can God make a rock so heavy God can’t lift it?” If God can do anything, then God can make the un-moveable boulder—and still move it. Really? How? The riddle is unsolvable. Except with the word Paradox.

At the cutting edge of physics, Quantum Theory is looking to Paradox for answers to cosmic riddles. The Big Bang sitcom even popularized the physics paradox of Schrödinger's Cat (an over-simplified summary of the theory: an unseen cat in a box is paradoxically both alive and dead, depending on observational perspective). Another well-known “quantum paradox” is that light is at once a particle and a wave. Lesser known is “Wigner's Friend Paradox” and the associated quantum theories named “Hardy’s Paradox” and the “Frauchiger and Renner Paradox.” The science here is way above my skill set, but it’s safe to say that post-modern physics is moving beyond a “single world theory” toward a bigger way of viewing reality in which seemingly-contradictory scientific truths can co-exist, in part due to the position of the observer and the method of measuring. Reality is best understood by including PARADOX in any paradigm.

What relevance or value does this have for Christians? Plenty. We face a crisis in Christendom that is itself a paradoxical challenge: How can we remain faithful and obedient to Scriptural Authority, while rejecting the prejudicial judgmentalism that stems from rigid biblical Literalism? My book argues that the only way out of the impasse is to accept two facts: 1. God created a complex cosmos, including the quantum principles of physics; 2. to better understand God’s greater Truths, we must embrace quantum paradox.

No degree in physics is required; this is about language not math. We all know that Jesus taught using parables, but he also used the language of paradox. The words are cousins in the Greek. The first definition found in Thayer's Greek Lexicon for “parable” (παραβολή) is “a placing of one thing by the side of another… juxtaposition... as of ships in battle….” Out of that parallel placement, a parable brings truth. Similarly, the Greek words for “paradox” (παραδοξο and παραδοξολογία) stem from the same root of “thrown alongside,” and are defined as “contrary to expectation,” and “an apparent contradiction that is nonetheless true.” So again, via juxtaposition, paradox yields truth. Jesus’ teachings often used this juxtaposed construction: “You have heard…, but I tell you….” In Matthew 5:38-39, he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” In that same sermon, which seemingly overturned Old Testament law, Jesus offered a higher law via paradox: “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) The Greek word for “but” used in all these verses is “alla” (ἀλλά), best translated here as “nevertheless” or “yet on the other hand,” pointing to a paradoxical expression more than a contrarian one. Paradox is not about choosing sides, it’s about truth that transcends our narrow biases. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, “I prefer being a man with paradoxes than a man with prejudices.”

The application to Bible study is timely: Christians war over rigid, oppositional stances on the meaning of particular verses, when with a “quantum theology of paradox,” we could see that Jesus had something fuller and more profound in mind. As Dr. Carl Jung put it, “Only the Paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.” A quantum approach also reminds us that biblical understanding expands when we consider both the context and the position of the viewer. By “position,” I mean not only our place in time and culture, but also our “ideological position.” Preaching on paradox may help us approach our ideological opposites with humble openness.

We don’t need to know much about physics in order to preach about paradox. Even as quantum science scopes out higher truths of the universe by embracing paradox, Christians also can discover deeper truths about God and God’s Word using the same lens.

To dive deeper into this topic, sample Dr. Moore’s book, A God Beyond Belief, here: