Science & Religion #12: Uncertain Why We’re Here?

by: Mike S

February 22, 2011
We’ve talked about Flatland and strings with 10-dimensions.  We’ve talked about God outside time.  But now it’s going to get even more counter-intuitive – less certain, perhaps.  As per the rest of the posts in this series, we’re going to follow an “Outside-In” paradigm – where we look at what science has to tell us, and see how that relates to religion.  Overall, the purpose of this post is to try to answer: Why? Why are we here?  We talk about the plan of salvation and the need for mortality.  We draw pictures with circles for pre-existence, mortality, the spirit world, etc.  But why?  I obviously don’t know the exact reason “why”, and this post obviously won’t definitively answer what people have asked for thousands of years, but science does give us some big hints.

Since this is America and we “love our guns more than God”, let’s start with firing a bullet at a target.  If you’re like me, even just hitting the target is good; hitting somewhere near the bulls-eye is lucky.  But imagine a metal plate placed in front of the target.  The only bullets that get through are ones that go through the hole.  There would be a little bit of scatter, but overall it would make me look pretty good.  I like it.  Now imagine replacing the target with a picture of Osama bin Laden (as I’ve seen in some sporting goods stores).  Imagine replacing the metal plate with a different plate that had two holes, just in front of Osama’s eyes.  Again, this would make me look pretty good – two clusters of bullet holes centered over his eyes.

Now let’s make it more scientific.  Instead of a picture of bin Laden, place a device that can detect light, perhaps film or something like the chip in your cell phone camera.  And instead of a metal plate with a hole, let’s use a metal plate with vertical slits.  And finally, instead of bullets, lets use light.  So, what happens?

First, have one of the slits covered and the other one open.  As light shines through the slit, it centers around one spot on the detector.  There is a little spread to each side, but there is a bright area.  Now cover that slit and uncover the other one.  The same thing happens, with light centered around a different area.  So, what happens when we uncover BOTH slits – two “dots” on the screen.  Nope.  It makes an interference pattern of alternating bright and dark bands.  That’s pretty easy to explain if you’ve ever been to the ocean.  Waves bend as they pass an object.  Waves can also interfere with each other.  When two crests coincide, it makes an even bigger wave.  When a crest coincides with a trough, the water is flat.  So, light is a wave, right?  We talk about the wavelength of light – with reds and greens and blues.  Pretty straightforward, right?

Not really.  Suppose we make the light dimmer and dimmer. Finally, we get down to where a single photon of light is emitted at a time – a “particle” of light called a photon.  So, it’s not really a wave, but is more like the bullets being fired above.  Repeating the experiment, if one slit is open and we fire single photons at the detector, the cluster around a single spot, much like the bullets.  But if BOTH slits are open, strange things happen.  Each individual photon still hits one particular spot on the screen.  Since each photon is shot through individually, you would expect that it would be much like shooting bin Laden’s eyes, with everything clustering around two areas.  But they don’t.  They actually start forming the same interference pattern they did when we shone a bunch of them at once.  It would be like shooting bullets at our plate with two holes, and the bullet holes forming rings that spread out.  Strange.

This experiment has been repeated thousands of times with different variations, and it always works.  There are a number of explanations, but the most widely accepted is that the photon actually travels through BOTH slits at once (as alluded to by FireTag).  This has also been done with things besides light.  It has been done with electrons, protons, atoms, and even molecules.

So, why does this work?  Uncertainty. There are fascinatingly complex ways of talking about it, but at the simplest level, multiplying something’s momentum by its position has to be larger than a certain number.  So, the more we know WHERE something is, the less we know how FAST it is going (ie. energy).  And the more exactly the know the ENERGY in something, the less we know WHERE it actually is.  It not a problem with our measuring devices not being good enough, it is a fundamental property of our universe.  For things in our everyday world, objects are so large that the uncertainty is essentially zero.  But when you get into the world of photons or electrons or atoms, it plays a huge role.   It is what makes computers work.  It is what makkes CDs work.  And it is actually what keeps the electrons in every single atom from collapsing into the nucleus.  Uncertainty is an essential part of our world.

What does this have to do with the plan of salvation?  Among other things, we teach that God is omniscient – or in other words – He knows everything.  We also teach that God is perfect – that He will always choose the absolutely correct or best option in any situation.  And finally, we teach that the place where God lives is “perfection”, and that we need to be perfect to be there as immortal beings.  So, if we are to become like God, we also need to learn to always choose the right.

This poses a dilemma.  If we are in a place where there is “perfection”, how do we know if we will choose the right?  What if we chose the “wrong” and thereby “negated” heaven?  God couldn’t allow this to happen and still be God, so therefore the test of mortality.  We needed to be in a place where uncertainty existed.  We needed to show that, given uncertainty and options and choices, we would choose “good”.  We needed to come to a physical earth.  It’s past the level of this post, but when you collapse a multi-dimensional spirit down into the 3-dimensions that need to be present in mortality (as also talked about by FireTag) and introduce time, you also introduce uncertainty.

And thus this life is uncertain because it has to be. Interestingly, when discussing the Great Council and the plan of Lucifer vs the plan of Christ, Lucifer’s plan essentially makes a mockery of mortality.  If having uncertainty is essential to our progress, yet we are forced by Lucifer to make a particular choice, it negates the whole point.

Christ’s plan allows this uncertainty.  But just like the experiment with two slits, because of uncertainty (or free will) there are going to be a number of outcomes in life, with positive and negative results.  Like the bands of light and dark that spread to infinity, the results of mortality will also be “spread out” and not in a “single” spot (ie. We have all sinned and will therefore not all be in heaven)   However, going back to the experiment, suppose you place a measuring device by the left slit to see if a photon passes by.  An absolutely amazing thing happens. If a single photon is fired and the measuring device goes off, you know that the photon passed through the left slit.  If it doesn’t go off, you know the photon passed through the right slit.  Since both slits are open, you would expect the same interference pattern as above.  But it’s not the same pattern. Just by measuring the photon, the pattern on the screen clusters in two spots, just like the bullets.  This is stunning.  If you leave the measuring device in place and just turn it off, the interference pattern returns.  If you turn it back on, the clustering pattern is seen.  Merely measuring something CHANGES the ultimate outcome.

In this life, we all fail.  Our lives are such that we interfere with ourselves.  Left to our own devices, we may have a Gaussian distribution as to who returns to God, with some people coming closer than others, but no one actually makes it.  However, Christ is our Judge (or measuring device) before which we ALL must pass.  He sees where we have been.  Through his measurement, he eliminates the uncertainty.  He makes us end up in a single spot.  And most importantly, through His infinite atonement, He makes up for our faults.  If our “spot” isn’t back with God, He can add just enough change to each of our lives that we DO end up back with God.  It’s like the measuring device adjusting the path of each photon so they all end up in the same spot.  Christ is our Judge AND our Redeemer.  He can make it possible for EVERYONE to return to God, or at least everyone who accepts Him.

And this isn’t just some of us.  It can include ALL of us.

Who do you think will ultimately reach the HIGHEST level of reward in the afterlife?

  • The vast majority of people when all is said and done (35%, 11 Votes)
  • I don't know (29%, 9 Votes)
  • Relatively few - after all, strait is the gate ... and few there be that find it (16%, 5 Votes)
  • Other: We'll be reincarnated, don't believe in afterlife, etc. (16%, 5 Votes)
  • A moderate amount (maybe around 50%) (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 31

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  • Whether you realized it or not, you’ve just had a primer in quantum mechanics.  Did the explanation make sense?
  • Do you think uncertainty is a necessary part of mortality?
  • When do you think Christ’s atonement works in our lives?  Mortality?  Judgement day?  Both?
  • Did this post help explain and answer to the question: Why?

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10 Responses to Science & Religion #12: Uncertain Why We’re Here?

  1. FireTag on February 22, 2011 at 6:56 PM

    Question 1) Very good explanation.

    Question 2) There is a deeper structure underlying the uncertainty principle that has attracted attention since about 1980 called non-commutative algebra. Among its more bizarre aspects is that numbers themselves start to have multidimensional aspects. That isn’t sorted out yet, and I can’t read three words on the subject without running into a term that requires going to a math dictionary — where the definitions also require a math dictionary. So I’m not sure if we’re seeing uncertainty, or a requirement of nature for INTERACTION with the rest of reality for something to actually exist.

    Question 3) Both, because I think the physical and spiritual are no more separable than the wave or the particle descriptions — they’re fully dual and equivalent.

    Question 4). It’s certainly made me think.

    The poll: I think our spiritual bodies are formed from some proportions of physical lives that fit us to sample all spiritual kingdoms. So parts of all of us make the CK. Some of us arrive there in brilliance, others stunted and out of shape shadows. Same for the other kingdom options. Like the states of an electron, you can only state the probability of where we’ll be; there’s a little of us everywhere.

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  2. Ben Pratt on February 22, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    1) Great explanations! I like how sneaky it was. An unsuspecting physicsphobe could read it and learn a thing or two.

    2) What FireTag said. Non-commutative algebra is really hard for me to understand. I don’t feel so bad because Lee Smolin said the same thing.

    I’ve been thinking about choices for the past year or so, along with the intersection between free will and time, and I really like your take on uncertainty. Food for thought.

    3) I think Christ’s atonement is effective throughout all time, whatever that really means, and possibly outside of time as well, if such a space exists.

    4) Again, this is a great take, and I’m going to mull it over some more. I suspect the answer is yes.

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  3. JP on February 23, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Really fantastic explanation of quantum mechanics, as it applies to small particles and light. You say it better than Stephen Hawking in his new book.

    However, I’m not sure if quantum mechanics applies to the gospel. The universe is definitely a strange place on the scale of the large and small – the scale where quantum physics operates.

    JBS Haldane famously said, “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” Richard Feynman, the great physicist, also said “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” We also have to be careful of the temptation to ascribe to God, that which we don’t understand. Usually, scientists find a natural explanation for the mysterious phenomenon once ascribed to God. When this happens, theology is put on the defense – since they have to find another job for God to do (like consciousness, or morals, or some other mystery).

    I’m just not sure if we can extrapolate from the data of quantum physics (which you explained very well) that (1) God exists, and that (2) He uses uncertainty (observed only in certain small particles and light) as part of His Plan of Salvation for larger and slower moving carbon based life-forms.

    It’s an interesting idea though. Great post!

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  4. Mike S on February 23, 2011 at 9:22 AM


    I absolutely agree that we can’t use this to say that God exists. I don’t know that that is ever something that will or will not be proven with science.

    The main point of this whole series is to bring up various issues of science and point out how they may or may not interact with religious issues. In this particular case, I do think it is interesting how uncertainty plays a role. If things were pure Newtonian mechanics, it does make you wonder what role free will has in things. Everything could theoretically be set from the Big Bang. Given the underlying randomness that is a fundamental part of everything, it does leave a role for free will.

    It also doesn’t prove anything, but it is interesting how measuring something changes its behavior. It is much what we ascribe to Christ, where he “measures” us. And through his atonement, we teach that he can also make up for our “bad” trajectories.

    The posts up to this point have dealt with the really big (universe) to the really small (string theory, quantum mechanics, etc). The next set of posts are going to be more “earth” related – age of the earth, evolution, flood, etc. Should be fun… :-)

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  5. JP on February 23, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    Looking forward to your future posts. I enjoy biological sciences as well, (more in line with my medical background) where I think there is a lot of interface between religion and science.

    Another thing I forgot to mention in my previous comment, was the issue of free-will. Specifically, just how free are we when much of our behavior is influenced (if not determined) by genes, culture, environment, and nerve to nerve interactions in our brain?

    Maybe an idea you would like to do a post about in the future.

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  6. Mike S on February 23, 2011 at 10:59 AM


    Great idea. I’ll add it to the queue.

    Although a lot of the posts so far have been more physics in nature (my BS is in Electrical Engineering), there will be a number of biological science posts/issues (I’m actually a surgeon).

    The first block was mostly physics & background. This next block of posts we’re going into are earth sciences but will include quite a bit of biology – evolution, Adam’s belly button, 900+ year life spans, flood, age of earth, etc. Should be interesting.

    The third block of posts is more “modern” – including behavioral issues (like you mentioned), Skinner conditioning, WofW vs medical science, polygamy, race, etc.

    So, many, many more in the queue…

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  7. FireTag on February 23, 2011 at 11:41 AM


    I would make the weaker claim that IF (as I believe) God exists, then studying the deep nature of the creation tells us something deeper about the nature of the Creator.

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  8. JP on February 23, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    Hey – I’m an anesthesiologist! We would have some great conversations in the OR.

    I’m sure you’ve seen this:

    there is a great retort done that makes fun of anesthesia (I can’t find the link) where anesthesia keeps saying “There is a nerve. I need to block it.”

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  9. JP on February 23, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Fire Tag: I agree that studying our origins does tell us a lot about God and His nature (assuming His existence). I think this is especially true as we study about our own human origins. It gets a little touchy, which is why evolution is such a lightning rod issue. Glad to hear that Mike S will be writing about it in the future. Should be good.

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  10. Mike S on February 23, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    I do think that many of these findings in science help us learn more about God/Ultimate Reality/Deity, and that generally we are getting CLOSER to knowing the ultimate reality as opposed to further away.

    Just in the past 100 years (or so), we have moved from a constant time throughout the universe, to a variable time – which appears to be more in line with what we teach about God. We have a role for uncertainty, which allows free will. We have an understanding of higher dimensions (at least in theory) which seems to describe interactions with the spirit world more than heaven being “in the clouds”. All of these things are getting closer to a more “rich” understanding of things – both scientific and spiritual.

    I also don’t see God revealing much when it comes to these subjects through prophets. I think knowledge will come, as it has, through science and its quest to become more and more accurate.

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