Pope Francis, the Catholic faith and the 'unity law'
Dr G F Farrelly FAITH MOVEMENT January - February 2016
Dr Farrelly explores the papal encyclical Laudete Si, Bell's theorem, and the interconnectedness of things
Pope Francis caused controversy with the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si´, (LS), concerned with humanity, climate change, social cohesion and spirituality. The fact that climate change is politically and, to a lesser extent, scientifically controversial means that this encyclical has been read by many scientists and non-Catholics. Indeed, Nature magazine stated:
“...the Pope’s recognition of human-induced global warming is an unflinching rebuke to climate-change doubters who might have hoped to find an ally in the Catholic Church.”
Laudato Si´ states:
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”
“...a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming ...is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity...these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.”
The Holy Father, following his predecessors Saint John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict, makes several references in this long encyclical to the unity of scientific thought and Catholic belief:
“If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it. The Catholic Church is open to dialogue with philosophical thought; this has enabled her to produce various syntheses between faith and reason.”
Readers of this magazine will, of course, expect no contradiction between scientific thought and Catholic theology, but this is not the case among most scientists:
“never before has a pope drawn so resolutely from science, a sphere that has long been considered irreconcilable with essential Catholic religious beliefs.”
This view of a great divide between science and faith is perpetuated by the atheistic media and by the “received wisdom” of the liberal intelligentsia of the western world. However, I was encouraged by the final paragraphs of the Nature article:
'”I find nothing remarkable in the Pope accepting mainstream science — things have moved on from the days of Galileo'”says Gavin Schmidt, a climate researcher with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.
What is important, he says, is that the Pope has grasped that climate and environmental science suggest that humanity should re-examine its values. “I might not agree with all of the reasoning here, but I strongly agree with him on that fundamental point.”'
The assertions made in the encyclical are carefully worded, clearly the result of sound and conservative scientific advice. The call to change our lives and to change society for a more just and healthy society is linked to our fundamental dignity as God's children and our responsibility to each other and to all living beings:
“This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world...The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings...by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”... “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19).“
In the Faith movement's theology, this inter-relatedness, or co-relativity, of all being is due to the Unity-Law of control and direction, God's 'script' for the very being of material reality. Laudato Si´ is in line with our theological vision, though this is not explicit, of course. Whatever one's particular view of climate change, the implications of Catholic belief for economic, social and political structures are an important part of Catholic theology and deserve considered prayer and theological reflection, not least from the theologians and philosophers associated with the Faith movement.
When I was an undergraduate, I undertook a research project involving testing the EPR paradox (see below) using antimatter. I recall how difficult it was to understand the philosophical implications of the quantum mechanics involved. In the end, like most experimental physicists, I just accepted the physics, however strange the philosophical implications of causality and reality. In Quantum Mechanics (QM), the physics of atomic and subatomic particles, predictions are formulated in terms of probabilities, yet Einstein felt that “God does not play dice with the universe”, to which Neils Bohr apparently replied: “Stop telling God what to do with his dice!.”
Einstein's view was the 'common-sense' one, that an electron, for instance, has a definite position and spin, and that QM's inability to predict these values precisely is a weakness of QM rather than a description of reality (the Bohr view, held by most physicists). QM implies a rejection of locality and realism: locality means no instantaneous 'action-at-a-distance' (as in Newton's formulation of gravity, although Newton apparently doubted this himself), realism means that the object under consideration is 'there' even when not being observed.
'Hidden variables theory'
The physicist David Bohm, with guidance from Einstein, produced a 'hidden variables theory', involving the idea that there might be unmeasurable variables which, if 'unlocked', as it were, could predict those quantities exactly and also give the probabilities predicted by QM. If such a 'hidden variables theory' is true, QM must be an incomplete theory. In 1935, Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen wrote a paper (EPR) that challenged the completeness of quantum mechanics.
The EPR paradox can be considered using two observers (detectors), Alice and Bob, who perform independent measurements of the spin of a pair of electrons such that one electron has spin 'up' and the other 'spin 'down'. For 'entangled' electrons, once Alice measures spin in one direction, Bob's measurement in that direction is determined as being the opposite spin to that of Alice, whereas immediately before Alice's measurement Bob's outcome was only a probability, not a certainty. Therefore, either the spin in each direction is an element of physical reality, or the effects travel from Alice to Bob instantly. Thus either quantum mechanics was incomplete, failing to account for some elements of physical reality, or forces and information could be transmitted faster than the speed of light, contrary to Einstein's postulate in his theory of special relativity, verified by countless experiments.
In the September edition of Physics World, an article appeared claiming the first "loophole-free" measurement of the violation of 'Bell's inequality, a mathematical statement of the maximum correlation allowed by classical physics'. The experiment, carried out by Ronald Hanson and colleagues, involved entangling spins in diamonds separated by more than a kilometre, then measuring correlations between the spins. The result confirms that entangled particles have far stronger correlations than are allowed in classical physics, a very strong violation of Bell's inequality. The large separation between the two diamonds and the rapid readout time of the spins closes the locality loophole, while the high efficiency of the spin readout technique closes the detection loophole.
Bell's theorem shows that the physical atomic and subatomic world is inexplicable using classical physics. The difficult philosophical implications of quantum physics indicate a strange reality that defies any sort of everyday 'sensible' view. The interconnectedness of measured spins here is not explicable by 'local hidden variables' theories, yet it implies that the metaphysical foundations of QM require further refinement. As with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is an interconnectedness at the subatomic level that defies simple causal explanations from the macroscopic world. In this respect, there may be an indication of the existence of the 'Unity-Law of Control and Direction', a metaphysical explanation for the interconnectedness of material reality, part of the very fabric of created matter, and a manifestation of the creative power of God.
One should not forget that this metaphysics is not some arid self-indulgent speculation but, as the preface for the fourth Eucharistic prayer states: “[God]...made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.”
I Quirin Schiermeier, Nature, 18 June 2015
II L S 23
IV LS 63
V Quirin Schiermeier, ibid.
VI LS 68-69
VII http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/newton-philosophy/ , accessed on 2/10/15
VIII Hamish Johnston, Physics World, Sep 2015,