Did Mary Baker Eddy Anticipate the Findings of Quantum Physics?

quantum physics and christian science

This is the second of two posts critiquing a lecture at Principia College by Laurance Doyle, Ph.D., entitled, “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” Doyle’s talk makes two basic claims: (1) quantum physics validates Christian Science; and (2) Mary Baker Eddy anticipated the findings of 20th century physics. The first claim was rebutted in the earlier post; this post address the second claim.

Dr. Doyle makes several astonishing assertions in his talk about science and the religion that calls itself “Christian Science.” He says that Mary Baker Eddy “understood science really well,” and that her teachings anticipated the findings of quantum physics. He even tells us that her religious opus, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, can be read “as a book of science.”

How familiar was Eddy with the science of her day? She did not have a scientific education, but was she sufficiently well-read to have acquired a layperson’s understanding of scientific developments? She referenced the biologists Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz in Science and Health (although she misstated their theories). But as for physics, there are no references in her works that would indicate she was aware of the important contemporary developments: thermodynamics (1850s); electromagnetism (1870s); discovery of the electron (1897); radioactivity (1890s); special relativity (1905). However, she did mention atoms, molecules, and forces.

As anyone familiar with Eddy’s writings knows, she was emphatic that matter is illusion. So how did she reconcile her acknowledgment of atoms, molecules, and forces with her teaching that matter is unreal? She defined them as mental entities: “Whence, then, is the atom or molecule called matter? Have attraction and cohesion formed it? But are these forces laws of matter, or laws of Mind?”1 The answer to her rhetorical question is found in Science and Health: “Infinite Mind creates and governs all, from the mental molecule to infinity”2; and “We tread on forces. Withdraw them, and creation must collapse. Human knowledge calls them forces of matter; but divine Science declares that they belong wholly to divine Mind . . . .”3

As a devout Christian Scientist, Laurance Doyle subscribes to Eddy’s teaching that the constituents of matter are really mental entities. Moreover, he would have us accept that “Christian Science–viewed through the lens of current quantum physics–clearly pre-dated the quantum physics community in its discoveries of the nature of matter, reality, and Mind.” But the reverse is actually the case: Dr. Doyle views quantum physics through the lens of Christian Science, which leads him to misstate the actual physics.

Physicists today know a lot about matter. They know that physical objects are composed of just two types of quarks and electrons, and that these particles possess the physical properties of mass, charge, and angular momentum. But Dr. Doyle declares, “particles don’t exist until observed,” implying that they are actually amorphously mental in nature. He believes that matter does not take physical shape until it is perceived by mind. To illustrate, he uses the metaphor of an ocean wave mysteriously solidifying into a little ball when it hits the “beach” of the mind of the observer. But this is a misrepresentation of the physics; a particle is never a wave, as experimentalist Victor Stenger explains:

No one has ever measured a wavelike property associated with a single particle. Interference and diffraction effects are only observed for beams of particles and only particles are detected, even when you are trying to measure a wavelength. The statistical behavior of these ensembles of particles is described mathematically using equations that sometimes, but not always, resemble the equations for waves.4

Matter is real, and it is insensitive to thought.

Mary Baker Eddy insisted that Christian Science is scientific. If so, then we should expect it to employ the scientific method. Doyle would agree, and he believes that Eddy essentially followed the scientific method in her “discovery” of Christian Science:

Mrs. Eddy called it, “Revelation, reason, and demonstration,” which is like hypothesis, logic, predicting what therefore must be the result (and that’s the experimental verification). And so that’s the scientific method.

As generally understood, the scientific method can be expressed as: observation, hypothesis, experiment, evaluation. Notice that Eddy omits the essential first step: observation. Instead she substitutes “revelation,” holding that observation is not only unnecessary but also misleading. This is consistent with her belief that the human senses are illusory: “Natural science, as it is commonly called, is not really natural nor scientific, because it is deduced from the evidence of the material senses.”5 Eddy’s rejection of sense evidence is a core teaching of Christian Science. However, all scientific knowledge is ultimately perceived through our senses. Today’s scientific instruments–from the powerful accelerators that physicists use to detect subatomic particles, to the large radio telescope arrays that let astronomers like Dr. Doyle see cosmic events–simply translate inaccessible phenomena into signals that can be perceived by our physiological senses.

Doyle equates Eddy’s term “demonstration” with experimental verification, but her denial of empirical evidence disqualifies it as such. When scientists conduct experiments they catalog all results, whether the data tend to validate or invalidate the hypothesis. In contrast, Eddy taught her students to reject negative evidence and acknowledge only those results that support the revealed hypothesis. Clearly, Eddy’s methodology has nothing in common with the scientific method.

Christian Scientists’ unwillingness to acknowledge negative evidence is a reflexive confirmation bias that renders Christian Science testimony scientifically meaningless. The Christian Science Church habitually cites the thousands of testimonies of healing in its periodicals as proof of the efficacy of Christian Science treatment. But as Caroline Fraser puts it, “the Church and its members have simply eliminated the negative. . . . The Church never acknowledges failures in its editorials or articles.”6 Consequently, rank-and-file Christian Scientists (including students at Principia College) do not have access to information on Christian Science failures. And the failures, tragically, are legion.

In summary, Laurance Doyle’s claim that Mary Baker Eddy anticipated the findings of quantum physics can only be entertained if one misstates the physics and overstates Eddy’s discernment. Moreover, the notion that Christian Science is in any way scientific is utterly insupportable. Ultimately, the bright students who spoke so searchingly during the Q&A of Doyle’s talk will figure that out for themselves.

End notes

  1. Miscellaneous Writings, 173:28-31
  2. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 507:24-25
  3. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 124:26-31
  4. Victor J. Stenger, God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos (Prometheus Books, 2014) Kindle ed. loc. 1801.
  5. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 274:7-9
  6. Caroline Fraser, God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999), 426.

Embedded Links

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHE2CByoMwA
  • http://chemistry.about.com/od/lecturenotesl3/a/sciencemethod.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

“Did Mary Baker Eddy Anticipate the Findings of Quantum Physics?” Was written by an Ex-CS, and Prin grad who retired from a 34-year career at a U.S. Dept. of Energy nuclear laboratory. This post originally appeared at kindism.org and has been shared with permission. Slight changes have been made to correct hyperlinks where applicable.