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. 

Does Quantum Physics Validate Christian Science?

quantum physics and christian science

This is the first 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. This post tackles the first claim; I will address the second in a later post.

Fifteen years ago physicist and former Christian Scientist, Robert L. Miller, published an article in the journal Skeptic entitled, “Christian Science and the Perversion of Quantum Physics.” Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist and Christian Scientist, had been proclaiming a metaphysical interpretation of quantum physics that was at odds with generally accepted interpretations and wrong on the physics to boot. Well, Doyle is still at it, perverting theory and experiment to evangelize lay Christian Scientists with the notion that quantum physics validates their religion and that Mary Baker Eddy had a prescient understanding of scientific reality.

In April 2014, Doyle gave a lecture at Principia College where he is director of the oxymoronic “Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics”) on “The Metaphysics of Quantum Physics.” I suppose a talk of that flavor to a community of believers is to be expected, but it is clear from the expressionless faces in the audience that the physics he presented was far over-the-heads of most. I don’t believe anyone in Cox Auditorium that day had sufficient knowledge to question anything Doyle said. Indeed, I suspect the Christian Science community as a whole reveres Dr. Doyle as an unassailable authority on quantum physics.

In fact, however, Doyle is far out of the mainstream of physics consensus. Anyone who has attended a scientific conference knows how participants will challenge others’ hypotheses and interpretations of experimental results, all for the advancement of understanding–but this won’t happen at Principia College. If Doyle were to give this same presentation to a group of his peers at a physics symposium (even stripped of its references to Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science) he would be interrupted and challenged on nearly every slide.

1. The experimenter is not separable from his experiment.

Doyle repeatedly misstates the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics promulgated by Niels Bohr by declaring that “the experimenter is not separable from the experiment” (referring to the famous double-slit experiment). Doyle believes that the experimenter’s mind affects quantum behavior: “What you can know about the experiment turns out to be what’s important.” But Bohr was explicit that it is the measuring apparatus (rather than the mind of the experimenter) that is inseparable from the behavior of the particles: The experiment “implies the impossibility of any sharp separation between the behaviour of atomic objects and the interaction with the measuring instruments which serve to define the conditions under which the phenomena appear.”1

Doyle is incorrect when he declares, “Particles do not exist until they are observed” (i.e., by a human experimenter). Science writer Eliot Hawkins explains his error:

This is where people sometimes get confused and misinterpretations occur. . . . To us regular folks, “observation” means looking at something, seeing something happen. That’s not even close to what it means to quantum physicists. To them, it means measuring. . . . These vastly different definitions left us regular joe’s thinking that reality is unresolved until we look at it and that quantum states didn’t resolve until the information had managed to filter through our human minds.2

2. An underlying immediate connectedness exists between all elementary particles that make up all things.

Doyle bases this assertion on the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, in which particles of common origin and shared properties appear to be “aware” of each other’s states when separated (and theoretically the separation distance is unlimited). Although it defies our common sense, the phenomenon is reliably observable in experiments. Doyle believes that experiments to test Bell’s Theorem prove that entangled particles “communicate” their status via a mechanism that operates faster than the speed of light. But he faces a formidable hurdle with that inference because it conflicts with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which has been exhaustively validated experimentally. Most physicists reject the notion that superluminal communication is what’s happening in the Bell’s Inequality experiments, and recent experiments continue to demonstrate that faster-than-light transmission is impossible.

Entanglement can be produced in the laboratory, but it is a fragile condition that is instantly destroyed when particles are disturbed by interactions from outside their closed system. Consequently, the random and chaotic nature of the universe ensures that any sort of underlying entanglement or awareness among all particles in the cosmos is impossible.

3. “History” can be changed.

As strange as it seems, experiments with individual particles have shown that at the quantum level time can run backwards. Doyle suggests that this phenomenon raises the interesting possibility of reversing time at macroscopic levels (“changing history”).

Time, like position and momentum, is a probabilistic phenomenon. At the level of individual particles the probability of time going either direction can be high. But at scales greater than small numbers of particles the probability of time reversal increasingly approaches zero. Consequently, at the macroscopic scale in which we live time is an irreversible forward arrow hurtling in the direction of greater entropy, as the second law of thermodynamics requires. Zoran Pazameta explains:

In Einstein’s physics causality holds in all domains of the natural world, but quantum theory allows for violation of microcausality at the (microscopic) quantum level. In our macroscopic world, however, causality holds absolutely. This is one important reason why time travel is impossible; to go backwards in time means reversing every cause-and-effect event in the entire universe between then and now.3

Dr. Doyle’s central argument that modern physics validates Christian Science is a willful misinterpretation of the science. If physics actually validated his three assertions then we could plausibly believe that human thought determines what is real; that every particle of the universe is united under one mind; and that mental force can change the history of human experience (including, I suppose, raising the dead). But Doyle’s assertions are not validated by physics: they are all incorrect. No, Dr. Doyle, quantum physics does not validate Christian Science.

It should be a matter of concern that Dr. Doyle misrepresents physical science to an audience of students in order to promote a metaphysical system. It is unfortunate that students at Principia College will not be exposed to other perspectives on the implications of modern physics, which are indeed fascinating. Principia College remains an intellectually closed community on matters that may challenge Christian Science theology. These students deserve better. Continue reading “Does Quantum Physics Validate Christian Science?”