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Russell, Robert John. “Divine Action and Quantum Mechanics: A Fresh Assessment."

Robert John Russell develops and extends the thesis that, if one interprets quantum mechanics philosophically as pointing to ontological indeterminism, then one can construct a robust bottom-up, noninterventionist, approach to objective, mediated, direct divine action. In this approach, God’s indirect acts at the macroscopic level, understood as both general and special providence, arise in part from God’s direct action at the quantum level. God sustains the deterministic time-development of elementary processes governed by the Schrödinger equation, and God also brings about irreversible interactions that are not described by the Schrödinger equation (i.e., “measurements”) and that can lead to specific macroscopic effects. Thus divine action ultimately results in the regularities of our everyday world, which we attribute to general providence and describe by the laws of physics, and in specific macroscopic events which we view as acts of special providence.

Russell begins with clarifications and comments on methodology. His thesis does not explain how God acts or constitute an argument that God acts, but merely shows theological coherence of his theory of divine action with natural science. It is neither an epistemic nor an ontological “God of the gaps” argument. It does not reduce God to a natural cause; instead, God’s action is hidden from science. It does not propose that God alters the wavefunction between measurements or other such views. It opts for a bottom-up approach, since this seems the best way to discuss God’s action during the billions of years from the early universe to the evolution of primitive organisms on Earth; when sentient life is considered, bottom-up and top- down approaches should be combined. Finally, he responds to two questions. First, why should we take quantum mechanics seriously if it will one day be replaced? His response is that our alternative, classical physics, is wrong as a fundamental theory, and its depiction of nature as a closed causal system has already been thoroughly explored theologically. Second, how can we use quantum mechanics theologically if it can be given multiple philosophical interpretations? His response is that every scientific theory is open to multiple interpretations and that this poses a problem for all theological engagements with science. The key is that constructive theology can take a “what if” strategy, exploring the implications of one particular interpretation to its fullest without incurring the foundationalist problems of natural or physico-theology. Here he explicitly works within the Copenhagen indeterminist approach.

Next Russell turns to the measurement problem from the perspective of the Copenhagen interpretation. He distinguishes between the time development of the wavefunction governed by the deterministic Schrödinger equation, and the irreversible interactions between a quantum system and other systems to which the Schrödinger equation does not apply. Such interactions are routinely called “measurements,” but he claims their scope is much wider than usually acknowledged. It includes: micro-macro (e.g., the absorption of a photon by the retina), micro- meso (e.g., the capture of an electron by an interstellar dust particle), and irreversible micro-micro (e.g., proton-proton scattering in the presence of heavy nuclei) interactions, though it does not include reversible micro-micro interactions (e.g., proton-proton scattering in free space). The phrase “the collapse of the wavefunction” is used loosely to suggest “what happens” during a measurement, where the inapplicability of the Schrödinger equation and thus intrinsic unpredictability is taken as pointing to ontological indeterminism. The term “quantum event” can be defined as referring to this collection of ideas related to irreversible interactions.

Turning to theological issues, Russell first argues that quantum statistics (Bose-Einstein and Fermi-Dirac), as well as the Schrödinger time evolution and irreversible interactions, together lead to the classical world we interpret via general providence. He weighs arguments for viewing special divine action as either “ubiquitous” or “episodic” and concludes that “pervasive” is more helpful. He proposes that the spatial and temporal characteristics of the wavefunction and its collapse in an irreversible interaction point to divine action as both global and local. Finally he discusses scientific and theological challenges raised by special relativity, suggesting that we need a richer theological conceptuality of “time and eternity.”

He then discusses four crucial theological issues. First, does God act providentially in all quantum events, or only in some? Russell prefers the first option, though there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Second, if divine action and mind/brain top-down causality are both operative in acts of human volition, how do we avoid what Russell calls “somatic over determination”? Russell suggests that God acts in all quantum events until the rise of life and consciousness, after which God limits God’s action, leaving room for top-down, mind/brain causality. Third, why doesn’t God act to minimize suffering, disease, death, and extinction in nature? Russell proposes that we can give a more persuasive response to theodicy if we move from creation theology (and thus providence) to a trinitarian theology of redemption, particularly as developed by Wolfhart Pannenberg. This, in turn, leads to Russell’s fourth issue, which he sees as the crucial challenge to the theology-and-science discussion today: the meaning and intelligibility of the resurrection and eschatology in light of physics and cosmology.

Russell’s essay includes an appendix on philosophical problems in quantum mechanics, including a proposed “architecture of philosophical issues,” a discussion of Bell’s theorem, and a comparison of nonlocality and (in)determinism in Bohm and Bohr’s interpretations of quantum mechanics.

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