Does Quantum Mechanics Speak To Theology? — Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Does Quantum Mechanics Speak To Theology? — Guest Post by Bob Kurland

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner for his research on quantum electrodynamics


Seventy years ago when I first heard this quote (auditing Feynman’s Caltech graduate course on quantum mechanics) I thought “what does he mean by that?” Now, after a lifetime of research and teaching involving quantum mechanics, I get the picture. The mathematical formalism of QM (quantum mechanics) accurately predicts the results of atomic and sub-atomic experiments. But how we interpret QM, the picture of reality given by those experiments, is clouded and mysterious.

ChatGPT gives 7 interpretations for QM. If you search Wikipedia for “quantum mechanics interpretations” you’ll find a list of 16 principal ideas. And that list doesn’t include one that is most satisfying to the believing Christian, one that proceeds from Aristotelian and Thomistic principles. (I’ll discuss this interpretation below.) Since each of these interpretations is consistent with the mathematical theory, the formalism of QM, it cannot be excluded empirically, since that formalism has yet to be contradicted by any experiment.

Why are there so many different ways to try to understand QM? Because the behavior of atomic and subatomic systems in QM experiments is strange, counter-intuitive. I’ll try to give a simple picture of these strange behaviors, “mysteries.” But before I do that, let me set forth some basic QM concepts. For a more detailed pictorial and non-mathematical explanation the reader can refer to this webinar and this ebook.


1. The Wave-Particle Duality

The best way to appreciate this concept is to see how it developed, that is, to use a historical perspective (see here). However, to keep this article short, I’ll just state the results from 27 years of research in the early 20th century.

Light, heat, x-rays, microwaves, radio waves are electromagnetic radiation. Classical physics (before QM) described electromagnetic radiation as waves. Waves (as in waves in the ocean) extend indefinitely; they are not localized, they don’t have a specific location corresponding to some point in space. If you pass a ray of light through a hole it can spread out from the hole, that is the ray can bend around a corner. But QM showed that radiation could also behave like a particle; Einstein’s explanation of the photo-electric effect presumed that light consisted of particles (photons) with energy given by the frequency of the light rays, the greater the frequency (the shorter the wavelength), the greater the energy of a photon.

According to classical physics electrons, protons, atoms, etc. were to be treated as particles, that is as having a specific location as a point in space. In 1924, Count DeBroglie, proceeding from considerations of special relativity, postulated that particles could behave like waves. His prediction was confirmed in 1927 by the Davisson-Germer experiments.

Here are some pictorial representations of this behavior:

Waves behaving like particles: the Compton experiment:

In this experiment (Arthur Compton, 1923) a photon collides with an electron at rest, bounces off, moving the electron. Conservation of momentum relates wavelengths of incident photon to that of the scattered photon, and the directions of photon and electron after collision, as shown in the diagram below (from Wikimedia Commons; conservation of momentum means that the total momentum of the scattered photon and moved electron equals the momentum of the incident photon; don’t worry about the math).

Compton received the Nobel Prize in 1927 for this work.

Particles behaving like waves: the Double Slit diffraction experiment

Richard Feynman used this experiment to introduce students to QM. It illustrates the strange, wavelike, non-classical behavior that electrons and other atomic and sub-atomic entities can display (entities that we ordinarily think of as particles). First note that light can bend around corners, that is show diffraction properties, as shown in the image below:

Diffraction of Light

The green stripes represent peaks in the electromagnetic wave (light); the wave front goes from a plane wave (up and down green stripes) before encountering the slit (the hole in the yellow line representing the screen) to a circular wave (circle green stripes) after it goes through the slit. Note that any wave has a maximum in the disturbance and a minimum (represented as negative) and a zero disturbance between the maximum and minimum.


Now let’s consider light going through two slits, as shown in the image at the right. The single wave is divided into two waves by the slits. Each of these two waves has a maximum (positive) and a minimum (negative) as in the diagram above, except that the maxima of the wave going through the upper slit is displaced from the maxima of the wave going through the lower slit because of the separation of slits. When the maxima or minima of the waves coincide, there will be an increase intensity, observed on a viewing screen. When the maximum of one wave (positive) coincides with the minimum of the other wave (negative), the two disturbances will cancel out and there will be zero intensity. Thus, the pattern on the viewing screen will be a series of bright bands and dark bands.

When a particle goes encounters the two slits it behaves like a wave until it hits the detecting screen; it doesn’t spread out on the screen but lands in a particular spot. After many particles go through the two slits the pattern on the detecting screen resembles that of waves, but with discrete points where each particle has hit the screen, as shown in the diagram below.

According to classical physics, the particles would pass through the slits in a straight line, as shown in the left-hand picture. Quantum physics says the particles behave as if they were a wave after they have passed through the slits, but become particles (that is, are localized) when they hit the detecting screen.

Let’s turn now to the second strange quantum behavior, entanglement.

2. Entanglement

Any reader of science fiction knows that faster than light communication is possible—look at all the stories that make use of it. However, relativity theory says that no information, no forces can act at faster than light speeds. But, if we look at quantum mechanical behavior of pairs of particles (photons, electrons) produced in special ways, the properties of each of the pair are correlated, and this correlation persists even when the pairs are separated over a long distance, so one could think of this correlation of properties as an instantaneous interaction, acting at faster than light speeds. Einstein called this behavior “spooky action at a distance.” It was one of the reasons he didn’t think quantum mechanics supplied a complete picture of how the universe works.

To get a more intuitive picture of what quantum entanglement is about, let’s use a non-physics example. (To do it as physics would require too much background material for this brief article.) Consider the voting habits of a married couple, husband (symbolized by H) and wife (symbolized by W). Each can vote Democratic (symbolized by D) or Republican (symbolized by R). We’ll suppose the couple is harmonious politically so that one could have either (HR,WR) or (HD,WD); that is the husband and wife both vote the same. Now the notion of entanglement is that even if the husband and wife have been separate for a period of time and over a long distance—in a distant future, the husband on earth and the wife on Mars or even separated by light years—the husband and wife will vote the same at the same instant in time, their vote will always be either (HR,WR) or (HD,WD).

Entanglement has been experimentally verified, and it holds even for particles of a pair separated by many miles. Shown below is an illustration of one such experiment.


The pictures are images of the face of a cat, transmitted by two laser beams; the photons in each beam are entangled. Since the photons are entangled, as each beam travels and becomes separated, the fluctuations in intensity (shown as little squares) are the same for corresponding parts of the image. (Note that the purple face is upside down with respect to the orange; see here for a more complete account.)


Let’s turn now to how these strange quantum behaviors might be interpreted theologically.


“The one thing worse than a theology that attempts to draw connections between physics and God is a theology that believes it has no need of such connections, a theology that believes it can concoct the divine out of metaphysical whole cloth.” Philip Clayton, “Tracing the Lines,” in Quantum Mechanics—Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action.

Theologians, philosophers and physicists give different answers to the question “Does quantum mechanics speak to theology.” Rather than discussing these positions here, I refer the reader to my ebook, Mysteries: Quantum and Theological. In this article I focus on a newer way to look at QM, using concepts from Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics. Since I cannot in this brief piece give a detailed explanation of these concepts, I’ll give references to internet resources that give fuller accounts and ask the reader to pardon my physics accent in speaking philosophy.

Aristotelian/Thomistic Metaphysics for Dummies (Me)

Readers who are familiar with Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics can skip this section. Those who are not, and want to get a fuller account can refer to YouTube explanations of the various terms or read Gil Sanders article, An Aristotelian Approach to Quantum Mechanics, which gives a clear definition of relevant terms.

Let’s look at the following example of a “thing” changing (thing (agent of change) —> changed thing):

Ice cube (add heat) —> liquid water (add salt, electrolyze) —> H2 and O2 gases (much heat) —> H and O atoms

Now the ice cube is a substance, having matter and form; it has properties—shape, transparency, hardness,…. (“accidents”); it is in existence (“actus”); it can be changed by an external agent (e.g. heat) into something different, liquid water, so it has the potency (“potentia”) for transformation. We could proceed with further transformations and change the H and O atoms into electrons and nuclei (protons and O16 nuclei) and further yet, transform the O16 nuclei into neutrons and protons.

At each stage in this series of changes, the “thing” is composed of what Aristotle would call “matter” and the “thing” has a “form.” It’s apparent that the changes certainly involve changes of form. Whether there is a change of “substance” (as understood in an Aristotlian context) is perhaps more difficult to say. I would say that each of the changes involve a change in substance. However when the question is put to AI agents (ChatGPT or Bing CoPilot) one gets different answers. The kind of matter that is present is certainly different in each stage. What is relevant for this article is that there is the possibility of change (“potentia”), from one actual state of being (“actus”) to another.

This last condition is what is most relevant in explaining QM strangeness, and this explanation is what we will now discuss.

Heisenberg invokes Quantum Potentia

In his book about physics and philosophy, Werner Heisenberg, a pioneer in establishing quantum theory, turned to Aristotle to explain some of the QM mysteries. He attributed the probabilistic nature of a quantum measurement to the Aristotelian concept, “potentia”:

“One might perhaps call it an objective tendency or possibility, a “potentia” in the sense of Aristotelian philosophy.” Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science, (1958)

Building on Heisenberg’s interpretation, several philosophers have developed a complete interpretation of quantum theory based on Aristotelian/Thomistic concepts (see References). I’ll summarize these ideas below.

Aristotelian Quantum Mechanics

As this physicist sees it, philosophers have taken two approaches in using Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics to explain QM. The first is to incorporate it as a whole; the second is to focus on the concepts of potentia (potency, possibility) and actus (real, actual) as describing reality. The latter approach is taken by Kastner, Kauffman and Epperson (KKE), which I’ll discuss below.

KKE use the terms res potentia and res extensa to describe the nature of a thing (“res”). That which is a res extensa is real, can be perceived directly by sense or measuring instruments; that which is a res potentia is also real, but cannot be perceived directly by sense or measuring instruments. According to KKE, measurement can convert a res potentia to a res extensa, as in the two-slit experiment:

Consider the following two propositions concerning a two-slit experiment:

X. ‘The photon possibly went through slit A.’

Note that one can say of X: ‘X is true AND ‘not X’ is true’ without contradiction.1 Thus

X, understood as a statement of possibility, does not obey the law of the excluded

middle. On the other hand, consider Y:

Y. ‘The photon was detected at point P on the detection screen.’

Y, as a statement about an actuality, does obey the law of the excluded middle.” —KKE, Taking Heisenberg’s Potentia Seriously

Proposition X implicitly considers the incident photon as a wave extended over space, which is to say the photon can be at both slits and unless a measurement occurs just after it passes through the slits it is still extended in space. If the photon is measured just after it passes through the slits potentia is changed to actus, and the photon acts as a particle, that is is localized at a point. proposition Y implicitly considers the photon detected at a point on the screen as a particle. Thus the measurement (photon hitting the screen) in some way converts potentia to actus, or res potentia to res extensa. And the same process occurs in the macroscopic world, according to Aristotle: an external agent of sufficient power can convert the potentia of a substance into actus, e.g. electrolysis can convert liquid water into H2 and O2 gases.

KKE explain entanglement by supposing that the act of measurement removes all but one of the possible entangled states so that only the measured one remains. We can look at this way, using the example above of an entangled husband/wife pair that vote the same way. Let’s take the quantum state before measurement to be (husband, D; wife, D) + (husband, R; wife, R), that is equally likely beforehand for the couple to vote democrat or to vote republican. Then measurement—voting—will leave either (husband, D; wife, D) or (husband, R; wife, R). This will be the case whether the husband and wife are separated by 1 meter or by a light-year. KKE conclude that this description of multiple actualities is a reality, albeit only a possibility (that is, existing as quantum potentia), and that such entanglement is independent of space-time restrictions.

If you ask, “Is anything added to our knowledge of what quantum mechanics is all about by such an Aristotelian/Thomistic interpretation?” I would answer yes, if you take that interpretation to generally describe how the universe works. Since this short article is only an amuse-bouche for understanding QM via Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics, I recommend the reader go to the References listed below for the full meal.


Alfred Driessen, Aristotle and the Foundation of Quantum Mechanics

Gregg Jaeger, Quantum Potentiality Revisited (a complete explanation of how quantum theory can be put into an Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysical frame)

R.E. Kastner, Stuart Kauffman, Michael Epperson, Taking Heisenberg’s Potentia Seriously

Robert Koons, Knowing Nature: Aristotle, God and the Quantum; Thermal Substances: a Neo-Aristotelian Ontology of the Quantum World

Gil Sanders, An Aristotelian Approach to Quantum Mechanics (an excellent, intelligible explanation of Aristotelian metaphysics and its application to understanding QM)

Guiseppe Tanzelli-Nitti, Thomism, Nature and Science

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  1. Tom

    Isn’t converting “potentia to actus, or res potentia to res extensa” just called decoherence these days?

  2. anon

    Meh. If there is a “theological” meaning behind quantum mechanics, it’s that about 100 years ago, the logical positivists rebelled willfully against the idea that there was a real world, independent of our ideas about it. They baked their anti-realism into a set of axioms that no one has successfully challenged since, and munged up the objective and subjective, in an attempt to deny the reality of what they studied.

    That this could happen in physics, a discipline that presupposes an independent autonomous world that follows laws, is incredible.

    No one understands quantum mechanics, because Niels Bohr and Heisenberg did not mean for it to be understood, and took great pains that no attempts at a coherent picture of what nature might be and might be doing survived.

  3. McChuck

    Copenhagen Interpretation delenda est!

    Entanglement is nothing more than the Zero Principle in action: Everything adds up to zero. When two particles interact in an entangling way, all it means is that they obtain, at that very moment, some set of opposite properties. They carry these opposites forward unless changed, because particles do not change without cause. It does not matter if they travel one millimeter or ten thousand light years, their properties will remain opposites until and unless altered by some force.

    Let us say you have a pair of shoes. You place the shoes into identical, unlabeled, opaque boxes and seal them tightly shut. You hand the boxes to someone, and direct them into a dark room. There they place the boxes, unopened, upon a table. They swap them back and forth to their satisfaction. Then they come out, and a third person goes into the dark room. They find two boxes upon a table, and swap them back and forth to their satisfaction. They come out, and a fourth person goes into the darkened room, and selects one box at whim. Locking the door behind him, he comes out with that box, and fly to some distant portion of the globe. When he arrives at his destination, he calls you, and opens the box. At the moment that person tells you which shoe he has, you suddenly and irrevocably know, for a fact, which shoe still lies hidden in the sealed box in the darkened room.

    Unpossible! Magic! Quantum strangeness! Or so the Copenhagen junta would have you believe.

  4. cdquarles

    I’d also add that before any measurement we do, our knowledge of what’s actual and what’s potential isn’t clear. Afterwards, we know, to a greater or lesser extent. Our epistemological state has changed, yet the ontological state hasn’t. Time and/or distance matter not at all.

  5. cdquarles

    Oh, another thing, lest I forget. I’ve done electron microscopy. Surfaces that look smooth and sharp to our limited resolution eyes do not necessarily appear that way upon such an examination. How much would such roughness affect things interacting at that scale? We don’t know. We can guess using geometry to an extent, though.

  6. Are Thomas and Aristotle the measure of all things Christian? I thought that Scripture was the foundation. I think that Scripture should be included in this discussion.

  7. I realize that lots of people put lots of effort into trying to recouncile the findings of physics with theosophical argument and/or belief but do not think the effort either appropriate or necessary. Physics describes what is while theology, to the extent that it extends past wishful thinking, is (or should be) about how that came to be. Those two fields of study/speculation have little or nothing to do with each other.

    One way to think about this, particularly for the religious, is to realize that, because God had to create the universe and so has to exist outside it, trying to bridge physics with religion/philosophy either distorts what we understand from physics or imposes unjustifiable limits on God. It is, for example, perfectly reasonable to argue that any version of God or Gods in human history could preside equally well over life in a 4d+t universe with no strong force – but because that universe cannot exist in our understanding of physics the two domains (physics/theosophy) must be disjoint.

  8. John Watkins

    This is the BEST ‘QM for Dummies’ I have ever read (and I’ve read a few!). The wave form depiction especially cleared up a whole lot for me. This is very similar to what I experienced when watching ‘Donald in MatheMagic Land’ many years ago, when dry (and previously un-explained) formulas finally were expressed visually, in a fashion that connected the formulas to a reality I could see. Thank you Mr. Kurland!!

  9. Robert Egri

    Although Louis could count very well, he was Prince De Broglie.

  10. Patient

    “Future Technologies Forum 2023 “Computing and Communication. The Quantum World”Some links. I don’t know if it has anything to do with theology; It should be, it’s Orthodox Russia, yet. (After all, Putin banned gay.)

  11. Anonymous

    > Does Quantum Mechanics Speak To Theology?

    No. Theology is the domain of wish fulfillment fantasies, like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or the Bible. Quantum Mechanics is the domain of the description of reality. “Interpretations” of QM, which have no experimental results favoring them, are mere religious fantasy. I interpret QM to say you should send me all your money. Like all other QM interpretations, this is nondisprovable.

    “Potentia” and “actus” are not physics jargon; both assume a reality which behaves differently than we observe the real one to. Thus, they are part of a disproved physics theory. It’s not surprising that a disproved physics theory predicts differently than a proved physics theory; that difference is why it was disproved.

  12. nondisprovable QM, delicious formulation, but also a must in order to record hitherto unsolved problems in written form (such as the wanted bending around the sun, or from “cosmic” background [man-ually] subtracted point sources, etc).

  13. fergus

    This is a good thought-provoking discussion, actually two discussions, one on what the physics is and the other on how people come to terms with it in their own thoughts or psychological makeup, and making peace with themselves and the universe in light of the bare bones of the physics. Several notions could be injected into the brew to enhance the flavor some, aim being to clarify the distinction between the physics part versus the “other” part.

    In the physics part a couple of notions would be useful to enhance what the physics part says and doesn’t say. Truly, the double slit experiment has been a useful device to pose the conundrum clearly. One minor presentation device left out here (at least not made graphically explicit) is the pattern one sees on the detector screen if one covers up first one slit and then the other slit. This reveals the two distributions of detected interactions on the screen from each slit and is intuitively obvious to most of us. Then one shows the pattern if one uncovers both slits and the remarkable fact appears that the pattern is not simply the sum of the two individual slit patterns. Somehow the outcomes don’t “add up” the way one expects. Many presentations of this phenomenon exist and as usual, Feynman’s are particularly clear, and focus directly on the physics. Readers should be pointed to Feynman’s classic lectures on physics which are available free online and the reference to this discussion is below.

    He uses the double slit discussion in his lectures to focus sharply on the physics that is involved. (In distinction to his popularizing writings in which he took more liberty with less precise wording, such as “understands” or “crazy”.) It is worth quoting verbatim from the referenced lecture, section 1-7, titled “First principles of quantum mechanics,” although one can read it for oneself there. He defines what is meant by an ideal experiment (essentially the general notion of a controlled experiment in physics) and then an event.

    “An ideal experiment is one in which all of the initial and final conditions of the experiment are completely specified. What we will call “an event” is, in general, just a specific set of initial and final conditions.” In one of his other books (ref 3 below) he goes to great lengths to point out the difficulty of communicating physics to a general audience due to the simple-minded narrow limitations on terms that physicists use, some of which are understood differently in common parlance. Here, what he means by an “event” and “initial and final conditions” are strictly limited to quantities explicitly and narrowly defined in terms of the 7 base units (second, meter, kilogram, ampere, kelvin, mole, candela) and 22 other units derived from these (for energy, force, etc.). The base units used to be defined in terms of physical objects such as arc measurements on the earth or a platinum bar kept in a vault somewhere, but now they are defined in terms of fundamental constants of the universe such as the speed of light in vacuum or the planck constant. The other notion in the ideal experiment is that the initial and final conditions are “specific” by which he meant completely known and few, preferably countable on one hand. This distinguishes so-called fundamental sciences (e.g physics) from applied sciences that attempt to describe much more complicated systems for which initial (and possibly final) conditions are much more numerous and often themselves unknown or uncertain.

    Feynman then summarized QM as (I added several clarifying comments)
    1. The probability of an event in an ideal experiment is given by the square of the absolute value of a complex number phi which is called the probability amplitude: (such that if)
    P = Probability (by which he meant the frequentist interpretation of simply counting the number of outcomes corresponding to each of the small number of final conditions) and
    phi = the probability amplitude (defined by this statement), then
    P = the squared magnitude of phi (in the usual complex number sense).
    2. When an event can occur in several alternative ways, the probability amplitude for the event is the sum of the probability amplitudes for each way considered separately. There is interference: (for example, for two alternative ways)
    phi_total = phi_1 + phi_2
    P(of the event outcome) = squared magnitude of [phi_1 + phi_2]
    3. If an experiment is performed which is capable of determining whether one or another alternative is actually taken, the probability of the event is the sum of the probabilities for each alternative. The interference is lost: P(of the outcome) = P_1 + P_2

    He follows with some text to the point that the above is all there is in physics, that trying to “explain” or interpret or understand anything more is essentially outside physics and more in the realm of personal philosophy or psychology addressing some other personal need than the needs served by physics. It is also useful to appreciate that the notion of “wave” versus “particle” is somewhat artificial and more geared toward helping one come to terms with the calculation personally, based on one’s specific experience. As stated above nothing is said about “wave” or “particle” at all. In practice, the calculations can be done using “wave” functions, but also with purely algebraic structures, functional analysis based on calculus of variations, or Feynman’s own notion of path integrals. There is nothing intrinsically “wave” or “particle” about QM, those are simply mental devices some people use to think about things. The base units involved do not force one to apply notions of “waves” or “particles.”

    Another point worth emphasizing concerns entanglement. Indeed, it seems that the states at distant points are somehow one, but the conundrum is particularly weird in that one can make a choice at one of the two points that is apparently “instantaneously” recognizable at the other, distant, point. It is not just that the votes of the husband and wife are linked, but that the vote of one at one point determines the vote at the distant point. As it is usually described one can design a simple experiment in which some binary state of the particles are entangled, typically something with an orientation like spin, such that after the particles have separated by a large distance an observer of one particle can measure the spin in a certain orientation and thereby constrain the spin of the particle at the other distant point. This would mean that the first observer could transmit a message faster than light, using the orientations chosen by one observer (presumably by their “free will”) and the other observer could determine what that choice was sooner than the time it would have taken light to travel from one to the other. Folks have wrangled with this experimentally for quite some time, trying to remove so-called “loopholes” that might satisfy expectations more, apparently to no avail. Interestingly, one of the “loopholes” was named (uncharacteristically for physics) the “free will” loophole. This is somewhat akin to the original thoughts on the mechanism for repeating radio signals from certain stars, ascribing them sheepishly to the “lgm” hypothesis, which was short for little green men.

    Concerning the second part of the discussion in this post, it is useful first to recognize that this second part has nothing to do with the physics per se, but rather with whether on its face the physics somehow discomfits one’s personal philosophical or religious mind set. Puzzling over what someone “means” or “interprets” or “reality” in terms of various other terms such as potential or actus, one should recognize that none of these terms have anything to do with the physics. That is unless they could be defined non-arbitrarily in terms of the base units or derived units to which physics restricts itself. Coincidentally, when I happened on this post, I had just been poring over a first edition version of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, commonly referred to as Principia. Recall it was published in Latin (in 1687, an English translation was not issued until 1729), and I was interested in his particular choice of Latin terms. For example, he used the word motus in his second law, which translates as movement or motion, but he explicitly defined it in terms of what we would now call base units as being the product of mass and velocity, which he had previously defined, as what we now call momentum. More germane than that quaint and curious forgotten lore was an ode that Edmund Halley wrote in Latin for the preface of the first edition. He wrote it after the fashion of an earlier poem by Lucretius called De Rerum Natura. By most accounts, Lucretius wrote the earlier ode to allay what he thought were uncalled for fears his fellow Romans had that the gods “did things” to people or as might be said in these posts “caused” bad things to happen to people. Lucretius appears to have been an Epicurean, which appears to be somewhat “atomistic” or “materialistic” and in these posts seems generally viewed with displeasure. The general notion seems to be that the gods set the world in motion according to certain basic principles but after that they went about their business with little concern for what individual people actually did on a day-to-day basis. Lucretius seemed to think that fear of such gods was thus not necessary or helpful in life. More interesting was the morphing that happened to Halley’s ode as subsequent editions of the Principia were published. (This is discussed in Ref 2 below.) It seems educated circles were going through some transitions away from the Epicurean view toward what seems to be called Providentialism, the notion that events on earth are “caused’ in some deliberate way by a God. Halley’s ode was not in keeping with that drift and as subsequent editions of Principia were printed, the editors gradually but continuously edited the original to bring it more in accord with the Providentialism that was more in keeping with the minds of the times. It took almost a hundred years, but the polite society eventually was able to couch the Principia in terms more to their liking. However, only the internal musings of observers to accord more to their own psychological or philosophical needs changed, not the physics. That would not occur until Einstein around 1900, which of course generated yet another round of polite society trying to come to comfort with the raw bones of the physics. The ongoing conversations about QM may be viewed as very similar.

    References: A pleasant congruence occurs that just as one’s copies of books and papers becomes worn and dog-eared and one also ages so that reading such things is more difficult, they are now becoming universally available online so that one can read them on a wide screen easily and in comfort. In virtually all cases, copies can be obtained free if one searches a bit or has access to a major university’s subscriptions. These are all available online.
    1. Feynman Lectures on Physics. V3, Lecture 1. Available online at .
    2. W.R. Albury, “Halley’s Ode on the Principia of Newton and the Epicurean Revival in England. Journal of the History of Ideas. 1978. V39 No 1. pp.24-43. Available at (You need access to JSTOR to get this one.)
    3. QED. The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Richard P. Feynman. Princeton University Press. Revised edition 2014.
    4. e.g. Definitions of Base Units.

  14. Nobody does actual experiments any more. If you did you’d find these experiments don’t actually give the clean cut repeatable results implied by the essay. For example, do Millikan’s Oil Drop Experiment with a whole class of kids and then plot the entire class’s results and you’ll find clear peaks before the approved value, strongly suggesting “partial” charges.

  15. topics e-m-e-r-g-e which sooner or later b-e-c-o-m-e so complex that they can only [d/t lack of r-e-s-o-u-r-c-e-s, m-a-t-e-r-i-a-l, c-o-n-c-e-p-t-s] be dealt with through faith.

  16. DAA

    @John Pate: that is the crux of the matter: these disciplines involve experiments that are not just plain observation, as in zoology and botany. They carry a lot of theory, they assume some theory in order to obtain data, because the apparatus is not a straightforward measuring device – even then… What if that theory is wrong? What if we are assuming too much?…

  17. john844

    Gee ‘anon’…yet both the Bible and the SI swimsuit edition are real. Hmmm…

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