The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that as long as we do not check to see if a sub-atomic particle has decayed (producing radiation), then we must simultaneously assume that the atom both has decayed and has not decayed.
In 1935, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger critiqued this notion by proposing the following: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity due to a decaying particle, the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. If the monitor does not detect radiation, then the vial remains intact and the cat will live. Because the box is sealed and we cannot measure the atom, we must consider the particle to be both decayed and undecayed; therefore, we must assume the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat is either alive or dead. Measuring (observation) removes doubt and the paradoxical assumptions collapse. This thought experiment is known today as Schrödinger’s cat.
Schrödinger pointed out some of the illogic in assuming something is both X and Not-X. Such assumptions were necessary due to the difficulty in measuring and monitoring sub-atomic particles, yet that does not remove the bizarreness of the paradox. Key to the entire mess, though, was observation: once we look, measure, and observe, all doubt is removed and we know the state of the particle. The Schrödinger version of the old chicken-crossing-the-road joke highlights this concept: The chicken doesn’t cross the road. Rather, it exists simultaneously on both sides….as long as you don’t peek.
As long as we don’t peek, the paradox stands. As long as we do nothing to pursue definitive knowledge, we can assume both to be true.
I knew a lovely post-modern Christian years ago. Karla was a great lady from a good family. She faithfully attended church, dated good guys, and pursued a diligent work ethic. She was a product of her Christian upbringing, but was also a result of her culture’s indoctrination. Nowhere was this clash more apparent than in the debate over homosexuality.
“Well, I know that God has a plan, umm, goal for all of us. I mean, He set up marriage and laid out the rules and all that. It’s Adam and Eve, for crying out loud, not Adam and Steve.”
Oh, so homosexuality is wrong?
“Well, I don’t think we can make those sort of sweeping generalizations. I mean, look at the contributions that many homosexuals have made to society in art, medicine, design, beauty, law, social justice, education….I think we all just have to back off on the labels and evaluations and let the facts decide for themselves. Besides, we serve a big God!”
So….what? This means that God cares nothing about our sexual mores?
“No! He’s not apathetic! He certainly cares, and has set up a very clear path to marriage and relationships. Not care? Pfft…I can’t really give you a verse-by-verse breakdown of the issue, but He is really involved in all of this!”
So as long as we don’t peek, we can assume both positions are accurate.
Karla is literate and can access the scriptures. She could sit down and examine any number of theologically sound documents in a search for truth. Pastors and theologians and seminary grads of all stripes pass freely through her environment. However, being who she is, she cares nothing for investigation or examination. So long as she doesn’t examine the matter closely, she can hold to her paradox. As long as you keep the box sealed and do not observe what happens inside, you can hold to your self-contraditions.
Os Guiness decried what he deemed to be an evangelical bias against deep thought, a tendency for North American Christians to prefer what they think and feel over what they could possibly know. I believe he is correct in his evaluation; too often we are willing to keep the box closed, preferring to hold to two mutually exclusive positions over careful examination of the matter. Homosexuality, race, care for the poor, generic sexuality, gluttony, sanctity of church sacraments…oh, heavens above, how well-populated this list could be!
The hypocrisy that fills our lives and churches flows from our voluntary self-discrepancies. The vitriol of our public brawls in the name of ethical morality brazenly trumpets our willingness to support both right and wrong, holy and profane. Incongruity tops inconsistency, in turn being overmatched by illogical confutation. We’re comfortable with it, you see, because as long as you don’t peek…!
How many prophets accused the Israelites of both knowing and not knowing the Law, of holding to dual positions that denied the reality of the other? Did not Paul compel his readers to engage in self-diagnosis and the examination of all ideas? So what has possessed us and our churches to say both yes and no on so many issues?
Oh, dear God, protect us from sealed boxes and undead cats.