Can two opposing ideas be true at the same time? Science seems to say “yes” once again.

Religion / Science

One of the most wonderful aspects of scientific thought in the 20th century was the realization that light had both a particle and a wave aspect. (So, it turns out, does everything.) There’s no way logically that you can be a particle (localized) and a wave (which is found everywhere) at the same time. And yet, as Einstein theorized, and DeBroglie in his steps, that’s exactly what the Universe does.

For a long time philosophers and scientists assumed that this inherent duality was an artifact caused by imperfect understanding. But the more we look at the situation, the more stubbornly the data indicates that it’s not an approximation of reality. It is reality. We may not be able to completely conceive it. But it’s what *is*.

There appears to be a new frontier that we’re going to be working to get our heads around another dualistic paradox. For many years now physicists have been trying to understand whether the data about the expanding and accelerating edge of the Universe needed to be explained by modifying the classical understanding of Gravitation -“modified Newtonian dynamics” or MOND (which would include General Relativity too), or by positing an entirely new sort of matter that gravitates but does not emit photons (Dark Matter).

Both ideas have proponents, with the majority of people of late coming down on the “Dark Matter” side of the solution.

But a new team has suggested that maybe the answer isn’t either/or but rather both/and once again. The same group of physicists who have been suggesting that perhaps Gravity is really an entropic phenomenon, being related to information flow in the Universe rather than a fundamental force, are now seeing that their idea can be extended.

An article on the ArXiv Physics blog explains how the model has been modified to be more accurate, and what the results where when that was done.

“So far, [the new model] has assumed a simple universe. But cosmologists know that our Universe is not only expanding but accelerating away from us. What Chui and co. have done is derive gravity as an emergent force using the same entropic approach but this time in a universe that is accelerating.

The result is a form of gravity in which parameters for acceleration and mass share a strange kind of duality: either the acceleration term can be thought of as modified as in MOND; or the mass term can be though of as modified, as in the dark matter theory.

In effect, Chui and co are saying that dark matter and MOND are two sides of the same coin.

Interestingly, the effect of each type of modification seems to be scale dependent. In this theory, the MONDian interpretation works at the galactic scale while the dark matter interpretation works best at the scale of galactic clusters.”

From here.

That’s really quite lovely. This approach has the benefit of explaining all sorts of seemingly unrelated phenomenon like why gravity resists quantization and now why we have two contradictory but equally successful paradigms.

Perhaps our human need to find clarity is just a human need. Perhaps the Universe doesn’t have a single way of doing things, but instead conjoins paradox in a way that is wholly unsatisfactory to the enlightenment mind.

Actually, my gut feeling about this is that there’s no maybe about it. Reality is paradoxical and does not lend itself to clarity at all. I think the reason for that has to do with our creature-ly-ness and our finitude as human beings.

I was thinking about this today when I read David Anderson’s latest letter.

He is criticizing the Episcopal Church for its decision to ordain Mary Glasspool as a bishop in California and in the middle of his letter he writes:

The difficulty is that the two opposing viewpoints are based on non-compatible reference systems: one is based on human reasoning and feelings, the other on the revealed Word of God. One is right, the other is not, and you can’t compromise and cut the baby in half, so that each belief system has half of what they wanted.

Leaving aside any response on the situation which gives birth to his statement, it’s the idea that two opposing viewpoints can not coexist which bothers me.

Why not? Isn’t that just what we do in the Episcopal Church’s liturgical formulation of the Elizabethan compromise: “The Body of Christ, The Bread of Heaven”?

Since Anglicanism has no strong tradition that believes the biblical witness is literally word, for word from God, human beings must have had a non-trivial part to play in its writing and editing. And if that’s the case, how do we tease out where the human emotions and reason leave off and the inspiration of God begins?

I’m not asking this to score rhetorical point against Bishop Anderson here, I’m writing because I think the idea that we can separate one strand from another in the creation of the Canon is likely an over-reach on our part. Like the particle and the wave, like MOND and Dark Matter, it’s both/and AND either/or depending on the situation.

I’ve cautioned against binary thinking that arises from overly appreciating the enlightenment before. I suppose this is just another of those notes.

But perhaps someone will read this and hear my point anew this time.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Michael Witmer says

    Interesting parallels abound here between the physical universe and the church universe, including that competing theories each seem to have a scale at which they work best.

  2. Thanks Michael. Your comment about length scales being important in both the scientific and religious realms is something I’d not ever thought about.
    But it’s an interesting thing to point out.
    And so now, I shall have a think about that. Thanks!

  3. The blog you have been written make me thinking a lot of things. Search for knowledge, read more, sit on your front porch and admire the view without paying attention to your needs.

  4. John White says

    In the Catholic seminary I attended from 1960–1965, I was taught that belief in God’s existence was a matter of faith because God’s existence could not be proved or disproved as a matter of logic or scientific inquiry. Faith was explained to me to be the ability to hold in one’s mind at the same time two contradictory ideas, e,g., the idea that something could be both a particle and a wave at the same time; and that the mystery of faith is that the faith we do have in God’s existence requires that same kind of faith we must have to believe in wave particle duality….

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