Sunday, July 19, 2009


It's the conviction of David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, a religious research organization, and his co-author, Gabe Lyons, that Christianity has an image problem. Kinnaman and Lyons are two young men who set out to determine through polling and interviews exactly what young people (18-40) who stood outside the faith thought of Christianity and Christians.

They published their findings two years ago in an excellent book titled Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks of Christianity, and the results aren't flattering. Fairly or unfairly, justifiably or unjustifiably, pluralities of younger adults see Christians as hypocritical, insincere, homophobic, naive, too political, and judgmental.

Now this is not how Christians see themselves, of course, and so the news is hard to take. Nevertheless, whether there are good grounds for thinking this way of Christians or not, and the authors cite a lot of anecdotal evidence that certainly justifies at least some of these perceptions, this is how millions of "outsiders" do in fact see those who claim to be followers of one who was none of those things.

Though not without its irritations, this is a book that every Christian, certainly every Christian in leadership or ministry positions, really should read. Only by knowing what those outside the church have experienced and come to believe about Christianity can there be any chance of changing those beliefs.

Kinnaman and Lyons give a chapter to each of the perceptions listed above and explain how they arrive at their conclusions. For example, their data show that in the cohort of outsiders from 16 to 29 years of age 91% think Christians are (a lot or some) antihomosexual, 87% think Christians are judgmental, and 72% think they're out of touch.

Don't think, though, that the book is just page after page of statistics. The stats are just a small part of the information Kinnaman and Lyons provide. Much of the book is comprised of stories like that of a woman who sought help in dealing with her troubled son but received instead lectures from the women in the church about her status as an unmarried mother. She left.

Such stories are depressing, but Christians need to hear them. Only by seeing how others see us can we change those things about us which can be, and need to be, changed.

Buy two copies of Unchristian - one for you and one for your pastor. It can be ordered here.


Quantum Entanglement

Denyse O'Leary at Uncommon Descent calls our attention to a Wall Street Journal article by Gautam Naik from last May. Naik was writing on the weird, Alice-in-Wonderland world of quantum physics where none of the laws of our everyday experience apply. He says:

One of quantum physics' crazier notions is that two particles seem to communicate with each other instantly, even when they're billions of miles apart. Albert Einstein, arguing that nothing travels faster than light, dismissed this as impossible "spooky action at a distance."

The great man may have been wrong. A series of recent mind-bending laboratory experiments has given scientists an unprecedented peek behind the quantum veil, confirming that this realm is as mysterious as imagined.

Quantum physics is the study of the very small -- atoms, photons and other particles. Unlike the cause-and-effect of our everyday physical world, subatomic particles defy common sense and behave in wacky ways. That includes the fact that a photon, which is a particle of light, exists in a haze of multiple behaviors. They spin in many ways, such as "up" or "down," at the same time. Even trickier, it's only when you take a peek -- by measuring it -- that the photon fixes into a particular state of spin.

In other words, the world of our everyday experience may not be at all the way the world really is. Our perceptions could well be illusions that result from the fact that we are a certain size and observe the world from a particular perspective. Ultimate reality could be very much different than what we imagine it to be.

Stranger still is entanglement. When two photons get "entangled" they behave like a joint entity. Even when they're miles apart, if the spin of one particle is changed, the spin of the other instantly changes, too. This direct influence of one object on another distant one is called non-locality.

Last year, Dr. Nicolas Gisin and colleagues at Geneva University described how they had entangled a pair of photons in their lab. They then fired them, along fiber-optic cables of exactly equal length, to two Swiss villages some 11 miles apart.

During the journey, when one photon switched to a slightly higher energy level, its twin instantly switched to a slightly lower one. But the sum of the energies stayed constant, proving that the photons remained entangled.

More important, the team couldn't detect any time difference in the changes. "If there was any communication, it would have to have been at least 10,000 times the speed of light," says Dr. Gisin. "Because this is such an unlikely speed, the conclusion is there couldn't have been communication and so there is non-locality."

In 1990, the English physicist Lucien Hardy devised a thought experiment. The common view was that when a particle met its antiparticle, the pair destroyed each other in an explosion. But Mr. Hardy noted that in some cases when the particles' interaction wasn't observed, they wouldn't annihilate each other. The paradox: Because the interaction had to remain unseen, it couldn't be confirmed.

In a striking achievement, scientists from Osaka University have resolved the paradox. They used extremely weak measurements -- the equivalent of a sidelong glance, as it were -- that didn't disturb the photons' state. By doing the experiment multiple times and pooling those weak measurements, they got enough good data to show that the particles didn't annihilate. The conclusion: When the particles weren't observed, they behaved differently.

In a paper published in the New Journal of Physics in March, the Japanese team acknowledged that their result was "preposterous." Yet, they noted, it "gives us new insights into the spooky nature of quantum mechanics." A team from the University of Toronto published similar results in January.

Put another way, at a very fundamental level the universe is observer-dependent. The distinction between objective reality and subjective reality is smeared and hazy. The world turns out to be contingent in many ways, perhaps in every way, upon observing minds.

Quantum properties are not understood but they are nonetheless being exploited in a lot of technologies, some of which are discussed in the remainder of the article. It's fascinating stuff.

As I mentioned above, quantum mechanics suggests to some scientists that the reality we see is a kind of illusion. Christian theologians have been saying this for millenia, of course, and in fact, we discussed this on Viewpoint in a little more detail here. I wrote there, in part, that we might:

"Consider just one example from the quantum world. Pairs of sub-atomic particles formed simultaneously share a property known as entanglement. These particles are somehow mysteriously connected to each other even if they are separated by vast distances across space. If one of the pair undergoes some alteration the other undergoes a corresponding alteration even though any message sent from the one to the other would have to travel at near infinite speed in order for the second particle to know that the first has been altered.

How does this happen? There's no physical explanation for this instantaneous connectivity. If, however, these particles, and everything else, are really part of God's consciousness, the problem of entanglement is explained. Every event is immediately known by God, and His mind imposes the laws that govern the behavior of these particles."

That scientists are beginning to discern a deeper, mind-based level of reality reminds me of the closing lines of Robert Jastrow's God and the Astronomers:

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Or, in the words of Sir James Jeans, "The world is beginning to look more like a grand idea than a great machine."