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Having worked at science-faith apologetics organization Reasons to Believe for more than 20 years, I’ve observed that scientists and philosophers often think differently about the world. With the types of specialized training in their academic backgrounds, scientists and philosophers tend to ask different kinds of questions about reality and truth. Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to talk past one other. Recently, I had a social media interaction with a scientist about whether the findings of quantum mechanics invalidate the logical law of noncontradiction.

Here, in part 1 of 3 in this series, I’ll provide a little background on the laws of logic and the theory of physics known as quantum mechanics. Then I’ll share some of my interaction with the scientist about the relationship between the two topics.

Three Foundational Laws of Logic

The study of logic recognizes three laws of thought as bedrock principles: the law of noncontradiction, the law of excluded middle, and the law of identity. Their importance to human thought and discourse cannot be overstated. These logical anchors, so to speak, can be stated to reflect a metaphysical perspective (what is or is not—being) or an epistemological perspective (what can be true or not true—truth).1

Here are the three logical laws stated and explained:

1. The law of noncontradiction: A thing, A, cannot at once be and not be (A cannot equal A and equal non-A at the same time and in the same way); they are mutually exclusive (not both). A dog cannot be a dog and be a non-dog.

2. The law of excluded middle: A thing, Ais or it is not, but not both or neither (either A or non-A), they are jointly exhaustive—one of them must be true. There is no middle ground between a dog and a non-dog.

3. The law of identity: A thing, Ais what it is (A is A). A dog is a dog.

Law of Noncontradiction (LNC)

To help explain further, here is an example of a logical contradiction from the claims of two world religions:

A. Jesus Christ is God incarnate (Christianity).

B. Jesus Christ is not God incarnate (Islam).

According to the LNC, these two statements (represented as A and B) negate or deny one another. In other words, if statement A is true, then statement B is false, and conversely. Thus, logically, both of these statements cannot be true. So contradictory relationships reflect a “not both true” status.

Quantum Mechanics (QM)

For a basic understanding of quantum mechanics, Live Science defines it this way:

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics relating to the very small.

It results in what may appear to be some very strange conclusions about the physical world. At the scale of atoms and electrons, many of the equations of classical mechanics, which describe how things move at everyday sizes and speeds, cease to be useful. In classical mechanics, objects exist in a specific place at a specific time. However, in quantum mechanics, objects instead exist in a haze of probability; they have a certain chance of being at point A, another chance of being at point B and so on.2

The challenge of QM in the context of the LNC is that light (a subatomic object) seems to be both a wave and a particle simultaneously, thus A and non-A.

Logical Interaction

Here is what a scientist said to me on social media:

The law of noncontradiction is violated by solid empirical science. At the quantum level, a subatomic particle can be in multiple locations at the same time. A particle can be both a wave and a particle. At the quantum level, cause may occur after effect. If this is true at the molecular base of our reality, how strongly can we hold on to the law of noncontradiction?

I responded by thanking the scientist and saying that philosophers and scientists need to dialogue with each other more on these kinds of topics. I then offered my brief take on the issue.

The LNC cast metaphysically (in terms of being) states the following: “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” I don’t think quantum mechanics actually denies the law of noncontradiction. What we can say is that under certain experimental conditions, light (a subatomic object) appears as a wave. But under other experimental conditions, light appears as a particle. So subatomic objects are not particles that are also nonparticles or waves that are also nonwaves; they are objects that behave sometimes like particles and sometimes like waves. Light behaves as a wave and a particle in different experimental conditions and, thus, in different logical respects. Hence, the experimental results of QM do not invalidate the LNC (A cannot equal A and equal non-A at the same time and in the same relationship).

The fundamental problem with any denial of the LNC is that the laws of logic make rational thought possible. In this very case, both a scientist and a philosopher exchanged ideas under the assumption of existing laws of logic. Thus, philosophers need input from scientists just as scientists need input from philosophers. And Christians would do well to populate both critical disciplines.

Summary

If I were to summarize the issue so you can use it on social media, I would say that quantum mechanics is counterintuitive to our ordinary notion of how larger objects react, but it is not a genuine violation of the law of noncontradiction. The laws of logic are considered necessary and inescapable because all thought, correspondence, and action presuppose their truth and application.

Reflections: Your Turn

Can you concisely state and explain the three laws of logic? Have you used them in your interactions? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

For studies in logic in the context of the Christian worldview, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), chapters 3 and 4.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes
  1. Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 42–44.
  2. Robert Coolman, “What Is Quantum Mechanics?” Live Science, September 26, 2014, https://www.livescience.com/33816-quantum-mechanics-explanation.html.

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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