Dillard Faries on Religion, Newtonian Physics, and Quantum Mechanics
Date: January 7th, 2018

“Chance is nature’s free will; choice is mankind’s free will; and grace is God’s free will.”  So writes Dr. Dillard Faries, a professor emeritus of physics at Wheaton College and author of the book Amazing Grace of Quantum Physics.  The shift from a Newtonian understanding of the physical laws of nature to one based upon the weirdness of quantum mechanics sets the stage for looking at how humans understand what the universe, being, and free will is all about.  Our conversation begins with some background on Prof. Faries, who grew up in a religious household, traveled to Berkeley for graduate school, and then landed at Wheaton in the late 1960s.  We then turn to his motivation for writing a book that blends theological insights with lessons in physics and the history of science.

Our journey into the world of physics begins with a review of the Newtonian framework for motion and thermodynamics.  Dillard notes how this understanding developed from religious minds dating back to the 17th century, but eventually led to the disappearance of God in the discourse by the late 1800s.  He reviews some of the various tensions within the Newtonian paradigm that scientists began to realize by the late 19th century.  These paradoxes include tensions between continuity and discontinuity (reconciled later by the notion of “quantum jumps”), certainty and uncertainty, determinism and indeterminism, and reality, a-reality, and anti-reality.  Prof. Faries links some of these notions back to insights from pre-Aristotelian philosophers and how they contrast with the Kantian categories of space, time, and causality.  We also explore the notion of being and becoming, and Prof. Faries explains how the notion of nature producing quantum jumps to bridge this gap becomes essential to the new physics that is developing in the 20th century.  We then walk through some of the historical developments that led to our understanding of quantum mechanics, including the discovery of X-rays, new theories about the nature of light, and advances in field theory.  Dillard points out that field theory is akin to a spiritual world permeating all of reality.  We then talk about the world of “double reality” wherein particles act on other particles without being in direct contact via fields and how all of this creates a universe of uncertainty at the quantum level.  Throughout this discussion, Dr. Faries weaves in some thoughts about the theological implications of these new understandings of the physical world.

The conversation finishes with Prof. Dillard reflecting upon his career, noting that he really didn’t think about the theological implications of quantum physics at first since our educational system has so separated the physical sciences from our philosophical and theological disciplines.  But when asked what he would tell a “young Dillard” some 50 years ago, knowing what he knows now, he would emphasize the mystery of physics and our world and that none of this would ever lead to a difficulty in squaring with his Christian faith.  Recorded: December 21, 2017.



Prof. Dillard Faries faculty page at Wheaton College.

Amazing Grace of Quantum Physics, by Dillard W. Faries.


Stephen Barr on Religion, Quantum Physics, and the God Particle.

Nancy Ellen Abrams on Spirituality and Science.

Matthew Moore on Buddhism, Meditating Machines, and the Robopocalypse.

Russell Kleckley on Religion, Science, and Johannes Kepler.

Justin Barrett on the Naturalness of Religious Belief.

Rob Moll on Religion and the Brain.

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