“Einstein, don’t tell God what to do!” This was the famous retort of Niels Bohr – one of the creators of quantum physics – to the most celebrated scientist of the twentieth century. Albert Einstein had been unhappy with what he called the “spooky” quantum theory, which implied that reality was almost random, illogical, impossible to understand. At the most fundamental observable level of physical existence, the tiniest expressions of energy and mass behaved in a way that was utterly bewildering. Like many people, Einstein found this hard to accept, and so he had argued that “God doesn’t play dice” (i.e., the natural universe is – or “should” be – orderly).
Surprisingly enough, the ancient Hebrew Bible has some things in common with modern quantum physics! Actually, the Bible expresses a rather similar overall view of the universe. Qohelet/Ecclesiastes 7:24 is one of many verses that speak of the great, unfathomable mystery of reality: “What has come into existence is far away and deep, deep! Who can search it out?” (Compare, for example, Isa 40:28, 55:8-9; Ps 92:5/6, 139:6; Job 5:9, 11:7; Ecc 3:11, 8:17.) Probably Bohr would have enjoyed these verses more than Einstein.
Another possible similarity between quantum physics and the Hebrew Bible relates to the four-letter name of God – יהוה (YHWH). People have wondered about and argued over this name for many centuries. A great number of different theories try to define its proper pronunciation and original meaning. One of the most popular ideas is that the Hebrew Bible’s name for God is a verbal form that expresses past, present, and future tenses all at once! According to this interpretation, the name YHWH means something like “the one who was-is-will be.” This is a very old idea that may go back as far as the Jewish-Greek Septuagint translation (ca. 200 BCE/BC) and the Book of Revelation (1st century AD/CE).
If we were to translate this understanding of God’s name into the language of quantum physics, we might call it “a superposition of all possible states.” Indeed, quantum mechanics posits that the particles or waves that apparently make up our universe (and us) can exist in all possible states at once – until someone carries out a “measurement.” Once you measure the location of a particle, it “collapses” to a single specific location. Perhaps the name of God, YHWH, is similar: it communicates Being in all states, dimensions, and times simultaneously – and if you try to define the meaning more specifically, you end up reducing it to just one aspect.
This is by no means the only possible way to understand the name יהוה (YHWH), and it is not even necessarily the most plausible. For those who would like to know more, I have prepared a course on the name of God that discusses its meaning, significance, pronunciation, history, interpretation in Jewish and Christian traditions, and more. Reality may be complex and unfathomable, but that’s no reason not to study it!