“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 verb 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!

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92 COMMENTS

  1. ? Love it! Amen! The incomparable, immeasurable mysteries of YHWH and His creation,and His love expressed toward it , especially in the Incarnation! Searching them out is one of the most rewarding enterprises of Life.
  2. Rev 1:8 - I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
    J.
    • Yes, this is the place that in the Jewish-Greek original suggests the idea mentioned in the article, via its allusion to the Septuagint of Exod. 3:14-15.
  3. Do you have this information in written form. I am very hard of hearing and so cannot benefit much from oral teaching. However, I am very interested in the subject.
    • Peggy, the video courses include extensive written notes on screen, which can also be downloaded for review. I suggest that you contact the office directly to explain your situation and see whether the course might be suitable for you.
  4. so I heard a rumor that the Divine name can be read forward and backwards, there are interesting ways to pronounce it more than on anyway, but an interesting possibility would be Yahvah He, or Ha, va hiy, becaus ye hiy, owr yehiy is, and can be translated as is, was, and is to come light, for example, David also compares the female to the earth, as the child is being developed in her womb as well, Psalms 139, The spirit heaven combines with the mater earth to make us both spiritual, and matter, this is something of a mystery.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  5. As a former physicist become late-in-life minister, I found your comments interesting, but not quite correct as I view QM. Specifically, the gist of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle can be [re]stated as "You can never know both the position of an object and the momentum of its movement beyond (and a constant comes into play)." This can also be explained by saying that if you bounce light off of an object, you cause it to move a bit, so the act of measuring where an object is in fact disturbs its location. Schweitzer implicitly grasped this.
    • Thank you, John. As a non-physicist, it is definitely possible that my presentation of the quantum analogy contains flaws. Could you point out exactly where you see the issue? My understanding of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle mostly matches yours. But it has been my impression that the idea of quantum superposition goes beyond that, positing a "general state" that represents a combination of all possible states. I would be grateful for any specific corrections!
  6. Quantum Physics is fascinating. Most physicists want to prove God isn’t. The Universe would not act as such otherwise. Ice wouldn’t float - we wouldn’t be here. I think God started with an unimaginable pool of energy, stretched it, called from a small portion of it all matter, and that to react in a very controlled manner (Quantum Physics). Maybe I’m nuts, but I don’t think Time is something we are floating in, as down a river, but that every particle in the Universe carries its own property of “Duration.” Wish I had the math skills to prove it.
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