Book Review: The Entangled Trinity – Quantum Physics and Theology

entangledtrinityTitle: The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology

Author: Ernest Simmons

Bibliographic info: 160 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy!

I enjoy reading the occasional book on quantum physics and I love to read books on theology. This short book combines the two by seeking to explore the question of what our current scientific understanding of the quantum world can contribute to our understanding of the Trinity in relation to creation. The author’s thesis is that “perichoresis evolves within the Trinitarian life of God an entangled superposition, relating Creator and creation in mutual interaction, supporting a panentheistic model of God.”

The table of contents is as follows:

I. Foundational Concepts
1. Faith
2. Knowledge
3. Theology

II. Trinitarian Development
4. Bible to Nicaea
5. Constantinople to the Reformation
6. Contemporary Trinitarian Development

III. Science and the Trinity
7. Theology, Science, and Quantum Theory
8. Perichoretic Trinitarian Panentheism
9. The Entangled Trinity

As the table of contents may indicate, most of the book is more of an introductory look at the doctrine of the Trinity, with only the last three chapters (particularly ch. 9) really discussing how quantum theory can be used to elucidate our understanding of God and creation. The historical treatment discusses figures such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, the Cappadocians (and their notion of perichoresis), Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Luther, and so forth. In the final chapters Simmons argues that perichoresis (a theological term) and entanglement (a quantum physics term) can function as “parallel metaphors”, with the latter providing us with an opportunity to more fully explicate a panentheistic understanding of God’s relationship to the world. Furthermore, he contends that the immanent Trinity exists in simultaneous superposition with the economic Trinity, or in his own words: “Christ kenotically emptied himself of the immanent perichoresis of the Trinity in order to enter into the economic perichoresis of the creation.”

All in all, any book that discusses Trinitarian theology in conjunction with Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is bound to be interesting, if not a bit mystifying and–no doubt to some–perhaps a tad bit perturbing with the panentheistic model of God that the author puts forth.

3 responses

  1. Did you see any interaction with Donald Polkinghorne, perhaps specifically his Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship? Simmons’ CV includes nothing physics-like, so I’m worried that his science might be too inaccurate and/or fuzzy to be useful. I don’t deny that there are useful analogies (I myself look for them), but one needs a profound understanding of quantum physics (profound ⇏ intensely mathematical) in order to avoid many common pitfalls. For some proper physics, see David Bohm’s Causality and Chance in Modern Physics:

        Indeed, when this interpretation is extended to field theories,[7] not only the inter-relationships of the parts, but also their very existence is seen to flow out of the law of the whole. There is therefore nothing left of the classical scheme, in which the whole is derived from pre-existent parts related in pre-determined ways. Rather, what we have is reminiscent of the relationship of whole and parts in an organism, in which each organ grows and sustains itself in a way that depends crucially on the whole. (xi)

    Not only is the organic analogy reminiscent of 1 Cor 12, but one can think of how the Trinity is both divisible into hypostases but with an indivisible ousia. Quantum physics has been disastrous for physical atomism, Kant was disastrous for Hume’s sense-impression-atomism, and Wittgenstein was disastrous for meaning-word-atomism. You simply cannot think of the individual parts, without taking into account the relationships with the whole. Alistair McFayden’s The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships can be related to Bohm’s anti-reductionist, anti-atomist description:

    […] the individualistic way of regarding personal being is so ingrained in us that we need to be shocked somehow into a new cognition and consciously unlearn it. (9)

    Persons exist only as they exist for others, not merely as they exist in and for themselves. (27)

    In the communicative understanding I have been developing, person and relation are reciprocally dependent terms, having a dialectical genetic interconnection. (59–60)

    The idea of persons as existing pre-family, pre-society, instead of being constructed by family and society (in addition to one’s own internal dialogue and dialogue with God), is antithetical to modernism. A fun discussion can be found at How to Think about the Gospel of Autonomy. McFadyen explores this (now known to be wrong among many philosophers and sociologists) modern conception of the individual in Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin, as well. Here, I think analogies to the ‘holistic’ nature of quantum physics is very useful.

  2. I saw quite a few references to Polkinghorne in the footnotes and a few (or more) quotations of him in the  body text. I don’t remember seeing that specific work of his being referenced but it was a month or two ago that I read it so I may be wrong.

    There isn’t really much of any quantum physics talk until the final chapter or two, so its not like it gets in-depth into quantum theory. From what I remember the author’s discussion of quantum physics seemed accurate enough, though applying it to theology is of course debatable.

    I enjoyed the last section of the book, though it left me hungry for more. So I might have to pick up that Polkinghorne book you mentioned.

    • Thanks for the info. Don’t hope too much from Polkinghorne—he doesn’t actually dig into QM much at all, at least in that book. He might in others; he’s written quite a bit.

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