On Friday 13th November the Sixth Form Purvis Society welcomed Mrs Laura Witjens (the CEO of the National Gamete Donation Trust) to deliver a talk entitled “How Science can shape Society”. Mrs Witjens’s message was clear: we are surrounded by science, we use it, expect it, are accustomed to it, exploit it and benefit from it, but is it all good? Using an impressive list of examples she expanded on her theme before moving gently into her area of particular expertise, that of infertility and the various ways in which this distressing condition may be treated. Questions from the floor flowed thick and fast and a stimulating evening was enjoyed by all.
On Thursday 26th November Dr Martin Pickup, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Oxford Philosophy Department, presented a talk entitled “Quantum Entanglement and the Trinity”.
When Dr Pickup gave us his title for Thursday evening’s lecture, not many would have understood, let alone been altogether thrilled! Yet in the hour or two after his lecture, the buzz around the ALT and subsequently over supper was one of excited and genuine philosophical, scientific and theological enquiry, stretching the minds of all who attended: a truly cross-curricular endeavour which our speaker delivered with the simplicity and sensitivity of one who perceives his subject with a depth of clarity few can aspire to. Warnings of ‘lots of weirdness’ were well heeded, as Dr Pickup first explored the long- vexed problem of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: that Christians believe God to be ‘three in one’, the Father, the Son and the Spirit: separate persons, of one essential substance. Whichever way you look at it, commented Dr Pickup, this just seems like bad maths – an inexcusable error in counting! We were expertly guided through this problem from a logical, philosophical angle (apparently the problem is to do with identity being transitive). At this point he paused to allow for questions from the floor and for a few of us to give our brains a bit of a breather!
The second section was where (for many) the intellectual stimulation of the evening really got going. Quantum Mechanics. To the uninitiated (e.g. the Chaplain!), talk of probabilistic maths, of indeterminate states, of superposition, entanglement and anti-correlation, could have been too much. And yet Dr Pickup’s light touch, using Alice and Bob (our two friendly and ‘entangled’ particles) to illustrate this complex field, made this novice feel quite smart for a few minutes. The key point in this section was that Alice and Bob (entangled particles) are in some sense distinguishable, but at a deeper level must be considered together as a whole – since they can affect one another even when separated by a great distance. They are distinct particles and yet now a whole quantum system. Another break ensued with yet more perceptive and challenging questions from the floor.
During the third and final section, Dr Pickup gestured towards some tentative connections between these two equally baffling conundrums. Both the Trinity and Entanglement are not normal cases of identity and distinctness; both are somehow distinguishable, yet unified. Perhaps the Christian understanding of a Trinitarian God can helpfully be understood as an undivided whole, with internal relations (not of anti-correlation but of generation). It may be that this ‘weird maths’ can shed light on the problems associated with the Trinity, though it may also be that the connections between the two can prove fruitful in both directions.
Dr Christopher Mann
The Revd Tim Lewis