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Face to Faith

Physics and metaphysics

Mike Purton
Saturday December 4, 2004

The Guardian
A series of scientific experiments in the early 1980s changed forever our understanding of the nature of matter. It is likely that it will also prove to have been the greatest religious discovery of the 20th century.

Physicists call it entanglement, and it describes the state of two or more particles once they have interacted with one another. From then on, irrespective of time and space, a correlation will always exist between them. What happens to one will affect the other - even if they are now at opposite ends of the universe.

The word entanglement is really a misnomer. Some scientists use "non-separability" to describe the same condition. And the difference is significant. For if matter emerged from energy in the singularity of the big bang, it would seem to follow that all the particles of which it consists are in that state of correlation. They have not become entangled, but at the fundamental level they have never been - and can never be - separated.

Although it is now more than 20 years since non-separability was proved experimentally, its significance has yet to enter the public psyche. It seems to be too immense a concept, too remote from our everyday lives - until we view it from the spiritual perspective.

We are then reminded that it is this same matter which is both the physical manifestation of spirit and the means to redemptive action. This being so, then the correlation of all matter must also apply to all spirit. Our separateness is an illusion; the reality is an indivisible unity.

The scientist/theologian Teilhard de Chardin was in advance of the evidence for nonseparablity both physical and spiritual. In The Future Of Man (1959), he quoted a little-known version of Christ's central message to mankind: "Love one another, recognising in the heart of each of you the same God who is being born." He went on to observe: "Those words, first spoken two thousand years ago, now begin to reveal themselves as the essential structural law of what we call progress and evolution."

In Christ's own time, a God of love - even using the word in the simple sense of affection - was a quite alien concept. The people he was addressing were used to a very different deity: a wrathful Jehovah. Believing judgement day to be imminent, they worshipped him on pain of being cast into hell and in the hope of everlasting life.

So it was inevitable that the injunction to "love one another" should have been understood, not as recognition of a commonality, but as a means of gaining personal merit. Only now, when quantum mechanics has shown us that all matter is one, that there is no separation between me and my neighbour, do we have the physical proof of what he really meant.

Loving, in this special sense of identifying with others, does not claim to be an act of virtue. It is simple pragmatism - the only possible path available to us. Not to love would be to fly in the face of the facts as we now know them.

And if each of us is in reality part of a single spirit, can we still sustain our dubious preoccupation with personal salvation? At best it has always smacked of postponed gratification. At worst it can be egotism, reaching its nadir in the perverted belief of the suicide bomber that he is guaranteed immediate admission to paradise.

With new insights through a religion no longer dependent on blind trust, but grounded instead in knowledge, we are offered a higher purpose. Rather than seeing ourselves as separate individuals, we realise that we are aspects of a beautiful and indivisible whole. Each playing a unique and essential role, as Teilhard recognised, in the birth of that same god.

· Mike Purton is a writer and former BBC television producer - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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