Science in Christian Perspective



Complementarity and Christian Thought 
An Assessment

1. The Classical Complementarity of Niels Bohr

Gordon College
Massachusetts 01984

From: JASA 35 September 1983): 145-151.

The relationship between Christianity and science has taken three major forms during the 20th century: the conflict theory, the compartment theory, and the theory of complementarity. If evangelicals are, in principle, unable to accept the idea that relevation in Scripture and nature ultimately conflict or that one does not do justice to either Scripture or nature by isolating one from the other, then complementarity needs to receive serious evaluation as the remaining alternative. This paper sketches the origins of complementarity in physics and indicates some application of Bohr's model in Christian thought. Several lines of criticism are considered that suggest the inappropriateness of this approach for questions involving science and religion.

Complementarity has been developed along two major lines. The first approach was offered by Niels Bohr in the 1920's to answer questions in the area of quantum physics. Bohr and his followers later suggested that complementarity can provide insights into issues that transcend the domain of science. In more recent years Donald MacKay has developed an alternative complementarian model based solely on logical considerations.

For about three decades many writers have viewed various aspects of the relationship between science and Christianity, as well as specific theological questions in complementarian terms, yet at the same time efforts have been made by an, increasingly vocal school of thought to question the validity of complementarity, both at the physical level from which it emerged and at the science/religion level of application. This discussion has often been obscured by shifting sands of definition and interpretation, and the abstract nature of quantum mechanics, as well as a certain lack of clarity on the part of Bohr initially. Albert Einstein and many others have complained of the difficulty in grasping Bohr's ideas.

The "logical complementarity" model of Donald MacKay is considered in a subsequent paper.

The Roots of Bohr's Complementarity

Niels Bohr introduced the Principle of Complementarity to many of the world's leading physicists meeting in Como, Italy in 1927 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alessandro Volta's death.1 As has often been the case with physicists, his comments transcended the typical scientific issues discussed at such meetings.
Bohr offered a philosophical statement as a radical attempt to bridge the persistent and profound difficulties inherent in the description of physical entities in the quantum age.

The longest standing problem at that time dealt with the nature of light. One set of experiments enabled the propagation of light in space and time to be described by the mathematical equations of James Clerk Maxwell-the continuous wave model. Other experiments found adequate explanation only through a theory that characterizes light in terms of particles with discrete energy-the discontinuous quantum/photon model. All attempts to bridge the conceptual dilemma between these "dual" concepts had proved futile. The insights gained in the wave-particle experiments were considered mutually exclusive since light (or electrons) cannot exhibit both wave and particle properties simultaneously.

The difficulty of the situation is further illustrated by considering the nature of information gained from experiments on electrons. One type of apparatus allows the accurate measurement of the wavelength of a beam of electrons that has been accelerated to a given energy, but in so doing, does not allow the space coordinates of the electrons to be determined. With wavelength information, the de Broglie relation can be used to calculate the momentum of the electron and thus provide a description in energy-momentum terms. A different apparatus (perhaps involving clock-driven shutters and photographic film) can be constructed to obtain space time information, but no information concerning energy momentum values. Again, we may measure the energies of the radiation on emitted when a group of atoms is excited but must refer to another experiment to gain information about the spatial distribution of electrons in the atom.

In these experiments on electrons, exclusion of information concerning one property does not arise because the kinds of information are antithetical or because each parameter cannot be measured to some degree in the same experiment.

For about three decades many writers have viewed various aspects Of the relationship between science and Christianity in complementarian terms, yet at the same time efforts have been made by many to question the validity of complementarity.

Rather, the problem is centered in the restrictions of the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle. This Principle proposes that the process of attempting to localize a particle in space (or time) imparts to the particle a momentum (or energy) with a magnitude that increases as we decrease the size of the space (or time) region under consideration. As we gain relatively exact information about one aspect, therefore, we forego the opportunity to gain exact information simultaneously about the other aspect.

Bohr's Complementarity Principle was advanced to resolve the apparent paradox of wave-particle behavior, as well as the inherent inability to simultaneously measure conjugate quantities, and, in general, to deny any expectation of gaining complete knowledge of matter or radiation in terms of a single set of concepts or any one type of measurement.

The following quotations set forth the general lines of Bohr's thought:

The fundamental postulate of the indivisibility of the quantum is itself from the classical point of view, an irrational element which inevitably requires us to forgo a causal mode of description and which, because of the coupling between phenomena and their observation, forces us to adopt a new mode of description designated as complementary in the sense that any given application of classical concepts precludes the simultaneous use of other classical concepts which in a different connection are equally neciessary for the elucidation of the phenomena.2

Likewise we must be prepared for the fact that evidence obtained by different, mutually exclusive experimental arrangements, may exhibit unprecedented contrast and, even at first sight, appear contradictory. It is in this situation that the notion of complementarity is called for to provide a framework wide enough to embrace the account of fundamental regularities of nature which cannot be comprehended within a single picture. indeed, evidence obtained under well-defined experimental conditions-and expressed by adequate use of elementary physical concepts-exhausts in its entirety all information about the atomic object which can be communicated in ordinary language.3

Ian Barbour has summarized Bohr's often vague argument in the following manner.4

1. We cannot avoid conventional (classical) ideas in describing the results of experiments that use apparatus and observations in space and time.

2. Since it is impossible to separate the object being considered completely from the process of measurement, we cannot view the object apart from the total experimental context.

3. Different experimental situations may require different models for explanation. These models are complementary rather than Contradictory since they do not arise from the same experimental situation.

4. Conventional concepts drawn from the everyday world are not applicable to the atomic domain, thus preventing a unified picture of nature.

Initial Philosophical Reaction

The immediate response to Bohr's proposal was polite acceptance by most (but by no means all) of the physics community. Complementarity was soon incorporated into what was to be called the "Copenhagen" interpretation of quantum mechanics. It's broader implications were not lost on the philosophers whose mood at that time embraced an observer-centered epistemology and phenomenological style of theory construction. For the first time since the 17th century a significant group of philosophers were to find themselves in agreement with many of the eminent physicists of the time on the nature and aim of physical science.


The two parties agreed that what had been wrong with classical physics was that, having espoused a realistic epistemology, it focused on the object rather than on the subject's operations. They agreed that, when properly understood, the new physics reduced the physical object to little more than the grin of the Cheshire cat. What remained were observers and observables, and the latter were not real properties of autonomously existing things but mere possibilities of observation. Not observations on something out there, but just observations. The external world was gone: only "its" representation was left. True the operationalist would grant reality to his desk and eventually also to the atoms that make it up, but he means by "reality" a set of human operations and aperceptions, not the aggregate of things outside the human mind ... this covenant between physicists and philosophers was to last about two decades.5

Bohr's Grand Task

While Bohr is best known for the complementarian approach to the problems of quantum physics his vision was far more encompassing. His "grand task" was that of establishing a unifying principle of knowledge that is capable of treating the problems of all the disciplines-whether psychology, anthropology, physiology, philosophy, physics or theology. In the Complementarian Principle, Bohr felt that he had the overarching unifying basis for discovering significant interrelationships existing among all areas of knowledge which had been hitherto obscured by the distinction inherent in forming human ideas.

It is significant that ... in other fields of knowledge we are confronted with situations reminding us of the situation in quantum physics. Thus the integrity of living organisms and the characteristics of conscious individuals, and human cultures present features of wholeness, the account of which implies a typical complementarity mode of description. We are not dealing with more or less vague analogies but with clear examples of logical relations which, in different contexts are met with wider fields.6


The aim of our argumentation is to emphasize that all experience whether in science, philosophy, or art which may be helpful to mankind, must be capable of being communicated by human means of expression, and it is on this basis that we shall approach the question of unity of knowledge.7

... the complementarity principle is a manifestation of a general therna in a sense which I have previously developed-one therna in a relatively small pool of themata from which the imagination draws for all fields of endeavor. When we devote attention to a particular therna in physics or some other science, whether it be complementarity, or atomism, or continuity, we must not forget that each special statement of the therna is an aspect of a general conception which in the world of a physicist or biologist or other scientist is exemplified merely in a specific form. Thus, a general thema 0, would take on a specific form in physics that might be symbolized by 0., in psychological investigation by OP, in folklore by 0,, and so on. The general tbema of discontinuity or discreteness thus appears in physics as the 00 of atomism, whereas in psychological studies it appears as the thema 0,P Of individualized identity. One may express a given as the sum of its specific exemplifications, as symbolized (without straining for precision) in the expression:8

Origin of Bohr's Concept

Gerald Horton has found Bohr's ideas to be strikingly similar to those of William James the psychologist who wrote in 1890:

It must be admitted therefore that in certain persons, at least, the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist but mutually ignore each other, and share the objects of knowledge between them.

More remarkable still, they are complementary. Give an object to one of the consciousnesses, and by that fact you remove it from the other or others. Barring a certain fund of information, like the command of language, etc., what the upper self knows the under self is ignorant of, and vice versa.9

Bohr's father, as professor of physiology at the University of Copenhagen, was deeply involved in the vitalistic/ mechanistic debate over life processes and often brought those interested in philosophical questions to the family home. Bohr has acknowledged the influence of Hoffding and Kierkegaard during his formative years.

Whatever the most prominent factors were which contributed to Bohr's formulation of the complementarity point of view in physics-whether his physical research or thoughts on psychology, or reading in philosophical problems, or controversy between rival schools in biology, or the complementary demands of love and justice in everyday dealings-it was the universal significance of the role of complementarity which Bohr came to emphasize.10

In his later years, Bohr expanded his complementarian approach to issues in biology, psychology, anthropology, politics and more broadly to the question of the. origin of human cultures:

The fact that human cultures developed under different conditions of living exhibit such contrasts with respect to established traditions and social patterns allows one, in a certain sense, to call such cultures complementary. However, we are not here dealing with definite, mutually exclusive features, such as those we met in the objective description of general problems of physics and psychology, but the differences in attitude which can be appreciated or ameliorated by an expanded intercourse between people.11

Bohr's Complementarity in Christian Thought

Although complementarity is hardly a household word in Christian (or non-Christian) intellectual circles, over the past 30 years a number of writers at the Christianity/science interface have included this topic in their work. In most cases, a more or less accurate description of the quantum basis for Bohr's concept is provided followed by a statement indicating the application of complementarity to disciplines where different aspects of a subject appear (or are) contradictory. Areas of religious paradox (Divine/human nature of Christ love/justice, one/triune God) are cited as capable of being handled with this approach as well as points where science and Christian faith appear to come into conflict. One gains the impression that the "effectiveness" of complementarity in covering the conflicts in quantum physics is equally effective

John W. Haas, Jr. is Professor of Chemistry and Chairman of the Division of Natural Science and Mathematics at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He received his BS degree from The Kings College, and his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Delaware. His research interests are in the area of carbohydrate analysis, metal-sugar complexation and metal speciation in sea water. He is an Elder and organist at First Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, where he lives with his wife Ann. His hobbies are gardening, cross-country skiing and boating.

(and applicable) in handling science/religion conflicts and thus a useful weapon in the apologetic arsenal.

A. Smethurst views complementary language as encouraging the use of alternative approaches to particular questions:

 . . the attempt to treat man's relation to God purely in terms of isolated individual souls denies the truth so strongly emphasized by St. Paul and St. John-that the individual is a part of a greater whole or organism, the Church, and that any true description of the relation of man to God must treat human beings not only as individual souls but also as members of one Body of Christ or branches of the one Vine ... the old concept of the isolated individualism characteristic of classical physics, liberalism in politics and Victorianism in religion, has proved as untenable in physics as in politics and religion. . . . It is perhaps significant that Quantum Mechanics and statistical physics have developed contemporaneously with the Liturgical Movement in Christian theology and worship which emphasizes the corporate nature of the Church, rather than the individual in isolation.12

A. Van der Ziel provides two further examples of the complementarian approach in theology-the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ:

According to the Athanasian creed: we honor the one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in the unity, without mixing the persons or dividing the substance. Seemingly contradictory concepts are here used together. Any attempt to remove these contradictions would lead to confessing the Unity and denying the Trinity or to denying the Unity and confessing the Trinity. Facing this dilemma the Christian Church bad no other choice but protecting both and that is what the short formula tries to do. It is thus not an attempt to explain the mystery surrounding God. On the contrary, it refrains from any explanation and thereby protects the mystery.... an example of complementary thinking.13

Van der Ziel warns, however, that the analogy between physics and theology is only one in "method of approach" and is incomplete because physics may ultimately find a resolution for its paradoxes while this appears unlikely in theology. For Van der Ziel "most Biblical exegesis that is true to its source uses a complementarian form of approach."

Richard Bube examined Bohr's concept over 25 years ago in this journal. Finding paradoxes in theology that "exactly" parallel the situation in physics and noting scriptural language that "is the very same language as that of the principle of complementarity," he concluded:

An understanding of the principle of complementarity demonstrates to us that the existence of apparent paradoxes in our theology cannot be used against the Bible as evidence of its falsehood; ... (and) also shows us that we need not retreat from the complete Scriptural revelation by denying either the real meaning of man's responsibility or God's sovereignty as some have been led to do in order to remove from themselves what they considered to be the intolerable burden of the apparent paradox.14

Bube, in a more recent treatment, remarks:

This principle of complementarity is not meant to serve as an excuse for accepting apparent contradictions or of terminating the search for a better understanding when it is possible to press on and achieve this understanding. But it suggests that there may be areas of knowledgeand this is true in physical science and in spiritual revelation alike-which are so profound or so complex or so removed from our ability to understand that the very best we may be able to do is to use several different models each from its own appropriate perspective ... In fact, to attempt to describe reality in terms of only one member of a complementary pair or of only one aspect of a paradox may be destructive of effective action.15

Ian Barbour has provided an extended treatment of complementarity.16 In considering the use of the concept in nonphysical situations be warns that these applications are analogical not inferential and that "there must be independent grounds for justifying in the new context the value of two alternative sets of constructs. He finds that appears more dubious to refer to various disciplines as complementary, unless they are all assumed to analyze the same set of events .. Thus science and religion are not simply two views of the same world-unless one subscribes to pantheism and denies transcendence-for God and the world are different modes of being, not different modes of knowing a single being."" The term "complementary languages" has been employed to describe human behavior in handling problems such as freedom vs. determinism. In some situations it is useful to evaluate man's acts from a causal perspective while in others (say daily affairs) his activity may be seen in terms of goals and thus be described in terms of freedom language. There is here the recognition of man's inability to describe diverse aspects of human experience within a single conceptual framework. Yet, significantly, Barbour adds: "Nevertheless the demand for coherence of thought, as well as the image of man as unitary being, seems to require us to analyze further the relationships between the aspects of man which give rise to such diverse languages."19

Christopher B. Kaiser has applied complementarity in a study of the two natures (divine and human) of Christ. Kaiser carefully considers Bohr's approach with that of the postNicene fathers of the church along eleven points of comparison. In finding a reasonable parallel between Christology and complementarity be questions why the parallel seems to work at all and whether it works the same in other relationships. Several directions for further research are suggested. Kaiser concludes his paper:

Complementarity itself is a purely synchronic principle pertaining to the 'vertical' relation between 'modes' or 'levels'of being. While the study of complementary structures may raise questions about the connection between the God-world relation and Christology, the questions themselves involve a 'horizontal,' diachronic relation between the creation, incarnation and eschatology, and so can only be treated properly in the context of an overall theology of history.20

The late Max Lemberg has, in a recent paper, called scientists to recognize the contribution that religion (qualities and values) brings to science. In appealing to Bohr's complementarian approach he states:

Religion is more important for showing the direction and the major ends of human efforts while science shows the possible means available to us to achieve these ends; if this is correct, they are in fact complementary and both are essential for our ethics.21

The concept of complementarity allows us to be more sincere and more complete human beings, provided that it not be accepted as another dogmatic and final solution. The conviction that all claims of being in possession of the final truth are unjustified and even dangerous to human brotherhood and humility has made me a Quaker. Teilhard de Chardin has shown us that, far from being a hindrance to the freedom of our souls, matter is in fact the complement, providing the handholds and footholds on the mountains of our spiritual climb.23

The statements above reflect typical complementarian applications that find their base in the ideas of Niels Bohr.

The Critics Speak

Although it was earlier suggested that the complementarian/Copenhagen perspective gained the tacit acceptance of much of the physics community and fit the mood of the prevailing philosophical school of the time, this "covenant between physicists and philosophers" was to last for only two decades. In Bunge's words:

During this period the Observer displaced matter and God. But philosophers, if fond of logical analysis, cannot resist the temptation of critically examining philosophical assumptions, even their own pet hypotheses. So, while physicists keep the crude operationalist philosophy of the 1920's, most of the philosophers responsible for it have since changed their minds about lots of things ... Today there are hardly any orthodox operationalists and phenomenalists left in the philosophical professions: operational definitions are acknowledged as deficient and phenomenalism is inconsistent with the use of theoretical terms ... As far as most philosophers are concerned, the world is more or less tacitly allowed to run by itself. But contemporary physicists are like these die-hard positivists of the 20's and 30's, they have imbibed this subject-centered philosophy as undergraduates-and mind, not in philosophy courses but in physics courses ... For the first time in history scientists have managed to out-dogmatize philosophers.23


Regardless of one's position on the epistemological spectrum between naive realism and instrumentalism, the "truth" derived from a study of nature is of a different order from the propositional truth of Scripture.


... in recent years the tide has begun to turn, not only in philosophy but also in physics ... The physicist of the latest generation is operationalist all right, but usually he does not know, and refuses to believe that the original Copenhagen doctrine-whieb be thinks he supports-was squarely subjectivist, i.e., non-physical ... Many physicists are beginning to wonder not only whether the current theories are sufficient but also whether it would not be worthwhile to analyze and re-interpret them. Some heretics find obscurities and inconsistencies in them. Others go as far as wondering whether physical theories may not, after all, be about chunks of reality rather than about human actions ... They are beginning to suspect that the official philosophy of physics-which is no longer held by philosophers-has gone too far in its eagerness to dispel metaphysical inscrutables. Surely physical hypotheses must be susceptible for experimental test, but why should they not concern the external world and why should they not explain how things work?24

While an exhaustive analysis is inappropriate for these pages, several lines of thought are sketched indicating the direction of the critiques. Karl Popper has long opposed the complementarian perspective. In developing a realistic interpretation of quantum mechanics through a series of theses, Popper strikes at several key concepts of the Copenhagen school. He argues that quantum mechanics is a statistical theory that can be used to provide (only) statistical answers to statistical questions, concluding that it is the probabilistic nature of quantum theory rather than the intrusion of the observer or any uncertainty principles that leads to a limitation in our knowledge.25

... the view that a probabilistic theory is the result of lack of knowledge leads inescapably to the subjectivistic interpretation of probability theory; that is, to the view that the probability of an event measures the  degree of somebody's incomplete knowledge of that event, or of his belief in it.26

Popper finds the Heisenberg equations to be "validly derivable statistical formulae of the quantum theory" that do set some lower limits to the statistical dispersion or scatter of the results and thus limit the precision of certain individual predictions. However, "in order to test these scatter relations, we have to be able (and are able) to make measurements which are far more precise than the range or width of the scatter." He asserts that the Heisenberg equations are valid for making statistical predictions about many particles, or about sequences of many experiments with individual particles, but that they cannot limit the precision of measurements of individual particles.

Once we ascribe physical reality to measurements for which ... ApAq
4, h ... there can be no question whether, according to the quantum theory, an electron can 'have' a precise position and momentum. It can.' Why did Bohr and his followers deny that ApAq 4~ h is possible? Because of the great quantum muddle, the alleged dualism of particle and wave: it is said that there are two 'pictures, 'the
particle picture and the wave picture, and that they have been show
n to be equivalent or 'complementary'; that is to say, both valid. But this 'complementarity'or'duality' must break down, it is said, if we allow the particle to have at the same time a sharp position and momentum.'

Further Criticism

Margenau and Cohen also find the Copenhagen interpretation inadequate in terms of the prevailing interpretation of the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle. In demonstrating a number of major problems deriving from an "observer" or "operational" based uncertainty they find:

For these reasons it is necessary to look deeper into the bases of indeterminacy and denounce the encrusted habits of visual pictorization of elementary events, to relinquish the attempt to explain quantum uncertainty in terms of the familiar notions of conventional particle trajectories or wave propagation ... Although it is heresy to say so, we believe that there is no dualism, no complementarity in quantum physics.29

Mehlberg employs the term "Unreality Principle" to describe the surrender of observer-independent physical reality at the quantum level by the Copenhagen school of thought.30 In this view, no statement ascribing a property to a micro-object is true unless the empirical verification of the statement is carried out. He notes that this attitude is not consistently held, even by physicists. Curiously, Heisenberg first offered the view that the nucleus of every atom (except hydrogen) contains protons and neutrons. His hypothesis clearly ascribes a spatial position within the nucleus to quantal species even though no measurement of this property has been made a model that contradicts the Unreality Principle. Other fundamental hypotheses associated with quantum theories are also seen to be inconsistent with the Unreality Principle. Mehlberg offers a modification of the Copenhagen interpretation that establishes the observerindependence of space-time in non-relativistic quantum mechanics.

Bunge lightheartedly views Bohr's position:

The subjectivist wishes to exorcise Hamlet's ghosts by substituting 'To Look or not To Look' for 'To Be or not to Be.' This is what be does when he claims that the question of the real (autonomous) existence of atoms is meaningless or metaphysical, when he holds that the behavior of every atom-even the most forlorn atom in the center of Sirus-is determined by our measurement setups, and when he contends that the state of an atom will jump after the measurement interaction is over, just because the observer looks at the pointers. in this way the subjectivist summons more ghosts than those which haunted Hamlet. indeed the claim that things acquire their properties just because we condescend to look at them is sheer anthropocentrism and, in order to be carried out consistently, it requires filling the whole cosmos with a staff of observers ever ready to take infinitely precise measurements of anything conceivable just to keep the world going. And this is merely a modern version of animism.31

Bunge develops a formal realistic statement of quantum mechanics and challenges the Copenhagen school:

... to (a) exhibit a consistent formulation of quantum mechanics based on perceptions and apperceptions and (b) to prove that such an interpretation is preferable to the realistic one, not only from the point of view of his philosophy, but also scientifically, in the sense that it facilitates our understanding of nature.32

Recently, Lande has argued that the wave-particle dualism of two equivalent pictures is untenable on methodological as well as physical grounds. The basic relations that are said to establish the empirical equivalence of the two theories lead to empirically wrong results in the relativistic domain and violate the postulate of independence of the arbitrary choice of reference system in the non-relativistic realm. Further:

The wavelike looking diffraction patterns of electrons through crystals and through parallel slits in a screen can be explained by pure particle mechanics alone without reference to any wave interference.33

It appears that this changing scientific perspective has not generally been taken into account by exponents of complementarity writing on religious questions. Clearly, any break in the armor of the basic physical origins of Bohr's views should have implication for the broader application seen in Christian thought if the same concept of complementarity is used in both areas.

Feyerabend's Defense

It should be noted that Bohr has not gone undefended in recent times.34 Feyerabend has penned a long argument supporting Bohr's perspective in light of current criticism.


Popper's criticism of the Copenhagen interpretation, and especially of Bohr's ideas is irrelevant, and his own interpretation is inadequate. The criticism is irrevelant as it neglects certain facts, arguments, hypotheses, and procedures which are necessary for proper evaluation of complementarity and because it accuses its defenders of 'mistakes,' 'muddles,' and 'grave errors,' which not only have been committed but against which Bohr and Heisenberg have issued quite explicit warnings. His own view which ... is relevant in probability theory is quite inadequate as a remedy for the special problems of quantum theory and too simplistic to be regarded even as a possible alternative to complementarity (let alone a preferable one)" . . . the first step in our attempt to achieve progress in microphysics will have to be a return to Bohr.'s35.

In attempting to follow the flow of the debate one is drawn to suggest that the basic issue is epistemology and that the case, pro and con, for complementarity stems from ones position on the instrumentalism/realism question.

Bedau's Critique

In Christian thought, complementarity generally has been viewed as a harmonizing or integrative approach to those areas where science and religion or particular theological statements appear to be in conflict, and more broadly as a means for identifying valid multiple descriptions of common subjects. Bedau's analysis of science/religion complementarity suggests two major problems: (a) the identification of paradox between science and religion, and (b) the establishment of something analogous to mutually exclusive experimental arrangements with which to remove paradox.' Bedan is unable to find any "sense of paradox applicable to genuine difficulties relating science and religion" or that "the complementarist approach has brought to light any latent paradoxes hitherto concealed or hidden between science and religion. He suggests that the contrasting domains of application found in physics-the macro- and micro-realm-are not observed in other fields. The analogy to quantum mechanics fails in another sense in that it does not establish that concepts applicable in one domain give rise to paradox when applied in the other domain. More likely they will have no meaning.

Clearly, there are no experimental arrangements through which religious or scientific interpretations of "neutral" experiences can be produced. It has been suggested that "attitude" may be substituted for "experimental arrangement. " Bedau finds:

... that despite frequent reference to religious attitudes we have at present no empirical evidence to show that there is any one attitude common and peculiar to those who have religious beliefs or who accept religious judgments, much less that it is a necessary and sufficient condition of being in such an attitude to make or accept a religious belief, etc. The same is true I would expect, concerning the hypothesized scientific attitude; psychological science today knows nothing of the sort.37

The criterion that complementary statements be true in the same sense of "true" has little hope of being established in the realm of religion and science. Regardless of one's position on the epistemological spectrum between naive realism and instrumentalism, the "truth" derived from a study of nature is of a different order from the propositional truth of Scripture.

A further flaw in regarding science and religion as complementary in Bohr's sense is seen in Barbour's observation that "God and the world are different modes of being, not different modes of knowing a single being." God and man are two "distinct entities in Christian theism, not two modes of a single entity as wave and particle are two complementary modes of an atomic object in physics. " Creator and creature are not analogous to two different experimental arrangements.38

Physicist-historian Stanley Jaki has recently criticized Bohr's epistemology:39

... this celebration by Bohr of irrationality in nature ... was a logical consequence not of quantum theory but of the Machist and pragmatist epistemology which Bohr grafted on it. As could be expected, Bohr, the pragmatist was not to renounce reason in a consistent manner. He was neither the first or the last on the long list of more recent philosophers and scientists who believed it possible to save something of reason while espousing ultimate reality. Like Hoffding, his philosophical mentor, Bohr never pondered the logical implications of the complementary presence of both the rational and the irrational in knowledge.40

A harmony of relations or aspects, complementing one another, such was Bohr's epistemological message, a message void of reference to the ontological reality of anything harmonious.41

For Jaki:

Bohr's pairs of complementarity resembled pairs of horns from which one could not even infer unambiguously either that they were rooted in the same head and were thereby truly complementary or that the head itself was real, and even more fundamentally real than the horns themselves. Complernentarity form a choice between assigning to nature the ability to choose, and purposively at that, or the physicist who constitutes nature through the choice of his observations.42


A variety of scientists, philosophers and theologians have raised substantial concerns with respect to the physical basis, internal consistency and philosophical implications found in Bohr's complementarity. In addition, the application of complementarity as an integrative tool for science-religion issues has been called into question along the following lines: (a) lack of identification of appropriate paradoxes, (b) no clear analogy to "experimental situation" in physics, (c) lack of a common notion of truth on scientific and religious assertions, and (d) placing God and man in the same order.

In the light of these observations the Christian apologist should use extreme care in asserting a complementarian approach based on an analogy to Bohr's handling of certain questions in quantum physics. An alternative complementarian approach based on logical considerations will be considered in a later paper.


1N. Bohr, Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature. (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1934). pp. 54-55. 

21bid., p. 10.

3N. Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge. (N.Y.: Interscience, 1963). pp. 111-112.

4I. Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1966). pp. 282-283.

5N. Bunge, "The Tom of the Tide" in Quantum Theory and Reality. (N.Y.: Springer-Verlag, 1967). p. 3.

6N. Bohr, Essays 1958-1963 on Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge. (N.Y.: John Wiley, 1%3). p. 7.

7Ibid., p. 14.

8As quoted in G. Horton, "The Roots of Complementarity," Daedalus 99 (1970) P. 1015.

9W. James, Principles of Psychology. (N.Y.: Dover, 1950, Ed.), 1, p. 206.

10Horton, op. cit., p. 1048.

11Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, pp. 174-175.

12A. Smethhurst, Modern Science and Christian Belief. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955). p. 88.

13A. van der Ziel, The Natural Sciences and the Christian Message. (Minneapolis: Denison, 1960). p. 122.

14R. H. Bube, "The Relevance of the Quantum Principle of Complementarity to Apparent Basic Paradoxes in Christian Theology," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 8 (1956) p. 7.

15R. H. Bube, The Human Quest. (Waco: Word Books, 1971). p. 177.

16Barbour, op. cit., chapters 10 and 11.

17Ibid, p. 292.

18Ibid., p. 293.

19Ibid., p. 312.

20Christopher B. Kaiser, "Christology and Complementarity," Relig. Stud. 12 (1976) p. 47.

21Max Rudolf Lemberg, "The Complementarity of Religion and Science: A Trialogue," Zygon 14 (1979), p. 352.

22Ibid., p. 357.

23Bunge, op. cit., p. 3, 4.

24Ibid., pp. 4,5.

25 R. Popper, "Quantum Mechanics Without the Observer," in Quantum Theory and Reality. (N.Y.: Springer-VeTlag, 1967) pp. 7-44.

26Ibid., p. 17.

27Ibid., p. 27.

281bid., p, 28,

29H. Margenau and L. Cohen. "Probabilities in Quantum Mechanics," in Quantum Theory and Reality. (N.Y.: Springer-Vertag, 1967). p. 75.

30H. Mehlberg "The Problem of Physical Reality of Contemporary Science" in Quantum Theory and Reality. (N.Y.: Springer-Verlag, 1967). p. 45.

31M. Bunge, "A Ghost-Free Axiornatization of Quantum Mechanics" in Quantum Theory and Reality. (N.Y.: Springer-Verlag, 1967). p. 105.

32Ibid., p, 116.

33A. Lande, "The Decline and Fall of Quantum Dualism," Philosophy of Science, 38 (1971) p. 221.

34P. Feyerabend, "On a Recent Critique of Complementarity: Part 1," Philophy of Science, 35 (1968) p. 309.

35P. Feyerabend, "On a Recent Critique of Complementarity: Part 2," Philosophy of Science, 36 (1969) p. 103.

36H. A. Bedau, "Complementarity and the Relation Between Science and Religion," Zygon 9 (1974) p. 214.

37Ibid., p. 219.

38Barbour, op. cit.,
p. 293.

39S. L. jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), Chapter 13.

40Ibid., p. 201.

41Ibid., p. 205.

421bid., p.