A dyed-in the-wool nihilist, Everett is known for ordering that his ashes be dumped into a trashcan when he died—a practice that Everett’s daughter later copied upon committing suicide. Everett brought this same dedication to bear in his scientific career. Today, Everett’s disciples praise him for bringing an atheistic scorn of the immaterial back to quantum mechanics.
As a graduate student in the 1950s, Everett was alarmed to discover that traditional quantum mechanics did not line up with his materialist commitments. He was repulsed by the fact that the human mind seemed to be given a special role—a conclusion that Everett thought smacked of the supernatural. There seemed to be “a magic process in which something quite drastic occurred, while in all other times systems were assumed to obey perfectly natural continuous laws.” In Jonathan Allday’s words, Everett firmly believed that such a “‘magic process’… should not be considered in quantum physics.”
Everett therefore devised the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics—perhaps the most widely-known interpretation in contemporary popular culture. The purpose of the interpretation was, in essence, to create a consistent model of quantum mechanics that would preserve Thomas Huxley’s materialistic dismissal of the mind. Everett’s model continues to be extremely influential.
David Deutsch, a militantly atheistic contemporary physicist, regards himself as a sort of apostle of Hugh Everett. “Everett was before his time,” says Deutsch. Before Everett, “things were regarded as progress which are not explanatory, and the vacuum was filled by mysticism and religion and every kind of rubbish. Everett is important because he stood out against it.” Deutsch’s words of praise are important: Everett’s greatest achievement is not the elegance of his mathematical model, but that the fact that his model pushed back against “religion,” which is of course false.
The physicist Stephen M. Barr—a rare theist among physicists—admits that the Many Worlds Interpretation successfully reconciles the math of quantum mechanics with materialism. Yet the interpretation, Barr says, is “awfully heavy baggage for materialism to carry.” In the words of Bryce DeWitt, a proponent of the interpretation, Many Worlds means that there are literally “10^100 slightly imperfect copies of oneself all constantly splitting into further copies, which ultimately become unrecognizable.” This, Dewitt concedes, “is not easy to reconcile with common sense. Here is schizophrenia with a vengeance.”Ian Huyett, “The Atheist War Against Quantum Mechanics” at Staseos – Bold Christianity (Updated November 28, 2021)
It’s an undemonstrable thesis, actually. It makes so much more sense to just believe in God. Or, as Eugene Wigner, also quoted, put it, “while many philosophical ideas ‘may be logically consistent with present quantum mechanics… materialism is not.’”
Hat tip: Philip Cunningham