This is the advice that many physicists give to students when they ask unanswerable questions about quantum mechanics. As atheist physicist Sean Carroll points out, the mysteries of quantum theory do not need to be understood in order to use the reality of the science to make things like cell phones and computers, to see how plants can achieve such impossibly high efficiency levels in the conversion of sunlight to useful energy, and to understand that our world is complex beyond the limits of ordinary reason. The math works, meaning that using it to calculate how electrons and photons move and behave gives us the results we need, even if quantum superposition, the uncertainty principle, and the observer effect simply make no sense. What Carroll and other physicists are saying is that some mysteries just need to be left alone and accepted.
In my senior year in college, I took physical chemistry (I was a chemistry major), one of the toughest courses I ever had. For the final exam we were told to solve the Schrödinger equation for the hydrogen atom. By a stroke of good luck (or God’s favor, which I didn’t believe in then), I had memorized the equation and learned what the terms meant. I made a stab at it. My final product was far from perfect, but it earned me a grade on the exam of 40%, which was the highest in the class. I got an A in the course, the best I ever did in chemistry (I was a mediocre student at best).
At the time I had not the faintest idea that there was anything remotely mysterious, let alone mystical, about the Schrödinger equation, or about any other part of quantum mechanics. I knew that molecular orbital energies were not continuous but came in discreet packets, but I never considered the implications of that experimental finding, and didn’t think about the enormous significance of Planck’s constant back then.
Several decades later, when I was learning about Christianity from a priest, I asked him how the Trinity could make sense. He told me, “There are many answers to this question, but I think the ultimate answer is that it’s a mystery.” I found that answer very satisfying since it reminded me of the mysteries of QM. Perhaps one way of putting it could be: Shut up and pray.
Of course, there is a big difference between the two. In physics and all of science, mystery is not something to be taken lightly. Since the dawn of the age of reason, the prevalent idea was always that there are no actual mysteries; that all will eventually be revealed sometime in the future by further scientific research. As Christians, we know that a complete revelation will happen. It will happen when the New Kingdom of God comes to us; when we, like Jesus, are resurrected in body and soul—as the song goes, “when the new world is revealed.”