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Diarmuid O’Murchu: Quantum Theology

Diarmuid O’Murchu: Quantum Theology: the Spiritual Implications of the New Physics. (Some rough notes)

’If there is enough matter in the universe gravity will stop this present expansion process and the universe will start contracting and will end up in a Big Crunch – a death by fire (heat death)… If there is not enough matter in the universe expansion wins and the universe will expand forever. As it expands the energy gets dissipated and the temperature decrease until it reaches the absolute zero of temperature when everything comes to a stand still. We have a freeze death… – Professor M. M. Ninan

“We are driven back . . . to God alone as the basis of final hope, so that our own and the universe’s destiny awaits a transforming act of divine redemption.” — John Polkinghorne


A social psychologist and member of the Sacred Heart Missionary Congregation, Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu (pronounced DYAR-mid O-MOOR-who; it’s Irish for Dermot Murphy) has worked in both Ireland and England as a counselor in schools and with married couples, the HIV-infected and the bereaved. Born and raised in a rural Irish village, he currently resides in London. His books are enormously popular with progressive Catholic spiritual searchers worldwide.

O’Murchu says his religious questioning began with and still takes its direction from the search for meaning he finds within the troubled souls of his clients, who struggle with addictions and against despair. He believes that the sex abuse we see in the church and elsewhere is really about dishonored spirituality and creativity. Frustration leads to exploitation. When spirituality is not recognized and pursued, then we get sex addiction and other compulsive behaviors.

“Ours is a culture rife with addiction because we are deprived of mysticism. In the Catholic church also we have had what I call ‘celibate rationality.’ This legacy from several centuries in our theology maintains that God has nothing to do with sexuality, so celibates shouldn’t either. It counsels us to transcend eroticism and passions, not integrate them responsibly into our living. This old view of celibacy is crippling and destroying people’s lives.”

Here, from O’Murchu’s Appendix (‘Principles of Quantum Theology’) – according to many Amazon.com reviewers a good place to start to understand all this – is my summary of O’Murchu’s summary the key 12 QT principles:

1. God (a human term we should use sparingly) is creative energy, pulsating restlessly throughout time and eternity

2. Wholeness = the wellspring of all possibility (but note that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts)

3. Evolution is underpinned by a deep unfolding structure, characterized by design and purpose

4. All creatures are invited to engage co-creatively in the expanding horizon of divine belonging

5. The capacity to relate is the primary divine energy impregnating creation, so we humans need authentic ecclesial and sacramental experiences to explore and articulate our innate vocation to be people in relationship

6. Ultimate meaning is embedded in story, not in facts

7. Redemption is planetary and cosmic as well as personal

8. We need fresh moral guidelines to address the structural and systemic sinfulness of our time

9. We are primarily beneficiaries of light, not of darkness

10. The concepts of beginning and end, along with the theological notions of resurrection and reincarnation, are invoked as dominant myths to help us humans make sense of our infinite destiny in an infinite universe

11. Extinction/transformation (Calvary/resurrection) are central coordinates of cosmic evolution

12. Love is an interdependent life force… ranging from its ultimate divine grandeur to its particularity in subatomic interaction. It is the origin and goal of our search for meaning.


Now, I’m only an amateur theologian, and I have no credentials as a scientist. I’m one who barely knows a quark from a black-hole – and so I was soon out of my depth in this book. But if the spirituality that is appealing to seekers today embodies global, inclusive, co-operative, egalitarian, and feminine values, and if O’Murchu speaks to/for all this, then we’d better try to get some sort of handle on it. O’Murchu says we should stop thinking of God as a supernatural Being located outside the universe. Instead, we should think of the universe itself as a pulsating, vibrant dance of energy alive with benign and creative potential in which God calls to us from within, not without.

He says we should stop thinking of ourselves as created beings, and see ourselves instead as woven into the fabric of a dynamic, evolving and self-renewing universe in which we must play our part or become extinct. The damage we are doing to the planet and to other life forms may leave the universe no choice but to spit us out, as it has done to countless species before us.

Paternalistic organized religions/cultures are part of this destructive apparatus, so part of the solution is the adoption of a more feministic, holistic spirituality, independent of organized religion. During an earlier visit to Australia, he told The West Australian (10 September 1994) that Christianity had gone wrong at the time of St Paul, who “switched the emphasis of the Gospel message from ‘kingdom’ to ‘church’.” The resulting Church, he said, had too much focus on “the preservation of patriarchal and centralized structures and beliefs.” But when did the rot originally set in? A long time ago: after the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago, humans began to “carve up Planet Earth into what we now call nation states and ethnic subdivisions” and eventually “invented systems of belief (called religions) to validate our anthropocentric insatiable instinct to divide and conquer the whole creation.” Prior to the emergence of “formal religion”, there had been a veritable Eden where “we humans lived and behaved within a spiritual sense of connectedness with planetary and universal life.”

So “religion could well be the most destructive and outrageous form of idolatry that our world has ever known.” The solution to this “crisis of faith” for O’Murchu is to “bring the planetary-cosmic aspect into conscious awareness.” To gain insights into this “new cosmology”, we should study the works of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry to learn “that creation itself is the primary revelation of God for us.”

In a quantum world dogmas should serve only as “pointers to a deeper truth, the totality of which is never fully grasped.” In defense of Trinity, he says: ‘…the three-dimensional nature of space is an inherent quality of cosmic interdependence… In two-dimensional space, objects settle down to rest into stable orbits, whereas those interacting in three dimensions show a unique complexity and a potential for novel behavior as they weave in and around each other. Of the entire range of conceivable dimensions only one number… is amenable to life [– three]. Any choices above three make it impossible for planets to remain at proper distances from their suns. Anything below three scrambles the orderly communication so crucial to living beings. For gods and creatures alike, three seems to be a number of immense cosmic significance… I suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity is an attempted expression of the fact that the essential nature of God is about relatedness and the capacity to relate, that the propensity and power to relate is, in fact, the very essence of God…’

Further: “Our very constitution as human beings is our capacity to relate, and in our struggle to do so authentically we reveal to the world that we are made in the image and likeness of the Originating Mystery, whose essential Trinitarian nature is also that of relatedness.”


Conservatives (see, for example, the article in the online website Theopedia) accuse O’Murchu of ‘overlaying old familiar New Age spirituality with a thin veneer of science jargon, and suggests that science gives us no choice but to recognize it as true enlightenment. The reality is that O’Murchu’s Quantum Theology is neither science nor theology; it is one man’s breathless sales pitch for a rather typical post-Christian spirituality.’

For example:

’He encourages the reader to set aside all critical thinking: “And please leave at home your religious and scientific ideologies along with the dualisms you have inherited, which you tend to use to divide life into right and wrong, earth and heaven.”’ [p. 7]

‘[He] is unapologetically anti-Christian, suggesting that Christianity (and all organized religion) should be abandoned: “What we cannot escape is that we as a species have outlived that phase of our evolutionary development and so, quite appropriately (it seems to me), thousands of people are leaving religion aside…” [p. 13]

’He explicitly rejects creation ex nihilo asserting instead a form of panentheism: “In quantum theology, the creative potential emerges (evolves) from within the cosmos.”’ [p. 56]

’He rejects not only the authority of the Bible, but even its significance: “Quantum theology abhors the human tendency to attribute literal significance to the sacred writings of the various religions.”’ [p. 57]

On the other hand Quantum Theology received widespread support from liberal Christians, particularly within the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in North America. For example:

* The National Catholic Reporter gave the book a positive review, noting “…quantum theology tells us that the birth of the Buddha, the emergence of Hinduism, the journey of Judaism, and the person of Jesus do not exist in isolation from each other.”

More… http://www.theopedia.com/Quantum_theology ~~~

To my knowledge, O’Murchu has not been censured by the Vatican. Which is hard to believe when one of its high profile priests make such assertions as “Theology is about opening up new horizons of possibility and alternate meaning, and not about consigning truth to specific dogmas, creeds or religions” or his bold re-imaging of the persons of the Trinity as ‘Mother, Lover and Friend.’ The highest-level Catholic critique I could find is that of the Spanish Bishops (see http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=3211)

They don’t like O’Murchu

* suggesting that religious men and women “should leave the Church and take on a non-canonical status” since “the values of the Religious life belong to a more ancient pre-religious tradition”

* ‘dismissing Christian revelation and its ecclesial transmission… locating the starting point of his thesis in the “specialists” whom he believes have discovered the essential features of the “primordial vision,” and in whose writings we “have all the ingredients of a new cosmology”

* stressing the natural “unity” of the cosmos as against the patriarchal “duality” of the Hellenistic and Christian traditions

* suggesting that “creation itself [is] our primary and primordial source of divine revelation”

* believing that “Iiminality does not need formal religion” (p. 61), and that the Church is really nothing more that a dispensable obstacle

* (this one is terrifying for the established Catholic Church): ‘The vow of chastity acquires the new name of a “vow for relatedness” – “a call to name, explore and mediate the human engagement in intimate relationships, within the changing circumstances of life and culture” (p. 107). This ultimate framework is the pre-patriarchal culture, where sexual intimacy is linked neither to monogamous matrimony (which according to Father O’Murchu is a medieval and Tridentine construct) (p. 106), nor to reproduction (p. 108), nor to a dualism of the sexes (p. 110). Religious men and women with their vows “for relatedness” are supposed to work toward a sexual life that is not repressed by Christianity or patriarchalism and which will be “mediated in a breadth of relationships, rather than in a depth of relatedness.” This will be “more about the release of creativity, passion and spirituality than about human reproduction” (p. 109), and about the assimilation of the “creative upsurge taking place in the inner being of many persons” that Father O’Murchu calls the “androgynous experience” (p. 110), in other words: homosexuality.’

* (In case you didn’t get the implications of O’Murchu’s notion of celibacy): ‘This sexual life of religious men and women, undertaken in “service to the world,” will be concretely expressed primarily in the “paradox” of the celibate life, but will not automatically exclude any of the above-mentioned genital relationships’…’This is not an attempt at compromise …, but an aspiration to remain as open as possible to the changing nature of human sexuality” (p. 112).


Diarmuid O’Murchu begins his system with synergy, the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He’s offering, not a set of answers, but an invitation to explore.

O’Murchu quotes Neils Bohr: “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” The quantum is the smallest measurable amount of energy – actually a minuscule bundle of energies. And everything we can touch and see is alive with billions of dancing quanta. They do not work by cause and effect. Rather “Everything is affected (rather than caused) by everything else. “Thou can’st not stir a flower without disturbing a star” (Francis Thompson). The paradoxical result is that “There is motion, but there are no moving objects” (36). And O’Murchu is eloquent about the pulsating restlessness of cosmic dancing. “There are no dancers, there is only the dance” and “We experience a sense of being danced rather than we ourselves performing the dance” (39-49).

A book can fail to answer a question, and yet succeed by putting you on the scent of something interesting.

So here’s a marvelous teacher distinguishing between religion and spirituality, championing imagination over intellect, attributing the origins of patriarchalism to the agrarian rather than the industrial revolution, proposing an evolving rather than a mechanistic cosmos.

I picked this up somewhere on the Web: ‘How scary this becomes for the guardians of truth in our world. Those who hunger for patriarchal certitude, whether in religion or science, who seek objective verification and the guarantee of divine veracity, become petrified and defensive. New vision is always a threat to the status quo, and predictably the visionaries will be ridiculed and ostracized to varying degrees. Meanwhile, the search goes on, and the dream unfolds; to borrow a biblical phrase: the Spirit blows where she wills … and I suspect she always will.”

O’Murchu expresses admiration for the writings of Matthew Fox and his view that creation was the “primary divine revelation”. No one belief system, he said, had a monopoly on truth, which continually unfolds in an evolutionary fashion. He’s in tune with the New Cosmology explored by people like Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, and Rosemary Radford Ruether. He also praises the Latin American Basic Ecclesial Communities as a key to his vision of the future.

(O’Murchu has published a sort of followup book, in which he applies the principles described in Quantum Theology to Jesus Christ and his teachings: Catching Up with Jesus: A Gospel Story for Our Time. )


Here’s a suggested bibliography if you really want to pursue all this further (sorry, I missed recording the website where I found this list):

Berry, Thomas. 1987. Thomas Berry & and the New Cosmology, edited by Anne Lonergan. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications.

_____ 1988. The Dream of the Earth. Sierra Club Nature and Natural Philosophy Library.

Berry, Thomas, C.P. in Dialogue with Thomas Clarke, S.J. 1991. Befriending the Earth. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications.

Brungs, Robert, SJ. 1997. A Review of Quantum Theology by Diarmuid O’Murchu. Review for Religious, July-Aug. 1997, p. 440.

Craig, William Lane. 1998. “Design & the Cosmological Argument” in Dembski, William A., Editor. Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Davies, Paul. 1990. “What Caused the Big Bang? in Physical Cosmology and Philosophy by John Leslie. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Deltete, Robert, “Hawking on God and Creation” in Zygon, Dec., 1993, pp. 485-506.

Ferris, Timothy. 1998. The Whole Shebang. Phoenix.

Folger, Tim. 2001. “Quantum Shmantum” in Discover, Sept. 2001, p. 37-43.

Fox, Matthew. Original Blessing, Bear & Company, 1983, p. 316.

Freedman, David. “The Mediocre Universe” in Discover, February 1996, pp. 65-75.

Guth, Alan. 1997. The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. Reading, MA: Helix Books, Addison-Wesley.

Hawking, Stephen. 1988. A Brief History of Time.

_____ 1993. Black Holes and Baby Universes. NY: Bantam.

“How Did the Universe Begin?” in Scientific American. Jan. 2000. p. 68.

Isham, C.J. 1993. “Quantum Theories of the Creation of the Universe” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature. Berkeley, CA: The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Lemley, Brad. 2002. “Guth’s Grand Guess” in Discover, April 2002, p. 32-9.

Linde, Andrei. 1994. “The Self-Reproducing Inflationary Universe” in Scientific American, Nov. 1994, p. 48-55.

O’Murchu, Diarmuid. 1997. Quantum Theology. Crossroad Publications.

_____ 2002. Evolutionary Faith: Rediscovering God in Our Great Story. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Peebles, P. James E. 2001. “Making Sense of Modern Cosmology” in Scientific American. Jan. 2001, p. 54-5.

Sachs, Mendel. 2000. “Will the 21st Century See a Paradigm Shift in Physics from the Quantum Theory to General Relativity?” in Revue Internationale de Philosophie 2/2000, p. 351-368.

Sarna, Nahum M. 1983. “Understanding Creation in Genesis” in Is God a Creationist?, edited by Roland Mushat Frye. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Schmitz-Moormann, Karl. 1997. Theology of Creation in an Evolutionary World. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.

Studer, James N. “Consciousness and Reality: Our Entry into Creation” in Cross Currents. Spring 1998, p. 15.

Swimme, Brian. 1987. “Science: A Partner in Creating the Vision” in Thomas Berry & and the New Cosmology, edited by Anne Lonergan, Twenty-Third Publications.

_____ 1996. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Tipler, Frank. 1994. The Physics of Immortality.

Toolan, David. 2001. At Home in the Cosmos. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Tryon, Edward P. 1990. “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?” in Physical Cosmology and Philosophy by John Leslie. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Vawter, Bruce. 1977. On Genesis: A New Reading. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc.

_____ 1983. “Creationism: Creative Misuse of the Bible” in Is God a Creationist?, edited by Roland Mushat Frye. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Weinberg, Steven. 1993. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. BasicBooks.

_____ 2002. Interview in Discover, May 2002, p. 18.

White, Michael and John Gribbin. 1992. Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science. A Dutton Book.




A review by Robert Brow (http://www.brow.on.ca) January 2001



Rowland Croucher

February 2007


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