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7 October, 2011  ▪  Спілкувався: Ihor Petrenko

The Quantum of Wisdom

Vladyslav Olkhovsky, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics and Master of Theology, talks about attitudes towards religion today

Mr. Olkhovsky’s research focuses on theoretical nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics and Christianity. He works at the Nuclear Physics Institute, the National Academy of Sciences, and holds a master’s degree in theology. The scientist sees no conflict between fundamental science and a religious outlook.

One of the pastors in Rome, when introducing me to the audience, said: “Professor Olkhovsky will speak to you today as a Christian, not only as a scientist. Why would someone involved in physics and mathematics talk on liberal issues, such as “The Problem of Evil”? Here’s why: he lived in a totalitarian atheistic country for many years and saw a lot of evil.”

I’m from a family of a Navy serviceman. My father laid bombs in the Volga river near Stalingrad.  My family was atheist.But I began to think about the meaning of life and read books on world-outlook back in school. In my fifth year at university, I asked someone at the Central Research Library, “Do you have a Bible?” They said, “Yes, but you need special authorization from your dean to read it.” Then I went to the seminary in the basement of the Andriyivska Church (on Andriyivskyi Uzviz, Kyiv – ed.) and saw two students playing chess. “Do you have a Bible?” I asked. “Of course,” they replied in Ukrainian but my request to borrow one upset them. “Don’t you know Soviet rules? Religious propaganda is prohibited.”    

Yuriy Tsekhmistrenko, my scientific adviser, was a dissident.When the trial began against Viacheslav Chornovil[1] in Lviv in 1967, Mr. Tsekhmistrenko was one of the signatories in the letter of protest.

I often visited him at home. I asked him one day, “Why didn’t you let me sign the letter too?”“I didn’t want you to feel pressured by my reputation as a scientist,” he said. Later the KGB did not permit Mr. Tsekhmistrenko to defend his doctoral thesis on physics, he and his wife Iryna lost their jobs and his fate became quite dramatic. One of my latest articles was a tribute to him.  

When Chornobyl exploded Mikhail Gorbachev asked us, through the President of the Academy of Sciences, to find the cause of the accident. Apparently, it was nothing but negligence. We remembered the Wigner effect in nuclear technologies when graphite changes its features. Essentially, we criticized graphite reactors in general and Professor Aleksandrov, a founder of the soviet nuclear power industry, implicitly. At that point, such reactors qualified as the most reliable in the USSR. As a result of this criticism we almost lost our academic status.

Later, I spoke about the disaster at the nuclear power plant with Yakov Smorodinski, a brilliant expert from the Nuclear Research Institute in Dubna near Moscow.“You did a great job, because if the slightest doubt emerges in science, it should not be covered up, the truth has to be found”, this was how he supported our hypothesis. Some say that Chornobyl was the Wormwood star[2] from the Book of Revelations to John, and that could be true, too.   

My colleagues from the Nuclear Physics Institute and I are currently workingin a lab that I head on the time analysis of nuclear reactions, radioactive decay and quantum processes in general.

My Italian friend Erasmo Recami, who is Catholic, and I have created a new chapter in quantum mechanics, focusing on time as a quantum observable. It goes beyond nuclear physics.

All scientists were theologians earlier, including Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon and Galileo. Only later, after a certain point in time, did some turn to atheism.

Our post-soviet world has many atheists and sceptics. The environment shaped by 70 years of Marxist-Leninist ideology is full of arguments against Christianity. Many believe that science is absolutely flawless.   

“It’s inappropriate for an expert in physics to conduct religious propaganda,”Anton Naumovets, Vice President of the Academy of Sciences, once said about me. He suggested that the Director of Nuclear Physics Institute deals with me. Surprisingly, though, even my atheist colleagues never judged me. I responded to this with an article on the moral choice of a scientist and sent it to the Newsletter of the National Academy of Sciences.

People always believe in something.Children believe their parents, students believe their teachers and scientists believe their predecessors who discovered something earlier. Thinking is based on axioms, postulates and dogmas. Doubting everything and trying to reach everything alone would make any learning impossible. Later, using this belief as a foundation, everyone develops his or her own reasonable arguments and theories.

The attitude towards religion as a reservation is only possible from an atheistic angle.Artists, writers and composers realize that their work does not cover everything. Religion is something different. Anyone can be a believer - a physic, an artist, someone who is unemployed - anyone. This is because religion embraces everything. I think that’s the sense of theology, i.e. to show the unity of truth.  

There is only one truth.According to one theory, which was shared by Galileo, that there are two paths which lead to the truth – one is through nature and other is through religion. To this we can add: not two, but many. But it is worth talking not about different truths, but about different perspectives of the only truth, that is higher than the human mind.

If the truth exceeds the mind, this doesn’t mean that the truth contradicts the mind.

No-one has managed to develop an effective model of the naturalistic origin of the tiniest living cell yet,let alone the entire biosphere. Therefore, the arguments of atheists take a much blinder faith to believe than contemplation about the wise Creator.

Science is changeable and its truths are relative, unlike theological ones.For instance, the Bible, just like quantum physics, does not define clearly how old the universe and the Earth really are. The Bible is not a textbook, nor a lab guideline, but it answers the key question – how to save yourself.

Whoever studies the laws of nature, realizes that God is behind it, creating this harmony.God is a brilliant physicist and mathematician, while natural and scientific apologetics only removes the artificial controversies of Christian revelation and natural and scientific exploration.

The Kyiv letter of protest

After the start of the trial against Viacheslav Chornovil in 1967, a group of Ukrainian intelligentsia compiled a protest against political persecution and sent it to the leaders of the USSR. Film director Serhiy Paradzhanov was the first to signed it. Physicists Yuriy Tsekhmistrov and Iryna Zaslavska, cyberneticist Viktor Bodnarchuk, mathematician Anatoliy Skorokhod, authors and literary experts Ivan Svitlychnyi, Vasyl Stus, Hryhoriy Kochur, Lina Kostenko and Ivan Dziuba, and artists Ivan Marchuk, Alla Horska and Viktor Zaretskyi followed suit – in all, 139 signatures. Virtually all signatories suffered from repression at the hands of the Communist government


Vladyslav Olkhovsky

Date of birth: 5 February 1938

1960 – graduated with merit from the Physics Department of the Taras Shevchenko State University of Kyiv, specializing in nuclear physics  

1964– Candidate thesis in nuclear physics

1978– member of American Mathematical Society

1982– Senior Researcher, Nuclear Research Institute

1989– Doctor of Physics and Mathematics (physics of atomic nuclei and elementary particles) 

1992– Professor at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

1992– Correspondence Member of the Italian Peloro Academy of Science Hunters (Accademia Peloritana dei Pericolanti) in Messina and  the Academy of Natural Sciences in Catania

1994 – head of the laboratory at the Nuclear Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1997– member of the New York Academy of Sciences

2003– Master of Theology


[1]MP, long-time advocate of Ukraine’s independence and a key member of the People’s Movement of Ukraine political party

[2]Then the third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 (The name of the star is “Wormwood” (Bitterness)). A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the drinking the waters that had become bitter (The Revelation to St. John)

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