Wednesday, 2 August 2017
Free Will or Not Free Will; That is the Question
Last night Lorna and I were returning from a concert at St. George’s Anglican Church in Montague. It was a wonderful concert by Coro Dulce (Sweet Singing), a choir from Charlottetown. They lived up to their name with a very interesting program to celebrate Canada 150 with music that was written in or around 1867. It included, among other things, Joy to the World and The Canticle de Jean Racine (which is one of my all-time favourite choral piece).
In any case, we were driving home along hwy 310 to our cottage and came to a construction traffic light which had been set up as one lane was closed. We sat there at the red light. First, I pondered why in the six or seven times we had encountered this light it had always been red? But more to the point this morning as we sat there with the light red in both directions and a car stopped on the other side. There was the delay to clear the construction area. I asked myself why I didn’t just drive ahead and I knew it would be perfectly safe. Of course, I decided it was because I was Canadian and usually obeyed things like traffic signals believing in peace, order and good government as opposed to, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, I wondered if I truly had free will why I didn’t decide to drive on and ignore the red light?
I had been thinking about free will recently after listening to interviews with a couple of physicists who revealed that according the mathematics of Quantum Physics there is no room for free will. They maintain that this proves that free will does not exist. I am still having trouble following the intricacies of the math involved being anything but a mathematician. However, the bottom line is that mathematics used in quantum physics predicts things such as string theory and dark matter which are beginning to be verified. It also has no room in the equations for free will. All is determined/predetermined by the forces of the universe.
One of the physicists being interviewed, Leonard Mlodinow, did concede that the universe and human beings are so complex that in effect it appears to us that we do have free will:
DR. MLODINOW: And the idea that we have no free will is an interesting philosophical question. In reality, we do have free will. Because in reality, a system as complex as the brain with 100 billion neurons, and I think 1,000 to 10,000 connections between each of them on average, is so complex that, not only could one say that one can’t, in principle, model it or predict exactly what it’s going to do next, but almost in principle you can’t. Because in very complex systems, small changes in the state of the system produce large changes in the output. That’s called chaos. But that’s typical of very complicated, non-linear systems.
So, in effect, it may seem to us that we have free will but it is only because of our limited perspective. Of course, I think that Dr. Mlodinow, if he conceded that there was a God, would agree that God with unlimited perspective would be able to calculate everything that is at work behind the universe of God’s creation; ergo no free will. Of course the scientific belief is that humans will able to figure everything out eventually.
If the mathematics of Quantum Physics is correct and we do not have free will what does it mean for human beings? All would be determined/predetermined and there would be no point in anything and everything from prayer to following the commandment of Jesus that we love one another as he loves us. Or would there? The humanists would certainly say there is because if we lead an ethical life it will be a better world and they believe that people do not need God to threaten or bribe us into living in ways that follow the golden rule which does not depend on the existence of a higher power.
Dr. Mlodinow does leave room for miracles or at least the effect of exceptions to the rules of nature in which case the laws of physics by definition do not apply:
If you believe that there are no exceptions, whether they be big miracles or minor deviations from the laws of physics, whether you look at the quantum laws that are fundamental or Newton’s laws, whichever laws you look at, neither set of laws has room for deviations or choice — let’s say, conscious choice. So if you believe that the brain follows those laws, as everything in the laboratory that we’ve ever looked at does, then it’s not a question for scientists.
Is it all then a matter of faith? There is nothing wrong with that. Faith is after all “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). That is certainly true. However, I also like to look for assurance for my faith in God and all that flows from God, including free will, in places that physics does not look or at least identify as God at work in the world of God’s creation.
I have probably raised more questions than I attempted to answer. There is much more I would like to explore about this but I will leave the discussion for this week with one more point; can the universe that is so complex that merely one part, the human brain with 100 billion neurons and 1,000 to 10,000 connections between each, not have been created. If it has been created; by Whom?
Blessings on your journey whether or not you have decided freely which road to take.