quantum mechanics

This tag is associated with 3 posts

Quantum Indeterminacy, Materialism, and Free Will: Do our minds shape reality?

The idea is that “freedom” of the will is simply the fact that human behavior is unpredictable, and that this unpredictability is a consequence of the random character of “quantum processes” happening in the brain… To be subject to random mental disturbance is not freedom but a kind of slavery or even madness. (Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics at the University of Delaware, Stephen Barr, 178)

Can there be free will on materialism?

The question has been perpetuated throughout the history of modern science. For quite a while, it was thought that all things were deterministic, given materialism. Thus, the view of life was a bit fatalistic. However, with the advent of Quantum Mechanics, some have argued that quantum indeterminacy allows for freedom of the will. Is that the case?

First, it’s important to outline quantum indeterminacy. On the quantum level, events are probabilistic. What that means is that “given complete information about the state of a physical system at one time, its later behavior [cannot] be predited with certainty… [only] the relative probabilities of various future outcomes [can be predicted]” (Barr, 176, cited below).

It becomes immediately apparent how some might see this as salvation for a physicalist perspective on free will. If events are not determined on a quantum level, perhaps our choices are free in some sense as well. But difficulties with this interpretation arise immediately. First, quantum indeterminacy is not a reflection of our choices, but just that: indeterminacy. As quoted above, our supposed choices would (on physicalism) be merely probabilistic. Our actions would be unpredictable, but that is not freedom. Surely, if the actions we take are merely the reflections of probability curves on a quantum level, that is not the same as freedom. Rather, they would be actions taken due to a basically random process. If I have the “choice” between A and B, and the probability is 50/50 on a quantum level, then my “choice” for B instead of A is just the same as if I flipped a coin. The coin doesn’t choose which side to land on, its just probability.

So it seems that right off the bat, quantum indeterminacy cannot explain free will on materialism or physicalism. Rather than being “free will” it would boil down to random events. As Barr wrote, we would be subject to random mental disturbances, and this would entail slavery at best (178).

But can materialists circumvent this problem? One suggestion is that we have control of quantum events themselves, so we therefore would be in control of our choices. But note that this presupposes a kind of extra-quantum center of control from which we can observe and control quantum events. Let’s put it into a thought experiment. Suppose we granted materialism. In that case, our “selves” are our brains. The brain is a physical object, itself governed by quantum events. Now, the purported way out for materialism is that our brain, a physical thing governed by physical processes, itself monitors and controls physical processes such that they effect the brain in the way the brain has chosen. The difficulties with this position should be immediately apparent. The brain, as a physical object, is itself governed by quantum events. These quantum events are not just logically prior but also temporally prior to the brain. Therefore, those things the brain chooses have been determined by previous physical states of affairs. So ultimately, it’s all material, and it’s all probabilistic. The freedom does not enter into the equation.

The problems don’t end there for those who wish to rescue freedom of the will in materialism. Another issue is that of the observer in a quantum event. In order for quantum indeterminacy to be helpful in regards to free will, the observer of a quantum event would have to be outside of the system. “[T]he observer cannot be considered part of the system that is being physically described and remain the observer of it” (Barr, 238). If all there is were the physical world, then the system would include “me.” I could not be the observer who took action in the quantum events, because I would be part of the description of these events. As Barr puts it:

The mathematical descriptions of the physical world given to us by quantum theory presuppose the existence of observers who lie outside those mathematical descriptions (238).

If materialism were true, then quantum indeterminacy could not rescue free will. The agents who were suppoed to be free would be, themselves, part of the system which they were supposed to observe and determine.

So does quantum indeterminacy factor into free will at all? Here’s where things get really interesting. It seems that those who argue for its importance with free will are correct, in a qualified sense. The indeterminacy provides a necessary, but not sufficient, reason for free will. We’ve already seen that it can’t help out in a purely materialistic world–the brain states which supposedly select from various choices are themselves physically determined by prior choices and/or other physical aspects of reality. But what if there were an immaterial mind in the mix? This immaterial mind would not be determined by prior quantum events, and indeed it could take the place of observer for quantum events. Thus, the immaterial mind could serve as the observer of these quantum events.

Quantum indeterminacy, then, acts as a necessary but not sufficient reason for freedom of the will. While the discovery of quantum indeterminacy ushered in an era in which comprehensive physical determinism was tempered by probability, it allowed an opening for free will which can only be utilized by an extra-physical observer. Because our experience of the world includes an intuitive sense of freedom, the previous arguments therefore provide a strong reason to embrace substance dualism. If we experience the world as one in which we are free, and we cannot be free on materialism, then our experience provides us with evidence against materialism.

The world, it seems, is more than merely the physical.

Source:

Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2003).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews offers a witty, heady read for Christians looking to interact with some of the most recent scientific theories. Targeted at Christians who have been befuddled by the latest scientific theories, interested skeptics who want to see if Christianity has anything to say about science, or Christian apologists looking to bolster their scientific knowledge, the book is a resounding success.

Interestingly, Andrews gets the title of the book out of the way quickly. Andrews argues against the common atheistic retort, “Well if God made everything, who made God?” He writes, “Because cause and effect is only proven for the physical world, we can no longer insist that cause and effect are relevant when it comes to the origin of a spiritual entity like God.” I am not sure about the strength of this response. It seems to potentially put God outside the rules of logic, something of which most theists are very wary. A more convincing response, in my opinion, is to simply point out that the concept of God includes necessity. Theistic arguments are designed to show just this–that God is the uncaused ground of being.

Who Made God, however, quickly jumps into stride and doesn’t look back. Andrews lucidly argues that while science can describe events and put them to the test, it cannot explain things in the sense of a comprehensive explanation. Science, for example, “doesn’t tell us why there is [a force of gravity]” (30).

Without slowing down Andrews jumps into a clear explanation of String Theory and its attempts to be a “theory of everything.” Even were science to unify into a theory of everything, however, Andrews point would still stand. The theory would offer descriptions of how things happen, but it wouldn’t explain why the theory itself worked. He also offers a few critiques of string theory, such as the counter-intuitive nature of the theory (48).

Andrews continues on, offering God as a “hypothesis.” He argues that “the methodology of science” can be applied to God (58-59). He argues that Victor Stenger’s God: the failed hypothesis fails on a number of levels. Stenger claims that God “should be detectable: (1) by scientific ‘models’; (2) by scientific measurements… (3) by scientific ‘methods'” (67). Against this, Andrews points out that Stenger is trying to exclude God from existence by “having it both ways.” Stenger argues that God should be detectable, but cannot be because the measurements of science are restricted to the physical. Obviously, this begs the question against theism.

Andrews also addresses nothing, by which I mean the redefinition of “nothing” into “something” often done by atheists (see the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig). He points out that they often use “nothing” to reference vacuum and/or empty space or dark matter. But this is either deliberately misleading or just incomprehensible (97ff). As the atheists who say this often admit themselves, this “empty” space is hardly “nothing.” It is full of energy. But beyond space, beyond the existence of our universe, outside of space and time–that is what is meant by “nothing” (105).

The God hypothesis is vindicated when it comes to the evidence from astronomy and physics. The low entropy state of our universe (117-118), along with its origin (98ff) both point to a creator. Andrews moves on to argue that the origin of the laws of nature must also point to the God hypothesis (138-153). He then goes on to argue that our biological origins, the information found in cells, and the diversity of life have their best explanation with God. To cover these arguments fully would double the size of this review, but I found these arguments just as exciting as the rest of Who Made God. A sampling: proteins and DNA must have information in order to function correctly (181ff); origin of life theories can only be explained with the God hypothesis (196ff);  evolution is nonfalsifiable (214-216); natural selection is a tautology (219-220); junk DNA isn’t junk (234ff); mutations really only help within dynamic populations and cannot lead to new species (230ff [through 240]). Andrews isn’t finished there, however, he tackles arguments for and against mind/body dualism (250ff).

Another strength of Who Made God is the format. There is a summary of each chapter prior to its contents, along with definitions of important terms. Humor is found throughout the work as the author tells funny stories or makes witty comments about the arguments. These aspects increase the readability of the book to a great degree.

This is not to say the book is without faults. Andrews’ treatment of the Ontological Argument was a bit abrupt. I’ve written on the argument before (see my posts here and here). Andrews’ critiques don’t apply to the most current versions of the argument. The most commonly used ontological argument is the modal version developed by Alvin Plantinga and others. This version of the argument doesn’t appeal to human ideas, but to modal necessity and possibility. To his credit, Andrews does point out that some philosophers find the argument compelling.

Another issue with Who Made God is the sometimes unconventional use of philosophical terms. For example, Andrews defines “phenomenology” as “The way phenomena… manifest themselves” (27). Phenomenology, however, is most commonly used (in philosophy) as the study of consciousness. Outside of philosophy, it generally refers to conscious experience or sense experience, not so much about the phenomena themselves. While the definition is not wrong, it caused some confuse, and may confuse other readers familiar with the other, more conventional uses. Another uncommon definition was given for “Monism.” Most often, the term refers to the idea that all of reality is one [i.e. it is all material, or all immaterial]. Andrews definition makes sense in context (he defines it as “The idea that mind is nothing more than the brain at work” [257] but that definition in philosophy of mind is more often used for “reductionism” which Andrews defines differently as well).

However, neither of these negatives outweigh the significant positives found throughout Who Made God. You know that I’m nitpicking when my main critique focuses on a couple unconventional definitions, particularly when Andrews uses valid definitions that simplify the terminology for the reader.

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God is unique among the slew of apologetics books written at a popular level in that it offers a nearly comprehensive argument for Christianity based upon various scientific theories. Despite a few small flaws, I unreservedly recommend this book to all Christians looking to increase their knowledge of biology, physics, and astronomy. Andrews clearly and succinctly explains several scientific theories in terms which are easy to understand, while also showing the relevance for the “God hypothesis.” Readers will come away convinced that when it comes to science, their faith stands on firm ground. Books with scopes this broad most often shine their lights upon lots of topics and illumine none. Readers will find that Who Made God illumines nearly every topic it touches, bringing new insight and clarity into often confusing issues.

Source: Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy free of charge by EP books. My thanks to both Edgar Andrews and EP books.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

One of the most frequently cited and debated arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I have not written on the argument before because there is simply so much good material on it out there that I don’t think I can add anything new. I have, however, run into numerous people with questions on the argument recently, and felt the need to finally get around to a post on the Kalam. Those interested in the argument are highly encouraged to read the links included at the end.

The argument

The argument itself is quite simple:

1) Everything that began to exist has a cause

2) The universe began to exist

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

The argument is deductively valid, so the question is whether the premises are true. If true, the conclusion is certain.

Defense of Premise 1

Why should we think that whatever began to exist has a cause? First, it seems a denial of this principle would undermine science. Science is an investigation of causation. If the anti-theist wishes to deny this premise, she is committed to a fallacy similar to that which she calls the “goddidit” fallacy: dismissing explanation for an event. (Interestingly, saying “God did it” is not a dismissal of explanation: it is, itself, an explanation. It’s saying the explanation which best fits the evidence is theism.)

Suppose premise 1 were false. In that case, things could and would be coming into existence for no reason whatsoever out of nothing. We would observe a remarkably different universe than that which we do, in fact, observe. A tiger would miraculously materialize in my room and eat me.

Now, it must be noted that some appeal to quantum physics in order to say this premise is false. They hold that certain quantum events bring things into existence without reason. Such an interpretation seems misguided at best, however, for a few reasons. First, the event would seem to have an explanation, namely, that it is a quantum phenomena of type x. Second, even were one to deny that this is a form of explanation or causation, the fact remains that these quantum events don’t originate from nothing. They originate from the laws and systems present within our universe. Third, these quantum events, on an examination of quantum theory, are not uncaused; they are merely spheres of probability. Finally, an exclusion of causal chains seems to undermine quantum theory itself or at least make it difficult to correctly interpret (on this, see William Wharton’s paper “Causation with Quantum Mechanics”). Like Wharton, I think the main reason causation is sometimes excluded from interpretations of QM is because of an avoidance of “metaphysical first causes.” Obviously, if this is the motivation for avoiding causation, it is not spurred by a commitment to science, but a commitment to avoiding the metaphysical implications of science.

Finally, consider what Wintery Knight points out about QM and the Kalam:

First, quantum mechanics is not going to save the atheist here. In QM, virtual particles come into being in a vacuum. The vacuum is sparked by a scientist. The particles exist for a period of time inversely proportional to their mass. But in the case of the big bang, there is no vacuum – there’s nothing. There is no scientist – there’s nothing. And the universe is far too massive to last 14 billion years as a virtual particle. (Wintery Knight, “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig” April 8th, 2009).

The quantum events observed are caused: by the scientist. Therefore, they don’t undermine premise 1.

To sum up, the reasons for thinking the first premise true are clear: 1) to deny it undercuts science; 2) we don’t observe a universe with uncaused events; 3) the only reason found to deny the premise is an a priori commitment to anti-theism.

Defense of Premise 2

Did the universe begin? There are many arguments to support the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin, but I’m going to focus on only two: the impossibility of an infinite past and the empirical evidence of a finite past.

Impossibility of an infinite past

If the past is infinite, then we will have had to cross an infinite number of moments of time in order to come to the present moment. However, for any finite number of moments in time, x, there will always be a moment such that x+1 does not equal infinity. There is no way to start at any arbitrary moment in the supposedly infinite past and then add enough successive moments to arrive at the present moment. As such, it would be impossible to experience the present moment. However, we are experiencing the present moment, therefore, the past is finite.

Empirical evidence for a finite past

Despite misgivings from some Christians about the Big Bang theory, it has proven to be eminently valuable for arguments like the Kalam. I would go so far as to say the Big Bang serves as powerful evidence for a creator.

The reasoning behind this is that when we measure cosmic background radiation we can measure the expansion of the universe. Extrapolating backwards leads us to the conclusion that at some point in the finite past, the universe began to exist.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that both premise 1 and 2 are true. However, because the argument is deductively valid, it follows that the universe has a cause.

Conclusions

Okay, so the universe has a cause. That doesn’t prove God exists! Well no, it doesn’t, but it does show that whatever caused the universe has many of the attributes classical theism has attributed to God, and therefore lends credence to the claim God exists. For whatever caused the universe must have extraordinary power (omnipotence);  it must have made a choice to create the universe out of nothing (personal causation/agency); it must have been outside of time (the universe came into existence along with space and time); it must have been outside of space; and it must exist necessarily. As such, the Kalam doesn’t prove Christianity true instantly; it just proves theism is more plausible than atheism. Not only that, but it does show that whatever caused the universe is remarkably similar to the God Christians claim exists.

Appendix: Who made God?

Perhaps the most common objection to the argument outlined above is “Okay, well who made God?” This common retort can be answered after a minute of reflection. Classical theism holds that God exists necessarily, which means that God is eternal and beginningless. The first premise asserts that “whatever begins to exist…” therefore, it doesn’t apply to God. Is this a mere ad hoc fix on theism? No, because it isn’t saying God has no explanation for His existence (which reason is found in His necessary existence); it is saying that he did not begin, and is therefore uncaused. The detractor at this point would have to establish that “everything which exists is caused”–a much more difficult claim to defend than the claim that “everything which began to exist has a cause.” In fact, the anti-theistic claim seems necessarily false, for things which don’t begin are uncaused.

Links

Answers to objections towards the Kalam Cosmological Argument from Richard Dawkins and Graham Oppy

Did the multiverse create itself? Who made God?– more objections to the KCA are answered.

Sites

Wintery Knight  “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig”

Thinking Matters “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

Wintery Knight, “The kalam cosmological argument defended in a peer-reviewed science journal”

Books

The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Craig and J.P. Moreland

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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