Saturday, April 04, 2009

Free Will, Quantum Mechanics and Predestination

John Conway and Simon Kochen recently wrote a paper with a mathematical proof showing that particles exhibiting quantum mechanical behavior can be shown to demonstrate free will. John John Conway gave a lecture at Princeton University explaining the significance of their theorem and proof. The basic assertion of the paper is that if we have free will, then all particles must have some level of free will as well.

The idea of quantum mechanics as a proof for free will is not new with Conway and Kochen. This idea has been debated as a product of quantum mechanics since these theories were first discovered. I remember Cleon Skousen talking about this in a controversial talk on the atonement where he mentions quantum mechanics and free will but falsely concludes that God has to appease the intelligences. Nevertheless, this new proof of free will has profound theological and philosophical implications.

"Now if you’re interested in science, this will be very exciting information. Our most advanced research scientists in the pure research area have just proven this to be true. Matter does not function mechanically. It has an element of finite intelligence in it, they say. That’s what Bergsen called it–the French philosopher. It can distinguish, it can choose, it doesn’t always do what the rules say. Some of these little elements are just as ornery as you and me. They go wandering around–and in the aggregate we say that that’s the law of chemistry. In the aggregate, yes, but you look at them individually and they’re fooling around. As a matter of fact, Robert Milligan said that if all the elements were obeying all of the rules of chemistry, you would never die. Through rebellion in the flesh. And they’re called seeds of death–you may have heard of that before. Now at God’s command, element which has received intelligence attached to it, at God’s command it will obey."

Now, what do I think? In a nutshell, this theorem seems to be an explanation of randomness and seems to be attempting, in a way, to explain how God plays dice with the Universe despite Einstein's objections. I think it would be interesting to have a theological conversation with Dr. Conway with respect to his theorem. Free Will is an important concept to LDS. Skousen in his talk states that quantum mechanics suggests that matter is not forced to obey the classical laws of physics and therefore is free to act contrary to it.

The consequences of disobedience results in the universe as we experience it. In fact, this disobedience is counted on and serves God's higher purposes. It seems to go along with Romans 9 where Paul is discussing Foreordination and says that even the wicked Pharaoh ends up serving God's higher purposes. And in the same way, quantum mechanics also serves God's higher purposes. Satan tempting Adam and Eve in the garden to eat the fruit served God's higher purposes. But it is interesting to think about what a universe would be like that was completely obedient to God's laws. We talk about the ideal gas law. What if all matter and people behaved ideally? That would be heaven.

Rom 9: 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

I do wonder what Dr. Conway's religious and philosophical beliefs are. I am not sure he is really trying to make a religious statement other than saying people who believe in instantaneous communication by ESP are kooky. However, I believe that mankind do exhibit freewill. That is why social science is so unpredictable. And this freewill is an inherent aspect of our person and being. And, despite what Evangelicals say, it is this free will that is the only thing that we can possibly contribute and must contribute to our salvation. Calvinists would disagree and say that only Christ is free and that God's decision of who He predestines to salvation and who he predestines to damnation is random. God is not random. Rather, God is constant, unchangeable, and dependable like the speed of light in any reference frame. John in Revelations taught that Christ has come down and knocked on each one of our doors, and it is up to us to decide whether to open up to Him or not. Conversely, it is man who brings the randomness, arbitrariness and disobedience into the universe. God already knows our spin state from the first. He knows whether we love Him or not. But He allows us to prove ourselves to ourselves, so that we learn who we are and what we are made of.

Rev. 3: 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

I try to be cautious when it comes to debates where both sides argue to the exclusion of the other. So, when it comes to the free will vs. determinism debate, I would tend to believe that there is no dichotomy and both exist and co-exist. And I think that this paper finds that both free will and determanism can co-exist.

My other blog on this subject at


Geoff J said...

I think you are overstating the claims being made. Based on Conway's comments, the assertion is basically: "IF we have free will, then all particles must have some level of free will".

That certainly won't convince any determinists because they reject that we have free will. It mostly competes with the notion of free will radically emerging from non-free-willed parts.

Geoff J said...

Did you get my last comment Dave?

BRoz said...

Good point. I do agree with Conway's assertion. And I agree that he is not saying nothing is determanistic. I may be where I seem to overstating things. I should be more clear on that.