What does Quantum Mechanics contribute to the question of free will and our understanding of God?
Dr. Oakes, I am researching a study for my Evangelical Presbyterian church in Parker, Colorado that I would like to create. My hope is to provide students going into college and others with information on surviving the Science-Religion cultural divide. I feel I am finding good resources most areas, but a bit weak on QM, probability and determinism. Note, our church is much more
flexible on determinism than other Presbyterian denominations. My personal belief is that physics are uncovering a clear pathway to understanding God as unbound by time or space and once you consider evolution, QM, determinism, etc. from the stand point of perfect foreknowledge, the entire basis for many of the fist pounding arguments disappears. I also am developing some thoughts on the role of the Trinity in bridging denial of there being a personal God (for example as questioned by Neil deGrasse Tyson). One example is that I believe the strawman of intelligent design becomes irrelevant and too confining in understanding God as He need not tinker at such a level if He has such an eternal perspective and understanding. My quandary comes in finding information that would consider such a viewpoint, if I am way off track, or if there is a developed body of information to research in this area. I am reading with great interest some of your work and felt you may have some insight for me as I have recently retired and now finding time to pursue this interest to try and develop a course of study. Do you have any advice?
I am looking at your e-mail and having trouble finding a question. It seems you have a need rather than a question. Let me suggest a couple of writers: Denis Lamoureux has some good stuff which would more or less line up with what you are thinking. I did a debate with Denis, which is available at www.ipibooks.com He takes the random designer position, although I take a subtly different perspective in the debate, titled Four Christian Views of Evolution.
Another author who might be helpful is Francis Collins, with his Language of God. Another is Darrel Falk whith is Coming to Peace With Science.
However, none of these guys is a physicist, so none of them will address QM. I have a PhD in physics, so might be a bit helpful. About QM “proving” that God is outside time and space, I think this is a reasonable line of inquiry, but I am not sure it will be convincing to more than an extremely small subgroup of people who have the slightest idea what QM is about.
I am not sure what you are saying about Intelligent Design. The design argument is a powerful one, but it is not strictly a scientific argument. The ID movement is probably in a dead end if it is trying to use gap arguments in evolution to “prove” the existence of God scientifically. You seem to be onto this, but I am not exactly sure because your statement about ID is a bit enigmatic.
All for now (4:30 AM in Dublin with bad jet lag)
Thank-you for your thoughtful response and taking time from your travels. You are right that I have less a specific question and more an inquiry about direction and available resources as it relates to QM. I am fairly settled with addressing the evolutionary arguments and am finding numerous good resources to draw on. I agree with your recommendation for Francis Collins’s view of “Evolutionary Creation” which aligns closely to my thoughts and I believe shines as a highly credible source. Regarding my
comments on ID, my view is that Evolutionary Creation is a better explanation than ID as it is being applied from the most fundamental views, and that I am convinced that ID should be pressed into the court of evolutionary biology, not into local & state courts to include in curriculum. This can only serve to fuel the flames of division with the scientific community and breed more misunderstandings within Christian ranks and more Richard Dawkins from atheist ranks. My coming to you was piqued by my reading your response to a QM question raised on your site which I’ll partially copy below for context:
….The God he is talking about is not the God of the Bible. God does not
have a set, unchangeable “plan.” The second problem is that this person is
ignoring the possibility of a supernatural reality which can exist above
physical reality and can influence reality. Even if God’s relationship with
the universe was determinisitc (remember: it is not!) , he could use his
supernatural power to keep the universe on the course he intended. If he
wanted to, God could continually direct the path of the universe so that the
random/quantum mechanically determined events could still go on the path he
I am 100% on board that God is not deterministic, and also that He does have the ability to intercede, through miracles, as He may so choose. I also believe that he acts at a personal level through the Holy Spirit, and that salvation came through Jesus. Where I am searching is my concept that God is not one to just pop in and out on a normative basis to manage things at a “hands-on” level. When God is depicted in the bible, it is clear that He is not an “old man with a white beard,” but for example, the God in Exodus, a
pillar of smoke. I see a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal through the trinity and who, being eternal (beautifully stated in, “I Am”) knows all things that have been, are and are to come. If one considers 13.7 billion years from this perspective, it seems somewhat irrelevant to argue that He had to fine tune things in a “progressive” manner as He would have fully known when saying, “let there be light” what was to come. Taking this viewpoint, from a QM stand point, it is almost as if He is playing with loaded dice. Randomness and free will exist, yet He already knows the outcome and may choose to intervene, but again, this is not necessary, especially when it comes to macro creation & evolution. I like to say, “He knew what the cake would turn out like when he made the mix.” While as you state above, He could continually direct the path of the universe, my question is, why would he need to? It seems to me a great comfort to view evolutionary creation, Relativity, the big bang theory and even what I understand of M-Theory from such a platform and that while science is further defining the mechanism, it is just an confirmation of God’s awesome eternal omniscience. Again, I am coming up short in my investigation on this path of reasoning. There seems much literature from physicists but little that would help outline my ideas better, or tell me that I am way off track. Your insight is most welcome and I would greatly appreciate your help!
I am afraid that I do not have much in the way of good sources on how QM/probability/uncertainty relates to a Christian understanding of theology. I am mostly making it up as I go along in that area. I have seen some speculative stuff that I do not find very useful.
My philosophy/perspective on this is that I lean toward a consistent view of God in how he works on all levels. I see a God who created a universe with a kind of “free will” on all levels, yet who, at the same time, will intervene in order to bring about his will. Yet, this intervening seems to be very rare, and in an amazingly brilliant way that somehow finds the perfect balance between God’s sovereignty and our free will. I agree with Thomas Aquinas on free will when he says, in essence, God’s sovereignty is manifest, both in the things which obey God naturally and in those things to whom God sovereignly grants free will. In other words, it is God’s sovereign will that we, as humans have sovereignty within the realm of our own lives. I see principle of a balance between God’s sovereignty and free will on at least three levels, and probably more.
1. In human history. As a rule, God allows humans to do as they will, even allowing them to do things which are extremely corrupt and evil. Yet, he intervenes in history, but only very rarely. For example, he intervened in Egypt and at the Red Sea. He intervened in the history of Israel–bringing about his judgment and his restoration, and he intervened in the life of Jesus.
2. In our own personal histories. God, as a rule, does not change red lights to green to get us to work on time. He intervenes, but only rarely, in order to help us along the path toward finding him.
3. In natural history. God intervened in initial creation, in the creation of life and in the creation of homo divinus. Yet, as a rule, he has set up a self-perpetuating system of physical laws and he lets those laws proceed on their own. This is why the Mechanical Universe is a picture which appears to work, virtually without exception.
On this basis, I infer that it is highly likely that God lets natural selection, evolution and change among species over time to proceed in a completely “natural” way, yet intervention in the course of change is not ruled out. I see God intervening only very rarely and for his inscrutable purposes. I do NOT believe that humans with their unimaginable complexity, with brains able to understand the universe and to experience God would have come about by a completely random process. Thus I reject the fully random deistic evolution of Francis Collins and Denis Lamoreaux, although we differ on only the margins, as Denis has communicate with me personally. Like he said after our debate (Four Christian Views of Evolution www.ipibooks.com) “The only difference between us is a few interventions”.
So, that is my view. On presuppositional terms, I apply this to Quantum mechanics and the origin of the physical universe. Does Quantum mechanics help us to understand how and where God might intervene in his creation? I do not know. This is a mystery to me.
I do not know if this will be helpful.