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Free will?

May. 18th, 2008 | 12:11 am
mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
posted by: cheryltheperil in scienceandfaith

So, do you think that free will is just an illusions or a reality? Are all our actions and even our thoughts themselves pre-determined, on a chemical level?

This is a question I've been pondering a bit recently as I've happened upon various arguments for and against it. Recent research that I read about in New Scientist seems to indicate that our decisions may not be decided on a conscious level, the way we think they are (link here, if you're interested).

I also recently read a book called Finding Darwin's God by a man named Kenneth R Miller who says that quantum theory and the uncertainty principle allow us to have true free will, an argument which I'd never heard before but it intrigued me greatly. Deterministic theories state that theoretically it is possible to know the state of every atom in the universe, and following the laws of physics from this point to predict everything that is ever going to happen. All our actions are already determined. Quantum theory and the uncertainty principle contradict this; the behaviour of the individual constituents of matter on the quantum scale is inherently uncertain, we can only predict how it will behave in bulk with probability fields. We cannot predict (and according to the uncertainty principle will never be able to predict) which individual constituents of matter will behave in what way. To use a simple example, we will never know in advance which individual photons will follow the general trend and be reflected by a mirror rather than going against the majority and passing through it (and there will always be a small percentage that pass through).

As the microscopic elements are able to influence macroscopic behaviour (i.e. the atoms that compose us and everything we see) this inherent unpredictability has a significant impact on the universe. Miller sees this as an affirmation of the fact that we have free will; our actions are not pre-determined. I have an issue with this statement though, as even if the uncertainty principle is correct and our every thought and action is not determined in advance, that does not necessarily mean that we have any personal control over the unpredictable behaviour of these microscopic components in our brain. The fact that we cannot predict them does not mean our brain activity and thought processes are not still dependent on them, neither does it mean we have control over them or their consequences.

So does that mean we really don't have free will, unless we can find some indication that any of our thoughts and feelings are in some way independent of matter and brain activity? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Random interesting fact of the day

May. 4th, 2008 | 11:24 am
mood: amusedamused
posted by: cheryltheperil in scienceandfaith

This article from the New Scientist magazine both amused and interested me:

Orchid dupe wasp

It's quite intriguing to try and imagine exactly what kind of sensory world do you have to be living in to make this kind of mistake?!

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May. 3rd, 2008 | 12:14 am
mood: busybusy
music: Bob Dylan
posted by: cheryltheperil in scienceandfaith

Name: Cheryl

World view/ philosophical outlook:

I consider myself to be a Christian, though I'm probably not a very conventional one. I don't like blindly following certain doctrines which common sense or strong scientific theory sometimes suggest we should think twice about, as ultimately I believe this can only weaken faith... In fact come to think of it, I don't think following anything blindly is a good basis for faith.

Areas of particular interest to you:

I am particularly interested in learning more about the human brain and how it evolved, since the brain seems to ultimately define pretty much everything about us, and it is just so wonderfully, mind-bogglingly complex. I am also very curious about the possible neurological explanation for certain spiritual phenomena such as visions, speaking in tongues, near death experiences and faith healing.

Opinions on relationship between faith and science:

Ultimately I believe that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God or the validity of faith. It can imply one thing or the other, and different people have used scientific evidence to come to different conclusions, but I think these conclusions, however well supported, cannot resolve the issue with any finality. In light of that statement, it almost seems pointless debating the issue at all, but I don't think so. There may never be a definite outcome, but maybe that can be a good thing if it stops us from closing our minds, and keeps us searching always for a greater understanding and appreciation of the world around us, and within us.

Any questions you want to ask:

Do you believe what you believe in spite of scientific discoveries/theories or because of them? Do you think that science has effectively excluded God and the need for the metaphysical from our lives?


"To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well-studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficiency in both" - Charles Darwin

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