Wednesday, April 6, 2016
SEEKING CERTAINTY IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD FREEWILL VS DETERMINISM
FREEWILL VS DETERMINISM ?
It is the very nature of human beings, both individually, and through the disciplines of religion and science to try to seek complete knowledge and certainty. From a religious point of view, if God is all-knowing, then He knows the complete history of every atom and every soul from the beginning until the end of time. The Bible says that we can know much with certainty: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” - John 16:13. But, how accurate are predictions? We also find: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” - Matthew 7:7. But, how much can we, as human beings, know?
As for science, there was a time when scientists believed that the goals of completeness and certainty were attainable. See, e.g., the writings of Descartes and Laplace. They believed that, given the initial conditions of the universe, the laws of physics would allow us to explain everything in the universe and predict the entire future in great detail. This deterministic point of view still exists among leading physicists like Stephen Hawking who embrace atheism and declare that a theory of everything is within our grasp. But, if everything can be known, it is pre-determined. Do we have no freewill?
The last post made the point that proof of Gӧdel’s incompleteness theorems changed the way we can see the world forever. We know now that science can explain any aspect of reality we are capable of conceiving of, but will never explain everything. We also have the fact that, at the quantum level, there is a very small, but finite amount of uncertainty. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has been validated as a basic fact of physical reality. But, even a tiny bit of uncertainty can allow outcomes that lead to vastly different futures. See, for example, discussions of the ‘Butterfly Effect’. Together, the incompleteness theorems and the uncertainty principle have put a limit on determinism. The atheist’s dream of a ‘theory of everything’ is unattainable, and the true believer can only know the truth in some perfect realm existing beyond the space and time of the physical universe.
The teachings of the past masters of both scientific and spiritual enlightenment suggest that, as human beings, we can change the world by changing our attitudes, by changing the way we think. It now appears that, at least to some degree, reality is what we choose to make of it. Millions attest to the fact that positive attitude and prayer work, and quantum physics suggests that the very nature of physical reality, and what we can say about it, depend upon conscious choices we make. Perhaps you’ve seen this in your own life. My wife and I have seen what many would call amazing miracles in our lives. We have defied the odds and the wisdom of mainstream medicine a number of times. The important question now becomes: how much do we actually change reality by what we believe and choose to do? If our belief is strong enough, can we bring about results that others might think impossible?
The last post, focused on incompleteness, was linked with two different headings for a purpose: the links were designed to get the attention of different types of thinkers. The response was good, indicating interest in this subject, with numerous shares and over 200 visits to the blog. That may be enough to allow me to conduct a small survey. Following up on these posts, I want to try to get some more feedback. Here are a few questions for those who would like to participate:
After reading the last two posts, please go back to the Facebook link, or message me and reply with ‘T, F or ?’ for ‘True’, ‘False’, or ‘I don’t know’, for each of the first six questions below, and provide a percentage for the seventh. I will publish the results within a few days.
1. Incompleteness and quantum uncertainty reduce scientific laws to statistics, and calculations of future events to probabilistic estimates
2. Some things are predictable with almost complete certainty
3. What I believe affects physical reality
4. Reality consists of much more than the physical universe
5. Reality is created by the accumulative effect of what everyone believes
6. Time is an illusion
7. What percentage of the events of life are predetermined by circumstances beyond our control?