What does science tell us about our soul? (Eric McClellan)

What does science tell us about our soul? (Eric McClellan) July 6, 2011

The study of quantum mechanics is one that stretches the mind beyond its capacity. The famous American physicist, Richard Feynman once said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”1 This is a field that has revolutionized the way that scientists view the world. Through the study of quantum mechanics, physicists have found a fundamental level of uncertainty that exists in our universe.2 If we are to accept quantum mechanics as a viable theory, then we are led to deny the existence of a hard deterministic universe. I find it fascinating that a hard science like physics can bring about such philosophical truths.

Similarly, the study of quantum mechanics has also led John Conway and Simon Kochen to develop what they call the Free Will Theorem.3 Assuming three axioms based on quantum mechanical theory (called SPIN, TWIN, and FIN) The Free Will Theorem is a proof that states, in simple terms, that if human individuals have free will, then individual subatomic particles also have free will. Particles donʼt make conscious decisions, but they exhibit a quantum measure of choice.

What makes this proof even more interesting is that the choice exhibited by subatomic particles is not a function of randomness. Conway and Kochen address this explicitly:

It is true that particles respond in a stochastic way. But this stochasticity of response cannot be explained by putting a stochastic element into any reduction mechanism that determines their behavior, because this behavior is not in fact determined by any information in their past light cones.4

The nature of the choice made by these particles is not a masked randomness but is actually the result of a subatomic free will.

It doesnʼt seem to me that the Free Will Theorem is widely known in Christian circles and I believe that we would all do well by considering it. As we begin to understand the principle established in the theorem, we find two very important theological implications.

Implications for Theological Anthropology

Often we talk about Man as a dichotomous being, existing as body and soul, material and immaterial. Intellect, emotion, and will are often attributed to the soul as immaterial parts of humanity; however, this cannot be the case if we accept the Free Will Theorem. Because of the relationship between human free will and particulate free will, we are left to conclude that our free will, as well as the mind itself, is the product of the summation of particulate free will. Therefore, the aspects of the mind often attributed to the soul is actually an extension of the material body. Mind and body become one while the soul must represent a higher faculty which relates to God and is brought to life in conversion.

This unity of mind and body also deals a heavy blow to the apologetic Argument from Consciousness,5 in which J.P. Moreland argues for the existence of God as necessary for the creation of the human mind. Morelandʼs argument assumes that the mind cannot be reduced to the level of matter6 and this is exactly what we find in the Free Will Theorem. However, this argument is not necessary for a justified belief in God and I believe that we can concede the defeat of this argument without further consequence.

Implications for Godʼs work in nature

As Christians, we believe that God is actively working in the world, but it is important for us to think about what that actually means. Many Christians have built up a false dichotomy between Godʼs actions and nature. Under this presupposition, in order for God to actively will a change in the universe, He must then break the laws of nature. I find this to be very unsatisfying, both scientifically and theologically. When we view God this way, it leads us to conclude that God is absent from our lives when we are not experiencing miracles. If we are to view Godʼs interaction with us as deeply personal as it is reflected in scripture, then God must be active in the everyday occurrences that we consider to be “natural.”

According to physicist Paul Davies, the uncertainty of quantum mechanics leaves room for Godʼs work in natural processes. In an interview, Davies says that “There are interstices having to do with quantum certainty into which, if you want, you could insert the hand of God.”7 The beauty of the Free Will Theorem is that this can be expanded to all natural occurrences. The choice made by individual particles could just as easily be Godʼs choice. God has the freedom to sovereignly rule over the universe without ever breaking the laws of nature.

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To read a response to this article by Peter Kirk, go to Gentle Wisdom.
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1 The Character of Physical Law. Modern Library (1994) p. 123 2 Heisenberg, Werner. “On the physical content of quantum kinematics and Mechanics.” Zeitschrift für
Physic (1927). Published in english in The Discoveries by Alan Lightman (2005) pp. 203-210.
3 Conway, John and Simon Kochen. “The Free Will Theorem.” Foundations of Physics. 36.10 (2006). http://www.springerlink.com/content/24×7719049737074/fulltext.pdf. Conway also walks through each step of the theorem in a series of lectures at Princeton: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/ wa/viewPodcast?id=389601018
4 Ibid.       5 Moreland, JP. Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. Routledge (2008) 6 Ibid. p. 127
7 Davies, Paul interviewed by Krista Tippett. “Einsteinʼs God.” NPR. Transcript at: http:// being.publicradio.org/programs/einsteinsgod/transcript.shtml

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Eric McClellan, one of several contributing writers to Theology21, specializes in science and its’ intersection with the scripture. Many of his articles deal with the interpretation of scripture and the insights that can be made through the study of the natural world. Eric lives in Los Angeles County with his wife, Heather McClellan and their two dogs, Toby and Max, whom they treat like their kids.


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