Free Will

Question

One question non-believers raise is the so-called “argument of free will.” This argument states that if God knows the future and God’s knowledge of the future is infallible, then I do not really have free will because my actions cannot deviate from that which God already knows.

Response

Can free will and an all-knowing creator exist simultaneously? The answer to this is obviously no, they cannot. That does not mean, however, that free will cannot exist at the same time as a God who CAN know the future. The fact is; the Bible provides us with prophecy, which means that God can know the future with 100% accuracy. What it does not mean is that God does know every detail of every person’s future. God chose to use his power of fore-ordinance in order to provide us with details about the rapidly approaching time of the end, and the events that are to occur leading up to it. Jehovah, however, uses this power selectively, as he does with all his powers. Jehovah only uses his powers when it serves his purposes, he does not use them to show off. The purpose of prophecy is to give his followers direction. So what this paradox actually states is that if someone knows with 100% accuracy what you are going to do tomorrow, then you do not have the free will to do otherwise. In God’s case, he does have the potential to know what you will do tomorrow, but chooses not to exercise that ability, and therefore, your free will remains intact.

If this explanation seems contrived, consider this. In quantum mechanics there is something known as the uncertainty principle, which states that certain properties of particles and other objects cannot be known with arbitrary precision. More specifically, the accuracy with which we know the value of one property can limit the accuracy with which we are able to also know another property. For example, the uncertainty principle states that a particle’s position and velocity cannot be known with infinite accuracy, and in fact, the more accurately we know one, the less accurately we are able to know the other. That is not a limitations of current technology, but a fundamental property of nature. Furthermore, quantum mechanics states that those objects do not have an exact position or velocity, but rather, their position in phase space[1] is a probability curve, so that, for example, if I measure a particle’s position, rather than being able to predict what answer I am going to get, the best I can do is come up with a probability spectrum of where I am likely to find the particle. This fact does apply to macroscopic objects as well, but we normally don’t think about it because our technology is not advanced enough to find a macroscopic object’s position with that much precision anyway.[2] Now, if it is true that a phenomenon (such as a particle with a given position) is not real or concrete until it is actually observed in the present, then this must be true even more so for phenomena in the future. Therefore, just as a particle’s position is undefined until it’s observed, so too the future is unwritten until it is observed. Just because Jehovah has the ability to know the future does not mean that he has to know the future, and thus Jehovah’s ability to know the future does not conflict with free will, since the future is unwritten until it is actually observed.

Footnotes

[1] an abstract higher-dimensional space with dimensions corresponding not only to physical space, but also the components of velocity and other degrees of freedom that are important to the experiment

[2] It may be difficult for some to accept that certain properties of particles, such as position, do not actually exist until they are observed, but the fact is that this phenomenon lies at the heart of something known as quantum tunneling. Because position is a probability rather than a precise property, whenever we observe a particle’s position, it may be possible that we can observe a particle at two different times, and find the particle on one side and then another, of an energy barrier that is too large for the particle to cross. This property is responsible for the Sun’s ability to fuse hydrogen atoms together and generate energy. Classically, the Sun’s internal temperature is not hot enough to bring hydrogen nuclei close enough together to fuse, but quantum tunneling allows the particles to cross the energy barrier by utilizing the uncertainty principle and thus allows them to fuse together and create energy. This shows that these effects are real and measurable, and not simply the product of a wild imagination.

videos that may be helpful in illustrating the concepts of quantum mechanics discussed in this blog post

For a more illustrative explanation of how quantum tunneling works, watch this short, 1 minute youtube video from minutephysics on how quantum tunneling: What is Quantum Tunneling?

Here is a slightly longer and more detailed description of quantum tunneling: Quantum Tunneling

Here is a very short minutephysics video on how quantum tunneling allows the sun to produce energy: How the Sun Works: Fusion and Quantum Tunneling

Here is a longer video that goes into more detail about the quantum tunneling process that takes place during nuclear fusion in the Sun: What is Quantum Tunneling?

If you are still not sure about the uncertainty principle and why knowing one value limits our knowledge of another value, here is a great minutephysics video to describe that too: What is the Uncertainty Principle?