License

I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Monday, March 19, 2007

John C. Polkinghorne on physics and free will

I reject a compatibilist account of human agency since I do not believe that the mere impression of choice can be the foundation of moral being. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 188.

Those who have appealed to (an assumed indeterministic) quantum theory . . . have to recognize how ill-defined and problematic is the concept of "indeterminate quantum events." The only events that we might feel reasonably free to invoke with some degree of confidence (assuming we have espoused the appropriate interpretative proposal) are measurement events. Their strictly episodic nature does not obviously fit them to describe agency which must surely be assumed to have a more free-flowing character. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 188-9.

Those who have appealed to chaos theory, ontologically reinterpreted as reflecting openness and not mere ignorance, and potentially affording a desirably continuous account of active process . . . do so partly because the exploration of a strange attractor seems to have a much wider and more flowing character than is afforded by a discrete series of measurement events. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 189

Those who appeal to quantum theory are supposing that its widely held (but poorly understood) indeterminism is the appropriate place at which to begin. Those of us who appeal to chaos theory are supposing that its direct connection with macroscopic phenomena, where human and divine agency are both expected to manifest themselves, makes it the more promising zero-order approximation. Both groups surely know that there is much more work to be done.
This might seem to be a disappointingly modest conclusion to the discussion, but problems of the exercise of agency are of immense difficulty and are unlikely to yield, after centuries of effort, to a contemporary quick fix. We can nevertheless be affirmed in the value of continuing the enterprise by our belief in our direct experience of human agency, and by our religious intuition of divine providence, both of which assure us that these fundamental experiences must be capable of being accommodated within an adequate worldview. John Polkinghorne, "Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency," pp. 181-190, in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Volume 5, edited by Robert John Russell, Philip Clayton, Kirk Wegter-McNelly, and John Polkinghorne. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 2001. Quote is from p. 190.

No comments: