Can We Attribute Free Will to Quantum Physics?

by J Warner Wallace

As I’ve written previously, free agency presents a problem for atheistic naturalists who try to explain it from “inside the room” of the natural universe. In my book, God’s Crime Scene, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe to determine if the best explanation for these evidences are found “inside” or “outside” the “room”. Free agency is one of the eight evidences I investigate. Materialistic atheists must address an important dilemma: according to their worldview, we live in a physical universe in which natural laws act on matter over time, yet we have the persistent, practical experience of making what appear to be free choices as we love, reason and make moral judgments. We also condemn or praise each other as though our choices and decisions are our own. How are we to reconcile the material, deterministic nature of the universe with our own experience of free will and responsibility?

In an effort to explain free will while staying “inside the room” of a purely physical, material universe, some philosophers have pointed to the research of quantum physicists. What if the foundational physical laws of the universe are not as deterministic as we once believed? At atomic and sub-atomic scales (quantum levels), particles do not behave in entirely predictable ways (as do larger material objects). Many physicists (like Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr) have argued these quantum particles are without set pathways and may not be causally connected like objects at larger scales.

They also believe laws of quantum mechanics may be foundational to the universe. If this is true, at least some physical events aren’t deterministically caused by prior events; at the quantum level, the universe may not be deterministic at all, but may instead be indeterministic. According to this view, there may, therefore, be room for the physical freedom needed in our brains to break the cause and effect Determinism I’ve already described.

But while the possibility of indeterminate, foundational laws of quantum physics guiding the universe may seem to provide naturalists with an explanation from “inside the room”, this explanation also has critical liabilities…


Can We Attribute Free Will to Quantum Physics? | Cold Case Christianity