Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Indeterminacy, Divine action and Human Freedom

by John Byl


This article examines the idea that God created the world to be inherently indeterministic. It is argued that ontological indeterminism is scientifically unwarranted, philosophically objectionable and theologically, inconsistent with a strong view of divine sovereignty and providence. Quantum mechanics does not require indeterminism. Neither do human freedom nor moral responsibility, both of which are more plausibly viewed in compatibilist, rather than libertarian, terms.

Keywords: indeterminacy; God; quantum mechanics; human freedom

Has God has created the physical world so that it is inherently non-deterministic? A number of prominent writers on the science/religion interface think this is the case. For example, Arthur Peacocke asserts that God creates through law and chance. Consequently, the future of the physical world is not fully determined but, rather, open, so that not even God knows the future fully [1]. According to Peacocke, God has so made the world that there are certain areas over which he has chosen not to have control. By using chance God has self-limited his omnipotence and omniscience. God takes risks. He did this so that the world would produce beings fit for fellowship with him [2]. Chance, Peacocke asserts, manifests itself mainly through quantum uncertainty and human freewill [3]. In a similar vein, Keith Ward argues that only through non-deterministic laws can there be room for creative freedom to come to exist and to operate [4].

The object of this paper is to examine some of the implications of this idea and to explore a deterministic alternative.

1. Quantum Choices and Chance

Quantum mechanics is often cited as the prime example of physical indeterminism. According to quantum mechanics, a particle has both wave and particle properties. One consequence of this is that, at any instant, we can measure accurately either the position or the velocity of a particle but not both at once (i.e., the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). Another consequence is that we can’t predict exactly where an individual photon, after passing through a slit, will hit a photographic plate. Nor can we tell exactly when a particular radium atom will decay. All we can calculate are probabilities, so that, in the long run, we can predict precise patterns for large numbers of events.

A fundamental question is whether such quantum uncertainties are merely human, epistemological artefacts, due to our inability to accurately measure micro-events, or whether nature is inherently indeterministic. Many physicists and theologians take the view that quantum events are inherently indeterministic. For example, theologian Greg Boyd claims that quantum mechanics confirms that the future is partly open [5].

Such an interpretation of quantum mechanics raises deep questions. Consider a radium atom, about to decay. In any given instant it will either decay or not. What makes the choice? In a deterministic universe the choice fully depends--although perhaps in a very complicated way--on the present state of the universe. But what makes the choice in an indeterministic universe?

Often it said that the choice is made by “chance”. This raises the question: What is “chance”? Generally, chance is meant here in the sense of indeterminism, where there is more than one possible outcome for an event and it cannot in principle be predicted, with certainty, which outcome will occur [6]. Chance, thus defined, is not itself a cause but, rather, indicates the absence of a sufficient cause for an event. There is no reason why a particular outcome occurs. Thus Keith Ward asserts that no reason can be given why a particular radium atom decays at a particular time, rather than at some other time [7]. He argues that physical events are not sufficiently determined by their physical antecedents.

To such views Henry Stapp comments, “Many physicists of today claim to believe that it is perfectly possible, and also satisfactory, for there to be choices that simply come out of nowhere at all...The claim that the choice comes out of nowhere at all should be regarded as an admission of contemporary ignorance, not as a satisfactory final word” [8]. Elsewhere he remarks, “Chance is an idea useful for dealing with a world partly unknown to us. But it has no rational place among ultimate constituents of nature" [9].

Indeed, a basic principle of rational enquiry is that everything has a sufficient reason. This Principle of Sufficient Reason implies the Principle of Causality, which affirms that every event has a sufficient cause. To say that a quantum choice is made by chance is to say that nothing makes and actuates the choice. This contradicts the Principle of Sufficient Reason. To say that an event has no cause is to give up on science and to invoke magic, in this case magic without even a magician.

Stanley Jaki notes that the great philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and even Hume, asserted that there was no such thing as “chance”[10]. David Hume, for example, commented, "It is universally allowed that nothing exists without a cause of its existence, and that chance, when strictly examined, is a mere negative word, and means not any real power which has anywhere a being in nature" [11]. Rather, they considered that what we call “chance” is just a name for our ignorance of the actual cause.

How well established is the claim that quantum events have no sufficient cause? First, can we be certain that there is no sufficient physical cause? To eliminate all possible physical causes one must demonstrate that a quantum event is not fully determined by the present state of the universe and/or the internal state of the quantum particle. But neither of these is completely known--or even knowable--to human investigation. How, then, can we be sure that there exists no inherent determinism at a deeper physical level, as yet hidden from the human observer? We cannot definitely rule out the possibility that all quantum events have sufficient physical causes.

Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that one could establish the definite absence of a physical cause in quantum events. This still leaves open the possibility of non-physical causes. These might be human minds, spiritual beings such as angels or demons, or even the direct action of God Himself. Such non-physical causes are, by definition, beyond scientific enquiry. Thus it is scientifically unwarranted to assert that the absence of physical cause entails the absence of any cause. That conclusion requires the metaphysical assumption that there are no non-physical causes. We note in passing that the absence of a sufficient physical cause for quantum events implies the falsity of physicalism, the notion that the universe is entirely explicable in terms of physical causes.

Applying the Principle of Sufficient Reason, it seems rational that any causal explanation of an event, no matter how unlikely or implausible, is preferable to postulating no cause at all. Hence, the belief that quantum events are fully caused---whether by some (as yet) unknown physical mechanism or by some non-physical force--seems rationally superior to the hypothesis that they have no cause at all.

2. Interpreting Quantum Mechanics

Could one interpret quantum mechanics so as to avoid physical indeterminacy? Certainly. One possibility is to simply refrain from making any speculative ontological assertions about the quantum realm. Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation, which still seems to be the dominant view of quantum mechanics, is based on the notion that, as humans, we cannot know the quantum world in itself. We can only probe it via various classical experiments. On this view, science does not describe nature as it is, but how it responds to our methods of observation. This interpretation is essentially positivistic in that it is concerned primarily with human observations, leaving open whatever may happen beyond these. It stresses our human epistemic limitations.

Alternatively, if one insists on building a hypothetical model of the quantum world, some quantum theorists have thought it possible to construct models along deterministic lines. Such a theory involves "hidden variables" - quantities that do away with quantum uncertainty, but which cannot be measured directly. Albert Einstein, in opposition to Niels Bohr, believed that quantum mechanics should be explicable in terms of hidden variables.

Favouring hidden variables is the fact that quantum choices are in practice constrained to be within a very limited range, following a well-defined probability function. This suggests that the choice is perhaps not genuinely random but determined by definite laws at some deeper, sub-quantum level. Consider, for example, a roulette wheel, where any individual event seems to be due to chance, although the outcomes are similarly limited and predictable when averaged over a long time. Yet, in actuality, any individual outcome is precisely fixed by the initial conditions. That the outcome of the roulette wheel has the appearance of chance is due only to our ignorance of the initial conditions and our inability to deduce the end result from the initial conditions. Might the situation not be exactly the same for quantum effects? It thus seems prudent to allow for possible deterministic sub-quantum mechanisms.

Nevertheless, recent Bell-type experiments [12, 13] have put significant constraints on hidden-variable theories. Most importantly, it has been shown that hidden-variable theories must violate “locality” (i.e., the property of classical physical theories that forbids distant causes to have instantaneous nearby effects). A viable hidden-variable theory must thus be non-local.

Non-locality is in fact a prime feature of David Bohm's pilot-wave model, which interprets quantum mechanics in terms of well-defined deterministic laws. In Bohm’s model a particle always has both a precise position and velocity. The force on each particle depends on the precise locations, at that instant, of all other particles in the universe. The actual calculation of these is in practice limited by our inability to measure precisely the initial conditions of the particle, as well as by our lack of knowledge of the present configuration of the rest of the universe and how this influences the particle. Hence, although Bohm’s model posits an ontological physical determinism, our human ignorance of initial conditions results in an epistemological indeterminism.

John Polkinghorne notes that the work of David Bohm and his colleagues shows that quantum mechanics can be interpreted within an objective, deterministic ontology [14]. Yet only a small minority of modern quantum theorists support hidden-variable models such as Bohm's. Most dismiss hidden variables, due to the strange features (e.g., non-locality and mysterious pilot-waves) they entail.

However, alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics are no less counter-intuitive. Quantum mechanics is unavoidably non-classical. The question is which feature, if any, of the classical realm an interpretation should retain. Physicist Nick Herbert cites eight different views of quantum reality. How is one to choose among these? Herbert writes:

The quantum reality problem is, strictly speaking, not a physics question at all, but a problem in metaphysics, concerned as it is not with explaining phenomena but with speculating about what kind of reality lies behind and supports the phenomena...Each of these eight realities from Bohm's neo-realist particle-plus-wave model to von Neumann's consciousness-created world is perfectly compatible with the same quantum facts. We cannot use experiments --or at least experiments of the usual kind--to decide among these conflicting pictures of what lies behind the phenomenal world. [15]

It seems prudent to concur with Bohr that quantum mechanics puts a limit on human knowledge about the sub-quantum world. Asserting anything beyond that is speculative. Here we must be guided by our basic philosophical convictions.

What philosophical guidelines should we appeal to? John Polkinghorne justifies an indeterminist view of quantum mechanics on the grounds that we should try to maximize the correlation between our knowledge and ontological belief [16]. Epistemology, he asserts, should be the guide of ontological conjecture. He suggests that the cumulative success of science provides the necessary support for the pursuit of this strategy.

It seems strange, however, that our ontology should be governed by human ignorance. Why should objective reality be limited to what humans can physically measure? Such an ontology is unduly anthropocentric. Any serious theist must surely repudiate such a truncated ontology; theistic ontology must not be driven by limitations of human measurement.

I conclude that quantum mechanics, by itself, does not require physical indeterminism. One may prefer an indeterminist interpretation of quantum mechanics, but such interpretations, like other interpretations, are motivated largely by prior philosophical and theological commitments.

3. Divine Action in the Physical World

There are further difficulties associated with physical indeterminism. What implications would this have for how God relates to the physical world?

Consider God's providence. The traditional Christian position is that all things came into being through Christ ("all things were created by him" Col.1: 16 KJV). God not only brought all things that exist into being, but He--the Father acting through Christ--also upholds them ("by him all things consist" (Col.1: 17 KJV); "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb.1: 3 KJV). The universe is at all times entirely dependent on God's sustaining power. Without God's continual upholding Word the universe would instantly cease to exist.

God's continuing action in the created world can be understood as consisting of not only of God's preservation of the world, but also His governance, whereby He directs and rules over creation. The governance has to do with that continued activity of God whereby He rules all things teleologically so as to secure the accomplishment of the divine purpose. God is the primary cause of all events. He is the necessary and sufficient cause of all events. Everything occurs for a purpose, in accordance with God's comprehensive plan.

Although God is the primary cause of everything, He usually works through secondary causes. In sustaining the universe from one moment to the next God generally does so in accordance with the properties He has assigned to His creatures. God usually permits His creatures to act according to their natures. In particular, He normally allows humans to do what they want, making their own decisions. Yet these human choices cannot be put into action without God's concurrence or cooperation. Thus every normal natural event has two causes: a primary, divine cause and a secondary, natural cause. Miracles occur in those extraordinary cases when God withholds His concurrence and substitutes some other effect.

3.1 Providence and Chance

As noted above, many modern authors believe that God creates through chance, so that not even God knows the future outcome of all events. They consider chance events to be an inherent part of creation, necessary for creatures to have creative freedom.

How is such a view of chance to be reconciled with the traditional Christian view of God? Is it conceivable that God could create an entity whose actions are unpredictable even by God, its omniscient Creator? This seems implausible. If a quantum event were fully determined then, no matter how complicated the chain of causes leading to the event, an omniscient God would know the outcome. On the other hand, if a quantum event is not fully determined then it must be partly attributed to no cause. But, if God is the primary cause of all that happens, this can mean only that quantum events have no secondary cause and that God is here acting directly, in which case God must again know the outcome.

Authors who postulate that God works through chance rarely pause to consider how God could create chance events. D. J. Bartholomew is a notable exception. He writes:

"It is difficult to conceive of how God could be 'responsible' in some sense for pure chance without having designed the mechanism giving rise to it. Speaking personally, I find it impossible to frame any statement about God's action in generating random events which avoids the notion of design on his part and so justifies us in saying that chance events are without any explanation whatsoever. It is more congenial to both faith and reason to suppose that God generates the requisite degree of randomness much as we do, by deterministic means" [17]

This implies that "chance" events are actually fully deterministic. Nevertheless, Bartholomew continues, "this does not imply or require foreknowledge of the consequences at the micro-level on God's part" [18]. He argues that, at bottom, chance is bound up with the notion of independence rather than lack of cause. Bartholomew asserts:

"To allow the existence of pure chance in any sense is rather like saying that God can choose to act so that his left hand does not know what his right is doing. Or to put it more formally: that there must be independent sources of independent action within the one Godhead. There seems to be nothing logically impossible in such a suggestion but whether or not it can be usefully developed is not clear." [19]

The notion that "God's left hand doesn't know what his right and is doing" entails a significant limitation of God's self-knowledge of the present instant. Such a limitation of God's self-knowledge still seems to leave the universe inherently deterministic and, thus, offers no explanation of chance events. It just hampers God's ability to make predictions. Further, Bartholomew's suggestion contradicts the omniscience, unity and simplicity generally attributed to the God of the Bible. Appeals to the multi-personhood of God do not help, since the orthodox notion of the Trinity asserts an essential unity to God, particularly as it relates to knowledge: each Person is essentially and equally omniscient (Father, 1 John 3:20; Son, Matt. 11:27; Holy Spirit, I Cor.2: 11) [20]. Hence, the orthodox conception of the biblical God seems to leave little room for the notion that He could generate chance.

This conclusion is further strengthened when we consider God's concurrence. At each instant, if God is to actuate the universe at the next instant, He must have prior knowledge of all intended actions of all His creatures. Such knowledge is needed for God to decide whether or not He will concur. However, if God can fully predict the next state of the universe then, again, chance seems to be ruled out. As it is written, "the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (Prov.16:33 KJV). God determines the outcome of the lot, which to us may seem random.

Arthur Peacocke tries to make room for chance by suggesting that God has self-limited His omnipotence and omniscience [21]. He suggests that God has so made the world that there are certain areas over which He has chosen not to have power, so that there are certain systems whose future states are in principle unknowable, even to God. In a similar vein, William Alston goes so far as to assert, “To deny that God can voluntarily limit Godself in this way would itself be to deny God’s omnipotence” [22].

However, God’s omnipotence means that He can do all things logically possible and consistent with His character. For a rational, omniscient, omnipotent God to construct a purely random, indeterministic mechanism seems logically impossible, since it entails that God causes an effect (i.e., a quantum event) that has no cause. Furthermore, as stressed by Keith Ward, God's omnipotence and omniscience are necessary properties of God [23]. This means, contrary to what Alston affirms, that God cannot give up His omnipotence without thereby ceasing to be God. God, as God, necessarily must retain His full omnipotence and omniscience at all times.

According to Peacocke, God's omniscience has to be construed as God knowing at any time whatever it is logically possible for Him to know [24], which does not include as yet uncertain future quantum events [25]. Nevertheless, even this limited definition of omniscience still implies complete knowledge of the past and present. This rules out Bartholomew's suggestion that, at any instant, God's left hand does not know what His right hand is doing.

W.G. Pollard [26] and, more recently, Nancey Murphy [27] advocate that the apparently random events at the quantum level are all specific, intentional acts of God. God's action at this level is limited in that (1) He respects the integrity of the entities with which He co-operates (e.g., He doesn't change the electron's mass arbitrarily) and (2) He restricts His action to produce a world that, for all we can tell, is orderly and law-like. God is the hidden variable. Murphy asserts that this position is not only theologically preferable to indeterminism, but has the further advantage of consistency with the principle of sufficient reason [28]. Of course, if God is directly responsible for quantum events this entails that these are therefore predictable by God. Hence we are left with a deterministic universe, at least at the quantum level.

In short, the orthodox view of God's providence implies that the universe is fully determined from God's perspective. Whether it is strictly determined in terms of purely secondary, physical causes remains an open question. Such secondary causes, even if they do exist, might well be too deep for finite humans to fully comprehend, let alone utilize for prediction.

3.2 Divine Foreknowledge and Chance

Attempts have been made to harmonize chance with God's foreknowledge of future events. For example, J.J. Davis [29] asserts that, contrary to Peacocke's limited view of divine omniscience, the Bible depicts God as having a rather complete knowledge of future events (Is. 41-46), extending even to human thoughts (Ps. 139: 1-6). This implies that God knows also the outcome of any future quantum events. Davis seeks to square God's complete omniscience with genuine quantum indeterminism by means of the notion of middle knowledge, which was first developed by the Jesuit theologian Luis Molina (1553-1600). Molina tried to harmonize divine omniscience with human freedom by asserting that God has a special type of knowledge (“middle knowledge”) of how a free agent would freely choose in a given hypothetical situation. This concept is extended by Davis to quantum events. Davis postulates that God knows whether or not a given radium atom, placed in a given causal nexus, would indeterministically decay in a given time. According to Davis, "God 'sees' that a given nucleus is about to disintegrate, and is free either to concur--and so to make certain--or not to concur in the propensities and tendencies of the creature in question" [30].

In response, Peacocke asks how God could possibly know that a particular nucleus will disintegrate at a particular time if there are no underlying laws that determine this [31]. He argues that, if quantum events are genuinely indeterministic, God's middle knowledge can be only of the probability of a quantum event occurring. This criticism of middle knowledge is, in my opinion, fully justified. How could God know with certainty the future outcome of an uncertain quantum event? It is impossible to know the outcome of an indeterministic event before it occurs. To say, with Davis, that God knows how a particle will behave in a given hypothetical situation implies that, given specific circumstances, the particle will always behave in exactly the same way. In that case the outcome is not indeterministic but is fully determined by the circumstances. In short, divine middle knowledge presumes determinism.

4. Human Freedom, Creativity and Moral Responsibility

Thus far I have argued that ontological indeterminacy is scientifically unwarranted, philosophically objectionable, and contrary to traditional Christian theology. Why, then, is it still so widely promoted? A major factor is the perception that determinism conflicts with human freedom and responsibility. Thus, for example, Arthur Peacocke sees a logical contradiction between human freewill and divine knowledge of the future [32]; Keith Ward argues that the universe must be non-deterministic if it is to generate freely creative beings [33]; and Nancey Murphy [34] asserts that indeterminism is needed for moral responsibility--determinism makes God responsible for evil.

Let's examine these claims. What is necessary for human freedom? Human freedom is what we experience as we deliberate about a decision (how to vote in an election), make a choice (decide which candidate we prefer), and actualise that into a physical action (direct my hand to put a mark beside the chosen name).

Human freedom surely requires a genuine ability for us make a mental choice, as well as the power to convert this mental choice into a physical action. My mental choice may depend on various abstract, non-physical factors such as, for example, the moral qualities of the candidates running for office. Hence, human freedom certainly implies physical indeterminism, in the sense that some physical events (raising my hand) must have non-physical (i.e., mental) causes. In the same physical situation different non-physical factors (my character, beliefs and moral standards) may well cause me to choose differently.

That our freedom depends crucially on our mental control of our physical body is obvious when one considers the alternative. If our minds were completely determined by physical processes in our brains, as asserted by reductionists such as Sir Francis Crick, then, as Crick himself notes, all our beliefs, including our sense of freedom, would be mere illusions [35]. Since these illusions include, for Crick, the belief that our beliefs are caused by brain neurons, it follows that Crick's position is self-refuting. Further, this view reduces humans to mere puppets, beings that appear to choose and act but are actually fully controlled by purely physical forces.

Further, freedom implies that our choices are made freely, without coercion. We choose what we want, in accordance with our own character, history, and moral standards. Such freedom is essential for moral responsibility. To be morally responsible entails that we make our own decisions; they are not be forced on us contrary to our will. Responsibility for our actions implies that we have a measure of control, so that we can be held accountable for our wilful decisions and subsequent actions.

4.1 Freedom and Predictability

The most contentious issue in freewill is whether our decisions are in principle fully predictable. In the same comprehensive situation, with the same external conditions plus the same internal (mental) characteristics and circumstances, would the same agent always make exactly the same decision? There are two responses to this question, representing two different notions of freedom. One notion is that of freedom of indifference, the freedom to choose either of two incompatible actions with equal ease and out of no necessity. This is the freedom to act contrary to our nature, called libertarianism. A lesser freedom is that of spontaneity, choosing and acting as one pleases. As long as one’s acts are expressions of what one wants to do they are to be regarded as free, even if what one wills is in some way determined [36]. This latter view is more commonly known as compatibilism or "soft" determinism (as opposed to the "hard" determinism of Crick's physical reductionism).

The compatibilist argues that our choices are always based on reasons; they are made in accordance with our character and experiences. Hence God, one who knows us perfectly, could surely predict our free choices. Our choices are free because they were willingly made by us, rather than coerced against our will.

The libertarian, on the other hand, objects that, if our choices are predictable then they are predetermined, which implies that we could not have chosen differently. In that case our sense of freedom is illusionary and hence, it is often argued, we would have no moral responsibility. God would then be directly responsible for all the evil in the world. Libertarians contend that our will is genuinely free only if our choosing or willing is not pre-determined by external or internal conditions. Our motives and beliefs may incline us toward a particularly choice, but they should not guarantee it.

4.2 Freedom and Indeterminism

Libertarianism, with its assumption that our choices are not entirely caused by such things as character and circumstances, implies that these choices are, at least to some extent, indeterministic. Only thus, with an element of chance, might the same agent choose differently in identical situations. Bartholomew asserts, "the reality of chance is not merely compatible with the doctrine of creation but is required by it...only in a world with real uncertainty can people grow into free responsible children of their heavenly father" [37].

We note that, however, that in practice one cannot distinguish between genuine randomness and the pseudo-randomness of a deterministic process too complicated for humans to unravel. Why, then, should "real" uncertainty be required, as Bartholomew claims? Further, how could we ever prove that our decisions are ultimately based on no sufficient reasons? This would require our omniscience with regards to all possible causes. Thus the assertion of the necessity of chance is no more than a metaphysical assumption. Hume, arguing against libertarian freedom, writes, "liberty, when opposed to necessity, not to constraint, is the same thing with chance; which is universally allowed to have no existence" [38].

Terrance Tiessen [39] discusses a further difficulty for libertarianism. If our choices are made for no causally sufficient reasons then what causes the will to choose? And what determines which choice is made? If the answer is "nothing", then we are faced with the same problems concerning quantum events, as discussed above, particularly regarding divine providence and foreknowledge. The notion that our choices are not sufficiently caused implies that they are not entirely explicable in terms of secondary causes. However, a strong view of providence implies that these must then be attributed to the direct primary action of God. This makes God directly and solely responsible for our sinful choices, thereby defeating Murphy's efforts to make humans responsible for their own actions.

Libertarianism seems to require that I make choices based on no good reason but, rather, capriciously, perhaps analogous to flipping a coin. Yet, as Stapp notes, any play of chance would falsify the idea that I, from the ground of my essential nature, make a true choice [40]. Indeed, it seems clear that uncaused, random events, occurring without reason, do not enhance our human freewill at all, since these are beyond our control. As Tiessen [41] points out, moral responsibility requires our acts to be intentional. Hence random actions are not free in the sense required for accountability. Therefore, indeterminism undermines, rather than bolsters, moral responsibility.

How about human creativity? Does that require chance, as Ward asserts? Here, too, it is not clear why chance is needed. Creativity has to do primarily with our imagination, our ability to produce novel ideas. But novel ideas do not spring up from nowhere. The mind produces them by combining or modifying old ideas. To solve a particular problem our imagination may try various possibilities. These possibilities may flow from particular chain of thought. Our intuition picks out likely candidates from those that the imagination presents. Although the process may be hard to formalize exactly, no genuine randomness appears to be necessary. Again, what is required, of course, is that our mind is causally effective. This, in turn, requires that our brains are not purely physically determined but is open to input from our minds. In other words, human creativity and freewill require a dualist view of reality that properly distinguishes between matter and mind.

Human freedom is often associated with quantum indeterminacy [42], which is then seen as leaving room for humans to act in the physical world. As we have seen, however, quantum mechanics does not prove that nature is inherently indeterministic. Moreover, it has yet to be shown how quantum effects can actualise mental choices. There is certainly no evidence that the human mind can at all influence where a photon will hit a photographic plate or when a radium atom will decay.

4.3 Freedom and Divine Sovereignty

A further problem with libertarian freewill is how to reconcile this with divine sovereignty. Creatures, unlike God, can neither create from nothing nor sustain themselves in being. They, and their powers, continue to exist only through God's providential power. Along these lines, Peacocke notes that God is the "sustainer and faithful preserver" of His creation [43].

However, if the existence of creatures and their powers depends upon God's upholding power, all their actions must likewise depend on that power. Hence creatures cannot act independently of God. Ron Highfield comments on libertarian freedom:

"Acknowledging that God must act for the agent and its powers to continue in existence and yet contending that God need not--indeed, for the sake of our freedom, must not--act in our action so that it may have being...lands open theism in a self-contradiction" [44].

Libertarian freedom requires that an action of an agent, to be free, must originate and be carried out independently of God. This contradicts God's sovereignty, which is essential to His nature.

4.4 Freedom and Divine Foreknowledge

It is sometimes asserted that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom [45]. A common argument states that if God knows that tomorrow I shall do action A it is therefore true that I shall do A; therefore I do not have the power to refrain from A; thus I am not free. Such reasoning confuses determinism (the notion that nothing happens without a cause) with fatalism (the notion that I have no control over my decisions).

One attempt to avoid fatalism is to postulate that God is timeless, so that He does not literally foreknow anything, and, hence, nothing is fated by His knowledge. However, as Craig points out, the statement "God knows timelessly that some event occurs in my future" is still true prior to the event, thus fatalism is not avoided [46].

Nevertheless, Craig argues that fatalism is a fallacy [47]. First, why should God's mere knowledge about a future event constrain it to occur? God's knowledge of our future acts does not, in itself, influence our actual decisions. It hampers neither our freedom nor our creativity. Craig comments:

"From God's foreknowledge of a free action we can infer only that that action will occur, not that it must occur. The agent performing the action has the power to refrain, and were the agent to do so, God's foreknowledge would have been different. Agents cannot bring it about both that God foreknows their action and that they do not perform the action, but this is no limitation on their freedom. They are free either to act or to refrain, and which ever they choose, God will have foreknown. For God's knowledge, though chronologically prior to the action, is logically posterior to the action and determined by it. Therefore, divine foreknowledge and human freedom are not mutually exclusive " [48].

The fatalist argues that, if the future is already determined, then there is nothing I can do to change it, since even my choices are pre-determined. Such reasoning fails to take into account that my will is an active cause that helps to determine the future. We cannot change the future but we can help determine what the future will be.

Is divine foreknowledge compatible with libertarian freedom? One is again faced with the question of how God could foreknow with certainty a future that is as yet uncertain. One might suggest that God has a special, non-predictive, means of viewing the future, perhaps like consulting a crystal ball or previewing a film. But how could such a device be constructed in the first place? What--other than God--can possibly form the future? The notion that God simply foreknows the future, without predetermining it, entails the existence of an independent force that forms the future. Such independence, we saw above, contradicts the sovereignty of the Biblical God. Hence, divine foreknowledge is consistent only with compatibilist freedom.

4.5 Compatibilism and Responsibility

The freedom that we seem to have--and to need for moral responsibility--is not a libertarian freedom from causation but, rather, a freedom from coercion by forces outside ourselves. We are free when we can act upon our own wants and our own will. Such freedom is needed for moral responsibility. Moral responsibility does not require that there are no reasons for our decisions.

For example, Adam was not forced to eat the fruit against his own will; he did so for reasons sufficient to him. As Reymond notes, Adam did not exercise an indifferent will but acted knowingly, willingly, and spontaneously, with no violence being done to his will [49]. Man is free to do what he wills, but his will is not free in that it can determine itself. Man responds to his nature, which is what it is either by sin or by the sovereign grace of God. This leaves human responsibility fully grounded, for nothing more is required for holding a man accountable than his acting with the consent of his will, however much this may be determined. Thus the Bible holds fallen man wholly responsible for his words and deeds (Matt. 12: 35-37), even though he is born with a nature enslaved to sin (Rom. 8: 7-8).

Compatibilism, we noted, does not destroy freedom but merely assumes that everything--including our choices--has a sufficient cause. These causes are not just physical circumstances but include our own beliefs and character, which have in turn been formed, at least in part, by our own wilful decisions of the past. We make significant choices for weighty reasons, in accordance with our deepest convictions and desires. Compatibilism therefore enables us to be influenced by reasoning, criticism or the prospect of reward or punishment. The knowledge that we shall be held accountable for our actions is itself a factor that influences our actions. For such reasons David Hume asserted that only on the assumption of determinism could there be moral responsibility [50]. In short, compatibilism secures, rather than erases, moral responsibility.

5. Conclusions

In summary, I conclude that ontological indeterminism conflicts with divine sovereignty and providence, as upheld by traditional Christianity. A rational, omniscient, omnipotent God cannot create a genuinely random entity, of which He would not be able to predict the outcome. God’s sovereignty rules out the possibility of agents acting independently of Him. In particular, quantum mechanics does not imply ontological indeterminism, given that determinist interpretations of quantum mechanics are possible, that non-physical secondary causes cannot be ruled out and that God is the primary cause for all events. Further, a libertarian view of human freedom, to the extent that it posits that our free decisions are indeterministic, defeats, rather than supports, the notions of human freedom and responsibility. On the other hand, a compatibilist view of human freedom stresses that we willfully make our decisions for sufficient reasons, in accordance with our nature, our beliefs and our desires. As such, God, our Creator and Sustainer, Who knows us completely, can fully predict all our decisions and actions.


1. Peacocke, Arthur Theology for a Scientific Age (Enlarged ed.), London: SCM Press (1993), p.121.

2. ibid., p. 157.

3. ibid., p.122.

4. Ward, Keith “Why God Must Exist”, Science & Christian Belief (1999) 11: 5-13 (p.12).

5. Boyd, Greg. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God. Grand Rapids: Baker (2000), p. 111.

6. this is the definition of chance given by Bartholomew, D.J. God of Chance. London: SCM Press (1984), p.67.

7. Ward, Keith God, Chance & Necessity, Oxford: One World (1996), p.21.

8. Stapp, Henry P. Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics, Berlin: Springer-Verlag (1993), p.216.

9. ibid., p.91.

10. Jaki, Stanley L. God and the Cosmologists. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway: (1989), pp. 142-145.

11. Hume, David An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, La Salle: Open Court (1958 reprint of 1777 edition), p.104.

12. G. Weihs, T. Jennewein, Ch. Simon, H. Weinfurer, A. Zeilinger "Violation of Bell's inequality under strict Einstein locality conditions", Phys. Rev. Lett. 81 (1998): 5039-5043.

13.W.Tittel, J. Brendel, N. Gisin and H. Zbinden "Long-distance Bell-type tests using energy-time entangled photons", Phys. Rev. A, 59(6) (1999): 4150-4163.

14. Polkinghorne, John Belief in God in an Age of Science, New Haven: Yale University Press (1998), p.53.

15. Herbert, Nick Elemental Mind: Humans Consciousness and the New Physics, New York: Penguin, p.160.

16. Polkinghorne, op.cit.[14], p.53.

17. Bartholomew, op. cit. [6], p.102.

18. ibid.

19. ibid., pp.102- 03.

20. for elaboration, see Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Nashville: Thomas Nelson (1998), p.322. As to Jesus' saying that, not the Son, but only the Father knows the time of his second coming (Mark 13:32), Reymond argues that this limitation in knowledge applies only to Jesus' human nature (p. 224).

21. Peacocke, op. cit. [1], p.212.

22. Alston, William P. “Divine Action, Human Freedom, and the Laws of Nature”, In Russell, R.J., Murphy, N., Isham, C.J.(eds.)Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature (2nd ed.), Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications (1996), p.191.

23. Ward, op.cit. [7], p.37.

24. Peacocke, Arthur “Response to Davis”, Science & Christian Belief (1997) 9:145-147 (p.145).

25. ibid., p.146.

26. Pollard, William Chance and Providence: God's Action in a World Governed by Scientific Law. New York: Scribner (1958), p.22.

27. Murphy, Nancey "Divine Action in the Natural Order: Buridan's Ass and Schrodinger's Cat", In Russell, R.J., Murphy, Nancey, and Peacocke, Arthur (eds.) Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory (1995), pp. 325-357 (p.339).

28. ibid., p.342.

29. Davis, John Jefferson “Quantum Indeterminacy and the Omniscience of God”, Science & Christian Belief (1997) 9: 129-144 (p.135).

30. ibid., p.144.

31. Peacocke, op.cit [24], p.147.

32. Peacocke, op.cit [1], p. 122.

33. Ward, op. cit. [4], p.12.

34. Murphy, op. cit. [27], p.355.

35. Crick, Francis The Astonishing Hypothesis. New York: Touchstone (1994), p.3.

36. see Reymond, op. cit. [20], p.191.

37. Bartholomew, op. cit. [6], p. 145.

38. Hume, op. cit. [11], p. 105.

39. Tiessen, Terrance Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press (2000), p. 247.

40. Stapp, op. cit. [8], p. 92.

41. Tiessen, op. cit. [39], p. 247.

42. for example, Eccles, John C. How the Self Controls Its Brain, Berlin: Springer-Verlag (1994), p.146.

43. Peacocke, op.cit. [1], p.105.

44. Ron Highfield, "The Function of Divine Self-Limitation in Open Theism", Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/2 (June 2002): 279-99 (p.296).

45. for example, Peacocke, op. cit. [1], p.122.

46. Craig, William L. The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker (1987), p. 65.

47. ibid., p.69.

48. ibid., p.74.

49. Reymond, op. cit. [20], p. 374.

50. Hume, op. cit. [11], pp.104-107.


John Byl is professor of mathematics at Trinity Western University

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Socialism?

By Albert Einstein

This essay was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review (May 1949).

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

© copyright 2008 by Monthly Review

Monday, December 11, 2006

Laws of Nature and Free Will

By Mogens Michaelsen

An article by Behind My Screen: "There is no Free Will: A Secular Argument" inspired me to write a little about the relation between the laws of nature and free will.

Many people think, that since the universe is governed by natural laws, it must necessarily be determined in a way that excludes free will.

The first argument against this, is the fact, that according to science the world we live in is not fully pre-determined in the sense that it is possible to calculate the present state if you knew everything about a state in the past. According to the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics this is due to the "Uncertainty Principle" which makes it impossible to measure both the exact location and the impulse of an electron at the same time. I will not go further into this here, but the implication of it is, that there is an element of randomness in the world/universe. Because Albert Einstein was opposed to this theory he said something like: "I don't think God plays dice". This is often used to argue, that Einstein believed in a personal "God" - which is actually not the case. It is more correct to view it as a metaphor, referring only to the question of randomness.

If we look at another interpretation of Quantum Mechanics called MWI (Many Worlds Interpretation) it is a little more complicated. Here you have to make a distinction between a "world" and the universe as a whole. The reality which most people call "the universe" is only a single world in this theory, and this is only a part of the universe - a part of the universe in which we exist as observers. In contrast to the Copenhagen interpretation, MWI claims that there is no real randomness, because all the possibilities are actually realized, but any observer in our world will observe that he or she is still living in "the world". Since the state of this world is not fully predictable, there appears to be some randomness in the chain of events. The interesting question then is, if it is correct to say, that this apparent randomness is simply an illusion? Personally I would say that it is relative to the observer. If it was possible for an observer to observe the whole universe, there is no randomness. But if you are an observer in a "world" (which human observers normally are!) there actually is randomness in this world - objectively, that is.

My explanation of the interpretations of Quantum Mechanics is very far from complete, but that is actually not my intention here. My intention is to explain, that no matter which interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is used, the existence of a given person in the world is not pre-determined, not even if the universe is 100 pct. deterministic!

The implication of this is, that your own existence as a living human being, is not a necessity, meaning that it is not simply a necessary consequence of the laws of nature. To be, or not to be, that is the question...

Where do all this connect to the question of free will?

Well, it doesn't prove that we have a free will, but it certainly doesn't exclude it either. Most people will probably say, that if everything is pre-determined in the simple sense of the word, you can hardly give any meaning to the concept of "free will". Free will would at best be an illusion, or something like that.

Now I will try to view the laws of nature from a different perspective. And I will do that by a simple example:

1) Imagine a person holding a small object in his hand, e.g. a cigarette lighter.

2) Ask this person to decide whether to drop the lighter or not. And tell him he is free to make the decision himself.

3) Tell the person, that if he drops the lighter within a minute, he will get 10 dollars. If he doesn't drop the lighter within a minute, it will be chosen by random, whether he will get 100 dollars, or no money at all.

Now, what you can "predict" is, that the person will perform some thinking before deciding whether to drop the lighter or not. But can you predict much else than that? Some might say, that his decision will depend on how much he needs how much money, but do you know that for sure? I don't think so - it is also possible that he choose to do the opposite of what he thinks the instructor expects, in order to demonstrate that he has a free will.

Does that mean, that you cannot predict much else than that?

Actually there is another important thing you can predict: If he choose to drop the lighter, you will see the lighter move towards the floor, due to gravity! Or to be more correct: If you see the lighter move towards the floor, you know that he must have decided to drop it. You also know, that the lighter would move towards the floor with an acceleration of 9.8 m/sec^2, if it was not for air-resistance. Of course the exact value of the lighter's acceleration is not relevant, but the fact that there is a natural law - the law of gravity - governing this movement certainly is. If the lighter could just as well move in a random direction with a random speed, the person cannot choose to drop the lighter, since he is not able to predict the movement, and since "dropping" is defined as involving a movement towards the floor. In short: he can only choose to drop the lighter if the laws of nature is like they actually are.

Conclusion: The laws of nature does not contradict free choices. The laws of nature is a necessary precondition for free choice.

Newsvine: Laws of Nature and Free Will
Newsvine: There is no Free Will: A Secular Argument

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

President Ahmadinejad's speech at UN General Assembly

20 September 2006 (source:

Madam President,
Distinguished Heads of State and Government,
Distinguished Heads of Delegation,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I praise the Merciful, All-Knowing and Almighty God for blessing me with another opportunity to address this Assembly on behalf of the great nation of Iran and to bring a number of issues to the attention of the international community.

I also praise the Almighty for the increasing vigilance of peoples across the globe, their courageous presence in different international settings, and the brave expression of their views and aspirations regarding global issues.

Today, humanity passionately craves commitment to the Truth, devotion to God, quest for Justice and respect for the dignity of human beings. Rejection of domination and aggression, defense of the oppressed. And longing for peace constitute the legitimate demand of the peoples of the world, particularly the new generations and the spirited youth, who aspire a world free from decadence, aggression and injustice, and replete with love and compassion. The youth have a right to seek justice and the Truth; and they have a right to build their own future on the foundations of love, compassion and tranquility. And, I praise the Almighty for this immense blessing.

Madame President,

What afflicts humanity today is certainly not compatible with human dignity; the Almighty has not created human beings so that they could transgress against others and oppress them.

By causing war and conflict, some are fast expanding their domination, accumulating greater wealth and usurping all the resources, while others endure the resulting poverty, suffering and misery.

Some seek to rule the world relying on weapons and threats, while others live in perpetual insecurity and danger.

Some occupy the homeland of others, thousands of kilometers away from their borders, interfere in their affairs and control their oil and other resources and strategic routes, while others are bombarded daily in their own homes; their children murdered in the streets and alleys of their own country and their homes reduced to rubble.

Such behavior is not worthy of human beings and runs counter to the Truth, to justice and to human dignity. The fundamental question is that under such conditions, where should the oppressed seek justice? Who or what organization defends the rights of the oppressed, and suppresses acts of aggression and oppression? Where is the seat of global justice?

A brief glance at a few examples of the most pressing global issues can further illustrate the problem.

A. The unbridled expansion of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons

Some powers proudly announce their production of second and third generations of nuclear weapons. What do they need these weapons for? Is the development and stockpiling of these deadly weapons designed to promote peace and democracy? Or, are these weapons, in fact, instruments of coercion and threat against other peoples and governments? How long should the people of the world live with the nightmare of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons? What bounds the powers producing and possessing these weapons? How can they be held accountable before the international community? And, are the inhabitants of these countries content with the waste of their wealth and resources for the production of such destructive arsenals? Is it not possible to rely on justice, ethics and wisdom instead of these instruments of death? Aren't wisdom and justice more compatible with peace and tranquility than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? If wisdom, ethics and justice prevail, then oppression and aggression will be uprooted, threats will wither away and no reason will remain for conflict. This is a solid proposition because most global conflicts emanate from injustice, and from the powerful, not being contented with their own rights, striving to devour the rights of others.
People across the globe embrace justice and are willing to sacrifice for its sake.

Would it not be easier for global powers to ensure their longevity and win hearts and minds through the championing of real promotion of justice, compassion and peace, than through continuing the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons and the threat of their use?

The experience of the threat and the use of nuclear weapons is before us. Has it achieved anything for the perpetrators other than exacerbation of tension, hatred and animosity among nations?

B. Occupation of countries and exacerbation of hostilities

Occupation of countries, including Iraq, has continued for the last three years. Not a day goes by without hundreds of people getting killed in cold blood. The occupiers are incapable of establishing security in Iraq. Despite the establishment of the lawful Government and National Assembly of Iraq, there are covert and overt efforts to heighten insecurity, magnify and aggravate differences within Iraqi society, and instigate civil strife.

There is no indication that the occupiers have the necessary political will to eliminate the sources of instability. Numerous terrorists were apprehended by the Government of Iraq, only to be let loose under various pretexts by the occupiers.

It seems that intensification of hostilities and terrorism serves as a pretext for the continued presence of foreign forces in Iraq.

Where can the people of Iraq seek refuge, and from whom should the Government of Iraq seek justice?

Who can ensure Iraq's security? Insecurity in Iraq affects the entire region. Can the Security Council play a role in restoring peace and security in Iraq, while the occupiers are themselves permanent members of the Council? Can the Security Council adopt a fair decision in this regard?

Consider the situation in Palestine:

The roots of the Palestinian problem go back to the Second World War. Under the pretext of protecting some of the survivors of that War, the land of Palestine was occupied through war, aggression and the displacement of millions of its inhabitants; it was placed under the control of some of the War survivors, bringing even larger population groups from elsewhere in the world, who had not been even affected by the Second World War; and a government was established in the territory of others with a population collected from across the world at the expense of driving millions of the rightful inhabitants of the land into a Diaspora and homelessness. This is a great tragedy with hardly a precedent in history. Refugees continue to live in temporary refugee camps, and many have died still hoping to one day return to their land. Can any logic, law or legal reasoning justify this tragedy? Can any member of the United Nations accept such a tragedy occurring in their own homeland?

The pretexts for the creation of the regime occupying Al-Qods Al-Sharif are so weak that its proponents want to silence any voice trying to merely speak about them, as they are concerned that shedding light on the facts would undermine the raison d'ĂȘtre of this regime, as it has. The tragedy does not end with the establishment of a regime in the territory of others. Regrettably, from its inception, that regime has been a constant source of threat and insecurity in the Middle East region, waging war and spilling blood and impeding the progress of regional countries, and has also been used by some powers as an instrument of division, coercion, and pressure on the people of the region. Reference to these historical realities may cause some disquiet among supporters of this regime. But these are sheer facts and not myth. History has unfolded before our eyes.

Worst yet, is the blanket and unwarranted support provided to this regime.

Just watch what is happening in the Palestinian land. People are being bombarded in their own homes and their children murdered in their own streets and alleys. But no authority, not even the Security Council, can afford them any support or protection. Why?

At the same time, a Government is formed democratically and through the free choice of the electorate in a part of the Palestinian territory. But instead of receiving the support of the so-called champions of democracy, its Ministers and Members of Parliament are illegally abducted and incarcerated in full view of the international community.

Which council or international organization stands up to protect this brutally besieged Government? And why can't the Security Council take any steps?

Let me here address Lebanon:

For thirty-three long days, the Lebanese lived under the barrage of fire and bombs and close to 1.5 million of them were displaced; meanwhile some members of the Security Council practically chose a path that provided ample opportunity for the aggressor to achieve its objectives militarily. We witnessed that the Security Council of the United Nations was practically incapacitated by certain powers to even call for a ceasefire. The Security Council sat idly by for so many days, witnessing the cruel scenes of atrocities against the Lebanese while tragedies such as Qana were persistently repeated. Why?

In all these cases, the answer is self-evident. When the power behind the hostilities is itself a permanent member of the Security Council, how then can this Council fulfill its responsibilities?

C. Lack of respect for the rights of members of the international community


I now wish to refer to some of the grievances of the Iranian people and speak to the injustices against them.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of the IAEA and is committed to the NPT. All our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of IAEA inspectors. Why then are there objections to our legally recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy and the fuel cycle. Some of them have abused nuclear technology for non-peaceful ends including the production of nuclear bombs, and some even have a bleak record of using them against humanity.

Which organization or Council should address these injustices? Is the Security Council in a position to address them? Can it stop violations of the inalienable rights of countries? Can it prevent certain powers from impeding scientific progress of other countries?

The abuse of the Security Council, as an instrument of threat and coercion, is indeed a source of grave concern.

Some permanent members of the Security Council, even when they are themselves parties to international disputes, conveniently threaten others with the Security Council and declare, even before any decision by the Council, the condemnation of their opponents by the Council. The question is: what can justify such exploitation of the Security Council, and doesn't it erode the credibility and effectiveness of the Council? Can such behavior contribute to the ability of the Council to maintain security?


A review of the preceding historical realities would lead to the conclusion that regrettably, justice has become a victim of force and aggression.

- Many global arrangements have become unjust, discriminatory and irresponsible as a result of undue pressure from some of the powerful;

- Threats with nuclear weapons and other instruments of war by some powers have taken the place of respect for the rights of nations and the maintenance and promotion of peace and tranquility;

- For some powers, claims of promotion of human rights and democracy can only last as long as they can be used as instruments of pressure and intimidation against other nations. But when it comes to the interests of the claimants, concepts such as democracy, the right of self-determination of nations, respect for the rights and intelligence of peoples, international law and justice have no place or value. This is blatantly manifested in the way the elected Government of the Palestinian people is treated as well as in the support extended to the Zionist regime. It does not matter if people are murdered in Palestine, turned into refugees, captured, imprisoned or besieged; that must not violate human rights.

- Nations are not equal in exercising their rights recognized by international law. Enjoying these rights is dependent on the whim of certain major powers.

- Apparently the Security Council can only be used to ensure the security and the rights of some big powers. But when the oppressed are decimated under bombardment, the Security Council must remain aloof and not even call for a ceasefire. Is this not a tragedy of historic proportions for the Security Council, which is charged with maintaining the security of countries?

- The prevailing order of contemporary global interactions is such that certain powers equate themselves with the international community, and consider their decisions superseding that of over 180 countries. They consider themselves the masters and rulers of the entire world and other nations as only second class in the world order.


The question needs to be asked: if the Governments of the United States or the United Kingdom, who are permanent members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the UN can take them to account? Can a Council in which they are privileged members address their violations? Has this ever happened? In fact, we have repeatedly seen the reverse. If they have differences with a nation or state, they drag it to the Security Council and as claimants, arrogate to themselves simultaneously the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner. Is this a just order? Can there be a more vivid case of discrimination and more clear evidence of injustice?

Regrettably, the persistence of some hegemonic powers in imposing their exclusionist policies on international decision making mechanisms, including the Security Council, has resulted in a growing mistrust in global public opinion, undermining the credibility and effectiveness of this most universal system of collective security.


How long can such a situation last in the world? It is evident that the behavior of some powers constitutes the greatest challenge before the Security Council, the entire organization and its affiliated agencies.

The present structure and working methods of the Security Council, which are legacies of the Second World War, are not responsive to the expectations of the current generation and the contemporary needs of humanity.

Today, it is undeniable that the Security Council, most critically and urgently, needs legitimacy and effectiveness. It must be acknowledged that as long as the Council is unable to act on behalf of the entire international community in a transparent, just and democratic manner, it will neither be legitimate nor effective. Furthermore, the direct relation between the abuse of veto and the erosion of the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Council has now been clearly and undeniably established. We cannot, and should not, expect the eradication, or even containment, of injustice, imposition and oppression without reforming the structure and working methods of the Council.

Is it appropriate to expect this generation to submit to the decisions and arrangements established over half a century ago? Doesn't this generation or future generations have the right to decide themselves about the world in which they want to live?

Today, serious reform in the structure and working methods of the Security Council is, more than ever before, necessary. Justice and democracy dictate that the role of the General Assembly, as the highest organ of the United Nations, must be respected. The General Assembly can then, through appropriate mechanisms, take on the task of reforming the Organization and particularly rescue the Security Council from its current state. In the interim, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African continent should each have a representative as a permanent member of the Security Council, with veto privilege. The resulting balance would hopefully prevent further trampling of the rights of nations.

Madame President,


It is essential that spirituality and ethics find their rightful place in international relations. Without ethics and spirituality, attained in light of the teachings of Divine prophets, justice, freedom and human rights cannot be guaranteed.

Resolution of contemporary human crises lies in observing ethics and spirituality and the governance of righteous people of high competence and piety.

Should respect for the rights of human beings become the predominant objective, then injustice, ill-temperament, aggression and war will fade away.

Human beings are all God's creatures and are all endowed with dignity and respect.

No one has superiority over others. No individual or states can arrogate to themselves special privileges, nor can they disregard the rights of others and, through influence and pressure, position themselves as the "international community".

Citizens of Asia, Africa, Europe and America are all equal. Over six billion inhabitants of the earth are all equal and worthy of respect.

Justice and protection of human dignity are the two pillars in maintaining sustainable peace, security and tranquility in the world.

It is for this reason that we state:

Sustainable peace and tranquility in the world can only be attained through justice, spirituality, ethics, compassion and respect for human dignity.

All nations and states are entitled to peace, progress and security.

We are all members of the international community and we are all entitled to insist on the creation of a climate of compassion, love and justice.

All members of the United Nations are affected by both the bitter and the sweet events and developments in today's world.

We can adopt firm and logical decisions, thereby improving the prospects of a better life for current and future generations.

Together, we can eradicate the roots of bitter maladies and afflictions, and instead, through the promotion of universal and lasting values such as ethics, spirituality and justice, allow our nations to taste the sweetness of a better future.

Peoples, driven by their divine nature, intrinsically seek Good, Virtue, Perfection and Beauty. Relying on our peoples, we can take giant steps towards reform and pave the road for human perfection. Whether we like it or not, justice, peace and virtue will sooner or later prevail in the world with the will of Almighty God. It is imperative, and also desirable, that we too contribute to the promotion of justice and virtue.

The Almighty and Merciful God, who is the Creator of the Universe, is also its Lord and Ruler. Justice is His command. He commands His creatures to support one another in Good, virtue and piety, and not in decadence and corruption.

He commands His creatures to enjoin one another to righteousness and virtue and not to sin and transgression. All Divine prophets from the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) to the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), to the Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), have all called humanity to monotheism, justice, brotherhood, love and compassion. Is it not possible to build a better world based on monotheism, justice, love and respect for the rights of human beings, and thereby transform animosities into friendship?

I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet.

O, Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause.

source: CASMII