Why You Shouldn’t Argue from Quantum Mechanics for Libertarian Freedom

by Max Andrews

One of the most important premises behind quantum physics is to understand its indeterminacy.  My question is whether or not a theist can use this as an argument for libertarianism.  Subatomic particles behave in indeterminate ways (i.e. if you know the location of a particle you do not know it’s velocity and vise versa).  It should be noted that this doesn’t negate the laws of causality.  Without the laws of causality science absolutely breaks down.  It’s really an issue of probability with quantum physics.  The case a libertarian may make is that because quantum mechanics function in an indeterminate way, only with a probability, then nothing can be determined, everything is random.  Atheist Daniel Dennett and agnostic Stephen Hawking hold to this view of soft-libertarianism (as naturalists).

I certainly think this may be a good argument for a naturalist.  The best case that can be made for the naturalist is that neurological functions of the brain are random and what we do as agents is merely random.  However, for a theist, particularly a Christian who holds to the doctrine of creatio originans, this is problematic.  That is, God acts on an existing subject to preserve its existence and maintains the existence of the things he has created.  This begs the question, to what extent does God sustain the universe?  I think an obvious answer would be everything (i.e. atoms, particles, strings).  This isn’t to say that God causes every article or moves every particle, but he acts on them in a sustaining manner so that it may continue to exist.  What it does say is that despite the randomness there is still purpose because it is controlled and sustained by an agency (God).  For the Christian [entailing this doctrine], can the argument from quantum mechanics serve as an argument for libertarianism?  I would advocate that libertarians abandon this argument, it doesn’t work.  If anything, for a Christian, this could be used as an argument against free agency by the naturalist (an argument for naturalism).  There are better arguments for free agency to use.  I’ve heard this one before and libertarians need to abandon this.

4 Comments to “Why You Shouldn’t Argue from Quantum Mechanics for Libertarian Freedom”

  1. A few comments on this (on your post and on the Libertarian position):

    (1) There is no standard metaphysical worldview with the Copenhagen. As Kramer and others have concluded, there is no singular way to define the Copenhagen Interpretation concisely. Physics has gotten away with this by fine-tuning the pragmatic approach of quantum. There are, however, three ways to break it down. (a) Bohr’s instrumentalism, in which case QM tells us nothing about the way the world actually works (b) Bohr’s Kantian-esque complementarity principle, in which the indeterminancy is an epistemic and conceptual limitation only in the phenomenological world, not necessarily so in the noumenal. (c) Heisenberg’s subjective realism, which is the only of the three that are truly indeterminate in the way the world works

    This is not even regarding pilot-wave theory. Yet this discussion is necessary for any rebuttal of a Libertarian attempted argument by QM, as they most likely don’t know much of the history of QM and just know about it through inaccurate pop-sci materials.

    (2) It’s questionable whether or not indeterminancy equates to randomness. In some metaphysical systems of indeterminancy multiple causes can be had. The Libertarian position needs to justify the equivalence there

    (3) The indeterminancy of QM does not apply to large scales. Quantum decoherence is the phenomenon in which we get classical, determinist answers from our indeterministic quantum world. So it’s not clear that determinism or indeterminism is mutually exclusive.

    (4) Why would libertarian philosophy be justified just because the world is indeterminate? The way the world works causally and the optimal political system seem to be disconnected. By that line of reasoning, why not anarch-communism?

  2. I present an alternative view–that QM does leave room for libertarian free will– toward the end of my Cambridge talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMZuBbW6Rcg

    My blog post on this is here: http://transactionalinterpretation.org/2014/08/10/free-will-and-the-land-of-the-quantum-dominoes/

  3. An interesting and helpful argument, Max, and on some levels, I do resonate with it. If you view a system as fundamentally random, there’s no space for telos or intention. That’s ultimately no less oppressive than a rigid determinism, and it’s important to make that distinction.

    Where non theistic naturalism assumes purposeless chaos, I’d see instead a manifestation of theistic openness and the loving creativity of our Maker.

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