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Atheist Experience
I've been listening to old podcasts


I've been an atheist since I was around fourteen or fifteen (which is a good fourteen or fifteen years now), and recently I've been listening to some of the old audio podcasts of the show. (I live in Austin, and was going to try to make the next after-dinner show, which, I guess, would be tonight, unless I'm horribly mistaken)

Anyway, in one of the shows I was listening to, the topic of determinism and free will came up, and one of the hosts had made a comment about quantum effects and determinism and how it was a bad argument, and I'm wondering what exactly the argument being referred to was, and how it falls down.

I'm not a physicist, I'm a layman with a strong interest in such things. I tend to think that what we know of how things work on the quantum scale might allow a mechanism (or side effect, or whatever you want to call it) that allows us to take actions in a non-deterministic way, where a completely deterministic model like Newtonian physics has no room for such an effect. Although I wouldn't positively state it actually is that way (I don't think I have enough knowledge to make such a statement), just that it could be.

So I kind of wanted to get people's take on that and find out exactly what the particular speaker meant when he was saying the quantum effects argument was bad. (I apologize for not knowing names)


I'm not completely sure of the context of your question, but the universe is fundamentally non-deterministic. This is especially true at the level of subatomic particles. The position and velocity of an electron, for example, cannot be known simultaneously. (This comes from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). At this level of granularity, the behaviors of these particles can only be predicted with probabilities. At the macroscopic level, that of our everyday experience, the probabilities of macroscopic events are so high that we can make very accurate predictions.

There is some debate about whether the behavior of the brain is impacted by the probabilistic nature of the subatomic particles that make it up. Victor Stinger in his book "Quantum Gods" argues that the behavior of the brain cannot be influenced this way.

I went back and found the particular bit I was referring to - it's in #616 around 56:15-ish.

One of the hosts made the point that quantum effects are relevant if the only objection to free will is determinism, and then the other host stated something along the lines of "That's a bad argument", and I think I parsed it incorrectly and associated the "that's a bad argument" with the wrong argument (I took it as referring to the bits being spoken about quantum nondeterminism, where now that I listen again I think it was intended referring to the argument against free will on the basis of determinism)

So now that I listen again, I think I may have mooted my whole question.

If you're still curious, you might send e-mail to tv (at) atheist-community (dot) org and mention episode 616 in the title. Both Jeff and Russell monitor that e-mail address. Even better, you can give a link to this thread and get a response here, which would benefit everyone.

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