Monday, August 31, 2009
Denying Free Will
I may not be able to touch or taste it, but it’s just as plain that I exercise freedom of choice as it is that I breathe! Nevertheless, a growing chorus of atheists deny it exists. The renowned biologist Francis Crick states, “It seems free to you but it’s the result of things you are not aware of.” The equally renowned E.O. Wilson writes that “the hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will.”
Why would such intelligent scientists deny something that is so obvious and so foundational to the way we live? Atheism (or materialism) has no room in its world view for something that isn’t totally material and totally determined by chemical-electrical processes. Atheism correctly perceives that free will requires an additional element—something that is beyond the material and reeks of the Transcendent—a horrid stench that no faithful atheist can endure.
But the atheist must pay dearly for the luxury of his refusal to acknowledge the obvious. For instance, another renowned atheist Steven Pinker writes, “The self…is just another network of brain systems…The evidence is overwhelming that every aspect of our mental lives [including free will] depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain.” This means that everything that we think and do has been pre-programmed by “physiological events.” Nevertheless, Pinker also writes, “happiness and virtue have nothing to do with what natural selection designed us to accomplish…They are for us to determine.”
Here, he seems to indicate that there is a distinction between “us” and our physiology, whereas, before he had stated that we are entirely our physiology. Pinker adds, “Well into my procreating years I am, so far, childless…ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes….If my genes don’t like it, they can jump in the lake.”
Pinker makes a very ordinary claim—he can resist his genes. We do this all the time when we turn down an additional scoop of chocolate ice cream. However, according to Pinker, he is not distinct from his genes. Therefore, whenever he decides anything, it’s his genes that are calling the shots, the very opposite of free will. If we choose against our genetically programmed inclinations, the we must stand apart and distinct from these inclinations. Otherwise, it’s merely a matter of the stronger genetic inclination winning out over the weaker.
Pinker can’t have it both ways. Either he can resist his genes because the he is distinct from his genes, which he denies, or else he cannot resist his genes because “he” is his genes, in which case there is no free will involved.
Why does the brilliant Pinker allow himself to fall prey to such flagrant contradiction? Why does anyone remain an atheist? It’s not simply that atheism can’t account for free will. Atheism can’t account for hardly anything. It can’t account for life, the cell, DNA, the origin of our laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the universe, morality, consciousness… Ordinarily, this inability to account for the facts within its domain would disqualify any theory. Nevertheless, atheism survives. Why? The philosopher, Thomas Nagel confessed,
I want atheism to be true…It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (All the above quotes are taken from What’s So Great about Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza.)
We can deny our perceptions like the ostrich who sticks his head in the ground. But denial will inevitably exact its appropriate price.