Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Freewill: Just an Illusion?

Here’s my letter to atheists who deny the existence of freewill:

Here are some considerations that argue against denying freewill:

1. Your denial of freewill doesn’t seem to have an evidential basis. Simply because we can find many physical and psychological factors that tend to limit our freewill responses, these findings fail to prove that there aren’t some undetermined or freewill elements at play in the choices we make. Instead, it appears that your conclusion is driven by philosophical materialism/naturalism.

2. I cannot deny my freewill without also denying other things that are equally obvious to me. If I’ve been duped about the perception of my freewill, then I have also been duped about my existence and my other sensory perceptions. It’s so obvious to me that I can freely choose between ordering a Big Mac or a cheeseburger. If I am mistaken about this seemingly free choice, perhaps I’m also mistaken about who and where I am? However, in order to live coherently, I have to accept my basic perceptions.

3. I cannot deny our freewill and, at the same time, treat others with the dignity that I believe is inherent within them. By denying freewill, you are reducing us to mere robots, degraded objects undeserving of human dignity. I have heard teachers comment that when we treat our students as merely products of their environment, as opposed to free moral agents, we demean them in such a way as to interfere with their positive future adjustment.

4. If I deny our freewill, I can’t approve of punishment. If they never had freewill and are instead pre-programmed to act in a certain way, then they aren’t responsible moral agents. Consequently, we have no right to blame and punish others for their behaviors. Just imagine that a friend maliciously ruined your reputation. You confront him and he replies, “Sorry about that – I just don’t have any freewill. My chemistry compelled me to do it! I’m therefore not guilty. Pick a fight with my chemistry!” If you don’t believe in freewill, at least to some extent, your worldview prevents you from accusing your friend of wrong-doing, and this discourages responsible, moral behavior. It would be like blaming your toilet for overflowing.

5. Besides, if freewill is nothing more than a chemical reaction, then too our denial of freewill is just a chemical reaction and not a product of willfully assessing the evidence. Hence, the denial of freewill can be dismissed along with all considerations of truth.

6. By denying freewill, you deprive yourself and others the privilege of taking full responsibility for your actions and the restoration and hope that results from a full confession of our misdeeds. This philosophical stance will have the effect of dumbing- down and depressing our lives and relationships.

7. Without freewill, the rationale for moral persuasion – so critical for a healthy society – is severely undermined. What then is left to secure order and stability? Might-makes-right, the use of violence and coercion!

I think that the best protection for the belief in freewill is Scripture’s teaching that we are created in the image of God and are therefore morally accountable. I suspect that it is your atheistic commitments – your lenses through which you filter reality – that have prevented you from acknowledging freewill, which is so patently obvious and important. Please reconsider the price you pay to preserve your atheism.

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