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Determinism: naturalism's (atheism's) elephant in the room
Ask your average New Atheist whether or not they believe in free will, and you'll almost always hear "yes". Most will affirm the human ability - and right - to freely choose what he or she does in life. This is foundational to concepts like good and evil - that is, there is right thing to do and a wrong thing to do, and we have the ability - and responsibility - to consciously choose one or the other. Name any hot-button issue in the news these days, and the New Atheist will always have an opinion on which side is right, which side people should choose and which the law should enforce.
That, however, ignores the simple fact that if naturalism is true - that is, if there is no God, nor any supernatural element in the universe - then there is no such thing as free will. On naturalism, humans - like animals, insects and plants - are simply biological machines acting out what their DNA prescribes them to do. This is called determinism, where every action and choice we make in life is not due to our own free will, but to a pre-programmed action or reaction to external stimuli governed entirely by the laws of chemistry and physics. If that's true, we have absolutely no ultimate control over ourselves.
To say that free will exists, one must affirm the existence of some metaphysical 'core' in human consciousness that can interface with our biological machinery and override where our DNA would otherwise take us. This is inescapable. Naturalism/atheism demands that there be no metaphysical explanation to anything in the universe, so to stay true to that worldview, the idea of free will must be rejected.
But where else does determinism take you? It means that belief in God or any religion is deterministic. Just as deterministic as, say, homosexuality. If you invoke determinism to affirm that one group of people has been born a certain way, you cannot escape the fact that the same determinism has resulted in religious believers being the way they are. On determinism, you cannot compel any group of people to change who they are, no matter their beliefs, physical traits or psychological quirks. Then again, on determinism, one group thinking they need to try and compel another to change is *also* deterministic! (As you can see, determinism's a pretty deep rabbit hole).
If determinism/naturalism is true, there is no rational grounds to compel anyone to change, not even their religious or political beliefs. On naturalism, there is no such thing as 'rights' that one can appeal to. Any construction of a moral system with concepts like 'rights' and 'human dignity' is impossible to do rationally within a deterministic framework, because in such a reality, there is no such thing as right and wrong. On naturalism, you *must* appeal to something that does not exist in the natural universe to build your moral system - whether it be God, human life having value or something similar. (As a side note, you'll sometimes hear a New Atheist say that they deal with this by making up their own meaning of life. "Making up" meaning? How is that different from "making up" God? Neither exist if naturalism is true - why is it rational to appeal to one but not the other?)
If determinism is *not* true - and free will is a real thing - then what or who dictates what a person can or cannot change about themselves? Furthermore, if one can accept the existence of a metaphysical concept like free will, why not a God, who just might have given us such a thing?
The skeptics are always saying 'question everything', and I think these are real issues to consider before naturalism tries to suggest a moral high ground.
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