After studying philosophy, religion and ancient history (as a layman) for the past 9 years, few topics have been as fascinating and exciting to me as naturalism/determinism and free will. There are many arguments for God's existence that I've found compelling, some more than others - but none have been as profound and wide-reaching as the apparent existence of man's free will. Free will is something that is universally experienced by every human being to the point that the only objection one can levy is that it is a grand, vivid illusion. (An illusion that nonetheless our entire living experiences, society and laws are based on!) Not only that, but its lone alternative - pure naturalism and determinism - has shocking implications that absolutely shatter any atheistic worldview - or at least any that you hear being advocated by the most vocal atheist apologists today.
I discussed in my last blog post on this subject that free will is, by definition, a supernatural phenomenon. It is something that exists in human consciousness outside of our natural-law-constrained biological machinery, but is able to interface with and redirect where our pure DNA-driven processes would otherwise take us. It not only does so, but makes us personally accountable to one another, to society and ultimately to God for those interactions.
On the opposing side, naturalism dictates that every human action, thought and belief is based on brain states that are purely a result of the natural laws of the universe acting on the biological matter that makes up our physical bodies. Naturalism is the default atheist position, yet few are willing to acknowledge, much less deal with, the profound implications of what naturalism would mean for us. But I will, right here! I'll list a few of my favorites.
If naturalism is true, then:
Reason does not exist. If our brain states are purely natural-law driven with no supernatural influence of a free will, then our perception of reason is a subjective illusion. My perception of what is reasonable would be dictated by my current purely-natural brain state, and so would yours! How can you trust that what you know is actually true if your brain ends up where it is simply by the matter it consists of obeying natural laws? On naturalism, you ultimately have no control over what you believe and how you arrive at conclusions. The laws of the universe do that for you through a combination of DNA, physics, chemistry and your environment.
Right and wrong, morality, ethics and human rights do not exist. If naturalism is true, it should silence every theist, atheist, activist, politician and evangelist. Who we are and what we believe would all be products of the laws of the universe. We ultimately would be unable to change ourselves, much less anyone else. There is no ultimate justification for laws or to punish wrongdoers, because there can be no evil nor good. Anything above savagery would be without any rational grounds!
Science and technological advances are meaningless. What we call "science" is simply matter, energy and natural laws playing out in our own species. We're just along for the ride! Since our every action and choice is dictated by involuntary natural processes, any advances in science and knowledge are to no one's credit. Like a spider building an intricate web or the Colorado river carving out the Grand Canyon - our science looks impressive to us, but there could be no other outcome.
Utter nihilism (everything is meaningless) is reality. If naturalism is true, nothing we do in life has any meaning. Human life has no value, no more than any other object in the universe, living or nonliving. Any worldview based on any sense of value, meaning and purpose is irrational, no more rational than belief in a God (if He were to not exist).
I've observed many atheists' desperate attempts to salvage the ideas of free will, morality and meaning in the face of naturalism. Recognizing how important these things are to society and the human experience, they try to find some type of middle ground between the two extremes. If you listen to these exchanges, you'll see a pattern of incoherence and talking in circles. No one can agree on how to make this happen. Ultimately, EVERY so-called "solution" to this dilemma involves, at its core, deliberately ignoring or "setting aside" one or more of naturalism's disastrous implications. You'll see many statements like (and I'm paraphrasing here) "I make up my own meaning in life", "I know that there really isn't any meaning or free will in the universe, but I must choose to ignore those facts to maintain a livable existence" or "we have to focus only on what keeps us happy, and not worry about those confounding issues that are problematic."
But notice what they are doing there. Do you see any similarities to what they accuse theists and Christians of doing? They are ignoring facts and questions that would unravel the very foundations of such manufactured worldviews.
Now, these implications alone are not a basis to reject naturalism, of course. That would be caving to an argument from personal incredulity. If something is true, one must accept it no matter the cost. What I'm saying here is twofold: one, if naturalism is true, atheists should stop presuming any sense of morals or meaning to atheism and accept ALL of the implications of their worldview; and two, our universal human experience of free will, morals and meaning existing is a very compelling reason to reject naturalism (and all of its abysmal implications).
In my opinion, free will is quite possibly the most compelling item of evidence for a supernatural realm (and yes, there are others, too!). This is significant. Once one is warmed to a belief in a supernatural realm, the floodgates can open. It means the existence of a God is not only possible but likely (an all-powerful, transcendent Being that can interfere with natural laws just as we can do within the constraints of our own selves via free will). It means that historically-attested miracles like the Resurrection of Jesus can no longer be rejected purely on naturalistic grounds. And so on.
Leading figures in Christian philosophy like William Lane Craig have expressed optimism that we may be seeing a renaissance in collective thought back toward theism - and by proxy, Christianity - due to revelations like these becoming more commonplace. I agree! Look at how university auditoriums are *filled* when someone like Craig, Zacharias, Licona, Habermas or others come to speak. I can't wait for more people in our country and around the world to discover these things. It's fantastic to learn something that has the power to make a real difference in lives and eternities (including my own). Our downward trend in church membership and faith won't last long if people come to their senses and actually put some real thought into what they believe. I'm no expert, but I hope and pray that I can play a small part in that here by passing on what has helped me find ever-strengthening confidence in my faith.
The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:
The true exercise of free will is the choice to do good as G_d commanded over evil which is manifest in physical or other non_G_dly desires. Other exercises of free will are simply the recognition of a choice even though the individual will always choose their preference. What may appear as free will is often just decisions made based on the order of preferences, the higher dominating the lower. Yes, we have free will, but the vast majority of what we view as free will is an illusion, the exception being our choice between good and evil. - Posted by Luftig
I'm not the kind of naturalist who asserts no supernatural exists but to play devil's advocate: The first objection seems like more of a problem for theists since it's apparent that our reasoning has evolved and been refined by natural selection. It's not really a mystery anymore. It also explains why human reasoning isn't perfect while theism needs to do some explaining about why we weren't just given perfect reasoning or how can we trust the reasoning given to us by a third party as opposed to one being built by our environment, accurate enough to survive. Naturally evolved reasoning doesn't even limit us to accurately thinking about our local environment. We can still consider questions about the supernatural because the ability to do things like use our imagination and think of hypothetical problems was useful for survival.
One thing morality has to do with is harm (you wouldn't go on a killing spree just because it was rationally shown to be objectively moral because it would conflict with the harm part of an accurate or worthwhile definition of morality), another aspect of morality is well-being (including freedom). So objective morality can be worked out by a naturalist by weighing the consequences though they can get it wrong at times like anything else.
Choosing your own meaning is much better than having your meaning pre-determined. No one wants their college major chosen for them so why your life's meaning? You could say it's because a perfect being gave you the meaning but the way you came to the conclusion that it was a perfect being was through your imperfect reasoning anyway. No being can even honestly claim to be perfect because of the problem of "unknown unknowns". Same issue with the kind of objective morality people always claim to receive from up-high which has a bad track record of actually being correct in light of modern day understanding of morality. - Posted by Dovahkiin
Why the need of theists to believe in God (existent or not) to give their life meaning I will never understand. The duration and ultimate outcome of a theist's and an atheist's life will be identical in general. A theist may believe, while alive, that there's an afterlife, but in reality he and the atheist's knowledge of it are also identical. If a theist derives meaning from his belief good for him. But that's all you can say about it. - Posted by bruce