“The late Christopher Hitchens, when asked does he believe in free will, replied, ‘I have no choice.’ It’s a question I dread, actually, because I don’t have a very well thought out view about it. I have a materialist view of the world. I think that things are determined in a rational way by antecedent events. And so, that commits me to the view that when I think that I have free will, and I think that I am exercising free choice, I am deluding myself. My brain states are determined by physical events, and yet that seems to contradict, to go against, the very powerful subjective impression that we all have that we do have free will.”
Richard Dawkins (from FREE WILL – Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins)
I am reminded of the statements of atheists committed (dogmatically) to an evolutionary theory of the origins of life who admit, in moments of candor, that the world looks as if it were designed. Still, the obvious, natural explanation is discarded for complex, highly nuanced explanations of origins of the world we know. Not that the truth is always simple. It isn’t.
But, we have a tendency to subscribe to the esoteric explanations of scholars because scholars are esoteric and, well, scholarly. Not that evolution is esoteric, at least not anymore. But, we tend to take scholarly, and particularly scientific analyses, on face value as a objective findings of objective people (because we tend to think that scientists are necessarily objective).
Some intelligent people who are atheists call themselves free thinkers. I assume this is because they have cast themselves free from the moors of religion and superstition, as they see it, and have allowed themselves to float freely in the zero gravity of the truth.
The phrase, free thinker, is very ironic to me. Most free thinking, self respecting atheists are materialists. That is they do not subscribe to the idea that anything exists in reality but matter and natural processes; life arose out of matter as a result of undirected, non-rational, random processes; and people, being the product of matter and natural processes, have no more free will than a rock or a cloud or an alligator.
The result is that there is no free thinking, indeed no thinking at all, if we are nothing but molecules. If the materialist view is true – that there is nothing but matter (nothing but molecules), and nothing immaterial exists – then we are completely governed by the laws of physics – including our own thoughts and conclusions.
That means we have no free will – not even atheists, and there is no such thing as freethinking.
If the atheistic determinist is correct, we are not really thinking; we are just reacting, and our reactions are “programmed” by our evolutionary, genetic and material makeup: we have no more choice in the matter than the side of a mountain or a bank of clouds.
The atheist is constrained to concede that we are just molecules in motion, and this idea defeats the idea that we are creatures that have the ability to reason and come to rational conclusions (that are not inevitable products of the molecules in our heads. ) Our thoughts are just the present manifestations of the random processes on the matter that is us evolved from past to present.
Francis Crick, the man who discovered the DNA molecule, wrote a book called the Astonishing Hypothesis. According to Crick, The astonishing hypothesis is that “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”
According to Crick and Dawkins and other materialistic determinists, we are just “molecular machines” or “moist robots”.
What Crick and Dawkins are saying, by application (certainly not what they presumably mean to say), is that their own opinions and conclusions are self-delusions (Dawkins) and no more than the product of “a vast assembly of nerves and their associated molecules”. (Crick)
One wonders why anyone should believe them. Their conclusions are self-defeating. They are not really thinking rationally; they are just projecting statements that inevitably flow from their molecular make-up (if we follow the trail they have blazed for us).
If our thoughts are just products of the laws of physics, we have no free thinking capability. If our thoughts result from the non-rational laws of physics, why should we have any confidence in the rationality of our own thoughts? (And why should we believe anything anyone says, let alone Dawkins and Crick?)
Molecular machines don’t think, and they certainly don’t think rationally. It follows from this that these atheists have no reason to believe atheism is true (or that anything else is true for that matter), let alone knowable in any rational sense, but they do not act as if what they are saying is true. Quite to the contrary!
Lawrence Krauss says, “Everything I know about the world tells me that there is no free will, but we act, the world behaves as if there was free will.” He concludes, “So it doesn’t make much difference.”
Really? The thing is, even if these atheists believe the things they are saying, and are honest about it, they don’t act on a daily basis as if what they have reasoned to be true is true. Krauss more or less admits this when he suggest that we should just enjoy the illusion/delusion because it doesn’t really matter in the end.
Maybe, however, they are just plain wrong. Maybe their materialism just doesn’t make sense. Maybe, it really is as simple as it appears: the universe is designed, and we have the free will we think we have.
I like the way the famous rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, put it:
“I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”
(Speech, Huntsville Ministerial Association, in Wernher Von Braun and Irene E. Powell-Willhite (ed.), The Voice of Dr. Wernher Von Braun: An Anthology(2007), 89. quoted in todayinsci.com)
5 thoughts on “Atheism, Free Thinking and Common Sense”
I do not understand why materialists do not accept the incoherence of a materialistic worldview. it undermines rationality, morality – everything that makes us unique as humans!
Personally, I think they would rather live with the incoherence, and contort logic and common sense to try to deal it, than concede that a God may exist to whom they might be accountable. A common thread from materialist converts to theism (and Christianity in particular), is the reluctance with which they conceded the rationality of theism/Christianity. Far from the wishful naivete that learned atheists like to paint Christians with, the real conversion of a person to Christ is not characterized by some wishful, fact ignoring suspension of the intellect; it is characterized by the concession of the heart, mind and soul to the reality of God because there is no other rational, moral or spiritual choice. Conversion cuts across the grain of the desire to be self-determined and self-controlled. But many would rather concede self-determinism and self-control to the empty void of materialism before they will voluntarily concede to God. The difference between the learned atheist and the learned Christian is not the intellect, but the will.
So, you are proposing that your decisions are undetermined? How does that work?
I don’t think I actually proposed that, but I can see where you might assume I am inferring it. Even in Christian circles, the degree to which people may or may not have free will is an open question, but I think a better case can be made for free will (personal agency) stemming from a supreme Personal Agent who can allow personal agency to us. I have a hard time seeing how personal agency can arise from inanimate matter and random processes. I have a hard seeing how cognitive ability can emerge from insentient matter. It just does not add up. Frankly, it is more of a stretch to me.
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