Friday, August 12, 2011

Do you have a CHOICE?

It was the late Dr. Carl Sagan who (omnisciently?) quipped:

"The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."

Really? that is an amazingly open-minded and tolerant statement, but we will have to table that tempting motion for another blog...moving on.

In his latest (and most controversial) novel, the world's most renowned theoretical physicist has attempted to clarify his position on the role of God (or, more accurately the lack thereof) in the creation of the Universe.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

                   --Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

Spontaneous creation??? Hmmm. It seems that, even though the superstition of spontaneous generation of life was demonstrated to be folly over a century ago, modern physics has resurrected this fairy tale and dressed it up in a fancy new outfit. Where is all of this going? Give me a second, it's quite interesting, and, well, to be honest, it's really quite terrifying. Let's move on from physics to biology.

In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, atheist and evolutionary proponent Richard Dawkins, has postulated that the amazing design and intricate and complex patterns and relationships we observe in nature are, in fact, an illusion of sorts.

He contends that they only appear to have been designed, when, in reality, they are all the results of blind, unconscious, uncaring, and purely chemically-driven processes.

Here comes the rub inherent in the philosophically naturalistic worldview that these three men, these icons of science, represent:

Since the natural cosmos is all there is, then everything that happens is purely the result of chemical interactions according to physical laws.

Is anyone offended by that statement...yet?

If not, let me restate the naturalist proposition in another inescapable way:

As humans, we do not actually have a free will to make free choices, due to the fact that we are merely a collection of atoms which obey chemical and physical laws. Everything that we do is determined purely by the laws governing the Universe, and choice/freedom is merely an illusion.

Let me illustrate. You are at the shoe store, and out of several dozen sneakers, you have settled on selecting one of two possible pairs, both of which you really like. You can think of a lot of reasons for purchasing either one. There is comfort to consider, and economics, and even style, fashion, and the quality of the build...these all factor in---or so we think. We make our decision, yes, we have made it, "I'll take the blue pair, please. Thank you."

We have made our choice...or have we? According to the strict naturalistic worldviews of Sagan, Hawking, and Dawkins, we haven't really made a free choice. Freedom is an illusion. What really occurred is the movement of billions of atoms along synaptic pathways to cause the atoms in the muscles of your tongue, throat, thorax, and mandibles to "say" those words (not really words, just vibrations of other molecules that move across the medium of air).

According to naturalism, you had no choice, because there really is no YOU (strictly speaking), there is nothing except atoms moving around in space. Your "will" doesn't exist actually, you just "think" that you have choice, but the idea of a "soul" or "will" or "person" is just the stuff of myth, fantasy, and, er, um, religion (gasp).

Atoms will always behave in carefully prepared patterns according to physical law, such as the laws of chemical interaction, or gravity, with maybe a super-tiny aberration caused by some quantum particle interaction. Since naturalism denies that you are a "person" in the sense of a free-willed agent with a non-material will, then you are just a biological machine, operating only according to strict chemical/physical laws. Self-consciousness is a natural phenomenon, but, alas, an intricate cosmic delusion. Enjoy.

To put it even more simply, imagine the "first" action at the "beginning" of the universe to be a single domino falling. Obviously that led to the next one falling, and so on, down to...uh, well, um, me and you. We are just more complex dominoes continuing to do what dominoes do. Simple.

Philosophers call this unavoidable conclusion:

the view that all events will predictably occur due exclusively to natural law and are not affected by any other force or agency
(indeed, because none exist, in their view anyway. This is a reductionist approach, but a necessary one).

The world's largest digital encyclopedia defines it thus: "The doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Determinism states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. "

The ramifications and implications of such a philosophy are frightening (though that, in of itself, is not grounds to dismiss it as invalid. The truth can be terrifying, or it can be wonderful---those are merely our reactions to it and therefore do not have any bearing upon truth itself, per se).

Naturalists cannot escape that the logical conclusion of their hypothesis is that everything-- every decision, every act, every belief, every "choice" is only the natural product of chemical reactions.

Do you know of someone who loves poetry, or modern art, or perhaps enjoys the subtleties of the ballet? There are completely natural and unavoidable chemical explanations for all of those fancies, or even obsessions.

Do you know a Buddhist? They are only a Buddhist because the atoms and the chemical reactions inside their brain have, in the strictest of senses, forced them to be a Buddhist. Buddhism seems logical to them because they are just programmed to "accept" it.

The same is true of atheists, such as Dawkins, as well. Their rejection of God is inescapable. They can say that they have "arrived" at their conclusion using logical, rational, and intellectual evaluations...but, sorry, if atheism is true, then all arguments for/against the existence of God are illusions. The chemistry in their brains have made them "believe" in atheism. The truth is irrelevant, the facts are irrelevant, indeed, the "evidence" is irrelevant. Atheists are atheists because they are pre-programmed to be atheists. It cannot be avoided due to naturalism.

Every word you speak, every move you make, every emotion you feel is in actuality just a pre-programmed set of complex chemical reactions. Every act of courage, such as those rescuing others from buildings aflame, to the tearful and joyful reunions of loved ones brought back together, all bravery and love, all honor and goodwill, all honesty and all integrity, just illusions, just names we give to unavoidable chemical reactions.

Don't celebrate the hero, they didn't actually choose to place themselves in harm's way, the atoms inside their neurons moved in predictable pathways to lead to such an outcome. The gratitude "felt" in those who have received the benefit of the "hero's" actions are merely chemical reactions as well...granted, a heart-warming illusion.

But some are now seeing the darker side of this worldview. Just as an appreciation of "beauty" (an illusion) is caused by atoms moving about in time and space, so are the heinous and brutal acts of the criminal. According to the naturalist, the fast hands of the sidewalk pick-pocket and the sick rage of the serial killer are unavoidable, predetermined, because everything is the result of atoms moving around according to physical laws.

Since (if) the universe is just matter moving about in space due to energy, then think about this horrifying conclusion:

There is no fundamental difference between the the slaughter of a child with a butcher knife and the carving of a beautiful sculpture by a master craftsman. According to the pure naturalist, both are merely the movement of atoms, through space, due to energy.
(This isn't my belief, it's inescapably theirs)

At the atomic level, there is absolutely zero difference between violent rape and the planting of a garden. They are identical in the most fundamental of least according to the determinism endorsed by the pure naturalist.

How can we hold the offender accountable for his/her crime when they are nothing more than a collection of atoms, moving through space, due to energy? Can in be that some atoms are evil and others good? Rationality laughs at such a blasphemous utterance.

Listen to what Dawkins himself said about this problem of determinism:

"What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don't feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do...None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, 'Oh well he couldn't help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.'"

The interviewer saw his opportunity in the shallow and philosophically-hypocritical statement and pressed the Oxford scholar:

Interviewer: "But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?"

Dawkins: "I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with, otherwise life would be intolerable."

As Science Officer Mr. Spock would say: "Fascinating."

Recently Stephen Hawking opened himself up for a Q&A, and a student challenged him, pointing out that his theories eliminated the possibility of free will. Hawking's response? To paraphrase, he said that because we do not know the future, determinism looks and feels like free will. There was an audible groan that went through that educated audience.

In effect, he said that we have the appearance and the feeling of something that doesn't actually exist, and that it's alright to live in that self-deception (such as Dawkins alluded to earlier).

In another place Stephen Hawking flatly denied free will, demeaning it as "just an illusion". He said that his research and theoretical analysis led him to believe that "Quantum physics...leads us to accept a new form of determinism:"

This may be a mouthful, but it is worth reading and pondering. Here is what Douglas Wilson asserted concerning this inescapable conclusion:

"If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true , but rather because of a series of chemical reactions… … Morality, tragedy, and sorrow are equally evanescent. They are all empty sensations created by the chemical reactions of the brain, in turn created by too much pizza the night before. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water. And nothing else."

Is all of this new?

Not actually. The early Greek scientists Leucippus and Democritus were probably among the first to articulate some form of determinism when they speculated that every action in the world was caused by the movement/interaction of atoms.

Moving into the 20th century, the prolific and insightful author, G. K. Chesterton, offered this stunning rebuke:
"...when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. ..Similarly you may say, if you like, that free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say "thank you" for the mustard."

Getting back to the (real) reality...
We have listened to the words of three of the most respected naturalists, each building upon the secular speculation of the other. But now, let's read the words of the most famous and most respected philosopher of all time:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but will have everlasting life."

     -- Jesus Christ (as recorded in John 3:16)

Speaking to those who were continually rejecting Him, Jesus said:

"And you will not come to Me, that you might have life." (John 5:40)

In the Old Testament, God spoke to the children of Israel through His servant Joshua:

"And if it seems evil for you to serve the LORD, then choose this day whom you will serve..."

Now, I could be wrong (and often am), but I think these three verses are pretty clear. It sounds like the Bible teaches that we have (can it be?) a free will. This is ground-breaking stuff. In John 3:16, Jesus offers salvation to whoever will believe in Him, He says that those who are rejecting Him will not come to Him, and Joshua implores the people to make a decision, to choose.

It's important how you begin...

The scriptures record that God created humanity in His image. Does this have to do with how we look? Of course not, it refers to our moral image, that we are small reflections of Him, independent beings with personality, creativity, intelligence, emotion, and a will.

In order for us to have a voluntary and loving relationship with God, He created us with a free will, otherwise we would be automatons, merely robots parroting the words: "I love you, God. I love you, God." But God gave us a choice, to accept Him, or to reject Him.

In the perfect environment of Eden, God created a single and simple test. To obey would be to choose God, to violate His command would reveal their choice to rebel in rejection of Him and His love.

We know their decision (yes, they made a decision...not their atoms, or the deterministic pre-programming of natural law) and down through history we have all done likewise. All of us have chosen to rebel against God, to sin, to disobey. We may be sinners by nature, but we are certainly sinners by choice.

The scriptures declare that one day every person will stand in judgment before God. Now, even looking at this from a purely logical and moral standpoint, if God created us without a free will, in some sort of deterministic charade, then how could He hold a person accountable for their actions? The reason there is a judgment is because we have a choice.

Chemistry and physics do not answer the question about why the rich kid steals, or the smart kid cheats, or the politician lies, or so on. There comes a point of decision, and we decide to sin.

A more important decision...

The Bible describes another decision, another choice that affects every man, woman, and child in the world. It says:

"And we know that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world."

God the Father chose to send His Son to die on the cross for our sins, so that we could be saved. Jesus, the Son, said:

"No man takes (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down..."

Jesus was a voluntary sacrifice, He gave His life for us willingly.

But now, fittingly, the final choice is ours. He has done everything necessary to save us from our sins, but we have to willingly turn to Him to accept that salvation and to enter back into a right relationship with God.

The music band MIKES CHAIR encapsulates the cry of the heart in all of us, in their song "Someone Worth Dying For"

Am I more than flesh and bone?

(in other words, not just a "physical" arrangement of atoms)

Am I really something beautiful?

I'm not just some wandering soul

That you don't see and you don't know

Yeah I wanna believe, Jesus help me believe

that I am someone worth dying for.


You are...and He did.