A recent article in Psychology Today by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman begins with one of the most stupid questions I have ever seen someone ask. He clarifies that the question itself is ironic, but it reveals the flaws in materialist thinking.
What would you do differently if you found out there was no such thing as free will?
Obviously the question rather answers itself. If one didn’t have free will one wouldn’t do anything differently because…one…wouldn’t…have… free will.
Though the question is silly Lieberman rightly points out that a materialistic viewpoint certainly requires one to dispense with notions of free will:
It is impossible to take a materialistic view of the universe (i.e. the view that there is nothing but physical material in the world, atoms bouncing off one another in perfectly predictable patterns) and not come to the conclusion that free will is an illusion because your will must ultimately be caused by events in your physical brain which were caused by previous events in your brain, body, environment and so on. It makes no sense to talk about a will that is disconnected from causal chains of biological events.
Of course even this description is problematic – if we have no free will, then how does one come to contemplate the nature of the thought to begin with? If our brains are merely acting on purely physical processes subject to the laws of physics, then how do they come to contemplate the very laws which constrain them? How does one contemplate consciousness? Even the very discussion implies an outside observer gazing at inward processes.
To his credit, Matthew Lieberman acknowledges the materialist view of the mind is a “leap of faith” rather than a scientific precept, which would simply verify something I have regularly claimed, which is that atheist beliefs are as faith-based as any religious tenet.
There is an essential difference however. If we have no free will as the materialist contends then we can place no confidence in our ability to base our actions on reason and rationality, the very intellectual territory atheists claim to have taken. We could only develop beliefs based on reason and rationality if we have the capacity to direct our thoughts in accordance with evidence and logic. This understanding comports with Christian thought, which holds we have not only been given a brain, but a soul as well – the seat of the mind, the will and emotions which operate apart from physical processes.
Both beliefs may require faith, but only one faith allows us to confidently discern the truth.