Quite often I come across people who reject belief in God yet maintain belief in an objective right and wrong or human free will. This is inconsistent and the greatest atheists, notably Friedrich Nietzsche in regards to morality, realised this. I think this article is a good explanation of why atheism commits one to a ludicrous world view and that faith and reason, far from being foes, complement each other.
Atheism isn’t a ludicrous worldview. Moreover, when someone attempts to confine us to Nietzschism, I tend to be bothered. Some Christians make the argument as if we’re still in the 19th and 20th centuries. I hear Christians say things like, “atheism leads to nihilism”—a statement I consider to be utter nonsense. Point of this: Christians don’t have the right to say whether or not an atheist is consistent or not. Why not confine us to Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy? Right, because atheist existentialism is too good for us; we must come to this curious realization that life is meaningless without god and not just any god, but your god and always your god. I refuse to allow people like you to question my right to have meaning in my life through family, friends, sunrises, sunsets, romantic evenings, etc. With that said, let us address this article.
Three Conditional Arguments for the Supernatural
by Nicholas E. Wentworth
There exist arguments that would show that some of our beliefs about how the world and human beings work seem to necessitate a deity or at the very least a supernatural being like a deity. I call these conditional arguments since their veracity is conditional on the existence of something else assumed. These arguments are the argument from free will, the argument from desire, and the argument from morality. Of course, from these arguments I cannot compel one who thinks the natural universe is the only one to believe in the supernatural. I can only ask one who disbelieves to think upon these arguments, be honest with themselves, and if they consider the answer of belief in the supernatural to be more rational than its antithesis in the face of the universe as these arguments present it, to at least reconsider the reasons for which they stand on the side of materialism in this dichotomatic divide.
Likewise, I ask believers to be honest with themselves and consider my rebuttals. It’s not the first time that I’ve broken the backs of these arguments.
THE ARGUMENT FROM FREE WILL
Human beings, like other living things, are made up of cells. Cells of course, are made up of atoms. Atoms are made up of subatomic particles, and even those have their constituent parts. This may seem like a basic categorization, but in fact it is the dramatic background against which the question of the existence of free will is framed. For these microscopic subatomic particles that are the building blocks of our bodies, move independent of our wishes, as do the atoms they make up. No matter how much I try, I cannot exert direct control over the atoms that make up my arm; I can only move them by directing my entire arm to move. But, it becomes difficult to believe I can even do that. After all, my arm moves because of my muscles which are directed by my nerves, which carry an electric impulse from my brain, which is also made up of cells, made up of atoms, made up of subatomic particles all of which move without my direction. This seems to suggest that the basic building blocks of the brain, the organ that directs the body, are independent of our control, which by extension would suggest that the whole brain, and thus the body, operates without any control from what one would call a ‘mind.’ This seems to suggest that rather than being the mind’s anchor in the physical world, the brain is more like a vast supercomputer that takes in input information from our environment and our experiences and creates a response based on genetics and experience. With enough information about the human person, we would be able then to perfectly predict actions of any individual person. The materialist essentially is a slave to his constituent parts.
This section speaks more of dualism than it does of free will. The brain is the anchor in the physical world and that is made evident by brain damage and impairment. Phineas Cage is usually the best example of this argument. Cage was a 19th century railroad worker who survived a large iron rod that destroyed his left frontal lobe. Long story short: his personality changed due to the absence of his left frontal lobe. Then there’s this interesting case outlined in a 2002 article at New Scientist. A cancerous brain tumor led one man to exhibit abnormal sexual tendencies—even pedophilia. Then there’s the murderer’s brain. A cyst growth in the right hemisphere of the brain almost led a child to murder another child! Then there’s the brain structure of psychopaths—one that exhibits structural abnormalities. Then there’s the brain structure of pathological liars. Clearly, the mind isn’t separate from the brain and is therefore, not separate from the body. Think of what the dualist is actually saying: they’re saying that autism, down syndrome, MR, genetic disorder, neurodegeneration and the like are all the result of damaged minds that existed prior to the body or are the result of damaged minds due to the rearrangement of matter—even before birth! Couple that with the fact that some dualists believe in a benevolent god and there’s a clear conundrum!
Then there’s the argument from biological development, which was stated most eloquently, albeit unintentionally, by Jean-Paul Sartre: “essence precedes existence.” If we were immaterial beings in material bodies, that wouldn’t be the case. Why do personalities develop only after expression and language develops? I’m being careful in asking that question because individuals who have autism, for example, demonstrate distinctive personality traits. They may struggle with language, but most do not struggle with expression. Both of these arguments cripple dualism.
Also, I think the writer ignored the implications of what he wrote; if true, sentient animals would also qualify as having a soul or a mind. They would also be free of their deterministic brains.
It seems that to believe in free will, we must believe in some kind of supernatural outside the explanation of science, which allows us to act freely. For the second science can explain why something acts the way it does, it too is constricted by the forces that govern the natural universe. Now, the materialist could say that free will does not exist, and therefore, a God or other supernatural entity would not be necessary. But this creates a problem. How can one disbelieve in free will with any degree of certainty, when they believe that their conclusion is not a result of a rational agent freely selecting the best option of a choice but rather a result of the chaining determinism that must exist in a universe without free will? For reason is a tool of discovery that can only be operated who can reason freely. In a world where such freedom does not exist, rational agents would also not exist. Considering the fact that human beings have been able to build pyramids and rockets and other architectural and scientific marvels that at the very least appear to attest to the ability of human beings to reason, I find it more inherently rational, or at least more intellectually interesting, to believe in free will, and thus, the supernatural, than to disbelieve.
Free will is illusory. Our seeming ability to make a choice and to reason are decided by causal events. Who in his/her right mind would say: “I posted this article and nothing led me to”? Of course, one would be lying through one’s teeth. You have posted this article because you’re a Christian and you’re a Christian because your parents are Christian or because you accepted Christ—which is, in turn, a consequence of the country you live in. You may think that you have decided x or y, but the horrifying fact is that you have decided nothing. You didn’t choose what parents you would be born to; you didn’t choose what country you would live in and what region of said country you would reside in. Even if you think you chose your high school or your college, you didn’t. Were there not any causal events prior to the decision made? The answer is always yes. That applies to all of our decisions. We don’t question will; we question whether it is free and we come to find that it isn’t. Our wills our subject to the determinism that is a consequence of causality. If that isn’t enough, may I remind you: free will would be impossible if your god existed (Psalm 139:16). I have heard arguments that state that his omniscience and free will are compatible, but the arguments are illogical; they require the believer to redefine omniscience. If one is omniscient, one knows all; nothing is secret and therefore, my next thought, word, action or inaction would be of no surprise to such a being. Yet he behaves like a being that isn’t omniscient. Why would he be angry at an action I commit if he knew that I would commit this action even before I existed? Free will is inconsistent with omniscience; however, omniscience is inconsistent with your god. Free will may be a necessary illusion, but it isn’t a necessary reality.
THE ARGUMENT FROM HUMAN DESIRE
For every innate human desire, there is an object of that desire to sate it. Hunger is fed by food, thirst is sated by drink, cold can be remedied by clothing, and isolation is defeated by love. There never has been a record of a person or culture with a desire for something that does not exist. When we find ourselves in a situation where one’s needs are not met, we might say they suffer from a poverty of sorts, that they are lacking something. Human needs unmet become an injustice, something wrong with the order of things. For example, we recognize as an injustice the unmet need for food of millions of people throughout the world. Therefore, if there were something we felt we needed to be satisfied, yet did not exist, we would certainly consider it strange to say the least.
But, try as we might, we can never feel completely satisfied. For even when we have had all our material needs met, we still have a longing that we cannot satisfy. Of course, this cannot be proven, but merely relies on the history of mankind, which from its arts, philosophies, and religions, testifies to this need that is never satisfied. This leads us to two possible conclusions: either that there is one desire that we can never fulfill, but this would suggest that the world, the only world, is intrinsically unjust. But, then why would we think it would be unjust? After all, as CS Lewis once said, we cannot know that a line is crooked if we have no concept of a straight line. This therefore appears unlikely, but there is another option. A desire that cannot be filled by our finite world must be an infinite desire, and therefore, must be aimed at an infinite object. After all, if our needs are left unsatisfied by the natural world, it must be because we are meant for a supernatural one. Thus, the supernatural appears to be more likely to exist than to not.
Oh but we do desire the nonexistent. Let us take the attention off of god(s) for a moment. Human beings desire superhuman strength and abilities. Do some of us desire telekinetic powers because telekinesis actually exists? Do some of us desire the power to control gravity because such a power exists? Perhaps that’s too impractical. Do some of us desire immortality because it is possible? No. Some of us desire it because we’re mortal; the thought of death frightens most of us. Some of us desire invincibility in terms of immunity; in other words, we desire the ability to not catch even the common cold or flu. Do we desire it because such immunity exists? No. Some of our desires are the byproduct of our limitations and god(s) fall into that category. They control the weather and thus, control harvest. They defy disease, time and even death. They purportedly do what we’re incapable of. They do not exist because some people desire them, which brings me to my next point.
What about someone like me? I don’t desire a god at all! I am quite fulfilled with the life I lead and I would conclude that I need nothing that isn’t readily available in the material world.
What about them that have this longing? Does it follow that your god is the only god capable of satisfying said desire? No. Allah, Vishnu, Krishna, Waheguru, Ahura Mazda, etc. are capable or were capable of satisfying that desire. If that were not the case, other religions would not exist. Indeed they do. Here is when some bigot says that they are false revelations or some such nonsense. It is incumbent on that person to prove that Christianity is true. Sorry to end the game early, but that can’t be done here.
Lastly, what to do with desires that go unanswered? We get hungry because we need to eat; the desire to eat is something I consider a problem, but that’s another discussion. We thirst because we need to drink. However, some people hunger and thirst and their need isn’t met; note that C.S. Lewis conflated need with desire. Gods represent our longing for transcendence—our longing to exceed the limitations of our condition. I may be too optimistic, but I think we will someday become the gods we imagine and not in the sense that we will adopt the personality of a Yahweh, for example, but in the sense that we will exceed our limitations. Developed nations have no need for a crop god; we have already become the crop gods via an application of science and technology to agriculture. Slowly but surely we’re becoming the weather and disaster gods. Within the next 100 years or so, we will be able to control the course of a hurricane—even its very development; we will be able to control earthquakes. Some would say we already do, but I’m not one to give in to conspiracy theories. We have discussed the extension of our lifespan; we discuss the possibility that aging is a disease. I reckon that someday we will have the key to immortality—given the time of course. Gods are no longer necessary when explaining the natural world; soon they will be unnecessary altogether. We truly do not have many limitations; therefore, upon exceeding them, the desire for a god will be exceeded as well.
THE ARGUMENT FROM MORALITY
It seems that that which separates man from the lower animals is the former’s obsession with morality. Animals have been known to use tools, to have relationships, and may even have underdeveloped forms of language, but no animal has ever suffered an ethical dilemma. Many of the perennial questions philosophers consider deal with morality and ethics. “What is justice?” What is right?” Now, there is something I would argue universal among human beings for a desire for an objective law that transcends human law. For if no transcendent law exists, then any system of morality any man ascribes to is simply a collection of preferences, all of which are objectively and deontologically equal. Under this system, all moral claims are equal, and one man can say, “Murder is bad” with as much validity as another who says, “Murder is good.” But while this can be logically accepted, it does seem to be contrary to humanity’s nature; after all, I find it very hard to believe that the only thing wrong with murder is that I do not like it.
But belief in a transcendental law implies belief in a transcendental lawgiver for it is clear that we can find the source of all laws in lawgiving authorities and that a moral law can only be found in the source of morality, which if that morality is to be objectively binding on all human beings, must come from a source which is not affected by temporal or spatial limitations. If the lawgiver is limited in these senses, his authority can be challenged, and therefore, his law is not universal and objective. Therefore, only a metaphysical and therefore supernatural moral agent has the authority and ability to create objective moral law. Thus, it seems that if one wishes to maintain a belief in the existence of objective moral law, one must accept the existence of a supernatural moral agent.
Well, after this, you will want to conclude that there are no objective morals. If you want to say that objective law requires an objective moral lawgiver, you must be willing to concede that the lawgiver isn’t your god. Why? Because morality precedes Judaism by centuries (see here). You would have to believe that the ten commandments were the first codifications of a moral code. However, they were not. Therefore, it is more logical to conclude that a god of a people that predated the early Israelites is the objective moral lawgiver. I reckon that you dislike that conclusion as much as I do, but for a different reason: if not your god then no god; right?
Well, let us not forget that we did evolve. Morality was nonexistent prior to h.sapien (arguably!; it may be that h.neanderthalensis conceptualized morality as well). Therefore, objective morals (if they exist) and morality altogether arose in normal human brains:
P1 The qualities that make us normal human beings begin to exist in the brain.
P2 Morality is a quality that makes us normal human beings.
C Therefore, morality begins to exist in the brain.
One who believes in morality will consider this argument sound. A nihilist will quibble about morality and ask whether it exists. A believer will ask “what is normal?”—which is an ignoracio elenchi. The argument isn’t being addressed when asking that question; that question is dabbing in semantics. In any case, most people know the answer to that question. Most of us differentiate between normal and abnormal and we do so intuitively. A child can tell that there’s a difference between him/herself and the special needs child in the next classroom; they can’t explain that difference, but they can conclude (and sadly I might add) that “he/she is different from everyone else.” That isn’t to criticize special needs children; it is simply the sad truth of our interactions. When something is off, we know in most cases.
Given these arguments, I would say there is a strong case for belief in God. For millennia, the human race has asked questions related to free will, desire, and morality, questions which I hope this short paper demonstrates can only be answered satisfactorily with a worldview which allows for the existence of the supernatural, and quite possibly a deity or God. Due to the conditional nature of these arguments, they cannot command or compel a belief in that God, but may persuade inquisitive individuals who hold to a materialist perspective to investigate the assumptions behind that position, and perhaps from this exploration of their beliefs, persuade them to accept a belief in the supernatural or God Himself.
The article failed to compel me. There isn’t a strong case for god and definitely not the god you believe in. Metaphysical naturalism is most consistent with the natural world; I haven’t the need to invoke the supernatural. I would hope that my rebuttals will lead you and others to reconsider
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