Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Christian Denial of Free Will

Christianity preaches that the mind is disconnected from the brain. This has several consequences, including the denial of scientific study and the eradiction of moral obligation, as I discussed in "Unspoken assumptions in denying free will".

But there is yet another consequence. If the mind is not natural, then it is not subject to natural law. And if it is not subject to natural law, then it is vulnerable to divine intervention, and the modus operandi problem does not apply. While the idea of divine or demonic possession is completely absurd if the mind is natural, it is perfectly within the imaginary "supernatural" realm.

Now, I'm not saying that Christianity is necessarily incompatible with free will. But they are certainly not harmonious. There are at least two examples of possession in the Bible causing people to act in certain ways, the Pharaoh and Judas :

Exodus 10:20
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

Exodus 9:12
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

John 13:2
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.

John 13:26-27
Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him...

In both cases, the beneficiaries of the divine or satanic possessions were aware of said possession, Moses knowing because God told them, and Jesus knowing because, after all, he's Jesus.

One may argue that the Pharaoh and Judas would have done the same without possession, but that is besides the point : the fact remains that their free will was impeded. How therefore could a Christian be assured that his will remains unimpeded ? How can a Christian, believing in these events, be assured that his will is not controlled right now, at this very moment, and that everything he says is not satanic gibberish, or divine confusion ?

And that's where we get to the nihilistic crux of theism once again. When they try to pin nihilism on the materialist, they claim that "atoms banging around" cannot make free will. But as I explained in "Unspoken assumptions in denying free will", this is a false analogy, just like the homeopathic principle "like cures like". Just because two things look superficially similar, does not mean they are part of the same principle.

We imagine free will to be unconstrained, and the mind is constrained by natural law, but this does not mean that free will and natural law are contradictory. The only way to establish the relationship is by finding where in the brain free will is implemented.

Likewise, the fact that onion causes a stinging nose and eyes, and that hay fever can cause a stinging nose and eyes, does not mean that allium cepa can cure hay fever. The only way to establish the relationship is by finding what onions are made of and how these components affect hay fever. Until them, all you can say is "free will does not look like natural law" and "allium cepa's effects are like hay fever", nothing more.

This being said, the Christian has no similar escape from the problem, because here we are not making an analogy but stating what is supposed to be a fact from the Bible. For one thing, are these verses factual ? And if not, can God not still influence minds, insofar as they are not natural ? The answer to one of these two questions, if one is a Christian, must be yes, without doubt.

So how confident should a Christian be in his own statements ? Not very confident at all. The atheist can always argue that the Christian could be supernaturally manipulated, if his religion is indeed correct on either point. How could the Christian possibly defend himself from such an accusation ? To do so would require his own mind to be clear and functional, which would be a circular assertion. Perhaps the Christian is being misled into thinking his mind is clear, when he may in fact, as seen by other people, be speaking total gibberish.

This is an intractable problem that only highlights the vulnerability of Christian belief to the nihilistic strategy. I've discussed this strategy before as an excellent way to demonstrate the falsity of a Christian epistemic standard. It consists basically of three questions :

* How do you know your method is true, and not imposed on your will by God, Satan, angels, devils, etc ?
* How do you know your method is true, if the universe is contingent to God's will and you have no objective standard of truth ?
* How do you know your method is true, without appealing to my rational justifications (such as sense perception or conceptualization), and thus conceding atheism ?

All three of these questions are fatal to any Christian epistemology, but some are more useful at different moments. The problem with possession is of the first kind, but it is far more extensive than simply refuting one Christian method (such as divine revelation). For without free will, the Christian has nothing, no way to choose Christianity or not, no means to verify the truths of his own mind. Whatever justification he tries to construct, we can equally posit that God or Satan implanted that construct in his mind for an unknown purpose. In this way, any single Christian epistemic principle can be defeated.

Post a Comment


At 3/14/2006 8:06 PM, Blogger Dale Callahan declaimed...

Who says the Christian denies free will? I don't. Not if its Biblically explained. If it is explained with humanistic foundations then it is foolish.

If my mind is synonomous with my brain, and my brain is "just a part of nature" then why try to do science? Why try to win people with your arguments.

In the end my thinking is bound by the laws of nature. You think the way you do because your mind is programmed that way, and my mind thinks the way it does because "its just that way". Just like one seed leads to a rose and the other to a oak tree.

Do I believe in this view? No. But it is where lame naturalistic thinking leads...if the atheist wasn't already presupposing the world as God made God says he does [Romans 1:18-22]

At 3/14/2006 8:07 PM, Blogger Dale Callahan declaimed...

You actually end up denying free will yourself...the very thing you were jolting some Christians for.

At 3/14/2006 9:54 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Please do go ahead and quote from my entry the place where I deny free will.

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