As the title above asks the question, is humanity determined or do we have free will? The question might seem rather silly, and you may think you know the answer very quickly. But, it is a very important question to answer, because Determinism is a natural outflow of Darwinian evolution. We will look at the definitions and then discuss whether naturalists are actually living by what they believe. By naturalist, I mean someone who holds a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. In naturalism there are no God or gods, no miracles, hidden forces that drive the universe, no souls or spirits, no inspired scripture or prophecies. Just physical stuff that operates according to physical laws.
Determinism – The teaching that every event in the universe is caused and controlled by natural law. Everything we say, do, and think has been predetermined by evolution and encoded into our DNA.
Free Will – The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion
Are we Really Free? Think about it, can we choose to hold the door open for someone, can we choose to love someone, can we make decisions based on intellect, reason, and emotion? I have found that in my discussions with naturalists that they want to claim that everything is determined, but only to a certain extent. They claim that they can rise up above their predetermined selves and become free. This is not how determinism works though, it’s either all or nothing with determinism. Let me illustrate my statement with an example used by Greg Koukl of why it is either all or nothing.
It’s like a series of dominoes falling. When any particular thing happens in the physical universe we ask ourselves what was the domino before it that caused it? And what was the domino before that? You can chart that. This just points out that all physical systems are deterministic. Every single action is determined, brought by a prior physical action. Science is the discipline that is meant to discover those prior physical conditions so that if we recreate the prior physical conditions, if we set up the dominoes in the exact same way, they are going to fall in exactly the same way every single time.
Picture in your mind two lines of dominoes that are falling. And at the end of the line of dominoes is not another domino, but there is actually a human being, a person standing there right next to a cliff. What happens when the last domino falls and lands on our poor unsuspecting person at the end of the line of dominoes? Well, low and behold, just as every domino has fallen up until then, the last domino strikes the human being and he falls too, right over the cliff. Now, here is my question. Given that scenario, did that person jump off the cliff? The answer is no, of course not. He was pushed. What was he pushed by? A falling domino, a big one, adequate to shove him over the cliff.
Now, what if the person who fell over the cliff actually thought he jumped on his own. perhaps because he didn’t see the dominoes. Would he have done just as he thought? The answer is, of course no. The guy thought he jumped over the precipice but it was really a domino that pushed him.
On the physicalist view of the universe, everything is dominoes, whether you see them or not. Whether they are outside or inside, everything is dominoes. Sometimes we think we are jumping, but the fact is we are not. Instead, he fell because of prior physical conditions that were sufficient to cause the effect of us jumping one way or another. We are always pushed if there are only physical causes in the universe.
Determinism makes everything in life neither true or false, but just as the way things are determined to be. The next time you get into a conversation with a person who believes in determinism, just simple remind them that according to their view, they are no more right in their belief of determinism as you are in your belief in free will and they are just wasting your time because after all, things are just as they were determined to think, say, and do.
Think about how we operate in life. We do not live our lives by the rules of determinism, even the naturalists. We have an internal barometer that helps us discern right from wrong and we make decisions based on that. Our court system, like all others, is based on the premise that we are accountable for our actions. Have you ever known anyone to be pronounced innocent based on the plea of determinism. “Your honor and jury, I am innocent because it was my DNA that made me do it…” Anyone who believes in determinism but doesn’t live their life like they belief is just being intellectually dishonest.
As always, questions, comments, and discussions welcome.