How I Chose To Argue For Free Will

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Hello TAC, it is good to be posting again after a prolonged illness that left me unable to do anything but make half-conscious Facebook updates. I have been following the news, and for the sake of our collective sanity, I am going to refrain from extended commentary on foreign affairs. Instead I wanted to share with you an interesting discussion I had recently with some rather confident, cocky atheists on the question of free will.

It had begun as a debate on the so-called “problem of evil.” They think we have a problem with evil; maybe some Christians do, but I don’t. But I do think atheists – by which I mean Western, science-worshiping, philosophical materialists – have a problem with evil. Namely, how do materialists who reject free will (either explicitly or implicitly, depending on how well they’ve thought it out) even speak of such a thing as “evil”? Assuming we are speaking of human acts, and not things like bad weather, to describe an act as “evil” or malicious or malevolent or something similar assumes and implies that it was freely chosen. No one speaks of a lion’s decision to tear apart a zebra for sustenance as an “evil” act. What mindless animals do has no moral significance whatsoever. What people do has significance solely on the assumption that we can choose otherwise. In other words, free will. Without the assumption of free will, morality utterly collapses into a meaningless rubbish heap.

But free will is inexplicable to the Western atheist by and large. It does not neatly fit into a materialist/deterministic model of the universe. So when the discussion turns to the necessity of free will to give moral words and phrases meaning, rather than admit that words such as “evil” are pure rubbish from their point of view, they will spend their time arguing against free will as such. This where I decided to have some fun. You can try it too if you want. Some people might not approve, but see if I care. I’ll let your imagination do the work in the scenario below:

Atheist: there’s no such thing as free will. Everything you do is already predetermined.

Me: Well, ok then, (expletive).

Atheist: what is your problem? Resorting to insults now?

Me: I had no control over that, (expletive)

Atheist: stop it!

Me: I can’t “stop” anything. I don’t make choices, (expletive).

Atheist: ok, you’re banned form the group.

Me: Ok, as long as you remember that you are only upset with me because you, in contradiction to everything you’ve stated about free will and determinism, believe I could have chosen not to call you those names. (Expletive!)

Now some might say it was wrong for me to behave the way I did, since I believe I have free will. But I’ve just about had it with people whose assumptions about life, reality, and humanity are completely at odds with the way they behave. Sometimes people need to be briskly shaken back into coherence. I don’t know if my barrage of insults ended up having an impact or not, but it is really insanely stupid to live, breathe, and emote as if free will defines almost every human act, and then cling obstinately to a worldview that denies the very reality one experiences. This is not brilliance or sophistication. It is a pitiful madness.

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  1. It is worth pointing out that determinism is an “empty” concept. It is incapable of distinguishing any conceivable sequence of events from any other and so adds nothing to a description of them. Put another way, what test can be used to distinguish an irresistible impulse from one that is merely unresisted?

    An hypothesis that cannot possibly be falsified is “not even wrong,” but meaningless.

  2. I am sorry you were Il, Bonchamps. I pray that you are now restored to full good health. As for the tactic that you employed against your atheist detractor as described in your post, I say bravo.

  3. Thank you for the post Bonchamps.
    Freewill is the medium used to love God, or distance oneself from Him. He Loves perfectly.
    We have a distorted love, however time and the practice of virtue, allows us to partake in refining our imperfect love. Thank God for freewill.

  4. In my experience, materialists are not living lives totally disconnected from their beliefs. They are like those who claim they hold Christian beliefs yet hold back some area of their lives, such as a fond sin, an unforgivable hurt, or a small piece of autonomy.
    What materialists usually hang onto are generally profound things. They hang on to a deep desire for meaning in life, to a sense of good and evil, and to an acknowledgement that they are moral agents; that they have free will.
    I appreciate the frustration of dealing with people who are not totally conscious of their real worldview, whether they claim to be Christian or materialist. In the materialist camp, only the nihilists have completely thought thru their worldviews. I don’t know if Dawkins puts himself in that camp, but I put him there. He has written that asking what the meaning of life is, is itself a meaningless question.
    In dealing with these people I urge acting in love and praying for the quidance of the Holy Spirit. Finding that non-materialist nugget they are holding on to may be the key to their salvation, just as that last piece of our lives we’ve withheld from Christ is the key to our damnation.

  5. I read somewhere that Fulton Sheen (I think) had the argument that atheists obviously do believe in God because they spend too much time worrying & thinking about Him. If I don’t believe in zombies & don’t think they exist, I can get on with my days quite nicely without having to shout from the rooftops or put up billboards or force others to not celebrate them. I can easily just say, “I don’t believe in zombies,” and live & let live. There’s no bullying involved in my hoping that everyone else would give up the idea that zombies do exist. I don’t need to start the Humans Against Zombies Club & hope that everyone will see my way. I don’t need to hurl insults at those who believe in zombies.

  6. MaryAnne…nice point of view. Thanks. I know I’ll use this next week…if you don’t mind. Non-believer acquaintance…Phil.

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