On Naturalism, Are We Free and Morally Responsible for Our Actions?
Most naturalists insist that there is no room for purpose or teleology in the universe. They hold that the origin and evolution of the universe was governed by blind processes, not by the conception of a goal or end. By contrast, theists see the contingent cosmos as explicable in terms of a conscious, purposive, and necessary divine reality. We shall argue that the very existence and nature of free will, purposive explanations, conscious minds, and the contingency of the cosmos are more reasonable given theism than given naturalism.
Naturalism, Free Choices, and Conscious Experiences (Great Debate) (2007) by Andrew Melnyk
Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz offer two main objections to a certain kind of naturalism. First, naturalism concedes the legitimacy of purposeful explanation but conceives of it as a special kind of causal explanation, namely one that cites the wants (or purposes) and beliefs of an agent. But Taliaferro and Goetz object that some explanations–such as the explanations of free choices–are irreducibly purposeful. I argue that our everyday choices provide little if any evidence for fundamentally purposeful (noncausal) explanations. Second, Taliaferro and Goetz argue that the existence of a universe containing nonphysical conscious states requires a fundamentally purposeful explanation. But I argue that this does not follow even if one grants the questionable assumption that conscious states are physically irreducible.
Unlike naturalists, theists can provide a good explanation of the emergence of consciousness because their worldview offers an explanatory framework in which the goodness of conscious life and libertarian free will provides the fundamental reason why conscious, free subjects exist. Contrary to Andrew Melnyk, human choices can only be explained in terms of purposes or reasons for acting, and they do not have causes. In addition, conscious states are intrinsically nonphysical and not made up of parts, while physical explanations of the intrinsic natures of things are typically couched in terms of part-whole compositional relationships.
In this chapter, I describe evidence for the view that the human mind is a physical entity, in much the same way in which the human digestive system or the human immune system are physical entities. The first section characterizes this view more fully. The second section explains the evidential relevance of physicalism about the mind to theism. The third section sketches two kinds of evidence that support physicalism about the human mind, while the final section considers an antiphysicalist response to the reasoning of the previous section.
According to physicalism, what we ordinarily take to be a causally undetermined mental action is both caused and determined. But if physicalism is true, important elements of the first-person point of view are mistaken: Andrew Melnyk’s choice to write his paper is not ultimately and irreducibly explained by a purpose, but by the nonpurposive causes of events in his brain. Physicalism implies that at bottom there are not purposive and causal explanations, but simply causal ones, and that there are not free and determined events, but only determined ones. Given these implications, why think that physicalism is true?
In “A Case for Physicalism about the Human Mind,” I tried to assemble positive evidence that physicalism about human mentality is true, while insisting that no aspect of human behavior makes it necessary to adopt any kind of dualism about human mentality. In their reply, Charles Taliaferro and Stuart Goetz fail to engage my positive case for physicalism, and offer no examples of human behavior that can only be explained by some kind of dualism. Instead, they primarily object that my paper overlooks features of human mentality purportedly incompatible with physicalism and accessible only from “the first-person point of view,” such as free choice and reasons for acting. My response focuses on this objection alone.
A Ghost in the Machine (2003) (Off Site) by Adam Marczyk
In this five-part essay, Marczyk considers the scientific evidence against the existence of a soul which harbors one’s consciousness and survives the death of the body. In particular, parts 1 and 2 present numerous examples of strong neuroscientific evidence for what the author calls “mind-brain unity,” focusing on the evidence that one’s sense of self, personality, and behavioral dispositions depend for their very existence on certain states of the brain, and thus cannot possibly survive the destruction of the brain at death. Part 5 includes a discussion of the free will/determinism issue.
The Metaphysical Freedom (2000) by Claudio Lujan
Theoretical physics and philosophy join forces in this masterly crafted essay on determinism and metaphysical freedom. The author, along with many great minds throughout the centuries, is fascinated by the problem of free will, for it encourages us to ask ourselves if we are the masters of our own destiny. As science continues on the path of discovery we may be approaching our answer.
The problems with J.P. Moreland’s defense of a ‘scientific’ theism in the book In Defense of Miracles are examined. This brings up relevant issues of how science is done, and involves a defense of compatibilism against Christian notions of ‘libertarian free will.’
Augustine reviews the book Whatever Happened to the Soul? edited by Warren Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, which attempts to reconcile Christian doctrine with the scientific evidence against the existence of a soul. In the process, Augustine considers Malcolm Jeeves’ discussion of the free will/determinism issue in one of his contributions to the book.
A page-by-page critique of J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas’s Immortality (recently reissued with a few additional chapters as Beyond Death) which was sent to the authors, and a reply to their responses. Includes a section on “Free Will, Morality, Responsibility, and Punishment.”
When Cupid’s arrow strikes, is it mere molecules in motion or have we finally found our soul mate? Carrier explores nature’s greatest mystery–amore!–as well as the notion of physical beauty, impulse, biology, and Hollywood’s obsession with sex. A discussion of the meaning of free will and the extent to which our behavior is determined is included.
While tradition holds that the soul is an immaterial essence which can survive bodily death and choose independently of physical causes, science reveals that we are wholly physical beings. Jettisoning a “philosophically diseased” dualism inherited from Descartes, The Problem of the Soul notes that our neuroscientific understanding of cognition leaves little room for an immaterial self inhabiting the body, and that philosophical reflection demonstrates that contra-causal free will is conceptually incoherent. By naturalizing the soul, Flanagan argues, we secure what matters to us most–our individuality, rationality, genuine freedom, and moral responsibility–on a much surer footing.
Oppy reviews Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God, which claims that modern scientific discoveries converge with Old Testament wisdom on issues such as the Big Bang; the appearance of life after the appearance of water; the existence of archaeopteryx, dinosaurs, and prehuman hominids; quantum indeterminancy; the age of the universe and the origin of life. Oppy questions whether the Old Testament accounts really converge with modern scientific discoveries on any of these issues. Oppy’s review includes an important discussion of what, if any, implications quantum mechanics has for the free will/determinism issue.
Graham Oppy explains the ways in which his reasons for rejecting Christianity differ from those offered by Bertrand Russell in his famous paper of the same title. In section I, Oppy considers how Christianity should be characterized, the best way to build a case against theism, and the nonrational reasons why people believe in God, among other things. In section II, he offers an account of his journey to unbelief and the philosophy of religion. By section III, Oppy explains why he is not a Christian, as well as some of the things that he does believe. Here he pines in on appeals to contingency and causality in theistic arguments, the problem of evil, free will, the mind-body problem, the history of the universe, human history, and the historicity of the Gospels–outlining his “supervenient naturalism” along the way. Oppy wraps up by considering the meaning of life and whether virtuous behavior relates to Christian belief.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.