A Clash of Worlds (3)

The “Laws of Nature”

According to Gary, our atheist friend, the uniformity of nature is the answer to everything. How then does evolutionary naturalism, the kind that asserts things like, “I don’t believe in anything beyond the natural order of the universe” explain the world and our existence in it on that basis?  To begin answering that question we could do worse than examining the statement above.

For the average naturalist/materialist the “natural order of the universe” means that “Nature” is all there is. Only what can be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry is real. All reality is made up of matter in motion. There is no ‘spiritual’ realm. Here, for example, are some thoughts along the same line by some leading philosophical naturalists:

“Nothing in the mind exists except as neural activity” – Richard Dawkins, Sunday Telegraph, 1 July 1997.

“Our universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” – Edward Tryon in Science Digest, June 1984, p.101.

According to Dawkins there is no soul, no mind, just the brain and its impulses.   So what is it that determines our thinking and our beliefs? What then is free-will but a euphemism for predetermined chemical reactions in each person’s brain?  While it is true that elsewhere Dawkins has responded that he has evolved beyond the constraints of his synaptic electro-chemistry, we have to wonder whether it is really just his “neural activity” which is playing games with him.

Then comes the question of truth.  What is “Truth” (especially the much vaunted ‘scientific truth’) if it is simply reducible to brain chemistry? Indeed, if Gary (or Dawkins) really operated according this belief he would not bother to argue for naturalism, since 1) It would not be anything other than a concept within their own brains and would bear no necessary correspondence to anything or anyone beyond their brains, and 2) they could not help thinking the way they think, and neither could the Christian-theist (or the Nazi, the sadist, the terrorist, etc.). Thus, by engaging in debate these men are contradicting their hardwired beliefs and hence falsifying their belief in naturalism. Gary must tell us how statements of his like, “I believe man determines his own life” gels with materialism. “That’s just the way it is” will not do. And then there are his statements on “cognitive evolution”:

“what is true and what is false, logical and illogical, reasoning, etc. has been a cognitive capacity of humans…for a very long time. It’s (sic) origin is evolutionary biology.”

“theism does not have exclusive rights to science, logic, reasoning, etc. Again, this is a natural by-product of man’s cognitive evolution.”

“I believe man has free will and the power to change the future”

Here we have statements about the existence of right and wrong, reason and science, and freewill, all included within both biological and cognitive evolution.  Included is a statement about the origin of these concepts – again evolution is to be thanked for it all.

By man’s “power to change the future” presumably Gary has “in mind” something other than naturalistic determinism; the relentless impersonal mechanism of matter and energy that is the sole producer of what is?  It is hard to conceive of any power which can escape the blind juggernaut of physics and impose itself “freely” on the inexorable processes of matter.  To believe all these things and yet have the ability to explain his beliefs Gary will have take issue with Dawkins (one of the world’s foremost evolutionists) and believe that the mind is not reducible to “neural activity.” Because if Dawkins is right, the freedom of thought Gary cherishes and the “power to change the future” he envisages are illusions created by his neural activity and there is no more that he can say.

In keeping with this dreary portrayal of free-thinking we must proceed to say that in fact every thought; every belief of any kind – that I have freewill; that atheism is rational; that Christianity is true; or that I am Napoleon and have the ability to fly, whatever one believes is merely the outcome of my brain chemistry, controlled as it is by the mindless laws of nature.  So protestations that “God made me do it”; “the devil made me do it”; “the environment made me do it”, or whatever, all translate (in the atheist worldview) to “the laws of nature made me do it.”

What then is the will that has the power to alter the future?  Is it somehow distinct from the brain? Is it immaterial? Can Gary or Dawkins or Pinker or Dennett or Sinnott-Armstrong explain how it transcends the laws of nature?  The same question might be asked about objective morals and laws of logic.  If all that exists is matter and motion how come we recognize their absoluteness and objectivity (even though occasionally saying we don’t), and how are these to be explained?  By the “laws” of nature?  It is inadvisable to hold ones breath at this point.

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