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Determinism and Morals

Determinism and Morals

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Published by Papa Giorgio
This paper speaks to the idea that if God does not exist, nature is all there is to describe what we experience during a lifetime. Determinism is the crux of the problem. A large swath of this comes from JP Moreland's book, Scaling the Secular City.
This paper speaks to the idea that if God does not exist, nature is all there is to describe what we experience during a lifetime. Determinism is the crux of the problem. A large swath of this comes from JP Moreland's book, Scaling the Secular City.

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Published by: Papa Giorgio on Oct 13, 2010
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01/03/2013

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Stan the Man, it seems we are heading off track (I take full responsibility for this), especially after you read the
following, but, in fact, we are getting closer and closer to a very important concept that will lead us back (albeit
eventually) to our topic. All we have is time, so bear with me (you may have not caught this idea in my earlier
posts).
Stan, you said:
“The brain works by firing electric charges that then release chemicals that make others fire
electric charges.”
This is commonly known as reductionism, or, physicalism. I will define this concept a wee bit herein, but this
subject is quite interesting, so forgive me if this post is long.
Materialism, as a view of human beings, is just the claim that we are our bodies and nothing
more. There are no nonmaterial minds, or souls, or thoughts, or sensations. Everything that exists
in a human being is a material entity or material process involving only matter and its functions.
Eliminative Materialism says that there are just no such things as thoughts and pains and itches.
There are just brains and neural events.
Reductive Materialism allows that thoughts and sensations exist, but reduces them to, or
identifies them with, neural events, states, and processes.1
Reductionism is in one sense explaining something (a thought, act, or proclivity) by deriving it from something else
which is supposedly more elementary. The apparent attraction of materialist reductionism is that by declaring
mental activity to be no more than a particularly complex application of physical and chemical processes in the
brain, it promises in principle that scientists can understand the mind in the same way that they understand the
movements of planets in the solar system or the combinations of chemicals in a test tube. In the more logically
relentless formulations of the materialist program, mental states likein t e n t i o n andl o v e are regarded as mere
placeholders that can be eliminated from consideration when science understands the chemical mechanisms that
produce these subjective phenomena.2 The question becomes, “How much does love weigh?”
You see, even emotional responses such as love, or the feeling of loss and pain at the death of a loved one is reduced
to merely chemical reactions and neurons firing in the brain. Where this leads is easy to see, since there is nothing
outside of people by which to judge good and evil, sin is synonymous with survival of the fittest – people seeking
dominance over each other by whatever means (e.g., by force or by legislation) possible. Only our sense ofs o c i a l
order allows sin to be seen as sin at all. Rape is merely currently taboo because of our currant social order, thus,
rape is not morally wrong because of anything intrinsic to it being immoral or moral. There is no theological basis
for defining sin (i.e., evil, or good acts) or for normative ethical behavior. If people instinctively know that murder
is wrong, it is because this information was programmed into them through evolution for the sake of maintaining the
human race, not because it is right or wrong according to God, or Natural Law. This leads to determinism, which I
must thoroughly define before I refute it… again, sorry for the length of this post.
Robots and Cosmic Puppetry: The Scientific Challenge to Freedom
Since at least the time of Sir Isaac Newton, scientists and philosophers impressed by the march of
science have offered a picture of human behavior that is not promising for a belief in freedom.
All nature is viewed by them as one huge mechanism, with human beings serving as just parts of
that giant machine. On this view, we live and think in accordance with the same laws and causes
that move all other physical components of the universal mechanism.
According to these thinkers, everything that happens in nature has a cause. Suppose then that an
event occurs, which, in context, is clearly a human action of the sort that we would normally call
1 Philosophy for Dummies, Tom Morris [p. 159]
2 Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education, Phillip Johnson [30-year professor of law
at Berkley], pp. 125-126
1
free. As an occurrence in this universe, it has a cause. But then that cause, in turn, has a cause.
And that cause in turn has a cause, and so on, and so on [remember, reductionism].
“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we
have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings,
vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by
an invisible player” ~ Albert Einstein.
As a result of this scientific world view, we get the following picture:
Natural conditions outside our control…
cause
Inner bodily and brain states,
which cause
mental and physical actions
But if this is true, then you are, ultimately, just a conduit or pipeline for chains of natural
causation that reach far back into the past before your birth and continue far forward into the
future after your death. You are not an originating cause of anything [this includes brain activity
of all degrees, that is, love, pain, etc.). Nothing you ever do is due to your choices or thoughts
alone. You are a puppet of nature. You are no more than a robot programmed by an unfeeling
cosmos.
Psychologists talk about heredity and environment as responsible for everything you do. But then
if they are, you aren’t. Does it follow that you can then do as you please, irresponsibly? Not at
all. It only follows that you will do as nature and nurture please. But then, nature on this picture
turns out to be just an illusory veil over a heartless, uncaring nature. You have what nature gives
you. Nothing more, nothing less.
Where is human freedom in this picture? It doesn’t exist. It is one of our chief illusions. The
natural belief in free will is just a monstrous falsehood. But we should not feel bad about holding
on to this illusion until science corrects us. We can’t have helped it.
This reasoning is called The Challenge of Scientific Determinism. According to determinists, we
are determined in every respect to do everything that we ever do.
This again is a serious challenge to human freedom. It is the reason that the early scientist Pierre
Laplace (1749-1827) once said that if you could give a super-genius a total description of the
universe at any given point in time, that being would be able to predict with certainty everything
that would ever happen in the future relative to that moment, and retrodict with certainty anything
that had ever happened in any moment before that described state. Nature, he believed, was that
perfect machine. And we human beings were just cogs in the machine, deluded in our beliefs that
we are free.3
Remember the beginning of a previous paper I posted? It started out by saying:
Let us start this jolly good time with a most interesting thought from Stephen Hawkings (who
holds the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Einstein’s chair) at a lecture given to a university
crowd in England entitled “Determinism – Is Man a Slave or the Master of His Fate.” He
discussed whether we are the random products of chance, and hence, not free, or whether God had
designed these laws within which we are free. In other words, do we have the ability to make
choices, or do we simply follow a chemical reaction induced by millions of mutational collisions
of free atoms?
3 Philosophy for Dummies, by Tom Morris, pp. 133-134
2
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s maxim rings just as true today as it did in his day, “If there is no God, all
things are permissible.” Without an absolute ethical norm, morality is reduced to mere preference
and the world is a jungle where might makes right. This same strain of thought caused Mussolini
to comment, “Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition…. If
relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an
objective, immortal truth… then there is nothing more relativistic than fascistic attitudes and
activity…. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere
fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own
ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”
Evil, say, infanticide is reduced to determinism. (Brain function [choice, action] reduces to chemical reactions,
which are caused by a physical process, which in turn are caused by a physical [reduced] cause… etc ad infinitum.)
And when a person says, “I reject the thought of an ultimate being. So how do I determine ‘right’ from ‘wrong’? I
don't. I simply base things on choices. It is my belief that that the only moral system is a system that let's everyone
make their own choices, and live their life as they wish”,4 they do not realize what they are thus accepting as the
rule of life, as I will now refute. And one would have to admit if he or she rejects God, physicalism is all that is left.
Mind/Body Physicalism Refuted5
A number of philosophers have argued that physicalism must be false because it implies
determinism and determinism is self-refuting. Speaking of the determinist, J. R. Lucas says:
If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and
nothing else. He does not hold his determinist views because they are true, but because
he has such-and-such stimuli; that is, not because the structure of the structure of the
universe is such-and-such but only because the configuration of only part of the universe,
together with the structure of the determinist’s brain, is such as to produce that result….
Determinism, therefore, cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the
determinists’ arguments as being really arguments [say, whether or not homosexuality is
a right or not] as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their
statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to
cause us to respond in some way desired by them. (Freedom of the Will, by John Lucas)
H. P. Owen states that:
Determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am
totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my
believing or not believingX is that I am causally determined to believe it I have no
ground for holding that my judgment is true or false. (Christian Theism, p. 118)
… if one claims to know that physicalism is true, or to embrace it for good reasons, if one claims
that it is a rational position which should be chosen on the basis of evidence [as one does when
they reject theism], then this claim is self-refuting. This is so because physicallism seems to deny
the possibility of rationality. To see this, let us examine the necessary preconditions which must
hold if there is to be such a thing as rationality and show how physicalism denies these
preconditions.
At least five factors must obtain if there are to be genuine rational agents who can accurately
reflect on the world. First, minds must have internationality; they must be capable of having
thoughtsa b o u t oro f the world. Acts of inference are “insights into” or “knowings of” something
other than themselves.
Second, reasons, propositions, thoughts, laws of logic and evidence, and truth must exist and be
capable of being instanced in people’s minds and influencing their thought processes. This fact is
4 Giaddon – another person involved in the debate.
5 Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity, by J. P. Moreland, pp. 90-92
3

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