BY SEAN GIORDANO March 13, 2007

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism

Prof Whatley/Prof Jowers


Abstract.................................................................................................................................... 3

Definitions............................................................................................................................... 4-6

Analogies................................................................................................................................. 6-8

Examples................................................................................................................................. 8-9

Tests........................................................................................................................................ 9-10

Knowledge.............................................................................................................................. 10-12

Self-Refutations...................................................................................................................... 12-15

Conclusions............................................................................................................................. 15

Bibliography........................................................................................................................... 16-18

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism

Prof Whatley/Prof Jowers


Determinism believes that every event -- moral, social, physical -- is preceded and caused in some way by a physical event preceding it... all the way back to the big-bang or the many multiverses preceding ours. If this were true, then love could be weighed as it is a chemical reaction to neurons firing in the brain caused by external physical conditions. The belief that every human action or response -- moral, social, physical -- is determined by physical causes that predated said action or response by a human is self-evidently false, which will be clearly shown. Such a belief is clearly a metaphysical step and not compelled by the naturalistic evidence alone. Believing that both determinists and non-determinists are “determined” to believe such relegates this theory to the self-referentially false category.

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism

Prof Whatley/Prof Jowers


“If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” ~ J.B.S. Haldane1

Definitions Physicalism can be quite hard to grasp in all its nuances.23 However, speaking to the man on the street – so-to-speak – nuances mean nothing. As the current line in our political spectrum today says, “nothin’ but the straight dope,” the hope is to actually get to the straight dope of refuting a part of Physicalism called reductionism. As with any concept, word, model, or the like... defining principles should be first and foremost in the conversation. So we will start with some definitional understandings of key concepts dealt with herein.

Physicalism can best be defined as “[t]he view that everything (or every substance) in the universe is physical and subject to the laws of science. Related to the mind/body problem. The

Quoted in Victor Reppert’s, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Arguments from Reason (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 50. 2 I am not the biggest fan of this treatment by DeWeese and Moreland on this topic found in chapter 5. It would be better for a mid-level treatment rather than a beginner’s (see TH 5324 syllabus). 3 For instance, there are different types of Physicalism: Type-identity Physicalism – mental properties (e.g., painfulness) are identical to physical properties (e.g., being a C-fiber firing); Functionalism – Types of mental states are “software states” identical to (1) bodily inputs, (2) behaviors and (3) other mental states are functional roles realized by particular brain states. A pain type state is identical to (1) a state of being caused by things like pin sticks, (2) a state of causing one to grimace and shout “ouch” and (3) a state of causing one to want pity; Eliminative materialism – Mental states do not exist, and mental terms belong to an outmoded theory called folk psychology. Taken from, Garrett J. DeWeese and J.P. Moreland, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginners guide to Life’s Big Questions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 120.

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physicalist says that even our mental states are physical states, we have no separate soul or mind.”4 This could pretty much be the definition for materialism, or reductionism as well. For instance, one author defines materialism as follows: “Materialist” is used of people who believe that whatever exists is either matter itself, or is dependant on matter for its existence. So all your experiences – tasting, hurting, loving, happiness – are mental states, but these metal states are simply states of the brain. They are material processes because they are located in the structure of the brain.”5

That sounds awfully close to the definition given for Physicalism. Another concept or word needing to be defined (since it is in the title) is the word reductionism. Reductionism can best be defined as, [t]he tendency to reduce certain notions to allegedly simpler, or more basic, or more easily accessible notions. For example, consciousness to a physical brain process, moral values to the dictates of society, physical objects to patterns of sensations and mental images. Reductionism is often the attempt to reduce the “higher” (e.g., mind, spirit) to the “lower” (e.g., matter, physical forces).6

One can get the sense that all these concepts are related in some form or fashion. So the refutation, of say, reductionism, would refute the whole kit'n caboodle, idiomatically speaking of course. All this plays into the debate about free will as well – if we have it, or if we are

4 5

Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, 5th ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 621. Willian Raeper & Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 48. 6 Roy Abraham Varghese, ed., The Intellectuals Speak Out About God: A Handbook for the Christian Student in a Secular Society (Chicago, IL: Regnery Gateway, 1984), 365.

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism

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determined beforehand. Determinism7 says that “the laws of physics are ‘deterministic,’ in the sense that what happens at a later date is uniquely determined through the laws of physics by what happened at earlier times.”8 The author goes on to say that all of human history could have been – if determinism was determined to be true – calculated because every event was determined by a succession of events happening before it guided by physical laws.9

Analogies Gregory Ganssle, author of the book Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy, has a great analogy about this concept. To set the stage, Greg has just spilled a box of Cheerios on his kitchen floor explaining that where they end up seems random, let’s pick up there: Well, it seems as though it is random. It is random in the sense that I cannot predict where each will go or that there is no special reason why they land in one place rather than another. Nor do I much care where they land. Actually I do not think it is really random. Exactly where a particular piece of Cheerio lands depends on the friction of the floor, at what angle I dropped the box, how high the box was, as well as the rate of gravitational acceleration and all of that.... When we say Cheerios land randomly, we


There is a sense in which we are all “determined” if God exists. In classical theistic thinking, God created the space/time continuum, so God (in a sense) has a view of all of time, from its inception to its demise, since he is outside the space/time continuum (inferred by Him creating it). If you draw a line from one end of a chalkboard to the other and then stand back, one end of the line is the beginning, the other is the end (even if we are in the middle of this historical time-line, all of it is viewable). This is analogous to God’s view and thus He knows who responds and whom doesn’t to the Gospel message. This view also explains God “knowing us in the womb before forming us” (Jeremiah 1:5). Hank Hanegraaff, a radio show broadcaster, has

a story that somewhat explains this position (rough retelling of it): One day I come over to your job to have lunch with you. As we get into my car we decide we will have lunch at the first restaurant we find by chance. So we head down the street about a mile and then you say turn left. As we head in our new direction I decide to turn right about another half-mile down the road in which you want to head in a more easterly direction. Within minutes we see a restaurant and pull in to have lunch. While we were freely making choices based on chance and whimsical guesses not knowing where we would end up... God, while not determining where we would go knew ahead of time even our chance encounter with said restaurant.
8 9

Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2003), 27. Ibid.

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism

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mean only that we do not much care about all the little details that determine where they land.”10

When applied to the mind and choice, this theory can be (if true) detrimental to the Christian worldview, and thus society. Ravi Zacharias gave a speech 11 where he referenced another speech given by the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkings, who holds the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Isaac Newton’s chair. At this lecture given to a university crowd in England entitled “Determinism – Is Man a Slave or the Master of His Fate,” Dr. Hawkings discussed whether we are the random products of chance, 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? Tom Morris explains exactly the mindset of these “thinkers:” 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 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, It is determined for the

by forces over which we have no control.
10 11

(Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 130. I cannot for the life of me find this talk.

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism

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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.12


Philosophy for Dummies (Foster City, CA: IDG Books; 1999), 133-134.

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism Examples

Prof Whatley/Prof Jowers


This is what is at stake in this discussion, not only in the religious realm, but in the social realm as well. Take these recent headlines into consideration:

• “Infidelity 'is natural'”;13 • “Infidelity – It May Be In Our Genes” (Time, August 15, 1994); • “20th Century Blues” – Stress, anxiety, depression: the new science of evolutionary psychology finds the roots of modern maladies in our genes (Time, August 28, 1995); • “Born Happy (Or Not)” – Happiness is more than just a state of mind… It is in the genes too (New Zealand Herald, August 8, 1996); • “Born To Be Gay?” (New Scientist, September 28, 1996, p. 32); • “What Makes Them Do It?” – People who crave thrills, new evidence indicates, may be prompted at least partly by their genes (Time, January 15, 1996); • “Your Genes May Be Forcing You to Eat Too Much” (Sunday Star-Times (Auckland), January 18, 1998).

Tests One can see that this type of determining factor undermines all rational thought and expression, thus morals. The old saying “the devil made me do it” has been replaced with a newer version of “evolution made me do it.” This also makes the Christian concept of Christ coming not to make bad men good, but rather, making dead men alive all the more important and applicable to making choices, moral choices; these moral choices can only be an option via the regenerating

BBC Sci/Tech news (published September 25, 1998). Can be found at: ; last checked 3-09-2008.

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power of the Holy Spirit helping us to rise above our determined nature, which is determined to sin.14 There is a story worth mentioning that will shed some light on this topic a bit of will verses genes. One day there was an experiment that a gentleman volunteered for, it was to test motor functions and will. The scientists hooked up electrical stimulators to the gentlemen’s area of the brain that controls motor functions. After they were ready, they told the man to stop his right hand from clenching closed – [or] making a fist. The man acknowledged this, and proceeded to do just [as told].

However, the man’s hand clenched shut on the scientists prompt. The scientist again told the man to try harder, the same result followed. Again the scientist asked the man to try as hard as possible. As you can imagine, the same result. The scientist mentioned that the next time would be the last, as, there was nothing the man could do to stop his neuron-firing impulses from stopping his hand from becoming a fist. Just as the man felt the surge of power, he reached over with his left hand and kept his right hand from becoming a fist.15

Knowledge It seems as if our will is above nature or events caused by nature itself or forced on us by others. Knowledge is also affected by this naturalistic attack on common sense. What this debate offers is a great chance to understand and delineate between types of knowledge. One of the best examples of this comes from Howard Robinson who is Soros Professor of Philosophy at the
14 15

Romans 7:13-25; 8:1-39 Again, I cannot remember where I heard this or read it from (I have read over 1,800 books cover-to-cover, it’s hard to recall where I read or heard something).

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Eotvos Lorand University as well as being Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. It is long so buckle into your seat, but this is one of the best analogies to explain the different levels of knowledge. A deaf scientist (DS) might become the world’s leading expert on the physical aspects of sound and hearing. Assuming science to be more advanced than at present, DS’s knowledge of the physiology, physics, chemistry and AI-style cognitive psychology of hearing might be complete. which he does not know. But there remains something

The information he lacks concerns

what might variously be characterized as what it is like to hear or what things sound like, or the phenomenal nature of sound or the qualitative nature of sound. Since he knows all there is to know about the physical process of hearing, that about which he does not know must not be a physical state of affairs: so what is it like to hear, what things sound like, and the phenomenal and qualitative natures of sound must be non-physical features of hearing.

The various expressions which can be used to say what DS lacks all concern the subjective properties of hearing, but the first two of them pick out character of the phenomenal objects of sense. For our purposes, this is a distinction without a serious difference, for the character of sensory experience is given by its

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internal phenomenal object: hence what it is like to hear for a given subject is a direct function of the phenomenal nature of sound in his experience – that is, of the way sound seems to him. Saying this does not involve denying that there is a distinction between the act and object of experience, for such a distinction is compatible with the introspectible character of the former being dependent on the latter.

For purposes of close discussion, the argument needs to be put in a more formal manner.


DS knows all those facts about hearing which can in principle be

expressed in the vocabulary of physical science. 2. Unlike those who can, DS does not know the phenomenal nature

of sound (etc.). Therefore: 3. The phenomenal nature of sound in principle cannot be

characterized using vocabulary of physical science. 4. The nature of any physical thing, state, or property can be

expressed in the vocabulary of science. Therefore:

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism 5.

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The phenomenal nature of sound is not a physical thing, state, or


A page later the above is put into an even simpler format: 1. Concerning hearing, DS knows everything which could in

principle be expressed in the vocabulary of physical science. 2. Concerning hearing, DS does not the phenomenal nature of its

object, sound.17

Self-Refutations Apologies seem necessary for such a lengthy quote, but this succinct argument not only explains well the types of knowledge we encounter in our daily lives without realizing it, but also makes a strong philosophical argument that consciousness is not merely physical.18 Another short

refutation comes from J. R. Lucas who is a Fellow of the British Academy and was formerly a Fellow Merton College, Oxford. Lucas speaks about determinists saying that determinism is true, but that this “affords us no reason whatever for supposing that it really is true, but is to be construed solely as the end-product of some physical process.”19 In other words, just because we are at the end of a physical process does not mean something is true. He goes on to point out that determinists “want to be considered as rational agents arguing with other rational agents,”20 but he further points out that,
16 17

Howard Robinson, ed., Objections to Physicalism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 159-160. Ibid., 161. 18 See: Garrett J. DeWeese and J.P. Moreland, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginners guide to Life’s Big Questions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 108-112; Ric Machuga, In Defense of the Soul: What it Means to be Human (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002), 148-158; Ronald Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 37-58. 19 The Freedom of the Will (New York, NY: Clarendon Press-Oxford University Press, 1970), 112. 20 Ibid.

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Determinism, therefore cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments 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.21

Continuing with this line of thinking C.S. Lewis pointed out that even our ability to reason and think rationally would be called into question if this reductionist thinking was in reality, true: If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our thought processes are mere accidents - the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else's. But if their thoughts — i.e. of Materialism and — are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents.22

Phillip Johnson, law professor at Berkley for thirty years, explains this dilemma as well: Are our thoughts ‘nothing but’ the products of chemical reactions in the brain, and did our thinking abilities originate for no reason other than their utility in allowing our DNA to reproduce itself? Even scientific materialists have a hard time believing that. For one thing, materialism applied to the mind undermines the validity of all reasoning, including one’s own. If our theories are products of
21 22

Ibid. God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 52-53.

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chemical reactions [rather than from our soul or spirit, as evolutionists would say], how can we know whether our theories are true? Perhaps [evolutionist] Richard Dawkins believes in Darwinism only because he has a certain chemical in his brain, and if his belief be changed by somehow inserting a different chemical.23

To get this into layman’s terms, I will let the philosopher J. P. Moreland,24 from his debate with renowned atheist Kai Nielson, explain it: Suppose you were driving on a train and you saw a sign on the hillside that said, “Wales in ten miles.” Suppose you knew that the wind had blown that sign together. If the sign had been put together by a purely non-intelligent random process… there would be no reason to trust the information conveyed by the sign.25 C. S. Lewis finishes his thought from above: It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.26

Lewis’ understanding of this issue was so advanced that really his arguments will stand for generations to come. He is basically saying that “if the mind is no more than well-organized matter, which is wholly subject to physical laws and has no purpose or direction, then how can it
23 24

Phillip E, Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1997), 81-82. For the best treatment of this issue see pp. 90-103 in J.P. Moreland’s, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987). 25 Ibid., 50. 26 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 53.

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give obvious direction to the matter in its environment? In other words, where did the purpose, the ‘will’ come from?”27 Such a construct cannot simply be true! “Science” does not somehow compel the “open-minded, intellectually superior people to become naturalists. There is no more ‘proof’ to support naturalism than that which supports theism.”28

Conclusions And so we are left with the words of philosopher Roger Scruton, while not specifically referencing reductionism, his challenge is applicable somewhat to the above discussion when he commented that when a writer “says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely negative,’ [he] is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”29 Besides being self-referentially false,

reductionism/determinism destroys human responsibility, makes praise or blame meaningless, as well as leading to fatalism, but most importantly – it is unbiblical! 30 We are not merely machines but rather we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27).31


Fred Heeren, Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us about God (Wheeling, IL: Day Star Publications, 1998), 55. 28 Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 120. 29 Modern Philosophy (New York, NY: Penguin, 1996), 6. Found in, Does God Believe in Atheists? by John Blanchard (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000), 172. 30 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 197. 31 Ibid., 198.

TH 5324 Philosophy & Christianity Reducing Reductionism Bibliography

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Barr, Stephen M. Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2003.











at: ; last checked 3-09-2008.

Blanchard, John. Does God Believe in Atheists? Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000.

DeWeese, Garrett J. and J.P. Moreland. Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginners guide to Life’s Big Questions. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005.

Ganssle, Gregory. Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Heeren, Fred. Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us about God. Wheeling, IL: Day Star Publications, 1998.

Johnson, Phillip E. Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1997.

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Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1970.

Lucas, J. R. The Freedom of the Will. New York, NY: Clarendon Press-Oxford University Press, 1970.

Machuga, Ric. In Defense of the Soul: What it Means to be Human. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002.

Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987.

Morris, Tom. Philosophy for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books; 1999.

Nash, Ronald H. Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

Pojman, Louis P. Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, 5th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Raeper, Willian and Linda Edwards. A Brief Guide to Ideas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.

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Reppert’s, Victor. C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Arguments from Reason. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003.

Robinson, Howard ed. Objections to Physicalism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Scruton, Roger. Modern Philosophy. New York, NY: Penguin, 1996.

Varghese, Roy Abraham, ed. The Intellectuals Speak Out About God: A Handbook for the Christian Student in a Secular Society. Chicago, IL: Regnery Gateway, 1984.

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