Question from Graham:
If atheism is true then it would seem that materialism – physical matter is all that exists – is also true. If that is so, is it possible for there to be free will?
Materialism would seem to imply that everything functions in a purely mechanical way, with molecules simply interacting according to the laws of physics, and that would seem to leave no room for free will.
If there is no free will then it would seem to be impossible for us to engage in rational discussion. After all, the product of our “minds” would be determined entirely by a long chain of molecular interactions rather than by non-physical reasons.
Atheism implies materialism: materialism implies a mechanistic universe: a mechanistic universe implies no free will: and no free will implies non-rationality.
Do you agree?
I’m with you some of the way, because I don’t believe in free will.
This is for roughly the reason you give. Free will implies a supernatural force affecting the brain which isn’t beholden either to deterministic classical mechanics or to quite possibly random quantum mechanics, and for which there is no evidence.
That’s not to say that will doesn’t exist. We still want things, and we do what we want to do. The absence of free will simply means that we can’t choose what to want. We are driven by our desires. If we refuse to do something we want to, it’s because we want something else more. For example, if you want to lose weight, you don’t eat the big cake.
Will is an example of an abstract concept which accompanies the materialistic worldview for functional purposes. It’s a word which effectively describes an action or quality without physical presence except for a representation in the brain. In a physical sense, my will is a subset of my neurons which stores my short-term and long-term desires and coaxes my brain as a whole to think of other things in terms of those.
There is a long list of such concepts, which fall into the category “information”, including opinions, rules, agreements and of course discussions. A rational discussion is taking place between us, as defined thus: relevant, related information is getting from your brain to mine and vice versa, roughly as intended, through the media of our hands, our keyboards and a ton of networked hardware.
The religious or dualist alternative is that the discussion is essentially taking place between our souls through our subservient brains in addition to all the other media. The only difference is the nature of the participants, since the same information is exchanged. I submit then that if a discussion between two souls is rational then the same discussion must be rational between two brains, or for that matter two computers or other groups of molecules. Of course the brain is a computer, so it’s a thin distinction.
I suspect you have a definition of rationality in mind which makes a much larger distinction, and I’d like to hear it.
Materialism, Free Will and Rationality
“Free will implies a supernatural force affecting the brain which isn’t beholden either to deterministic classical mechanics or to quite possibly random quantum mechanics.”
Question from Graham: