settings icon
share icon
Question

Is free will an illusion caused by chemical processes?

is free will an illusion
Answer


The so-called “scientific” argument (which is actually atheistic) against the objective reality of free will is self-refuting and, therefore, irrational. It is based on multiple fallacies that are philosophical, not scientific, including reductionism (all physical objects are nothing more than the sum of their parts, including human beings who are merely a collection of a dozen or so basic elements worth only a few dollars), determinism (people have no free will because they are locked into the endless, inescapable chain of action-reaction of the physical universe), and naturalism (all events, including human thought and action, are the unavoidable result of, and completely controlled by, random physical processes).

Those who assert this irrational view have the impossible task of defending a number of self-refuting positions. For starters, if chemical processes are “making our choices for us,” then Christians cannot help believing in free will—the chemicals comprising them cause them to think they have free will. By the same token, naturalists cannot help denying free will. Both views are determined by random chemical processes, not objective external standards to which both sides can appeal in constructing a logical, reasonable argument.

If free will is the result of chemical processes in our own brains, neither Christianity nor naturalism can be true or false, valid or invalid, since both opposite views are the result of the same random processes. The naturalist cannot claim he is “right” or the Christian “wrong” because, by his own premises, those terms have no meaning. Therefore, reasoned debate is not possible, and no logical conclusion reachable since that, too, would be the pre-determined result of random, mindless chemical processes.

Such a debate is as irrational as having two TV sets facing each other, tuned to different channels, and pretending a real discussion is taking place between them. Seeing humanity through this worldview is like looking at a freeway and seeing only rolling hunks of steel and plastic and energy-consuming engines, rather than machines directed by intelligence. This view is not just wrong; it does not rise, in C. S. Lewis’s wording, “to the dignity of error” (see Surprised by Joy, Chapter IX, Geoffrey Bles, 1955).

Of course, our bodies are exactly as described by science—the most astounding assembly of living parts and reacting chemicals known to man. The complexity of the physical body is beyond any possibility of random self-assembly. But that body is always directed by a single will, or mind or personality, however complex that immaterial driver may be.

Agnostic British physicist Sir Roger Penrose has produced multiple research papers and several books demonstrating that human consciousness cannot be explained by any known laws of physics—one roadblock on the quest to produce artificial intelligence (see https://scientificandmedical.net/roger-penrose-on-consciousness, accessed 5/23/22). Penrose has countless peers around the world who agree more or less with his view, and probably many more who disagree. But what that disagreement demonstrates is the answer to the free will question is far from “settled science” (a term that should rarely if ever be used about science). Among the world’s scientists, it is still a matter of conjecture, scientific opinion, and ongoing research.

The Bible does not directly refute the error of naturalism or thousands of other errors made by man over the millennia. Rather, it lays down principles with evidence that indirectly refutes them all. Either a supernatural Creator brought the physical universe into being out of nothing we can scientifically detect, or He did not (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3). Either we humans are made in that Creator’s image (Genesis 1:26–27), “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14), or we are not. Either all humans have both a physical, temporary body housing a spiritual, eternal soul (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 10:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:23), or we do not. All this is summed up by David: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 53:1).

For believers and unbelievers alike, God provides abundant evidence in all three areas of human understanding—science, philosophy, theology. Non-physical (spiritual) reality is accepted not by blind faith, but by an informed combination of observation, reason, and faith.

Return to:

Questions about Humanity

Is free will an illusion caused by chemical processes?
Subscribe to the

Question of the Week

Get our Question of the Week delivered right to your inbox!

Follow Us: Facebook icon Twitter icon YouTube icon Pinterest icon Instagram icon
© Copyright 2002-2022 Got Questions Ministries. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy
This page last updated: May 25, 2022