Monday, February 16, 2009

Free Will and Responsibility

In a blog article, Al Mohler linked to this article entitled "Free Will vs. The Programmed Brain". After an two paragraph quote Mohler perceptively asks this question:

If we are not responsible for our actions, they why would people do the right thing? The most immediate result of such thinking is the subversion of moral accountability.

As Christians this is precisely the question we should be asking. There is not way to rejoice in and even commend the good if it is all a product of genetic or biological determinism. You can commend the good but why bother? Christianity believes even wicked people do commend good--Christians call this common grace.

Read Al Mohler's blog article and he rightly argues rightly that Christians have always held to moral responsibility and this 'value' in the West is a product of Christianity. Even with all the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, both believe (along with Roman Catholics as Mohler points out) man is made in the image of God and is therefore morally responsible for his/her actions.

It is a ironic that the study cited points that those who read an article denying free will cheated in the testing more often then those who read an article that upheld free will. Of course, the study was designed to determine who would cheat more. "[T]he researchers found that the amount a participant cheated correlated with the extent to which they rejected free will in their survey responses."

"On the other hand, the results fit with what some philosophers had predicted. The Western conception idea of free will seems bound up with our sense of moral responsibility, guilt for misdeeds and pride in accomplishment. We hold ourselves responsible precisely when we think that our actions come from free will. In this light, it’s not surprising that people behave less morally as they become skeptical of free will."

Just a couple of thoughts:

(1) The type of determinism in philosophy that rejects free will and ergo human responsibility is miles apart from Calvinism which rejects the freedom of the will because of its bondage to sin and upholds human responsibility.

(2) As science expands into genetics and neurology we will see more of these articulations that we cannot really hold people responsible for our actions. The argument will be since we are just a mass of chemical reactions we cannot be held accountable for how are chemical reactions process things. Of course, scientifically the argument will be more complex.

(3) These arguments will lead to an overturning of somethings previously consider immoral (such as homosexuality) or a lessening of historic principles of justice that involve actual punishment and accountability for crimes. Since has already found that child molesters do have genetic and chemical factors that contribute to their actions and while we should discount these, these are in no way an argument for excusing such action. There is no "My genes made me do it" defense--at least not yet. Here we might consider Brian S. Mustanski and J. Michael Bailey words:
No clear conclusions about the morality of a behavior can be made from the mere fact of biological causation, because all behavior is biologically caused. (Sexual and Relationship Therapy 18:4 [2003]: 432; qtd.

(4) If such thinking runs too far, this could actually lead to a lessening of human rights. Human rights can only truly exist when there is a guaranteeing of human rights beyond just the state. Indeed, we will face the same ethical questions strict materialism faces: if something like survival of the fittest is true, then why should I care whether or not I have true compassion for the weak and needed. Of course, very few deny that such compassion is a good thing.

(5) If this thinking continues to increase there could be a decrease of historic work ethics based on the notion of personal responsibility and an increase in entitlement conception (such narcissism is already far to prevalent among my generation.

We should be more wary of scientific views that will step outside the bounds of true science and into the bounds of theology, philosophy and ethics. Certainly, these categories are not self-contained quartered off from each other. However, there are two big concerns: (1) What worldview undergirds the science and is thereby neither neutral or objective and (2) unfortunately those who lack critical thinking skills can be prejudiced by the god of science. In such context science becomes unassailable. These leaves one liable to all kinds of unscientific agendas.

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