Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Modernist's Prayer

A recent issue of First Things (subscription required) contains this prayer by Ronald Knox which pretty well sums up the conviction, or lack of it, of at least a few modern churchmen and theologians:
O God, forasmuch as without Thee
We are not enabled to doubt Thee,
Help us all by Thy grace
To convince the whole race
It knows nothing about Thee.
The prayer also seems to inadvertently give an elbow to the ribs of theistic evolutionists who affirm that God is behind the creation but who deny, despite the testimony of Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19:1, that there's any empirical evidence of this.

Sam Harris on Free Will

Atheist thinker Sam Harris has a new book out on the topic of free will in which he ostensibly chooses freely to aver that there isn't any. The logic of atheistic materialism forces one to the conclusion that if there's nothing more to us than the chemical processes that go on in our bodies, especially in our brains, then there's no room for anything which would act independently of the laws of physics and thus there's no room in the human machine for any kind of genuine freedom. Harris says in his book that:
Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.
Martin Cothran at Evolution News and Views directs our attention to the irony in the claim of those who hold to Harris' metaphysical persuasion:
[They insist that] their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic)....But their very stated position is that any mental state -- including their position on this issue -- is the effect of a physical, not a logical, cause.

By their own logic, it isn't logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if it's not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.

And this is not only a mortal consequence for Harris, it is also problematic from the reader's perspective: If we are convinced by Harris's logic, we would have to consider this conviction as something determined not by the rational strength of his logic, but by the entirely irrational arrangement of the chemicals in our brains. They might, as Harris would have to say, coincide, but their relation would be completely arbitrary. If prior physical states are all that determine our beliefs, any one physical state is no more rational than any other. It isn't rational or irrational, it just is.

If what Harris says is true, then our assent to what we view as the rational strength of his position may appear to us to involve our choice to assent or not to assent to his ostensibly rational argument, but (again, if it is true) it cannot be any such thing, since we do not have that choice -- or any other.
I haven't read the book but I wonder if these problems have occurred to Harris. They should've because they're common objections to the position he holds, but if they have I wonder how he would choose, er, be determined to respond to them.