Apr 28

Free Will and Meaning

There is an apologist I know who continually uses an argument roughly like this:

If we are just pieces of meat responding to stimuli, how can there be any such thing as meaning or morality?

This sort of argument is common in apolgetics–both its content and its attempt to sweep a bunch of stuff under the rug to create a soundbite. Following my new quicker format that allows me to post more often, I’m going to provide some introductory points of how I would begin a response to this assertion.

1. The first thing I notice about this statement and that it takes no care to say what is intended by “meaning” and “morality.” When you dig into Christian definitions of those terms, they turn out to be either philosophically problematic or do not eliminate secular theories as viable options. That’s a pretty in-depth area, but I’m happy to discuss it more in the comments or future posts. A brief look into some thoughts on this discussion can be found here where I discuss my experience at an apologetics event as a panelist.

2. The second thing is that this description is intentionally under-descriptive of how naturalists would view humans. The first analogy that comes to mind is someone saying, “If that cheeseburger is just a bunch of atoms bumping into each other, then how can it be delicious.” This sort of “just” tactic is very common in these circles. But what about all of the other potential descriptions and how we would react to them? What if they rephrased it as, “If we are just parents reacting emotionally to the suffering of our children, how can there be an such thing as meaning or morality?” Well now the intuitive force is significantly diminished, even though this is a perfectly acceptable replacement for what they mean by “pieces of meat” and “stimuli.” They are just trying to gain points by giving an incredibly uncharitable description of the situation.

3. In addition to sweeping quite a lot of ethical philosophy under the rug they also sweep a lot of free will philosophy under the rug. Compatibilism is a very popular theory among philosophers who specialize in these arguments. To pretend any potential naturalist solution to the free will problem can be dismissed so simply is naive at best and disingenuous at worst.

4. Finally, embedded in this sort of argument is an assumption that Christian solutions to free will, meaning, and morality are good solutions to the philosophical problems surrounding these issues. I think if you look into the matter, you’ll find just as many (and maybe more) problems with those theories as the best secular solutions.

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