Volitional Freedom: The Miracle of Atheism

Before we begin, let us take a simple test. This may be a first for most of my readers, but I think it necessary to test your knowledge of this issue and its purpose. I know what most people think about tests, and I have no reason to believe that anyone will feel any different about this one. Some of you may, in fact, decide to bypass this section altogether, but if you do so, you will miss one very significant observation. This test revolves around the basic assumption of the debate process; so, pick a debate, any debate. Pick a debate between any rival positions you want, and then answer the following questions as honestly as you can by checking “yes” or “no.”

1. Do atheists think that debates serve a purpose? Yes____ No____

2. Do atheists assume that an audience is free to choose sides in a debate based on the evidence? Yes____ No____

3. Do atheists try to persuade the audience to accept their worldview via the debate platform? Yes____ No____

I realize that such obvious answers to such simple questions appear intellectually insulting, but it makes the point that I want to make. No sane person would engage in debate, about any matter whatsoever, if they actually believed that such a process served no purpose before an audience that they believed had no choice.

To answer the above questions for you, “Yes,” atheists do assume that debates serve a purpose. The second answer is no less telling, because, “Yes,” atheists who engage an opponent on any give issue do, in fact, assume that the audience before whom they stand is capable of choosing sides based on the evidence. Finally, the answer to the third question is equally revealing. “Yes,” atheists do try to persuade audiences on the matters in question, whether in debate or in writing. The fact of the matter is that every debate purposes, without fail, to convince someone that one position stands superior to another and the debate between theism and atheism is no different.

What the above questions and answers reveal is the fact that atheists live, argue, and write with the assumption that human beings possess volitional freedom, a quality that, given an atheistic worldview, should not exist at all. In fact, a case will be made in this work, that if volitional freedom does actually exist, with the atheistic worldview in mind, then, it qualifies as the very kind of event against which atheists persistently militate, those same imaginary events normally considered the Achilles heel of religious folk, miracles.

Miracles, according to atheists, then, are in diametric opposition to the believed nature of ultimate reality and should be avoided at all costs as their willingness to pounce on even the slightest hint of the “miraculous” indicates. This work, however, will note the problems with such militancy, especially when the atheistic assumptions about reality reveal a belief in the very concept their worldview denies. This work will note the way in which atheists define miracles, how they define reality, how they reduce the human mind to mere matter, how the reduction of h human mind leads to determinism, how determinism precludes the existence of volitional freedom, and finally, how the miracle of volitional freedom, i.e. freedom of choice, emerges.

Miracles, then, according to Victor Stenger are, “(1) Violations of established laws of nature, (2) Inexplicable events; and (3) Highly unlikely coincidences. The latter two,” continues Stenger, “can be subsumed into the first since they also would imply a disagreement with current knowledge” (Stenger 114). Others since, have also defined miracles with the same intent; namely, to render them impossible, and it is this acclaimed “impossibility” that legitimizes this study. Douglas Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institute, reminds us, “One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed” (D’souza 157). The conclusion, therefore, is that atheists unanimously deny miracles, and their reason for that denial is the absolute rejection of the supernatural. The significance of such a worldview should not be underestimated, because it establishes the universal boundary within which all specific conclusions logically emerge. The atheistic view of reality, then, precludes the existence of volitional freedom, because it redefines the mind as a purely natural and physical entity. “What,” one may ask, “does ultimate reality have to do with the freedom to choose?” To that simple question, this writer would respond simply, “everything.” In other words, what one believes about ultimate reality determines just how one interprets the world around them, including human beings.

The best place to start, then, is where atheists themselves start with the ultimate question, “What is reality?” Ultimate reality, according to them, then, consists of but one substance as opposed to the dualistic reality maintained by theists. The universe, they tell us, exists as a purely natural phenomenon; the result of purely natural processes, and continues to exist and function by those same natural processes and will die due to, need I say, purely natural processes. We live in an atheistic chance driven universe where nothing of an immaterial substance, intelligent or otherwise, exists in any form or fashion. While variations exist within the system, just like any other worldview, the most basic components of the worldview never really change. Atheism, then, is an all-encompassing mind-set that views all of reality as the result of purely natural process.

The primary basis of this is the idea that one cannot extend one’s interpretation of reality beyond that one’s view of ultimate reality, making one’s cosmology foundational to every other part of one’s belief system. So important is it that, “You can never go beyond what you start with” (Little 35), notes Bruce Little. Here, Little addresses the fact that one’s worldview and one’s interpretation of the specifics within that same worldview can never supersede one’s foundational view of reality. In other words, an atheistic worldview is bound by its own philosophical mindset and cannot posit any idea that takes it beyond the merely natural world. The universal, in other words, sets the boundaries by which the particulars are defined and discussed. It is an all-encompassing view, a “doctrine about what exists, materialism is an ontological, or metaphysical view; it is not just an epistemological view about how we know or just a semantic view about the meaning of terms” (Eliasmith).

This worldview is reflected by two terms, the first of which is “Materialism,” and the second more palatable term, “Physicalism.” Both terms refer to ultimate reality and mean, “Everything that actually exists is material or physical” (Eliasmith). They are intentional attempts, “To explain everything in terms of material events” (Popkin, Stroll 134). John Searle concurs, and according to him, “Mental states are biological phenomena. Consciousness, intentionality, subjectivity and mental causation are all a part of our biological life history, along with growth, reproduction, the secretion of bile, and digestions” (Searle 41). The idea translates into a deterministic worldview, and eliminates the mind as well as those essential qualities, like volitional freedom, traditionally believed to be part of its function. Thomas Metzinger notably makes this logical connection.

For…the human brain and the human body, determinism is obviously true. The next state of the physical universe is always determined by the previous state. And given a certain brain-state plus an environment you could never have acted otherwise — a surprisingly large majority of experts in the free-will debate today accept this obvious fact….It is true that it was determined by your previous brain state (Metzinger).

Even the renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking believes that ontological Physicalism translates into a deterministic universe. Determinism, according to him, given the purely naturalistic origin of the universe, is a foregone conclusion. “One such problem with the idea that everything is determined by a grand unified theory,” he reminds us, “is that anything we say is also determined by the theory” (Hawking 128-129). Hence, determinism makes actual volitional freedom both a philosophical and psychological farce. There is no middle ground.

That is where the “miracle” of choice emerges in atheistic thinking. No matter how adamantly denied, atheists still live, of necessity, as if actual volitional freedom exists. If Physicalism is true, and if the traditional immaterial “mind” does not exist, everything heretofore dependent upon its supposed immateriality is logically devoid of meaning in any other terms than physical ones. The problem increases exponentially for atheists at this point, because they do, in fact, live as if human beings posses volitional freedom, a quality that defies the very laws of nature they so revere. Hence, no atheist can live without assuming the very thing that his worldview, consistently applied, denies.

Ultimately, freedom of choice is a necessary part of the human experience. It is a self-evident reality, in fact, that we cannot not believe. Every debate, every journal and, every book emerges because of one basic assumption, and that assumption is that human beings are free to see the evidence, free to understand the data, and free to choose between opposing views. This writer is convinced that the actuality of volitional freedom, a concept contrary to the deterministic world in which atheists claim to live, “violates the laws of nature,” and qualifies it, by their own admission, as a miracle. In essence, volitional freedom is the reality about which the staunchest atheists cannot not believe. Atheists, to their own chagrin, believe in miracles too.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company 2006. Print

Eliasmith, C. (Ed). “PoM: Philosophy of Mind.” Retrieved October 31, 2009, from .

Hawking, Stephen. Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essay., New York-Toronto-London-Sydney-Auckland: Bantam Books 1993. Print

Little, Bruce. “History of Christian Thought.” Piedmont Baptist College, Winston-Salem, NC. Spring 1988. Class Notes. Print

Metzinger, Thomas. “The Forbidden Fruit of Intuition.” 2007: “Edge: The World Question Center” Brockman, John (Ed). 1 November 2009 .

Moreland, J.P. What Is The Soul? Recovering Human Personhood in a Scientific Age. Norcross, Georgia: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries 2002. Print

Popkin, Richard H. and Avrum Stroll. Philosophy Made Simple. Second Edition, Revised, NY: Broadway Books 1993. Print

Stenger, Victor J. God: The Failed Hypothesis. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books 2007. Print

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