Dr. Stenger and the Folly of Free-Thinking
I was hesitant to write this because I don’t like picking battles with atheists. At first I didn’t see how anyone would take this idea about free will and our judicial system seriously, but it seems some people are. So I offer the following with the hope that if more people know about this discussion, more people can see it for the nonsense that it is.
Victor Stenger, Ph.D. particle physicist and best-selling author of God and the Folly of Faith has written an essay at Huffington Post “Free Will is an Illusion“ and it took an unexpected turn. Certainly, the atheistic consideration of free will is nothing new, but Dr. Stenger also makes a connection between free will, or the lack thereof, and our judicial system in the United States. This position has disturbing societal implications.
Keep in mind, this is the man who popularized the phrase: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” He has also published such titles as God: The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. Victor Stenger has made it known that he thinks science can prove there is no god, and that he considers religion dangerous to society.
In this Huffington Post essay he references a book by another physicist, Leonard Mlodinow, who says that the unconscious plays a dominant role in human behavior. As Dr. Stenger puts it, “before we become aware of making a decision, our brains have already laid the groundwork for it.” He goes on to say (read carefully), “This recognition challenges fundamental assumptions about free will and the associated religious teachings about sin and redemption, as well as our judicial concepts of responsibility and punishment. If our brains are making our decisions for us subconsciously, how can we be responsible for our actions? How can our legal system punish criminals or God punish sinners who aren’t in full control of their decision-making processes?”
He also references the book Free Will by neuroscientist Sam Harris and title-quotes him in stating that “free will is an illusion.” Dr. Stenger writes, “We don’t exist as immaterial conscious controllers, but are instead entirely physical beings whose decisions and behaviors are the fully caused products of the brain and body.”
So, essentially having established that humans are determinant blobs of matter with no free will, he then makes the case to the Huffington Post readers that “our largely retributive moral and justice systems need to be re-evaluated, and maybe even drastically revamped” if the people in society are going to be able to protect themselves from “people who are dangerous to others because of whatever it is inside their brains and nervous systems that makes them dangerous.”
That is, he is calling for a new system of morality and justice based on the the presumption that no one is ultimately responsible for his actions, and remember, he’s made it clear who he thinks the “dangerous” people are. This is eerily like the argument used to justify abortion, only we’re all blobs of tissue now.
If you’ve ever been called a bigot for defending the definition of matrimony, a terrorist for openly opposing the slaying of children in the womb by medical professionals and mothers, or a threat to society because you are a Christian, this scientist’s turn towards the political should trouble you because he’s playing into the hands of those who want to violate religious liberty. If someone buys his argument they will conclude, “Religious people are just wired that way, but they are dangerous and need to be controlled for the good of society.” Well, isn’t that what’s beginning?
Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to understand the (almost humorous) flaw in his premise. Atheists are fond of calling themselves free-thinkers, but how does a person conduct “free-thinking” if he has no free will to chose what to think? Did Mr. Stenger even consider that monumental contradiction? The logical conclusion of his position is that there really is no such thing as freedom, and it’s hard to imagine that he really believes that deep down. Surely, if his freedom were threatened, he’d want the opportunity to defend his rights and he’d want his thoughts and decisions to be taken seriously.
But if he does believe it, then poor Dr. Stenger’s got a problem — for it is pure folly for a truly free-thinking intelligent person to think blobs of matter can reason in matters of justice. If humans are (as he calls them) Newtonian machines comprised of matter that calculates the data in the brain according to decision making algorithms, then Mr. Stenger’s own arguments and all his thoughts and actions have no more sincerity to them than the thoughts and actions of a rock that decides to roll down a hill when the forces of nature pull it that way.
Are we to believe the New Atheist free-thinkers see themselves as reasonable as rocks? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had an intelligent chat with a rock, and the only thing rocks have ever convinced me to do is to get out of their way, not because I respected them for their intelligence, but because I am intelligent and, of my own volition, will act to protect myself in all kinds of creative ways. Even the free-thinkers who don’t think they can think freely because they are desperately trying make sense of their purpose in life to prove there is no purpose, should concede this much and rethink this silliness before it leads to more confusion in our judicial system.
Seriously, when I try to imagine justice dealt out by people who are so determined to deny God that they will deny their own minds, I am not amused. I am horrified.