Faith Within Reason: The Human Soul (The Secular Free Will and Beauty Problem)


In my last “Faith Within Reason” post I addressed the mystery of origin and how I found God to be a solution to a problem otherwise unanswerable. This post will deal with a topic that is more philosophical in nature, that being “do we have free will?” I’m not speaking of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates, but the problem I see in the notion of secular free will. Basically in the absence of a soul can we be said to have free will? To begin let’s establish the argument like so:

  1. If the universe is materialist lacking any supernatural qualities, then everything is simply matter and physics.
  2. If there is no soul (as a purely materialist would seem to argue) then our brains/minds are reducible to physics and properties of the physical world.
  3. Since physics are fundamentally deterministic, and our brains are acting by only the laws of physics (electro chemical impulses), the brain will always respond as it was physically and chemically determined to do.
  4. If we accept the above three arguments, then human choice is an illusion. Your brian is simply following the laws of physics as they were deterministically prone to do so.

If the above is accepted as truth then any debate of any type on the existence or nonexistence of God is ultimately pointless. People’s decisions are ultimately determined more by what they eat and how their body is made up than by any free willed logical process. I find this disturbing because, unlike religious determinism, there is no ultimate goal or purpose for any of this. We become little more than random chemical reactions in our brain.

This also raises the questions of why human beings would ever pursue something not related to survival and reproduction (as those are the factors all life seems geared towards). For example, if our minds are purely geared to survival, then our we would have never adapted to do anything that wasn’t necessary to self-preservation or the furthering of the species. This discussion, should have never come up since pondering the soul of man shouldn’t register in the mind of a creature whose entire function is to stay alive and reproduce. I don’t see why humanity would have ever desired to seek truth if there was no truth to seek. A purely survivalist creature, as we surely would be, would simply seek longevity in life and reproduction.

If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting upon matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistical and I fizz thematically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true, but rather because of a series of chemical reactions of the brain. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical reactions we call reasoning, or right and wrong to the irrational reactions we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water, and nothing else.

– Douglas Wilson

Big questions like “Why am I here?” and “Who am I?” would never have come to mind because they do nothing to further our survival. Essentially there is no reason we should have even developed and desire for knowledge outside of sex, obtaining food, building shelter, and basic survival skills.  The existence of art and beauty must also be brought into question since there is no survivalist argument for why a creature would seek out art or beauty. Why would we drive across the country to see a natural wonder like Niagara falls, or the Grand Canyon. Why visit a zoo or attempt to save an endangered species if we were not intending to eat the animals there. Why create art and waste valuable time observing and critiquing it? Such time and resources are a waste in survivalistic creatures.

It is a given that human beings want to survive, but we also want to live. There is an innate desire in all of us to seek out understanding and appreciate life. While some might argue otherwise, I take it as proof that we exist for something greater. I believe that our lives are more than simply walking the earth, eating food, mating, and dying.  I don’t see how we could reconcile this quest for knowledge and beauty with a materialist universe. We want answers to big questions, and it seems to me that man would not have a desire embedded deep in him if it were not possible to obtain. In a real sense, a world absent of God (or some higher authority) is pointless and ruthless. It is all chance and circumstance. Everything we have love, purpose, pain, struggle, strife, wonder, majesty, loss, and happiness is nothing more than random chemical reactions. The universe is merely a bunch of elements bumping around and nothing awaits us but the void of oblivion and nothingness. We find this offensive, I believe, because in our soul we know it is not true. I believe we are far more complex than we can possibly understand, and deep down in all of us we know we are more than just what we can see.


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