October 27, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Materialists Choose to Believe in Determinism

Why do materialists fail to see the
self-refuting flaw in denial of free will?


All deterministic beliefs are logically doomed. This should be easy to see: a belief that is determined cannot be a belief at all, because it was determined. The determinist doesn’t really believe it. Forces outside of his mind caused him to pretend as if he believes it. And if those forces made him a robot mouthing words about determinism, why did the same forces cause his debater to believe the opposite? The whole argument for determinism implodes, bringing all rational discussion crashing down.

It amazes me that more people, including smart philosophers, don’t see that determinism is self-refuting. It’s impossible to believe in determinism, because belief requires free will, which refutes determinism. The joke about the man who claimed to be dead applies here. He was asked if dead men bleed. “No,” he agreed; “dead men do not bleed.” So the psychiatrist poked his finger and a drop of blood appeared. “Well, I’ll be!” said the man who claimed to be dead. “Dead men do bleed!”

No one disputes that factors inside and outside the brain can influence our beliefs. What we just ate can affect our mood and our predisposition to think certain ways. But those can be overcome by acts of the will. That happens all the time. Read biographies.

Materialism feeds determinism, because materialists have no resources other than atoms and molecules and forces with which to describe human behavior. C.S. Lewis used the argument from reason in his book Miracles to demonstrate that materialism (naturalism) is self-refuting.

The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists. The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse: it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing.

Does Determinism Deserve a Second Thought?

New Scientist has been giving inordinate time to philosophers who deny free will, like Robert Sapolsky, a reductionist, who reduces all thought to the physical brain. Would that some logician would enter the discussion and point out that Sapolsky and others who deny free will are choosing to deny it by employing their free will. If that were not true, we would have no reason to be persuaded by their evidence or logic. It would be like listening to the wind. All is vanity.

Readers who can get access to these articles should study them to see if the believers in determinism can get around this inherent logical flaw.

Free will: Can neuroscience reveal if your choices are yours to make? (New Scientist, 27 Oct 2023). Clare Wilson delves into the views of those who believe in free will and those who don’t. She repeats the commonly-cited evidence by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s that seemed to indicate our actions are determined by neurons before our minds make a choice. The self-refuting fallacy, however, is more fundamental than any such appeal to evidence, because readers are free to believe or deny the interpretation of that evidence, and often do come to opposite conclusions about it. This shows that the alleged evidence does not determine the belief.

Yet not all those who study animal brains are so confident that it will release us from the shackles of determinism. In fact, the latest argument against free will comes from Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California. In his new book, Determined: Life without free will, Sapolsky argues that the more we discover about how the brain works, and the many different influences on human behaviour, the less room there is to squeeze in the capacity for independent decision-making.

Why didn’t Wilson ask Sapolsky if he chose to write that book of his own accord?

Scientists tackling the question of free will must take great care (New Scientist, 27 Oct 2023). In fairness to New Scientist, the authors have tried to present alternative views about free will. But did they ever think to consider that determinism is self-refuting? Watch this editorial contradict itself:

But our thoughts and decisions appear to arise from the mind. The question then becomes whether the human brain, in all its complexity, can be reduced to the laws of physics. Who better, then, to take a fresh look at the conundrum of free will than biologists. In framing the question as one of psychology and neurology, rather than physics, they can apply a different set of tools – genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology – to put free will to the test, as we explore in our cover story Free will: Can neuroscience reveal if your choices are yours to make? 

This new approach is welcome. Yet biologists should be wary of a common pitfall for those who take on this challenge, namely the temptation to seek out evidence that supports pre-existing views informed by the moral implications of one answer or another.

The idea that we must have free will or else we would be forced to abandon our long-standing code of ethics, for example, doesn’t make for a good scientific case.

Instead, given the importance of the free will question to our understanding of the human condition, we must pursue an evidence-based perspective, regardless of its consequences. In that sense, at least, we surely have the power to choose.

For intelligent design perspectives on free will, including refutations of the deterministic interpretation of the Libet experiment, see the website MindMatters.ai, such as this article by neurosurgeon Dr Michael Egnor. To read about how determinism tends to foment totalitarian regimes, see this article by Dr Egnor.

Readers, leave a comment if you think our critique of determinism is missing something.

All forms of determinism, including theological ones, should be rejected on the same grounds that they are self-refuting. “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” Joshua commanded the people. He didn’t say that to people who were unable to make a choice.



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