As I begin this post, I ask myself “Am I deciding what to write?” You might think that a strange question with an obvious answer, but if I were to have a materialist view of things then I would struggle to answer with a ‘yes’. At the heart of the problem is the question of whether I have free will or not. Am I able to exert any choice on any decision (such as what to write) or is my action simply a result of the state of the molecules in my brain at the particular time when I think I am making a choice?
If there is nothing but matter, and matter behaves according to strict laws then there is no scope for me, or you, to make a free choice about anything. Holders of the materialist view have argued that those who believe in free will need to demonstrate a mechanism before free will can be accepted to exist.
I do not subscribe to that view of things. A bumblebee flies even if I am unable to demonstrate the mechanism.
Other disagreements with such a view are subjective. Whilst I recognise that many of my actions might indeed be simply as a result of my brain state at a given time, I identify situations where I stop myself behaving according to ‘habit’ and consciously choose to behave differently.
From a practical viewpoint, our whole society is built on the basis that we have free will. If I have no free will to be able to choose how to behave, then what right has society to imprison me for murder? I would have had no choice but to kill my neighbour – it would have been an action that simply resulted from the chemical configuration in my brain at the time.
So for all practical and from all subjective points of view, I accept that we have free will.
That is step one; that we have free will.
The fact that I can call an opinion subjective inherently means that there is an “I” that is choosing to have an opinion. Similarly, I speak about personal experience which requires there to be a person. My personal subjective view is that there is indeed an “I” who is considering the facts and deciding what to write. Descartes’ famous statement “I think therefore I am” argues that the only thing I know is that there is an “I” who thinks, and therefore “I” must exist – even if everything else is just my imagination.
So step two is that there is an “I” who exists.
The next thing to consider is how I exist (with the proviso that my physical being might be a delusion – but I still exist). I exist because I have the ability to exist; something is causing me to exist. I am not causing myself to exist, it is something apart from me that is ensuring that I exist. Some might call that something ‘the laws of physics’, but I shall choose here to call that something God. (A rose by any other name …). That is step 3. There is something that sustains me (and everything else) that can be called God.
The final step is to ask whether it is reasonable to imagine that this something (God) could sustain an “I”, who has free-will (which must operate outside the laws of physics) without itself having an “I-ness” to it. Can the physical properties of a human being, which are sustained by God, ‘create’ an “I-ness” that God does not have itself? Can “I-ness” be dependent on the sustaining power of God and yet above and separate from God? And if not, then the power that sustains us must also have an “I-ness” about it.
Step four: the power that sustains us has itself the characteristics of a person: it is a personal God.