In this blog post I will seek to illuminate a thought I have been considering lately and a topic that I have brought up to some of my friends and family that has certainly garnered some interest, not because they have become convinced, but simply because it is both fairly radical but at its base eerily logical. That is not to say my theory is without its holes (I am sure there are plenty – please find them so I can either patch them or lose this idea I am approaching), but that I think it at least makes some connections that make sense to the people I have discussed it with. In the words ahead, I will attempt to explain to you why I believe that the existence of Free Will as many of us imagine it, necessitates the existence of more than just a physical existence; it commands the existence of what I call a “spiritual reality” that subsists, at the very least, within our individual identities. **Side Note: Personally, this is an original thought but that does not mean the idea is historically original; it is quite possible that many others before me have thought these same thoughts and written about them. I have always preferred theology, as well as the ontological philosophies (the study of existence or being), but am not incredibly well read on general philosophy, specifically, as it pertains to the topic of this post, on the nature of the Soul and Body so if you know of any, please let me know so I may read more into it!**
A common argument made by theologians, scientists, and philosophers alike is that, inherently, we have no free-will. They argue this, quite convincingly, from a cause-and-effect, scientific point of view. The argument goes something like this: Every action taken is only a byproduct of predictable chemical reactions within the body and as much as we would like to say otherwise, we have no control over how these chemical reactions manifest themselves. For example, your choice to say something kind to a stranger is only a byproduct of chemical reactions induced by tangible, societal, cultural, and historical stimuli in the same way that you would pull back, due to the stimulus of pain, from a hot item on the stove. Since the world around us is rational and its laws are static, the argument goes, the same can be said about the chemical reactions within our bodies. The natural laws that govern them are constant and will therefore develop from A to B to C exactly how those natural laws predict they will, regardless of whether we completely understand them yet. According to the argument, we have no ability to manipulate the chemical reactions within our body because even our processes for thought are chemical reactions that follow natural laws. To put my own term on it, this is called the “Rational Transitive Nature of the Will.” This title uses “rational” because it assumes it follows objective, universal laws, “transitive” because it measures the interaction between multiple different points of cause and affect, and it pertains to the Will because its premise has direct implications to our understanding of our own decisions.
I fully accept this argument, but only as logical preface to another argument, and not in its conclusion of the absence of free will; for I most certainly do believe in Free Will. This is a standpoint based on my Christian faith, although it should be noted many great Christian thinkers like John Calvin and Seth Iverson (haha) would certainly disagree with me, I am not going to dilute my main argument with a theological argument for its biblical or theological validity, as that would only be a long and unnecessary digression from my main point, which assumes an already substantiated belief in Free Will. On one hand I believe that physical law dictates that we should have no control over our bodily functions yet on the other hand I believe that human beings do in fact have Free Will. How do I hold these two seemingly contradictory beliefs at the same time?
The answer lies within the dichotomy between humans as a Soul and humans as a physical Body. To claim that natural law dictates that we have no control over our actions necessitates the sole identity of the human to be a that of a physical being with no symbiotic relationship with a Soul or Spirit (I will leave discussion of the Spirit for another time). This is because, and this is my main point, the only way for us as humans to have any ability to control our own actions necessitates some sort of spiritual or non-physical identity, either lying within us, as a secondary existence to our physical bodies, or defining us, as our most basic reality, that has both the power and capability to manipulate our own physical identity. The only way for us to be able to change those chemical reactions is to have some sort of supernatural ability to control certain aspects of our physical bodies.
It is important to note that I am not arguing for the existence of Free Will, but only for the reality that if one has already concluded in the existence of Free Will, from a theological standpoint or otherwise, then it is absolutely necessary that he or she concludes, then, that it is not possible for only the physical world to exist and that something spiritual must reside in our universe or, at the very least, within our identities. If you don’t believe in Free Will, you follow a very logical idea, even though I would deem it, in the end, false, but I don’t want you to go anywhere! Please keep reading; I’m glad you’re here!
The conclusion that there is more to this world than the physical is not a revolutionary idea. It is quite the contrary actually, for I think that most people, even in a secular nation such as ours, have reached this conclusion or, at the very least, would if they really devoted some time to think about it. The definition of an atheist, for me, is “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being, being, or a spiritual reality beyond the physical,” which expands Dictionary.com’s definition of atheism as the denial or disbelief of only the existence of a supreme being or being; my definition would include rejection of belief systems like The Force from Star Wars or the Ying Yang philosophical thought process. Essentially for me, an atheist is anyone who either 1) actively believes that only the physical world exists or 2) has the absence of a belief in some form of spiritual reality, both characteristics reducing existence to only what we can experience tangibly or sensibly (with our sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell). What I am arguing, at least within the confines of this post, is that it is illogical to subscribe to atheism, following my definition, if you believe in Free Will.
If you believe in Free Will and you think my argument makes sense, but your desire to remain an atheist requires you to resort to more precise definitions, such as Merriam Webster’s that simply states that atheism is only “a disbelief in the existence of a deity,” it is absolutely allowable. If this is your definition of atheism, which would not include disbelief in other forms of non-physical, spiritual realities, than it is important to recognize this separation and to not keep this definition from defining your beliefs on all spiritual reality. If you reject my definition you can fully be an atheist and still believe that there is something more to this world than the physical.
There are many, many more arguments to be had for the existence of a spiritual reality of some sort, and still many arguments to be had that this spiritual reality exists as it is described in the Bible, but those arguments are for another time. My only goal for this post was to get my friends, especially those who don’t already believe in the non-physical, to begin thinking about the possibility that their current beliefs on Free Will dictate some form of a spiritual reality. So, please go ahead and do that. If you think so, tell me I’m incoherent, tell me I repeat myself too much, tell me I repeat myself too much, or tell me whatever you think of my argument; just give it some thought. That’s all I can ask.
- My goal in this post was not to convince those who were against a belief in a spiritual reality to reject their beliefs on Free Will, as that could pose a whole host of moral and legal crises for our society. If people are not actually accountable for their actions can we actually punish people for being immoral? If we shouldn’t, should we punish even those who would punish others for their actions, as we deem it also immoral? You see, the problem becomes not only a downward spiraling vortex but also a massive, complicated spiderweb that navigating through would be most sticky indeed.
- From another less sophisticated perspective (which I can readily admit I am much more prone to than its inverse), it is quite engaging and illuminating (or, more aptly, fun) to think of our ability of Free Will to manipulate matter as a certain form of supernatural power. I mean, just think about it. If I am right, in a way, we can quite literally manipulate matter and chemical reactions with our minds. It’s kind of like some light-saber-wielding friends of mine. The next question that begs us is “why is it only limited to our body?” Why can we only manipulate that which is physically attached to us? Is our soul constrained to our physical body and does it only interact with the brain? Its fun to think about, but it is rather childish and doesn’t really have actual implications.