Part of the extended series Evidence for the Faith
Humanness and Theism
The most immediately available evidence we all have for the reality of God is our own human experience. It may not be immediately obvious why this is so, however. In this first set of posts in my Evidence for God series I propose to explain the connection as I see it.
In our humanness we share much with the animal world, but it is our distinct differences I’ll be concentrating on in this portion of the series. The form of the discussion will be similar in each case, going something like this: Humans experience ourselves and the world in a manner that is difficult to explain on naturalistic atheism or impersonal deism or pantheism. The best explanation for our experience is in our being created in the image of a personal God.
Notice what I am not arguing for here. This part of the discussion doesn’t necessarily point at Jesus Christ or the God of the Bible, at least not until later on when I discuss Christianity’s uniquely satisfying solution to the characteristic problems of human existence. It’s a general argument for a personal God.
A Cumulative Case
Also by way of introduction, these articles are each contributions to a cumulative case for God and for Christianity. I don’t necessarily expect any one of them to be fully persuasive on its own. In their combined effect, though, I think they should be persuasive to any rational person.
Natural vs. Procrustean Fit
I’m not necessarily arguing that naturalism or other systems are completely incapable of offering explanations for the way it is to be human. For certain topics I think that really is the case. Rationality seems impossible on naturalism, for example, or rather if naturalism were true, it would be impossible rationally to know it is true, or that anything else is, for that matter. In other cases I will make a softer claim: that theism provides a more natural fit. Naturalsim may offer an answer but it’s a forced fit, Procrustean solution, in which humanity has to be hammered into an unrecognizable shape to accommodate the requirements of a naturalistic worldview.
The most obvious instance of this is our human ability to make a decision and act on it. You and I have a measure of free will. It’s not absolute: no one can freely choose to live in the White Hose; and yet every political campaign rings with words of choice, so even the presidency of the United States is a matter of free will. Presumably if you agree with me on this it is because you have chosen to agree, and if you disagree it is also because you have chosen to disagree.
Indeed, while the first evidence of free will is our own direct experience, there is a second line of evidence in the very disagreement of those who dispute free will. Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris have publicly declared it an illusion. Dan Dennett has tried to provide a nuanced account of it, though he doesn’t succeed (in my view) in providing a really human form of free choice. If they are right, however, it could only be because they were forced to it, and we who disagree are also forced to it in equal measure and by identical forces. (This overlaps with the Argument From Reason, coming soon in this series.) It’s rather absurd for them to think that the impersonal, a-rational forces requiring them to reach their conclusion did a better job for them than the same forces did for those who disagree with them.
Free will seems to be essential also for moral responsibility. I am really responsible for the moral intentions and effects of my choices only if I make my choices. Otherwise something else gets the credit or the blame.
The Naturalist Answer: Get Out the Hammer
And what is that something else? According to naturalism (the most prominent form of atheism) it’s natural necessity and quantum chance acting upon initial conditions in each human, primarily in our brains, which were in turn the product of natural necessity and quantum chance acting upon prior conditions. It’s physics, pure and simple. We have no more control over thoughts or actions than a rock has over its actions.
Naturalists typically respond by saying something like this:
That’s exactly right we have no free will—although it’s hard to see that it’s right, because it’s so difficult to recognize that there’s no distinction between you and me as persons, and the natural processes inside us that make us be and do what we are and what we do. When those natural processes do what they do, we do what we do, it’s wrong to draw a line separating the two levels from each other.
That’s one common answer. It’s not an impossible one, I’ll grant. It’s just a Procrustean one. It doesn’t fit human experience, and it doesn’t square with rationality or moral responsibility. The only thing it fits at all well is a certain set of assumptions about what reality is like: physics, all the way up and physics, all the way down. So I take it that our experience of free will, and the absurdity of denying it, constitute evidence that reality isn’t just physics all the way up and down.
That leave options including various forms of Eastern religions and various versions of theism. It doesn’t rule everything out. It doesn’t even quite rule out naturalism. It only displays how hard we have to hammer on our humanness to make it seem likely that naturalism —which by way of reminder, is a very typical form of atheism these days — could be true. Even a committed atheist like Thomas Nagel takes free will, and other aspects of humanness, as evidence that something other than naturalism must describe the basic order of reality. His answer is to force-fit something like Mind into a cosmos without God.
Theism’s More Natural Fit
If the world was created by God, however, and if humans are made in his image as a freely acting God, then free will need not be an illusion, and our experience need not be an anomaly. We would in that case be reflecting the most basic characteristics of reality, in our most basic experience of our personal portion of reality. It fits, andit fits well.