Humans alone declare independence from physical laws
Science is the study of the material world. The material world works according to a series of physical laws. These laws seem to be universal throughout time. The laws also seem to apply everywhere throughout the universe. Where these laws come from, or why they exist, has never been adequately explained by science.
In a universe emanating from an infinite explosion, one might expect a world of chaos. Why there is order and physical laws is a mystery to science.
The material world of science raises certain problems for human philosophy and understanding. We are made of material, and so our bodies obey material laws. Therefore some scientists have come to the conclusion that all of our actions stem from the interactions of these materials and physical laws.
These scientists say that human behavior is the result of the chemical and physical reactions in our brains. Human behavior becomes nothing more than what we have been “preprogrammed to do” since the beginning of our universe. Some scientists claim that we are just the results of our DNA and its chemical ability to reproduce itself.
The question then becomes one of man’s free will. Many well-known scientists have specifically stated that free will does not exist. Francis Crick says, “It seems free to you, but it’s the result of things you are not aware of.” E.O. Wilson states, “The hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will.” Doesn’t it seem strange that these scientists, who specialize in the material world, fall back on the description of invisible activities to explain reality?
Crick and Wilson were under no physical law, or threat, compelling them to write those words. I feel no compulsion to write similar words. Do they think those words help them fulfill the destiny of their selfish genes? If the physical laws governing biological systems compel them to propagate, why have both chosen to remain childless? Their choices seem contradictory to their claims that there is no free will.
As I sit and write this column, I have a sandwich next to me on the desk. I can stop and take a bite, or I can ignore the sandwich and let it grow stale. I could throw it across the room if I wanted to. Once I’ve tossed the sandwich, physical laws will take over and determine its direction and rate of fall. But the decision to throw it is mine alone. So the action would not be the result of physical laws, but of my own free will.
If free will does not exist, then the entire vocabulary concerning praise and blame, approval and disapproval, admiration and contempt is eradicated. There is no longer any “should” or “ought” in the decisions we make. We could go so far as to say that we have no grounds on which to condemn any crime.
Scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Francis Crick, and E.O Wilson believe that humans are no different from animals and occupy no special place in creation. Yet by their own words and actions they acknowledge that there is one creature, of all the creatures, that can deny their genetic demands and alter the physical laws governing their brains. And the only creature capable of these things is a human.
As humans we are, apparently, not totally free. I am not free to alter the course of the sandwich through my digestive system. (I didn’t throw it. It was peanut butter and honey for Pete’s sake!) But, on the other hand, I am free to offer charity to a man on the street. The actions of my body are subject to physical laws, but the decision to offer gifts is mine alone.
It is fascinating to me that the entire universe appears to be governed by physical law, but only one creation can make decisions that can alter the course of these laws: mankind.
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Gary McCallister is professor of biology at Mesa State College.