Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ramen Noodles or Lasagna? - Clark

[O]pponents [of determinism] frequently rest their case for free will on their own consciousness of freedom. It seems immediately and introspectively clear to them that their choices are uncaused. But such a view assumes that they would be conscious of causality . . . [What are the] conditions under which a man could know that he had a free will [?]

We observe in children and sometimes in adults atypical forms of conduct that we ascribe to fatigue (the child is fussy because he has missed his nap) or to nervous strain (the adult blows his top or takes to alcohol). The individuals in question are acting voluntarily and may well believe that their choices are uncaused. We know better. We know what the causes are, and we know that they do not recognize them. Although it is easy to see this in the case of other people, there is a tendency to overlook the fact that the same is true of ourselves. We usually assume that nothing is affecting our own will, just because we are not conscious of the causality. But how could we be sure that there is no cause? What conditions would have to be met before we could know that nothing is determining our choices? Not only would we have to eliminate the possibility of fatigue and nervous strain, but we would have to eliminate other factors that are neither so easily examined after we think of them nor so easily thought of in the first place. There are minute physiological conditions beyond our usual or possible range of attention. Some incipient disease may be affecting our minds. There are also external meteorological factors, for admittedly unpleasant weather is depressing. And can we be sure that a sunspot, whose existence we do not suspect, leaves us unaffected? Even though the will is not mechanically determined, these external conditions as well as our physiology seem to alter our conduct to some extent. More important than physiology and astronomy is psychology. May there not be some subconscious jealousy that motivates our reactions to other people? Why do we eat chocolate sundaes when we know that we should reduce? Are we free from the influence of parental training? The Scriptures say, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." [Proverbs 22:6] Parental training and all education proceed on the assumption that the will is not free, but can be trained, motivated, and directed. Finally, beyond both physiology and psychology there is God. Can we be sure that he is not directing our choices? Do we know that we are free from his grace? The Psalm says, "Blessed is the man whom you choose and cause to approach you." [Psalm 65:4] Is it certain that God has not caused us to choose to approach him? Can we set a limit to God's power? Can we tell how far it extends and just where it ends? Are we outside his control?

The conclusion is evident, is it not? In order to know that our wills are determined by no cause, we should have to know every possible cause in the entire universe. Nothing could be allowed to escape our mind. To be conscious of free will therefore requires omniscience. Hence there is no consciousness of free will; what its exponents take as consciousness of free will is simply the unconsciousness of determination.

Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, in Christian Philosophy, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark Vol. 4 (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), 261-262. Italics and brackets mine. Also in God and Evil: The Problem Solved (inexpensive and much recommended).

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