How do Evolutionists answer the question: If there is no free-will, then what of morality?


How do Evolutionists answer the question: If there is no free-will, then what of morality?

Nancy Pearcey described a worldview as a mental map that helps us effectively navigate our world.  The better our worldview, the more effectively we ought to be able to navigate reality with it.  Faulty worldviews are easy to spot because they always run contrary to our pre-theoretical experience of reality at one point or another.  For example, scientific naturalists claim the material world—working according to natural processes—is all there is to reality.  There is no God, there are no angels, and there are no souls.  All that exists is what we can put in a test-tube.  This creates a problem for the concept of free-will, which in turn creates a problem for the concept of moral responsibility.

If there is no God everything is purely material, including ourselves.  Material things do not make decisions, but respond in determined ways to prior physical events.  They don’t act, but simply react to prior physical factors.  For any particular event there exists a series of prior physical causes that not only results in the event, but necessitates it.  Life, according to scientific naturalism, is like a series of falling dominoes.  When you ask “Why did domino 121 fall?” it will be answered, “Because domino 120 fell.”  Domino 121 could not decide to not fall when acted upon by domino 120.  It must fall.  If man is just physical stuff, then our “choices” and “knowledge” are like falling dominos: nothing but necessary reactions to prior physical processes.  There is no free will.  Scientific naturalists admit as much.  Naturalistic philosopher, John Searle, wrote, “Our conception of physical reality simply does not allow for radical freedom.”[1] He admitted that there is no hope of reconciling libertarian freedom with naturalism when he wrote:

In order for us to have radical freedom, it looks as if we would have to postulate that inside each of us was a self that was capable of interfering with the causal order of nature.  That is, it looks as if we would have to contain some entity that was capable of making molecules swerve from their paths.  I don’t know if such a view is even intelligible, but it’s certainly not consistent with what we know about how the world works from physics.[2]

Searle sees two pictures of the world that are at war with one another.  On the one hand science tells us that we are machines, and yet we seem to be aware of ourselves as free, rational decision makers.  He says “we can’t give up our conviction of our own freedom, even though there’s no ground for it.”[3] During an interview he said, “The conviction of freedom is built into our experiences; we can’t just give it up.  If we tried to, we couldn’t live with it.  We can say, OK, I believe in determinism; but then when we go into a restaurant we have to make up our mind what we’re going to order, and that’s a free choice.”[4]

Marvin Minsky of MIT, in The Society of the Mind wrote, “The physical world provides no room for freedom of will,” but “that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm.  Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up.  We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false.”[5]

John Bishop writes that “the problem of natural agency is an ontological problem—a problem about whether the existence of actions can be admitted within a natural scientific perspective…  Agent causal-relations do not belong to the ontology of the natural perspective.  Naturalism does not essentially employ the concept of a causal relation whose first member is in the category of person or agent (or even…in the broader category of continuant or ‘substance’).  All natural causal relations have first members in the category of event or state of affairs.”

If there is no free-will, then what of morality?  Our moral choices are not truly chosen; therefore, we cannot be held responsible for our wrongdoing, or praised for what we have done well.  In fact, if there is no God the very concepts of “good” and “evil” are entirely vacuous of true moral content.  Actions simply are; they have no moral significance other than what we determine to assign them for our own purposes.

Steven Pinker of MIT, a leader in the field of cognitive science, describes the dilemma scientists of the mind find themselves in: “Ethical theory requires idealizations like free, sentient, rational, equivalent agents whose behavior is uncaused,” and yet “the world, as seen by science, does not really have uncaused events.”[6] He wants to maintain that man is both a machine and a morally free-agent, even though they are contradictory.  He writes, “A human being is simultaneously a machine and a sentient free agent, depending on the purpose of the discussion.”

John Bishop candidly stated that “the idea of a responsible agent, with the ‘originative’ ability to initiate events in the natural world, does not sit easily with the idea of a natural organism….  Our scientific understanding of human behavior seems to be in tension with a presupposition of the ethical stance we adopt toward it.”[7]

Notice what each of these scientists and philosophers have said.  They agreed that their worldview does not allow for free-will and ethical responsibility, and yet they are forced to believe in such concepts when they leave the lab or university.  As Pearcey noted, “Adherents of scientific naturalism freely acknowledge that in ordinary life they have to switch to a different paradigm.  That ought to tell them something.  After all, the purpose of a worldview is to explain the world—and if it fails to explain some part of the world, then there’s something wrong with that worldview. … Since their metaphysical beliefs do not fit the world God created, their lives will be more or less inconsistent with those beliefs.  Living in the real world requires them to function in ways that are not supported by their worldview.”

This is where evangelism comes in.  Again Pearcey writes, “In evangelism we can draw people’s attention to the conflict between what they know on the basis of experience and what they profess in their stated beliefs—because that is a sure sign that something is wrong with their beliefs. … An effective method of apologetics can be to compel people to face the logical conclusions of their own premises. … The task of evangelism starts with helping the nonbeliever face squarely the inconsistencies between his professed beliefs and his actual experience.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  The non-Christians’ mental map is simply insufficient to navigate the real world in an effective manner.  There will always be some areas of reality they will run into conflict with; areas in which their professed beliefs conflict with their experience of reality.  Our job is simply to point those areas out, and then demonstrate how the Christian worldview does not run into the same problems.  The great appeal of the Christian worldview is that our mental map of the world is congruent with our experience of the world.

[1]John Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 98, quoted in J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 104.
2]John Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 92, quoted in J.P.Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 106.
3]Transcript of a television interview with John Searle from a program titled “Thinking Allowed: Conversations on the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery,” with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove at, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 110.
4]John Searle, interview by Jeffrey Mishlove, Thinking Allowed: Conversations on the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, PBS, at, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 394.
5]Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985), 301, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 109.
6]Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, 55, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 107.
7]John Bishop, Natural Agency (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 1, quoted in J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 104.


6 Responses to “Worldview and Evangelism”

  1. aletheist Says:

    The naturalist will claim that we are deterministically “hard-wired” to think (mistakenly) that we have free will, and that human ethics developed deterministically because it provided greater survival value for the species as a whole. Of course, there is no way to falsify this kind of “just so” story–how could we “prove” that we really do have free will to someone who insists otherwise? Also, if we really have no choice but to believe that we can legitimately make choices, why do we bother arguing about it at all?

  2. jasondulle Says:

    You are right. I would add more point. If we are determined, we could never know that to be true in any meaningful sense of the word “know,” because what we know is determined by physics, not good and independent reasons. So if determinism is true, it is irrational to think you know it to be true. I deal with this at some length here:


  3. Marvin Minsky Says:

    This article nicely summarizes some of the problems that come from the concept of free will — but it fails to see that the same sorts of problems come back at the conclusion of the article. For, the God Hypothesis only makes things worse; it simply ‘chooses’ to not ask how the God works! Are its decisions determined by laws—or by some capricious causeless cause? Evangelism doesn’t help, but only tries to ‘pass the buck’—because “it’s turtles all the way up,” which leaves us asking which God to choose.

    In other words, as Mark Twain said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”

  4. jasondulle Says:

    Marvin Minsky,

    God is a personal, immaterial being, so He would also possesses freedom of the will. In the same way we cannot predict what you will freely choose, we cannot predict what God will choose.

    God, if He exists, is the causeless cause. He could not be determined by laws, otherwise those laws would be the ultimate. But philosophers agree that if God exists, He is the metaphysical ultimate.

    Yes, there are two steps to the God question. First we must determine if a divine being(s) exist(s). If he/she/it/they exist(s), then we have to determine what he/she/it/they is/are like. Interestingly, the evidence in favor of God’s existence narrows this down for us to a personal, immaterial, eternal, non-spatial, powerful, intelligent being who transcends the physical universe. That rules out many options, leaving only a few to sort through.

    Mark Twain was wrong. That is not the biblical view of faith, and it is not mine either. Faith is active trust in what we have reason to believe is true.


  5. aletheist Says:

    Along similar lines, I recently came across this definition of faith from C. S. Lewis: “the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

    Regarding the necessary attributes of God, Paul K. Moser had this to say: “In keeping with a familiar theistic tradition, let’s use the term ‘God’ as a supreme title. It requires of its holder: (a) worthiness of worship and full life-commitment and thus (b) moral perfection and (c) an all-loving character. This does not settle the issue whether God actually exists, as the title might be satisfied by no one at all. The term might connote while failing to denote. Since God must be worthy of worship and full trust, God must be altogether morally good, a God of unflagging righteousness. A morally corrupt all-powerful being might merit fear from us but would not be worthy of our worship and full trust. So not just any unstoppable bully can satisfy the job description for ‘God.’ Even an all-powerful being who is altogether just, or fair, but nonetheless unloving would not fit the bill.” He goes on to suggest that the Jewish-Christian God is the most plausible candidate for such a being from all of world history.


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  • itsnobody  On November 27, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Polls show that 79% of evolutionary biologists believe in free-will…ROFL!

    How can anyone believe in both evolution and free-will?

    It really shows you the type and kind of people that evolutionists are.

    If you’re unwilling to question the unbelievably weak evidence supporting evolution but then willing to question the unbelievably strong evidence telling us that free-will is non-existent this means that you don’t care about evidence, you care about forcing your evolution belief onto society!

    The scientific evidence telling us that free-will is non-existent is literally a million times more concrete than the evidence supporting evolution…it’s based on repeatable experiments and direct observations.

    Almost all the evidence supporting evolution is just imaginations and speculations (which evolutionists are unwilling to question).

    Also, non-determinism falsifies evolution.

    It really shows you how evolutionists don’t really care about evidence.

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