Tag Archives: nancy pearcey

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 http://www.williamjames.com/transcripts/searle.htm, 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 http://www.williamjames.com/transcripts/searle.htm, 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: http://www.apostolic.net/biblicalstudies/knowrequiresgod.htm


  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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Francis Schaeffer’s Christian Worldview offends Ryan Lizza

In my series on Francis Schaeffer’s film series “How should we then live?” I have pointed out that Michele Bachmann has received lots of criticism for being influenced by this radical that wanted to encourage people to overturn the government in 1981 in his book “A Christian Manifesto” according to Ryan Lizza. However, Schaeffer never did suggest that we are at the point where we should start a revolution because of abortion. In fact, Schaeffer is not a radical but is very much in the mainstream of the traditional Christian views derived from the Bible.

Take a look below at an excellent article by Nancy Pearcey and then be sure to look at the posts I doing on Bachmann and Schaeffer.

Dangerous Influences: The New Yorker, Michele Bachmann, and Me

by  Nancy Pearcey

The takeaway from Ryan Lizza’s hit piece on Michele Bachmann in the New Yorker is this:  “Dominionist” is the new “Fundamentalist”—the preferred term of abuse, intended to arouse fear and contempt, and downgrade the status of targeted groups of people.

Never mind that most of those people have never heard the term—including me.  Bachmann told Lizza that a major influence on her thinking was my book Total Truth (“Bachmann told me [it] was a ‘wonderful’ book”), along with the work of Francis Schaeffer, whom I studied under.

Lizza labeled the two of us Dominionists.  Dozens of liberal websites have picked up the story and repeated the charge.

I had to Google the term to discover whether there really is such a group.

Yes, there is a little-known group of Christians who claim the term, though they are typically called Reconstructionists.  Apparently it was sociologist Sara Diamond who expanded Dominionism into a general term of abuse, based on a passage in Genesis where God tells humans to exercise “dominion” over the earth.

By that definition, anyone who respects Genesis as Scripture would be a Dominionist—including Jews and Catholics, as well as Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Pentecostals.  And not a few of the American Founders.

Reductio ad absurdum.  Or so you would think.  But liberal writers have jumped on the label and are applying it to conservatives in just about all of the above groups, with a few secular conservatives thrown in.

Journalist Stanley Kurtz calls this usage of the term “conspiratorial nonsense,” “political paranoia” and ” guilt by association.”

If we’re looking for the real hermeneutical key to Michele Bachmann’s mind, surprisingly it’s right out in plain sight.  It is a term that appears several times in Lizza’s piece, though he ignores it.

The term is worldview.

A major theme in my writings and Schaeffer’s is that Christianity is a worldview.  That means it is not reducible to a set of privatized religious rituals and practices.  Instead it offers a coherent, rationally consistent intellectual framework for all of life.

Schaeffer spent most of his adult life in Europe, and his concept of worldview owes much to Dutch thinkers Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd.  Kuyper was prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 20th century and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam.  Dooyeweerd was a systematic philosopher who taught there.

They adopted the concept of worldview from Continental philosophy.  It is a translation of the German term Weltanschauung, which expresses the Hegelian notion that any given society shares a common outlook, a Zeitgeist or spirit of the age.

The implication is that a society’s cultural artifacts—its laws, customs, morality, art, politics—all express that shared spirit or common outlook.

For Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, this holistic concept of worldview did a nice job of capturing the creative impact that Christianity has had on Western culture through history, inspiring much of its art, literature, music, architecture, philosophy, and political thought.

It was this creative impulse that Schaeffer hoped to revive in our own day.

Lizza writes as though anyone who applies Christianity to all of life is a dangerous extremist.  But that shows a failure to understand how worldviews work.

Marxists offer a Marxist perspective on economics, politics, family, technology, and virtually every other discipline.

The same is true of feminism and other isms.  Even evolution:  There’s a growth industry in books applying Darwinian categories to everything from politics (Darwinian Politics), to sexuality (The Evolution of Desire), to music (The Singing Neanderthals), to creativity (Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity), to literature (Madame Bovary’s Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature).

In Total Truth I explain that such all-encompassing worldviews function as lenses through which people see the world.  Lizza quotes one of those passages, insinuating that it is a symptom of near-paranoia.  (”She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians.”)

But the role of worldviews is standard stuff among Continental thinkers.  “All facts are theory-laden” has the status of cliché in philosophy of science.

Everyone has a more or less coherent worldview that gives them a toolbox of ideas to explain the world—even writers for the New Yorker.

And even if that worldview is masked in order to appear fair and balanced while writing a hit piece on a presidential candidate.  In fact, it’s the unstated assumptions that have greatest power to influence and control public perceptions.

You might even conclude that a “Dominionist” impulse is alive and well among members of the secularized ruling class.

Meanwhile, would someone please put Total Truth into the hands of Barack Obama?  I’d love to be a dangerous influence on him too.

Nancy Pearcey is the author of the bestselling   Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity and editor at large of The Pearcey Report. She is currently a faculty member atRivendell Sanctuary in Bloomington, MN. Her latest book is   Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning. To inquire about media interviews, please emailpearcey@thepearceyreport.com or call Rivdendell Sanctuary at 952-996-1451.