By Imam Rizwan Khan
Follow Imam Rizwan Khan on Twitter @ImamRizwanKhan
This post is a follow up to Imam Rizwan Khan’s previous article on atheism and belief in the unseen: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/islamahmadiyya/2015/01/belief-in-the-unseen/#ixzz3QYrqR2rk
If a Christian ever challenged me and asked, “What scientific proof do you have for the existence of Allah,” would I start giving him evidences? Obviously not. I would respond, “What right do you have to demand evidence when you yourself believe in the existence of the Trinity?” This is exactly how absurd it is when atheists ask theists for proof of the existence of God. When they hold their own blind beliefs, what right do they have to ask anyone for scientific evidence for their beliefs? So what blind beliefs do atheists hold? Plenty, but let’s start with their belief in ‘free will’.
Atheists assume that it is possible to have ‘free will’. However, ‘free will’ is a concept that cannot be scientifically proven to exist, and without ‘free will’, the idea of a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ action cannot be conceived of. For example, we do not say that a volcano is evil when it kills the inhabitants of a village because we assume that it does not have ‘free will’. But on what basis do we assume that it does not have ‘free will’? Just like us, a volcano is a complex combination of molecules. Everything it does is the result of a series of cause and effect; everything we as humans think and do is also the result of a series of cause and effect. There is nothing that happens in our brains that is outside of measurable chemical reactions.
If we believe that a mysterious outside force called ‘free will’ can influence the measurable cause and effect happening inside our brain, then we have no reason to reject that the same mysterious force of ‘free will’ can affect the cause and effect happening inside a volcano. Why is it that when a volcano kills the inhabitants of a village, it is not evil? In the same way, why is it that when a tiger kills the inhabitants of a village, it is not evil, but when a human does, it is evil? Upon scrutiny, we find that just as there is no scientific evidence to prove that a volcano has ‘free will’ or that a tiger has ‘free will’, there is also no evidence to prove that a human has ‘free will’.
One may argue that, “We must have ‘free will’ because we are free to change our behavior anytime we choose. After all, a volcano cannot choose to change its behavior because, with enough information, we can perfectly predict the behavior of a volcano, we can predict exactly when it will erupt and exactly what chain of cause and effect will make it erupt. We can hardly consider it to have ‘free will’ if we can predict exactly what it will do next and why it will do what it does next.”
However, scientifically, this is also exactly the case with humans. Our brains are nothing more than a combination of molecules; our lives a series of chemical reactions. The fact is that every one of our actions is the result of a long series of cause and effect. The assumption that a mysterious outside force called ‘free will’ is influencing these chemical reactions is scientifically nothing but fiction. It cannot be said that a human has ‘free will’ because, with enough information, every chemical reaction and every action and reaction can be predicted in a measurable way.
‘Free will’ turns out to scientifically be a baseless assumption. One way to understand this fallacy is through steps. We agree that a volcano does not have ‘free will’, but what about a tree which is slightly more complex; if not a tree, what about a mouse which is slightly more complex; if not a mouse, what about a tiger which is slightly more complex; if not a tiger, what about an ape which is slightly more complex; if not an ape, what about a prehistoric human who is slightly more complex? What was the point in our evolution after which we had ‘free will’ and before which we did not?
The reality is that in principle, there is no actual difference between humans and volcanos; they are combinations of molecules with different degrees of complexity, they are a series of cause and effect. Thus, to try and scientifically prove that humans have ‘free will’ and other animals and objects do not is futile because there is no basis to define ‘free will’, no evidence to conclude that ‘free will’ exists.
Our thoughts and opinions are nothing more than chemical reactions, and just as we can add baking soda to vinegar and make a model volcano erupt, in the same way, we can add chemicals to the human brain and make it react in different ways. For example, a mouse may seem to have more ‘free will’ than a volcano because it is an animal whereas a volcano is an object. However, if a certain hormone is injected into a mouse, its behavior will change in a measurable and predictable way, and we can repeat the experiment in a lab with consistent results. A mouse is no different from any other combination of molecules, and scientifically, neither are humans.
We can introduce a chemical to the human brain, and with enough information, predict exactly how that person’s thoughts and behavior will change. The fact is that, scientifically, all of our opinions are the result of cause and effect, and these opinions dictate the decisions we make. Each of our decisions is a measurable chemical reaction that occurs in our brain. Again, there is no evidence of humans being anything more than a complex series of chemical reactions.
If believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus, then believing in ‘free will’ is like believing in the Santa’s Little Elves. So what should you say to atheists who challenge your beliefs, all the while holding a set of their own beliefs?
There’s no need to say anything more than, “Yes, I hold beliefs, but at least I’m straight-forward about it.”
Follow Imam Rizwan Khan on Twitter @ImamRizwanKhan