Post Author: Bill Pratt
In the previous post, we saw that physicalism seems to inevitably lead to determinism. Determinism, if you recall, means that every event, including all of your thoughts, feelings, desires, and choices, is determined by the physical conditions antecedent to it. The renowned atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell said it this way:
When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behavior is a result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination.
If determinism is true, then what follows? J. P. Moreland points out that “a number of philosophers have argued that physicalism . . . must be false because [it] impl[ies] determinism and determinism is self-refuting.” Moreland quotes J. R. Lucas speaking of the determinist:
If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and of nothing else. He does not hold his determinist views because they are true, but because he has such-and-such stimuli; that is, not because the structure of the universe is such-and-such but only because the configuration of only part of the universe, together with the structure of the determinist’s brain, is such as to produce that result. . . . Determinism, therefore, cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to cause us to respond in some way desired by them.
Moreland also quotes H. P. Owens:
Determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it, I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false.
Determinism, and therefore, physicalism, then appear to be self-refuting. It might be helpful to flesh this out more. Moreland argues that physicalism, itself, undermines rationality. The physicalist cannot claim to know that physicalism is true, or claim to believe in physicalism for good reasons, because to know something is true for good reasons requires at least three factors be assumed.
These three factors are intentionality, an enduring I, and genuine libertarian free will. All three of these are conditions of rationality will be discussed in part 2 of this series.