Thursday, June 4, 2015

Subjective Experience vs. Materialistic Determinism

What if everything in the universe obeyed strict mathematical laws, and nothing -- not even personal volition, not even subatomic phenomena -- allowed for random chance?

Chance, here defined, is actual uncertainty about an event, such that if you knew the location, velocity, energy level and exact dimensions of every particle in the universe, and modeled reality in a hypothetical supercomputer, that you would not be able to predict the future with accuracy.

Materialistic determinism requires that if you somehow knew everything there was to know about this exact instance in the present, then you could know everything about the future and even the past, simply by mathematical modeling of the pieces that make up the universe. Their obedience to physical laws guarantees that you can know exactly how they will interact, with no randomness, leaving nothing to chance.

Generally, when we say that something is random, or a result of chance, it means that we can't predict it with the models we have and the knowledge of the universe that we possess. This is randomness from a human perspective. But real randomness -- absolute randomness -- does it exist?

Let's suppose it does not, and engage in a thought experiment.

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Is the Christian faith valid without overt, detectable intervention by God? Further, is it valid even if, with the exception of the Scripturally revealed interactions He's had with the world, God has literally no influence over the world and it simply obeys mechanical laws that He put in place long ago?

Theoretically, yes. I've explored this idea before, here:

There, I said this:
   When it comes to the bedrock of my faith, I know from the witness of history that He really did come in our likeness to die for our sins in our stead, so that justice could be served and I can be free from His wrath and reconciled to Him as a forgiven, redeemed and beloved son. That is ALL that is necessary to come to an unshakable faith in Him. Everything else is a splendid, wonderful continuation of His grace toward us, sanctifying us from now until the day of His return. But even without this, I have everything I need in order to be accountable to Him, to believe in Him, and to trustingly persevere to be obedient from this point on until the future consummation, even if, hypothetically, my faith received no further encouragement whatsoever, and life was one big struggle to resist despair from constant flaming arrows and assorted spiritual anguish.
                This is being content with as little as possible. When you are content with the least, you will be ever more grateful, the more you receive. The sufficiency of minimalism is not something that should characterize your faith—as resisting more than the essential doctrines of Christianity—but is something that should support your faith, being something in the back of your mind that tells you that no matter how your faith might be shaken as you go along, no matter how much it may be attacked, and how strong the temptation to despair, you know with full confidence that the core of your belief is stronger still, and no matter how wrong everything else you believe may be, no matter how effective the attempts to destroy your faith, nothing will ever be able to change the root facts of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Death Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on this hinges everything else, so hold on to it no matter what!
With that in the back of my mind, a good null hypothesis to use in approaching questioning the changes in your life is the assumption that everything is simply Newtonian action-reaction sequences without any external volitional influence (God) altering the outcome from what would otherwise be the mechanical result.

That leads to the next thing I've written about: the realization that what you're experiencing is not explainable by simple cause-and-effect phenomena. In other words, you might be able to make sense of what is, but you won't be able to find a satisfactory explanation for why it is.

I can’t explain how come I feel good when I hear that someone’s a Christian. I can’t explain how come I feel good when I do something selfless for others. I can explain why I should do that, and if that calculus were all that went into it, I would wonder indeed if what I was experiencing was merely deterministic, and that there was no lifechanging spiritual component to it. But it isn’t all that there is to it. What is it that drives my motivation, and what is it that affects my feelings? Logic can tell you what is right and wrong. But logic alone can’t make you feel good about right things and bad about wrong things. There is an element of feeling in that, and feelings are non-rational. They aren’t tied to rationality—they can’t be forced, or totally ignored. People who defiantly live sinful lifestyles still feel guilt. Why? People who do good things for others, whether they have reasons for it or “just because,” still feel good about it. Why? It’s because our conscience is somehow connected to God, and distinct from yet able to interact with our thinking mind, such that He is able to speak to us through our emotions, if we properly understand them because we interpret them correctly. Our conscience (lit. “with-knowledge”) informs us when we do something wrong. It also encourages us when we demonstrate fruit of the Spirit. I believe that the reason I can explain why I should do the right thing, but not why I should actually FEEL motivated and highly driven to do it, and content when I achieve it, is because my human mind is what understands the difference between the right and wrong, but it is God working in me that causes me to strive to do the right thing, in inexpressible irreducible mysterious ways.

The fact that I can’t describe a connection between “ought to” and “desire to” in terms of me doing the things that evidence a life of Christian spiritual growth is the one thing that, strangely, gives me, personally, the most confidence and relief to be sure that I am truly saved, and actively being sanctified through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, continuing work in my life.  [[emphases added]]
And that brings us to my summary point in writing this article.

If I have no conscious control over what I do, if everything in my experience is a result of pre-determined phenomena that force me, by laws of physics that don't leave any room for individual volition, then I would very well be functionally a robot. Ironically, because "I'm" not in charge, then it's not really "me" being punished if "I" do something wrong, because there would be no real "me" -- as distinguished from the rest of the universe. What I would call "me" would just be a region in space where there exists a certain amount and organization of matter. Everything "I" do would simply be a small portion of the natural physical cause-and-effect, action-reaction stuff that is going on in the universe.

But this begs the question. If matter is all there is, what warrants the assumption that matter could be self-aware? In none of human experience, outside of, literally, our own personal mental human experience, does there exist anything that we can identify as consciousness.


It doesn't matter if everything is just matter. The fact that "I" am aware of what's going on proves that there's something more. Mere matter doesn't have conscious awareness.

On this basis, I can scuttle the ship of personal autonomy and self-determination. There is no NEED for believing in these things, in order to be confident that there is more to life than mere matter. The fact that there is a persistent existence of some continuous, recognizable (i.e. you know that you are yourself, you don't wake up and the consciousness doesn't recognize a connection to the you you were yesterday) discrete intelligence that is associated geographically with a single physical body is enough to be confident that there's something immaterial associated with the natural world, and that it isn't able to be disassociated or destroyed without interfering with the brain. And that further begs the question, to those who think brains produce consciousness -- why should brains produce consciousness, and other orientations of matter *not*? There are large variations between brains, and a dead brain maintains all the same structures, with the only differences being lack of oxygen and maintenance of electrical gradients.

If brains produce human activity, then a brain can make a body act like a human -- but it won't have anything to do with the human having conscious existence. If all a brain is is a computer, then it just receives input and produces output via nerves.

Why should a machine that performs calculations based on stimuli, have any awareness of it?

No, the fact that there is an "I" resolves the question -- it is irrelevant if we can or can't determine that what we do does not correspond to random chance or physically deterministic phenomena. Even if that were, hypothetically, the case, it couldn't undermine faith in God -- because I have, at every moment of my life, a persisting awareness of my existence, which is itself proof of the immaterial substance known as the soul or spirit.

Of course, in reality there is more than vain philosophy to support belief in God. We can confidently know that the Resurrection took place, because of the historical presence of the eyewitnesses, whose deception could have been uncovered very easily if it were real -- and because Christ was resurrected, His claims to be God are proven -- which means everything He said was true and that He spoke from perfect knowledge: consequently, everything the Bible says is reliable information that we can stake our lives on (because He said it is).

The purpose of my thought experiment is simply to show that no matter how much you try to whittle down the question of existence, you are left with the forced recognition of the spiritual realm. No matter how far you go, you can't believe in materialistic determinism without a conscious denial -- isn't that ironic? That to deny consciousness you have to use your consciousness to do something that in a perfectly logical mechanical world would never be possible? It's amusing, really.

My thinking is similar to that of Descartes' in his "Discourse on Method," from which the famous "I think, therefore I am," comes from. But there is a slight difference. I'm not trying to disprove nihilism. I'm assuming the world exists. Assuming that there is a material world, the fact that there is ANYTHING subjective perceiving it (you don't even have to start with the admission that it is "me," rather than something else) is proof of the existence of the nonphysical.

The subjective experience of life on earth -- to which we are all witnesses -- is an inovercomeable brute fact that prohibits any rational person from refusing to acknowledge the reality of noncorporeal existence -- that thoughts, memories, feelings, will, personality, and life are immaterial -- or at least more than material -- phenomena.

Materialistic Determinism must therefore be false, predicated on the existence of a subjective awareness that perceives what is occurring. Also known as awake humans. We must deny ourselves to deny God.

Isn't that the bottom line?

~ Rak Chazak

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