Dennis Prager’s Point #8:
If there is no God, the human being has no free will. He is a robot, whose every action is dictated by genes and environment. Only if one posits human creation by a Creator that transcends genes and environment who implanted the ability to transcend genes and environment can humans have free will. (Note 1.)
As is often the case with these items, I object to both the overall thrust of Mr. Prager’s assertion and the particular argument that he makes to support his case.
The broadest issue here is that the statement is arbitrary and unfounded; there is no more reason to posit a God to explain free will than to explain any other observable entity or quality. Free will - the ability of a human being to choose his actions - may be more difficult to understand than say, a simple object that one may hold in one’s hand, but it is nonetheless as ostensive and undeniable as any direct perception.
If free will seems “mysterious,” it is so not because only miracles can it explain it (as if that were an explanation at all), but because we have gaps in our knowledge and an incomplete understanding of human consciousness. As with all knowledge, the only way to improve our grasp of the operations of consciousness is to apply reason; faith can never yield an iota of knowledge of anything. In any case, the advance of our understanding of free will is irrelevant to its simple identification, which is the issue at stake here. No matter what our state of knowledge is or ever will be, the existence of free will is undeniable, for I can perceive it directly in myself (via introspection), and can generalize (via observations of others) to conclude that it is a quality of all humans. God never enters into it.
Let us now examine the particular argument offered by Mr. Prager, the sentence upon which the logic of his point entirely rests: “Only if one posits human creation by a Creator that transcends genes and environment who implanted the ability to transcend genes and environment can humans have free will.”
Is this really how creation in general works? A creator must himself have the characteristic that he “implants” into his creation? Prager’s proposition, in essense, states this: only a creator with quality x can implant this x into his creations.
Let’s take this out of the supernatural realm to see if it holds true generally. If it were so, I could replace “the ability to transcend genes and environment” in Mr. Prager’s sentence with some other quality. For example: “Only if one posits the creation of a communication device by a creator that can travel at the speed of light, who implanted the ability to travel at the speed of light, can such a device exist.” Well, I cannot travel anywhere near the speed of light (at least, not in the reference frame of my dear reader), yet the radio circuits that I create do indeed send information that fast. It is simply not true that I myself must travel at light speed to create a device that can send radio waves. Similarly, a painter need not possess physical beauty to make a painting that is beautiful; a computer designer does not need to be capable of performing millions of floating-point calculations per second in his head in order to design a computer to do so; an architect need not be extraordinarily tall to create a skyscraper. Prager’s logic here (insofar as logic can pertain to God) is patently wrong.
Nevertheless, let us momentarily accept Mr. Prager’s premises to examine another aspect of his proposition. He offered “transcendence” from a merely mechanistic universe as being one of the characteristics of his God, one which is necessarily possessed by God for Him to imbue it to man.(Note 2.) We could substitute considerably less appealing characteristics without disturbing the validity of Prager’s logic. For instance, it would be just as valid to say, “Only if one posits human creation by a Creator that is petty, cruel, power-lusting, superstitious, and foolish who implanted the ability to be petty, cruel, power-lusting, superstitious, and foolish can humans display such characteristics.” I’m not sure Mr. Prager would wish to characterize God as possessing every possible human trait (though there is plenty of support for God’s power-lusting and cruelty in the Old Testament), yet it follows directly from his own formulation. One might object that it is not fair to substitute free will, which offers only the potential for malevolent choices (cruelty, power-lusting, etc.), with those qualities themselves, but there is nothing in Prager’s logic that supports this restriction. The objection would simply represent further mental contortions to escape faulty logic.
There is another curious implication from Prager’s point, too, that he probably did not intend. From a certain perspective, he accidentally implies that except for free willed beings, nothing else would require God to be its creator. Specifically, his emphasis that free will and human behavior require some sort of divine “transcendence” that is explainable only by introducing a God as a creator suggests that the rest of nature might be explainable in natural terms. Again, this is not something that Mr. Prager is likely to agree with, for surely he believes that all of nature - inanimate objects and life-forms simpler than humans - were created by God. If so, though, why introduce some special considerations for beings that possess free will? Prager could have said simply, “God created humans like He created rocks, only He deemed that humans have free will. Period.” Instead, Prager used this “transcendent” quality of man as evidence of a transcendent God, which suggests that without man no such evidence would exist.
In short, Mr. Prager’s assertion pertaining to free will is completely unfounded. His proposition is demonstrably wrong, collapsing in defeat before any number of simple counterexamples, and it gives rise to some implications that are likely inconsistent with Prager’s own vision of a perfect, omnipotent God. Man’s free will is directly observable, and is thus undeniable. Any attempt to validate free will by referring to the realm of God not only is unnecessary, but actually sabotages its defense by implicitly accepting that no natural explanation is possible.
(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.
2. I think Prager has used “transcendence” here in a meaningful manner, to distinguish free will from deterministic processes. Nevertheless, I suspect he may have chosen the word to hint at the more familiar and vague “transcendence” of God from the physical, empirical, non-spiritual, etc., a trait that is no doubt appealing to those who tend to value mystery and poetry above precision.