I know a young man. Let’s call him John. John’s father was a criminal and raised him to be one too. John has five brothers, and every one of them is either currently in prison or on parole. John dropped out of school and joined a gang where he began his criminal career in earnest, specializing in robbery and drug dealing when he was not binge drinking and high on meth. His first prison stretch was seven years for armed robbery. His second was three years for possessing a firearm in violation of his parole. John has spent nearly one-third of his life locked up.
After he got out of prison the last time, John decided to try to turn his life around. He is two years sober, which he attributes to a literal miracle. That is not hard to believe given the over 90% relapse rate among meth users. He is married, holding down a job, supporting his family and raising three beautiful children.
According to our materialist friends, this should not be possible. You see, John has no free will, and everything about him is completely determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In a comment to a recent post Seversky summed up the materialist view as follows:
We all agree that we experience or have the sensation of exercising free will. But no sane person can deny that much of what they are physically and psychologically was inherited from their parents through their genes. No sane person can deny that their character or personality was shaped in their formative years by influences of which they were unaware and over which they had no control. So no sane person can deny that to that extent what and who we are was determined or constrained by history. Given the above, to what extent can we be said to have free will?
I presume Seversky’s question is a rhetorical one, with an implied answer of “to no extent at all.”
Perhaps I should pick up the phone, call John, and tell him to knock the whole “turn my life around” thing off, because our materialist friends insist he is doomed. He comes from a family in which 100% of the males are career criminals. Genetically, he is screwed. From an early age he was conditioned toward a life of crime, and as soon as he could he joined a gang and launched a criminal career that was spectacular in its sheer mendacity. He was a criminal and he surrounded himself with criminals. Environmentally, he is screwed.
If Seversky is correct, if John’s choices are constrained by his genetic and environmental history, John is doomed to a life of criminality. There is literally no genetic or environmental underpinning for anything else. Yet, there he is. Two years sober, holding down a job, and raising a family.
What happened? John will tell you Christ happened. You see, my wife led John to accept Christ a few years ago. There was no instantaneous change at that time, and he even did a brief stretch in jail afterwards. But John says the seed was planted, and in due time it bore fruit, the fruit of a transformed life.
But if Severseky is right, the whole idea of “transformed life” is nonsensical. John has no free will. He has no ability to choose other than what his genetics and environment conditioned him to choose.
But there he is, acting for all the world like he can choose to change. Hmm. Maybe the materialists are wrong. Maybe John has free will after all, and maybe he can choose to turn away from a life of brutality and hate and embrace an ethic of love, mercy and forgiveness.