Okay, let the fun begin.
This argument is a very popular one, and I personally rarely see it as something that gets refuted in our circles. That being said, I don’t really even think it’s that compelling, and maybe that’s why it’s not refuted despite the fact that it’s very commonly used in more personal groups.
The argument goes something like:
- We live in a world of material laws that govern the way materials can interact with one another
- If those laws interact within a specific set of limitations and must be followed according to those specific rules, then their possibilities are determined
- If the material laws dictate and govern the possibilities and limitations of the materials they rule over, and we know we are made of those meterials, then our possiblities and limitiations are determined by those same laws
- If we are simply the culmination of materials, abiding by the rules that govern those same materials, then free-will does not exist and is an illusion
I think this becomes a syllogism something like the following:
- Material laws determine the paths and interactions of materials
- Humans are made of material
- Humans are determined by material laws
This ends up bleeding, directly, into the revelation of DNA. We find there are commands (code) set up in every single one of our cells that tell those cells exactly how and what to do. If they have commands that dictate the functions that they perform and how they do them, then we are marching to their drums. Our DNA drives many things, if not all things, about us: what we look like, our chemical composition, etc. So for now, let’s say this is true. We are a culmination of the genetic sequences and nothing more.
But then we hit several layers that make this very interesting:
- Our surroundings vary
- Other people’s DNA impedes us
- We don’t know the limitations and capabilities of variety
- If random mutation actually exists, doesn’t that mean there’s something variable and free?
The first 2 are probably some of the less compelling because ultimately, even though they could create many “what ifs” we could follow, the argument still easily stays within the realm of: “what you’re exposed to is all your materials have to act upon”.
So let’s move to the 3rd, briefly, just to say, it’s very important we don’t minimize this massive point of reference and gaping hole in our knowledge before we draw conclusions that are not only counterintuitive, but almost certainly make rationality 1 of 2 things:
- a miracle
I don’t use those above terms lightly even though many will likely think I’m being flippant. If we are all simply randomly beating to the drum of DNA and we have no way of knowing what was developed as some form of objective knowledge about the way things work (if anything is or can be) vs simply something beneficial for preserving the persistence of the species, rationality is quite literally impossible to obtain by humans. Anything we observe must be attached with the utterly meaningless “*” to indicate that we aren’t sure if it’s true, but it’s so much more than that.
Not only are we not sure if something is true, we aren’t really sure what, if anything is or can be true.
To demonstrate: if we only say whatever our “drum” makes us think and say, then if someone utters syllables that are contrary to yours, even if you are convinced you have the “correct” ones, at best, they are “true” only for you as a means to preserving yourself and lineage. They are an “experiment of randomness” to see if it generates the appropriate response needed for preservation. Yours, and the other individual’s, are simply competing against one another for preservation with no way of knowing whether either opinion is “correct”. It’s simply a “test of survival”.
What’s more confusing is when both seemingly fundamental assertions continue to co-exist for generations, the line becomes infinitely more blurred. If everything is testing its need for survival, anything maintained is certainly necessary or objectively beneficial when resolving to fundamental mental states within a species. Neither can know what is correct and what is incorrect, and the only guide is “who survives”. Anything that survives is “right” because it’s fulfilling the only goal and purpose. No argument is compelling. No one chooses to believe anything. No one is convinced of anything new. No one “learns” anything new. You only are, think, feel, learn, know exactly what you were always going to. No right. No wrong. No rationality. No discernment or wisdom. No discovery. Only blind survival.
It erodes the very premises of all knowledge. Your belief in physics has only one merit: it’s somehow helped you to survive. You don’t “know” anything. You didn’t “discover” anything. If those that particpiate in “academic” physics were to disappear from the earth utterly, physics would have been nothing more than a failed attempt at survival. As untrue as anything else in the world. As useless and untrue as everything that failed before it.
If that sounds eroneous to you, then call me an idiot, or consider the argument deeply for yourself.
Everyone likes to take for granted all the progress humans have made, and our current position in the “food chain”. But sadly, you can’t stand on the backs of giants without either giving them credit for what they discovered while acknowledging what they believed that led them to those conclusions, or recognizing it for what it was: random tests of survival of the fittest seeing what helps us not die. No “credit” but to nature. No knowledge but what perseveres. Anything that dies had no value, no matter the temptation to grant enormity or importance to it.
The Miracle of Rationality
No doubt this will be contentious regardless of what I say, but I’ve thought about this for a very long period of time and landed at this conclusion for the time being.
If we take the above syllogism to be true, which I’m actually mostly comfortable with (to a degree of course), then we land at an impasse. We either, in my opinion, agree that rationality and objectivity are a fiction of our survival instincts and no one truly knows anything with any certainty, OR rationality is literally a miracle.
Somehow despite all the material laws, and the governance of our very thoughts, words, and actions by way of DNA and the flow of external materials, we can still “see the beyond”. We can somehow see the “truth hidden within the ‘truth'”. While this could be true, the point is that you are still, at minimum, bound to the portion above that even if there is objectivity and someone states it as part of their natural configuration, you would have no reason, ability, or method by which to determine what is nonsense from what is fact. I don’t see that as anything other than miraculous if you somehow could do it. We would basically have to do nothing other than “take if for granted” that it’s true, which I can’t see any self-respecting “rational” person doing. Taking it on faith.
And I think we all know what the traditional implication of anything “supernatural” is. So let’s agree that’s just not really possible within this context. Maybe you wouldn’t call it a “miracle”, but if you don’t, I still find you must work your way back through the “impossibility” argument at that point. If you disagree you have to tackle that, I’m open to rebuttal, but I can’t see how to get out of that rational circle without some profound “presuppositional exceptance/acceptance”, which undermines all naturalistic thought at its very core. I have never heard even one single argument, from any level of intellectual community or organization, that even gets into the ballpark of handling this without massive presuppositions or “taking on faith” assertions at their most fundamental levels.
Finally, to tie the rest of this up, we can look at the 4th point from before: If “random” mutation actually exists, doesn’t that mean there’s something truly variable and free?
I find this one to be one of the more compelling and unfortunate logical ramifications of this particular way of thinking. Let’s assume that “random mutation”, even within the limitations of natural laws but by obligation it must be inherently resolved to the reality of DNA, is true. There is this etheral “dice roller” that has the priviledge of saying, “Out of these possible outcomes that could occur from this presented configuration, let’s give this variation a go!”
You see, “random” only really has meaning when contrasted against “order”. If you have 2 or 5 million congifurations that are possible for a given system, “random” only even exists in a world where all of them were explictly possible; in no single way utterly determined. If the exact same circumstances were presented, all possible results would need to be equally possible each time; a true “roll of the dice”. The interesting part of this is that any true “randomness” would directly imply some level of external, non-governed “selector”. Something, outside of all other things, that’s truly “free” to force a selection of all possible outcomes without “rule”. In general, I find naturalists tend to call this “chance”. Some, quite literally, magical taken on faith, externally self-existent actor.
So, what is meant by “random mutation” is actually a bizarre misnomer for “determined”, even to the most fundamental level the word “random”‘s direct opposite. Everything must be unequivocally and utterly governed to the absolute most minute level, or all bets are off, especially on the way up the complexity chain. If “random mutation” is truly “random” at the genetic level, even within a given set of possible but relatively “controlled” options, the variability inherently implies either a partial to complete lack of determination or a, by defintion, impossible task of discovering its objective rule or governing reality.
So all of this leads us ending up with either:
- a degredation of rationality to the point of true and complete absurdity<
- an impossible equation directly necessitating the need for “faith” that the answer extrapolates appropriately into the realm of impossibly undiscoverable complexity which almost assuredly demonstrates something non-determined in this world
- or a world where free-will and rationality almost certainly exist in their most traditional senses or are a true and complete miracle in the fullest sense of the word
What do you think?