Belief in Free Will, Fear of God’s Wrath, and Climate Change

One of the biggest reasons most people are incapable of accepting the simple logic that because everything has a cause, free is an illusion is that if we humans are not fundamentally responsible for what we do, that means that God must be. For atheists, who disbelieve in the historical God, and who see the universe as a collection of mass-energy moving aimlessly through space, and lacking consciousness and purpose, this reason is conveniently sidestepped; how can one rationally blame this “thing” of a universe for anything? For those of us who believe in God, or a higher power, or a conscious and purposeful universe, (personally I’m a Pantheist in the sense that I hold God and the universe to be synonymous) such a sidestepping is less possible.

There is, in fact, much more to it than that. Most of us are conditioned from a very early age to believe that if we anger God, we are setting ourselves up for punishment not just in this life, but possibly for an eternity to come after we die. While many of us, as adults, have outgrown, or reconciled, or simply refused to believe in, an omni-benevolent, or all-good, God that could condemn anyone to an eternity of suffering, we find it somewhat harder to let go of the fear that God will nonetheless punish us in this lifetime for the wrongs we do.

Our problem here is that we have been conditioned, whether directly or implicitly, to believe that holding God to be less than all-good is a profound evil. So, in order to evade God’s expected wrath, we subvert, or even quell, our reason in a manner like those victims of the Spanish Inquisition must often have, for the purpose of avoiding merciless torture, completely over-ridden their reason and beliefs, and proclaimed their agreement with whatever their well-meaning, yet truly deranged, tormentors demanded they believe.

But truth is truth. As I wrote in my recent book, Free Will: Its Refutation, Societal Cost and Role in Climate Change Denial;

Refuting free will is straightforward: (a) Everything is caused; (b) Human thoughts are caused; (c) The antecedent causes to human thoughts regress to before the person’s birth; (d) Therefore human thoughts are not fundamentally attributable to a human free will. Some free will defenses assume that demonstrating that human behavior is not fundamentally deterministic might provide an opening for free will, however, choices arising from indeterministic, or uncaused, processes cannot rationally be attributed to anything, including humans. The prospect has emerged that other mechanisms that are described as neither deterministic nor indeterministic, and can be labeled causa sui, (self-caused) or ex nihilo, (out of nothing) may be where a free will resides. However, as Strawson (1994) explains, it has not been shown how a self-caused mechanism allows for free will, and the same can be said for free will arising ex nihilo.

In other words, there exists no action mechanism that rationally or scientifically explains or defends the notion of free will, and the powerful simplicity of this conclusion could not be clearer. Yet many who read the above will refuse to believe it, probably because at a very young age, they were taught that in order to avoid Divine punishment, and earn a place in Heaven, one had better not blame God for anything. One had better adopt and integrate the fiction of a free will that flies in the face of even Biblical pronouncements regarding God’s omniscience, or complete knowledge, and of God’s omnipotence, or complete power. Certainly, if God knows what we will do before we do it, and if God is all-powerful, there is no way that anything we do can, in any fundamental way, be up to us; it must be up to God.

But what if God is now requiring that we understand, and accept, the truth of his complete sovereignty and power over us, and ascribe to Him authorship of all that happens here on Earth? What if He is requiring that, just as we outgrew the Creationism myth in favor of Evolution, we now collectively outgrow this myth of human autonomy we refer to as free will? More to the point, what if He is, upon threat of punishment of the most severe and lasting kind, is actually demanding we evolve beyond the belief in free will?

As unfair as it most rationally and certainly is for God to punish us humans for holding on to a belief that God himself placed, and keeps, in us, this is the surreal reality we now face with regard to our belief in free will, and its relation to climate change denial. You see, as I explain in my book, our belief in free will is causing a substantial percentage of a public climate change denial that, if it continues much longer, will much more likely than not result in an end to the human civilization we have worked so hard, and suffered so much, to create. And as recent climate change research is revealing more robustly, such a collapse is much more likely to occur within a few decades rather than a few centuries.

So, humanity is in quite a quandary regarding our nonsensical, in a very real way extorted, belief in free will. We either abandon it relatively quickly, or pay a price far higher than any of us can likely imagine. We either see God as the author of both good and evil – according to Isaiah 45:7, God Himself proclaims this, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” – or God may visit upon us an evil unlike any other our planet has yet witnessed.

By now, you’re probably wondering about the validity of this free will belief – climate change denial connection. Rather than keep you wondering, here’s the section of my book that addresses the rationale, and presents the research, supporting the theory;

Free will belief also contributes to climate change denial. A correlate to free will belief is that humans are fundamentally, as distinct from pragmatically, responsible for their actions. Pew Research Center (2014) reported that Americans ranked global warming near the bottom of Presidential and Congressional priorities for the years 2009 through 2014, and that only 44 percent of Americans currently believe there is solid evidence the phenomenon exists and is anthropogenic. Seeking a partial explanation for this indifference and denial, Crompton and Kasser (2010) cited evidence that individuals overcome guilt about global warming by denying their actions, refusing to care, and shifting the blame to others. In her study of Norwegian villagers relatively well informed about climate change, Norgaard (2009) found that individuals reported feeling guilty about over-consuming resources and “being a bad person.” (p. 32). Guilt is a self-attribution that requires a belief in free will. Because it is more difficult to rationally feel guilty about behavior over which one believes one has no control, guilt-induced climate change denial is fueled by free will belief.

Individuals whose self-identity is threatened by climate change information reduce the threat by redefining or dismissing the information. Gecas and Burke (1995) suggested that the need to preserve a positive self-concept leads individuals to avoid or selectively accept threatening information, and to work hard to not change their identity. Norgaard (2009) found that individuals re-define situations that threaten self-identity, and Baumeister (1998) reported that individuals dismiss such information. Because positive self-identity is largely predicated on a favorable evaluation of one’s personal morality, and the personal morality construct is dependent on the idea of free will, identity-based redefinition and dismissal of climate change information is also attributable to free will belief.

Crompton and Kasser (2010) recommended the practice of mindfulness, described as “a non-judgmental awareness of one’s experiences,” (p. 26) for one to manage environmental threats to identity, and referenced Brown and Kasser (2005), who found that the practice is empirically associated with positive environmental behavior. Mindfulness practice cultivates through meditation and intent the same attitude of non-judgment that disbelief in free will cultivates through rational assessment. As one deepens one’s understanding of the implications of free will being an illusion, it becomes increasingly difficult to rationally blame others and oneself for held attitudes and expressed behaviors. Freeing oneself of assumed fundamental moral responsibility with its often paralyzing sense of accountability may make it easier to more positively respond to climate change through an empowering attitude of genuine concern.

Kellstedt, Zahran, and Vedlitz (2008) found that helplessness also induced climate change denial. This mechanism is insidious in that the better informed individuals are about climate change, the more helpless they tend to feel, and the greater their need to deny the threat. Individuals value the feeling of efficacy free will belief can foster. Free will belief likely conditions individuals to maintain a sense of fundamental efficacy and, notwithstanding its illusory nature, avoid or deny circumstances that threaten the attitude. Overcoming free will belief may allow individuals to better accept their fundamental, as distinct from pragmatic, helplessness, and thereby reduce their need to deny climate change. While overcoming free will belief would not be easy, humanity may find this fundamental restructuring of human psychology useful. As the world experiences increased climate change impacts, guilt, blame and helplessness may increase, and induce greater denial in a downward spiral. While there are other causes of climate change denial, free will belief-based denial may render humanity psychologically less capable of confronting them.

As it seems quite wrong for me to present this information, and then ask you to buy my brief, extensively referenced, 56-page scholarly work explaining exactly why free will is an illusion, here are two links from which you can download the pdf of the entire book. If you’re a member of Meetup, you can download it for free from here, and if you’re not, you can download it for free from here.

I suppose this places free will defenders in a huge moral dilemma. They can continue to defend the notion, and be held, at least in part, accountable for our world succumbing to climate change (yes, while not actually blaming them, as per the free will belief, our world would nonetheless hold them accountable in order to discourage others from allowing their fears and self-serving beliefs to over-ride their reason, and respect for our best science.) One last, very important, point. There does exist a logical, although perhaps not completely satisfying, way of absolving even God of the evil in this world. If time extends beyond the Big Bang, and regresses eternally into the past, then we never actually reach a decision point that we could identify as being morally responsible for what is to follow. What we will have arrived at through this reasoning is a completely blameless world, which might prove a very helpful perspective.

Book Cover FINAL

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2 Responses

  1. I get your point. If people believe that they are to blame for something, they tend to deny that there is a problem to blame them for. If however, we know that we are not to blame without a free will, then we have no need to deny the problem. In this case, the problem is climate change.

    I think that part of the problem of getting people to take care of the planet is that they believe: “Who cares! We’re just going to heaven when we die and if we screw this planet up God can just fix it.”

    This creates a sort of apathy to the problem which is almost worse than the denial. Not believing in the christian god or an afterlife, I don’t believe there is some magical power to fix what I or any other human screws up. I want to do what I can to stop the planet from burning up and causing pain to future generations of all species.

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