There’s No Such Thing as Willpower

Rap star Christopher Rios, better known by his stage name, Heavy Punisher, died at the age of 28. While the exact cause of death has yet to be determined, it is widely assumed that his death was connected to his weight. You see, the reason Rios was called Heavy Punisher was that he weighed nearly 700 pounds. Now before you say anything about Rios' apparent lack of willpower, you should know that some scientists believe that there is no such thing as willpower—a view produced by the naturalistic worldview that today dominates science. In a recent New York Times article, Michael R. Lowe, a clinical psychologist, spoke for many of his colleagues when he called willpower "an explanatory fiction." That is, we believe in willpower because we don't understand how the mind works and what really causes us to act the way we do. According to Lowe and his colleagues, the truth is that our ability to control our impulses and resist temptation has nothing to do with morality. Instead, temptations are merely the product of chemical reactions in our brains. It's our ability to regulate properly the flow of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, that keeps us from eating the entire cheesecake. Neuro-pharmacologist Christine Duvauchelle recently told Forbes magazine, "we're trying to get away from value judgments about people and pointing to chemical changes in the brain that are almost impossible to resist." And, in their view, challenging the biological truth about willpower only encourages discrimination against the "dopamine-impaired." Well, it's obvious that the obese aren't the only ones who benefit from the deconstruction of willpower. This worldview enables those who continue to smoke—years after they know the dangers and after they've seen others quit—to sue tobacco companies. The problem, the say, is dopamine-impairment. Well, on that basis we can excuse any sin—"Dopamine deficiency made me do it." Now, I won't deny that brain chemistry influences the way we behave. But the argument being advanced by Lowe and others ultimately says that not only is willpower a myth, so is free will. According to their naturalistic view, human beings are reduced from "a little less than angels," as the Psalmist put it, to little more than a collection of mindless chemicals. This is a position you can only hold if you believe that human beings are nothing but a collection of molecules and cells that somehow came together by accident. Secular humanists embrace naturalism because of their belief that it frees humans from the oppression imposed by religious belief. But they've got it backwards. It is naturalism that debases us. Naturalism inevitably leads to the conclusion that there is nothing special about being human. Naturalism enslaves us by making us the prisoners of our biochemistry. Where's the dignity in that? In contrast, the biblical view frees us from the limitations of biochemistry. Human beings may have inclinations towards certain kinds of behavior, but they don't have to obey those inclinations. While it may be tempting for scientists to embrace the notion that willpower is a myth, it's ultimately a ticket to slavery. Only the biblical worldview sets us free to choose what's truly best for us, whether its closing the refrigerator door or taking responsibility for, dare I say it, human sin.


Chuck Colson



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