"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, January 08, 2007

Free Will makes NYT

Interesting article here. Then discussed further here. Scott Adams also has yet another post on this topic here.

To get an idea of where these articles are coming from here's a few pertinent quotes.

"A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control."

“If people freak at evolution, etc.,... how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”j

"According to deep mathematical principles, they say, even machines can become too complicated to predict their own behavior and would labor under the delusion of free will."

"Dr. Wegner said he thought that exposing free will as an illusion would have little effect on people’s lives or on their feelings of self-worth. Most of them would remain in denial. 'It’s an illusion, but it’s a very persistent illusion; it keeps coming back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s trick that has been seen again and again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you get fooled every time. The feelings just don’t go away.'"

"Dr. Silberstein,... noted that every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?” People who believe already that humans are magic will have no problem with that."

I'd have to say if the supernatural is ruled out, I am forced to agree. For any serious scientist with a priori denial of the supernatural the idea of free will must go by the wayside. This is no surprise to me. What does surprise me is when I talk to some of my atheist friends who affirm the truth of their free will yet deny the possibility of the supernatural. If at some point information surfaces that effectively disproves the possibility of the supernatural, I will be first in line to sign up to the theory of our supposed lack of free will. I don't see how we can have it any other way.

The naturalist would say we are comprised of mindless chemicals which are the source of every thought we think and every impulse we feel. By extension that would also have to encompass every 'choice' we think we are making. The very idea that you are 'yourself' is an illusion. The idea that you have control of your body is an illusion.

This raises a question. For most, the idea that we do not have free will would require us to fundamentally change how we view reality. From our birth we have been taught that we are responsible for our actions. We are told we can make good decisions and bad decisions. We are told we are responsible for our actions. If it is indeed true that we do not have free will, what do we do with the entirety of our up-bringing that has embedded in us the idea that we do? This is not just a problem for the theist. Any thoughtful Atheist who is taking the time to read this should consider the implications of this mindset. If we have no free will, everything you believe to be true is pure illusion. You are an illusion.

I have to admit, as a theist, that's a pretty tough pill for me to swallow. I would have to fundamentally change they way I view the world to accept this idea.

A parallel situation occurs for the atheist with regards to the resurrection as articulated here by Matt:

The resurrection, on the other hand, assuming that Jesus went from death to life because he was the son of God, is completely alien to my experience of the world to date, given that on every other witnessed occasion the dead stay dead. Accepting its truth would require me to fundamentally change the way I think about the world - raising the required evidence to an extremely high-level. Even the evidence of my own eyes (which are prone to mistakes) wouldn't be enough.

It's as if Matt is stating exactly my feelings, only I feel them towards the notion that we have no free will.

Though I'm sure there are other options the discussion we have been having so far leads me to this decision: Is is more likely that my life experience has been correct and that we do have free will, thus opening the door to the supernatural. Or is it more likely that my entire life is an illusion and what we can see and test in this universe truly is the whole show.

To accept my problem above we must accept that free will = supernatural. Some will disagree with me. I'd like to hear why.

It would seem that the naturalistic wold view can do nothing but devalue us, whereas Christianity affirms our worth and explains it's reality. I don't mean that to be petty name calling. I mean it simply for what it is. Naturalism affirms there is no God, no objective morality, no objective beauty, love is just chemistry and our free will is an illusion.

I have a hard time with that. I also have a hard time with the possibility that miracles exist. I've never seen an overt "heavens being opened in front of me" kind of miracle. However, just because I have never seen one says nothing of it's possibility. I want to believe that I have free will. I want to believe that love is real and more than 'just' chemicals. I want my life to have meaning, worth and value. From everything I've learned to date Christianity preserves these longings that we all have better than any other system out there.

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26 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

There's a nice bit on the issue of free will in Simon Blackburn's 'Think'. Once I've recovered from the flu, I might try and summarise what he has to say here.

4:45 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Yish... Sorry to hear you got the bug. I have some kind of cold myself. I have a few more things to say on the topic that I'll toss up here eventually.

Hope you feel better.

7:59 AM

 
Blogger Ryan said...

Well I must say this is interesting reading. I have been following this blog as closely as I can. You guys have more time on your hands than I do these days. Alex you have some very interesting thoughts. I am trying to get caught up, so I can make some thoughtful comments. But you are posting faster that I can read them :) I will get caught up and get in on the discussion. But I just wanted to let you know that I was reading and enjoying! Keep up the good work.

3:33 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

It looks like we've all slowed down, esp. Matt and myself. I'm currently bogged down by two things: (a) I'm reading some stuff on the cognitive bases of religion in order to come up with an interesting experiment to do. The field is about explaining why people believe in supernatural beings. (b) I'm thinking very hard about Hume's argument against miracles. This is partly thanks to Matt, but also partly due to the fact that I need to write an essay for this class I'm doing. I can't shake the intuition that there's something flawed about Hume's argument, but I can't figure it out. Yet.

Now, on free will. I've written about Libet, Wegner and Dennett at a more academic level, and while I disagree with some of what they have to say, I must affirm with them that if we have freedom, it is not found in Descartes' ghost-in-the-machine. We do not have immaterial souls at the centre of our brains, controlling our movements. If we have freedom, it will be explainable in naturalistic terms. (Note: This means I disagree wholeheartedly that the supernatural needs to be invoked in this matter.)

Furthermore, if we have freedom at all, we have very little freedom. Much of what occurs in our minds, occurs under the surface. Our drives, desires, wants, and needs are handed to us via evolution and conditioning. A lot of what we do moment-to-moment is reflexive rather than reflective.

Whether or not the libertarians are right or the compatibalists are right is a difficult question, but I am inclined to join the compatibalist camp (unlike my fellow Christians philosophers and scientists). For example, I cannot, for the life of me, see how quantum indeterminancy can safeguard human freedom.

If there's an issue in which Alex and I have the most disagreement, this will be it.

4:55 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Jon,
Trying to get caught up. I am miles behind you in academic learning, so I apologize that perhaps most of what I say is off base. This is what I mean about honest disagreement forcing me to learn something new!

I'll read up and report back when I can have a somewhat more informed opinion. I have a vague feeling that I agree with you on several points that you think I disagree with you on, but I can't know for sure until I actually understand what it is you are saying! =)

6:23 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Ryan,
Thanks for the heads up! Hope to see you around. You should give a call sometime!

9:09 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was warned about this sort of thing in first year theology, but I think this applies to every academic discipline. A friend told me, "It takes 3 years to learn all the jargon in theology...and a lifetime to learn to forget it." I do apologize for all the places I am obtuse; it is elitist and wrong (as I believe the great Hugh Grant said)!

revvvvvvvd

10:38 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Still fairly mucus-ridden at the moment, so I'll keep this short.

I can't shake the intuition that there's something flawed about Hume's argument, but I can't figure it out. Yet.

I think that Hume's argument, that the more out of the ordinary an event the more sceptical we should be, holds as a general maxim. However, as an iron law it runs into problems - especially when Hume's general philosophy is applied to it.

The point of 'On Miracles' (as I understand it), is that rationally we have no good reason for believing in miracles (where defined as a complete violation of natural law). However, as Hume goes to great lengths to point out elsewhere, reason cannot be a motivating force in human behaviour, it "is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions".

Let's say that I woke up tomorrow to discover that God had appeared above every major city in the world, and was making a speech that could be heard, no matter where they were, by everyone. He had been captured on film by a number of media companies, and had left most of the world's scientists either baffled or converted.

Rationally, I would have to accept that the two most likely answers are either that this is a hoax on an unprecedented scale, or that I'd gone mad.

However, like most people, I'd probably accept the reality of what was happening - this is because there's too much riding on it to dismiss it as a hoax, and very few people would accept the idea that they're insane. Reason would take a back-seat to self-preservation and self-image.

6:43 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

To accept my problem above we must accept that free will = supernatural. Some will disagree with me. I'd like to hear why.

I'm not sure that calling it supernatural really helps us out.

What do we mean by free will?

Let's say that we want to "choose" between two pizzas to eat. Either my choice is "determined" by genetic and social factors (taste, bad experience with a pepperoni as a child, etc.), or it's random, which isn't really a choice.

This applies whether our will is natural or supernatural.

Unless you explain free will as a completely miraculous and "magical" process, beyond our understanding (which seems like a bit of a cop-out to me), moving it from the brain to soul doesn't make any difference.

7:46 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I fear our chances of solving the problem of free will are pretty slim.

Arguments about free will are as old as philosophy itself, and ever since quantum mechanics was proposed people have attempted to connect free will to the indeterminacy at the heart of this theory. "We're proud because this is the first solid proof relating these issues," says Conway.

Kochen and Conway stress that their theorem doesn't disprove 't Hooft's theory. It simply states that if his theory is true, our actions cannot be free. And they admit that there's no way for us to tell. "Our lives could be like the second showing of a movie - all actions play out as though they are free, but that freedom is an illusion," says Kochen.

Since the mathematicians believe that we have free will, it follows for them that 't Hooft's theory must be wrong. "We have to believe in free will to do anything," says Conway. "I believe I am free to drink this cup of coffee, or throw it across the room. I believe I am free in choosing to have this conversation."

Halvorson says the debate really boils down to a matter of personal taste. "Kochen and Conway can't tolerate the idea that our future may already be settled," he says, "but people like 't Hooft and Einstein find the notion that the universe can't be completely described by physics just as disturbing."

For philosophers, both arguments can be troubling. "Quantum randomness as the basis of free will doesn't really give us control over our actions," says Tim Maudlin, a philosopher of physics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "We're either deterministic machines, or we're random machines. That's not much of a choice."


From this article. Via The Dibert Blog.

Right - so who wants to read up on the mathematics part? :-)

7:59 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

so who wants to read up on the mathematics part?

Oh oh!!! Pick me! Pick me!!!

Wait a sec... Nevermind I'm an artist. And now for a little fun...

There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who are good at math and those who aren't

I really resonate with that statement! =)

9:31 AM

 
Anonymous Andy said...

Alex, you don't REALLY like patty melts.

11:02 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Andy,
Well sure I do, but I would agree that the reason I do is based on my subconscious. Now, whether or not I chose to indulge that passion of mine is another story. At least in my opinion.

11:05 AM

 
Blogger Gracchi said...

Fascinating post. I'm not sure I agree with you. I'm not sure that even if I am determined mechanistically to do something- that I am not free. Freedom to me seems to be absense of constraint- I am not being constrained to act in a particular way. My own thought is that probably the system behind a particular decision is too chaotic so that we will never know in advance what someone would choose- but even if we did, I'm not sure that their will would strictly become constrained by that, it would still be free. Turning to responsibility, that asks us really what our selves are- I suppose our selves are these particular atoms arranged in this arrangement and in that sense bear a kind of rethought responsibility for what they do.

The interesting thing is that I think the religious have to cope with this through the problems of omniscience and also predestination.

2:58 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hi guys, great stuff going on here. Mind if I chip in? I’m not volunteering to do the maths! But luckily, I don’t think we need to do it at all – or the quantum physics, or the neuroscience (much as I find the Libet/Wegner stuff fascinating).

For the purpose of discussion, I’ll assume that we do in fact have souls that aren’t physical (although what exactly they are, and how they interact with our brains, are a pair of puzzles).

We do need to get clear exactly what we mean by free will. Here’s an opening bid: ‘I have free will’ means, roughly, ‘I have the ability to consider a range of possible actions and choose to perform one rather than another for my own reasons’. How does that sound? I think it covers the basic intuition that most of us have, but doesn’t smuggle in anything too contentious – particularly, it doesn’t take sides on the brain vs soul issue.

What I want to look at is the reasons we have for acting as we do. I think that this bit of the definition has to be in there, because a notion of free will that had us all acting randomly, irrationally, insanely even, wouldn’t be up to much.

So, this makes sense: ‘I was a bit hungry but I needed the money I had to get the bus, and I needed to get home quickly (where I had food anyway) to let the delivery man in, so I bought a bus ticket and then made myself a sandwich when I got home.’ There are alternative options and competing reasons, I rate one reason higher than the other, and I choose accordingly.

But try this: ‘I was a bit hungry but I needed the money I had to get the bus, and I needed to get home quickly (where I had food anyway) to let the delivery man in, so I bought a sandwich, walked back and missed the delivery.’ I don’t think this makes any sense at all. There’s a completely irrational leap from the ordering of priorities to the decision. Even the guy who wraps his head in tinfoil to stop the Martian mind-control rays is acting on a recognisable logic, but there’s nothing like that here.

It does work, though, if you do it this way: ‘I was a bit hungry but I needed the money I had to get the bus, and I needed to get home quickly (where I had food anyway) to let the delivery man in, but I just really felt like getting something there and then, so I bought a sandwich, walked back and missed the delivery.’ We’ve introduced an apparently arbitrary, impulsive and ill-judged whim, and even though it looks like a bad reason, the decision does at least make sense.

So, we have to act on the basis of our reasons – if not, then whatever’s going on, it ain’t free will. But how do we come by those reasons? The preferences that we have as motives for one action rather than another obviously need to be in place before we make our decision (perhaps only very briefly before, but they still have to come first to be relevant).

And we don’t have free control over our preferences. Sure, I can choose to say “Jacques Chirac is an honest, visionary, dynamic leader”. But I can’t just choose to sincerely abandon my actual belief that he’s a cynical, pointless has-been. Beliefs and preferences aren’t voluntary in that way. Now, if I wanted to like him, I could choose to talk to Chirac fans and find out why they like him, and read articles and books by his supporters, and maybe I’d find myself being persuaded.

But that takes time. And the original decision has to be made on the basis of my preferences at that moment.

Even if I had complete voluntary control over what my preferences would be one second from now, any decision to change them would have to be on the basis of my preferences now. I’ve no control over those; they exist as a result of my past decisions (plus all sorts of other factors). And if you go back far enough, I’m a gurgling infant in no position to choose anything.

So, I haven’t said anything to reject my definition of free will (nor anything to reject a soul), but what I’m saying does deny that there’s some special way in which my decisions somehow transcend my preferences – which are predetermined at the time of deciding.

Alex, you might despair at this sort of conclusion, but I have to say that I think this is a good thing – in fact, that the sort of self-transcending notion of free will is incoherent. Because surely we make our decisions in accordance with our character? A generous person will act differently from a miser because they make different decisions based on their different characters. OK, the miser may have the scope to decide to change his character, but he can only so choose on the basis of a prior preference.

If our actions were independent of our characters and preferences, then sure, they might be radically uncaused – but how could they really count as our actions? The fact that we, with our preferences and our actions, are part of the causal order, and the causal order in turn operates within us – soul or no soul – is what guarantees that our actions can intelligibly be traced back to those preferences. The idea of a will that can transcend everything is the illusion here.

7:34 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey, Tom's here and Gracchi as well! Welcome to the party!

Alex, you might despair at this sort of conclusion

Well not really. I actually quite agree with it. In many ways we are ruled by our impulses. Our impulses are created by our biological disposition and our environment. The question is can we chose between (not overrule) our impulses? Can we chose a lesser impulse over a stronger? Obviously, we can not act upon impulses that do not exist, so in that sense we are not completely free.

Can you say of your fellow who missed the delivery that he had no choice in the matter? Could he have chosen to deny immediate gratification to do the responsible thing, which was much less appealing at the moment?

Could we say of a habitually late employee who is prone to sleeping in, that they just can't help themselves? Or do we chastise them because they are letting their impulses rule them?

8:21 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Gracchi,
I suppose our selves are these particular atoms arranged in this arrangement and in that sense bear a kind of rethought responsibility for what they do.

??? can you explain this a bit for me?

The interesting thing is that I think the religious have to cope with this through the problems of omniscience and also predestination.

Indeed we do. A topic for another time perhaps.

8:25 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Revvvvvvd,
Apology accepted. =) Now for a few words...

it is not found in Descartes' ghost-in-the-machine. We do not have immaterial souls at the centre of our brains, controlling our movements.

Well, no, for the most part no we don't have ghosts in our brains controlling our body in a completely libertarian sort of way. I can agree with that.

If we have freedom, it will be explainable in naturalistic terms. (Note: This means I disagree wholeheartedly that the supernatural needs to be invoked in this matter.)

So you believe that every situation where we believe we are making actual choices these choices will actually be completely explainable through natural processes? Where does our eternal nature come in at that point?

Furthermore, if we have freedom at all, we have very little freedom. Much of what occurs in our minds, occurs under the surface. Our drives, desires, wants, and needs are handed to us via evolution and conditioning. A lot of what we do moment-to-moment is reflexive rather than reflective.

I agree completely with this statement.

Whether or not the libertarians are right or the compatibalists are right is a difficult question, but I am inclined to join the compatibalist camp

Why would God create a race of creatures, tell them that he is love, craft the whole of human history about trying to get us to see this love and to trust him, to the point of entering nature as one of it's own and suffering a horrible death — all for creatures that do not have the capacity to in ernest respond to him or reject him? Why would he make robots? Whatever that is it's not love. It may be all powerful, but it makes the "God is love" statement a total lie.

I'm sure I'm missing the point of much of what you said. Curious to hear your clarifications.

1:16 PM

 
Anonymous brad said...

QUOTE:Why would God create a race of creatures, tell them that he is love, craft the whole of human history about trying to get us to see this love and to trust him, to the point of entering nature as one of it's own and suffering a horrible death — all for creatures that do not have the capacity to in ernest respond to him or reject him? Why would he make robots? Whatever that is it's not love. It may be all powerful, but it makes the "God is love" statement a total lie.

Uhmmm, because he doesn't exist.

Save yourself some headache and mental gymnastics and accept it. Now get back to work. Bam.

2:48 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Uhmmm, because he doesn't exist.

Oh ya? well you smell! nener nener nener!!!

Good to see you again Brad.

3:46 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Three cheers for Tom Freeman! I first encountered this line of thought in a paper by Neil Levy, which should appear in a book scheduled for publishing this year (I think). And I'm fairly sure I agree. The implications, I think, are that freedom is the ability to be yourself. Now, whether or not Kane is right in saying that our self-defining acts are free (in the libertarian sense) is up for grabs.

Not so relevantly, a few people in my department are replicating and doing other things with Libet's experiment. They don't have much time left if they want to publish while he's still alive to respond. Look out for stuff on the Journal for Consciousness Studies, I reckon.

I think I'll take a stronger stand than Tom on the soul issue. No soul, thank you.

OK, now on to Alex's question. Like Tom, I don't think determinism excludes human freedom. Furthermore, I don't think natural explanations (e.g., brain chemicals, social background) exclude human freedom. Psychologists love different levels of explanation, you see.

Lastly, this stuff about God being love. I don't think we can point at a particular feature about the world and go, "This means that God is not love." We might be more justified to say, "This means that God is not LOVING", but that's a totally dfferent story. And I have no intention of talking about the problem of evil here. The statement, "God is love" is necessarily a statement about God in Godself. From the perspective of systematic theology, it is a trinitarian claim. God is love because love is intrinsic to the definition of God as being in communion. The trinitarian relations within Godself is what makes God love. Any particular feature of the created order is irrelevant.

Even if you meant to say that our lack of freedom entails the notion that God is not LOVING, I will contend with that. At least in principle. Not a few theologians have decided that it would be more benevolent for God to deny us of freedom, in order to safeguard our salvation. *shrug* Surely it's possible.

But of course I'm not denying human freedom. I might be denying freedom as the libertarians want it, but I don't think many of us will have a problem with that.

At any rate, there are a lot of things we intuitively think are mutually exclusive (freedom and omniscience? freedom and universalism?), but it'd oay to re-evaluate our prima facie intuitions.

10:05 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

No soul, thank you.

before I comment on this, define soul.

I don't think determinism excludes human freedom.

The only way I can see this working out is in terms of possibilities, yet still requiring choices between them. It would look like a determined set of potentialities yet a free agent to chose the path. Kinda like pachinko,

I don't think natural explanations (e.g., brain chemicals, social background) exclude human freedom.

I agree, but how do you see it?

Even if you meant to say that our lack of freedom entails the notion that God is not LOVING, I will contend with that. At least in principle. Not a few theologians have decided that it would be more benevolent for God to deny us of freedom, in order to safeguard our salvation.

Perhaps our existence would be free from pain an suffering if God would have taken that route, but I would contend that "we", in any meaningful sense, would not exist at all. We would simply be puppets with no more potential for delight than a puppet could give.

Jon, I guess what I'm looking for from you is this:

To what degree do you feel we have freedom?

And how do you see that applied to your Christianity?

1:27 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Define soul? I mean soul in the conventional sense: in reference to a non-material thing (?) inside us, the "true" us, the "us" which survives death, leaves our body and goes to Heaven.

I don't think there are any truly known-down arguments against belief in the soul, from neuroscience, philosophy, or theology. But I do think that neuroscience, philosophy and theology do render the soul an unwelcome piece of baggage from a Hellenistic past. It's not a useful concept, and it runs into some conceptual difficulties pretty fast. The only good thing a soul does, really, is that it safeguards continuous personal identity.

I don't think determinism excludes human freedom. I should add, "in principle." I've said this elsewhere on this blog before: Consider theological determinism. There is nothing logically amiss with the statement, "God knows that I will freely eat a cookie at 1pm tomorrow." And if there's nothing logically amiss here, then surely (in principle) determinism and freedom are not mutually exclusive. What it means to be free, considering theological and more scientific determinisms is a much more complicated question.

Natural explanations and human freedom. Psychologists love levels of explanation. Say, Prof. X writes his name on the board. He points to the board and asks, "What is that?" There are several different possible answers. "His name", is one. "Chalk on board", is another. "Calcium carbonate", is another. "Molecules", is another. All are true. What determinism does is give one level of explanation for our free choices. No one "just chooses." We all choose "because X."

It must be remembered that while we can talk about genetic and environmental contributions, WE are the agents at play. Our genes don't eat noodles. Our environment doesn't take out the trash. I'm more Gouldian and Dawkinsian when it comes to the unit of selection as well...

The puppet statement is interesting...I'm not sure we can say what gives God pleasure. And I don't find it morally repugnant on God's part if he did (and I'm not saying he DID) make a bunch of puppets with the illusion of free will. Especially not if universalism is true (and I'm not saying it is). Because then God would be making a whole bunch of puppets who will really experience eternal bliss. (Again, I don't think any of this is true...I think. But it goes to show that God wouldn't be nasty if we didn't have free will, and if universalism were true.)

Oh yes: We WOULD still exist. I exist and you exist, and neither of us knows if we have free will. So, our having (or not having) free will is irrelevant to our experience of our lives as agents.

How free are we? I'm not sure this kind of question is answerable. How do we quantify freedom? This has been a big problem in the nature-nurture debate. We've been assigning percentages to "genetic contributions" and "environmental contributions", and it's just a really weird way to do things. What does it even mean to say that our IQ is 45% genes and 15% environment and 60% unknown? (I'm plucking numbers from nowhere.)

The important thing is that we are agents who make choices. That our choices can be explained by our past, our genes, our whatever is of less relevance. And this means that, for better or for worse, we are morally responsible. Which is really what the Christian theist is looking for. There is a very important way in which I think my realization that our freedom is limited affects the content of my Christian belief. It's about God's judgment.

I think a just God would consider all sorts of things - social background, genes, etc - when deciding a verdict and meting our punishment (or reward as the case may be). Some people have an genetic predisposition for aggression...and God will consider that. Soe people have been socially conditioned to be racist...and God will consider that. What results is a more compassionate and complicated view of God, and I think, a less judgmental view of "sinners."

5:58 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Revvvvvvvd,
I do think that neuroscience, philosophy and theology do render the soul an unwelcome piece of baggage from a Hellenistic past.

So would the position you are advocating be more along the lines that we are purely biological creatures? When our body dies, we die. What we claim to be "self" or "I" is purely biological. Therefore the resurrection of the dead is a very necessary concept in our eternal existence. (?) I'm not trying to cut you down here, I really am trying to understand your position. I've never heard any other position other than: we are 'simply' chemistry, or we have a spiritual side of our constitution that will live on once the body dies. Can you clarify what you think we are if we are not a dualistic soul body combo?

There is nothing logically amiss with the statement, "God knows that I will freely eat a cookie at 1pm tomorrow."

Aside from the openness position that God cannot know what a free agent will choose until the free agent actually chooses. I do find the openness position interesting in that it states God knows each and every possibility as if it were a certainty. So it would be incorrect to state that God hadn't been anticipating the eating of your tasty cookie since the foundation of the earth. However, God had ALSO been anticipating every other possibility you may have found yourself in at 1pm tomorrow. So like I was saying earlier, it's kinda like pachinko. Perhaps a better analogy would be chess. As God's omniscience would allow Him to see each and every possibility with undivided attention as if it was the ONLY possibility. I'm sure this isn't perfect theology but, thus far I'm finding it quite interesting.

No one "just chooses." We all choose "because X."

I agree that no one "just chooses". I agree that we all have our biological, sociological, environmental suit that we find ourselves in that plays a large role in the "choices" we make. I don't have any problem with that. It's just that it would seem that those factors would need to have a limit in our decision making capacity. There must come a point where, including all of those influences, we do, in fact, choose between felt impulses. Not only that, but we are responsible for those choices. Otherwise how are we to be held responsible?

I'm more Gouldian and Dawkinsian when it comes to the unit of selection as well...

Little help.

I'm not sure we can say what gives God pleasure.

I was not trying to say that we could know the mind of God and claim to understand his "pleasures", if we can even call them that. I am simply speaking from my human experience. Is a puppet more entertaining than, say, a puppy? I'd suppose it is possible that God is so completely different in his makeup that these sorts of analogies would not even apply, but I find that concept tough to live with. To me it would seem that he is a perfection of what we are. Not only a perfection but an unimaginable amplification. If the 'puppet' scenario is imagined you are left with a God that is either 'less' than us, or so completely different that we are left with nothing more to say on the matter.

And I don't find it morally repugnant on God's part if he did (and I'm not saying he DID) make a bunch of puppets with the illusion of free will.

I agree, you couldn't call it morally repugnant because the very term 'morality' is defined by the person of God. If he worked that way, he works that way. End of story. But does he?

Oh yes: We WOULD still exist. I exist and you exist, and neither of us knows if we have free will.

Hmmm. Not sure I agree here. The 'I' and 'You', could not really be 'I' and 'You'. It would be God. It would be like you and I taking our puppets we made and putting on a little show. Sure it may look like the puppets are doing stuff and having a good time, but in the end it would be us. Not them.

That's why I cannot accept that we do not have free will. A life with no free will, is no life at all.

That our choices can be explained by our past, our genes, our whatever is of less relevance. And this means that, for better or for worse, we are morally responsible.

do you believe that people can influence the development of their character within the bounds of nature nurture?

I think a just God would consider all sorts of things - social background, genes, etc - when deciding a verdict and meting our punishment (or reward as the case may be). Some people have an genetic predisposition for aggression...and God will consider that. Soe people have been socially conditioned to be racist...and God will consider that. What results is a more compassionate and complicated view of God, and I think, a less judgmental view of "sinners."

If there is anything we can agree on, it is this! I do believe this is one of the major reasons we are told not to judge others. From our perspective we can have no way of knowing what series of events has led a person to become the person they are today. Only the one who knows us better than we know ourselves can take the whole picture into consideration.

Thanks for your time Jon. I appreciate your thoughts!

1:03 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

You've summarized my position - the position of most contemporary theologians - well. We do not have bodies, we ARE bodies. Likewise, we do not have souls, we ARE souls. And the statement, "Therefore the resurrection of the dead is a very necessary concept in our eternal existence", resonates well with me.

I don't have a problem with openness theology, except that it presupposes a libertarian view of freedom (I think). I sway towards compatibalism, but really I'm still thinking hard about human freedom. If libertarianism is true - and most Christian philosophers think it is - then I think open theism is very attractive.

Hmmm...You say, "There must come a point where, including all of those influences, we do, in fact, choose between felt impulses." But even then, we don't choose for no reasons. I smell infinite regress! Lol. No, no...we never choose without reason. Every choice we make is explainable by our past. That's the crux of determinism. I just don't see how that curtails our freedom.

About the Gould v. Dawkins stuff. Dawkins likes to think that genes are the unit of selection in evolution. I think he's wrong. WIth Stephen J. Gould, I'd say individuals are selected. Likewise, we can't say "our genes made us do X" just because our genes influenced (even heavily) our choice. WE - human persons - choose and act.

Well...if I made a wind-up robot which would perform a fixed series of moves...it wouldn't be ME performing those moves when the robot was wound up. It would still be the robot. So, I disagree that if we don't have free will "we" would actually be God. It's a matter of choosing your analogies: My wind-up robot and our puppet.

I like free will too. But I think we can live without it. In fact, I think Derk Pereboom wrote a book entitled "Living without free will." Haven't read it, but sounds cool.

Robert Kane thinks that we CAN influence the development of our characters in a libertarian sense. And if I ever accepted libertarianism, it'd be that kind of libertarianism. I personally think we can influence the development of our characters, but not in the libertarian sense.

In a nutshell, I'm a determinist, which means that I think that every event N is determinied by every state of the universe M that came before it. All our choices and actions are explainable by the choices and actions and mental states (etc.) which came before the said action. But I can't, for the life of me, see why this could mean that we don't have free will. I think the sentence, "I freely chose to eat because I felt hungry," is perfectly coherent.

Ta-da!

7:38 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

“If people freak at evolution, etc.,... how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”

I think this conclusion has been warranted for some time, but the manner in which it is delivered is what will truly determine how well it is received. Personally, and from my own experience, I think "sophisticated meat machine" is quite apt. But to non-scientists that have no frame of reference as to what 'sophisticated' means beyond nanopods and Deep Blue, I can understand that it could seem insulting. Yes, the human mind is a meat machine. It just happens to be a meat machine that, in terms of complexity, makes our own humble creations seem more than a little clumsy. And I don't mean in its physiological entirety. Single mammalian cells display a level of complexity that is almost nauseating for any poor bastard that tries to make a living understanding them. Even at the level of single proteins, we are forced to concede that the ion permeable membrane channel is considerably more advanced than our smallest, most efficient transistor.

As for free will, IMHO the first important step in our subsequent evolution is to accept that it doesn't exist (under the guise of any of its current definitions, anyway). The second step in our subsequent evolution will be to accept that this doesn't matter. The complexity of our own minds, and the efficiency with which they can deceive us (the neat little 'blind spot' trick being one of the simpler deceptions) is sufficient to render the issue moot. So long as our meat machine makes us feel secure in our self-determination we'll be quite alright living in blissful ignorance of The Truth - that glutamate, dopamine, 5-HT and a gaggle of other chemicals and peptides have been running the show from day one.

1:25 PM

 

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