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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Greg Boyd, ISOHP & Free Will Part 2

A Preliminary Note: Some may be wondering (and Matt has been asking) about the validity of a theory that does not explain how it's central concept works. This should really be no stumbling block however, as we postulate all sorts of theories in this way while attempting to explain observable data. Many of these theories involve mechanisms we are unable to exhaustively explain. So then, if the data we are trying to explain requires the postulation of self-deterining freedom, that is grounds for accepting the theory.

A brief review
In part one we dealt with the scientific objection to Self-determining freedom which asserted that modern science refutes such a notion. What resulted was the exploration of five challenges to the scientific objection. The combined weight of which I see to be severely damaging to the scientific objection.
  • The scientific data is inconclusive.
  • The alternative of determinism destroys any real concept of moral responsibility.
  • The one who proclaims determinism as truth refutes themselves, for their assertion would also need to be determined, thus invalidating their own truth claim.
  • Determinism, fails to explain our phenomenological experience as free, morally responsible agents. In-fact, determinism dismisses the phenomenon as illusory.
  • Practically speaking, determinism is unlivable as an internalized concept. It is unclear how would could genuinely conduct their life under the impression they the had no say in how they reacted to unfolding experiences.

Having dealt with the scientific objection we will now turn our attention to the more challenging objection that self-determining freedom is incoherent.

Caused, or not caused. What's it gonna be?
Perhaps the most potent philosophical argument against self-determining freedom goes a little something like this:
Either a person's decisions are caused or not. If they are caused, then they are determined and thus are not free in an incompatibilist sense. If they are uncaused, however, they still are not free, for, as Kant taught us, an uncaused event is inconceivable. Even if uncaused decisions were conceivable, however, they still would not be free. They would rather be random and capricious. Uncaused decisions could be no more "free" and could possess no more moral quality to them than the involuntary twitching of an eyelash.
Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil pp.68

This seems to set up a strong dilemma for self-determining freedom. As Matt has argued in the past, "either our choices are caused, or they are random". Either choice you pick seems to be a death blow to the position I am arguing for.

a logical analysis
The way Boyd approaches this dilemma is to question the notion that causation is analogous to determination. The above argument only works if, x caused y is equal to x determines y. Logically, it is not clear that this is the case. Boyd argues that our choices do indeed have causes, but this not the same as saying they are determined. All that is needed is retroactive continuity for such an an assertion to hold. Consider the following example:

Imagine you drop a glass bottle onto a concrete sidewalk. Now imagine that God reveals to you a possible world identical ours in every way, yet the bottle, when dropped, does not break.

here we see that, at least logically, we can conceive of a scenario where an action causes an effect, without exhaustively determining the outcome. Keep in mind that all we have shown so far is that there is no logical contradiction in saying that a caused event is not determined. The next question is, can such a situation really be possible in this world?

an evidential analysis
When it comes to "what we are made of" the smallest measurable unites we can observe exist at what is called the quantum level. For the purposes of our discussion, it is interesting to note that a fundamental feature of quantum mechanics deals with the way quantum particles cannot be deterministically predicted. "The only concept of causation that has consistently proven useful at the quantum level is statistical, probabilistic and non-determinative in nature"1. The way a particle may react, given a specific causal conditions can be predicted within a certain range of possibilities, but these reactions have not been shown to be deterministic in nature.

The question must then be asked, if this "openness" at the foundational level of our existence is deemed to be coherent, how is it that the concept of nondeterministic causality becomes incoherent at the anthropological level? This question gains even more force when we remember (as argued above) that we do, in-fact, experience ourselves as free agents. I would argue that the evidence of our own experience, combined with that of the quantum openness we have just discussed, builds a strong case that determinism is false and that the world is better viewed as a, at least partially, open experience in which we do in-fact have some say in the reality that transpires.

Conclusion
Today we have explored the possibility that there is logical and evidential support for the notion that, (at least within a certain range of possible actions) there can indeed exist a certain "openness" where the reality that is brought fourth can indeed, be up to us. It has been argued that the charge, "our actions are either caused or random" need not render self-determining freedom incoherent, for our actions are indeed still "caused", yet they can reasonably be understood to be one option out of a range of possibilities, each of which could have been retroactively coherent.

And so, we conclude this exploration of causality as it relates to free will and determinism. Next up... determinism the concept of sufficient reason. In other words, why one action over another.

1. Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil pp.68

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47 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

Some initial thoughts:

We may not completely understand how things work, but we're still able to give a working description of it. The Libertarian version of free will lacks even this.

According to the determinist view (both hard and soft), our decisions are determined by the circumstances in which it takes place: I decide to reply to this post because a) I want to participate in the debate, b) I'm in a position to do so, and c) nothing else seems more important at this moment. In order to change my decision you'd have to change one of these factors. (In other words, you need to change the input to change the output). Our decisions could even be thought of as akin to mathematical formulas: if desire (X) is > obstacles in way (Y) then Z, etc.

Libertarians seem to insist that, while this occurs to an extent, there's something else at play which makes “us” “free” - though what that something is, or how it works, can't be adequately explained.

Given that this essentially proposes effect without cause (thereby breaking one of the most fundamental laws of our universe) this lack of explanation is a serious problem.

Imagine you drop a glass bottle onto a concrete sidewalk. Now imagine that God reveals to you a possible world identical ours in every way, yet the bottle, when dropped, does not break.

This example fits in perfectly with what I've just said – in order to stop the glass from breaking there has to be a physical change. The glass has to be stronger... the angle it hits the concrete different... the speed it falls has to be slower... etc.

The way a particle may react, given a specific causal conditions can be predicted within a certain range of possibilities, but these reactions have not been shown to be deterministic in nature.

The problem with this is that indeterminacy simply introduces an element of randomness to proceedings.

I'm willing to accept the idea that it's impossible to predict future events due to a significant degree of randomness, but I suspect that's very different to what you have in mind, which seems to be the suggestion that there's something operating beyond reason, desire and circumstance.

Also, it's difficult to see how events on the quantum level can have a serious impact on physical actions at the day-to-day level. My brain activity might depend on quantum “happenings”, but at the end of the day whether I choose to have pineapple on my pizza or not will be determined by – among other things - how much I like pineapple at that moment – which doesn't tend to fluctuate radically, but stays pretty consistent.

2:06 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"We may not completely understand how things work, but we're still able to give a working description of it. The Libertarian version of free will lacks even this."

I realize your continual discomfort with this, but I still see this as a very poor reason to reject SDF. As argued earlier, determinism renders known phenomenon illusory as well as becomes self-referentially incoherent when held as a truth claim. This is no small problem for the determinist. SDF on the other hand explains, or at least fits with the phenomenon of our experience as self-determining agents as well as the phenomenon of our experience as morally responsible agents. Again, just because we can not fully explain how this free will thing works does not in any way suggest that it doesn't exist. For ages man was utterly in the dark as to how the sun rose and set, yet it would have been lunacy for one to go around claiming on that basis that the phenomenon of the rising and setting of the sun was illusory. So I guess I can understand your discomfort, but you really don't have much of an argument on that basis.

"c) nothing else seems more important at this moment."

Are you sure? Maybe stepping out and spending a quiet evening with a member of the opposite sex for a change? ;-)

"According to the determinist view (both hard and soft), our decisions are determined by the circumstances in which it takes place:..."

all you'd need to do to get the SDF explanation is replace the word "determined" with "influenced". Pretty much everything you say still holds, but the SDF'er will simply deny that you HAVE to choose they way you do. Sure you need to be comfortable with the certain amount of mystery that leaves in the equation, but it makes a lot more sense of the data we experience every day.

"Given that this essentially proposes effect without cause (thereby breaking one of the most fundamental laws of our universe) this lack of explanation is a serious problem."

Not so. The entire thrust of todays argument demonstrated that an event can be caused without being determined. It is not logically contradictory to hold such a position. In-fact, quantum indeterminacy (along with our first person experience) gives us an empirical basis for the claim. The SDF position states that certain causes can give rise to multiple effects. In the quantum level what brings about the actual from the possible seems to be random, but on the anthropological level there does indeed seem to be something other than randomness at play. Perhaps it's something like randomness informed by reason and the steadily progressing formation of our character by the accumulation of choices we make. Just my own tentative thoughts on the matter.

"This example fits in perfectly with what I've just said – in order to stop the glass from breaking there has to be a physical change."

but this is not what the example states. The example uses an possible world which s EXACTLY the same as the actual world. Feel free to dismiss that this example is impossible. All it was meant to demonstrate is the congruity of the logic, not the properties of dropped bottles. The quantum example that followed was meant to be the "real" world example.

"Also, it's difficult to see how events on the quantum level can have a serious impact on physical actions at the day-to-day level."

The example was not meant to be an explanatory basis for SDF. It was simply meant to show that a certain degree of openness does in-fact occur in our world, thereby stripping the incoherence charge of it's fangs.

Get some rest Matt. If you are reading this on Tuesday you up way to late.

4:28 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Hmmm... I think there are some factual issues with the argument here, regarding quantum theory. Also, there no account taken of determined chaos, and the fact that it isn't clear that it's possible to differentiate it from true randomness (if the latter exists).

Scroll down to 3.3, and then 4.4

5:20 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incitatus,
After a (very) quick scan it does appear that what is being proffered may indeed have ramifications (at least for the quantum indeterminacy bit) for Boyd's argument. I'll spend a some more time with the material in the morning. Thanks for sniffing that out.

7:02 PM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Ohhh... there I was, waiting until part 2 to reply, and now it turns out there's a part 3 on the way! I think I'll sit it out until then. Curse you and your lots-of-interesting-stuff-writing machinations, Blondeau!

Oh, alright, two quick points: a difference between determinacy (somewhat lacking at the quantum level) and determinism (i.e. being wholly caused). It may be a matter of probability whether an electron goes this way or that, but do prior conditions determine (wholly) what those probabilities are? (That's a genuine question BTW.)

If so, then what happens in any individual case may be unpredictable, but the process of setting up the coin-toss (so to speak) isn't random. The determination of probabilities would still prevent anything radically 'free' from going on as given proportions of like events would be bound to go particular ways.

Second, you distinguish the quantum level from the "anthropological level", where "there does indeed seem to be something other than randomness at play".

Isn't the distinction more obviously between the quantum and the macro levels? Fire an electron out of a tube and there's indeterminacy about where it goes. Fire a tennis ball, and there isn't.

2:45 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Curse you and your lots-of-interesting-stuff-writing machinations, Blondeau!

Thanks. ;-)

At the moment my eyes are red from reading line after line of luminous text from the Stanford site...

Here again it looks like I will once again need to remain intellectually agnostic while practically committed. will return, once information absorption is complete.


9:00 AM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:20 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

That Stanford site is pretty cool. I didn't know about it until Timmo linked to it a while back.

BTW Weather is fantastic here, Alex. Bright, sunny and about 70F. Pleasant change from the humidity and heat. St. Louis was beginning to feel like living in a recently used tennis shoe until this cold front moved in.

9:25 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Linda,
Oh dear... What am I supposed to do with you!?!?!

I could write a page to each objection you raise! If I don't get around to responding in length to what you are bringing up, please don't feel offended. It's just that my little mind can only concentrate no so much, and at the moment it's cranking throughout a ton of new material...

Even so, I'm really happy to see you enjoying the blog!

10:01 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incit,
Glad to hear you are getting in on some of this goodness as well!

Okay, I just got done reading over the Stanford entries on determinism as well as the entry on indeterminate freedom. The main thing that was accomplished in-so-doing, is I now fee like a incompetent moron who is no more qualified to speak with any authority on this topic than I am qualified to calculate the launch conditions of a moon shot.

These philosophers and physicists are so skilled at denying one another's premises that I'm surprised anything leaks out into the public sphere of knowledge. The whole game of attempting to convince other scholars of one's view-point is one mind bending affair. I'm honestly feeling a little defeated. Not so much because I witnessed some spectacular deconstructing of the view I am somewhat committed to, but more so, because I couldn't get my mind around about 1/3rd to 1/2 of what those wing-nuts are disagreeing over! I simply could not connect much of their banter to any conceptual information already lodged in my head.

I guess that's why I enjoy this blog. At least around here we can (a bit more gradually) pull each-other up the rungs of established knowledge with our combined efforts.

It was at least heartening to note that some of my admittedly crude objections to determinism that have been floating around here since the beginning, are represented (in more sophisticated forms) as among the top objections raised to determinism. Same was true for Matt's and other's arguments. (though not as arguments against determinism) Which is to say that by the processes of our combined (citation-less) thought we have been able to generate arguments that in many places parallel the actual state of play amongst the degree holding smarty-pants'

But enough on that. You say:
I think there are some factual issues with the argument here, regarding quantum theory. Also, there no account taken of determined chaos, and the fact that it isn't clear that it's possible to differentiate it from true randomness (if the latter exists)."

From what I was able to glean it seems that, at least among some, the establishment of indeterminacy at the quantum level remains suspect. So, if anything, the current state of physics may not be as tightly sealed (which would not surprise me at all) as the quantum in-determinists may think.

I am no quantum physicist, therefore I'll leave that mess for them to sort out. Even so it still appears that many physicists are pretty sold on the indeterminacy idea. But as you note, we may simply need to remain agnostic on the issue.

So far as I can see, this is not damning for SDF. All we have now is a ? for one aspect of the argument where there was once a +. I would say that in light of the numerous other philosophical reasons already argued for, the ? doesn't really do a lot to sink the enterprise.

12:07 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Tom,
"It may be a matter of probability whether an electron goes this way or that, but do prior conditions determine (wholly) what those probabilities are?"

I think so...

"The determination of probabilities would still prevent anything radically 'free' from going on as given proportions of like events would be bound to go particular ways."

Yes... I think I go along with that. SDF does not argue that we are the freaky sort of free that would allow us to act in ways that are retroactively unintelligible. It only argues that within the bounds of antecedent conditions we are able to genuinely "choose" between actual possibilities, thus having some say in what future is brought into reality.

"Isn't the distinction more obviously between the quantum and the macro levels? Fire an electron out of a tube and there's indeterminacy about where it goes. Fire a tennis ball, and there isn't."

I think physicalist would be compelled to go that route, but I think the reason Boyd uses the distinction he does is due to the phenomenological experience we have of "our" actions. It does not seem that, in light of our experience, our "choices" are analogous to the rebounding of billiard balls off one another. There seems to be a profound and genuine difference that makes an apples to apples comparison such as that invalid. It may be something of a category error, but whatever that "category" is continues to retain a deep element of mystery.

12:24 PM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:31 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Aw common! That's not what I meant at all! You just caught me when my head was spinning with a million other things. I will respond when I can. In fact I may have a few minutes prior to my wife getting home here. We'll see.

3:40 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

"If the action, whether morally right or wrong, has no effect on another human being and no one else knows about it, is it still a 'universal belief' that we ought to be held responsible? I have to question whether it is in fact a 'strong bit of evidence.'"

You are getting into a area here where the "rightness" or "wrongness" of the action can be legitimately debated depending upon one's answer to the "is there a God" and "what is he like" questions. If one comes to the conclusion that the action is not wrong then they are outside of the equation, so to speak. Generally speaking, all people are of the conviction that people "ought" to be held to account for their actions. This concept is utterly incoherent if every action we do is exhaustively determined by factors outside of ourselves.

"Truth or falsehood according to whom? To the human logic and how we perceive life? Pilate sarcastically asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Well, what it it? Not that I have an answer. I’m just asking…"

According to the way things really are. Our knowledge of this will always be subjective as contingent beings. It is this reason we have these discussions in the first place. I am of the conviction that the "truth" of the matter is that Yahweh grounds all truth. My point in the previous example was that as contingent beings we often make truth "claims" that may or may not be accurate. If even our truth claims are determined my forces antecedent to us, then it really doesn't make much sense to talk about these claims as either true or false. They just are.

"So then, if we make our choices according to our moral conviction (because we believe we ought to be held responsible), how does it make them self-determined?"

They are not in a "completely novel" sort of way. We all exist in a context that has a great deal of influence in how we form our convictions etc... All SDF is arguing for is that within that context we are able to make genuine decisions. If you want a more of a theological take, I would also wish to add spiritual forces within these "influences". I by no means see this scenario and people just coming up with actions "out of thin air".

"we believe He sees the past, present, and future in one giant glance. So from His perspective, we have already made the choice before the choice was even there for us to make."

Not everyone assumes this though. see here.

To me, it’s like saying, “There’s no solid evidence either way, but one way is more true because that’s the side I’m taking.” Tell me if I got it wrong…

You got it wrong. ;-) When I said that the scientific data was inconclusive, I was arguing that those who use "science" as a trump card argument against free will are making an unsustainable argument. When I said that many theories incorporate mechanisms that we are unable to exhaustively explain all I meant to illustrate is that when considering all the data we ought to be using the theory that makes the most sense of the totality of the evidence, regardless of whether or not we are able to completely understand every last bit of the theory we are using. It is this "unknown" part that will spur on future research hopefully leading to a progression of knowledge.

"That doesn’t really make sense to me. If I choose to call a tree a tree..."

If there is no God and you are simply matter in motion reacting in a determined fashion, nothing you say is "true" or "false". It's just a matter moving and matter moving possesses neither truth nor falsity. So if that were so, you calling a tree a tree and another calling it a hippo could be neither true nor false. It's just "stuff happening".

"how can we conduct our lives under the impression that we had EVERY say in how we reacted to unfolding experiences? Doesn’t that put the control in our hands?"

I'm not arguing that we have EVERY say. I'm arguing that, within a range of possibilities, we do indeed have A say.

Oh! Megan just got home! Gotta run!

5:00 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Instead of posting two comments, I'll respond to both posts in one.

First, I'm hoping to see a positive thesis soon. It's easy to talk about "self-determining freedom" and "agent causation", but I have yet to see a good definition of "agent" or "self", especially if one wants to claim that this agent/self is somehow free to act apart of genetic and environmental forces. Is there a coherent account of self/agent that can oppose his/her genes and upbringing? This sounds like dualism.

Secondly, how "ultimate" is "ultimate"? Does persons have to be the "first cause" of their own actions? If so, where does that leave God? After decades of the nature-nurture debate, we now know that talk of "genes causing X" (or whatever) are incoherent because genes and environments do not have causally independent effects on behaviour. That story is very complex as it is. Can it accommodate yet another factor? [I realise that this leads back to the first objection: Is there really a self that is independent or even emergent from gene-environment interactions?]

Thirdly, I'm perplexed by this inconclusive evidence stuff. Causality is a zero sum game, such that if a factor F1 wholly causes a behaviour B, then factors F2, F3, F4, etc. cannot also be said to have caused B. I think this is uncontroversial in most circles. Science (not to unduly reify science) speaks of evolutionary pressures, and genetic predispositions, and developmental history, and neuronal firing, and hormonal levels all leading to one another, converging to *cause* a behaviour. And it seems to me like any account of human freedom that is not an account of the freedom of a person who consists of these causal factors is a magical, dualistic one. Again, this objection sounds very much like my "what is an agent?" objection and in a sense it is.

Now, some brief points. First, folk beliefs about freedom should not constitute evidence no matter how strong these beliefs are. Some recent work in experimental philosophy are interesting in this regard, though. Go to the GFP for some info on this. Secondly, compatibalists can deal with the "determinism is self-refuting" stuff. It could well be the case that none of what we're saying is true, etc. But this epistemological problem is chronic. Getting rid of determinism will not get rid of it. Thirdly, evolutionary psychology might help explain why we feel free and morally responsible. That is, these intuitions are either adaptations or by-products of adaptations. Unless we're Intelligent Design folk, this seems like a no brainer. Whether or not we FEEL free and moral is a red herring in deciding if we are in fact free and moral. I think. Fourthly, I think the pragmatic route is a better one than the evidential route. But it's much much weaker. The conclusion of pragmatic arguments is, at best that belief in libertarian freedom is rational (from a pragmatic standpoint). As it happens, I doubt that we need to believe in libertarian freedom to be moral creatures.

We're nearly there. Two more points. I suspect that this talk of causation and determination is little more than a word game. The glass bottle example is just bad. What is caused there is the dropping of the bottle, NOT its breakage. IF we CAUSE the bottle to break it WILL break. Cause and determination are two words that refer to the same phenomenon: Responsibility for a phenomenon. Secondly, this talk of quantum physics and indeterminism can do two things. It either leads to randomness/chaos (and not freedom) or it opens causal gaps...but who or what will fill these causal gaps? The agent? But the agent is made of open quantum stuff too! What fills its causal gaps? It's all very perplexing.

OK, that was a lot of stuff. Sum up time. IF we are wholly physical beings (i.e., no magickal ghosts in Cartesian theaters), then all our behaviours have physical causes. That is to say, all our behaviours are physically determined. This still obtains even if quantum phenomena occur at random. It just means that all our behaviours are determined, ultimately, by random phenomena. That is my positive thesis. My negative thesis is that "agent" requires definition, and that there is no plausible definition that does not either lead to determinism anyway or leads to Cartesian dualism.

In conclusion, my actions are free insofar as they are MY actions. I am an entity composed of physical stuff, which obey physical laws; I am also an organism with a phylogenetic heritage, in which certain psychological and behavioural traits are entrenched; I am also a person who cognitions and behaviours are learned and triggered via internal and external cues. The internal cues, lest one is tempted to latch on to them, are either learned or innate (though I despise the word. See Griffiths, 2002). Here's a final question for the libertarians:

Does God get to choose what God wants? If not - if, as some want to say, God is constrained by the brute fact that God is love - then why should we expect humans to be any freer?

5:58 PM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:10 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

My brain has died from working on my dissertation. I decided that my last post was too long and insane. Here's a super-summary:

Premise 1. Human beings are wholly physical beings.
Premise 2. All physical phenomena have causes.
Premise 3. Causation is determination.
Conclusion: All human phenomena (e.g., behaviours) are determined.

A refutation of Premise 1 entails dualism. A refutation of Premise 2 entails a refutation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Since I cannot make any sense of the Copenhagen interpretation, I concede that Premise 2 rests upon a fallacy on my part (argumentum ad ignorantium). But it doesn't matter to me because I think indeterminism doesn't buy freedom either. A refutation of Premise 3 might be possible, but I think it's unlikely. Causation is a zero sum game. Therefore, all human actions are determined. Therefore if determinism is incompatible with human freedom, then we are no free. QED.

This isn't much better, is it? I give up.

6:12 PM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:20 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Lol. I'm glad that made sense to someone. I think I know what I'm trying to say it, but it's actually really hard to pin down.

7:08 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

*Turns up to post comment.*

*Reads through what Revvvvvvd has written.*

*Decides everything he wants to express has been expressed better.*

*Goes off happy.*

4:35 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

A few general thoughts,
I fear this will have to be my last in-depth comment on this for a while. Today is the last day I have to pack before I am off to the mountains and there's a TON yet to get done around here. Once I return, classes will be in full swing (I've been on break, hence my up-tick in blogging activity) so, sadly, I'm sure I won't have nearly as much time for this. (part 3 will have to wait)

That said, I've noticed among some a concern that self-determining freedom (SDF) violates the sovereignty of God, thereby putting US in control with God off in a corner somewhere wringing his hands. This picture is not at all what the theology behind this concept looks like. The theological picture being offered (as I understand it) consists of a God who is Love who created out of his love a people to love and be loved by. Love must be free to be love. Man along with other heavenly creatures did in fact rebel according to the genuine freedom they had to reject God. Not wanting any to perish God set in motion his plan for the redemption of the entire creation in which he took upon himself the penalty for our own rebellion thereby setting in motion the redemptive process that we are currently living in. God is now working through the hearts of the redeemed to bring about the kingdom of God through the genuine participation of his creatures.

If SDF is denied the theological picture is drastically altered. You have a God who possesses SDF who then creates a story where every act of goodness and vile evil comes directly from his own mind. Sure there are times of great joy, but on the whole this story is FILLED with despair, destruction, cruelty, torture and utter waste. The twist of the whole thing is that the creatures he thinks up to fill this story ACTUALLY experience every horror and cruelty he puts them through. They have no freedom to alter any of their circumstances for even their own thoughts are actually God's thoughts through them. In reality they don't even exist in any meaningful way. You basically have a God playing with himself. The problem of evil retains every bit of it's force as any evil we speak of can be traced directly to the top. I don't see this view as sustainable. It certainly does not harmonize with God as revealed in Jesus.


Hey Revvvvvd,
Thanks for stopping in. I knew you would be the real test of this whole project. I'm not sure if you are the actually the brightest one amongst all of us or not, but as Linda notes... You sure talk like it! Anyway...

Premise 1. I'm going to remain agnostic on this one. Let it suffice to say your view is far from uncontroversial. (amongst theologians at least)

Premise 2. Yep.

Premise 3. SDF denies this. You say: "What is caused there is the dropping of the bottle, NOT its breakage. IF we CAUSE the bottle to break it WILL break." but this is not what the example is seeking to demonstrate. It is true the cause is us dropping the bottle. The alternate possible worlds only seek to show that logically this one cause could have two POSSIBLE effects. Either way causation is not eliminated. But neither is the effect DETERMINED by the cause. Again, let me make it clear, this is a logic demonstration, not a look at the physics of dropped bottles. This argument is basically a paraphrase of Peter Van Inwagen's argument form his Essay's on Free Will. Honestly, I struggled with it a good bit at first (as it seems everyone is) until I realized it's only seeking to demonstrate the logical separation of determinism and causation. It logically follows from the thought experiment that (at least in the experiment) determinism is false. But it does not follow that we should say of the world where the bottle broke that the agent didn't cause it to break.

Conclusion. Given the fuzziness of premise 1. and the denial of premise 3. I don't feel compelled to affirm the conclusion.

"A refutation of Premise 1 entails dualism."

Or perhaps an emergent self that is sustained in the mind of God, I don't know.

"how "ultimate" is "ultimate"? Does persons have to be the "first cause" of their own actions? If so, where does that leave God?"

Yes. Ultimate means that the determining factor for the direction of our choices (at least much of the time) must be within the power of the agent. In a very real sense we might say that the agent possesses a bit of God's power to create new realities. If we deny this we must deny moral responsibility and ultimately a God who is love as well. As far as where that leaves God, I'm not totally clear on that except to say that he is sovereign and he can and does interact with the world and certainly retains the power to limit or cancel our freedom at any moment. His choosing not to says more about his high view of our freedom (an by extension love) than it does about his impotence.

"if a factor F1 wholly causes a behaviour B, then factors F2, F3, F4, etc. cannot also be said to have caused B."

Right, but I don't see how this applies. SDF argues that F1 can be a sufficient cause for B, C, or D depending on how the agent chooses.

"And it seems to me like any account of human freedom that is not an account of the freedom of a person who consists of these causal factors is a magical, dualistic one."

SDF does not in any way deny those factors. In-fact, it includes them. One might say that our "degree" of freedom is very much less at any given moment than one might think. But the combine weight of a lifetime of decisions has a way of generating a truly distinct "character". The exclusively naturalist position would also need to deny any spiritual influence that may be seeking to influence a given agent. But this is clearly not Biblical.

"Again, this objection sounds very much like my "what is an agent?" objection and in a sense it is."

I do not know of any explanation that goes beyond what we know by our empirical science. Even so, if we limit our definition to what we know by empirical science we must conclude that much of what we know by our experience is false. We also must conclude that what we are told about a God being a God of love is false. If we only allow knowledge that demonstrable by the scientific method as valid, then the logic flows quite nicely from there... We cannot choose other than we do. We are responsible, only in that the act in question occurred through us. Our love for one another is only a feeling that we can't help feeling. A man who drops the relationship like a bad habit even after fathering a child simply because is doesn't "feel the same" then goes off to sow his oats elsewhere, needn't be shown the error of his ways, for "his ways" can ultimately be traced back to God himself. Speaking of God. God now is the author of evil. Every beheaded, tortured, maimed, dismembered and burned child, husband, mother or daughter bears his signature. Every last bit of heart rending hell on this earth is directly sanctioned by him.

These are the implications of "determinism". I reject them! If determinism is true, either there is no God and this world is simply a meaningless hell, or God is some kind of sadistic demon worthy of neither worship nor love.

THAT is the main reason I reject determinism. The arguments Boyd puts fourth simply combat the charges that SDF is incoherent or "disproven". In my view he did a very effective job. Determinism is garbage and we are by no means compelled to affirm it.

Now, to briefly touch no your final question.

"if, as some want to say, God is constrained by the brute fact that God is love - then why should we expect humans to be any freer?"

SDF does not argue that we are any freer. God's character is eternal and unchanging as he is the necessary ground for all contingent beings. As contingent beings our "characters" are malleable and are in flux. I would argue that our characters are being formed in this life. I would see them as being formed with the passage of time, with the way our biological package interacts with our environment, as well as with the choices we make.

One final theological note from Boyd:

"...the implications of denying SDF conflict with a central aspect of the historic Christian understanding of God, for the church has always ascribed to God SDF. The orthodox teaching of the church has always been that God's decisions to create the world, to intervene in the world's affairs, and certainly to save the world were neither capricious nor caused by something outside of God. As Father Solokowski has insightfully argued, the most distinctive aspect of the traditional conception of God is that there is no necessity that attaches to his decision to create or interact with the world. God is not forced to create and interact with the world, and he does not need to create and interact with the world. If God decides to do so, it is a matter of sheer grace, and grace is as far removed from necessity as it is from capriciousness. God's gracious decision to create and interact with the world can only be conceived of as a self-determining act."

We are told we are made in God's image. Should it really be so hard to conceive that we were indeed given some of his power in this transaction? The logical ramifications of determinism unavoidably destroy all that we seem to experience, all that seems to give life value and significance. How do you reconcile all this Jon? I am inclined to believe that if God has the power to be self-determining and if he is a God of love, it makes perfect sense to me that he gave us somewhat of that ability as well. If you must have a thesis, it will go a little something like what I just said.

1. God is necessarily self-determining
2. God chose to create us to participate in his love
3. Love must be free and uncoerced
Conclusion: God must have made us with something like his self-determining power in order to accomplish his purposes. (from 2.).

To deny 1. is to make God contingent and therefore not God. To deny 2. Leaves us with a God who created us for some other reason and invalidates clear scriptural revelation that God created us for love and be loved by him. To deny 3. leaves a definition of love that is denigrated as to allow programed machines capable of love.

And that, my friends, is going to have to be my last post of any length for a while. Part 3. will have to wait. I'd appreciate it if everyone just abstained from writing anything interesting until I get back. Once I get through reading a post it is absolute torture for me not to be able to respond! Nah, I'm just kiddin' write your little o' hearts out!

9:06 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,
Are you a proponent of Open Theism?

That in itself seems like an interesting topic for discussion.

9:14 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

If determinism is true, either there is no God and this world is simply a meaningless hell, or God is some kind of sadistic demon worthy of neither worship nor love.

THAT is the main reason I reject determinism.


If this is true then I might as well leave this discussion to you and Revvvvvd.

Do you believe that determinism can be argued against without bringing God into it? Or do you need to invoke a supernatural element?

9:33 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incit,
I tend that way.

Matt,
Nope I don't think it can. If there is no God I would agree we are either mechanically determined or pointlessly random. My experience refutes such a dim thesis , as I have said in the past, for me this feels like one strong bit of evidence that were are not determined matter reacting. Eventually God must be "brought into it" as you say for the thesis to stand. (thought I feel that is a rather vulgar way to put it)

In the preceding posts arguments were proffered that did not explicitly use the word God, but the fundamental concept of the whole bit MUST be rubbish if there is no God. I see the prior arguments as having sufficient weight to conclude that we are NOT determined, thus I think the "Godless" thesis can reasonably be scraped.

11:26 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Please do Linda, (jump back in that is)
Sorry if I'm coming off a bit tense. I want to respond to everything you bring up at length, but to do so I'd need to put everything else no hold and do a fair amount of back tracking. I just don't want any silence on my end to be interpreted as some kind of snub. I do it to these guys all the time.

11:44 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Well, if we're going to base this on our subjective experiences then we may just have to agree to disagree.

Guess we'll have to wait until part III...

Have fun in the mountains.

12:17 PM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

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5:59 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Never confuse rhetoric and obfuscation for intelligence. Muahahahaha.

Anyway, I should probably deal with the charge that determinism entails atheism first. I'll concede that determinism raises problems for Christian theism, particularly in terms of the Problem of Evil, but I don't think these problems are insuperable. Of course, I wish libertarianism was true -- just as I wish Creationism was true. I just don't think they are. Regardless, if we can safeguard belief in the existence and goodness of God via other means (e.g., cosmological type arguments), then we can take van Inwagen's route away from the Problem of Evil (i.e., sceptical theism). The big challenge, I think, is to successfully argue for the goodness of God, rather than God's existence. Christian theologians get very frustrated because they think that starting with an a priori definition of God and asking if Jesus fits the mould is the wrong way of doing things. But the alternative - looking at Jesus and asking what God is like - begs the question. I'm not sure what the way out is, to be honest. The most theologically sound option is the one that begs the question! At any rate, if Christians can justify belief in God's existence and goodness on other grounds, then they can play van Inwagen's trump card when faced with the Problem of Evil. But back to free will.

First, on dualism. People who talk about "emergent dualism" understand, I think, what I'm saying about how dualism is the only way out of determinism. I'm just not sure we can give a good account of an emergent "soul" that is not a part of the normal physical, causal pathway.

Second, I think van Inwagen is wrong. This seems to be his point: We can CAUSE the bottle to drop, and NOT DETERMINE that the bottle will break. Yes, this is true but trivially so. The real question is whether we can CAUSE the bottle to break and NOT DETERMINE the bottle to break. I submit that this is impossible. It's just playing with words. Causation is determination. If A causes P, A determines P. AND if A wholly causes P, A wholly determines P. In the glass bottle scenario, A causes P (which MIGHT cause Q), but A does not determine Q. But like I said, this is trivial. P and Q are different, even if P increases the probability of Q.

So...Premise 1 is heckuva lot less fuzzy than emergent dualism. And the denial of Premise 3 is, well, mistaken. Yes?

OK, let's try to tell the libertarian story. Consider this event: I reach over to pick up a glass of water. What caused this behaviour? So, there's a perfectly good physical explanation for this phenomenon. But libertarians are committed to saying that, at least some times, the physical causes are insufficient to explain the behaviour. There are other causal factors in play. The "agent" which is said to be a causal factor must be more than just physical (because either physical determinism is true or physical indeterminism is true, and neither entails freedom though indeterminism may open causal gaps to be filled by non-physical stuff). So...it looks to me like libertarians are committed to some kind of substance dualism. But that doesn't solve the problem. Maybe spiritual determinism is true! Libertarianism is huge edifice that cannot sustain its own weight.

And yes, I see that compatibilism makes the problem of evil worse. But this is only so if you think that the Free Will Defense is the only way out. You're totally ignoring other theodicies, like John Hick's Irenaen theodicy. I'm not saying they're right, but the fact that there are other possible theodicies means that compatibilism is not LOGICALLY INCOMPATIBLE with the existence of a loving God.

It seems to me like the only argument AGAINST determinism being put forth is that it's nihilistic. That's a fallacy: The moral or otherwise implications of a proposition cannot address the question of whether the proposition is true. Arguments against determinism must go further than complaints that it paints a queasy picture of the world. Libertarians must show that either (a) dualism is true and that dualism entails libertarianism or that (b) physical determinism is false, and that physical indeterminism entails libertarianism. The coherence of libertarianism carries no evidential force.

For libertarians, human actions must be uncaused or self-caused. (This sounds like God's causa sui!!!) If we accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason, actions cannot be uncaused. I accept the PSR, which is why I think the cosmological argument works. But I digress. So, libertarians who share my belief in the cosmological argument must say that human actions are self-caused. BUT, if the self is wholly physical then physical determinism negates libertarianism and physical indeterminism at most opens causal gaps to be filled (and even this is contentious). So, the self cannot be wholly physical. So, dualism of some sort must be true. The best arguments for dualism are for an emergentist view of the soul. The soul is an emergent product of the brain (et al.) that possesses properties which the brain lacks. But do emergentist accounts of the soul succeed in showing that the soul is CAUSALLY INDEPENDENT of the brain? I have yet to see arguments in this respect, but this is crucial to the role of dualism in libertarianism. ASSUME that emergentists have successfully shown that an emergent soul causally independent from the brain exists. Does this safeguard libertarianism? I submit not, because soulish or spiritual determinism might be true. Perhaps at time T0 Laplace's demon can KNOW what Soul P would do in time T1. And now we hit a wall because we don't know anything about souls. Can we ASSUME that spiritual determinism is untrue? Not if physical determinism is true, because it's more parsimonious to believe that the same causal laws apply for all substances. But even if we concede that, then spiritual indeterminism is true and that (at best) opens causal gaps...ad infinitum.

Do you see the problem?

6:40 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

For those who haven't checked it out yet, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has good articles on free will and compatibilism. As always, these articles are long and difficult reading, but they almost always present the material clearly and correctly. Plus, the bibliographies are very useful. Many a philosophy paper of mine has begun by reading through the Encyclopedia's articles and then some of the suggested papers.

Revvvvvvvd, you may be interested to know that Leibniz, the great champion of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), was a libertarian about free will. So, it is not immediately clear that PSR mandates determinism.

For what's it worth, I will add that I can't see how we can but be compatibilists. Scientific and philosophical investigation into human beings and human minds strongly points to our being part and parcel of the natural world, and thus we integrated into the Nature's causal nexus. On the other hand, there is a strong connection between our lives as moral agents and our freedom to act in one way or another as we see fit. Thus, the problem of free will presents itself: insofar as we are part of nature, we want to say that we are determined; insofar as we are moral agents, we want to say that we are free.

The libertarian conception of free will demands that we possess a kind of causality over and above ordinary natural causality. However, this weighty metaphysical demand on what should count as 'free' does not seem to accord with our ordinary notion of freedom. It seems to me that freedom means being autonomous: we are free because we are able to independently judge what we ought to do and act according to intentions formed on the basis of reasons. That is, we are free because we possess practical reason. I do not see the problem in thinking that such autonomy could be embodied in the workings of our neurophysiology.

10:10 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Also, I should add that I didn't spot any mistakes in Alex's appeal to quantum mechanics. However, the interpretation of the formalism remains controversial, which makes an appeal to the apparent indeterminacy in the behavior of microscopic systems difficult.

In addition, indeterminacy in the microscopic arena is irrelevant to human psychology and behavior. So far as we know today, a proper understanding of biological systems like neural networks does not require the use of quantum mechanics. Old-school, deterministic Newtonian mechanics is sufficient. Whatever quantum mechanics tells us about the "openness" of the future, it is not a factor in the free will problem.

10:32 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

As far as I know (which is as far as I can throw a cow), people are still debating Leibniz's position in the free will debate. *shrug* If he was a libertarian, he must be committed to believing that human actions are caused by some mysterious thingamabob that lies outside the physical causal nexus. I think. Causal nexus. You gotta love these words. Lol.

Good 'ol scientist-priest John Polkinghorne thinks quantum physics IS relevant to the debate. He thinks macro-level chaos is indeterministic like quantum-level thingamajigs. I think. I have no idea if it's good physics. I have no idea if it's good philosophy. But I do know that indeterminancy, even if it leads to openness does not solve the problem without an X which can fill the openness with freedom-safeguarding goodness.

Update: revvvvvvvd is on his nth revision of his honours dissertation, n being a number between 3 and 5, depending on how one counts.

6:41 AM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

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7:47 AM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:23 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I'm going to stick to my promise to my wife and actually get some things done today. But I MUST say this has been a very expanding conversation for me. Hopefully I can continue to fill my breaks between classes with these types of discussions. I'm not certain I will have time to reengage this material once classes start (Jon I don't know HOW you do it! Maybe because you don't have wife & kid?) I really appreciate all the rigorous thought that is being thrown around here. I think I'm honestly seeing the limits of reasoned argumentation in this area. One's starting point and reasons for that starting point will strongly influence which course one plots through this maze.

I'll be back eventually... As for now, I need to go pack...

This... is...

so.... hard....

for... me!!!!

Okay bye!

8:28 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

JT,

Asking someone who is debating from the Christian perspective not to bring God into a debate is like asking an atheist to always contemplate God in their arguments...

It's not so much a case of bringing God into it, as using an idea of the nature of that God as the basis for an argument.

If Alex had begun his argument with: "I believe in God, and that this God has X nature, therefore..." then I'd have no problem with that. I'd know that it's essentially a theological argument and treat it as such.

But I took Alex as making a basically empirical argument about free will - which is very different.

If the supernatural is necessary for SDF to exist then there's not much I can contribute to this argument, as I don't believe in the supernatural and therefore fall down right at the starting block.

9:09 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
All arguments presented in the above posts are philosophical arguments based on empirical observation. (with the exception of the quantum stuff) They trace a reasonable path to the doorstep of self-determining freedom. They are NOT inherently theological arguments.

Even so, I see no way that SDF could be true if there were no God. Thus in the end I would see God (or at least some spiritual reality) to be necessary for SDF. If you have an a priori rejection of God, I can see how you would come to the end of the reasoning trail and simply say. "Pffft! well we know THAT can't be true" then turn round and walk back to Godlessdeterminisiticville.

Everything I have been arguing for since the beginning of this blog has been arguing for the existence of God, yet is seems every time we get to the end of the argument you reject it. Not so much because the argument itself is flawed, but because it points to a reality you wish to reject.

Alex: Our experience of beauty points to God.

Matt: Nah, beauty must not exist as anything outside of my own feelings.

Alex: Our sense of morality points to God.

Matt: Well then, morality must surely not exist. It's just me feeling stuff.

Alex: Our freedom to choose points to God.

Matt: We must not have freedom then.

Alex: The beginning of the universe points to God

Matt: Surely, it must not have begun then. Whatever happened, it wasn't God

Alex: The impossibility of an infinite regress of contingent beings points to God

Matt: But I can doubt that! See, watch me... The only thing I can't deny is my subjective experience.

Alex: Our subjective experience points to God

Matt: But you are basing that off your subjective experience and we know that can't be trusted!

Brother, you are one tough nut to crack.

That's it!... I'm turning this stupid thing off...

9:38 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Hey Alex,

I'm sorry you see this debate in those terms. I've been trying to present my worldview in as clear and coherent terms as I can, obviously I've failed as I see my responses in your little skit as bearing only a vague resemblance at best to my arguments.

I don't reject the idea of a divine being a priori, I simply don't see any of the arguments put forward as convincing.

Nah, beauty must not exist as anything outside of my own feelings.

Aesthetic appreciation varies greatly from individual to individual - am I making some sort of mistake in not finding most supermodels beautiful? Should I get into heated arguments with those who prefer realism over surrealism? Are people who don't appreciate a good landscape deficient in some way?

Well then, morality must surely not exist. It's just me feeling stuff.

Which part of the evolutionary theory for the development of morality do you see as flawed? Can you explain divergent moralities without suggesting that those who disagree with you are lying to themselves?

We must not have freedom then.

Cause and effect - find me a way around this and we might be able to discuss the possibility of free will.

Surely, it must not have begun then. Whatever happened, it wasn't God

How can I make my position on the origin of the universe any clearer?

I don't know what caused it to come into being: God... multiple universes... pan-dimensional superbeings... each is possible, but I see no means of choosing between them and so don't bother to do so.

The impossibility of an infinite regress of contingent beings points to God

Why is infinite regress impossible? Why can a lack of it only point to your conception of a divine being?

But you are basing that off your subjective experience and we know that can't be trusted!

How from a subjective POV do we tell the difference between knowing there is no causal background to our decisions and not being aware of the causal background?

Why does the existence of free will, morality, the universe, aesthetic appreciation, etc. necessarily lead to a divine being?

I'm sure that if you start off "knowing" that God exists, all these arguments seem perfectly valid to you, but from an atheistic point of view they simply don't hold together at all.

10:06 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

just thinking,

Why, thank you! ^_^

You might be right about Christians being their own worst enemies. At the end of the Screwtape Letters, when Screwtape proposes and toast to the tempters' college, he says that nowhere do devils tempt more successfully than at the altar. Too often do Christians lose sight of the subversive and liberating purpose of Christ and collapse into petty holier-than-thou attitudes. Kierkegaard appropriately drew a sharp line between Christianity and Christendom.

Revvvvvvvd,

Thanks for you comments.

Rethinking what I said about Leibniz, I want to retract what I said in order to be consistent with my earlier terminology.

Well, I have not read Polkinghorne, but I can say that chaos is a classical phenomenon, and would exist even if there were no such business as quantum mechanics. Dusting off my undergraduate mechanics textbook by Thornton and Marion,

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the famous French mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace espoused the view that if we knew the position and velocities of all the particles in the universe, then we would know the future for all time. This is the deterministic view of nature. In recent years, researchers in many disciplines have come to realize that knowing the laws of is not enough. Much of nature seems to be chaotic. In this case, we refer to deterministic chaos, as opposed to randomness, to be the motion of a system whose time evolution has a sensitive dependence on initial conditions... Measurements made on the state of a system at a given time may not allow us to predict the future situation even moderately far ahead, despite the fact that the governing equations are known exactly.

What makes a system chaotic is that it is highly sensitive to its initial conditions. As an elementary example of a chaotic system, we might set up two identical apparatus A and B: suspend a ball bearing by two springs attached to fixed walls. Tug on the ball bearing at some funny angle and let it bounce around! Now, in box A, we stretch the springs upward by tugging on the ball bearing some distance. In box B, however, we tug on the ball bearing some slightly different distance. Before long, the wobblings and tossings of the two ball bearings will look completely different!

Despite the fact we can write down equations governing the trajectories of the balls in our setup, before long we are unable to predict where the ball is going to be. This setup, just a ball attached to springs, is so sensitive to its starting conditions that two similar, but slightly different, setups will act very differently. Quantum mechanics does not play any role in this -- these are just springs and ball bearings!

The same goes for other, still more interesting, cases of chaos: the orbits of the planets about the sun and the weather.

12:03 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Yes, I've gathered as much from my friends at the physics department. I suppose Polkinghorne thinks that's wrong, i.e., that chaos isn't just about sensitivity to initial conditions. But I can't make any sense of that, just like I can't make any sense of quantum physics in toto. So, watch me construct an argumentum ad ignorantium. Muahahaha.

I must say, Timmo, that WAS very clearly said.

Anyway, Matt:
Would parsimony help you adjudicate the question of "first cause"? I realize the problem with parsimony: It's hard to tell if one GOD is more parsimonious that MULTIPLE universes. Hmm...

Also, you're confusing morality for sense of morality. Darwin can explain the evolution of moral feelings and behaviour, but the Darwinian should be agnostic about whether these moral intuitions are accurate. (Actually, I'm not sure Darwin CAN explain the evolution of moral feelings, but I think there is a perfectly good naturalistic origin of moral feelings. I'm a dual-inheritance kind of guy myself, you see. I'm with Dennett on this universal Darwinism stuff, though perhaps a weaker version).

Alex's complaint is that naturalism seems to preclude moral realism. And we want moral realism. Most atheists live without moral realism or talk about Platonic moral facts. Platonic moral facts are dodgy. Atheists should try to live without moral realism, and to come up with a better metaethic. Theists have to come up with good arguments for moral realism.

As it happens, I'm very sympathetic to the very Reformed project of rejecting the presumption of atheism. Why should theists start on atheistic ground? Let "God exists" be the basis of all philosophical discourse! Let it be an axiom! But I just can bring myself to do it. Lol. So, I love the idea, but I don't consider myself a part of that tradition. Though, Matt, I don't think this makes it a "theological" discussion. Our current philosophical discourse has some baseless assumptions or axioms too. Whenever we refer to "empirical facts", we give our metaphysics away (i.e., we believe in objective reality). We also give our epistemology away (i.e., we think Hume's problem of induction can be solved). And there are stacks of assumptions more beneath these discussions we have that, in fact, are no uncontroversial.

4:05 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Just by the way, I just remembered that Karl Popper and John Eccles were dualists who (I think) thought libertarianism was true. So, libertarians here might want to check them out. Not that credentials mean constitute evidence, but the credentials really don't get better than this.

12:11 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Revvvvvvd,

The vast achieves of this blog are devoted to the questions here, so I'll just reply briefly in an attempt to outline my position on them.

Would parsimony help you adjudicate the question of "first cause"?

What could be more parsimonious than don't know?

Besides, given that the majority of the known universe appears to run according to blind physical processes then surely it makes sense to regard whatever caused the universe to come into being to run along similar lines? Though I'd regard even that as wild speculation - given that we have no knowledge of pre-universe conditions.

Alex's complaint is that naturalism seems to preclude moral realism. And we want moral realism.

Most atheists reject the idea of moral realism as groundless. I personally see morality as the attempt of individuals to impose their desires onto the world around them. If I make the statement that "X is wrong", for example, I'm making a statement about how I want the world to be, not how it is.

Evolutionary theory, as I understand it, shows why morality is as it is - we need rules in order for society to function, presenting these rules as handed down from a higher power (be it God or something else) gives them more psychological weight.

Theists have to come up with good arguments for moral realism.

I'm not so sure. In order to establish a particular moral code you'd have to demonstrate not only that your God existed, but also that it had a specific nature - something which theologians and philosophers have been trying to do for centuries, with varying degrees of success.

Any theist-based moral code would have no weight with me, for example, until you could prove that the God it was based on existed.

Why should theists start on atheistic ground?

It depends on who your arguments are targeted at. If you're only appealing to other theists then there's no point bothering to try to establish the existence of God. If you're appealing to atheists as well then you need to start on grounds that most people accept.

Our current philosophical discourse has some baseless assumptions or axioms too.

You can hold 'God exists' as an axiom if you wish, but you lose a sizeable chunk of your audience if you do. If it were adopted as an axiom around here then I'd probably have to wave goodbye, as I wouldn't share the assumption behind the arguments made and so couldn't meaningfully contribute.

Also, I think we have to distinguish between certain fundamental assumptions that need to be made in order for a meaningful conversation to be held (that we both exist, that the universe is uniform, etc.) and non-fundamental ones about the nature of the universe on which we can disagree yet still converse.

5:44 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I don't see how "don't know" addresses the question. Indeed, it is a refusal to address the question, a throwing up of the hands and exclaiming, "I can't decide which is more parsimonious: God or the Multiverse!" But of course, you're not agnostic, hence your inductive argument that follows. I'm not sure if there's a way to choose between a personal explanation for the Universe (big U) and a mechanistic explanation for all universes (and hence, the Universe?), given that both personal and mechanistic explanations are common in our experience. Of course, one might argue (as libertarians say compatibilists must) that personal causation is an illusion, and that it's all mechanistic. Hmmm...

You seem to think that moral realism requires a divine being. This isn't so. One could be a moral Platonist. I think it works the other way around: Theists have to come up with good arguments for moral realism IN ORDER to make theism more credible. This, I think, is what Kant is doing but via a pragmatic rather than strictly evidential route.

I certainly agree that we cannot assume that God exists. I can't bring myself to make such an assumption myself, but I am sympathetic. I think this is the most theologically sound way to go. But I can't do it. I wish I could -- it'd make the problem of evil et al. disappear in a puff of smoke (no, not really).

6:03 PM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

There is somre really good stuff going on here. I wish I werwe quicker off the mark, but the flipside of that is that many of the things I might have said have already been said, generally better than I'd put them! Let me add a bit, though.

Alex: Self-Determining Freedom states that the ultimate reason one action is performed verses another is ultimately determined by the agent.
And: SDF does not argue that we are the freaky sort of free that would allow us to act in ways that are retroactively unintelligible. It only argues that within the bounds of antecedent conditions we are able to genuinely "choose" between actual possibilities

Well, say I want a buy a DVD and I also want to help the starving kids of Namibia; whichever I end up doing with my £10 note will be intelligible after the event, seeing as how either choice is consistent with one of my motives. But what remains obscure on this view is why I chose the one I did rather than the other.

A purely event-causal view of agency would be able to say either that one motive was stronger and thus determined my action, or else that the probabilities randomly went that way on this occasion.

You’ve talked a lot on this blog (often in the context of morality) about how important it is to put character at the heart of understanding action. I think that’s right, and I think that’s why an event-causal outlook beats a libertarian/agent-causation/SDF approach. (To say nothing of its metaphysical parsimony.)

I’m going to be lazy and quote something great that I just found on the Daylight Atheism blog:

The traditional dualist view of free will - that people could have done otherwise under the very same circumstances - is something that has never made sense to me. Consider its implications for a moment. Imagine that this view is correct, and whatever a person does, they could have done otherwise. If some godlike being put them in exactly the same circumstances twice, down to the specific microstate of their brain, they could do something different. The question is then, if no fact about the world or about themselves caused them to choose as they did, then what did cause that?
It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. If that is the case, then advocates of the traditional picture of free will are saying, in effect, that they want to be insane. They want their decisions to be determined by no reason, no circumstance, no fact about the world, about their character, or about their own process of moral reasoning. But if that is the case, there is only one possible conclusion: their decisions are not really chosen at all, but are instead random. And randomness is not free will.


If there’s some causal gap between who we are and what we do, then how would that make for a more satisfying and ennobling view of human agency?

Now I’m going to be lazy and vain, and quote myself:

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.

One amendment, given the caused/determined debate: if we change the start to say “even partly independent” then that allows a large role for character and preferences, but still some wiggle room. Thing is, though, it wouldn’t be us doing the wiggling. The causal gap that libertarianism postulates isn’t a gap filled by anything intelligibly personal.

5:51 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I don't see how "don't know" addresses the question.

It's an acknowledgement that some questions lie beyond the range of human knowledge.

However, if forced to choose between a divine being and multiple universes as the most parsimonious explanation for the origin of all this I'd have to go with the multiple universe theory - as the divine being one requires me to go from an atheistic effect (as I see it) to a theistic cause, and I don't see how I could reasonably do that.

As Hume (everyone's favourite philosopher) argues:

When we infer any particular cause from an effect, we must proportion the one to the other, and can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect. A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof, that the counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces; but can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred. If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect. But if we ascribe to it farther qualities, or affirm it capable of producing other effects, we can only indulge the licence of conjecture, and arbitrarily suppose the existence of qualities and energies, without reason or authority.

('Enquiry...' Section XI)

You seem to think that moral realism requires a divine being. This isn't so.

I take your point.

I haven't encountered many atheists who hold to a Platonian or Kantian concept of moral realism though. My knowledge of both is sketchy, but neither strikes me as particularly convincing.

Not that I want to get into a debate about the merits of categorical imperatives with you though! :-)

6:36 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Tom,
That Daylight Atheism quote is spot on. I was thinking about this over the weekend, while I was reading about Open Theism. It seemed truly bizarre to defend Free Will by appealing so strongly to indeterminism; if there is nothing 'determining' one's choice, then it isn't really a choice but a random act. Hardly worth God's time to reward the faithful when they arrived at their faith by the flip of a coin.

11:37 AM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

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9:17 AM

 
Blogger Just Thinking said...

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9:35 AM

 

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