Thinking Christian

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Can Science Disprove Free Will?

Posted on Jan 20, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Premiss 1. If libertarian free will (LFW) exists, it operates such that natural law does not determine its course or its actions, nor is it a matter of chance. (Definition of libertarian free will)

Premiss 2. Science’s competence (meaning the empirical, physical sciences) is strictly in the study of events and entities in conjunction with, in relation to, or as determined by natural law or by chance. (From generally accepted definitions of the natural sciences)

Conclusion 1. If  some function or capacity exists whose action or operation is not determined by natural law or chance,  then science has no competence concerning that function or capacity. (Premiss 2)

Prediction 1. If LFW does not exist, science will not detect it. (Obviously so)

Prediction 2. If LFW does exist, science will not detect it. (Premiss 1 and Conclusion 1)

Observation 1: Science has not detected LFW.

Conclusion 2: Scientific observations are entirely consistent with Prediction 1 and with Prediction 2. (Predictions 1 and 2, Observation 1)

Conclusion 3: As far as science knows how to determine, either LFW exists or it does not. (Conclusion 2)

81 Responses to “ Can Science Disprove Free Will? ”

  1. Tom Gilson says:

    Further:

    Observation 2: Some people claim that science has disproved libertarian free will.

    Conclusion 4: Sometimes some people don’t know what they’re talking about, but they won’t refrain from saying it anyway. (Conclusion 3, Observation 2, and the link, which is one example among many)

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Notes:

    Premiss 2 is problematic to a degree, as there is no one generally accepted definition of science. This Premiss applies pretty faithfully, however, to “science” in a realist/philosophical materialist framework, I think. The persons I have most in mind to address with this argument are adherents of that realist/materialist view.

    Again, “natural law” is a difficult concept to pin down, but the same persons I have in mind tend to treat it in realist terms, as if the laws of nature actually do exist and enforce physical determinism.

    “Chance” in this argument refers to strictly random, uncaused events, as are thought to occur on the quantum level according to some QM interpretations. Other apparent chance effects are better understood as the unexpected confluence of determined (or chosen) events.

  3. Holopupenko says:

    Science’s competence (meaning the empirical, physical sciences) is strictly in the study of events and entities in conjunction with, in relation to, or as determined by natural law or by chance.

    Tom:

    Could you please explain precisely what you mean by the terms “DETERMINED,” by “NATURAL LAW,” and especially by “DETERMINED BY NATURAL LAW OR BY CHANCE” and how “natural law” or “chance” act upon material bodies? (Where, for example, is this “natural law” to which you refer?)

    If observable physical phenomena are “determined by natural law or by chance,” then what does that imply about the natures of extra-mental objects and does it matter whether these objects have natures or not? Finally, how exactly does “chance” determine anything?

    Are you using this in a similar way when someone asserts “Newton’s 2nd Law governs the motions of objects”? Let me suggest your conflation (or at least very strongly implied conflation @2) of “chance” and “random” is incorrect. “Chance” means “the intersection or two or more independent lines of causality.” “Random” means uncaused in its full import.

    Finally, when you state, “Science’s competence… is strictly in the study of events and entities…,” I’m assuming you understand that it is an epistemological question. You have yet to address ontological distinctions–either between the concrete and individual natural sciences or between philosophy and theology–which then distinguish all the sciences from each other.

    Thanks.

    P.S. You may want to defer tackling the “natural law” topic under a separate post instead of here. I’m fine with that.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    No, I’m not going to explain all that, Holopupenko. I covered those bases in my explanatory comments.

  5. Holopupenko says:

    Tom:

    I beg to differ. Take just one of your statements (premise 2 and your related comment): what precisely do you mean by “determined by natural law or by chance”? That you “believe” this statement “applies pretty faithfully” as a characterization of a realist or materialist philosophical framework [of science] is not an explanation.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    If some scientific realist/materialist has the same question, Holopupenko, then it will be worth answering.

    You see, I’m not addressing this argument to you, simply because you don’t need me to prove to you that science cannot prove LFW. You already know that. Anyone who has the savvy to ask the questions you’re asking doesn’t need the answers you’re asking for, at least not in context of what this post is intended to accomplish.

    This argument is directed toward those who think science disproves LFW. For the most part those who believe that is true, also believe that natural law is some kind of real thing that does real things in the world. Or governs real things in a real way. Or something along those lines; it comes out the same in any event, for present purposes.

    And I am sticking to present purposes. It’s not my intention here to disabuse them of that notion. It would be a worthy task in some venue, but it’s not the one that this brief blog post tries to accomplish. If I can allow them their realist opinions of natural law, and yet show them that within that framework science cannot disprove LFW, then I have succeeded in showing them that their framework cannot support their belief that science disproves LFW.

    That’s all I’m trying to accomplish here.

    Here’s why I’m only trying to do that much (even though there’s more that could be done.) It’s a busy day ahead. I don’t deny that your question is important or interesting, I just don’t want to work it through right now. If I thought I really needed to in order to defend my argument, I would. In other words, if I thought that your challenge came from the perspective of believing that science disproves LFW, and if I thought I needed to respond to your challenge in order to show science cannot do that, I would respond to your challenge. Otherwise I’m not going to take the time to do that, when I think I have already accomplished the minimal work I set out to do with this post.

    If someone who actually believes science disproves LFW wants to raise an objection I’ll be here to respond. Or if someone thinks Holopupenko’s questions lead to a place where science might actually disprove LFW, I would respond to that, too—but that seems unlikely.

  7. Victoria says:

    It seems to me that we have to press this battle on two fronts:
    1. Showing that science by itself is inadequate to account for even how we as human beings actually function, and
    2. That materialistic naturalism is itself a false worldview – namely that there is more to reality than just what science is competent to study. We need to make a case for Christian Theism as the inference to the best explanation.

  8. d says:

    If by “disprove”, you mean something in the form of a logical proof, I’d agree – science cannot disprove LFW in that sense. Claims about the facts of reality, no matter how well established, are always subject to the problem of induction, including premises of deductive arguments.

    Can science, in principle, demonstrate that LFW is less likely than other competing explanations? I don’t see why not. If we were to develop a highly reliable technology that accurately predicted human decision making, that might be one way to tilt the scales in favor of determinism over LFW.

    I’d find it pretty strange if LFW and deterministic will made all the same predictions about the nature of human decision making… and depending on what those differences are, its possible that science could be used to test them.

  9. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    That materialistic naturalism is itself a false worldview – namely that there is more to reality than just what science is competent to study. We need to make a case for Christian Theism as the inference to the best explanation.

    Maybe a slip, but “inference to the best explanation” is an import from the modus operandi of the empirical sciences itself. While there is nothing inherently wrong in pursuing such lines of inquiry as they at least have the power to *suggest* some interesting possibilities, the mode has, by its very nature, severe limitations in what it can establish or even “see”. Just as science, commonly understood, cannot disprove Free Will, it can neither “prove” it in any useful sense of the word, because it cannot even “see” it in the first place, as Free Will is not amenable to testing, probing and quantification. I am framing this in epistemological terms, but as per the dictum “knowledge follows being”, this is at bottom a metaphysical, ontological question, not a proper subject of the empirical sciences. “Worldview” is the key word here; the battle lines are drawn in the philosophical field and the right weaponry is a sound Christian philosophy.

    If sound philosophy fails I say sharpen your fingernails and GO FOR THE EYES!

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    d, you write,

    If we were to develop a highly reliable technology that accurately predicted human decision making, that might be one way to tilt the scales in favor of determinism over LFW.

    How accurately did you have in mind? You see, LFW is true if some of our decisions are free of deterministic influences. LFW does not posit that all choices are totally free. It doesn’t even necessarily posit that a majority of them are. Its truth only requires that some of them are. If even some small minority of events break from supposed deterministic patterns, then determinism is false.

    So if we were to develop a highly reliable technology that accurately predicted every human decision, then you might be right. But I have news for you: people would still decide to go against what the technology predicted, and they would find ways around the Sicilian’s gambit of predicting even that.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t think Victoria was suggesting science could “‘prove’ it in any useful sense of the word,” and I don’t think she was suggesting that the IBE should be based only on information gleaned from the sciences, or that it should ignore philosophy or worldview.

  12. Holopupenko says:

    Fair enough, Tom. Good point.

  13. Ken says:

    So why is one man diligent when another with the same type of brain and operating under the same laws of physics is lazy? Maybe he will say the diligent man had the benefit of certain upbringing. So what about the homeless or the orphan who grows up without privilege, yet also becomes diligent and productive?

  14. drj says:

    Tom,

    Is there any criteria on LFW for identifying free choices from non-free ones, besides the obvious cases (drug induced, delirium, some sort of biological dysfunction)?

    I mean in an empirical sense, not a conceptual sense – is there any way we could point to a decision that somebody made and say, “that was probably a genuinely free decision”?**

    If there were, what might we expect to be different about the phenomenology of these decisions versus determined ones? You wrote a short time ago about some of the studies, demonstrating that decisions were being made before people had conscious awareness of making decisions. Would we expect genuinely free decisions to operate differently?

    If so, it could be possible to test for these differences in a lab setting… again, depending on what those differences are. We could actually look at reality and see how well it lines up with LFW predictions.

    Of course, mere indeterminacy of a non-free kind could also exist. Choices may be indeterminate AND also involuntary. I’m not sure how science could easily tell the difference… unless the LFW-ist can make some more specific predictions on this front as well.

    In any case, it seems like it would benefit those who posit LFW to make some bolder predictions with respect to human decision making other than, “We’ll never be able to predict human decision making with 100% accuracy”. So long as they remain so vague and general, I guess I’ll backtrack a little and agree that science would have some trouble disproving LFW, even in principle – but only because its phenomenology is so ill-defined.

    But really, if these kinds of distinguishing predictions cannot be made about the world based on LFW, it would seem to damage its credibility, IMHO. Occam’s Razor would be looming…

    ** Not to mention this question should be paramount for any LFW-ist who hopes to have a humane basis for human justice institutions.

  15. Victoria says:

    I don’t think Victoria was suggesting science could “‘prove’ it in any useful sense of the word,” and I don’t think she was suggesting that the IBE should be based only on information gleaned from the sciences, or that it should ignore philosophy or worldview

    My point exactly – there is more to reality than just what can be studied by the MES.
    We need to bring the evidence for Christianity to the table (such as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s actions in human history, His revelation of Himself, etc). In that sense, Christianity is the IBE for all of reality.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    drj:

    Is there any criteria on LFW for identifying free choices from non-free ones, besides the obvious cases (drug induced, delirium, some sort of biological dysfunction)?

    I know of no empirical criteria. I am quite certain, however, on philosophical grounds, that logic-driven choices of reasoning could not be physically determined. The explanation for that is in what I wrote there: either the choice is physically driven or logic-driven. Logic is not a product of physics. No other argument against physical determinism is necessary (though others could be adduced).

    Physical indeterminacy is not LFW any more than determinism is. LFW means that the agent directs the course of events, not randomness.

    Those who posit LFW are not (one hopes) fools enough to “make bolder predictions with respect to human decision making,” if what you mean by that is bolder empirical predictions. That would be falling into the opposite side of the same trap I was arguing against in the OP. LFW’s truth is known for other reasons.

    On the other hand, there is one empirically testable phenomenon that does speak highly in favor of LFW. Here, let’s try it out right here. You write a comment in answer to me. While you are doing that, go ahead and decide what you will write.

    There. Done. Demonstrated.

    Want to call it an illusion still? On what basis?

    What on earth does Occam’s Razor have to do with this?

  17. Alex Dawson says:

    From what I know (which is admittedly little), I’m not aware that science in its current state has anything genuinely meaningful to say on the matter of free will. However I’m not convinced by the presented argument. Perhaps its just the phrasing, but premiss 2 and conclusion 1 seem very “wooly” to me.

    If by “science has no competence concerning that function or capacity” you mean that it cannot fully explain free will through investigation, I would thoroughly agree. However, that would not prevent it from recognising whether something non-deterministic occurs or not. Unless I have some grave misunderstanding, free will must have some effect upon the natural, in order for one to actually enact their decision, and essentially by definition this would not be a physical deterministic cause.

    But suppose science and technology was sufficiently advanced to monitor the entire physical state of the brain, and predict its change deterministically. If upon monitoring it, it does in fact merely act deterministically during decision making, then how could free will have acted in any meaningful way? Or does QM leave enough “wiggle room” of different possibile states that such an analysis would be impossible in principle? (Or is there some other problem with my far-fetched hypothesis?)

    Also, perhaps this an absurd notion, but if not, assuming free will, how do you suppose a physically living human body/brain without free will would function/act? What, if any, remnants of “human-ness” would be left?

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    Science could conceivably recognize that something non-deterministic has occurred. That’s what a lot of scientists think happens on a quantum level. There are some here who contest that interpretation (Copenhagen, it is called) vociferously, and they have good reasons for it. But let’s offer you the best-case scenario, and suppose for the sake of argument that the Copenhagen interpretation is right, and science really did have the ability to recognize physically uncaused events. It could still never explain those events, and in particular, it couldn’t prove that a freely choosing agent was the cause of any event.

    Nor can it disprove it, for reasons already given. But you propose a counter to that. And you might be right. If science and technology could monitor the entire physical state of the brain, maybe then it could prove LFW is false. But in order to do that it would have to identify and track every single causal connection, from the most minute passing of a calcium ion to the most visible behaviors resulting from it, and it would have to show that every single such event was tied to a previous one by physical necessity. It would have to do that on an actual living brain in a living body.

    There are “ten billion neurons and a hundred billion smaller cells [in the brain]. These many billions of cells are interconnected in a vastly complicated network that we can’t begin to unravel as yet” (hastily grabbed source).

    How many causal interactions per second would that involve? Do you think it might be safe to say that even if your supposition were correct, we remain a lo-o-o-o-ong way from its realization? And is it not also fair to say that anyone relying on neuroscience to deny free will is really relying on their faith that what little we can analyze of the brain and behavior explains everything else about it?

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    Also, perhaps this an absurd notion, but if not, assuming free will, how do you suppose a physically living human body/brain without free will would function/act? What, if any, remnants of “human-ness” would be left?

    Why does this question matter?

  20. Holopupenko says:

    how do you suppose a physically living human body/brain without free will would function/act?

    Tom:

    The question DOES matter because of the creeping (or implied) ontological reductionism.

    Alex:

    “It” would not be human, and hence it would not “act” like a human. A human is a rational animal whose capacities above and beyond, say, brute animals, are free will and reason… which can NOT be separated from each other.

    Nuff said. Next question.

  21. Alex Dawson says:

    Tom, I entirely agree that any such scientific evaluation of a brain state, if not impossible, is hugely distant. I was just pointing out that from how I see it a world with LFW and a world without LFW are not indistinguishable by science in principle. Perhaps they actually are indistinguishable; but I just didn’t feel this argument proved it.

    Perhaps I should also have clarified my position – like I said from what I know science presently says nothing on the matter of free will, so considering only that evidence one ought to be agnostic on the matter of free will. So I would agree with you that anyone using neuroscience to deny free will (bar significant further argument) is doing so on the kind of faith you mention. Given science having no say on the matter, I then think experiential/philosophical considerations give a fair bit of evidence to make free will very reasonable to believe in.

    “Why does this question matter?” Perhaps I’m looking down a dead end, but personally by considering such things I hope to have a possibility of gaining further insight or understanding in what it means to have free will. Holopupenko, sure, I agree; I suppose I was asking in an admittedly tangential but curious way, in what pragmatic ways it would act differently; whether it would display any illusion of intelligence at all, be able to speak or not for instance? I appreciate these further questions are perhaps too irrelevant so do feel free to leave them if so.

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s a good fair answer, Alex.

    The reason I asked about why the one question mattered is because I couldn’t think of a way to make sense of it, and I wanted to have some kind of idea how much effort I should put into trying to resolve that. Holopupenko has just explained why it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it is resolvable at all; I think you’ve asked a question about a square circle.

    Or, you’ve asked a question about a human being under anesthesia or some similar circumstance, temporarily lacking freedom to act or to choose. I don’t think a trivial case like that gets you anywhere. It could be a severely brain-damaged human being, too. That person’s humanness does not dissipate away when observable acts of rationality go away; it is still in his or her nature to be rational, even if that nature is unable to be fully expressed. No one here denies that the brain is instrumental in the operation of free will in the physical world, we’re just saying that physical necessity does not explain it all.

  23. d says:

    I know of no empirical criteria. I am quite certain, however, on philosophical grounds, that logic-driven choices of reasoning could not be physically determined. The explanation for that is in what I wrote there: either the choice is physically driven or logic-driven. Logic is not a product of physics. No other argument against physical determinism is necessary (though others could be adduced).

    I don’t quite get what you mean when you say logical decisions can’t be determined. Computers are excellent at logic, and they are fully deterministic. Logic is what they do, in a very literal sense, at both the hardware and software level. And on top of that, a great deal of our cognitive processing can be described algorithmically, both conscious and unconscious. Do you mean something else by “logic-driven”?

    Either way, it seems like the quesiton should be posed again with respect to your answer. Could there any conceivable way (scientificaly or otherwise) detect if a choice was logic-driven or based on pure physics?

    It doesnt seem natural to me to think there would be no detectable difference. I’m not sure why the assumption that there wouldnt be any detectable difference, seems to be the default.

    Physical indeterminacy is not LFW any more than determinism is. LFW means that the agent directs the course of events, not randomness.

    Those who posit LFW are not (one hopes) fools enough to “make bolder predictions with respect to human decision making,” if what you mean by that is bolder empirical predictions. That would be falling into the opposite side of the same trap I was arguing against in the OP. LFW’s truth is known for other reasons.

    I don’t know if I’d consider that falling into a trap so much, as I would consider it stepping up to the plate and putting one’s ideas to the test. I really don’t know why LFW should have the exact same set of predictions about our physiology, or our decision making cognitive processes that determinism would.

    And if it does, that’s where Occam’s Razor would come into play. Why invent a whole other universe to explain something, when this one can suffice?

    On the other hand, there is one empirically testable phenomenon that does speak highly in favor of LFW. Here, let’s try it out right here. You write a comment in answer to me. While you are doing that, go ahead and decide what you will write.

    There. Done. Demonstrated.

    Want to call it an illusion still? On what basis?

    Heh, cute. But I don’t really think there is an illusion of LFW. I can’t think of any decision I have made that was noticeably not determined by the state of the universe (things like personality, disposition, memory, information processing ability are included in the state of the universe) or free from physics. I don’t even know what that would feel like. I think its another strange assumption to make, that folk notions of free will or our intuitions *really* correspond with LFW, in any meaningful way. And unfortunately, guys like Coyne make it all the time, and its annoying to no end.

    So on that front, I’m not really sure what your test is supposed to demonstrate!

  24. SteveK says:

    Computers are excellent at logic, and they are fully deterministic.

    No, d, they aren’t. They are excellent at manipulating symbols. They don’t know what the symbols mean, and that is required in order to do logic.

  25. d says:

    No, d, they aren’t. They are excellent at manipulating symbols. They don’t know what the symbols mean, and that is required in order to do logic.

    Computers have circuits that compare levels of voltage, really. But either way, the operations they are performing are logical ones. AND, OR, NOR, XOR, NOT, etc. Comparing values, and “deciding” – *entirely* on the rules of logic – on a result.

    Sure, they don’t have self-awareness… but self-awareness isnt required for logic – just like self-awareness isnt required to do math.

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    When, oh when, will that misconception ever go away?

    Computers’ outputs are not the result of considering propositions and their logic. Their outputs are not propositions, either. Their outputs are voltages applied to pixels, and/or acoustic energy transducers (speakers), and/or ink-jet sprays or whatever makes laser printers put ink on paper. The way they arrive at those outputs is not by way of rules of inference, but by way of varying resistances (switches) in the paths of their minuscule currents.

    This misconception is the result of an historical accident in the choice of a word. There is logic, yes, in the development of computer programs. People do that. What goes on inside a computer is the outworking of that logic, but it is not logically worked out, it is electrically worked out.

  27. Victoria says:

    The problem I see here with the computer analogy is that y’all are missing something that is very germaine to our discussion, namely the fact that a computer system (hardware and software) is a complex, hierarchical system. Each level in the hierarchy represents its own set of abstractions and concepts, which are imposed on (or implemented in terms of) the layer below it, but (and this is crucial) are not explained by the layer(s) below it.
    The lowest level is, of course, solid state semiconductor physics and electronic components and circuits. This layer is used (among other things), to implement Boolean algebra, in the form of logic gates. In turn, the logic gates are combined into more complex entities implementing arithmetic operations, memory, etc. A FPU (floating point unit, for example, cannot be explained simply by Boolean algebra, since it implements concepts not derivable from Boolean algebra). And so on, all the way up to the software: operating system code, application development code (compilers, linkers, programming languages, etc), and finally applications themselves. Who in their right mind would explain how a Web Browser works using CPU-level instructions and data, to say nothing of voltages and currents? No, you would want an explanation in terms of the abstractions and conceptual entities relevant to the purpose of a Web Browser, things which an external Mind has imposed on the computer system. Now, to implement such an application, you need the complete hierarchy of the system, but the application contains concepts which are not at all derivable from *any* layer in the implementation hierarchy.

    Being a Christian, I am not ashamed to admit that I ground my worldview on the solid foundation of the God of the Bible. That foundation tells me that human beings are more than just flesh and blood – we are made in the image of God, and thus God has imposed something not derivable from space-time/matter-energy and their properties/dynamics. That something comes from eternity, from outside this world.

    You atheists and skeptics can foolishly dismiss all of this, but that’s your problem, not ours (see Romans 1:18-3:1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 4:1-7, for example).

  28. Tom,

    Below I have restated your argument (most of it anyway) to include magic. Your argument sounds plausible but it is unfalsifiable. It is not my intention to be facetious but I hope you will find an element of humor in my comment. It seems to me that this argument, at best, only shows that science cannot disprove LFW. Of course showing that LFW cannot be disproven is helpful; more is needed to positively demonstrate its existence. I think the moral argument is the best recourse we libertarians have available to us.

    Megan Carus

    Premise 1. If magic exists, it operates such that natural law does not determine its course or its actions. (Definition of magic).

    Premise 2. Science’s competence (meaning the empirical, physical sciences) is strictly in the study of events and entities in conjunction with, in relation to, or as determined by natural law. (From generally accepted definitions of the natural sciences)

    Conclusion 1. If some function or capacity exists whose action or operation is not determined by natural law, then science has no competence concerning that function or capacity. (Premise 2)

    Prediction 1. If magic does not exist, science will not detect it. (Obviously so)

    Prediction 2. If magic does exist, science will not detect it. (Premise 1 and Conclusion 1)

    Observation 1: Science has not detected magic.

    Conclusion 2: Scientific observations are entirely consistent with Prediction 1 and with Prediction 2. (Predictions 1 and 2, Observation 1)

    Conclusion 3: As far as science knows how to determine, either magic exists or it does not. (Conclusion 2)

    . . . What would Karl Popper think?

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    Karl Popper would think you missed something, Megan. I appreciate the humor, but when you say that the best this argument can do is to show science cannot disprove LFW, that doesn’t bother me a bit. That was exactly the purpose of this argument: to answer some people, like Jerry Coyne, who claim that science disproves LFW. That’s all I was after.

    As for magic being disproved, well, the reason we don’t believe in magic is that experience and philosophy have given us no reason to believe in it.

  30. d says:

    Ah, it seems the computer logic issue has diverted things away from the main points and questions in #23. Anyhow, all that other stuff was what I am more interested for this discussion.

    The computer issue was, if you look back, little more than a request for clarification as to what Tom meant by “logic-driven”.

    I’m still interested to know why we should expect the phenomenology of free decisions to be empirically identical to physically caused decisions – or that LFW shouldn’t be making any empirical predictions about the world at all.

    Occams Razor comes into play because if LFW and determinism explain the exact same set of facts (ie, there is no empirical difference), it seems like determinism is preferable from the perspective of science (and perhaps philosophy), because it doesn’t require us invent new classes of entities in order to make sense.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    Science properly speaking has no perspective on determinism. That was my point in the OP.

    Does Occam’s Razor mean we subtract known entities to make sense? Especially when the known entity is the human being? An organism with no free will is not a human being as human beings have always been understood by philosophers–or as human beings have been understood by human beings.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    I take back everything I wrote about the phenomenology of LFW being like that of determinism. We know what determinism looks like in organisms: look at the animals. Rationality requires free will, and rationality is the phenomenological signal of free will. No free will, no choices. No choices, no rational choices. No rational choices, no rationality.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    It is of the essence of rationality that the rational agent actually be an agent; that the rational human be able to make rational decisions; that rational decisions not be outputs of electrochemical processes, but the fruit of reflection upon reasons. It is a strange, Procrustean policy that seeks to force inferential reasoning onto the bed of deterministic electrochemistry. The two could hardly be more distinct.

  34. Victoria says:

    @d

    Occams Razor comes into play because if LFW and determinism explain the exact same set of facts (ie, there is no empirical difference), it seems like determinism is preferable from the perspective of science (and perhaps philosophy), because it doesn’t require us invent new classes of entities in order to make sense.

    To do this, you are simply ignoring the evidence that undergirds Christianity in particular. What if there are other facts that can be best understood by the existence of God (the God of Biblical Christianity, in particular)? And there are such facts, namely, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You dismiss this simply because you don’t want Christianity to be true.

  35. Victoria says:

    @All
    Is anyone else seeing the comments formatted as centered lines?

  36. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria (#35):

    Yes. Using both the KDE-native browsers and Firefox. The format of the site is wonky.

  37. Victoria says:

    @d
    You might turn #34 around by claiming that we (Christians) simply want Christianity to be true, and therefore we start with that presupposition.
    Well, you should know that for many of us, we didn’t start out that way. It was a hard-fought battle with the same intellectual doubts, willful ignorance and sinful pride that you atheists have. It was the Spirit of God working in our hearts and minds, breaking down the barriers, providing the answers to our doubts, that brought us face to face (so to speak) with the risen Jesus. We took that step of faith, out of our darkness and hardness of heart, into the light. Christian faith has three components: a solid foundational basis (evidentiary support), a willingness to trust God, to take Him at His word, and action – actually trusting God and obeying Him, acknowledging Jesus Christ as both Saviour and Lord. As a result, we have the very Spirit of God within us, as the seal of our new life and the pledge of our inheritance in God’s eternal kingdom. We were once as you, blind and haters of God, but now we see with eyes that you do not have, and our hearts are alive with a love for God that you cannot comprehend.

    So if you are hoping that you might plant a seed of doubt in us by coming to this blog and posting your materialistic viewpoint, think again. There are certainly issues that we, as Christians, struggle with, but we do so from a position of strength, and we always go back to the cross, the empty tomb, and our risen Saviour.

    And to anyone who is browsing the blog, and who is struggling with doubts about Christianity, fear not – there are good answers for those doubts, and it is possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian, and so much more than that.

  38. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues

    yeah, the CSS for the comment-text class has ‘text-align: center’ for the style.
    (I have IE developer tools, so I can see the client side HTML, Javascript and CSS)

  39. Alex Dawson says:

    Tom:We know what determinism looks like in organisms: look at the animals.
    How justified are we in being able to say that animals are deterministic, and do not have LFW? (or at least some kind of non-deterministic mind?)

    Also, out of interest, is the argument that a deterministic mind cannot perform actions with a rational basis at all, or that it cannot perform rational argument in a meaningful way?

  40. d says:

    Victoria,

    Sometimes it doesn’t always work, but I do my best not to make pronouncements about other peoples mental states, or potential biases (unless there’s a really good reason).

    For one, in very few circumstances is anyone in a position to say something so authoritatively about the state of someone else’s mind, from across the internet.

    For two, because of the point raised above, those types of comments are almost always best interpreted as ad hominems.

    For three, the ole “You’re biased!! Nuh-uh YOU’RE biased!!” fights are *really* boring.

    For four, getting somebody to recognize a bias by accusing them of a bias, is almost always fruitless.

    To do this, you are simply ignoring the evidence that undergirds Christianity in particular. What if there are other facts that can be best understood by the existence of God (the God of Biblical Christianity, in particular)? And there are such facts, namely, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You dismiss this simply because you don’t want Christianity to be true.

    Those things (the resurrection in particular) would have to be classified as fact in the first place, before any explanation is demanded.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Alex, I don’t see any difference between these:

    Also, out of interest, is the argument that a deterministic mind cannot perform actions with a rational basis at all, or that it cannot perform rational argument in a meaningful way?

    To not perform rational argument in a meaningful way is not to perform rational argument at all. To not make rational choices (of any kind) in a meaningful way is not to make rational choices at all.

    If animals have some kind of non-deterministic mind, or even if they might, then the argument is over, and determinism is overturned.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    The centered comments issue was bizarre. I think it’s fixed; if not please let me know. It didn’t render that way on my Safari or Chrome for Mac, but it did on my iPhone. Apparently it was the result of installing a different “recent comments” plugin; but the CSS for that plugin doesn’t have the center text align instruction anywhere. Go figure.

    Hope it’s rendering properly for you now. I’m on the verge of changing the theme here again. I do that about once a year or so.

  43. Alex Dawson says:

    Tom, to clarify, I was trying to gain insight into the possible phenomenological differences between those with/without LFW. As you cited animals as such a comparison I was just wondering whether they were a valid comparison for that purpose.

    For my first question – to more clearly separate the two possibilities:
    1) Performing actions, which if rationally analysed, would be correct actions, but which are decided upon by deterministic processes akin (but not equivalent to) rationality
    2) Full rational agency
    Is your argument that 2) is impossible or both 1) and 2) impossible under determinism? Again for the purpose of clarifiying the phenomenological differences of LFW/no LFW in my mind. I could amateurly expand my description of 1) if you like.

  44. d says:

    As always, I’m still puzzled by this weird claim that LFW is required for rationality.

    If determinism were true, rationality would be different than how LFW-ists traditionally think of it. But since when are they authority on what is and isn’t rationality?

    On determinism, I see no problem with thinking of rationality as something like a measure of how well abstract mental models (fully determined, though they are) correspond to the real world, and the mind’s deliberative process of comparing those abstract models with one another, and coming to decisions (fully determined though the process is).

    With something like that in mind, there’s nothing mysterious about saying things like, “We’re rational thinkers”, or “He’s behaving irrationally”.

    The question is, how would this type of rationality feel or how would it look in the world, versus LFW rationality. In LFW world, both types would exist – the determined rationality and the undetermined rationality. Unless a way can be shown to tell the difference, I see no reason to view “rationality” as evidence – philosophical, scientific or otherwise – of LFW at all.

  45. d says:

    Does Occam’s Razor mean we subtract known entities to make sense? Especially when the known entity is the human being? An organism with no free will is not a human being as human beings have always been understood by philosophers–or as human beings have been understood by human beings.

    It means we subtract what LFW-ists think of as human beings (which requires inventing a new type of entity – or parts of one, that are not materially evident in this world) – not what determinist materialists think of as human beings.

  46. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    no…still centering the comments in my IE…
    I’ve even cleared my cache…no biggie, though

  47. d says:

    Centered in Chrome and Firefox on Linux too, FWIW.

  48. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    Oh, this is a nice looking theme :)
    Comments are left-aligned, too

  49. Victoria says:

    hmm..doesn’t understand

    ?

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    d:

    It means we subtract what LFW-ists think of as human beings (which requires inventing a new type of entity – or parts of one, that are not materially evident in this world) – not what determinist materialists think of as human beings.

    Wrong. I’ll repeat:

    An organism with no free will is not a human being as human beings have always been understood by philosophers–or as human beings have been understood by human beings.

  51. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    As always, I’m still puzzled by this weird claim that LFW is required for rationality.

    Still clueless after all these years. Good title for a song.

    If determinism were true, rationality would be different than how LFW-ists traditionally think of it. But since when are they authority on what is and isn’t rationality?

    So what is rationality, d?

    On determinism, I see no problem with thinking of rationality as something like a measure of how well abstract mental models (fully determined, though they are) correspond to the real world, and the mind’s deliberative process of comparing those abstract models with one another, and coming to decisions (fully determined though the process is).

    What you can see and cannot see is besides the point. For the umpteenth time, here is why on determinism there is no rationality (I am posting this almost verbatim from another post in another, related thread):

    How can a conclusion be *rational* if it is arrived at by the inexorable chain of efficient causation set up in motion by the Big Bang and described by the currently available physical theories? A conclusion is rational is it is validly deducted according to the rules of logic from true premises, which is *precisely* what you are denying in asserting that materialistic determinism is true. The *reasons for* the validity of a conclusion (truth of the premises, deductive validity) are distinct from the *causes of* the conclusion — the electro-chemical processes going on in the brain.

    So under materialistic determinism, and as shown above, you have just thrown rationality to the dustbin. Every time your brain follows a chain of reasoning, the end conclusion is *predetermined* by the efficient chain of causation, *not* by the content of the thoughts, the concepts and their logical relations. If the conclusion is a true conclusion it is only accidentally so. So there is absolutely no reason to have confidence in our rational capability — in fact, we cannot even coherently say that human beings have a rational capability since under materialistic determinism they are nothing more than machines and our brain is a computer, and thus it is no better than a universal Turing machine (actually it is worse, because an ideal Turing machine has unbounded memory…). But computers (or idealized Turing machines) are not rational in any relevant sense of the word; the only thing that happens inside a machine is a series of causally related mechanical operations, nothing more, nothing less.

    This means that materialism is fatally flawed in many ways, but let us stick to rationality. So what is your way out of the conundrum? You could say that the brain *always* arrives at true conclusions — you would need an argument for it, but since that is obviously false, this way is not open to you. You can *argue* that the brain is hard-wired, for example by appealing to Evolution Theory, in such a way the *causes of* and the *reasons for* somehow magically “align” with each other. But you have just thrown rationality under the bus, so your argument is dead in the water from the get go, because it is not an argument but simply the predetermined result of the inexorable workings of natural laws.

    You have just dug up a six-foot grave for yourself: there is no rationality. If there is no rationality, science is gone. If science is gone, your precious fMRI scans that you soooo love to mention are useless. Evolution Theory is gone. This argument we are having is useless. If you were consistent (which you are not) you would abandon this discussion and all discussions you have or will ever have as it is all futile and meaningless, since we do not know and cannot know, and cannot even know that we do know because we cannot even coherently say that human beings can know anything at all.

    There are other arguments against materialistic determinism, but you have not even begun to tackle this very simple one. With this argument in mind, you can see why this

    With something like that in mind, there’s nothing mysterious about saying things like, “We’re rational thinkers”, or “He’s behaving irrationally”.
    The question is, how would this type of rationality feel or how would it look in the world, versus LFW rationality. In LFW world, both types would exist – the determined rationality and the undetermined rationality. Unless a way can be shown to tell the difference, I see no reason to view “rationality” as evidence – philosophical, scientific or otherwise – of LFW at all.

    is another sign of your own cluelessness — to add to the appeals to Ockam’s razor and other irrelevant stuff. How we feel? You have just jumped the shark.

  52. G. Rodrigues says:

    Uh, the blockquote tag does not seem to be working, so the formatting of the above post is messed up.

    Hope, you can figure out what is a quote and what is not.

    And where is the edit button?

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m working on the blockquotes. My whiz-guy son will solve it for me soon. Then I’ll take care of the edit button after tat.

  54. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    Looking better….I do miss the links that were on the right-hand side of the page, though.

    While you are at it, how about putting the post and comments into a srollable division, leaving the rest of the page frame fixed, including this reply section. That would leave the borders, top and bottom controls in place…

  55. Victoria says:

    @d

    To do this, you are simply ignoring the evidence that undergirds Christianity in particular. What if there are other facts that can be best understood by the existence of God (the God of Biblical Christianity, in particular)? And there are such facts, namely, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You dismiss this simply because you don’t want Christianity to be true.

    Those things (the resurrection in particular) would have to be classified as fact in the first place, before any explanation is demanded.

    Well, the historical evidence is there, for anyone to examine. It’s as good, if not better, than the historical evidence for any other person in history. If you don’t know that, perhaps you should read the works of historical scholars who think so (like Craig Blomberg, Michael Licona, N.T.Wright, Darryl Bock, Gary Habermas, to name some bright lights – they are all Christians, but their work is balanced, and they’ll give you solid evidentiary support for what the New Testament says about Jesus).

    In John’s gospel, he tells us about Thomas, the apostle who would not believe that Jesus was still alive unless he saw for himself (apparently the testimony of his fellow disciples, people he had spent three years with, and what he saw Jesus do wasn’t enough for him – well,we can understand how distraught he was).
    See John 20:24-31. Jesus gives Thomas the proof he asked for, and then gently chides him (see vs 29: 29 Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”. When Jesus said that, He had future generations in mind – those who would believe because of the eyewitness testimony and what they would write.

  56. SteveK says:

    Off topic somewhat, but another example of a headline that gets it wrong.

    Math formula may explain why serial killers kill

    Math explains WHY people behave as the do? Really?

  57. Victoria says:

    Sorry, that’s Darrell Bock :)

  58. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    How bout this:

    A conclusion can be rational, if it is arrived at by the inexorable chain of effecient causation set up in motion by the Big Bang, if rationality is something like a measurement of how well abstract mental models accurately align with what is true, and abstract mental models can be generated deterministically (we have no reason to suspect that they can’t).

    I’d argue that what I describe above is what’s *actually* important for human decision making or instiutions like science. “Rationality” as you conceive of it, is utterly unimportant. Accurate abstract representations of the world (and concepts) can be generated deterministically – that’s what computers do, its also what our brains seem to do.

    What do you make of things like Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, which states that two people acting perfectly rationally (with the same priors) cannot possibly disagree? What’s LFW-style freedom-to-choose have to do with that? Two people who act within the confines of rationality, have no choice in what they do – rationality doesnt really have options, at least if you buy into the idea that there’s one objective truth.

  59. d says:

    Victoria,

    That’s simply not true, at least not with respect to miracle claims in the Bible. Sure, Jesus could have existed, but so what? What’s that mean, exactly? That he rose from the dead? Don’t think so.

  60. Tom Gilson says:

    d, re: #59, I don’t want to be overly original. Victoria wrote,

    If you don’t know that, perhaps you should read the works of historical scholars who think so (like Craig Blomberg, Michael Licona, N.T.Wright, Darryl Bock, Gary Habermas, to name some bright lights – they are all Christians, but their work is balanced, and they’ll give you solid evidentiary support for what the New Testament says about Jesus).

  61. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    re: your previous comment, do you see how you get stuck in an impossible situation there? I’m going to label your clauses for convenience:

    A conclusion can be rational, if it is (a) arrived at by the inexorable chain of effecient causation set up in motion by the Big Bang, if (b) rationality is something like a measurement of how well abstract mental models accurately align with what is true, and (c) abstract mental models can be generated deterministically (we have no reason to suspect that they can’t).

    A conclusion arrived by an “inexorable chain of efficient causation” might or might not be rational. I’ll grant you that much, at least in terms of the propositional content of the conclusion. (I don’t think so of the process by which the conclusion was reached, but I don’t need to go into that here.)

    So we have some possibly rational conclusion before us for consideration. How do we judge its rationality? You say it’s by how well it … aligns with what is true. But that judgment itself has been arrived at by an inexorable chain of efficient causation. You can’t escape that chain. You never get past (a) to (b), and if you have no reason to suspect (c) is impossible, it’s because you can’t get as far as assessing whether it is or not.

  62. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    A conclusion can be rational, if it is arrived at by the inexorable chain of effecient causation set up in motion by the Big Bang, if rationality is something like a measurement of how well abstract mental models accurately align with what is true, and abstract mental models can be generated deterministically (we have no reason to suspect that they can’t).

    You have not payed attention to the argument.

    And you have just opened another nasty can of worms for the materialist. “Abstract mental models”? How can the brain circuitry model anything whatsoever? How can anything purely physical, and I stress the purely physical, be an *abstract* model of anything? You are using words loosely without knowing their full import.

    I’d argue that what I describe above is what’s *actually* important for human decision making or instiutions like science. “Rationality” as you conceive of it, is utterly unimportant. Accurate abstract representations of the world (and concepts) can be generated deterministically – that’s what computers do, its also what our brains seem to do.

    You have not payed attention to the argument.

    First, under materialistic determinism you do not argue anything. You do not argue, full stop. Under materialistic determinism, the only thing that happens is a series of causally related processes in the brain; that these model or not the world, it has to be *argued*, but since you have already thrown arguing out the window this way is not open to you. You are in the exact same position of a man trying to use reason to refute the existence of reason. Second, you say that rationality as I conceive is “utterly unimportant” but in your own description of it you *cannot* avoid using expressions like “align with what is true” or “*accurate* abstract representations” (stress on the accurate is mine). In other words, you want to disagree but you really cannot because it all boils down to truth and truth as correspondence to reality — and truth is the final cause, or telos, of rationality. The whole logical apparatus, even as formalized by mathematical logic, is a codification and a guide for the mind in its quest for the truth. Third, computers do *NOT* generate “abstract models of the world”; what a computer generates is what it is (whether an “abstract model of the world”, or an image in the screen or an audio file or a web page or whatever) only so *relative* to the interests of the human mind. Without a human mind to *interpret* the outputs of a computer, they are nothing other than a random stream of bytes. For goodness sake, *STOP* saying patently absurd things like this.

    The rest of your post I will respond in my next one, as it will include a very long quote.

  63. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    What do you make of things like Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, which states that two people acting perfectly rationally (with the same priors) cannot possibly disagree? What’s LFW-style freedom-to-choose have to do with that? Two people who act within the confines of rationality, have no choice in what they do – rationality doesnt really have options, at least if you buy into the idea that there’s one objective truth.

    There is a grain of truth in this, but it is not the whole truth. The reason this is not the whole truth is that you have a very impoverished, mangled conception of causation. To give an example, a perfectly rational agent with all knowledge (like the Saints in Heaven) is free to will because their will is not *efficiently* caused by anything. On the other, being perfectly rational agents, they know for certainty that the highest Good is to will God’s Will and thus, and since the Good is the *final* cause of the will, they of necessity will God’s Will.

    This is a big topic so I will follow with a quote from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. Here he is, in his usual authoritative self (I have deleted some paragraphs, because otherwise the quote would be too long):

    Now if, on the contrary, we consider the specific object of free will, we will recall the words of St. Thomas: “If we set before the will an object, which from any point of view is not good, the will is not drawn to it by necessity.” [668] These words contain, equivalently, the Thomistic definition of free will which runs thus: [669] Freedom is the will’s dominative indifference in relation to any object which reason proposes as in any way lacking in good.

    Let us dwell on this definition. Reason proposes an object which, here and now, is in one way good but in some other way not good. Faced with such an object the will can choose it or refuse it. The will, as faculty, has potential indifference; as act, it has actual indifference. Even when the will actually chooses such an object, even when it is already determined to will it, it still goes freely toward it, with its dominating indifference no longer potential but actual. Indeed, in God, who is supremely free, there is no potential indifference, but only an actual and active indifference. Freedom arises from the disproportion which exists between the will, specifically distinguished and necessitated by universal good, and this or that limited and particular good, good in one way, not good in another way.

    Here enters the twenty-first of the twenty-four theses. [671] “The will follows, it does not precede the intellect. And the will necessarily wills only that object which is presented to it as good from every angle, leaving nothing to be desired. But the will chooses freely between good things presented by mutable judgment. Hence choice follows indeed the last practical judgment, but it is the will which makes that judgment to be the last.”

    In a brief word, the essential thing for St. Thomas is that the intellect and will are not coordinated, but mutually subordinated. The last practical judgment is free when its object (good from one viewpoint, not good from another) does not necessitate it. Freedom of will, to speak properly, is to be found in the indifference of judgment.

    Numbers in brackets are endnotes. You can see more in Reality — A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought, especially in here from which the above was quoted.

    A few notes: Garrigou-Lagrange makes for a very tough reading; his writings are packed full of a jargon that most likely is completely foreign to you or your modes of thinking, but that *must* be digested and understood. An acquaintance with the first chapter of the work linked above, the part titled “The metaphysical synthesis of Thomism”, is the bare minimum; the eighth part is also a good read as a general background. Second, Garrigou-Lagrange in this passage references Scotus (scholastic philosopher of the 13th century) and Suarez (a Spanish Thomistic commentator of the 16th-17th century) and responds to them. This should warn you that besides the different accounts in Christianity, the different accounts in the Catholic Church (Garrigou-Lagrange was Catholic priest and taught at Rome), there are differences even in the Thomistic camp. The question of Free Will is genuinely difficult; but that is no excuse to embrace the intellectual bankruptcy of materialistic determinism.

    There are book-length and beginner-friendly treatments; References can be provided if you want them.

  64. JAD says:

    Some key questions:

    When was it discovered that everything in the world is determined? Who discovered it? What arguments and experments did he (or, they?) use to “prove” that everything is determined?

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    Somewhere recently, JAD, I ran across a quote from someone else asking that same question, and making the obvious point that too many scientists were relying on determinism with no scientific evidence.

    I can’t find that quite now, even though I thought it was on this bog. Anyway, it’s a great question.

  66. d says:

    Tom wrote: “So we have some possibly rational conclusion before us for consideration. How do we judge its rationality? You say it’s by how well it … aligns with what is true. But that judgment itself has been arrived at by an inexorable chain of efficient causation. You can’t escape that chain. You never get past (a) to (b), and if you have no reason to suspect (c) is impossible, it’s because you can’t get as far as assessing whether it is or not.

    A judgement can be rational even when it was inexorable result of a causal chain. I don’t see how even a libertarian can deny that certain conclusions are rational, despite being un-chosen, inevitable, and resulting from purely mechanical processes.

    Just imagine you witness armed robbers coming out of a bank with bags full of cash. The laws of physics caused light from the scene to pass into your eyes. That light is encoded into information bearing electrical signals that your brain can process. Your brain then turns these signals into perceptible images. As a result of those images, you conclude that the bank now has less cash than it did before the robbery.

    I think we’d all agree that the conclusion is rational. Yet no part of that process was explicitly or obviously voluntary. There really is no choice to believe or disbelieve the conclusion here. We hold all kinds of rational beliefs, which we really had no choice but to believe. Your position seems to require that we call all those beliefs non-rational. Is that wrong?

  67. Tom Gilson says:

    Your brain then turns these signals into perceptible images. As a result of those images, you conclude that the bank now has less cash than it did before the robbery.

    No. No, no, no, and again no. You are as wrong as you could be about that.

    I do not conclude on the basis of signals turning into perceptible images. I conclude as a result of my processing information, which includes my knowledge of banking procedures, money, arithmetic, crime, and a whole lot of other things, I conclude that the bank has less cash than it did before the robbery. I have to also process the possibility that cash has been transferred into the bank simultaneously with the robbery, so I recognize it would be wise to be rather tentative about my conclusion that the bank has less money than it had before the robbery. I have the opportunity to distinguish between that conclusion and the conclusion that the bank now has less money than it would have had if it hadn’t been robbed, which distinction operates on a higher level of logical processing. I have to consider whether the robbery might have been faked, too (perhaps for training of bank employees and security; perhaps for a movie), and make a judgment on that.

    Oh, and did I mention that you jumped over a skyscraper logically when you leaped from “light signals” to “perceptible images”? What does “perceptible” mean in physics? It doesn’t mean anything. It only means something when there is a perceiving subject. Physics doesn’t do “perceiving subjects.” It recognizes their existence, sure, but it doesn’t know much about them. Physics is confused by perceiving subjects—except when it takes the course of wisdom and says, “That’s not my field, and I’m okay with that.”

    Now, the laws of physics are marvelous things, but they do not know about the possibility of other cash being transferred in. They do not know about fake robberies. They do not know about holding two propositions in mind simultaneously, one of which is rather secure and one of which is tentative. They do no perceive.

    Now to another point you brought up, still there could be a sense in which the rational conclusion I arrive at is not obviously voluntary. Suppose there is enough obvious information in the events before me that I just cannot conclude the robbery was faked. Fine. LFW (and its contribution to rationality) do not require that a person be able to make an unrestricted choice about just anything and everything. It requires that at least some choices be free.

    But do not forget what I started with in this comment: whether a comment is freely chosen or is forced upon us in the manner of which I just spoke, the laws of physics can’t do it. The laws of physics don’t know whether it’s obvious or not that a robbery has not been faked. Neurons don’t know. Even if they did, they would have to tell me, which means you must define who “me” is. I’m not billions of independent neurons talking to me, I’m me.

  68. d says:

    I’m still interested in questions surrounding the phenomenology of choices, under LFW.

    Tom pointed to animals an example where decisions are non-free. But its also been said that humans make non-free decisions. It even may be the case that most of our decisions are non-free (oh no!).

    Wouldn’t we expect those physically-caused, non-free choices to be (possibly delectably) different from free choices? I think a “no” answer to this question really needs to be justified, rather than quickly shrugged aside.

    And perhaps more interestingly, why don’t many libertarians seem to be making testable predictions on this front?

    It seems like they really should, especially since libertarians tend to believe that non-free choices cannot be morally blameworthy or praiseworthy. The ability to learn more about any real empirical differences between free and non-free choices should be really, really, really exciting and come with all kinds of practical applications in justice and medical issues. So what gives?

  69. d says:

    Tom,

    If physics doesn’t know much about perceiving subjects, then it surely “jumps the skyscraper”, as you say, to suggest physics could not account for them.

    You’re just begging the question by claiming physics can’t do this stuff (which are conclusions of libertarianism), while then using those conclusions to support libertarianism over determinism.

  70. JAD says:

    d, Why are you arguing? Are you trying to change other people’s minds? If everything in the universe is determined, including our subjective mental states and processes, then changing anyone elses mind is not possible.

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    And perhaps more interestingly, why don’t many libertarians seem to be making testable predictions on this front?

    Okay, then, here’s the research protocol. We’ll establish a situation in which two randomly selected groups are subjected to contrasting experimental conditions. In one of them, no mind control is applied. In the other one, we subject their minds to absolute control. We put the two groups through identical experiences otherwise. We see whether the two groups report any differences after the fact.

    Or, we undertake to locate two groups of people who are psychologically matched for normality in every way, but in which one group has identifiably more freedom of choice than the other.

    Or, we undertake to examine the self-report experiences of people who claim to have no free will. In order for this to be valid, we need them to be of normal psychology otherwise.

    Can you do any better than that?

    Here’s the (excuse me) idiocy of your proposal. If we all have free will, then (a) we can’t design a research protocol to detect it, and (b) we don’t need one anyway. We can rely on the philosophical necessity of free will to provide us the confidence that we have it, and we can also rely on our (empirical!) experience of having free will.

    Remember, LFW does not say that all choices are made freely. But it does avoid the obvious self-contradiction of language like “physically-caused, non-free choices.” We all experience and practice physically-caused, non-free behaviors all the time. My heart beats whether I choose it to do so or not. My gut moves in peristaltic action. My cells’ DNA unzips and zips up again all day long. Those are physically-caused and non-free, and they’re also identifiably distinct from decisions that I make.

    You complain of question-begging, and then you tell me to look for “physically-caused, non-free choices.” Wow.

    And finally, you throw a bare naked unsupported assertion at me:

    “If physics doesn’t know much about perceiving subjects, then it surely “jumps the skyscraper:, as you say, to suggest physics could not account for them.” You’re just begging the question by claiming physics can’t do this stuff (which are conclusions of libertarianism), while then using those conclusions to support libertarianism over determinism.”

    It’s obvious that physics can’t “do this stuff.” This is not a conclusion of libertarianism, it’s in the nature of what anyone supposes is possible for natural law to accomplish. If you think the laws of physics can, for example, distinguish a fake robbery from a real one, and that they can do it without a perceiving, knowing, reflecting, rational subject, then you’ll have to explain how.

    But don’t say that a perceiving, knowing reflecting, rational subject is fully explained by the laws of physics unless you explain it well enough that you’re not begging the question yourself.

    d, I appreciate your approach to argument, as one respectful fellow human being to another. I like that a lot. Still I think we may be reaching a limit to this conversation, just because it’s not getting anywhere. I’ll have one more thing to say in a follow-up comment, and if we end up going around in circles again after this, I’m going to just jump off the merry-go-round. I have another post about to be published that will probably stir up enough conversation to keep me busy anyway.

  72. Tom Gilson says:

    There is exactly one line of evidence in favor of hard physical determinism of the sort Jerry Coyne espouses. Here it is: science shows that free will cannot exist, therefore it cannot exist. That line of argument generally takes the form he gave it in his USAToday article: science shows that the laws of nature cannot be broken, therefore there is no freedom of choice. That’s fallacious, as I wrote earlier. The whole “scientific” approach is misguided, as I wrote here in the OP.

    In other words, there is no good evidence for that kind of determinism. Period.

    There is one dominant motivation impelling people to assert hard physical determinism: their insistence on ontological materialism, which is a strong form of atheism, and which entails hard physical determinism. This is a metaphysical position that they take up, that they choose, and it is one they cling to with astonishing tenacity in the face of all experience to the contrary, and in spite of the fact that there is no good evidence for it.

  73. Victoria says:

    There is one dominant motivation impelling people to assert hard physical determinism: their insistence on ontological materialism, which is a strong form of atheism, and which entails hard physical determinism. This is a metaphysical position that they take up, that they choose, and it is one they cling to with astonishing tenacity in the face of all experience to the contrary, and in spite of the fact that there is no good evidence for

    and all the while blindly dismissing evidence that points to theism, and Christian Theism in particular, which *does* make sense of our free will, and the big picture, as well.

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    Exactly, Victoria. There is life, there is humanness, there is spiritual reality, there is a joyful and lasting relationship with God on offer. Why dump all of that for this empty reductionistic physicalism? Especially when the true life makes sense of what we know of ourselves and the world, and when there is reason upon reason to trust it as true?

  75. d says:

    I’ll leave a last remark or two, even though this thread is winding down. I don’t really feel the need to address more the metaphysics of rationality, reason, logic, argumentation and will under determinism. There’s a rich world of compatibalist metaphysics literature out there that addresses many of the concerns raised in this thread, should anyone be curious.

    But if one is going to challenge the possibility of rationality, et al. under compatibalist determinism, one needs to actually undermine a compatibalist version of those concepts, and not simply point out how LFW versions of those concepts are incompatible with it. Its no surprise to a compatibalist that a LFW metaphysics of rationality does not work under determinism.

    Just like I have had confusions over terms like “nature” when talking with those who hold to the metaphysics of “Natural Law”, there are similar confusions here because of differing ontologies of certain concepts.

    Okay, then, here’s the research protocol. We’ll establish a situation in which two randomly selected groups are subjected to contrasting experimental conditions. In one of them, no mind control is applied. In the other one, we subject their minds to absolute control. We put the two groups through identical experiences otherwise. We see whether the two groups report any differences after the fact.

    Or, we undertake to locate two groups of people who are psychologically matched for normality in every way, but in which one group has identifiably more freedom of choice than the other.

    Or, we undertake to examine the self-report experiences of people who claim to have no free will. In order for this to be valid, we need them to be of normal psychology otherwise.

    Can you do any better than that?

    Well, lets think back to the experiments where choices seemed to be detectable before the agents had any conscious awareness of the choice. What if, after further experimentation, we continue to find, in every instance tested, that choices follow this pattern?

    A smattering of brain activity occurs, and this sort of activity reliably indicates a particular decision, followed by the sensation in the agents of having made that particular decision.

    In these cases, would a best explanation for the origin of this choice be a non-free, physically caused choice? Or would it be LFW choice? I think its the former, and clearly so.

    It seems like a libertarian should predict that the sensation of having willed a decision, in some instances, would precede brain activity.

    It’s still conceivable that some of those choices were free, even if brain activity preceded awareness, in all instances. But that makes for a rather weird processing loop that seems to sever your will from your conscious awareness. Your brain would just be some sort of message passing interface in between your actual conscious awareness, and your truly “free” decision making apparatus (the will), which seems to make decisions without the consent of the self-aware part of your person. I don’t think that’s what most people have in mind when they think of free will, and it really violates the kind of intuitions that lead people to LFW in the first place.

    LFW banks heavily upon the intuitions that provide the sensation of free choices, which presumably come from some sort of self-directed awareness. But that most recent experiment (as well as mountains of other evidence and experience) undermine the reliability of that intuition, because there are many choices which feel free and self-directed, yet don’t really originate from any self-directed awareness – they seem to come from subconscious bias, instinct, or even outside manipulation, yet from the perspective of the agent, feel as freely willed as any other choice.

    So does any of this stuff conclusively disprove LFW? Not entirely. Accurately predicting decisions based on brain activity could be coincidental – or it could be that the brain activity is doing something other than unconsciously generating a decision, but necessarily triggered when facing a choice – at best we can only make correlations… but those correlations are highly suggestive.

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    It seems like a libertarian should predict that the sensation of having willed a decision, in some instances, would precede brain activity.

    Why? Free choices produce the behavior in which my fingers type these sentences. Free choices have physical effects. Some of those physical effects (the initial ones, presumably) are inside the brain. So it is no challenge to LFW to find that there are brain states associated with choices.

    But these choices and brain states happen in the wrong order, you say: there should be awareness of a choice, at least sometimes, prior to the alteration of the brain state. But you are assuming that awareness is different: that awareness is completely unmediated by what goes on physically. Why should the LFW adherent suppose that choices are mediated physically, but awareness isn’t?

    I’m not saying that your theory is obviously wrong on some logical grounds, but neither is it obviously correct on any logical grounds. Therefore it is unreliable at best as the basis for empirical studies.

    Saying this let me also hasten to bring to your mind that my insistence on LFW is based on my experience with it and upon philosophical considerations. (Jerry Coyne’s determinism is not compatibilism, by the way.) Stay tuned: more tomorrow morning. It will be provocative, I assure you.

  77. d says:

    Victoria,

    One final remark – I’ll just state that we disagree in our assessments of the abundance and quality of evidence for theism, and Christian theism in particular.

    There’s no shortage of smart, honest people out there who have investigated these issues as much as anyone here, yet come to very different conclusions. I don’t think it fair to suggest that they (or myself) are dismissing evidence unduly.

    I am sensitive to the fact there are theological beliefs which guide judgments about the psychology and nature of disbelief in non-believers – that everyone genuinely knows God somewhere in their hearts and therefore disbelief is a purposeful act of rebellion, etc. Unfortunately, it seems there’s precious little those of us with contrary opinions can do that won’t seem confirm these theological claims in the mind many believers. Haven’t quite figured out how to get around that yet, so I usually don’t try. And of course, there are no shortage of non-believers who actually DO act in ways strikingly confirming of those theological views.

    I’ll just say that I think there are powerful arguments against the voracity of any historical and philosophical evidences for Christian theism. And to date, I find them far more persuasive, than positive arguments for it.

  78. d says:

    Tom:

    Yea, I don’t buy Coyne’s view any more than you do, though there may be more consilience between him and I, than you and he.

    And for now, I have to stop procrastinating and get some actual work done. I’ll look forward to being provoked tomorrow!

  79. JAD says:

    According to French philosopher Elie During the metaphysics of modern materialism can be traced back to the dualism of Renet Descartes who completely separated the mind from the body. During explains:

    “Once the body and the brain were reduced to their sheer mechanical functioning and the mind was considered as substantially distinct from matter, the way was open for materialism: one only needed to drop the second part of the scheme—namely, the spiritual substance—and explain everything along mechanistic lines”

    There are other kinds of dualism besides Cartesian dualism (hylomorphic dualism, for example) which conceive of mind and consciousness being more intimately interrelated with brain function than Descartes envisioned. Most modern dualists that I am familiar with (and I am referring here to philosophers of the mind or neuro-scientists) reject Cartesian dualism for some other kind of dualism. Ironically many modern materialists, after rejecting Descartes concept of the mind appear to have accepted his obsolete ontology when it come to the physical world.

  80. Victoria says:

    @d:

    There’s no shortage of smart, honest people out there who have investigated these issues as much as anyone here, yet come to very different conclusions. I don’t think it fair to suggest that they (or myself) are dismissing evidence unduly

    I’ll just say that I think there are powerful arguments against the voracity of any historical and philosophical evidences for Christian theism. And to date, I find them far more persuasive, than positive arguments for it.

    Sure, d. You are a free agent, and God will not coerce you against the free will He has given you to accept or reject Him.

    By the same token, there are a great many very smart, honest people who have investigated the claims of Christianity, and have concluded that it is true, and have put their trust and obedience in Christ as Saviour and Lord. Perhaps we have just been more open-minded and not hard-hearted when we heard His voice.

    I weep for you, d, that you would so willingly turn away from the God who loves you and went through so much so that you might be able to have the life that He meant for you to have. I was the same way once, so I know that there is still hope for you.

  81. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Tom Gilson already handled some aspects. I would just like to add the following:

    I don’t really feel the need to address more the metaphysics of rationality, reason, logic, argumentation and will under determinism.

    Maybe I have missed somethings, but you have not addressed *any* of the objections put forward.

    There’s a rich world of compatibalist metaphysics literature out there that addresses many of the concerns raised in this thread, should anyone be curious.

    Maybe so, but besides not giving any references you have failed utterly in even giving us the tiniest of clues of how this goes about and instead show again and again that you use words loosely without knowing their full import or claim such patent absurdities as pointed out in previous threads.

    But if one is going to challenge the possibility of rationality, et al. under compatibalist determinism, one needs to actually undermine a compatibalist version of those concepts, and not simply point out how LFW versions of those concepts are incompatible with it. Its no surprise to a compatibalist that a LFW metaphysics of rationality does not work under determinism.

    I will ask you for the second time in this thread then, so what do you understand for rationality? Maybe I am wrong but my guess is that, like every good nominalist, you will redefine the word in much the same way that a compatibilist redefines Free Will and then claim that all the problems can be solved. I would love to be wrong in my guess though.

    LFW banks heavily upon the intuitions that provide the sensation of free choices, which presumably come from some sort of self-directed awareness.

    Intuitions? No, it is data that is staring at you right in the face. It is *you* who has to jump through hoops and explain it “away” as an illusion. Besides the first-person experience of Free Will is also indirect evidence in the sense that, whether illusionary or not, it is a defeater against some arguments that supposedly refute Free Will. See Determinism and Free Will (first part of a three part video) to understand why.

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