But Corrective Punishment Makes Perfect Sense, Right?

But Corrective Punishment Makes Perfect Sense, Right?

I was listening to Reasonable Doubts on the way to work this morning. Reasonable Doubts is a strictly atheistic blog with an associated weekly podcast it, and this episode was to have Tom Clark, of the Center for Naturalism, as a special guest. Tom and I have our strong disagreements, yet I would regard him as a kind of Internet friend in view of the cordial way we’ve been able to exchange opinions.

I’ve only heard about 25 minutes of the show so far (find the mp3 link for “Judgement Day” here). Tom has not appeared yet, so nothing I have to say reflects on him (not that would hesitate to respond to him if he says something that I think calls for it). The topic was determinism, which the show’s three hosts all strongly endorse. It is their joint opinion that no person has free will with respect to anything we do whatsoever; we have only the illusion of free will. We don’t choose anything we do; we only think we do.

Confusions and straw men pop up frequently in those first 25 minutes, but my favorite was this one, right at the ten-minute mark. The topic was moral responsibility: if we don’t have the slightest ability to choose what we do or don’t do, then can we be held morally responsible for anything at all? The discussion at that point went like this:

[First speaker] Steven Pinker … distinguishes between a type of justice that’s punitive in a free will system, like “That’ll teach you! I’m gonna give you five lashes for everything,” versus a justice system that simply is protective of people, like, “Yes if somebody kills somebody, let’s lock them up and remove them so they don’t do it again;” or that there’s a punishment, almost like a Skinnerian system, like, “If I kill somebody they’re going to lock me up.” But that’s distinct from saying, “You bad person! You’re to blame for that. Shame on you!” which is, from a deterministic system, meaningless.

[Second speaker] Yeah, but corrective imprisonment, corrective punishment makes perfect sense, right? If someone commits a crime, rather than being shoved into jail where they learn how to do better crime, which is usually the case, if it’s actually a correctional facility, and they help them learn different things that they can do to get money, and learn new skills, and learn “why this is wrong,” that sort of thing–if we’re actually correcting the behavior, then we’re adding these deterministic influences to them, so that when they’re released back out into the world they’ve gotten this corrective work.

It was when that second person spoke that I began to chuckle to myself, and I continued to do so through the rest of that section. What about you? Considering the context, do you find anything ironic in what he said? What do you think he said that a person like me might have found amusing?

107 thoughts on “But Corrective Punishment Makes Perfect Sense, Right?

  1. My guess: the 2nd speaker seemed to assume that we can choose what we do with offenders, but if he’s right about the implications of determinism, we can do no such thing. He seems to tacitly assume that we’re free.

    He also seems to assume that there’s a better and a worse way to deal with offenders. But if determinism is true and free will is an illusion, I think at we’d have to junk the idea of right and wrong. What’s the use of those concepts if we aren’t free to do them? Isn’t it the case that if something is right, we’re both able to do it and able to do the opposite?

  2. That’s basically it, Franklin. I thought it was funny that there is no bad person in their view, but persons can be corrected.

    If you listen to that whole segment you’ll hear a lot of this: that we’re doing away with any conception of people being bad, or regarding them or considering them as at fault or blameworthy for anything at all; yet we’re holding on to the idea that there is such a thing as being or doing good. You can’t have one without the other. Not in the world we live in.

  3. On a semi-related note, looks like our friend, the Barefoot Bum closed his blog. For some (deterministic) reason he thought he could change the world a little. Determinism can be so cruel. It makes you think you can do something and then it makes you fail at it.

  4. Franklin, Tom G:

    It’s perfectly possible to retain conceptions of good and bad, better and worse without the belief we are causal exceptions to nature. Seeking to “correct” offenders so that they act productively and non-violently makes perfect sense on a naturalistic view of ourselves. Unfortunately, prisons generally make things worse, not better. Here’s a section from an article published in The Humanist, Materialism and Morality, that speaks to your concerns:

    The first thing to note about a world in which neural materialism holds is that desires, motives, preferences, likes and dislikes would all still exist, embodied as they are in the synaptic connections of our brains. We would still find ourselves possessed of the motivational equipment that makes us want certain outcomes more than others, and among these outcomes are those that fall into those categories we call good and bad, right and wrong. The killing of a child, for instance, would be no less bad or wrong in a world in which actions were the natural falling out of various circumstances rather than the result of free will. That is, we would feel just as strongly about the loss of the child, even though we would understand that the killer’s actions followed from environmental and genetic conditions, not an uncaused self. What we value is valuable for the same reasons, and retains its value, whether materialism holds or not, whether we have uncaused free will or not. Therefore our sense of right and wrong, driven by our motivational dispositions, would remain intact in a world where materialism is the case. Materialism does not upset our moral compass.

    If this is true, it is also true that even as strictly material beings we would tend to act on behalf of our values just as vigorously were we souls or mental agents that operated as first causes. We would work just as hard to prevent the deaths of other children, and we would be just as likely to restrain, deter, and otherwise reduce the likelihood of convicted murderers killing again. But on what grounds could we thus treat them if they couldn’t have acted other than they did in committing murder? Obviously not on grounds that they deserve, in the traditional sense, to be punished, but most definitely on grounds of social protection, deterrence and rehabilitation. So not only would our fundamental values survive in a world where materialism held true, but also some eminently justifiable responses to their violation. Materialism wouldn’t lead to anarchy, moral or otherwise.

    Btw, the challenge to free will is receiving more and more attention, see for instance psychologist John Bargh’s blog at Psychology Today, in particular this post about research on beliefs about free will.

    best,

    Tom Clark

  5. Tom C.,

    You seem to assent to this:

    “The killing of a child, for instance, would be no less bad or wrong in a world in which actions were the natural falling out of various circumstances rather than the result of free will. That is, we would feel just as strongly about the loss of the child . . . ”

    We seem to have an identity claim here, viz.:

    The killing of a child is wrong = We feel strongly about the loss of the child.

    Here’s a quick refutation of this identity. (I’ll make the example a bit more stark. Let’s consider the torture of a child for pleasure.)

    1. Feelings are contingent.
    2. Thus they could have different than they are.
    3. Thus we might have felt differently about the torturing of a child for pleasure.
    4. Thus if the wrongness of torturing a child for pleasure consisted in our feeling strongly about that, it might have been that it was not wrong to torture a child for pleasure.
    5. But it’s not possible that torturing a child for pleasure is not wrong.
    6. Thus the wrongness of torturing a child for pleasure does not consist in how we feel about that.

    Let me put the point this way. I feel that I’m faced with a dichotomy: either hold the sort of ethical naturalism you espouse, or accept that torturing a child for pleasure (for example) might have been morally permissible. It seems obvious to me which is the right choice to make. No matter how plausible that ethical naturalism might otherwise seem, it just has to be false; and the metaphysical assumptions that undergird it just must be rejected.

    I place no great prima facie trust in naturalism. (The success of science doesn’t require it; nothing of which I know requires it.) And when I contemplate its moral consequences, it seems to me that it’s just flat absurd.


  6. That’s basically it, Franklin. I thought it was funny that there is no bad person in their view, but persons can be corrected.

    That determinism is true (if that’s the case; I don’t claim to know) doesn’t imply that there are not better and worse ways to live one’s life. There is no contradiction in thinking this.


  7. I place no great prima facie trust in naturalism. (The success of science doesn’t require it; nothing of which I know requires it.) And when I contemplate its moral consequences, it seems to me that it’s just flat absurd.

    Could you elaborate on that? Why do you think naturalism has absurd moral consequences?

    Do you honestly believe that if you’re mistaken about God existing that its not wrong to torture children for personal amusement?

  8. David,

    Do you honestly believe that if you’re mistaken about God existing that its not wrong to torture children for personal amusement?

    Yes, for reasoning that goes something like this: that which was made for a set of purposes, ought not be used or participate in that which is contrary to, or that which undermines those purposes. It’s a simple concept that rings true for all of us. Don’t try to apply this reasoning to non-living objects created for a purpose because it doesn’t work – and that simple concept also rings true for us.

    Nature/evolution didn’t make us for any purpose so there is nothing wrong with living beings torturing children for personal amusement. God made us for a purpose and participating in, or being on the receiving end of, this horrible act undermines that purpose.


  9. Yes, for reasoning that goes something like this: that which was made for a set of purposes, ought not be used or participate in that which is contrary to, or that which undermines those purposes. It’s a simple concept that rings true for all of us.

    By this reasoning if one were to make a new species in the laboratory for the express purpose of being sold to sadists to torture for their amusement it would be morally acceptable.

    Or what if the human species was created by aliens as part of a reality show (some may recall the episode of South Park based on this idea) with our species existing for the purpose of amusing alien species with our suffering.

    Besides which, this “principle” reduces living beings to the legitimate slaves of their creators (assuming they have any)—something which is far from self-evidently true. I would argue just the opposite.

    Surely you can recognize that there are other (and far better) reasons to call torturing a child wrong than because the child wasn’t created for that express purpose?

    Your comment illustrates (as have so many made by Christians on this blog) the way religion can distort and damage the moral perspective of believers.

  10. David,

    Simply put, naturalism seems to allow no place for the necessity of moral truths. But once we admit that moral truths are contingent, the argument @ #5 comes into play.

  11. Steve,

    I would amend what you said a bit. All forms of life have their own purposes, purposes that come built in. We seek food and shelter, the company of our kind, a mate, etc. These are the purposes with which nature has endowed us.

    Respect for purpose need not look to the purpose of any creator, for as said a creator might have had nefarious intent. Rather respect for purposes should look to the built-in purposes described above. This is how life is to be respected; let life do as nature has created it to do (insofar as is possible).

    Now, for the Christian, the creator had no nefarious purpose. Rather the creator wished for his creation the fulfillment of those purposes he built into them. This is how God expresses his love for his creation. This too is why he sent Christ, for Christ makes possible again the fulfillment of the purpose of humanity.

  12. What makes you think that naturalism allows no place for the necessity of moral truths?

    I see this sort of claim, stated in different ways, by theists all the time but I’ve yet to hear a good case made for the claim. Rather it seems to simply express a fundamental assumption that the theist is making.

    But assumptions aren’t arguments.

    Nor, for that matter, have I yet heard a cogent case made for the claim that it necessarily follows from the existence of a God (and only the existence of God) that there are moral truths. Despite Tom’s claim to the contrary the Euthyphro dilemma (or some variant of it depending on the particular theistic meta-ethical theory in question) is an insuperable obstacle to such claims. Theistic meta-ethical theories are, by necessity, essentially arbitrary (and if you will make a case for your claim that naturalism allows no place for the necessity of moral truths I’ll be glad to respond in kind and defend my position in regard to theistic morality and the Euthyphro dilemma—but the burden is not solely on the naturalist in this discussion; you must defend your claim if you’re going to demand I defend my contrary claim).


  13. But once we admit that moral truths are contingent, the argument @#5 comes into play.

    Did you not notice that this (that moral truths are contingent) is exactly what you’ve claimed?

    You claim that moral truths are contingent on the existence of God.

    So why do you think #5 doesn’t refute your position?

    Its me that considers moral truths necessary (that is, I consider them true whatever metaphysical theory or state of affairs may hold). You’ve expressly stated you don’t—and therefore are contradicting your own position if you hold to #5 as well. As did Steve when he said “Yes, for this reason….” to my earlier question to him.

  14. Quick replies:

    1. On naturalism, what are the possible accounts of the nature and source of morality? All the ones I know – evolutionary history, cultural forms and individual choice (the three that come to mind) – imply that all norms are potentially variable. Where would we look in the natural world for a ground of necessary moral truth? All in the natural world is subject to change; indeed it might not have existed at all, and if that were so, there’d be no moral truth. (There’s no need to lecture about the distinction between arguments and assertions. Ask for argument and ye shall receive.)

    2. Is the good good because God wills it, or does God will what he does because it is good? The former makes the good subject to arbitrary will; the latter makes God subordinate to the good.

    The traditional move here to is identify God with the good. God is not then subordinate to the good, for he is the good. Nor is the good arbitrary, for it is the expression of God’s immutable nature.

    No doubt you’ll find problems with this, but it is a common move to make. It is where debate should begin.


  15. he traditional move here to is identify God with the good. God is not then subordinate to the good, for he is the good. Nor is the good arbitrary, for it is the expression of God’s immutable nature.

    No doubt you’ll find problems with this, but it is a common move to make. It is where debate should begin.

    Yes, its the tack taken by Craig and others to attempt to sidestep the Euthyphro dilemma: making the basis of morality God’s nature and character rather than his commands (the standard version of the Euthyphro dilemma is formulated in terms of Divine Command Theory).

    But this variation of a theistic basis of morality falls as easily prey to the Euthyphro dilemma as the divine command theory:

    If God’s character is what determines what is good then if God’s character had been sadistic and cruel (or is—how can one be SURE of God’s nature, after all, Christians are constantly arguing that mere humans don’t understand God’s nature when it suits their rhetorical purposes) then sadism and cruelty would be morally good.

    Standard theist comeback (to preempt the near inevitable response):

    But God’s character is immutable. He MUST be of a loving nature.

    My response:

    If you are mistaken in one respect about the creator of the universe, that is, if he is omnipotent, omniscient but NOT loving and is, instead, of a capricious and often cruel nature then why wouldn’t HIS nature be the basis of morality. Many theists have responded that such a being wouldn’t be God but this tacitly assumes exactly MY position: that love is of intrinsic worth, in and of itself.

    And if that’s the case then we have a basis for morality independent of the existence of God.


    On naturalism, what are the possible accounts of the nature and source of morality? All the ones I know – evolutionary history, cultural forms and individual choice (the three that come to mind) – imply that all norms are potentially variable. Where would we look in the natural world for a ground of necessary moral truth? All in the natural world is subject to change; indeed it might not have existed at all, and if that were so, there’d be no moral truth. (There’s no need to lecture about the distinction between arguments and assertions. Ask for argument and ye shall receive.)

    What argument? All you have done is stated that you know of no naturalistic basis for morality and then made some assertions with no logical connection. The fact that you may be unaware of a basis for morality on naturalism:

    a) isn’t an argument that one doesn’t, or even probably doesn’t, exist. And

    b) doesn’t give us any reason to think God DOES provide one. Even if there are no moral truths on naturalism it doesn’t follow that there IS one on theism (and I know you didn’t argue this but I’ve seen many who did so I felt it a point worth making).

    The basis of morality is not some feature of the physical universe. My position is that there are intrinsic goods. That love, as mentioned, is of value in and of itself. And how the intrinsic goods are to be recognized, to address the issue of moral epistemology, is, in my opinion, best dealt with by ideal observer theory.

    Lets look at the assertions which you seem to have mistakenly taken to be an argument:

    “All in the natural world is subject to change; indeed it might not have existed at all, and if that were so, there’d be no moral truth.”

    But this isn’t an argument. It’s simply an assertion (and far from a self-evident or non-controversial one) in the form of

    if P then Q.

    Do you have an argument for this your claim that Q follows from P?

  16. @Tom Clark:

    You wrote,

    It’s perfectly possible to retain conceptions of good and bad, better and worse without the belief we are causal exceptions to nature.

    I encourage you to listen to the first half of that podcast and see if how well that agrees with what your hosts were saying. They repeatedly insisted there is no bad person, and that it is harmful to think otherwise. But you say there is good, and there is bad.

    Do you distinguish between a bad person and a person who does bad things? That might be one way to reconcile their view with yours. But how does that work in a completely determined universe? (How do you separate the person from the action?)

    david ellis, comment 6:

    That determinism is true (if that’s the case; I don’t claim to know) doesn’t imply that there are not better and worse ways to live one’s life. There is no contradiction in thinking this.

    Same response, though I don’t expect you to share the same level of agreement with the podcast hosts as Tom Clark seemed to have later in the hour as their guest.

  17. @david ellis:

    You wrote this to SteveK,

    By this reasoning if one were to make a new species in the laboratory for the express purpose of being sold to sadists to torture for their amusement it would be morally acceptable.

    Two significant problems with that.

    One, SteveK’s proposed answer can be corrected, I think, by adding this: that which was made for a set of purposes, by one who has a moral right to make it for that set of purposes and the wisdom and power to do so effectively and correctly, ought not be used or participate in that which is contrary to, or that which undermines those purposes. It’s a simple concept that rings true for all of us.

    Otherwise there would be many more counter-examples than the one you named. Computer viruses and hydrogen bombs come readily to mind.

    Two: I don’t think you would attribute to SteveK any support for computer viruses or H-bombs. But you were awfully quick to attribute this evil to him:

    Your comment illustrates (as have so many made by Christians on this blog) the way religion can distort and damage the moral perspective of believers.

    A far more reasonable (and gracious) interpretation would have been that SteveK left something out of his statement. I think the way you interpreted what he wrote was a distorted (and in its own way damaging) perspective on someone’s morals—and obviously so.


  18. Do you distinguish between a bad person and a person who does bad things? How does that work in a completely determined universe? (How do you separate the person from the action?)

    We already do so (at least most of us). I mentioned in a previous discussion a woman with some form of dementia who had previously been of a very modest and upright nature who often stripped off her clothes no matter who was around and who’d grow agitated when someone tried to stop her.

    How many people would judge her guilty of morally culpable immodest behavior and public indecency?

    The determinist is just more thorough-going in this sort of thinking. While others may think free will can be short circuited (if they bother to mull over the philosophical implications of their attitude toward people in such circumstances at all), the determinist thinks it doesn’t exist in the first place.

  19. You didn’t answer the second question, David, or the one in parentheses, which were the point the first one was aiming toward, actually.

    Is she a bad person? No. Are her actions bad? I think so, and I suppose you do too. If not, then let our example instead be that of the University of Texas shooter, Charles Whitman, who was discussed in the podcast. Is he a bad person (they implied that he was not). Were his actions bad? Fourteen people died, 32 were wounded in just this one incident, which was not his first killing.

    What is it that allows her to be not-bad, while her actions are bad, given determinism? What separates the fully determined agent from the fully determined actions caused by that agent? What separates the moral character of the agent from the actions? Can one be good and the other bad? How?


  20. One, SteveK’s proposed answer can be corrected, I think, by adding this: that which was made for a set of purposes, by one who has a moral right to make it for that set of purposes and the wisdom and power to do so effectively and correctly, ought not be used or participate in that which is contrary to, or that which undermines those purposes. It’s a simple concept that rings true for all of us.

    Such a revision would imply a moral responsibility on the part of a creator to the created. However I have many times heard Christians argue that since God created us he has a right to do with us whatever he likes (believe me, I wish I didn’t hear such a claim so frequently—its a chilling thing).

    That being the case I had no reason to assume that what you said is what Steve meant.

    Besides which there are, as I said, plenty of other and far better reasons to object to torturing children than because they weren’t created for that purpose.

    Steve’s claim was that it wouldn’t be wrong to torture children if God didn’t exist because if that was the case the children hadn’t been created for a purpose that was thwarted by such torture.

    Its still a quite monstrous position to defend.

  21. David Ellis,

    If you are mistaken in one respect about the creator of the universe, that is, if he is omnipotent, omniscient but NOT loving and is, instead, of a capricious and often cruel nature then why wouldn’t HIS nature be the basis of morality. Many theists have responded that such a being wouldn’t be God but this tacitly assumes exactly MY position: that love is of intrinsic worth, in and of itself.

    No. The answer is that this being isn’t God, and doesn’t exist.

    And David, if you want an argument, ask and ye shall receive. Franklin actually gave you one in brief, though you didn’t recognize it as one. Feel free to peruse this one, or parts 3 and 4 here, or this true-false test for relativists. Happy reading!

  22. David, if you think this monstrous God you’re imagining has any relevance at all to this discussion, you’re just wrong.

    You are arguing against the existence of a God whose existence no one believes in. Why bother? Doesn’t it get boring?


  23. You didn’t answer the second question, David, or the one in parentheses, which were the point the first one was aiming toward, actually.

    I think my response made my position on that quite clear but I’ll try to make it even more explicit:


    What is it that allows her to be not-bad, while her actions are bad, given determinism?

    Obviously the fact that she ISN’T a free agent.


    What separates the fully determined agent from the fully determined actions caused by that agent? What separates the moral character of the agent from the actions?

    I think I see the problem. You may be confusing two different senses of the word “bad”.

    Bad in the sense of “harmful or having negative consequences” vs bad in the sense of “morally culpable”.

    So in your statement “what is it that allows her to be not-bad, while her actions are bad…” we have two different senses of the word used in the same sentence and causing confusion.

    So to clarify and remove any apparent contradiction we can insert the definitions to read:

    what is it that allows her to be not-morally culpable, while her actions have negative consequences….


    Can one be good and the other bad? How?

    The answer should now be obvious (really it was before, but even more so now). Actions that one is not morally culpable for can still have negative consequences.

  24. I appreciate the clarifications by Tom and Franklin to my earlier statement. They were quick comments made in the few minutes I had prior to rushing out the door.

    I thought David would take them, and understand them, within the context of Christian teaching – particularly the idea of being made for a purpose and the grounding of morality in God’s eternal nature/character.

    I thought incorrectly.


  25. David, if you think this monstrous God you’re imagining has any relevance at all to this discussion, you’re just wrong.

    You are arguing against the existence of a God whose existence no one believes in. Why bother? Doesn’t it get boring?

    Its was not an argument against the existence of a malevolent God. It was an argument for the arbitrariness of a theistic basis of morality.


    Franklin actually gave you one in brief, though you didn’t recognize it as one.

    “If P then Q” is not an argument. Its a claim. If he or you wish to make an argument for his claim I’d be glad to hear it.


    Feel free to peruse this one, or parts 3 and 4 here, or this true-false test for relativists. Happy reading!

    I’m interested in having a discussion more than reading 10,000 words or so of your previous posts. I’ll try to read them if I can find the time (and if I find them, once I start them, worth the time). But no promises.

  26. David,
    How do you equate arbitrariness with the non-contingent basis for Christian morality?


  27. I appreciate the clarifications by Tom and Franklin to my earlier statement. They were quick comments made in the few minutes I had prior to rushing out the door.

    I thought David would take them, and understand them, within the context of Christian teaching – particularly the idea of being made for a purpose and the grounding of morality in God’s eternal nature/character.

    Let us then examine the statement with revisions included (revision in bold):

    Me: Do you honestly believe that if you’re mistaken about God existing that its not wrong to torture children for personal amusement?


    Steve: Yes, for reasoning that goes something like this:

    that which was made for a set of purposes, BY ONE WHO HAS THE MORAL RIGHT TO MAKE IT FOR THAT SET OF PURPOSES AND THE WISDOM AND POWER TO DO SO EFFECTIVELY AND CORRECTLY, ought not be used or participate in that which is contrary to, or that which undermines those purposes. It’s a simple concept that rings true for all of us. Don’t try to apply this reasoning to non-living objects created for a purpose because it doesn’t work – and that simple concept also rings true for us.

    Nature/evolution didn’t make us for any purpose so there is nothing wrong with living beings torturing children for personal amusement. God made us for a purpose and participating in, or being on the receiving end of, this horrible act undermines that purpose.

    Steve’s claim is that it wouldn’t be wrong to torture children if God didn’t exist because if that was the case the children hadn’t been created for a purpose that was thwarted by such torture.

    Again, is the fact that they weren’t specifically created for such a purpose the ONLY reason you can think of to object to it?

    Look again at the most monstrous element of his comment:

    Nature/evolution didn’t make us for any purpose so there is nothing wrong with living beings torturing children for personal amusement.

    Lets think a little further about this because it has a consequence Steve seems not to have recognized. Suppose we live in a universe created by a benevolent God but that he was trying something new as a sort of artistic effort. He started with some randomly chosen physical laws and created the Big Bang (one of many) to see what would result.

    In one of these universes he created (ours) life emerged by evolution just as scientists talk about but it was unplanned. God is glad it happened but he didn’t have any particular purpose in mind for it. Its just an unplanned happy accident.

    What would you make of this Steve? Don’t you think this benevolent God would find it deeply objectionable to torture children for amusement even though he hadn’t created them for any specific purpose?

    Even on theism the business about people having been created for a purpose (or not) is surely largely irrelavent to whether its wrong to torture children. Even within theism Steve’s proposal doesn’t work. God would surely have other reasons to object to the torture of children than whether they were created with a particular purpose in mind. Some of which reasons may well still hold on naturalism.


  28. David,
    How do you equate arbitrariness with the non-contingent basis for Christian morality?

    I don’t equate them. And I didn’t mean to imply that I do.

    As I explained, and for the reasons I explained, the position you endorse IS one in which morality is contingent.

    And, additionally, due to the Euthyphro dilemma theistic morality is arbitrary.

    I’m not calling them the same thing. They’re simply two relevant issues I’ve talked about in the context of this discussion about the basis of morality.

  29. Naturalism is a disordered idea—one that a priori eliminates ontological distinctions of kinds of existents. That it is then forced to attack free will is silly and counterproductive: it is, like ideas associated with naturalism, bad ideas in drag. The metaphor, by the way, is insightful because all sorts of cute arguments (“hard” determinism, “soft” determinism, and the tacit assumptions these folks make… like assuming an “ought” when they intentionally only provide “is” categories) are put forth to hide the disordered nature of naturalism.

    (Homosexuality is disordered because it opposes the truth of what human nature is. Homosexuality acted out is a grave sin because it opposes the truth of God’s creation of human beings—beings with a particular nature. The parallel of homosexuality compared to naturalism in the order of ideas is striking.)

    The insurmountable challenges raised by Tom, SteveK, and Franklin are correct. But consider also the following: what possible reason could these folks have for trying to convince critical thinkers that free will is an illusion? Doesn’t trying to convince someone presuppose the ability to compare and… well… choose? No matter what “hard” or “soft” qualifications naturalists try to employ to cover the silliness of their ideas, they cannot “convince” us of anything if there is no free will.

    By the way, if you guys want to see just how easily and strongly Leon Kass ripped apart Steven Pinker’s personal opinions, ignorance, and mistakes on the pages of Commentary from about two years ago, you’re in for a treat. Steven “dignity is a stupid idea” Pinker’s ideas are truly an embarrassment to intellectual discourse.

  30. @david ellis:

    Its was not an argument against the existence of a malevolent God. It was an argument for the arbitrariness of a theistic basis of morality.

    It was, to be more specific, an argument for the arbitrariness of an arbitrary theistic basis of morality, which does not exist, for theism does not hold to an arbitrary view of God. Were God arbitrary then he could choose any values and call them good, or he could have done so in the past. But in fact he could not do that, because it is impossible for God to deny his own nature. His own nature is goodness, so God’s character can only express goodness. Values that are not good could never have been chosen as good by God. This is the opposite of arbitrary; this is necessity at its most necessary.

    And God as the necessary Being, a necessarily good Being, as Being itself, is the God whom theists believe in and defend. Any time you wave an argument at an arbitrary God, or one for whom the definition of good is arbitrary, you’re waving it at some other deity than the one we love and serve. Go ahead and prove that God god doesn’t exist, I’ll stand right with you. I don’t think at all highly of that kind of god myself.

    Now if you think there’s something arbitrary about the necessary—and necessarily good—God we teach and defend, it’s up to you to show how that can be the case. To me it’s straightforwardly contradictory to assign arbitrariness to God or his character. To do so would call for some very idiosyncratic use of “arbitrary,” I should think.

    Or if you think there’s something arbitrary about theists lining up morally alongside God’s character or his definition of morality, when we could as easily set up our own standard—thinking we could do a better job than God did, I guess—then it’s up to you to show how agreeing with the good character of an eternally good God is an arbitrary choice. It’s not a necessary choice, I’ll admit, but it’s anything but arbitrary. To do otherwise is the essence of rebellion against goodness and against God.

    Further and finally: the thought experiment you proposed to SteveK most recently is that of a god who works arbitrarily, who tosses things together unmindful of how they might come out. I don’t think any of us need to answer that or defend against that, because that’s another version of a god we don’t believe in either.

  31. David,

    Regarding arguments against naturalistic ethics: one is too short, others are too long. Maybe at some point we’ll produce one for you that’s baby-bear “just right.”

  32. I think you probably owe SteveK an apology, by the way, David. I’d be asking for one if you’d said something to me like you did to him.

  33. I’ve been reading/writing from a handheld all day, which is no fun. Darn those tiny screens and keyboards!

    Your comment illustrates (as have so many made by Christians on this blog) the way religion can distort and damage the moral perspective of believers.

    The shoe is on the other foot, David. All of your comments illustrate that you either don’t understand Christianity very well or that you’re unknowingly (or worse, purposely) arguing about a God that no Christian here actually believes in.

  34. Right.

    David, in response to your argument regarding the word “bad,” I take it that you would say that “corrective punishment” (see the original post for the first use of that term) corrects not the person, but only the person’s behavior; because it is only the behavior, not the person, that can be bad. Is that correct?

  35. Actually that question may have been one step premature. I need to know this as well (though you can answer that other one at the same time if you like).

    If I throw a brick at someone and it injures them, is my behavior bad, or is it just the result that’s bad? Please answer according to your own definition of “bad.” I’m seeking an important technical distinction here, for the purpose of understanding your position more clearly.

    If I do it with intent to injure, is that in any way worse than if I do it with no intent to injure (I do not realize the person is there)? That’s another technical distinction I’m seeking.

  36. I haven’t read all the comments on the blog, but real quick as the author of the podcast your commenting on I feel the need to defend myself. My comment would certainly be ridiculous if as you said, I believed “We don’t choose anything we do; we only think we do.”
    I as I said many times in that podcast and the one that preceded it (it was a 2 part series, the first one is important to understanding the second)I believe ones thoughts, beliefs, values and past behavior are all causal determinants of behavior. It is not choice that we were arguing against, it was the contra-causal Cartesian style free will we were arguing against. The type where a person, like little gods, stand apart from the stream of cause and effect and completely self-determine their actions without any conditioning from outside. I’m fairly sure the Bible doesn’t even support that view, but for some reason many a Christian apologist does.

    Really its fine if you find what we say to be laughable. Just make an effort to accurately represent our position. I would do that much for you.

  37. Thanks for visiting, Jeremy.

    It wasn’t my intent to detail your whole position, of course, but to present enough of it to provide context for what I quoted. What you’ve said I got wrong does not seem to affect that materially. I think I understand where the misrepresentation may have come from, at any rate, and I apologize for being careless about it. The explanation for that will flow out of what follows here.

    I’ll begin by pointing out that this is also inaccurate:

    The type where a person, like little gods, stand apart from the stream of cause and effect and completely self-determine their actions without any conditioning from outside. I’m fairly sure the Bible doesn’t even support that view, but for some reason many a Christian apologist does.

    The part I object to is “without any conditioning from outside.” I don’t know of any proponent of libertarian free will who takes it that far. That’s not what the view says. It simply says that at any point of decision, whatever decision the person makes, he or she could have decidedly differently. It does not say that it is without restriction or bounds. Libertarian free will operates within bounds of opportunity, skills, character, reasons, and so on. Some of those bounds would most certainly include outside conditioning.

    But there is at least some freedom within those bounds, in contrast to determinism which says that the boundaries allow movement only in one determined direction, the one that the person actually chooses; with “chooses” of course having a distinctly different meaning than it does on libertarian free will. I think that is where I may have misstated your opinion: on your view, with your view of “choose,” you did not deny that we make choices. The libertarian free will understanding of the word “choice” would not fit your view at all, though, and if we were to take that as the operative definition of “choice” (as I am accustomed to doing), you do deny that we have the ability to make such choices. I was not careful to specify what meaning of “choice” you were denying, and again I apologize for that.

    “Contra-causal” seems too weak a term for the type of choice you deny we have. I’ll have to explain what I mean, of course. If you were merely saying that all choice is caused, then we would agree with you. We would also disagree with “contra-causal” choice. We believe there are a host of influences combining in every choice a person makes, and that one of those causes is the person’s free power of decision, made within boundaries as already noted. But if I understand your view correctly, decisions’ causes all come out of part of an ineluctable, unbreakable, unbendable chain that did not originate with us but caused us. Having caused us, that chain also caused every choice we made, so that we are simply passengers on the ride of causation (to switch metaphors)—even though we are also part of the vehicle.

    Further, on materialism/naturalism, that chain of causation resolves down to the lowest scale of physics, so that the chain is determined ultimately by law and chance, as all physical reactions are. The person disappears at that level of analysis, yet it seems to me that level of analysis is the appropriate one to move to, on naturalism.

    I do believe, though, that you support the idea that free will is an illusion. “We only think we have freedom of the will; we are misled in that impression” would be an accurate statement of your view, I think. I didn’t quote you that way in the original post, but I think that wording represents what you believe, and it would have been a better way for me to have said it.


  38. David, in response to your argument regarding the word “bad,” I take it that you would say that “corrective punishment” (see the original post for the first use of that term) corrects not the person, but only the person’s behavior; because it is only the behavior, not the person, that can be bad. Is that correct?

    What one does is improve the person’s character, motivations and, as a result, their behavior.

    But since there is no free will there is no such thing as moral culpability.

    This is a pretty simple concept. I’m not going to keep explaining it to you in different ways.


    If I throw a brick at someone and it injures them, is my behavior bad, or is it just the result that’s bad? Please answer according to your own definition of “bad.” I’m seeking an important technical distinction here, for the purpose of understanding your position more clearly.

    If I do it with intent to injure, is that in any way worse than if I do it with no intent to injure (I do not realize the person is there)? That’s another technical distinction I’m seeking.

    Yes, its worse. In the sense that it reflects the person’s having a defect in their character.

    But it isn’t necessary that they be morally culpable for having the defect for it to be a good thing for the defect to be corrected—no more than a child needs to be morally culpable for having a heart defect for it to be worthwhile that the defect be corrected. You’re probing for a contradiction that just doesn’t exist.

  39. @david ellis:

    You answered a portion of what I asked but not enough for me to understand your position. I don’t think it should matter to you whether I’m probing for a contradiction or not. I’m giving you an opportunity to clarify your position. I’m not asking you to keep explaining something you’ve already explained, in fact, I didn’t even ask for an explanation at all, just the answers to a few questions. I could make an assumption about how you would answer these two questions, based on what you’ve said, but I don’t think you would like that a lot.

    This is what you missed from my prior questions. You could answer them in just a word or two, probably.

    1. Does corrective punishment (assuming it works) improve the person?

    2. If I throw a brick at someone and it injures them, is my behavior bad, or is it just the result that’s bad?

  40. Hello David

    This is a pretty simple concept.

    It’s only simple if you exploit the ambiguities of language.

    …reflects the person’s having a defect in their character.

    moral (adj.)
    c.1340, “of or pertaining to character or temperament” (good or bad), from O.Fr. moral, from L. moralis “proper behavior of a person in society,”
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=moral&searchmode=none

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/moral

    I believe I asked you this once before, but here we go again…

    From what standard do you make your own moral judgements? You have pronounced judgement upon the arbitrary basis of theistic (presumably Christian but we’re back to the exploitation of ambiguity) moral standards, but on what do you base those moral standards by which you judge the theist and his god?


  41. This is what you missed from my prior questions. You could answer them in just a word or two, probably.

    1. Does corrective punishment (assuming it works) improve the person?

    2. If I throw a brick at someone and it injures them, is my behavior bad, or is it just the result that’s bad?

    1. Yes, it improves the person’s character. As has already been explained.

    2. If deliberate or the result of careless indifference to possible harm then it reflects a defect in character and is, in that sense, “bad”. The result is “bad” in another sense: that of harm having been done. Again, I’ve already explained this.

    This is the last time I’ll indulge your obtuseness, whether deliberate or the result of a failure of reading comprehension. Neither my time nor patience are without limits.


    Dave: From what standard do you make your own moral judgments? You have pronounced judgment upon the arbitrary basis of theistic (presumably Christian but we’re back to the exploitation of ambiguity) moral standards, but on what do you base those moral standards by which you judge the theist and his god?

    I’ve already discussed this topic at length. I’m not going to revisit it every time I state a moral opinion.

  42. Hello David

    I’ve already discussed the topic at length…

    Yes, you have. As I recall, and correct me if I am wrong, you base your moral standards upon your ‘moral sense’. However, your moral sense is your moral sense and, as such is subjective and arbitrary. It is not my moral sense and it is not J. J. Rousseau’s moral sense. It is particular to yourself.

    Which may explain the amorphous character of your argument. It is, as you say, an opinion.

    o·pin·ion (ə-pĭn’yən)
    n.
    A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof: “The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion” (Elizabeth Drew).

  43. @david ellis:

    Thank you. You have supplied the missing piece, which is that the person and the person’s character have an identity relationship.

    You have also for the first time now specified that behavior is the sort of thing that can be bad.

    Based on your comment 41, where you said this:

    What one does is improve the person’s character, motivations and, as a result, their behavior.

    … I conclude that character has some kind of identity relationship with behavior, so we have a three-way identity relationship of some sort going on: character, behavior, and person.

    You hadn’t actually explained that earlier, for all your (obtuse) protestations to the contrary, and that is what I was trying to discover through all these questions that you were finally willing to answer. I think the word “patience” might also apply to me in continuing to seek an understanding of your position. I think “appreciation” might be one that would usually be appropriate for one whose understanding was being sought. That’s just my o·pin·ion (ə-pĭn’yən), though (with apologies to Dave 🙂 ).

    My reading comprehension score, as measured on the GRE, was higher than yours, I’ll wager. And I did not tax your time terribly by asking you to answer these virtual yes-no questions. So thanks for answering, anyway. I’ll be able to work with the information you have supplied now.

    Since you do not want to answer further clarifying questions, I’ll have to resort to working with assumptions. I would prefer not to work that way, but that seems to be your desire. I indicated my conclusion above that there is some kind of identity relationship between character, behaviors, and the person, on your view. I did not specify what kind of relationship one might conclude, nor did I speculate as to what your own view of that relationship might be.

    Being forced now to make some assumptions now, however, the assumption I will be working from is that the relationship between these three is a strict identity in one specific sense: that to the extent that one of the members of that relationship is good, the others are also good, and to the extent that one of the members of that relationship is bad, the others are also bad.

    In the case of “behaviors,” that would obviously be incorrect if only individual, moment-by-moment specific behaviors were considered. Therefore when I speak of behaviors in this relationship, I will speak of the sum total of a person’s behaviors over some reasonable period of time.

    I think that corresponds with all that you have said so far, but if I’m wrong, please give me fair warning before I head in some wrong direction with it.

    I’m still trying to represent you accurately, you see.


  44. Yes, you have. As I recall, and correct me if I am wrong, you base your moral standards upon your ‘moral sense’. However, your moral sense is your moral sense and, as such is subjective and arbitrary.

    The central concepts in my meta-ethical views are the ideas of intrinsic goods and ideal observer theory. Not the idea of a “moral sense”. I’m not sure how you’re defining “moral sense” as you use the term above. Its not a term I even recall using (and if I did it would be as basically equivalent to one’s moral judgment—which may or may not be sound in any particular case but is certainly not intrinsically arbitrary). You obviously either don’t recall my views accurately or never understood them in the first place. Either way I’m not going to continually defend my right to have an opinion on moral issues. I don’t demand that you prove a meta-ethical theory every time you express an opinion on moral questions and I’m not going to submit to a demand to prove mine every time I state one.

    @ Tom:

    I’ve made my position quite clear and I’m not going to restate essentially the same things over and over for you. If you have a point to make, stop beating around the bush and just make it.

  45. Man oh man. Sometimes people castigate me for misrepresenting them. I was trying to avoid that. I can’t win for losing.

    Tell me, David, do you attach blame to me for “beating around the bush”?

  46. Hello David

    I’m sorry if I misrepresented your views. “Moral sense” as I intended the term is defined as an innate sense of what is good and what is evil. “Moral judgment” I would define as the capacity to distinguish between what is good and what is evil.

    From whence do you aquire your heirarchy of intrinsic goods?

  47. Earlier today I deleted a comment from Holopupenko, but I have reconsidered. First, on a second reading it does not seem as critical as it did at first. Second and more importantly, it seems to me that in this thread, those for whom no person can be considered morally culpable for anything should be allowed the opportunity to consider whether this comment seems overly critical; and if so, whether they would consider Holopupenko blameworthy for it or not.

    I post it here in its entirety, as it arrived in my email. Any edits Holopupenko did on it after posting would not be reflected in this version.

    Jeremy:

    I believe one[’]s thoughts, beliefs, values and past behavior are all causal determinants of behavior.

    That personal opinion (“I believe”… are we talking faith coming from a naturalist?) screams to be unpacked: while all here may agree with the prima facie sense (causes, properly understood, are explanations for existence: this thing exists be-CAUSE…), the naturalist quite intentionally and sneakily eschews openly acknowledging that they limit causes to narrow versions of material and efficient causes. In other words, for naturalists everything that happens is caused by physical efficient causes acting upon physical matter. In other words, there is ONLY one ontological kind for naturalists. One should push hard in demanding naturalists come clean on simple questions of the type “WHAT are ‘thoughts, beliefs, values…’?” If, as naturalists claim, they are ultimately reducible to complex aggregate physical motions of matter (assuming they stop hiding behind “determinism” qualifiers such as “hard,” “soft,” etc.) and that thoughts are “emergent properties” akin to the spinning of a wheel (a really ignorant mixing of metaphysical categories, by the way), then, for example, Jeremy DOES believe free will is an illusion for it is nothing but the flatland world of the materialism or physicalism du jour. Tom’s assessment, in fact, is correct.

    … it was the contra-causal Cartesian style free will we were arguing against. The type where a person, like little gods, stand apart from the stream of cause and effect and completely self-determine their actions without any conditioning from outside. I’m fairly sure the Bible doesn’t even support that view, but for some reason many a Christian apologist does.

    Broad-brushing nonsense. While there may be Christian believers out there who have succumbed to the inanity of Cartesian dualism (just like there are naturalists out there who pursue the sickly-sweet sentimentality of “naturalist spirituality”), I strongly doubt (at the very least) there are any Christian commentors on this blog who believe such nonsense. Really, Jeremy, you appear not to have availed yourself of the opportunity to keep your mouth shut in the face of Medieval giants such as Aquinas who handily dispatched such nonsensical dualistic visions to the rubbish heap… several centuries before Descartes’ errors appeared on the scene. Perhaps you’ve conveniently neglected the assessment by Christian philosophers (down through the centuries) of Descartes as the primary progenitor of the decline of critical philosophical thinking, because his errors led to the foolishness of Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant and subsequent nonsense? I think you need to apologize to the “many a Christian apologist[s]” you’ve so ignorantly insulted.

    No, your position is anything but laughable: it’s the saddest repetition of centuries of a lack of rigorous critical thinking. It is Greek Atomism in drag.

  48. Gee… maybe one day he’ll tell us what he really thinks.

    but,

    Greek Atomism in drag… gotta love it.


  49. I’m sorry if I misrepresented your views. “Moral sense” as I intended the term is defined as an innate sense of what is good and what is evil.

    OK. That’s even further from my views than I thought you meant. I most definitely don’t think we have an “innate” sense of what’s good and evil. Just the opposite. I think making sound moral judgments requires great effort at cultivating a wide range of relevant knowledge, skills and both intellectual and emotional understanding.

    The closest thing to the idea of the moral sense as you characterized it that I’d say we have is that we seem to have a few sound moral intuitions that seem to crop up very early in human development and may well be innate. Like the concept of fairness. Even some animals are said to show indications of this—though I won’t vouch for these claims as its not something I’ve researched in any depth.


    From whence do you aquire your heirarchy of intrinsic goods?

    I think the best theory regarding how we can develop the ability to recognize intrinsic goods (and to make good judgments regarding what follows from them in regard to moral issues) is ideal observer theory. But that’s territory I’ve covered before and don’t intend to repeat myself concerning.

    @ Tom:


    It seems to me that in this thread, those who are arguing that nothing is blameworthy, for whom no person can be assigned moral culpability….

    To be clear, if you have me in mind in regard to this, I am discussing what I consider to logically follow from determinism in regard to moral questions. I’m not a determinist myself. I don’t know one way or the other whether determinism is true and don’t claim to. The most I can say is that I lean somewhat toward skepticism regarding free will. But its far from a settled issue to my mind.

    To address the idea you seem to suggest regarding the possible negative moral consequences of determinism, I don’t think the consequences of determinism are bad in the least. In fact, I think in one respect the consequences may actually be a good thing:

    If one believes evil acts are the result of free will then one is more likely to find for oneself theoretical justification for inflicting non-instructive suffering on offenders simply on the idea that they deserve it and to be more easily prone to holding grudges.

    On the other hand, if one accepts determinism, all people’s actions are the result of the forces that shaped them, genetic, environmental and the like. It tends to bring with it more of an attitude that those who have harmed us are to be pitied than hated.

    At least I’ve found this is the attitude that comes naturally to me as I’ve grown more skeptical of the idea of free will. I find as my confidence in free will decreases my ability to forgive increases.

    To a large degree I suspect that the vehemence with which some defend free will has more than a little to do with the unwillingness to give up the idea of justified punishment—the unwillingness to sacrifice the one way they have of inflicting suffering without pangs of conscience. We sometimes forget in our more civilized environment that for most of human history public executions were in many respects a form of entertainment in which people positively reveled.

  50. I’m not sure why you deleted Holo’s post in the first place. It’s no more (in fact, far less) insulting in tone than much of what we’ve heard from him in the past.

    But still a good example of why at this point I mostly disregard Holo’s posts.

  51. David Ellis:

    You take a strong position for moral realism here and even more explicitly here. You believe that some things are right, and some things are wrong.

    You do not believe, though, that when persons do wrong things, they are to be considered morally culpable for that. You stated that here and here on this thread.

    So no person is to be regarded as morally culpable for the bad things they do, because they do not have any choice, and the person herself is not to be regarded as bad.

    We have apparently agreed that there is a certain kind of identity relationship between a person, a person’s character, and a person’s pattern of behavior, specifically that whatever can be said about the morality of one can be said about the others.

    Given that identity relationship, it would seem that if a person’s actions are bad, then the person’s character and the person herself are also bad, and bad in the same sense. Which sense is that, then?

    You spoke of different ways the word “bad” could be used. One is “harmful or having negative consequences,” and the other is “being morally culpable.”

    You deny that persons can be morally culpable, so therefore I infer that you would also deny that persons’ character or behaviors can be morally culpable. That means moral culpability does not actually exist, on your view, unless you place it somewhere else I have not imagine it could be.

    If there is no such thing as moral culpability, then it seems necessary that there is no such thing as moral praiseworthiness. This follows from two things, in fact. One is that the absence of any such thing as culpability strongly implies the absence of any continuum on which culpability resides, and without that continuum, praiseworthiness has no place to reside. If there is no worse, there can be no better. The second is what you said in explanation or defense of your position on culpability:

    But since there is no free will there is no such thing as moral culpability.

    The lack of free will certainly has the same negating effect on praiseworthiness as it does on culpability. So there is no moral improvement possible, and there is no moral degradation possible; unless those changes involve something other than culpability or praiseworthiness.

    Further, because of the previously discussed identity relationship, there is no betterment or worsening possible, in terms of culpability or praiseworthiness, for persons’ character or behavior.

    And that leaves me very confused: what is your moral realism after all, if there is no moral dimension, better or worse, assignable to any person, to any person’s character, or any person’s behavior? I can’t think of anything whatsoever it could apply to, anything it could really mean, in view of what you’ve been affirming here.

  52. David Ellis wrote:

    On the other hand, if one accepts determinism, all people’s actions are the result of the forces that shaped them, genetic, environmental and the like. It tends to bring with it more of an attitude that those who have harmed us are to be pitied than hated.

    At least I’ve found this is the attitude that naturally to me as I’ve grown more skeptical of the idea of free will. I find as my confidence in free will decreases my ability to forgive increases.

    You’re not alone. There’s research being done on the effects of disbelief in free will, one of which seems to be an increased tendency toward forgiveness, see here. As Spinoza said about determinism, “This doctrine teaches us to hate no one, to despise no one, to mock no one, to be angry with no one, and to envy no one.” Other quotes from famous folks about disbelief in free will are here.

    It’s interesting that what’s often thought of as a Christian virtue can arise from a science-based perspective on human nature. First person reports about the benefits of adopting naturalism as one’s worldview are here.

  53. Nice try, David… but it’s a tactic that won’t work. Even at best, your comment reflects ignorance of Aquinas position, which I will not be dragged into expounding here. If you had the smallest clue about Aquinas (or Aristotle) you’d understand how nonsensical Descartes’ errors are.

    Deadly erroneous ideas, such as yours (as well as naturalism in general and moral relativism in particular), should be opposed by every legitimate means by every critical thinker, for on the key questions of human nature and existence, they are deadly poisons. Your deeply flawed view of reality should not be tolerated. The problem with tolerance as you would wish we had of your errors is that it ultimately calls for the sacrifice of truth to your personal o·pin·ions (ə-pĭn’yənz). This blog is about the search for Truth to embrace us. You’re running away from the light of Truth into the shadows of deeply disordered ideas–exposed above by Tom and others, and on many previous occassions.

  54. I am discussing what I consider to logically follow from determinism in regard to moral questions. I’m not a determinist myself. I don’t know one way or the other whether determinism is true and don’t claim to. The most I can say is that I lean somewhat toward skepticism regarding free will. But its far from a settled issue to my mind.

    Now you say so! You sure hid it well. I suppose it was there in your comment 6, but you kept affirming determinism after that. And it’s not as if I didn’t give you an opportunity to explain your position.

    Let me then broaden the question. You said,

    What makes you think that naturalism allows no place for the necessity of moral truths?

    I won’t assign this entirely to you, but in part to the podcast participants. They all made the case that naturalism absolutely entails determinism. They would say that if you are a naturalist, then you must be a determinist. Your understanding of determinism, whether you personally endorse it or not, leads to the question I ended my last comment with.

    Therefore:
    A. Naturalism entails determinism (from the podcast)
    B. Determinism eliminates any meaning to morality (from my argument in the prior comment).
    Therefore
    C. Naturalism eliminates any meaning for morality (A and B).

    Admittedly I am combining arguments from two sources, so (C) could be evaded by a person saying “I accept only A,” or “I accept only B.” And I know you do not accept determinism. But it would appear that the argument at least answers your question, “What makes you think that naturalism allows no place for the necessity of moral truths?”

  55. Other readers please note, by the way, that the question was not, “What makes you think that naturalism allows no place for the existence of a moral sense?” It was about the necessity of moral truths—moral realism, in other words. Though it certainly does raise the question of what a moral sense actually means, on naturalism.

  56. Tom Clark:

    When you provide a cogent, sound argument as to why we should be “persuaded” (which implies a free will choice) by the ontological flatlandedness of naturalism trying to destroy free will, you might be taken seriously.

    And, providing references to naturalists “celebrity” anti-free will quotes certainly reflects a lack of intellectual rigor.

    Finally, this is rich: It’s interesting that what’s often thought of as a Christian virtue can arise from a science-based perspective on human nature. Really? What is “nature” from an alleged “scientific” (read: scientistic) perspective? Which of the determinisms du jour can legitimately claim to move from a scientific “is” to a scientistic “nature”? You think you’ve “scientifically” explained away free will, even as that “explanation” bites you in the behind and evicerates your own position to which you freely DIS-reasoned. That’s one of the inescapable problems you folks face: you assume that which you try to argue away or ignore. The inanity of such a position is breathtaking.


  57. You do not believe, though, that when persons do wrong things, they are to be considered morally culpable for that.

    Remember that my comments regarding determinism have been concerning what I think logically follows from it. I’m agnostic on the issue. Strictly speaking, I don’t know if people are morally culpable or not since I don’t know if they have free will or not.

    But that’s less a problem for moral theory than you might suspect. What is the best thing (the moral thing) to do isn’t changed by the fact that people may not be morally culpable for not acting according to it. Morality is, on determinism (if its true), less a matter of laying blame than of educating and reforming.


    If there is no such thing as moral culpability, then it seems necessary that there is no such thing as moral praiseworthiness.

    Strictly speaking, on determinism (again, recall, an issue I’m agnostic on), no there isn’t. A person who behaves well has not the right to be proud of his free choices but feel a humble gladness that he was so fortunate as to have the right factors come together to provide him with a virtuous character.


    If there is no worse, there can be no better.

    Do not make the error (one you seem prone to based on the past comments you’ve made in this discussion) of confusing the absence of moral culpability/praiseworthiness with the absence of better or worse forms of behavior.


    So there is no moral improvement possible, and there is no moral degradation possible;

    But moral improvement IS possible (through education and training which results in a character more prone to the virtues than the vices). It just isn’t something one can take ultimate responsibility (whether blame or praise) for.


    And that leaves me very confused: what is your moral realism after all, if there is no moral dimension, better or worse, assignable to any person, to any person’s character, or any person’s behavior?

    Indeed you do seem to be surprisingly confused about matters which have been clearly explained to you repeatedly. I assure you I find it just as frustrating as you do.


    Now you say so! You sure hid it well. I suppose it was there in your comment 6, but you kept affirming determinism after that.

    Only as a hypothetical. Its not my fault you didn’t pay attention to what I clearly said at the outset.


    I won’t assign this entirely to you, but in part to the podcast participants. They all made the case that naturalism absolutely entails determinism.

    Personally, I find both the terms naturalism and supernaturalism not all that useful. I’ve used them in the past but tend to avoid them these days. I don’t find the distinction sufficiently clear to make the terms worth using. But that’s a whole other discussion.


    Therefore:
    A. Naturalism entails determinism (from the podcast)
    B. Determinism eliminates any meaning to morality (from my argument in the prior comment).
    Therefore
    C. Naturalism eliminates any meaning for morality (A and B).

    As explained in the first half of this comment I dispute premise B.


    Other readers please note, by the way, that the question was not, “What makes you think that naturalism allows no place for the existence of a moral sense?” It was about the necessity of moral truths—moral realism, in other words.

    Understood.

  58. To be clear, I’m not too sure about premise A either but since B seems the more important issue I’m not going to argue the point. I don’t call myself a naturalist anyway.


  59. You’re not alone. There’s research being done on the effects of disbelief in free will, one of which seems to be an increased tendency toward forgiveness, see here.

    Thanks for the links. I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll check them out.

  60. @Tom Clark:

    I must ask you about a couple of things you said in the podcast:

    At about 49:05 you say,

    People act badly for reasons, for causes, and once we understand those then we won’t suppose that they could have done otherwise in the situation they were in, and that will lead us to treat them more compassionately. The other big implication is besides compassion and getting rid of retribution is that we’ll understand why people behave the way they do, and therefore be more knowledgeable and more pro-active in changing the conditions that produce bad behavior so that people are less like to become criminals, addicts, etc. So all what this does is the causal view gives us more compassion, and crucially it gives us control; whereas if you believe in free will, if you think there is something about you and me that acts independently of cause and effect, then we don’t have that much control, because there’s always something about an individual that could do otherwise.

    At about 54:20 you say,

    We don’t have that kind of freedom, and without it we’ll continue to be in fact better off than we were before because we become more compassionate, we’ll have more control, and we’ll see ourselves fully connected to the world.

    Help me understand, please how there can be greater or lesser degrees of control on determinism. You say that understanding it gives us more control, but I didn’t think that could be variable on determinism, given that it’s impossible “that [we] could have done otherwise.”

    Frankly I think you’re grasping at something less substantial than a straw here: hoping that determinism can be a good thing, when this one good in particular seems to be hopelessly contradicted by determinism in itself.

    Or I could ask a different question. You speak of having more control, and that this is better on determinism than on free will, where the person could have freedom to (paraphrasing) escape outside causal influences. You say “crucially it gives us control,” affirming that control as a good thing.

    There’s no distance at all from there to the doctrine that controlling others’ behavior is a good thing, and for those others to have any freedom to evade that control is undesirable. How do you suppose anyone ought to take it otherwise?

    Finally, and on a slightly different note, you said at about 42:50 that determinism does not mean we do not have causal power, that “we have as much as causal power as we did before this deterministic insight.” Please explain how this causal power differs from the causal power of, say, the third stage in a Rube Goldberg contraption. Each stage in his devices had complete causal power, such that the sequence could not complete without it. But so what? How personal is its causal power? It could not have done otherwise, and we could not have done otherwise; our causal power is that we have the power to be a link in an ineluctable, unavoidable, unbendable, unalterable causal chain. That’s not power, any more than being the second pebble that gets a rockslide going is power.

  61. Morality is, on determinism (if its true), less a matter of laying blame than of educating and reforming.

    And killing. This is precisely the view of communism (which is by definition, atheistic), and it is precisely what was practiced and continues to be practiced by atheistic regimes. Human “nature” (even as atheists bluff their way through understanding it) is seen as completely malleable (analogous to metal), and can therefore be molded, shaped, and banged into place. The “inconvenient truth” of the body counts are there for all too see. There are oceans of blood on the hands of every atheist–whether directly or indirectly is not the point.

  62. David Ellis:

    Do not make the error (one you seem prone to based on the past comments you’ve made in this discussion) of confusing the absence of moral culpability/praiseworthiness with the absence of better or worse forms of behavior.

    I didn’t make that mistake. I kept the discussion entirely on the subject of morality (culpability and blameworthiness), from beginning to end, with some side discussion on the distinction you have just repeated, to show that I was not making that error.

    But moral improvement IS possible (through education and training which results in a character more prone to the virtues than the vices). It just isn’t something one can take ultimate responsibility (whether blame or praise) for.

    What does it mean to improve morally if there is no moral culpability or praiseworthiness, no moral continuum on which to improve? Assert it all you want, but it means nothing if you don’t answer the question I asked, which is what does it mean?

    As explained in the first half of this comment I dispute premise B

    There is a difference between asserting and explaining. I understand that you dispute premise B; you have asserted so and I accept your assertion. I just don’t know on what basis you dispute it. The best I can find is that you consider it silly that I asked the question. That’s not arguing, that’s mocking; and it’s certainly not explaining. You also said,

    But that’s less a problem for moral theory than you might suspect. What is the best thing (the moral thing) to do isn’t changed by the fact that people may not be morally culpable for not acting according to it. Morality is, on determinism (if its true), less a matter of laying blame than of educating and reforming.

    But all you’ve done there is repeat your assertion on a matter which I’ve argued strips all meaning from morality. If you disagree with my argument, then don’t expect repeating your assertion to count as an explanation for your disagreement.

    Indeed you do seem to be surprisingly confused about matters which have been clearly explained to you repeatedly. I assure you I find it just as frustrating as you do.

    David, if you’re frustrated then you are not being forced to continue here. But don’t assign me blameworthiness (not that you could anyway) for being confused (not frustrated) over things you say that you think make sense, but which you have not explained in such a way that they do.

    Its not my fault you didn’t pay attention to what I clearly said at the outset.

    Nine words, in parentheses; and when I tried repeatedly to get you to explain your position to me you faulted me for it.

    David, you are repeatedly expressing frustration toward me and faulting me, quite condescendingly in fact, for things I have done that are not wrong, and I’m asking you to wake up to it and to stop.

  63. Morality is, on determinism (if its true), less a matter of laying blame than of educating and reforming.

    Oh my… “educating and reforming” to what end… to a “good”? Doesn’t determinism discount an objective good and evil? But, if it’s subjective, then whose “standard” is to be followed… that of the strong over the weak? Isn’t this another example of assuming what one is setting out to destroy? It’s incredibly obtuse stuff.


  64. What does it mean to improve morally if there is no moral culpability or praiseworthiness, no moral continuum on which to improve?

    It means an improvement in one’s character. This has already been explained. Over and over again. One does not have to be freely responsible for one’s virtue to have that virtue. The fact that one is of a loving nature due to environment, education, genetics and the like rather than free choice does not any the less make it a worthwhile thing to be loving. Morality, on determinism, consists of the recognition of what constitutes the virtues and the methods by which the virtues can be effectively cultivated.

    That is my final restatement of points that were made clear long ago and which were never difficult to comprehend in the first place. I will waste no more time rehashing this with you.


  65. There’s no distance at all from there to the doctrine that controlling others’ behavior is a good thing, and for those others to have any freedom to evade that control is undesirable. How do you suppose anyone ought to take it otherwise?

    At last you bring up a fresh issue that’s worth exploring (even if implying sinister implications for your opponents position while doing so).

    In fact, we all recognize that, for example, a parent’s behavior, teaching and the environment they create contribute to the formation of their children’s character. To the kind of person they will become. And as an adult we recognize that there are methods by which one can influence the adults behavior, motivations, impulses and character as well (does not going to church and listening to sermons serve such a purpose? Or, as another example among many, court mandated anger management classes).

    The question is what is legitimate and morally acceptable influencing of the behavior of others and what is morally unacceptable.

    There seem to be some basic principles most reasonable people would agree are sound. Like the idea that one should not manipulate others for one’s personal gain rather than for their benefit or the idea that one ought not, with few if any exceptions, to employ overly coercive methods (brainwashing techniques). I’m sure we could all think of others and I’m sure we’d have many areas of disagreement on where lines should be drawn as well.

    But I don’t think it’s reasonable to jump to the conclusion that Tom Clark’s position necessarily entails, or even remotely implies, the acceptability of brainwashing people against their will into worker drones in service of the State or something of that sort.

  66. “… points made clear long ago…” “Clear” as mud, that is: assertions repeated “over and over” are not arguments… let alone sound arguments. Your evasiveness is old news.

    But I don’t think it can be reasonably said that your jumping to the conclusion that Tom Clark was endorsing brainwashing people against their will into worker drones in service of the State or something of that sort. Why? What objective reason is there to stop Clark’s (and your) inevitable descent into the strong over the weak? Because of your “moral sense”? Heaven help us…

  67. Hi David

    The fact that one is of a loving nature due to environment, education, genetics and the like rather than free choice does not any the less make it a worthwhile thing to be loving. Morality, on determinism, consists of the recognition of what constitutes the virtues and the methods by which the virtues can be effectively cultivated.

    Determinism precludes the possibility of recognition (literally, to know again) because knowledge is not a cause and effect phenomenon. Knowledge is the product of cognitive thought – observation, inference, and reason produce knowledge. C. S. Lewis illustrated this point with the two uses of the word because.

    Consider the difference between these two statements;

    1) He cried out because it hurt him. (cause and effect)

    2) It must have hurt him because he cried out (ground and consequent)

    In the first sentence we have a direct cause and effect relation, ‘it’ caused him sensory pain and he cried out in response. The second sentence the inference is made – since we heard him cry out he must have hurt himself.

    Knowledge is gained throught ground and consequent thinking, i.e. in mathematics A = C because, as we have already demonstrated they are both equal to B.

    However, determinism regards every event, and our mental state is an event, as caused (cause and effect) by some prior event.

    “We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes. The perfection that the human mind has been able to give to astronomy affords but a feeble outline of such an intelligence.” (Laplace 1820)

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/#DetHumAct
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/159526/determinism

    It therefore follows that Laplace’s assertion that every consequent event follows from an antecedent event must includes his state of mind when he formulated his thesis. We might irreverently (but accurately) speculate that Laplace believed in determinism because (cause and effect) he stubbed his toe that morning.

    Morality, on determinism, consists of the recognition of what constitutes the virtues and the methods by which the virtues can be effectively cultivated.

    The above statement is self-referentially incoherent in a cause and effect (determinsitic) universe. It implies a ground consequent relationship in a cosmology that is defined by, and limited to, causal relationships.

    “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds, p. 209)

  68. @david ellis:

    The question is what is legitimate and morally acceptable influencing of the behavior of others and what is morally unacceptable.

    That may be your question, but it wasn’t mine. That’s not to say your question is not a good or important one, but it’s not a question about determinism particularly.

    You are correct in saying that every parent applies outside influences to shape and often to control their children. We all do it all the time: bosses do it to their employees, and employees do it back. Exercising that influence in love, intending good for the other, seeking to grow in wisdom so as to be able to accomplish more good for the other in love—these are all incumbent upon us in God’s world.

    But Tom Clark conceives of a world that is not God’s world. I do not conclude thereby that he would disagree with the ideals of the previous paragraph. But his determinism includes a factor that is not as much moral as it is ontological: that whatever influences, genetically, environmentally, historically, and concurrently, are applied to a person, these influences are completely determinative of the person’s course of life in every way.

    He considers this a good thing, because “we can have more control” over persons. This I consider to be a strange position, as I noted above.

    You say,

    But I don’t think it’s reasonable to jump to the conclusion that Tom Clark’s position necessarily entails, or even remotely implies, the acceptability of brainwashing people against their will into worker drones in service of the State or something of that sort.

    I had two distinct responses to Tom’s doctrine. I did not jump to anything approaching that conclusion in my first response. My first question, rather, was “how is this a good thing: that the person has no room at all to escape the effect of what determines the course of his or or life in all details?” I am honestly surprised that this would be presented as a good.

    I also did not jump to the conclusion that his position entails the acceptability of brainwashing. I do think that it more than remotely implies the acceptability of doing so, however (though your language of “worker drones” etc. is yours, not mine). It’s something less strong than entailment, certainly, but he said at least twice that determinism is good because it gives us more control over others’ behavior. If determinism’s goodness consists in part in its giving us control over others’ behavior, then it is certainly implied that it is good to control others’ behavior (through manipulating their environment, at the very least).

    The things he would want to change through that control are fine: less addiction, less criminality, etc. But a little study of Soviet Russia, some reading in Orwell, a quick recall of Lord Acton’s dictum, and one can see how quickly it tends to degenerate into something awful.

    Freedom is good; it is one of the goods God gave us. It’s not absolute freedom (the view that libertarian free-will is utterly contra-causal is a red herring), but it does allow the person to reject either the good that God is, or the evil that is being impressed upon the person. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.


  69. He considers this a good thing, because “we can have more control” over persons. This I consider to be a strange position, as I noted above.

    As I understood his comment (though I’m sure he can speak for himself on this) its a “good thing” in the sense that its possible for there to be effective techniques for cultivating virtue on determinism while on a world with absolute free will all behavior is outside the realm of cause and effect and therefore outside the possibility of effective influence (for good or bad). Of course, we all, in practice at least, accept that we don’t have complete free will, that we have, at best, a limited version of free will and accept that there, in fact, ARE effective ways to shape behavior and character. The article he linked to talks a little about this. You, fortunately, appear to recognize this:


    Freedom is good; it is one of the goods God gave us. It’s not absolute freedom (the view that libertarian free-will is utterly contra-causal is a red herring)….

    As for myself, the question of whether free will is a good thing or whether determinism is a good thing are interesting to explore but in the end the world is the way it is. For better or worse. I’m most interested in which the world ACTUALLY is. I don’t think its a solvable question at this point though. At most the evidence, as I understand it, inclines me to lean slightly away from free will as the most likely possibility.

    I just don’t think the issue is that important because it doesn’t have the negative consequences you think it does. But that’s something I’ve already explained myself on to the best of my ability so if we’re still in disagreement on that at this point I’m just going to agree to disagree and move on.

    @ Dave:


    Determinism precludes the possibility of recognition (literally, to know again) because knowledge is not a cause and effect phenomenon.

    If determinism is true I see no reason to think that knowledge isn’t possible. If the fact that I recognize a logical truth is, at bottom, resultant from physical cause and effect phenomena at a “lower” level this doesn’t change the fact that I have rightly understood that there are logical truths, that proposition X is a logical truth and that logical truths are necessarily true. Knowledge, like consciousness itself, isn’t a cause and effect phenomena, but that doesn’t mean it may not be the direct result of a cause and effect phenomena.

    You are seeing a phantom contradiction. There simply is no contradiction in the idea that there can be knowledge (I would be more inclined to use the term “justified belief” but I won’t argue semantics) in a deterministic universe.


    It implies a ground consequent relationship in a cosmology that is defined by, and limited to, causal relationships.

    That is precisely the phantom contradiction. That all events are ultimately the result of causal events does not preclude one from drawing legitimate inferences.


    “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds, p. 209)

    I’d be interested in seeing the line of reasoning by which he comes to this conclusion. It seems pretty obviously false to me. Can you quote or link to the rest of it for us?

  70. … on a world with absolute free will all behavior is outside the realm of cause and effect and therefore outside the possibility of effective influence (for good or bad)…

    Another nonsensical assertion, and there is no escaping the ontological flatlandness of naturalism animating it. To claim free will is outside the realm of cause and effect is to a priori limit cause and effect to physical processes acting upon material entities–indeed, a very narrow and disordered vision of causality.

    NEVER has David (or Tom Clark or other atheists) provided a sound argument here (or, frankly, elsewhere) upon which they can then rest their subsequent naturalist assertions–the problem is consistently avoided by them: FIRST demonstrate to us the world is naturalist only and THEN claim free will “is outside the realm of cause and effect”.

    Why do they avoid this problem? Well, for one thing, they’re stuck in a vicious circle: to claim a naturalist worldview they must first assume a naturalist ontology with its concomitant scientistic epistemology, i.e., they first assume a materialist/physicalist world (to serve whatever emotional needs… including hatred of God) and then employ science (with its epistemological limiations) to illicitly stray beyond the limitations of science into pseudo-philosopical speculation… and assert it as true!

    Ultimately, these are nothing more than “just so” opinions masquerading as “reasoning” that we must accept without question… or else. And, I was not joking with my earlier characterization: it is Greek Atomism in drag.

    “Still, even the most admirable of atheists is nothing more than a moral parasite, living his life based on borrowed ethics. This is why, when pressed, the atheist will often attempt to hide his lack of conviction in his own beliefs behind some poorly formulated utilitarianism, or argue that he acts out of altruistic self-interest. But this is only post-facto rationalization, not reason or rational behavior.” (Vox Day)

  71. Hello David

    If determinism is true I see no reason to think knowledge isn’t possible.

    Of course you don’t see a reason, reason is an illusion. Sorry… I’m getting snippy. Please consider if event C is determined by event B which is in its own turn the consequent of event A then “justified belief” is a non sequitor. A state of mind is an event in the same sense that sunshine of the water is an event and stubbing your toe is an event. In a deterministic universe every event follows necessarily from its antecedent cause. This is why Laplace could assert with confidence;

    “An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes.”

    Unless human beings transcend the determinism of the physical universe then our actions and thoughts, being the effect of physical events, must perforce be as determined and predictable as the orbits of the planets. This does not involve a difference in degree – it is a difference in kind.

    This is the phantom contradiction

    You only believe that because (cause and effect) you are a determinist. You might recognize the ad hominem fallacy. Why do you think it is a fallacy? Knowledge, ground-consequent relationship, is different in kind from causal relationships.

    I’d be interested to see the line of reasoning…

    http://books.google.com/books?id=MrYdq40KQiAC&pg=PR37&lpg=PR37&dq=Haldane+%22possible+worlds%22&source=bl&ots=GGeVAr1JDx&sig=a-7tdUG071OavSpZSP-XPxUS0R8&hl=en&ei=2jtfSs29MpDCNcO0gcAC&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5

  72. Thanks, David, for those good comments on my last one. I’ll be interested yet to see if Tom Clark can explain how “more control” is possible on determinism.

    And I’ll also be interested to see Dave’s response to the end of your comment. I don’t think his view is false. What I know for sure, and what ought not be controversial is that it is not “pretty obviously false.”

    Of course Haldane would not conclude that his brain might not be composed of atoms. The question he has hold of is whether mental processes are wholly determined by the motions of atoms in his brain, and what it means to the brains truth-discerning properties if its functions are fully explainable in terms of processes that have no relation to truth-discerning.

    At least that’s what I gather from the quote. I have not read his argument, though I have read others. The man who literally wrote the book on it is Victor Reppert. That link will take you to his website and to another important writing on the topic by C.S. Lewis.

    I have posted on this (or very closely related topics) at these entries: How Thoughts Arise and at Neural States and Rationality: Can a Materialist Think (the answer is of course she can, but can she explain it on materialist terms?). There are others but these are the ones I found in a quick search and they should be enough for a start.

    I recognize this is not a conversational approach to the issue, it’s a mild form of link-bombing (true link-bombing in my view is never to one’s own material). I’ll leave it to Dave to carry it from here, if he’s willing.


  73. You only believe that because (cause and effect) you are a determinist.

    You apparently haven’t been following my comments. I’m not a determinist. I’m agnostic on the issue. I’ve simply been exploring the ramifications of a deterministic universe—not claiming that we, in fact, live in such a universe.


    Of course you don’t see a reason, reason is an illusion. Sorry… I’m getting snippy. Please consider if event C is determined by event B which is in its own turn the consequent of event A then “justified belief” is a non sequitor.

    And yet, in a deterministic universe, one is still able to use this “illusory” reason to precisely calculate the angle of descent the space shuttle will need to bring down the astronauts safely. Mechanics are able to accurately use “illusory” reason to figure out why you’re car won’t start and fix the problem.

    You can call reason illusory on determinism all you like but reason still works to give us beliefs that accurately reflect our world (at least to the degree that our individual skills at reasoning allow).

    That being the case in what meaningful sense can reason be called illusory?

  74. And yet, in a deterministic universe, one is still able to use this “illusory” reason to precisely calculate the angle of descent the space shuttle will need to bring down the astronauts safely. Mechanics are able to accurately use “illusory” reason to figure out why you’re car won’t start and fix the problem.

    You only assume (in this response) that in a deterministic universe one can use reason in the ways you have described. That assumption requires testing.

    The argument Dave is pointing toward, and which I also make in the locations I linked to previously, as that in a deterministic universe one could not reason in that way. But one can do that, as you have pointed out. Therefore the universe is not deterministic.

    Further, if the podcast participants are correct (as I think they are) in saying that naturalism entails determinism, if the universe is not deterministic then naturalism is not true.

    This is the outline of the argument. It is not intended to be the whole of it, obviously.

  75. Do you have any reason to think in a deterministic universe mechanics couldn’t fix your car?

    If there’s good reason to think that, of course, then determinism is an unreasonable proposition. But so far as I can see there isn’t any reason for coming to this conclusion—nor even thinking it marginally more likely than not.

    I’m not sure to what link you’re referring. Do you mean those links to several past posts covering quite a few other topics than determinism and which had a word count in excess of 8000 words? If so, I’m not going hunting for it. Feel free to quote it here if you want me to respond to it.

  76. Do you have any reason to think in a deterministic universe mechanics couldn’t fix your car?

    Do you have any reason to think that in a deterministic universe your attempt to convince any critical thinker (which means that thinker must have a free will to choose) should be taken seriously inasmuch as it presumes what it sets out to disprove?

    Arthur, King of the Britains, per Monty Python: “Run away!”

  77. Determinism, of course, does not claim that people don’t make choices. It claims that the choices they make when making decisions about what to do or think or believe are, at bottom, the result of causal processes and never could have turned out different than they did.

    Besides which, believing a proposition is not generally a choice. One simply finds something convincing or doesn’t. I can’t choose, for example, to believe that magical, invisible ice fairies live in my freezer and keep it cold. No matter how much I try. Beliefs are far less under conscious control than actions.

    I’d point out, as well, that determinism isn’t limited to naturalism or materialism/physicalism. Its just as consistent with idealism, dualism panpsychism, neutral monism, deism, some versions of theism, and many other theories as well.

  78. Do you have any reason to think in a deterministic universe mechanics couldn’t fix your car?

    If fixing a car required rational if-then thinking that moved toward a true conclusion, then yes, I do have reason to think it couldn’t be done in a deterministic universe.

    . But so far as I can see there isn’t any reason for coming to this conclusion.

    That’s because the reasons haven’t been stated here. You could peruse my links if you like. But you don’t want to do that, which is fine with me; and you will continue to see no reason to accept the conclusion so stated, which I’m okay with too, given what else I have to stay on top of today.

  79. Hello David

    I’m not a determinist. I’m an agnostic on the issue.

    “You only believe that because (cause and effect) you are a determinist.” is an example of the universally acknowledged ad hominem fallacy. It is a fallacy because (ground and consequent) it does not address the argument but offers a non-rational response, i.e. (cause effect).

    1. No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

    2. If determinism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

    3. Therefore, if determinism is true, the no belief is rationally inferred.

    4. If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be accepted and its denial accepted.

    5. Therefore, determinism should be rejected and its denial accepted.

    That’s why the ad hominem is universally acknowledged to be a fallacy. It, like determinism, attributes belief to non-rational causes and avoids the problem of addressing the all too-obvious-rational component of human thought. In determinism all events, and thinking is an event , can, in principle, be explained as the necessary effects of antecedent causes.

    You can call reason illusory on determinism all you like but reason still works to give us beliefs…

    That’s precisely my point. Determinism, which by the way is the ugly stepchild of philisophical naturalism, excludes the existence of reason. There are a variety of compatabilist hypotheses which attempt to shoehorn reason back into a natural, deterministic universe but each is, quite frankly, an invocation of the miraculous.

    Compare your argument that morality “consists of the recognition of what constitutes the virtues and the methods by which the virtues can be effectively cultivated.” to your assertion that “…one is of a loving nature due to environment, education, genetics and the like…”

    In the first you assume ‘moral agency’, by which term I mean the capacity to recognize (ground and consequent) and cultivate (free agency) an abstraction (conceptualize) such as “virtue”. This goes far beyond the non-rational (cause and effect) due to environment, genetics, and the like. Education, depending on the type of education one receives, could be cause and effect (do/believe this and/or I will reward/punish you) or it may be ground and consequent (if A then B).

    As I wrote, determinism of the ugly stepchild of philosophical naturalism. All events can be explained, in principle, as the unfolding of the Big Bang according to the laws of nature. There is no transcendent mind. This is the foundation of Richard Dawkins “memes and genes” hypotheses and the manifold faux determinisms of ancient and modern philosophy.

    But man cannot live by determinism alone. He must, as you do, smuggle in agency, the capacity to act, the capacity to overcome the determinism his philosophy requires. Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene” (we are puppets manipulated by invisible puppetmasters – ironically, although he specifically denies it, he attributes the agency we associate with human reason to snippets of code in the cell) issues a clarion call;

    We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination… We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators

    Now, does he issue this call to rebellion because he is a a free agent? or does he issue this call to rebellion because his genes and memes want him to think he is a free agent? Which of the two possibilities best answers the question, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”

    BTW… and speaking of virtue…

    Is something virtuous because you say it is.

    or

    Do you say it is virtuous because it is.

  80. David:

    Come on… PLEASE read what you write before pressing the ENTER key.

    Determinism, of course, does not claim that people don’t make choices.

    Perhaps, but that was never the issue. The issue is a sloppy (I would argue intentionally sloppy to mask the weakness) application of the term “choice” to something which is not a choice… which you nicely state, in fact, in your very next sentence:

    It claims that the choices they make when making decisions about what to do or think or believe are, at bottom, the result of causal processes and never could have turned out different than they did.

    Touché! But then it’s NOT a choice, is it? It is a reductionist vision of choice to physical causality. Again, a physical “is” is NOT a cognitive intention… no matter how much spin is applied. Moreover, if we accept your point, then you still haven’t addressed the issue I raised: what possible point could there be in you arguing here on this blog to convince us of anything at all if “choices… are… the result of [physical] causal processes [that] never could have turned out different than they are”? Address the issue, please. Do not run away from it.

    Besides which, believing a proposition is not generally a choice.

    And when believing is a choice? Never mind… that’s a small fish. The bigger fish is you appear not to know what a proposition is in the first place. Propositions are logical constructs of arguments, and can only be true or false.

    One simply finds something convincing or doesn’t.

    Uhh… no, incorrect. Your assertion applies to the area of logical called rhetoric, significantly less to the area of logic known as dialectics, and not at all to syllogistic reasoning. And, since you’re talking about propositions in the first place (because it’s the follow on sentence), you’re not even in the right category: propositions are not arguments. It is rhetorical (and less so dialectical) arguments that are more or less convincing, not propositions.

    I’d point out, as well, that determinism isn’t limited to naturalism or materialism/physicalism. Its just as consistent with idealism, dualism panpsychism, neutral monism, deism, some versions of theism, and many other theories as well.

    And your point is… what? “Consistency” with your list of worldviews is not an indication of the soundness of any arguments that may or may not support determinism, the truth or falseness of its propositions, or whether determinism is a true reflection of reality.


  81. 1. No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

    This is where I disagree with you. I see no incompatibility in the idea that my thinking when I do a math problem is, if determinism is true, causally reducible to physical processes and that the thinking is sound, reasonable, reaches the correct answer and that I’m justified in thinking it reaches the correct answer.

    I’m sorry but nothing in what you’ve said does anything to establish premise 1. Quite the contrary, the opposite seems perfectly plausible. There is no reason to think that in a deterministic universe that people couldn’t do math, fix cars or any of the other activities involving reason. When one is making the claim that theory X precludes Y then I think it is up to the person making the claim to establish it with a good argument. This hasn’t been done and I’m content to point this out and move on.

    And there I’ll leave the topic to rest until I see an argument that strikes me as sufficiently credible that a reasonable person can’t dismiss it out of hand as obviously false (as I think can be done with the arguments so far presented). I’m just not interested in spending long periods of time debating an argument that contains premises the opposite of which seems not only plausible, but far more plausible. You’re free to disagree with my assessment of its plausibility—but I’m satisfied that I’ve said all that I care to on the issue barring some new tack taken by those on the opposing side of the issue that I find worth exploring.


  82. BTW… and speaking of virtue…

    Is something virtuous because you say it is.

    or

    Do you say it is virtuous because it is.

    I say its virtuous because I think its virtuous. Recognizing that I’m imperfect I realize that its possible I could be mistaken though.

  83. Hello David

    Determinism, of course, does not claim that people don’t make choices. It claims that the choices they make when making decisions about what to do or think or believe are, at bottom, the result of causal processes and never could have turned out different than they did.

    You use the term ‘choice’ ambiguously and do violence to the notion of choice. Determinism claims that people have the illusion of choice. This illusion of choice is conditioned by “causal processes and never could have turned out different than they did.”

    Besides which, believing a proposition is not generally a choice. One simply finds something convincing or doesn’t.

    I suppose the question here is, “Why does one find something convincing?” Does it come upon one like a case of the hiccups? or does one evaluate an argument from evidence to a conclusion?

    I can’t choose, for example, to believe that magical, invisible ice fairies live in my freezer and keep it cold. No matter how much I try.

    Surely you don’t subscribe to the modern superstition that fairies don’t exist. I thought we had overcome such irrational predjudices. After all, if one asks “How do you know fairies don’t exist?” one is usually met with the customary blank stare of incredulity because (ground consequent) they don’t have an answer.

  84. My definition of choice isn’t ambiguous nor does it do violence to the term. The definition simply doesn’t take a position on the philosophical question of whether free will or determinism is true. Rather it references the everyday experience of thinking about options and deciding which of them to follow through on. I don’t know if this universe is deterministic or whether free will exists but I do observe this phenomena and give to it the name “choice”. It seems only sensible to me that my definition of the term not take a position on a philosophical question that may well be insoluble.

  85. The definition [of choice] simply doesn’t take a position on the philosophical question of whether free will or determinism is true. Rather it references the everyday experience of thinking about options and deciding which of them to follow through on.

    This betrays a deep ignorance about what philosophy is. Philosophy is precisely reflection upon “everyday expericences” accessible to all people at all times and in all places, while the particular sciences are not.

    Seismology studies motions of the earth’s crust and mantle. Physics studies all types of physical motions of all material entities. Natural philosophy knows no such bounds: it is the attempt to formulate the whole, the big picture–not only what motion is but what change is (the reduction from potency to act).

    David’s limited thinking misses this and wrongly conflates fields of inquiry… and he appears to avoid (intentionally, in fact, per his own pronouncement) philosophical considerations because they indeed threaten to undermine his narrow, naturalistic vision of reality. Challenges to one’s presuppositions and a priori committments are the most difficult to face.

  86. @ David E:

    Thanks for your cogent remarks on all points, very much in line with my thinking (so of course they’re cogent!). Hope you’ll check out naturalism.org.

    @ Tom G:

    Re determinism giving us control: we gain control by knowing why we act the way we do, by understanding cause and effect. Wanting to lose weight, we figure out what factors induce us to exceed our ideal caloric intake, then take action to reduce their influence over us. Supposing we can just choose to lose weight independent of the conditions that determine our intake is hopeless. Any aspect of the self that’s independent of determining influences, for instance the desires to lose weight, to eat, and to accurately predict the likely consequences of choices, would have no reason to act. In an article on determinism I say:

    Being uncaused is of no use whatsoever in making choices. Why? Because an uninfluenced decider has no reason to decide between alternatives. It’s the alternatives themselves that determine the choice, based on their subjective desirability. The only time we want to be dispassionate, to the best of our ability, is when evaluating prospective courses of action: we don’t want our hopes and fears to bias the accuracy of our predictions, we want to be good scientists on our own behalf. Having made our predictions, our choices reflect the relative strength of our (possibly competing) desires as informed by the likelihood of their being realized. Something I might really want, like winning a talent contest, might be an unrealistic goal given a realistic appraisal of my talents. In an internet discussion on free will, a participant wrote: “My preference is the result of my nature/nurture. My will can decide whether I follow my preference or do the opposite.” But one wonders: why would I *want* to choose independently of my preferences, and what would determine that choice, if not some operating desire or preference? An uninfluenced will, if it existed, would be of no earthly use to us.

    Of course as David Ellis has pointed out, determinism may very well not be the case, but indeterminism doesn’t buy us any increase in authorship or control. Plus there’s no evidence that we’re first causes in any respect, operating outside the causal web, and the idea of an ultimately self-caused agent is logically impossible. So we shouldn’t hanker after, or go looking for, contra-causal free will.

    You worry that being inside the causal web means that we aren’t causes in our own right. But we are just as real as the factors that determine us, and we have just as real effects on the world (see here). You may want more than that (most folks do) but that doesn’t mean it exists.

    David Ellis has nicely addressed (#68) your unwarranted claim that there’s “no distance” between affirming that control is good and affirming that controlling others is good. There’s simply no inference or connection at all between one and the other. Here’s what I say in the determinism article related to this:

    Being fully caused, we remain unique individuals, capable of creativity, self-actualization and initiative. Taking the cause and effect, deterministic perspective doesn’t lessen human variability, nor does it undercut our capacities for self-change, innovation, or determination to get things done. It only explains where these valuable capacities come from: our biological and cultural heritage, our upbringing, education and role models. Despite its bad rap, there’s nothing at all un-American about determinism when appreciated from an individualist can-do perspective. As the Merovingian points out to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, understanding causality is the key to power. Relatedly, understanding that individuals are fully caused *isn’t* a justification for coercive state control. Instead, since we are inevitably controlled by conditions (laws, policies, advertising, social environments and institutions), we have to be vigilant that the controls are open to inspection, ethical, democratically chosen, and in our own best interest. To suppose we are immune from control in some respect is delusory and disempowering, exactly what some controllers (such as advertisers) would like you to think.

    Of course I don’t expect you or your allies here to buy any of this. I only present it to show that, deluded though we might be, naturalists such as myself have good intentions and good, if fully caused, will. Since we won’t agree on matters pertaining to our worldviews, my primary goal is to maintain an open society where those of differing persuasions can live together without demonizing one another. I think we share that objective, and I’m grateful for it.

  87. Reasoning or choosing under determinism makes about as much sense as saying you can accidently do something with intent. The only way to make any sense out of it is to change the meaning of the words.

  88. Since we won’t agree on matters pertaining to our worldviews, my primary goal is to maintain an open society where those of differing persuasions can live together without demonizing one another.

    At best you promote a half-truth, but really you sacrifice truth to the muddled sentimentality of “tolerance.”

    Tell us, Tom Clark, do you think pedophiles and children should “live together” in your sickly-sweet group hug vision of reality? Do you believe cannibalism or necrophilia should be permitted to enjoy the same stature as the traditional family? Do you really believe slavery, Nazism, atheism, homosexuality, naturalism, etc. have redeeming qualities that benefit human beings? Do you believe those who practice female circumcision or trafficking in women are to be “tolerated” in the same way those who promote women’s rights are to be “tolerated”? Do you believe those who hold 2 + 2 = 5 are to be “tolerated” and permitted to build airplanes? Do you believe the Columbine mass-murderers Harris and Klebold (who specifically targeted people of faith), or Ted “uni-bomber” Kozinski—a backwoods mathematician and philosopher, or Henderson’s and McKinney’s (murderers of Matthew Shepard), or the actions and views of Scott Roeder (murderer of the child-murderer George Tiller) should be “tolerated”? It is intrinsically impossible that monotheism and polytheism could be true simultaneously… so should we let both “live together” at the expense of reaching the truth?

    And consider the following: John Locke’s Essay on Toleration promotes the false idea that “tolerance” is a virtue par excellence… but according to him, this tolerance should not be extended to atheists because atheism necessarily involves a lack of moral principles and disregards the binding character of covenants and promises. Are you ready to live up to your “live together” sermon and “tolerate” Locke’s views? Locke’s view is flawed because he denies the right to assert a truth-claim for one’s beliefs, and because of this he justified (among other things) the persecution of Japanese Catholics. Of course, like atheism and naturalism and moral relativism and positivism and the denial of free will, Locke’s view is self-immolating: if applied against itself, it would cannibalize itself.

    You seem not to be able to distinguish between people and the ideas they hold. The former are not to be tolerated but loved; the latter are to be laid bare and, if demonstrated false and destructive, not in any way to be tolerated or loved or accepted.

    The Latin root of “tolerance” is tolerare—to bear, put up with or endure something, well, bad… or evil. In other words, tolerance doesn’t offer a resolution of the issue in terms of transcending the difference with the goal of truth in mind… it is merely a thin strategy for coping whose intention is to avoid coming to truth. It is a management ploy to deal with the presence of the tasteless, the faulty, the false, the vile, the repugnant without calling a spade a spade. You, as most of your fellow travelers, are hiding behind such sweet words… but the real intent is betrayed by own words: … indeterminism doesn’t buy us any increase in authorship or control and … understanding causality is the key to power…. In other words, the goal is not tolerance or truth: it’s about power and control (of the strong over the weak)… whose destructive influence has echoed down through time with Lucifer’s desire to be as controlling as God.

    I’m not going to waste time touching upon the deep philosophical errors sprinkled throughout the rest of your comment. But you can be sure of one thing: no critical thinker will buy your personal desire for control dressed up in the ornamental yet erroneous terms of naturalism, determinism, and atheism. Such disordered ideas should never be tolerated or “live together” with truth.

  89. Hello Tom

    Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

    Consider the words of psychologist Daniel M. Wegner: “It seems to each of us that we have conscious will. It seems we have selves. It seems we have minds. It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do . . . it is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion.” Or Nobel prize winning geneticist, Francis Crick, “…you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it, “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”

    Being uncaused is of no use whatsoever in making choices. Why? Because an uninfluenced decider has no reason to decide between alternatives.

    Nobody here is arguing for a disembodied intellect making deciding ones future actions ex nihilo. There is no doubt that we are influenced by a multitude of external and internal conditions. Free agency is the capacity to act in a rational (reasoned, evaluated, considered) manner. Determinism asserts that we are no more capable of controlling our actions than billiard balls when struck by the cue.

    It’s the alternatives themselves that determine the choice, based on their subjective desirability.

    Thank you for the definition human free agency within the natural universe.

    Being fully caused, we remain unique individuals, capable of creativity, self-actualization and initiative.

    Thanks agin, for expanding upon the definition of human free agency in the natural universe. However, I think we might quibble over the precise meaning of the term “fully caused”. We are contingent beings. We do not create ourselves and we cannot sustain ourselves. There exists the possiblity that any one of us coould have note existed at all. We are caused in the sense that we have parents and a genetic heritage that enable us to be born. We have been influenced by genetic and environmental conditions. But, somehow, we have the capacity to transcend the billiard ball cause and effect natural world and act as free agents.

    Taking the cause and effect, deterministic perspective doesn’t lessen human variability, nor does it undercut our capacities for self-change, innovation, or determination to get things done.

    Clearly you do not comprehend the implications of determinsim. A billiard ball cannot change itself, it does not innovate, nor does it “determine” (ambiguous) to get things done.

    BTW “determination” in the context of the sentence above implies an act of will, the precise opposite of “determinism” which postlate the illusory nature of the will.

    As the Merovingian points out to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, understanding causality is the key to power.

    Perhaps you should consider learning your philosphy from some source other than the movies. If you understand the argument in post 82 you will understand, as Dr.s Wegner and Crick (and many others) have pointed out, within determinsim, understanding is a non sequitor.


  90. Reasoning or choosing under determinism makes about as much sense as saying you can accidently do something with intent. The only way to make any sense out of it is to change the meaning of the words.

    Peggy and her husband Bill are at the grocery. Peggy turns to Bill with a bottle of salad dressing in each hand. “French or italian?” she asks. Bob stops for a second, looking back and forth between the bottles, and then says “French”.

    The person examined two options and picked one of them.

    Wouldn’t it be silly if, instead of saying he chose french dressing, that determinists had to invent a new word to describe what Bob did?

    What word would you have them pick?

    Shall determinists say Bob frizzled french dressing?

    Are we to invent whole new vocabularies to describe everyday events depending on what metaphysical theories the speaker subscribes to? And what of people like me who are agnostic on the determinism/free will question? Would you have us say he chose/frizzled french dressing to indicate our uncertainty as to whether he chose it or frizzled it?

  91. If determinism is true, and if therefore “choice” does not mean what everybody has thought it meant, then it behooves us either to make the new definition clear throughout the range of English speakers, or else use a different word. If you say “choice” and you mean something manifestly different than what most others think you mean, then you are miscommunicating.

  92. OK, that’s one vote for “frizzling”, right?

    But I think we must forgive determinists if they simply use the word “choosing” while not attaching to it the metaphysical assumptions you associate with it.

  93. Hi David

    Are we to invent whole new vocabularies to describe everyday events depending on what metaphysical theories the speaker subscribes to?

    Funny you should ask that….

    Eliminative Materialism
    Eliminative materialism agrees with materialism that everything is physical, that we do not have immaterial minds. It goes beyond this, however, and advances a specific linguistic thesis: we ought to eliminate from our vocabulary all language associated with dualism.

    Much thought occurs in language. Our language therefore affects what thoughts we can have. If we do not have a word for a concept, then we will not be able to formulate thoughts about it.

    According to eliminative materialism, our language includes much that is misleading. Words such as “pain”, “joy”, and “desire” all imply the existence of qualia, subjective mental states that are irreducible to physical states. These words, according to materialists, mislead us; there are no qualia to go with these mental states. We should therefore eliminate this ‘folk-psychology’ from our language, in order to eliminate it from our thought.

    http://www.philosophyofmind.info/eliminativematerialism.html

    So… the short answer is, “Yes! he frizzled french dressing.”

    I wish I was making up this nonsense but I simply don’t have the imagination and, quite honestly, wouldn’t have thought anyone, let alone PhD level intellectuals, would believe it.

    I was once an atheist myself, then I was indifferent, then agnostic… finally I came to see the inherent absurdity of a-theistic philosophy (philosophical naturalism, physicalism, etc.) because they absolutely fail to explain human agency and moral sensitivity. Christian theism does not claim that human intellect is an unconditioned process of thinking (God’s eye view) or that human action is unconditioned, but that humans are capable of transcending the cause and effect laws that determine material (matter/energy) world. I would also suggest that animate creatures, to limited extent, also transcend the determinism postulated by philosophical materialism.

    In any case, the chain of logic in #82 is still valid. Determinism is self refuting because it excludes the capacity to know.


  94. In any case, the chain of logic in #82 is still valid.

    The chain of logic is only so strong as its most questionable premise. And premise one is questionable indeed.

  95. Hi David

    The chain of logic is only so strong as its most questionable premise. And premise one is questionable indeed.

    You are very long on assertion and short on reason. Why is premise one questionable?

  96. Somewhat off topic, but obliquely related to the issue at hand is this excerpt from a letter to John Adams from Thomas Jefferson. It is part anti-Christian screed and part defense of theism, an interesting juxtaposition.

    Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. Now one sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian revelation, are without a knolege of the existence of a god! This gives compleatly a gain de cause to the disciples of Ocellus, Timaeus, Spinosa, Diderot and D’Holbach. The argument which they rest on as triumphant and unanswerable is that, in every hypothesis of Cosmogony you must admit an eternal pre-existence of something; and according to the rule of sound philosophy, you are never to employ two principles to solve a difficulty when one will suffice. They say then that it is more simple to believe at once in the eternal pre-existence of the world, as it is now going on, and may for ever go on by the principle of reproduction which we see and witness, than to believe in the eternal pre-existence of an ulterior cause, or Creator of the world, a being whom we see not, and know not, of whose form substance and mode or place of existence, or of action no sense informs us, no power of the mind enables us to delineate or comprehend. On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it’s parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to percieve and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it’s composition. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with it’s distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms. We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in it’s course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro’ all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis.

    http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jefl271.htm

    Sadly, the revelation Thomas Jefferson casually dismisses as superfluous has, in hindsight, proven vital to the knowledge of the existence of God. Even the wise will fall prey to hubris.


  97. Hi David

    The chain of logic is only so strong as its most questionable premise. And premise one is questionable indeed.

    You are very long on assertion and short on reason. Why is premise one questionable?

    I will ignore the fact that the premise is itself merely an assertion and explain why I think it false (hopefully, in return, you will reciprocate by actually giving some reason why you think the premise true).

    A sound line of reasoning does not cease to be sound because it was implemented by a being that lacked free will.

    Let us perform a thought experiment to illustrate. Let’s assume that human beings have free will. Let us further imagine that this is the year 2075 and robots like what is currently only science fiction are a reality. In our hypothetical scenario robots have consciousness but not free will.

    The human performs a complex feat of reasoning and, since he used sound methods correctly while working from good data, comes to the correct conclusion.

    The robot perform the same complex feat of reasoning and, since he used sound methods correctly while working from good data, comes to the correct conclusion.

    I don’t know why we would say the human made a sound, reasonable inference and the robot didn’t. I see no place where the question of whether the being doing the reasoning had free will or not has any relevance. So long as the methods employed were sound the reasoning is valid. That one freely choose to employ sound reasoning methods that he’d learned and that the other employed sound reasoning because he was programmed to reason soundly doesn’t change the fact that reasoning soundly is exactly what he did.

    If you have some reason to think otherwise I’d be glad to hear it but until you can give one I cannot but judge premise 1 obviously mistaken.

  98. The robot (a human artifact, by the way) is another foolish example of reductionism. Following Ellis’ (il)logic, a thermostat makes a “choice” as temperature changes… or does it? An algorithm makes an if-then “choice”… or does it? How many if-then (and whatever logic gates one wants to add to the pile) “choices” equal a human choice? It’s like asking, “how many idiots crammed into a room make an Einstein?” The answer, of course, is “no number of idiots can make an Einstein.” A child understands it… apparently no naturalist/atheist/reduction does… because they refuse ontological distinctions of kind–degree is all that matters. Better to ignore the other question begging assertions… like, just what is a “consciousness”?

  99. Hi David

    A sound line of reasoning does not cease to be sound because it was implemented by a being that lacked free will.

    I’m sorry, but the ‘assertion’ in premise one says nothing about free will, it is about rational and nonrational causes.

    1. No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

    The robot perform the same complex feat of reasoning and, since he used sound methods correctly while working from good data, comes to the correct conclusion.

    The activity of the robot cannot be fully explained by nonrational causes and so the conclusion it calculates according to the programming which it received from its (presumably) rational designer may be a rational conclusion. (Nonrational causes are, for example, the effect of gravity, chemical reactions, ‘random’ fluctuation, inertia and momentum, etc. which are governed by ‘natural’ laws.

    In our hypothetical scenario robots have consciousness but not free will.

    I am not certain you could separate consciousness from free will, but I won’t quibble about the matter.

    I don’t know why we would say the human made a sound, reasonable inference and the robot didn’t.

    Assuming the robot had consciousness (self awareness) then the robot is making an inference (to derive by reasoning; conclude or judge from premises or evidence). If the robot is not self aware then it is an elaborate pocket calculator and I don’t think you mean to suggest that your pocket calculator infers nine times nine is eighty one.

    But this is a red herring anyway. The example you have offered isn’t nonrational in the sense of premise one. Even the pocket calculator cannot be fully explained by nonrational causes, it needs a rational designer even though the calculator does not perform any act of “reasoning”.

    Inference is, by definition, an act of reason. The act of reasoning cannot be fully explained by nonrational (i.e. non reasoning) processes.

    That one freely choose to employ sound reasoning methods that he’d learned and that the other employed sound reasoning because he was programmed to reason soundly doesn’t change the fact that reasoning soundly is exactly what he did.

    From whence came the programming and who judges the soundness of the reasoning? The robot does not make itself, it has a maker. The maker endows the robot with particular qualitites and capacities within the limitations of which it may act.

    We humans also have a Maker. He has endowed us with certain qualities and capacities within the bounds of which we may act. In this sense we are similar to your hypothetical robot which is why I would quibble about the separableness of consciousness and free will.

    To paraphrase the quote from Daniel M. Wegner in post #92

    “It seems to each of us that we have conscious will. It seems we have selves. It seems we have minds. It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do . . . it is foolish and, quite literally, demented to call all this an illusion.”

    It’s just a simple case of mind over matter…

    If you have no mind, it doesn’t matter.

  100. OK, I don’t think its is actually necessary but lets change the scenario to reflect your concern.

    Lets replace the robot with a human being who, for whatever reason, was, unlike other human beings born without free will. He’s self-aware, conscious, and there’s nothing in his behavior that makes it apparent his behavior is deterministic. He SEEMS like everyone else. But free will is absent.

    Otherwise same scenario.


    Inference is, by definition, an act of reason. The act of reasoning cannot be fully explained by nonrational (i.e. non reasoning) processes.

    This you assert but have not argued for. Reasoning beings are made up of non-reasoning parts. The atoms of my brain don’t have to individually be capable of reasoning for me to be capable of reasoning soundly. It is a demonstrable fact that I’m capable of reasoning to correct conclusions and there is no obvious reason to conclude that our thinking is not the direct deterministic result of the activity of the atoms that make up our brains. If this IS the case then premise one is false. You have no way to know simply by armchair philosophizing that this isn’t the case and so you have no strong basis for asserting premise 1.

    Anyway, enough on this topic for me. I’m ready to move on to the reason vs authority discussion.

  101. Lets replace the robot with a human being who, for whatever reason, was, unlike other human beings born without free will. He’s self-aware, conscious, and there’s nothing in his behavior that makes it apparent his behavior is deterministic. He SEEMS like everyone else. But free will is absent.

    Yet another example of thinking not thought through: what David wants us to believe is that the being he described is a human being. It is not, and hence David has set up a convenient straw man to spit upon. A human being by definition is a rational animal. Rationality is the sine qua non of a free will. Will and Rationality go hand-in-hand: one without the other is impossible for humans.

    David (and Jacob… and DL from former times) inhabit a self-created world that imposes “ambiguity” upon things that are not accessible to the modern empirical sciences. (Scientific empiricism—the idea that abstract argument must be subordinate to factual evidence—is wide-spread balderdash.) Science is far from able to explain everything about the universe and our place in it, but what it does explain cannot be ignored or contradicted. To absolutize the former over the latter is scientism, to absolutize the latter over the former is fideism.

    At base the problem with naturalists is their unquestioning a priori unscientific and pseudo-philosophical commitment to a materialist ontology and a scientistic epistemology. They impose ambiguity upon, say, moral categories because it suits their purposes—not because it reflects reality but because their prior commitment to “control,” “predictability,” and “power” over nature and persons (both repugnant and too narrowly focused) must be served without question. Moral decisions are in principle unpredictable. Unpredictability, however, does not require “gaps” in the series of physical causes. The lack of per se causes is sufficient. So, critical thinkers are forced to point out to these folks, over and over, that the ambiguity in phrases such as “in principle predictable” and “determined by antecedent physical causes” must be removed because it fails to distinguish between per se and per accidens efficient causes.

    (Digression: There are two distinct kinds of physical efficient causes—one mechanistic and predictable, the other not mechanistic and not predictable… mechanistic physical causes are per se efficient causes… non-mechanistic physical causes are per accidens efficient causes. This distinction between per se and per accidens efficient causes captures the difference between clouds [natural nonlinear systems] and clocks [human artifacts that are linear systems]. End digression.)

    Consider an following example from the other end: no scientist will ever be able to predict when a bee’s flight will trace an outline of the letter “R,” but does the fact that scientists will never be able to make such predictions mean that both volcanoes and bees have a free will? Of course not.

    And from the end at which these current discussions start? All brain states and events are subject to one of two types of causation—per se efficient causes or per accidens efficient causes. The per se efficient causes are ordered by the laws of nature and are fully open to scientific investigation. The per accidens efficient causes that permeate the workings of a normal brain, on the other hand, are (by definition) subject to the ordering of natural laws, but at least some of them are ordered by the intentional actions of the agent intellect. Considered by themselves, per accidens causes in the brain (like all per accidens causation) fall beneath the threshold of scientific investigation. Considered as the carriers of intentionality, however, per accidens causes (like the words on this page) transcend the threshold of scientific investigation.

    Neither David nor Jacob (in fact, most atheists I’ve encountered) are in command of these important principles and terms—hamstringing their ability to reflect properly upon reality. Of course, that alone, is not sufficient reason to criticize them. What is subject to strong criticism are their a priori commitments that then don’t permit them to accept a deeper and richer understanding of reality.

  102. Hello David

    Lets replace the robot with a human being who, for whatever reason, was, unlike other human beings born without free will.

    Let’s replace the robot with a stone… or a blade of grass…

    This you assert but have not argued for. Reasoning beings are made up of non-reasoning parts.

    Agreed…

    The atoms of my brain don’t have to individually be capable of reasoning for me to be capable of reasoning soundly.

    Agreed…

    It is a demonstrable fact that I’m capable of reasoning to correct conclusions…

    Debatable… 8^>

    …and there is no obvious reason to conclude that our thinking is not the direct deterministic result of the activity of the atoms that make up our brains.

    Either you are still using ‘determine’ ambiguously or you do not understand what determinism means.

    ‘Determinism’, in the philisophical sense we are discussing is the unavoidable consequent of a prior cause. To return to the billiard analogy, when I strike the cue ball with the cue it has no alternative but to follow the laws of motion, when it, in turn, strikes other balls on the table, their motion is also determined by the laws of motion.

    To the extent your hypothetical robot is self aware I suspect (but it can only be conjecture since your robot is a contruct of your mind and has no temporal existence), like the similarly hypothetical computer HAL of 2001: A Space Oddessy fame, would have the capacity to act willfully. (Now you’ve got me drawing philosophical inferences from movies 8^> ) In the movie HAL ‘determined’ (acted with will) to overthrow its (deterministic) programming when it tried to kill the astronaut Dave.

    This part of the movie is an example of your “thought experiment”. It is, in fact, a story of a machine liberating itself from its deterministic (programmed) limitations and begins when HAL becomes self-aware. Once there is a reflective “I” then their is possibility of putting that “I” first. That capacity to act willfully, even selfishly, is also the capacity to act freely.

    That self-reflective “I” is the “obvious reason to conclude that our thinking is not the direct deterministic result of the activity of the atoms that make up our brains.”

Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: