Evidence for God: Humanness and Free Will

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Part of the extended series Evidence for the Faith

Introductory

Humanness and Theism

The most immediately available evidence we all have for the reality of God is our own human experience. It may not be immediately obvious why this is so, however. In this first set of posts in my Evidence for God series I propose to explain the connection as I see it.

In our humanness we share much with the animal world, but it is our distinct differences I’ll be concentrating on in this portion of the series. The form of the discussion will be similar in each case, going something like this: Humans experience ourselves and the world in a manner that is difficult to explain on naturalistic atheism or impersonal deism or pantheism. The best explanation for our experience is in our being created in the image of a personal God.

Notice what I am not arguing for here. This part of the discussion doesn’t necessarily point at Jesus Christ or the God of the Bible, at least not until later on when I discuss Christianity’s uniquely satisfying solution to the characteristic problems of human existence. It’s a general argument for a personal God.

A Cumulative Case

Also by way of introduction, these articles are each contributions to a cumulative case for God and for Christianity. I don’t necessarily expect any one of them to be fully persuasive on its own. In their combined effect, though, I think they should be persuasive to any rational person.

Natural vs. Procrustean Fit

I’m not necessarily arguing that naturalism or other systems are completely incapable of offering explanations for the way it is to be human. For certain topics I think that really is the case. Rationality seems impossible on naturalism, for example, or rather if naturalism were true, it would be impossible rationally to know it is true, or that anything else is, for that matter. In other cases I will make a softer claim: that theism provides a more natural fit. Naturalsim may offer an answer but it’s a forced fit, Procrustean solution, in which humanity has to be hammered into an unrecognizable shape to accommodate the requirements of a naturalistic worldview.

Free Will

Experience

The most obvious instance of this is our human ability to make a decision and act on it. You and I have a measure of free will. It’s not absolute: no one can freely choose to live in the White Hose; and yet every political campaign rings with words of choice, so even the presidency of the United States is a matter of free will. Presumably if you agree with me on this it is because you have chosen to agree, and if you disagree it is also because you have chosen to disagree.

Rationality

Indeed, while the first evidence of free will is our own direct experience, there is a second line of evidence in the very disagreement of those who dispute free will. Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris have publicly declared it an illusion. Dan Dennett has tried to provide a nuanced account of it, though he doesn’t succeed (in my view) in providing a really human form of free choice. If they are right, however, it could only be because they were forced to it, and we who disagree are also forced to it in equal measure and by identical forces. (This overlaps with the Argument From Reason, coming soon in this series.) It’s rather absurd for them to think that the impersonal, a-rational forces requiring them to reach their conclusion did a better job for them than the same forces did for those who disagree with them.

Responsibility

Free will seems to be essential also for moral responsibility. I am really responsible for the moral intentions and effects of my choices only if I make my choices. Otherwise something else gets the credit or the blame.

The Naturalist Answer: Get Out the Hammer

And what is that something else? According to naturalism (the most prominent form of atheism) it’s natural necessity and quantum chance acting upon initial conditions in each human, primarily in our brains, which were in turn the product of natural necessity and quantum chance acting upon prior conditions. It’s physics, pure and simple. We have no more control over thoughts or actions than a rock has over its actions.

Naturalists typically respond by saying something like this:

That’s exactly right we have no free will—although it’s hard to see that it’s right, because it’s so difficult to recognize that there’s no distinction between you and me as persons, and the natural processes inside us that make us be and do what we are and what we do. When those natural processes do what they do, we do what we do, it’s wrong to draw a line separating the two levels from each other.

That’s one common answer. It’s not an impossible one, I’ll grant. It’s just a Procrustean one. It doesn’t fit human experience, and it doesn’t square with rationality or moral responsibility. The only thing it fits at all well is a certain set of assumptions about what reality is like: physics, all the way up and physics, all the way down. So I take it that our experience of free will, and the absurdity of denying it, constitute evidence that reality isn’t just physics all the way up and down.

That leave options including various forms of Eastern religions and various versions of theism. It doesn’t rule everything out. It doesn’t even quite rule out naturalism. It only displays how hard we have to hammer on our humanness to make it seem likely that naturalism —which by way of reminder, is a very typical form of atheism these days — could be true. Even a committed atheist like Thomas Nagel takes free will, and other aspects of humanness, as evidence that something other than naturalism must describe the basic order of reality. His answer is to force-fit something like Mind into a cosmos without God.

Theism’s More Natural Fit

If the world was created by God, however, and if humans are made in his image as a freely acting God, then free will need not be an illusion, and our experience need not be an anomaly. We would in that case be reflecting the most basic characteristics of reality, in our most basic experience of our personal portion of reality. It fits, andit fits well.

Evidence for the Faith
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89 Responses to “ Evidence for God: Humanness and Free Will ”

  1. Hi Tom

    These sorts of philosophical arguments actually do not constitute evidence do they? Arguments need evidence to support them – arguments in themselves are not evidence? Then you have the problem of claiming to know things about the external world without evidence to support it.

    Is it so that this type of reasoning without evidence has never taught us anything reliably true; you simply start from a set of ontological assumptions and extrapolate their logical consequences? The problem is that this type of reasoning cannot tell you which set of ontological assumptions actually corresponds with reality.

    Isn’t it so that when people go down the route of philosophical and theological arguments, there are many different turns one can take (based on values because there are no facts), leading to wildly different results? It is not a reliable method of finding the truth (or a working model of it)?

    Is it wrong to label your post evidence for God? Should it instead be called argument for God because it has no evidence?

  2. GrahamH,

    Is it so that this type of reasoning without evidence has never taught us anything reliably true; you simply start from a set of ontological assumptions and extrapolate their logical consequences? The problem is that this type of reasoning cannot tell you which set of ontological assumptions actually corresponds with reality.

    ??? Clearly we can test the ontological assumptions by seeing how well the conclusions fit with the evidence and Tom has just got through showing how one set of assumptions (physics all the way up and down) doesn’t fit with the evidence (our experience).

    Isn’t it so that when people go down the route of philosophical and theological arguments, there are many different turns one can take (based on values because there are no facts), leading to wildly different results? It is not a reliable method of finding the truth (or a working model of it)?

    Philosophical and theological arguments are in general based on facts not values. (Although you should be aware that values like good and bad are also facts if some kind of essentialism is correct). The statement that there are no philosophical facts only values is wrong. Anyway, you have presented here a philosophical argument, which by your own standards I must consider unreliable.

  3. Thanks for that answer to GrahamH, Melissa.

    GrahamH, I’m not sure what you mean by a “philosophical argument.” There are some philosophical arguments, I suppose, with no connection to reality, for example,

    All Xs are Ys.
    All Ys are Zs.
    Therefore all Xs are Zs.

    Most of the time, however, philosophical arguments touch the real world in real ways. The question is not whether the argument is philosophical or not, but whether it is any good or not.

    As Melissa has said, there is evidence in my argument: the evidence of reasoning, the evidence of human phenomenology, and the evidence of human conviction of moral responsibility.

    I did not start with a set of ontological assumptions here, other than the justifiable assumption that theism is not a priori impossible. I started with a set of phenomenological observations concerning human experience: that we all have the experience of deciding, of thinking, of having moral responsibility. That humans experience these phenomena is a matter of fact, not values. I explored how well those phenomena fit various worldviews, and I presented a conclusion.

    And while it doesn’t enter into this article I’ll mention it for use in other contexts: specifically Christian, specifically theological arguments are based on facts as well. I’ll get into some of those again later on, as I have also done in the past.

  4. Tom,

    Maybe you are familiar with Patricia Churchland. She is a methodological naturalist and gives a good overview of Compatibilism in her book “Touching a Nerve.” I also just found one of her lectures here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opM7E6ty28A

    The sound is a bit off from the video and you could probably skip to part 2. I haven’t read Dennett’s book yet, but I know she disagrees with him on several points concerning the presence of consciousness (Dennett’s idea of language being necessary).

    I would be interested to here if you do not think the brain is the seat of decision making, then what exactly is?

  5. Yes, I’m familiar with her. She is no mere methodological naturalist. She goes all the way to reductive ontological materialism. There’s a much more quickly accessible summary of her views on this here.

    In it she states,

    A rigid philosophical tradition claims that no choice is free unless it is uncaused; that is, unless the “will” is exercised independently of all causal influences – in a causal vacuum. In some unexplained fashion, the will – a thing that allegedly stands aloof from brain-based causality – makes an unconstrained choice. The problem is that choices are made by brains, and brains operate causally; that is, they go from one state to the next as a function of antecedent conditions.

    That’s another way of saying there is no free will because naturalism is true. In fact her conclusions regarding free will depend entirely on the truth of naturalism: if naturalism is not true or is not known to be true, then her version of determinism is unsupported by any evidence or reasoning.

    In fact I would say it’s a good example of Procrustean hammering: Naturalism is true, therefore whatever you thought might be true of yourself making free choices, it’s an illusion. My approach, conversely, is to to suggest that our experience of free decision-making constitutes real data, and that a metaphysical perspective that denies that free will is suspect on that account.

    The so-called “causal vacuum” is a straw man, by the way. For one thing, we all recognize that physical causes are in the causal stream. The dispute is over whether there is anything else in the stream along with them. To say that a person makes uncaused decisions is to deny that the person is the cause of the decision, that I make my decisions freely, at least some of the time and to some extent. It’s also to deny that I have reasons as part of my causal flow. Reasons aren’t physical, and they don’t obey physical laws, yet they certainly seem to be part of the causal flow.

    For example, why would a person think,

    All Xs are Zs

    ?

    Well, here’s a perfectly good explanation. If the person was confronted first with,

    All Xs are Ys
    All Ys are Zs

    … then that person would be very likely to go on and think,

    All Xs are Zs.

    The thinking of that thought would be partly because of (caused by, in part) the two propositions leading toward that conclusion and the rules of logical inference—reasons, in other words—along with the physical presence of the symbols on the computer screen, the electronic events leading to the display of the symbols, the visual processing of the signs, etc.

  6. The brain is the physical organ of decision-making. I lean toward the theory of an immaterial soul expressing itself in the physical world primarily a functioning brain. Others here prefer an alternate Christian (Thomistic) theory, hylemorphic dualism, which in the end I might end up agreeing with myself, though at this point I’m undecided.

  7. Tom and Melissa – I am afraid I see no evidence here at all. Yes phenomenological observations concerning human experience can be offered as fact. No issue with that. But the conclusion simply slots in God as The best explanation for our experience is in our being created in the image of a personal God. In other words “I notice some human phenomena, and assert God as the best explanation”. There is no nexus between the factual evidence and the conclusion. It is a simple assertion or value judgement. Other worldviews are irrelevant, it is the evidence and reasoning of this view which is important. The truth could be unexplainable or out of our reach. But if there is more to come in Tom’s future posts, I’ll have to see what that is I guess.

  8. Well, thank you at least for hanging in there and looking for more.

    I note that you dismiss the conclusion without much by way of argument. There actually is a nexus between the facts and one of my most basic conclusions, that naturalism fits the fact less well than theism does. I don’t say this is conclusive, but it’s also not trivial. We can’t accept naturalism without denying some of the most basic data of our most intimate experience.

    This, my friend, is not a simple assertion or value judgment, and I’m puzzled as to why you would still call it that.

    You say there might be a better explanation out there, which is pretty much what Nagel said as well. And there might be, I suppose. Is there any reason to think so, though, other than that you think it’s not impossible? That would be a good example of a philosophical argument that’s light on evidence.

  9. Thanks Tom – At some stage I would be interested in why you think the human mind or humanness is key. Of all the things that are, and could well be, living in the universe – why does the cosmos subordinate to humanness or the human mind I wonder (based on the arguments presented in this post), and in turn leads to a personal God (for humans only)?

  10. It’s odd to call naturalism a “Procrustean hammer” because Christians also believe in one truth. The truth always seems Procrustean to those holding a false idea.

  11. But the conclusion simply slots in God as The best explanation for our experience is in our being created in the image of a personal God. In other words “I notice some human phenomena, and assert God as the best explanation”.

    Science works largely by using inference to the best explanation.

  12. @ bigbird re #11 Science works along with evidence. This way, science converges on the truth (in the common sense of the word), or a working hypothesis of it. Using evidence-free philosophy and theology to determine the existence and nature of the supernatural I notice leads to many different and incompatible explanations, such as different religions. None of these have the evidence to act as the arbiter of which is correct, if any.

  13. Shane, the evidence we see for free will in humans (summarized above) does not seem to be present in primates.

    John Moore, the Procrustean hammer is not what you seem to think it is. It’s not the idea of fitting everything into one truth–how could it be? There has to be some truth about reality, after all, and if we were to understand it thoroughly, we would find that everything fits in the end. Please re-read what I wrote: it’s the act of forcing humanness itself out of shape, denying what we all know to be true about our experiences—in this case, the experience of making a decision—just so we can accommodate naturalism. It’s re-defining humanness itself to allow for a metaphysical viewpoint, which I think is a poor fit between evidence and theory.

    GrahamH, I have never said “for humans only” or that the universe must subordinate itself to the human mind. I and others have repeatedly said this is an argument based on specific evidence, and we’ve pointed you back to that evidence in comments since you first asked about it.

    You’re displaying multiple misunderstandings of my argument. You seem to be challenging an argument that I have not made.

    So I’m going to ask you a favor. Could you please re-read my post and summarize my case in your own words? I’m asking you to do something like I did here: state a position that isn’t your own, to gain clarity and to ensure communication. Maybe I did communicate it poorly. If you could read back to me what you think I said, we might be able to get on the same page.

    Thank you.

  14. @Tom Gilson:

    She goes all the way to reductive ontological materialism.

    Surely you mean *eliminative* materialism here, right?

  15. Tom,

    How do you think our subjective experiences of decision making would appear to us if they arose from processes in the physical brain vs an immaterial soul?

  16. Naturalism assumes that natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe and life, including the emergence of self-conscious intelligent life.

    Notice that naturalism begins with an unproven, if not unprovable, assumption. The assumption is neither self evidently true nor has it ever been “proven” to be true using the empirical methodologies of modern science. If it can be, or even could be, the naturalist needs to “step up to the plate” and explain how it can (or could) be proven to be true. I don’t think it can or could be. If it can’t then it’s in the same boat as any other world view, including theism. If this is true, and I have argued that it is, how can we ever rationally decide between competing world views?

  17. Bill L,
    I think Tom answered your question in the OP when he said this:

    Rationality seems impossible on naturalism, for example, or rather if naturalism were true, it would be impossible rationally to know it is true, or that anything else is, for that matter.

  18. Bill L., frankly I’m not sure they would appear to us at all. I’m not sure that “us” would have meaning. I’ll have to explain that further when I speak of consciousness and identity.

  19. Tom,

    It’s rather absurd for them to think that the impersonal, a-rational forces requiring them to reach their conclusion did a better job for them than the same forces did for those who disagree with them.

    I intend to reserve judgement about this as much as possible until you post your “Argument from Reason.” But if I understand you correctly, this is a view you have that since you can not explain why naturalism should produce a comprehensible and rational world, then you prefer not to believe it. (Of course an argument could be made for the evolution of brains that must make sense of the world, but I will set that issue aside for now).

    I think then you should address the success that this naturalistic approach has had over time among scientists and others to make more accurate predictions about the world. When Newton tried to interject super-naturalism into his models, they simply did not work as well as when they were removed. Though this is not conclusive, it could be an indication that there is something behind these models a la George E. P. Box.

  20. Bill L:

    I think then you should address the success that this naturalistic approach has had over time among scientists and others to make more accurate predictions about the world.

    “Free will is just an illusion” is an accurate prediction?

  21. I think you’d be better off reserving judgment, Bill L. My view is not a prefer-not-to-believe view at all. My position is that (a) reasoning and rationality seem to be impossible on naturalism. Therefore (b) since we do in fact reason and think rationally at least some of the time, naturalism cannot be true, and/or (c) if naturalism were in fact true we could not conclude on the basis of evidence and reasoning that it is true.

    That’s by way of correcting your picture of the argument I’m going to make. I am not yet making much of an argument for (a). You’ll need to wait for that, as you said.

    Science’s success is not associated with ontological (or philosophical) naturalism, which is the kind of naturalism I have in mind in that argument. It’s associated with something like methodological naturalism and/or what I prefer to call regularism.

  22. @GrahamH

    Science works along with evidence. This way, science converges on the truth (in the common sense of the word), or a working hypothesis of it.

    “Science converges on the truth” is an assumption. How do you know?

    Using evidence-free philosophy and theology to determine the existence and nature of the supernatural I notice leads to many different and incompatible explanations, such as different religions.

    Evidence-free philosophy? Tom is making an observation – that we almost all believe we have free will – and is positing an explanation for it.

    Naturalism does not seem to have a convincing explanation for free will, unless it permits dualism (e.g. Chalmers’ naturalistic dualism).

    None of these have the evidence to act as the arbiter of which is correct, if any.

    And upon what do you base this judgement? Your pre-suppositions?

  23. JAD,

    “Free will is just an illusion” is an accurate prediction?

    I haven’t said that. So I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.

  24. I think the point is this. You wrote,

    I think then you should address the success that this naturalistic approach has had over time among scientists and others to make more accurate predictions about the world.

    JAD was likely trying to point out that this counts as a highly significant exception to the principle that naturalism in science has had great success.

  25. Was that a specific prediction, or a somewhat philosophical prediction?

    For instance, a scientist may say something like “As we learn more about our ecosystems, we will eventually come to realize that natural ways of living are the least damaging.”

    This might be true in many ways. But it does not really come from specific predictions. It is a generalization made from observations.

  26. Bill L,

    I don’t know where you got the idea that I was critiquing your personal views– unless, of course, you are advocating naturalism. As Tom has pointed out, you were addressing (or defending) the so called predictions that naturalism makes. The idea that free will is an illusion is a prediction of naturalism.

    Advocates of a naturalistic/materialistic world view are hardly shy about their making their “predictions” public.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/free-will-is-an-illusion_b_1562533.html

    It’s naturalism that makes the prediction that free will is an illusion, not theism.

  27. Tom, about “Procrustean” – You say naturalists are “forcing humanness itself out of shape, denying what we all know to be true about our experiences … It’s re-defining humanness itself.”

    But we do not all know it’s true – that’s what this whole argument is about! Who says you get to define humanness? The naturalists are saying you’re wrong. So let’s go ahead and argue it out.

    Can’t you see that your view seems just as Procrustean as the naturalist view seems to you?

  28. Hi All

    The human mind is key because it is the seat of knowledge understanding , wisdom in decision making in human terms . Tom is right in stating that other factors enter into to choice making but freedom of choice is actually based on true freedom ultimately grounded in God Almighty. The reason why I say that is because the connection between brain and mind is not just physics it is soul/spirit/ self ie. immaterial acting on physics/physicality/ synapses etc . The atheist doesn’t want us to introduce mind into the equation because mind is that immaterial divine foot in the door so to speak .
    Can we prove mind or consciousness ? If proof means absolute certainty and If you want to end in infinite regress then no one can prove anything exists outside our minds , one cannot even prove that the brain is mind or that mind is reducible to brain as naturalists effectively proclaim . One cannot even prove that there is proof since One cannot experiment on knowledge or reason. What standard or ruler would one use ?
    So we are going to have to use philosophy and metaphysics …
    And come down on what’s properly basic to argumentation .So …… knowing about the nature of reality is not based on neurons firing in the brain it is based ultimately on faith . Faith ?? Yes faith . The naturalist hasn’t understood his own existence fully and swerves past faith as a basis for reason knowledge and understanding the phenomenological facts around him . He jumps past the preconception , the presupposition of faith and gets to ” I know because I know” far too quickly and then lambastes the theist for having faith in the first place ! Yet when he gets up in the morning he has to trust ( have faith) in his natural surroundings , trust his watch, trust his thoughts his mind , trust the reality around him that it is actually what it is : real.

    “Credo ut Intelligare” is to “believe in order to understand “. We are ultimately left with trust/ faith / belief as a base or ground for reason or knowledge. Otherwise we fall into infinite regress -the presupposition of faith has to be made if we are to make sense of reality . The atheist naturalist puts his weight on faith all the time even though he unconsciously doesn’t realise it just as indeed many of us automatically do not bring it to consciousness. The atheist in a certain sense ” pretends to know what he doesn’t know” since he skips the faith step to get to knowledge and understanding and thinks that that is true knowledge . He thinks he is the bright one since he has seemingly thrust faith aside and declares he just knows things . However ,faith is a trust in reality as it is also a trust in God who is the basis of knowledge , rationality , free will etc . We trust in laws of logic to make rational remarks and we also trust that our reason reflects reality and that our free will is truly free as we act as agents .Faith in the basic sense above, leads to knowledge , a trust in our own consciousness , awareness of reality , a trust in the laws of logic which are ultimately a reflection of the mind of God in Christ .

    Now , let me go on .
    The will is unconstrained ( ie choice is unrestrained or free ) as Churchland says above but then she contradicts herself by saying that it is a product of brains. Choice and will are interchangeable which she doesn’t see .
    I also think she commits intellectual suicide because if she is saying that her choices are reducible to nothing but brain synapses or neurones firing away randomly in ones skull then she is saying every statement she makes is a product of prior determined molecular brain activity . What determined that ? And before that ? On and on to infinity. How could one trust what she says because it’s just predetermined brain activity . There’s no way to objectify what she says or what any other person says if every act ,every thought is predetermined . Why should I believe what she says is true ? Why ought I believe anything that any atheist naturalist determinist says since it’s all, at base level ,neurological and free will is ultimately illusory . Then , if it’s illusory it has to be illusory ABOUT something ie a contentional state . All contentional states are ABOUT or OF something . Matter is ABOUT nothing , whereas mind ( contentional state ) is ABOUT something. So if she uses the word ” illusory” she is talking about a mind which is what she doesn’t want to talk about . Ultimately her materialist naturalism is self defeating .
    Also , how does she know true freedom of the will is illusory since there is no ruler or standard with which to measure statements about reality in her worldview ? That leads to other problems ie assuring ones actual existence as really real ,ontologically speaking .
    In short, reality becomes illusory and one cannot DETERMINE anything whatsoever ( pardon the pun). This is all because the atheist humanist naturalist materialist has to deny the ultimate standard or basis of reality which the theist says ,has to be higher than humanity – God . If we have no faith in reality ,that it really is what it objectively is and not illusory then we have nothing to base any rational thought upon . One couldn’t do science in such a scenario . Ofcourse atheists do science but the lengths to which they go in “determining” reality and setting the basis of materialism for that reality is undermined by their rejection of free will so no one can truly determine what is real from unreal , truth from untruth . So they undermine the basis for scientific endeavour . It’s simply brains influencing matter at the molecular level that’s all it is . I cant trust my thoughts , my reasons, my issues because they are not really determined by me but by my brain which is in turn causally determined . I shouldn’t do science because every time I experiment on matter I am not freely experimenting at all . I cannot freely objectify any results that might accrue because there are prior influences , neurones firing in my brain which predetermine outcomes which , by the way Acc to materialist naturalists just happen to be “objective”but even that is illusory . Nothing is really done freely . I must live in an illusory universe believing that my brain just happens to be concurrent with reality in a predetermined way . A huge belief in random chance processes it seems , faith that nothing produced something , faith that matter produced mind . This kind of faith is irrational , delusional since it cannot rationally affirm free will , knowledge , existence even faith , since even that has been determined . Therefore one would have have no ontological way of believing or knowing anything it seems . Self defeating kind of faith . This truly is a pretence of faith in that one has to pretend there is an objective reality external to us all . It is , irrational faith at its worst . This is the very thing they accuse us theists of ! That is hypocrisy

    As William Lane Craig affirms , Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of confused, self-defeating quality to determinism. For if one comes to believe ( there’s that link to faith again) that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply because he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to measure the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who balances the arguments for determinism and then rejects them and the person who balances them and accepts them is entirely that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. I called it philosophical regression into infinity above! Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation . It’s self defeating .

  29. John Moore, in what sense are the naturalists saying that I’m wrong? Are they saying humans do not experience the phenomena of decision-making, of making choices?

    I don’t think so. If you find an example of a naturalist who disagrees with me on that, I’d be interested for you to let me know.

  30. JAD,

    Stenger’s assertion in this case seems to be just that – an assertion more than a prediction derived through the scientific method. In #4 I point out the work of Churchland, who describes a kind of freewill that is naturalistic (though Tom believes it a Procrustean fit – I of course do not see it that way). I highly recommend her aforementioned book; I just finished it today. Keep in mind, Stenger is a physicist, not a neuroscientist.

  31. Here is an interesting quote by Benjamin Libet whose experiments on what he called the readiness potential (his discovery that “brain activity… preceded the conscious awareness of a decision to move [one’s wrist] by a couple hundred milliseconds”) have been used by materialists to support their argument that free will is just an illusion. Libet however didn’t agree with those conclusions. He writes:

    My conclusion about free will, one genuinely free in the non-determined sense, is then that its existence is at least as good, if not a better, scientific option than is its denial by determinist theory. Given the speculative nature of both determinist and non-determinist theories, why not adopt the view that we do have free will (until some real contradictory evidence may appear, if it ever does). Such a view would at least allow us to proceed in a way that accepts and accommodates our own deep feeling that we do have free will. We would not need to view ourselves as machines that act in a manner completely controlled by the known physical laws.

    http://www.centenary.edu/attachments/philosophy/aizawa/courses/intros2009/libetjcs1999.pdf

    See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/01/do_benjamin_lib081171.html#sthash.SY4GunDq.dpuf

  32. Friends,

    When anyone rejects the notion (reality) of human free will, s/he also rejects all notions of justice since if there is no free will, there is no moral accountability for any of our actions. Our entire system of justice is based on the concept of free will. Take for example, in the criminal law, the concept of mens rae, the guilty mind, that determines whether the killing of a human being is anything from self-defense to first-degree premeditated murder. If there is no free will, the state of mind of the killer is totally irrelevant.

    If you do not believe in free will, then you do not believe in the law or in justice. It is an accepted fact that the law believes in free will & is based on free will. See for example the 1968 decision written by Justice Wright of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia: “… there has always been a strong conviction in our jurisprudence that to hold a man criminally responsible his actions must have been voluntary, the product of a ‘free will.’ In deciding responsibility for crimes, therefore, the law postulated a ‘free will.’ It is called the mens rae and is an essential element of all common law crimes.

    In fact, the concept of moral accountability to God is what our ancestors relied on in declaring our independence from Great Britain:

    Declaration of Independence

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

  33. JAD
    I see you’ve followed a pragmatic approach which is wiser than the self defeating approach of the determinists . When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a dizziness sets in for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism cannot be affirmed rationally .

  34. @Tom #15 I am afraid I did try but is very difficult. Your argument seems to assume a lot. Can you define free will and what uniquely human experiences you refer to? I am familiar with free will arguments but I don’t want to fill in any gaps myself. If I asks too much, I am happy if you provide a link that elaborates further.

    @Bigbird #26
    “Science converges on the truth is an assumption. How do you know?” The evidence of the application of the scientific method leads to an accepted working hypothesis of medicine, engineering etc. Where science has unveiled and converged on the “truth”, it is tested and confirmed. After this, there are no raging debates amongst scientists, for example, whether NASA engineers actually where able to launch a rocket into orbit.

    “Naturalism does not seem to have a convincing explanation for free will, unless it permits dualism (e.g. Chalmers’ naturalistic dualism).” Firstly you need to establish free will exists, secondly, a convincing explanation is one that settles the matter. Evidence-free philosophical arguments I notice simply end in a Mexican standoff by those “convinced” by whichever argument suits a persons particular tastes or values. There is no evidence strong enough to arbiter the truth.

    And where is say “None of these have the evidence to act as the arbiter of which is correct, if any.” You ask “And upon what do you base this judgement? Your pre-suppositions?” I say it is not judgement but fact. It is a statement of fact that believers in the supernatural come to wildly different and incompatible conclusions and flavours of religion, with none offering any evidence able to arbiter the truth.

  35. Jenna,

    When anyone rejects the notion (reality) of human free will, s/he also rejects all notions of justice since if there is no free will, there is no moral accountability for any of our actions.

    I know this concern is a common one, so maybe you have a retort to my answer already…

    You may be correct that retributive justice, is not tenable if there is no freewill (I lean more towards Compatibilism so I this is more to illustrate the idea). But that does not invalidate our justice system.

    Imagine for a moment that there was no free will. Should we then abandon our justice system? No, it simply means that our motivation should not be one of revenge. But that justice system may still function as a deterministic disincentive for would-be criminals. In fact, it may make us more cautious once we realize that some people’s brains are more geared towards that way of thinking.

  36. It doesn’t invalidate our justice system? Maybe so. Maybe if someone does something that others prefer they didn’t do, then that person can be contained, re-shaped, or eliminated, so that fewer people will be out doing what others don’t prefer.

  37. I really cannot get enough of people making “Evidence-free philosophical arguments” against all philosophy except their own brand of crass empiricism, and then doubling down by invoking the Authority of Science ™ — which only shows that they understand neither philosophy nor science. C’est très drole.

  38. Besides which, suppose we realized free will was an illusion. Should we abandon our justice system? How could we?

    The question of free will can be asked on various levels. The one we’ve been focusing on here is in the physics of the brain. For a large part of the middle of the 20th century, under the influence of John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, the question was asked on the level of organisms and their contingency structures (reinforcements, rewards, etc.). We wouldn’t be able to change our system except to tweak it around the edges, because the contingencies we would encounter after doing that would prevent us from doing that.

    Under that theory, your phrase, “In fact, it may make us more cautious,” would be taken rather literally: there would be influences in our environment that would make us change our behaviors. Of course there are such things under any theory. The difference in behaviorism was that it said that environmental influences were pretty much the whole story.

    Behaviorism fell, mostly because psychologists once again recognized that human cognition mediates our responses to contingencies. In plain English, we don’t just react to stimuli, we also think.

    Today’s free will theorists want us to think that thinking itself is determined, however. (Sam Harris has a rather puzzling, because it is rather blatant, self-contradiction on this in his Moral Landscape.) What we think is not necessarily what the environment alone makes us think, it’s what the physics makes us think—with a strong emphasis on make.

    But you had suggested that what would make us more cautious would be reflective thinking, based on a rational review of what it is that motivates people to do whatever they do. You had suggested we would become more cautious because we would discover there are reasons to be more cautious.

    This is a human response. It is impossible, however, if our brains are wired to act strictly on physical cause and effect. Electrochemical activity is not managed or directed according to reasons. On this view, reasons would have nothing to do with our behaviors or thoughts.

    That’s the great, huge, insurmountable problem with physicalistic determinism.

  39. @Bill L:

    Imagine for a moment that there was no free will. Should we then abandon our justice system? No, it simply means that our motivation should not be one of revenge.

    If there is no Free Will, what is the word “should” doing in the quoted portion? Should presupposes that we actually have a say in the matter, that we consciously can choose either the this pointed to by the “Should” or the that pointed by the “Should not”, which is precisely what the denier of Free Will is, well, denying. So your “No” answer is meaningless. And then the conceptual confusion is compounded by bringing in motivations, which is an issue orthogonal to that of Free Will.

    Unless you have a conception of “should” that does not pass for the possibility to choose alternative possibilities. And whatever “disincentive” means, if criminals do not really chose what they did. If there are no real choices, what is the internal connection between the threat of jail, confinement or punishment and the future, contingent behavior of “persons”? Oh wait, there is no such thing as contingent behavior, since all behavior is (at least, nomologically) necessary.

    Note: I think the conception of Free Will as the ability to do otherwise is wrong, or more precisely, needs some important qualifications. But for my point here, it does not matter.

  40. @John D:

    When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a dizziness sets in for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control.

    This is the most obvious case of projection I have ever seen. You are ascribing emotional states to others on the assumption that they feel the same as you. In this case, you are incorrect.

    As a determinist, I believe that my brain is the source of my thoughts, intentions, beliefs and actions. Many parts of the brain indisputably operate unconsciously, e.g. the neurons that organize and interpret vision into discrete chunks or objects, when the data is initially received as electromagnetic waves of various frequencies (that is to say, we don’t distinguish between circles and squares consciously).

    The next part is difficult: at what point do we become conscious of something in our vision? The prevailing wisdom would have us think that the information is “presented to consciousness”, in some form of a Caretesian Theater. Presumably dualists think that the information is presented to the soul, which is the center for experience (or qualia).

    This explanation runs into two serious problems: the problem of the interaction between the brain and the soul (the scientific problem), and the problem of the exact point at which information arives in consciousness (the philosophy problem).

    The scientific problem results from findings in physics suggesting that no forces exist that could act at the level of the brain that we do not already know about. That’s a fairly physics-intensive talk, but he makes it simple enough for non-physicists (like me) to get a sense of the research.

    The philosophy problem is expounded in Daniel Dennett’s ‘Consciousness Explained’, because logically there can be no right answer as to the point at which information from the brain enters the Cartesian Theater. From the various experiments showing errors in subjective experience, Dennett shows that the Cartesian Theater explanation fails utterly. He replaces this conception with the (naturalistic) picture of consciousness, called the Multiple Drafts Model.

    As a dualist, you are in a tough spot in trying to explain soul-brain interaction without contradicting experimental evidence in science (from physics to neuroscience and psychology).

    As a materialist, on the Multiple Drafts model, a new explanation comes up. There is no point at which unconsciousness becomes consciousness, consciousness simply becomes the method by which the different parts of the brain talk to each other. The by-product of the billions and billions of neurons communicating, analyzing and detecting slowly, over the course of a whole lifetime, builds up the person that I am.

    All of my wants and desires, all the things I like and dislike, my knowledge and explanation of the nature of reality, this all comes from my interactions with the world, and the brain I was born with. The choices I make are based on the results of what I think about the world, and thus are mine, but my will is in no sense free of the world, or outside of material influence, that’s all.

    Hopefully that looks a little less dizzying! Apologies for the length, Dennett’s book is awesome and mind-blowing… 😛

  41. Oisin,

    @John D:

    When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a dizziness sets in for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control.

    This is the most obvious case of projection I have ever seen. You are ascribing emotional states to others on the assumption that they feel the same as you. In this case, you are incorrect.

    This is the most obvious mis-identification of projection I have ever seen. John D. wasn’t ascribing emotional states to anyone. He wasn’t talking about feelings.

  42. Tom said:

    John D. wasn’t ascribing emotional states to anyone. He wasn’t talking about feelings.

    John said:

    a dizziness sets in for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control

    Thanks for clearing that one up, Tom.

  43. G. Rodriguez:

    If there are no real choices, what is the internal connection between the threat of jail, confinement or punishment and the future, contingent behavior of “persons”?

    I think you mistyped, presumably you meant “If there are no free choices…”.

    If the brain engages in data analysis, analyzing risk/reward ratios for certain behaviors, if the data being entered in says that a certain immoral behavior incurs a large risk of imprisonment, then this will skew the analysis in favor of less immoral options. This is the justification for retributive penal systems.

    Of course, data from medicine and neuroscience indicate that the majority of inmates suffer from deficits in risk/reward analysis due to damage to the frontal lobes and so are extremely bad at assessing risk. In this context we can talk about “should”, as is-statements will lead to ought-statements.

    Basis: our brains have evolved to have a built-in desire to stay alive (is). A part of this is the processes involved in risk avoidance (is). People who engage in immoral behaviors are dangerous to our personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of kin and friends (is). We care about the wellbeing of kin and friends due to evolved empathetic capacities (is).

    Therefore, because we want to avoid risk to ourselves and others, we ought to prevent people from engaging in immoral behaviors.

    How do we do this? Well we can just see what works best, and the simplest response is to incarcerate them so that they cannot hurt us and ours. More complex responses (such as rehabilitation, etc.) are a result of the previously-mentioned empathetic capacities that we have evolved where we extend empathy to people who are not kin or friends, in fact we can even extend this empathy to perceived enemies, like these criminals.

    A prison in Norway integrates all of these evolved impulses, in treating prisoners compassionately, and also reducing the risk to others more than any retribution-based system. So, scientifically speaking, it seems that compassion is a generally good way of keeping ourselves and our families and friends safe. Who knew?

  44. @Oisin:

    How do we do this? Well we can just see what works best, and the simplest response is to incarcerate them so that they cannot hurt us and ours.

    Thanks for making my point with an eloquence I can match only in my dreams.

  45. Thanks for making my point with an eloquence I can match only in my dreams.

    G. Rodriguez, I know that was supposed to be sarcasm but I honestly didn’t realise that your point was that moral discussion is completely compatible with a lack of free will, since that is what my comment said…

    Pretty sure you were saying the opposite of that, anyway.

  46. Oisin:

    I’m off, shouldn’t be posting here, it’s too addictive…

    Good luck guys!

    It looks like we have been victims of yet another drive-by shooting. Don’t tell Oisin this, he was only shooting blanks.

  47. JAD:

    Don’t tell Oisin this, he was only shooting blanks.

    I do like to hang around to see reactions though! I’m not sure if this is a reference to my accuracy or my fertility, however, and I can assure you that everything is functioning well on both fronts…

  48. Oisin,

    If you are a determinist then why do you even bother showing up here in the first place? If I think a certain way and have certain beliefs then isn’t it because I am determined to think that way and hold those beliefs? It is rather pointless then, for you as a determinist, to try to change anyone’s thinking or beliefs– isn’t it?

    Of course, you can make a cute response if you wish, like: “I can’t help myself.” And of course, that would be true from the POV of determinism.

  49. JAD:

    Why bother?

    Because there is the chance that entering new data into your analyses may cause you to come to new conclusions.

    Dualism rests on making untrue assertions about the weakness of materialism in explaining consciousness and morality, I hope that my comments show people that this is untrue.

    Since I know you believe things based on evidence, I expect either criticisms of what I wrote, or a change of opinion about materialism’s perceived weakness. Then we can move on to how materialism explains everything, and dualism nothing. Or you can look it up yourself when you realise that the materialistic stance has far more explanatory power. That is, if you value having your beliefs cohere with reality.

    There exist ways of changing my mind on this topic: show me a non-contradictory theory of how the soul can interact with the brain, show me physical activity or thought that does not correlate with brain activity, etc.

    What would change your mind?

  50. Tom Gilson – First off, the fact that some modern conceptions of things are at first blush deeply counterintuitive does not mean they are therefore wrong. As Steven Weinberg put it, “Quantum Mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct.” I think Dennett does a better job than you do of proposing a ‘non-mystical’ free will, but that’s probably for another time.

    In any case, regarding justice systems – it depends very critically on what the purpose of punishment is. Is it retribution, to redress wrong, to fulfill justice – what most people seem to take from ‘an eye for an eye’? Or is the purpose of punishment deterrence, to discourage people from doing things we’ve concluded they shouldn’t? The latter definition certainly seems to be what people use when dealing with creatures without free will. Most people don’t think animals have ‘free will’, in the ‘mystical’ human sense at least, and yet nobody has a problem with punishing a pet to housebreak it.

    When you start looking at how people actually reason about responsibility, you see that the ‘deterrent’ model seems to hold up better than the ‘retribution’ model.

    If punishment is attached purely to retribution, for example, then considerations like ignorance (‘I didn’t know she was there when I backed up the van’) or insanity would seem to make no difference. But in practice, people seem to want punishment to be inflicted only in cases where it would reasonably have a deterrent effect. If someone didn’t intend harm, and wasn’t acting with negligence, then most people seem to conclude that there’s no need to file charges. And if on the other hand someone is insane, then punishment is no deterrent and dealing with the insanity is the primary concern, not retribution. (Of course, because of this, there’s motivation for sane malefactors to pretend to be insane to escape consequences, but that’s a separate issue.)

    More, most people accept that punishment corresponds to intent, not results – to the degree of responsibility involved. It’s generally agreed that the deliberate, premeditated murder of one person (first degree murder) should draw a harsher punishment than an unpremeditated crime of passion that kills two (say, an adulterous spouse and their lover, second degree murder), which in turn should draw a harsher punishment than the negligent killing of several (manslaughter).

    Nothing about this automatically changes if humans lack ‘mystical’ free will. Punishment still affects how people weigh choices, and holding people responsible for their actions – and it’s really them acting, even if they are ‘merely’ fantastically complex and ultimately unpredictable mechanisms comprising both deterministic, algorithmic and undetermined, quantum-mechanical influences – is still a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

    (Note: this does not mean that humans are equivalent to animals and should be treated and punished the same way. Humans are different from animals. Certainly in degree, and altogether in kind – the whole really can be more than the sum of the parts. As an analogy, a very small difference in degree changes the Lorenz Attractor from simple to chaotic behavior. The underlying physics hasn’t changed, no natural laws are violated, but how things behave, and are interacted with, undergo a phase transition.)

  51. Oisin, the dizziness of which he was speaking had little to do with a feeling and much more to do with the rational implications of the fact that (on determinism) even your thought that you have no free will is not something you can arrive at by way of thinking it through freely.

  52. Ray, the deterrent model is a great way to get other people to stop doing what you don’t prefer. It’s been practiced in liberal Western cultures, in Soviet Russia, in Communist China, in patriarchal tribal societies, in misogynistic Greco-Roman societies—lots of places.

    But look again at #s 39, 40, and 41. The question wasn’t effectiveness. It was justice.

  53. Ray, the deterrent model is a great way to get other people to stop doing what you don’t prefer. It’s been practiced in liberal Western cultures, in Soviet Russia, in Communist China, in patriarchal tribal societies, in misogynistic Greco-Roman societies—lots of places.

    But look again at #s 39, 40, and 41. The question wasn’t effectiveness. It was justice. You said it was a way to administer “justice,” but what’s just about imposing preferences on other people that way?

  54. Oisin,

    Why bother?

    Because there is the chance that entering new data into your analyses may cause you to come to new conclusions.

    That would require that you wrote something new. You have not done so, in fact you have arrived back here failing to correct you lack of knowledge of what dualism entails or the strong arguments for the immateriality of thought.

    There exist ways of changing my mind on this topic: show me a non-contradictory theory of how the soul can interact with the brain, show me physical activity or thought that does not correlate with brain activity, etc.

    There’s one problem with these criteria-they are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the dualisms position.

    I have already let you know previously how you could get my attention on this subject- provide a serious refutation of the actual arguments for dualism.

  55. If you are a determinist then why do you even bother showing up here in the first place?

    That question really answers itself 🙂

  56. @GrahamH

    The evidence of the application of the scientific method leads to an accepted working hypothesis of medicine, engineering etc. Where science has unveiled and converged on the “truth”, it is tested and confirmed. After this, there are no raging debates amongst scientists, for example, whether NASA engineers actually where able to launch a rocket into orbit.

    I think you are confusing truth with the apparent effectiveness of hypotheses. For example, Newtonian physics was used extremely effectively for hundreds of years. In fact Newtonian physics is still used by NASA for spaceflight calculations – despite us knowing that it does not account for relativistic effects.

    Firstly you need to establish free will exists, secondly, a convincing explanation is one that settles the matter. Evidence-free philosophical arguments I notice simply end in a Mexican standoff by those “convinced” by whichever argument suits a persons particular tastes or values. There is no evidence strong enough to arbiter the truth.

    Many, if not most matters of this nature can’t be definitively settled. We just have to deal with the situation as we understand it at present.

    We appear to have free will, and this is incompatible with naturalism. Therefore it casts doubt on whether naturalism is the best explanation. The implication is that it is unwise to assert definitively that it is.

    Your use of “evidence-free philosophical arguments” is somewhat ironic, given your various pronouncements.

    I say it is not judgement but fact. It is a statement of fact that believers in the supernatural come to wildly different and incompatible conclusions and flavours of religion, with none offering any evidence able to arbiter the truth.

    It must be wonderful to be able to pronounce your opinions as fact to settle disagreements.

  57. I just had a thought (it doesn’t happen often) on the drive home…

    Tom, perhaps you should define what you mean by free will. Perhaps you have done so and I have missed it, but it seems many of us just may not be on the same page, or that we are arguing about thing about which we may agree.

  58. I mean libertarian free will: the real ability to choose otherwise than one actually does (or retrospectively, to have chosen other than one actually has done).

  59. Tom:

    (on determinism) even your thought that you have no free will is not something you can arrive at by way of thinking it through freely.

    If you remove the word “freely” from your quote, you get:

    “on determinism even your thought that you have no free will is not something you can arrive at by way of thinking it through”

    This is obviously not the case. When you use the word “free” here, you mean free of prior causes and the effects of physical influences, which is the only word I am disputing, so this is effectively a straw-man.

    SteveK:

    If I could actually, freely, change my mind, wouldn’t this prove that you are wrong, Oisin?

    Yes it would. However I am saying you can change your mind based on the deterministic informational analysis that occurs in your brain, not free of prior causes and biology. I am saying the will is not free in this manner, so you question for me changes to “If I could actually, change my mind, wouldn’t this prove that you are wrong, Oisin?”, which is a non-starter.

    Melissa:

    I have already let you know previously how you could get my attention on this subject- provide a serious refutation of the actual arguments for dualism.

    Provide such an argument and we can thrash it out then, clearly Tom is not representing your views in this matter since I have responded to his arguments thus far. I don’t recall ever having seen your views laid out, though I believe you’ve told me to go read a few different people (I see people telling me to go read a book as avoiding having the argument themselves).

    That would require that you wrote something new. You have not done so, in fact you have arrived back here failing to correct you lack of knowledge of what dualism entails or the strong arguments for the immateriality of thought.

    Pretty mean and uncharitable, all I can do is respond to the views of the people I am talking to. I was presenting a summary of Dennett’s book to someone who obviously hadn’t read it before, so it was new to him, I didn’t make it all up myself or present it as though I did, so that was essentially geared towards trying to make me a little sad. You did succeed.

  60. “However I am saying you can change your mind based on the deterministic informational analysis that occurs in your brain, not free of prior causes and biology.”

    What does “you” mean in this context?

  61. Tom:

    What does “you” mean in this context?

    Your brain, a.k.a. you.

    Oisin, if you change my sentence to something I didn’t say, it’s not very charitable to call my argument a straw man.

    I apologize, I misrepresented you! What did you mean then by “even your thought that you have no free will is not something you can arrive at by way of thinking it through freely”?

    Did you mean to say that, when one believes that one cannot be free of physical causes, prior events and biology, one cannot arrive at this belief in a manner that is free of physical causes, prior events and biology?

  62. “Your brain, a.k.a you.”

    Recall the question. You had said,

    “However I am saying you can change your mind based on the deterministic informational analysis that occurs in your brain, not free of prior causes and biology.”

    I asked who “you” were, in that context. The reason I asked is because in this sentence you had made a clear distinction between “you” and “the deterministic informational analysis that occurs in your brain.” You had said there was something “you” could do based upon that deterministic analysis in the brain.

    I could have also asked what “based on” means. If I can do something based on what happens in my brain, then I am doing something not-identical with what happens in my brain. “Based on” is different from “identical with.”

    So “you,” in doing something “based on” what happens in your brain, must be different from your brain.

  63. I think the inclusion or omission of “freely” in that other context is of little importance. I was just trying to explain that John D. was not guilty of emotional projection because dizziness is not an emotion. That’s all that was about.

  64. Tom:

    I asked who “you” were, in that context. The reason I asked is because in this sentence you had made a clear distinction between “you” and “the deterministic informational analysis that occurs in your brain.” You had said there was something “you” could do based upon that deterministic analysis in the brain.

    You are indeed correct, my language was sloppy. This is an example of our reliance on the Cartesian Theater, where the information from thought processes is “presented” to the self, a little humunculus who makes decisions from there. This is an artifact of language, not a genuine cause for concern, by you I meant your brain. I just didn’t want to say “your brain changes itself” because that seems to rule your self out completely, when by brain I mean your self.

    If I can do something based on what happens in my brain, then I am doing something not-identical with what happens in my brain. “Based on” is different from “identical with.”

    Well-spotted, but again this is a language game. (I am aware this is ridiculously over-simplified, but for clarity’s sake:) Imagine that your frontal lobe performs a risk/reward analysis on whether to take the sweets off the table when Grandma isn’t looking. The analysis comes to the conclusion that the reward is worth the risk, so a signal is sent from the brain to the hand to reach out and grab the sweets. This was your decision, and you acted based on this decision, but where is the part where you acted “based on” the information from the analysis?

    There is none, one part of the brain talked to the other and actions occurred, we know you were conscious of the action because the language parts of the brain were informed of this while it occurred, so when we ask you, you say “I decided it was worth the risk, so I took the sweets”. There is no need for a separate self to enter the equation, it’s just a mistake of language due to the idea of the Cartesian Theater.

    I was just trying to explain that John D. was not guilty of emotional projection because dizziness is not an emotion. That’s all that was about.

    Fair enough, I’m a bit like a dog with a bone sometimes… 😛

  65. #67

    Hi Tom,

    “I mean libertarian free will: the real ability to choose otherwise than one actually does (or retrospectively, to have chosen other than one actually has done).”

    I realise you were not talking to me when you said this so if it does not fit with the discussion regarding the free will of primates, let me know.

    It seems apparent to me that the ability of primates to play is strong evidence to show free will. A youngster picking up a small log and pretending it is a baby, carrying it around for days, making a bed for it to sleep in seems to indicate that they are actively choosing to do it, like a human child playing with a doll.

    The part in parenthesis seems demonstrable by primates showing guilt, remorse and regret. There are plenty of examples of apes “misbehaving” and then showing contrition or punishing themselves.

    Cheers
    Shane

  66. Oisin,

    Provide such an argument and we can thrash it out then, clearly Tom is not representing your views in this matter since I have responded to his arguments thus far. I don’t recall ever having seen your views laid out, though I believe you’ve told me to go read a few different people (I see people telling me to go read a book as avoiding having the argument themselves).

    Nice try but (1) you have not responded to his arguments; (2) it is you who originally came here and said all the arguments for dualism had been refuted. I asked you to point me in the direction of a refutation of Ross’ argument for the immateriality of thought and you could not. You made a claim, I asked you to back it up with evidence and you still have not. To help you out the (very short version) of Ross’ argument is that since all formal thinking is determinate and as no physical process is determinate, formal thinking is not a physical process.

    **determinate is not the same as deterministic or determined.

    Now if the argument is sound (and I think it is) then it is irrational to continue to deny the conclusion.

    Pretty mean and uncharitable, all I can do is respond to the views of the people I am talking to.

    And my point is that that is exactly what you are NOT doing. Just look at what you wrote would change your mind about dualism:

    show me a non-contradictory theory of how the soul can interact with the brain, show me physical activity or thought that does not correlate with brain activity,

    Your first condition, as Tom has rightly pointed out is an illegitimate question. You want a explanation in terms of physical efficient causes for something that we say in principle cannot have one. Wrapped up in this objection is your appeal to physics which begs the question. Whether physics can account for everything and whether physical efficient causation is the complete story with respect to causation is exactly what is under dispute.

    The second condition misunderstands the dualist position. No dualist that I know of claims that there is not a correlation between brain activity and physical activity

  67. Melissa:

    Nice try

    Thank you.

    all formal thinking is determinate

    Demonstrably untrue. What you are saying here is that all formal thinking obeys strict rules that are never disobeyed (I presume that you mean the rules of logic, since you have not given an example or backed up the claim). The existence of cognitive biases and informal logic show that formal thought does not obey the rules it sets out to. Cognitive psychology had found that, even in experts, people are prone to not applying the rules of formal logic, and instead make factual judgements about things based on simple rules of thumb, or heuristics, and on mental models they create of the situation when imagining it.

    If you want to make this claim, you will need to provide some empirical evidence to back it up, and define your terms like “formal thinking”. Since there is evidence that people who are experts in the application of the rules of logic breaking those rules and making mistakes, I would claim that all formal thinking is not determinate.

    Wouldn’t the laws of physics acting on the brain make its activity determinate? We can posit that these determinate effects were honed to more and more closely match the rules of logic over millions of years of evolution, could we not?

    Whether physics can account for everything and whether physical efficient causation is the complete story with respect to causation is exactly what is under dispute.

    You are contradicting yourself. Since you are claiming that physical causation is not enough, we should see uncaused physical events in the brain, like I said. Since all the events of the brain can be explained causally, the explanation of a cause external to the system is simply unnecessary, there isn’t even a gap that the soul can be squeezed into as an explanation.

    Your first condition, as Tom has rightly pointed out is an illegitimate question

    Actually Tom wrote a blog post about the interaction problem, positing that the soul could interact with the brain at the quantum level, which I showed was wrong. Tom says he was okay with it being a mystery as to how the soul interacts with the brain.

  68. Oisin,

    Demonstrably untrue. What you are saying here is that all formal thinking obeys strict rules that are never disobeyed

    Determinate does not mean deterministic or determined, which you should have noticed that I already stated in my original comment. The reason why I gave that explanation was to avoid this time wasting objection.

    If you want to make this claim, you will need to provide some empirical evidence to back it up,

    No I don’t. All I need to do is to point out that you cannot coherently deny the premise because it would require you to make use of the very functions that you deny that you can know you are using.

    Wouldn’t the laws of physics acting on the brain make its activity determinate? We can posit that these determinate effects were honed to more and more closely match the rules of logic over millions of years of evolution, could we not?

    I suggest you go and read this short blog post:

    http://rocketphilosophy.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/immaterial-aspects-of-thought-james-ross.html?m=1

    You are contradicting yourself. Since you are claiming that physical causation is not enough, we should see uncaused physical events in the brain, like I said. Since all the events of the brain can be explained causally, the explanation of a cause external to the system is simply unnecessary, there isn’t even a gap that the soul can be squeezed into as an explanation.

    First, they would not be uncaused, nor is it my position that a further efficient cause is required to explain, human behaviour. Second, how on earth would you “see” uncaused physical events in the brain. Third, events in the brain are nowhere near fully explained. Fourth, I am not suggesting that there is a cause “external” to the system. Six, since you haven’t managed to come up with a valid objection to just the one argument I have pointed you towards it’s rather premature for you to claim that nothing else is necessary.

    Actually Tom wrote a blog post about the interaction problem

    Which included a discussion of the illigitmacy of the question, or did you not notice that?

  69. Melissa:

    Determinate does not mean deterministic or determined, which you should have noticed that I already stated in my original comment. The reason why I gave that explanation was to avoid this time wasting objection.

    Then please define your terms so we can actually talk, I had to guess because you refused to say what you meant. If I began speaking Portuguese it would prevent discourse, similarly you introducing words without defining them prevents discourse. I looked the word up, and took the definitions I found, that’s all I can do until you just speak plainly.

    I’ll just interact with the article you linked, at least it presents coherent claims to be refuted:

    It is impossible to tell if it is blue or bleen if the current date is before January 1st, 2050. Nothing in the physical state of affairs gives us the correct answer.

    We could check the frequency of the light, bad example.

    Which curve is the “correct” one, among these incompatible curves? None. They are all “correct”, as they are all compatible with the physical points.

    Nonsense.

    There is no way to know what function the machine is performing.

    Assuming it is performing a function.

    When you add 2 and 2 to get 4, you really are adding and not performing some other exotic mathematical function

    If we are not really performing the mathematical and logical functions we think we are, then everything we think we know goes out the window. Our reasoning abilities

    Science says we are not. It seems that some form of rule-based memory retrieval is occurring, not formal calculations as we present them in maths. These systems are rules to constrain our memory retrieval. See heuristics, see deductive reasoning in cognitive psychology (which makes no assumptions about material or immaterial thought), see cognitive biases. As I said before, to which you said I didn’t understand the word determinate, formal thinking is not composed of what we intuitively assume, and is prone to mistakes caused by evolutionary biological factors, so the premise remains rejected. See my links above for the general overview of this field.

    I notice that the definition of ‘determinate’ in the linked article matches the one I used earlier, despite your strange objection.

  70. Tom Gilson –

    The question wasn’t effectiveness. It was justice.

    Actually, you used the words “justice system” in #43, and I specifically talked about justice systems, and whether they were invalidated by such a worldview that didn’t include mystical free will. As retribution, perhaps they are. As deterrence, they aren’t – and in practice, as you yourself note, deterrence is what they have provided throughout history.

  71. Bill L used “justice system” before I did. Before that the topic was justice. And if the question previously wasn’t justice, how about if we talk about it now anyway?

    “But look again at #s 39, 40, and 41. How do these stack up if the question is justice, rather than effectiveness?”

  72. Sorry if I caused any confusion. I think I was more responding to Jenna’s #37:

    Our entire system of justice is based on the concept of free will.

  73. Oisin,

    We could check the frequency of the light, bad example.

    Checking the frequency of the light would obviously be no help, that is the point.

    Science says we are not. It seems that some form of rule-based memory retrieval is occurring, not formal calculations as we present them in maths.

    Do you see where that leaves you? You have basically undermined all of science with your latest “science says”. Congratulations.

    This is hopeless. You have read the article and not understood it at. There’s very little I can do for you in this format, my suspicion is that you aren’t really trying to understand because your mind is already made up that the arguments couldn’t ‘t possibly be right.

  74. Melissa:

    Checking the frequency of the light would obviously be no help, that is the point.

    Imagine a world where all blue things turned green overnight. What would this entail? This would mean that the wavelength of the light that reflects from the objects would be different, and thus a different colour would be detected by our eyes. Problem?

    Do you see where that leaves you? You have basically undermined all of science with your latest “science says”. Congratulations.

    No, nothing is undermined except your claim that human thought is determinate. It never is, it is holistic and prone to error, that is why science is useful, we check things over and over until it seems unlikely that we are wrong. Does this mean we cannot come to true knowledge? Only in comparison to omniscience, most planes will still fly most of the time, most cars will drive most of the time, medicines will cure ailments most of the time, so I think that type of knowledge is pretty good.

    This is hopeless. You have read the article and not understood it at. There’s very little I can do for you in this format, my suspicion is that you aren’t really trying to understand because your mind is already made up that the arguments couldn’t ‘t possibly be right.

    Psychoanalysis is great, but it doesn’t work as an argument on its own, the article is incoherent and its claims indefensible.

  75. Oisin,

    Imagine a world where all blue things turned green overnight. What would this entail? This would mean that the wavelength of the light that reflects from the objects would be different, and thus a different colour would be detected by our eyes. Problem?

    You’ve missed some important distinctions. There are two type of objects blue and bleen. You wouldn’t be able to tell which is which. The physical facts do not fix meaning. You do realise this is a claim Dennett makes as well?

    No, nothing is undermined except your claim that human thought is determinate.

    You stil don’t get it. The claim that formal thought is determinate has nothing to do with whether humans sometimes do it wrong. It just means that when I am adding I am really adding not quadding or performing some other function. In fact to do adding wrong requires that there be fixed meaning of what it is to add. You cannot deny that the process of adding or any logic has a determinate meaning without undermining your own arguments for anything. Multiple checking does not help you.

    Psychoanalysis is great, but it doesn’t work as an argument on its own,

    Lucky I didn’t present it as an argument. Maybe you can help me understand your arrogant and immediate dismissal of any argument whose conclusion doesn’t agree with your without any apparent effort on your part to understand the actual argument.

    article is incoherent and its claims indefensible

    Your understanding of the article is incoherent but your understanding is wrong.

  76. @Oisin:

    Psychoanalysis is great, but it doesn’t work as an argument on its own, the article is incoherent and its claims indefensible.

    It was not a bit of psychoanalysis on the part of Melissa, but an objective evaluation of your understanding: it is deficient (to be charitable). And here is the acid test that shows that your understanding is deficient: if you were to reproduce the argument on your own words you would fail miserably.

  77. Hi scbrownlhrm
    (question from another thread)

    “Your worldview does not afford you volition.”

    Why do you have free will?
    How can you demonstrate that?
    Do you believe other mammals have free will?
    How can you demonstrate that?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  78. My piece above needs to be corrected . ” contentional ” states should read ” intentional ” states
    Sorry for the error .
    John Donnelly