All men speak in bitter disapproval of the Devil, but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but Father Adolf’s way was very different; he called him by every name he could lay his tongue to, and it made everyone shudder that heard him; and often he would even speak of him scornfully and scoffingly; then the people crossed themselves and went quickly out of his presence, fearing that something fearful might happen.”
― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger
That heading has nothing to do with this post. I like Mark Twain and I am currently reading the Mysterious Stranger.
Doug Smith wants to convince us the bible is a better source of information on neurology and psychology than what we have.
He claims Sam Harris has committed a fallacy of begging the question when he(Sam H) says
As sickening as I find their behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to see the world differently or to resist the impulse to victimize other people.
Whereas it is true it is not possible to go back in time or be someone else, it is possible to see how a person has acted in every similar situation. An example will suffice. One of the politicians in this country has in every political situation been an opportunist. For this he has been branded YES/NO or watermelon. And I am sure an example can be found in one of Shakespeare’s plays.
Smith tells us
The key experience we have is that we can decide what to do with our thoughts.[emphasis his]
But I disagree. I have thoughts like to dispatch the entire legislature. I can’t do it. I don’t have the means. I could be caught and jailed. All these are causes. They determine what I do or I don’t. To make the claim that the decision not to act is arbitrary is, in my view, either ignorance of what freewill is or a lack of engagement with the problem.
Smith then decides to create a distinction, that, I think, only makes sense to him and his followers. He writes
I think this distinction between our thoughts and our “self,” our choosing, deciding, intentional, willful self, is the key difference.
Maybe someone knows what difference he is referring to. I don’t know it. Between my thinking about vanilla ice cream and buying it, there is no gap. There are times I think I can do with ice cream but I don’t buy simply because I am not anywhere near an ice cream vendor.
I think, and I am not stretching it, that Doug has no idea what freewill is. He writes
However, none of these constraints invalidate the truth that most healthy people have the ability to evaluate options and make decisions using what we call free will.
I think it would be best for him to define what he means by freewill.
The determinist’s argument simply is that our actions have causes. I can actually go further that our thoughts are caused. They don’t originate with us. They are imposed on us by our surrounding, experiences, education and so on.
No one denies the argument, which most have claimed is the strongest challenge to determinism, that we experience the world as if we are free agents[emphasis mine]. We also experience the world around us as if it is flat. We feel as if the sun rotates around the earth. As Nannus would say, these are as if constructions. Just as we had to drop the illusion that we were a special creation, we shall have to do the same with the illusion of freewill.
Tolstoy says it best when he writes
It was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.
This leads me to why I believe that determinism is self-refuting, or collapses in on itself. If we really have no free will, then we couldn’t actually prove it, because our very reasoning processes depend on our ability to freely choose between options.
by Smith is faulty. In fact, it can be seen, by observation that our thoughts have causes. That my using the staircase instead of jumping from fifth floor, which is a choice, has a cause.
When we evaluate whether something is true, we should go through a process of logical reasoning. In that process, we seek to understand competing options, evaluate each option in the most reasonable way we know, and based on our evaluation, we make a decision about what we believe is the best option. This process itself requires free will: the ability to consider options and make a choice based on whatever criteria we believe is best.
This question is not made 5 when one says they have freewill. Freewill or lack of it is not necessary in evaluating whether a feather falls faster than a stone, in a vacuum. In fact, no amount of freewill will change the value of E=MC².
Smith then attacks evolution, in a roundabout way. He writes
However, if I don’t actually have free will, my ability to make a free choice in response to this question is an illusion. I think it’s even worse for determinists who follow a materialist evolutionary line of thought. If the way our minds work is just a byproduct of natural selection acting on random mutations, then the goal for which our minds were made was simply to survive and reproduce, not to be reasonable, rational, or logical.
And how is being rational not a survival trait? Those who barbaric end up dying before they can reproduce either in fights or jailed. They have no opportunity to pass on their genes. The believer arguing against evolution in this way, I believe, is ignorant about natural selection. And what is a materialist evolutionary line of thought anyway? Is there an immaterialist evolutionary line of thought or materialist non-evolutionary line of thought?
I agree our experience of freewill is real. The question has never been of experience. The question is whether our conclusion is correct and I think it is not. Our experience is based on an illusion.
I admit readily that the question of whether we have free will has very important implications for ethics, morality,
and even theological systems. I don’t stop here though. I go ahead and suggest that given a determinist universe, we must change how we treat offenders.
I don’t think Smith made a case for freewill, neither did he respond to Sam Harris or even Daniel Kahneman. In fact, I think his treatment of the two is best represented by this quote of B. Russell
“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”