Are free will skeptics wrong?

I think not.

The authors of this post argue that we are.

In their conclusion, they write

If you seriously believe that fundamental forces leave no space for free will, then it’s impossible for us to genuinely make choices as moral beings. We wouldn’t be accountable in any meaningful way for our reactions to global climate change, child trafficking or viral pandemics. The underlying physics would in reality be governing our behaviour, and responsibility wouldn’t enter into the picture.

and i don’t see why this is so. Free will skepticism doesn’t rule out the effect of training/ education in our behaviour.

Elsewhere, the author has argued free will skeptics ignore time dependent constraints that he has discussed in the piece for example how one reacts to a car crash. One person with sympathy and another picks their pockets. I don’t see how this argument is fatal to the determinist position unless I am missing something.

I also think bringing up the problems of quantum physics- you either know the position or the velocity of a particle does not rescue freewill.

Tell me your thoughts.

Are you a nihilist?

How far are you willing to take your ideas?

I like this

But for epistemological nihilism, there is no standard, no foundation, no ground upon which one can make knowledge claims, nothing to justify our belief that any particular claim is true. All appeals to objectivity seen from the perspective of epistemological nihilism are illusory. We create the impression of knowledge to hide the fact that there are no facts. For example, as Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), we can certainly develop very complicated and very successful models for describing reality, which we can use to discover a wealth of new ‘facts’, but we can never prove that these correspond to reality itself – they could simply derive from our particular model of reality.

Do our models of reality correspond to reality?

about time

by Paul Davies

I finished reading this book. I think it had been suggested by Mary a while back.

I must confess I am now very confused about time than I was at the beginning. If you have read a little philosophy, you will know what they say about time and space and our cognition. Then you read Davies and there are questions of whether there are universes where time is reversed. Whether faster than light travel is possible. Wormholes. Black holes. White holes. And many holes in between.

The book is accessible to even anyone with an elementary understanding of physics and mathematics. He is such an engaging author, the book is almost conversational.

Something Davies mentioned in passing that I thought interesting is our lack for a “time organ” like say we have a sight, smell or even sensory (I mean touch) organs.

Do you think if we get to answer the question of what is the nature of time our understanding of the self will change? Or it will remain unaffected by this knowledge and discovery into the nature of time. Does time exist always? Did it have a beginning and will it have an end?

Can we conceive of time without events?


In other newsworthy stories, there is Sabisky in the UK and then this story on eugenics and Dawkins.

Why does God let people suffer? Why is there so much evil in the world?

I know! I know. Don’t ask where i find these people. They happen to litter the internet. And this one I stumbled upon by accident. Well, not really. It was suggested by WP. Our attention is drawn to a paper by a Joe Monzari that you don’t have to read because there is nothing new in it that you haven’t heard before. But for those coming to this for the first time, the problem of evil has been divided into two forms; the logical and the evidential.

First, the logical problem

(1) God exists.
(2) God is omnipotent.
(3) God is omniscient.
(4) God is omni-benevolent.
(5) Evil exists.

Premises 2 and 3 are unnecessary because omni-benevolent implies omnipotence i.e nothing should stop it and omniscient it should not lack in knowledge. So we can rewrite the above as

  1. god exists
  2. god is omnibenevolent
  3. evil exists.

Theists have argued that the above do not imply a contraction. Two additional premises have been added after (3) thus

(4) A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.
(5) There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.

Knight and Joe argue in an attempt to defeat proposition 4 argue that in order to eliminate human evil, you would have to eliminate free will. They argue further that eliminating free will is worse than allowing it, because good things like love are impossible without free will. I will here just point out that if it is true that Jonah ate a fish, then god doesn’t give much currency to freewill and would use any means to achieve her ends. As Ubi has correctly pointed out in a previous post, the theist readily admits that heaven is all milk and honey and humans have freewill and they can’t do no wrong. An existence without evil is possible for this god theists yap about. For Leibniz to argue that this was the best possible world is to put a limit on omnibenevolence.

To defeat premise 5, they argue god cannot do contradictory things. Joe argues

Thus, if God grants people genuine freedom, then it is impossible for him to determine what they will do. All that God can do is create the circumstances in which a person can make free choices and then stand back and let them make the choices.

If the above is allowed to stand, apart from god being callous, it is also grossly irresponsible. But there is no contradiction in omnibenevolence creating the circumstance in which all choices lead to good. We are tempted to ask what about those whose freedoms are limited? For example those held at gunpoint or those children abused by clergy. Or is this freedom only for the powerful? And if god allows a state of affairs where one can choose to act whichever way, why punish one for acting this or that way?

Joe and his mouthpiece, Knight, have not defeated the two propositions. The freewill defence is inadequate. They have also failed to show the contradiction in a world where all the outcomes of our choices only lead to good.

On the second formulation of the problem, I will use Rowe’s and not Knight’s. Rowe argued

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

The argument is not, as Knight is making it appear, that while god would have a reason to allow freewill, there are natural evils that god has no reason to permit but rather that there are instances of evil that it could have prevented. Knight’s argument is that premise 2 cannot be allowed to stand. She does ask how does the atheologian know that the instance of evil is really gratuitous? Unfortunately for Knight, she need to demonstrate there are unknown goods that are achieved by god not acting, say to rescue kangaroos in the recent forest fires in Australia. If this cannot be done, then the argument is not defeated and the conclusion follows necessarily.

Having failed to defeat the above argument, Joe and Knight tell us these 4 Christian doctrines explain why gratuitous evil is less (emphasis mine) problematic for the christian

  • The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God.
  • Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and God’s purposes.
  • God’s purpose is not restricted to this life but spills over beyond the grave into eternity.
  • The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.

Against 1, if god is permitting suffering earth so that we are not too comfortable here, what stopped god from creating man in heaven? The theist argues there are beings that did not leave the heavenly realm. Why not man?

Against 2, I would just say god has allowed it. And two god has not made its purpose clear to man. If the theist insists that man is a fallen being, it’s not man’s fault but god’s problem.

Against 3, to argue there will be no suffering after death is presumptuous especially after having argued that this is the best of all possible worlds. How then does one tell themselves that god has arranged things in another world such that there is no suffering for eternity while the same state of affairs was impossible for god to achieve here?

It is no relief to tell a person suffering from years of ALS or an advanced stage of cancer that Jesus hang on the cross for a few hours, died and resurrected. One, if the bible is to be believed, Jesus knew about his impending death on the cross. In fact, he had been sent to come and die on the promise he would resurrect. He accepted the proposition. The person with ALS did not ask for it. And has no such promise of a quick release.

The attempt by Joe to apply the G.E Moore shift is inadequate in solving the problem of evil. It doesn’t prove what it sets out to do.

Joe thinks that if the above arguments are not a triumph, he can invoke the moral argument for god through the following line of  reasoning.

(1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Evil exists.
(3) Therefore, objective moral values exist.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

The first premise he says is accepted by all. I don’t accept it. Besides it only moves the question of subjectivity from man to god. So that whatever god wills is good. There is no contradiction in objective moral values existing independently without god. There are arguments by theologians who question the attribution of moral goodness to god. He writes

To be blunt, I suggest that many contemporary philosophers writing on the problem of evil (both theists and non-theists) have largely been wasting their time … They are like people attacking or defending tennis players because they fail to run a mile in under four minutes. Tennis players are not in the business of running four-minute miles. Similarly, God is not something with respect to which moral evaluation (whether positive or negative) is appropriate.

In conclusion therefore, Joe or Knight have failed in what they set out to do and her celebration that

If objective morality exists, then there is an objective moral lawgiver. Game over. If the atheist backtracks and says that the existence of evil is just his opinion or his cultural preference, then this standard does not apply to God, and you win again. Game over again.

is premature and she need go back to the drawing board. The problem evil has not been defeated as yet.

Unbelievable? Chapter 7

On suffering

Justin wants you to know that god is present in your suffering and sees the future even if you can’t. So stop complaining.

An argument has been made by theists and Justin repeats it, that why do atheists complain about suffering if we live in an indifferent world. This question does seem to me to miss the point. The atheist is telling the theist, you have made such and such claims about the universe and were that the case, the following should be expected as matter of course. In an indifferent universe, suffering is embedded in the nature of the universe. In a world with an omnibenevolent being, suffering is allowed to exist. And if that is the case, then either god is not willing or not able to eradicate suffering.

Justin says because there are many arguments for god, god must exist. No argument would be necessary for god were the existence of god obvious.

He quotes this statement of CS Lewis

My argument against god was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, my argument against god collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancy. Thus in the very act in trying to prove god did not exist, in other words that whole reality was senseless, I found was forced to assume that one part of reality- namely, my idea of justice- was full of sense.

First, was he a theist or atheist? Leaving that aside, do we really need transcendence to say this is not fair? Is a toothache the order of things so that one can’t complain if they have a toothache? Must a god be posited to claim that a toothache is pointless? My idea of justice as a reasonable person leads me to the conclusion that we live in an indifferent universe where unless humanity works together to alleviate the suffering of others, their pain and burden becomes unbearable.

Jeff’s favorite argument. Freewill. Justin wants us to believe that it would be a greater evil for god to intervene, which we are told he has done before, than to allow freewill. Basically, we are told to accept that god is inadequate in coming up with scenarios where we maintain our idea of freewill without causing harm to others or ourselves. Where is omnipotence and omniscience when you need it? To Justin it was better in the eyes of god for the African holocaust to happen because of freewill than to intervene to stop it. How many of you find this argument convincing?

Justin says we live in a spiritual war zone and also that suffering draws people to god. I don’t know about you. But for me, there is no logical contradiction in a world where there is a god and there is no suffering. There is nothing that would come in the way of an omnipotent god who wanted to draw people to himself. No human connivance would prevent this from happening.

Unbelievable? Chapter 3

On human value.

Justin argues we cannot value human life unless we imagine a god to have gave us life. To this he says the fact that Jesus died for us means our lives are really valuable. There are other several claims on objective morals. Or that atheists have no grounding for their morals or that we are moral because of the Judeo-Christian god or some similar argument. His response to the objection raised in the Euthyphro Dilemma is that god is good, so all its commands are good.

My objections to this chapter.

One, there are societies and have been societies where people have lived moral lives without the Judeo-Christian god. In fact, as I have pointed out in other posts, in most of African societies, morality or right conduct had nothing to do with the gods but how to live together. It is an insult to humanity to claim that a god who showed up somewhere in the middle East not so long ago is the supreme lawgiver.

I am a Jesus skeptic. And vivacious redemption is abhorrent.

Are there universal objective morals? Can they explained by positing our evolutionary past and communal living or do we need to posit an agent elsewhere as the source of our laws?

His objection to the Euthyphro Dilemma is premature. The being of a god is in question. It’s nature is another matter.

Do other species matter? Should they count?

Let us reflect on the thoughts of d’Holdbach when he writes

it is unnecessary to tell me that we degrade man when we compare him with the beasts, deprived of souls and intelligence; this is no leveling doctrine, but one which places him exactly where nature places him, but from which his puerile vanity has unfortunately driven him. All beings are equal; under various and different forms they act differently; they are governed in their appetites and passions by laws which are invariably the same for all of the same species; everything which is composed of parts will be dissolved; every thing which has life must part with it at death; all men are equally compelled to submit to this fate; they are equal at death, although during life their power, their talents and especially their virtues, established a marked difference,  which, though real, is only momentary.

J’accuse

In the final chapter of the Antichrist, Nietzsche proclaims his final accusation against Christianity. It is beautiful in its prose. And quite damning

With this I am at the end and I pronounce my judgment. I condemn Christianity. I raise against the Christian church the most terrible of all accusations that any accuser ever uttered. It is to me the highest of all conceivable corruptions. It has had the will to the last corruption that is even possible. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its corruption; it has turned every value into an un-value, every truth into a lie, every integrity into a vileness of the soul. Let anyone dare to speak to me of its “humanitarian” blessings! To abolish any distress ran counter to its deepest advantages: it lived on distress, it created distress to eternalize itself.
The worm of sin, for example: with this distress the church first enriched mankind. The “equality of souls before God,” this falsehood, this pretext for the rancor of all the base-minded, this explosive of a concept which eventually became revolution, modern idea, and the principle of decline of the whole order of society— is Christian dynamite. “Humanitarian” blessings of Christianity! To breed out of humanitas a self-contradiction, an art of self-violation, a will to lie at any price, a repugnance, a contempt for all good and honest instincts! Those are some of the blessings of Christianity!
Parasitism as the only practice of the church; with its ideal of anemia, of “holiness,” draining all blood, all love, all hope for life; the beyond as the will to negate every reality; the cross as the mark of recognition for the most subterranean conspiracy that ever existed against health, beauty, whatever has turned out well, courage, spirit, graciousness of the soul, against life itself.
This eternal indictment of Christianity I will write on all walls, wherever there are walls—I have letters to make even the blind see.
I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough—I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.
And time is reckoned from the dies nefastus with which this calamity began—after the first day of Christianity! Why not rather after its last day? After today? Revaluation of all values!

On the senses

What do you think of Nietzsche’s argument that the senses do not lie, but rather what we make of their testimony, that alone introduces lies. In short, reason( judgement) is the cause of our falsification of the testimony of the senses.

He agrees with Heraclitus that the “apparent” world is the only one: the “true” world is merely added by a lie.