for Jeff

I know you will find a lot you agree with in this interview

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An example of bad argument

The argument below is a logical argument but it’s also invalid.

Logical, because the conclusion, in my view follow from the premises but invalid because the premises are all wrong and thus the conclusion cannot hold.

Consider the following three premises of the Christian religion, and a conclusion that follows from them:

God exists.
God is divine.
Man is made in the image of God.
Therefore: human divinity exists in all humans conferring special rights and corresponding responsibilities to all human beings simply because they are divine and therefore sacred.

 

What Does It Mean to Have Free Will?

Freedom is a mystery ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Is the title of a post by Joseph Laporte.

Since the post by Joseph is quite long, I will only attempt to respond to the first section. the second section where he tries to reconcile Scotus and Aquinas, I will leave to theologians, but I encourage you to read it if you have time. But before I do that, I would want to define freedom of will as other philosophers have done.

While not defining freewill, Sam Harris in his book, Freewill, writes

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.

and for the moment we will leave it at that.

In a prize winning essay on Freewill, Schopenhauer defines freedom as

simply the absence of everything that impedes or obstructs

He goes further to note there are three distinct notions of freedom, viz;

  1. physical freedom- which is the absence of material obstacles of any kind. In this physical meaning, animals or humans are free when no physical, material obstacle impedes their actions
  2. intellectual freedom
  3. moral freedom- is simply whether we act out of necessity

Schopenhauer in his exposition on freedom, argues further that

a free will would be one that was determined by nothing at all.

Leaving Schopenhauer momentarily, I turn to Chapman Cohen, who says of the freewill believer, that they hold

intentional action is the unconditioned expression of absolutely free beings, and is what it is because of the selective action of an undetermined will.

You will allow two more instances to refer to Schopenhauer and D’Holdbach before we look at the post by Joseph. D’Holdbach writes

Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant. He is born without his own consent; his organization does in nowise depend upon himself; his ideas come to him involuntarily; his habits are in the power of those who cause him to contract them; he is unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control, which necessarily regulate his mode of existence, give the hue to his way of thinking, and determine his manner of acting. He is good or bad, happy or miserable, wise or foolish, reasonable or irrational, without his will being for any thing in these various states.”

while Schopenhauer in almost the same line of thinking, writes

[A]s little as a ball on a billiard table can move before receiving an impact, so little can a man get up from his chair before being drawn or driven by a motive. But then his getting up is as necessary and inevitable as the rolling of a ball after the impact. And to expect that anyone will do something to which absolutely no interest impels them is the same as to expect that a piece of wood shall move toward me without being pulled by a string.

I have gone to great length in defining what other philosophers who have written about freewill have written to help give the issue some clarity. We can now look at the work by Joseph.

He, while referring to tradition by St. Augustine, says to act freely is to act without constraints. He says, per Augustine,

the mark of freedom is to be able to bring about an effect as an “uncaused cause.”

The question we must ask at this point is whether such is possible? Do you know of a scenario in your life or of your neighbour’s life when an act of will was without cause? That there was no desire, no motive? You acted without cause or does ignorance of proximate cause translate to no cause?

The same originalist position, Joseph tells us, is shared by Dons Scotus, who argued

we are “total cause” of what we freely will.

To this statement of Dons Scotus, I, following Schopenhauer must ask, can we will what we will?

The other school of thought is represented by Thomas Aquinas who Joseph tells us argued that you choose to act but god causes you to make that choice. The school that has developed for an interpretation of this line of thought has become known us

“freedom-for-excellence” — freedom understood as acting virtuously for true human happiness.

I find it quite illogical, as Joseph writes about Aquinas, that

 God causes me to choose whatever I choose to do, but I still do what I do freely.

In which universe would one call this freedom? Introducing god to the equation does not make it any easier. How does one know their choice is the action of a god? To be truly free, as the volitionist would have us believe, we would have to be the causa sui of our actions.

How does acting virtuously for true human happiness amount to having free will as Joseph would want us believe when he writes

Here behavioral scientists could appeal to freedom-for-excellence as an example of one genuine kind of freedom that seems compatible with my being caused to act as I do

Keep in mind freedom for excellence is where god does the choosing and you do the acting. In this causal chain, whatever the outcome, one must be a contortionist to see this as a case of freedom.

I am not sure, when Joseph writes that

Freedom-for-excellence is a genuine kind of freedom; it is a kind of freedom worth having

if he is still talking about freewill or, he, like compatibilists Marvin and Dennett, is arguing for a freedom worth having. Freedom worth having brings us no closer to an understanding of freewill. It tells us nothing of what freewill is.

I don’t see how Joseph, can still maintain he is talking about freewill when he believes

 [P]inckaers says we act freely when we act virtuously to achieve excellence, even though we are forced to conform to moral laws. These laws enhance freedom, rather than spoiling it, because by conforming our behavior to them we are able to achieve excellence, in the same way that by conforming our behavior to grammar rules we are able to achieve linguistic excellence.

For, by accepting the effect of laws on our actions or as would say, manifestations of the will, he is moving over to the determinists’ position. In this case, therefore, there is a contradiction in his position that he should address. If we are, as he argued earlier, originalists, then the action of laws are irrelevant. On the other hand, if there are laws or even a god influence in our actions, the argument for uncaused cause is no longer be sustainable.

It is quite evident in Joseph’s and the church fathers’ insistence on freewill comes from this theological problem, that

 if God is the cause of my actions, and if I choose to do evil, then it appears that God is the cause of my evil actions. How, then, could anyone be allowed to suffer punishment, much less eternal punishment? We’re just victims of circumstances and events outside our control.

As I said at the beginning, I see no need in trying to respond to his attempts at reconciling Dons Scotus and Aquinas for both positions do little to advance the cause of free will. I contend further that Joseph has not only failed to tell us what freewill is, but has also failed to demonstrate that it is possible. He has instead tried to reconcile the theological problem stated above which it is my contention he cannot get away from without altering the meaning of words, that is, talking gibberish.

If you have read this post up to this point, know you could not have acted otherwise than you did.

In the face of death

These two questions intrigued me. What would be your course of action in each and why?

In the Face of Death: Cannibalism at Sea

Scenario 1: The Mignonette Case

In May 1884, the British yacht Mignonette set sail for Sydney, Australia with four crew on board. On July 5, disaster

struck, the yacht was lost, and the crew were forced to take to a small lifeboat. For eighteen days, they drifted around the ocean more than 1000 miles from land. By this point, things were desperate: they had been without food for seven days and water for five. All crew members were in a bad way, but worst off was 17 year old cabin boy, Richard Parker. He was barely conscious, if indeed he was conscious at all.

At this point, the captain of the ship, Tom Dudley, suggested they ought to draw lots to select one of them to be killed, thereby giving the others a chance of survival. The thought was they could use the body of the dead person as a source of food and liquid. This idea was in the first instance rejected by one of the crew members, Edmund Brooks, but Dudley didn’t let the issue drop, and later the same day discussed the matter with Edwin Stephens, the fourth member of the crew. He pointed out that it was overwhelmingly likely that Richard Parker, the cabin boy, was going to die whatever happened, but if they killed him – which was the best way of ensuring his blood would be in a fit state to drink – there was a chance that he and Stephens would see their wives and families again.

The following day, with no prospect of rescue, Dudley, with the assent of Stephens, killed the boy. The three remaining crew members then fed on his body, enabling them to survive long enough to be rescued on July 29th. Dudley later described the scene as follows: “I can assure you I shall never forget the sight of my two unfortunate companions over that ghastly meal we all was like mad wolfs who should get the most and for men fathers of children to commit such a deed we could not have our right reason.”

The facts in this case are well-established. Richard Parker was killed by Tom Dudley, with the consent of Edwin Stephens, because they genuinely believed there was no immediate prospect of rescue, that Parker would likely die regardless of what happened, and that all of them would die if he was not sacrificed.

The question is were they morally justified in killing him?


Second scenario

In the Face of Death: I Killed All the Children

Scenario 2: The Warsaw Ghetto Doctor

In the late summer of 1942, 22 year old Adina Blady Szwajger was working as a doctor at Warsaw’s Children’s Hospital. It was no ordinary summer, though. Some 18 mnonths earlier, the Nazi occupiers of Poland had shut the gates on Warsaw’s Jewish population creating what is now known as the Warsaw ghetto. As a result, Szwajger had for at least a year worked in conditions of almost unimaginable suffering as the hospital filled with children dying of starvation and tuberculosis. In her memoir, she talks of “famished skeletons” lapping up the slops of a spilled soup pot from the floor; and of the attempt to live a “principled life” in circumstances of the utmost moral depravity.

But in August 1942, it became impossible to go on. The Germans had begun to round up the Jewish population, loading them into cattle trucks and shipping them off to the death camps, where their fate was to meet a grisly end. By this point, the hospital was no longer functioning as a hospital – there were “no children’s wards, just the sick, the wounded and the dying everywhere.”

The moment which came to define Szwajger’s life arrived when the Nazis turned up at the hospital, and began the brutal process of shutting it down. A nurse begged Szwajger to end her elderly mother’s life: “Doctor…I can’t do it. I beg you, please. I don’t want them to shoot her in bed, and she can’t walk.” Dr. Szwajger administered morphine, first attending to “families of staff.” Then she went to the ward which housed the smallest infants, and one by one gave each child a lethal dose. “Just as, during those two years of real work in the hospital, I had bent down over the little beds, so now I poured this last medicine into those tiny mouths…And downstairs, there was screaming because the…Germans were already there, taking the sick from the wards to the cattle trucks.” She told the older children “that this medicine was going to make their pain disappear…So they lay down and after a few minutes – I don’t know how many – but the next time I went into that room, they were asleep.”

Adina Szwajger took the lives of her young patients as the final act of what she saw as her duty of care, in order to spare them ignominious and certain death at the hands of the Nazis. But, of course, the infants and children did not and could not have consented. The issue, then, is whether she did the right thing. Was she morally justified in taking the lives of her patients in order to save them from their fate at the hands of the Nazis?

A god not bound by space and time

Most likely doesn’t exist!

It is my contention that this post is built on premises that cannot be demonstrated, outright lies and logical fallacies. It seeks to answer

If there is a God, why don’t we see, hear or touch Him?

They tell us

But the answer defies human logic, reasoning and experience.

In simple speak, they are saying the question is unanswerable. One would think they would stop there, but no, they have much more to say.

I argue, we cannot speak of anything that defies logic (it makes no sense qualifying logic as human for that’s all we know), reasoning and experience. For where would we start? We will be in the realm of absurdities where fronkeys are the queens of the jungle and where sense doesn’t rule.

The authors of the article claim, relying on two verses only that

The God of the Bible, however, dwells in a different dimension—the spirit realm—beyond the natural perception of our physical senses.

A statement contradicted by the very bible. For example, when it is written Moses saw the hind side of god, it was a physical behind for what else would he be speaking of? When Adam and Eve are said to be hiding from YHWH, it’s not from a spirit they are hiding and there are several examples one would find in the bible that would demonstrate my point. In passing, I can include the verse, I think, in John that says no one can see me and live. This is not, in my view, talking about something spiritual, whatever that means, but about something physical, material that has extension.

A lot has been written about the non-existence of Jesus that I need not rehash it here. The empty tomb was the subject of this blog. Those who talk about the existence of Jesus should tell us what he did at age 15, 25, or even 27. Or are we to believe he was born, was 12 years, then 30 years and committed suicide at 33?

Genesis that talks about the creation of the world doesn’t talk about a creation ex nihilo. The most we can get from Genesis 1 is that god created the earth. In all instances when humans talk about creating something, the only meaning we give to the word is modification of what already is. We have no conception of a “creation out of nothing”. It is empty of meaning.

The authors write

Many people reject the Bible, the Gospels in particular, because it describes many miraculous occurrences—dramatic healings, resurrections, fire from heaven and spectacular visions, to name a few. They believe these things are impossible because they defy human experience and the laws that govern our physical existence. They thus conclude that biblical accounts of such things cannot be true.

And one is tempted to ask, have they read the old testament where donkeys talk, trumpets bring down walls, one man kills 1000 with a jaw bone, lights fire to the tails of 200+ foxes that he has managed to tie their tails together, the people brought back to life by Elijah, to name just a few! I defer to Jean Messlier’s argument against miracles, but I prefer this by Mark Twain,

The difference between a Miracle and a Fact is exactly the difference between a mermaid and seal. It could not be expressed better.

One can also refer to Walter Cassel’s response to Dr. Lightfoot  on miracles which can be found here.

In the paragraph below,

Regrettably, they fail to consider that God the Father and Jesus Christ can operate beyond the bounds of the physical laws that govern the universe. A God who can bring the universe into existence can certainly perform miracles such as those found in the Scriptures!

the authors are again making things up. There is no where in scripture, unless in reference to so-called miraculous feats, which are in themselves doubtful, does the bible talk of god acting out of the laws of nature. It is worth noting also, that to the writers of the bible, they do not refer to the vast universe as we have come to regard it. They know only of the earth around them and it is for this reason, the earth was created when the Sumerians were already in existence. Most creationists believe the earth is 6000+ years old or thereabouts. To believe in an old earth, they have to eschew the bible’s teachings and adopt that which geology has shown.

To their final question,

Where does this leave us?

I will answer, contrary to their claim that

“Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”!

we must demand an answer from deity to believe. The theist has told us the price of disbelief, a grave a crime, is eternal damnation. This subject cannot be treated lightly. The theist has their work set out for them.

It is however important to note the following,

  1. the bible does not tell us what god is
  2. the bible doesn’t talk about a god existing out of time and space
  3. the bible doesn’t talk of creation ex nihilo

and finally, I agree with P. Shelley B, when he writes and I quote

 

god is a hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of proof; the onus probandi rests on the theist.

Could atheists be guilty 

Of caricaturing the worst of religion’s malpractices or its worst practioneers, such as the Phelps of this world or the self appointed Pat who has a direct channel to god, in their attempts to argue, as Hitchens did, that religion poisons everything? 

When atheists reference data showing the areas with most religiosity are also most dysfunctional, could it be that we don’t look at the entire data? Data that, according to D Myers, show that those most devoted live longer, smoke less, divorce less, donate more- to both religious and secular charities-, are much happier and much more?

Or when we concentrate on the god of the OT, we overlook the sermon on the Mount and all other peace messages that on the surface demonstrate a benevolent and loving god?

And finally, are experiments on intercessory prayer begun with the foreknowledge they will fail? Is the Christian justified in the case of negative or no confirmatory results to say god is not to be tested? Is it a valid response? 

For Sunday reflection.