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.

I don’t feel like braining today

But being the nice person I am, I will keep you engaged.

James D is telling us in this post that god allows evil and sickness to exist in the world because he gave us freewill and faith. Knowing some of you to be as lazy as your host and might not click on the links, David says

I think that the honest truth is that in order for God to show us his grace, we have to live in an environment that is inherently dangerous to us. Otherwise, what would be the point of faith? Without the bad things in the world, could we truly appreciate the good things?

and isn’t this ridiculous? There are times i have had continental breakfast where my choice is between all good and healthy stuff. Should I take oats instead of weetabix. Should I eat boiled egg or fried omelette, should I eat bread or a croissant? My point is we don’t have to live in a dangerous environment to appreciate being loved.

The author of this second post (I think I should have it first) is doing a very important job, clearing up the definition of freewill. I can’t say I now understand what it is more clearly than I did yesterday. Maybe I am slow.

Diana is trying her best to confuse us. She is telling us events are fated to happen but you still have a choice. You are fated to die but you can escape death. Someone tell me my due date, I want to bribe the angel of death to wait just a little while.

And finally, if you have a lot of time in your hands, a wall (to bang your head against) and popcorn, then read this gem. David Hart writes in one of his comments

[…]My advice to you–and to any believer–is stop presuming you have to defend the idea of hell’s eternity, allow yourself to think about it as if for the first time and with no sense of obligation, and I think you’ll see that the very premise has always already undermined arguments in its favor.

See you around everyone.

on freewill: additional thoughts

“Every instinct that is found in any man is in all men. The strength of the emotion may not be so overpowering, the barriers against possession not so insurmountable, the urge to accomplish the desire less keen. With some, inhibitions and urges may be neutralized by other tendencies. But with every being the primal emotions are there. All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”
― Clarence Darrow, The Story of My Life

I hope it will be a while before I write on this topic again.

We have been having a discussion with Marvin on his blog post titled two undeniable truths and since the post is short, I will copy it here for ease of reference.

He wrote

A) Assuming perfect determinism (and I always do) then it is a fact that every decision we make is inevitable.

B) Every choice we make is either freely made by us alone for our own reasons (free will) or it is a choice we are forced to make by someone else (unfree will). Both A and B are undeniably true. And both are always true at the same time in every decision we make.

A is straightforward. However, I would like to add for clarity that the freewill vs determinism debate is really about actions.

B is where Marvin gets so mixed up in a web he seems unable to untangle himself from. A while ago, I did say the freewill vs determinism debate continues to take place because of how freely we use words. Two, because words have different meanings. When writing on the above, I use the word choice specifically to mean awareness of alternatives. Any other meaning, other than this, in this discussion only works to confuse the debate. For example, I have a choice of coffee or tea in the morning. This awareness tells you nothing about what I will actually do. That settled, Marvin’s insistence that our actions are determined and we have freewill is so confused, I can’t begin to express how contradictory this sounds.

A and B cannot both be true.

Marvin’s problem is to insist that since the motives that determine our action are ours, we have freewill. Problem with this is we don’t will what our motive will be.

In the comments, Marvin gave this example, and I will quote it at length,

Billy wants to go out but doesn’t want to wear his jacket. His mother says, “It’s too cold outside, either you wear the jacket or you stay indoors.” So he wears the jacket, but does so against his will. The reason for wearing the jacket is his mother’s reason. It is external to Billy.

When Bill is older, and no longer required to follow his mother’s advice, he is autonomous. He can choose for himself, of his own free will, whether to wear the jacket or not, and live with the consequences of his choice. Having experienced the consequences of not wearing a jacket on a bitterly cold day, Bill decides to wear the jacket. But this time it is for his own reasons. It is internal rather than external.

It is a decision Bill makes on his own, for reasons that are his own. And that is what the English speaking, human species of biological organisms on this planet have decided to name “free will”. Bill’s decision fixes his “will” at that moment. And the fact that it was by his own reasons, and not by reasons imposed upon him against his will by his mother, that we say his will is “free”.

And I pointed out to Marvin, that Billy isn’t acting his will by wearing the sweater. If the motive of going out is great, Billy will bear the inconvenience of wearing a sweater. Wearing the sweater is a manifestation of the will. The mother’s condition is a cause. And as I have said countless times, all our actions have antecedent causes. In the case of Billy, we can easily show the cause of his wearing a sweater. It is not always easy to map out the causes to our actions as we did in this case.

So when Marvin goes ahead and writes

Exactly. Meanings are derived from real world phenomena. The real world phenomena that are called “free will” are those where a person decides for himself or herself what they will do.

I am certain we are not talking about the same thing. What he describes in this statement are unknown in the real world. There are causes to every action. Unless he can name one where this isn’t the case, I am open to persuasion.

I will close this already very long post with the words of Henri d’Holdbach

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.”

On freedom

Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not choice. It is man’s pretence that because he has choice he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence. In observation one begins to discover the lack of freedom. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.


Five challenges for the atheist

In the conversation between the atheist and theist, there seem to be a communication breakdown of some sort. I would’t want to be in the christian’s shoes, who feels she must be on the defensive, to defend a belief fostered by several years of indoctrination with little or no thought. It is at such times am glad that I became free. Why am I boring you with such verbiage? Some theist blogger feels the time has come to put the atheist on the defensive and has a list of questions/ challenges meant to do just that. When I stated, in the beginning, about one side not doing it’s work, I meant the theist. From where I sit, it appears to me, they do very little, if any, reading and whatever they read must be what bolsters faith but not what challenges it and this will be evident in the post we are going to spend some time on today.

The author’s opening salvo is outlandish and unsubstantiated. He writes

[..]Though it has been persistently marketed to us as a worldview that stands for reason and science, the truth is that the atheistic worldview is riddled with contradictions and outlandish claims.

I hope these claims will be made known to us in a moment.

And because most secular people haven’t studied why atheism is true, an excellent evangelistic strategy for you and your church is to understand these five challenges for atheism.

Isn’t this just awesome! Think about it. You are an atheist and you haven’t studied why it is true. There could be such atheists, that am not denying, but this is not true of the many atheists I have interacted with both online and face to face. Perhaps this author would have cared to name just a few. But lets forget all that. Let us be intrigued by the five challenges to atheism.

He tells his Christians the first matter is to settle definitions, and yours truly agrees. But it is here where he fails. Atheism is lack of belief in god[s] or stated differently a lack of belief in the existence of gods. Nothing more, nothing less. Naturalism is a philosophical position about the world. Therefore in quoting Richard Dawkins et al as having said about their shared viewpoint as:

The view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings

betrays the author’s ignorance of what atheism is. It would not be asking too much that a person looks up the meaning of atheism in a dictionary or a philosophy paper.

The problem statement

The atheist, as defined above, must deal with a logical inconsistency between their commitment to the “impersonal and inviolable” laws of the universe and their inevitable recognition that there exists “intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings.”

Granting that most atheist may ascribe to naturalism, let us see what are the unique five areas where the author thinks he has us at a corner. He identifies the following areas;

  • Consciousness
  • Free will
  • Purpose
  • Reason, including mathematics and science
  • Objective moral facts, including universal human rights and the reality of evil

The problem of consciousness, if we can call it that, has been divided into two: the easy question and the hard question.

The easy problem is

to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved.

and the hard problem

is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one’s head–why there is first-person, subjective experience.

It is however not clear to me how it is a problem for naturalism. The naturalist says that he believes that Nature is capable of producing sentient beings. Providing a supernatural answer every moment we are unable to provide a naturalistic one is a lazy way to explain reality.

The theist says we have freewill because his priest has told him so. The naturalist says, as far as we can tell, we observe for every effect a cause. Man being part of nature doesn’t seem exempt from the cause-effect continuum. How then is this a problem for the naturalist? Where is there a contradiction? I have written in several places that I believe free will is an illusion and as such many of the reasons, if not all, given for punishment should be looked at afresh with a view of changing our justice systems. A person can be an atheist and believe there is free will. This has nothing, or if it has, very little, to the question that atheism answers to.

The next challenge on purpose is framed thus

Can your secular friends consistently live within such a meaningless framework?

and why wouldn’t they? I plead guilty to the charge of nihilism. At the same time, I believe to live, as Camus says in the Rebel is to rebel against this meaninglessness. It is to find meaning in a meaningless existence, in short, to find meaning in an absurd world. Maybe am blinded by my position, but how is this position outlandish and/or contradictory?

Reason, including mathematics and science

The author first quotes C.S Lewis [someone please tell me if I should waste valuable time reading this guy?] on mind

If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.[bold mine]

Now, the operative word here is he couldn’t understand, and there is nothing wrong with that. To assert there is a problem because one christian apologist couldn’t understand something is to be ridiculous and to make a joke of our collective efforts in understanding reality and ourselves as part of that reality.

Questions such as

 Further, normative rules govern the reasoning process: 2+2 does not equal elephant. Where do these rules come from? And why do they apply to our brains?

are absurd. The rules, if we can call them that, are things we have extracted from nature by studying her. Every time we have added 2+2 we have got 4. There is no space for the supernatural. To understand nature, one must study her and you can’t do this if every instance you encounter a difficulty, you resort to saying the supernatural did it. No. That has not worked for the entire period the priest was in charge of education and it is not going to work if we allow the priest to sit at the head of education panels. Only those who look to nature, who try to unravel her mysterious can understand her. And these people, my friends include several unnamed people currently living and dead who spent time studying nature.

Objective moral facts, including universal human rights and the reality of evil

We are presented with a problem

In Uganda, Joseph Kony requires his child soldiers to kill escaping child soldiers by biting them to death. Think about it. What horror! Are there any moral facts which we can be right and wrong about, or is this just a difference of opinion? Is same-sex marriage a moral imperative or a completely arbitrary convention, no better and no worse than any other laws?

and then a question

Ask your friend: do you have more evidence that atheism is true or that raping children is wrong? Be sure you ask them to defend their answer with clear and convincing reasons.

As I have said before,, if one needs a god to be moral, this person is a danger to himself and the society in which he is a member. Who in his right frame of mind would not be disgusted and disturbed at the thought of children being asked to kill their agemates by biting them? Seriously tell me, do you need a god to find this thought revolting? Haven’t we developed some level of empathy and sense of good to find such demands abhorrent? Christians shock me, but these follow shocks me the most.

The reasons why atheism is true is has nothing to do with raping children. If that were the measure, then we would simply say Catholicism is true because of pedophilia. It is a case of a weak mind to compare these two things.

The question of what is good or bad, isn’t as easy as the theist thinks he will dispense with by calling on gods. When the theist talks about objective moral values, I would be interested in hearing what he thinks these are and why naturalism cannot arrive at the same conclusion, if at all, such things as objective moral values exist.

From a naturalist point of view, we describe as evil anything that is not amenable to us. The existence or reality of evil is not a problem to the atheist and is in no way contradictory to naturalism. The theist who argues that a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient god exist has the difficulty of explaining away evil.

On human rights, the atheist and naturalist say we share a common humanity. We shouldn’t be inhumane in our dealings with each other. We should be kind to one another. How naturalism contradicts universal human rights has not been justified just as the above challenges have only been asserted without demonstration.

He at the end asks

So Wait: Why Is Atheism True?

Well, because there are no gods. All the other questions he asked after this question are irrelevant to atheism.

Then he assures his readers

If nothing else, you should have a very interesting conversation! Based on seven years of ministry experience at Harvard, I can assure you that our God can use these five challenges to lead many of our secular friends away from the contradictions of atheism and into the coherence, truth, and love of Jesus.

In response to which I say, those have been 7 wasted years. If in 7 years of fraud, you still cannot tell what atheism is, then what have you been telling those who listen to you. My advice to any theist who intends to use these challenges, is don’t use them. They are not challenges. They will take you nowhere. The same questions could be asked of you and I am in doubt whether you will give an answer beyond god-did-it which would require an explanation. And while at it, the atheist will ask you to describe what you mean by god, what evidence you have of such a thing existing and you will be asked to provide the evidence you have for your Jesus. Am not sure you will like how the conversation will end. Am not saying this as a threat, rather as an encouragement to the theist to think deeply about his faith, then about this questions and what answer or response he can come up with.

In the end, I think, this author has failed in his attempt to provide challenges to naturalism or atheism for that matter.

I end my case :-]

On free will- a question

A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition. ~José Bergamín

Yours truly is a determinist, and in quite a few instances, I have written to try and explain why I think the idea that we have free will is an illusion. In this post I would like to be persuaded that am wrong.

Consider this an open invite to anyone who usually reads this blog but is afraid to comment because some of the views expressed here are too strong. I want to be persuaded, though there are no prizes to be won at the end. It is just an opportunity for those opposed to determinism to plant doubt in my belief.

I have indicated am open to persuasion, but this will not sell.

Fire away!

On free will

You think yourself free, because you do what you will; but are you free to will or not to will; to desire or not to desire? Are not your volitions and desires necessarily excited by objects or qualities totally independent of you?

Baron d’Holdbach in Good Sense

The problem of Evil: Why doesn’t god do something

Caroline’s take.

We have missed Caroline, I know I have and it is with great pleasure that today while I was strolling on the internet, don’t ask me how, I found this very interesting post in which she weighs in on the problem of evil and attempts to offer a solution to this thorn in the flesh, forgive my use of cliché, of religion.

She starts very emotionally, in a way that all of us would easily get roped into the story and want to read more. Her opening paragraph starts thus

“I prayed every night to God, asking him to rescue me from my father’s abuse. Why didn’t he?

Here she has Identified a case of what the philosophers, well I mean the real ones, not armchair philosophers like yours truly, have called moral evil. We are in agreement with her, at this point, that is a logical point to start from. After that grand opening, she posits the real question

Can such suffering by innocent children be reconciled with a reality of a good, loving, and all-powerful God? Do we have an answer for her question?

Before we look at her solution, yours truly says the answer to her first question is a resounding no. The second question then can only be answered in the negative unless we posit a godless world, which yours truly believes is the case, then shit happens and some people are born such that they do lack the ability to see other people as manifestations of the same will as they are and as such trample on their wills so to speak. Back to this later.

Caroline, lists five truths as possible responses to the problem. Allow me to list them here

  1. suffering deserved and undeserved can result in some good
  2. god has a purpose for our lives far deeper and more meaningful than just to enjoy them
  3. we are not the centre of the universe. He is
  4. he has chosen to give humanity free will
  5. there is life after our bodies die, when all injustices will be made right

Reread those five points then take a break. We will shortly demonstrate why Caroline’s theodicy fails to take off.

She presented us with a problem, the question we will ask her is how or in what way does being abused result in some good. How does living with the knowledge that the person who should protect you is the one abusing you lead to some good? I need your help here ladies? Can you conceive of a world where such a thing results in some good? I can’t!

If I understood her question, she is attempting to reconcile if such a problem with the reality of an all loving god. To then say god has a purpose is to sidestep the question she started with, that is, in my view, if such a being is real. The question of whether there are plans then doesn’t even arise. We have not proved the reality of this being how do we claim it has plans for us or rather for this abused child? Ignoring what have said for a moment, what good is it for any of us, if the reasons we suffer are not known to us but are the private knowledge of this god? What sort of god would want that for creatures he created out of love? I don’t know about you, but for me, it would make the suffering worthwhile if I knew what is at the end of the rope.

In point 3, Caroline paints the picture of a dictator. No questions are  asked. He decides and we are supposed to suffer quietly or he will kill you! How lovely? Show me some love!

Oh, free will again. Please Caroline, I would want you to tell the little girl in her face that god has given her free will so she can be abused! I don’t want to make this post about free will as you already well know where yours truly stands on that debate. Indulge me for just a moment, how is having free will beneficial to this little girl? In the movie God on Trial, those who have put s/h/it on trial ask what free will did they have when they were being put in the gas chambers? Did god give others more free will to be able to abuse others? A lot has been written on the FWD and it is wanting and I advice Caroline to acquaint herself with the relevant literature on the topic.

What hogwash! How does telling a girl who has been violated that this punishment will be paid for in a future life? What does such a promise do to the current life? While at it, what really does Caroline understand by to die? Where I come from, it means cessation of life, finito, end! To talk about life after dying I think is itself a contradiction unless I miss something. Related to this question then would be, if the next life is so glorious, what stopped god from killing the little girl before she is abused so no one has to be punished later or is that too hard for god to accomplish or is s/h/it a sadist? In Brothers Karamazov, the chapter on the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan asks Aloysha what good does knowing her child will go to heaven does to the mother who sees her baby cut into pieces by the soldiers? And how does knowing that this person will be punished in future do to the wife whose husband has just been killed? I don’t think there is any and I can’t believe anyone would spread such stories.

Having said that, let us hear what she tells us and I will endeavour to point out what I think is wrong with her assessment. She tells us

if we have an inaccurate understanding of why we are here, our evaluation of how well things are going will also be inaccurate. Couple that error with a view that sees God as existing for our sake instead of the other way around, and you have the makings of a life marked by huge disappointment, discouragement, and even disbelief.

If we take god to be a slave driver, then, by all means, this makes sense. I am your lord and you live as I want you to. Tell me how lovely that is! Please someone tell me am missing something. If as she had said earlier on, that god has a plan, then please tell me, how if he doesn’t share this [un]holy plan with us how we are to insure ourselves from disappointment, discouragement and disbelief? Am patient!

She the continues to advice us to see life as

life as a gift, a proving ground, a rehabilitation center, a temporary home, and/or a journey to our true and eternal dwelling place, we will view our circumstances in an entirely different light

and I feel my whole system revolted by such myopic thinking! Why for the life of me, shouldn’t this god have transported everyone to this land of bliss? Is it in his plans to first have countless number of people suffer to assuage his ego before he can finally say welcome home my children, here is where I wanted you but I needed you to take the torturous route to here so you can know am a loving father! What the fuck! Who reasons in this manner? For all I know, before I was born I wasn’t given life lessons, we learn as we go along and if this other life exists for Caroline, am sure she doesn’t need to train for it. This can’t be a response to one who is suffering. It is revolting. It is appalling! It is stupid to say the least!

In declaring

Pain and hardship are what bring many to seek God. If our lives were trouble-free, would any of us recognize our need for him?

She portrays her god as a slave master, as a being that believes in the adage, no pain no gain! It is like the employer who makes his employees work like beasts of burden just so that they can know he is boss! Please count me out. I don’t want any relationship with such a being at all. And seriously, was this god touted as all-powerful? There must be other ways, ways that do not involve abuse that he could employ. I don’t use that with my friends and they haven’t claimed ever that am all-powerful!

And she does not tell the whole story when she writes

You always hurt the one you love

since for most of us this is far from intentional. You would not let the people you love suffer if there was a way to prevent it especially you would not let your daughter or any child for that matter be abused because some good may come of it if you could prevent it. I don’t know if there is anyone who could allow such a thing to happen and still have a sound conscience. Well maybe lets forget Mohammed, he liked them young!

It is not as she says

Our refusal to allow suffering to sanctify or save us will likely result in loss and more suffering, both in our lives and in the lives of those close to us

but that sometimes the suffering we go through, to the best of our knowledge, is meaningless. There is no good we get from having a toothache. It is pointless suffering and can’t be called sanctifying.

In conclusion, I contend that Caroline has offered no solution to the child to her question. She has behaved like god does when Job inquires as to why he is suffering and he comes out asking job irrelevant questions. We need answers that would make suffering here bearable for the short duration that we are here and it is better to say we don’t know why we suffer than to give any of the above responses.