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.”

Advertisements

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.

Krishnamurti

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