Difficult questions for atheists 

Over at Nate’s, there is discussion going on regarding questions UncleE thinks are problematic to an atheistic worldview.

First, I have been reliably informed by my friends atheism has no content other than a lack of belief in deities, whatever these are. This is to say, you should give a reason for any position you take. Being an atheist cannot be one of them.

With that introduction, the question posed by UncleE, can be dismissed as not being problematic to atheism. 

I will indulge UncleE though. His question

Do we have free will? If so, how? If not how can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

First, I will mention what Bob said the other day. We cannot have absolutist answers on questions that are not amenable to proof one way or another. I am a freewill skeptic and will remain so till I am convinced otherwise. 

I think the question is a false dilemma. Isn’t evaluation of reasonableness a brain process? And how are we to tell that a thing is not a brain process? 

This question is not a problem for atheism. To the best of my knowledge, Marvin is an atheist and a compatibilist same as Dennett. 

I am hoping UncleE will ask better questions in future. 

on free will

Mary whose blog does not have a comments section tells us

Yes, God is loving and omnipotent, but it doesn’t mean that He will wipe out evil. God wants us to make a free decision of will. Man is the crowning glory of God’s creations. Man is the only creation given a free will. All other creations, living and non-living, are here to serve. They provide man with a means to live so that man can focus on the real purpose of his earthly life, that is, to return to God of his own volition. Just as the Tree of Knowledge existed to test the will of Adam and Eve, evil exists to test the will of their descendants.

I don’t know about you, but where I come from where people are both not all loving and omnipotent, they do their best to reduce suffering. Try imagine going for an operation with anesthesia!

Mark Brady is the True Christian™ kind of fellow. He knows you are going to hell if you don’t have Jesus H in your life and it is for eternity plus 1!

And finally, Shepherds [sheep comes to mind] Chapel tell us god allows people to hurt each other because, you guessed right, freewill.


Evil and omnipotence

On free will

I think this quote below best illustrates how the freewill proponents see it. It is from one of the essays by Voltaire.

He writes 

I neither will to make my nest nor the contrary; it is a matter of complete indifference to me; but I am going to will to make my nest solely for the sake of willing, and without being determined to do it in any way, merely to prove that I am free.

Free will: do we have it?

In his blog post, free will and the perfect pool table, my friend Steve concludes we do. I don’t think he has demonstrated that we actually do we have freewill. I also contend he has failed to give a coherent definition of what he means when he says we have free will.

He writes

But now let us add the real-world pool table items back in. If we were to just add the pockets back, some of the balls would leave the table by falling into the pockets and the balls that remained would have to have paths that repeated themselves and which didn’t involve colliding into a pocket. If the felt is added back, so is friction and the balls in motion will then stop at some point due to that friction. Also, the not perfectly elastic bumpers will absorb some of the energy of the balls colliding with them. We end up with an imperfect, non-deterministic game, one in which the result of any balls being set in motion becomes quite uncertain. The only thing we can say for certain is the balls will come to a stop after each “play.” The motions are somewhat but not perfectly predictable, which allows for the skills of elite pool players.

Every time the cue ball is struck (the cue ball being made slightly larger than the other balls so it strikes them ever so slightly above the equator, minimizing the chances of a ball being hit slightly below the equator which can result in the struck ball flying off of the table (now you know)), the table ends up in a new state, that is the positions of the balls involved in collisions is almost guaranteed to be different as well as somewhat unpredictable.

and I find this is analogous to human life. The individual is any one of the balls. The friction on the billiard table are the different are the social constraints, the mental environment we live in and the push from the cue stick the different motives pushing us in different directions. If, for instance, the player was a professional and we observed how their play, we would tell almost accurately where the ball would go every time it was hit. So it is with humans; if we could carefully map every situation, we would, with accuracy, tell what the person would do. The outcome, given the same conditions would be the same.

I disagree when he writes

[..]So, decisions have to be made. Should I try to sink this ball or that ball? If I sink that ball, will the cue ball be in a position to sink another ball (or the next numbered ball in the sequence) and, if it won’t be properly positioned, can I make it properly positioned by some skill of my possession.

the decision of which ball to sink is not arbitrary. For a person who hasn’t played pool, I would be trying to sink any ball. For a professional player, with years of experience, this will not be the case. This is the effect of training. The play is not arbitrary.

While it is true that

 two different pool players will sometimes play a particular situation differently.

it is not true this is because of freewill. The differences in their play is as a result of differences in training, experience and abilities. And it is the same with other human affairs. Given the same scenario, different people will act differently because of differences in training, genetic make up and the motives.

And as reader Shinashiz said, this

And occasionally state that “they don’t know why they chose the route they did” or they felt more confident “in the moment” in that path, or…. And sometimes they get frozen in a state of indecision, that is they have two paths forward that they cannot distinguish between and they get “stuck” not being able to decide

doesn’t support freewill. To be undecided is to say, in a deterministic universe, that motives are matched up. That acting on any will almost bring a similar result. The moment one motive outweighs the other, in this case, the chances of a score increases for one against the other, the player will proceed and play. This cannot be, in my view, be called freewill, especially since we can see the immediate effect of the environment at play.

I agree with Steve when he writes

I think much of the debate about the existence of free will is based upon a faulty definition.

and I would have expected him to give us a proper definition. I do think that if a definition was coherent, much of this debate would have ended. My definition of freewill is quite simple and you are free to disagree with it.

Freewill means our actions are uncaused. 

Steve then says

The reason free will is important is that if we do not have the ability to make our own choices, that our response to situations was either hardwired into our brains or programming in by social conditioning, then we are not responsible for our actions, our engineers and programmers are. How could we punish criminals or send sinners to Hell without them having the ability to do other than what the situation triggers? How indeed?

While I don’t want to dismiss this very important challenge, I first would want to say, a human being is not responsible for their make, nor their thoughts. All these come to them from outside. Outside here could be a book, a tree, another person but never their own. And much as it is hard to accept, we are products of social conditioning, biological makeup[ temperament] and training. And our actions are driven by different motives that we are not the originators.

That we should be punished for our actions, is in my view, a religious idea and the main reason the churches, especially those that preach hell exist. They wouldn’t justify their hell if they accepted the fact of determinism. And we should change our motives for punishment. As a determinist, I believe, training is a better way to modify behaviour. Jails have failed to achieve this. We should bring down those walls. We should improve human societies. An unequal society breeds discontent.