Difficult Questions for Atheists? Part 1

A little while back, my friend UnkleE suggested that I should consider some questions that he believes are problematic for atheism as a worldview. He listed 5 questions, and I want to take them one at a time, so they can each get the focus they deserve.

That said, my initial responses to each of these questions may not be very long. Instead, I’d like to use each of these posts as a launchpad for discussion. I know these are issues that UnkleE (and probably many of you) have thought about at length, and I’d like to consider those arguments as fully as possible without subjecting everyone to my own rambling preamble. So, here’s question 1:

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

I don’t know.

I’m aware that a number of physicists and other scientists sometimes argue that free will is an illusion. That was shocking to me when I first heard it, but I now realize what they’re saying.

Imagine you could go back in time to a point where a decision was made on something seemingly insignificant. In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. It’s said that another musician, Tommy Allsup, was going to be on the plane instead of Ritchie Valens, but they flipped a coin for it, and Valens “won.” If you could go back in time and witness that coin flip without interfering, would anything happen differently? Whoever came up with the idea of flipping for it thought of that for very specific reasons that would still be the same if it happened over again. Allsup flipped the coin at a specific level of force, and it flipped through specific atmospheric conditions. Those things would still be the same if you were watching it happen. Valens called “heads,” which he did for specific reasons, even if they were subconscious. In other words, every single thing that happened, even though they were seemingly random, happened in particular ways for particular reasons. If you could replay it over, there’s no reason to think anything would play out differently.

And every decision you’ve ever made, you made for specific reasons, even if the decision was close. If you went back in time and made the decision over again, but only knew the same things you knew at that moment, could you have made any other decision?

There’s no real way to test this, but the thought experiment leads many to conclude that true “free will” is not really possible.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I do think that if you could replay decisions, it’s unlikely they would ever change. But that’s not really what I think of when I think of free will. Just because I made all my decisions for specific reasons and was “powerless,” in a way, to do anything different, that doesn’t mean that I had no control over the decisions. Thought processes were still firing in my brain as I calculated a number of factors, considered past experiences, estimated probabilities, and tried to predict possible outcomes. I might always come to the same conclusion in the same circumstances, but my mind is still very active in the process.

[H]ow can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

I think any choice — any good choice — should be using both. Brain processes deal with information, and that’s all that evidence is, so I see them as being very closely related.

Ultimately, I don’t see how this question causes a problem for atheism. I may have more to say about it in the comment thread, but I’ll need to see the case against atheism filled out a bit more before I can really weigh in on it.

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163 thoughts on “Difficult Questions for Atheists? Part 1”

  1. I listened to a Sam Harris lecture where he argued that humans do not have free will. Whilst I could appreciate some of Sam’s arguments, on balance I was not convinced:

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  2. Hi, have you seen this talk by Sam Harris on freewill?

    Years later, I have yet to find a better explanations, and still see no flaws…

    Also, regarding your answer, one thing that is missing is turning the question around: what does it mean to truly have freewill with God in the picture? And/or with some sort of purely non-material consciousness? I don’t see how Theism explains the ‘how’ it works either, it’s just stated as fact that we have it…

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  3. Hugo, I would argue ‘great minds think alike’.

    Cheers.

    Whilst on free will folk like Matt Dillahunty speculate about whether there would be free will in heaven. As we are told that only “God’s” will is done in heaven as per the Lord’s Prayer.

    But then again did that mean that the rebellion of Lucifer and a third of the Angels was “God’s” will. I guess so!

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  4. To me, it always seemed clear that we have free will — whatever that means.
    I do think some of the disagreements are really disagreements over what we mean by “free will”.
    If physics says that we cannot have free will, then I see that as a problem in physics. For it seems to me that without free will, science itself would be impossible.

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  5. I’d like to weigh in but I’m not sure I have understood the objection. Regardless, my two cents: I consider myself a compatibilist, so I say yes to free will but I’m pretty sure it isn’t the kind Eric has in mind (libertarian free will), wherein we have some uncaused component of the self which directs our decisions. In the absence of LFW, how can any choice be based on evidence? I agree with Nate that this isn’t obviously a problem, but if I try to unpack this a bit further I think he’s suggesting that we can’t claim rational, truth-directed decision making if those decisions are just chemical reactions in the brain. I think this is begging the question, though, in that it assumes that rationality transcends neurological processes. Why can’t we understand rationality to just be the neurological processes which employ evidence in the pursuit of truth, where the effectiveness of those processes is judged pragmatically (i.e., what works)?

    I suppose the next objection is then to raise the evolutionary argument against naturalism and suggest that the processes which gave rise to the neurology used to make decisions (and that pragmatic judgment about what works) are not themselves truth directed. Here I first assume the validity of the intuition that I can be rational and then use this faculty to see if it holds up. I then note that genetic propagation is aided by the development of neurological processes which accurately facilitate interaction with the external world, and so I find a good explanation which sustains the pragmatic assumption that I possess faculties which can discern truth.

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  6. I’m of the view that free will is a mere illusion. I don’t see it as a problem for atheism, or science, it is a problem for theism though. A god that knows what we will do and how we will act is a god that does not give us free will.

    Two examples I would give in support of this are:

    – a recent news item showing that scientists wired electrodes to a monkey’s brain and by monitoring the activity of about 200 cells related to facial recognition, they were able to reconstruct the human face the monkey was looking at.

    – My wife likes to play a game where she predicts what I will choose from a menu. She has often decided what I will choose before I even finish reading the options. She’s also right the vast majority of the time. We’ve not recorded the results, but I am confident are hit rate well exceeds the mean. (confirmation bias warning noted)

    That we make decisions based on information is not an argument against free will. It shows that our brains are information processors and the decisions that come out are predictable, based on the information given. This supports the notion that free will is an illusion.

    I would also use that argument in response to Neil’s comments regarding science and free will. Experiments provide information and we ‘make decisions’ using that information as the inputs. Change the inputs and the results will also change. This is a feature of a processing system and is why we feel like we make free decisions.

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  7. I think we do have free will if it is defined as the ability to make choices based on our experiences, preferences, desires, empathy, etc., basically using all of the information our brain has accumulated throughout the years that we’ve been alive. We can choose to eat healthy and keep our body in shape or be lazy and sit on a couch all day. These are real choices and we make real decisions. The underlying neural framework that does all of the computation and analysis might be “determined”, but we are still making choices and can weigh the probabilities of what may or may not be true.

    If, however, free will is defined as the ability to make choices without relying on a “determined” neural framework then I would like to know what this actually looks like. Can UnkleE provide some kind of description of how this would work? Is there some kind of immaterial “choice-maker” interacting with our brain? What does the choice-maker use to make decisions?

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  8. The theistic argument, I suspect, is that if there is no free will, then we can’t be blamed for not believing in God. (The Devil made me do it?) This is why God has to have given us free will, because otherwise, we are not responsible for our actions. Legal proceedings require the presumption of free will for the same reason.

    I think this whole discussion comes a cropper because we automatically restrict free will to our conscious thoughts. Making conscious decisions is tedious and difficult and we mostly avoid it like the plague. Most “conscious” decisions we make are really not. We scour data, we consider alternatives, then we decide, but the decision is often for things there is no data on. So, we prowl Consumer Reports and product reviews but then we buy a car based upon how it looks or how it makes us feel. We may eliminate a number of bad choices through data, but the differences in the data are usually too small to distinguish between the front runners.

    If the concept of free will were to be opened up to both conscious and unconscious processing, which I think is required, the answer to “do we have free will” would be incomplete because we understand so little about the unconscious mental processes making up that “mind,” but the answer would not be “no.”

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  9. “If the concept of free will were to be opened up to both conscious and unconscious processing”

    Wouldn’t that then also grant that non-human animals have free will, something that many theists would wish to avoid because free will is something that sets humans apart, apparently.

    I would also argue that unconscious free will grants free will to automated electronics.

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  10. Re “I would also argue that unconscious free will grants free will to automated electronics.” I think you have the free part covered but not the will. Currently all actions to be taken by a computer have to be programmed, even learning algorithms.

    And what if animals have free will? So what? A monkey can choose between a banana and a bunch of grapes, but not both. They choose. So what? This is not a moral question because we eat all animals that won’t poison us and even some that do (fugu?). The arguments that we should not all seem ad hoc. Lions eat water buffalo in the wild, should we not, then?

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  11. I wholeheartedly agree with you on animals, I think their free will status is exactly the same as ours. Well for those with discernible brains anyway. It gets more fuzzy lower down the chain.

    It’s the theist who claims that humans are special that have an issue to face. (WLC and his animal pain argument being an example of the mess it brings up).

    Re electronics, is it possible to tell the difference between an unconscious action / reaction and one that is driven by electronics? I would love to see an experiment based on that, it would be fun to see the results.

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  12. Existence is biological.

    “Free will” is simply another way of describing an organism’s innate desire to survive and thrive.

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  13. I’m confused as to how this is a difficult question for atheists. Is there some definition of free will that causes problems for a natural world without deities? Additionally, I’m not sure why evaluating evidence and brain processes have to be mutually exclusive. Does it break the world if our brains are able to subconsciously find and evaluate all relevant evidence and only bring the best bits to our conscious thinking?

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  14. Peter and hugo: in reference to that video, “Simon Longstaff” is such a great porn name 🙂

    And now we have a pretty good idea what Nate is doing while he stays away from his blog for such a long time and goes to great lengths to pretend he is busy.

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  15. Hey, busy is busy no matter what you’re doing

    Claiming to be ”very busy and I have my hands full” is something I would prefer not to explore the full ramifications of if it’s all the same with you, Nate?

    And now we have completely derailed the thread …

    What’s the next question?

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  16. Is atheism a worldview

    Only if being a Taylor Swift fan is also considered a worldview. ‘Cos sometimes, baby them fundies is gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

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  17. For reference, the comments from the following post may give some background for people regarding unkleE’s views:
    https://findingtruth.info/2013/02/13/3-questions-for-atheists-1st-question/

    As others have said, the traditional theistic view of an all knowing God eliminates the possibility of free-will as well. In order for there to be libertarian free will we need 2 things to be true – (1) it has to be possible that the future can turn out in more than one way and (2) the cause of either of those different ways is not random but based on a choice of the individual. Traditional theism makes (1) impossible. Taking an example: if I go to the fridge to choose a beer or milk and there is an all-knowing God then that God would know which one I pick and that means that one of those choices is actually not possible. Common response for this from theists is that God is not forcing the choice, but this response misses the point. Who forces it is not relevant. If it’s only possible for one choice to be made then we can’t have free will.

    Another conundrum regarding free-will occurs for people who believe in a heaven where people will no longer sin. If they can’t sin then there is no free will.

    And then of course, related to that is the fact that if there is an all perfect God then he can’t sin either, so it seems such a being wouldn’t have free will either.

    As an aside, having thought some about this issue, I have a sense that there is something paradoxical about the idea of libertarian free will. I can’t seem to understand it even if I posit us as “spiritual beings”. But if such a thing is possible, then we can’t rule out the possibility that we could be spiritual beings which have free will in a world where there are no gods. That would be an atheistic world but not a naturalistic one. Just some food for thought.

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  18. I am wondering how anyone here or elsewhere can entertain any degree of supposed intellectual seriousness from unklee who considers the Virgin Birth of the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth a genuine historical event and one of the core tenets of his belief.

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  19. I don’t think the Virgin Birth is the problem Ark. If one posits that gGod(s) exist than is it really a stretch to go to miracles such as a virgin birth? Isn’t the core tenet of Christianity (and other religions too I guess), miracles? The first miracle is gGod(s). The virgin birth and other miracles are just part of the narrative that comes later.

    As for “intellectual seriousness” one could argue about someone’s intellect but I personally don’t recommend it. I think one can be both intellectual and serious and hold to these beliefs. One then has to ask, why? It’s not that they do, it’s why they do? I think there’s a purpose in beliefs. They serve a purpose to the individual and I think one’s intellect (where ever it falls on the spectrum) is dedicated to maintaining that belief in order to meet the needs of the individual.

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  20. For unklee to dismiss Creationism and yet accept the virgin birth and resurrection is intellectual dishonesty as all are considered miracles, yet he accepts evolution.

    Therefore why should one entertain any of his claims?

    As to why …. well there is indoctrination, of course, and this plays a major part.
    There are other, psychological reasons which I am not qualified to judge.
    As most deconverts seem to acknowledge, coming to understand the fallacious and pernicious nature of such beliefs is always up to the individual one can only hope that by showing up the untenable position the likes of unklee takes that those reading along will see how (I believe) disingenuous he is. And if not disingenuous, then willfully ignorant or delusional.

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  21. @ Zoe
    I should add re: the virgin birth. The narrative in Matthew has been demonstrated to have been ripped off from Isaiah simply to fulfill supposed prophecy and has been attested to as such by people like Raymond Brown. In fact, it had nothing to do with a coming messiah but rather a prophecy directed at King Ahaz. As Unklee knows this full well it only compounds his intellectual dishonesty.

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  22. Howie, thanks for posting that link. It does provide some background into UnkleE’s position on this free will topic. Without free will how can we trust ourselves to make good decisions since we ultimately have no choice in the matter? I think that is close to what he is asking.

    Let’s say we have two different chess computers that are competing in the world chess championship along with humans. One of the AIs has the ability to learn from all of it’s past games and use this experience to make “decisions”. The other AI only uses basic IF THEN logic to make “decisions”. Neither of these computers have “free will”, but the first one has a significant advantage over the second because it is basing it’s decisions on more information.

    More information = more accuracy for determining truth and better decision making. This happens regardless of how much free will we have so I think the point UnkleE is trying to make is not very strong.

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  23. I Don’t buy that freewill is an illusion, of course I can’t seem to understand how any of that would be a problem for atheism.

    We freely choose based on information and desires and wants, etc. we can sometimes have conflicting wants and desires – like a person who really wants to be faithful to their spouse, but who also wants to have sex with someone who is not their spouse. You can’t have both, and can only pick one or the other – is that not a choice, and is that person really incapable of making a free decision there? It smells like a ton of bullshit to say there is no freewill.

    I don’t see where freewill does not come into play there. And, if there is no freewill, I would say that there’s no point in discussing it, since people like me can’t help but believe there is freewill – but then, that would be silly too because then there’d be others who couldn’t help but say there is none…

    Does a parent choose to spank his child, or choose to restrain? does a person choose to eat that piece of cake, or remain on their diet?

    Freewill is the ability to choose between these conflicting wants – basing that choice on something like knowledge and experience doesnt mean that there is no choice, it just means that all decisions are not the same – but that doesnt necessarily mean that they’re unequal – one just may give way to a since of nobility, while the other may give more to a carnal desire – they’re not the same, but could could be equal in that you want them both, albeit in different ways..

    still, this doesn’t pose any dilemma to atheism that I can tell.

    I’m curious to see the other questions.

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  24. It has been interesting to read the responses. A quick read suggests that maybe the majority commenting agree that humans don’t have free will in the sense that Travis defined it: “(libertarian free will), wherein we have some uncaused component of the self which directs our decisions”.

    I think this is a great definition, and it alludes to the main reason I believe that if naturalism/physicalism is true, then we have no free will in that sense. For there have been physical (and the resulting chemical and biological) processes going on before we were all born, and our birth, our genetics, etc are the result of those processes.

    Many of these processes are now well understood, and in principle all could be described if we knew enough. (There may be truly random processes as well, but there may not be at the level of human choice. I’ll come back to them.) So that means if there are only physical things, then we are the result of those processes, and the processes continue in our brains. There is nothing to interrupt the physical processes.

    The only way then we could have free will is, as Travis says, there is some uncaused component in our thinking (I would prefer to say not totally caused by these processes). And a random process, if such exists, won’t help, because it isn’t under our choice either.

    Those wishing to argue for free will in this sense thus need to be able to show where and how the chains of physical (electro-chemical) processes in the brain are interrupted by something that isn’t itself also part of such a chain. I don’t think, if physicalism is true, that there is such a way.

    This means that the only way we can have “real” choice is for there to be something other than physical in the mix. Obviously this can imply something “supernatural”, but some philosophers (e.g. David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel) believe there must be some natural but non-physical aspect to the universe. If either of these viewpoints was true, then there would be the possibility of spontaneous choice, although we would still have to work out how it happens.

    I’ll leave it there for now, to see if anyone who believes in libertarian free will has an explanation, but if not, then I’d like to go on to the bigger question of why this is all a difficulty. Thanks.

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  25. I’ll wait and see what others have to say. Personally, I don’t see the problem. I think it’s a big assumption that anything non-physical would need to be involved at all. The physical and chemical processes in the brain still obviously react to information: it’s how we know how to navigate our surroundings, it’s how we limit our order to what’s on the menu, and it’s how we interact with one another on this blog.

    I just don’t see the smoke, much less the fire. Though it’s very likely that I’m missing something, so I’ll see what others have to offer.

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  26. No, I don’t believe libertarian free will exists as defined here. This posits an immaterial, uncaused cause interacting with our brains. I think I could make a compelling argument against it’s existence, but we can skip that for now and move on to why it is a difficulty.

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  27. I’m not convinced that “libertarian free will” even makes sense.

    I think we have free will, but the compatibilist account of what we mean by “free will” seems better. Note that I am not a determinist.

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  28. Neil – yup, your first sentence is my feeling as well. Something just doesn’t seem to make sense of a part of us deciding things in some un-caused way (and that goes for whether we are material/non-material/or both). If the decision is uncaused then it seems it would be detatched from the actual decision itself which seems absurd to me. But I’m sure philosophers could pick apart and find the problems in what I just wrote so I’m just not completely sure that it’s absurd.

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  29. If we mean “freewill” as something that allows humans to choose without any external influences whatsoever, then no, I not only think that we don’t have that, I think it’s absurd to define “freewill” that way. And even if we did, how does having a god even begin to provide that?

    Nothing exists in a vacuum, yeah, we have natural, physical urges and hungers, we have past experiences and observations, and we have other things that we want and value based of various things – these do not rob us of the ability to choose, they are tools we use when making a choice, they are the things that help a person decide to walk away from an argument instead of resorting to murder; they are the things that hopefully help a young man not to rape his date; or help a person decide to give their sandwich to a homeless person even if they were really hungry and wanted to eat it themselves.

    Like nate, I don’t see any smoke. To me it looks like desperate apologetics to assert that there can be not freewill or freedom of choice without a God, and it also looks like the opposite extreme to try and suggest that we dont have freewill, therefore there is no God….

    How could we prove either? These arguments appear to be based on anecdotes, baseless assertions, and giant leaps in argumentation. Because a person makes the same menu selection 95% of the time, does not mean that person can’t help what selection he makes, and then my own anecdote is when we’re presented with competing options where one choice will give us want A while depriving us of want B and the other choice will us B, but not A – but whatever…

    None of this, as far as I can tell, actually proves or disproves god or the bible

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  30. Hey Nate. Let me offer a little bit here. I kind of see at least part of the problem with free will. I think the difference for me though is that I don’t see how souls or gods ends up resolving the issue, and as I mentioned before an all-knowing God seems to eliminate the possibility of any free will anyway, but for different reasons than physicalism.

    That said, what you describe here goes along with the compatibilist view of free will (which I kind of see as a pragmatic view of free will). Basically that our processes of the brain are clearly making decisions based on information.

    However, I think the problem that comes in is when we begin to think about the causes of that process, which you kind of hinted at in your original post. Example: If I thought about it for a while and finally decided to punch you in the face (which would be fun, but I’d probably avoid it since you’re such a nice guy) you and I would both agree that pragmatically speaking my brain processes made the decision to go ahead with it. But that whole decision process can be traced back to the history of my life, both my genetics as well as environmental/social influences. All of those influences could then be traced backwards until we begin to realize that the whole decision while feeling very much like a choice was kind of predetermined by a whole bunch of very complicated processes in the past. One caveat is quantum mechanics which is debatable, but all that says is that it’s possible that there are things that are not predetermined. However, it just says that some things could be completely random, and randomness doesn’t seem to solve the problem because then the choice is just a mixture of random stuff + predetermined causes – and we want to feel like we really truly made a choice and then are somehow accountable for it independent of fixed causes + randomness. You’d probably feel I was accountable for punching you in the face.

    So one problem is accountability/morality. The other problem I think is even deeper. No matter what my current worldview is, then it seems that worldview that I hold is also based off of fixed causes (and maybe some random stuff). This is where things begin to look a little paradoxical to me. If my beliefs I hold are predetermined and/or random then that doesn’t seem to say much about the veracity of those beliefs.

    Ok, ok – too much philosophy. Where I think you and I would probably end up is saying something similar to what I think Travis tried to say. Pragmatically we can see if our views about the world match up with the way the world acts and we can predict and see if things occur in the future according to those things so who cares. So maybe the whole smoke no fire thing really is the right way to say it. But it still is a little of a nagging thing for me to be honest.

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  31. Hey Howie,

    Thanks for delving into that a bit more (and for not punching me in the face) 😉

    I’m not up on all the terms, so it’s helpful to see some of them defined. I understand the idea that any choice we make is the result of a long causal chain that includes all of the past (including the Big Bang and beyond), our genetics, our time and place, culture, education, beliefs, hormones, blood sugar, medications, etc, etc. And I agree that the choices we make, since they’re based upon that, could only ever go one way.

    Even in William’s example of someone choosing the same menu item 95% still having the freedom to make another selection, the same forces still apply. Whenever that person makes a different choice, they’re still doing so for specific reasons — hunger level, a feeling of spontaneity, seeing the meal at the next table, etc. He was always going to make that choice, even if it was different from his normal choice, and even if it felt like whim. 🙂

    But oddly enough, that doesn’t bother me too much. Perhaps “free will” isn’t the right term for that — maybe we should just call it “choice” or something. Either way, I still think the person is actively making a decision, even if the alignment of all the relevant factors meant that person was bound to make that decision.

    Like some of you alluded to — what alternative could there be? How could reality work any other way? It reminds me of how people say there must be a God because our universe operates within a natural order. Well, what else would it be? Do they expect that things would just operate randomly? Like gravity works one moment, then it doesn’t? That we depend on oxygen at one moment and silicon the next? Any other system quickly becomes absurd.

    I think a system where we thought and did things without any connection at all to past experiences, the environment, our physical and chemical limitations, and all the other factors that influence our decisions is similarly absurd when you really think about it.

    At least, that’s where I see it, atm. And if I’m wrong, it’s not like I can help it. 😉

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  32. “Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, has declared that “Philosophy is dead.
    Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

    Prof Hawking went on to claim that “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” He said new theories “lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it”. ”

    Gary: Existence is biological. Our actions can be explained by biology not philosophy. Philosophy is a dead field. I suggest that we skeptics stop allowing Christians to drag complicated, sophisticated-sounding philosophical riddles into every discussion of their imaginary ghost god.

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  33. Nate, you said,

    “Whenever that person makes a different choice, they’re still doing so for specific reasons — hunger level, a feeling of spontaneity, seeing the meal at the next table, etc. He was always going to make that choice, even if it was different from his normal choice, and even if it felt like whim.”

    I just disagree – not that it matters. Neither position can be proven. We can’t go back and change that position, but we use all of our external influences and wants, desires and knowledge and beliefs to choose. You’re just saying that it could only go one way, but why?

    feeling torn between conflicting options is an illusion, why?

    I just disagree and it makes everything pointless, because no one can help but only do what it is that they’re already doing… But the pointlessness isnt even why I disagree.

    I want salmon today – except I’m not freely choosing the salmon, I was pre-programmed to make the selection? I’m not really deciding to cheat on my wife, or to steel that car, or to defend religion regardless of the issues, I can’t help but do what I do, because people are just robots who act according to their programming?

    I just disagree. The fact that dude above picks the same thing at the restaurant most of the time, to the extent that his wife can prophecy what he’ll select before he has decided is not proof of absence of freewill, because it’s not 100% certain – the fact that it’s not 100% certain is evidence of freewill, not the absence in it.

    But forget all that, I dont even really get the point to discussing this – what is the point in it? Just fun, or what?

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  34. “But forget all that, I dont even really get the point to discussing this – what is the point in it? Just fun, or what?”

    Answer: mental masturbation.

    We choose based on biology. We choose based on an innate desire to survive and to thrive. The concept of “free will” has no more relevance in the modern world as does “predestination”.

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  35. It’s not that the choice is preprogrammed — it’s not at all. He’s still making the decision, just as you made the decision to type your comment, and I’m making the decision to respond.

    The thing is, if this event could play over again, you’d still decide to make the comment you made — even down to the grammar and spelling, because you made those choices for very particular reasons. And if you could go back in time and relive the moment but had no new information at all then you’d still be the exact same individual you were in that moment down to your very molecules and thought processes; therefore, you’d do the exact same things you did the “first time” you wrote that comment.

    Does that make more sense? It’s not that anything’s preprogrammed or fated — it’s just that we do the things we do for reasons, not arbitrarily.

    You’re right that there’s no way to demonstrate or test this. But when I walk through it carefully as a thought experiment, it seems pretty clear to me that things work that way.

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  36. “And if you could go back in time and relive the moment but had no new information at all then you’d still be the exact same individual you were in that moment down to your very molecules and thought processes; therefore, you’d do the exact same things you did the “first time” you wrote that comment.”

    This is true, but only if ALL environmental factors are the same. And not just the environmental factors at that one moment in time, but all environmental factors of the past. Our environment shapes us and our decisions. Take the same individual and put him in two different environments and give him two different past life experiences and his decision at one particular point in time may be very different.

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  37. “We choose based on biology. We choose based on an innate desire to survive and to thrive.”

    Except when we dont. Except when we’re presented with multiple options where each promise something we want, while removing something else we want…

    “The concept of “free will” has no more relevance in the modern world as does “predestination”.”

    Ok

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  38. “The thing is, if this event could play over again, you’d still decide to make the comment you made…”

    I dunno nate, this sounds a lot like middle schoolers complaining how the USA isnt really a free county because we can’t literally do anything we want – ok, fine. again, if we mean that freewill is the ability to make a choice without any external influence, then ok, fine – but I still think that’s silly.

    But we’re not helpless in these choices. We are able to weight our options, based on all of the external and internal influences and factors.

    And it’s easy to say that “if this same even were to play out forever, you’d make the same decision each time,” but it’s as easy to say the opposite – and neither can be proven.

    But when at a crossroads, we can decide – the choices may not be infinite, and there could only be two, but I still say that we are free to decide between the two – even if we use the culmination of all our knowledge and experience to make it.

    And I’d disagree with Gary, I think masturbation has more of a point behind it

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  39. “We choose based on biology. We choose based on an innate desire to survive and to thrive.”

    Except when we dont. Except when we’re presented with multiple options where each promise something we want, while removing something else we want…

    Gary: I do not see the problem. When confronted with multiple options, we choose the one that best meets our need to survive/thrive at that moment in time.

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  40. “Yes, I completely agree.”

    I’m not sure that i do in every instance, but maybe in most. But again, it’s really moot, isnt it? We cant test it in any way at all.

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  41. I do not see the problem. When confronted with multiple options, we choose the one that best meets our need to survive/thrive at that moment in time.

    Generally, I think that’s true. But there are times when people make selfless decisions that put themselves at a disadvantage (sometimes even offering their lives in the process), because they’re focusing more on some ideal than on the typical drive to survive and thrive.

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  42. But we’re not helpless in these choices. We are able to weight our options, based on all of the external and internal influences and factors.

    … the choices may not be infinite, and there could only be two, but I still say that we are free to decide between the two – even if we use the culmination of all our knowledge and experience to make it.

    Yes, I agree

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  43. Masturbation does have a point behind it: pleasure, which is just another term for “thriving”. Humans, like all other animals, engage in activities to maximize their chances of survival and to increase their level of comfort/pleasure (thriving).

    Thankfully, after tens of thousands of years of bloody trial and error, we humans have learned that simply looking out for MY individual survival and pleasure is not the best method of securing my individual survival and happiness. We have learned that by being socially conscious and concerned for the survival and happiness of others in our “herd”, the chances of everyone surviving and being happy are much, much greater.

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  44. Gary: “I do not see the problem. When confronted with multiple options, we choose the one that best meets our need to survive/thrive at that moment in time.”

    Do we though, every time?

    Is that why a lady decides to jump in front of car that’s about to hit a kid?

    And at times when making a decision “at the time” there’s still scenarios where any decision we make will satisfy a survive/thrive need, yet in conflicting ways. So it’s not always like option A will make me hurt, while option B will make me happy – yeah, that’s an obvious choice – but when both A and B give and take the same amount but in different ways, there’s no real choice there?

    I have trouble buying it, but maybe that’s just because I cant help it.

    It just sounds too much like an excuse or worse, the extreme opposite of apologetics if we use this to leap to, “therefore god cant be real, because none of us really choose to obey him,” etc.

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  45. “Thankfully, after tens of thousands of years of bloody trial and error, we humans have learned that simply looking out for MY individual survival and pleasure is not the best method of securing my individual survival and happiness. We have learned that by being socially conscious and concerned for the survival and happiness of others in our “herd”, the chances of everyone surviving and being happy are much, much greater.”

    agreed, yet not every lives this way. some people ignore those in their immediate herd, while others will sacrifice a lot (ever their own lives) for others in another herd. Some people even risk their own lives to save animals they’ve never met before.

    I dont see where this eliminates freewill, or the ability to choose between options.

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  46. Why does someone sacrifice his or her life for a stranger?

    Answer: biology.

    Those members of a herd who are socially conscious and concerned about others in the herd are more likely to pass on their genetic material, and therefore social consciousness becomes an inherited trait within the herd. The “loner” who only cares about himself, keeps to himself, refuses to assist in the defense of others, etc., becomes unpopular with other members of the herd, and therefore has a lower likelihood of mating and passing on his genetic material.

    The trait of social consciousness does not only exist among humans. Adult apes have been seen showing compassion for the infants of non-relatives. Adult wild dogs in Africa will taunt a lion; putting their own lives at risk; to draw its attention away from a den containing another female’s pups. Social consciousness is part of herd/pack behavior.

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  47. “I don’t see where this eliminates freewill, or the ability to choose between options.”

    We are not robots. I don’t think that Nate is saying we are. We have choices, but our genetic make up and our environment shape our choices. We do not make choices in a vacuum.

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  48. of course we dont – I dont think “freewill” should imply that anymore than “free country” should mean that we literally do whatever we want, whenever we want.

    So we do in fact choose, and yes, we choose based on information and other influences, but I say that those help us in making choices – and of course they also eliminate other selections.

    So if we just dont like the term “freewill” then fine, but again, i dont think it was meant to take to the extreme – as in free to choose without any influence or any knowledge, etc…

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  49. Hi Nate and others,

    I still think we haven’t got any explanation for how choice (libertarian free will) can occur. Let me pose the question again and give some caveats.

    First of all, libertarian free will. This means that while there are clearly definable causes, these causes don’t fully determine our choices. Take choosing a meal at a restaurant. I have become, through genetics and experience, to prefer fish, but I also enjoy vegetarian. So those preferences help determine my choices, so I am unlikely to choose steak. But on a particular day, I think “I had fish last time, so maybe I should choose vegetarian just for a change. But then again, I do like fish better. I guess today I’ll choose ….” Compatibilist free will says I will make a choice based on what my brain inputs processes determine, and with those inputs and processes, I was never going to make a different choice because those processes determined the choice. It was my brain making a choice, but the preceding events determined the choice. But libertarian free will says that I could, in fact, make either choice because it is a genuine choice, not based 100% on my brain inputs and processes, influenced by them but involving something that isn’t determined, but genuinely chosen.

    There are physical processes which follows patterns we call laws. They determine how physical, chemical and biological processes turn out, granted all the inputs and conditions. (Yes there are apparently random events at the quantum scale, but it is doubtful if there are at the scale we are talking about.) So the input and brain processes that make up the choice of meal were themselves the result of previous brain processes and external events, which were in turn …. Any physical event or process which affects our decision will itself have been determined be other processes and laws.

    All this is, I suggest, true, if physicalism is true because there is nothing else but the physical so nothing else to make a choice, except events and processes that have been determined.

    Now the challenge for those still unsure about libertarian free will, is to show how a “free” choice can be inserted into all those determined processes. Not just to say they think we do have free will, but to show, against the logic I have briefly outlined above, the mechanism by which it can occur. It is not for nothing that most naturalistic biologists, neuroscientists and philosophers I have read (and I admit I haven’t nearly read them all) don’t believe libertarian free will exists. The discussion has moved on from there to how we address the implication of that conclusion for ethics, criminology and humanity (see for example this workshop).

    Before I move on to the difficulties with compatibilism and determinism, I would really like to see if anyone has an explanation of how libertarian free will could work. Thanks.

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  50. Thanks for the explanation, UnkleE. Based on that, I don’t think libertarian free will exists. I’m perfectly comfortable acknowledging that everything we do is the ultimate result of physical and chemical processes (including the processing of information, of course).

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  51. First of all, libertarian free will. This means that while there are clearly definable causes, these causes don’t fully determine our choices.

    You have to start by asking what we mean by “cause”.

    In “free will” debates, causation seems to be treated as if causes are platonic entities; there is some platonic cause from which an effect invariably ensues. This is sometimes described as “billiard ball mechanics” — a billiard ball strikes another, with guaranteed consequences.

    Yet we also say that smoking causes lung cancer. However, some people smoke and never get lung cancer. In this case, we clearly are not talking billiard ball mechanics. We are using “cause” in a statistical sense. Smoking increases the probability of cancer, but we cannot say that if you smoke you are certain to get cancer.

    If quantum physics has taught us anything, then it has taught us that there is only statistical causation. Even the behavior of billiard balls is statistical. It is just that the probability is high enough, that we can over-simplify and treat it as if the cause-effect sequence is a sure thing (it actually isn’t).

    It seems to me that arguments against “free will” all fail by ignoring the statistical nature of causation.

    (Yes there are apparently random events at the quantum scale, but it is doubtful if there are at the scale we are talking about.)

    This is an assertion that is often repeated. It is nonsense.

    Typically, quantum scale events are described as “micro-events”. And ordinary life events are described as macro-events. Any, typically, people arguing against free will assert that micro-events cannot cause macro-events.

    There are many books on quantum physics. Publishing a book is a macro-event. And micro-events are why these books exist. The idea that micro-events do not affect macro events is clearly wrong.

    As I see it, biological system (and that includes us) are amplifiers. The biological processes manage to amplify micro-events, so as to affect macro-events. Biology depends on that ability to amplify. Without it, there would be no biological life.

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  52. HI Nate, I’m happy to move on then. I’ll get onto my second step as soon as I can.

    Hi Neil, thanks for your comments, but I’ll have to disagree with two matters.

    “Yet we also say that smoking causes lung cancer. However, some people smoke and never get lung cancer. In this case, we clearly are not talking billiard ball mechanics. We are using “cause” in a statistical sense. Smoking increases the probability of cancer, but we cannot say that if you smoke you are certain to get cancer.”

    Medical science can indeed tell you that smoking is a cause of cancer – not the only cause and not always a cause, but generally, as the following link explains. The Mayo clinic says this: “Doctors believe smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs. When you inhale cigarette smoke, which is full of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), changes in the lung tissue begin almost immediately.” So smoking is not just a cause in the statistical sense, but in the physical and medical sense.

    “Publishing a book is a macro-event. And micro-events are why these books exist. The idea that micro-events do not affect macro events is clearly wrong.”

    I’m sorry, but I think this is not a relevant example. I am not saying that micro events cannot cause macro events, I am saying that the apparent reality of random quantum events doesn’t provide a natural explanation for libertarian free will, because it is doubtful if events at the human scale are random, but even if they were, they wouldn’t entail choice.

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  53. I am not saying that micro events cannot cause macro events, I am saying that the apparent reality of random quantum events doesn’t provide a natural explanation for libertarian free will, because it is doubtful if events at the human scale are random, but even if they were, they wouldn’t entail choice.

    To me, that seems like a deceptive move.

    The arguments of the form “because of determinism there can be no choice” fail once there are random events.

    You dismissed the significance of random events so that you maintain the argument against choice. My whole point was to argue against that dismissal.

    I agree that the existence of random events does not, by itself, entail choice. For that, you have to examine how biological systems work. In my opinion, you come up with a kind of choice that fits the compatibilist account.

    I’ll note that if there are random events, then determinism (as a cosmological thesis) is false. So “compatibilism” is a bit of a misnomer, and compatibilist choice can be genuine.

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  54. Medical science can indeed tell you that smoking is a cause of cancer – not the only cause and not always a cause,

    Neil did not dispute this. he merely stated that some people smoke and do not get cancer.
    ”Smoking increases the probability of cancer, but we cannot say that if you smoke you are certain to get cancer.”

    You obviously did not read his comment correctly.

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  55. Hi Nate, now that I feel we are on the same page, that naturalism almost certainly entail no libertarian free will, I want to talk about why I think this present problems for you.

    1. Free will is an important component of ethics, psychiatry and law, all of which assume that people are free agents (within obvious limits) who can be held responsible for our actions. Aussie judge David Hodgson: ”Our system of criminal justice is based in various ways on common-sense ideas of free will and responsibility for conduct.” Read papers and books on psychology, especially positive psychology, and you’ll find people treated all the time as free agents.

    But if we have no libertarian free will, all this is at risk. Studies have already established that when people stop believing in free will they are more likely to behave unethically. Philosopher Saul Smilanski says free will is a ”morally necessary illusion … vitally important …. to maintain or promote crucial moral or personal beliefs and practices.” Richard Dawkins once admitted that we need to believe in moral responsibility, even though it is inconsistent with naturalism, ”otherwise life would be intolerable”. Edward Slingerland is more blunt: ”There may well be individuals who lack this sense [of feeling they are free], and who can quite easily conceive of themselves and other people in purely instrumental. mechanistic terms, but we label such people “psychopaths”.

    2. Rational thought requires us to be able to assess truth by a process of logic, which is reasoning` based on ground and consequence thinking – for every conclusion, there should be an evidential ground, a view much loved by naturalists (think of Clifford’s Principle). Philosopher Thomas Nagel: ”If we can reason, it is because our thoughts can obey the order of logical relations among propositions.”

    But naturalism says our conclusions are reached by a quite different process of physical cause and effect. These processes follow well known laws, and if naturalism is true, then there is nothing outside them that can interfere with them. Philosopher John Searle: ”In order to engage in rational decision making we have to presuppose free will.” So it is difficult to explain rationality if we have no free will.

    3. It is a virtually universal human experience that we have libertarian free will, and that is strong evidence. And most people I have read on the subject agree that we cannot actually live without that sense. Cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky: ”Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief ….” John Searle: ”We can’t give up our conviction of our own freedom, even though there’s no ground for it.”

    So not only is free will contrary to our experience, but if we don’t have free will, we are all forced to live an illusion – you might even say naturalists have to consciously embrace being “delusional”! Edward Slingerland says we have to “pull off the trick of …. living with a dual consciousness, cultivating the ability to view human beings simultaneously under two descriptions, as physical systems and as persons.” Martin Minsky says: ”We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false.” The irony for those who argue against christians on these sorts of grounds should be obvious.

    So, ethics (including law and psychiatry), rationality and truth are all placed at risk if we don’t have libertarian free will. I think that justifies saying that naturalism has a significant reality problem.

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  56. Hi Neil,

    “To me, that seems like a deceptive move.”

    I think it’s up to you to demonstrate that by logic not just accusation. I’m certainly open to discuss any argument you put forward.

    “The arguments of the form “because of determinism there can be no choice” fail once there are random events.”
    “I agree that the existence of random events does not, by itself, entail choice.”

    It seems to me that these two statements don’t fully agree. So again I invite you to make your case – to demonstrate how random events are “choice”.

    Thanks

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  57. Here is where UnkleE is coming from:

    “Libertarian free will means that our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God. All “free will theists” hold that libertarian freedom is essential for moral responsibility, for if our choice is determined or caused by anything, including our own desires, they reason, it cannot properly be called a free choice. Libertarian freedom is, therefore, the freedom to act contrary to one’s nature, predisposition and greatest desires. Responsibility, in this view, always means that one could have done otherwise.

    The Compatibilist believes that free will is “compatible” with determinism (as in the sovereignty of God). The incompatibilist says that the free will is “incompatible” with determinism. The Libertarian is an incompatibilist who consequently rejects any determinism associated with the sovereignty of God. Hence, Libertarian Free Will is necessarily associated with both Open Theism, which maintains that God does not foreknow or predetermine the free choices of man, and Arminianism, which admits that God in his omniscience foresees man’s free choices and reacts accordingly. Libertarian freedom is the general view of liberal Protestantism and a growing number of evangelicals.”

    As I have said before, I believe our “free will” comes from biology: it is the innate desire of individual animals to survive and thrive and the conclusion by most mammals, that the best manner to accomplish this goal is to exist in a herd. So where do our “moral choices”, our laws, come from? Answer: They come from the herd determining what is and what is not in the best interest of the herd. That’s it.

    Theists and their friends, the philosophers, are making this much too complicated. It’s all about biology.

    Liked by 1 person

  58. So again I invite you to make your case – to demonstrate how random events are “choice”.

    1: I did not assert that random events are “choice”.
    2: I have never asserted that random events are “choice”.
    3: I do not believe that random events are “choice”.

    Yet twice, now, you are reading that idea into what I wrote, and demanding that I defend a view that I do not hold.

    In the circumstances, further discussion seems pointless.

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  59. I’m sorry Neil, I’m not asking you to defend views you don’t hold, I’m asking you to defend the views you have expressed, or at least, that I have understood you to have expressed.

    You said: “The arguments of the form “because of determinism there can be no choice” fail once there are random events.”

    The first part of this statement is a proposition of the form If A then ~B, where A = determinism and B = choice. But in the second part of your statement was of the form if C then ~D, where C = if random events and D = ~(A implies ~B), i.e. C implies the possibility of B.

    I agree that the logic doesn’t follow exactly, but as far as I could understand it, you were saying random events imply that determinism can possibly lead to choice.

    But I am glad to be corrected. Thanks. So now, do you agree that naturalism implies there is no libertarian free will, or that there is?

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  60. Whether there is free will or there is not, this no more establishes the reality of his or any other god than it does Santa Claus.

    Christianity is ultimately based upon untenable presuppositional beliefs.
    And where these beliefs come into conflict with the evidence then the evidence is thrown out the window, and unklee has no qualms in doing this to further his agenda.

    After at least a couple of centuries of collective Christian indoctrination and theological abuse that most here have been subjected to it is indicative of just how little respect he has that he would believe for one second that anyone here is somehow ignorant or unaware of such tactics!
    I dunno, maybe it is just a case of him simply being bone-headed or stupid, even?

    He is constantly allowed to manipulate dialogue that draws attention away from the core foundational elements of his Christian worldview – the indoctrinated death cult fantasy that he clings to,

    As Gary adroitly notes, such dialogue almost always becomes convoluted and unnecessarily complicated.

    While it might be fun to show up the idiocy and disingenuity of his arguments, without his faith his position crumbles. Thus, to make his faith work he has to assert there is historicity to his claims as well as regarding as inconsequential a great many aspects of the bible which contradict his position.
    The Isaiah prophecy of the Virgin Birth is a glaring example I have referenced before and no one seems prepared to take him to task for this.
    And his ability to hand wave away so much of the Old Testament as irrelevant to his faith.

    The question I have raised on several occasions is why on earth does he bother?
    His ridiculous arguments and somewhat devious, bloody-minded style of apologetics does more to convince those reading along just how shallow he is rather than cause any here to stop and pause to consider if there is any merit to his position.

    There is, of course, nothing wrong in taking the contrary position, as he is wont to do on most posts.
    We can all learn something from the ensuing open discussion.

    But as a potential ”goodwill ambassador” for his death-cult belief system all he does is continually reaffirm just how disgusting and untenable his position is.

    To highlight his position maybe it would be best for all concerned if Nate ran a series of post that focused solely on the core foundational beliefs of a Christian like unklee and made every effort to keep the discussion tight at all times?

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  61. Hi UnkleE,

    I simply disagree. Part of our decision-making process involves our ability to parse information, and I think that makes all the difference. I feel like the objections you’re raising overlooks that fact.

    Again, I just don’t see the problem here.

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  62. Ark asks of unkleE, The question I have raised on several occasions is why on earth does he bother?

    IMO, he “bothers” because this is the way he spends his days. Plus, he’s the type of person who is simply unable to admit defeat … in any way, shape, or form.

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  63. Hi Eric,
    My thoughts on the three objections you raised:
    1) You may or may not recall that we engaged on the free will question several years ago and I wrote a post in response to one of your comments. I think I still agree with everything I said there and believe that it adequately addresses the practical concerns you raise.
    2) It appears that I mostly predicted this objection correctly in my initial response on this post, where I offered an anticipatory response of “I think this is begging the question, though, in that it assumes that rationality transcends neurological processes. Why can’t we understand rationality to just be the neurological processes which employ evidence in the pursuit of truth, where the effectiveness of those processes is judged pragmatically (i.e., what works)?”. I would slightly expand this to equally question the presumption of a transcendent ontology of logic versus an understanding in which logic is the outworking of the way our brains axiomatize the regularity of nature.
    3) You may not understand the compatibilist position if you think that libertarian free will is the only option that corresponds with the “virtually universal human experience” of free will. The compatibilist embraces the subjective experience of choice and sees that this is sufficient even if determinism is true. And I definitely reject the suggestion that to not accept LFW is to live an illusion or consciously embrace delusion, though I suspect that was more rhetoric than argument. The subjective experience of choice is compatible with both LFW and determinism. I also discuss this aspect in the post linked above.

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  64. Hi Nate,

    I guess it’s fair to say I’m disappointed in that response. You have agreed that if naturalism is true then we don’t have libertarian freewill. Therefore our ability to parse information is determined just like everything else. So it doesn’t in any way explain how we avoid the 3 dilemmas I posed.

    I can quote dozens of expert (and atheist) philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, etc pointing out the difficulties inherent in these questions, and you don’t see there is a problem, let alone have an explanation.

    From time to time you get christian 6-day creationists coming here, and you patiently explain to them that there is evidence they need to look at, though mostly they don’t. I guess I feel similarly here.

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  65. Hi Travis,

    That post (and the discussion which followed) of yours opened up some old memories! I enjoyed reading through the discussion again, and I feel even more strongly than I did then that your comment here and the post don’t actually address the dilemmas I am raising.

    Your blog post was titled “A pragmatic approach to free will”, and that’s an accurate description. Rather than try to argue either that (1) we do have libertarian freewill, or (2) that we don’t, but we can still resolve the dilemmas of moral responsibility, rationality and illusion, your argument seems to be that:

    1. Choice can “arise through causative factors outside of our awareness”.
    2. Our consciousness is not a unified thing but “multifaceted, distributed and interdependent”.
    3. We should believe in freewill because it is better that way (for a range of reasons).
    4. Our experience of life wouldn’t be different whether libertarian free will or compatibilism was true. “Is this not sufficient?”

    I personally don’t see how 1 & 2 are germane to the questions I have asked, so I won’t pursue them. And I agree with 3. My problem is with 4, which you have echoed in your comment here when you say: ”The subjective experience of choice is compatible with both LFW and determinism.”

    So I don’t see anywhere that you have actually answered how we can have moral responsibility, rationality and freedom from illusion (the three dilemmas I outlined). Instead you have offered the view that we can avoid these dilemmas by acting as if we have libertarian freewill (”the rational thing to do is to believe that we actually possess this freedom”).

    So I cannot see, having said that, that you should be able to say ”I definitely reject the suggestion that to not accept LFW is to live an illusion or consciously embrace delusion, though I suspect that was more rhetoric than argument.”

    I was not “just” being rhetorical, I was making a genuine observation. The dictionary defines “illusion” as “an instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception of a sensory experience, a deceptive appearance or impression, a false idea or belief”. If naturalism implies no libertarian freewill, but you advise believing there is freewill anyway, then anyone who follows this advice has embraced illusion under that definition.

    I have had many discussions with atheists over the years, and read many articles and blogs by atheists. One of the common features is the critique of religion that it is an illusion, a crutch. They often recognise that atheism takes away the crutch and leaves one exposed to a more austere world without the comforts of religion or teleology, but they say living according to the truth is worth it.

    So I am surprised that you would take this view to embrace a feeling that actually isn’t true.

    Now I reckon your response might be: ”You may not understand the compatibilist position if you think that libertarian free will is the only option that corresponds with the “virtually universal human experience” of free will. The compatibilist embraces the subjective experience of choice and sees that this is sufficient even if determinism is true.”

    But this is missing the point as I said at the start. I agree that we may not be able to distinguish experientially the difference between compatibilism and libertarian freewill, but I am not disputing that. I am discussing the actual truth of the situation, not just how it feels. You seem to be choosing to address the dilemmas by ignoring them and being satisfied with what feels OK.

    So I’d be interested if you have a way of providing a logical and evidence-based argument that disarms those three dilemmas in truth rather than just subjectively.

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  66. Eric,
    Based on your response I think I can say that you did not receive the message I was intending to get across with my previous comment (and the old post). I consider the compatibilist position to be an honest assessment of reality. I am not advocating that we embrace something we know to be false and just pretend for the benefits. I’m instead advocating a rejection of the charge that free will must be libertarian and an embrace of the validity of compatibilism.

    Now, with regard to your dilemmas, you claim that I have missed the point and am ignoring the problems which arise from the objective truth of the situation by resting on what feels OK. Of course I disagree and think it is just the opposite – that is is you who have missed the point by insisting that free will is only possibly meaningful if it is the libertarian variety. So if you think that the existence of free will avoids your dilemmas (though to be honest I don’t think that any kind of free will is important to the claim of rationality, as previously noted) then I am interested in your explanation of why it must be libertarian. Is that you simply reject the validity of compatibilism?

    Lastly, I find your closing comment to be revealing an interesting assumption:

    I’d be interested if you have a way of providing a logical and evidence-based argument that disarms those three dilemmas in truth rather than just subjectively

    To me, this implies that you think that the libertarian position is logically and evidentially supported and is not subjectively grounded. Do you believe that? If so, on what basis?

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  67. Hey UnkleE,

    I’m sorry that you think I’m being dismissive — that’s really not my intent. I just don’t see how naturalism creates the problem you’re describing. As I understand compatibilism, I think it adequately explains our experience of free will. In fact, I find it much more likely than libertarian free will.

    When I make a decision about something, it’s definitely tied to a causal chain — I would expect nothing less. But choice is still happening. I’m still a “free moral agent.”

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  68. Eric,
    I woke up this morning feeling like my previous comment just threw the ball back into your court without adequately trying to revisit your objections, so I wanted to add something that more specifically deals with the concerns you raise. Though I am still interested in your explanation for why our conception of free will must be libertarian and not compatibilist before it can satisfy these concerns, here’s a more direct attempt to explain my perspective on those issues.

    1) Moral Responsibility: Let me first grant that our intuitions about moral responsibility are deeply tied to agency. We find people less culpable when we perceive that they held less ownership over their actions. Setting aside the debate about whether this is a proper intuition in the first place, I argue that the compatibilist view can satisfy that intuition. If, as you acknowledged, the subjective experience is indistinguishable between LFW and compatibilism then we can agree that in either case, we are all able to recognize the phenomenal difference between intentional and unintentional or coerced action. It is this recognition which matters. We care whether a party consciously acted with intentions of malice, not whether they possess an uncaused faculty. Moral agency is sustained by the recognition of intention even if that is a subjective phenomenon.

    2) Rationality: I’m largely just rephrasing my prior comments on this, which have little to do with free will, but hopefully I can provide some additional clarity. Formal systems (e.g., logical reasoning or mathematics) rest on axioms and rules. One could presuppose that these axioms and rules are transcendent entities in the universe (or God’s mind), or one could posit that the regularity of the interaction of matter-energy at the human scale has led to the evolution of neurology which interprets those interactions through the lens of the formal systems we employ. I grant that we don’t actually know whether these formal systems are truly representative of the nature of reality, but we can pragmatically observe that they do what we need them to do and so accept them as the best option we have. If this evolved faculty is thus intricately coupled to the formal system itself then there is no disconnect – the neurological activity that takes place within our self-perception is itself a source and expression of the formal system we call logical reasoning.

    3) Illusions: Again, let me first grant that some naturalists are content to apply the ‘illusion’ label to just about everything subjective, but I find the “who’s experiencing the illusion?” retort to raise a legitimate issue with that view. In this case you seem to be taking the stance that if something is known subjectively and we cannot precisely explain it in objective terms, then the acceptance of an objective description renders the subjective experience an illusion. This is the hard problem of consciousness in a nutshell. That we cannot adequately capture the full subjective experience in objective terms is not a surprise to me, but that does not entail that the objective description is thus wrong, nor does it entail that this inadequacy is evidence of something which transcends the ontology provided by the objective description. This is only evidence of two perspectives: an internal (or self-referential) perspective and an external perspective, both of which I take to be equally real and capable of offering valid descriptions of reality.

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  69. Hi Nate,

    I don’t want to make accusations about intent – that would be unfair and arrogant – but I think that just noting compatibilism isn’t enough to explain the problem. Let me have one more go at explaining why, given physicalism, I don’t believe you can say you are a free moral agent.

    1. You agreed before that our choices are determined by physical causal chains, and you seem to still agree with that. If the physical is all there is, then physical causal chains explain everything that happens (except for random events, if there are any, which cannot be seen as choices).

    2. Libertarian free will has two requirements – (1) the choice occurs within our own brains (i.e. it isn’t made externally to us), and (2) even given all the causal and physical process realities, we could have made a different choice than the one we made – we have some physically uncaused component of the self which can direct our decisions, at least sometimes. But compatibilism requires only (1), and it denies (2). Under compatibilism, there is no uncaused component, ever.

    3. Therefore, if compatibilism is true, the decisions we make are not forced on us from the outside, but we still could have made no other in the given circumstances. The choice may feel the same but the reality in our brains is very different.

    4. Thus you are a choosing moral agent, but you are not free to choose differently, you can only choose differently if the brain states and inputs are different. This is a crucial conclusion, and I wonder whether you accept it? If you don’t accept it, where in my reasoning to you disagree?

    I’ll leave it there for now. I think we have to be clear if we both understand compatibilism the same before I can go on to argue that compatibilism present significant problems. Thanks.

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  70. Hi Nate, thanks for the second comment, it helped a lot. Before I have a go at responding, I wonder if you could check out my comment to Nate (above) please. There I outline what I understand to be the basic difference between libertarian free will and compatibilism. It would be good to check whether we are agreed on that before I attempt a response. Thanks.

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  71. @Nate

    I’m sorry that you think I’m being dismissive — that’s really not my intent.

    Good grief! Why on earth are you sorry?

    He is largely dismissive of your deconversion and considers it was primarily your ”wrong” sect that was responsible for you walking away from god-belief, and likely has a similar lack of regard for every other deconvert..
    He is ever-so-politely dismissive of practically every single writer here and elsewhere that does not agree with his perspective, (”Oh no, I’ll bet Ark is going to mention the arse-roasting he received from Bernard over Nazareth again” )
    He regularly uses statements such as ”consensus” and blithely dismisses other ”consensus”.

    ”I guess it’s fair to say I’m disappointed in that response.”
    Yes, well, the feeling is ever mutual,believe me.

    He is very very careful never to commit himself on any issue that might just expose him and his silly worn put apologetic arguments, but he is Viper-fast with a retort where he thinks he can cut the legs from under your argument and many a time it looks like he has constructed a comment or reply to d exactly this.
    He cherry-picks his way through doctrine and scholars, dismissing what and who he doesn’t regard relevant proceeding to poke holes in anything and everything like a Catholic priest with a pin in a Contraceptive factory.

    And as had been noted on numerous occasions, when he finds his backside about to be handed to him on a plate he will extricate himself and disappear until the next time he reckons there is a topic he can slither back and leave another bucketful-of-bollocks.

    So please, Nate. Never apologise for being dismissive towards our Favorite Moderate(sic) Apologist..
    Remember, he believes an invisible, genocidal monster watches over us and deserves to be worshiped.
    If such garbage does not deserve to be dismissed I don’t know what does.

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  72. UnkleE/everyone,

    I don’t understand the point.

    Are you suggestion that to really have freewill, one should be able to make a free choice without any influence of wants, desires, hopes, or any other external factors? If so, that’s just stupid.

    Also, God doesn’t remove, fix or help that. So what’s the point?

    of course we make decisions and choose options based on what we want, what we hope for, what we think is right, or rewarding in some way, etc, etc… Of course we do. And to say that the choice you made, based on such things, wasn’t really a choice, because you’d always make the same choice if you could repeat the scenario over and over is also ridiculous, because it’s just an un-testable assertion. AND, God doesn’t fix that either.

    So IF we don’t have “freewill” now, then we still don’t under any god.

    But to say that we don’t have the ability to choose between options sounds too much like an excuse, and too much like an effort to try and dismiss the idea of the bible’s point on freewill or free moral agents, and is really moot since we cant actually test it.

    An untestable idea is probably not the best proof for another untestable idea.

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  73. 4. Thus you are a choosing moral agent, but you are not free to choose differently, you can only choose differently if the brain states and inputs are different

    Yeah, I think I agree with this.

    Here’s why I don’t really find it problematic:

    Shortly, we’ll be able to look back on this comment and say that I was never “free” to respond in any other way. Yet as I type it, I have deleted and rewritten the response several times. I even had to backspace and correct typos in “respond”, “rewritten”, and “backspace” that could have been left as typos if I had been watching my fingers rather than my screen while I was writing it. Throughout this commenting process, I’m making decisions. I’m considering possible ways of responding and selecting what seems to be the best path forward at the moment. These decisions are based on a number of factors: our past conversations, my knowledge of English grammar, the overall points that I’m trying to get across, my current mood, the fact that I currently have power and internet access, etc. But I’m still the one making these decisions. Yes, they’re based on a long causal chain of events that I’m not entirely in control of — but I’m still at least partially in control of these specific decisions right now and the specific decisions that I’ve made in the past. This is evident to me in that I can think of different ways of responding. I obviously can’t respond in each of those ways simultaneously, so I must make decisions about which way to go. And I bear responsibility for those specific decisions.

    We live in a universe built around cause and effect. It’s natural, and a necessity, that the things we do are related to causal chains. That doesn’t completely remove our culpability in the things we do. Sometimes we’re victims of circumstance, but typically, we still bear responsibility for the things we do.

    I’m curious as to how it could be otherwise. How could there be some part of us completely removed from cause and effect? How would that work?

    Liked by 1 person

  74. Eric,
    I agree with this, with the crucial clarification in #4 that “you” subsumes the “brain states”, so that it effectively says that “you could only choose different if you and inputs are different”. I make this clarification because there is a subtle inference in your language that the self is something separate. For example, by saying “you are not free to choose separately” you have painted a picture in which we see ourselves being forced against our will, but obviously that is not the actual experience.

    Liked by 3 people

  75. Hi Nate, I’m glad we seem to be agreed on definitions, and what we each believe is true. But there is one matter I need to check please.

    “But I’m still the one making these decisions. Yes, they’re based on a long causal chain of events that I’m not entirely in control of — but I’m still at least partially in control of these specific decisions right now and the specific decisions that I’ve made in the past.”

    We need to be very clear here. According to physicalism, our thoughts and beliefs are epiphenomena, mental states that are by-products of our brain physical processes. According to compatibilism, there is no “you” outside of those processes, and no “you” to control those processes. Those processes and epiphenomena are “you”. They occur inside your brain, which is my (1) requirement, but they could not be any different granted the previous brain states and inputs (my (2) requirement).

    So any “control” you exercise is limited to the processes going on in your brain. There is no ability to change them from what the previous states and inputs determine. That is what you have agreed with if you still accept my last comment. If you think you do actually control them, then we have to go back and discuss determinism again, but if this was just your way of describing (1), then we are good to go on.

    It remains true, of course, that it feels like you are making choices, but if compatibilism is true, that feeling is just another epiphenomenon and isn’t the actual case. But it does show how persistent the illusion of free agency is if compatibilism is true, or else it is evidence that compatibilism is false.

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  76. Eric,
    That last paragraph clearly demonstrates that you are not considering compatibilism on its own terms. You require choice and freedom to be libertarian, define the subjective state as epiphenomenal (i.e. secondary) to the objective state (versus being two sides of the same coin) and suggest that the experience of free choice (i.e. having the sense of the choice originating with the self) as evidence against compatibilism. None of this accords with the compatibilist position.

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  77. Hi Travis,

    Re your first comment: I certainly don’t want, and didn’t intend, to suggest that the self is something separate. I was trying to help Nate to see exactly the opposite! My point was that if our brain states are us, then there is no separate “us” to interfere with the brain processes.

    Re your second comment:

    1. Leaving aside my alleged misunderstandings of compatibilism, do you agree with my view, against Nate, that compatibilism doesn’t allow him to exercise control in sense 2 (there is some physically uncaused component of the self that can change the course of brain events), but only in sense 1 (the choice occurs within our own brains, not externally)? This is the crucial point for my last comment.

    2. I don’t require choice to be libertarian, I am simply describing the differences between libertarian and compatibilism, which I did in terms of 2 requirements, libertarian requiring both but compatibilism requiring 1 and denying 2. I understood you to agree with that. Is that not so?

    3. The matter about epiphenomenalism is peripheral, but I’ll explain what I was getting at. Under physicalism, objects cannot initiate events; events are initiated by other events. For example, a billiard ball doesn’t initiate the movement of another billiard ball. Rather, the event of the first ball moving with momentum initiates the movement of the second ball. And the second ball has no choice in the matter, the laws of physics require it to move with calculable momentum. Philosophers say that, under physicalism, there are no active powers (the ability to initiate action), just passive liabilities (the ability to react to another event which is impinging).

    In our brain, the physical processes are primary, they are all passive liabilities. None of them are active powers under physicalism. Now the thoughts and beliefs are either epiphenomena or they are nothing more or less than the brain states. Either way, there is no active power, no agent causation, just passive liabilities. Do you agree?

    I chose to simplify to epiphenomenalism because I thought it was likely to be closer to what Nate intuitively believed than believing our thoughts and beliefs simply WERE brain states. So I agree with you that there are two ways compatibilists can view the relationship between thoughts/beliefs and brain states, but neither of them allow agent causation.

    So I hope we are agreed that physicalism & compatibilism allow (1) internal choice but not (2) agent causation and active power. If that is still accepted by the three of us, I will next comment begin to argue more fully than I did before that my three dilemmas are real and unresolved.

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  78. Is it just me, or is this stuff only a problem for naturalism if two conditions are met? They seem to be: (1) everyone actually has Free Will™ ; and (2) Free Will™ must require a supernatural thing (like a soul, a spirit, or some ethereal being).

    If this is the case, wouldn’t a supernaturalist need to demonstrate or get agreement that these two things are met? I think that absent this, a conversation is just going to go around in circles.

    Liked by 3 people

  79. Eric,
    Straight to the points:
    1) Compatibilism is defining agency without reliance on something uncaused. So while I agree with the distinction you make from LFW, I disagree with the claim that there is no agency. The brain (and probably more) as a system can be seen as an active agent.

    2) OK. If you aren’t requiring LFW for choice then don’t say things like “it feels like you are making choices, but if compatibilism is true, that feeling is just another epiphenomenon and isn’t the actual case”.

    3) Energy stored within a system can be used by that system to do work. Such systems are not passive and the fact that the system was established through the input of energy from the outside does not change the fact that the system exists and now has the capacity to be a causative force. If we are such a system then our current state can be seen as both caused (by prior states) and a cause (of future states).

    PS: I am traveling and internet access will be off and on for the next week, so my participation here will be spotty.

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  80. Hi Travis,

    Take your time, I don’t mind approaching this less intensely. And have a good trip!

    1. I didn’t say “agency” but “agent causation” and “active powers”. To my mind that is a significant difference.

    2. When I said “feels like making choices” I was referring to being an active power. Perhaps I should have been more precise, I’m sorry.

    I’m sorry of I am sometimes less precise than I need to be but I am grappling with complex ideas here and trying to keep my language simple. I certainly don’t want to misrepresent compatibilism, but I also want to prevent any libertarian sounding ideas come in.

    Thanks.

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  81. @Sirius Bizinus.

    Of course!

    For the average naturalist the response would generally be, ”Eh?” or ”Seriously, who cares?”
    For the Unklee Clan everything is about making a case for the presuppositional belief of everything and everyone being Maker-Made.
    As Gary pointed out some time ago, little more than Mental Masturbation.

    Liked by 1 person

  82. A billiard ball doesn’t initiate any action on its own, because it’s not conscious. We are.

    This is not a subject that I’ve investigated as thoroughly as UnkleE and Travis, so some of the terms go over my head a bit. But much of it seems to be overcomplicating the issue. I’ll keep reading along, because I do think the discussion is interesting, but I’m not sure how often I’ll offer input.

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  83. Hi Nate, I’ll reply now, but then we can both wait (if we want to) until Travis is able to reply.

    ”A billiard ball doesn’t initiate any action on its own, because it’s not conscious. We are.”

    Obviously that’s true, but it’s not the point. The point is that under physicalism, as I understand it, no thing (object) can initiate a new course of events (actions), only other actions can. This is clear if everything is physical only, because everything happens in response to laws of physics, so something new can only happen if something changes. So your brain (an object) cannot initiate a new action, only existing processes in your brain (events which conform to and are determined by the laws of physics) can initiate actions. Thus under physicalism there can be no agent causation, only event causation. And so everything becomes a series of sequences of events all determined by physics.

    So compatibilistic free will only requires the decision to occur in your brain. It does not require, and does not allow, agent causation in your brain so that a new chain of events is begun that wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t determined by previous brain processes and inputs. I know this is hard to grab hold of, but as far as I can understand it (and Travis can correct me) that is what compatibilism entails. If you believe in agent causation in our brains, then I think you are a dualist, not a compatibilist.

    In my next comment I’ll try to outline more fully why compatibilism (and determinism) have difficulty explaining rational thought.

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  84. Eric,

    Just like Nate, I don’t have all the right words to discusd such complex topic and don’t pretend to be an expert. But i think this applies to you too, and all of us here. The main reason being that ‘we’ are the topic here. We’re talking about what it means for us, people, humans, to have free will.

    So my question to you is this: how do you make choices? More specifically, how does the agent ‘you’, the part that’s not just your brain, makes choices? How exactly do you exercise that freewill you believe you have?

    In other words, if we’re “just” physical minds, what happens is that your brain gets inputs; you read words, you hear something, or you do nothing at all. In all cases, your brain generates thoughts, feelings, experiences something.

    Basically, there is first an uncontrolable reaction, some reflexes, followed by more complex thoughts. In turn, you have reactions to these and can, somehow, focus on those thoughts that make you feel right, that make sense to you, that follow from what was going on the instant before. You are thinking about what your body wants you to think about, first, and then you, the agent “you”, somehow can influence the next steps a little bit, just enough to steer the ship. But that steering comes second, because you’re a physical human being, not a mental soul inhabiting a body. You are your body, you are your thoughts. You experience them a lot than you currently realize.

    And why was ‘somehow’ used here? Because I dont know how we can do that steering, even if minimal; nobody knows, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  85. Very interesting and intelligent discussion. Personally, I find it a bit odd to list the question of free will as “a difficult question for atheists.” It’s a difficult question, period.

    It seems to me that framing the question this way only encourages some theists’ charming habit of pointing to difficult questions (Can epistemology be pulled by its own bootstraps? What’s the origin of life? What happened before the Big Bang? How does consciousness arise? etc.), claiming that atheists don’t have adequate answers to these questions, and then jumping to “theism must have better answers,” or “theism must be true.” The problem is that theism doesn’t have adequate answers either, and (at the risk of sounding trite) pointing to a gap without offering a positive case, does not constitute an answer.

    In fact, I think it could be argued that the question on the existence of LFW is more problematic for (Christian) theism than for atheism, as the theological implications can be troubling no matter the answer. If there is no LFW, the free-will theodicy is no more, there may problems with the doctrine of original sin and the need for vicarious redemption, etc. If there is LFW, this brings questions about God’s omni-properties, whether there’s free will in heaven, whether God has violated free will during the Iron Age (not so much now), etc.

    Atheism, by contrast, doesn’t seem to suffer much from whether there is LFW or not, since LFW’s existence has little bearing on God’s existence. At most, LFW might threaten naturalism–or our current understanding of it–without necessitating theism.

    Regardless of the consequences of LFW towards atheism vs. theism, neither atheism nor theism addresses directly the existence of LFW, only the existence of a god. Just because atheism and theism take mutually exclusive positions of belief in the existence of gods, does not mean that they can be recruited to offer mutually exclusive positions on every other question.

    This reminds me of Alex Malpass’s serious yet humorous refutation of Matt Slick’s “Transcendental Argument for God (TAG)” (the humor was unwittingly injected by Slick, who’s far from being representative of sophisticated theists).

    It goes something like this: The disjunctive tautology “Either a god exists or it is not the case that gods exist” is quickly substituted with the false dichotomy “Either God’s existence explains X or God’s nonexistence explains X,” followed by the unsound conclusion that “Since God’s nonexistence cannot explain X then God’s existence must explain X, therefore God exists.”

    Having just said how difficult the question of free will is, I think that, in the last few decades, science–specifically physics and neuroscience–has come down overwhelmingly against LFW. I also think that science is agnostic w.r.t. compatibilism, as compatibilism revolves around nuances of definitions of free will. Depending on the operative definition of free will, it may be said to exist (while, under its usual definition, LFW is highly unlikely).

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  86. unkleE: Greetings, I hope you don’t mind if I interject myself into your interesting conversation.

    If by “physicalism” you mean that “only the physical exists” I won’t defend physicalism, as I think it’s a bit restrictive. I’d be more comfortable with something like “methodological naturalism.” But frankly, I generally don’t like “isms” or labels like, “oh that makes you a [blank]-ist” only because I don’t always know what other baggage–besides the arguments at hand–I’d be taking on. For these reasons, I prefer to stick with arguments and evidence instead of labels. While clear definitions are important, “ism” and “ist” labels, after all, are not particularly relevant to whether the LFW that you’re defending here can be said to “exist” or not.

    But, speaking directly to your points (sans “ism” labels) there is nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit an “action” from following a “non-action.” In fact, inert objects spontaneously initiate “actions” all the time. Think of a neutron sitting outside of a nucleus. It can “sit there” (exist) for an indefinitely long period of time, unchanged. Or, it can, spontaneously, decay into a proton, an electron, and an electron neutrino. These three by-products fly off away from the original location of the neutron and can have interactions with other particles, etc. No “willful agent” required. While one can make statistical predictions as to the probability of decay within a given time interval, there is no way to tell exactly how long (if at all) the decay will take for a particular neutron (one can only speak in terms of statistics with large numbers of neutrons). There is no identifiable cause, and the new particles did not exist anywhere prior to the event (they weren’t inside the neutron or anything like that, they spontaneously formed).

    The same thing can be said about an atom emitting a photon. There was no photon inside the atom before the emission of the photon. Initially you have an atom in a higher energy state, then a photon is spontaneously emitted (the exact time when this event happens cannot be determined, nor is there an identifiable cause), and then you have an atom in a lower energy state and a photon flying off at the speed of light. In any region of space you have virtual particles being spontaneously created and annihilated continuously. You can in fact “pop them into existence” by using two oppositely charged metal plates, and measure how much new matter you’ve created out of “nothing.”

    Just about every process at the fundamental level is like this.

    I think we should be careful when we talk about “causality.” Causality is a very tricky concept that philosophers have been wrestling with for a very long time without a very satisfactory resolution. In science causality is not considered a fundamental concept. At the fundamental level, we don’t speak of A causing B. We talk about evolution of states. If you give me the initial state of a system, I can tell you what that state will evolve into using, say, the field equations of Quantum Mechanics. There’s no “cause” invoked anywhere.

    I’m pretty sure (given your arguments for LFW “from intuition” here) that you will find this extremely hard to swallow because it is so counter-intuitive, but here it goes anyway: Time is not a fundamental quantity that flows independent of space and “agents.” It is nothing like what we intuit. Both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have blown our intuitions out of the water. We simply cannot rely on our intuitions to apprehend the fabric of reality. You may think that event 1 precedes event 2 and another observer may see 2 preceding 1, and neither of you is wrong! If you don’t believe me, then please explain how the GPS in your smart phone works, while relying precisely on these concepts which are built into it. Why am I going on about time? Because for our working “intuitive” definition of “causality” requires time to make “sense” to us.

    When you say billiard ball A causes billiard ball B to move, this is merely a heuristic shorthand, as there are many fundamental processes involved, and stopping at any level is simply an arbitrary shorthand. It assumes that you observe the billiard balls shortly before and shortly after the collision. If I played you a movie of A striking B backwards, you would think that B caused A to move. In fact, the laws of physics are completely symmetrical to the “flow” of time at the fundamental level. On the other hand, if I showed you a movie of an egg falling and breaking and played it backwards you would immediately be able to tell that something was wrong. This is because of the fantastically low statistical improbability of the egg assembling itself spontaneously, which corresponds to our experience and we can intuit it. Our sense of the arrow of time is a statistical emergent property. And so is causality.

    At a more intuitive level (macroscopic scales like brains or human beings) systems that contain energy and are in highly organized states have the potentiality to spontaneously “cause” actions without any violations to any conservation principles. This does not require a “ghost in the machine.”

    One more example. A machine can initiate actions in response to its internal state and its external stimuli. Think IBM’s Watson when it was playing to become the Jeopardy! world champion (by a landslide). While I’m not claiming that Watson has self-awareness, morality, or consciousness or other human-like higher functions, it is, nevertheless, capable of initiating actions and it is, in some sense, an agent.

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  87. G’day AR, I have no objection to your interjecting!

    ”If by “physicalism” you mean that “only the physical exists” I won’t defend physicalism, as I think it’s a bit restrictive. …. I prefer to stick with arguments and evidence instead of labels.”

    Labels save a lot of words if we can agree on their definitions – but that doesn’t always happen. In this case, I think the labels are useful. We understand the labels atheism and theism, even if we may disagree about exact definitions. Atheism generally means that the person believes only what can be empirically established, which generally leads by a process through naturalism to physicalism.

    But it is easy to clarify. Do you think there are things and processes other than those described by physics?

    ”there is nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit an “action” from following a “non-action.”

    I disagree. The laws of conservation of momentum and energy tend to prevent a nothing state turning into a something state. There may be exceptions, but those laws are pretty universal.

    ”In fact, inert objects spontaneously initiate “actions” all the time. Think of a neutron sitting outside of a nucleus. It can “sit there” (exist) for an indefinitely long period of time, unchanged. Or, it can, spontaneously, decay into a proton, an electron, and an electron neutrino.”

    The difficulty here is that none of those initial states are “inert”. Atoms are composed of electrons that are orbiting and even the nuclei are vibrating. If you read about quantum theory, you find that everything is moving – particles are fluctuations in quantum fields, etc. So at the quantum level, nothing can ever sit there unchanged.

    But all that is at the quantum level, not at the human level. We have discussed that already, and I don’t think anyone thinks that things that apply at the quantum level can be taken to apply at the human level. But even if they could, they would show randomness but not allow choice.

    ”Causality is a very tricky concept that philosophers have been wrestling with for a very long time without a very satisfactory resolution. In science causality is not considered a fundamental concept.”

    Yes, I’ve read some of the discussion son that. Some agree with you, some don’t. But causality is a useful label. If you think the problems with the concept of causality are germane to the discussion of compatibility, then I’m interested to see what you have to say.

    ”Our sense of the arrow of time is a statistical emergent property. And so is causality.”

    Yeah, I’ve read a bit about time too. The fact that mathematics can calculate something doesn’t make it real. But again, if you think time and causality have a bearing on compatibilism, I’m happy to listen.

    ”it is, nevertheless, capable of initiating actions and it is, in some sense, an agent”

    Again, I think this is a misunderstanding. Someone had to build the thing and program the thing. Someone even had to press the on button. Everything it does is in response to those actions. It would be very freaky if it was able to plug itself in, switch itself on and then program itself!

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  88. Eric,
    Just a moment to follow-up. You’re trying to “prevent any libertarian sounding ideas” from coming in and I’m trying to prevent the libertarian framework from hoarding all the words we use to describe the subjective experience, but I think we both actually know what is meant by each position, so let’s go ahead with exclusively assigning “agent causation” to that thing which distinguishes LFW from non-libertarian accounts and get on with the explanation for why that is necessary for the issues you raised.

    It’ll be a couple days before I check-in again.

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  89. Unklee wrote:

    Yeah, I’ve read a bit about time too. The fact that mathematics can calculate something doesn’t make it real.

    Hallelujah!!! Can I get a frakking Amen, please? Somebody …. Anybody ?

    And like the maths example, just because you state that your god communicates by Divine Revelation and you have personally experienced it does not make it real!

    Phew ….At last!

    Ark.

    Liked by 1 person

  90. unkleE: Thank you for the detailed response, I appreciate the exchange; I’ll try to respond carefully. Are you from Australia?

    Yes, labels are useful. In fact, I explicitly mentioned what label would fit my viewpoint better than “physicalism.” My concern was that label definitions have to be very clear and encompassing. Otherwise you might be attempting to tear down a straw man and I might be unwittingly boxed into a position that doesn’t fully capture what I’m trying to communicate. This would be a great exercise in “talking past each other,” which I don’t think should be our aim.

    To wit, your definition of what is not “physicalism” implicit in your question “Do you think there are things and processes other than those described by physics?” is already problematic for me, as I prefer definitions in terms of what the label is, rather than what it is not. You’d have to define what you mean by “things,” “processes” and “described.” For example, can the “beauty” I find in an Impressionist painting be “described” by “physics”? Is it a “thing”? A “process”? I’d say “physics” is the wrong vocabulary to “describe” it, but I don’t believe that my appreciation for a beautiful painting can be inconsistent with fundamental physics, to partly answer your question.

    Anyway, we can agree to disagree on the usefulness of “ism” labels vis a vis the problem of LFW. I won’t use them and won’t defend some concept of “physicalism,” but will try instead to be clear about definitions and stick to arguments. LFW may be completely illusory for reasons other than the truth of some version of “physicalism.”

    “The laws of conservation of momentum and energy tend to prevent a nothing state turning into a something state. There may be exceptions, but those laws are pretty universal.”

    This is not germane to your earlier assertion that “no thing (object) can initiate a new course of events (actions), only other actions can,” which is what prompted my response, but I’ll try to address it anyway to clear up misunderstandings. The first sentence is, strictly speaking, false, (and the second one contradicts the first and itself, and “pretty” universal is not very meaningful). In classical (non-quantum) physics, energy (and momentum) conservation hold (BTW, these classical conservation laws are not “fundamental” in that they can be obtained from even more fundamental principles within relativity). Needless to say, the “classical” world is an approximation of the “quantum mechanical” world. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle allows for violations of energy (and momentum) conservation at quantum scales; they happen all the time.

    But energy conservation is not relevant! The point is that an object can initiate actions without even violating classical conservation laws.

    “The difficulty here is that none of those initial states are “inert”. Atoms are composed of electrons that are orbiting and even the nuclei are vibrating. If you read about quantum theory, you find that everything is moving – particles are fluctuations in quantum fields, etc. So at the quantum level, nothing can ever sit there unchanged.

    You are correct in that no particle can just “sit there” if this means being in a specific location for periods of time shorter than the Planck time (this would violate Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which is the same reason why violations of classical conservation laws are allowed at the quantum level). I was aware of this (believe me), was trying to give a relatable example with “sit there” and clarified it with “(exist),” didn’t mean to be unclear. By “inert” I meant that it was uninfluenced by external events, wasn’t that your point? In some sense, if nothing can just “sit there unchanged” your statement that no objects can initiate a new course of events without external ‘actions” is moot, isn’t it? Please clarify this.

    “But all that is at the quantum level, not at the human level. We have discussed that already, and I don’t think anyone thinks that things that apply at the quantum level can be taken to apply at the human level. But even if they could, they would show randomness but not allow choice.”

    If by “the human level” you mean macroscopic scales, your first two sentences are incorrect. While we use classical approximations to describe macroscopic scales (the quantum corrections would be so tiny as to render the added computational complications overkill), nothing that can be said or described at macroscopic scales could ever contradict, or be inconsistent with, the fundamental (quantum) level. Macroscopic descriptions are “emergent” and we use different vocabulary for them (depending on the scale: classical physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, ecology, economics, sociology,…), but none of them could ever be inconsistent with the fundamental-level descriptions.

    As to your last sentence regarding “randomness” vs. “choice,” this is now an equivocation, or at least a large (quantum?) 🙂 leap. You are going from “objects can’t initiate actions unless they’re externally influenced” to “choice.” First, you have failed to demonstrate (at the quantum or even the macroscopic level) that an object with sufficient amounts of energy and complexity cannot initiate “actions” without another complex entity prodding it. Second, you need to define what you mean by “actions” and “choice.” If you’re assuming that “choice” is a non-random, non-causal action, that would be question-begging, as it is precisely what we’re trying to get at with the question of LFW.

    Yes, I’ve read some of the discussion son that. Some agree with you, some don’t. But causality is a useful label. If you think the problems with the concept of causality are germane to the discussion of compatibility, then I’m interested to see what you have to say.

    To clarify, I am not defending compatibilism; I am arguing against the weaker notion that there is LFW (though haven’t yet, maybe will do in other posts in response to the positive case for LFW). Compatibilism is essentially LFW with some added definitions of what “free will” is. While I do subscribe to a version of compatibilism, I’m only trying to get at LFW. LFW entails actions or decisions that are (a) non-random and (b) not describable by, or conforming to, the laws of physics, even in principle.

    Yes, causality is a useful label. But you brought up causality in your discussion of “agent causation” vs. “event causation” and how “agent causation in the brain entails dualism,” remember? not me. So the burden is on you to show how it applies to LFW. I was trying to communicate that, useful as it might be, “causality” has its limitations. We cannot extrapolate intuitions about causality to draw implications when the intuitions break down. Does that make sense? In either case, I’m still waiting for you to draw these connections.

    The fact that mathematics can calculate something doesn’t make it real.

    True, although I wasn’t arguing that. Mathematics is simply a language and a deductive inferential tool to help us describe reality by amplifying our cognitive faculties (much like instruments amplify our sensory faculties). And BTW, that our intuitions can sometimes help us apprehend something, does not make it real.

    But again, if you think time and causality have a bearing on compatibilism, I’m happy to listen.

    Thank you for listening. However, it was you who brought up causality, I was simply responding. I brought up time because causality is embedded in time. I was trying to cast doubt on intuitive notions of both time and causality to prevent us from overly ambitious extrapolations when those intuitions break down. In the rest of our discussion (if you’re patient enough to continue) 🙂 I will accept the intuitive notions of time and causality that we have, until such time as I find the intuitions problematic, in which case I’ll point it out.

    “Again, I think this is a misunderstanding. Someone had to build the thing and program the thing. Someone even had to press the on button.”

    That’s neither here nor there. You made a statement that an object cannot, without external influence, spontaneously cause an action. How the object got to the state it finds itself in is not relevant. The question is, can an object be in a state with sufficient energy and complexity to perform actions. The machine is responding to external stimuli without an external agent being there every step of the way. An amoeba can spontaneously respond to external stimuli without another complex agent prodding its response. BTW, amoebas, as well as humans are also designed and programmed (by Natural Selection).

    ‘Everything it does is in response to those actions.”

    Yes, and it does so on its own without an external agent prodding it at every single instance where it responds. Stimuli can occur without agency. An Amoeba can respond to the presence of a chemical substance (be it food or an irritant). In fact, Watson will react to questions (stimuli) in ways that its programmers could never have anticipated (it would beat the pants off any of its programmers at a game of Jeopardy!), so you cannot say that each and every one of its actions has to be preceded (caused) by some prodding by another active agent.

    “It would be very freaky if it was able to plug itself in, switch itself on and then program itself!”

    Yes, it would be. Unless it is programmed to do so! 🙂

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  91. unkleE: Sorry, what I meant to say was that “Compatibilism is essentially lack of LFW with some added definitions of what “free will” is.”

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  92. Hi Travis. My concern about compatibilism is that I think it uses terms like “free will” when a more accurate time might be “internal choice”, with the result that the emotional implications of determinism are made more acceptable. But I agree with you it is time to move on to my main points. But I am going away in an hour or two for two days, so I’ll have to wait until then. Thanks for your (and Nate’s) patience.

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  93. unkleE: I read your past comments (again) and I’m a bit unclear as to what you’re attempting to argue (and I mean “argue” in a good way). Are you attempting to argue that naturalism cannot be true on the assumption that LFW is true? Or are you arguing that LFW must be true?There’s also a bit of a switching back and forth between LFW and Compatibilism. Which aspect of Compatibilism are you arguing against?

    If I understand the term correctly, Compatibilism attempts to reconcile Determinism with our intuitions about “choice” and moral responsibility. In other words, it rejects LFW and at the same time attempts to rescue our intuitions about “choice” and our sense of moral responsibility tied to FW by redefining FW as something different than LFW. For example, you could redefine FW as an emergent process that, for all intents and purposes, we perceive as LFW without actually being LFW and without violating natural law (like LFW), and yet safeguarding our intuitions about “choice” and our sense of moral responsibility. To argue against Compatibilism you would have to either argue against LFW, or against the redefinition of FW, or both.

    It seems to me that the more interesting and less confusing approach would be to argue for or against LFW. After all, compatibilist redefinitions of FW can be, well, redefined and made slippery enough to avoid objections on “intuitive” grounds. On the other hand, a positive case for LFW would destroy Compatibilism, and possibly even Naturalism. A positive case against a rehabilitated definition of FW would not accomplish much, other than forcing a change in the definition.

    “2. Libertarian free will has two requirements – (1) the choice occurs within our own brains (i.e. it isn’t made externally to us), and (2) even given all the causal and physical process realities, we could have made a different choice than the one we made – we have some physically uncaused component of the self which can direct our decisions, at least sometimes. But compatibilism requires only (1), and it denies (2). Under compatibilism, there is no uncaused component, ever.”

    I’m not sure I agree that LFW requires (1), as I don’t think it specifically requires the locus of “libertarian choice” to be limited to the brain. But, more importantly, (1) and the denial of (2) define Determinism; Compatibilism, in addition, tacks on a more liberal definition of FW (more encompassing than LFW).

    “3. Therefore, if compatibilism is true, the decisions we make are not forced on us from the outside, but we still could have made no other in the given circumstances. The choice may feel the same but the reality in our brains is very different.

    Yes, that last sentence is part of what’s needed for Compatibilism besides (1) and not-(2) above (Determinism).

    As an aside, I personally don’t much like the term “Determinism,” because it seems to imply that randomness plays no role in the decision outcomes that we might call “choice.” I understand that you’re skeptical that randomness plays a role in human (macroscopic) scales. I disagree and I could make a strong argument to the contrary, but I also agree with you that randomness cannot be called “choice,” in the libertarian sense that you mean. Of course, I don’t believe that we have “choice” in the sense that you do, so it’s not a problem for me to accept that decision outcomes are in fact influenced by a combination of natural causes and randomness. But we’ll leave the randomness question aside for now. Also, I’ll use “Determinism” as simply “lack of LFW,” without committing to a world in which randomness plays no role, nor committing to any redefinition of FW other than LFW.

    You seem to be asking Nate, Travis and others to agree with you that “if Naturalism is true then we don’t have LFW.” I would say this is a tautology. Given your definition of LFW as having a non-random “uncaused component,” then this “uncaused component” leaves no room for a naturalistic explanation, so of course, if there are no causes outside of random or natural ones, then LFW cannot be true (on Naturalism).

    As I see it, the defense of LFW carries a huge burden. The problem is that presenting a positive case for LFW is a non-starter from an evidential standpoint. It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, to observe whether the decision outcome of a given agent in a given world with given circumstances and given internal states could have been different if we could replay it. Notice that I used the term “decision outcome” as I’m trying to avoid the loaded (and I suspect question-begging) term “free choice.”

    Unless you have some great arguments that I have yet to hear (I’d be more than happy to listen to them, of course), you’d be reduced to presenting a negative case for Determinism, which has massive amounts of science behind it (which I’d be happy to discuss as well in the context of LFW, consciousness, the “afterlife,” etc.).

    As to the 3 “problems” that you presented to Nate, I’m a bit unclear here also because you preface them with:

    “Hi Nate, now that I feel we are on the same page, that naturalism almost certainly entail[s] no libertarian free will, I want to talk about why I think this present problems for you.”

    I don’t think there’s any argument that “naturalism entails no LFW,” (as I said, I view this as a tautology given your own definition of LFW), so I’m not clear on whether your 3 points aim to demonstrate that the statement itself is not true (although you agree with it from previous posts), or whether Naturalism has to go because LFW is true (this would have to be demonstrated), or whether it’s some aspect of Compatibilism (excluding LFW) that must go. I assume you’re attempting to show that Naturalism is false because LFW has to be true. Anyway, as to the 3 points themselves:

    Your First Point is an ad consequentiam. Whether our criminal system depends on LFW or not, and whether people would behave unethically if they didn’t believe in LFW doesn’t matter one whit to determine whether LFW is real. The world could descend into a chaotic, desperate nihilism tomorrow morning if we found out that LFW was false, and it would still be false. Many people may have been extremely unsettled several hundred years ago when they found out that the Earth went around the sun and wasn’t the center of the Universe, and it mattered not one iota as to the truth of that statement. The Earth went on its merry business regardless of its inhabitant’s despondency at their new-found knowledge.

    If by a “problem” you mean that this would be troubling to some, OK, although I don’t agree that knowing that LFW doesn’t exist (if it didn’t) would have the disastrous impact on morality and legal systems that you allude to. But I think that’s a different discussion from whether LFW is real or not. Arguing that if LFW were false and people knew that it was false would have consequences is interesting, but how people would react to this knowledge says nothing about whether LFW is true or whether Naturalism is true etc.

    BTW, whether Dawkins or any other well-known atheist admits this or that, is completely irrelevant to the arguments here. Dawkins can believe that the moon is made of green cheese for all I care; your argument still must stand or fall on its own merits. Singer’s quote is his opinion, and is also quite irrelevant to the validity of your First Point, unless you substantiate it with arguments and evidence, not just with the quote itself.

    Your Second Point starts out by painting all (many? some?) naturalists as adherents to Clifford’s Principle which is, I hasten to say, a calumny against all those naturalists, and quite different from the much more modest and more reasonable statement that you wrongly compare with it: “for every conclusion there should be an evidential ground.” Even this statement could be made even more concordant with Naturalism and more reasonable as in: “For every conclusion about the nature of reality there should be evidential grounds, since cogitation alone has repeatedly been found to be insufficient.”

    The rest of your Second Point seems rather confused to me (or maybe I’m the one who’s confused?). Here you’re attempting to conclude that, without “[Libertarian?] Free Will” we cannot have rationality. Can you clarify what your premises are and what reasoning you’re using that leads to this conclusion? After all, this is the crux of the matter. Here is your Second Point:

    2. Rational thought requires us to be able to assess truth by a process of logic, which is reasoning based on ground and consequence thinking – for every conclusion, there should be an evidential ground, a view much loved by naturalists (think of Clifford’s Principle). Philosopher Thomas Nagel: ”If we can reason, it is because our thoughts can obey the order of logical relations among propositions.”

    But naturalism says our conclusions are reached by a quite different process of physical cause and effect. These processes follow well known laws, and if naturalism is true, then there is nothing outside them that can interfere with them. Philosopher John Searle: ”In order to engage in rational decision making we have to presuppose free will.” So it is difficult to explain rationality if we have no free will.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying:

    (1) Reason requires our thoughts to “obey” (follow?) logical relations among propositions;
    (2) On naturalism, logical conclusions are reached by a process different from logical relations because this process would have to be comprised of physical cause and effect;
    (3) There’s nothing outside of natural laws that can interfere with them;
    (4) A quote from John Searle which states your conclusion;
    (5) Therefore it is difficult to explain the opposite of your conclusion????

    John Searle’s quote in and of itself, without any demonstration or reasoning behind it, demonstrates: John Searle’s conclusion or opinion, but it doesn’t demonstrate your case, so (5) is unwarranted.

    It seems that (2) and (3) are the most important elements of your case. On (2), note that there is nothing incoherent in expecting physical processes to mimic logic. The computer that I’m typing this on uses physical processes that mimic logic. Transistors arranged in a certain way can produce NAND gates, which are logic-spanning gates (meaning they can be arranged to produce any logic “truth table” that you may possibly want; other logic spanning functions are NOR, XOR, etc.). Arithmetic calculations? Sure. Logic processors? Sure. Automatic theorem proving? Sure. These transistors are made up of p-n junctions of silicon doped with boron and phosphorus (among many other possibilities), and their emulation of logic is simply mapped from the physics of the electrons whizzing around in them–a strictly physical cause and effect that produces logic as a by-product. While using a very different process, the brain can also emulate logic through a completely physical process. A better analogy of the brain is ANNs (Artificial Neural Networks), which use massive parallelism and statistical learning rules (with a dollop of random noise added in for good measure, BTW), and can produce very complex inferential logic behaviors that can outsmart human experts.

    As for (3), I fail to see any relevance, perhaps you can explain?

    Your Third Point is an appeal to universal intuitive experience. “We intuit LFW therefore we must have LFW.” (???) I’m afraid this is insufficient, just as “We intuit that the Earth is stationary, therefore the Earth is not moving around the Sun.” “We intuit that time dilation is impossible, therefore Relativity cannot possibly be true.” “We intuit that QM is wrong, therefore it’s wrong.” I could go on and on. The point is that our intuitions are not always reliable and in fact can fail us miserably and do so often. There is no reason why our intuition could not be failing us when it comes to LFW, or at least, you have not presented any reasons that I can see.

    Then you say that most people you’ve read on the subject “agree that we cannot actually live without that sense [of LFW]” Well, what can I say to that unsubstantiated quote? Maybe they should try harder to live without LFW? I don’t mean to be dismissive, but this really demonstrates nothing. Quotes from Minsky and Searle again, demonstrate nothing by themselves.

    “So not only is free will contrary to our experience, but if we don’t have free will, we are all forced to live an illusion – you might even say naturalists have to consciously embrace being “delusional”!”

    Ah, those naturalists consciously embracing delusion, hey? How could they possibly be correct, right? Hmmm, let me see how this would look in a syllogism:

    (1) A naturalist concludes that human beings can fall victims to certain cognitive illusions;
    (2) A cognitive illusion is, well, a form of delusion;
    (3) The naturalist is a human being that can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (4) Therefore, the naturalist is being “delusional”!!!

    Of course, this is a non-sequitur. Let me play a bit more with that:

    (1b) A naturalist concludes that human beings can fall victims to certain cognitive illusions;
    (2b) An UNRECOGNIZED cognitive illusion is a form of delusion;
    (3b) The naturalist is a human being that can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (4b) The naturalist recognizes that he/she can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (5b) Therefore, the naturalist is NOT being “delusional”!!!

    That’s a bit more like it, right? OK, some more, just for fun:

    (1b) A supernaturalist fails to recognize that humans can fall victim to certain cognitive illusions;
    (2b) An UNRECOGNIZED cognitive illusion is a form of delusion;
    (3b) The supernaturalist is a human being that can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (4b) The supernaturalist FAILS to recognize that he/she can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (5b) Therefore, the supernaturalist is being “delusional”!!!

    All fun aside, we all live with illusions with respect to many aspects of reality because our intuitions fail us. There is far too much evidence to pretend that this is not (or could not be) the case, and therein would lie the delusion. Our intuitions evolved in a bubble that is infinitesimal compared to the entirety of the external reality that we find ourselves in. Even within this tiny “doxastic bubble” our intuitions can fail us, and we have even less right to expect that they will be reliable outside this bubble.

    “So, ethics (including law and psychiatry), rationality and truth are all placed at risk if we don’t have libertarian free will. I think that justifies saying that naturalism has a significant reality problem.”

    I’m afraid the “ethics (law, psychiatry) being at risk” objection is an emotive argument to consequences. The rationality objection on the grounds that physical processes could never emulate or reproduce the tool we call “logic” is simply false. The “truth” objection is an emotive appeal to intuition. All of this was peppered with healthy sprinkles of quote mining as well.

    It seems that, on the grounds you’ve presented so far at least, Naturalism is on very safe ground, and LFW has not been established.

    “The irony for those who argue against [C]hristians on these sorts of grounds should be obvious.

    Perhaps, though not in the way that you would like. I would argue that, in fact, the irony cuts in the other direction. 🙂

    Like

  94. @ AR
    In case you haven’t realised to yet … though I suspect you probably have, you are now pushing the envelope here with Unklee.
    You are soon going to find that there is not a single argument you can present that will get him to acknowledge just how untenable his faith position truly is, simply because it is Jesus first, second, and last. And everything in between as well.
    He will argue like an intellectual, trying to outwit all-comers in the somewhat pedantic game of mental masturbation while desperately trying to maintain credibility for believing in the Virgin Birth and steadfastly holding on to the belief that the pseudo-necromancy he engages in with the make-beleive Lake Tiberius Pedestrian is the key to good mental-health in this life and a life of eternal bliss fawning over the reincarnation of said Wave-Walker in the next.
    You should ask him to explain why, if maths are ”not real”, why the Divine ‘Telephone Call’ is

    Also Look out for something along these lines:
    ”I think we may have reached a point in our conversation where an understanding will never be reached.”
    This may well include a final passing shot alluding to your inability to comprehend the true meaning of Divine Communication and the nature of his god,God,why naturalism is a crock … naturally, and something about your heart being closed to the Holy Spirit(sic)

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  95. Ark: That’s funny, “Lake Tiberias Pedestrian,” I never heard that one before.

    I don’t have any intention of convincing unkleE, or anyone, of my viewpoint; most people are immovable in that respect. On the other hand I try to think that I’m not and that I would change my mind (actually would have no choice but to change it) when presented with good arguments and evidence. I’m sure confirmation bias makes me fail at this often, but at least I try to make a conscious effort not to. I’m also interested in finding out why intelligent and articulate people reach beliefs that I don’t share. Finally, this exchange may be useful to others who happen to run across it. So I don’t think it’s all a waste of time.

    unkleE has some interesting things to say. So far he has presented 3 objections to Determinism (or to Compatibilism, I’m not entirely sure, although objecting to Compatibilism alone wouldn’t necessarily rescue LFW). I believe these objections are meant as a negative case against Determinism and, by definition, against Naturalism. All 3 objections, as far as I can see, fail.

    Unless there’s something I’m missing, the first objection (people would behave badly and morality and the legal system would have no basis without LFW) is an Argument to Consequences Fallacy. The second one (physical processes could never emulate nor produce logical reasoning) is simply false. The third one (we all “intuit” LFW therefore it must be true) is an Appeal to Intuition Fallacy. Much of what’s in the other comments rely heavily on the question-begging term “free choice,” whose existence (or definition) is precisely what’s being debated.

    All of this was “bolstered” with big dollops of Quote Mining (the apologist’s eternal gremlin, so obvious to outsiders) and even with a non sequitur by way of a snide remark about “naturalists embracing delusion!” because they have the fortitude to recognize the possibility of cognitive illusions and try to identify specific cases (which, you would think, should be the first step towards actually avoiding delusions!)

    So far, it’s not been a promising start, but unkleE has mentioned that he’s about to present his case, so maybe we’ll finally get to hear a well-argued positive case for LFW.

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  96. … so maybe we’ll finally get to hear a well-argued positive case for LFW.

    See my previous reply.
    Based on past history, I am pretty sure I could still get even odds after telling you unk’s Modus opperandi
    Maybe I’m just a cynical bastard?

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  97. “Maybe I’m just a cynical bastard?”
    Ark for those of us who know you and love you this goes without saying. LOL This does not preclude you from being “spot on” (more times than not) 🙂

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  98. The debate with UnkleE seems to never end. Sometimes while reading his interactions with other posters I feel like Archie Bunker during one of Edith’s long, rambling stories. (Archie gets out the imaginary rope…)

    And I believe that the reason why the debate with UnkleE will never end is because some skeptics allow UnkleE to draw them into complicated philosophical debates about a generic “God” instead of making UnkleE prove the existence of his ancient Canaanite god, Yahweh and his alleged human incarnation, the resurrected Jesus the Christ. If we could force UnkleE to limit is arguments to that subject, I believe that UnkleE and traditional Christianity could be proven false in less than five minutes by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system):

    1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
    2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy
    3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

    And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstitious claims:

    1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were written.

    2. The Book of Daniel is a blatant fraud. The book very accurately portrays the events in the Greek Empire down to abstract minutia but makes major errors regarding the Babylonian and Persian empires, the empires during which the book’s author infers the book was written. Jesus quotes from this fraudulent book. Jesus, who was not a scholar, was fooled by the author. Modern scholars are not fooled.

    3. The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a joke. Christians can no more prove that the voice that allegedly speaks to them is their god than can the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jews, and others prove that the voice that speaks to them is their god. Watch this powerful video for proof:

    Liked by 1 person

  99. Exactly, Gary, but these long, winding roads allow people like unklee to hedge their bets as it were and argue their beliefs from a philosophical and scientific POV, and there are one or two areas that a cotton cherry pickin’ Christian such as unklee is just about able to touch sides if he is careful about his wording. And is he ever!

    But I don’t think Nate has it in him to go for the jugular on this score.
    Maybe he should always listen to the theme music to Jaws when he types a post or writes a comment to dear unk? Would help put him in the right frame of mind.

    And he still has not answered how he is able to discern between Revelation and Delusion?
    I wonder why?
    Remember Fleetwood Mac?

    ”Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”

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  100. @ Gary.
    Here you go, Gary. A free ebook you will love, I guarantee. And no shedding out your Shekels either.

    The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences of His Existence by John Eleazer Remsburg

    No mythecist, but a first rank biblical scholar

    He does a brilliant number on miracles, exposes all the usual suspects but better and more in depth than many I have read, and also includes things I had not previously heard of or considered. It is crammed with excellent references. No mucking about, and he’s no faux scholar either that the likes of unklee could hand-wave and offer some snide, derisive remarks that he loves to do about people such as Price or Carrier.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46986

    And the biggest surprise for me… it was written at the turn of the 20th century!

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  101. @ Gary
    Just to clarify., This was Remsburg’s view ….

    “It is not against the man Jesus that I write, but against the Christ Jesus of theology” explaining that “Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.”

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  102. Hi Nate, Travis,

    Assuming we are more or less on the same page on what compatibilism is, and what LFW includes in addition, then I’d like to move on one at a time to the apparent difficulties, starting with rationality.

    1. We see two different processes. (1) Physical “cause & effect” where every event is the result of previous events following definable physical processes. (I have put “cause & effect” in inverted commas to indicate I am using this as a shorthand for however we see physical processes.) These are what control every event if compatibilism is true. (2) Ground & consequence, where every consequence follows logically from the grounds. These follow the laws of logic and determine what is true and false. Arch compatibilist Daniel Dennett uses the words “syntactic” and “semantic” for (1) and (2) respectively, and says our brains cannot be semantic engines – i.e. under compatibilism brains work on physical cause and effect, not ground & consequence.

    2. So we need to find an explanation of how we can do ground and consequence logic at all, and the likely answer isn’t too hard to see. Dennett says of our brains: “syntactic engines can be designed to track truth, and this is just what evolution has done.” So natural selection can lead to physically-determined brain processes producing logical outcomes just like a computer can do – a computer is programmed so that its physically determined electrical processes can produce logical outcomes. Of course the human brain is more complex than a computer, and (for the atheist compatibilist at least) the brain isn’t designed by a designer, but the analogy is reasonable.

    3. We need to be clear what we are saying here. Brain state B1 leads by physical laws at work in the brain to state B2. At the same time, each state has an associated mental state, M1 and M2. These are either epiphenomena or aspects of the associated brain states, but M1 does not produce M2, because M2 is produced via the physical cause and effect processes between B1 and B2. But, we are saying, if natural selection has done its work, the brain will evolve so that M1 logically implies M2 even though M2 isn’t the result of logic. I’m sorry to be so complicated, but this is an important concept.

    4. It’s easy to see that a truthful or accurate fight or flight response in an animal might develop though natural selection. But most people I have read on the subject agree that developing more sophisticated cognitive faculties is much more of a challenge. Natural selection is based on ability to survive to reproduce, and it is difficult to see how an ability to solve Fermat’s last theorem has survival value. Some may argue that maths nerds are less attractive to the opposite sex, but I wouldn’t say that! Others say that the cognitive ability to do advanced logic is an energy and attention load that natural selection would tend to weed out. Whatever, it is clear that the further we move “up” and away from the simple survival responses, the less likely it is that natural selection will lead to such a cognitive process. So there is a decent “leap of faith” to say that advanced rationality can be produced in this way. But let’s assume that it can, for the moment, and see where that leads.

    5. All this is no problem for things we can all agree on like 1+1=2 and “Society works best if we don’t all fight each other.” But when we face more complex logical, ethical or personal decisions, we are each relying on the fact that even though our brain states are determined by previous brain states and physical laws, nevertheless, the results of our thinking are generally reasonably reliable. So if someone disagrees with us, their way of thinking is as much a product of natural selection as ours, so we can’t easily say who is more “right”. Let’s look at a couple of more complex examples.

    5.1 A person suffering from schizophrenia visits a psychiatrist to talk about voices in their head. The psych says they are not real and not normal, the client says of course they are real. How do we know who is right? We can of course do brain scans to show what circuits are being activated, but that doesn’t prove the source of the voices. But one way is that most people don’t experience such voices, so we regard that as normal. Another indication might be that the consequences of following the voices may not be healthy. That gives us 2 criteria.

    5.2 Take the vexed question of abortion. One group’s logic (produced by natural selection) says that it is the woman’s body, she has the right to do what she chooses. Another group’s logic (also produced by natural selection) says the fetus is a human being and should be protected. How can the matter be resolved? It is no use arguing about it as if our brains worked on ground-consequence logic, because they don’t – that is only a correlation via natural selection, and we obviously don’t all think the same. So in the end we vote – in a referendum or a legislature or a court, and the majority “wins”.

    So we see that the logic of compatibilism (and even saying that phrase is debatable!) leads to the requirement that (i) we make a leap of faith that natural selection can produce higher forms of rationality by correlation, and (ii) we can’t prove or demonstrate complex things to people who think differently because there is nothing to say that the product of their brain processes is “worse” than ours. And if we do convince someone, it is because their brain processes have evolved similarly to ours, not necessarily because the outcome is true.

    Yet of course, we cannot live that way. Even discussing here, we try to argue logically so that we’ll convince the other person by our logic, when in fact (if compatibilism is true) it won’t be logic it will be physical brain processes that may or may not be correlated with logic, that will determine whether the other person agrees.

    I’d say that is a dilemma, and a problem for compatibilism.

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  103. Hi AR, there are a lot of points there, and if I responded to them all we would be here all night, so I will try to cut to the chase.

    ”Are you attempting to argue that naturalism cannot be true on the assumption that LFW is true?”

    I’m glad you asked, because it would be silly for us to be arguing on quite different matters, as seems to have been the case! No, all I am saying at the moment is that compatibilism (or incompatibilism for that matter) has some serious issues if one believes it and tries to live by it.

    I agree with your summary of compatibilism. And we seem to agree that “if Naturalism is true then we don’t have LFW.”

    Most philosophers and neuroscientists (if they discuss free will) I have read agree that dualism (the obvious alternative to naturalism and determinism) can be neither proved nor disproved, for the obvious reason that it involves something other than the physical and our science either assumes naturalism, or methodological naturalism, and has no clear way to address dualism. So a reasonable initial approach is to consider whether determinism (of either variety) fits with human experience and the way we live as individuals and as societies. For good or for ill, that is what I am doing.

    So I have now begun to present where I see the “problems”. I have presented one argument (on rationality) in a little more detail, though obviously not as a full philosophical paper (even assuming I was capable of that).

    So perhaps you can read that and see if it answers any of your questions. Thanks.

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  104. @unkleE
    The voices in the head example is perfect!

    Take someone like Christian evangelist David Wood – I am sure you are aware who this charming fellow is, right?
    He once tried to stove his father’s head in with a hammer. Although the term antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy) seems to be preferred some may consider him a psychopath.
    Then … after a bit of jail-time ….Holy Fuck.!! he found Jesus – probably in his toilet, and became reborn, and now he is another poster boy for Jesus conversions and how wonderful life with your god is.
    Sounds a bit like Saul of Tarsus doesn’t he?

    Your convoluted creator god-of-the gaps argument simply won’t wash.
    Your archaeological arguments don’t work and never have. .
    Your consensus arguments are getting thinner on the ground all the time and even now, like your faith arguments and your prayer arguments and your miracle arguments, are simply cherry-picked to suit a sick, death-cult agenda and will not /em> stand up to any serious scrutiny.

    In all honesty, unklee, have they truly ever stood up? No, not if you’re honest.

    You are never going to be able to demonstrate the veracity of the point you are desperately trying to make because your premise is so utterly ridiculous.

    Hell, you cannot even prove it to yourself unless you have a massive brain-fart and truly without blinking can look your fellow man in the eye and state unequivocally that you believe your smelly little 1st century Jewish Rabbi made the universe and then came down to earth, raped and knocked up a 14 year old virgin, and tried to convince a bunch of illiterate fishermen from a predominantly illiterate piss poor backwater at the arse end of the Roman Empire he was the messiah. And to top it all, he apparently allows himself to be executed in the most brutal fashion imaginable only to supposedly come back to life three days later, resurrected by himself then goes to heaven to be with himself.

    And here you are trying to have a discussion on compatibilism!

    I’m being perfectly serious, don’t you think this is more than a tad silly?

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  105. unkleE: Thank you for clarifying. Yes, there are a lot of points; I’ll try to be more concise. We agree on the definition of Compatibilism, and that if Supernaturalism is false, then we can’t have LFW. And I look forward to reading your next posts where you’ll be going into your “serious issues” with Compatibilism.

    I have another question. Earlier, I raised my own objections against your 3 objections to Compatibilism above. I claimed that your objections were all fallacious: Your First Objection was an Argument to Consequences, your Second Objection was false, (probably stemming from an Argument from Incredulity), and your Third Objection was an Appeal to Intuition, peppered with Quote Mining, and a Non-Sequitur by way of a snide remark going something like this: “Naturalists who conclude that there can be illusions are embracing delusion!” My question is: By ignoring my claims, are you conceding that your 3 objections are in fact fallacious,or will you be addressing them in your list of “issues”?

    I disagree that science could not “address” Dualism. It can constrain it, in the same way that it has constrained Thor’s alleged production of thunder by explaining thunder through natural means. While this does not definitively disprove that Thor is actually producing thunder–since, like Dualism, Thor’s thunder-making might be unfalsifiable–it nevertheless makes it doxastically untenable, and there’s no reason to presuppose that Dualism won’t suffer the same fate at the hands of science. I believe it already has.

    I also disagree that “human experience” should be the arbiter, or even a “reasonable initial approach” when attempting to ascertain whether LFW or Dualism are true, precisely because they are an area where “human experience” can lead us completely astray.

    On a point of argument, I personally think that you would help your statements tremendously if you departed from comments like “most people I have read on the subject agree that…” This assertion can be easily dismissed with another one: “Most people that I have read disagree,” or “You haven’t read the right people yet.” These statements don’t bolster your case anymore than quoting conclusions from others that agree with you would support anything. It’s the arguments and evidence which led to those conclusions that matter.

    I’ll respond to your additional 5 or 6 “problems” above, time permitting.

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  106. Hi unkleE,

    So far, I’ve just read your comment to me and Travis — wanted to get a comment in before I lost my train of thought by reading the others.

    I haven’t studied the definitions of all these terms as much as you and others have, but I suspect that your depiction of compatibilism may not be correct. And if it is, then I can’t sign on completely with the term.

    Your description of how we try to convince one another in difficult discussions (let’s stick with the abortion example) certainly could go down such a path, but I don’t think it has to. I disagree that evolution can’t explain higher forms of thinking, because such thinking always leads to greater technology and management, even if the highest tech is of the Stone Age variety, and if the management skills are being applied to responsibilities within a very primitive society. The arms race between cheetahs and gazelles is speed — for humans, it’s always been intelligence.

    When we disagree over something like abortion, it doesn’t always have to come down to who gets the most votes. People can be persuaded through rational arguments, even if that’s not how most people form or change opinions.

    Again, I just don’t see the problem that you’re trying to point toward (and I know you’re not finished making your argument, so maybe my opinion there will change). I feel like the options you’re giving for how choice works are incomplete. It’s like when I would talk to my father about issues with the Bible, and he would say that the Bible is either completely accurate, or its existence is the result of some kind of conspiracy. Well those aren’t the only possibilities! They’re just the only ones he would “consider.”

    I feel like your descriptions of choice, brain states, and things like compatibilism are similarly thin when it comes to all the possibilities.

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  107. Dualism, Schmalism.

    Let’s cut the philosophical psychobabble and just get to the point: If four unknown, first century Jewish historical fiction writers say that three-day brain-dead corpses can be reanimated to later levitate into outer space, then God-dammit to hell, we should believe it!

    (from Debunking Christianity Blog, kind of)

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  108. @ Gary.
    Exactly.
    Dissecting a pile of steaming bullshit to analyze it won’t actually change the fact it is still bullshit.,
    As unklee cannot offer a single plausible argument for the Virgin Birth,let alone the supernatural rape of the child involved in the story, and no plausible argument for the other spurious claims in the bible, and knowing that every argument he puts forward is with the ultimate aim of getting you to accept there is plausibility in such spurious nonsense, why on earth would he think anyone here would for a moment consider the validity of anything else he had to say related to the nonsense of Christianity?
    After all, almost everyone here was once a full-blown Christian with as much, if not more knowledge and understanding of the bible and related matters than he does.

    It really is time for him to be called out by everyone here once and for all and politely but firmly asked to demonstrate the veracity of the primary tenets of his faith.
    Or be mature enough to acknowledge that it is all based on faith and we can leave it at that.

    After all, It is not as if he has ever presented a single argument about anything biblical to do with Christianity that has for one second made anyone here pause and wonder if they had erred, and maybe they should reconsider becoming Christian once again.

    Well, has he?

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  109. I really wanted to avoid debating unkleE again. But I have to point out where I disagree.

    1. We see two different processes. (1) Physical “cause & effect” where every event is the result of previous events following definable physical processes. (I have put “cause & effect” in inverted commas to indicate I am using this as a shorthand for however we see physical processes.) These are what control every event if compatibilism is true.

    In my book, “compatibilism” is an attempt give an account of what we mean by “free will”. It is not a theory of physics. At least, on my understanding, compatibilism claims to be compatible with determinism. It does not assert that determinism is true.

    It sure looks to me as if unkleE is asserting a theory of physics, and very likely a false theory at that, and saying that it is a consequence of compatibilism.

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  110. unkleE (and Nate, Travis): So far I’ve found no “dilemmas” or “problems” for Determinism in unkleE’s 5-point exposition of “apparent difficulties.” Sorry if I go on for a longer than I intended to, but, as the father of a teenage son with his own bedroom, I can attest that it is a lot easier to make a mess than it is to pick up after it. Don’t mean to be dismissive, just saying. 🙂

    From a high level, there are a couple of problems. First, an equivocation between whether a physical system can give rise to logical reasoning and where the system came from (how it was designed, how it arose, etc.). Second, unsubstantiated incredulity that Natural Selection can give rise to anything more complex than the simplest cognitive abilities (like “fight-or-flight” responses). I’ll dive into more detail below.

    Point 1 pertains to definitions, and it’s fine as far as those go, with the caveat that definitions are not arguments nor evidence.

    Point 2 affirms that brains can be designed (by Natural Selection) to emulate logic and “truth” finding, and is OK. But the example of the computer is more than just a “reasonable analogy;” it actually provides evidence that physical systems, however designed, can give rise to “logic.”

    Point 3. Here it’s important to clarify that, while physical “brain states” may be real, “mental states” are labels that we assign to the experiences associated with brain states, and may not have an independent reality. To say that a “mental state” exists without a physical “brain state” presupposes a non-physical, non-causal driver and would be question-begging when it comes to the question of Dualism or LFW.

    Also, that “a mental state M2 must always logically follow from a prior mental state M1″ is neither required of Natural Selection, nor is it necessary to explain that “ground-and-consequence” logic can arise from “cause-and-effect” physical processes. All that’s needed is that some sequence of mental states can emulate or map onto logical reasoning sometimes–a much weaker requirement. Mistakes are not only allowed, but expected on Natural Selection (Type I errors such as apophenia, agenticity, religion, other cognitive biases, etc. are common, and expected on Natural Selection).

    Point 4. “…it is difficult to see how an ability to solve Fermat’s last theorem has survival value.” No, not at all. This is, at best, an incorrectly premature conclusion, and at worst a fallacious Argument from Incredulity.

    Even old Darwin himself proposed how evolutionary by-products can arise which don’t necessarily confer reproductive fitness by piggy-backing on other traits that do. In the case of human cognition, Natural Selection has selected for malleability and adaptability instead of for solving every conceivable simple classification problem that we might face (fight-or-flight, food-or-poison, friend-or-foe, healthy-mate-or-not, etc.). For reproductive fitness, Natural Selection must balance the tradeoff between beneficial brain capacity and deleterious brain size (20% of our calories are consumed by our large brains, women used to die frequently of childbirth due to newborn’s large heads, children have a long cycle of learning and parental dependency, etc.). The end result is a “general purpose” information processor that has capabilities that are immediately useful for reproductive fitness, but which could also include by-product capabilities that aren’t immediately or obviously attributable to reproductive fitness, like math, arts, music, philosophy, entertainment, sense of humor, using birth control, etc.

    To bring up the IBM Watson example again, it wasn’t until Machine Learning techniques were implemented into its programming that it was able to make any progress at all at playing Jeopardy! Before, when the IBM scientists were only using a bloated code base of hard-coded logic (if-then inferential rules and logical operations) the result was a failure. The more flexible and adaptable self-learning techniques opened up a whole new possibility and Watson became the Jeopardy! champion, and in many instances surprised even its creators. This mirrors the development of AI from the 1940s through a current resurgence of Machine Learning since the 1980s until now.

    Your stereotype about “nerds” being unattractive simply does not work and doesn’t belong in any serious argument (this prejudice, like most, is not necessarily true; Google “young Amy Mainzer,” “young Lisa Randall,” and also note the charm and charisma of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan; I don’t think any of them fail to get laid on a regular basis). 🙂 For it to actually work, you would have to demonstrate that math/science ability somehow impedes or disadvantages reproduction. But the evidence contradicts that, as there are many mathematicians and scientists who are brilliant and who have stable families, children, etc. Speaking of your example, Sir Andrew Wiles, Ph.D., who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, is married, has 3 children, and got promotions, awards, and was even knighted for proving FLT. Did Wiles’ awesome mathematical ability diminish his own and his children’s chance of successful reproduction? If anything, it probably improved it.

    And in fact, this could work in the other direction. If people are physically unattractive, they can more than compensate by being highly intelligent and crafty enough to secure mates despite their physical unattractiveness. There may be something to that old saying that “the brain is the mot important sex organ.”

    It is also possible that–my above example excluded–there could be reasons that mathematical ability confers reproductive fitness that we haven’t thought of, in true “Spandrel Fallacy” form.

    It just simply does not follow that “the cognitive ability to do advanced logic is an energy and attention load that natural selection would tend to weed out,” nor that “the further we move “up” and away from the simple survival responses, the less likely it is that natural selection will lead to such a cognitive process.” I’m afraid not. This very simplistic assessment does not do justice to the complexity that can actually arise from Natural Selection, and ignores many other aspects like Cultural Evolution. No “leap of faith” is required at all.

    I’ll respond to Point 5 and beyond in the next post, time permitting…

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  111. Neil: You are right that, in part, Compatibilism is an attempt to define what we mean by the experience of “free will.” Besides defining the “sensation” of “free will” in a way that’s palatable to our intuitions, Compatibilism also rejects LFW. However, the whole point about LFW is that it requires “spooky” non-physical forces that must be at play while the rejection of LFW (be it from only Determinism or as part of Compatibilism) says that all such forces are accountable by natural forces only. That’s why physics is relevant here.

    Bottom line is: Determinism is the lack of LFW, and Compatibilism is Determinism plus a re-definition of “free will” to something other than LFW.

    Later on, after unkleE has presented his objections to Determinism (or Compatibilism), I may present–if I remain unconvinced–my case for why LFW makes no sense, and will rely on physics.

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  112. unkleE (and Nate & Travis):

    In his Point 5 unkleE has hit on a subtle and interesting point, that speaks to the ontology of cognition (which is the first question that should be asked instead of where cognition comes from–Natural Selection, God? etc.). Since unkleE made a general comment about all math & science nerds (and I happen to be one of them) I framed unkleE’s subtle point as unkleE’s Theorem, below, in true nerd fashion. 🙂

    Point 5 starts with an admission that the simplest cognitive abilities can in fact arise from existing physical systems (like a computer?), but that more complex cognitive faculties cannot.

    If I understand the explanation for this (unkleE please correct me if I misrepresent your view), the thinking goes something like this:

    Our thought processes are “generally reliable,” yet, two different people can and usually do arrive at mental states (conclusions) that “disagree.” On Determinism these mental images are derived and mapped from brain states which in turn are derived exclusively from cause-and-effect physical processes. But physical processes are deterministic, so how could two different mental images (conclusions) be arrived at by different people through the exact same physical processes?

    Now, the assumption here is that brain states and mental states (or mental images) are matched to one another in only one way. In other words, mental and brain states stand in a one-to-one and and onto correspondence. This means that for every brain state there is a unique mental state, and for every mental state there is a unique brain state. For all those sexy math geeks out there this is called a bijective (one-to-one and onto) mapping. This means that if Determinism is true, and if the mapping between brain states and mental states is necessarily one-to-one and onto, then people would always arrive at the exact same conclusions (ignoring misunderstandings and random noise).

    These last two paragraphs constituted the proof of:

    unkleE’s Theorem: If Determinism is true, and if brain states and mental states stand in a bijective (one-to-one and onto) correspondence, then all cognitive agents would reach exactly the same conclusions.

    unkleE argues that the “problem of disagreement,” along with his theorem, constitute a devastating problem for Determinism (and for Naturalism), and at first glance, this may seem appealing. This is because it is empirically observable that people often disagree in their conclusions. But on closer scrutiny this is not necessarily so. In other words, empirical observation of disagreements entails that either Determinism has to go or the bijective correspondence between mental and brain states has to go (or both, but only one is sufficient).

    Of course, the problem completely disappears when we realize that no two people start out with the same brain states, even if they start out from identical mental states. Even if we ignore the effects of randomness and noise (which I would argue are important at human scales), and even if we could represent mental states exactly (without miscommunications as to the meaning of the initial mental states, without perceptual random noise etc.) no two people would start out from identical initial brain states, so there’s no reason to expect them to always arrive at exactly the same final brain states by physical processes, and thus to reach the same mental states (conclusions).

    The problem here is that, while the same mental state can be represented in multiple brain states (many-to-one), a given brain state can only yield one mental state (one-to-one). There are many ways to represent a single mental state through different brain states (as anyone familiar with distributed memory storage in highly parallel systems can attest). Yet a mental state, by its very definition, is an “image” of the world that is unique (ignoring misunderstandings and random noise).

    This bears repeating. More than one brain state can “store” or “represent” the same mental state. But a specific brain state can only give rise to one and only one mental state. For all those sexy math & science nerds out there, the mapping from brain states to mental states is strictly surjective (with an “r”).

    This leads to:

    AR’s Proposition: The mapping from brain states to mental states is strictly surjective (many-to-one), and this renders unkleE’s Theorem impotent against Determinism.

    What’s my evidence for this Proposition? The evidence comes from neuroscience and from Machine Learning (AI). Neuroscience has all but established that the biological brain is a highly-parallel associative distributed system, meaning that memories and concepts are not stored and processed in specific loci (as they might be in our usual digital computers), but are spread throughout highly parallel networks.

    Analogously, in artificial associative/distributed storage systems, if we store, for example, the same picture in two systems, the internal states of those systems (brain states) will be entirely different, yet they would represent the same picture (mental image).

    Now, in storage-retrieval systems, no “cognition” happens; the retrieved image is essentially identical (except for small errors of compression/decompression and random noise). But if we were to somehow “process” the image (initial mental state), this would mean having to process different physical states (brain states) and there’s no guarantee that the final brain states will be exactly the same, and hence the final mental images (conclusions) are also not guaranteed to be the same.

    More to the point would be, for example, classifiers of handwritten character recognition. These are usually artificial neural networks (ANNs) which are highly parallel and distributed. Two such classifiers trained on the same data set, are never guaranteed to produce exactly the same outputs (although their outputs hopefully agree a good percentage of the time) when it comes to matching handwritten characters to letters. In fact, a good way to improve performance is to average the output among several of these classifiers (voting) to improve results. In this case, the information that a scribble is a letter “h” is distributed throughout the networks and no two networks have identical physical representations. The presentation of a stimulus (a scribble, which would be like an initial “mental image”) is mapped to a physical internal network state (the “brain state”), which then leads to the final output, represented by a classification of the character “h” (via deterministic processes yielding the final internal state or “brain state” which gives the final “mental state” or conclusion).

    The point is that two similarly trained networks, while agreeing a lot of the time, can sometimes disagree because they will have slightly different internal states. Yet all of this is perfectly deterministic

    Suppose Bob and Alice are discussing their position on unkleE’s “vexing question of abortion.” Let’s ignore randomness and noise, and assume that the totality of the premises that go into the argument can be perfectly encapsulated in the concept of an initial mental state M1 so that Bob has his initial mental state: Bob-M1, and Alice has her initial mental state: Alice-M1, which are represented in their brains as Bob and Alice’s initial brain states Bob-B1 and Alice-B1, respectively.

    Here, their mental states (ignoring random noise) are equal: Alice-M1 = Bob-M1.

    But their initial brain states are not necessarily equal: Alice-B1 NOT= Bob-B1.

    Since physical cause-and-effect mechanisms only operate on the initial brain states (not on the mind states, by definition), we have:

    After some cogitation (physical processing of brain states): Alice-B2 NOT= Bob-B2.

    This implies that the final mental images (conclusions) are not necessarily the same in general:

    Alice-M2 NOT= Bob-M2, in general.

    Now, as in the case with the handwriting classifiers, there are many instances where there will be agreement as well due to the learning process. In biological brains this will be true particularly when “agreement” would map to instinctive survival, or culturally learned outcomes. “Correlation with logic” can definitely occur when brains evolve to become general purpose information processors, because, despite some errors, logic “emulation” confers reproductive advantage, and, in the case of math, music, formal logic, doing science, etc. because of evolutionary by-products.

    Phew! OK, probably nobody read this far, 🙂 but that basically demonstrates that the “disagreement problem” disappears, and says nothing about physical processes’ ability to map or emulate cognition, leaving Determinism unscathed and no negative case for LFW having been offered yet.

    unkleE’s last paragraph switches back from cognition ontology to origins (Natural Selection requires a “leap of faith” that rationality can be produced by “correlation” yet we can’t convince others who think differently), but this is neither true, nor required.

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  113. Phew! OK, probably nobody read this far …

    I guess I did. But I disagree. Your criticism of unkleE is fair enough. My disagreement is more basic. In my view, neither “brain states” nor “mental states” are well defined. So I doubt that this kind of argument can actually get started.

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  114. Hi Nate,

    The important thing is not the abortion example, but the logic of determinism and compatibilism. In the past you haven’t been convinced that naturalism/physicalism entails determinism, which in turn entails no libertarian free will. I thought you had agreed with that logic now, but it seems you are still unsure. This is basic to the point I am making, so we cannot really proceed until we understand each other on this. But I’m not sure if either of us want to go round that circle again.

    Let me try a different and provocative approach, and make an ambit claim on what I think is happening here.

    1. Most atheists believe physical/natural processes and entities are all there is. There is no supernatural and no other “spooky” “woo”, so mind & consciousness arise/emerge from the physical. I think you believe that.

    2. But the logic of that leads to determinism. If there is nothing outside the physical/natural, then only physical/natural processes can be used to explain everything, including consciousness and choice, and those processes are described/governed by natural laws (except if there is true randomness). So our choices are determined by the laws of physics = determinism.

    3. But determinism is a stark worldview and very difficult to live consistently (some say impossible), so believing in determinism produces cognitive dissonance. Few of us enjoy that. So determinists look for a way out.

    4. Compatibilism is that way out. We can redefine freewill from what it would naturally mean to most people (my lawyer friend would talk about the ordinary man in the street) to mean something that can sit with determinism. Then naturalists can feel more comfortable and remove their cognitive dissonance.

    So free will, which most naturally means the ability to change the course of events in our brains to something different than the physical brain processes would have produced, is redefined to mean something like being able to act in a way consistent with our wishes (which in turn are actually determined).

    To be specific, libertarian free will entails at least these three requirements:

    1. A person has the active power to bring about a consequence.
    2. The person used their power as a first unmoved mover to actually bring about that consequence.
    3. They had the ability not to bring about that consequence.

    But compatibilism doesn’t accept any of those statements. So compatibilism still doesn’t allow for not fully determined choice among theoretically possible alternatives, and that is the key conclusion for my “problems”.

    These definitions can be fleshed out with considerable rigour (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – where there are several versions of compatibilism), but I believe that is a reasonable generalised summary.

    5. Now here is the provocative statement. I think you are feeling the cognitive dissonance. You feel (experientially) we have free will, you want to believe we have free will (not least because you are an extremely ethical person and you want a good basis for moral responsibility), but you recognise that compatibility doesn’t give a really satisfying free will. And so you are finding it difficult.

    I suppose you won’t like me saying that, but I hope you won’t be offended. But I think we should probably close this discussion gracefully and give you time (if you have interest) to work out where you stand on these very complex issues. We can live to “fight” another day! 🙂

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  115. Hi AR, you are certainly putting a lot of effort into this matter, which I appreciate. But I fear that you are still directing your effort at points I am not making, which of course you are free to do, but I feel no reason to dispute them. So here are my responses that may clarify further.

    ”By ignoring my claims, are you conceding that your 3 objections are in fact fallacious, or will you be addressing them in your list of “issues”?”

    I don’t think “fallacious” is a relevant word here. I have not yet got to the level of presenting a logical argument, I am simply pointing out what I see as problems and asking for explanations. If I don’t see any reasonable explanations, I may then present a logical argument, but not yet. So, for example, I quote experts because it is often (on a forum like this where space is limited) the quickest way to outline a problem. I have not yet seen an adequate understanding of the problems (quite possibly my fault) nor an adequate explanation of them.

    ”All that’s needed is that some sequence of mental states can emulate or map onto logical reasoning sometimes–a much weaker requirement.”

    If this is your conclusion that you’re prepared to support, then I am happy to go with that. I was trying to see if a stronger conclusion could be supported, but are you happy to defend the alleged problems of compatibilism on that basis?

    ”unkleE’s Theorem: If Determinism is true, and if brain states and mental states stand in a bijective (one-to-one and onto) correspondence, then all cognitive agents would reach exactly the same conclusions.“

    Again, I’m sorry, but you have jumped way beyond what I am saying. I am not making any theorem, I am simply asking for an explanation that is real (i.e. makes sense in our experience) and understandable.

    I was quite clear that I was not saying this. I said that if compatibilism is true, our brains would all have evolved slightly differently. We would find some things we all thought similarly on, and some things we didn’t. I didn’t suggest that in itself disproved compatibilism. I said it presented a practical problem. And I still think it does.

    And I think that renders the rest of your argument there nugatory, I’m sorry, for it is addressing a wrong assumption about what I had said.

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  116. “3. But determinism is a stark worldview and very difficult to live consistently (some say impossible), so believing in determinism produces cognitive dissonance. Few of us enjoy that. So determinists look for a way out.”

    You’ve made this claim a couple of times, but I don’t think it’s true and I don’t think you’ve adequately justified it. I support the determinist position and I certainly don’t feel any cognitive dissonance on the matter. The illusion of free will is arguably beneficial and knowing that it’s an illusion doesn’t create any issues as far as I am concerned.

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  117. Hi Limey,

    ”In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.” Wikipedia.

    Each of the quotes below shows a scientist or philosopher saying that freewill is contradictory to their naturalism or science, yet it is a necessary belief – thus simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs = cognitive dissonance.

    Cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky: ”No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will; that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false”

    Philosopher Saul Smilanski: [free will] ”is a morally necessary illusion …. vitally important …. to maintain or promote crucial moral or personal beliefs and practices. …. The idea of illusion as morally necessary is repugnant and demeaning …. Nevertheless I do not see any resources left to combat the ethical necessity of illusion in the free will case.”

    Philosopher James Rachels: ”aspects of our behaviour which we previously thought were matters of free choice are really the products of deep, genetically controlled forces …Humans may fabricate all sort of other reasons for what they do, but these are mere rationalisations”

    Edward Slingerland: [No one] ”can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free …. we need to pull off the trick of …. living with a dual consciousness …. There may well be individuals who lack this sense [of feeling they are free], and who can quite easily conceive of themselves and other people in purely instrumental, mechanistic terms, but we label such people “psychopaths”.”

    Richard Dawkins (asked whether his views on moral responsibility were inconsistent): ”I sort of do, yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with, otherwise life would be intolerable.”

    Albert Einstein: ”human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting, are not free but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions. …. I am compelled to act as if free will existed because if I want to live in a civilised society I must act responsibly.”

    Computer scientist Eric Baum says the arguments against freewill are ”airtight. But …. it’s much more reasonable and practical for my genes to build me believing in free will”

    Philosopher John Searle: ”The problem about compatibilism, then, is that it doesn’t answer the question, ‘Could we have done otherwise, all other conditions remaining the same ?’, in a way that is consistent with our belief in our own free will. Compatibilism, in short, denies the substance of free will while maintaining its verbal shell.”

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  118. Neil: A “brain state” can be thought of as a “snapshot” of all the neuronal synaptic connections in a brain, and the accumulated levels of activation in every neuron, and knowledge about how neurons accumulate these in order to fire electrical signals after a certain threshold, etc. An example that approximates this would be an fMRI showing brain activity (via blood flow) of someone’s brain while they’re listening to music, etc. As defined, “brain states” are strictly physical states and their existence is not controversial.

    While we don’t have the computational resources to measure each individual state of each synaptic connection (there are 10^10 of those) they can in principle be measured (and they may well be in the not so distant future as computer power and storage capabilities continue to exponentially increase).

    “Mental states,” on the other hand, are labels that we give to our subjective experiences arising from these physical brain states, and they may not have a reality in the same way that brain states do.

    As far as I’m concerned, “brain states” can be said to be “real” just by the way they’re defined, and by the fact that brains exist, and we can agree to disagree that they exist. I think they’re a useful concept when talking about consciousness and LFW, and I was responding to someone who brought them up.

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  119. You asked for evidence, and I showed you examples of people feeling the way I described. How else should I provide that evidence except by quoting people?

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  120. unkleE: No problem, these are complex issues and I find exploring them enjoyable.

    You say “fallacious” is not “the relevant word” because you “have not yet presented a logical argument.” OK, are you saying that what you’ve been presenting so far is “illogical” and shouldn’t be taken seriously until you label your statements as “logical”? What are your statements meant to be so far, poetry?

    Statements don’t have to be put in syllogistic form to be “logical” nor for someone to spot fallacies in them. You say you’re pointing out “problems” and asking for “explanations.” I’ve done that with your “problems” and I even named the fallacies they incur. Choosing to ignore them sounds like a bit of a cop out to me. If your “problems” are fallacious then they disappear and are of no consequence. If you don’t think I correctly identified the fallacies in your “problems,” you could explain where I’m wrong. You could start with just one of them.

    Your “quotes from experts,” if they’re unsupported, are “Quote Mining” and “Arguments from Authority,” and you can keep doing that all day long and they’ll continue to be fallacies and be of no consequence. I can quote experts that refute your experts all day long too, but why bother?

    So far you’ve presented:

    (1) A conflation of Determinism with Compatibilism and it’s not clear which one you’re trying to find “problems” with as you go back and forth between the two.

    (2) An equivocation between the ontology and the epistemology of LFW, where you switch back and forth between “there cannot exist physical states which can give rise to reasoning” and “I’m incredulous that Natural Selection can produce such physical processes.” Whether they exist vs. how they can arise by natural means are separate questions.

    (3) A confusion between what seems real to us and what actually is real.

    (4) A question-begging assumption that “free choice,” in a libertarian sense, is real. This is precisely what’s being debated.

    I was quite clear that I was not saying this. I said that if compatibilism is true, our brains would all have evolved slightly differently. We would find some things we all thought similarly on, and some things we didn’t. I didn’t suggest that in itself disproved compatibilism. I said it presented a practical problem. And I still think it does.

    How would our brains have evolved differently on Compatibilism? That we all “think somethings similarly and other things not” is precisely what we observe; if it doesn’t “disprove” Compatibilism, exactly how is that a “practical problem” for Compatibilism? How do you “still think it does”?

    I could go on picking at unsubstantiated and confused statements, but it seems, to no avail. It seems that Ark was prescient after all. 🙂

    All I can ask is for you to please present your logical case for… whatever it is that you’re trying to propose.

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  121. limey: You’re absolutely right. Even if all these authors believed what unkleE wants them to believe, that would not make their belief true. In fact, it is not true that:

    Each of [unkleE’s] quotes… shows a scientist or philosopher saying that freewill is contradictory to their naturalism or science, yet it is a necessary belief – thus simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs = cognitive dissonance.

    Not only are these quotes not substantiated (which makes them fallacious Arguments from Authority), but they’re wildly misinterpreted and recruited for a purpose the poor authors clearly did not even intend, so this is classic and shameless Quote Mining.

    unkleE is confusing illusion with reality and cognitive dissonance with actual contradictions in reality. Cognitive dissonance refers to a psychological discomfort from holding beliefs about apparently self-contradicting realities. None of these authors are experiencing cognitive dissonance because they’re very clear in separating illusion from reality.

    For example, we may find it useful to hold on to the illusion that the Earth is stationary so we can go about our lives building houses and riding bicycles, but in reality we know that the Earth is actually spinning and rotating around the Sun at great speeds. These are not self-contradicting because one is recognized as the perceptive illusion that it is, and the other is recognized as physical reality. If we didn’t recognize that one of them is an illusion and thought it was actually real, this would lead to us believing that there is an actual contradiction and hence cognitive dissonance. But we know one is an illusion and the other is real, so there are not two different realities, but one, so there’s no cognitive dissonance.

    Likewise, even if LFW does not exist, we may “feel” like it does, and may find that “feeling” useful, while at the same time realizing that it may well not exist. There is no cognitive dissonance here; it disappears once you realize that in fact, “perception is NOT reality” and once you’re able to separate the two, and identify illusions for what they are, and separate them from reality, something that unkleE apparently finds difficult.

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  122. Nate: If I may be so bold as to interject into unkleE’s comment to you, I’d like to clarify some (of the many) points that appear incorrect or confused to me.

    Naturalism leads to Determinism, this is true, yes. Determinism says nothing about our “intuitions” or our “illusion of free will,” etc. Determinism is completely neutral about our “intuitions,” and it is (or is meant to be) a statement of fact about reality, not about how we might experience it through our “feelings.” Compatibilism is Determinism PLUS an attempt to explain our “sense, intuition, feeling, illusion” (whatever you call it) of libertarian free will.

    It is not true to say that “believing in Determinism leads to cognitive dissonance” anymore than believing that the Earth spins on its axis leads to “cognitive dissonance.” This is because we recognize our sense of the Earth seeming stationary as a perceptual illusion while at the same time recognizing the reality that the Earth is, in fact, moving, despite our “feeling” to the contrary. As long as we recognize illusions for what they are and as long as we keep them separate from reality, no cognitive illusion results.

    Compatibilism is not “a way out” of (a non-existing) cognitive dissonance, it is an attempt to explain our “sensation” of (libertarian) free will while not falling into the trap of confusing an illusion with reality.

    unkleE accuses naturalists of using Compatibilism to “feel more comfortable while removing their cognitive dissonance.” This is really rich, coming from a theist. No such comfort is sought, quite the contrary. If comfort were the goal, naturalists wouldn’t be naturalists, and would embrace all kinds of vapid, comfortable delusions and become, well, supernaturalists, and possibly believers in the “God of the philosophers” (certainly not in the nasty villain of the Bible, as that would not be comforting either). What is sought is an honest effort at explaining the facts about the world, including our own cognitive illusions, comfortable or not.

    unkleE claims that Determinism is a “stark claim.” Why? Because of some “feeling” that we may have about consciousness and having “libertarian free choice.” Again, this is rich. Determinism relies only on the natural world, something that even unkleE agrees exists. On the contrary, LFW tacks onto Naturalism, in addition, uncaused, non-physical, unexplained, non-explainable, unfalsifiable “spooky” forces that are somehow pulling the strings and somehow interacting with the physical world via our brains through an as-yet-unidentified “spooky” process. No attempt is made to give any explanation as to how this “interaction” with the existing physical world can come about, nor even any authentic explanation about how it explains our “feelings,” other than “Goddidit and that’s the way it is.”

    Now, you tell me: Which one is the “starker” of the two claims?

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  123. Responding to AutonomousReason:

    A “brain state” can be thought of as a “snapshot” of all the neuronal synaptic connections in a brain, and the accumulated levels of activation in every neuron, and knowledge about how neurons accumulate these in order to fire electrical signals after a certain threshold, etc.

    Do we take that snapshot at 10000 pixels per cubic inch, or at 1 million pixels per cubic inch?

    We talk about computer states. But when we do that, we follow well established convention as to what should count as a state. We do not have corresponding conventions such as would allow us to talk of brain states.

    Similarly for mental states. Beliefs are said to be mental states. Philosophers seem to think that my head is chock full of beliefs. But I think there are very few beliefs there. I strongly disagree with the idea that “knowledge is justified true belief”.

    When it comes to talk of brain states, and talk of mental states, we literally do not know what we are talking about. There’s a lot of “feel good” talk, but it doesn’t actually say anything.

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  124. Neil: First, let’s get the agreements out of the way: I basically agreed with you that “mental states” are not actually “real” in the physical sense, and I said from the outset that it is practically impossible (with current technology) to measure brain states, even if they exist. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We can’t measure the quantum states of every molecule in a glass of water, but that doesn’t mean the ensemble of quantum states does not exist, it only means we can’t, at present, measure them all. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t make inferences based on our knowledge that these molecular quantum states exist, and throw our hands up in the air and say “we can’t possibly know what we’re talking about.” Science wouldn’t have gotten very far with that attitude.

    Also, spatial resolution (3-D pixels per cubic inch, etc.) would not be the appropriate unit to use. Instead, you’d probably want to use synaptic connections, their strengths, and neuronal states (which wouldn’t have to necessarily be represented spatially but relationally). Time resolution would also enter into the measurement, as signals travel in nerves at rates comparable to the speed of sound (much lower than in digital computers) although much of what’s going on is asynchronous, so this could be difficult also.

    I have said nothing about the definition of knowledge as “justified true beliefs;” epistemology is tricky and is a whole other subject.

    I disagree with your last paragraph, but again, we can agree to disagree. It doesn’t much matter to whether LFW is real or not. I believe science has demonstrated, as much as science can demonstrate anything, that LFW does not exist, “brain states” or not.

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  125. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    They (brain states) don’t exist until we define them. And we do not have any good idea on how to define them.

    Even if you could take a brain, and come up with a good systematic way of defining brain states for that brain, it likely would not work for the next brain. Brains of different people are different. Even brains of identical twins are different.

    We can’t measure the quantum states of every molecule in a glass of water, but that doesn’t mean the ensemble of quantum states does not exist, it only means we can’t, at present, measure them all.

    We can, and do, define quantum states. So this analogy does not help at all.

    Also, spatial resolution (3-D pixels per cubic inch, etc.) would not be the appropriate unit to use.

    Agreed. But my point stands — there is no appropriate unit to use.

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  126. Neil: Definitions aren’t required for things to exist. A thousand years ago we hadn’t defined asteroids, yet they existed. But anyway, many people have defined “brain states.”

    Yes, brains of different people are different, and can be in different “states.” 🙂

    I didn’t say “define,” I said “measure.” Actually, we cannot measure the several dozen or so quantum states that describe a water molecule for all 10^23 or so that would be in a glass of water. We could in principle, but not in practice with present technology.

    “There is no appropriate unit to use.” Actually, that doesn’t follow. Yes, the units you chose are inappropriate, but that doesn’t mean no appropriate units could ever be found. Is this what you’re saying?

    P1: If Neil chooses incorrect units for a measurement, then no units could ever be found or exist.

    P2: Neil chose incorrect units for a measurement.

    C: Therefore no units can ever possibly be found or exist. 🙂

    Units are arbitrary anyway, Neil. And definitions are not arguments, so there’s little sense in arguing against them.

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  127. Eric,
    I want to try and understand your case before addressing it. Are you, as I predicted in my very first comment, essentially raising a form of the EAAN by saying that we can’t see how natural selection would yield physical systems (brains) that are truth-directed logical processing faculties? In doing so, are you presupposing a transcendent “true laws of logic” that exist independent of brain processes?

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  128. Hi Travis, are you back?

    “Are you, as I predicted in my very first comment, essentially raising a form of the EAAN by saying that we can’t see how natural selection would yield physical systems (brains) that are truth-directed logical processing faculties?”
    As I have been saying to AR, I am not yet making any argument, simply discussing the implications of determinism and compatibilism and asking for explanations of what seem to me to be obvious dilemmas for compatibilism posed by the scientific evidence. There are some similarities to the EEAN, but I haven’t got anywhere near that far yet.

    “In doing so, are you presupposing a transcendent “true laws of logic” that exist independent of brain processes?”
    No, I haven’t presupposed anything. I am asking questions and suggesting problems. I guess I am building on a comment in a book on neuroscience I read some years ago (Alwyn Scott, Stairway to the mind): “Although dualism cannot be disproved, the role of science is to proceed on the assumption that it is wrong and see how much progress can be made.” I am asking whether that assumption is working out.

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  129. Hi AR,

    ”Not only are these quotes not substantiated (which makes them fallacious Arguments from Authority), but they’re wildly misinterpreted and recruited for a purpose the poor authors clearly did not even intend, so this is classic and shameless Quote Mining.”

    I’m going to start here because this is a clear accusation which I believe is quite wrong and offered without substantiation. You could have asked me for references rather than argue from a lack of references to an accusation (after all, this is a blog, not an academic paper, and my comments are already long enough).

    But you have chosen to make the accusation, so I want to challenge you to either substantiate it for at least half of the people I quoted, by giving the reference that I have used and you have presumably read (I hope so!), and your justification for accusing me of wildly misinterpreting them. Or else, I ask you to withdraw the accusation.

    I will say again, I have references for all of them, I have read the references for most of them and I am confident I have not misrepresented them in using their words to establish that they find dissonance between what their science or philosophy tells them and their experience as human beings of apparent freewill.

    I will further ask you the same question I asked Limey. I claimed that believing in determinism leads to cognitive dissonance, Limey challenged me to justify that statement, so I defined cognitive dissonance and then gave a number of examples of academics saying that they recognised or felt this dissonance between what their science or philosophy told them and what we are all “compelled” to believe to live as humans. So I was offering evidence for my original statement. That isn’t “fallacious”, it is what is required to justify a statement. If referencing wasn’t allowed to justify statements, then most science and history would grind to a halt.

    So before we go on, can you please justify or withdraw your accusation, and explain how you think the use of acadcemic references as evidence is fallacious? Thanks.

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  130. unkleE: Let me start by saying that, although I’m direct and blunt, I don’t intend anything to be directed personally, only at arguments (or statements), which I think are fair game. You strike me as a very nice fellow who is eloquent and intelligent; I simply, if vehemently, disagree with your statements (so far). I believe that I’ve shown respect for you as a person, even while disagreeing with almost everything you’ve said.

    In fact, I’ve taken great interest in everything you’ve been saying, read it carefully, and, to my mind at least, found a number of flaws with your “problems and objections” against Naturalism, Determinism, and/or Compatibilism, which I think render your “problems” moot. You have not taken the time to address these “flaws” in kind, but have chosen to ignore them, yet continue to repeat that there are real “problems.” As such, my challenges stand, and I’ll continue to repeat that those “problems” are nonexistent, until you address and disarm the fatal “flaws” that I’ve identified in them. You say that you have yet to state actual arguments and have built anticipation that they’re coming. That’s not the way I see it–and I’m not even sure what your statements could be, if not arguments–but fair enough, I look forward to your “actual” arguments.

    “this is a clear accusation which I believe is quite wrong and offered without substantiation. You could have asked me for references rather than argue from a lack of references to an accusation (after all, this is a blog, not an academic paper, and my comments are already long enough).

    It is an accusation against your faulty method of offering arguments and evidence, yes. The burden is not on me to ask you for references–you’re the one quoting. But this is not relevant, because I never questioned the source of your quotes, and I still trust that you got them from proper sources.

    Here’s the rub: When you select a quotation that you claim supports your conclusion without offering any other support for this claim (either how the author arrived at this quote which, allegedly, agrees with your conclusion, or how you would arrive at it), far from supporting your claim, it is an Argument from Authority. Surely we can agree that this is a fallacy? I’m convinced that it is a fallacy and, unless proven wrong, will point it out every time I see it; we can let the readers decide for themselves if it is or not. BTW, this is a charming habit of religious apologists that doesn’t fly with anyone else, and doesn’t help their case one bit.

    Here’s another rub: When I read those quotes carefully, I don’t see in them the “cognitive dissonance” that you ascribe to them, in fact, quite the contrary. This is the point that I made before, and it’s important: A recognition of an illusion does not lead to cognitive dissonance, and does not lead to “embracing delusion,” quite the opposite. It is the lack of recognition of an illusion that can lead to delusions. I stand by my claim (accusation, if you will) that you have not shown that these authors have cognitive dissonance, nor that they are somehow “embracing a comforting delusion.” The burden is on you to demonstrate your own accusation of them, not just selectively quote them while running with your own unsubstantiated interpretation. This demonstration you have not done by selectively quoting them.

    I am aware that this is a blog, not an academic conference. But surely, good arguments can still apply here? Nate can correct me if I’m wrong, but is the point of this blog to spout unsupported assertions and fallacies all day long and expect not to be challenged?

    “I am confident I have not misrepresented them in using their words to establish that they find dissonance between what their science or philosophy tells them and their experience as human beings of apparent freewill.

    I am not so confident. A straight-forward reading of the quotes themselves does not support your assertion. The burden is on you to demonstrate your accusation of those authors (that they are in a state of “cognitive dissonance” and that they’re “embracing delusions because it is comforting;” these were the conclusions you “drew” from these quotes, even if now you’re softening your conclusions a bit). But this would take us way off course from the topic here (is LFW real, are there “problems” with Determinism, Compatibilism, Naturalism?) into what some authors think, which would, again, demonstrate at best what some authors may think and would still be an Argument from Authority which doesn’t address the topic.

    “So before we go on, can you please justify or withdraw your accusation, and explain how you think the use of acadcemic references as evidence is fallacious? Thanks.”

    This is a Straw Man, unkleE. I never stated that proper use of academic references is fallacious. I’m saying that your use of references is improper–and yes, fallacious–for the reasons stated above. Quote Mining does not make, nor substitute for, proper use of academic references. That claim (accusation, if you want to call it that) still stands.

    I’ll comment on your second-to-last paragraph on another post.

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  131. unkleE:

    I will further ask you the same question I asked Limey. I claimed that believing in determinism leads to cognitive dissonance, Limey challenged me to justify that statement, so I defined cognitive dissonance and then gave a number of examples of academics saying that they recognised or felt this dissonance between what their science or philosophy told them and what we are all “compelled” to believe to live as humans. So I was offering evidence for my original statement. That isn’t “fallacious”, it is what is required to justify a statement. If referencing wasn’t allowed to justify statements, then most science and history would grind to a halt.

    And I will continue to claim that believing in Determinism does not necessarily have to lead to “cognitive dissonance” anymore than believing that the Earth is actually moving has to lead to “cognitive dissonance.” Recognizing that the apparent contradiction (that we “feel” like we have LFW, that we “feel” that the Earth is stationary) is an illusion (and therefore not actually true and is not an actual contradiction) removes the cognitive dissonance, because we realize that we do not hold contradictory beliefs! I read those authors’ quotes as stating upfront that, while they recognize their own feeling of LFW, they have clearly identified it as an illusion and I don’t see that they are necessarily experiencing the psychological state of “cognitive dissonance,” nor of “embracing comforting delusions,” like you claim.

    Science runs like a well-oiled machine (it is, arguably, the single most successful pathway that humanity has ever found to apprehend truths about reality), but not because of arguing from examples, or from Arguments from Authority or, even worse, from Quote Mining, but from presenting fallacy-free arguments and evidence. Without substantiation, a quote is not a conclusion.

    I think I’ve identified a new fallacy:

    “Argument from Cognitive Dissonance (a Fallacy): When a person believes a statement that results in the person’s own state of cognitive dissonance, then that statement must necessarily be false.”

    This is a fallacy because (1) cognitive dissonance refers to beliefs, not to logical truths, and (2) a person’s belief has nothing to do with the truth value of the content of that belief. Therefore, a person’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” may have no bearing on logical truths outside that person’s set of beliefs.

    A person can believe things that are true. A person can believe things that are false. (In Doxastic Logic this is called an “Inaccurate Reasoner,” which we all would do well to recognize that we are, lest we might become “Conceited Reasoners.”) A person may simultaneously believe some statements that are true and other statements that are false. In fact, a person might even simultaneously believe two statements that contradict one another, one of which is actually true and the other false. (In Doxastic Logic, again, this would be called an “Inconsistent Reasoner.”) If a person actually realizes this, i.e., if a person is aware that his beliefs are self-contradicting, that would lead him to experience “cognitive dissonance.” Does that imply that, if one of the statements happens to be logically true, then it must not be logically true? No, of course not. It means that the person holds one “false belief” about the statement that happens to not be true, and one “true belief” about the statement that happens to be true.

    The content of that particular “true belief” will remain true regardless of his “cognitive dissonance.” To remove his “cognitive dissonance” he would have to discard belief in one of the two statements (hopefully the false one), not necessarily both. But whether “cognitive dissonance” is removed or not, the actual truth value of the content of the “true belief” will remain unchanged.

    So, there. Even if you could substantiate that all of those authors are experiencing “cognitive dissonance,” you have done nothing to prove or disprove the truth value of the statements that allegedly cause them “cognitive dissonance.” Does believing in Determinism lead to “cognitive dissonance” in some people’s set of beliefs? Possibly, yes, if they’re not very reflective (as you seemingly accuse those authors to be). Does that mean that therefore Determinism must be objectively false? No.

    Now, can we get back to the topic of whether or not LFW, Determinism, Compatibilism, Naturalism are true?

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  132. Hi Eric,
    Won’t be back home until tomorrow night but I currently have Wi-Fi and a phone.

    I’m not sure where to go from your last comment. Can you try clearly stating one problem or question regarding the need for LFW to support rationality and then we could focus the discussion on that singular topic?

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  133. Hi AR,

    I appreciate that you have tried to explain yourself and respond in a friendly way. I will try to do the same, but it seems before we can get back to the topic, we need to do some explaining and bridge-building. Here’s my thinking, split into three comments to keep them shorter ….

    1. It isn’t my business to tell you how to participate in discussions on a blog, but I think you tend to forget that this is a blog and not an academic journal. I find it difficult that you address many minor matters in great (and sometimes, it seems to me, irrelevant) detail, and even more difficult that twice at least you were addressing arguments I wasn’t making, and I had to correct you. That means that there is an enormous amount of words coming at me that isn’t addressing what I think are the main issues, and my eyes (metaphorically) tend to glaze over. And so, if there is something that is important, I may well miss it, and then you think I am avoiding you. If you want me to answer a critique, can you please keep it all shorter and to the point, and we can enlarge on matters if we need to.

    (cont)

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  134. 2. You are so enthusiastic to denounce logical fallacies, as I find so many enthusiastic atheists/agnostics are, that the charge is made at all sorts of inappropriate places. “Argument from Authority” is a common example, and you and Limey have made that charge. Specifically, on several occasions when I have quoted an apparent expert to support what I am saying, you have dismissed what I said as a fallacy.

    Now it ought to be obvious, as I have already said, that this claim of a fallacy is often wrong-headed. In science, no-one can prove everything they say from first principles, it would take a whole library. So scientific papers reference and quote experts who the authors think have established certain points, to save time and build a basis for what they want to say. It happens in historical papers too, and I imagine in law as well.

    There is nothing fallacious about this.

    In fact, it is necessary and good practice.

    Further, even in formal logical argument, each proposition has to be justified, and often that justification comes from expert opinion. For example, if I make an argument for God from the apparent design in the universe, I would include a proposition something like “The ‘fine-tuning’ of the design is almost impossible to have occurred by chance”. The only way to justify that statement is to quote the expert conclusion of a cosmologists and/or statistician, and it would be totally inappropriate to shout “fallacy” at that. The only proper response, if you disagreed, would be to show that my expert wasn’t expert, or find another expert who said the opposite. That is why I generally search out a number of experts so I can be surer that I have a true conclusion.

    In my brief discussion with Limey, I made claims that people feel dissonance. How on earth am I going to back that up if I don’t quote people saying or showing the feel dissonance? The claim to fallacy is especially irrelevant, and even counter-relevant, here.

    Now I am going to appeal to authority to further make this point. I have looked up the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on this matter as I regard it as a good, well-respected and expert guide to philosophy. So you know, these are the pages:

    Fallacies
    Logical Fallacies
    Informal Logic
    Also Wikipedia on Argument from Authority

    These references make it clear that the original definition of the fallacy of appeal to authority was not as you are using it, without qualification, but of an argument from someone without expertise who was given authority they didn’t deserve. They also make it clear that the appropriate way to deal with an argument from authority is not to simply shout “argument from authority = fallacy!” but to show that the person isn’t expert, or isn’t speaking with good knowledge, or is contradicted by other experts.

    So please, let’s not have all these bald claims of “fallacy”, but let’s discus why you think I am wrong.

    (cont)

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  135. Sorry Nate, I omitted the closing bold tag after “accusation”. Can you correct please to make it easier for everyone to read. Thanks.

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  136. Responding to AutonomousReason:

    Definitions aren’t required for things to exist.

    Well, yes they are.

    Definitions are not required for the existence part of that. They are required for the thingness part.

    A thousand years ago we hadn’t defined asteroids, yet they existed.

    That illustrates my point. A thousand years ago, asteroids were not things to the people at that time. Because we have defined them, they are things to us.

    My objection to talk of brain states, is that brain states are not things.

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  137. UnkleE on “argument from authority”:

    In science, no-one can prove everything they say from first principles, it would take a whole library. So scientific papers reference and quote experts who the authors think have established certain points, to save time and build a basis for what they want to say.

    I’m afraid that you misunderstand the use of references in science. They are used to connect the reader to other parts of the literature. They are not used to “build a basis”.

    Liked by 1 person

  138. Hi Travis,

    I find it intriguing. You and Nate are both thoughtful and astute people, yet you both seem to be struggling to come to grips with what I am saying (and not saying). Doubtless someone more expert than I could say it better, but I really think part of the problem is that it really is difficult to live as if determinism was true.

    I haven’t yet got to an argument on “the need for LFW to support rationality” – I am currently trying to focus on why I think determinism (whether compatibilism or incompatibilism) is difficult, and may therefore be wrong. My reasons for this were set out a few posts back, and in brief summary are:

    1. Determinism means our brains work by physical “cause and effect” laws.
    2. Logic uses ground-consequence processes.
    3. Thus it seems the only way our brains can think logically is if cause and effect processes can ape ground-consequence reasoning via natural selection, which selects for survival to reproduce.
    4. It’s easy to say this, but harder to show how it would work. And it’s easier to see how it would work in simple fight or flight scenarios than for complex rationality.
    5. And if we do think natural selection can deliver on that, then we have a situation where it has given you different brain processes leading to different outcomes to me. In which case, why try to persuade each other, because persuasion is only using cause and effect processes? Perhaps you should instead think “Eric’s cause and effect processes have given him different ground-consequence thinking than mine have!”
    6. But notice the word “should” implying the possibility of a different choice, which on our assumption of determinism we don’t have. So even outlining this approach seems impossible without breaking away from determinism.

    So that’s it. I added #6 on a whim, it wasn’t in my original statement. My conclusion is that there is a practical problem being a determinist that is difficult to get over without some inconsistencies. Hope that helps.

    Like

  139. AR, I just wanted to make one clarification or correction. The James Rachels quote was not describing what he himself necessarily thought, but what others thought. It nevertheless illustrates how people grapple with the idea of genetically controlled choice, which was my point. You can read (if you download chapter 2) that he outlines the struggle (= dissonance) to combine evolution, determinism, choice and morality (e.g. pages 84-88, 97-98).

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  140. Eric,
    Why do you think logic is not readily reconciled with physical processes? When I write software I am implementing complex logic with physics. Do you find it difficult to see that process occurring naturally, how our “physics” (i.e. brain) could have evolved to accomplish complex logical reasoning?

    With #5, you seem to say that even if that possibility is viable (and I think it is quite viable) then we should think it will yield different types of logic for different people (really think I misunderstood you here) but if we share ancestors then our faculties will be similar, so I’m not going to suspect that you possess a wholly different faculty, only that your initial conditions and perceptional framework differs from mine to the extent that we reach different conclusions from the same inputs. If I suspect that our differences result in an errant conclusion on your (or my) part, then I’ll try to provide (or seek) additional inputs that will correct the output.

    I still doubt that I’ve understood the difficulty you’re presenting and I don’t see how the rejection of LFW has anything to do with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  141. Fair questions, Travis.

    “Why do you think logic is not readily reconciled with physical processes? When I write software I am implementing complex logic with physics. Do you find it difficult to see that process occurring naturally, how our “physics” (i.e. brain) could have evolved to accomplish complex logical reasoning?”

    It happens in software because you are the designer. I am quite happy to suppose that if a supernatural designer created us, this would work! 🙂 The problem is that natural selection is based on survival to reproduce, not truth of logic. Now like I said, I can readily believe that in the case of simple fight and flight logic, but the ability to solve Fermat’s last theorem is of a much higher order.

    The animal that flees as soon as it hears a suspicious noise in the long grass will survive to reproduce longer than the animal that waits to work out whether it is true that the noise was a lion. So an inquiring mind that uses conscious logic may often be a liability. I can see that a semblance of basic logic might be developed, but I can’t see that we can be confident that human rationality would result. Remember, the processes that natural selection works on are cause-effect, but the ground-consequence logic is a product of the cause and effect.

    Now note I don’t say it couldn’t happen, I say it is a big jump, not entirely certain.

    “we should think it will yield different types of logic for different people (really think I misunderstood you here) but if we share ancestors then our faculties will be similar, so I’m not going to suspect that you possess a wholly different faculty, only that your initial conditions and perceptional framework differs from mine to the extent that we reach different conclusions from the same inputs.”

    But we (humans generally) do reach markedly different conclusions. I have said to Nate many times that he and I are both reasonably intelligent and educated, we seem to think alike on many things, we have similar evidence in front of us, yet we conclude totally opposite about God, yet we both think we are logical and the other one is missing something. So much so that many atheists think christians are delusional, dishonest, faith-heads, irrational, etc, and doubtless many christians say similar things in reverse.

    The real killer for me is this. For us to argue about different conclusions, we have to think our brains are working on ground-consequence logic. But if determinism is true, they are not, they are working on physical (determined) cause and effect logic. So they same determined evolutionary processes that produced Richard Dawkins’ brain also produced William Lane Craig’s brain, and there is no inherent right or wrong about those processes, so neither can say they are right (if determinism is true) – well they can say it, because their brain processes determined they would say it, but it would have no truth value.

    In the long run, all our language, our law and ethics and customs, our experience, etc, all scream out that we have free will, and we couldn’t easily (if at all) live without that feeling, yet determinists say it is an illusion.

    Does that make any more sense?

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  142. The real killer for me is this. For us to argue about different conclusions, we have to think our brains are working on ground-consequence logic.

    Indoctrination easily over-rides this mechanism. And you repeatedly demonstrate this when you use the comparison between how an atheist like Nate and a theist like you interpret the same evidence for god and Jesus, creator-driven evolution etc etc.

    Also, you continually choose to forget/ignore that Nate has been on your side of the fence and once defended this position just as vehemently as you do at this moment.

    Once the cognitive dissonance began to creep in, Nate (and I will presume every other deconvert) accepted his condition/belief was based primarily on indoctrination those ”logic circuits” will look at the evidence in a completely different light.
    Because of indoctrination you are able to accept the reasoning behind the god-belief you cling to, and also because of indoctrination you can and do , reject other similar claims from other religions on the same grounds – as they will about your religious claims.

    There will never be a point where you can argue on a level playing field because, whether you are honest enough to admit it or not, you worldview begins from an untenable supernatural perspective that has no mechanisms to check it.
    In other words for you, and every other indoctrinated religious person, ultimately everything boils down to ”goddidit”.

    And let me assure you, pretty much no one on this blog is buying that any more.

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  143. UnkleE:

    Neil, if the references didn’t support the discussion, why would they be included?

    This still seems to be missing the point.

    If I see a reference, I don’t then say to myself “Aha, such and such important person said this, so it must be true”. Rather, I read the referenced material myself and make my own evaluation of its worth.

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  144. Eric,
    I suppose we will have to agree to disagree with regard to the viability of an evolutionary origin for complex logical reasoning, but I do want to offer an expansion on a point that AR previously made. It seems clear to me that the brain evolved to be a general purpose system, capable of adapting to the wide variety of situations we face. We cannot disregard the way that cultural evolution has built upon this and, to some extent, directed specializations of this feature. Nobody from 10,000 years ago would have possibly understood most of the complex ideas we take for granted today despite having a genetically capable brain. This general purpose faculty is plastic and amenable to learning things it was never evolved to handle.

    This feeds into the second point nicely, and I would like to start by pointing to modern computational techniques that are inspired by the brain. Neural networks and machine learning adopt this general purpose mechanism to tackle problems. They are not truth directed but rather are systems which follow rules (cause and effect) to determine “what works” from a wide set of inputs. As a pragmatist, I say that the recognition of ontological truth and “what works” are epistemically indistinguishable. As the information set increases, a formal system which follows the “what works” rules will converge on truth. This is the mechanism employed by our brains.

    Lastly, I find it interesting that I haven’t touched the concept of free will in this response and your comment only tacked it on at the end without really tying it in. As I said originally, I struggle to see how LFW is relevant to the question of rationality.

    Liked by 2 people

  145. Neil:
    1. Please point me to where I said that “brain states” are “things.”
    2. What do you mean by “thingness”? Are you saying that only defined “things” can exist? Would that mean that digestion and the color blue are not real because they’re not “things”?
    3. What does “not being things to people” have to do with existence? Did asteroids form soon after the beginning of the solar system, or did they wait 5 billion years until they were discovered to “pop into existence”? Did they exist right after they were discovered, or did they have to wait until people “defined” them? If they didn’t exist until after they were defined, how could they be discovered? 🙂
    4. Well, at least we agree that brains exist. 🙂

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  146. unkleE: Thank you for your response. I find it odd that you didn’t respond to the more important comments I made and chose to focus on the less important one instead (namely, my criticism about Argument from Authority). So before I respond to your responses, and before your attention span drifts and your eyes “glaze over” (metaphorically), 🙂 please address the more important points below, because, if I’m right, either one of them completely nullifies your author quotes which you use to support the claim that their “cognitive dissonance” renders Determinism untenable. (If you only have time or patience to address one, please address the first one as it’s the more important one).

    Do you disagree with either of these:

    1) An author’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the belief that brought him to experience that “cognitive dissonance” in the first place.

    2) If someone has a belief that causes them “cognitive dissonance” and they subsequently realize that the belief is an illusion, their “cognitive dissonance” disappears.

    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  147. unkleE: Referring to your points:

    1. I appreciate your advice about blog etiquette and how this is not an academic journal, and I need to keep it short. I’ll try to be more brief and borrow a page from your book and break my comments into different posts. I do find it a tad ironic, though, as it was you who liberally used author quotes, and are now trying to substantiate them through how they’re used in academic circles, but OK. Point well taken.

    In my defense, though, please note the title of Nate’s article above where it says “Difficult Questions.” These are difficult questions and you can’t really expect to do them justice with “bumper-sticker” comments. If I had to choose between a long but well-argued, well-supported comment, vs. a short unsubstantiated one, I’d choose the former.

    To give you a sense of what our exchange appears like from my end, imagine if you had painstakingly looked through my comments, tried to do them justice, and expressed a variety of objections to every single one. Then imagine that I responded to your objections with “your posts are too long,” “my eyes (metaphorically) glaze over,” “there are just too many words coming at me,” “that’s why I miss the important parts,” “oh, I wasn’t really making arguments, so you can’t say my points were fallacious,” etc. and I went on merrily re-stating the same points which you claimed you’d completely disarmed. You would probably think I’m being evasive, right? Well, I wouldn’t blame you.

    (cont.)

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  148. unkleE:

    2. Your quip about atheists/agnostics enthusiastically pointing out fallacies is a Tu Quoque fallacy… Oops, sorry, I just caught myself doing that again, never mind. Kidding. 🙂 Well, it could be that they’re right in pointing out those fallacies.

    I concur that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is great and I don’t mind you quoting from it at all, I read it all the time. Wikipedia is generally very good for uncontroversial topics (math, stats, science etc.), but hit-or-miss to pretty unreliable on controversial subjects (religion, politics…) because, by its very nature, it relies too heavily on the number and/or tenacity of advocates for a particular position, so it ends up being more of a “zeal-weighted vote” when it comes to controversial topics. But for this topic of fallacies, I agree with you that Wikipedia is fine.

    Unfortunately, I still disagree with you that you have used references properly (your approach certainly wouldn’t pass muster in academic circles, and it’s not because of sourcing). Unlike your claim that I “shouted Argument from Authority = Fallacy” without substantiation, I beg to differ, I did explain what I meant. But anyway, let me start with an example so that perhaps you can see how some of us perceive your arguments from quotations:

    Imagine that I’m attempting to make a persuasive argument against LFW and I say something like this:

    Clearly, believing in LFW is an untenable position. After all: “Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making.” (-Sam Harris) Moreover, we know that: “The view that assumes non-natural causation of the sort a Cartesian free will requires not only assuming something we have good reason to believe is false… but is actually a morally harmful picture.” (-Owen Wilson). Finally, “Man is free to do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” (-Schopenhauer)

    We can all clearly see the brilliant horse sense of these famous and extremely erudite authors, spanning a variety of fields across time. It is obvious that they would experience extreme cognitive dissonance if their views on LFW weren’t upheld. I think it’s safe to say that it would be untenable to live as an intellectual in the 21st Century if LFW were true.

    (Wow, that made me feel that I sounded a lot like William Lane Craig.) 🙂 How does that strike you? Convincing? Did I demonstrate and substantiate my case? Should we all call it a done deal, close shop, and ask Nate for his next topic? I don’t think so, right? Not many skeptic-minded people would even consider this as passing for any sort of an argument.

    The problem, unkleE, is when you cite quotes that re-state your conclusions. This doesn’t make your case, it simply boldly asserts it without substantiation. If you were to cite quotations from experts on relatively uncontroversial propositions or intermediary stages in your argument that lead to your conclusion, while exploring contradicting authors as well, that would be a different matter. But this is not what you’ve done.

    (cont.)

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