Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

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.

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

  1. and I think this comes back to how we define “freewill.”

    To me, using all of my senses, experience, knowledge, biological wants and needs, etc, etc, does not mean there is no freewill, just that I use and evaluate these faculties to make my choice. Freewill is the ability to evaluate these influences and factors and choose between competing wants (like the want to be strong, and the want to rest, or the want to be healthy and want to eat that donut, etc)

    If you mean “freewill” as the ability to make a choice without any external influence or without any thought, then I think that definition is absurd and unrealistic – even for theists. I don’t think freewill was ever intended to imply that, and if it was, then it’s just a nonsense word, with no value.

    It’s like saying freedom isn’t real because I am not free to turn into a chicken-horse, or I’m not free to poison babies or steal from the elderly… “freedom” was never intended to convey such ridiculousness.

    Now if my ability to choose is really just an illusion, and the culmination of my knowledge, biology and experiences pre-determines which choice I’ll make, then I still see this as a largely fruitless discussion, especially as it relates to religion – and if anything, it would be a strike against religion, except that all those who believe it couldn’t help but believe it…

    maybe the labels we’re trying to use to differentiate between how we make decisions is skewing the topic – like “good” and “bad” – “this is good, that’s bad,” while in reality most things are a combination of the two and may even be neutral (as in neither) – so we may be trying to place our round pegs into square and triangle holes here – for no good reason, since this is a debate that cannot be settles with actual facts, and since this debate actually doesn’t really present any problems with atheists or theists, from what I can tell.

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  2. william: When you say that this is a debate that cannot be settled with actual facts, what debate are you referring to? I would agree that if this were only a matter of philosophical cogitation, not amenable to scientific inquiry, it would be just a matter of opinion with no empirical or factual adjudication to help decide whose argument is actually correct. But, if you’re referring to libertarian free will (LFW), the science is squarely on the side against LFW, so this would be a debate that can be settled with actual facts, and is not a matter of philosophical opinion or arguments only.

    Also, this does present a problem for theists (particularly Christian theists), because they use LFW to defend against the Problem of Evil, and they also use it to argue about moral accountability etc. I suspect that, if this becomes more widely accepted, theists will re-orient their theologies to accommodate this new finding, and will redefine terms to leave room for their sacred cows. This has always been the path they’ve taken. When the Church was powerful, it persecuted scientific discoveries because they saw them as “threats.” Now they’re all too happy to take credit for science, because, well, they have no choice. They did the same with slavery (here in the U.S.), they will probably start doing the same with gay rights soon, and tell us that they were right there at the forefront of the movement fighting for gay rights, when in fact they’ve been dragged into it kicking and screaming, just as they were with science, etc.

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  3. Dave: I think you are right and you’ve hit on exactly why LFW is an incoherent concept. Notice that the response from the other side has been (1) I have “feelings, nothing more than feelings…” or “we all experience it…” and (2) it’s up to others to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to explain such a complex phenomenon, or else “recalcitrant incredulity” will set in without considering anything else and offering no explanation in return other than “feelings, nothing more than feelings.” Note that both of these have been addressed before and have gone completely ignored, and we’re back to hearing (1) and (2) repeated as if nothing had been said about them.

    (1) Feelings are not trustworthy as pathways to truth; the entire history of philosophy and science has taught us this in droves, and some of us even gave examples of “feelings” that are not true (e.g.: the Earth is not stationary despite our “feelings”).

    (2) The proponent of LFW requires others to give excruciating detail (although it goes completely ignored when offered), yet, they don’t offer any mechanism for how it is that the “uncaused, non-physical, exotic” component interacts with the brain to cause decision making etc. In other words, they assume that there is a literally “magical” undefined “something” going on, like a continual “miracle” every single time anyone makes a decision, yet not a peep is offered to say how this could even exist or how it could actually work.

    Finally, this is not a “difficult question for atheists,” it’s a difficult question period. Not only that, but it’s more difficult for theists, because atheists have a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why LFW is almost certainly false, yet theists have no mechanism or explanation of any kind for the “magical” component that’s neither causal nor random.

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  4. Why Randomness is Real.

    I keep reading here that people have doubts about whether randomness is “real,” and I wanted to make a couple of points on randomness and tie it into the conversation about LFW, Machine Learning, and Natural Selection.

    Randomness is “real” on two levels (1) the fundamental (quantum) level, and (2) the “emergent” macroscopic level.

    (1) Quantum Mechanics describes probability distributions of quantities that can be observed. For example it describes the probability distribution of the position of an electron in a hydrogen atom with exquisite precision. But it does not tell you what the actual position is, only the probability that you would observe the electron here vs. there if you were to measure its position. QM is “deterministic” in the sense that the probability distributions themselves “evolve” deterministically (according to well-known and very specific equations). But they’re still probability distributions, and as such, have intrinsic randomness. This is not a technological limitation where randomness can be eliminated with more precise instruments. It’s a physical limitation woven into the fabric of reality that cannot be eliminated even in principle. There is randomness in the Universe at the most fundamental level.

    (2) Randomness is an “emergent” property even at macroscopic levels. When you throw dice, their trajectories can, in principle, be exactly known using classical mechanics and, in that sense, would not be random. However, in practice the specifics of the trajectories, the forces with which they’re thrown, their angles, torques, air friction, irregularities on the surface where they land, surface friction, etc. cannot practically be known with a sufficient degree of exactness. For this reason, the best we can do in practice is to use probability distributions to describe where dice “land.” When you throw fair dice many times (1,000s of times) you will see that the distribution of frequencies approaches exactly what you would expect if you were dealing with a completely random process (1/36th of the times two dice will land “2”, 1/18th of the time will land “3”, 1/12th of the time will land “4”, etc.). Even if the process is deterministic in principle, it is effectively random. There are many, many, many other macroscopic processes that are, effectively, random processes for all intents and purposes.

    To the extent that either quantum and/or macroscopic effects play a role in the processes that go on in our brains, it is all but certain that randomness plays some role in the workings of our brains, including decision making. If we add to this the countless unpredictable events that the world external to our brains throws at us all the time, we can see how randomness can play a significant role, along with deterministic processes.

    Incidentally, the deliberate addition of “random noise” is very useful in Machine Learning. It turns out that many machines will “learn” better when noise is introduced into the learning process. In some sense, the machine becomes more “creative” when randomness is present, because it allows it to explore a larger space of learning possibilities than if it were to learn without the addition of random noise in the learning process. This may well be similar in biological brains, and may give some insights into the usefulness and relevance of sleep and dreaming when it comes to our own learning process.

    There are many examples of randomness being helpful to learning in ML, but a particularly interesting example is Genetic Algorithms, where “random mutations” are allowed to happen (randomly) and the machine gradually “learns” by discarding poor solutions and keeping better solutions in a way that’s very similar to how Natural Selection “learns” to design organisms. These random mutations in the learning can be demonstrated mathematically to gradually approach an optimal solution.

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  5. @AR

    I suspect that, if this becomes more widely accepted, theists will re-orient their theologies to accommodate this new finding, and will redefine terms to leave room for their sacred cows.

    Good heavens'(sic)! You aren’t truly suggesting someone such as unklee might refine his cherry- picking, move the goalposts and may even steal the ball? Surely not!

    😉

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  6. Hi Travis,

    I am finding this discussion, and the several references you have given me, fascinating, educational and (let’s be honest) challenging – to the extent that I wouldn’t claim to understand everything in those papers. But what I don’t find it is very convincing on the question we are discussing.

    I will probably show my ignorance, but here goes ….

    1. “Neurons that fire together, wire together” and the Socrates syllogism would surely work just as well if the syllogism was wrong. Even if the conclusion was the illogical “Socrates is immortal”, the connections would still be made. Reliable ground-consequence logic is unlikely to result from cause-effect physics that way.

    2. I read the Argumentative theory paper and some of the reviews, and it seems to me that they tell against your case more than for it. If they are right, reasoning develops to persuade rather than to reach truth in the first place, and we first arrive at truth via intuition (a conclusion I’m sort of familiar with via Jonathan Haidt).

    Persuasion is far less dependent on reliable logic than is truth-seeking – the successful campaign of Donald Trump illustrates that! So if these papers are right, evolution has produced cause-effect physical reasoning faculties that allow us to be persuasive, and so there is even less reason to believe they correlate to truth.

    3. But I think it gets worse than that. You will recall I said that the ability of cause-effect processes to produce ground-consequence reasoning was not the main problem I saw, but a preliminary problem to the major problem I saw, which was our inability to effectively argue against another viewpoint on the basis of truth if determinism is true.

    This paper seems to amplify that problem too.

    If the paper and determinism are both true, you and I both arrived initially at our views on this, and on theism, by intuition, which is a correlation of cause-effect physical processes. That means that I cannot really say you are wrong because you can say “but my cause-effect physical processes tell me I’m right” – and we are at an impasse. But worse, we cannot really try to use reasoning to resolve the impasse because one of us can reasonably say, “it’s just my intuition vs yours”, or, worse still, “you’re only saying that because your brain has evolved to argue more persuasively, not truthfully!” i.e. confirmation bias is evolutionarily advantageous according to Mercier & Sperber, making it even less likely that we have evolved to be rational.

    It honestly seems to me that the more neuroscientists delve into decision-making processes, the more they show they cannot be rational and reliable if determinism is true, they can just be effective in certain ways that are often rational, but aren’t in any way certainly rational.

    But of course, if you’re right, I’m only saying that because I’m cognitively biased – just as it is equally true for you and everyone else. Maybe this whole response is anti-intellectrual, or totally missing the point, but I honestly can’t see any scientific explanation yet for the two problems I am suggesting.

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  7. Hi William,

    “I make decisions and choices based on a variety of factors: my emotional state, my knowledge, my ignorance, my sense of right, my sense of selfish wants, short-sighted-ness vs foresight, etc… I fail to see where these present any problem whatsoever, and I fail to see how believing in god makes them different.

    How does one make a decision or choose something any other way? Can someone really decide what they think is true based on nothing?”

    No, I think you are perfectly right, that is indeed how you make your decisions. The problem I am raising is this.

    1. If there is no God or supernatural, the natural world is almost certainly all there is, and it is almost certainly physical. If you don’t hold to that, then you have avoided the problem.)

    2. If the world is physical, there is nothing outside of physical processes, and they are either determined or random. Neither allow libertarian free will.

    3. If we don’t have libertarian free will, then it is difficult to see how you can actually make the decisions and choices in the way that you describe. Travis is trying to explain how that can occur, but so far I haven’t seen anything that changes my conclusion.

    If this is so, then either you don’t make your decisions in quite the way you think, or we do have libertarian free will after all.

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  8. 1. If there is no God or supernatural, the natural world is almost certainly all there is, and it is almost certainly physical. If you don’t hold to that, then you have avoided the problem.)

    And here we go again with the presuppositional bullshit.
    If you cannot demonstrate how the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth is the god you genuflect to and hang the entirety of your argument on, then I am afraid you are simply blowing smoke out of your arse.

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  9. Eric,
    What makes ground-consequent logic reliable? I assume we’re dealing with something like a correspondence theory of truth, in which case a model that predicts reality from the probablistic data of the past is doing just what we want. It almost sounds like you’re saying that reasoning is only reliable if we have some kind of faculty that can detect truth in spite of having received stronger evidence for a wrong conclusion. I think that’s pretty unreasonable.

    I did not raise the argumentative theory in support of the proposed model. I raised it as a seemingly contrary theory of which I was aware so that I could explain how it is still ultimately dependent on this probabilistic engine. I think that your takeaway from the theory is the kind of misunderstanding that Sperber discusses (about 3/4 down the article). Persuasion has nothing to persuade unless there is an evaluative faculty and the probabilistic model fits the bill. The social dynamic can be seen as a way to expand the variance of inputs to the model, which improves accuracy at the larger scale (as AR pointed out). This is the convergence that Sperber speaks of.

    The competition between competing conclusions is not at the impasse you propose. A probabilistic model will converge to reflect reality as more and more data is received. Disagreement can point to new data or evidence that invalidates claimed relationships between data. The argument can continue until you have exhausted all the data (not going to happen) and even then, if competing priors or other subjective influences still yield disagreement then both parties are warranted to think that they are correct. I don’t see why that is a problem.

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  10. Dave,

    ”How is a choice that originates from an uncaused cause different from a random event?”

    I am surprised at this, because I think the answer is clear. A choice involves considering various pieces of information and making a judgment, none of which is true for a random event.

    ”Because we have a neural system that relies on a vast amount of stored information, repeatable and predictable results, and has the ability to filter out ideas that are not aligned with observable reality.”

    I agree, but the challenge is how to exπlain that (not just assert it) in a determined physical system. I haven’t seen anyone explain it yet, and Travis is the only one who is attempting to explain rather than assert.

    ” It has been reported that scientists using brain imaging techniques can “see” simple choices before people are aware of them.”

    But of course!

    When I was doing environmental work, some marine scientists joked about a story (probably an urban myth) about a report that there were no baby fish in a certain area. But it turned out that the researchers’ net had a 3 inch mesh. The point, of course, was that our conclusions are only as good as the measurement apparatus we have.

    Now in the case of free will, our measurement apparatus is physical science. If we are only physical, then our science can in principle measure everything. But if we are more than physical, our science will be like the 3 inch net and miss important things. If we want to know truth about whether the non-physical exists, we’ll need either (1) a different method than science, or (2) we’ll need to find some physical effect of the non-physical.

    It happens that we have (1), it’s called introspection, and it gives us the ability to observe what it is like on the inside to be “us”, not just observe from the outside as science gives us. And introspection tells us that we have the ability to choose, that we are not fully determined, that we are conscious beings – all of which seem impossible or unlikely if we are only physical. Since science cannot tell us about the non-physical, our best hypothesis is to trust introspection, at least provisionally.

    Someone, I think it was you, said previously that introspection is unreliable. But I think it is generally reliable. If I feel a pain, there generally really is a pain. If I feel hungry I generally really am hungry. If I feel I like chocolate, I genuinely do enjoy eating it, etc. Introspection is generally a reliable guide, and should at least be provisionally trusted, especially when we have no other reliable information. (The example of not feeling the world rushing through space is different because there we DO have other reliable information.)

    And so we can easily explain the experiments you refer to. Choice is made in the non-physical part of our minds, but the science can only measure that choice when it has an effect in the physical brain.

    In the end, we either choose to ASSUME that the physical is all there is, and then we get into unresolvable dilemmas about free will, consciousness, etc, or we take notice of our introspection and at least hypothesise, if not believe, that there is something more than the physical because that is the only satisfactory way to explain what introspection reveals.

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  11. “Neurons that fire together, wire together” and the Socrates syllogism would surely work just as well if the syllogism was wrong. Even if the conclusion was the illogical “Socrates is immortal”, the connections would still be made. Reliable ground-consequence logic is unlikely to result from cause-effect physics that way.

    This is because ground-consequence logic is not a direct result of cause-effect physics. Ground-consequence logic is something that we learn like language, syntax, math or any other construct. We are not born with the ability to answer the Is Socrates mortal? question. We have to learn the rules of logic first.

    Me: “How is a choice that originates from an uncaused cause different from a random event?”

    UnkleE: “I am surprised at this, because I think the answer is clear. A choice involves considering various pieces of information and making a judgment, none of which is true for a random event.”

    Where does the “judgment” originate from? Trace back it’s origin as far as you want (even into the supernatural realm) until you reach it’s source. How would you describe it? Is it a preference, an emotion, an instinct or is it the result of an uncaused cause? If you think it’s a preference, instinct or emotion then couldn’t these be explained by a physical state / memory stored in the brain? If you think the origin of the “judgment” is an uncaused cause then there would be no reason for it’s existence (a reason would imply a cause). Something that exists for no reason and without a cause is the same as something that exists randomly.

    And so we can easily explain the experiments you refer to. Choice is made in the non-physical part of our minds, but the science can only measure that choice when it has an effect in the physical brain.

    Except the experiments are showing the exact opposite. The choice is being detected by science within the physical brain BEFORE the subject is aware they are making the choice.

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  12. Dave: There is so much wrong with unkleE’s response to you, that it’s hard to know where to begin. The fishnet analogy that unkleE gave is great, but for precisely the opposite reason: It is introspection that has the big holes; it is introspection that misses many things, large and small, and it is science that tightens up and closes those holes and makes up for introspection’s weaknesses by relying on actual observation of the real world.

    You may want to ask unkleE why the Ancient Greeks, with their almost exclusive reliance on “introspection,” never came anywhere near post-Enlightenment science which made enormous strides only after it relinquished exclusive “introspection” in favor of observation. You may want to ask unkleE if he’s ever heard of perceptual illusions and cognitive illusions, both of which are huge fields of study within psychology and neuroscience. And if he has heard of them, you may want to ask him whether he cherry-picks which ones he accepts as illusions and which ones he hangs on to as “real,” and why.

    To assert that introspection is trustworthy is wrong on many levels, and ignores the findings of science as well as of history. In fact, I challenge unkleE to prove that “introspection” is 100% reliable 100% of the time. If he cannot demonstrate that it is (he can’t as this is demonstrably false), then I challenge unkleE to demonstrate that introspection is reliable in the specific case of LFW. The reason unkleE is hanging his entire case on “introspection” is because he has nothing else. The burden is on unkleE to demonstrate that introspection is either reliable in every single case, or reliable in the specific instance of LFW. We’ve gone down this rat hole before where unkleE has psychoanalyed what he alleges is “cognitive dissonance” in some isolated quotes of some authors, but this was completely debunked as irrelevant, and we’ve gotten no real response from unkleE, so the challenge stands.

    Note that unkleE has “annointed” Travis as the only credible proponent of Determinism here. He has also chosen to ignore some of us who have mounted devastating tear-downs of everything he’s said here in support of LFW, because, I suppose, he finds what we say “inconvenient.” So he resorts to repeating the same old canards while ignoring that others have claimed to have refuted those canards. And unkleE hasn’t even attempted to provide a counter-refutation, but rather resorts to tantrums, comments like “I haven’t really made any arguments,” “my eyes glaze over,” and finally: “we’ve reached a point where communication is no longer possible.”

    unkleE is “waiting” very patiently to see if Travis will dot every “i” and cross every “t” to explain in detail how it is that our cognition, including decision making, can arise from physical processes. unkleE’s approach is to ignore anything inconvenient, to do a two-step shuffle with examples from AI and Natural Selection, and to wait for Travis to “fail” to provide a Nobel-prize-winning dissertation on the fine points of the workings of the brain. And if Travis “fails” on the slightest detail of this gargantuan task, or if unkleE predictably hangs on to his unwarranted recalcitrant incredulity towards any evidence offered, why, then of course, the answer is infinitely clear: Goddiddit, no explanation or evidence needed! This is a classic God of the Gaps non-starter.

    unkleE: “I am surprised at this, because I think the answer is clear. A choice involves considering various pieces of information and making a judgment, none of which is true for a random event.”

    Notice how unkleE totally missed the point of your original question. You asked how it could be that something which is not determined isn’t random. unkleE is very “surprised” and goes on to offer a definition of “choice” that’s non-random, but, flagrantly, he does not bother to explain why “supernatural magic” is necessary. In other words, he doesn’t even bother to say how the “consideration of pieces of information leading to a judgment” cannot come from a non-random physical process and must require something supernatural. This is a non-answer to your question. And I’m not even sure that unkleE is aware of this.

    unkleE: “…introspection tells us that we have the ability to choose, that we are not fully determined, that we are conscious beings – all of which seem impossible or unlikely if we are only physical.”

    Bollocks! Introspection is not a reliable method to arrive at truths about reality and it tells us no such thing. What part of science, or even history, is unkleE so blissfully unaware of to make such outrageous and patently false assertions? Introspection may tell us that we feel that we have the ability to choose, but it tells us nothing about what is really going on, because it could be mistaken. This is precisely the area where introspection would fail us and we cannot rely on it exclusively. What we are debating here is precisely whether or not our intuitions fail us in this particular case where we “feel” that we are in control of our decisions. unkleE doesn’t get to ASSERT that our intuitions don’t fail us in this case and declare victory.

    That “we are not fully determined etc.” is a bold assertion about precisely what’s being debated here so it cannot be used as a premise to conclude that it “seems impossible or unlikely that we are only physical.” What a bunch of circular nonsense.

    Here’s what this looks like in syllogistic form:

    P1. If our “introspection” is correct about LFW, then LFW is real.
    P2. Our “introspection” is correct about LFW.
    C. Therefore LFW is real.

    The problem is that unkleE has simply asserted, without evidence, Premise 2, so, as it stands, his whole case is unsound. unkleE needs to demonstrate, either that our “introspection” is correct in this particular case, or demonstrate the supernatural mechanism that he vaguely alludes to. So far, he has done neither.

    Someone, some unknown, inconvenient person somewhere on this blog (but memory fails unkleE, you see) said that “introspection is unreliable.” Well, that someone gave a variety of examples. One of them was that the Earth is moving despite our “introspection” to the contrary, but there were other examples as well.

    Oh, but you see, that’s wrong, says unkleE, because we have external evidence to the contrary! REALLY?? How in the world is an example that “introspections” can be misleading twisted into an assertion that a particular “introspection” (the one about LFW) is reliable? Besides, we have evidence that contradicts LFW despite our “introspection,” and no evidence, besides “introspection” that LFW is real. The point is that “introspections” can be wrong and that we cannot rely exclusively on “introspection” in this particular case.

    But unkleE insists that “introspection” is reliable, because when unkleE feels pain, he actually has pain, and when unkleE feels hunger he is actually hungry. Well, we also have external evidence that pain and hunger have physical causes, and they respond to physical influences (morphine and food), so these analogies are flawed and plain silly.

    In the end, nobody is controversially ASSUMING that the physical exists, because even the unkleE’s of the world accept that it exists. What’s being discussed here and what we DON’T GET TO ASSUME AS A DEFAULT is that there exists an Uncaused, Non-physical, Non-random, Exotic Component (UNNEC) which magically and unexplainably interferes with physical processes. Mind you, there is no proof of this UNNEC, nor any known method to investigate it, and relying on “feelings” or “introspection” is not enough to warrant this ASSUMPTION, because “feelings” and “introspection” have been demonstrated to be unreliable and we cannot base conclusions on them. We need actual evidence that this UNNEC exists and how it interacts with the physical world, not just allusions to “introspections” and “feelings,” and vague statements that there must be magical or supernatural goings-on, because of our “introspections” about LFW.

    My challenge to unkleE stands:Please demonstrate that “feelings” and “introspection” are either always reliable, or are reliable in the specific case of LFW. Otherwise, please demonstrate that the UNNEC exists and how it interacts with the physical world to produce decisions.

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  13. Welcome to “The World of unkleE”

    You’ve offered the best analysis of his game yet and I’ve been reading comments about him for 4 years. Congrats !

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  14. Travis: “The competition between competing conclusions is not at the impasse you [unkleE] propose.”

    I’d say, of course, “disagreement” is not a problem for physical processes representing logical statements, and it is in fact expected. This has been rehashed over and over, but to no avail, and unkleE will continue to repeat this canard.

    Here’s another try (which will no doubt go unaddressed, but nevertheless holds true). If unkleE claims that “cause-and-effect” physical processes can never produce “ground-and-consequence” disagreement, then he needs to explain the following counterexample:

    Two Artificial Neural Networks are both trained in exactly the same way to classify hand-written characters using exactly the same training data. When presented with new handwritten characters that they’ve never “seen” before, the two networks agree 99% of the time, but disagree 1% of the time (these are typical results, BTW). How does unkleE explain the instances of disagreement, when both networks are following “cause-and-effect” physical processes to represent the same exact “ground-and-consequence” logical task of interpreting handwritten characters? Why don’t they reach the same exact conclusions 100% of the time, given that the two networks are deterministic?

    (The answer is that the “ground-and-consequence” idealized characters are represented in different “cause-and-effect” physical processes in the actual internal guts of the networks, so they’re bound to disagree on occasion, despite being deterministic. But this continues to be lost on unkleE.)

    And BTW, this is a counterexample to unkleE’s Theorem, which I explained earlier at length, but where, instead of a response, I got a “No. No. No.” tantrum, without further clarification.

    In fact, the cute little diagram that unkleE attempted to draw for you earlier (remember? the one where the spaces didn’t quite work out in HTML?) is, actually, a great illustration of unkleE’s Theorem, even if unkleE doesn’t like to call it that.

    In his Theorem, unkleE wrongly assumes that there is only one way of representing “ground-and-consequence” logic using “cause-and-effect” physical processes, when in fact there are multiple physical states that can represent the same logical states. Since physical processes evolve deterministically (ignoring randomness), then, under the one-to-one representation assumption, physical processes would always have to reach the same logical conclusion. So the unkleE Theorem is valid! But of course, the one-to-one representation assumption is wrong, so unkleE’s Theorem, while valid, is unsound, so its conclusion is false, no matter how often it is repeated.

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  15. Hi Travis,

    I’m struggling to grasp some of what you are saying here, I’m sorry. But I’ll do my best.

    ”What makes ground-consequent logic reliable?”

    Do you mean the actual logic? if so, then it is like the laws of mathematics – they just are true, and can be proved to be true. Or do you mean our ability to do logic? If so, we have to assume it is true, otherwise we can’t even examine it to test if it is true, because our test may be false. But once we make that assumption, we can see if we get coherent results, which on many things we do.

    The real test is on more complex questions than simple syllogisms. I have said all along that I have no difficulty accepting that simple syllogisms or simple ground-consequence logic (like “I hear a rustle in the long grass, that might be a lion, better run”) can arise via natural selection, the problem is how we deal with complex questions, most of which cannot be reduced to simple deductive arguments, but require more complex inference, review of evidence, judgment, etc.

    ” It almost sounds like you’re saying that reasoning is only reliable if we have some kind of faculty that can detect truth in spite of having received stronger evidence for a wrong conclusion.”

    Again, there is a difference, as you know, between epistemology and ontology, and I’m not sure which way you are thinking here either. Reasoning may be reliable, but we may or may not be able to know it, and we can only have confidence if we have faculties that can detect it. But I guess I must have missed your point here, I’m sorry, and I simply don’t understand your “in spite of”.

    ”I think that your takeaway from the theory is the kind of misunderstanding that Sperber discusses (about 3/4 down the article)”

    I presume you mean from where he says: “The success of the “argumentative theory of reasoning” was in good part based on a misunderstanding” and suggests “This cynical view doesn’t make any evolutionary sense. …. our argument was that reasoning evolved to produce arguments in order to convince others. This works, however, because reasoning also evolved to produce in each one of us a means to evaluate arguments so as to gain from the ideas of others when they’re able to present good reasons for why we should accept them and to reject them otherwise.”

    I don’t see how that changes anything I said. On this view, reasoning has evolved to help us persuade others, and also to review others attempting to persuade us. So it still isn’t necessarily because it’s right, but because it works – all he’s added is that it works both ways.

    ” The argument can continue until you have exhausted all the data (not going to happen) and even then, if competing priors or other subjective influences still yield disagreement then both parties are warranted to think that they are correct.”

    It is a problem because our really important issues can’t be resolved by simple syllogisms. Think of questions like:

    Is it right to abort an unborn child?
    Is there a God?
    Should I vote for gun control?
    Should I give this marriage one more chance?
    Is there libertarian free will?

    Now resolving these questions to our own individual satisfaction is a complex process, and I still don’t see any evidence that natural selection on cause-effect physics is likely to produce the level of thinking required to reach an answer that may reasonable and demonstrably be true. If Sperber is right, you and I are most likely defending our intuitions because we each have cognitive bias, and trying to persuade the other, and our determined brains are not directed towards truth as much. I don’t think that is true, and I think that the fact that we can discuss all this genuinely (I believe) shows that determinism isn’t true.

    And even if I am wrong about this, I suggest this whole discussion has demonstrated my original point and the title of this post – this is indeed a difficult question for atheists. i.e, it isn’t one easily resolved. Of course mind-body, choice, determinism, etc, are difficult questions for everyone, but atheism/naturalism/physicalism faces a couple of extra difficulties that dualism and/or libertarian free will don’t face.

    So this discussion continues to strengthen my originally less certain view that there is a genuine problem here. But I am also beginning to think that I am asking a lot of you. Even if your view was true, I think it would be very difficult to demonstrate, and so it may be unfair to expect you to be able to. I think it is a bit like some complex evolutionary processes, such as abiogenesis, the evolution of the eye, etc – we assume that natural selection explains those things, but it is difficult to demonstrate because we can’t go back and run the experiment, we can only (probably) show that the process is feasible, not that it actually happened that way. There is an element of something akin to faith required. The only difference here is that there are good reasons, I think, to question whether natural selection alone can do what we are asking here.

    I am very happy to continue, as I have really learnt from what you have said and the references you have given me, but I’ll leave it up to you whether now is a good time to stop. If so, thanks heaps.

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  16. Hi Dave,

    I’m not sure if we are likely to generate much light, but I’ll continue as long as you want to.

    ”We have to learn the rules of logic first.”

    My question is how did we get brains that can not only learn the rules of logic but also see that they are true, out of determined processes?

    ” If you think the origin of the “judgment” is an uncaused cause then there would be no reason for it’s existence (a reason would imply a cause). “

    I think you have misunderstood “uncaused cause” – or maybe I have. Of course all our decisions have multiple causes – evidence, previous experience, etc – all of which are determined. The question is whether there is in addition, the possibility of choosing, of initiating without that choice being totally determined. It isn’t totally black or totally white.

    ”Something that exists for no reason and without a cause is the same as something that exists randomly.”

    I didn’t say no cause, I said “A choice involves considering various pieces of information”, which are inputs or causes – they just may not be determinative causes – i.e. necessary but not sufficient (unless determinism is true).

    ”Except the experiments are showing the exact opposite. The choice is being detected by science within the physical brain BEFORE the subject is aware they are making the choice.”

    This is very interesting, and worth exploring. I first came across this idea a decade ago while conversing with an artificial intelligence researcher and determinist. I have seen experiments and researchers on both sides of the question you raise. So I have since tried to read a little and examine my own reactions (I know, not a rigorous experiment, but interesting).

    Because I am now 71, I often have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. On cold nights, that is a drag, so I try to avoid it or delay it. There are clearly two separate processes going on. One is the intellectual decision that, yes, I now think I should brave the cold and get up (or alternatively, no, I can hold on til morning). But even after I have gone through that process, I haven’t actually gotten up, that requires a different process. Some time after I have rationally decided that I will get up, I do, but the two aren’t directly connected. So my brain may be making the choice before I am aware of it, but it is the result of some thinking that came even earlier.

    So the brain/mind is complex, and I don’t think the results are as definitive as you suggest. Yes, some experiments are claimed to show what you say, but there are other expert interpretations, and some other experiments show otherwise. I’m suggesting that since science has assumed naturalism (whether methodological or ontological), it cannot be used to argue for naturalism and its corollary (in most cases) determinism, we need something outside science that is outside the assumption. Introspection provides that. It may not be always reliable, but it is pretty good, and better than an unsupported assumption.

    This is a matter that I’d be interested to hear more from you on, if you are interested. Thanks.

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  17. AutonomousReason,

    What I mean is, is that libertarian freewill is an absurd idea.

    I also mean that the using “freewill” to either support or undermine atheism doesn’t seem sensible to me.

    But I do not believe that just because we are influenced by external factors, and because we rely on things like experience and knowledge to make our choices, that we are bound or forced to traverse one “predetermined” action – I believe we use these influences, experiences, knowledge, hopes, fears, whatever, to freely choose between options, and I do believe that is freewill, and that we do and are able to choose.

    Sure, some choices are so cut and dry that the choice is so obvious that there is only one real way to go, but others can be much more difficult, where all the external factors press and weigh on us in opposing forces, where each presents its own set of pros and cons on multiple levels – we have the ability to decide what to do in such cases – so i don’t see how this harms theists either.

    I think that to suggest that we do not have “freewill” because we’re all affected by experiences, knowledge, biology, and everything else, is like saying no one is really free because I’m not allowed to rob a bank or I’m not free to turn into a fish-person. freedom was never intended to go that far, or to imply that there are no limitations. So when I see people sitting around , complaining about how “freedom” isnt real, i roll my eyes and am reminded why 12 year olds arent allowed to run the country – and I feel similarly when I hear people saying that there is freewill, as if we’re simply programmed robots, walking a pre-navigated course, where people cant help but molest children, rape the weaker, rob others, or to be kind or altruistic. It seems like the worst kind of excuse.

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  18. UnkleE,

    1. I suspect that this physical world is all there is, but I’m a bit more of an agnostic than the others here – however, I still fail to see where this would preclude freewill, or the ability to choose between options (which is what I mean by “freewill”).

    2. Why? Why would neither allow freewill, and how do you know that only “determined” or “random” exist in the physical world as you define them?

    3. Libertarian freewill, as I understand it, doesn’t make any sense. Are you suggesting that you decide things based on… nothing? That just doesn’t seem to make sense…
    a. Do Christians decide to follow the bible for no rational reason? Are there no reasons at all that they use or think on when deciding to do what they do, or avoid what they avoid?
    b. How does the presence of a god remove the thought process and remove the influence of all the pressing factors?
    c. That’s why I think the whole discussion is just goofy. You can’t make any decisions without some thought, and thought based on something, and things like experiences, feelings, etc, etc… but using such things and being affected by such things doesn’t mean that YOU have zero affect on which way the domino falls, even if many of the “possible” choices are discarded by default.

    Again, let’s skip over the small stuff, like choosing which lunch menu item, or what type or color shirt, but let’s look at bigger choices where it’s easier to see the conflicted forces at play:

    – Sex:
    o A married man may want to be good and faithful to his wife, but he may also be tempted by some attractive and willing coworker.
     Biology wants him to spread his seed, which manifests itself in lust, and the promise of instant gratification
     Sense of empathy and love and right and wrong want him to forego that instant pleasure of the flesh and instead feed the different type of satisfaction he’d get by being strong and remaining faithful to his wife, not compromising his morals.
    – Food:
    o Eat for pleasure or eat for purpose
     Can eat with abandon: no restrictions on quantity or quality
     Can eat with long term benefits in mind, and avoid certain foods that you may like, while eating more of the foods that you do not like
    – Sports:
    o Running a marathon
     Can stop running
     Can press on running
     Can push it harder to keep up with or pass an opponent
    • Either decision will hurt in some way, with each also providing its own benefit

    Each of these provide their own set of pros and own set of cons. Each appeal to a set of wants, sacrifices, and compromises. If all forces are acting in opposing ways on the self, where the forces essentially equal a net zero, resulting in a static position, I believe the self is capable of measuring the outcomes and decided which one it wants to yield to. I think this is freewill, I think this is deciding between options.

    And the research isn’t completely conclusive, none that I’ve read proves that people do not have the ability to choose, that everything we do is simply a reaction – and to me, the fact they cannot always “predict” what the subject will choose, does more to prove that it’s all not simply some reaction, but that we do have at least some ability to choose.

    I also think there are times where we simply react – fight or flight being an example. But even then, where we’re very likely not choosing to act, but only reacting, we can choose from that point forward whether we want to invest in reprogramming ourselves, so that our default reaction changes for the next time where “instinct” takes over.

    I think we’re inventing terms to describe what’s going on, but that our terms are likely inaccurate, or incomplete – like using “red” to describe every variation of the shade, or trying to fit everything into the categories of “good” or “bad.” I think the very terms we’re using may be too limited and restricted, and that by insisting that they’re all we can use, we’ve placed ourselves into an unnecessary and imaginary box.

    The US southern confederates couldn’t help but enslave black people… it wasn’t a choice… they were in fact slaves to course of slavery?

    And the flip side, as it seems to be suggested, is that they freely made the choice, or could have freely decided to do differently, but without any reason at all, or without thinking about anything that could help make that decision, because thinking about actual things somehow robs them of freewill, robs them of the actual choice?

    I must be misunderstanding something, because this is just stupid.

    What do you mean by “determinism”, “randomness” and “libertarian freewill?” Because I don’t think I’m understanding these terms the way you are.

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  19. Eric,

    My question is how did we get brains that can not only learn the rules of logic but also see that they are true, out of determined processes?

    If you accept that our brains can learn things and that learning is advantageous to natural selection (seems it would be), then the framework (which Travis has been theorizing in detail) exists and all that is required is time. It has taken mankind centuries of great minds (like Aristotle) to tease out what works and what doesn’t. Math works, so we use it and we know that 2+2=4 because we’ve learned the rules of math. The same thing goes for logic and the Socrates syllogism. All of us have learned the simple rules of logic from a young age and now they seem natural to us. I would bet that there are some advanced types of logic that none of us have ever learned that would completely confuse us. And it’s not because our brains can’t do the logic, it’s because we haven’t learned the rules of that particular type of logic yet.

    The question is whether there is in addition, the possibility of choosing, of initiating without that choice being totally determined.

    Call it choosing or initiating or a judgment, but what is the source? I understand there are a set of options presented to “it” to make a choice, but then where does the actual choice come from? Once we dig far enough I think all we are left with is either a random uncaused source or a determined caused source. Even if I imagine a supernatural “mind” making the choices, I still see that the choice is made for some reason or another. Those reasons are pre-determined whether they be past experience, preference, instinct, etc. Since these are all based on memories that could be stored in the physical brain there is no reason to invoke the supernatural. If the choice is made for no reason at all then the choice is random.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Eric,
    Sorry, I should have quoted and been more explicit. My question of “What makes ground-consequent logic reliable?” was responding to assumptions I made about your statement that

    the Socrates syllogism would surely work just as well if the syllogism was wrong. Even if the conclusion was the illogical “Socrates is immortal”, the connections would still be made.

    Could you explain what you meant by that? I assumed it meant that if given the wrong P1 (i.e., “all men are immortal” instead of “all men are mortal”) the associative network I proposed would arrive at the wrong conclusion (Socrates is immortal). I agree with that observation but it only points out that the model follows the evidence wherever it leads. It isn’t an illogical conclusion, it’s just an incorrect input. This was explicitly a blank slate thought experiment, where P1 and P2 were the only available evidence for creating the associations between Socrates and mortality. You and I know that this new version of P1 is wrong – and thus the subsequent conclusion – only because we have received a whole bunch of other evidence to the contrary. Did you mean something other than “the model arrives at the wrong conclusion if P1 is false”?

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  21. Travis: Well, what can I say, more of the same from unkleE. Wow. What a mess…

    unkleE: The real test is on more complex questions than simple syllogisms. I have said all along that I have no difficulty accepting that simple syllogisms or simple ground-consequence logic (like “I hear a rustle in the long grass, that might be a lion, better run”) can arise via natural selection, the problem is how we deal with complex questions, most of which cannot be reduced to simple deductive arguments, but require more complex inference, review of evidence, judgment, etc.

    Yep, here we go again. So, unkleE has no problem with herky-jerky reactions, but he is just incredulous that anything other than a flash reflex could be advantageous for survival and reproduction. He just doesn’t “see” it. But, yet again: Why on earth is unkleE incredulous of this? How is a flexible, malleable, general-purpose, cognition-generating information processor like the brain not advantageous for survival and reproduction? I’ll ask it again: Has unkleE ever heard of all the research on the evolution of the brain and intelligence and its relation to the evolution of language? Ever seen the gradual increase in brain cavity size of ape and hominid skull fossils? Ever heard of evolutionary by-products? Peacock tails? Sexual selection? Spandrels? I suppose that perhaps all of this would entail going too much outside of “introspection” for unkleE’s taste, so it should all be ignored and brushed aside with a sweep of the hand.

    But, may I borrow some of unkleE’s “reasoning” here? Can I use that breathtaking peace of “ground-and-consequence reasoning”? OK let me try: Using that “reasoning,” why, I’m just incredulous that anyone can possibly be incredulous of that, I just don’t “see” it. So therefore, that has to mean that unkleE must be “faking it.” 🙂

    This is ridiculous, or lazy, or both. If unkleE is going to argue this, he should at least take the time to read up on the evolution of the human brain and intelligence, which he clearly hasn’t done enough, or he wouldn’t be repeating all this debunked stuff over and over.

    Again: To substantiate his recalcitrant incredulity unkleE must demonstrate that either:

    (1) Cognition beyond a herky-jerky reflex such as “I hear a rustle in the grass, better run” could not possibly be advantageous for survival and reproduction in a highly interdependent social species, or

    (2) Even if higher cognition could be advantageous for survival and reproduction in a highly interdependent social species, it could never be selected for via Natural Selection.

    Until unkleE can demonstrate either of these, unkleE is just continuing to commit the Fallacy of Argument from Incredulity.

    unkleE: So it [reasoning] still isn’t necessarily because it’s right, but because it works.

    And the problem is??? Our reasoning faculties approach correctness or “truth” because this is advantageous for survival and reproduction (biological evolution). Later on, cultural evolution has allowed us to develop reasoning even further through cross-checking with one another across cultures and across generations and through observation of the external world.

    unkleE: It is a problem because our really important issues can’t be resolved by simple syllogisms. Think of questions like:

    Is it right to abort an unborn child?
    Is there a God?
    Should I vote for gun control?
    Should I give this marriage one more chance?
    Is there libertarian free will?

    Actually, if these are a “problem” at all, they’re a problem for the Supernaturalist, not for the Naturalist. But first, let’s add some clarity to this confusion. There are two types of questions in this list. First, we have the “existence” questions, like “Is there a God?” and “Is there LFW?” These are questions that are subject to evidence and are amenable to “ground-and-consequence” reasoning, and in fact the evidence appears to overwhelmingly answer “No” to both questions.

    Second, there are the “ought” questions like abortion, gun control, and continuing in a marriage. These “ought” questions do not necessarily have “ground-and-consequence” type logical answers. As Hume pointed out a long time ago, you cannot get an “ought” from an “is” without additional “morally evaluative” premises. The fact that these “ought” questions are not immediately or obviously answerable seems to represent a problem for the Theist more than for the Naturalist, as the Naturalist doesn’t expect nor require answers to these questions to be universally agreed upon, while the Theist, in particular, does.

    There is no requirement, on Naturalism, for any of these questions to have answers or even be “answerable” in principle. There is no requirement, on Naturalism, for these questions to be “resolved to our own individual satisfaction.” They may not be “resolvable,” and his may just be wishful thinking, as the real world doesn’t care about our unanswered questions.

    On the other hand, if you’re a Theist, you may have the added problem of trying to understand why your god has left humanity with a morass of contradictions to sort through on its own. If you’re a Christian, for instance, you may wonder why Yahweh was so hung up on “idols” that he gave a bunch of commands about them, yet couldn’t give a rodent’s posterior about endorsing slavery, commanding genocide, and egging on his “chosen people” to kill every man, woman, child, and beast in neighboring villages, while, the virgins, why, they could just “keep for themselves,” of course. Talk about sending the wrong signals. This is an added problem for the Theist that the Naturalist doesn’t have to suffer through.

    The entire moral edifice of Christianity is based on vicarious “sin” through which the children are blamed and held accountable for the supposed wrongdoings of their forefathers. On Christianity, we are all “sick” and commanded to be well under penalty of eternal torture whether we asked for this doozy of deal or not. And what is the solution? Well, don’t worry because Christianity, conveniently, has all the answers: Vicarious redemption, where somebody else pays for the sins of the forefathers and cures you of your “sickness.” This is moral bankruptcy. This is stomach-turning sick. And unkleE pretends that this garbage can answer any of his difficult “ought” questions at all? Oh, please, give me a break!

    unkleE: I suggest this whole discussion has demonstrated my original point and the title of this post – this is indeed a difficult question for atheists. i.e, it isn’t one easily resolved. Of course mind-body, choice, determinism, etc, are difficult questions for everyone, but atheism/naturalism/physicalism faces a couple of extra difficulties that dualism and/or libertarian free will don’t face.

    Nonsense! We see here “introspection” in full display, laying waste to the mind of a reasonably eloquent and intelligent fellow who can’t seem to be able to consider arguments outside of his own navel gazing, and can’t stop repeating the same tired old canards.

    In the entire history of humanity there have been thousands of questions that were thought to have “magical” or “supernatural” answers, which have since been debunked and have been replaced with–and satisfactorily answered by–naturalistic explanations.There’s never been a single example of the reverse. Naturalism has won every single time and Supernaturalism has lost every single time. Based on this, which “worldview” has the difficulty? Naturalism? Of course not!

    Naturalism does not face the “extra difficulties” here, Supernaturalism does. Why? Because Naturalism attempts to answer questions using arguments and substantiating them with evidence, while Supernaturalism has no satisfactory evidence and does not answer anything, but digs itself into holes by replacing mysteries with deeper mysteries. To wit, LFW requires a magical miracle every single time we make a choice–a miracle for which there’s no good evidence, and for which there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. LFW relies on an Uncaused, Non-physical, Non-random, Exotic Component, UNNEC, for which there is no evidence other than “feelings” and “introspection.” This UNNEC is untestable and incoherent.

    unkleE: So this discussion continues to strengthen my originally less certain view that there is a genuine problem here.

    If I may be so bold, I don’t think anyone’s surprised, and I don’t think it was “strengthened,” one bit but left just exactly as incoherent as it was when this discussion started. Again, here’s “introspection” at work.

    unkleE: I am asking a lot of you. Even if your view was true, I think it would be very difficult to demonstrate, and so it may be unfair to expect you to be able to. I think it is a bit like some complex evolutionary processes, such as abiogenesis, the evolution of the eye, etc – we assume that natural selection explains those things, but it is difficult to demonstrate because we can’t go back and run the experiment, we can only (probably) show that the process is feasible, not that it actually happened that way. There is an element of something akin to faith required. The only difference here is that there are good reasons, I think, to question whether natural selection alone can do what we are asking here.

    More nonsense! And more God-of-the-Gaps drivel. Abiogenesis has not been fully explained, that is true, and the details may never be fully worked out, although there has been a great deal of progress, and I wouldn’t put it past those clever biologists and biochemists to answer the question, because, unlike theologians, biologists know how to answer questions without plugging them with God-of-the-Gaps ignorance. Two things are clear, though:

    (1) Evolution by Natural Selection does not explain abiogenesis, but it has lowered the explanation hurdle tremendously.

    (2) Goddiddit would not explain anything, but would replace one “mystery” with another, and it’s a failed non-starter.

    The “evolution of the eye” is actually, well-understood. We even have intermediaries in species that are alive today.This is not a mystery, and it only reinforces how blatant unkleE’s sublime ignorance of Evolution by Natural Selection is, despite his pooh-poohing it without knowing what he’s talking about. It’s very simple unkleE: Look up “evolution of the eye,” stay clear of the fundy sites, and stick with reputable scientific ones.

    No, we don’t “assume” that Natural Selection explains these things, we have evidence that it does. Look it up.

    We don’t have to “go back and run the experiment” there are experiments that can be run today, and there are predictions that can be made which have been confirmed exquisitely! As great as the fossil record is, the DNA evidence alone is sufficient to substantiate much of what Evolution has amply demonstrated.

    I’ll tell you an instance where “we can’t go back and run the experiment:” The incoherent concept of LFW. You simply can’t go back and “re-play the tape,” so you’re stuck with an unprovable assertion.

    Ah, the un-self-aware “faith” accusation again. 🙂 Is unkleE “projecting”? But who am I to psychoanalyze, when we have unkleE who can psychoanalyze authors’ “cognitive dissonance” with just some short quotations, and can wish “feelings” and “introspection” into reality…

    If there are “good reasons to question that Natural Selection alone can do what we’re asking,” we certainly have not heard them from unkleE here.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hi AR,

    Don’t think we’ve spoken before, but I’ve frequent here in the past when Nate was more frequent with his updates.
    Just a word of advice (not that you’re asking for it, nor am I the authority on the subject):

    I’m seeing you going to what I call the “ragey’ phase. This happens to me as well when you go into a conversation in good faith, only to find your opponent just totally disingenuous, disinterested and yet trying to maintain a facade of respectability.

    I’ve seen many people gone through that, and then the next phase would be “chill”, cuz you realize the futility of it and simply hope that other readers catch on – which they most probably would if they’re unbiased, or bias towards you e.g. atheists camps in the first place. Similarly, those who are already entrenched in their position (see names that Ark mentioned previously) would not be moved by whatever you said an iota.

    I just feel that you’re preaching to the choir here tbh seeing how unkleE is the only theist left in this discussion. Not saying that your points are invalid, nor that I am not enjoying the intellectual beat down. But I think your time and effort can be channeled elsewhere and not wasted. Honestly, speaking to plants or even wet paint may actually help plants to grow and help paint dry, which is actually something constructive in my book vs speaking to someone who has time and time again displayed a lack of intellectual honesty and refusal to acknowledge any potential for one’s thought to be wrong. (“me wrong? I’m wrong all the time!”, says someone we know, “just that not this time, but trust me baby I introspect all the time to find mistakes in my thinking” – said with a smarmy smile)

    Here’s hoping that you transit to the “chill” phase like the rest of us soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. william: I think Theism and Determinism are separate questions. Theism addresses whether someone believes in a god and Determinism addresses whether there’s an Uncaused, Non-physical, Non-random, Exotic Component (UNNEC) which somehow interferes with physical processes in our minds in some sort of “magical” way. People can believe that Determinism is real and still believe in a god, just like they can believe in evolution and believe in a god. They simply think that their god set the natural world in motion and that’s how it is. They’re able to compartmentalize their “worldviews.”

    Personally, I am an atheist because I’m not convinced that gods exist. This is a question of belief, and it is not something that I have control over, anymore than I would be able to control my belief that I would fall if someone pushed me off the roof of my house. Even if someone were to put a gun to my head and asked me to not believe that I’d fall, I’d still believe that I’d fall. Likewise, I’m not able to believe in a god, because the evidence and arguments (or lack thereof) do not convince me.

    On the other hand, I’m also an agnostic, because I don’t know with absolute certainty whether a god or gods exist, so it’s the only honest intellectual position that I can take. Unlike Theism/Atheism, Agnosticism is not a question of belief, but one of knowledge. While I have a very high degree of confidence that there are no gods (given the evidence for and against them), my confidence doesn’t reach 100%, so I remain an agnostic because I don’t have full knowledge on the question.

    On the other hand, if you were to ask me about the Christian god specifically, I would tell you that I am as convinced that it does not exist as I am that unicorns, fairies, Big Foot, or Thor do not exist. All the evidence points to it being simply a myth. (BTW, I grew up in two different denominations within Christianity, so I know it from the “inside” pretty well.) While wishful thinking doesn’t (and shouldn’t) enter into how I arrived at my lack of belief in the god of Christianity, I’m actually glad that it’s all a myth, given how revolting Christian morality is. Morality by “remote control” and by “stick-and-carrot” is no morality at all, in my book, but I digress.

    As for Free Will, I am only objecting here to the Libertarian type, because the mere concept of the UNNEC is incoherent (and for a variety of other reasons). However, there are virtually infinite numbers of contingencies and factors influencing our decision-making every second of our lives, so we live in a world where we effectively have free will, even though our actions are a combination of deterministic physical processes and random processes. In some sense, free will is an “emergent” property of a very complex system of interactions between our minds and the world.

    When you speak of “you” taking some actions freely, the “you” that you are speaking of is precisely the “you” who is made up of those processes that have predispositions to act in certain ways given certain situations, so the separation between “you” and what “you” are made of and how “you” are arranged and the physical processes that constrain who “you” are is artificial.

    In some sense, you are a bag of molecules, but you are not “just” a bag of molecules, because it is the specific arrangement of those molecules that makes you special and different. It’s not what you’re made of (salt water and carbon-based molecules), it’s how you’re arranged together. Sawdust cannot carry a man across the Mississippi river, but a wooden boat can. It’s how the wood in the boat is arranged that makes the difference. There are many ways of putting flour, water, eggs and sugar together, but very few yield a nice cake.

    As to your “sense” that you’re in full control of your actions, yes, “you” are, provided no one else is coercing you, of course. But whether “you” could’ve done differently if we were to “replay the tape,” that’s another matter. Your “sense” would not be able to tell you the answer to this, and there’s little point in relying on your “sense” in precisely a situation where it’s likely to fail you.

    Determinism, does not take away any of the moral accountability that we value so much. We can still hold bags of molecules accountable because of the way they’re arranged and their predispositions to act in certain ways in certain situations.

    I’ll comment more extensively on some of these points later, time permitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Power: Your comment and suggestion are much appreciated, thank you. I hope I’m not coming across all that “ragey” because I’m actually enjoying the one-way conversation. The conversation became one-way because unkleE decided that, not me, BTW. Also, I try to always focus on arguments, not personalities. I think it’s fair game to tear down an argument, without saying anything about the person.

    I agree with you, I don’t think unkleE is honestly open to considering any counter arguments to his own, and is probably more interested in converting others to his “camp.” And that’s OK, but I get to tear down what he says as I see fit, as long as it holds my interest.

    Also, I’ve learned something in the exchange, as unkleE actually said one interesting thing in this whole exchange, namely: unkleE’s Theorem, although he unfortunately “disowned” it. Actually, no, he disowned the name I gave it, because he has since repeated it at least a couple of times. Unfortunately, unkleE’s Theorem doesn’t do what he wants because it’s based on an incorrect premise (but that doesn’t stop him from repeating it, nor me from continuing to tear it down). 🙂

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  25. @AR
    As you seem to have come out of the ”ragey” phase, as Powell calls it, you are allowed to now have a bit of fun with the main antagonist.
    As you will have noted, he always has his Main Man in his corner …. the greatest philanthropissed the world ever made up, your friend and mine, Yahweh. ( and the crowd goes wild). So, whatever reasoned argument you present he will refute it – if not on principles of his own, then of those whispered in his ear by Yahweh. Maybe he also includes you in his daily prayers while kneeling on the floor of his lounge, asking Yahweh to make/help you see the light? Hell, Gehenna, who knows, right?
    In fact, who really cares?
    I have found it best to adopt one of his traits – presupposition. This way whenever he jumps into the fray offering what he thinks is a very erudite and intellectual comment full of Yahweh-inspired, cherry-picked, virgin birth inspired, consensus-distilled integrity and whatever else he has managed to glean from the current article he has just read on the back of his cornflakes packet over breakfast you can leap right back with a presupposition of your own : Unklee is a giant disingenuous religiously-indoctrinated Nob.
    Helps with the blood pressure immensely.

    🙂

    Like

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