Another dismantling of the “free will” response to the problem of evil

Theodicy has always been a major challenge for theists, who are forced to come up with reasons why why so many bad things happen under the watch of a just and caring god.
Most of these reasons are implausible at best, at least for those who think that coherent logic is a more useful ally in argumentation than bald-faced rationalizations and excuse-making. The usual theist response to the problem of evil is revolves around “free will”: If human had not been imbued with the capacity to make nasty choices, so the story goes, then they would be unable to recognize or even define good.
It does not take a philosopher to mount a battery of questions to such nonsense–for example, what about suffering that has nothing to do with conscious human action (e.g., natural disasters, fatal car wrecks)? And just how bad must things get in order for we thick-skulled humans to be able to perceive the opposite of these things as “good”?
But for sporting purposes, many philosophers do indulge the theists on their own terms. This amusing rebuttal of the “free will” argument boils down to three ideas:
1. If God values free will so much, why do only a few earthly creatures possess it?
2. If God values free will so much, why do all of us lack it at least some of the time (e.g., as babies, while sleeping, while mentally ill) and some of us (e.g., people in comas) lack it all of the time?
3. Most of all, if God values free will so much, why do people not place a similar premium on it, choosing to punish–and certainly to reject as objects of worship–people such as rapists and thieves who are only exercising the will God gave them?
Something else to consider: If God made people with the capacity to do evil, then evil inherently exists, in which case humans should be able to perceive it and thus define “good” accordingly, with free will not needed in the mix.
If these points seem superfluous, well, they are–the “free will” argument is as much an intuitive failure as it is a philosophical one. Still, it can be fun to watch people demonically bat such ideas around while the other side squirms and furrows its begodded brow in consternation.

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  1. #1 by Reginald Selkirk on February 15, 2009 - 4:02 pm

    And then there’s the question of whether God can create a world with free will, where people do not use it to commit evil; if He can do so in Heaven, why can’t He do it here on Earth?

  2. #2 by tubi on February 15, 2009 - 5:04 pm

    And then there’s the dilemma of whether free will can even exist in a universe with a fully and truly omniscient God.
    For example, if God is timeless, and knows all that will happen to each of us, and someone ‘chooses’ to commit rape, isn’t the rapist simply doing only that which God foresaw, and therefore that which must happen, else God was wrong?
    If God knows everything that we will choose in the future, then we are essentially faced with a list of options containing only one choice. No matter what it seems to us, that we are weighing several potential choices and selecting the one that we want, if God already knows what we’re going to select, then we didn’t really make a choice, we just did what we had to do in order for God to remain perfect in his knowledge of the universe. A choice of one option is the same as a choice of zero options.

  3. #3 by Adrian Morgan on February 15, 2009 - 8:28 pm

    Another Christian argument that you might have some fun with is the notion that in order to grow, a soul has to experience the yearning for a perfect world (the experience of yearning itself is thought to be soul-food), and can do so only by inhabiting an imperfect one. Therefore the world has to be imperfect. (Heaven, on the other hand, is allowed to be perfect because all the souls there have already grown up, to put it crudely.)
    I disagree with tubu’s comment. The notion of an omnipotent deity doesn’t negate the notion of human free will provided that the chain of causality is always that human action causes God to have always known what that action would be, and not the other way around.

  4. #4 by TheEngima32 on February 15, 2009 - 10:51 pm

    Of course you realize, this sort of thing only works if individuals believe in miracles and believe that God can, and chooses to, or has the ability too, interact within our physical universe. As an individual who doesn’t believe in miracles but nevertheless believes in a deity, I’ve always believed that God is beyond words such as “benevolent” and “good,” (failed mortal attempts to express a deity that exists beyond all mortal attempts to conceive of It) and is incapable of interacting within our physical universe (for the very reasons you put forward, and because interacting with our universe would, to put it mildly, break it). This is just my thought though, from a humble Deist who sometimes thinks about these matters.
    Enigma

  5. #5 by TheEngima32 on February 15, 2009 - 10:51 pm

    Of course you realize, this sort of thing only works if individuals believe in miracles and believe that God can, and chooses to, or has the ability too, interact within our physical universe. As an individual who doesn’t believe in miracles but nevertheless believes in a deity, I’ve always believed that God is beyond words such as “benevolent” and “good,” (failed mortal attempts to express a deity that exists beyond all mortal attempts to conceive of It) and is incapable of interacting within our physical universe (for the very reasons you put forward, and because interacting with our universe would, to put it mildly, break it). This is just my thought though, from a humble Deist who sometimes thinks about these matters.
    Enigma

  6. #6 by Kevin Beck on February 15, 2009 - 11:40 pm

    tubi (or not tubi),
    There was a lively discussion here about these matters not long ago–in response to the posting of a cartoon, no less; you never can tell–and one of the chief points of contention was whether prescience could be included under the umbrella of omniscience.
    I have always assumed that, from a Christian perspective at least, omniscience included prescience, but hopper3011 made some compelling (and purely philosophical) arguments against the idea.
    Suffice it to say that deism diverges very rapidly from sectarian notions when it comes to morals, intent, and human characteristics as applied to various purported skygods, etc.
    I am an atheist with respect to any religion of choice, and more pertinently a “materialist” (I don’t believe that origins require a consciousness and have seen no arguments to dissuade me from this position) but from a philosophical standpoint can respect the position of deism.

  7. #7 by hopper3011 on February 16, 2009 - 5:21 am

    And then there’s the dilemma of whether free will can even exist in a universe with a fully and truly omniscient God.

    I’m not entirely sure whether free will is that much of a problem whether your definition of omniscience includes prescience or not.
    If you have subjective free will then what difference does it make to you that God knows that your actions are objectively determined?
    If you come to a crossroad with a choice of going either left or right, and you have no particular need to go either left or right, then aren’t you exercising your subjective free will in making a choice to go either left or right, whether or not, objectively, you have no free will and your choice was predetermined – to you it is still a genuine choice.

  8. #8 by hopper3011 on February 16, 2009 - 7:19 am

    Kevin;
    Do we know why Michael Drake chose not to respond to the argument he linked to? Mike Almeida makes an argument that Michael Drake ignores, instead creating a different argument from, as far as I can see, thin air.

    3. Most of all, if God values free will so much, why do people not place a similar premium on it, choosing to punish–and certainly to reject as objects of worship–people such as rapists and thieves who are only exercising the will God gave them?

    Why would it be necessary for people to put the same weight on free will that God does? You find baseball interesting (judging by previous posts) – is your interest in baseball predicated on my being interested? Just because God values free will above anything else (I don’t know that He does, but just for the sake of this argument) – then surely it is an exercise of free will to choose to make free will a lower priority than God does? If this is so, aren’t we, by giving free will a lower priority than God does, fulfilling God’s interest in the absolute freedom to exercise free will?
    As far as people depriving other people of their ability to exercise any free will, wouldn’t you say that it demonstrates the value that people place on free will that the deprivation of the ability to exercise free will is considered a punishment?

  9. #9 by Brian on February 16, 2009 - 10:12 am

    The failure of the “free will” argument rests mostly on the fact that we simply don’t have it. Everything we do is caused by a collusion of a hopeless tanlge of genetic predispositions and environmental additions to that predispostion. People know intuitively this is so. And all the sophistry to get around it fails. WHy do people try to raise their kids a certain way? ONce they admit that people have “tendencies” you have already killed free will – how could a just God hold someone who must struggle against tendencies to the same standard as one who doesn’t. And where does this “self” that is separate from one’s tendencies come from? Of course, from the same processews as the tendencies.
    The free will crowd will then say “If you don’t believe in free will, then why would you punish murderers?” Well, because they murdered someone! We don’t need to make statements about the origin of actions to punish actions. Although God certainly would, since he set the wheels in motion that made people the way they are. Why is it not sufficient to punish and reward actions and people as agents of those actions? Not sufficient enough for justice from the one who set the process in motion (by creating us sick and commanding us to be well) but certainly sufficient enough for our temporal purposes.

  10. #10 by heddle on February 16, 2009 - 11:11 am

    Theodicy has always been a major challenge for theists, who are forced to come up with reasons why why so many bad things happen under the watch of a just and caring god.

    No, that part of theodicy is not a problem. The problem is only in the source of evil–in particular the source of the original capacity for evil present in the human species.

    The usual theist response to the problem of evil is revolves around “free will”: If human had not been imbued with the capacity to make nasty choices, so the story goes, then they would be unable to recognize or even define good.

    You are right, that is the usual response. It is, however, wrong. Before one chooses to commit evil, one first must have the desire to commit evil. That desire, before the exercise of free will, is already evil in and of itself, according to Christianity. Free will doesn’t explain the source of the desire, hence it doesn’t solve the theodicy problem.

    1. If God values free will so much, why do only a few earthly creatures possess it?
    2. If God values free will so much, why do all of us lack it at least some of the time (e.g., as babies, while sleeping, while mentally ill) and some of us (e.g., people in comas) lack it all of the time?
    3. Most of all, if God values free will so much, why do people not place a similar premium on it, choosing to punish–and certainly to reject as objects of worship–people such as rapists and thieves who are only exercising the will God gave them?

    Do these even seem like pertinent questions? If God values free will so much… First of all, nobody knows how much God “values” free will. But granting that, questions 1 and 2 are just plain stupid. It could be applied to many human attributes. If God values X so much, why do only a few earthly creatures possess it?, and why do people sometimes not exhibit X? And so is the third question—because the reason we punish criminals is because of their free will not in spite of it. Does the argument: if God gave us free will then why punish us for using it? really sound, to you, like an argument that is, in some way, difficult?

    Another Christian argument that you might have some fun with is the notion that in order to grow, a soul has to experience the yearning for a perfect world (the experience of yearning itself is thought to be soul-food), and can do so only by inhabiting an imperfect one.

    You can have a lot of fun with that—except that it is not a doctrinal argument of any major denomination of Christianity. You can have even more fun: make up more arguments, call them Christian arguments, then call them “funny.” That’s if you don’t have a life.
    Brian,

    “If you don’t believe in free will, then why would you punish murderers?” Well, because they murdered someone!

    No—you apparently punish them, in your view, because the initial conditions of the universe guaranteed that you would.

  11. #11 by hopper3011 on February 16, 2009 - 11:54 am

    Everything we do is caused by a collusion of a hopeless tanlge of genetic predispositions and environmental additions to that predispostion.

    Brian;
    Just out of interest, could you please give me your definition of determinism? I am struggling to understand your argument – certainly the quote above merely indicates the capacity for a certain species of sentient being to act in one of a number of clearly defined ways, it certainly doesn’t ‘prove’ how or why the non-sentient portion of the universe acts in a determined fashion.
    If you want to claim that only the sentient portion of the universe is determined, then, as heddle pointed out, you aren’t ‘punishing’ anyone – if neither you nor the murderer have free will, then what you are both doing is merely acting out your parts in a play. The fact that you caught the murderer, that the jury found him guilty, and that you pronounced sentence on him is as predetermined as his having committed murder in the first place – if he didn’t have any choice then neither did you (and neither do the ‘free will crowd’ when it comes to asking you questions).

    “Behold,” I continued, “this moment! From this gateway, Moment, along, eternal lane leads backward: behind us lies an eternity. Must not whatever can walk have walked on this lane before? Must not whatever can happen have happened, have been done, have passed by before? And if everything has been there before – what do you think, dwarf, of this moment? Must not this gateway too have been there before? And are not all things knotted together so firmly that this moment draws after it all that is to come? Therefore – itself too? For whatever can walk – in this long lane out there too, it must walk once more.

    If this is the basis for your belief in determinism, it looks no more or less supported by fact than any religious belief.

  12. #12 by Kevin Beck on February 16, 2009 - 12:18 pm

    When I wrote this:

    3. Most of all, if God values free will so much, why do people not place a similar premium on it, choosing to punish–and certainly to reject as objects of worship–people such as rapists and thieves who are only exercising the will God gave them?

    I didn’t do a good job of conveying what Drake was trying to say. What he meant, I think, is that if human beings are going to worship (and thus respect) a god who permits evil to happen for rather capricious or questionable reasons, it would make sense for us to also respect people displaying the same trait. In other words, if we see someone who has the ability to prevent something terrible (such as a murder or a rape) from happening, yet does not, shouldn’t we see this highlighting of evil, permissible through the exercise of free will, as enhancing the ability of others to better appreciate good?
    Clearly, we don’t feel this way. We condemn people for standing by silently while atrocities happen in their midst. Yet gods–whom worshippers see, of course, as far more capable of stopping evil of all sorts than even the most potent human interloper–are not only given a free pass on this, but revered for it. This seems perverse.
    This is more a common-sense point than a philosophical one, and is plainly an argument made from the stance of someone whose starting position on the whole idea of divine creation and intervention is that it’s a crock of shit. Basically, it’s a form of special pleading.
    hopper–I’m not sure of Drake’s motivations as I am unfamiliar wth his blog (found it via a Facebook link, of all things). My sense is that he’s chosen to argue summarily against the idea of evil-because-of-free-will and has lumped Almeida’s argument in with all others in this general realm. To me the excuse post makes a trivially accurate argument (basically, that gods can be excused for letting something bad happen if intervening would only have made things worse), although the premise that truly gratuitous suffering need exist seems sketchy.

  13. #13 by Kevin Beck on February 16, 2009 - 12:18 pm

    When I wrote this:

    3. Most of all, if God values free will so much, why do people not place a similar premium on it, choosing to punish–and certainly to reject as objects of worship–people such as rapists and thieves who are only exercising the will God gave them?

    I didn’t do a good job of conveying what Drake was trying to say. What he meant, I think, is that if human beings are going to worship (and thus respect) a god who permits evil to happen for rather capricious or questionable reasons, it would make sense for us to also respect people displaying the same trait. In other words, if we see someone who has the ability to prevent something terrible (such as a murder or a rape) from happening, yet does not, shouldn’t we see this highlighting of evil, permissible through the exercise of free will, as enhancing the ability of others to better appreciate good?
    Clearly, we don’t feel this way. We condemn people for standing by silently while atrocities happen in their midst. Yet gods–whom worshippers see, of course, as far more capable of stopping evil of all sorts than even the most potent human interloper–are not only given a free pass on this, but revered for it. This seems perverse.
    This is more a common-sense point than a philosophical one, and is plainly an argument made from the stance of someone whose starting position on the whole idea of divine creation and intervention is that it’s a crock of shit. Basically, it’s a form of special pleading.
    hopper–I’m not sure of Drake’s motivations as I am unfamiliar wth his blog (found it via a Facebook link, of all things). My sense is that he’s chosen to argue summarily against the idea of evil-because-of-free-will and has lumped Almeida’s argument in with all others in this general realm. To me the excuse post makes a trivially accurate argument (basically, that gods can be excused for letting something bad happen if intervening would only have made things worse), although the premise that truly gratuitous suffering need exist seems sketchy.

  14. #14 by Kevin Beck on February 16, 2009 - 12:18 pm

    When I wrote this:

    3. Most of all, if God values free will so much, why do people not place a similar premium on it, choosing to punish–and certainly to reject as objects of worship–people such as rapists and thieves who are only exercising the will God gave them?

    I didn’t do a good job of conveying what Drake was trying to say. What he meant, I think, is that if human beings are going to worship (and thus respect) a god who permits evil to happen for rather capricious or questionable reasons, it would make sense for us to also respect people displaying the same trait. In other words, if we see someone who has the ability to prevent something terrible (such as a murder or a rape) from happening, yet does not, shouldn’t we see this highlighting of evil, permissible through the exercise of free will, as enhancing the ability of others to better appreciate good?
    Clearly, we don’t feel this way. We condemn people for standing by silently while atrocities happen in their midst. Yet gods–whom worshippers see, of course, as far more capable of stopping evil of all sorts than even the most potent human interloper–are not only given a free pass on this, but revered for it. This seems perverse.
    This is more a common-sense point than a philosophical one, and is plainly an argument made from the stance of someone whose starting position on the whole idea of divine creation and intervention is that it’s a crock of shit. Basically, it’s a form of special pleading.
    hopper–I’m not sure of Drake’s motivations as I am unfamiliar wth his blog (found it via a Facebook link, of all things). My sense is that he’s chosen to argue summarily against the idea of evil-because-of-free-will and has lumped Almeida’s argument in with all others in this general realm. To me the excuse post makes a trivially accurate argument (basically, that gods can be excused for letting something bad happen if intervening would only have made things worse), although the premise that truly gratuitous suffering need exist seems sketchy.

  15. #15 by bybelknap, FCD on February 16, 2009 - 12:33 pm

    If human behavior were truly a hopeless tangle, then there would be no television advertising. Advertisers and propagandists are able to manipulate human behavior on a grand scale. Remember that the next time you pick Delta over American so you can get a free ticket to Vegas.
    Free will is a nebulous term. Define it, please. “Free” according to whom? What “will”? Unless and until there is a definition of what “Free Will” really means then it is exceedingly difficult to determine if we have it or not.
    Of course hopper and I could just start calling each other poopie heads again. That’s always good for a laugh.
    Does “believing” that humans have this ineffable thing free will require also a belief in a deity? Can there be limits on the extent of the freedom to act and it still be called free? Is free will like free speech? You can say what you like but you can’t shout “fire!” in a crowded theater. You can do what you like but you can’t deny the holy spirit? You can actually do both, but there are ostensibly punitive consequences attached.
    Then again, given a relatively known set of circumstances people will behave in certain ways… in general. Put food in front of a hunger person and he’ll *probably* eat. Put a bowl of cold lumpy oatmeal and a bowl of sugar pops in front of a hunger person and what will he choose? *Probably* the sugar pops. And is he free to pass both up or does his biology demand that he eat? If he’s at or below 60% free feeding weight his biology will probably require him to eat, if he’s still able.
    Sorry for rambling, but I’ve yet to see a satisfactory definition of free will from either non-believers or believers. So how do you (no one in particular, just the general gang) define free will? Can there be any agreement between non-believers and believers as to what it is if believers think it comes only from a deity? Do they believe that?

  16. #16 by bybelknap, FCD on February 16, 2009 - 12:37 pm

    crap. “hungry”

  17. #17 by heddle on February 16, 2009 - 12:43 pm

    Kevin,
    Ah, so you are asking, I think: If God stands by when he could intervene, why do we condemn people who do the same?
    That is indeed a fair question. I think it is one that can be addressed in Christian theology–that is I don’t think it is insoluble like the theodicy problem appears to be–but I think it is a good question.

  18. #18 by heddle on February 16, 2009 - 1:01 pm

    bybelknap, FCD

    So how do you (no one in particular, just the general gang) define free will? Can there be any agreement between non-believers and believers as to what it is if believers think it comes only from a deity? Do they believe that?

    Well, in Reformed Theology it is usually defined, to first order, as this: that you choose whatever you want–in fact you always, you must choose what you want most at any given instant. It is a view of the will that is determined–but it is self determined. You are a slave to your desires. This is then tied to the idea of unconditional election (predestination) by saying that natural men have no desire for God and so never choose him.
    Other theologies would, of course, disagree. As for unbelievers–I would be interested in hearing a secular theory of free will–unless it involves the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Then, personally, I’m not interested.

  19. #19 by bybelknap, FCD on February 16, 2009 - 1:30 pm

    Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – isn’t that when you put Schrodinger’s cat on a Zeppelin and send it to Jersey?

  20. #20 by bybelknap, FCD on February 16, 2009 - 1:35 pm

    So in Reformed Theology since natural men never choose god does everyone end up in hell? I thought the idea was that one has free will and can choose to accept god and live forever in heaven, or not and go to hell. You make it sound like no-one will ever have that loverly eternal bliss.

  21. #21 by heddle on February 16, 2009 - 2:16 pm

    bybelknap, FCD

    So in Reformed Theology since natural men never choose god does everyone end up in hell? I thought the idea was that one has free will and can choose to accept god and live forever in heaven, or not and go to hell. You make it sound like no-one will ever have that loverly eternal bliss.

    No–God will regenerate some, give them a desire for himself, and then they will freely choose him. That’s how it fits together, rightly or wrongly.

  22. #22 by Lofcaudio on February 16, 2009 - 2:22 pm

    bybelknap, FCD:
    So in Reformed Theology since natural men never choose god does everyone end up in hell?
    No. Reformed Theology would teach that despite all of mankind not being naturally inclined to choose God, God intervenes and moves on the hearts of those “chosen” (see Ephesians 1:4). The elect inherit eternal salvation and are mercifully spared the torments of being separated from God. The key is this: who is actually making the choice? Reformed believers take the stance that it is God who makes the choice, and not man since we are incapable of making such a choice which acts in contrary to our sinful natures.

  23. #23 by Lofcaudio on February 16, 2009 - 2:22 pm

    bybelknap, FCD:
    So in Reformed Theology since natural men never choose god does everyone end up in hell?
    No. Reformed Theology would teach that despite all of mankind not being naturally inclined to choose God, God intervenes and moves on the hearts of those “chosen” (see Ephesians 1:4). The elect inherit eternal salvation and are mercifully spared the torments of being separated from God. The key is this: who is actually making the choice? Reformed believers take the stance that it is God who makes the choice, and not man since we are incapable of making such a choice which acts in contrary to our sinful natures.

  24. #24 by bybelknap, FCD on February 16, 2009 - 3:28 pm

    Thanks heddle and Lofcaudio.
    What does “regenerate” mean? I know what regenerate means, but in this context it seems like cheating.
    It isn’t really free will then, is it? God intervening and “moving hearts” sound awfully similar to mom intervening and making deals: “no dessert until your veggies are all et.”
    It’s rather personally unsatisfying. Not very “free.”

  25. #25 by Lofcaudio on February 16, 2009 - 3:59 pm

    bybelknap, FCD:
    It isn’t really free will then, is it?
    Again, it depends on your definition of “free will”. But to answer the question that I think you are asking, the answer is a resounding “NO.”
    God intervening and “moving hearts” sound awfully similar to mom intervening and making deals: “no dessert until your veggies are all et.”
    (Your mom sounds like she is from South Carolina.) Actually, reformed theology (i.e., Calvinism) is even more extreme than your example, because you would still have a choice to eat your vegetables or not. Full-fledged Calvinists (there are actually different degrees) believe that when God intervenes, the elect have no choice but to respond to God.

  26. #26 by Lofcaudio on February 16, 2009 - 3:59 pm

    bybelknap, FCD:
    It isn’t really free will then, is it?
    Again, it depends on your definition of “free will”. But to answer the question that I think you are asking, the answer is a resounding “NO.”
    God intervening and “moving hearts” sound awfully similar to mom intervening and making deals: “no dessert until your veggies are all et.”
    (Your mom sounds like she is from South Carolina.) Actually, reformed theology (i.e., Calvinism) is even more extreme than your example, because you would still have a choice to eat your vegetables or not. Full-fledged Calvinists (there are actually different degrees) believe that when God intervenes, the elect have no choice but to respond to God.

  27. #27 by heddle on February 16, 2009 - 5:59 pm

    bybelknap, FCD
    Regenerate is literally the “born again” of Christianity. From a Reformed Perspective, it comes before you choose God. Indeed, as mentioned, you can’t choose God without it. The metaphor is that you are given a new heart, one that desires God. Non-Reformed Christianity–more traditional American evangelical Christianity–believes the opposite time ordering–first you choose God, then you are regenerated.
    Is is really free? That depends on what you mean my free will. It is consistent with the Reformed Christianity view of free will as I described above.

  28. #28 by Badger3k on February 16, 2009 - 7:35 pm

    heddle “No–God will regenerate some, give them a desire for himself, and then they will freely choose him. That’s how it fits together, rightly or wrongly.”
    Why didn’t he do this in the first place? Why does he need people to refuse him in the first place, but then they get god-desire injected into them so they will have another chance to choose him, albeit with a stacked deck? Reformed Theology sounds like another way to say “rationalization to try to explain away the flaws in my belief system”.
    “Is is really free? That depends on what you mean my free will. It is consistent with the Reformed Christianity view of free will as I described above.”
    It’s easy when you define words to mean whatever you want, isn’t it. For most people, it’s as free as YHVH hardening Pharoah’s heart so that He could deliver all 10 of those plagues on the innocent people and animals of Egypt. In other words, Nope, no free will here.

  29. #29 by heddle on February 16, 2009 - 8:40 pm

    Why didn’t he do this in the first place?
    Badger3K,

    Why didn’t he do this in the first place?

    Beats the crap out of me.

    Why does he need people to refuse him in the first place, but then they get god-desire injected into them so they will have another chance to choose him, albeit with a stacked deck

    I’m sure he doesn’t need it.

    Reformed Theology sounds like another way to say “rationalization to try to explain away the flaws in my belief system”.

    And that sounds like another way of dismissing a position without thinking about it. Why don’t you just say “Courtier’s Reply” and be done with it?

    It’s easy when you define words to mean whatever you want, isn’t it.

    I await your model of the free will. Surely it will be more satisfying.

  30. #30 by Brian on February 16, 2009 - 8:58 pm

    “No—you apparently punish them, in your view, because the initial conditions of the universe guaranteed that you would.”
    Very good! Now you are using your brain.
    All these folks that talk about “free will” have yet to simply show it to me. Show me an action that cannot be traced back to the collusion of deterministic causes. Name one thing you have done that has had its origin from outside this deterministic framework. I have yet to even hear a coherent description of this free will. Do these folks suggest we all have some kernel of “soul” that has active powers and is the same for all of us (how Gnostic!!) but then there are deterministic factors layered on top of it that we could somehow rise above if we tried? Well, where does the ability and desire to “rise above” come from? More deterministic factors! It is a hopeless mess and folks continue to cling to this mess because they think it is necessary to preserve cherished notions about punishment and reward. The ultimate arguments are merely functional – that is – the idea of free will is good for us. I would argue that this isnt’ even the case.

  31. #31 by hopper3011 on February 17, 2009 - 2:12 am

    Very good! Now you are using your brain.

    No, you aren’t, that’s the point of determinism – you aren’t ‘using’ your brain, and neither is anyone else.

    All these folks that talk about “free will” have yet to simply show it to me.

    Perhaps you’d care to demonstrate determinism? Wouldn’t that be easier than waiting around for somebody else to demonstrate something that you aren’t going to accept anyway?

  32. #32 by Brian on February 17, 2009 - 12:15 pm

    Deonstrate determinism? Everything has causes. That is all you need to know. Nothing is self-caused. Any action you take has its origin in who you are and you didnt’ consciously bring about who you are.
    And determimism doesn’t imply a person isn’t using their brain – just that they are using it in a way that is the outcome of deterministic forces. Extreme complexity and our lack of predictive ability (not knowing how much weight to give any one cause in conjunction with a massive abundance of other causes, all in interaction with each other) leads us to a profound feeling of freedom. And new “causes” are always coming into the mix and coalescing with what is already there (of course, if we had a perfect view of everything int he universe, we would have known those causes were on their way).
    Everything that is happening now is happening because of the state of the world immediately before it. And that can be traced back infinitely.

  33. #33 by Brian on February 17, 2009 - 12:15 pm

    Deonstrate determinism? Everything has causes. That is all you need to know. Nothing is self-caused. Any action you take has its origin in who you are and you didnt’ consciously bring about who you are.
    And determimism doesn’t imply a person isn’t using their brain – just that they are using it in a way that is the outcome of deterministic forces. Extreme complexity and our lack of predictive ability (not knowing how much weight to give any one cause in conjunction with a massive abundance of other causes, all in interaction with each other) leads us to a profound feeling of freedom. And new “causes” are always coming into the mix and coalescing with what is already there (of course, if we had a perfect view of everything int he universe, we would have known those causes were on their way).
    Everything that is happening now is happening because of the state of the world immediately before it. And that can be traced back infinitely.

  34. #34 by heddle on February 17, 2009 - 12:26 pm

    Brian,

    Everything that is happening now is happening because of the state of the world immediately before it. And that can be traced back infinitely.

    Do you see an 800 lb gorilla, per chance?

  35. #35 by bybelknap, FCD on February 17, 2009 - 3:18 pm

    Brian, I think you may be over-stating things a bit. What do you mean by “immediately?” Things that happened long ago by the clock can still be felt now in an “extended psychological present.” I am not disputing your affection for a deterministic world, just your description of it.
    I also think you are overstating our inability to disentangle the factors that go into predicting our behavior as humans. At least in limited circumstances. Sure, it’s hard to say what any individual will do absent context, but a general observer of me would be fairly likely to score a hit were he to say, “that belknap fellah will be in his office around 8:15 if it is a day of the week between Monday and Friday inclusive.” One could also unpack the factors that lead to this prognostication with relative ease, again given the appropriate contextual clues. The getting to work at 8:15 behavior has its cause not only in its antecedents, but its consequences as well. In fact, it has been selected for by its consequences, both well and ill.

  36. #36 by bybelknap, FCD on February 17, 2009 - 3:18 pm

    Brian, I think you may be over-stating things a bit. What do you mean by “immediately?” Things that happened long ago by the clock can still be felt now in an “extended psychological present.” I am not disputing your affection for a deterministic world, just your description of it.
    I also think you are overstating our inability to disentangle the factors that go into predicting our behavior as humans. At least in limited circumstances. Sure, it’s hard to say what any individual will do absent context, but a general observer of me would be fairly likely to score a hit were he to say, “that belknap fellah will be in his office around 8:15 if it is a day of the week between Monday and Friday inclusive.” One could also unpack the factors that lead to this prognostication with relative ease, again given the appropriate contextual clues. The getting to work at 8:15 behavior has its cause not only in its antecedents, but its consequences as well. In fact, it has been selected for by its consequences, both well and ill.

  37. #37 by hopper3011 on February 17, 2009 - 3:27 pm

    Do you see an 800 lb gorilla, per chance?

    Yes, although it could mean that the definition of “infinity” has been changed and is now between 13.61 and 13.85 billion years?

    Everything has causes.

    No they don’t, I can think of at least one thing that doesn’t have a cause – I’ll give you a hint, it’s rather big and it’s coming up on its 14 billionth birthday. But, just supposing, for the sake of this argument, that everything does have a cause, you haven’t demonstrated that any one event is necessarily caused by any other action, perhaps you should demonstrate that before dismissing the point?

    And determimism doesn’t imply a person isn’t using their brain – just that they are using it in a way that is the outcome of deterministic forces.

    I think you might be getting yourself into a corner – first you claim that the universe is deterministic (that the mind is mechanical, and that each mental event is predetermined by each preceding mental event) and then you are positing a consciousness that sits over the mechanistic universe and that, due to an imperfect flow of information has a sensation of freedom that leads it to invent the idea of free will. Are you suggesting that this consciousness is non-determined? If so, how can you claim the universe is deterministic, when you have just claimed an object that is non-determined?

    And that can be traced back infinitely.

    Are you really, really sure you want to claim that the universe is infinite? Quite apart from the fact that it flies in the face of accepted scientific knowledge that the universe is neither infinite in age, nor infinite in area, the problems caused by infinity on the observed dimensional aspects of our universe would be immense.

  38. #38 by Brian on February 17, 2009 - 5:56 pm

    “you haven’t demonstrated that any one event is necessarily caused by any other action, perhaps you should demonstrate that before dismissing the point?”
    Then what is it caused by? I still don’t get the free will argument. People would have to be self-caused to have free will.
    “then you are positing a consciousness that sits over the mechanistic universe and that, due to an imperfect flow of information has a sensation of freedom that leads it to invent the idea of free will. Are you suggesting that this consciousness is non-determined? If so, how can you claim the universe is deterministic, when you have just claimed an object that is non-determined?”
    Not sure how I said this. Our consciousness is determined. I don’t believe in any sort of consciousness that sits over the universe.
    Of course some actions we can predict fairly well, but others we can’t. People want to point to unexpected outcomes as evidence of free will, but it is just an example of our inability to ascertain and propelry weight all the causes – if we had perfect knowledge, no outcome would be unexpected.
    I assume something “caused” the Big Bang. It didn’t will itself. The state of whatever was before it led to it. Either way, I don’t think the Big Bang is very useful in arguments that imply that people have motive forces insie them that aren’t deterministically created.
    Read Strawson’s piece on the matter and get back to me. I haven’t heard any refutations of it that make sense:
    http://www.naturalism.org/strawson.htm

  39. #39 by hopper3011 on February 18, 2009 - 2:39 am

    Then what is it caused by?

    I don’t know, it’s your argument, you are supposed to be the one presenting proof! Thus far your argument is “causation exists” – a little support for the existence of causation would be nice.

    Not sure how I said this.

    OK, you said:
    1) the universe is determined;
    2) our minds are determined;
    3) our minds have imperfect information about the universe;
    4) therefore we have an illusion of free will.
    So:
    1) if our minds are determined what is this consciousness that is processing this imperfect information to arrive at an illusion of freedom?
    2) if everything is caused by something else, then, unless we have a free part of our minds which has the freedom to freely process information, we have nothing which can arrive at an erroneous conclusion.
    3) in order to allow for this erroneous processing you are separating “our minds” from “we”; if our minds are determined, then what in our consciousness has the freedom to arrive at an erroneous conclusion, unless it is something outside the mind?
    4) since you hold that the universe is determined then anything that has the freedom to arrive at the erroneous conclusion of freedom must exist outside the universe.

  40. #40 by Gingerbaker on February 21, 2009 - 5:38 pm

    Brian said:
    “The failure of the “free will” argument rests mostly on the fact that we simply don’t have it.”
    I completely disagree.
    The problem of the ‘free will’ argument is:
    How can god ‘give’ us that which we already have?
    I have free will as an atheist – everyone has free will, and we never needed a supposed god to ‘give’ it to us in the first place.
    The problem of Evil is a proof that there either is not (and never was) a God or that the god responsible for Planet Earth is completely unworthy of any adulation, let alone worship.
    I have always been incredulous that ‘Free Will’ is all the Church has got for the problem of evil. It is such an obvious artifice, and so very unsatisfying a response that it truly is pathetic they they have gotten away with it for so long.

  41. #41 by Gingerbaker on February 21, 2009 - 5:38 pm

    Brian said:
    “The failure of the “free will” argument rests mostly on the fact that we simply don’t have it.”
    I completely disagree.
    The problem of the ‘free will’ argument is:
    How can god ‘give’ us that which we already have?
    I have free will as an atheist – everyone has free will, and we never needed a supposed god to ‘give’ it to us in the first place.
    The problem of Evil is a proof that there either is not (and never was) a God or that the god responsible for Planet Earth is completely unworthy of any adulation, let alone worship.
    I have always been incredulous that ‘Free Will’ is all the Church has got for the problem of evil. It is such an obvious artifice, and so very unsatisfying a response that it truly is pathetic they they have gotten away with it for so long.

  42. #42 by hopper3011 on February 23, 2009 - 7:51 am

    I have free will as an atheist – everyone has free will, and we never needed a supposed god to ‘give’ it to us in the first place.

    1) Do you really have free will? Can you show us proof? I asked Brian for proof of the deterministic nature of the universe (I guess he’s still thinking about that?), but it cuts both ways – unsupported claims, however definitely phrased, are personal opinion, nothing more.
    2) I think you might want to think this argument through a little more – if God is the creator then you didn’t have free will before you were created, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that he created free will in you at the same time he created you.

    The problem of Evil is a proof that there either is not (and never was) a God or that the god responsible for Planet Earth is completely unworthy of any adulation, let alone worship.

    I would disagree, the problem could be seen as one of incomplete information – all the existence of evil shows is that any God cannot be both all-good or all-powerful (he can be one or the other, but not both).
    There could be a God who created the Universe, but who simply doesn’t have any interest in preventing evil (all-powerful but not all-good), or there could be a God who created the Universe who isn’t all-powerful but is all-good, so he allows small evils to prevent bigger ones.
    In the first case the existence of evil doesn’t disprove God’s existence, in the second case, if we knew what evil things God was preventing us from suffering by allowing small evils, perhaps we would be grateful enough to worship him a bit? We simply don’t have the information to enable us to make that determination.

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