Free Will & Determinism

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Free Will & Determinism

Postby ExTech » Sat Feb 03, 2007 12:49 am

On the 1/27 non-prophets, the free will issue was brought up. Consider me in favor of discussing it.

Reason is this: it's a popular apologeticist tactic, one which was used against Dawkins on the radio, and unfortunately does have a sort of resonance with the general public.

By "resonance," I mean that people who haven't thought about it would be inclined at first impression to believe it, like:

"If we come from monkeys, why are there still monkeys."

That question is so infuriatingly ubiquitious because it has a certain resonance with the unprepared mind, and takes a long time to explain away. I discussed something of the sort in the "pithy replies" thread I started below.

Is there a simple response or arsenal of simple responses that have that sort of resonance to the "free will" challenge?

And to clarify, the "free will" challenge is usually couched in one of two forms, sometimes both in sequence:

(1) If there's no god, explain free will

(2) If there's no free will, why punish criminals?

I think, THINK, that the second can be answered with "practicality and utility," meaning, it's useful to us as a species and fits with what we PERCEIVE as "free will."

As for the first, I guess I'd like a way to distill what Hawking said down to a simple, punchy reply: Free will is probably an illusion, but it's better for us to behave as if it's not.

And I suppose there are smart-ass challenges: if free will is true, turn green right now.

Hey, would that actually work? You could continue by telling the person, since he can't turn green at will, he's not entirely free. So even free will has limitations. And, as far as we know, those limitations may even extend to the inside of our brains. At this instant, your brain may be incapable of choosing vanilla over chocolate.

This is still a work in progress, I'm afraid. But it's a worthwhile work. Fundies are extolling the theologian who kept hounding Dawkins with, "Richard, you can't explain free will," while Dawkins could only get exasperated, saying, "I don't CARE about free will." His point was entirely valid, but can still be interpreted as a retreat. I'd rather we not retreat.
Last edited by ExTech on Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Free Will & Determinism

Postby Zadius » Sat Feb 03, 2007 3:04 pm

ExTech wrote:And I suppose there are smart-ass challenges: if free will is true, turn green right now.


Every free will action is the result of a desire to act, but that doesn't mean every desire results in action. That's how I'd respond to that challenge.
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Postby dromedaryhump1 » Sat Feb 03, 2007 4:56 pm

The problem with discussing "free will" is that it is a term co-opted by Xtians to infer a supreme being. "Free will" and a suprenatural spirit are mutually exclusive concepts.

As a thinking human I have "free will", or as close to it as the nature of the human animal allows. I make choices constantly. These choices, albeit based on prior experience and the anticipated outcome based on that experience; upbringing; social mores; etc., etc., all drive decision making. So do instinctual responses..like "fight or flight". That we posess this ability is evidence of man's evolution to a higher life form. Nothing more.

That I freely opt NOT to put my hand into a roaring fire is hardly evidence of a god. More like gained knowledge based on prior experience. Aka: "Once burned, twice shy"

The Xtian concept that free will is some how divinely given is no more a valid argument than to say "Adam and Eve must have been created by god, since mankind exists". The argument is predicated on the acceptance of a god, by blind FAITH and supernaturlism, rejecting natural science, thus rendering it moot. Why would we even entertain such a prima facia example of faulty thinking , when our understanding of the world is based in reality and science?

If a cretin's entire exposure to life was multiple viewings of "The Wizard of Oz", he may be inclined to postulate: "Dwarves exist, therefore there must be a Munchkin Land".

How much time are you going to waste convincing him otherwise using scientific explanation?
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Postby ExTech » Sat Feb 03, 2007 7:47 pm

The primary problem, though, isn't just that fundies have declared by fiat that "free will = illegitimate son of Hebrew war deity." They have, I agree; it's like the prime mover argument that somehow gets from "something started everything" to "that something MUST be the Mithras/Horus hybrid I just happen to worship." It's annoying to me, too.

But it seems to me the EXISTENCE of free will is what needs to be addressed. along with its nature. Or perhaps some simplified explanation of compatibilism is what we need.

Otherwise, "free will" works in favor of supernaturalism, because it "feels" both real and inherently non-mechanistic.

And as for the "turn green" counter, I doubt it'd come up, frankly. Any fundie or apologeticist smart enough to raise "free will" as an argument would likely not be lame enough to claim, "I COULD turn green, I simply CHOOSE not to." Calling such a response "lame," preferably loudly and contemptuously, would be sufficient rebuttal.

BTW, off topic, but I "got into" apologetics while debating fundies in AOL chatrooms. I learned, fast, that it's useless to debate via instant messaging or E-mail. They become ridiculously inconsistent, illogical and downright dishonest when trying to win an argument in private. Public forum's the way to go. Public ridicule is a wonderfully effective way to ensure honesty - I suppose Bryan learned that from Darrow the hard way.

tryin' to keep honest,

Jim
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Postby ExTech » Mon Feb 05, 2007 7:18 pm

Still thinkin' 'bout this ...

Anyone think there might be some value to presenting "free will" as a mental perception, like emotions?

Reason I ask is because I was reviewing that NY Times article from a little while back. Also, there's a Usenet discussion going on where the fundie has actually taken the position that omniscience in his god doesn't overrrule free will in the god's creations, because the creations perceive their choices being free even though the omniscient god knows what every choice will be.

If even a fundie can recognize that free will exists only as a perception by the chooser, and if there are actual ECG readings that suggest that we only "choose" to act after another part of our brain has begin the "action" itself, then maybe (a) free will truly is a mental construct and (b) it can be argued, effectively and simply, that free will is a mental construct with or without a god.

But I still don't have a simple way of putting it.

best wishes,

Jim
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Postby dromedaryhump1 » Mon Feb 05, 2007 11:34 pm


Anyone think there might be some value to presenting "free will" as a mental perception, like emotions?


Again...we need to stop surrendering the term "free will" to the thsists / supernaturalists. Any dictionary definition attestes to the fact that free will is 1. voluntary decision and 2. exlusive of outside agency.

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source
free will
–noun 1. free and independent choice; voluntary decision: You took on the responsibility of your own free will.
2. Philosophy. the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces.


Free will, by any common definition, is not attributed to, a "gift from the supernatural". This may be why Dawkins dismisses any such discussion, for to prolong/entertain the Xtian hijacking of the term is to lend credence to a supernatural argument where no such argument exists vs. attributing it to the natural world / science.

When we let Xtians continue to ignore the definition and cage free will in supernaturalist terms, or as a by product of a supreme beings benevolence, we are playing into their hands of allowing THEM to re-defined common terminology ... "choice" ... as something other than learned or innate human actions.
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Postby ExTech » Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:13 am

I addressed the Xtian tendency to coopt "free will" as a supernatural phenomenon earlier. The simple response is: they've done it.

The answer here presented seems to be: it's not supernatural. Fine. I agree. However, it FEELS supernatural. That's what makes it popular with the theists.

Basically, theists challenge materialists by saying: "what about free will?"

There follows some back-&-forth quibbling over definitions.

Then: "how can free will exist in a materialistic, mechanistic universe?"

And later: "if free will is internal to the brain, a physical object, then why punish criminals?"

The argument almost ALWAYS ends that way: "why punish criminals?"

Again, the issue isn't whether they've coopted the concept. They have. What I'm interested in is how one ADDRESSES the issue, once it's raised.

To claim they've wrongly coopted it is, in effect, to claim that free will can be explained in purely materialistic terms.

That explanation is what I'm hoping to distill to a simple, intuitively appealing form.

I just don't think we can accuse them of stealing the concept, then sit back contentedly.

Thanks for the replies, just the same,

Jim

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Postby dromedaryhump1 » Tue Feb 06, 2007 4:18 am

Jim,

Maybe its just me...if so, i apologise before hand if my answers seem too simplistic. ButI see these questions as non starters.

"how can free will exist in a materialistic, mechanistic universe?"

Answer:
The nature of the universe is unrelated to the development of Man's ability to think. His "free will' , his decision matrix, is formed by prior experience, an expectation of repeatable results, and weighing of potential outcomes of alternative choices by use of reason and logic. His ability to make those choices is a factor of evolution and natural selection to ensure survival of the species, just as a cheetah's speed contributes to that species survival, or a chameleons coloration insures it's survival. Referencing materialistic, mechanistic, or any other such esoterica is a red herring and unrelated to man's "free will" / ability to choose.

"if free will is internal to the brain, a physical object, then why punish criminals?"

Answer:
There is no conflict between free will being "internal to the brain" / and the punishing of criminals (as long as they are deemed legally sane).

A criminal who is assessed unable to control his impulses and is unable to distinguish between right and wrong decisions is deemed mentally ill, and is not punished as a criminal, but treated as an ill person. His brain is considered diseased, and thus does not have full control over his "free will".
Conversely, a sane person who commits a crime is deemed to have used his "free will" / control over his decisions /actions /behavior. If found guilty of making the illegal "choice" and acting on it, punishment according to the prevaling social mores is both right and proper. There is no conflict and the originally posed premise is nonsensical at face.


Sorry... but by continuing to let them establish a nonsensical premise,and then by playing along as though the premise is accepted as logical and sound your playing a fools game. It's self defeating.

Look, how many times have you heard a Xtian say:
"Well , if you dont believe in heaven or hell...the after life... why don't you just kill yourself?" I've heard this plenty of times. It is a question that is simply absurd at face to us. It is illogical and unsound thinking, albeit, it presumably has some convoluted logic to the Xtian asking it, although they can never satisfactorily explain it.

But my answer is always the same:
"This is the only life we have. My interest lays in making it as enjoyable and as long a life as I possibly can, for my benefit, my families benefit, and to the degree i can benefit others altruistically. As a theist, if anyone should be anxious to end their life its you...since another life / eternal heaven presumably awaits. How about today? "


When we recognse their questions are phrased in nonsensical "givens" that arent givens at all, we take control of the discussion and bring it back into the realm of logic.
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Re: Free Will & Determinism

Postby billywheaton » Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:41 am

ExTech wrote:On the 1/27 non-prophets, the free will issue was brought up. Consider me in favor of discussing it.

And to clarify, the "free will" challenge is usually couched in one of two forms, sometimes both in sequence:

(1) If there's no god, explain free will

(2) If there's no free will, why punish criminals?

I think, THINK, that the second can be answered with "practicality and utility," meaning, it's useful to us as a species and fits with what we PERCEIVE as "free will."



Deja vu all over again
Apparently I was the ONLY one who took Denis to task on the non-prohets show. I'm shocked here is why. Kant drove a huge nail into the coffin of conventional christianity with his critic of pure reason where he forcefully argues that one cannot prove or disprove metaphysical arguments (like is there a God, for example). Free-will versus determinism is a metaphysical argument, so feeling very comfortable with one side of the argument over the other seems absurd. Secondly, many christians do not believe in free will (Calvinists) and this issue alone has divided many churches. Yet, we are just as guilty as christians when we cling tightly to one side of the argument. The problem likely will remain insoluble, and currently nobody has given sufficient evidence in either direction. To simple say that the after reviewing the laws of physics one cannot concieve of a way that humans could have free will is an appeal to ignorance.

The best tool humans have successfully implemented in the last few centuries, I would argue, is NOT the scientific method, but rather and attitude of uncertainty. For this metaphysical question, the only responsible position to take is one of uncertainty.

Before someone reading this feels they can simply explain why the law of physics effectively demonstrate we have no free will, consider that this line of reasoning represents an affirmation of the consequent, and thus not useful in forwarding the claim of determinism.

One could propose a credible, reproducible and verifiable method of Testing either conclusion on HUMANS. I would contend that all such tests done so far are poor and, if any inferences could be drawn from them, I would contend they lean toward supporting a claim of free will.

Regardless, no valid critism of an attitude of uncertainty has ever been forwarded. In a room full of skeptics, why am I the only defender of skepticism?
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Postby DukeTwicep » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:19 pm

Sorry to bump up an old subject, but I've been thinking about this a lot recently and I saw something that hasn't been discussed. Several things.

My brother studied law for more than 4 years and once he responded to me when I made the claim that it's good that the state is punishing the criminals for their actions. My brother told me that they are not punishing the criminals, as this has no real effect on the criminal, they often fall back into criminality after they get out. He said that the largest reason for their punishment is an act to discourage crime. A
nother reason is that indirectly people feel that justice has been served.
It doesn't really matter, practically. But philosophically it's quite interesting if you consider that free will doesn't exist and you can go back and back and suddenly you have to blame all your ancestors and eventually blaming the big bang. The criminals aren't responsible for their actions in a sense, as their minds are a product of the past, a past that, if you go back to their childhood, they could not affect. Childhood being the most prominent. But all other effects are also playing a big role: how the world is built, what laws are there, etc. etc. We don't really have any choice but to make the choices we make. Some I have argued with have countered with, "But now I know that, and then I can act differently", but they are forgetting that I had no choice but to tell them that, it was predictable, looking at the past events. Only by being shown an image of the future can one change one's actions from the reality one is in, and when one sees this image the reality has already been altered to count this effect into the "calculation".
It doesn't really matter if there are things we consider purely random, although I would say that random is just a word for "We don't know how it happens yet so we'll call it random", we would still have no free will for it would be partly governed by this randomness, and the rest would be deterministic.

Even with a God in the image there would be no free will, unless the apologetic is suggesting that there are pure objective sources of information, and that we are somehow connected to that source and getting information that we could not get from our earthly body.


The other point I wanted to make is: What implications does the "Free will doesn't exist" argument have in regard to religious debates? Is it a good argument? Is it easily understood?

(If I'm incorrect on any point or unclear, please do tell, I'd hate to have illogical views.)
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Re: Free Will & Determinism

Postby Skept » Thu Dec 08, 2011 3:33 am

ExTech wrote:(1) If there's no god, explain free will

(2) If there's no free will, why punish criminals?


1. There is no free will in the sense that there is a soul that makes autonomous choices for us. Free will is an illusion that occurs because we have a developed brain and make decisions based among other things on memories and ability to predict future outcomes. See: anomalous monism.

2. Frankly I don't buy into the idea of punishment at all. Religion also cannot give a comprehensive answer. God is supposedly entirely self sufficient; eternally happy; completely immutable and changeless. What would it profit Him to see someone being punished?

And what would it profit society to see someone punished? To satisfy some rage? When is there an excuse for anyone to be thus full of rage that it must be satisfied by implementing cruelty on someone else? The whole idea is distasteful and counterproductive. (Read Lucious Seneca on Anger)

The only pragmatic excuse for arresting someone is to stop them from doing whatever society thinks is bad.
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Re: Free Will & Determinism

Postby DjVortex » Thu Dec 08, 2011 8:50 am

ExTech wrote:(2) If there's no free will, why punish criminals?


Punishment of criminals has absolutely nothing to do with free will. It's a necessity. If someone is disruptive and harmful against the society he lives in, the society has to restrain him or else the society will be destroyed. This has nothing to do with free will.
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Re: Free Will & Determinism

Postby DukeTwicep » Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:03 pm

DjVortex wrote:
ExTech wrote:(2) If there's no free will, why punish criminals?


Punishment of criminals has absolutely nothing to do with free will. It's a necessity. If someone is disruptive and harmful against the society he lives in, the society has to restrain him or else the society will be destroyed. This has nothing to do with free will.

Of course free will has something to do with capital punishment. If there is such a thing as free will, then every person is alone responsible for their own actions. If free will doesn't exist (as is) then we can't punish criminals for being evil/bad, instead we punish them to set an example that crime is not acceptable and it will have consequences. If we teach people that there is no such thing as free will, then we also have to teach them to be responsible to society and to their fellow human.

The society we live in today, the world I grew up in, has this notion of free will: that we are all responsible for our own actions. But this is clearly not the case if you look at reality and see that you can't steer your actions, they are dependent on reality and on events that came before. No one is alone responsible for their actions. And thus we can't punish someone for acting "wrong".
Living in such a society, and suddenly realize that there is no free will, could possibly make people go nuts, i.e. starting to think that they can't be held responsible for their actions.
We don't yet have an educational system that teaches the "bigger picture"-morality which is the real basis of capital punishment. Maybe because some people think that children can't handle such thinking: e.g. telling children that we punish because it would be extremely detrimental for a society that didn't punish serial killers; such a society wouldn't value the human life a lot, and it would probably have a lot of serial killings going on.
So instead we tell children: Well, you Choose to be a criminal, and that's why we punish them. They could have chosen another line of work, but they chose crime, and thus they have to pay.
That's what I got out of school anyway. We didn't have a lot of education in ethics and morality, which is kind of sad. It should be obligatory for children to be taught about morality and ethics, and not only once.

Of course, ExTech's question is simple, we punish to set examples, i.e. to prevent future crimes by putting the fear of capital punishment into people's minds. If we didn't punish crime then we would have anarchy, it's very simple.

And the first question. Well free will doesn't exist so there's nothing to explain. Free will is a made-up concept which simply doesn't, and cannot, exist in reality. You're free to exchange the words "free will" with any other nonsensical gibberish like "unicorns" or "gods".
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Re: Free Will & Determinism

Postby DjVortex » Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:23 am

DukeTwicep wrote:Of course free will has something to do with capital punishment. If there is such a thing as free will, then every person is alone responsible for their own actions. If free will doesn't exist (as is) then we can't punish criminals for being evil/bad, instead we punish them to set an example that crime is not acceptable and it will have consequences.


I fail to see the practical difference. It seems to me that you are talking about subjective philosophy rather than practice.

If we teach people that there is no such thing as free will, then we also have to teach them to be responsible to society and to their fellow human.


I still fail to see the connection and relevance.
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Postby Skept » Sat Dec 10, 2011 4:15 pm

I would like You to think about this statement for a while;

"Under a merciful Prince, man will be ashamed to offend; because a punishment that is inflicted by a gentle Governor, seems to fall heaver, and with more reproach; and it is remarkable also that sins are often commited, wich are very often punished. Caligula, in five years, condemned more people to the Sack than ever went before him; and there were fewer Parricides before the Law against them, than after. For our ancestors did wisely presume that the Crime would never be commited, until by Law for punishing it, they found that it might be done. Parricides began with the Law against them, and the Law instructed men in the crime. Where there are few punishments, innnocense is indulged as a public Good, and it is dangerous to show a city that it is strong in its Delinquents. There is a certain constumacy in the Nature of man, that makes him oppose difficulties. We are better to follow than to drive; as a generous horse rides best with an easy Bit. People obey willingly where they are commanded kindly." - Lucius Seneca (From "Seneca's Morals by way of abstract" p.270)
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