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Is free will dead?

Professor Jerry Coyne has written an op-ed piece for USA Today entitled, Why you don’t really have free will. The kind of free will that Professor Coyne is concerned with is the kind that ordinary people believe in: “If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.” Coyne is adamant that any lesser kind of freedom is not worth having:

As Sam Harris noted in his book Free Will, all the attempts to harmonize the determinism of physics with a freedom of choice boil down to the claim that “a puppet is free so long as he loves his strings.”

In other words, Coyne is an incompatibilist: he thinks that determinism is incompatible with the existence of free will. Here I agree with him, for reasons which I have discussed in a previous post. Professor Coyne’s contra-causal definition of free will also sounds fairly sensible to me: if freedom means anything at all, it surely means that we could have done otherwise than what we did, when we made our choices.

Unlike Professor Coyne, I firmly believe in free will – and by that, I mean the libertarian variety. In this post, I intend to argue that the scientific arguments which Coyne marshals against free will are deficient. I will also contend that in order for the proper scientific investigation of free will to proceed, the issue of free will needs to be divorced from the philosophical question of whether our voluntary acts are performed by an immaterial soul or by the brain. A materialist can consistently believe in libertarian free will, as did President Thomas Jefferson, who conceived of thought as an action of matter. In this post, I’ll endeavor to explain how free will might work, and I’ll advance a tentative account which is compatible with (but does not require) materialism.

I would like to state for the record that I am not a materialist, for reasons that I’ve explained here. However, my arguments against materialism are based not on the nature of the will as such, but on the actions of the human intellect: they purport to show that it is impossible in principle for the operations of the intellect to be explained in a materialistic way. If these arguments turn out to be invalid, then one could still consistently hold that free will resides in the brain, and not in an immaterial soul.

Does physics rule out free will?

Without further ado, let’s have a look at Professor Coyne’s arguments against free will. Surprisingly, there are only two. One argument is based on the laws of physics:

The first is simple: we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain – the organ that does the “choosing.”

What Coyne is arguing here is that modern science presupposes determinism, which is incompatible with libertarian free will. But one can believe in the reality of laws of physics without believing that they determine the behavior of particles. Laws may merely constrain particles’ behavior, which is another matter entirely.

I also find it strange that proponents of determinism, when they put forward this argument, seldom tell us exactly which laws of physics imply the truth of determinism. The law of the conservation of mass-energy certainly doesn’t; and neither does the law of the conservation of momentum. Newtonian mechanics is popularly believed to imply determinism, but this belief was exploded over two decades ago by John Earman (A Primer on Determinism, 1986, Dordrecht: Reidel, chapter III). In 2006, Dr. John Norton put forward a simple illustration which is designed to show that violations of determinism can arise very easily in a system governed by Newtonian physics (The Dome: An Unexpectedly Simple Failure of Determinism. 2006 Philosophy of Science Association 20th Biennial Meeting (Vancouver), PSA 2006 Symposia.) In Norton’s example, a mass sits on a dome in a gravitational field. After remaining unchanged for an arbitrary time, it spontaneously moves in an arbitrary direction. The mass’s indeterministic motion is clearly incompatible with Newtonian mechanics. Norton describes his example as an exceptional case of indeterminism arising in a Newtonian system with a finite number of degrees of freedom. (On the other hand, indeterminism is generic for Newtonian systems with infinitely many degrees of freedom.)

Sometimes the Principle of Least Action is said to imply determinism. But since the wording of the principle shows that it only applies to systems in which total mechanical energy (kinetic energy plus potential energy) is conserved, and as it deals with the trajectory of particles in motion, I fail to see how it would apply to collisions between particles, in which mechanical energy is not necessarily conserved. At best, it seems that the universe is fully deterministic only if particles behave like perfectly elastic billiard balls – which is only true in an artificially simplified version of the cosmos. Perhaps I’m wrong here – but if I am, then I think it’s about time the proponents of determinism made their case more clearly, instead of resorting to vague appeals to “science.”

Does quantum indeterminacy have any implications for free will?

I haven’t even mentioned quantum indeterminacy so far. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle has been interpreted by many scientists as implying that determinism does not hold at the sub-microscopic level (although I should mention that there are perfectly consistent deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics). In recent decades, a number of philosophers and scientists have suggested that the workings of the human brain may not be deterministic either, leaving the door open to some kind of freedom. However, the reaction to this proposal from most scientists has been negative: the physicist Max Planck argued that if it were true, then “the logical result would be to reduce the human will to an organ which would be subject to the sway of mere blind chance” – and hence, not free.

But Planck’s response is flawed on two counts. First, all it shows is that quantum indeterminacy is not a sufficient condition for human freedom. The question we are addressing here, however, is whether it could be a necessary condition.

Second, Planck’s response implicitly assumes that a non-deterministic system is “subject to the sway of mere blind chance” – and nothing else. However, it is easy to show that a non-deterministic system may be subject to specific constraints, while still remaining random. These constraints may be imposed externally, or alternatively, they may be imposed from above, as in top-down causation. To see how this might work, suppose that my brain performs the high-level act of making a choice, and that this act imposes a constraint on the quantum micro-states of tiny particles in my brain. This doesn’t violate quantum randomness, because a selection can be non-random at the macro level, but random at the micro level. The following two rows of digits will serve to illustrate my point.

1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1
0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1

The above two rows of digits were created by a random number generator. The digits in some of these columns add up to 0; some add up to 1; and some add up to 2.

Now suppose that I impose the non-random macro requirement: keep the columns whose sum equals 1, and discard the rest. I now have:

1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0

Each row is still random (at the micro level), but I have now imposed a non-random macro-level constraint on the system as a whole (at the macro level). That, I would suggest, what happens when I make a choice.

Top-down causation and free will

What I am proposing, in brief, is that top-down (macro–>micro) causation is real and fundamental (i.e. irreducible to lower-level acts). For if causation is always bottom-up (micro–>macro) and never top-down, or alternatively, if top-down causation is real, but only happens because it has already been determined by some preceding occurrence of bottom-up causation, then our actions are simply the product of our body chemistry – in which case they are not free, since they are determined by external circumstances which lie beyond our control. But if top-down causation is real and fundamental, then a person’s free choices, which are macroscopic events that occur in the brain at the highest level, can constrain events in the brain occurring at a lower, sub-microscopic level, and these constraints then can give rise to neuro-muscular movements, which occur in accordance with that person’s will. (For instance, in the case I discussed above, relating to rows of ones and zeroes, the requirement that the columns must add up to 1 might result in to the neuro-muscular act of raising my left arm, while the requirement that they add up to 2 might result in to the act of raising my right arm.)

Thus we can mount a good defense of human freedom by hypothesizing that human choices (which are holistic acts that are properly ascribed to persons) are capable of influencing lower-level events in the human body, such as activities taking place in nerve cells when they process incoming signals. Additionally, we may hypothesize that the operation of nerve cells is not always deterministic, or even deterministic most of the time with occasional random disturbances, but that fundamental, higher-level actions occurring in the brain (i.e. human choices) can constrain the microscopic behavior of nerve cells, and that these constraints, when aggregated over a large number of nerve cells, can result in neuro-muscular movements.

Readers will notice that in the foregoing account, I have said nothing about an immaterial soul. For my own part, I happen to believe in one, as I see no way in which a bodily process of any kind – whether high-level or low-level – can be said to possess meaning in its own right, as our beliefs and desires clearly do. I conclude that a thought cannot be identified with any kind of bodily process, and that a volition which is based on that thought cannot be equated with any physical process either. If I’m right, then we have to embrace some kind of dualism, as I proposed in a post entitled, Why I think the Interaction Problem is Real. But if this philosophical argument for the immateriality of the human intellect turns out to be mistaken, then we will simply have to say, as the philosopher John Locke did, that it is possible for “matter fitly disposed” to think and choose, after all – an assertion which scandalized some of his contemporaries, but which is held by some Christians (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Do laboratory experiments rule out the existence of free will?

Professor Coyne’s second argument against human freedom is an experimental one: our choices are predictable, several seconds before we consciously make them:

Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it.

Well, let’s have a look at these experiments, shall we? The following video of a “No free will” experiment by John-Dylan Haynes (Professor at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin), appears to refute the notion of free will. According to the video, an outside observer, monitoring my brain, can tell which of two buttons I’m going to push, six seconds before I consciously decide to do so. But there are several things about this experiment that Professor Coyne left out of his op-ed piece.

Unimpressive results

First, as Coyne acknowledges in a post on his Web site, Why Evolution Is True, entitled, The no-free-will experiment, avec video, “the ‘predictability’ of the results is not perfect: it seems to be around 60%, better than random prediction but nevertheless statistically significant.” Sorry, but I don’t think that’s very impressive. What we have here is the simplest of all possible choices – “Press the button in your left hand or the button in your right hand” – being monitored by an MRI scanner, while a trained professional is looking on. If the outside observer guessed the subject’s choice, he’d be right 50% of the time; with the aid of an MRI scanner, the accuracy rises to 60%. This is the experiment that’s supposed to shatter my belief in free will? I’m absolutely devastated.

Adina Roskies, a neuroscientist and philosopher who works on free will at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, isn’t too impressed with Professor Haynes’ experiment either. “All it suggests,” she says, “is that there are some physical factors that influence decision-making”, which shouldn’t be surprising. That’s quite different from claiming that you can see the brain making its mind up before it is consciously aware of doing so.

Reflection was ruled out at the start

Second, the experiment was deliberately designed to exclude the possibility of reflection. In the experiment, as narrator Marcus du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) puts it, “I have to randomly decide, and then immediately press, one of these left or right buttons.” Now, most people would say that a reflective weighing up of options is integral to the notion of free will. There is a philosophical difference between liberty of spontaneity – as exemplified by the phrase, “free as a bird” – and liberty of choice, which is peculiar to rational animals like ourselves. Acting on impulse is not the same as making a free decision.

The choice was artificial, in several ways

Third, the experiment relates to an artificial choice which is stripped of several features which normally characterize our free choices:

(a) it’s completely arbitrary. It doesn’t matter which button the subject decides to press. Typically, our choices are about things that really do matter – e.g. who the next President of the United States will be.

(b) it’s binary: left or right. In real life, however, we usually choose between multiple options – often, between an indefinitely large number of options – for example, when we ask ourselves, “What career shall I pursue after I graduate?”

(c) it’s zero-dimensional. Normally, when we make choices, there are multiple axes along which we can evaluate the desirability of the various options – e.g. when deciding which city to move to, we might consider factors such as weather, proximity of family members and income earning opportunities. One city might have ideal weather but few job opportunities; another may be close to where family members live, but bitterly cold. In the experiment described above, there were no axes along which we could weigh up the desirability of the two options (left or right button), as there was literally nothing to compare.

(d) it’s impersonal. We are social animals, and most of our choices relate to other people – e.g. “Whom shall I marry?” Pressing a button, on the other hand, is a solitary act.

(e) it contains no reference to second-order mental states. Typically, when we choose, we give careful consideration to what other people will think of our choice, and how they’ll feel about it – e.g. “What will people think if I wear a clown suit on Casual Friday, and will my boss be annoyed?” To entertain these thoughts, we have to be capable of second-order mental states: thoughts about other people’s thoughts. These are a vital part of what makes us human: although chimps certainly know what other individuals want, there’s no good evidence to date that chimps have beliefs about other individuals’ beliefs. Humans may be unique in having what psychologists refer to as a theory of mind.

(f) it’s future-blind. The choice of whether to press the left button or the right button is a here-and-now choice, with no reference to future consequences. In real life, choices are seldom divorced from consequences, and we fail to advert to these consequences at our peril. For example, choosing to party the night before an exam may ruin your career prospects forever.

(g) it has no feedback mechanism. Not only do choices typically have consequences, but the results of our choices are usually communicated back to us in a way that influences our future behavior. Think of the experience of learning to ride a bicycle, when you were a child. And now compare this with the button-pressing example: no feedback, nothing learned by the subject.

So, what can the predictability (60% of the time) of an arbitrary, binary, impersonal choice, which involves no weighing up, no worries about what other people might think, no thought of the future and no feedback, possibly tell us about the existence of free will in human beings? Absolutely nothing.

What about “free won’t”?

Fourth, the experiment described by Coyne made no attempt to evaluate Benjamin Libet’s hypothesis of “free won’t”: “while we may not be able to choose our actions, we can choose to veto our actions.” What happens if the subject is permitted to decide in advance which button they will press, but is also free to change their mind at the last minute? Can a trained outside observer, who is monitoring an MRI scanner, pick up this sudden change of mind on the subject’s part? Coyne does not tell us. He writes that “from the standpoint of physics, instigating an action is no different from vetoing one, and in fact involves the same regions of the brain.” Fine; but that does not tell us whether a veto is in fact predictable in advance. Only experiments can demonstrate whether this is true or not.

Can free will be meaningfully attributed to acts performed over a short time period?

A fifth criticism that can be made of Haynes’ experiment is that the time scale involved makes it meaningless to speak of free will or its absence, just as it would be meaningless to ask what color a hydrogen atom is. Typically, our free choices are preceded by an extended period of deliberation, followed by the brain’s preparation for the execution of a bodily movement, followed by activation of specialized areas of the brain which are responsible for the contraction of specific muscles in the body. It could therefore be argued that freedom is a property which does not attach to the decision to act here and now, but to the entire process leading up to the decision. If this criticism is correct, then those who argue against free will based on experiments like the one recently conducted by Professor Haynes, are simply making a category mistake.

Do magnetic fields interfere with free will?

Finally, we need to consider the possibility that magnetic fields themselves may actually interfere with the exercise of free choice, which would invalidate the experiment described by Coyne. After all, scientists have already shown that they can alter people’s moral judgments simply by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses (Liane Young et al. “Disruption of the right temporoparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces the role of beliefs in moral judgments.” In PNAS April 13, 2010 vol. 107 no. 15, 6753-6758, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914826107). In another experiment, researchers found that it was possible to influence which hand people move by stimulating frontal regions that are involved in movement planning using transcranial magnetic stimulation in either the left or right hemisphere of the brain. Curiously, the subjects continued to report that they believed their choice of hand had been made freely. (Ammon, K. and Gandevia, S.C. (1990) “Transcranial magnetic stimulation can influence the selection of motor programmes.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 53: 705–707.)

To be sure, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a much more invasive procedure than lying inside an MRI scanner, as the subject did in Professor Haynes’ experiment: in the case of TMS, a coil is held near a person’s head to generate magnetic field impulses that stimulate underlying brain cells in a way that that can make someone perform a specific action. But I would argue that if powerful magnetic fields can temporarily disrupt free choices, then it should be no surprise that the “choice” made by a person while inside an MRI scanner turns out to be predictable more often than not. Thus the 60% accuracy claimed for Professor Haynes’ experiment, far from showing that human choices are predictable, may only be a measure of how strongly even an MRI scanner can bias the normal exercise of our free will.

But the most damning evidence of all comes from the Wikipedia article on functional magnetic resonance imaging, which makes the following admissions:

While the static magnetic field has no known long-term harmful effect on biological tissue, it can cause damage by pulling in nearby heavy metal objects, converting them to projectiles…

Scanning sessions also subject participants to loud high-pitched noises from Lorentz forces induced in the gradient coils by the rapidly switching current in the powerful static field. The gradient switching can also induce currents in the body causing nerve tingling. Implanted medical devices such as pacemakers could malfunction because of these currents. The radio-frequency field of the excitation coil may heat up the body, and this has to be monitored more carefully in those running a fever, the diabetic, and those with circulatory problems. Local burning from metal necklaces and other jewelry is also a risk. (Italics mine – VJT.)

So these magnetic currents are strong enough to turn metal objects into projectiles, make metal necklaces burn people wearing them, heat up people’s bodies and make their nerves tingle, and even cause pacemakers to malfunction? Why, I have to ask, are we using devices like this to study free will? I could not think of a better illustration of the maxim, “To observe is to disturb,” if I tried.

Does alien hand syndrome disprove free will?

In a recent article entitled, Does alien hand syndrome refute free will? (Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Trinity International University, 15 December 2010), Dr. William Cheshire Jr. discusses the strange phenomenon of “alien hand syndrome,” which refers to “a variety of rare neurological conditions in which one extremity, most commonly the left hand, is perceived as not belonging to the person or as having a will of its own, together with observable uncontrollable behavior independent of conscious control.” The seemingly purposeful movements of the alien hand are more than mere spasms: they are goal-directed. For example, while playing checkers, one patient’s left hand made an odd move which he did not wish to make. He corrected the move with his right hand, but to his great annoyance, his left hand then repeated the same odd move.

In his article, Dr. Cheshire explains why he disagrees with psychologists such as Daniel Wegner, who cite these experiments as proof that conscious will is an illusion. He points out that there are important neurological differences between the movements of an alien hand and that of a hand which is normally connected to its motor cortex:

In a patient with a right parietal stroke, alien left hand movements correlated with isolated activation by intentional planning systems of the right primary motor cortex, presumably released from conscious control. Voluntary hand movements, by contrast, activated a distributed network involving not only the primary motor cortex but also premotor areas in the inferior frontal gyrus.

Dr. Cheshire also points out that alien hands have never been known to execute a complex sequence of actions, such as writing a letter. He argues that “the curious gestures of the alien hand and their ostensibly materialistic philosophical implications have not rendered free will obsolete,” and concludes: “To acknowledge that alien hand action is not freely willed would not be to conclude that all nontrivial human action is determined.”

What would disprove free will?

What would create problems for the idea of free will is an experiment showing that we could make a person perform an act – preferably a complex one that requires some planning and control – that they thought was a genuine free choice of theirs, simply by stimulating their brain. Research conducted a few decades ago by the late neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield seemed to point very heavily the other way. His attempts to produce thoughts or decisions by stimulating people’s brains were a total failure: while stimulation could induce flashbacks and vividly evoke old memories, it never generated intentions or choices. On some occasions, Penfield was able to make a patient’s arm go up by stimulating the motor cortex their brain with an electric probe, causing the patient’s arm to move. When Penfield asked the patient, “What’s happening?”, the patient replied, “My arm is moving up.” When Penfield asked, “Are you moving your arm?”, the patient said, “No, it is moving up on its own.” Penfield then said, “OK, now I am going to continue to stimulate your brain, but I want you to make a choice, and not let it go up. Move it in a different direction.” The patient was finally able to resist the movement. (See The Mystery of the Mind: A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain. Princeton University Press, 1975.) What this suggests, at the very least, is that although local stimulation of the brain causes the body to move the arm one way, it is possible for a higher-level executive decision by the person whose brain is being stimulated to overwrite the local commands of the brain to the body.

However, in a recent article entitled, Human volition: towards a neuroscience of will (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, pp. 934-946, 2008), Patrick Haggard reported that directly stimulating the pre-Supplementary Motor Area (pre-SMA) in the brain caused volunteers to report feeling an urge to move the corresponding limb, and sufficient stimulation of that same area caused actual movement of the limb. In one experiment, a patient spotted an apple that belonged to the examiner, and a knife left on purpose on a corner of the testing desk. He peeled the apple and ate it. The examiner asked, “Why did you eat my apple?” The patient replied, “Well, … it was there.” “Are you hungry?” asked the examiner. “No. Well, a bit,” said the patient. “Have you not just finished eating?” “Yes.” “Is this apple yours?” “No.” “So why are you eating it?” “Because it is here.” At first blush, this seems to suggest that the intention to peel and eat an apple can be induced simply by stimulating the brain in the pre-SMA – which runs counter to the idea of free will. Haggard himself acknowledges, though, that the proper function of this area of the brain is to inhibit actions rather than to cause them. It could therefore be argued that stimulation of the pre-SMA interferes with its normal function of inhibiting urges to move, resulting in uninhibited actions which the patient nevertheless found it difficult to account for: he ate the apple “because it was there.” In any case, this is not a true example of intentional agency: typically, an agent is able to supply specific reasons for his or her choices, and in this case, the patient was not.

In a follow-up paper, Moore et al. showed that the subjective feeling of control when performing an intentional act, which can be measured as a temporal linkage between actions and their effects, depends at least partly on the pre-SMA. The authors suggested that the pre-SMA makes a special contribution to sense of agency, housing the predictive mechanisms contributing to the sense of agency. (“Disrupting the experience of control in the human brain: pre-supplementary motor area contributes to the sense of agency.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 22 August 2010, vol. 277 no. 1693, pp. 2503-2509. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0404.)

These findings are welcome news to people interested in the mechanics of free will. It should hardly be surprising that several regions of the brain are involved in decision making, and that interference with one or more of these regions can distort our sense of agency in very odd ways. That, however, does not mean we are not free; all it means is that we are highly complex beings.

A final comment that I would like to make concerns the need for critics of free will to avoid attacking straw men. Scientific studies which purport to discredit the popular notion of free will frequently characterize the concept in dualistic terms, whereas I have argued above that dualism is not essential to the notion of free will. Additionally, many studies incorporate very naive assumptions about the supposedly incorrigible access that I should have to my mental states, if my will is genuinely free. However, there is no reason for a dualist – let alone a proponent of libertarian free will – to adopt such a naive view. Even if the human mind is immaterial, that does not automatically mean that it cannot be fooled into thinking that it made a decision when it didn’t, or vice versa. Whatever version of free will science uncovers in the end, it is likely to be a highly sophisticated one.

Conclusion

I conclude that reports of the death of free will are “greatly exaggerated” (to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain). Before scientists investigate the truth or falsity of mind-body dualism (whether of the Cartesian or Aristotelian variety), they need to focus their attention on the possibility of top-down causation occurring within the brain, where macro-level executive decisions impose a constraint on non-deterministic events taking place in nerve cells at the micro-level, which, when aggregated, results in a specific pattern of neuro-muscular behavior. In this post, I have outlined how this kind of causation would make free will possible.

Is free will a viable concept or not? What do readers think?

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128 Responses to Is free will dead?

  1. We have to remember that Jerry Coyne was forced to write that post by the motions of all of those molecules. So I guess we can’t take him seriously.

    Footnote: At least Jerry Coyne believes that he was forced (that he could not have done otherwise).

  2. 2

    You could have summed up a) thru g) under “The choice was artificial, in several ways” heading by just saying that the experiment totally left out the will, altogether. How can you say you have done an experiment about “free will” when the subject is making “choices” that have nothing to do with his desires whatsoever? If the subject does not desire to press one button over the other, then the experiment is for not. In this case, the subject was probably relying on some sort of random number generator in his brain to make his “choices”, so it stands to reason that the scanner would in fact be able to determine the subjects “choices” beforehand (and I would have expected a result much better that 60%). This is a prime example of how materialist egg-heads have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to matters of personality, or what it means to be a person. Coyne seems to have no idea that he has left out the very heart of the free will debate – desires.

    However, Coyne hit the nail on the head when he says “a puppet is free so long as he loves his strings.” But certain Christian theologians have been teaching that for ages, so it’s not like he’s saying anything new there (though it may be new to our current shamefully ignorant lot of modern “Christians”).

  3. Well, I’m a compatibilist :

    You make some pertinent points I think.

    What is the significance of the fMRI scan? It seems to show bilateral insula activation – is it relevant to your piece, or is it just a random illustration?

    FWIW, the insulae, together with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) seem to form a network that responds to salient stimuli – stimuli that demand attention for some reason, either because of the nature of the stimuli (loud, bright red, whatever) or because they are relevant to your current goals.

    So relevant to the topic, but I’m not sure which part of your piece refers to it (if any).

  4. 4

    vjtorley, what is your definition of “free will”?

  5. 5

    never mind. That’s at the top of the post.

  6. 6

    Let me put it this way:

    There seems to be a lot of stock put into the existence of free will here at UD, but I am a theist, and do not believe in free will, and that is based on my experiences in life (i.e. empirical data or experiment, if you will (no pun intended)). So why all the hubbub? It seems to me that certain theists are more adamant about the non-existence of free will than even the most rabid atheist (and they even assert that the gospel hinges on such an understanding of the world) – so if both atheists and theists can come to an agreement here, why is it such a pivotal issue?

    That is what I struggle with when I see posts like this. Any help would be appreciated.

  7. It seems to me that certain theists are more adamant about the non-existence of free will than even the most rabid atheist

    This is true. For example, the Calvinist doctrine of predestination would seem to allow, at most, a compatibilist version of free will.

  8. I posted a long reply to vjt this morning, but it unaccountably disappeared. Briefly, I differentiated between a libertarian view of free will, which is (crudely) the ability to do random things if one chooses, and the Christian view of freedom of the will, which is the freedom to do as our nature was created.

    Limiting case: God is the most free of beings, but that means he chooses according to his will, which is perfect. In Coyne’s “same position twice” scenario would he choose any differently, seeing that his first choice was perfect? No. Could he choose any differently? Only if you have a libertarian view of free will, when God must be free to do evil or somehow be restricted. But in fact he remains free to be himself.

    Many Open Theism type TEs drag the whole creation into their libertarian view of free-will, and to enable us all (including genes!) to be properly free God ends up being the least-free of all, because interfering would step on our liberty.

    But though our “libertarian” will is actually constrained by lack of power, mental weakness and habits, etc, we actually remain free to make decisions within the dictates of our nature (only that is now weakened by sin – hence the concept of being liberated to serve God by the Gospel). Once you link liberty to the ability to choose randomly, “free-will” just means “insanity.”

    Predestination, in Calvinist terms, means a re-creation of our nature so our choices come from a whole, rather than a disabled, nature. Nothing to do with being forced to get well.

    How that all fits into the world of material philosophy is another matter, but unlike the Coyne version, it means that when you think you’re making a choice, you really are, and that isn’t altered by God’s overarching sovereignty over affairs any more than his creation of human life means we don’t “really” procreate kids.

  9. 9

    If I understand the definitions correctly, I am both a compatibilist and an incompatibilist (I think) – we have a will (desires), and we are free to act according to our will (desires), but we cannot choose our will (which would be circular), and all of our choices are driven by our will (desires). If that makes sense.

    So therefore I would say that we act freely according to our will, but since we cannot choose our will, our actions are determined. Which is the way Augustine, Luther & then Calvin saw it, to say the least.

    But the big question it seems to me is “what is ‘the will’”?

  10. The application of physical determinism to human action assumes that there is no other factor involves, such as a human soul that is not subject to physical laws.

    So once again, metaphysical assumptions are driving the arguments.

    But if the physical is all that exists, and the physical is strictly deterministic, then the denial of free will is a mere physical phenomenon, with no more significance than a thunderbolt.

    The reason for denying free will is to remove moral barriers to coercion. If people have no free will, there is nothing wrong with ordering them around at gunpoint.

    The denial of free will serves no other purpose.

  11. The argument about whether we have free will or not is one of the most irrational arguments ever. For even the very fact that we argue over an abstract transcendent point such as “free will” or “not free will” is strong ( and I believe convincing ) evidence for the former position.

    So it is no longer interesting to me to read the inane arguments put forward by the “not free will” side. Even their marshalling of logical arguments based on supposed scientific experiments end up with net evidence for “free will” because the ability to set up the experiment and construct a plausible ( yet full of holes ) “not free will” argument provides more net evidence that free choices are being made than the supposed support it shows for the “not free will” position.

    Thus, I would like to thank vj for doing his best to show why the supposed scientific argument is seriously flawed.

    So to me the argument “free will” vs. “not free will” is not as interesting as trying to determine why?

    Why does anyone consider the “not free will” position?

    It seems only logical to me that they realize that the existence of free will would knock down one or more of their faith based positions. So I conclude they cling to their irrational position of “not free will” in order to keep some other position that will be disproved if free will exists. Arguing that position, the false one they are protecting through feigned belief in “not free will”, is the interesting argument.

  12. 12

    Some of the commenters have raised the question of why we argue over free will at all. It is a good question.

    The answer has to do with metaphysical choices the sides have made. I agree with almost everything Dr. Torley says in the OP except his assertion that libertarian free will is compatible with metaphysical materialism. More importantly for this question, whether or not Dr. Torley is correct is beside the point. What is relevant is that most materialists, as Jerry Coyne illustrates nicely, believe that libertarian free will is incompatible with free will. Materialists therefore deny the existence of libertarian free will because they believe they must, given their metaphysical faith commitments. In other words, not only can they not let a “divine foot in the door” as another materialist famously noted, they cannot let THEIR OWN foot in the door.

    Dr. Liddle’s compatiblism does not change this conclusion, because compatablism is nothing but a linguistic faint made in an effort to dodge the problem. Compatiblists say, essentially, “Sure free will is compatible with materialism so long as by ‘free will’ you mean something other than ‘free will.’”

  13. 13

    :D

    We should also leave open the possibility of instantiated choices: Choices which were made a long time ago and programmed into the brain, after which they become automatic reactions to stimuli. What athletes call “muscle memory” would be an example of an instantiated choice. Addictions might be another.

    There is no reason why a choice needs to be made within seven seconds before the action is taken.

  14. The argument about whether we have free will or not is one of the most irrational arguments ever.

    I agree.

    Why does anyone consider the “not free will” position?

    They seem so determined to argue that.

    It seems only logical to me that they realize that the existence of free will would knock down one or more of their faith based positions.

    I doubt that’s the reason. It seems to me that they genuinely believe that science has proven that there could not be free will. However, that’s based on a misunderstanding of science.

  15. Well said :)

  16. Well, no, Barry. The problem is that what is meant by “free will” is intrinsically unclear.

    What are really asking when we ask whether we have “free will” is not whether “will” is free (who’s Will? :D) but whether I am free.

    Would you agree?

    (I’ll wait before I go on :))

  17. 17

    Why does anyone consider the “not free will” position

    I can’t speak for others, but as for myself, I consider the position because it seems to be my everyday experience, and it comports very well with scripture.

  18. 18

    The problem is that what is meant by “free will” is intrinsically unclear

    Bingo.

    But when you say “who’s Will”, do you mean “who is this fellow Will”, or do you mean “who’s will [or desires] are we talking about”? And what do you mean by “free”?

  19. 19

    Barry or vjt, I am unfamiliar with many of the terms that are being used in this thread (libertarian, compatibilism). Could you suggest some primer material I could read to get up to speed? (preferably online)

  20. Well, I was having a little jest with Free Will[y]

    But it seems to me the relevant, and less ambiguous question than “do I have free will?” is: Am I free? Or am I some kind of automaton, with no personal agency, nor culpability?

    If Barry agrees that that is the pertinent interpretation of the question, I’m ready with my response :)

  21. 21

    Elizabeth: “The problem is that what is meant by “free will” is intrinsically unclear. What [we] are really asking when we ask whether we have “free will” is not whether “will” is free . . . but whether I am free. Would you agree?”

    If by “whether I am free” you mean to raise the question of whether you could have chosen differently (i.e., libertarian free will), yes, I agree. But if by “whether I am free” you mean only to raise the question of whether you are somehow constrained by outside forces beyond your control (the compatiblist reformulation of free will), then no I do not agree.

    You say “free will” is intrinsically unclear. It is not. If the agent has a meaningful choice, he has free will. If the agent does not have a meaningful choice, if his actions are determined, then he has no free will. I believe the former is the case. Coyne believes the latter is the case. Compatiblists try to have it both ways (the materialism pudding with a free will sauce if you like) by changing the terms of the question. But this is a difference that cannot be split. It is a discrete function. Facts are stubborn things, and one of those stubborn facts is that if one defines “free will” as the ability to have chosen differently, then free will is incompatible with materialism.

    I understand that you will refuse to define free will that way (and you are free to that, yuck yuck yuck). But to quote the old Money Python line, “You’re not fooling anyone you know.” Freedom is meaningful only if it means the freedom to choose.

  22. 22

    Yes, the Wikipedia articles on the subject are actually quite good summaries.

  23. 23

    But it seems to me that we are certainly personal agents, and not automatons, yet we are not free (that would be the historical view of reformed Christainity), and so is therefore one of the options on the table here. We shouldn’t leave that one out.

  24. 24

    thanks, BA

  25. 25

    The denial of free will serves no other purpose

    I doubt that Augustine, or Luther, or Calvin, or Paul for that matter, would agree.

  26. 26

    You have a good point EL. There’s a sense in which our will is what makes us an individual.

  27. 27

    I think Elizabeth means that free will in unclear because it’s difficult to distinguish it from the self. In other words free will is reducible to the self and therefore the idea of free will is a moot point and we should rather discuss the self instead. If that’s what she means I would like to see where she’s going with it, but I have no reason to object.

  28. Yes, I entirely agree, Barry, that “freedom is meaningful only if it means the freedom to choose”. But I have my reasons for wanting to express the question with a subject for the word.

    But I’m happy to phrase it as: “Am I free to choose?”

    Are you happy with that formulation?

    Alternatively: “Could I have acted differently?” but that pretty well means the same thing, I think, and the first is grammatically simpler :)

    Are you on?

  29. 29

    BA:

    If the agent has a meaningful choice, he has free will. If the agent does not have a meaningful choice, if his actions are determined, then he has no free will

    But reformed Christianity asserts that we do have meaningful choice, and that we are held morally accountable for those choices (“choose you this day who you will serve”). But at the same time, our desires by necessity drive our choices, and our desires are in bondage (i.e. we cannot choose our desires), and so our actions are therefore determined.

    What would you call that? You can’t call it “free will”.

  30. Free will, is not the same thing as freedom.
    You can be in prison for example, but you can choose to make the best of it, or you can become angry. That is free will. But you are not free. The bible says the truth will set you free. That means free from the yoke of corruption and worldly thinking that we see today, so you choose in your mind to focus on better things. But we all have to live in this world right now. No one ever has total freedom. We have to submit to physical laws. Our actions have consequences, for ourselves and others.
    Adam and Eve had free will, but their actions affected all of us. So they did not have total freedom, because they died in the end.
    In science we have ones that believe in common descent and ones that believe in uncommon descent. We look at the same evidence and choose.
    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  31. Yes, that’s where I am going.

    I think if we ask the question “Am I free?” or “could I have done anything different?” the answer must address the question: who, or what, is this entity “I”, and in what sense is it (am I) an agent at all?

    And I think that is actually fairly easy to answer straightforwardly, although it gets complicated if you stare at it too hard. If I ask myself “what is the entity I call I?” I can say: well it’s associated with an object that I call my body, and even though my body physically probably contains no single atom that has been present throughout “my” life, and although it looks very different from the way it did half a century or more ago, it’s still more or less recognisable as the same object, or pattern anyway, and, more importantly, most of the events that happened in that object’s present are recalled rather uniquely by the thing I call “I”, from, literally, that body’s “point of view”. It also has certain habits, capacities, abilities, disabilities, and skills that it has acquired over the years, sometimes deliberately in the sense that the thing called “I” undertook courses of study to equip what it calls “myself” with certain skills and aptitudes, and it also inadvertently acquired some skills without really thinking about it much at all. Most importantly, it regards itself as a decision-maker, and indeed the object it calls itself is rather good at making decisions, and is able to weigh up all kinds of considerations, including the consequences of alternative courses of action, before acting. Although it often takes actions that it knows perfectly well are unlikely to be the best in the long term. A moment on the lips is often knowingly chosen despite the lifetime on the hips.

    So the thing I call “I” is above all a “chooser” – that’s it’s skill, even if its choices are sometimes objectively poor. So how free are those choices?

    Well, it seems to me that one test is to turn the question “could I have differently?” around slightly, and ask “if the body I call mine had acted in manner Y instead of in manner X as it did, would I have recognised that action as one of “mine”?

    So for instance, if, yesterday, I decided not to visit my aging aunt on the way home from work because she’s a bit of a bore, and I wanted to get home and watch TV (this is fictional btw), could I have acted differently, or rather, if I imagine having said to myself “poor old thing, yes she’s a bit of a bore, but I could miss Downton Abbey just this once” would I recognise that agent as me? And the answer is (I hope) yes, I would.

    However, if I imagine having gone round to her house and entertained her by playing Chopin to her on her piano, then no, I would not recognise that agent as me. I can’t play the piano very well, and I certainly wouldn’t inflict my Chopin on anyone else but myself.

    On the other hand, can I imagine myself having spent my childhood practising Chopin on the piano, instead of practising the cello? Sure. There was a point at which both either decision would have been possible – even the decision to do both. But by making the makeable (by the person I call “I”) decision then to play cello rather than piano then, I am no longer in a position to play Chopin to my aunt.

    In other words, the thing we call “I” is the thing that makes the decisions that then constrain, or enhance, our freedom to make other decisions, and the longer we live, the more we become the product of those choices. If we choose badly, we find ourselves with very few choices – addicted to drugs, perhaps, incapable of choices that require what we call “an act of will”.

    So I could say, rather as you, Barry, say that God IS goodness, that “I” AM the thing that chooses the actions performed by the body I call “mine”, by definition. How free that chooser is can be evaluated by how many alternative course of action would be recognisable as “mine”.

    And if some wouldn’t, then one choice I can make is to enlarge that repertoire so that I can even surprise myself by what I find myself capable of. So I’d say that not only am I free, I am capable of both increasing and diminishing my freedom to make future choices by the choices I make now.

    Not terribly well put, but that’s the gist of what I am trying to say :)

  32. 32

    I am not an expert on reformed Christianity. I understand that Calvinists generally reject the idea of free will. Let’s just say I disagree and leave it at that.

  33. I prefer a much more impersonal definition of free will.

    An entity with free will has the ability to take actions which effect the physical world, but are not random nor dictated by the initial conditions of present physical state.

    I believe with this definition it can by shown by simply counting of available states, that the known ability of humans to create arbitrary sequences of abstract characters demonstrates that humans have free will beyond all reasonable doubt.

  34. 34

    JDH, why do you make the choices that you do?

  35. 35

    Predestination, in Calvinist terms, means a re-creation of our nature so our choices come from a whole, rather than a disabled, nature

    No, in Calvinist terms, predestination is the doctrine that God alone determines who will be saved, and who will be damned, and we are completely ineffective in every way towards the matter (monergism). Regeneration is the doctrine that asserts that we are given a new nature (our desires are set aright), but we still retain the old nature until we die, so in this world our choices always arise from a conflict of the two.

  36. Neil,

    Excellent observation. This entire no-free-will thing is simply stupid. I exercise free will every minute and every hour of every day, and any rational person can recognize this. The denial of free will is utter sophistry.

    At the very least, unless it can be predicted with certainty which choices a person will make at any given juncture, he has the functional equivalent of free will.

    I was a devout atheist and orthodox Darwinist until the age of 43, but chose to follow the evidence where it led. Anyone who knew me would never have predicted that I would make the choices I did.

  37. Gil,

    Care to tell us why “any rational person” can see that you “exercise free will every minute and every hour of the day”? Given the fallibility of intuition, your certainty seems unwarranted.

  38. Its not about the decisions you make,if it is a good or bad decision. It is that you have the ability to choose.
    A simple example is military service. You maybe forced to sign up for war. But you have a choice. You can go to war, or you can become a conscientious objector. And maybe go to jail, or be killed. There are people who have made this decision. You have free will, to choose, no matter how hard it might be. We are not robots, that can not make our own decisions. We were designed, with free will. We could have been designed like robots with instinct and there would be no problem. But there is more to man than that.

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  39. Hi M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you for your posts. Regarding freedom of the will, I would say that the question of whether we can choose our will is a meaningless one. I can choose to eat, but I cannot choose to want to eat, let alone choose to choose to eat. I can choose not to eat, even though I want to, of course.

    The real question is, however, whether my choice to eat is determined by circumstances beyond my control. Calvinists say it’s determined by God’s will; scientific determinists say it’s determined by my environment acting on my brain and body, which are in turn the product of my genes. A proponent of libertarian free will would say that my choice is not determined by anything outside myself. Hence, whatever I choose, I could do otherwise.

    Why is the issue so important? Because to most people, it seems obvious that if my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control, then I cannot be legitimately blamed for any bad choices I make – or praised for any good ones.

    Compatibilists have a different definition of freedom from incompatiblists. For a compatibilist, my actions are free if (i) they are not forced on me against my will, (ii) they are what I want to do, and (iii) I do them for a reason. An imcompatibilist would change (i) to read: they are not determined. A compatibilist would say that if something outside me could make me want to do something for a reason, then my action of doing it would be free, since I am acting rationally in accordance with my wants. An incompatibilist (or proponent of libertarian free will) would say that because my action is still determined, it is not free.

    To illustrate why I think the compatibilist position makes no sense, imagine that there was a magic magnetic scanner whose pulses could not only make people want to move their limbs, but make people want to move them for a reason, which could be programmed into the scanner by an operator. Let’s say that the operator programmed me to open my wallet, and give my money to a homeless person. Would my action be meritorious? I’d say obviously not.

    Jon Garvey raised an interesting question about God’s freedom. It is quite true that God cannot choose to be evil, for that would be contrary to His nature, but He can choose which goods He realizes. He could have made this world, or He could have made another one. Because He still has a choice of goods in His dealings with us, it makes perfect sense to speak of Him as free.

    I hope that helps.

  40. M. Holcumbrink,

    Just out of curiosity, what is it about everyday experience which persuades you that you are not free?

  41. Hi Barry,

    Thanks very much for your comments. Just to be clear, I do not wish to positively assert that libertarian free will is compatible with metaphysical materialism. What I’m suggesting is a methodological agnosticism on the issue. Some Christian philosophers, such as Locke, have argued that God could have made a purely material being with a capacity for thought and free will, and while I’m inclined to think they’re wrong (especially about thought), I also think that’s a separate issue from the question of whether our choices are in fact determined. Scientists can investigate this question, as far as (alleged) physical determinants of action (e.g. heredity and environment) are concerned, and construct experiments designed to test the proposition that my actions are determined by my environment acting on my brain and body.

    I don’t know how scientists could test the question of whether my intellect is physical or not. If it were possible to show that an individual could think two very different thoughts while having the same brain state, that would indicate very strongly that the intellect was non-physical. The problem is that the brain is in a state of constant flux, so its state changes from one moment to the next. Does anyone have any other ideas?

  42. Tragic mishap, I agree.

  43. Barry – on the clarity of what we mean by free will.

    I have a different take on this from Elizabeth. You write:

    if one defines “free will” as the ability to have chosen differently, then free will is incompatible with materialism

    as though “ability to have chosen differently” was crystal clear. But words like “ability” “can” “possible” are all modal words. They carry with them an implied set of conditions and this is where the confusion comes in. If I am in prison I do not have the ability to choose to wander around the high street unless I break out of prison. There is always an implied “unless” clause in any modal statement. I have the ability to decide to do my exercises this morning unless I feel too tired, or my leg is broken, or my wife persuades me out of it, or I am still asleep. The non-compatabilist case rests on the idea that there is some kind of “ability” where the unless clause is not defined. This is far from clear.

  44. vj,

    Jon Garvey raised an interesting question about God’s freedom. It is quite true that God cannot choose to be evil, for that would be contrary to His nature, but He can choose which goods He realizes. He could have made this world, or He could have made another one. Because He still has a choice of goods in His dealings with us, it makes perfect sense to speak of Him as free.

    If God is perfect, then he’s not only unable to choose to do evil; his freedom is even further restricted in that he must always make the absolute best choice at any given time. (There may sometimes be two or more maximally optimal choices available, but will this always be true?)

    This also highlights an odd fact about libertarian free will vs. compatibilism. A libertarian thinks he is most free when his actions are least constrained by his nature, while for a compatibilist it is exactly the opposite: freedom consists in doing exactly what is in one’s nature to do.

  45. Hi Elizabeth,

    Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with most of what you wrote. Regarding the repertoire of one’s possibilities: it seems there is a sense in which it can be enlarged and a sense in which it cannot, if you’re a materialist. From a physical point of view, the set of possible physical states which are open for me to realize at time T1 will alway be smaller at the immediately preceding time T0 than it was at the earlier time T(-1). In that sense, the scope of one’s possibilities is perpetually shrinking. Perhaps I could have become an athlete when I was a child; now that’s out of the question.

    If, on the other hand, one looks at one’s mental horizon, this can indeed expand. A child might learn to read and then realize that he/she could become President one day. You seem to be arguing that because I can surprise myself in terms of new accomplishments that I would never have imagined I could do at some earlier time, then I am free. But a reductionist physical determinist would say that since mental states boil down to physical ones, there was nothing surprising about what you did, at a molecular level. To refute that logic, you need to argue that top-down causation is real and irreducible to bottom-up causation.

    JDH made an interesting point abouyt our ability to generate abstract symbols. I’m not quite clear on his argument, but he seems to be saying that the number of mental states I can realize at time t (as measured by the number of strings of characters I can generate) is larger than the finite number of future physical states I can realize at time t, then the mental must be irreducible to the physical. That’s an interesting argument, and I think it has something in it. Thoughts?

  46. Glad we agree on so much :)

    But a reductionist physical determinist would say that since mental states boil down to physical ones, there was nothing surprising about what you did, at a molecular level. To refute that logic, you need to argue that top-down causation is real and irreducible to bottom-up causation.

    And the error there is in that term “boil down”. Yes, I know it’s a metaphor, but one that trips a lot of people up, not least “reductionists”. That’s why the term “emerge” has become popular: mental states emerge from physical states; they don’t “boil down” to physical states, any more than a boeuf bourgignon “boils down” to a mess in the bottom of the pan. Once it’s boiled down, it’s no longer a boeuf bourgignon. Nor is it a boeuf bourgignon when the ingredients are still sitting in the fridge.

    And that’s my point: to say that “I” am free, I have to know what I mean by “I”, and that does not “boil down” to a physical state. And it “emerges” from far more than that

    And, IMO, we do not need to worry about “top down” versus “bottom up” causation. Complex systems (and people are possibly the most complex system in the universe) consist complex of interactions between “top” and “bottom” – between the whole and the part, or between output and input, endogenous and endogenous. What happens to us affects who we are and the choices we make, and who we are and teh choices we make affect what happens to us. Not only that, but those choices affect the construct of capabilities and opportunities and moral responsibilities and agency we refer to as “I” and “you”.

    Which “boils down” IMO, to saying that the expression “I am free” is perfectly true. If “I” wasn’t “free” we’d have a contradiction in terms – I would by defining “I” merely as a deterministic trajectory through life, not as an agent capable of being the subject of a verb.

    And clearly “I” is capable of being the subject of a great many verbs, even, if, in my case, not the verb “to play Chopin on the piano”.

    It’s true of Gil though :)

  47. “Emergence ” is a strange word, as soon as you try to pin it to cause and effect. The facts are there are physical processes associated with organised ones (eg human physiology and decisions). To say the latter emerge from the former adds nothing to the fact of mere association, which could equally be explained by the existence of something of a different order to the physical, like an immaterial mind.

    The immaterial mind might well prove resistant to physical investigation, on principle. But “emergence”, being purely physical, requires a mechanism the lack of which tends to falsify it as an explanation. In general physical states don’t give rise to organised complexity, so to cite emergence as an “explanation” is no more scientific than citing magic.

    One could say that written words are an emergent property of computer keyboards, processors and printers. But in that case, we know a non-electronic key component (us) has been falsely excluded.

  48. The immaterial mind might well prove resistant to physical investigation, on principle. But “emergence”, being purely physical, requires a mechanism the lack of which tends to falsify it as an explanation.

    But of course there are mechanisms, otherwise there would be no emergence.

    It’s not a word I especially like – I tend to use “systems” and “systems level” myself.

    A system has properties not possessed by its parts. Therefore “reducing” it to its parts, omits what gives the system its properties.

    That doesn’t mean that the system does not consist of those parts, but it means it also consists of the way those parts are organised.

  49. A computer is also a system – but as I said before, the output of prose from it is literally more than the sum of the parts, not because of a property of the system, but because of a non-electronic agent – us.

    To state that human consciousness is a systems-level property gives no more actual information than to say it is an emergent property: it remains to be demonstrated whether it can be described as a direct property of the biological system at all. The bmind-body problem does not go away simply by using mechanistic terminology.

  50. Yes, a computer is a system. So is a hurricane, or a galaxy.

    I did not claim that all systems have free will. I claimed that the agent I call “I” is a system, and that it is free to choose between alternative courses of action. What makes me free is my capacity to simulate the outcome of alternative causes of action, under various scenarios, and to select from those scenarios the action most likely to bring about my goal.

    The fact that I can describe this system in terms of interacting neural networks and feedback loops and environmental stimuli and learning process does not alter the fact that I am a choosing system.

    That I can choose – will – may actions.

  51. 51

    BA, If you were to get familiar with the basic thought involved with reformed Christianity, I would start with Luther’s Bondage of the Will (and I would suggest the Packer/Johnston translation). I had to read it more than once for it to absorb into my pea brain, but I accept most of what he has to say therein without scruple now. I have always had tendencies towards this line of thought, but this little book helped to remove all doubt. This website can take you on from there, which can give you recommendations on further reading.

    …if you are interested, that is. But I would say that there are other assertions to be made in this debate, and to remain unfamiliar with them would be to ignore possibilities that could very well be definitive, or at least would seem to comport best with our perception of reality.

  52. 52

    Regarding the Monergism website, up in the corner is this quote by John Owen: “To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.”

    If this is true, it has drastic implications, not only for the “free will” debate, but also for a man’s soul, if he does not believe it to be so. So a claim has been made, that where a man falls in the “free will” debate has eternal consequences for his soul, which, again, would warrant some investigation, to say the least.

  53. I’m not sure that chaotic systems like hurricanes (complex, very little information)have any relevance to the discussion which are complex and highly organised informationally. I would assume that the difference is obvious enough, and nobody seriously suggests that storms or galaxies have free will, though some have suggested that complex enough computer systems might.

    But in your description, free-will is only an emergent or systems property if “I-ness” is. I’m not sure it’s possible to conceive of a conscious “I” without free-will, in the wider sense of making choices, and neither does freedom in the absence of consciousness make any sense. So where is the evidence that consciousness is an emergent property of physical states rather than a superadded one?

  54. 54

    MrD, we do have an ability to choose, but it must be noted that we will only choose that which is in accordance with our strongest desires. Our choices arise from within ourselves (not outside), and we are therefore at fault if we do the wrong thing. More importantly, it must also be noted that our desires themselves, apart from any action we take, are god or evil, and we will be judged according to those as well (thou shalt not covet). But since we cannot control our desires, in this way our actions are therefore determined.

    In your military service example, it should be plain that any decision anyone ever makes in regards to this springs forth from some desire on his part. In wartime, many men sign up on their own accord; Some out of a desire for vengeance; some out of a desire for adventure; some out of a sense of duty, (which is the desire to do what is perceived to be right for right’s sake alone). Others did not sign up, and were drafted, perhaps because they were afraid (desire to stay alive), or perhaps they had other interests to pursue rather than the enemy (desire to obtain wealth). But in all these cases the serviceman was subject to his own desires, and where there was conflict within, the strongest desire won out (who more than selves their country loved).

    So yes, we can choose, but the choices we will actually make are limited to our desires (why would we choose otherwise?). Behind every choice is a desire, and our desires are ultimately what define us as individuals, and distinguishes us from robots, which do not feel and are not conscious individuals. Yet our desires are in bondage (i.e. we cannot control them), and our actions are therefore determined. So IOW, we choose our own path (and our choices spring from within us according to the options before us and the desires of our hearts), but we have not chosen our desires, and in this way our path is determined, and not by us.

  55. The brain is a profoundly chaotic system. I mean “chaotic” in the technical sense, of course – it’s a shame it has a lay meaning of disordered. Chaotic systems, as you know, are highly structured.

    I would agree, that it is not possible to conceive of a conscious “I” without free will, and as we self-evidently can conceive of a conscious “I” that implies that we have free will :)

    That’s sort of my point :)

    I’m more than happy to talk about consciousness, but it’s another topic, and rather a large one! Maybe some other time?

  56. Hi M. Holcumbrink
    So yes, we can choose, but the choices we will actually make are limited to our desires (why would we choose otherwise?)
    —————————————————–
    The choices we make are based on free will. Though these choices are not always our desires. We also have a sense of responsibly and morality. We can choose to let these be part of our decisions, or not. Some live without responsibly, but some do. But they may have the same desire.

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  57. 57

    vjt,

    My response here is in regards to 6.2.1 and 4.2.2 (I’m trying to consolidate my posts at the bottom of the thread).
    Regarding 6.2.1, again, it depends on what you mean by “free”. I am not saying that I am not free to choose what I desire to do, but I am saying that I cannot choose my desires. But desire is just another name for “the will”, so in this sense, the will is in bondage, or is not free, so neither am I.

    To illustrate this (if it even needs to be illustrated beyond eating), another example from everyday life can help, especially for those that are married. Suppose I am in the mood, and I say to my wife, “wife, let’s get it on tonight”, to which she replies “husband, I really am not in the mood for that.” Then suppose I say, “but wife, why don’t you just make it to where you are in the mood?” Well, to any woman it should be obvious that she cannot do that any more than she can reach up and touch the sun. But it would make marriages much easier to stick with if she could. Then suppose she says “husband, why don’t you make it to where you are NOT in the mood, and leave me be?”, which should be obvious to any man that he might as well try to reach up and touch the sun as well. For me, cold showers don’t even work, and besides, that only makes me mad.

    There are also other matters, more sinister (perhaps), such as covetousness, which is a desire for something that someone else has that does not belong to you. If you ever come under the impression that it is wrong to desire such things (like your neighbor’s wife, or car, or house), then you just go on and try to stop desiring it. Paul expressed his dismay at not being able to do it (Romans 7). And yet it is wrong to even desire such things, let alone to steal them, or to deprive the rightful owner of them whether you yourself can obtain them or not. Then there is almsgiving, which is only a just thing before God if it is given willingly and cheerfully (II Cor 9:8). Otherwise it avails you nothing before God. And yet I find myself to begrudgingly, without gladness, putting my tithe in the plate. And there is nothing I can do about it except be sad that it is so. My greediness and selfishness is always there to have their say.

    So my realization of this is what causes me to see that I cannot control my desires, yet they are with me constantly, and bid me to satisfy them. If I could turn them off, I would, but I cannot. The only thing that can help is an opposing desire. For example, If I am tempted to cheat on my wife, it would be tremendously helpful if at the same time I had a desire to keep her from being hurt. And if I figure that she would never find out to be hurt by it, it would be helpful if I also had a desire to maintain marital fidelity for the sake of marital fidelity. But even though fear of disease might prevent it (desire to stay healthy), even though it prevents the evil, it avails me nothing before God. So if there is a virtuous desire there to oppose the wicked desire, then the evil can be stayed. But it should be plain to see that if there is nothing virtuous within me to keep me from the evil, then I will by necessity do the evil. The choice to do otherwise is there, but why would I take it if there is nothing within me to cause me to take the high road? But I also know this: if there are virtues within me that prevent me from doing evil, I know that I did not put those there, either. Yet they are the only things that stand in opposition to the wicked desires that are within me. C. S. Lewis saw this, and of himself he said “I am Legion.”
    These sad experiences are what make me say that I am not free. I am all too familiar with the reality of this bondage, and of its remedy.

  58. 58

    please see #14.

  59. Elaizabeth

    Chaotic systems are highly ordered. Brains are highly organised.

    Difference?

    Hurricanes – formed by simple forces (algorithms) in complex combinations. Outputs disorganised and destructive.

    Brains – formed by complex algorithms (genetic, epigenetic) in complex combinations. Outputs highly organised and constructive.

    Motto: never put a hurricane in charge of decision making.

  60. Incidentally, Elizabeth, according to what I was taught in the venerable science of social psychology at Cambridge we are both wrong.

    Our decisions are the result of genetics and/or environment because (the science said) “there is nothing else.”

  61. 61

    Any choice anyone has ever made is based on a desire of some sort, and in the cases where a choice is made in opposition to a desire, it is only because of another, more powerful, opposing desire. This should be plain to see. I want to eat the enchiladas, but if I do, I will be painfully bloated and they will end up in my mouth later in the evening as I sleep, so my desire to avoid painful reflux overrides my desire for a sumptuous meal. Likewise, there is such a thing as being righteous for righteousness’ sake, but don’t pretend like it is not a desire in and of itself. There are those who love to do righteousness, and do it because they desire to see righteousness performed more than satisfying some wicked urge. Others, however, desire the praise of men more than satisfying the urge, and it is for this reason that they do righteousness. But their choice is due to a desire that will avail them nothing before God.

    So don’t fool yourself into thinking that we have some sort of ability to make choices apart from our desires. We do not. The only way a choice is meaningful is if we choose according to a desire of ours, and it is only just before God if the choice is right according to a right desire. So in order to please God, our desires must made aright before him, and it is not in our power to do so. We must be reborn, and that according to the will of God. Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We are at his mercy.

  62. Jon:

    “Motto: never put a hurricane in charge of decision making.”

    But I believed that’s exactly what we observe so often in our world!

  63. JDH:

    That’s a very good and simple definition of libertarian free will. I absolutely agree.

  64. M. Holcumbrink:

    JDH, why do you make the choices that you do?

    Well, I don’t want to answer for JDH’s actions :). But in general, I would say that we make the choices that we do according to how, inwardly, we react to our situation, in a context where our consciousness has a moral intuition about the different meanings and values of different choices, and freely makes its choice with inner awareness of its being more or less “good” or “bad”. That’s what is usually called “moral conscience”.

    IOWs, choices are never made out of mere cognition, or of mere passive influence from outer or inner sources, or out of chance, although all these factors can vary the scenario of possible choices. Choices, free choices, are made from our heart and soul’s adherence, or not adherence, to what is intuitively felt as good.

  65. I thought I would look at the dictionary meaning of desire.

    noun
    3.a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment: a desire for fame.

    4.an expressed wish; request.

    5.something desired.

    6.sexual appetite or a sexual urge.

    So you may have a sexual urge, that is your desire. But you choose to follow up on that or you don’t. You have the free will to choose. Which ever way you choose, you still have the desire.
    There is a difference between desire, and decision.
    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  66. Jon, at no time did I suggest or imply that a hurricane has free will. I merely pointed out that a system, such as a galaxy, or a hurricane, has properties not possessed by its parts. You can call these “emergent” properties, or you can keep it simple, and just call them the properties of the system in question. After all most things are systems of some other set of things.

    But galaxies and hurricanes are not choosing systems, but a brain does form a choosing system, and the name we give to those choosing systems is “I”, or “you” or “she” or “he”, or “mind”.

    And in particular, a human brain is able to not only to choose between options with immediate consequences, but options with future consequences, not only for ourselves, but for others, including others as yet unborn, and also for members of other species.

    This is, I would argue, because we have the capacity to use a symbolic language that is capable not merely of representing objects, but time, and consequence, and, therefore hypotheticals and abstractions.

    And we are also capable of “mental time travel” meaning that we can see things from other points of view, including the view that we ourselves would have at a different place and time, and the view that other people would have, including their view of ourselves. We can see ourselves from the outside, in other words, place ourselves on our own world-map and recognise ourselves as causal agents within the world. As beings, in other words, with free will.

  67. Incidentally, Elizabeth, according to what I was taught in the venerable science of social psychology at Cambridge we are both wrong.

    Our decisions are the result of genetics and/or environment because (the science said) “there is nothing else.”

    Well, they were wrong. But I expect that was some time ago, wasn’t it? :)

  68. M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you for your post. I’ve been thinking about controlling one’s desires, and it seems that over a period of years, one can accomplish this, by mentally programming oneself, so to speak. Grace can of course accomplish even more. In the short term, I cannot control what I want, but if I want to change my wants, then there are behavioral therapy programs that can help. Some people claim to have conquered various forms of addiction in this way.

    Regarding the commandments: you’re being a bit hard on yourself, aren’t you? I understand that there are disputes about the meaning of “covet” in the Ten Commandments. See for example this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGG9uM8l1GE , which I don’t think proves its claim that covet equals “take”, but does (I think) cast doubt on the claim that it simply means “desire”. Perhaps “covet” in that verse means saying to oneself, “I would take this, if I could get away with it”, which is much more malevolent than saying to oneself, “This looks nice”. It is certainly true, however, that a really virtuous person would not even want anything that was not his. As for 2 Corinthians 9:7, God does indeed love a cheerful giver, but that does not mean that He hates grumpy givers. Better to give grumpily than not give at all.

    Finally, I’d like to question your implicit assumption that the only thing that can keep a bad desire in check is an opposing desire. Hobbes had a similar idea: that whenever we choose, it is always the strongest desire that wins out. I disagree. I might desire things that I shouldn’t; but what keeps me from taking them is not a contrary desire but an intent to do the right thing, even if it is not what I want. In other words, an act of will can countermand a desire, but willing is not necessarily wanting.

  69. Elizabeth,

    Thank you for your post. I don’t deny that there is a complex interplay between “bottom-up” and “top-down”, but I would argue that in order to have genuine freedom, it cannot be the case that an act of “top-down” causation at time t is always determined by an earlier act of “bottom-up” causation. Otherwise we are just complicated automata with feedback loops.

    Regarding emergence: I would say that the question of whether “I” am emergent depends on whether I have properties that could not be predicted, even by someone who had a complete knowledge of my body’s component parts and their interactions. Does that sound like a fair definition to you?

  70. vjtorley wrote:
    I might desire things that I shouldn’t; but what keeps me from taking them is not a contrary desire but an intent to do the right thing, even if it is not what I want. In other words, an act of will can countermand a desire, but willing is not necessarily wanting.
    ————————————————
    Yes this is correct. If you have a desire for a woman on the beach. But night comes and you decide to leave. That is not your desire. But that’s what you do, reluctantly.

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  71. 71

    This is interesting.

    If you were put in the same position twice — if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way — you could have chosen differently.

    How does one test this, as one can never create the very same circumstances once?

    And, faced with the exact same circumstances, right down to the last molecule, why would I choose differently? That sounds more like randomness than free will.

    If I would choose to do the exact same thing in the exact same circumstances every time, does that mean I didn’t choose it?

    Does anyone understand the mechanics of consciousness on a molecular level? This sounds to me like someone talking in absolute terms about something they don’t understand. That’s speculation. Speculation is fine as long as we call it what it is.

    In this case, we seem to have no choice (how odd) but to live every moment of our lives pretending to have free will. What would change if it were determined that free will did not exist? If everyone believed it, we would undoubtedly see a noticeable change in certain behaviors, which in turn would seem to contradict the idea that everything was pre-programmed. We would exercise our illusion of free will differently.

  72. 72

    vjt,
    Regarding 4.2.2:

    Regarding freedom of the will, I would say that the question of whether we can choose our will is a meaningless one

    No, if all of our actions and choices, especially if they are to be considered meaningful, are in direct response to our desires (our heart, or who we really are), then our ability to choose our will it is at the very heart of the debate. If we cannot choose our will, and our choices necessarily spring forth from our will, then our actions are determined. It also shows the term “free will” to be a misnomer.

    it seems obvious that if my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control, then I cannot be legitimately blamed for any bad choices I make – or praised for any good ones.

    That was my initial thought as well, and I will admit to trying to draw comfort from that thought at one point. But it is without question that there are desires that are in fact evil, and evil desires are worthy of indignation as well as evil actions. Who would doubt that? And yet that is out of our control. Tell me, vjt, if you are able to turn off the desires of yours that are wicked, and replace them with more virtuous ones. If you can, then I would like to know your secret, because I have not found it within myself to do so, and neither was Paul (again, see Romans 7 if you profess to be a Christian). So as I see it, we are stuck with these wicked desires (some more wicked than others), and we have neither put them there or can repair them. Yet we are guilty of them. If my wife were to desire some other man besides myself, I would first be cast down with grief, but I would also find it to be most despicable (for it is a betrayal). And if I were to discover the desire of some stranger to take my children and do all manner of horrible things to them, likewise I would find it despicable, whether he actually acted on the desire or not. And do we not see within ourselves all sorts of shortcomings (sloth, malice, envy, greed, murderous and adulterous thoughts), and do our own hearts not convict us of these (if not, then they should)? So here we are, victims of these wretched desires. Yet they are a part of us, and we are guilty of them. They are ours, and spring from within our own hearts, and we must give account, and we all will. And yet we cannot control them. It’s just the way it is (Romans 9). And like a corrupt spring, poisonous water flows forth in the form of wicked deeds (Matt 15:19). But the spring itself is corrupt, and must be either stopped, or cured.

    To illustrate why I think the compatibilist position makes no sense, imagine that there was a magic magnetic scanner whose pulses could not only make people want to move their limbs, but make people want to move them for a reason, which could be programmed into the scanner by an operator. Let’s say that the operator programmed me to open my wallet, and give my money to a homeless person. Would my action be meritorious? I’d say obviously not.

    If I open my wallet to give alms of true compassion and a desire to help the poor and needy, then this virtue can be said to be of my own, and it is really is who I am. This makes it meritorious. But tell me, if I cannot find it within myself to be this way, what am I to do? And for the cheerful giver, why on earth would he ever turn his back on the needy? He wouldn’t, if he had the cash, and he was inclined to do so. For him, he would not find it within himself to deny the needy.

    But in regards to the scanner, I would say that in my mind I have drawn this very analogy in regards to how a man goes from being wretchedly wicked to being righteous from the heart. Scripture uses the term “rebirth”, but “reprogrammed” may serve just as well. The only problem I see is that “reprogrammed” tends to sound cold and removed from what we really are, and should probably be reserved for what we do to robots. But because we are conscious individuals with desires, “rebirth” really does seem to be the best word. And if it seems that the merit is not due to us because we had nothing to do with the new programming, then that comports mighty well with scripture: “To God be the glory, great things he hath done”!

    It is quite true that God cannot choose to be evil, for that would be contrary to His nature

    But we are made in the image of God. And this is the very thing that I have been saying about our condition. God has a nature, and he makes his choices according to that nature. And because his nature is pure and perfect, he will therefore only choose to do what is right and just. However, in our case, our nature is corrupt, yet we still make choices according to that nature. But because we can only make choices according to those corrupt desires, our deeds are corrupt. Further, God cannot choose for himself a different nature, nor can we.

  73. 73

    see #18

  74. 74

    MrD, Paul warns us that we are to examine ourselves to see if we truly are of the faith. Now why would that be? If ever you walk away from temptation, we must be careful to examine why, because there are any number of reasons why, but all of them come from a desire of some sort. If you are intent on doing the right thing, just make sure that it is out of a love for the doing the right thing, as opposed to a fear of scandal, or the desire for the praise of men. And most of all, be sure it is not to put forth effort to earn your way into God’s favor.

    But to do things out of a love for doing the right thing is to have a desire to see good things done, or a desire to see evil thwarted. We are still speaking of desire here, mark it down.

  75. M Holcumbrink,

    Unfortunately for me I read a straight unedited English translation of Luthers “Bondage of The Will” :) I had to read it over and over again. I would suggest you get your hands on Edward’s “The Freedom of The Will”

    I really dislike the term free will. I agree with Surgeon when he says in so many words that free will is an oxymoron. A more accurate term is free choice. There can be nothing more free than to have the ability to choose that which we most want given the options available to us.Nothing less free than to choose that which we do not most want given the options available to us.

    In my theology the most free being is God. Can God choose to do evil? Yes if He wants. However can God want to choose evil? No God can never want to do such a thing. There is no greater freedom than to choose only that which we most want to do. I guess to the libertarians God Himself lacks free will.

    Vivid

  76. Well, they were wrong. But I expect that was some time ago, wasn’t it?

    About a century ago. But it was only a small mistake on their part, affecting merely the entire basis of the discipline. Fortunately I went into medicine and missed the paradigm shift because I blinked.

  77. Thank you for referring me to your comment, M. Holcumbrink. Yes, I think we’re making very similar points.

  78. vividbleau:

    There is no greater freedom than to choose only that which we most want to do. I guess to the libertarians God Himself lacks free will.

    Yes. As I wrote elsewhere in the thread:

    If God is perfect, then he’s not only unable to choose to do evil; his freedom is even further restricted in that he must always make the absolute best choice at any given time. (There may sometimes be two or more maximally optimal choices available, but will this always be true?)

    This also highlights an odd fact about libertarian free will vs. compatibilism. A libertarian thinks he is most free when his actions are least constrained by his nature, while for a compatibilist it is exactly the opposite: freedom consists in doing exactly what is in one’s nature to do.

  79. 79

    Since everyone else is bringing up religion, here’s another $.02.
    In Job, Satan challenged that Job would not remain faithful under trial.
    First, if Job’s reaction were as determined as a rock falling to the earth when dropped, then why make the challenge? Satan is smart. Surely he could examine the molecules and know what Job would do. And if God had determined the outcome, surely Satan couldn’t expect to surprise him.
    Second, why would the challenge matter anyway? Why make such a fuss over the equivalent of knocking over dominoes?

  80. 80

    What if we decide what our nature is and then act accordingly? Perhaps that’s right in the middle.

  81. Scott,

    I think the answer is that whoever invented the story of Job hadn’t thought things through very carefully (or didn’t care to, since his purpose was more to exhort than to explain),

  82. 82

    Interestingly, in the context of recent ID discussions, it also uses the term ‘metamorphosis.’ What could more vividly describe that which has one nature and completely abandons it to take on another?

  83. Hi Scott,

    Let me start by saing that to propose that true freedom is the ability to chosse that which we most want given the options available to us requires adopting a certain theological world view. At least I don’t think it does.

    As for Satan knowing what he must have known why did he rebel. Did he really think he could overthrow God?

    I don’t think Job’s reaction was certain to Job nor to Satan. I most certainly think they were certain to God.

    Vivid

  84. 84

    I’ve been thinking about controlling one’s desires, and it seems that over a period of years, one can accomplish this, by mentally programming oneself, so to speak … Some people claim to have conquered various forms of addiction in this way

    To this, I would say that desires can be inflamed, and if they can be inflamed, then they can be lessened. I think this is the reason why Paul tells us to flee sexual immorality (which can bring on a very nasty addiction indeed). Some things, if we know beforehand, can cause us to completely abandon all responsibility, then we would naturally have a desire to avoid it. Take meth, for instance. From what I understand, meth will do just that (as well as sex addiction). I therefore have a desire to flee from any notion of using it, since it might hopelessly ensnare me (hence the “Faces of Meth” campaign). But please note that this is a desire to avoid something, which modifies our behavior accordingly. As for those that fall into the trap, it was more than likely out of a desire for social acceptance: “I want to fit in with this crowd, therefore I will partake of this substance”. But again, we see a desire at the root of it.

    But what is a devastating addiction but a desire that overwhelms all other desires (if it does not eradicate all other responsible desires altogether)? So if we could, after time, lessen the addiction over time, it will not be able to overwhelm the others any longer. But note that this is only possible if the addict has a desire to escape from his addiction! For those that can see and measure the devastating effects the behavior has, the anguish might be enough to desire an escape. But this is only possible if an escape is in fact desired. I have no doubt that desires can be lessened and tamed to an extent (and maybe only by replacing it with other desires – but then you have only switched masters), but it takes a desire to do so in the first place. And even then, it still looms in the background, and if we are not careful, it will break forth again, so a constant guard and vigilance is needed. But again, a desire to watch and be on guard must be present.

    So we see here not an ability to choose apart from desire, but a tangled, messy web of desires that overlap and are at odds with one another.

    Also, the Puritans especially believed that if we have ever seen within us touches of new virtue within us (joy and gladness at having done the right thing, or to do the right thing), then these are to be nurtured and practiced so as to develop them and grow in them. And this is the reason for Christian fellowship: to encourage and spur one another on to good works, to provide a means by which to exercise the grace that has been given, to bring to one another’s mind reminders, warnings and admonishment: or in other words, to inflame the virtuous desires, and to keep the evil ones at bay.

    So we do indeed see here an ability to control, to an extent, the heat at which our passions burn. But I find that I am always wanting for my virtuous passions to burn hotter, if I see them at all, and I always wish my wicked passions to diminish further and go away completely. But that will not happen until the next life.

    It is certainly true, however, that a really virtuous person would not even want anything that was not his

    As for covet = take, there is a law for taking: you shall not steal. This is distinct from “you shall not covet”. So covet = take is certainly not the case. But to say that a really virtuous person would not even want anything that was his is to say that anything less than that is less than ideal, and anything less than ideal (as it pertains to virtue) is sin (missing the mark).

    God does indeed love a cheerful giver, but that does not mean that He hates grumpy givers. Better to give grumpily than not give at all

    I’m not so sure. If Paul tells us “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion”. If that is the case, perhaps we should not.

    In other words, an act of will can countermand a desire, but willing is not necessarily wanting

    But willing is synonymous with desiring. What in the world would “an act of will” be, otherwise? This is another wrong idea that people have: “I can will myself not to do it!” But the reason they fail, it seems to me, is because they lose sight of why it is they don’t want to do it in the first place, and try to “will” themselves into or out of certain behaviors, whatever that is. Sometimes all this is is a desire to be your own master; but that only leads to pride, does it not?

    I will tell you the same thing I told MrDunsapy: Examine yourself! If you find yourself resisting temptation, look and see why it is you are doing so. Appeals to a fear of scandal, or for the praise of men, or to win favor with God will not do. And there is more to it than “I have willed it”, which means nothing as you have put it. Something lies behind it, and pray it be for the right reasons. We are slaves to one thing or another, and to be a slave of Christ is to desire to please him, and to have a desire to do righteousness for righteousness’ sake. But it is a desire yet, mark it down.

  85. 85

    vividbleau, I agree completely. And I have been meaning to read Edwards. All I lack is time. One of these days I will get to it!

  86. 86

    Scott, I would say that no one knows for sure who is secure and who is not, and Satan does not know either. Hence his constant assault on the righteous. His aim is to break them. If those that were chosen by God had a yellow stripe up their back (that one is from Spurgeon), Satan would probably lift their shirts before putting them to it. Otherwise, it would be his goal to hem them in. Or at least that’s how I see it.

  87. 87

    Scott, you say we are discussing religion, but that makes it sound pretty stuffy. I hate that word anyway. I would say that we are discussing and asserting what we percieve reality to be, based on our perceptions and experiences.

  88. M. Holcumbrink wrote
    MrD, Paul warns us that we are to examine ourselves to see if we truly are of the faith. Now why would that be? If ever you walk away from temptation, we must be careful to examine why, because there are any number of reasons why, but all of them come from a desire of some sort. If you are intent on doing the right thing, just make sure that it is out of a love for the doing the right thing, as opposed to a fear of scandal, or the desire for the praise of men. And most of all, be sure it is not to put forth effort to earn your way into God’s favor.

    But to do things out of a love for doing the right thing is to have a desire to see good things done, or a desire to see evil thwarted. We are still speaking of desire here, mark it down.
    ——————————————————
    If you have a desire to follow God in a certain way, that is your free will to choose that. Many desire to choose the right course, but fail because they have free will to choose to fail.
    When you get into the example of God for example , of course you have to understand the motives why we choose to follow him. And your correct that is important.
    But a desire may come along , that you have to choose what you are going to do. Now if we did not have free will , there would be no choice. We would always go with the correct response. We would not have a free will to choose. But what we see in humans is that 2 people both trying to follow God, both with the same pressures, one will go one way and the other might choose a different way. That is why God has forgiveness, we are not going to always make the correct decisions, because we have free will. We are not programmed as robots.
    There is a difference between desire and decisions. We have the free will to decide which way we will go. You might make a mistake one time but not the next time, on the same desire. You have free will in that.
    Look at it this way, if we didn’t have free will, all of the worlds peoples, most important desire, would be to follow God. But that is not what we see in the world. Also Noah and his family, were the only ones that out of their free will decided to do what God asked. All the other people had free will to decide another course of action.
    That is what following God, is based on.
    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  89. vividbleau wrote

    I don’t think Job’s reaction was certain to Job nor to Satan. I most certainly think they were certain to God.
    ——————————————————
    Job could have made a bad choice, and Satan hoped he would. But God knew Job was strong enough. But Job could have chosen either way. Satan himself could have remained faithful to God, but he chose badly, using his free will to do so.
    Actually Jesus was in the same position. Even he had to make a choice. He even asked God if his death , could have been put aside. He said it wasn’t his will but his Fathers will.
    So even Jesus went through this. Through his free will he did what is father wanted.
    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  90. Job was free to choose one way or the other it was not like anything was preventing him to do so. Job chose the way he did because that was his most want. Jesus was free to choose not follow His fathers will but chose to do so because His most want was to do the Will of the Father.

    Vivid

  91. 91

    As for Satan knowing what he must have known why did he rebel. Did he really think he could overthrow God?

    That’s one of the most interesting questions of all. Perhaps it also demonstrates the nature of free will. He must have known that he was doomed to failure, but was not constrained by that inevitability. Was his envy so powerful that yielded to it against his better knowledge? I don’t claim to know. But desire precedes sin. So apparently it was possible for him to have awareness of an inappropriate desire and yet choose not to dwell on it.
    It intrigues me, but I won’t insert my own ideas where the scriptures leave something uncertain.

    I don’t think Job’s reaction was certain to Job nor to Satan. I most certainly think they were certain to God.

    It would seem that while God possesses the ability to foresee anything, he does not always choose to exercise it. Otherwise why exhort anyone to take one course while knowing they are certain to choose another?
    But I don’t know in general, so I don’t know in Job’s case in particular.

    I find it refreshing – perhaps you do as well – that while philosophers build one speculation on top of another until they end up with wild claims that they can’t possibly know to be true, the scriptures simply leave some things unknown. Perhaps they are important, but we can’t understand them now and we will later. Or perhaps they are interesting but just less important right now.

  92. 92

    I mean in the sense that we’re bringing up what the Bible says. That’s more accurately what I meant. You’re right, the Bible doesn’t call itself “religion,” just like Chinese people don’t call their food “Chinese food.”
    I like talking about it, but in this setting I’ll wait until someone else brings it up.

  93. 93

    Everything I’ve ever read in the Bible agrees.

  94. 94

    Is it Hebrews 9? It points out that the law contained sacrifices of bulls, and Jesus replaced the sacrifice by doing God’s will. It was not just the death, but the obedience, which was complete because he obeyed even when it meant his own death.
    Certainly for obedience to be so valuable it had to be a choice made from free will.

  95. scott,

    Was your latest post 24.1 addressed to me or to Dunsapy?

    Vivid

  96. ScottAndrews2 and vividbleau

    Yes this is correct.
    Its not that these decisions are easy, or hard, or we have other pressures to consider, it is we have the ability to choose. Mankind makes these decisions all the time.

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  97. 97

    What makes me free is my capacity to simulate the outcome of alternative causes of action, under various scenarios, and to select from those scenarios the action most likely to bring about my goal.

    But what determines your goal Elizabeth?

  98. I’m going to repeat a post I made on the “Have Materialists lost their Mind?” article. It makes a similar point to what Neil made above.

    However, here Neil seems to be advocating for free will while in the other article, he seems to be saying that we cannot prove either idea so we should just say “we can’t ultimately know.” – which is why I responded to Neil like this:

    I agree Neil, that you cannot prove it in the sense that you seem to want to do. And, in light of that, it makes most sense to assume we do have free will since we all have that experience and feel like we have free will. This world would not make sense if we did not have free will. Even your view that free will can’t be proven is simply the result of the chemical reactions in your brain – if we have no free will.

    So, in reality, if we can make no truly “free” decisions, then we cannot trust the accuracy of anything we believe because we only arrived at that conclusion because of the chemical reactions in our brains.

    But, obviously, you do not believe this, because you are arguing as if your thoughts and deductions have meaning and are accurate. That would be a “no-no” in a world with no free will. My thoughts, whether right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate in an ultimate sense, would have as much value as your thoughts, because both of them are simply the result of the chemical reactions in our brains.

    No one is willing to agree to that. This world would be even more chaotic than it is if we really believed this. This may not be scientific proof that Gil is right, but it comes awful close to philosophical proof. Science is not the only begetter of truth in this world. In fact, it isn’t always even a begetter of truth at all. It is wrong many times too, especially when it comes to trying to figure out the past. Personal bias, wrong interpretation, lack of information, etc can often lead to wrong conclusions.

    Besides, if there is no free will, science is ultimately worthless. It is all conditioned by our brains.

    We would not be able to trust any conclusion that anyone makes if everything is determined. It would rob life and our “choices” and actions of all meaning.

  99. It was, essentially, the reason I started a music degree in 1970, not a psychology degree.

    Looking back, it seems like an aberration. Psychology was more sensible both before and afterwards. That approach was never “the entire basis of the discipline”. It’s demonstrably wrong, and the mistake, IMO, was to simply ignore the developmental perspective, even though much was known about it at the time.

    But developmental psychology has grown hugely since then. And then there’s been the explosion in neuroscience.

  100. 100

    An entity with free will has the ability to take actions which effect the physical world, but are not random nor dictated by the initial conditions of present physical state

    I would say that we certainly effect the physical world, and that those effects are certainly not random; but if I am to maintain that all of our choices flow from our desires (or from the heart), then I would have to reckon these desires as some kind of present state, though not necessarily physical. I would assert that if the will is an aspect of our immaterial soul, then it must be considered as some kind of ‘present or initial state’, and that it does dictate the choices that we make as various ‘inputs’ from outside physical states are presented before us. But because this non-physical ‘present or initial state’ is part of us, and is what defines us (at least in part), it is therefore appropriate to say that we are making the decisions freely according to our will. But the will itself cannot be considered to be free, because we cannot change it, and that should be plain to anyone based on their own experiences.

  101. …by simply counting of available states…

    How would you do this?

  102. 102

    From a religious perspective this seems rather simple. If one believes in God and in the Bible, then we believe when God tells us to choose, he really means for us to choose. I think we’re safe to take that and run with it.

    If we’re all just molecules subjected to the same forces, there’s no explanation for even the illusion of free will, just as there is no explanation for our very existence.

    When you take a bunch of molecules and subject them to similar forces, you get water running downhill, or perhaps even some more complex chemical reaction. They don’t form entities that question whether they have free will or only the illusion of having free will. Or they’re not actually questioning their own free will, but creating an illusion of questioning the illusion of their own free will which other molecules then create the illusion of perceiving.

    If I take religion out of it, then I suppose we could be computer simulation or very complex automatons going through the motions of pretending to be real.

    But if I decide or even discover that my consciousness is an illusion, what do I do next? Kill myself? Wanton hedonism?

  103. 103

    gpuccio, I see here three main parts in what you have said:

    The first part is “that we make the choices that we do according to how, inwardly, we react to our situation”, and I agree completely, as long as I understand what you mean by “inwardly”. If by “inwardly” you mean our will, or desires, then I agree, because after all, as I told JDH, it is our desires that define us and make us who we are (at least in part). So in other words you could have said “we make choices according to our desires, or will.”

    The second part is the “context where our consciousness has a moral intuition about the different meanings and values of different choices”. I suppose you are speaking of what we perceive to be ‘right’ and ’wrong’ within a moral context, whether our perceptions are accurate or not. So in other words you could have said “we have a perception of what is morally right and wrong.”

    The third part is where you say that “free choices are made from our heart and soul’s adherence, or not adherence, to what is intuitively felt as good”, which in other words would mean that we choose to do the right thing based on whether or not we are committed to doing the right thing.

    Well, I agree completely, if I have taken your meaning correctly. You have used terms like “inwardly” and “heart and soul”, but what you mean by this is up in the air. We need to be able to explain what we mean by “inwardly” and what it means to make choices “from the heart”. And I think the best way to do that is to define our ‘inward being’, or ‘our heart’, as what it is that we truly desire. Desire is what separates us from robots, or mere automatons, and it is our deep down desires that really define us as individuals. Or in other words, our will is what makes us who we are. Consciousness or awareness, and cognition, are also what makes us who we are and is necessary in order for the will to exist at all, but we all are aware and are able to cogitate, so it is therefore our individual ‘wills’ that distinguish us from one another.

    But what you are missing in 12.1.1 is the realization that our commitment to doing the right thing is in and of itself a desire, i.e. we desire to do the right thing, and because of that, we end up doing the right thing. Why else would we be committed to doing something unless we first had the desire to do so? It must also be said that the desire to do the right thing must be stronger than the desire to do the wrong thing, otherwise we will do the wrong thing. For after all, a commitment is nothing more than the realization that we will be confronted with situations where we will desire to do the wrong thing, so we therefore set out to remind ourselves, as often as need be, that we also desire to do the right thing, and that we desire to fight and resist the temptations so as not to cause harm to anyone or ourselves. But without the desire to do the right thing, and to fight and resist due to a hatred for what is evil, there will be no commitment of this sort.

  104. 104

    Scott, but I would say that Christ desired to please his Father more than he desired to avoid the cross. He also desired the same as the Father, which was to redeem his people. It was love that held him to the tree, as they say. And what is love but the desire for the well being, joy, happiness and pleasure of others. So I would say that Christ desired these things much more than he desired to avoid the agony of the cross. IOW it was Christ love of the Father and of us that determined what he would do.

  105. 105

    MrD, please see 12.1.1.1, I think my response to gpuccio overlaps (at least in part) with what I would say in response to you here.

  106. An entity with free will has the ability to take actions which effect the physical world, but are not random nor dictated by the initial conditions of present physical state.

    JDH

    The trouble about this definition is that it is entirely negative. You have defined free will in terms of what is not – which is not a lot of help in understanding what it is.

    Suppose you believe you have made a choice using your free will – then some neuroscientist shows how that choice was actually an inevitable consequence of your brain state. By your definition this no longer counts as an example of free will. But what was it about the experience of making the choice that gave you the impression that it was neither random nor dictated?

    See my comment 4.2.2.1 under Have Materialists Lost Their Minds? for your argument about the number of states a brain can be in.

  107. 107

    M. Holcumbrink,

    As far as I can tell we’re saying the same thing. Willing obedience is an expression of love. In fact the primary expressions of love for God are obedience and showing love to others.

  108. Hi M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you for your post. Like yourself, I have no secret of turning off wicked desires and replacing them with good ones, so I think we’re in the same boat on that score. However, I think that the real issue in your post pertains to human nature. You believe that evil desires are part of our corrupt nature, and yet you also believe that they are despicable. But surely a thing cannot be legitimately despised simply for being what it is. You might dislike and even loathe wolves for killing sheep, but it would make no sense to get indignant at them for doing so. If we are wolves by nature, morally speaking, then indignation would have no place in our moral vocabulary. And yet I find myself saying that we do have a right to feel indignant at killers like Genghis Khan, and I would not be impressed if he had insisted that it was in his nature to kill. For any particular vice that we find in human beings, we can always find some human beings who are not guilty of it; hence we have no grounds to call it natural.

    Also, if we are corrupt by nature, and Adam before the Fall was not, then it would follow that Adam had a different nature from ourselves, before the Fall. If our nature is to be human, than what nature did Adam possess? Was he non-human, then?

    I would prefer to say that in the absence of supernatural grace, our nature finds it much harder to combat sin than it otherwise would; and of course, acts of faith, hope and charity that require supernatural grace are beyond us. Even those who have received the gift of grace are prone to stumble, as they have to overcome a lifetime of bad habits.

    Grace, I believe, can perfect nature, but does not destroy it. A new man is still a man.

    My two cents.

  109. ScottAndrews2
    If we are not real, then you can’t kill yourself. And could not think about it. You have to be real to dream. This is the problem with human philosophy, you can go to outlandish ideas.

    The scientific evidence plus other evidence says there is a God. It is not as though you can take God out of it, what eventually happens is that man has to subject himself to that. This idea of no God, is only temporary. That is why after a concerted effort over 150 years to prove there is no God, has failed. They still do not know how life could have started, on its own. Or have they ever seen ‘evolution’.
    Now, we have groups that realize this, like UC and ID. The science only supports ID and ID comes from a creator.
    That is why I call what the scientists have done ,
    is the “Greatest Snow Job on Earth”.
    There is a blizzard of little bits of misinformation, and no actual proof. So what has happened is that the scientists have tried to bury the truth under all of this. But that only works for so long. The light of the truth will melt that all away . ( sounds like a sermon, :) sorry I didn’t mean it that way)I could not resist that last line.:)
    I know I go into God more than some feel comfortable with, in this forum. But to ignore that, would mean missing out on the most important part of the evidence. What is the point of ID, with out knowing who the intelligent designer is? Isn’t that the same thing as the ‘evolutionary’ scientists turning their backs on the evidence?
    Creation is science.
    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  110. 110

    MrD:

    There is a difference between desire and decisions.

    And who would disagree with that! And that is in large part what I am trying to say! Yet it seems to me that you equivocate the two regularly, like when you say “If you have a desire to follow God, that is your free will to choose that”. You must realize that ‘our will’ is synonymous with ‘our desire’ (the word ‘free’ must be dropped in order for us to make any headway here). So when you say this, what you are actually saying is “If you have a desire to choose God, that is your desire to choose that”, as if that was profound. That’s like saying “if you want to jump up and down, then that’s what you want to do”!

    Then you say “if we did not have free will, there would be no choice”. Well what do you mean? If you equivocate ‘free will’ and ‘choice’, that’s like saying “if we did not have choice, there would be no choice”, which is absurd. But if you replace ‘free will’ with ‘desire’, then we can say “if we did not have a desire, then there would be no [meaningful] choice”, which is true, and I have been saying that, but I am saying more.

    You seem to be under the impression that when people like me say that we do not have free will, what you think of is God grabbing us by the scruff of the neck and making us do this or that by pulling our strings (hence your reference to robots), but that is not at all what I am saying. When we do anything at all, we are making choices, not anyone else. We do them on our own accord. But because choice is distinct from desire, the question is: why do we do what we do? Why do we make the uncoerced decisions that we do? Is it because we want to, or is it because of some obscure thing called ‘free will’ that we posses within ourselves? You assert the latter, but that doesn’t make any sense experientially if you pay attention to yourself, nor does not make any sense causally.

    But what we see in humans is that 2 people both trying to follow God, both with the same pressures, one will go one way and the other might choose a different way. That is why God has forgiveness, we are not going to always make the correct decisions, because we have free will

    Yes, we see this all the time, people facing the same circumstances making completely different decisions. You appeal to this “free will” to explain it, but I am saying that it is due to their individual desires, which is a much more satisfying explanation, it seems to me. So you say: “we do what we do because of ‘free will’.” But I say: “we do what we do because we want to.” But is that so profound? It reminds me of being a kid when my parents would ask me “why did you do that”, to which I always had the notion to respond “because I wanted to”, but dared not, so I would always say “I don’t know” and played dumb. And is there any doubt that we often times have conflicting desires? Then the explanation becomes “we do this and not that because we want to do this more than we want to do that.” Again, is that so profound? Who would argue with that statement? [We desire to eat the chocolate, but we also desire to lose weight, and in the end one of the two will win out based on which is strongest. But the strength of these desire wax and wane, so we find ourselves alternating between our choices. Why is that so hard to see?] Every choice we make revolves around a desire, and it is absurd to assert otherwise. Our desires drive our choices, and this was Christ’s position on the matter.

    So then we come to the big question of can we control our desires (which you also seem to advocate). If we cannot, then our actions are determined by things outside of us, and so is our course in life. But to say that we can change our desires is at least causally absurd, and is certainly not in line with our experiences. So assume that our desires drive our choices, then consider the following:

    1) Let’s say I start off with no desire to do anything whatsoever. What would prompt me to make the decision to give myself desires? If you say “free will”, that’s a cop out. It’s like a Darwinist saying “random mutation + natural selection did it”. In this sense ‘free will’ doesn’t mean anything at all, it’s a black box that we appeal to, and we still need to ask the question of why our ‘free will’ caused us to make the choice. But if we say that we desired to give ourselves desires, that doesn’t make any sense either, because the desire is what we are trying to explain in the first place. That’s like a physicist saying that the universe created itself from itself.

    2) Now let’s say that I have a desire to do something that I consider to be wrong (steal, lie, murder, take your pick). There is a struggle here that will more than likely ensue if I am inclined to resist it due to the desire to do what is right. But if I have the ability to change my desires, then I should just change my desire to NOT want to do the wrong, and the struggle is over. And yet we still struggle because we cannot change our desires, even if we want to. And if you say that we can learn to change our desires over time, does that excuse the murderer because when he committed the murder he did not have the ability to change his desires? No. Besides, that would just be an admission that there are times when we certainly cannot change our desires, and yet are still culpable.

    So at best what we are left with is the desire to be rid of our wicked desires, and we are stuck with that until the next life. The Puritans understood this well, and self-examination is the key to seeing it.

  111. 111

    I believe in God and the Bible, and I think the conclusions of ID make sense. But ID doesn’t point to God or the Bible. It just points to one or more intelligent entities.

    I think there’s also abundant evidence in nature that points to God. It just isn’t particularly scientific. The trouble is that rather than using science as a tool to discover reality, too many come to think that science defines reality. (They may not admit it, but in practice they reject anything that cannot be demonstrated scientifically, except when it suits them not to.)

    This reasoning amounts to concluding that if we can’t see something, it can’t exist. Not doesn’t exist, may or may not exist, but can’t exist. This is flawed on its surface, because from the cell to the neighborhood to the universe, reality is clearly full of things that existed before we had the means to detect them.

    I know, I know. That’s Not How Science Works. And it’s not. That’s how people work.

  112. ScottAndrews2
    But ID doesn’t point to God or the Bible. It just points to one or more intelligent entities.
    —————————————
    It depends what you mean by science. For example. There is biology, anthropology, archaeology, historians and sociology. These are sciences as well. These all have to be included in a search of our origin.
    And science works ok, but it’s the scientists, that you have to watch out for.
    I have been told by ‘evolutionary’ scientists that they do not have a method of detecting, ID. That means if you give them a loaf of bread, they would theorize and study it, and try to prove how it came about on it’s own naturally. But of course never be able to prove it. ( sound familiar ?)
    They do not use other branches of science , to help in their search for answers. They would soon find that there are contradictions, from other scientific fields of study.

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

  113. 113

    That’s the way I usually try to handle it too, but when I know I am arguing with theists or professing Christians, I tend to do a little “appealing to authority” with the Bible. I know I will lose the athiests, but at that point my argument is not directed towards them anyway.

  114. I don’t suppose you did your music degree at Cambridge? If so we were contemporaries.

  115. Jon

    I did my philosophy degree at Cambridge from 1969-72. Does that make us contempories?

  116. Sure does, but I was your junior by a year, and doing medicine @ Pembroke.

  117. 117

    vjtorley,

    I think that the real issue in your post pertains to human nature. You believe that evil desires are part of our corrupt nature, and yet you also believe that they are despicable. But surely a thing cannot be legitimately despised simply for being what it is

    If you believe that our nature is corrupt (as a Christian should – I assume you are a Christian by things you have said), then by definition it is correct to despise it. But then what does it mean to have a corrupt nature but to have corrupt desires (or at least that is what I am arguing). And in regards to wolves, I don’t think I have ever been indignant towards them for eating sheep, nor have I been indignant towards men for doing the same. However, if I were to find wolves gossiping against one another behind their backs, and holding grudges and being inclined to murder other wolves because they were tailgating too close on the freeway, I would find that despicable. Dumb animals do not kill out of malice, or greed, or envy, or pride, but humans do, and there is quite a difference wouldn’t you say? But besides that, if prophecy tells us that the lion will eat grass and lie down with the lamb, it seems to me that that would imply that the current state of nature is not as it was meant to be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get sad when we watch a leopard take down a baby gazelle on the PBS nature shows. Nature itself is bent, and though it may not cause indignation, it at least causes sadness, and if it causes sadness, then we can say that it is less than perfect (or corrupted).

    Also, if we are corrupt by nature, and Adam before the Fall was not, then it would follow that Adam had a different nature from ourselves, before the Fall. If our nature is to be human, than what nature did Adam possess? Was he non-human, then?

    I have thought about this at some length. What you say is a really good point: if it is our nature that is corrupt and causes us to act out sinful behavior, and Adam was created with a non-corrupt nature, then why would he sin in the first place? I think the answer, at least in part, is in the fact that commands are given that are to be followed that are independent of the nature of our desires. IOW, we may have a desire for something that is not necessarily bad to desire, yet we are told not to do it because it will hose other things up if we do.

    With Adam, he was told to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (whether this is metaphor or not, I will not get into), “for the day you eat of it you shall die”. But when he did eat of it, he did not die until several hundred years later, so in what sense did he die? He died to God because his very nature became corrupted, so we see his nature modified only after the fact (human both before and after, but afterwards bent). So why did he sin? I think the answer lies in that what we believe determines whether we will obey God or not. Satan approached Eve and cast doubt on the truth of what God had said, and introduced another possibility to believe to be true. She was told “did God say you would not die? You will not surely die”! We are also told that the fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom. So there were two desires here before the fact, the desire to eat the fruit and to be wise, which in and of themselves are not bad or corrupt desires per se. So then what held them back from eating the fruit before Satan arrived? It was at least the fear of death. The desire to stay alive was stronger it seems, and kept them from eating it beforehand. But when Satan lied, there were then two candidate possibilities, and if there is no other way to determine which one is true, they will tend to cancel each other out (or at least that is my experience). The fall back would be the idea that God is just and true, and knowing this, the tendency would be to believe God over the serpent, not knowing anything about him, but Satan cast doubt on that too. Eve was told “God knows that when you eat of it you will become like him”, which cast doubt on the very character of God. With these two beliefs up in the air and cancelling each other out, it removed the fear of death, at least in part, and the desire to eat the fruit and be wise took precedence, so she ate. So we see here that even for Adam & Eve, their desires determined their actions. They were murdered by Satan, yet murdered nonetheless.

    Or that’s how I see it, anyway.

  118. Elizabeth Liddle:

    You wrote:

    “The brain is a profoundly chaotic system. I mean “chaotic” in the technical sense, of course – it’s a shame it has a lay meaning of disordered. Chaotic systems, as you know, are highly structured.”

    Yes, what a “shame” that the word “chaos” had a meaning in the English language long before some very recent scientific investigators came along and chose to give the word a very different meaning! If only those bothersome “normal” people, with their everyday use of language, could be got rid of, and scientists were put in charge of language! The world would be a much better place then.

    Just think; we could redefine “love” and “justice” and “wisdom” and “beauty” with the precision of modern science. B. F. Skinner could give us scientifically clear and distinct meaning of the word “love,” and maybe Peter Atkins could inform us how better to use the word “beauty,” and so on. No more of this inaccurate folk-talk; rigorous language would reign supreme. And that’s we we need, isn’t it?

    Just think of education theory, in which educators now use the word “outcomes” to mean “objectives” or “desired goals,” whereas the vulgar, unwashed, common folk still use the primitive, utterly unclear meaning of “outcome,” i.e., “what actually happens.” Think of how much confusion the vulgar are bringing to the world, by employing the word “outcome” in a usage that has survived due to its utility and etymological transparency for centuries, when they could do the world a service by dropping that usage and going along with the usage introduced in the 1970s by people with Ph.D.s in Education!

    We must not of course allow ourselves to consider absolutely ludicrous alternative views, such as, for example, the irrational view that scientists (and other specialists) should, instead of taking a word with an established meaning and twisting it into an unrecognizable sense, should invent their own *new* term for the new meaning they are trying to express, and leave the everyday meaning of existing words alone. No, that would be just silly!

    T.

  119. Wow, Timaeus, you’re awfully quick to attack.

    You wrote:

    Yes, what a “shame” that the word “chaos” had a meaning in the English language long before some very recent scientific investigators came along and chose to give the word a very different meaning! If only those bothersome “normal” people, with their everyday use of language, could be got rid of, and scientists were put in charge of language! The world would be a much better place then.

    This is clearly not what Elizabeth meant. She wrote:

    The brain is a profoundly chaotic system. I mean “chaotic” in the technical sense, of course – it’s a shame it has a lay meaning of disordered. Chaotic systems, as you know, are highly structured.

    She’s simply lamenting the confusion caused by the difference between the technical and lay definitions, not blaming anyone for it. She’s not suggesting that the lay meaning be abandoned or that the hoi polloi should be gassed for using the word that way.

    Why interpret her comment so negatively when a benign interpretation makes more sense? Your trigger finger seems a bit twitchy these days where Elizabeth is concerned.

  120. Champignon:

    I understood Elizabeth’s point. You, however, seem not to have fully understood mine. To make it clearer, I offer the following imaginary alternative. Elizabeth *could have* written:

    “It’s a shame the scientists who originated chaos theory chose a word with an already established meaning which was bound to get confused with the meaning they wanted to convey”.

    Do you feel the difference between *this* way of expressing a concern about “confusion” and the way Elizabeth chose to express it? It’s quite a palpable difference, actually.

    I’m quite willing to believe that Elizabeth wasn’t consciously blaming anyone. But our ways of saying things often indicate unconscious attitudes. I was trying to expose one such unconscious attitude. And I didn’t mean to be picking on Elizabeth personally. As my comments showed, I was addressing a wider trend in the English language, a trend whereby technical terms are unskilfully forged out of non-technical language, and then, as the technical term slowly creeps out of technical literature into general discourse, communication problems develop. The solution is not to name things improperly in the first place.

    Educators should not be writing “outcome” when they mean “desired outcome”; they should use the language of the common people unless there is a pressing necessity to do otherwise, e.g., if the language of the common people is incorrect or misleading. But there is nothing incorrect or misleading about the way everyday people use the word “outcome”; in fact, it is the highly-paid educators, with their Ph.D.s and their Directorships of Education, who are using the word “outcome” in an incorrect and confusing way. Parents, students, and school-board trustees can’t understand this strange jargon, and therefore, it shouldn’t be used.

    “Chaotic systems are in fact highly structured” is an example of where natural scientists do the same thing. The statement is obviously false in its everyday sense –”chaotic systems” would not be highly structured; they would be, well, chaotic, i.e., disorderly and unstructured. [In addition, the sentence is meaningless, as the subject, "chaotic system" is a contradiction in terms, as if one had said, "Square circles are highly structured." If it's truly "chaotic" in the normal sense, it won't be a "system" at all.] What is really meant, it seems, is that “In certain contexts, apparently chaotic events are in fact highly structured.” Such language would better serve the purpose of universal communication, because it would mean the same thing to any literate person — layman or scientist — who read it.

    The same could be said about Hawking’s recent blatherings about getting universes out of “nothing.” But of, course, by “nothing” Hawking does not mean what normal literate human beings mean by “nothing”; he is referring to “the quantum vacuum” which is not “nothing.” But the public, learning its science from the 15-second sound bite, will not understand that, and Hawking’s language thus confuses all non-physicists, and is misleading, strictly speaking, even to physicists.

    It used to be, up to about 50 years ago, that highly educated people were the ones we could count on to use language clearly, precisely, and properly, and that the masses were the ones who used language loosely, sloppily, and erroneously. But over the past 50 years, the reverse has increasingly been the case, with the more highly educated people leading the way in bizarre terminology and strange misuses of words.

    When a professor of film studies says that “Violence is the greatest form of pornography in films,” he is talking nonsense, because he is misusing the term “pornography.” What he is trying to say is that violence in films should be regarded as much more offensive than pornography; instead, he confuses the public about the meaning of “pornography” in a way that the non-university-educated generation of my parents never would have done. And of course, let’s not forget all those American and British social science professors of the 1960s and 1970s who taught their students to regard free market economics as “Fascist,” thus making it impossible to have a serious intellectual discussion about economic systems.

    Needless to say, in a civilization that is already suffering severe fragmentation, serious confusion in the very language we speak and write is no laughing matter. Much more could be said about this, but I’ll stop.

    T.

  121. Timaeus,

    I’m quite willing to believe that Elizabeth wasn’t consciously blaming anyone. But our ways of saying things often indicate unconscious attitudes. I was trying to expose one such unconscious attitude. And I didn’t mean to be picking on Elizabeth personally.

    So we are now to be scolded for our unconscious attitudes, despite the fact that we are, by definition, unaware of them?

    As for not picking on Elizabeth, take another look at what you wrote:

    Elizabeth Liddle:

    You wrote:

    “The brain is a profoundly chaotic system. I mean “chaotic” in the technical sense, of course – it’s a shame it has a lay meaning of disordered. Chaotic systems, as you know, are highly structured.”

    Yes, what a “shame” that the word “chaos” had a meaning in the English language long before some very recent scientific investigators came along and chose to give the word a very different meaning! If only those bothersome “normal” people, with their everyday use of language, could be got rid of, and scientists were put in charge of language! The world would be a much better place then.

    Just think; we could redefine “love” and “justice” and “wisdom” and “beauty” with the precision of modern science. B. F. Skinner could give us scientifically clear and distinct meaning of the word “love,” and maybe Peter Atkins could inform us how better to use the word “beauty,” and so on. No more of this inaccurate folk-talk; rigorous language would reign supreme. And that’s we we need, isn’t it?

    If you weren’t picking on her personally, what do you call quoting her and mocking what she said in two snarky paragraphs filled with scare quotes, all under an interpretation of her remarks that you concede she did not intend?

  122. Champignon:

    I made essentially a single side-point, tangential to the main discussion here, but still, I thought, important. I’ve explained now twice why I thought it was important; I won’t explain it again.

    You seem to be worried that I have personally offended Elizabeth. If I did, she can tell me so, and I’ll address her concerns, rather than yours. Elizabeth and I have been discussing various matters for several months now, long before I ever saw your name on UD, and we have ways of working things out for ourselves; but thanks for your concern.

    I make no apologies for the “scare quotes” on “shame” — because the word “shame” suggests a deplorable situation, and the juxtaposition of the word with a comment on lay language seemed to cast an indirect negative light on lay language, without mentioning that, in this case, the *cause* of the deplorable situation lies entirely with the scientists who have altered the meaning of “chaotic.” I tried to demonstrate this to you with my alternate wording, but apparently the point escaped you. I won’t try to make it again.

    As for conscious versus unconscious, it is as important to bring to people’s attention objections their unconscious assumptions as their conscious ones. When modern, middle-class university graduates call taking their kids to the circus “a great opportunity for parent-child bonding,” they are using mechanistic, reductionist language, whether they know it or not, and it’s good to bring to their attention that they speak of “bonding” where the tradition would have spoken of “love,” and that the difference between the two is important.

    It’s harder to cure educated than uneducated people of these verbal habits, because educated people have been schooled to think they are more thoughtful and careful in their use of language than the average person, and can’t imagine that they would ever say anything that had implications they hadn’t thought of. But in fact, modern educated people have their heads crammed full of half-intellectual notions that they haven’t thought out, but have just absorbed from the modern ethos. I’ve known salesmen and farmers and housewives who are less infected by these notions than university professors and lawyers and journalists. I think it’s important to challenge these notions. If you don’t like such challenges, you don’t have to read my posts. But I don’t intend to stop making them.

    T.

  123. Timaeus,

    You mocked what Elizabeth wrote, using an uncharitable interpretation of her words that doesn’t match what she was actually trying to say, as you yourself admit. You then presume to have identified her unconscious motives and to scold her for them.

    And you wonder why I object?

    Shall I claim to have detected an unconscious misogyny in your comments to Elizabeth, due to unresolved sexual issues in your past? Somehow, I suspect you would object to my presumptuousness if I were to do so.

  124. Timaeus has responded more than adequately on my behalf but I’ll say one thing more:

    Yes, as we age, we come to regret that some words that we enjoyed for the meaning they used to have no longer have those connotations. My own pet peeve is “disinterested”, a lovely word with a lovelier meaning, and the grumpy old woman with in me growls that not only have we lost the word, but we seem to have lost the virtue as well. Another is “want”, which used to mean “need” and now means “desire”, with the under-implication that one’s desires are also needs. Grrr.

    But language always changes. We have splended new words as well, and some splendid new concepts that have occasionally hijacked an old word with a perfectly good use of its own.

    That’s a shame (pity?). But if it were not so, language would never have developed to be the many-splendor’d thing it is in the first place, and even if it had, it would scarcely serve our purposes.

    And in any case, when we are talking about science (or anything technical, actually) it’s important, if we are to avoid equivocation, because very few words have a precise universally acknowledged definition) to give the relevant conceptual or operational definition intended by the writer.

    Which is why I qualified my use of the term “chaotic”. Chaos, in its new sense, is a profound and powerful concept, and considering the brain as a chaotic system has already proved, and continues to prove, highly enlightening.

  125. Sorry, meant “Champignon has responded more than adequately on my behalf….”

    Oops.

  126. Re “modern educated people” – how modern do you think I am, Timaeus?

    I was born in 1952. My son (b 1993) would highly amused.

  127. Elizabeth:

    When I was writing about “modern educated people” I no longer had you in mind — I had launched upon a general essay on the prejudices of the modern mind, stimulated by Champignon’s remark about conscious and unconscious beliefs.

    And by “modern” I meant the sort of middle-class educated person living in France, Britain, America, etc. over the past 150 years or so, though I had in mind mostly the postwar generations, i.e., from 1945 on. From the end of WW II on, middle-class thinking has become ever more monolithic, in both Britain and the USA. Thus, even though I was not thinking specifically of you, you would be just as “modern,” in general terms, as your son, even if he regards you as Neolithic for using e-mail rather than “texting.”

    T.

  128. heh. Thanks :)

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