Can Evolution Account for Rationality?

By Tim Stratton

The topic of my master’s thesis while at Biola University focused on what it means to genuinely be a “freethinker.” This argument — called the Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism — deductively proves that not only does libertarian free will exist, but so does the human soul. If the human soul exists, then the worldview of naturalism goes down the drain.

This has led many who hold a blind faith in naturalism to bend over backwards attempting to refute my argument that concludes their faith is faulty. Some attempt to counter my case by stating evolutionary theory can account for rationality. Can evolution refute the Freethinking Argument? No. The only way evolution could account for rationality is if it could account for libertarian free will (as I explained here). But, the reason most naturalistic scientists reject the notion of libertarian free will is because if all that exists is nature, then everything is determined by the laws of nature.

The well-known atheist, Daniel Dennett, on the other hand, has tried to make a case that “freedom evolves.”[1] However, we must recognize that this “freedom” Dennett argues for is not the same kind of freedom I discuss in my Freethinking Argument. It is not genuine libertarian free will; rather, he argues for compatibilism, which is simply faux determinism “covered with frosting!” The famous atheist and evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne, has realized Dennett’s mistakes and has forcefully disagreed with him:

Where does Dennett find freedom in a determined world? As his title implies, in evolution. . . .  Even though evolution tells us why we make certain “choices,” they still are not choices in the classical free-will sense: situations in which we could have decided otherwise. . . . In the end, I saw (Dennett’s) argument as a type of philosophical prestidigitation, in which our intuitive notion of free will had suddenly been replaced by something that, at first, sounded good, but ultimately didn’t comport with how we see “free” choice.  I felt as though I’d been presented with a cake, only to find that it was hollow in the middle, like a hatbox covered with frosting. . . . I see free will as the way most of us conceive of it: a situation in which one could have made more than one choice. If that’s how you see it, and you’re a determinist—which I think you pretty much have to be if you accept science—then you’re doomed.  You’re left with the task of defining free will in some other way that comports with determinism. . . . we aren’t really responsible for anything we do.[2]

 

Coyne appears correct: if naturalism is true, we are simply not responsible for anything we do. It logically follows that we would not even be responsible for any of our thoughts and beliefs. However, this also means that Coyne was not responsible for his beliefs that he was forced to state in response to Dennett. Similarly, Coyne should not be aggravated at Dennett’s argument, because he could not help thinking about or writing it in a determined world. It simply was not his fault.[3]

The FreeThinking Theist,

Tim Stratton

For more articles like: Can Evolution Account for Rationality? visit Tim’s site at FreeThinkingMinistries.com


NOTES

[1] Daniel C. Dennett, “Freedom Evolves” Penguin Books, London England, 2003

[2] Jerry Coyne, “Did Freedom Evolve?” http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/did-freedom-evolve/ (Accessed 8-30-14)

[3] Peter van Inwagen logically demonstrates that there is nothing “free” about compatibilism via his “Consequence Argument.”  An Essay on Free Will(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 16.

Rule Alpha: There is nothing anyone can do to change what must be the case (or what is necessarily so).

Rule Beta: If there is nothing anyone can do to change X, and nothing anyone can do to change the fact that Y is a necessary consequence of X, then there is nothing anyone can do to change Y either.

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9 replies
  1. Luke says:

    I have a few questions:

    I. In your argument, you make the case that ” If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.”

    Underneath that argument, you do not mention the word “soul” again.

    You go on to argue that rationality and free will exist, and conclude “therefore the human sole exists”.

    Nowhere do you argue how or why a soul allows for rationality or free will. You sort of assume that it does and sneak it in to your conclusion. Can you be a bit more specific about how it gets in there?

    II. You seem to imply that to be rational, one must make the choice to be rational. “Given the naturalist’s view of scientific determinism, how could anyone ever freely choose to be rational and know they are?” and “The naturalist who holds to determinism did not come to that conclusion based on their intelligence, and by choosing to examine the evidence to infer the best explanation.” (emphasis added)

    You seem to imply that if one were somehow bound by nature to be rational, they would not be choosing to be rational, therefore they were not actually rational. I think I’d like to see some defense of the “rationality requires the choice to be rational” idea.

    III. Can you give me an example of a free will decision that you made? Something that if it came up again (not a repeat, basically the same situation, but you’re transported back in time and everything is exactly the same), you could choose differently. How do you know that you could have chosen differently? What is the proof of that? (I hope we agree that “I feel like I could have” is not worthy of the label “proof”.)

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
    • Timothy Stratton says:

      Hi Luke! Thanks again for your great questions. I always appreciate your thoughtful pushback.

      You said, “In your argument, you make the case that “If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.” Underneath that argument, you do not mention the word “soul” again. You go on to argue that rationality and free will exist, and conclude “therefore the human sole exists”. Nowhere do you argue how or why a soul allows for rationality or free will. You sort of assume that it does and sneak it in to your conclusion. Can you be a bit more specific about how it gets in there?”

      Thank you for pointing that out, Luke! I may have been “assuming” that the readers of this article would be familiar with my other work. In my other writings I have discussed that I equate “soul” with “mind.” Since thoughts are immaterial, we have reason to think a mind/soul is a thinking thing that is other than nature. That is to say, a soul is an “immaterial thinking thing.” It follows from this that this thinking thing would not be causally determined via the laws of chemistry, physics, quantum mechanics, or any other physical or material thing or process. The soul would be *free* from the cause and effect determinism of the natural universe, and thus, the soul (you as an agent) can freely think. That is to say, your thoughts and beliefs are not forced upon you via external factors beyond your control. You can genuinely and freely choose (at least some of) your beliefs. I have an article dealing with that exact topic on my website.

      You said, “You seem to imply that to be rational, one must make the choice to be rational. “Given the naturalist’s view of scientific determinism, how could anyone ever freely choose to be rational and know they are?” and “The naturalist who holds to determinism did not come to that conclusion based on their intelligence, and by choosing to examine the evidence to infer the best explanation.”

      The main thing to consider is that if all of your beliefs (and your thoughts about those beliefs) are not your own but forced upon you by non-thinking chemical and physical reactions, then you are only left *assuming* your thoughts and beliefs are good, true, and better than mine. This is question-begging and thus, not justified true belief (knowledge).

      You said, “You seem to imply that if one were somehow bound by nature to be rational, they would not be choosing to be rational, therefore they were not actually rational. I think I’d like to see some defense of the “rationality requires the choice to be rational” idea.”

      Well, if you don’t *really* make any choices, then you only experience the illusion of making choices. This would include the illusion of thinking you are choosing to be rational (even if you really aren’t). Here’s the thing (as Victor Reppert pointed out): If “all thoughts are determined by the non-purposive motions of atoms in the brain, it follows that such a process cannot be a rational inference. One cannot accept a materialist world-view and the claim that someone has reached the conclusion that materialism is true on the basis of argument only if mental states exist as a matter of physical structure.”

      Now, to be clear, as I’ve pointed out in my other writing, I am not arguing that no one could hold true beliefs if determinism is true; rather, I just demonstrate that this belief could never be rationally affirmed or justified. Thus, this belief would not count as a knowledge claim, even if it happened to be true.

      You asked: “Can you give me an example of a free will decision that you made?”

      Sure! I did not have to write this response to you. I am freely choosing to interact with you at this very moment. I also freely choose to believe that indirect doxastic voluntarism is true. Now, if I am wrong about this, then you did not freely choose to think that indirect doxastic voluntarism is false! Let that sink in for a bit! ☺

      You asked, “How do you know that you could have chosen differently? What is the proof of that? (I hope we agree that “I feel like I could have” is not worthy of the label “proof”.)”

      Not “proof” of absolute certainty, but it does count as strong evidence for high degrees of certainty! Philosophers have pointed out that this every day *experience* is one of the best reasons to reject determinism – because it really feels like I am making free choices! Similarly, although there is new evidence in physics today that the spacetime universe might really be something akin to a digital simulation (and space and matter do not really exist), since it really seems like we have bodies and exist in space we ought to reject idealism and the idea that reality is just a “matrix.”

      In fact, just as matter is a properly basic belief that one is justified in believing in unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, so is libertarian free will. Since naturalists can only *assume* naturalism is true, there is no proof that my intuitions that I possess libertarian free will, and my experiences of it, is false.

      Moreover, as I’ve explained in other articles, my Freethinking Argument deductively proves: “Therefore, Libertarian Free Will exists.”

      That is good reason to think that I am freely choosing to respond to you right now, freely choosing to reject naturalism, and freely choosing to put my reasonable faith in God (among other things).

      I’ve got to run and will be away for a few days. Have a great weekend, Luke, and thanks for the great questions, my friend!

      -Tim

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “because it really feels like I am making free choices!”

        That’s not a great argument. It’s barely an argument at all. “I feel like I’m making free choices”.

        At any rate, experiments have shown that part of our brains make choices BEFORE we are consciously aware we have made them. This is a huge blow against Tim’s argument.

        “It follows from this that this thinking thing would not be causally determined via the laws of chemistry, physics, quantum mechanics, or any other physical or material thing or process”

        This doesn’t solve the free will problem. Thought processes are either caused or they’re random. This applies whether the mechanics of the brains are natural or supernatural. This argument is effectively inventing a ‘magic box’ that we can’t explain, and saying that free will emerges from it.

        Reply
      • toby says:

        Since thoughts are immaterial, we have reason to think a mind/soul is a thinking thing that is other than nature.
        Can you explain how thoughts are immaterial and how you know this?

        That is to say, a soul is an “immaterial thinking thing.” It follows from this that this thinking thing would not be causally determined via the laws of chemistry, physics, quantum mechanics, or any other physical or material thing or process.
        I challenge you to tell me one thing you think or do that doesn’t stem from something previous.

        The soul would be *free* from the cause and effect determinism of the natural universe, and thus, the soul (you as an agent) can freely think.
        I don’t buy this at all. All of our thoughts a built on previous thoughts and experiences.

        That is to say, your thoughts and beliefs are not forced upon you via external factors beyond your control.
        Would you say that some are? Language for instance. Forced upon you from a young age and gives definition to your thoughts and beliefs. What would a mind be without language? Or in the case of a deaf mute “visual language”?

        You can genuinely and freely choose (at least some of) your beliefs. I have an article dealing with that exact topic on my website.
        I doubt it. Because what you believe comes from preexisting events and information and those things effect and shape the way you think. You couldn’t have some of your beliefs if you never learned language. You couldn’t have a belief about raspberry pie if you’d never seen a pie before. What about subliminal messages? You’re in a hot movie theater and a single frame of cold soda appears and disappears so fast that you don’t even notice it and after a while you think, “Gee, I’d like a soda.”

        Reply
  2. Luke says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your nice message. I find this stuff really interesting and devote a lot of my free thought time to the subject (see what I did there? — did he mean free time, or thought free from determinism? we may never know). First of all, how did you get the idea that “[I]… think that indirect doxastic voluntarism is false!” I’ve never claimed to believe such a thing (though I have pushed back, as have you, on direct volunteerism). I actually buy into indirect doxastic voluntarism, but want to explore just how that works. To be bluntly honest, I want to believe it is true, and still do, but I run into more counterarguments in my analysis and thought experiments. So I do still believe in doxastic voluntarism, but have a hard time answering “how” it might possibly work and to make it compatible with my own experience. Anyway, I just noticed this. I think this was a bit of a throwaway comment, but I hope that you don’t assume that just because someone asks a question or two, they must disagree with you. The person may well agree and is just trying to gain a better understanding.

    Tim said:“That is to say, a soul is an ‘immaterial thinking thing’.”

    I see. I feel like this is quite beside the point, but this would mean (would it not?) that animals like gorillas which can have conversations in sign language (therefore demonstrably have thoughts) would also have souls. Is that something you believe?

    Also, even more beside the point, do you think that cats and dogs have free will as you define it? I think most pet owners would tell you that their cats and dogs “seem” to make decisions. I was just wondering what you thought.

    (Please don’t feel that you need to explain these answers (but of course you’re welcome to if you wish). I just think they’ll tell me more about where you’re coming from.)

    You go on to argue: “It follows from this that this thinking thing would not be causally determined via the laws of chemistry, physics, quantum mechanics, or any other physical or material thing or process. The soul would be *free* from the cause and effect determinism of the natural universe, and thus, the soul (you as an agent) can freely think.”

    This seems to me to contain a big slide. You seem to contend that once something is free from material laws and processes, it is free from all laws and processes (now “[it] can freely think”). This assumes that the only laws which exist are those of the material universe and/or only they can be a foundation for cause and effect. Just because something is free from the cause and effect of the natural universe does not automatically mean that there are no cause and effect chains in that immaterial universe, nor does it mean that there are no laws in such a universe. Maybe there aren’t, but since we cannot study that world, how could we possibly know? Why should we just assume such a thing? You’ve just assumed that here, and that undefended assertion is a big part of your argument. (It’s as if you’re saying: once we go retire from outside into a room sealed from sunlight: “we are free of light!”, just assuming there could never be such a thing as a light bulb.)

    I’ll even go further, the limited evidence we do have seems to be contrary to that assumption. Though we can’t prove this, it seems that the immaterial cannot become material; likewise it seems that the material cannot become immaterial (enter the immaterial universe). Still, from where we sit, it seems that we can say “here is something that seems to be always and forever true of any immaterial realm”. Again, this isn’t proof, but if we’re assuming as you are about what might be going on in an immaterial realm, it seems that this is the more reasonable guess, based on what we know. (This isn’t to say it disproves your assumption, it absolutely does not, but it does show that your assumption needs at least something to back it up.)

    Moreover though, it seems that if the aim is rationality, then laws and expected outcomes would be a good thing. It seems to me that there is either structure (which requires some kind of order and law, cause and effect) or there is randomness. In other words, something either happens for a reason (making it causal, deterministic) or is happens for no reason (making it random). It’s just not clear to me how or why saying “when x happens, anything else could happen after” (because there is no cause and effect) is a good way to build rationality. I think we’d agree that a perfectly rational mind would come to the same conclusion to the same problem each and every time. But if there is no cause and effect, no expected outcome — i.e. when there is randomness involvedhow could we expect an infinitely repeatable outcome to result?

    In other words, how does a system that relies on randomness always produce the same result in the same circumstances? (The same result to the same question is what we would get from a rational mind.)

    (It strikes me now that you may consider this the source of widely seen human irrationality, but if this is the case, we *could* be rational sometimes, but we’d have no way of knowing when that is, since randomness is at the heart of it all. So even this solution would pose the same, or worse, TJB problem you assign to determinism, it seems.)

    You may respond with “I didn’t say it was random”, but I see no other choice. As I said, something either happens for a reason (making it causal, deterministic) or is happens for no reason (making it random).

    Another problem this poses is the integrity of the mind. If there are no laws, how can we know that our mind is not being interfered with by other minds? If there are no laws (no rules), what could prevent this?

    Another aspect of this is just how it’s supposed to work. How does the immaterial do anything (like interact with our neurons)? Said more simply how does nothing do something? (Or more precisely how does something non-material influence something material?) If there is no matter or energy, how can it have any effect on a neuron? How can something happen or have an effect with no energy? (And if there is some kind of unknown to us, immaterial energy, how can it exist or be defined in a world without laws that describe it’s behavior? That’s the thing about laws of physics — they describe, they don’t prescribe. If there is no order which can be described, the name for that is chaos or randomness. Even if the immaterial soul/mind has a rational thought, if the behavior of this energy has no order (it can’t be described by a law), then how can we expect that energy to reliably interact with the neurons of the material world? Again, for your idea to work, you are relying on a realm with no laws, so even if you get over the “building repeatable rationality on randomness” problem, you’ve still got a “reliably affecting the material world without a reliable mechanism (i.e. without a mechanism relies on cause and effect, which you’ve assumed away). And again, if you introduced cause and effect into your immaterial realm to solve this, you’ve given up your entire solution.)

    To restate your take about true justified belief, I’d say relying on a lawless universe puts you in an even worse position. “The main thing to consider is that if all of your beliefs (and your thoughts about those beliefs) occur within a universe of randomness and with no order, then you are only left *hoping* your thoughts and beliefs just happened to be good, true, and better than mine. This is question-begging and thus, not justified true belief (knowledge).”

    (I’m inclined to agree with you by the way, about determinism and TJB of rationality. I haven’t thought through this very deeply, but this strikes me as reasonable. Though life does present us with real problems, so perhaps repeated successful problem solving would be some justification for believing in rationality? I don’t know. As I said, I haven’t thought about it too much, and am still inclined to agree with your view.)

    Let me ask a different question? Do you believe in miracles? Miracles are often said to be a suspension or alteration of the laws of nature. (Think: parting the sea, turning water into wine.) In other words, If you believe in miracles, then you believe that molecules don’t always follow physical laws, so determinism is not a problem. It seems this may be a better, simpler, more elegant way to get around this determinism than relying on the unspecified soul/mind which brings with it more of the problems I stated above. If you do believe in miracles, then how doesn’t that already force you away from determinism, even without an immaterial realm?

    Think of it.
    1. To have free will, your mind needs to be able to be free of the laws and cause and effect of this universe.
    2. Miracles prove that not everything in this universe is bound by laws and cause and effect at all times.
    3. Free will is therefore possible in this universe.

    This seems much simpler to me, and solves the problem you were worried about. So how do you know this isn’t how free will works?

    (You still have the randomness problem and/or the interference problem — if the miracles are triggered by something/someone, but at least you solve the reliable interaction problem, and the problem of just assuming what the immaterial world is like.)

    (to be continued…)

    Reply
  3. Luke says:

    Now onto the choices we make:

    I asked you about a free choice you made and you responded:: “Sure! I did not have to write this response to you. I am freely choosing to interact with you at this very moment.”

    When I think through this scenario (am I going to write Tim back?), I don’t feel as though I am made a choice. Rather, it feels that way superficially, but once I think about it more deeply, I get a better sense of what is happening and it seems (to me) that I made no “choice” at all. I am making a calculation based on my long held and momentary needs and beliefs, and on a calculation of expected outcomes based on prior experience. This is something a programmed computer could do. I will get into this in more detail below. To me, given everything going on around me today, and my feelings and beliefs today, I would always reply to you. I have a desire to learn about this, and a curiosity to see how you’ll reply. I didn’t choose to have this curiosity, or the need I feel to have it satisfied. It’s just sort of there. I didn’t choose to enjoy witting about and thinking these things through. I just enjoy them. All my brain has done is gone through a more complex and variable intensive version of this:

    — Maximizing criteria A, B, C, and D is good.
    (I don’t get to tell my brain sadness is good. For me happiness is just good, I don’t get to control that.)

    — Replying will probably yield 60 points in A, 40 in B, 100 in C, and 60 in D
    (These are presented for you by your brain. If you think “will it hurt if I jump out of this window, you don’t get to ‘choose’ what to think. You can’t just choose to think “it won’t hurt”.)

    — Not replying will probably yield 20 in A, 50 in B, 0 in C, and 60 in D.

    I will reply.

    Now, sometimes we find that we think about a decision more deeply. But I can’t make my brain think “I should analyze variable B more carefully. I can’t think “I should analyze B more carefully” without thinking about it (I know, wonderfully tautological). The point is, unless the thought “Should I think about B more carefully” occurs to me I don’t get the chance to think of that. And if the thought occurs to me, then we’re just back at another calculation of “is it worth it to analyze B more carefully? Here are my expected outcomes of not thinking about it more, and thinking about it more, which better maximizes my criteria?” It’s just another calculation.

    So yes, it seems like a free choice on the surface, but the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to defend that idea. The choice is forced upon me by other feelings that I have, which don’t seem to me ones I’ve chosen to have. (I do believe we have some power to slowly and indirectly change those deeper motivations, so there is some free will there, but in the moment of choice they are set, and they bind us to just one true option, therefore not a free choice.)

    I’m sure this is familiar to you, as it is similar to what most compatibilists put forth (with a key difference I’m sure you noted).

    So when I think about you writing me back. I don’t think you had a choice. You just responded to the criteria your brain set before you in that moment. (You believe, as I do, that we have some indirect influence over those background variables, but in the moment of “should I write Luke back?”, they are set.) Yes, you probably felt yourself making a calculation, and may have even had some sub-calculations like I mentioned (“should I analyze this criteria more deeply?”) and yes, you had some view of your brain doing this work. We call this brain work and this feeling “choosing”, but it’s just a calculation, it’s not free; it follows a formula. There were two potential outcomes, but only one possible outcome.

    Just how we feel our brain working when we solve 255*577, but we call that doing math, and in this case we call it choosing. But that doesn’t mean we can change the process.

    Your choice to write me back may have been right or wrong, but your brain took inputs and it gave an outcome. It did a calculation, and you were a witness to some of that process. You could hear some of the calculations, but you didn’t choose them.

    (Again, you couldn’t consider “maybe Luke will write back something insulting so maybe I should just avoid him” unless that though occurred to you. And you can’t choose to have a thought occur without having a thought about that thought occur (and so on, endlessly). Where is the choice in that? If you do have the thought you’re just using my “calculation” explanation to resolve it.)

    Just as you said it seems to you that you have a choice (and called this “strong evidence” that this means that we make them), as I’ve really focused on how “I” make decisions, really trying to tune into that process, it seems to me that I don’t actually make decisions. I’m a passive listener as my brain makes them. Is this “strong evidence” that there is no free will? According to your argument it would seem so. (You also say that philosophers have pointed out that this feeling is strong evidence for free will, but surely you admit that a large majority philosophers don’t believe in the type of free will you champion. A majority are compatibalists, whose definition of free will concludes that you could not have chosen differently in the case of writing me back (that is you’d always make that choice in those circumstances), and a smaller numbers believe in libertarian free will, and about an equally small number believe in no free will at all. So, if you’re going to rely on what philosophers believe as an argument, you’re going to end up undermining your position. I’m relying here on that large survey “What Do Philosophers Believe” from a few years ago. My brain decided I should give you the authors, so hold on a sec… Bourget and Chalmers.)

    So to go back to your decision to respond to me. When I think it through it seems that writing me back was a calculation based on the goals you wanted to achieved and an estimation of expected outcomes. Will writing me back help satisfy the goals you would like to achieve? If based on prior experience, it will, then you will write back. If not, you won’t. It’s not really a choice. Given those inputs, you’d never come to a different conclusion. Your brain believed that writing me back was the best way to achieve the things that it cares about (which we’d say are the things “you” care about). And since you care about what you care about and can’t cavalierly decide to not care about “being happy” today, you did not actually have a free choice to not write me back. As I said before, there were two potential outcomes, but only one possible one. Given the same circumstances, your deeper beliefs and the things going on in your life that day, I’d argue that you’d always make the same choice. Do you disagree?

    (Now it’s certainly possible that you would not write me back, but in my view this would be because some other belief or criteria, combined with more momentary inputs you don’t directly and freely control (your mood) would be better satisfied by that decision. In other words, for you to choose “no” you’d need different circumstances, and those circumstances would determine your decision. We all care about a multitude of things and our decisions best try to satisfy those needs — which come from our beliefs (doxa) and more fluid inputs we don’t control. Does this make sense? I’m trying to be brief and just hope you’ll get what I mean. (So for example, spending time with your kids could be on your mind, so that aspect would outweigh others.)

    I think the criteria we’re trying to satisfy shift constantly. The best example of this may be when we are in a foul mood. We may not treat someone the way we know we should have because other things become temporarily more important (a need to express our frustration, for example). And it seems to me that the interplay of always changing needs and longer held values that our decisions aim to satisfy provides a pretty convincing explanation of human behavior.

    (And this is one place — not the only — where I see room for indirect volunteerism. I think we can think “okay, last time I was rude to my mom, it was because I was grumpy. Next time I’m grumpy, I’m going to be more careful.” In other words, I think we can ‘teach’ ourselves to calculate expected outcomes differently (i.e. “When I let my mood be too large of a factor in my decision, I end up sad. I need to remember that!”) However, we can’t really call up a thought of “I need to teach myself to calculate outcomes better”. We need the thought to occur for us. And we can’t consciously call up thoughts (one can’t think “I should think of my mom” without already thinking of their mom!). Since we rely on involuntary thoughts to be change our beliefs and calculations, is it really free? I don’t know. We acknowledge this phenomenon a lot in our conversations “that made me think of x” we say. We do seem to experience choice, but we also seem to realize that our thoughts just come and go without our control. I can’t think of an example of a thought that is not in response to something (can you?) — a cause and effect, deterministic phenomenon. So while this is a place I see room for volunteerism, I also see room to doubt it.)

    Again, I would say that given what you care about and how you were feeling when these options were available to you (write Luke back, or don’t), you would make the same decision each and every time. In reality only one choice was possible.

    We’re sort of back to the idea that you’re either making these decisions based on something, and given those inputs you’d always make the same choice (something I think a computer could do), or they’re just random. Again, if it’s just random, how can randomness be considered rational or lead to repeated outcomes we’d expect of rationality?

    (For clarity’s sake, what I speak of above would be Daniel Kahneman’s ‘slow’ thinking, and System 1 thinking is different in function, and I think everyone would agree that it is not free in any ‘free will’ sense.)

    I’ll stop there, I suppose. I’m curious what you think of all this.

    Actually, let me add one more question, something I also don’t have a good answer for. You argue for a version of free will that is pretty limited (and I think you are right to do so). For example, you say “If so, I am truly responsible for at least some of my beliefs” and “can make real choices (at least occasionally)”. You say that “For instance, even if I were offered a billion dollars to really choose to believe at this very moment that there is no such thing as the reality of the past or that G-d does not exist, it would be impossible for me to really believe these propositions are true.”

    You propose this concept of the soul and claim that it makes us “free”, yet if that is so, then where do these limits come from? If the soul is “free” as you claimed, then why don’t we have a much freer will? If your soul (immaterial thinking thing) is free, why aren’t you free to believe as you want? And forget choosing beliefs, if my soul is “free” why can’t I drive this annoying song out of my head? He he! (These quotes are from the article “Can we chose our beliefs?” on your website, not here and the emphasis is added.)

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
  4. Andy Ryan says:

    Luke: “You seem to contend that once something is free from material laws and processes, it is free from all laws and processes (now “[it] can freely think”). This assumes that the only laws which exist are those of the material universe and/or only they can be a foundation for cause and effect. Just because something is free from the cause and effect of the natural universe does not automatically mean that there are no cause and effect chains in that immaterial universe”

    I agree, Luke. I made exactly the same point to Tim on the other thread – that introducing the supernatural doesn’t solve the free will problem he presents. The choices seem to be either ’cause and effect’ or ‘random’. Either the supernatural just introduces another layer of cause and effect or it introduces randomness. Neither produce the free will that Tim is after.

    Tim’s evidence that he has free will amounts to ‘I feel that I do’. Well perhaps this sensation is just what it feels like to have a consciousness that has arisen out of a physical brain, determined by the laws of physics. How does he think it WOULD feel like without what he calls ‘free will’.

    There’s another common challenge to theistic free will, that if there’s a God who knows everything you’re ever going to do, then effectively you couldn’t have chosen differently, and therefore can’t really claim you have free will. And given that God knows everything, he must therefore also know his OWN choices. Meaning that his own free will is in conflict with his omnipotence! If he makes a different choice to the one he ‘knew’ he was going to make then that means his omnipotence failed! This is at least as big a problem for theists as for atheists.

    Anyway, I see this as being pretty similar to Tim’s argument that if your brain obeys the laws of physics that you ‘couldn’t have chosen differently’. Neither mean that a person doesn’t make choices in every way that actually matters. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk about good choices and bad choices. It doesn’t mean a person who committed a crime can’t be punished for it.

    With regards to the latter, imagine a criminal pleading to a judge. He says: “I have no free will so you can’t punish me for killing my neighbour – I was determined to do it. Please consider this my argument and let me go free”. The judge could reply: “If you think that I can be persuaded by your argument then you’re allowing that humans can weigh things up and make choices. If that’s the case then you could have weighed by arguments against killing your neighbour and made a choice not to. If you think you were determined to kill him, then equally I am determined to sentence you for the crime.”

    In other words, either way it doesn’t make a difference to how we treat a criminal, or anyone else for the choices they make.

    BTW, a few months ago Tim complimented you on your short replies to him compared to the ‘books’ that I posted. I’ll be interested to see what he makes of your two lengthy replies above!

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  5. Luke says:

    Andy said:“a few months ago Tim complimented you on your short replies to him compared to the ‘books’ that I posted. I’ll be interested to see what he makes of your two lengthy replies above!”

    Perhaps we’ll never know.

    Unfortunately, some subjects are complex and take time to explain and explore clearly. (That’s not to say I could not have done better, but it was bound to be long no matter what.)

    Luke

    Reply
  6. Luke says:

    Hi Tim,

    I know that the response I wrote is quite long, but I just read most of it again, and I do think it brings up some interesting questions that I’d like to hear your view on. (The second post is definitely too repetitive — sorry).

    Thanks,

    Luke

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