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A long ramble about free will denies its existence, but nicely


The piece is notable for apparent incoherence on the subject: From philosopher Joseph Laporte at Big Questions Online:

As we learn from Augustine’s Confessions, he felt the crushing burden of his vices and of his own helplessness to lift himself without God’s grace. That fits with many people’s experience. Besides, it’s Christian orthodoxy: without grace, there is no action toward spiritual flourishing. Here it’s helpful to invoke freedom-for-excellence. Without God’s help, we lack freedom-for-excellence, freedom to be virtuous. In my insecurity, I go shopping for clothes; later I look in my closet with buyer’s remorse. Or, I’m late again and ask myself what went wrong with my time management. Or, my memory of adolescence is no longer fresh, so I overreact to my son’s adolescent mistakes instead of understanding them. In situations like these, we sense the need for God’s uplifting grace to clear our heads and to put us on the path of virtue.

In fact, this account fits well with scientific determinism’s insistence that we cannot help ourselves when we behave poorly. Scientific determinism says that all of our behavior is determined by psychological, biological, and ultimately physical conditions. That includes even our living out the theological virtues of faith and love, necessary for salvation. Perhaps someday science will explain the physical conditions giving rise to “who we believe in and pray to,” for example, or “who we love,” as Robert Sapolsky suggests. Though not generally known for his theological orthodoxy, Sapolsky comes up with the right theological moral anyway. He says that we’ll someday see in all deviant behavior “a reality of ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’” More.

In other words, there probably is no God and no free will. But it’s unclear why not except insofar as “scientific determinists”  think that and we should, of course, take them seriously, whoever else we ignore or whatever nihilism results.

See also: Claim: It makes sense to pretend to believe in free will

Can science handle free will?


How can we believe in naturalism if we have no choice?

Materialist assert that physical processes in the brain account for human thought, account for our ability to choose and account for consciousness. They asserts that there is no way to make sense of the notion that there is a "ghost or soul in the machine." By this they no doubt mean there can be no non-material interactions with the physical brain because the physical universe is causally closed and would not permit the intervention of any immaterial divine influence which is necessary for true free will to be possible. This is a common belief among materialists that is not necessarily true given what we know about quantum physics. Now there is no reason to believe that physical processes could possibly give rise to consciousness and thought unless one assumes materialism is true a priori. The two are as different as any two things could possibly be. But setting this intractable problem aside for the moment, there are several problems with the materialist account of "mind" and free will even if we adopt a materialist stance. I can only address one in the time and space I have here. True free will exists. We all intuitively know that. We can control our actions and our thoughts despite the often involuntary nature of both. Even materialists act as though free will is true. The grand claim of materialism is that physical process are all there is. But all physical processes are deterministic. That is why math is the basis of science. Determinism is the opposite of free will just as algorithms are the opposite of creativity. But human thought is obviously not deterministic, not algorithmic. We know this because of the creative element we experience in our inner mental lives each and every moment. If the mind were nothing but the physical brain, we could never think or carry on a conversation because the brain elements would be unable to break free of the physical chain of events that would always be subject to antecedent cause. And these causally related events at the physical brain level could have nothing whatsoever to do with the relatedness of thought at the mental level. How could it be imagined that the sequence of physical layer causes in the brain would--always--just happen to give rise to a stream of related and creative (novel) thoughts at the mental level? Property dualists propose a top down control system--a physical mind--to overcome this. They believe that this putative control system could break what would otherwise be a purely natural chain of events at the physical brain level and in this way could grant us a somewhat limited form of free will. But a programmatic control system is still deterministic. And the programs and the programmer are nowhere to be found. Any endeavor to locate these programs or how they could be created is a fool's errand on a massive scale. The sheer number of such putative control programs in the brain would be staggering and the interactions between them would be impossibly complex. Furthermore these programs would have to be created on the fly without an identified cause in each and every one of us continuously throughout our lives. Thinking through how all these programs could have been created and operate very quickly leads to an infinite regress--an unending chain of dependencies--because there could be no foundational process to halt the regress. When property dualists allude to such programs, their efforts betray the specter of an homunculus--a little man in the brain that pushes buttons and pull levers. How do we know that there is a creative, non-deterministic quality of the human mind? We know this by noting our ability to learn and invent and more broadly we know this by virtue of the sum total of all human knowledge, all human artifacts, all artistic renderings and all the day to day musings from the sacred to the profane and from the sublime to the ridiculous--even to the ridiculous assertion that there is no free will. nkendall
Why do determinists bother trying to argue someone to their position? Unfortunately, we're all predetermined in our beliefs, after all. EricMH
There is no doubt that much of what humans do involves being pushed around by subconscious motivations that are often in a state of flux. However, this doesn't appear to matter to the fact that I can raise my hand at will and wiggle my fingers right now. Humans have reflexive and recursive thought. We can think about our thinking. We can think about our thinking about our thinking. We can think about our wills, and how subconscious motivations affect our wills. We can observe ourselves making choices about all these thing, and think about that. We consciously observe ourselves making choices just like we consciously observe anything. The fact that we have some free will is as obvious as the fact that we are conscious about vision or hearing. What does free will mean to beings who do not possess it? What does sight mean to beings who have no eyes? If free will didn't exist, we would not, and could not, have a concept of free will. "Free will" would be meaningless. Just as "sight" is meaningless to beings with no eyes. mike1962
But did he freely and responsibly reach his conclusions? If not should we trust them? Or, oops, isn't that state of trust or doubt not freely and responsibly arrived at too? kairosfocus

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