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John Loftus’ faulty logic on free will: There’s no such thing as a bad personal reason for disbelief in the God of the Bible

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Over at his Debunking Christianity Website, secular philosopher John Loftus has put up a post entitled, There Isn’t a Bad Reason to Reject the Christian Faith. Now, I happen to believe that there are good and bad reasons to reject all sorts of intellectual positions, including theism, atheism and Intelligent Design. So as someone who cares about truth, I was shocked by the sheer effrontery of Loftus’ statement. If he can convince me of that, I thought to myself, he can convince me of anything.

What does Loftus actually claim?

It turns out that Loftus’ post didn’t quite live up to the claim made in its title. Loftus doesn’t really claim that there isn’t a bad reason to reject Christianity; and Loftus fully accepts that arguments about all sorts of matters (including Christianity) can be publicly discussed and scrutinized for any faulty logic that they may contain. Rather, what Loftus actually believes is that there isn’t a bad personal reason to reject Christianity. “What’s a personal reason?” you might ask. I’ll let Loftus explain:

Keep in mind I’m also speaking of the reasons people personally have for rejecting Christianity rather than the arguments constructed to convince others. I don’t think people must be able produce an argument that will convince others of something before it can be said they have good reasons for what they think…

Is there a legitimate distinction then between someone’s having good personal reasons and having bad reasons for believing something? Again we’re not talking about arguments constructed to convince others, for the rules of logic dictate which arguments are good ones from bad ones. We’re talking instead about the personal reasons people have for accepting or not accepting something as true. How do we really know that what we think is justified? Do we really understand how many cognitive biases affect most all of us most of the time? (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Later on, Loftus discusses the hypothetical case of a man named Pat becoming convinced that a message given to him in a dream is true, “because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true.”

Some brief definitions

I’ll now attempt to formulate a rigorous definition of Loftus’ terms. Here goes. On Loftus’ account, a good personal reason for a belief is “a reason that would justify you in forming that belief, given the way in which your cognitive faculties work.” Of course, your having a justified belief doesn’t make it true; and conversely, the fact that you have a true belief doesn’t always mean that it is justifiable.

A bad personal reason can now be defined as “a reason that would not justify you in forming that belief, given the way in which your cognitive faculties work.”

Who is Loftus’ target audience?

As we’ve seen, Loftus’ bold claim is that there are no bad personal reasons for rejecting Christianity. The kind of Christianity Loftus has in mind here is the kind whose members accept this doctrinal statement, which Loftus refers to as “DS” in his post:

There is an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him. This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost (See 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

At the outset, however, Loftus acknowledges that there’s one group of Christians who would never accept DS: Calvinists. Calvinists would presumably disagree with the claim that God “desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost.” However, Loftus has a separate argument that Calvinists have no good reason to trust God. As I don’t propose to discuss Calvinism in this post, I’ll simply invite readers to evaluate Loftus’ argument for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

I should also point out that the overall logic of what Loftus says in his post would apply equally well to any of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). If Loftus is right, then there are no bad personal reasons to reject the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – in short, the God of the Bible.

Loftus’ claim, in a nutshell

Loftus’ claim that there are no bad personal reasons for rejecting Christianity means that there are no reasons that would not justify you in coming to believe that Christianity is false, given the way in which your cognitive faculties work. In other words, Loftus is saying that any reason that happens to persuade you (given the way in which your cognitive faculties work) that Christianity is false, would also justify you in arriving at that belief.

Loftus: involuntary beliefs destroy the distinction between good and bad personal reasons

Why does Loftus think this? A clue can be found in a little passage in his post:

What if, as I strongly suspect, that belief is overwhelmingly involuntary, if not completely involuntary. Is it all just a lucky coincidence if we get something right? If any of these conditions obtain then the distinction between having good personal reasons and bad personal reasons basically flies out the window. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

I think “determined” would have been a better word for Loftus to use here, as animal behavior may be voluntary in a minimal sense (i.e. uncoerced) but still completely determined. But let that pass.

I have to say that Loftus’ conclusion in the passage quoted above doesn’t follow. Even if our beliefs are completely involuntary – or alternatively, completely determined – not all of our beliefs will result from our cognitive faculties functioning properly. Sometimes there will be a glitch in our brain function, for instance: a seizure or spasm, or what have you. In that case, if you came to acquire a belief as a result of that malfunction, it would be correct to say that you had a bad personal reason for having that belief, as the belief didn’t result from the way in which your cognitive faculties worked, but from the way in which they failed to work, on that particular occasion.

But I’d like to be as generous as possible to Loftus, and leave cognitive malfunctions out of the equation. Let’s suppose that our brains are subject to various built-in cognitive biases, but that there are no malfunctions as such – or if they are any, then their effect on the content of our beliefs is almost non-existent. What Loftus is really saying is that if our false beliefs are the product of our built-in biases, then they are still justified beliefs, given the way in which we’re put together, neurologically speaking.

Counterintuitive consequences of Loftus’ position

I might point out in passing that if Loftus really believes what he is saying in the above passage, then he must accept the consequences of his position. If the truth of determinism renders the distinction between having good personal reasons and bad personal reasons an invalid one, then by Loftus’ own admission, we cannot distinguish between good and bad personal reasons for believing anything – including atheism! If I were in Loftus’ shoes, I would promptly jettison my belief in determinism, in order to avoid embracing such a conclusion. But I digress.

Loftus’ argument that there isn’t a bad personal reason to reject Christianity

I’d now like to address Loftus’ argument that there isn’t a bad personal reason to reject Christianity. First, he considers a man named Pat, who rejects Christianity for a bad reason: “he had a strange dream where his dead Christian mother, Patricia, tells him it’s all a ruse, that no matter what people believe when they die God is sending everyone to hell anyway.”

Loftus thinks that although Pat could never hope to convince anyone else that Christianity is false on the basis of his dream, he would still have a good personal reason to reject Christianity. “Why?” you might ask. “Shouldn’t Pat be more skeptical of what he hears in dreams?” Here’s Loftus’ devastating reply:

If God desires Pat to be saved, and if God knows Pat will be convinced by his dream because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true, then God should not have allowed Pat to have had such a dream in the first place. Allowing a vulnerable ignorant person like Pat to have had such a dream, knowing it would lead him to reject Christianity, makes that God just as culpable as if he himself caused Pat to reject Christianity. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

Let’s put God’s culpability to one side for a minute. What Loftus is saying is that if Pat’s personal conviction that (i) his mother was speaking to him in his dream, and that (ii) she was telling him the truth, is caused by a built-in bias in Pat’s cognitive faculties, then Pat’s belief is justified, even though it is false. Why? Because it’s arrived at as a result of his cognitive faculties functioning in their normal fashion.

Loftus then argues that if a belief is justified, then the person who has that belief cannot be held morally culpable for having it – which means that any God Who punished a person for having such a belief would be acting unjustly. Indeed, Loftus’ argument would work equally well against any God Who punished unbelief in individuals.

Loftus’ argument, Part II: self-deception

In the case above, Pat was at least sincere in his search for truth. But what about people who are insincere, and who give up their faith because they have gradually deceived themselves into believing that it is false? Loftus brings a similar argument to bear in the case of these people’s beliefs, which result from self-deception:

The deceived do not know they are being deceived, even if it’s self-deception. Get it? So just as in the case of Pat above, if God allows us to deceive ourselves into nonbelief when we don’t know this is what we’re doing (and we don’t), then we can no more be held accountable for this self-deception than Pat can be held accountable for his ignorance. Just as Pat has good personal reasons to reject Christianity, even though they are ignorant, so also people who deceive themselves into nonbelief have good personal reasons for their nonbelief because they are ignorant of their own self-deception. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

The kind of self-deception envisaged here by Loftus is unconscious self-deception. What about conscious self-deception, of the kind condemned by St. Paul in Romans 1:18-32? Loftus rejects the very notion of conscious self-deception as unintelligible:

Paul is describing people who consciously knew the truth and knowingly choose to believe and act on that which they knew was a lie, which is a much too large of a claim to be taken seriously by anyone except believers. Come on now, seriously?

A critical evaluation of Loftus’ argument against the possibility of conscious self-deception

Loftus’ argument bears a strong resemblance to the old philosophical argument (dating back to the ancient Greeks) that there is no such thing as akrasia, or weakness of will: no-one would ever willingly choose what they knew was bad for them, as we can only will what is good for us. As Plato’s Socrates declared in the Protagoras: “No one who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course” (Protagoras 358b-c). Philosophers continue to debate how weakness of will occurs, at the psychological level, and there is an interesting article about it here in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But the fact that it occurs is something I consider to be self-evident. It is a simple fact, after all, that people break their New Year’s resolutions all the time, even though they know perfectly well that they shouldn’t. If we acknowledge that people can sometimes do things that they know they shouldn’t, then we have to allow that they might sometimes choose to believe pleasing but ultimately pernicious ideas, even though they know they shouldn’t.

The big flaw in Loftus’ argument: it assumes that we don’t in any way choose our beliefs

This brings me to the ultimate flaw in Loftus’ argument that there can be no bad personal reasons for rejecting Christianity – or more generally, for rejecting a God Who punishes people for their unbelief. Loftus is assuming that when people come to believe that Christianity is false, their belief is caused in a deterministic fashion by their cognitive faculties. And Loftus’ point is that people can’t be blamed for the way in which their cognitive faculties work: that would be like blaming Sam for being Sam, or for that matter, blaming Sam for being human. Sam is what he is, and he is who he is. Nobody can blame him for that.

Loftus’ argument implicitly assumes that we have no control over the way in which our cognitive faculties work – in other words, that free will (and here, I’m talking about the libertarian variety) plays no role in the formation of our beliefs. “Well, why should it?” I hear you ask. “You didn’t choose to believe Pythagoras’ Theorem, do you? The logic of the argument compelled you to accept it.” But this is a highly atypical case. The vast majority of our beliefs do involve an element of choice, and our cognitive faculties do not normally work in a deterministic fashion. People often believe things that they find pleasant, or aesthetic, or morally uplifting, or intellectually congenial, or currently fashionable, or politically convenient, or what have you. The point I’m making here is not that they should or shouldn’t be forming their beliefs for these reasons, as they’re not all bad ones – science, for instance, is often guided by aesthetic considerations. The point I’m making is that beliefs typically involve an element of choice.

Arguments for God’s existence: convincing, but not irresistible

Take, for instance, the arguments for God’s existence. I’d like to quote a passage here from a book by Fr. Richard Clarke S.J. (formerly Fellow and Tutor of St. John’s College, Oxford) entitled The Existence of God (1887), which is written as a dialogue between a (Catholic) believer and an agnostic:

First of all, I ask you to bear in mind the difference between a sufficient argument and a resistless argument, between one which is convincing and one which is compelling. In the one case you can manage to find some evasion, in the other you cannot; in the one case you deserve indeed to be called wrong-headed if you do not assent to the argument, but in the other to be called a simple fool. Thus the argument for the reality of early Kings of Rome is a convincing argument, but yet some ingenious people regard them as myths; whereas the arguments for the existence of the City of Pekin are resistless, and any one who said that it was but a fable of geographers would be looked upon as having one of the lobes of his brain affected, even though on all other matters he might be very sensible and prudent. The arguments for the existence of God are convincing, not compelling arguments. You can always find what our professor in theology called an effugium, some way of backing out, which saves you from absolutely contradicting yourself or running counter to obvious common sense. Now comes the delicate matter to which I allude, and on which fear you may think me narrow and uncharitable. When an argument is resistless all rational men accede to it, but when it is short of this, but yet in itself sufficient to convince, you will find a divergence of opinion among a certain number. Granting the same amount of natural ability and the same possession of the necessary points of the argument, you will find that those who reject such an argument are (putting aside abnormal eccentricities) those whose interest it is to reject it, or who have some strong influence moving their will to reject it. Such an influence leads them to make the very most of any possible difficulty which can be raised against it, and to slur over its strong parts, or find plausible objections to them, and so they manage to convince themselves or fancy they are convinced. Take a claimant in some disputed case at law. The arguments against him are convincing, but not resistless. The Judges on the Bench are perfectly satisfied that he is wrong, yet the fact of his pecuniary interests being at stake somehow prevent him from seeing the force of the opponent’s case – in good faith or in a sort of good faith he thinks he sees a weak point in their arguments. He comes to the question, in Aristotle’s words, ouk adekastos, not without a bribe in his pocket which warps his judgment and prevents him from being perfectly impartial. It is just the same in the arguments respecting the existence of a God. Mankind at large regard them as sufficient and more than sufficient, but there are a certain number who fail to be convinced by them, and the reason is that they too come to the question not unbribed. For one reason or another the idea of an over-ruling Providence is distasteful to them. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Fr. Clarke’s point can be generalized to cover all beliefs relating to one’s worldview. People sometimes reject certain fundamental beliefs about the world, or about the nature of Ultimate Reality, purely because they find these ideas uncongenial or distasteful; and they sometimes adopt fundamental beliefs, simply because they happen to fit in with what they want to believe. I think my readers would agree that it is bad to base one’s fundamental beliefs entirely on such considerations.

Intellectual vice and where it comes from

Given these facts about the way people form their beliefs, we can now see where the notion of intellectual vice comes in. There are some terribly misguided people whom we would call intellectually perverse, rather than merely misinformed. “They should know better than to believe such nonsense,” we say of them. Religious people might say this sort of thing about certain notorious skeptics; but it cuts both ways: atheists often say the same kind of thing about religious believers. Loftus, for instance, is fond of quoting Mark Twain’s skeptical adage, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” If the concept of intellectual perversity being discussed here makes any sense, then Loftus’ argument that people cannot be held accountable for their false religious beliefs is flawed at the outset.

The reader will recall that Loftus deliberately directed his argument that there are no bad personal reasons for rejecting Christianity at those Christians who reject Calvinism – in other words, Christians who typically believe in libertarian free will and reject determinism. If Loftus is now going to argue, against these people, that people who come to reject Christianity cannot be blamed for doing so, because their cognitive faculties work in a deterministic fashion, then I think they will (not unreasonably) accuse Loftus of begging the question, regarding free will.

The second big flaw in Loftus’ argument: it assumes that God knows all possible counterfactuals

There’s one more point that I’d like to make about Loftus’ argument: it assumes that God has knowledge of each and every counterfactual, relating to human choices. For instance, God knows what I would do if I were offered a bribe, or if I suddenly lost my sight, or if I won the lottery, or if I dreamed about snakes. It’s absolutely vital to Loftus’ case that God should possess this kind of knowledge. Let’s recall what he said about Pat, who came to reject Christianity after having a strange dream:

If God desires Pat to be saved, and if God knows Pat will be convinced by his dream because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true, then God should not have allowed Pat to have had such a dream in the first place. Allowing a vulnerable ignorant person like Pat to have had such a dream, knowing it would lead him to reject Christianity, makes that God just as culpable as if he himself caused Pat to reject Christianity. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

According to Loftus, God is morally culpable here – and hence, Pat is not to blame – precisely because God knew what Pat would come to believe if he had such a dream, and yet He still went ahead and allowed Pat to have that dream. Thus, on Loftus’ account, God’s knowledge that Pat, after having the dream, would come to reject Christianity, is antecedent (not merely temporally, but logically) to Pat’s having the dream. God knows about Pat’s change in belief because he knows that Pat would give up his faith if he had that dream, and then He went ahead and allowed Pat to have it. (The “then” here is logical, not temporal.)

Why it’s problematic to ascribing to God a knowledge of all possible counterfactuals

I’d like to make two brief comments here about God’s alleged knowledge of all possible counterfactuals. First, it is no part of the Christian doctrine of omniscience that God knows what I would do in each and every possible situation. Omniscience simply means that God knows all truths. The question at stake here, however, is whether it is legitimate to speak of counterfactuals as truths. And that brings me to my secoond point. The idea that there is always one and only one thing that I would do, if I were in a given situation, is pretty ridiculous. For instance, is there one particular course of action that God knows I would choose if I won the lottery? I see no reason to think so. That being the case, there is no “fact of the matter” for God to know here. What I would do if I won the lottery is undetermined, precisely because I have libertarian free will. I determine myself only when I make an actual choice.

This is not to say that all counterfactuals are meaningless. That would only be the case if I had unlimited free will, which I don’t. Our characters to some extent constrain our range of choices, as do the past choices we have made. So in some situations, we can say God knows what we would do. But in the majority of possible situations, there is literally nothing for God to know, about how I would choose: it’s undetermined.

An alternative account of Divine foreknowledge: the Boethian account

The account of God’s foreknowledge which is implicitly presupposed by Loftus in his post is very different from the Boethian account of Divine foreknowledge, in which God knows what I will do, not from knowing what I would do in each and every possible situation, but from the fact that He, being timeless, can instantly “see” (i.e. be informed of) the past, present and future, in their entirety. That is why some theologians speak of God as having knowledge of vision.

Recently, a variant on the Boethian model has been developed, according to which God is omnitemporal rather than timeless: He occupies all points in space-time, and is instantly aware of anything happening at any of those points. (See here, here and here for some very interesting essays on the subject, by a self-described “agnostic atheist,” David Misialowki, who nevertheless believes he can show that “no theist need fear the argument, heard so often from atheists intent on discrediting religious belief, that an omniscient God cancels human free will and moral responsibility.”)

On both the Boethian and omnitemporal accounts, however, God is dependent on us for His knowledge of our choices: that is, our choices inform Him of what is happening. On such an account, God’s knowledge of what we choose to do is logically posterior to our choosing to do it. This means that in the example relating to Pat above, God is not at fault. His knowledge is not derived from counterfactuals about what we would in each and every possible circumstance, but from what we actually did. And in that case, the buck stops with Pat, and not with God. God’s knowledge of Pat’s giving up his Christian faith is derived from Pat’s actual free choice to give up his faith, and not from God’s knowledge of what Pat would do, if he had that strange dream.

The Boethian account has been defended by John Wesley and C. S. Lewis, and it is also popular among Christian laypeople, although many theologians don’t like it.

Are there any good theological objections to the Boethian account?

On the Boethian account, as we noted above, God timelessly knows everything we will do, but He is still dependent on us for this information: from His timeless standpoint, He has to “see” – or more accurately, be informed of – what we in fact decide to do. Certain theologians dislike the notion of God’s depending on creatures for anything. In reply, it could be argued that this “limitation” is self-imposed: in creating free agents, God timelessly chooses to rely on them for His knowledge of what they do.

Another point that needs to be made in this context is that God’s depending on others for information is actually a perfection on that God’s part, rather than an imperfection. For this dependency is what enables intercessory prayer to occur. Prayer is a conversation between two parties: God and the creature praying to Him. If God is pulling the strings, either by making us act (and pray) as we do, or by putting us in situations where He knows precisely how we would act and pray, then we are not really conversing with Him, and His responsiveness to His creatures’ needs cannot be made manifest.

Other defenders of classical theism have argued that Boethius’ solution is at odds with the traditional idea that God is impassible – i.e. incapable by nature of being affected by what His creatures do, either inside or outside of time. How could our actions impact on God? Three points in reply: (i) difficult as this is to conceive, it is much less absurd than supposing that an essentially perfect Being could make a creature without automatically knowing what it was doing at any given time; (ii) strictly speaking, it is wrong to say that our actions impact on God; rather, we should say that when God makes a free rational agent, it is somehow “coupled” to God in such a way that the agent’s choices automatically determine the content of God’s (timeless) beliefs about the agent’s choices; (iii) the common Christian teaching that God is impassible can be understood simply to mean that God is not subject to pain, suffering or involuntary passions.

For those who are interested, I’ve written a little essay here, in which I discuss and critique various solutions that have been proposed to the question of how God foreknows our free choices. In the essay, I also discuss theological determinism (or universal predestination) and Molinism, in considerable depth, while keeping technical jargon to an absolute minimum.

The point I’d like to make before I finish this post is that Loftus’ argument that no-one can be blamed for rejecting Christianity presupposes a Molinist account of Divine foreknowledge (or more accurately, a Congruist account), which I reject, and which most ordinary Christian believers have never heard of anyway. In other words, it is theologically question-begging.

Loftus’ parting shot

At the end of his post, Loftus defends the notion of conscious rebellion against Islam and Christianity (and by implication, Judaism, his objections to God are largely based on the Torah):

Furthermore, I don’t even think conscious rebellion against the God hypothesis is a bad personal reason to reject Christianity. We are all rebelling against all other deities anyway. I state for the record, and for all to read, that I am rebelling against Allah who is pleased with militant Muslims willing to fly planes into buildings, if called upon to do so….

I think this is a good reason to reject Allah, don’t you, by rebelling against his moral codes in a civilized society? Or, must I have better reasons? If these are good enough reasons then why can’t I rebel against Yahweh for allowing, no demanding, child sacrifices, slavery, the denigration of women, homosexuals, and for rejecting the freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, something akin to the First Amendment of the American Constitution?

Most Muslims, as far as I’m aware, don’t approve of flying airplanes into buildings. If Loftus wants to reject Islam, well and good; but he needs a better reason than that.

I don’t propose to get into an argument with Loftus about Biblical morality in this post. I believe I have largely addressed his concerns in an earlier post of mine, entitled, Why morality cannot be 100% natural: A Response to Professor Coyne (August 5, 2011). The point I would like to make here is that even if Loftus is right in condemning Biblical morality, it still doesn’t follow that any and every personal reason for rejecting Christianity is a good one, which is what Loftus was attempting to show in the first place.

My verdict on Loftus’ argument

To sum up: there is little that can be salvaged from Loftus’ attempt to show that there can be no bad personal reasons for giving up Christianity, apart from the fact that if our choices are determined by our cognitive faculties, or if God somehow knows how we would act in each and every possible situation, independently of how we do act, then we don’t possess libertarian free will. But since Loftus was addressing his post not to Calvinists, who reject libertarian free will, but to other Christians who (for the most part) believe in libertarian free will, then his attempt to demonstrate that no-one can ever be blamed for giving up the Christian faith falls flat on its face.

I’d like to close with a final observation. It seems to me that Loftus has a problem with the whole notion of libertarian free will, and how exactly it would work. He seems unable to conceive of the idea that our beliefs might be genuinely up to us. Loftus might like to read my online post, Is free will dead?, which was written to address the issues that concern Loftus.

The real challenge to atheists, on the subject of libertarian free will, is this: if you do believe in it, then where do you think such an amazing ability came from, on your worldview? And if you don’t believe in it, then how do you know that your thought processes on speculative matters (as opposed to practical matters, which could have been shaped along Darwinian lines), are actually reliable? Or don’t you?

I don't think any cognitive being would "choose" the full consequences of eternal hell if they knew everything (and could see the light of God's Glory). Question everything. Breckmin
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
I must say I have always disliked this quote. It completely ignores deception as well as the asymmetry in Prevenient grace as though free will and soteriology are the same subject. Libertarian free will may be part of our coming to faith once our desires are changed...but the salvific work is God's and not just man's free will choice. The quote is over simplistic. Breckmin
F/N: I find Plato's description of the self-moved first cause in The Laws Bk X, helps spark thinking. Self moved suggests feedback, and memory effects -- BTW, the key to the RS latch in logic is the injection of feedback that gives memory -- as well as decision-making. Yes, these can be constrained/influenced by material circumstances or even the sheer logic of "you can't draw a square circle," but there has to be recognition of the self-moved deciding, initiating intelligent and yes conscious cause. Indeed, that is our first fact through which we experience, reason about and know all other facts; and I think we can sit comfortably on the premise that if a system denied this, it is in the position of self-referential incoherence, for all the reasons above and more. Without real rational choice, we have no grounds for trusting mind to perceive, analyse and know credibly. As the materialists so often demonstrate. KF kairosfocus
This is why causal determinism fails so miserably. Breckmin
Re: looking beyond "what is" and considerations not available in the existing physical circumstances.. Box writes on what others might argue:
those considerations (plans) are part of the equation – part of “what is”? They can then formulate a law that states ‘when such as such considerations are present it follows decision X’. So decision based on law, hence no free will.
Free will is NOT a normal causal system like mathematics or the physical sciences. Although circumstances often influence decisions... not all decisions are due to outside causes. IOW, the cause can be self-generated or self-determined rather than determined by external circumstances/causes/effects. This is unique to human consciousness. Love, obedience, free will and being artistic are NOT mathematical and do not mix with chemistry for a complete explanation of cause nor do they belong as the subject matter as chemistry or physic or mathematics. Breckmin
Box writes:
Free will does not include being able to do what you don’t want to do.
Free will has EVERYTHING to do with choosing according to the strongest inclination. Free will is being free to choose between options (often these options are limited). But unless it is a meaningless choice (like a blind person reaching into a drawer for a pair of socks)- we ALWAYS choose what we want to choose... even coerced decisions (at gunpoint) are a choice between options - and we choose according to the strongest inclination. Free will is ALL about choosing what we want to... the problem is - we often want to do something bad - and this can come from a will that is bent toward moral evil... and therefore a "will" with a disposition that WANTS to choose the wrong thing. Breckmin
I see no reason to believe that God knows what we would do in every conceivable situation,
Perhaps God knows that other situations are impossible to exist and therefore they are extraneous. This has always been my objection to molinism. BTW, thank you Dr. Torley for your response. Breckmin
Loftus: "I have been thinking about Christianity for over forty years. I believed it. I preached it. I earned several master's degrees in it. I taught it. I learned to reject it." I wonder if he ever encountered the God of "Christianity." Apparently not. CentralScrutinizer
William J Murray (7): Most atheistic materialists I’ve debated over the years consider libertarian free will to be the same as random will; they cannot seem to comprehend that free will is posited as a third fundamental cause in addition to law and chance.
I fully agree with you that there is a huge difference here. In my opinion free will has to do with being in harmony with oneself. Free will is not about being unpredictable. Free will does not include being able to do what you don’t want to do.
William J Murray (7): They argue that if the circumstances will not generate the same decision, then the decision is no better than randomly generated. The problem is that, under law and chance, “circumstances” are limited to “what is”; will has the ability to look beyond “what is” and take into account all sorts of considerations that are not available in the existing physical circumstances.
I wonder if it is coherent for your opponents to argue that those considerations (plans) are part of the equation - part of "what is"? They can then formulate a law that states ‘when such as such considerations are present it follows decision X’. So decision based on law, hence no free will. A conclusion which - like I stated above - is based on a misconception of 'free will'. Box
Hi Breckmin, Thank you for your interesting comments. I think there's a lot to be said for your exegesis of Genesis 22:12. Although I've always believed that God is outside time, I find the suggestion that God is omnitemporal a very interesting one. Who knows? Maybe you're right. I quite agree with you that God's omniscience of what we will do, doesn't undermine libertarian free will. So I have no trouble saying that God knows everything we will do. Both Scripture and the Christian tradition say the same. However, I see no reason to believe that God knows what we would do in every conceivable situation, as neither Scripture nor tradition affirms this. While it's meaningful to talk about what I would do in some situations, in many possible situations there's no definite choice that I would make, so the question of what I would do has no determinate answer. vjtorley
Most atheistic materialists I've debated over the years consider libertarian free will to be the same as random will; they cannot seem to comprehend that free will is posited as a third fundamental cause in addition to law and chance. They argue that if the circumstances will not generate the same decision, then the decision is no better than randomly generated. The problem is that, under law and chance, "circumstances" are limited to "what is"; will has the ability to look beyond "what is" and take into account all sorts of considerations that are not available in the existing physical circumstances. Law and chance will not attempt to organize crops into raised rows to provide channels for irrigation; such decisions are neither lawful nor random. Will utilizes those aspects of the physical circumstances in attempting to manifest a desired end. William J Murray
I personally think that the "othe idothi" in Gen. 22:12 is completely anthropomorphic. God wasn't testing Abraham to see what Abraham was going to do (that would mean we were not all chosen before the foundation of the world)..what God was doing was "proving" Abraham by so called "testing" him. I also do not believe that God is somehow on a timeline experiencing consecutive linear duration the way in which we as finite beings experience time. I believe that God is omnipresent throughout all of infinite time and space and doesn't look far into the future the way in which we would think of doing it... but is rather able to see all of human history sort of "simultaneously" (if you will pardon the inability to describe what I am referring to as far as God being "omni-time" rather than somehow "outside of time" which I believe is a ridiculous way to describe His transcendence). God is not a finite being that needs to somehow "learn" what we will do... God knows everything because He sees everything from an omni-time transcendent state which is beyond the limitations of time and space..and is not restricted to consecutive linear progression/duration like we are. Breckmin
Has anyone considered the possibility that God exercises his omniscience selectively? In other words, though God is, of course, fully capable of looking into the future to see what a person might choose, he is also capable of making the deliberate decision to not foresee what an individual may do, allowing humans to have genuine free will. For textual support check out Gen. 22:12. It seems to indicate that after Abraham acted, God knew something that he didn't know before (contra the notion that God always has to use his omniscience to know what choice a person will make). Optimus
"what I *would* do in each and every situation." ------------------------------------------------ If you were talking about molinism here.. I would still caution you there is no other alternative reality to appeal to if/since God knows what we WILL do. I apologize if I missed your point. Omniscience of what we WILL do does NOT invalidate free will because to claim that it does would be wrongfully "isolating on end result" and ignoring the fact that it was the free will decisions that were connected premises to such(that take you "to" such) end result. IOW, God knows the free will decisions that take us to what we WILL do.. and we have to be careful that we don't use deceptive language like "must happen" or "required to happen" when describing what "will happen" in such analysis/discussions. Breckmin
"it is no part of the Christian doctrine of omniscience that God knows what I would do in each and every possible situation. Omniscience simply means that God knows all truths." ------------------------------------------------------- This is incorrect. Systematic theology 101.. is that if God doesn't know everything you will do then God isn't in control. Perhaps this is a typo or I'm misreading who said it... or something else..I was skimming.. but a better approach to this subject is to understand that God is NOT obligated in any way to save Pat because Pat is under the curse of original sin and has broken fellowship with a Holy Creator. God is adopting people out of a cursed sinful human race and everyone that He saves is because of "grace" NOT because God needs to save someone who didn't know any better to somehow maintain His Righteousness. Breckmin
I tend to agree that, for most people, what they believe is not a matter of choice. There is no proposition or argument that cannot simply be denied, whether or not it makes one a fool to hold that position. William J Murray
Dr. Torley, I would like to point out that 'free will', as far as empirical science is concerned, has been defended by 'uncertainty' in quantum mechanics for several decades now:
Why Quantum Physics (Uncertainty) Ends the Free Will Debate - Michio Kaku - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFLR5vNKiSw
In that the uncertainty of quantum mechanics demonstrates that no one could precisely determine your future events from your past history. Yet, our free will in quantum mechanics is now shown by recent developments in quantum mechanics to go much deeper than us simply being unable to determine what our future actions may be. Much deeper! In the following experiment, the claim that past material states determine future conscious choices (determinism) is falsified by the fact that our present conscious choices, in fact, effect past material states:
Quantum physics mimics spooky action into the past - April 23, 2012 Excerpt: The authors experimentally realized a "Gedankenexperiment" called "delayed-choice entanglement swapping", formulated by Asher Peres in the year 2000. Two pairs of entangled photons are produced, and one photon from each pair is sent to a party called Victor. Of the two remaining photons, one photon is sent to the party Alice and one is sent to the party Bob. Victor can now choose between two kinds of measurements. If he decides to measure his two photons in a way such that they are forced to be in an entangled state, then also Alice's and Bob's photon pair becomes entangled. If Victor chooses to measure his particles individually, Alice's and Bob's photon pair ends up in a separable state. Modern quantum optics technology allowed the team to delay Victor's choice and measurement with respect to the measurements which Alice and Bob perform on their photons. "We found that whether Alice's and Bob's photons are entangled and show quantum correlations or are separable and show classical correlations can be decided after they have been measured", explains Xiao-song Ma, lead author of the study. According to the famous words of Albert Einstein, the effects of quantum entanglement appear as "spooky action at a distance". The recent experiment has gone one remarkable step further. "Within a naïve classical world view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events", says Anton Zeilinger. http://phys.org/news/2012-04-quantum-physics-mimics-spooky-action.html
In other words, if my conscious choices really are just merely the result of whatever state the material particles in my brain happen to be in in the past (deterministic) how in blue blazes are my choices instantaneously effecting the state of material particles into the past?,,, This is simply completely contrary to atheistic/materialistic precepts: Moreover, the foundation of quantum mechanics within science is now so solid that researchers were recently able to bring forth this following proof from quantum entanglement experiments;
Can quantum theory be improved? - July 23, 2012 Excerpt: However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (i.e. conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,, ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random. http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html
Of note:
What does the term "measurement" mean in quantum mechanics? "Measurement" or "observation" in a quantum mechanics context are really just other ways of saying that the observer is interacting with the quantum system and measuring the result in toto. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=597846
Now this is completely unheard of in science as far as I know. i.e. That a mathematical description of reality would advance to the point that one can actually perform a experiment showing that your current theory will not be exceeded in predictive power by another future theory is simply completely unprecedented in science and, in my unsolicited opinion, is perhaps the most important milestone to ever be reached in the history of science thus far! As well, finding ‘free will conscious observation’ to be ‘built into’ our best description of foundational reality, i.e. quantum mechanics, as a starting assumption(s), 'free will, conscious observation' which is shown to be the driving aspect of randomness in quantum mechanics in the paper I referenced, is VERY antithetical to the entire materialistic philosophy which demands that 'pure randomness' be the driving force of all creativity in Darwinian evolution (and indeed in the creation of the universe itself)!,,, Of related note:
Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007
I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiments, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?” Of somewhat related note, Einstein was asked (by a philosopher):
"Can physics demonstrate the existence of 'the now' in order to make the notion of 'now' into a scientifically valid term?"
Einstein's answer was categorical, he said:
"The experience of 'the now' cannot be turned into an object of physical measurement, it can never be a part of physics."
Einstein's quote was taken from the last few minutes of this following video:
Stanley L. Jaki: "The Mind and Its Now" https://vimeo.com/10588094
The preceding statement was an interesting statement for Einstein to make since 'the now of the mind' has, from many recent experiments in quantum mechanics, been shown to take precedence of Einstein's preferred General Relativity, (4-D space-time), frame of reference for reality.
Wheeler's Classic Delayed Choice Experiment: Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles "have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy," so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory. http://www.bottomlayer.com/bottom/basic_delayed_choice.htm
i.e. 'the now of the mind', contrary to what Einstein thought possible for experimental physics, according to advances in quantum mechanics, takes precedence over past events in time! Moreover, due to how solid quantum mechanics is demonstrated to be as a accurate description of reality, it would now be much more appropriate to phrase Einstein's answer to the philosopher in this way:
"It is impossible for the experience of 'the now' to be divorced from physical measurement, it will always be a part of physics."
Of note: since our free will choices figure so prominently in how reality is actually found to be constructed in our understanding of quantum mechanics, I think a Christian perspective on just how important our free will choices are in this temporal life, in regards to our eternal destiny, is very fitting:
Is God Good? (Free will and the problem of evil) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfd_1UAjeIA
i.e. God gives us a 'free will' because without true free will it is impossible to have true love. i.e. How much love would you feel if you made a robot to tell you how much it loves you? As a consequence of true free will, and true love, hell is necessary:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell." - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Music and verse:
Third Day - Trust In Jesus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o-ipsw161E Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
of related note:
Sam Harris's Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It - Martin Cothran - November 9, 2012 Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state -- including their position on this issue -- is the effect of a physical, not logical cause. By their own logic, it isn't logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.

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