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Martin Cothran in ENV on Sam Harris’ struggles with responsible freedom

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As I ponder the ongoing debates over and consequences of a priori evolutionary materialism (especially when dressed up in the lab coat) I am more and more led to think that the issue of responsible freedom tied to rationality and to our inescapably being under moral government is utterly pivotal.

An excellent place to begin is with Martin Cothran in ENV back in 2012, as he reflects on Sam Harris’ challenges in addressing responsible freedom:

Of Lemmings, marches of folly and cliffs . . .
Of Lemmings, marches of folly and cliffs of self-falsifying absurdity . . .

>>The first thing we must get clear about the book is something that Harris himself, given his thesis, must certainly agree with: he had no choice in writing it. But that has little to do with the neurological state of his brain. He operates under a necessity only a little less deterministic: the necessity that follows on the nature of his dogma.

As an atheist and a materialist, Harris really has no choice but to champion the idea that free will is a delusion. The materialist, said Chesterton, “is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle.” Materialists like Harris keep asking why we make the decisions we do, and what explanation there could be other than the physiological. The answer, of course, is the psychological, the philosophical, the whimsical, and about a thousand others.

But these violate the central tenets of his narrow dogma, and so are automatically rejected.

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.

And this is not only a mortal consequence for Harris as the one trying to prove his point, it is also problematic from the reader’s perspective: If we are convinced by Harris’s logic, we would have to consider this conviction as something determined not by the rational strength of his logic, but by the entirely irrational arrangement of the chemicals in our brains. They might, as Harris would have to say, coincide, but their relation would be completely arbitrary. If prior physical states are all that determine our beliefs, any one physical state is no more rational than any other. It isn’t rational or irrational, it just is.

If what Harris says is true, then our assent to what we view as the rational strength of his position may appear to us to involve our choice to assent or not to assent to his ostensibly rational argument, but (again, if it is true) in truth it cannot be any such thing, since we do not have that choice — or any other.

Indeed, it is hard to see how, if free will is an illusion, we could ever know it.>>

It seems that such evolutionary materialism is not only self-falsifying, but undermining of the recognition, acknowledgement and practice of responsible freedom.

With huge, destructive consequences that are increasingly visible all around us.

Let us begin to reflect together, from the ground up. END

10 Replies to “Martin Cothran in ENV on Sam Harris’ struggles with responsible freedom

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Of lemmings, manipulated marches of folly and cliffs of self-falsifying absurdity . . .

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    In his part 2, Cothran cites Harris digging himself deeper into the self-falsifying hole:

    Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.

    Of course, without that freedom, we cannot — yes, CANNOT — be either rational or responsible.

    Cothran therefore corrects:

    The first problem in statements like this is who exactly “we” are. The word appears here six times in four sentences (if we count “our,” its genitive form). Harris is arguing that there is no volitional locus from which decisions emanate: Our minds do not exist as any kind of independent entity, but are rather a part of a network of physical and chemical circuitry that operates according to rules that exclude any part of that circuitry from defying those rules This is one of the many implications of saying that there is no free will. But the very use of the word “we” implies that there is some part of that circuitry which can operate outside those rules — some volitional locus that, being volitional, can escape from the deterministic matrix. But his whole case is that there is no such thing.

    Again and again, angle after angle, case after case we find the fatal, self-destructive, self-falsifying flaw in the heart of the evolutionary materialist, scientistic, radically secularist agenda.

    The same that underlies its undermining of reason and moral government, even while it wraps itself in a lab coat and pours scorn and thinly veiled hate against the Judaeo-Christian synthesis that it has to borrow both reason and morality from without due acknowledgement.

    Intellectual and moral bankruptcy, in a nutshell.

    A bankruptcy that is so fundamental, so pervasive that there is no hope of re-organisation and rescue.

    So, as we see events unfold, let us bear this in mind.

    Nor, should we forget what Plato warned us on 2350+ years past in The Laws Bk X, with the ghost of Alcibiades at his shoulder:

    Ath. . . .[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [i.e the classical “material” elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art . . . [such that] all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only [ –> that is, evolutionary materialism is ancient and would trace all things to blind chance and mechanical necessity] . . . .

    [Thus, they hold] that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.-

    [ –> Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT, leading to an effectively arbitrary foundation only for morality, ethics and law: accident of personal preference, the ebbs and flows of power politics, accidents of history and and the shifting sands of manipulated community opinion driven by “winds and waves of doctrine and the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming . . . ” cf a video on Plato’s parable of the cave; from the perspective of pondering who set up the manipulative shadow-shows, why.]

    These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might,

    [ –> Evolutionary materialism — having no IS that can properly ground OUGHT — leads to the promotion of amorality on which the only basis for “OUGHT” is seen to be might (and manipulation: might in “spin”) . . . ]

    and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [ –> Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality “naturally” leads to continual contentions and power struggles influenced by that amorality at the hands of ruthless power hungry nihilistic agendas], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is,to live in real dominion over others [ –> such amoral and/or nihilistic factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless abuse and arbitrariness . . . ], and not in legal subjection to them.

    We were warned long since (the just above is c 360 BC!), but it seems we so easily forget again and again that the sound lessons of history were paid for in blood and tears.

    Those who would deride, dismiss or ignore them therefore doom themselves to repeat the lessons and to pay the same price yet again.

    Ah, but it is so, soo, sooo easy to dismiss history as victor’s propaganda.

    Lemmings headed over the cliff, that is what we are turning ourselves . . . and our civilisation . . . into.

    KF

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    Then, in part 3, Cothran caps off with another clip from Harris:

    Consider what it would take to actually have free will. You would need to be aware of all the factors that determine your thoughts and actions, and you would need to have complete control over those factors.

    Cothran exposes the lurking fallacies:

    Think of what would be necessary, if what Harris says here is true, to drive a car: You would need to be aware of all the factors that make the car go, and you would have to have complete control over them. I’m pretty sure most people on the road have no clue how their engine was put together or how it works, and they have very little control over how these factors work together at any given moment. But they seem to get around just fine. In fact, Harris’s assertion here is just silly.

    Then he makes statements that are simply ludicrous. He says, “If you don’t know what your soul is going to do next, you are not in control.” Huh? You have to know what your decision is before you make it in order for it to be a free will decision? Why? And if this is the case, then what about the neurological event that Harris would say would have to constitute the knowledge of what the decision will be? Would we need to know what that knowledge would be before we had it too? How far back do we need to go?

    Then there are those statements the full import of which one must meditate on for long periods of time in highly oxygenated air in order to fully appreciate: “A voluntary action,” he says, “is accompanied by the felt intention to carry it out.” No kidding? Really? “We do not know what we intend to do until the intention arises.” No! Get out!

    We are at civilisational reductio ad absurdum, but are too hell-bent on heading over the cliff to stop.

    At least until we have a very painful crash into reality.

    I can only hope the result will not be utterly suicidal — at least, for enough of us to make a reasonable restart.

    But, one of those lessons of history is, that once surrendered, the price to restore liberty is very stiff and painful indeed.

    KF

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    kf, it is worth repeating that not only is free will an illusion under materialism, but that ‘conscious self’ is also an illusion under materialism:

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

    In the following article, Dr. Nelson ties the ‘personal agent’ argument into intelligent design:

    Do You Like SETI? Fine, Then Let’s Dump Methodological Naturalism – Paul Nelson September 24, 2014
    Excerpt: Epistemology — how we know — and ontology — what exists — are both affected by methodological naturalism. If we say, “We cannot know that a mind caused x,” laying down an epistemological boundary defined by MN, then our ontology comprising real causes for x won’t include minds.
    MN entails an ontology in which minds are the consequence of physics, and thus, can only be placeholders for a more detailed causal account in which physics is the only (ultimate) actor. You didn’t write your email to me. Physics did, and informed you of that event after the fact.
    “That’s crazy,” you reply, “I certainly did write my email.” Okay, then — to what does the pronoun “I” in that sentence refer?
    Your personal agency; your mind. Are you supernatural?,,,
    You are certainly an intelligent cause,, and your intelligence does not collapse into physics. (If it does collapse — i.e., can be reduced without explanatory loss — we haven’t the faintest idea how, which amounts to the same thing.) To explain the effects you bring about in the world — such as your email, a real pattern — we must refer to you as a unique agent.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....90071.html

    And although Dr. Nelson alluded to writing an e-mail, (i.e. creating information), to tie the ‘personal agent’ argument into intelligent design,,,

    Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will and the Turing Test – Douglas S. Robertson
    Excerpt: Chaitin’s Algorithmic Information Theory shows that information is conserved under formal mathematical operations and, equivalently, under computer operations. This conservation law puts a new perspective on many familiar problems related to artificial intelligence. For example, the famous “Turing test” for artificial intelligence could be defeated by simply asking for a new axiom in mathematics. Human mathematicians are able to create axioms, but a computer program cannot do this without violating information conservation. Creating new axioms and free will are shown to be different aspects of the same phenomena: the creation of new information.
    http://cires.colorado.edu/~dou...../info8.pdf

    And although Dr. Nelson alluded to writing an e-mail, (i.e. creating information), to tie the ‘personal agent’ argument into intelligent design, Dr. Nelson’s ‘personal agent’ argument can easily be amended to any action that you, as a personal agent, choose to take:

    You didn’t walk through the door. Physics did, and informed the illusion of you of that event after the fact.

    You didn’t raise your hand. Physics did, and informed the illusion of you of that event after the fact.

    You didn’t etc.. etc.. etc… Physics did, and informed the illusion of you of that event after the fact.”

    Dr. Craig Hazen, in the following video at the 12:26 minute mark, relates how he performed, for an audience full of ‘academics’, a ‘miracle’ simply by raising his hand,,

    The Intersection of Science and Religion – Craig Hazen, PhD – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....qlE#t=746s

    What should be needless to say, if ‘science’ has gotten to the point where simply raising your hand is enough to refute your ‘scientific’ worldview, then something is terribly amiss in your supposedly scientific worldview.

    It is also interesting to note that agent causality was not always persona non grata in science.
    In fact, at the founding of modern science, agent causality was assumed as true by the Christian founders of modern science.
    On discovering the laws of planetary motion, Johann Kepler declared these very ‘unscientific’ thoughts:

    ‘O God, I am thinking your thoughts after you!’

    “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.” [2,2a&2b]
    – Johannes Kepler

    Kepler was hardly alone in belief of God being behind the mathematical laws of the universe. Galileo stated:

    Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.
    Galileo Galilei

    Newton stated:

    “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of His dominion He is wont to be called Lord God.”(Newton 1687,Principia)

    NEWTON’S REJECTION OF THE “NEWTONIAN WORLD VIEW”: THE ROLE OF DIVINE WILL IN NEWTON’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY
    Abstract: The significance of Isaac Newton for the history of Christianity and science is undeniable: his professional work culminated the Scientific Revolution that saw the birth of modern science, while his private writings evidence a lifelong interest in the relationship between God and the world. Yet the typical picture of Newton as a paragon of Enlightenment deism, endorsing the idea of a remote divine clockmaker and the separation of science from religion, is badly mistaken. In fact Newton rejected both the clockwork metaphor itself and the cold mechanical universe upon which it is based. His conception of the world reflects rather a deep commitment to the constant activity of the divine will, unencumbered by the “rational” restrictions that Descartes and Leibniz placed on God, the very sorts of restrictions that later appealed to the deists of the 18th century.
    per messiah.edu

    Both Faraday and Maxwell presupposed God as a Causal Agent in their scientific discoveries:

    The Genius and Faith of Faraday and Maxwell – Ian H. Hutchinson – 2014
    Conclusion: Lawfulness was not, in their thinking, inert, abstract, logical necessity, or complete reducibility to Cartesian mechanism; rather, it was an expectation they attributed to the existence of a divine lawgiver. These men’s insights into physics were made possible by their religious commitments. For them, the coherence of nature resulted from its origin in the mind of its Creator.
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....nd-maxwell

    “The book of nature which we have to read is written by the finger of God.”
    Faraday, as cited in Seeger 1983, 101

    And it is not as if the Theist is currently lacking in empirical evidence for agent causality within physics. Quantum Mechanics itself is literally screaming for agent causality to be let back into science:

    What Does Quantum Physics Have to Do with Free Will? – By Antoine Suarez – July 22, 2013
    Excerpt: What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving “entanglement” (the phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices.
    To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time.,,,
    https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/what-does-quantum-physics-have-do-free-will

    A Short Survey Of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness
    Excerpt: Putting all the lines of evidence together the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:
    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.
    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect)
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uLcJUgLm1vwFyjwcbwuYP0bK6k8mXy-of990HudzduI/edit

    And when the agent causality of God is rightly let back into science, then a solution to the most profound enigma in modern physics readily pops out for us.
    Namely, the resurrection of Christ from death provides a empirically backed reconciliation of Quantum Mechanics/Special Relativity, (Quantum Electrodynamics), and General Relativity into the much sought after ‘theory of everything’:

    Turin shroud – (Particle Physicist explains event horizon) – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHVUGK6UFK8

    Verse and Music:

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Matthew 28:18
    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

    Hillsong: “Lord Of Lords” – music
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlqDIfS4O3s

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    BA, yet again and again. I hope we are beginning to recognise the consequences of failing to press the point home thus leaving self falsifying absurdity with the prestige of wrapping itself in a lab coat. Absurdity dressed up in a lab coat is still absurdity, and anything that directly denies or implicitly undermines or cannot fit in with responsible intellectual and moral freedom must be a self-falsifying absurdity. KF

  6. 6
    Box says:

    Foundational to any rational inquiry is the assumption that one’s rational capability is sound in principle. Obviously that doesn’t mean one’s rationality cannot be improved and that e.g. logical mistakes cannot be made. What it means is that no theory which fundamentally denies one’s capability of rational inquiry is acceptable.

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    Box, Prezactly. And that is what we are up against — a scheme of thought that by undermining responsible, rational freedom, ends in absurdity. KF

  8. 8
    rhampton7 says:

    It needs to be said that a physical effect can be a logical cause, for example, logic gates. Of course the brain is much more complicated and can generate logical as well as illogical causes.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    Does it use illogic gates?

  10. 10
    rhampton7 says:

    Mung, not exactly. The brain can “calculate” a very loosely defined problem in which the variables are not specified or even known and includes inputs from emotion (that’s not something we can program a computer to do currently) — the results of which can be illogical. Irrational fears, for example, appear to be emotionally dominated “calculations” in which the risk is greatly overestimated.

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