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One of the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse sort of thinks there is free will

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Tufts’ Daniel Dennett here:

In recent years a growing gang of cognitive neuroscientists have announced to the world that they have made discoveries that show that “free will is an illusion.” This is, of course, momentous news, which promises or threatens to render obsolete a family of well-nigh sacred values: just deserts (for both praise and blame), guilt, punishment, honour, respect, trust, indeed the very meaning of life. Can it be that scientists have uncovered a secret quirk or weakness in our nervous systems that shows that we are never the responsible authors of our actions? Many have thought that if the physics of our world is deterministic (with no random swerves), free will is impossible whatever the details of brain activity prove to be. Philosophers have spent the last half century or so sorting themselves into two camps on this: “compatibilists” who claim that free will is compatible with determinism in spite of first appearances, and “incompatibilists” who disagree. In his new book Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, philosopher Alfred Mele sets that apparently interminable wrangle aside and argues that whether you address the “modest free will” of compatibilism or the “ambitious free will” of those who hold out for indeterminism playing a role, the verdict is the same: these scientists have not come close to demonstrating that free will, in either sense, is an illusion. Their ingenious experiments, while yielding some surprising results, don’t have the revolutionary implications often claimed.

No.

See also: I will means something after all

Will power back in style, for three months, maybe?

A choice argument

File under: More evidence for new atheist movement coming apart at the seams? File with: Sam Harris on why consciousness does not feel like a self (If only that were true. If only one could wish one’s toothache to belong to some utter non-self vanishing into a mist somewhere. Now, that’d be the day.)

Like, anyway, how can one justify a totalitarian utopia if people really have free will?

Also: Jerry Coyne on John Gray on Richard Dawkins (with a plea for Canadian hockey, as a very much safer game by comparison)

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13 Replies to “One of the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse sort of thinks there is free will

  1. 1

    I haven’t had a chance to look at Mele’s book yet, but I see some very obvious criticisms of the neuroscience research on free will:
    1-the experiments have a quite restricted scope–they focus on very narrow subsets of the richness and variety of human decision making;

    2-they largely depend on the unprovable assumption that behavior of subconscious origin derives from natural causes rather than say the character of the individual;
    3-the greatest killer: the also unprovable assumption that all behavior of sentient beings is causally determined as opposed to there being “uncaused causes.”

    The last criticism could reflect a belief in God as an uncaused cause who delegates a bit of that capability to human beings created in his image. On the other hand, given the philosophically vague status of the concept of causation since Hume, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

  2. 2
    Mapou says:

    Let me get this straight. The no-free-will camp is basing their arguments on the premise that the universe is deterministic? Haysoos Martinez! This is not even wrong.

  3. 3
    Vishnu says:

    Haysoos Martinez!

    I met him once. Heck of a nice guy.

  4. 4
    News says:

    Ralph David Westfall: Know what you mean.

    1. Much human decision-making is not under scrutiny, and would be difficult to capture. What’s easy to capture in a lab is not real world behaviour.

    2. If the current neuroscience claims are correct, they would go against ALL classical literature, which insists that the true character comes out under stress.

    3. We’ll have to cede to the humans-as-blobs-of-matter their psychology, because who can really contest it? The best we can ever do is insist that it not be taught as a truth in taxpayer-funded school systems. Until a Supreme Court overrules us.

  5. 5
    Mark Frank says:

    I don’t understand the point behind this OP. Dennett is famous for being a compatabilis and therefore believing in free will. He has been the icon of modern compatabilism for decades. The Prospect review is hardly news or a sign of something changing among the new atheists.

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    How does materialism explain free will?

  7. 7
    redwave says:

    “In recent years a growing gang of cognitive neuroscientists have announced to the world that they have made discoveries that show that “free will is an illusion.”

    Revised leading statement, for which I could not help myself:

    In recent years, for no apparent reason, a randomly growing gang of instinctual neuroscientists have had no other choice than to announce to the unwilling and habitually bound world of the not-so-mindful, that they have unwittingly made discoveries that show that free will is an illusion.

  8. 8
    RexTugwell says:

    …and why do those who deny free will also call themselves “free thinkers”?

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    amen redwave and Rex,,, if free will (and consciousness) are illusions then we have no choice to believe what we believe regardless of how true it may be in regards to its correspondence to reality or not. We are victims of whatever particular configuration of atoms our brain may be in in regards to whatever belief we may have!
    But why are these supposedly highly educated men and women so willing to declare that free will and consciousness, two things we have are most intimate contact with, are illusions? What drove them to this precipice of insanity? I think the reason is best explained by this ex-Nihilist,,,

    A Professor’s Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist – University of Wyoming – J. Budziszewski –
    Excerpt page12: “There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition.
    If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don’t know. “But there is gravity,” you say. No, “gravity” is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. “But there are laws of gravity,” you say. No, the “laws” are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term “laws”; they prefer “lawlike regularities.” To call the equations of gravity “laws” and speak of the apple as “obeying” them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the “laws” of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more.
    The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn’t trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn’t have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place.”
    http://www.undergroundthomist......theist.pdf

    As to this fundamental confusion between agent causality and mathematical description, C.S. Lewis succinctly puts the situation like this,,,

    “to say that a stone falls to earth because it’s obeying a law, makes it a man and even a citizen”
    – CS Lewis

    The following ‘doodle video is excellent for getting this point across:

    “In the whole history of the universe the laws of nature have never produced, (i.e. caused), a single event.”
    C.S. Lewis – doodle video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_20yiBQAIlk

    In other words, law or necessity does not have causal adequacy within itself. i.e. Law is not a ‘mechanism’ that has ever ’caused’ anything to happen in the universe but is merely a description of a lawlike regularity within the universe. The early Christian founders of modern science understood this distinction well,,,

    Not the God of the Gaps, But the Whole Show – John Lennox – 2012
    Excerpt: God is not a “God of the gaps”, he is God of the whole show.,,, C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”
    http://www.christianpost.com/n.....how-80307/

    Perhaps the most famous confusion of mathematical description of a law and causal agency if Stephen Hawking’s following statement:

    “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.The universe didn’t need a God to begin; it was quite capable of launching its existence on its own,”
    Stephen Hawking
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_.....wking.html

    Here is an excerpt of an article, (that is well worth reading in full), in which Dr. Gordon exposes Stephen Hawking’s delusion for thinking that mathematical description and causal agency are the same thing.

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: ,,,The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy.
    This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world,,,
    Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.,,,
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    Moreover, the same type of confusion arises in the atheists appeal to ‘random chance’ as a causal agent.
    When people say that something ‘happened by chance’ they are not actually appealling to a known causal mechanism but are instead using chance as a ‘placeholder for ignorance’ as to an actual causal mechanism. Stephen Talbott puts the situation like this,,

    Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness – Stephen L. Talbott – Fall 2011
    Excerpt: In the case of evolution, I picture Dennett and Dawkins filling the blackboard with their vivid descriptions of living, highly regulated, coordinated, integrated, and intensely meaningful biological processes, and then inserting a small, mysterious gap in the middle, along with the words, “Here something random occurs.”
    This “something random” looks every bit as wishful as the appeal to a miracle. It is the central miracle in a gospel of meaninglessness, a “Randomness of the gaps,” demanding an extraordinarily blind faith. At the very least, we have a right to ask, “Can you be a little more explicit here?”
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....randomness

    In other words, when people say that something “happened randomly by chance”, usually a mishap, they are in fact assuming an impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings.
    Although the term “chance” can be defined as a mathematical probability, such as the chance involved in flipping a coin, when Darwinists use the term ‘random chance’, generally it’s substituting for a more precise word such as “cause”, especially when the cause, i.e. ‘mechanism’, is not known. Several people have noted this ‘shell game’ with the word ‘chance’..

    “To personify ‘chance’ as if we were talking about a causal agent,” notes biophysicist Donald M. MacKay, “is to make an illegitimate switch from a scientific to a quasi-religious mythological concept.”

    Similarly, Robert C. Sproul points out: “By calling the unknown cause ‘chance’ for so long, people begin to forget that a substitution was made. . . . The assumption that ‘chance equals an unknown cause’ has come to mean for many that ‘chance equals cause.’”

    Thus, when an atheist states that something happened by chance, we have every right to ask, as Talbott pointed out, “Can you be a little more explicit here?”
    In conclusion, contrary to how atheists imagine reality to be structured, they, in their appeal to random chance and mathematical description as to being causally adequate within themselves, have, in reality, appealed to vacuous explanations for ‘causal mechanism(s)’. ,,,
    Verse and Music:

    Acts 17:28
    For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

    Mark Schultz “I Am” – music
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hILaSh78yHQ

  10. 10
    Moose Dr says:

    Dennet, “This is, of course, momentous news, which promises or threatens to render obsolete a family of well-nigh sacred values: just deserts (for both praise and blame), guilt, punishment, honour, respect, trust…”

    Even if free will is an illusion, I do not get Dennet on this. If all we are is trained automatons, then the list Dennet provided above are part of the training system that converts randoms into citizens.

  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    ,,,”vacuous explanations for causal mechanisms” reminds me of Lawrence Krauss’s argument against God from a few years ago in his book ‘A Universe from Nothing’,,

    Not Understanding Nothing – A review of A Universe from Nothing – Edward Feser – June 2012
    Excerpt: A critic might reasonably question the arguments for a divine first cause of the cosmos. But to ask “What caused God?” misses the whole reason classical philosophers thought his existence necessary in the first place. So when physicist Lawrence Krauss begins his new book by suggesting that to ask “Who created the creator?” suffices to dispatch traditional philosophical theology, we know it isn’t going to end well. ,,,
    ,,, But Krauss simply can’t see the “difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one.” The difference, as the reader of Aristotle or Aquinas knows, is that the universe changes while the unmoved mover does not, or, as the Neoplatonist can tell you, that the universe is made up of parts while its source is absolutely one; or, as Leibniz could tell you, that the universe is contingent and God absolutely necessary. There is thus a principled reason for regarding God rather than the universe as the terminus of explanation.
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ng-nothing

    To put what I consider the main philosophical arguments for God more simply, (at the risk of irritating a few philosophers), atheistic materialists do not have a causal mechanism to appeal to to explain how the universe originated, nor do they have a causal mechanism to explain why anything continues to exist in the universe, nor do they even have a causal mechanism for explaining how anything, any particle in the universe, moves within the universe!
    Here are a few notes along that line:

    The Kalam Cosmological Argument (argument from the beginning of the universe) – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CulBuMCLg0

    God Is the Best Explanation For Why Anything At All Exists – William Lane Craig – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjuqBxg_5mA

    Aquinas’ Third way (argument from existence) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V030hvnX5a4

    Aquinas’ First Way – (The First Mover – Unmoved Mover argument) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qmpw0_w27As

    “The ‘First Mover’ is necessary for change occurring at each moment.”
    Michael Egnor – Aquinas’ First Way
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....first.html

    As to the ancient first mover argument of Aquinas in particular, the double slit experiment is excellent for illustrating that the ‘unmoved mover’ argument is valid.

    In the following video Anton Zeilinger, whose group is arguably the best group of experimentalists in quantum physics today, ‘tries’ to explain the double slit experiment to Morgan Freeman:

    Quantum Mechanics – Double Slit Experiment. Is anything real? (Prof. Anton Zeilinger) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayvbKafw2g0

    Prof. Zeilinger makes this rather startling statement in the preceding video that meshes perfectly with the ‘first mover argument’::

    “The path taken by the photon is not an element of reality. We are not allowed to talk about the photon passing through this or this slit. Neither are we allowed to say the photon passes through both slits. All this kind of language is not applicable.”
    Anton Zeilinger

    If that was not enough to get Dr. Zeilinger’s point across, at the 4:12 minute mark in this following video,,,

    Double Slit Experiment – Explained By Prof Anton Zeilinger – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6101627/

    Professor Zeilinger states,,,

    “We know what the particle is doing at the source when it is created. We know what it is doing at the detector when it is registered. But we do not know what it is doing in-between.”
    Anton Zeilinger

    i.e. “The ‘First Mover’ is necessary for change occurring at each moment.”
    – Michael Egnor

    Supplemental quote:

    “Joel Primack, a cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, once posed an interesting question to the physicist Neil Turok: “What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws.” Turok was surprised by the question; he recognized its force. Something seems to compel physical objects to obey the laws of nature, and what makes this observation odd is just that neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas.,,,
    Physicists since Einstein have tried to see in the laws of nature a formal structure that would allow them to say to themselves, “Ah, that is why they are true,” and they have failed.”
    Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion pg. 132-133

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    But to scientifically, experimentally, corroborate what we intuitively know to be true about free will and agent causality, and to show we are not deterministic automatons, i.e. Darwinbots, we can reference the delayed choice experiments in quantum mechanics,,,
    Here’s a recent variation of Wheeler’s Delayed Choice experiment, which highlights the ability of the conscious observer to effect ‘spooky action into the past’,

    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-q.....ction.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?,,, These experiments from quantum mechanics are simply impossible on a reductive materialism (determinism) view of reality!

    You can see a more complete explanation of the startling results of the experiment at the 9:11 minute mark of the following video

    Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Experiment Explained – 2014 video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6HLjpj4Nt4

    “If we attempt to attribute an objective meaning to the quantum state of a single system, curious paradoxes appear: quantum effects mimic not only instantaneous action-at-a-distance but also, as seen here, influence of future actions on past events, even after these events have been irrevocably recorded.”
    Asher Peres, Delayed choice for entanglement swapping. J. Mod. Opt. 47, 139-143 (2000).

    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 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

    Moreover, it is important to point out that although free will is often thought of as allowing someone to choose between a veritable infinity of options, in a theistic view of reality that veritable infinity of options all boils down to just two options. Eternal life, (infinity if you will), with God, or Eternal life, (infinity again if you will), without God.

    “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

    And exactly as would be expected on a Theistic view of reality, we find two very different eternities associated with General Relativity and Special Relativity:

    Special Relativity, General Relativity, Heaven and Hell
    Excerpt: “Einstein’s equation predicts that, as the astronaut reaches the singularity (of the black-hole), the tidal forces grow infinitely strong, and their chaotic oscillations become infinitely rapid. The astronaut dies and the atoms which his body is made become infinitely and chaotically distorted and mixed-and then, at the moment when everything becomes infinite (the tidal strengths, the oscillation frequencies, the distortions, and the mixing), spacetime ceases to exist.”
    Kip S. Thorne – “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy” pg. 476
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_4cQ7MXq8bLkoFLYW0kq3Xq-Hkc3c7r-gTk0DYJQFSg/edit

    In light of this dilemma that these two very different eternities present to us spiritually minded people, and the fact that Gravity is, in so far as we can tell, completely incompatible with Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity (i.e. Quantum Electro-Dynamics),,, string theory, M-theory, etc.. ,,in light of that dilemma, it is interesting to point out a subtle nuance on the Shroud of Turin. Namely that Gravity was overcome in the resurrection event of Christ:

    Particle Radiation from the Body – July 2012 – M. Antonacci, A. C. Lind
    Excerpt: The Shroud’s frontal and dorsal body images are encoded with the same amount of intensity, independent of any pressure or weight from the body. The bottom part of the cloth (containing the dorsal image) would have born all the weight of the man’s supine body, yet the dorsal image is not encoded with a greater amount of intensity than the frontal image. Radiation coming from the body would not only explain this feature, but also the left/right and light/dark reversals found on the cloth’s frontal and dorsal body images.
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/19tGkwrdg6cu5mH-RmlKxHv5KPMOL49qEU8MLGL6ojHU/edit

    John 8:23-24
    But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.

    G.O.S.P.E.L. – (the grace of propitiation) – poetry slam – video
    https://vimeo.com/20960385

    Matthew 10:28
    “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Do those who so eagerly wish to do away with real, responsible freedom of choice understand that choice is a key component in reasoning and accepting a reasoned case? So, if one finds evidence and reasoning in light of one’s assumptions that leads one to dismiss or doubt such responsible freedom, one is close to or in the territory of self-referential incoherence or even reductio ad absurdum. It is time for fresh thinking. KF

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