An atheist can't believe in free will

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This topic contains 54 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  jakelafort 3 weeks, 6 days ago.

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  • #52158

    Unseen
    Participant

    If my cat gets up on the kitchen table and there’s a salt shaker near the edge, she’s likely to swat it off the table and then look over the edge to review her work. Clearly, a conscious decision and intentional act. It sure looks like what we’d call an expression of a freely-made free will choice.

    If I took a plate off the table at a friend’s place and tossed it across the room, then went over to look at my work, that too would like like an expression of free will, PLUS I’d be held culpable and thus morally responsible for replacing the plate.

    You see, free will despite all the fancy-dancy talk about it is a concept that boils down to being a desire to be able to assert praise and blame.

    When a cat knocks a salt shaker off a table or a lonely dog tears up a couch cushion, we don’t hold them morally liable for their acts because, we rationalize, they are simply doing something that’s in their nature both as a creature and as an individual. We thus view them as akin to automata who behave as they do because their behavior program forces them to. In other words, just because they are cats and dogs with both a nature and a history informing their actions.

    Maybe humans do what they do also because they are humans and it’s as simple as that. Just as there are shy and friendly cats and unaggressive and vicious dogs, so there are “good” people and “bad” or even “evil” people. Of course, we accept that cats and dogs behave as they do for reasons that determine their behavior and so we don’t think of them as truly free. We don’t hold them morally responsible for their behavior even if we really dislike it or even find it disgusting or inexplicable (a cat killing one of her kittens, your beloved dog bites your 2 year old).

    We people, somehow, are expected to live outside the world of cause and effect such that, despite what cause and effect—embodied in the brain—tells us to do, we are able to overrule our brain and, instead, do what’s right/moral/ethical.

    How is this metacontrol possible? We could have an entity that’s nonphysical and not bound by cause and effect.  What do we call such an entity? We call it a “soul.” How do you get one? God gives it to you. We could also call it a “consciousness,” but to have praise and blame (sometimes called “agency”) it has to resemble a soul fairly exactly.

    How does a consciousness/soul separate from the physical body control the body? It’s either a mystery with no explanation or a miracle guaranteed by God. If there’s a third alternative, tell me.

    So, if you’re an atheist, I don’t see how you can even explain free will, much less even believe in it. At least, once you’ve really thought about it.

    #52168

    Unseen
    Participant

    Free will is similar to “the God of the gaps.” Whereas the theist believes that the universe’s mysteries are explainable by positing their magical mystery being, the believer in free will explains by creating a gap in causality such that cause and effect are suspended and free will takes over.

    If Joe robs a bank, and you don’t believe in free will, you assume that there are cause and effect reasons why Joe’s brain told him to rob that bank. And if he then decides that’s a bad idea before committing the deed, there is a cause (or causes) for that effect as well.

    For the believer in free will, it’s simple. There is no cause and effect. Whatever Joe decides, it’s a gap in causality we call free will..

    Now, many people who say they believe in free will will look to something in his nature (DNA, perhaps) or in his nurture (broken home, bad influences, maybe) without realizing that, in doing so, they are denying free will.

    So, many people who believe in and feel free will is necessary, know in their hearts that it’s a dead end. It’s not an explanation. It explains nothing. What it does do is motivate people to stop looking for causes and, instead, engage in the praise and blame game which is much more satisfying.

    Similar to the “information paradox” in physics, if there are exceptions to normal cause and effect, it calls the entire system into question. If things that happen just happen without being caused or effects just don’t happen, real explanation becomes impossible.

    #52170

    _Robert_
    Participant

    Yeah, it seems like we have “agency”; but is it real? Probably not, but the best answer is that we simply don’t know yet.

    #52171

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Under any realistic definition i have no idea how free will is possible.

    Agency? aaaa yeah i have my own agency. It is known as Central Mental.

    #52172

    Davis
    Moderator

    Yeah, it seems like we have “agency”; but is it real? Probably not, but the best answer is that we simply don’t know yet.

    Agency is as real and meaningful as: decision, responsibility, culpability, power structures, invention, reward, retribution, entitlement, ownership, merit etc. Dismiss one…you should dismiss them all. If one is meaningless, they are all meaningless. You are right, absolutely right. It may be hard to see how free will is possible and the best position to take is we don’t know. If you do take the position that free will is an illusion and/or meaningless, then so you should with things like morality, responsibility, punishment, human rights, deserving anything etc. If you argue we should dispense with the childish illusion that we have free will, so you should with the illusion of culpability, responsibility, fairness etc. If you cannot, you should re-evaluate one or the other.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Davis.
    #52174

    jakelafort
    Participant

    I just got that Sapolsky book. I am determined to read it.

    However the issue is framed at most we have some sort of attenuated agency. Once we realize that we are not hot shits or that our flaws are beyond our control it can at once be a realization that liberates us and feels like being in chains.

    Regardless of how convinced we are that free will is inexistent we REACT same as we would as believers in free will. If it is in your nature to freak out when someone cuts you off driving you will react as your nature dictates. In quieter times allowing for contemplation and pensive penetration we may alter our perception and behavior. Mostly though i think it is business as usual.

    #52175

    Unseen
    Participant

    If you argue we should dispense with the childish illusion that we have free will, so you should with the illusion of culpability, responsibility, fairness etc. If you cannot, you should re-evaluate one or the other.

    Well, whatever you do, you are somehow caused to do it. Human decisions are not random. There is a physical system behind every decision making each decision inevitable.

    “Free will” isn’t an illusion. It’s not even a clear idea.

    And, BTW, I opened with the question of whether my cat has free will. Any insights on that front? I’d sure like to find her to be a culpable moral agent for breaking that salt shaker. She can clearly form intent and carry out a conscious plan. Unfortunately, I think she does what her brain tells her to do, just like me. And, like me, she doesn’t tell her brain what to do on the one hand and can’t override it, either.

    #52176

    _Robert_
    Participant

    We don’t even know the underlying cause of gravity. We don’t understand abiogenesis. We don’t know how much we don’t know. Is the sum total of all knowledge even finite?

    #52177

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Notice how the language suggests dualism?

    We can’t really conceive of anything but our own agency. Where are we? WHERE, GODDAMNIT TO FUCKING HELL!

    #52178

    Unseen
    Participant

    Notice how the language suggests dualism? We can’t really conceive of anything but our own agency. Where are we? WHERE, GODDAMNIT TO FUCKING HELL!

    You can’t really have free will, methinks, without implying a duality between a brain which usually controls our physical ctions and a soul, spirit, disembodied consciousness which can ignore the brain and make decisions independently, including to overrule the brain.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Unseen.
    #52180

    Unseen
    Participant

    There is a common concern that without free will there’s no accountability. Nonsense. We will go on holding people to account because we have to, in the sense that this is how we respond to acts that displease or enrage us. We respond in this way because we have to. Literally. We have no real choice but respond that way.

    #52181

    TheEncogitationer
    Participant

    Jake,

    Notice how the language suggests dualism?

    We can’t really conceive of anything but our own agency. Where are we? WHERE, GODDAMNIT TO FUCKING HELL!

    Are you on a beach staring at a smashed Statue Of Liberty? I can’t see from being water-hosed in my cage! IT’S A MADHOUSE!! A MAAAADHOUSE!!!
    😡🦍😉

    #52182

    TheEncogitationer
    Participant

    Fellow Unbelievers,

    Volition and causality are not opposed to each other. When we say that someone chose to do something, we are saying that they are casual agents that acted to produce an effect.

    And if Determinism is true, then whether we can know whether anything is true or false is outside of our control and everything is ultimately unknowable with any certainty.

    The contradiction in this epistemic position of Agnosticism was pointed out by George H. Smith in Atheism: The case Against God..

    As Smith puts it, to say that either some particular thing or everything in the Universe is unknowable implies that you know enough about something or everything to say with certainty that it is unknowable. Agnosticism is thus, self-contradictory.

    And since Determinism means and results in a epistemic position of Agnosticism, Determinism is self-contradictory and untenable as well.

    Most of the Natural Universe is unknown to us, but nothing about it is ultimately unknowable. Anything and everything can be known with sufficient rational thought, mental effort, and time…It’s only our mortality that places limits on knowing more.

    And Volition does not require a separable consciousness called a “soul” granted by a Supernatural God. In fact, an Omniscient God would contradict Volition because the ability to know everything would mean the future is set and no one can change it, including both God and Man.

    Volition can just be the sapient, rational part of our brains overriding the impulsive, lizard part. Again, it’s all of a single piece.

    #52183

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    […] We will go on holding people to account because we have to, in the sense that this is how we respond to acts that displease or enrage us. We respond in this way because we have to. Literally. We have no real choice but respond that way.

    Increasingly often, I’m wondering how important it is to answer this question with certainty. Whether free will exists or not, we ultimately behave the same way, right? Only the belief or not in free will might influence how we behave. Sure, that belief may matter, even if that belief might change over time.

    Our beliefs are often, if not largely, influenced by what others believe and express. Exchanging thoughts here on AZ can do that, too. And of course our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by external realities. That’s how brains have evolved… to be predictive, and to “know” what we can do to improve our lives or reduce the pains. I’d say this is true to various degrees in animals, too. Free Will, or not.

    So my question now is, how are the answers to the free will question even relevant, except in philosophical and theological contexts? Perhaps it matters most in matters of law, that necessarily define how “culpable” an offender is. Or clinically in mental health matters, where therapist must determine what may or may not work as suggestions to the patient… i.e. therapies usually must be based on estimating “willingness” in the patient to adapt certain ideas and/or behaviors.

    In the end, whether we call it free will or not is irrelevant (except to philosophers and theologians), because only the internal belief itself (or lack thereof) in free will might influence each person’s behavior. I’m prone to say that belief in free will, even if it is ultimately only an illusion, helps people feel more confident in having control of their own behavior, including having more motivation to work on changes within themselves.

    Personally, I believe 100% in determinism, but I’m ok with make-believing that I have a level of agency. Actually, it takes work for me to convince myself otherwise.

    Is there any serious problem with that, other than philosophically or theologically? I can think of one thing, which will come up some day. I think and act as though I’m going to live forever. I’m in denial that I will die, and so will my so-called free will (aka “soul” in some contexts?) that I’ve experienced while living. So maybe I don’t work as hard as I should at setting up my end of life plans, e.g. for when my kids will have to deal with it.

    #52184

    _Robert_
    Participant

    It’s just as hard to imagine any event without a physical cause as it is to imagine that we are not the pilots-in-charge that we think we are. Anyone who has picked a side because of real evidence, well by all means go write your paper and take your place alongside Darwin and Einstein.

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