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Free Will (Merged)
Posted: 07 March 2006 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hello All!!  :D

Here we can continue the free will discussion from the list serv that is to be shutdown (or so we are told).

Do human beings possess free will?

There is a good argument that we do not.  It suggests that we are a combination of mechanistic (deterministic) actions and probability.  The analogy used involves strings of dominoes and dice.  You can imagine many strings and branches and probabilistic switches.  All the things we do are controlled by such systems.

While I certainly understand that all the firings of neurons in my brain are in principal determinable as a cascade of dominoes and probability I think that the shear number of such possible events and probabilistic outcomes is so vast that the difference between having free will and not having free will is not discernable.  For me it comes under Arthur C. Clarke’s rubric of "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

The difficult part comes in when applying the no free will idea.  For some it lets everyone off the hook for their behavior.  Well not really off the hook, but punishment/rehabilitation in measure to their lack of ultimate culpability.  Some argue that no free will implies no death penalty because the person was, by definition, not in control.  A sort of "my genes made me do it" defense.  I personally have quite a bit of difficulty with that line of thought.  Yes, there are people who are outside the normal range of mental function.  Their dominoes and probabilities do not work like most folks.  But for most people behavior can be modified to be socially acceptable.  It seems to me that the concept of rehabilitation suggests that there is more culpability than some will admit.

How is that for a start?  :D

Wes

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Posted: 07 March 2006 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Free Will

Hello All!!  :D

Here we can continue the free will discussion from the list serv that is to be shutdown (or so we are told).

Do human beings possess free will?

There is a good argument that we do not.  It suggests that we are a combination of mechanistic (deterministic) actions and probability.  The analogy used involves strings of dominoes and dice.  You can imagine many strings and branches and probabilistic switches.  All the things we do are controlled by such systems.

While I certainly understand that all the firings of neurons in my brain are in principal determinable as a cascade of dominoes and probability I think that the shear number of such possible events and probabilistic outcomes is so vast that the difference between having free will and not having free will is not discernable.  For me it comes under Arthur C. Clarke’s rubric of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The difficult part comes in when applying the no free will idea.  For some it lets everyone off the hook for their behavior.  Well not really off the hook, but punishment/rehabilitation in measure to their lack of ultimate culpability.  Some argue that no free will implies no death penalty because the person was, by definition, not in control.  A sort of “my genes made me do it” defense.  I personally have quite a bit of difficulty with that line of thought.  Yes, there are people who are outside the normal range of mental function.  Their dominoes and probabilities do not work like most folks.  But for most people behavior can be modified to be socially acceptable.  It seems to me that the concept of rehabilitation suggests that there is more culpability than some will admit.

How is that for a start?  :D

Wes

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Posted: 07 March 2006 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Hi Wes,

I actually just wrote a response to this issue ... it’s in the Politics and Social Issues folder ...

:D

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Posted: 07 March 2006 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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FYI, here is what I wrote (I’m reposting this here because this is probably a better site for the discussion ... though we’ll see what develops).

————————————————

Dan Dennett has a very good book on free will called “Elbow Room”; I haven’t read it in years but remember liking it very much.

IMO the western notion of “free will” is basically a theological creation, invented in order to get God out of some apparent problems with evil. (For what it’s worth, there is no similar issue in eastern religions).

That is: if God created us knowing that we were going to do evil things, then isn’t God culpable for the evil we do?

Supposed answer: God created us with this thing “free will”, whereby our actions are not amenable to God’s power, but done solely by our spontaneous uncaused decision. Our free will is then an “uncaused cause” of our action.

So therefore when we do evil things, God isn’t responsible for them since he didn’t cause them ... they were solely due to our “free will”.

Problems:

(1) How is this “free will” supposed to work? If we look at the brain, there are no “uncaused causes” there ... just physical/chemical interactions between neurons, receptors, and so on. Where does this free will “ghost in the machine” do its causing? It’s got to be something supernatural.

(2) How are “uncaused” actions really actions? Normally something “uncaused” would be seen as random in nature, like the unpredictable decay of a uranium atom. Muscular motions caused by random things wouldn’t really be actions, they would be more like twitches or jerks, over which we would have no responsibility.

(3) This model of action in fact has nothing to do with how we know actions to be created from the inside. Take an example: I am thirsty, and I know there is water in the refrigerator. This desire for water and belief about its location causes me to walk to the fridge and open the door. But this explanation of action is causal. It is, at base, deterministic. There are no “uncaused causes” here. Actions are caused by beliefs and desires (or by the brain states that underlie beliefs and desires).

Now, some take determinism to mean that there is no free will. But I think that’s totally the wrong tack. The problem is not with determinism, it’s with an incoherent, theologically based notion of “free will” as an uncaused cause.

So I’d say that we are free, and that our freedom is compatible with determinism.

To some (particularly those directly or indirectly steeped in theological notions of humanity) this seems a paradox. Dennett and others work hard to dispel that feeling.

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Posted: 07 March 2006 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Doug:

After I created the topic and looked around I found Wendy (Elizabeth) had already done so.  Perhaps I should have waited for an “official” CFI person to act.  But then it wouldn’t be me.  I also thought Philosophy was a good choice, obviously!  Like you said, we will see.  8)

I think you are right in an operational level.  I sure feel free.  I could do “bad” things but I choose not to.  I have learned and been taught how to behave socially.  If that is possible then the dominoes and probabilities can be altered.  Therefore we have free will for all intents and purposes.

Wes :D

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Posted: 08 March 2006 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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No Rules

Hello!
I don’t think there IS anyone to ask where we can go and what we can say here. I’d say this is a dogma-free zone.
DougSmith and I have been discussing this topic, and to pick up where we left off earlier, I suggested the necessity of an explanation for how evildoers can overcome the power of an omnipotent being: The Devil Made me Do It.
DougSmith explained it all in a much more positive way: I think it was that Free Will is an escape hatch—an all-purpose get-out-of-jail-free card for god, a useful construct to overcome the obvious shortcomings of the promotion by religions of their omnicient, omnipotent god who has not created a world and a life with no evil, no suffering.
Maybe he’ll be surprised at my interpretation, but I think I understand a bit better what Free Will is supposed to have been.
Is that it? Or did I make that up?  :?
Love,
W

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Posted: 08 March 2006 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re: No Rules

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”] I think it was that Free Will is an escape hatch—an all-purpose get-out-of-jail-free card for god, a useful construct to overcome the obvious shortcomings of the promotion by religions of their omnicient, omnipotent god who has not created a world and a life with no evil, no suffering.
Maybe he’ll be surprised at my interpretation, but I think I understand a bit better what Free Will is supposed to have been.
Is that it? Or did I make that up?  :?

I think you got it!

As I say, I do think there is a useful idea of free will, but it’s not the get-out-of-jail-free card for God that the theologists invented.

:D

Dennett’s book Elbow Room is a fun discussion of this issue from a naturalist perspective.

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Posted: 08 March 2006 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: No Rules

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Dennett’s book Elbow Room is a fun discussion of this issue from a naturalist perspective.

As is his book Freedom Evolves. Very thought-provoking.

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"Few have the courage of their convictions. Fewer still have the courage for an attack on their convictions." - Nietzsche

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Posted: 08 March 2006 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Without the Xmas Tree

Thanks. I have to admit that I borrowed the figure of speech “get out of jail free card” from a previous recent discovery about religion.
I’m having to learn some things as I discover that there are gaps in my education. For example, There is a film called The God Who Wasn’t There
http://www.thegodmovie.com
in which I heard for the very first time that Christianity proposes that no matter how naughty you are during your life, as long as you except the divinity of Jesus before you die, you get into heaven!
I am Jewish, I say now ethnically Jewish, and my background is reform Judaism, a cross between atheism and whatever prevailing religion, except without the Xmas Tree.
If that movie was right, then how come the Christians set themselves up to be the model of morality? I sent an email to the film maker, Brian Flemming, who had lectured at CFI West, and who is a very friendly person, and he answered this way:
“a couple answers:

1) yes, this is what evangelical christians believe

2) fortunately for us, they are very inconsistent in their beliefs. 
while they believe they have a get out of jail free card, most don’t act like it.

if you think of religious systems evolving like animals do, the get
out of jail free card does makes sense. it addresses the fear of
death in a direct, simple way. you go to heaven pretty easily under
the christian system.

but it also makes sense that christianity wouldn’t evolve into a cult of people who act like they don’t care about anyone but themselves. 
people would find that unattractive and fail to join.”

This is consistent with what Daniel Dennett says in the CFI Point of Inquiry radio show. If you click on the link to the god movie, you can watch some clips from it. Tell me what you think.  :shock:

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Posted: 08 March 2006 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Re: No Rules

[quote author=“DJ Grothe”][quote author=“dougsmith”]Dennett’s book Elbow Room is a fun discussion of this issue from a naturalist perspective.

As is his book Freedom Evolves. Very thought-provoking.

Hey DJ, great to see you here! (I know you’ve posted in the past).

Love the podcast.

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Posted: 08 March 2006 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Re: Without the Xmas Tree

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]This is consistent with what Daniel Dennett says in the CFI Point of Inquiry radio show. If you click on the link to the god movie, you can watch some clips from it. Tell me what you think.  :shock:

I had seen that link before, but now have watched the clip. My overarching concern here is that they seem to link their critique of Christianity with the claim that Jesus didn’t exist. I have taken a number of courses in religion in my life, and my cousin is a professor of early christian religion at a state school ... neither of us are believers I may add ... but so far as I know the evidence is pretty clear that Jesus did exist. There is even evidence from nonbelievers at the time.

Now, if the claim is that he didn’t do any of the miracles, or that there were many other supposed messiahs around when he lived who claimed similar things, on that there is no doubt.

Indeed as I recall the Egyptian god Horus had similar properties to Jesus —he dies and is resurrected, etc. and statues of him and his mother Isis are generally believed to be the antecedents to the Mary/Jesus statues one finds in early Christianity.

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Posted: 08 March 2006 08:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The God Movie

Maybe you have to see the whole movie. Indeed, Brian explains that there are many examples in other cultures of deities whose lives have similar characteristics with the stories about Jesus, but evidently there is a huge gap in the information about years during the life of Jesus. Also, all the information about the life of Jesus is from documents that were written long after that alleged life was over.

Maybe I should watch it one more time before I begin to enumerate the points that Brian makes. Besides, you’d only be reading my reinterpretation, and I am just a string of electronic impulses on a monitor to you. I watched and listened, and have no stake in whether Jesus existed or was made up, except that I resent all the cruel and horrible things that have happened, and are still happening, in his name.
I’ve also heard that there was probably no Moses, that it’s possible that the stories of Moses are a composite of several stories/men.

Part of the way that I try to have equanimity is to ask myself once in awhile, “Who is gonna remember this ten years from now?”  The most hair-raising important issues that I face from day to day are less than memorable.

It’s not hard for me to picture some guy looking around at the political and economic situation in what has become the first or second centuries AD, and making up a story about why there should be a splinter group that would drop away from the Jewish community at the time.

Urban legends exist now that started from insupportable rumors a century ago, and I know for sure my memory is very faulty.

So—I was willing to accept that Christianity is built on some pretty shaky ground. The fact that Christianity is pretty widespread, and has become very powerful, combined with the fact that a lot of its adherents are taught not to question their gospel, doesn’t cause ME to blink when someone suggests the whole thing was made up. She said confidently.  raspberry

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Posted: 08 March 2006 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Re: The God Movie

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]Maybe you have to see the whole movie. Indeed, Brian explains that there are many examples in other cultures of deities whose lives have similar characteristics with the stories about Jesus, but evidently there is a huge gap in the information about years during the life of Jesus. Also, all the information about the life of Jesus is from documents that were written long after that alleged life was over.

Certainly the Gospels were written long after Jesus died, and were probably riddled with errors. It has been awhile since my class on early Christianity, but I think there were some other documents from around the same time ... again, by non-Christians, very skeptical, but that didn’t claim Jesus was nonexistent. They even said he had a father—a Roman—and gave his name! (I forget the name).

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]
I’ve also heard that there was probably no Moses, that it’s possible that the stories of Moses are a composite of several stories/men.

That is much more likely. There’s no telling when he was supposed to have existed, no dates are involved (as with Jesus we can link him to Pontius Pilate and others). In that sense Moses is sort of like Homer. Any attempt to reconstruct a “historical” Moses or Homer is really quixotic or hopeless.

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]
It’s not hard for me to picture some guy looking around at the political and economic situation in what has become the first or second centuries AD, and making up a story about why there should be a splinter group that would drop away from the Jewish community at the time.

Well, but again, there were plenty of non-Christians writing at the same time, and they all said Jesus existed ... they just didn’t think he was anyone particularly special—another self-styled “messiah”.

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Posted: 08 March 2006 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Jesus

All the more reason, then. Doesn’t it irritate you that this particular legend, whether there is a grain of truth or not in its origin, has taken hold and become the foundation for a series of horrific, divisive wars and attempts at ethnic cleansing and subjugation of other, perfectly good, cultures that were suitable for the population in which they had evolved?
There is another series of films, one of which is called The Burning Times
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/burning_times/about.php
that explains the cost to women of their status in pre-christianity Europe of the spread of the church. The missionaries had discovered that it was important to discredit the “village wisewomen” (midwives, herbalists) in order to supplant them as they proselytized their way across the continent.
(If you google The Burning Times, you’ll notice that it is not without its critics, and some of the sites that support it are wiccans or other new age groups, so I chose a site that was pretty neutral when I was looking for a link that would just describe what the movie was about.)

None of those were the acts of people that seemed to be loving, forgiving, tolerant, generous. They all seem to me to be xenophobic, misogynistic, greedy, and cruel. It’s not much better now—homophobes, believers in crazy ideas like the Rapture. I don’t want to be one of those. I don’t want to KNOW any of those.

How do you do the quotes in the little boxes? :oops:

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Posted: 08 March 2006 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Re: Jesus

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]All the more reason, then. Doesn’t it irritate you that this particular legend, whether there is a grain of truth or not in its origin, has taken hold and become the foundation for a series of horrific, divisive wars and attempts at ethnic cleansing and subjugation of other, perfectly good, cultures that were suitable for the population in which they had evolved?

Well, that’s how basically all religions get started ...
[quote author=“Elizabeth K”] The missionaries had discovered that it was important to discredit the “village wisewomen” (midwives, herbalists) in order to supplant them as they proselytized their way across the continent.

Yes, the invention of witchcraft by the Church (or their coopting of barbaric village practices) was one of their darker moments. Indeed, it was used as a cudgel to attack pagans, the mentally ill, and other troublesome people. There are lots of good historical studies of this.

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]None of those were the acts of people that seemed to be loving, forgiving, tolerant, generous. They all seem to me to be xenophobic, misogynistic, greedy, and cruel. It’s not much better now—homophobes, believers in crazy ideas like the Rapture. I don’t want to be one of those. I don’t want to KNOW any of those.

I wouldn’t want to lump all religious believers (or all Christians) into such a group. Many, perhaps most, are generally good people. And conversely, even atheists and humanists can be monsters. The real issue is how the irrational historical baggage aids in the perpetration of evil ...

[quote author=“Elizabeth K”]How do you do the quotes in the little boxes? :oops:

You can start by hitting the “Quote” button in the upper right corner of each message. That will put the message into a little HTML box. If you want to split the message up, you have to figure out a little HTML, by looking at the keys it uses to format the boxes. Basically it begins a quote with the bracketed word “quote”, and ends a quote with the bracketed word “/quote”.

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Posted: 08 March 2006 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Re: Jesus

[quote author=“dougsmith”]The real issue is how the irrational historical baggage aids in the perpetration of evil ...

Their idea of evil is different from mine. They claim to get their idea of evil from the bible. Even starting with the Ten Commandments (TC), I have problems with some of those as directions for how to be good.
Jim Underdown, the Exec. Director of CFI West does a whole funny riff on the Ten Commandments called Underdown’s Eleven Strong Suggestions, beginning with what’s wrong with some of the TC. He points out that honoring one’s father and mother can be a little difficult; he says even people who are wholly inadequate for the job can become parents.
I’ll just give you the link here.
http://www.cfiwest.org/info/suggestions.htm
KMA is short for Kiss My Ass, and it makes more sense when you can see and hear him doing this comedy routine.

But isn’t it evil when there is gross mismanagement of a government agency that leaves innocent people in a hot, filthy sports arena when they couldn’t get out of New Orleans? isn’t it evil that corporations that are now being prosecuted for fraud were complicit in the unseating of the elected governor of a state? Isn’t it evil when the leader of the Moral Majority says the elected leader of a country should be assassinated? They don’t think so.
I’m not even completely sure that all those political issues are associated directly with christianity, but I think they are evil anyway.

Are there examples of anyone’s idea of how to prevent the irrational baggage being perpetuated?

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