Comments

  1. Robert, not Bob says

    Hemant Mehta’s already pointed out what good marketers the Christians are (so that’s been done)… Of course, people use “Christian” to mean “good person”. I’m sure “Muslim” is used the same way. The equivocation here is almost certainly unconscious.

  2. Scott says

    Although, strictly speaking, the “so and so is a better Christian than most Christians I know” is an equivocation, I don’t really see that as a criticism or failed logical argument. I see it as a rhetorical strategy aiming to emphasize that , to the person saying it, most Christians fail to live up to their own code of ethics and humanitarianism. The rhetoric itself doesn’t have to be logical or rational, just effective.

    It’s a marginally effective way to get the hearer to think about what really matters. Does belief matter more than behavior? What is the central priority or essence of being “Christian?” I say marginally effective, because the reflex response of many Christians is the tired old trope “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The use of that statement indicates that the hearer is not going to apply any serious thought to the issue.

    That latter cliche was what drove me toward unbelief after 30+ years of being a Christian. Why its the supposed tranformative power of Christ so unimpressive that Christian keep having to resort to that tired old bumper sticker over and over? My thoughts increasingly turned to “If being forgiven is so great, why are so many Christians such superficial dicks?” Not that Christians are necessarily more dickish than any other group of people. That’s just the thing. For the most part they aren’t better or worse than any other given group of people I’ve encountered. If Christ or the Holy Spirit doesn’t really change anything, why should I think that this forgiveness which is totally abstract in nature has any reality to it.

  3. favog says

    The amazing point to me was when Matt pointed out that the Westborough folks were biblically based and that the liberal Christians were cherry picking to create a Christianity that’s a lot more soft and fuzzy than the text really calls for. The caller missed that point and didn’t realize that he’s in the cherry picking group — “I agree that they …” was his response.

    And since Abraham and Isaac came up again, let me just point this out. The story is even worse than commonly acknowledged. Like all stories in the Bible, it’s been edited and modified over time, so the version we have is not the original version. What we have is a cleaned up version, as horrible as it is. From the Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible: Genesis 22:5 “Then he said to his servants: ‘?Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.” Then all the stuff happens that everybody likes to talk about. After all that divine intervention and such we get this detail, in Gen 22:19 “Abraham then returned to his servants, and they set out together for Beersheba, where Abraham made his home.” Now, it’s well known that Genesis has like 4 different major sources., and we can weed out what comes from where because of stylistic differences. In the style that that most of the story is testing of Abraham is told in, the tradition falls silent about Isaac past this point, and the divine intervention segment is later than the surrounding text. So the indication is that the original version of the story has no ram caught in a thicket and no intervening angel. Isaac’s survival is a change in the story, made by an editor who realized it was morally wrong to kill your children, but who didn’t understand why. And who was too sloppy in his job to fix it so Abraham didn’t come down from the mountain alone.

  4. kudlak says

    @favog
    My impression is that God was testing whether Abraham would obediently follow whatever order he gives, no matter how grizzly. Much of the conquest of Canaan seems to be about how well Abraham and his captains follow such orders. God even makes it a point to lecture Abraham for sparing some people that he ordered slaughtered. So, if you can get a guy to kill his own kid then you can get him to kill anybody, and God needed a lot of people killed, including women and children.

  5. kudlak says

    I missed the “call if you’re from Alberta” show, I suppose. Another issue that has been in the news here lately is that of gay-straight alliances in schools. Basically, these are meant to be on-campus student clubs where LGBT kids can hang out with gay-friendly students so that they don’t feel as isolated. Schools with them report far less bullying, suicide, and other problems but, as you can guess, the Catholic boards of education as well as the few other religious schools all opposed these clubs being on school property.

    Alberta often seems to be in competition with Quebec when it comes to religious conservatism, but something amazing happened and the government passed legislation making it illegal for a school to refuse students who wished to set up a gay-straight alliance. The last I heard the Catholic boards, of course, intended to send letters home to the parents of any kid who petitioned to set up such a club, which would send the message that they had better straighten their kid out on this (no pun intended), or consider enrolling their child in a non-Catholic school.

    I would say that I was disappointed by this, but I never dreamed that the Catholic Church would accept it anyway. What do you people think?

    May the fourth be with you all, BTW!!!

  6. favog says

    kudlak, my understanding is yes, that’s what it was doctored up to be. But the original story was a “this is what we have to do and why” story in the days when the first born was sacrificed as a matter of course. Later, they decided that a farm animal could be used as a substitute, and the story was revised to reflect the new option.

    And May the fourth be with you as well!

  7. Lew Rodd says

    I don’t think most Americans realise just how badly damaged their country really is? what with religion, guns and crazy politicians the rest of the world is laughing at you.
    President Obama is one of the best president the US has ever had and half of the population would like to see him out of office and some even want him dead.
    I honestly don’t know which is worse crazy Muslims or crazy Americans, what we all know though is it’s religion that makes them all crazy.

  8. kudlak says

    @favog
    The Cain and Abel story already cover addresses sacrifice to some extent, teaching that God prefers offerings of livestock to crops, and it may even allude to his displeasure with human sacrifice with Abel’s blood being shed on the sacrificial ground.

    An apologist might try to argue that Abraham went into the situation believing that God was like all the rest, wanting a human sacrifice, but that God chose that moment to reveal to Abraham that he was a nice guy, but that wouldn’t say much for God’s choice of founder for his people, would it? A better man would refuse to sacrifice anyone to appease a god, but it seems that God chose Abraham because he was willing to follow any order, no matter how cruel and evil.

  9. ironchops says

    After Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge god himself sacrificed an animal and dressed them in its skin to show the seriousness of their sin. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only begotten first born son foreshadowing Gods own sacrifice that would be needed to reconcile man back to God. Ishmael did not count because he was not perfect in generation and unsuitable for sacrifice. It was also the first born sons of the Egyptians and all the animals that were sacrificed for not obeying the commands of God.

  10. kudlak says

    @ironchops
    Remember also that Abraham took two young men with him and Isaac to the mountain. Could this be why Jesus is crucified between two other men?

  11. Max Entropy says

    @ironchops
    You seem to have forgotten to qualify those statements with “according to the Bible…” because there is no evidence that any of those things really happened. But that’s what you meant, right?

  12. ironchops says

    @ Kudlak…Could be. I like studying the bible but I most certainly haven’t figured it all out.
    @ Max….Yes, that is what I meant.
    I should say that I have never been convinced that any of the stories in the bible are actually true. Just like there is most likely no galaxy far away a long time ago that the events in star wars happened, but there is spirituality built into the story. I still go to and enjoy church every week….if you can believe that, even though I don’t believe exactly what is taught by mainstream Baptist pastors.

  13. ironchops says

    Spirituality is the praxis and process of personal transformation, either in accordance with traditional religious ideals, or, increasingly, oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth independently of any specific religious context.

    I am using the last portion of this definition now-a-days (the part after increasingly.)

  14. Robert, not Bob says

    @ Ironchops I looked up “praxis” (since I didn’t think you meant a Klingon moon…). Looks like shorthand for “personal growth”. Other than the theological word-salad, of course. Tell me, why should we even bother with “spirituality”? Especially as the word is loaded down with traditional connotations of supernatural dualism.

  15. Lew Rodd says

    Who was with Jesus writing down what he said? no one.
    Everything that Jesus is supposed to have said in the N/T is made up or is at best hearsay.

  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @ironchops
    IMHO, it seems there already is a term for what you’re describing. It’s “personal growth”. How is spirituality different than personal growth? Are you defining “spirituality” to be “personal growth which happens in a religious context” ?

  17. Mas says

    @favog #3 your “the indication is” seems to imply some consensus among Hebraists that Abraham actually killed Isaac in the oldest version of the story. Is this true? Wikipedia (I know, D- for effort) on “Binding of Isaac” mentions this as just one guy’s theory (Friedman). Certainly interesting.

  18. favog says

    By “the indication is” I mean that even translated into English, there’s a huge flag if you read closely enough. And there is scholarly analysis of the original material that supports it, so it’s viable. I don’t know how widely the idea is accredited. Nor do I care, outside of actual evidence and meaningful arguments that the naysayers can provide to me.

  19. frankgturner says

    I don’t know if the hosts are listening. I’m not a troll as you have talked with me on here and responded and I back, even admitting it was wrong to be a Catholic (what was that, 2 years ago that I started commenting?) given the awful things that the Catholic church does.
    .
    You all commit an equivocation fallacy. Many of you say the word “truth” (as the hosts and Seth Andrew from The Thinking Atheist puts it, “truth with a capital ‘T'”). I think that many times what you mean is “factual correctness,” not “truth,” epistimologically speaking (falsifiable things which we have observable, measurable, testable evidence of is “factually correct”). Calling that “truth” is a categorical error as not all things that are “true” are necessarily “factually correct” but everything that is “factually correct” does fall under the category of “truth.”

  20. StonedRanger says

    @Ironchops #12 ” I should say that I have never been convinced that any of the stories in the bible are actually true. Just like there is most likely no galaxy far away a long time ago that the events in star wars happened, but there is spirituality built into the story.”

    The difference being that while the bible is presented as factual and ‘truth’ as handed down by god, star wars is a fictional story and no one has ever claimed that any part of it is true. Im not sure what you mean when you say there is spirituality built into the story for star wars. I never saw it in any kind of religious or spiritual light.

  21. Narf says

    @17 – Lew Rodd

    Who was with Jesus writing down what he said? no one.
    Everything that Jesus is supposed to have said in the N/T is made up or is at best hearsay.

    Might have been someone. It’s hard to say.

    The gospels aren’t those recordings, though, if any were ever made. The disciples — if any of them were present as written in the gospels and were as written — were almost certainly illiterate. Any stories were passed by word of mouth for years, before anyone wrote anything down.

    I just generally try to stick with more conservative statements, in regards to stuff like this. You’re better off saying that there’s no good reason to believe something … talk about the lack of evidence, which would be necessary to believe something as outlandish as the claims about Jesus …

  22. Narf says

    @22 – StonedRanger

    Im not sure what you mean when you say there is spirituality built into the story for star wars. I never saw it in any kind of religious or spiritual light.

    There’s a lot of Buddhist and new-agey spirituality built into all of the Force stuff. Of course Lucas warped it a bit, to turn it into a more narratively useful concept.

  23. ironchops says

    @ 16 & 18

    Yes praxis is personal growth. That was simply a cut and paste from Wikipedia. I pointed out that I identify mostly with the second portion of that definition. I will also stipulate that this definition may not be the only one or the best one.

    There is a big ole pile of BS associated with the term spirituality but I have the freedom to use the word for one its accepted and published definitions and I will. If the listener/reader doesn’t understand my context then so be it.

    @ 22 & 24

    Narf hit it square on the head. Star Trek is mostly a collection of morality plays as well. There are spiritual lessons in almost every artistic form out there.

  24. Narf says

    There are spiritual lessons in almost every artistic form out there.

    You’re going to have to clarify that one, man. This is one of the problems with the word. As you used it in that sentence, it could mean freaking anything. That’s why religious people tend to use the word ‘spiritual’ when they don’t want to make the effort of explaining what the hell they actually mean, in detailed, concrete terms.

    Often, what happens is that another religious person will give a head-nod and accept the vague statement, applying what meaning they attach to the word ‘spiritual’, not going any deeper. It’s a word to use when you want to have the impression of communication and understanding, without actually having communication and understanding.

  25. kudlak says

    News here in Alberta, the most redneck province in Canada just ended a 40 plus year Conservative political dynasty by voting in our most socialist party with a majority. You can bet that there are a lot of folks here expecting to get raptured any minute!

  26. ironchops says

    @26 Narf

    “This is one of the problems with the word. As you used it in that sentence, it could mean freaking anything.”

    1st. Spiritual is not Religious, but religions use spirituality to their. They particularly enjoy guilt. They use it to make money now-a-days. They lie!
    2nd. Just like any word in the English language there is usually more than one definition. In that sentence I intended the word spiritual to refer to the emotional and that is what art reaches the most. We have bodies (physical) and a brain (physical) that thinks (mind) which result in logic (science) and emotions (spirit). Yes I mostly made all that up but I will make a gentlemen’s bet I can back that up with documentation. Do I have too? Most of the definitions I use come from either Webster or Wikipedia. So you should find it easily enough thru google. I am lazy when I can get away with it.

    “Often, what happens is that another religious person will give a head-nod and accept the vague statement, applying what meaning they attach to the word ‘spiritual’, not going any deeper.”

    3rd. You are correct that some religious people will do just that but they can just step off with their miss-informed little selves. He that have an ear…let him here!

    Doe that help?

  27. Narf says

    Most of the definitions I use come from either Webster or Wikipedia.

    From Merriam-Webster.com:

    Full Definition of SPIRITUAL

    1: of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit : incorporeal
    2a : of or relating to sacred matters
    b : ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal
    3: concerned with religious values
    4: related or joined in spirit
    5a : of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena
    b : of, relating to, or involving spiritualism

    I’m not seeing a definition that clearly fits the way you’re using it.

  28. says

    Hey I just watched episode 563 were Russel, said your group is also against communism? Its odd to put a group like communism, along with Raeliens and Objectivists? Could someone point to either an episode, or a site of argument to why this is the case?

  29. StonedRanger says

    @Ironchops #28 ‘ We have bodies (physical) and a brain (physical) that thinks (mind) which result in logic (science) and emotions (spirit). Yes I mostly made all that up but I will make a gentlemen’s bet I can back that up with documentation. Do I have too?’

    So my brain thinks and that somehow results in logic, which you call science, and emotions, which you call spirit? How is logic science and emotions spirit? Bring the documentation that you have, because in my dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary) the word spirit and its derivatives all have religious connotations. With the exception of spirituals as a form of music.

  30. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Guy’s. Argument over definition. Let him use ambiguous and useless words however he wants. We’ll just ask him to clarify every time.

    Earlier, he used “spirituality” to mean “self improvement”. Apparently I can now add “emotions” to the list of things included in “spirituality”. I wonder how long this list will get.

  31. ironchops says

    @ Narf 30

    Spirit is defined as: the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul. No religion here. Narf, use number 1. The rest is BS IMHumbleO. I will admit that I stretched a bit.

    Incorporeal is defined as: not composed of matter; having no material existence. Emotions have no physical characteristics that I know of other than they reside in a brain somewhere and can somehow cause pain sometimes.

    Spiritual is defined as: of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. See definition above for spirit. No religion here.

    @ StonedRanger 31

    As I said I made that up a little. Yes our brains think and because brains think and observe we have science, logic and emotion. I was just connecting some dots without showing all the work. I am not saying this is fact, just a way I look at it sometimes.

  32. ironchops says

    @ EL 32

    Praxis is personal growth. I am growing my spirit. Two different things. I apologize if I led you astray a bit. Hope this clarifies. You can add to the list if you like.

  33. kudlak says

    @29 ironchops
    I do have a red neck due to my not using any suntan spray before gardening the other day, but it doesn’t describe my disposition in any way.

    As to the other thing, I’m a recovering Catholic, so I never learned that particular bit of nonsense growing up. We had different nonsense to learn.

    This election was about as big a turnaround as Texans waking up one morning to find that they’d elected Ralph Nader as governor.

  34. Narf says

    Ironchops, man, emotions are physical, just as everything else about us is. A pattern represented in the physical is still physical. You can’t get ‘non-corporeal’ without adding in a bunch of mystical, religious bullshit. If it involves a soul, it’s religious, whether theistic religion or nontheistic.

    Emotions aren’t represented by anything expressed in those definitions. It’s the primitive mystical bullshit about the soul that tries to make emotions be something other than a result of hormones and other neurochemistry.

    Are you saying that you believe in souls and that our emotions are not a result of chemicals and brain states?

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @ironchops
    Would you agree to the following assertions?

    Your mind is the result of the physical processes that goes in your brain, plus the interactions with the outside environment. In principle, there is hypothetical C source code (plus a suitable true random number generator) which takes inputs and gives outputs (sensory input, and output is bodily control) which would have the same observable behavior as you (give or take problems of execution time).

    If yes – congratulations. You’re probably not a dualist, and you’re probably a compatibilist. At that point, I must wonder why you’re adopting such strange – and IMHO confusing – language.

    If you disagree with the above assertions, then you are simply factually wrong about observable, demonstrable, scientific, material facts. We can discuss that further if you want.

  36. ironchops says

    Easy guys! After getting some of the last spiritual vestiges beat out of me I have learned to strike the words “spirit and spiritual” from my vocabulary. Way too much baggage. I got it.
    @ Kudlak
    50+ years Baptist. Now trying to recover. I garden too. It’s relaxing to me.
    @ Narf & EL
    I can agree with number 1, I think. I have to go figure out what you just said with all that. I guess I am just trying to hold on to anything I used to rely on. I have never been one to sit and read volumes of material. It takes me a while to read. I am a shipbuilder and work from pictures. Rather dull work at times. I am just trying to learn.

  37. Narf says

    Heh heh heh, more seriously, though, this is one of those things with which I’ve somewhat learned to take the followup step which you know is coming. Any time you use a word that has so many interpretations, and the context is not going to make your meaning obvious, I find it useful to just go ahead and substitute in the word that you’re going to have to use to clarify what you’re saying, after you’re asked what you mean.

    Honestly, though, the reason that we jumped all over you about the word is mostly the fault of the theists. They’ve poisoned the word for you. You might be using it in a more specific context, but the spiritualist types use it as I described, for obfuscation, rather than clarification. So many of the theistic callers into the show use the word, and when you ask them what the hell they’re trying to say when they use the word, they’ve got nothing.

  38. ironchops says

    @39
    Don’t feel sorry for me, I have a hard head and thick skin. I’m sure another beat down is coming in the future. My mother beat it into me so now it has to get beat out of me. Personal growth can be painful!!
    I noticed on thread 915 you used the “Good Lord” exclamation. I’m pretty sure you meant that figuratively but I wonder Do we have Lords in this country? Who is Lord? Is he good? and Your going to tell me that word has not been poisoned? JK you know.

  39. Narf says

    I dunno. All of my exclamations that seem religious pretty much always are.

    I was raised Catholic, even though I was never a believer at any point that I would consider to be after the age of reason. I had pretty much sorted out my disbelief by the age of 10 or 12. I came out of the closet to my parents around the age of 14.

    But I have a particular fondness for the Catholic approach to profanity and vulgarity. I haven’t felt the need to drop it, and I’ve increased it a bit, if anything, since it upsets the uptight religious-conservatives to have the characters of their mythology treated so blasphemously.

  40. Narf says

    I think you read the “awwwwwwwwww” wrong, by the way.  That was more of an “Awwwwwwww, I don’t get to beat you with the mallet anymore, since you cried uncle.”  😀

  41. Narf says

    @31 – Arthur Menezes Brum

    Hey I just watched episode 563 were Russel, said your group is also against communism? Its odd to put a group like communism, along with Raeliens and Objectivists? Could someone point to either an episode, or a site of argument to why this is the case?

    Errrrrr, what did he say specifically? I haven’t watched episode 563 in … years, probably. I’ve watched the whole archive, but I don’t have recall of all of the details, obviously.

    If he said ‘communism’, I assume he meant actual communism, not the sort of hysterical stuff you get from people like those on Fox News. Socialism, liberalism, and communism are not the same things. Pure communism has all sorts of problems, and when he said he (the ACA?) is against it, I’m assuming he meant that he finds it unworkable, and we shouldn’t try to structure our economy upon its principles. The more moderate socialism, blended with capitalism, is another matter entirely.

    Can you give us a little more context? I don’t feel like combing through an entire episode to find the reference.

  42. Narf says

    … or heck, a time stamp would work, if you’d prefer to do it that way, so that we don’t have to watch an entire hour-and-a-half episode.

  43. says

    @41 Narf
    “I find it useful to just go ahead and substitute in the word that you’re going to have to use to clarify what you’re saying, after you’re asked what you mean.”

    I like that…

  44. Narf says

    Yeah, I often fail, but I at least try for precision of word usage and clarity when expressing ideas.

  45. Russell Glasser says

    If we’re talking about the “Foolish Atheists” episode, which resulted in a certain Patrick-somebody getting flooded with emails, then I remember mentioning Communism. I wanted to list a few topics that are commonly associated with atheism, but we ran short on time and I didn’t want to give the callers short shrift. I probably tossed it out there and then apologized for not having a chance to discuss it in depth.

    Yes, I am fully aware of the difference between idealized Communism and the Leninism that took root in the former Soviet Union, which has very Totalitarianism leanings and failed to achieve Marx’s vision. But Communism as described seems like incredibly Utopian, something that MIGHT work in a small group of people but fails to scale up to a society of millions or billions. You know me, I’m pretty liberal (more so even than I would let on in the occasional political arguments I let myself get into on air). I’d like to see my country take on a lot more socialist policies than it has currently, and I loves me some Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But I do think that a successful society requires proper use of incentives, and I think Communism failed to take root because it will inevitably morph into something else when it fails to achieve its lofty goals.

    In a way I see Communism and hard right anarcho-capitalism as flip sides of the same coin: nice fantasies about how societies SHOULD work, but consistently failing to survive any contact with the real world.

  46. kudlak says

    @Russell
    I use to have a diagram of the political spectrum where the “wingtips” representing the two extremes actually curled up and almost touched each other. It seemed fitting in that you’d likely feel as oppressed living in a deeply fascist state as you would a communist one.

    FYI the new NDP government we elected here in Alberta is fairly left on the spectrum, and it overthrows the Progressive Conservative dynasty which has ruled here continuously for 44 years which would be, like I joked in another tread, like you waking one morning to find that Ralph Nader was your new governor. As it is, lots of Texan oil men are threatening to up pull stakes and leave here. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    Lots of things can be considered a utopia in theory, but none have ever been in practice, which is why I was busting that Zeitgeist/ Venus Project guy a few treads back. His idea that a technocracy with an energy credit economy would be able to satisfy everyone’s desires could be considered interesting, but his insistence that it had to work and was our only salvation just seemed to be completely faith-based.

  47. ironchops says

    @38 EL

    Between dualism and compatibilism I would lean more towards the latter of the two except I am not sure I understand the determinism part of the compatibilist definition. It seems a bit Calvinistic or like destiny or something like that. It seems like it is saying that I can make no decisions that have not already been predetermined somehow.
    I believe we have free will mostly. Please help me understand better.

  48. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @ironchops
    It’s hard to treat this subject properly in a short text.

    Step 1: I’m going to try to avoid the phrase “free will”. A big problem of any discussion involving “free will” is that there is a great confusion and disagreement about what is actually meant.

    Let’s talk physics. In classical physics, the Newtonian physics you learned in high school, the universe is deterministic. By deterministic, I mean that all it would take to figure out what the future will be is to measure the current position and velocity of every particle in the system, and crank out the numbers. The rules of classical physics defines a series of computations with exactly one clear unambiguous result for any starting point. Of course, we live in a world of uncertainty because it’s very very hard to measure the exact position and velocity of every particle in any significant system, and because the computation power needed to run the numbers would be immense. However, in principle, that’s what classical physics predicts. Classical physics that the future is determined according to the present configuration. That’s determinism. Determinism may be true. It may be false.

    Let’s talk quantum mechanics. At the quantum level, many events appear to be randomly decided. In other words, we do not yet see any sort of observables which we can plug into an equation and get a single unambiguous result. Here, the problem is not about unrealistic computation power nor difficulties in measuring the positions and velocities of large number of particles. Instead, it appears to be that there is nothing that we could measure that would allow us to unambiguously determine what the future will be, even for a very simple system of a very small number of particles. Perhaps in the future we will discover that there is a hidden set of variables which will allow us to determine what the future will be, but it may also be that there are no hidden variables, and the results of quantum mechanics are truly random and unpredictable.

    Caveat / Disclaimer: Quantum mechanics is not completely without order. A electron cannot turn into a horse, or do anything. Rather, some of its interactions are accurately described by a statistical distribution. We know that one electron will do something on the statistical distribution – it may be at position x = 1, or position x = 2, etc., but we don’t know where it will end up. However, if we do the experiment many times, we can accurately predict the statistical distribution of the events.

    So, I think that to talk about the crux of “free will”, I needed to define those two concepts, quantum true randomness, and determinism. As an assertion of some kind, perhaps evidence supported, perhaps properly basic – I’m not quite sure offhand – I assert that any observable phenomena is one of those two things. Either the universe is deterministic, or it’s truly random, or it’s some mix of the two. For example, a computer program with a temperature probe to pick up quantum fluctuations can be described as a deterministic machine, but with truly random inputs, which produces truly random output. Again, I need to distinguish between “truly random e.g. not determinism” vs “anything allowed”.

    Imagine the following program:

    int main()
    {
    int x = getTemperature();
    if (isDivisibleByTwo(x))
    return 1;
    return 2;
    }

    The value of getTemperature is truly random. It has no bounds, except it’s a well-formed integer (perhaps restricted to a certain range). However, I can analyze the program, and I know it’s going to have one of two outputs, either “1” or “2”. It’s truly random whether it will be “1” or “2”. However, when I say truly random, I do not mean that it’s possible that the output will be “horse”.

    Ok. I’m getting there. I think it manifestly obvious that the results of basically all of your conscious thoughts, decisions, and choices are manifested and made observable by the actions of your body. Maybe you have a thought that you don’t manifest in action, but for the purposes of our conversation, if you take a choice, then you act on it, and that’s observable. That’s an observable phenomena of particles of physics.

    Remember my assertion about physics? Either it’s truly random ala quantum mechanics, or it’s deterministic. There is no third option. And every non-trivial choice you make can be described as particle physics. IMHO, that’s compatibilism. The recognititon that whatever your mind is, it has no more decision power than any other machine in this world. Maybe it’s deterministic. Maybe it’s truly random. But it’s mechanical. There’s no magic going on.

    I also want to make a stronger point.

    IMHO, most people who believe in a soul also must believe that the soul occasionally nudges particles in the brain to enact choices made by the soul. As a simple factual matter, this is false. The evidence is pretty strongly against. However, let’s imagine that it was true. It doesn’t change the conversation. It just moves the problem by one step. I think this is the key insight. Whatever the soul does, it must be a machine, even if it’s not made of matter. It takes inputs, and it produces outputs, and the only two choices available are truly random, or deterministic. There is no third option. I don’t know what that third option might be. The third option is ambiguous, underspecified. The third option is incoherent. It doesn’t matter if you have an eternal immortal soul or not. The only choices for how your mind works is that someone can predict its behavior in advance by knowing details of its state, e.g. determinism, or such prediction is impossible and the results are impossible to determine in advance e.g. truly random (but perhaps restricted to a certain range, or a certain statistical frequency distribution).

    Now, about free will. The phrase “libertarian free will” refers to that third option. They want to claim that we are something other than 1- predictable, deterministic, and 2- truly random (possibly within some statistical framework). That’s just wrong.

    However, I think there’s an important part to this discussion. Daniel Dennett argues that owning a car and operating a car does not make you an expert on cars. Similarly, you “own” and operate a mind, you are a mind, but that does not make you an expert on minds. There are important concepts and descriptions of minds as they actually exist which we can rightly call “free will” and which also matches many important properties of people’s intuitions of “free will”, including moral agency and culpability, coercion, etc. You just have to let go of the idea that free will is magic.

    Finally, many people find this horrifying. I think that’s just a meme in the culture, and a wrong meme. I think it’s wonderful to be a machine. I like knowing that the thing which I am is reliable, trustworthy, a product of past experiences, of what it learned, its interactions with other humans in the past. I like knowing that my memories are stable, my preferences are stable, that I won’t wake up tomorrow and become a serial killer. I am a machine, and I like what that machine is, and I want to be the best machine that I can be, and do good by other people in my life, and enjoy my life.

  49. ironchops says

    @53 EL

    That’s a bit to digest. It’ll take me a minute. I’m not as far advanced as everyone else it seems but I’m trying.

    I am an engineer and understand physics (Newtonian, statics and dynamics of ridged bodies) and I have at least touched on Quantum Physics (The behavior of atomic and sub atomic particles) in theory along with wave particle duality. I also understand the principle of uncertainty where by one can determine the speed of an object or the position of an object but not both at the same time (in theory). I also understand the conservation of energy idea where energy is neither created or destroyed but rather converted from one form to another.

    Questions: How does this dictate or predict the decision that a sentient being will make? How does this compare instinctual vs. Free Will type decision making?

    Thanks for being willing to teach.

  50. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    How does this dictate or predict the decision that a sentient being will make?

    Are you asking for a particular concrete prediction? I can do no such thing. Similarly, I often cannot predict the weather a week in advance with any concrete certainty. However, there is no magic in the weather. The weather is merely a physical machine, albeit a highly, highly complicated one. It may be true that it’s deterministic, and it may be true that there are elements of true-randomness mixed with deterministic elements. However, there is no third option in the weather because it’s a mere physical machine.

    How does this compare instinctual vs. Free Will type decision making?

    Again, the biggest problem of this discussion is lack of precision and disagreement over the meaning of the term “free will”. What do you mean by it? Do you mean libertarian free will – the third alternative – the something which is neither determinism, true-random, nor some combination of determinism and true random? What do you mean by that? What would that look like? From the outside how could I tell the difference? Is there a functional difference? Those are the questions you need to answer for me to understand what you’re talking about. Again, I think the idea of libertarian free will is incoherent. I think the idea of a third option is incoherent. At the very least, no one yet has presented me some third option which I could possibly distinguish from determinism, true random, and some combination of determinism and true random.

    And again, IMHO there are other kinds of free will besides libertarian free will. I again say that it’s reasonable to say that I have free will, and I make free choices, and it may be true that all of my choices are deterministic. You just have to adopt a different, and correct, understanding of mind and free will.

  51. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Correction: I often can predict the weather in advance, to a certain degree, in certain circumstances. Similarly, I often can predict the behavior of other people, to a certain degree, in certain circumstances. My life is predicated on this ability to predict the behavior of other people. The science of the behavior of people is known as psychology (and sociology), and it is a science, albeit a very new and immature science. You use evidence of people’s past behavior to construct models of their mind in order to predict their future behavior. We all do it. Perhaps not formally, but we all do it, to varying degrees of success, but definitely with some success.

  52. corwyn says

    @56 EL:
    One telling situation supporting this idea, that we often find ourselves in, is when we are agonizing over some decision, and then when we make it, all our friends say, “yeah, we knew that is what you would decide.”