Comments

  1. Evil God of the Fiery Cloud says

    I’m occasionally amused, often vexed with people who put forward the whole “facts” of the resurrection like the empty tomb and whatnot. I’m not sure if I heard right, but did Greg actually say the infamous Josephus passage ISN’T an interpolation? Like are they aware of what the counters to these talking points are? Or are they parroting shit off apologetics websites and just being thoughtlessly obtuse to objections over them?

  2. Heretical Ryan says

    Or are they parroting shit off apologetics websites and just being thoughtlessly obtuse to objections over them?

    Yeah, Greg was obviously working from a script.

    Many obvious “tells” are there:
    – Inability to address specific questions not covered by the script. (i.e. the Houdini analogy)
    – Franticly asking the hosts to “back up” to an earlier point in the conversation to attempt to redirect the hosts back on to the script
    – Long eloquently written paragraphs from which the caller resists interruption of any kind
    – Attempting to refute specific arguments the hosts did not make.
    – Statements of “fact” that the scripts assume are irrefutable.
    – inability to rehabilitate these statements when valid refutations are given.
    .

    I could go on.
    .

    But I’m honestly, I’m actually kind of sad that someone so obviously young has been turned into a jabbering god-bot.

  3. Wiggle Puppy says

    @ Evil God #2:

    My usual response to this nonsense is to ask the person if they’re a Mormon – no less than eleven people (the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses) claimed that they had seen the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was supposedly translated, and some of them maintained their testimony even after being excommunicated from the Mormon church. Using this “minimal facts” stuff, isn’t the best explanation that the angel Moroni actually did appear to Joseph Smith? If a few anonymous Gospel stories based on oral tradition and written decades after the events in question are sufficient to establish the occurrence of a miracle, then surely eleven eyewitness testimonies are as well?

    Usually, the person doesn’t agree with this line of reasoning, and then you get to point out the giant case of special pleading that they’re engaged in.

  4. plamuk says

    a one on one conversation would have been more appropriate for Greg. as it was, the 3 hosts pulled the conversation in 3 different ways, and granted possibility before it was demonstrated.

  5. DanDare2050 says

    The death of Libertarian Free Will:
    Assume that you go back to a moment in time where a decision is made.
    Assume everything to the nth degree is the same.
    How might you then make a different decision to the previous run through?
    Easy, have even the most infinitesimally small part of your being have a random state change. True random, not covered by the impositions of the prior state.
    Many brain states can be on a knife edge so, a la chaos theory, a tiny random difference sends you off on a different path.
    Much rejoicing. Yeah that’s free will.
    Wait. THAT’S FREE WILL????
    Where is the “will” bit?
    A random blip does not represent will at all, so it cannot rescue you. Indeed “will” has to be a choice that is informed by your prior state of mind. The only way to have “will” is for choices to follow in state of mind in that way, so if you rewind the universe you cannot have chosen otherwise and still claim to have had a free will. You only have had a random will.
    Why do so many people have a problem with that? Because they smuggle a concept into the scenario without realising it. They think of rewinding time, but they time travel their future consciousness to the past so that it can say “Oh well, I tried column A ‘last time’, so I’ll try column B ‘this time’ “.

  6. DanDare2050 says

    Dang. I stopped the vid 1 second to soon to give my great presentation above. Sorry. next time I’ll wait for the conversation to finish.

  7. RationalismRules says

    @Heretical Ryan #3
    My favorite script ‘tell’, courtesy of JohnFromUK last year, was the sound of a page turning…!

    I laughed loud and long.

  8. DanDare says

    The “Is of Ought” is my phrase for the subjectivist position, in that concern for personal well being is hard baked into us by evolution, so the “oughts” follow from something that just “is”. Slightly less hard baked is our concern for others, mating, caring for a decendants well being, and well being of cooperators which feeds the more primitive “well being for me”. So even the second level set of “is of ought” is pretty strong. Where you go from that basis obviously varies a lot depending on knowledge base and culture but they are going to tend toward a common optimum.

  9. jontebe says

    This is so frustrating! Love the show but I have a big problem with the slavery issue. My Bible (swedish 1910 version) says in Exodus 21.21 that if the beaten slave survives for a day or two the Master shall go free because it was his own money that was wasted. I cannot interpret this in any other way than that it is forbidden to willingly execute the slave, but involuntary manslaughter through beatings is A OK.

    This means that it IS permissable to beat your slave to death just as long as he or she doesn´t die immediatly. To be extremely clear: My Bible does not say that you can beat your slave as long as he gets up within a day or two. It says that if the slave DIES within a day or two the Master shall go free.

    Is it a question of translation? I hear this argument from Matt all the time and it frustrates the hell out of me! What am I missing here?

  10. Lamont Cranston says

    I love the “Universe Creating Pixies.”

    On another note, I am continually amazed that almost every theist who calls in seems to believe their unsubstantiated claim should be declared true just because you can’t produce a proven alternative!

    What is your explanation for an “empty tomb” for Jesus?

    I dunno. Maybe it was never full. Jesus did the David Copperfield China Wall trick almost 2000 years before David Copperfield. Maybe there was no such person as Jesus. Maybe there was no crucifixion of a Jesus in the first place. Maybe it’s all mythology, kind of like Superman who never came from Krypton (imagine the mythology of that one in 2000 years). All of those are more plausible than Jesus being a God and somehow rising from the dead after a day and a half that is supposed to be three days.

    That one guy kept saying something about the “fact of the empty tomb.” What fact? The book that is supposed to be from the Christian God that you try to say “proves” God exists (via circular reasoning)? The same book that would also prove the original zombie apocalypse happened when all the dead people rose up and were running around Jerusalem after Jesus crucifixion (of course without any historical independent confirmation). Ya think that is something someone might have written down somewhere besides just one book in the Bible?

    The crazy thinking just boggles my mind sometimes. My former crazy thinking boggles my own mind.

    I get it that people will go to extremes to try to make the Bible make sense because they are predisposed to be convinced that it is true before determining if it is true. Sometimes it just gets so bad that I am afraid someone is going to strip their mental gears and destroy their brains right there on the phone. I get it because I did exactly the same things.

    The same kind of craziness goes for all the people who try to make the Bible statements about slavery be somehow OK and moral. I find myself just sitting there shaking my head in disbelief week after week. They are literally incapable of just being honest and saying what they really know to be true: that slavery is not right, was never right, and their holy book has it wrong for reasons that they cannot fathom.

    If a theist ever calls in and says the God they worship is just terrible and they worship him because they are absolutely totally afraid of him, I at least might respect their honesty. As it is I can respect neither their honesty or logic. At least if they said they believe out of fear their thought processes would be in better alignment with their holy book, They are afraid of the boogeyman and the Bible portrays God as a boogeyman (a mythical creature used by adults to frighten children into good behavior)..

    Lamont Cranston

  11. John David Balla says

    @DanDare2050 #6
    Your delineation of free will by splitting it into irreducible parts, i.e., the “free” part, and the “will” part, completes the explanation, at least to my satisfaction. I’m not sure if it was Steve or Alex who mentioned Schopenhauer as a good contributing source on all-things-will but I appreciate the reminder. But like you said, we could recalibrate everything to some back-in-time state and we likely would not be in the same disposition as we are today, but not due to making a choice, but rather, due to randomness. As such, free will is surely not free, and for what little domain the will has over choices and decisions, that can be explained better in the context of a bias.
    John

  12. t90bb says

    last caller….lol….

    so there are thousands of denominations of Chrstianity alone……all convinced that their interpretations are correct based on meticulous research and study………but the caller happens to have the CORRECT interpretation…..and if you don’t agree you just don’t want truth LOL…..

    and he criticized his fellow Christians!! LOL…..delusional..lmfao

  13. buddyward says

    With regards to Greg, if he is as young as I think he is (probably early teens) then I feel sorry for him because the indoctrination is strong on that one. Greg has been trained to follow a script and not to make sound and valid arguments. Perhaps those who indoctrinated Greg figured out that sound and valid arguments are detrimental to their position.

  14. PETER CUSHNIE says

    After thinking on the subject of free will vs. determinism, I’m forced to come down on the side of determinism, as much as I might not like it. The evidence is just too compelling. One thing troubles me , however (only one?): I believe most creatures possess awareness, if we define awareness as the ability to receive, process, and act upon information, even if it is purely instinctual. As humans, our awareness has an extra level, that is, we are aware of our awareness, which opens up whole new dimensions for humans. Speaking in an evolutionary sense, however, what is the advantage of this heightened awareness if we can do little more with it than helplessly watch the world go by us, pushed and prodded by influences beyond our control and largely unknown to us? Or am I wrong in thinking of it in this way?

  15. John David Balla says

    @buddyward #13. I think a courtroom analogy would have answered your question because Greg’s biggest problem was with the burden of proof, who has it, and why. From the way he reacted to repeated objections, Greg has been indoctrinated into believing that he doesn’t have to prove his case, that his adversary needs to prove him wrong. Therefore, he wins by virtue of his claim being unfalsifiable. And so do the flying spaghetti monster and unicorn loving pixies. But if one of the guys injected the courtroom analogy, Greg’s flawed logic would have been exposed, even to him.

    Imagine the potential of this kid if not amped up on indoctrination.

    John

  16. buddyward says

    @ John David Balla #15

    Imagine the potential of this kid if not amped up on indoctrination.

    I am imagining this kid’s potential, which is why I feel sorry for him. I think that given the right tools he would go far. I am pissed off at the people who made him think this way as they have absolutely poisoned his mind. This line of thinking will not be isolated to defending his religion but also to other aspect of his life. I can only hope that he figures this all out before it creates more serious damage.

    As for the courtroom analogy, it will take a whole lot more than one call to AXP to change his mind. The hosts did try to explain the burden of proof to him and he rejected them.

  17. AtheistNotAgnostic says

    I just finished the kid’s call and while I think they handled it pretty well I think they could have taken another approach. It was clear this kid was just reading from a script and wasn’t giving any thought to the hosts’ objections. The second they realized this, they should have called him out on it and said something along the lines of “Hey kid, we’re not stupid so stop mindlessly reading Habermas/WLC’s website and tell us what you really think”. Maybe they could have examined the kid’s actual reasons for believing instead of wasting time debunking bad apologetics that the kid didn’t understand. Not saying that approach would necessary be better, just pointing out another way you could handle script-readers.

  18. John David Balla says

    @buddyward #16

    I would not expect the courtroom analogy to change his mind on the spot, but it would expose his faulty logic in such a way that his script has no answer.

    John

  19. Lamont Cranston says

    buddyward says in #16

    I am imagining this kid’s potential, which is why I feel sorry for him.

    Likewise. He handled the call with eloquence and articulately despite trying to make a case that was doomed to fail due to its fallacies and being illogical.

    I remember what it was like to be involved in adult conversations at 13 years of age with doctors, lawyers, engineers, a treasury agent, an Air Force officer, the grandson of an ex-president, and many more people from all walks of life. I was lucky and my voice had already dropped, but I was still just a teenager (the conversations were not in person). Having said that, I think he did quite good even if he was on the other side of the “god existence” position.

    If this young person figures out those things he is currently not understanding (that which was learned incorrectly can be unlearned) he could easily become another Cosmic Skeptic, or the like.

    Lamont Cranston

  20. t90bb says

    Funny…I did not get the impression Greg was reading….I did think he was a sharp kid but obviously shaping and interpreting the evidence to match his pre determined conclusion. The evidence used for the resurrection would be laughed out of court in todays times. Its a shame the magic genie couldn’t have left a better stream of breadcrumbs. But then, you know, faith wouldn’t be so valuable….lmfao…

    the resurrection story is the claim….the empty tomb, the idea that jeezass body was ever in the tomb, the reaction of others, the sightings of jezass post resurrection are all claims,,,,,NONE of them can be used as evidence to support other aspects of the story…

    Its like when people say ..”you want evidence for the truth of Christianity?”…..ok….”the virgin birth, life of miracles, death, and resurrection of jeezass”!!!!!

    Umm no….that’s the claim……..you cant use the book as evidence that the book is true…..

  21. PETER CUSHNIE says

    Are we right to impose our standards on cultures that existed thousands of years ago? Slavery has existed for as long as there have been people intelligent enough to come up with the idea and, in the ancient world, it was not only a way of life, but was seen as necessary and people of every culture either held slaves or were themselves enslaved. Rome without slavery would not have existed. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing. What slavery was not was a moral issue. Those passages in Exodus are a reflection of this. Given that they were written by a man of those times (not by a god or inspired by one), he could only write about the daily norm, knowing nothing else. Again, the issue was purely pragmatic, not moral. Slavery is not intrinsically moral or immoral. It’s just slavery. It takes people to place judgmental labels on it and those labels change over time. The bible was finalized— more or less— at a time when slavery was still seen as right and necessary and so those passages remained intact because they offended no one’s moral code. For this and many other reasons, the bible is rightly described as an anachronism; a relic of another time whose mores should not be placed upon the present, just as we should not place ours on theirs.
    If we could know what people thousands of years in the future might think of us, we would be flattered in some cases— maybe— but insulted in others, saying they had no right to judge us by the standards of an alien culture. Were you here? we might reasonably ask. I have come to dislike the word “morality” and its derivates, but would rather look upon events in the light of their utility with regard to the well-being of the group.

  22. t90bb says

    21….PETER…..if slavery is benign please forward me your information so you can sign a contract to be my slave…..since its no big deal and just a part of history….

    owning another as property and beating them may not be troubling to you but it is to many…especially those enslaved

    also I assume rape is neither moral or immoral too??? it always existed

    Are you a Christian Peter>? We already know you are a piece of shit.

  23. Ian Butler says

    Another aspect of free will that didn’t come up is the research that shows we have already made a decision a fraction of a second before we are conscious of making the decision, thus the decision was already made at the subconscious level, leaving no possibility of free will.

    All in all a satisfying shows, the callers were particularly obtuse, and the hosts particularly on point, which clearly shows the flaws in theistic thinking.

  24. buddyward says

    @PETER CUSHNIE #21
    If someone is going to assert that their holy book contains moral instructions that is applicable today then yes, we can make judgements on how immoral people’s actions were in the past because their book describes what is considered moral both in the past and the present. What is not moral now was not moral back then. Simply because they practiced it does not make it moral.

    If there are time travelers from the future that judges us because bigotry, racism, and inequality exists today and not in their time, then yes, they have the right to make that judgement of how immoral people are in our times. You would have to agree that there are people now who practice the immoral acts I have listed above. We currently have no immediate solution, just like people in the past had no immediate solution to slavery. We still consider these acts immoral, we recognize them but at the current stage of humanity, we have no solution to completely eradicate them. Our current solution to these problems is education. Considering how most of the human population can barely get to school, let alone get an education, it will be a long journey towards erasing the undesirable acts committed by our fellow human beings. We may also be doing immoral things that we have not yet recognized but may be identified as such in the future but that does not mean it is currently moral.

  25. Wiggle Puppy says

    @ Peter #21:

    “Are we right to impose our standards on cultures that existed thousands of years ago?.”

    Yes.

    “Slavery has existed for as long as there have been people intelligent enough to come up with the idea and, in the ancient world, it was not only a way of life, but was seen as necessary and people of every culture either held slaves or were themselves enslaved.”

    But it was still immoral.

    “What slavery was not was a moral issue.”

    How are you defining “morality,” exactly?

    “Slavery is not intrinsically moral or immoral. It’s just slavery.”

    Replace “slavery” with “murder” here, or maybe “violent rape.” Do you still agree?

    “If we could know what people thousands of years in the future might think of us, we would be flattered in some cases— maybe— but insulted in others, saying they had no right to judge us by the standards of an alien culture.”

    Given the trajectory of human history, far-future civilizations may judge some of our contemporary practices as immoral, and I’m okay with that.

  26. buddyward says

    @Ian Butler #23

    First off, I would like to state that I am in agreement that free will is just an illusion.

    I have toyed around that idea of our subconscious making the decision prior to us being aware but always reduced it to our subconscious is still us and therefore on the surface it still appears that it is our will that is in play. However, if I were to push it back another step, there is something that forced our subconscious to make that decision and thus our subconscious did not have a choice but to make a decision. The decision made by our subconscious is influenced by our environment and our experiences which we have had no control.

    I need to stop talking about free will as I honestly do not have a firm grasps. I have not yet fully made up my mind but tentatively, to me, it appears that free will does not exists.

  27. indianajones says

    Pretty sure I’m allowed THE INERRANT AND UNCHANGING WORD OF GOD and SOURCE OF ALL MORALS morally no matter what time period the characters are set in.

  28. says

    when a five-year-old steals from or bullies his playmates, are his actions morally wrong? do his parents have the right to judge and correct his actions?

    if the answer is yes, then on this basis later generations of humans can rightly judge earlier generations. humans are constantly learning and refining, through often painful and laborious trial and error, our mutually agreed upon codes of conduct. compared to contemporary humans, biblical-era humans are like five-year-olds, and we may judge them accordingly, just as even more sophisticated future generations will doubtlessly judge us.

  29. says

    it’s also worth noting that there have been “woke” humans in every generation. there have always been those who recognized and protested injustice, usually the victims if no one else. does the name “spartacus” ring any bells?

  30. RationalismRules says

    Through this blog I’ve changed my position on free will, and am now inclined to the idea that it doesn’t actually exist, in that determinism eliminates the ‘freedom’ for all but true-random acts, and that true-random acts do not constitute ‘will’.

    However, the one area that continues to challenge this for me is artistic creativity. Composing music, or painting, for example: the decision to choose a particular note for a particular moment in a piece or the placement of an individual brushstroke. Certainly determinants can be seen in the larger choices – eg. working within a particular genre – but at the level of individual choices – a note, a brushstroke – I am not confident that these are determined. On the other hand they don’t appear to me to be random (unless that’s the artist’s intention).

    [Shoutout to Corwyn, who doesn’t seem to have been around for quite some time, for seeding this thought]

  31. DanDare says

    RationalismRules #31 creativity is an operation of the brain, just like any other. Our brains create routine thought pathways. When we see a particular stimulus it may activate a path and we travel down it and produce the routine behaviour. Creativity is where these paths get disrupted, commonly by chance events but also intentionally using techniques like lateral thinking. There is nothing about that that requires free will.

  32. whisperit says

    Hello. This is my first post
    ….
    @Peter #14
    I’d suggest one error is in believing Homo sapiens is in any significant way qualitatively different from other animals. The special “awareness of our awareness” you cite is not unique. I’d recommend recent books by primatologist Frans de Waal, who demonstrates how other animals show every indication that their mental and emotional lives are qualitatively indistinguishable from our own (although of course, those most closely related are most similar).

    The second point is that for a social animals, there are significant costs when an individual fails to respond correctly to the signals that are exchanged between group-mates. In social primates, these interactions are especially complicated as they require knowledge of the history of interactions within the group, family relationships and hierarchies, and where one stands within them. It seems almost inevitable that a sense of “self” will arise in such a situation, if only because without it, one would be unable to locate one’s own history – and this would be a major disadvantage..However, the evolution of the ‘self’ does not preclude the possibility that the choices it makes may, ultimately, be determined. Natural selection is indifferent to the means; it’s only interested in ends…

  33. drawn2myattention says

    Let’s face it–young Greg is a phenom. He has a nimble mind, and you have to admire his sand. I hope he continues to call the show, so we can follow his trajectory. I can’t believe that he’ll remain a theist for long, if he has any honesty and humility.
    And Greg, if you’re following this blog, don’t let the religious terrify you with accusations of ‘sinful doubt’. If you are old enough to read W L Craig, you are old enough to fully inform yourself by reading David Hume and Carl Sagan. One of the founders of modern science said, “If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainty.”

  34. ironchops says

    Too many Spartaci

    We can always judge the morals of past societies and choose not to practice what we deem immoral. If the ancients could have figured out that slavery would be such a sticking point they would have simply killed those captured in stead of allowing them to live as someone else’s property. That way they would be remembered as barbaric concurring murderers instead of slave holders. Like what supposedly happened in Jericho. Much better!

    Morals are 100% subjective
    Free will is an illusion. No free will, no free thought.

  35. Curt Cameron says

    I’d like to say that the guest hosts this week were fantastic additions to the show.

  36. Wiggle Puppy says

    @ drawn #36:

    I dunno. I agree with the sentiment that he seemed to be working off some kind of script. There were long monologues – especially at, but not limited to, the beginning – where he seemed to be reading off of something, and he kept trying to steer the conversation back to “you need to prove the supernatural impossible” and “here are the reasons why stealing the body, group hallucination, etc don’t work as viable explanations,” even when the hosts tried multiple times to move the conversation along and get him to understand basic burden of proof issues. This doesn’t exactly bespeak depth of understanding and analysis. Anybody can read something over the phone. Put down the script and have an actual conversation, mate!

  37. AtheistNotAgnostic says

    @WP #39
    I’m with you on this one. I don’t see how everyone else thinks the kid is smart; he’s just parroting what’s on the page without understanding. He sounded so confident because it was rehearsed, just like how WLC sounds great at debates despite being wrong about almost everything. He was just repeating empty syllables and trying to steer the conversation back to the dialog tree. That’s why he latched onto the stolen body theory; WLC put it on the page in front of him. The apologists don’t have a counter for the legend theory so they don’t mention it, which means the kid didn’t have any material for it. I applaud the hosts for trying to teach him but at some point you gotta just call out the script reading IMO.

  38. John David Balla says

    @Wiggle Puppy #39

    The frustrating part was when the “unholy trinity” pointed out that they do not have to prove the supernatural impossible. Greg responded if they had said nothing and simply repeated his point. Because Greg is obviously indoctrinated — thanks to Craig and others — he has picked up the apologist habit of sophistry which will impress many a follower, but not so much who don’t. This is what could be called a fall from grace without changing a letter of the argument, just the audience. In Greg’s view, the supernatural assertion, by default, is game, set, match. I do hope Greg calls back so that the hosts can take him through the courtroom analogy.

  39. John David Balla says

    @AtheistNotAgnostic #40

    >>I don’t see how everyone else thinks the kid is smart; he’s just parroting what’s on the page without understanding.

    He had enough of a grasp of the issues to at least speak competently when forced off script. In other words, he did demonstrate competency which is a step above parroting.

  40. AtheistNotAgnostic says

    @JDB #42
    I guess I was being a little tough on him. It’s not like he totally stuttered and blew a gasket when they moved off the script. He did better than I could have done at his age (assuming he’s 12-14) but I certainly think his confidence and ability to read clearly made him seem “smarter” while it was mostly just presentation skills.

  41. Drasancas says

    It’s curious that Greg was scoffing at the notion of aliens teleporting Jesus out of the cave… and then resumed arguing that *a unvierse-creating being* teleporting Jesus out of the cave, is the most reasonable explanation.

  42. Lamont Cranston says

    Drasancas says in #49

    It’s curious that Greg was scoffing at the notion of aliens teleporting Jesus out of the cave… and then resumed arguing that *a universe-creating being* teleporting Jesus out of the cave, is the most reasonable explanation.

    This is particularly humorous if you realize the following…

    The God being proposed is definitely “not from around here” and is therefore, by definition, an alien.

    So both statements say the same thing.

    Lamont Cranston

  43. Safudas says

    Many of the conundrums regarding slavery, apostates, infidels, subjugation of women, etc…can easily be mitigated by theists if they can simply acknowledge that biblical/koranic views on morality can be obsolete with time……as do many cultural norms (e.g. courtship, modesty, chivalry, child-rearing…..)

    But no, many of them cannot shake off the doctrinal notion that their scripture(s) are infallible, inerrant, unchanging, and final.

    This results in the double tragedy of theist becoming more and more irrelevant to their own cause on one hand, and yet highly dangerous to everyone else on the other.

  44. indianajones says

    @52 I agree, but I’d take it one step further. Take the omni-benevolent bit out of omni-max God and just admit that God is a capricious unpredictable 3 year old-esque tantrum thrower. EVERYTHING becomes easier to explain!

  45. jabbly says

    I’m with a few others here with reference to Greg, he may have put his thoughts across with confidence for a teenager but those thoughts were still poorly thought out. He also seemed pretty much incapable of countering, or even understanding, arguments put to him.

  46. enterblandman666 says

    Hey, id like to provide evidence for the existence of a christian god, would anyone be interested?

    regards

  47. indianajones says

    You’d be the first if you succeed 666 and best of luck. However, realise that people have made similar posts before and have universally turned out to be intellectually dishonest swine. Not trying to warn you off, just saying that hackles around here are on more of a hair trigger than say, and just for instance, your average JW might be expecting from a door knocking expedition…Expect a brutal dissection of any claims or evidence you present and extremely short shrift for evasions or logical fallacies.

  48. Celeste Harmon says

    This was the best example of free will- or lack thereof, ever. I understand what you’re saying, I just don’t want it to be true, becuz if it’s true I take that as I have no bearing on what happens to me becuz any decision I make is just an illusion. Does that mean that child molesters were gonna molest children becuz the atoms in them and the exact chemistry of everything made it impossible to not b molesters? What’s the point of trying to do anything if u aren’t in charge of anything? Please please please elaborate

  49. Ian Butler says

    Allow me to go off topic and personal for a moment. My atheist wife of 25 years passed away recently and I arranged a memorial for her last Sunday, which was to feature her brother talking about their childhood growing up in Canada. A few days before I reminded him, in keeping with his sister’s beliefs the memorial was a secular event so could he please “focus on the human side rather than the religious”. (He is a professional Christian in a “prosperity gospel” church). He responded by cancelling his flight and saying if I was going to “control” what he could say he wasn’t going to attend after all.

    The event was otherwise very well attended and a beautiful and loving tribute, with the absence of her only sibling the only blemish. I should also point out that he was a piss poor brother, who didn’t visit his sister once during her 2 1/2 years battling cancer. Probably because she didn’t share his religious views.

    I share this for 2 reasons, one, to give another example of how religion, which is purported to make people better, actually can make them assholes, and also out of an admittedly selfish desire to make sure his religious BS is exposed to as many people as possible. If this story can help someone to see religion as the evil it is then at least something good can come out of it.

    In summary: fuck cancer, and fuck religion. Carry on.

  50. AtheistNotAgnostic says

    @Ian Butler #60
    I’m sorry for your loss and the utter disrespect shown to you and your wife’s memory by your brother-in-law.

  51. Lamont Cranston says

    Ian Butler says in #60

    My atheist wife of 25 years passed away recently and I arranged a memorial for her last Sunday, which was to feature her brother talking about their childhood growing up in Canada. A few days before I reminded him, in keeping with his sister’s beliefs the memorial was a secular event so could he please “focus on the human side rather than the religious”. (He is a professional Christian in a “prosperity gospel” church). He responded by cancelling his flight and saying if I was going to “control” what he could say he wasn’t going to attend after all.

    First, and most importantly, I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your wife. My wife and I have been married 37 years and I can only begin to imagine what you are experiencing after that 2-1/2 year battle with cancer.

    Second, I don’t know if your brother-in-law was born an ass hole, or religion made him one, but an ass hole he is never the less.

    I was reminded of a saying by Steven Weinberg (physicist), “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    Once again my sincere condolences.

    Lamont Cranston

  52. Curt Cameron says

    jabbly wrote:

    I’m with a few others here with reference to Greg, he may have put his thoughts across with confidence for a teenager but those thoughts were still poorly thought out. He also seemed pretty much incapable of countering, or even understanding, arguments put to him.

    He wasn’t willing to listen. When the show hosts were talking, Greg was busily thinking of what he wanted to say next.

    He seemed to be a sharp kid, although too aggressive and smug. If he can fix those, and learn how to listen, there could be good things for his future. If he does all that, he’ll probably eventually see his younger self for what we see.

  53. says

    It seems to me that a MUCH more likely explanation for the empty tomb is provided by John.

    19:39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
    19:40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

    If we consider that myrrh was extremely valuable, this makes grave robbers a very probable reason for an empty tomb. Remember that myrrh was supposed to be one of the gifts brought by the Magi along with gold and frankincense. A hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes would have been a very tempting target for a grave robber. Also, as Greg mentioned, the graveyard would be likely to be a busy place during Passover. A thief or thieves would have grabbed the body late at night and taken it to a safe place where they could strip the maximum value from the wrappings at their leisure and in safety. When they were done, the remains could have been reburied in an unmarked grave or could have ended up as an unidentified body floating in the river.

    Only Matthew describes the presence of Roman guards at the tomb and a method of opening the tomb that is consistent with the presence of guards. Mark, Luke and John all omit the guards and tell of the finding of the open tomb that would be inconsistent with the presence of guards but totally consistent with the presence of grave robbers. No supernatural influence or UFO beaming technology needed.

  54. PETER CUSHNIE says

    @ whisperit #37

    Thank you for your informative and thoughtful reply. What you say about awareness among other primates makes sense. Unfortunately, I still can’t wrap my head around how our awareness can exist concurrently with determinism.

  55. Ian Butler says

    Thanks for the kind words. Also thanks to Enlightenment Liberal, who invited me to lunch on this very blog and was fine with my wife tagging along. It turned out to be the last time she went out of the house to meet someone. That simple gesture had a profound impact, and from a godless heathen no less! I’d like to extend the same offer to anyone in the Bay Area or heading this way.

  56. PETER CUSHNIE says

    To Wiggle Puppy #27

    As I aid somewhere, I don’t like the word “morality.” Too slippery. One man’s moral code is another’s source of outrage. I prefer to think in terms of utility. What kind of behavior serves the best interest of the group? Never mind that someone thinks said behavior is _intrinsically_ good or bad. Nothing is intrinsically anything until we say it is. We could turn Euthyphro’s Dilemma around and use it on ourselves: Is X good or bad because we say it is, or do we say it is because it is. I prefer the former: X isn’t anything until we put a label on it. This dilemma is usually aimed at the Christian god, saying that God’s edicts are either arbitrary, or that they come from a place independent of God, this latter suggesting that even God must concede to something with more authority. The theist might say that God’s commandments come from his nature, which he apparently cannot act against, and which is somehow supposed to resolve the dilemma. It does not, because we are still left with the question of God’s subjectiveness to his nature in this matter and others, said nature becoming only another source of questions, not answers. Maybe God’s nature is flawed. How did this nature come to be? Why should we trust it? Maybe it’s also in God’s nature to make mistakes.

    You said: Replace “slavery” with “murder” here, or maybe “violent rape.” Do you still agree?
    Yes, until we decide these things are against the best interests of the group and our own innate emotional abhorrence, a factor that must be considered, also. We are not Spock.

  57. Honey Tone says

    Ian Butler @#60:

    Love the phrase “professional Christian.” Don’t just profess your faith, make it a business! LOL

    Condolences for your loss.

  58. buddyward says

    @PETER CUSHNIE 68

    You said: Replace “slavery” with “murder” here, or maybe “violent rape.” Do you still agree?
    Yes, until we decide these things are against the best interests of the group and our own innate emotional abhorrence, a factor that must be considered, also. We are not Spock.

    So the victims of these acts, they are not part of your group? Which group are you a part of that would allow such things?

  59. says

    ian butler — sorry you had to put up with your in-law’s god-mandated obnoxiousness on top of your loss.

    peter cushnie — as long as the best interests (values or goals) of the group are considerate of the goals of every member, and those goals are perpetuated by successive generations, and the means (morally “good” behaviors) towards those goals are rationally justifiable, it remains unlikely that those means will be arbitrarily abandoned.

    so slavery, murder, rape, etc etc, aren’t likely to be coming back into fashion anytime soon.

  60. Lamont Cranston says

    enterblandman666 says in #56

    Hey, id like to provide evidence for the existence of a christian god, would anyone be interested?

    I’ve been waiting to see if you are just a drive by poster which seems likely at this point. However, if you are not, I would be interested in seeing what you think is evidence. Why might I be interested? I would be interested because the best Christian apologists for a very long time have proven themselves incapable of providing evidence that could prove the Christian God to be guilty of existing.

    Now if all you are going to do is regurgitate one of those old “proofs” for the existence of a god you might want to re-consider it because they have all been heard around here more times than you might imagine.

    Lamont Cranston

  61. enterblandman666 says

    Hi Lamont,

    Thanks for you reply, and yes I am new to the blog, I have just discovered the show, so I can totally appreciate the angle that you are coming from,

    Believe me it is not the usual apologist dodge and stretch that are the basis of the evidence that I have found,

    Regards

  62. buddyward says

    @enterblandman666

    So are we waiting on something or someone for this to start?

  63. buddyward says

    Do you expect us to listen to each and every single podcast in that link? Which one of those podcasts is the best evidence that proves your Christian god to exist? Perhaps we can narrow it down to one so that the conversation does not branch off into many different directions.

  64. Lamont Cranston says

    enterblandman666 says in #75:

    I just wanted to see if anyone was interested, as a skeptic myself I found this audio both eerie and thought provoking,

    LOL

    I listened to some of those and enjoyed them.

    It reminded me of something I really wish was readily available online somewhere… Steambath, the 1973 production on PBS. I had the good fortune of seeing it when it was originally televised (yes, I am old). It has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steambath_(play)

    Now there was the closest I have seen to real evidence 🙂 . God himself, a Puerto Rica steam bath attendant, offers to prove he is real and has real powers by doing a card trick (go on, pick a card, any card).

    Lamont Cranston

  65. says

    i remember seeing “steambath” on tv, as a fan of bill bixby, from his tv hit “the courtship of eddie’s father” and of course the soon-to-be hit “the incredible hulk”, as well as a topless (!) valerie perrine, soon to appear in “superman the movie”. steamy stuff for a pre-teen …

  66. enterblandman666 says

    I thought this podcast was funny, my apologies if I caused any offense, I was just trying to give you a bit of a laugh, Matt is always going on about show me the evidence, here it is, maybe its just my sense of humour!!

    Regards

  67. Qbert says

    @Ian Butler

    small edit: In summary: fuck cancer, [be true to your loved ones], and fuck religion. Carry on.

    Good of you to make sure her tribute was as she would have wanted it, and sorry for your loss.

  68. Phil Duncan says

    @Ian Butler and other Bay Area skeptics and non believers,

    I’m in the Concord/WC area and would love to have a chat or grab lunch sometime. I need more “none” friends.

    Thanks!
    Phil D.

  69. Vaal says

    (If this is formatted poorly, my apologies. For some reason my browser no longer formats replies as I typed them and I don’t know why. It mashes paragraphs and sentences together that I had properly spaced)

    Well it was interesting to see that Matt seems to have moved, even if slightly, from Dennett’s Compatibilism.
    I’d like to hear more from Matt about his newer views, though I think he did give *some* details in the show.
    I think it’s too bad that he seems to be ceding some ground to the “that’s not what people mean by Free Will” side of the debate (the stance taken by incompatibilits). I think that’s a mistake.

    Free Will is a fairly maddening subject. It’s so fraught with intuitions tangled up with assumptions that it’s really hard not to talk past one another. And it take a lot of untangling to even get a coherent discussion going. As a compatibilist on free wil myself, I always feel some mental fuses blowing when I watch a free will discussion, especially when incompatibilists start making their case. I lost many a fuse listening to Cosmic Skeptic’s case against free will 🙂

    There are usually two issues that often get tangled up (though I thought the panel did a pretty good job in acknowledging they are separate):

    1. Can it make sense to say we have “Free Will?”

    (Especially given X, Y or Z observations or challenges to the idea).

    2. If we manage to establish a sense in which we are “Free” (even given determinism), does that sense of Freedom adequately capture what ‘most people’ think of as “Free Will?”

    I find compatibilism to be the most coherent account of the evidence and issues. I usually find that in dispensing with Libertarian Free Will, that free will skeptics (e.g. hard incompatibilists and the like) throw the baby out with the bathwater. I see them working towards a conclusion ” we have no free will” and along the way that usually means they’ve rejected that it makes sense to say “We could have done otherwise” and that puts them on the path to incoherence. But it doesn’t seem to matter because they just stop at “well, I’ve shown we have no free will” but they’ve created all these loose ends that, if you follow them, don’t make sense and even turn back to create incoherence. But having dispensed with free will, free will skeptics often avoid even trying to tie up all the loose ends they’ve created. So I just find it results in not making sense. I find compatibilist arguments keep following the trail and do a more coherent job of making sense of our decisions, language, concept etc.

    All that is vague insofar as I haven’t provided any details. It’s possible some of what I refer to above might be drawn out by a question. Much of the free will debate revolves around the concept of “Could I Have Done Otherwise?”

    For the Free Will Skeptics:

    Do you think the proposition “I Could Have Done Otherwise” is always false? In that such a concept will never make sense so long as we are talking about the real world, or acknowledging determinism?

    If it’s possible to retain the concept “Could Have Done Otherwise” in a way that is NOT an illusion, but in which it’s true and useful…how so?

    If not, why not?

    Thanks!

  70. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal #83
    What compatibilists wish to define as free will seems to me to be simply a re-labeling of the thing that we currently call ‘free choice’. Worse, it’s relabeling into inaccurate language: ‘free’ can be an accurate descriptor of the choice (ie. without external constraints or coercion), but under determinism it cannot possibly be an accurate description of the individual making the choice, whose ‘will’ is entirely shaped by their determinants.

    In the same way that I don’t see the point of pantheists labeling the universe ‘god’ when we already have the label ‘universe’, I don’t see the point of compatibilists labeling free choice as ‘free will’ when we already have the label ‘free choice’.
     
    Re: “I could have done otherwise”
    Under determinism I don’t see how, for any given choice arising at a specific time, this could ever be true, except through randomness. Randomness is not ‘will’. Will requires intention. Intention is the opposite of randomness.

  71. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    Re formatting, I’m guessing you were referring to the Preview function not displaying correctly? (as opposed to the comment entry box). It’s not actually your browser’s fault. This platform does not display double returns in Preview, although it does in the input box and in the actual post.

    If you want a larger space between paras you won’t get it just by adding more returns – they just aggregate. Instead you can type “ ” on each spacing line (don’t type the quotation marks). That gives a nice blank separator for anal people like me, and has the added advantage of displaying in Preview, but TBH it’s a lot less work to just type a period.
    .
    .
    ^ Like this ^

  72. Vaal says

    Hey RR, thanks!

    When it comes to free will I think it’s vital to make a distinction between the explanation and the thing being explained. I.e. between “X phenomenon” and “The explanation for X.” I find that people often conjoin or conflate the two, which leads to a good portion of the problem.

    So to take an example from the past: Vitalism.

    At one point people were trying to figure out what makes something living vs dead. Some came up with the explanation that living organisms were distinguished by possessing a ” “vital spark” or “élan vital” A non-material force constituted “life.”

    Now, when we later on discovered far better explanations for the difference between a living thing and a non-living thing, a live animal and a dead animal etc – material biological processes, metabolism etc – we discarded the existence of the “vital spark.”
    Would it have made sense to have discarded the concept of “life” along with it, as in “well, the vital spark WAS what made something alive, and if the vital spark doesn’t exist, then nothing is really alive!”

    Obviously not. That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it would be mistaking the thing to be explained with ONE attempt at an explanation for it. The thing we want explained – e.g. the difference between something alive and when it’s dead, and between animals and rocks – still exists. We’ve just replaced the failed explanation with a better one.

    I find the same thing happens with free will. Essentially the problem of free will arises from a clash between two deep intuitions:

    That we seem to actually have and make choices between options all day long, that those choices are real and WE are making them.

    And the intuition that everything that happens requires a cause. Which, if we follow through (as they did in the show) suggests our actions are caused, and that the chain of causation stretches backwards “out of our control.”

    Faced with these two battling intuitions people tend to slide towards one intuition over the other. Some people just can’t shake the intuition they really COULD HAVE chosen otherwise and, in the face of the possibility of determinism they hit an intuitive explanation “Well, everything else in the world and universe seems to be cause and effect clockwork, but MY CHOICES must be an exception from this material chain of caustion. That’s the only way I can see to explain how I could have been “free” to “do otherwise.”

    And so you get versions of Libertarian Free Will (at least, contra-causal free will theory).

    Other people can’t shake the intuition or logic that if our actions are caused, well then “we” weren’t the cause or in control and if any actions followed inveitably from a previous causal state, then our actions were “determined” before we ever thought we made a choice. And that doesn’t deserve the term “free.” Hence, no free will.

    But the bouncing ball to keep an eye on, IMO, is that when we talk of the concept of Free Will, it tends to wrap up these two problems as if they were disguised as one: The phenomenon we are trying to account for, the daily impression and assumptions that we “really do” have the power to choose between options and “really could have” done otherwise and “It was MY choice”….and then there is the philosophical EXPLANATIONS or DEBATE over whether our daily experience of “choice” could be true, given determinism or even just following the logic of causation.

    Libertarian, or contra-causel theories of free will are *bad explanations* for the thing they are trying to account for, just like the elan vital turned out to be a bad explanation for what it was trying to account for. If we can provide a better account for the everyday experience of choice, our role in the choosing and responsibility for our choices, then that isn’t “re-defining” free will, it’s just replacing a bad explanation with a better explanation.

    The problem I have with hard incompatibiists is, as I said, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, where they have mashed together the explanation with the thing to be explained, gone along with Libertarians in doing so “If free will isn’t the magical ability to do otherwise in precisely the same conditions, then since THAT is what Free Will IS” then Free Will Doesn’t Exist!”

    But insofar as incompatibilists diminish human agency, notions of control, and claim that determinism wold entail “we could never have done otherwise” and “choice is an illusion” etc, then they start becoming incoherent.

    I can’t say you are incoherent on the subject as I don’t know your view, but my initial question is meant to draw this out on both our sides.

    You replied:

    “Under determinism I don’t see how, for any given choice arising at a specific time, this could ever be true, except through randomness. “

    If you go back to my question, note that it was carefully worded. At the moment you have rejected that “I could have done otherwise” can’t be true IF we are talking about a choice “arising at a specific time.” I infer that you are thinking about this in a libertarian free will context: “Could I have done differently at that *exact* moment, the exact same causal state of the universe?’

    My question remains open: Do you really think it makes sense to ask “could I have done differently at precicely X moment given the same causal state of the universe?”

    Do you think that’s a useful notion of “could have done otherwise?” Can you think of how “could have done otherwise” could be made sense of in any OTHER context than the one you are thinking of?

    If you take the position that there is NO context in which “I could have done otherwise” is “true” given determinism, have you thought through the consequences of that stance to it’s effect on your use of language, on the coherence of your recommendations to others, on your very thought processes when making decisions?

    Remember: I’m not at ALL trying to sneak magic through a back door. Rather, I’m suggesting that the assumptions we tend to have when deliberating between options do not fundamentally conflict with determinism. In fact, they make exactly the sense we’d need them to make IF we were creatures of a determined world.

  73. says

    @RationalismRules

    What compatibilists wish to define as free will seems to me to be simply a re-labeling of the thing that we currently call ‘free choice’. Worse, it’s relabeling into inaccurate language: ‘free’ can be an accurate descriptor of the choice (ie. without external constraints or coercion), but under determinism it cannot possibly be an accurate description of the individual making the choice, whose ‘will’ is entirely shaped by their determinants.

    Have you heard Ken Wilber speak on these topics? He’s made the point that some of these terms on the opposite sides of the spectrum are defined too absolutely, so that if you believe in free will, then this view denies determinism or a hard determinism. Likewise, a hard determinism denies completely the possibility of free will. Ken makes the point that they may be more relative than we may think. However, I agree with the notion that a compatibilist might be referring to their determinsim as their “free will.” I’ve heard some compatibilists say that what they’re calling their “will” and what is being “determined” are happening simultaneously, that you “freely choose through a set of predetermined outcomes” is an example of what you might hear a compatibilist say. I, of course, am a huge fan of Cosmic Skeptic’s work on these topics, as well. One of my favorite speakers on this topic, however, is Ramesh Balsekar in what he’s described as the “Uniquely Programmed Individual.”

    In the same way that I don’t see the point of pantheists labeling the universe ‘god’ when we already have the label ‘universe’, I don’t see the point of compatibilists labeling free choice as ‘free will’ when we already have the label ‘free choice’.

    This is actually a very common misconception. Pantheists or as some philosophers have suggested to more accurately define this view, panentheism isn’t merely the relabeling of the universe. Spinoza was at great pains during his lifetime to make this clear.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Spinoza#Pantheist,_panentheist,_or_atheist?

    Re: “I could have done otherwise”
    Under determinism I don’t see how, for any given choice arising at a specific time, this could ever be true, except through randomness. Randomness is not ‘will’. Will requires intention. Intention is the opposite of randomness.

    You probably don’t agree with Kaku’s take on this then, I would suspect.



  74. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal #86
    I don’t think I’m confusing explanations with what they are explaining.
    The thing being explained is choice or action.
    The explanations proposed are determinism or free will.
     
    Regarding your vitalism analogy, there is a good analogy there, but it’s not quite as you’ve made it.

    Accepting that the ‘vital spark’ isn’t a real thing without abandoning the notion of ‘life’ that it sought to explain, is analogous to discovering that ‘free will’ doesn’t actually exist without abandoning the notion of ‘choice/will/action’. So we have actually kept the baby while disposing of the bathwater. Will, choice & action are all still meaningful concepts without ‘free will’, as is life without ‘vital spark’.
     

    Other people can’t shake the intuition or logic that if our actions are caused, well then “we” weren’t the cause or in control and if any actions followed inveitably from a previous causal state, then our actions were “determined” before we ever thought we made a choice. And that doesn’t deserve the term “free.” Hence, no free will.

    This seems exactly correct to me. Can you explain to me where it fails?
     

    The problem I have with hard incompatibiists is, as I said, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, where they have mashed together the explanation with the thing to be explained, gone along with Libertarians in doing so “If free will isn’t the magical ability to do otherwise in precisely the same conditions, then since THAT is what Free Will IS” then Free Will Doesn’t Exist!”

    But insofar as incompatibilists diminish human agency, notions of control, and claim that determinism wold entail “we could never have done otherwise” and “choice is an illusion” etc, then they start becoming incoherent.

    I’m afraid you’re falling into the trap you warned of at the start. Free will is the explanation, not what’s being explained. Throwing out free will is not throwing out what’s being explained, ie. choice or will. It just means that our will and our choices are not made free of determinants. We still have the baby, only the bathwater has been consigned to the drain.

    Re: ‘diminishing human agency and notions of control’, I see it more as placing them into context. In a deterministic universe human agency is less than fully autonomous, and our control may be in turn controlled by other factors. Why is it a problem to acknowledge that? It doesn’t reduce either of them to mere illusions, it just adds into the picture the extra factors that are in play.
     

    My question remains open: Do you really think it makes sense to ask “could I have done differently at precicely X moment given the same causal state of the universe?”

    Yes, in fact it’s the only way that question makes sense: if the circumstances remain the same. Otherwise all you’re asking is “if things were different, could things have been different?” What is the value in that?

    If determinism is the case, (and setting aside randomness as not constituting ‘will’), then whatever one chooses is the result of one’s determinants. If you change the determinants, of course your choice may be different. I don’t understand how anyone could interpret that as ‘freedom’. Just saying “well it’s not Libertarian freedom” doesn’t address the issue. How is it any kind of freedom?
     

    I’m suggesting that the assumptions we tend to have when deliberating between options do not fundamentally conflict with determinism. In fact, they make exactly the sense we’d need them to make IF we were creatures of a determined world.

    I agree, I just don’t see what this has to do with free will. In a deterministic paradigm the assumptions made and the conclusion reached are the result of determinants, not autonomy. A computer weighs different options according to its programming. Is its eventual decision the result of ‘free will’?
     
    I’m a bit frustrated that you didn’t respond to my main point, since it’s the key to my argument – what compatibilists want to label as ‘free will’, in order to claim that it is compatible with determinism, is no different from ‘free choice’, so why relabel it? Why not accept that what we actually have is ‘the illusion of free will’, and move on?
    If you can identify any differences between the two, I’m keen to hear them.

  75. Vaal says

    This seems exactly correct to me. Can you explain to me where it fails?

    I believe I can.

    But the subject of free will is a sprawling one so what I’m trying to do is to first ask a question that, if followed up, may lead to the problems for a free will skeptic, and once that is pointed out, I’d like to show how a compatibilist case can make sense of or “solve” that problem.

    That’s why I’ve been so focused on first asking you to answer that question.

    Re: ‘diminishing human agency and notions of control’, I see it more as placing them into context. In a deterministic universe human agency is less than fully autonomous, and our control may be in turn controlled by other factors. Why is it a problem to acknowledge that? It doesn’t reduce either of them to mere illusions, it just adds into the picture the extra factors that are in play.

    We are in agreement there! This suggests you’ve taken a ofter approach to agency/control than many incompatiilists, like for instance Cosmic Skeptic on the show, where he was speaking in very typical incompatibilist manner in which our choices and what we can control are so de-emphasized in the causal chain as to be made almost invisible, as if they don’t matter. In other words, the emphasis is always on the causation that *leads* to our choices, rather than our actual choice-making, as ruling the outcome.

    I’m a bit frustrated that you didn’t respond to my main point, since it’s the key to my argument – what compatibilists want to label as ‘free will’, in order to claim that it is compatible with determinism, is no different from ‘free choice’, so why relabel it?

    I apologize. Directly answering that will of course require making the compatibilist case which I will do, but as I said I’ve been trying to first get you to follow through on implications of your own free will skepticism to get us there.

    I could actually, in principle, go along with you and say we have “free choice.” The problem is, your answers to my question suggest we probably don’t have the same notion of “free choice.” Since you say “the only way to make sense of ‘could I have done otherwise?’ is in the context of precisely the same circumstances….I’m left asking: what could you mean to say that we have “free choice?”

    Otherwise all you’re asking is “if things were different, could things have been different?” What is the value in that?

    It’s all the value! It’s literally how we gain and share knowledge of the world! It’s the only way we COULD gain knowledge of the world that does us any good. You’ve got things precisely the wrong way around. Which I’m trying to lead you to by seeing if you can retain the reasons for your free will skepticism, which you are deriving from how you are thinking about determinism, while not having our language and reasoning break down at the end.

    Ok, so you’ve said “I could have done otherwise” could NEVER be true because the ONLY way it even makes sense to ask the question is under the assumption “at a precise moment in time, not repeatable, all causal states the same.”

    I suggest that the most useless question one could ask in terms of understanding human choice, or empirical knowledge in general. And when you understand that there is only on way in which we COULD use the concept “I could have done otherwise” it entails that is how we DO use the concept, and it does not violate determinism.

    To understand the consequence of where your answer to me leads, I’ll put a sharper point on it:

    I believe you would agree: Even if there are quantum-level indeterminism, the determinism on the macro level at which human biology operates is enough to “determine” our actions in the way we take to threaten free will. So for sake of argument, we are taking determinism for granted and seeing it’s consequences.

    And we can agree an effect will follow necessarily from the causal state that precedes it. So if we look ONLY at time “T” state of the universe, including all the causes leading up to my decision to choose fish over steak at the restaurant, we agree I would always choose the fish. It would just follow necessarily from the causal state leading to the decision. Agreed, in that sense “I Could Not (and never could!) Have Done Otherwise!”

    The problem is your answer suggested that, at this point, we part ways. You say that it would NEVER make sense to claim in any truthful way “I Could Have Done Otherwise.’

    So following your answer go back to the consequences of this line of reasoning.

    The consequences of hard determinism is that ALL our choices are fixed in the same way – that is, the logic of determinism applies both backwards and forwards. The choice I’m about to make is just as fixed, just as determined, as the choice I just made previously. And that’s where things get messy. It would seem to entail that if you could not have done otherwise for any choice you just made, then it’s the case “you could not do otherwise” for any choice you are ABOUT to make. But then…how do you make sense when making choices? This is where lots of hard incompatibilists try to bite the bullet and actually say things like ‘well, ‘choice’ is actually a type of illusion. We think we have a choice, but we don’t REALLY have a choice.’ Which is actually incoherent.

    If it’s never the case “We could do otherwise” how do you make sense of ever recommending one action over another, or thinking through options for actions? Imagine a scenario: Let’s say you’ve convinced your wife that we don’t have free will as a consequence of determinism, because it follows from our choices being determined that “we could not have done otherwise/could not do otherwise.” She’s lying on a sofa watching TV complaining that she’s out of shape and wishes she could be more fit. You want to recommend an action to her: Well, why don’t you turn off the TV and go for a walk? That would be a better choice for getting fit.”

    My wife turns to me and says: But,honey, what you’ve just said presumes I COULD DO OTHERWISE than what I’m doing now, watching TV. But we both know I CAN’T DO OTHERWISE, so your recommendation is just incoherent.

    How can you respond to this? How could you give her a coherent reason to make one choice over another that does not assume she “could do otherwise” and has “a real choice between options” in order to make sense?
    Note that your “wife” in the scenario isn’t simply confusing determinism with fatalism. Rather, she is simply pointing out what seems to be a direct contradiction: that you hold “we could not do otherwise” while trying to recommend that “she do otherwise.”

    And given the logic of determinism goes both ways – whatever solution you have to this will have to apply to previous choices as well. In other words, if you can come up with a way of saying to your wife “No, it really is TRUE you CAN do otherwise, which is why I’m recommending it” then you can not special plead and take that back when she makes the choice saying “Nah, was just kidding, you COULDN’T HAVE DONE OTHERWISE!” That’s a fool-me-once approach that is untenable for coherency.

    So, can you tell me how you follow the consequences of determinism and your stance it never makes sense to say we could have done otherwise, and apply it to the challenge above? Thanks!

  76. Vaal says

    Sorry, one of my paragraphs above should read:

    We are in agreement there! This suggests you’ve taken a softer approach to agency/control than many incompatibilists, as opposed to Cosmic Skeptic on the show, where he was speaking in very typical incompatibilist manner in which our choices and what we can control are so de-emphasized in the causal chain as to be made almost invisible, as if they don’t matter. In other words, the emphasis is always on the causation that *leads* to our choices, rather than our actual choice-making, as ruling the outcome.

  77. Harald Clark says

    Re: RationalismRules & Vaal
    .
    I think it is a bit of a loop people get stuck in; the determinants result in your choice, that choice becomes a determinant, and because we can’t really access our determinants but we think we can access our “choice”, it looks to us like we are influencing effects from moment to moment differently than the world around us does. World creates and alters perception, perception alters world, world alters … etc
    .
    Inside the loop you cannot see the determinants making your choice, only what looks like the effects of your choices, the illusion.
    The “mirror/perspective/will/experience” thing gets special treatment so that it can be bound to the determinism of the world that creates it, but also initiate non-determined/random actions that create/effect the world.
    .
    People like the safety in a ‘free choice’ determined environment; the computers eventual decision, the subconscious reasons you ate a whole pack of biscuits all at once. Trying to keep ‘free will’ as a separate type of choice that escapes determinism without breaking it, is to keep some perceived special quality that exists in where the line is drawn between you and the world.
    .
    I think Vaal is trying to describe a combined deterministic and spontaneously non deterministic model, but that’s the most I gather and could say. I don’t agree, and think this is one of the traps that the ‘illusion of free will’ easily leads people to.

  78. Vaal says

    Wow, wish there was an edit function here!

    One more correction as a typo made things confusing. The sentence that reads “My wife turns to me and says: But,honey,….

    Was meant to be: YOUR wife turns to YOU and says: But,honey, what you’ve just said presumes I COULD DO OTHERWISE than what I’m doing now, watching TV. But we both know I CAN’T DO OTHERWISE, so your recommendation is just incoherent.

  79. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Vaal #89:

    Well, why don’t you turn off the TV and go for a walk? That would be a better choice for getting fit.
    […]
    what I’m doing now, watching TV. But we both know I CAN’T DO OTHERWISE, so your recommendation is just incoherent.

    Options tempt. By “suggesting a choice”, you add weight to an option. Your influence may be insufficient to compete with their favorite TV show, depression, etc. They’ll reassess and respond in character. One can even influence oneself by curating the environment.
     
    “We” are bundles of anatomy and past experience, subject to present conditions. That bundle is not a deemphasis of the self. It’s the content of what a personality is.
     
    What happens next molds us further, for better or worse. We may be dissatisfied with another’s behavior. And we may be poised, equipped, and liable to help. There’s learned helplessness, there’s learned mastery, and there are grim situations one can’t escape alone. Some people are toxic in combination. Hopefully we will have been prepared by our past to deploy our influence in healthy ways.
     
    At every moment, we do what we would do, and the next moment, we’re someone who had done that.

  80. Vaal says

    Hi Harald!

    I don’t believe you have adequately characterized what is actually going on in our minds when we are making decisions, when we “think it’s true” we could do A or B, or “could have done” A or B.

    I’m trying to get there by first focusing on the problems that arise from skeptical challenges to this.

    To that end, perhaps you’d like to take a stab at the questions I’ve been asking RationalismRules?

    In the wife-on-the-sofa scenario, how could you make a coherent case to her that she “could do otherwise” which would make sense of recommending an alternative action, that doesn’t end up ratifying that she “could have done otherwise” after she’s made her choice?

    And if you stick to the proposition that there is no way we can make truth claims by saying “It could be/could have been otherwise” then how do you make coherent any recommendations for actions to another person, or even your own deliberations between “options?” How could it make sense to *have a coherent reason to do otherwise* if you start with the proposition *I can not do otherwise?”

  81. Harald CLark says

    Vaal, I just read through your last two comments again, and I can’t make any more sense out of it.
    .
    I think you’ve made lots of assumptions. And I think you are getting bogged down by the language. You’ve also made massive posts without responding to RationalismRules’ question, and I agree with them.
    .
    Choices and deliberations that are dictated are still choices and deliberations. I couldn’t have done anything other than tell my wife to go for a walk, and she couldn’t do anything other than not go for a walk. But when I walked into the room it seemed like I had a choice to be nice or to be mean to my wife, so I suggested a walk rather than commenting on why she should go for a walk. I could have chosen to say she’s fat, but it doesn’t take long to figure out how to make a coherent recommendation for not getting slapped in the face.
    .
    This is why ‘free choice’ covers what we need when we are interacting with each other, and avoids any confusion about ‘free will’ being an illusion or not.

  82. paxoll says

    If it’s never the case “We could do otherwise” how do you make sense of ever recommending one action over another, or thinking through options for actions?

    Second part first, thinking through options is part of the caused action. It is an illusion that it changes the choice. Recommending an action becomes part of the cause of the action. If I enjoy a t.v. show, and I’m busy typing on this blog and my roomate recommends turning on the T.V. because the show is on, that is a huge part of the cause which makes me turn to watch the show. My roomates actions were caused, not chosen, and my actions were caused not chosen. Our past could be nothing different than what it was, quantum uncertainty means our future is unknowable, but it is determined when it arrives.
     
    You can think of the illusion of choice as a evolutionary adaptation that puts a break on action allowing more causes to accumulate. The problem is this illusion has affected the understanding definition of the word ‘choice’ as well as ‘responsible’. It is easiest to consider agents that we don’t consider making choices. A mouse has the choice, as in available possibilities, to not eat the food on a trap. But we know that the mouse doesn’t make a cognitive choice when it does take the bait. It is much easier to recognize the simple causality of the action. Therefore you go to a restaurant and have a “choice” of foods to order, and you choose one of them, even though you had no real choice in your choice, since your choice was determined.

  83. Vaal says

    CompulsoryAccountant,

    Options tempt. By “suggesting a choice”, you add weight to an option. Your influence may be insufficient to compete with their favorite TV show, depression, etc. They’ll reassess and respond in character. One can even influence oneself by curating the environment.

    Thanks, but unfortunately you haven’t answered the question.

    This is very common when I pose these questions to incompatibilists: I get replies where someone has presumed they are answering the challenge, where they have missed the whole point even though the point was made as explicit as possible.
    And the way this dancing-around-answering usually happens is people talk in the abstract, as you have, rather than directly answering what you can actually SAY to a person in giving options, that is coherent with determinism or that is coherent with the proposition “We could not/can not do otherwise.’

    Your response, though not totally clear, seems to run along the lines of probably the most common incompatibilist response to the problem of our language of “ought, should” and the general phenemonon of making prescriptions. It goes like this:

    Even though all our choices past and present are fixed by determinism, it STILL makes sense for us to make the case to each other that one alternative is better than another, or to argue our case in general. After all, even though our arguments themselves are determined, we and our arguments are still part of the causal chain. Our arguments are PART of the causal chain that can cause others to change their behavior, so it still makes sense for us to make recommendations and prescriptions to one another. My argument may play a causal role in your next decision, and help change a decision you would otherwise have made.”

    The problem with this response is that it is a total red herring. It doesn’t answer the problem AT ALL.

    This is because it is stating something screamingly obvious that was already ASSUMED in the question I have posed.

    Of course we humans can act as causes for one another’s behavior. Of course what we say to one another can influence and change behavior. That’s obvious. It’s a given. The question isn’t “can we influence someone’s behavior” but rather “can we give them GOOD COHERENT REASONS for altering their behavior or choices?”

    The world is filled with people influencing one another by arguments. The problem is there are good arguments, and bad arguments, and as we know people are often influenced by bad arguments as well as good arguments (see: flat earthers falling for youtube arguments…among countless examples…religion..etc..etc).

    Bad arguments don’t give good reasons to accept conclusions, because they contain poor inferences and or contain inconsistencies and contradictions. That’s the reason we, as rational beings, look to good arguments over bad ones. It’s why people here reject bad arguments, and seek to promulgate good arguments.

    So the question isn’t “Can I influence your behavior by something I say.” You can shout BOO! loudly and it may get your wife off the sofa. The question is “Can I give a GOOD COHERENT ARGUMENT/REASON for someone to take one option over another?”

    And if you position results in contradictions along the way to your conclusions, you can’t have given Good Reasons for an action.

    If I have argued that it’s impossible for humans to defy gravity and fly unaided in to the sky at will, then any recomendation or reason for action I make must be coherent with that stance. If there is a fire in a skyscraper and firefighters are stuck unable to get to people stuck on the top floors, it makes no sense for me to suggest that they save the people by defying gravity and flying unaided to the top of the building to bring the people down. That’s just an incoherent recomendation GIVEN my stance that such a thing is impossible.

    Similarly, if an incompatibilist takes the stance “No one could have done/can do otherwise” and then he goes on to recomend in any case that I “do otherwise than I am doing” or talk as if I “really do” have an option between taking either action, then that is just as incoherent as the firefighter scenario. How can it make sense to recomend I do otherwise WITHOUT accepting that I COULD do otherwise?

    THAT is the problem I’m posing – one of internal incoherence that needs to be solved.

    BTW, another typical attempt to answer this challenge is to say it’s simply a knowledge problem. There is a difference between talking about choices already made and choices we are about to make: that is, we KNOW the outcome of previous choices – we know what we chose – but we don’t know the outcome of a choice we are about to make. And since we aren’t in a position to know that, for instance, you aren’t going to choose the fish over the steak at the restaurant, we may as well talk about those options as if they are both open, in order to facilitate or move the decision forward.

    That also is a non-answer in that it doesn’t work. You may not know the outcome of a choice between A or B, but on the incompatibilist stance I’m critiquing you DO KNOW even before the choice is made, that one option was “impossible” and “you could not in fact have chosen otherwise.” In other words, you don’t need to know the outcome of the choice between A and B to already know it is FALSE that both options are “possible outcomes” for you to choose between. And yet, the only way to make a choice between A and B coherent, to have a reason to do either one, is IF BOTH ARE POSSIBLE. You have to ASSUME the possibility of either option BEFORE you make the choice, in order to make your deliberation even coherent. So suggesting our lack of knowledge of the outcome somehow “solves” this problem is a red-herring.

    I’m still looking for any incompatibilist/free will skeptic to solve this problem…without ending up going down the same route that the compatibilist does.

    Cheers!

  84. Vaal says

    Harald and paxoll,

    Please refer to my recent post to CompulsoryAccountant, which explains why you aren’t answering the exactly problem I keep posing.

    There is a reason, I think,, why you keep answering in the abstract, where I am asking you to tell me what you could ACTUALLY SAY to the wife in the scenario that would give COHERENT REASONS for her to do otherwise.

    Saying essentially ‘I could influence her actions’ is dancing around the question for the reasons I’ve given CompulsoryAccuntant. Any number of things you can do or say could influence the wife’s actions. The question is whether you can give her GOOD REASONS for her to take those actions.

    Think of some sentences you can actually produce in the scenario. Just try to give a REASON for the wife to do otherwise than sit and watch TV that DO NOT ASSUME SHE COULD DO OTHERWISE to make sense. What can you say to her?

  85. Vaal says

    Harald,

    I meant to mention: You have got side-tracked by the issue of worrying about insulting your wife by suggesting she could go for a walk. Forget that issue, this is a stand in for any of the countless situations in which we recommend between options. It’s the same as going to Home Depot and the Home Depot guy talks about your options “You COULD use X type of glue or you COULD use screws instead, and here’s why I think choosing the screws would be more likely to get what you are wanting.” It’s the same with the wife scenario: she’s expressed a desire to be more fit, so it makes sense to discuss what alternative actions would help reach that goal. The insulting aspect is just a red-herring: a fitness instructor could recommend one exercise over the other to the wife for reaching a given fitness goal. The point is that any recommendations, in any of these scenarios, would not seem to make sense unless it was presumed those alternative actions were truly possible.

  86. paxoll says

    Vaal, telling someone they should do something, adds to causes that causes them to get up and do something. Like I said, it is a failure of the language based on our perceived illusion of choice. Lighting the couch on fire also would cause her to get up, the possibilities are endless, what possibility you take is not a real choice, it is an action caused by the precise state of your brain at that precise moment in time. One plank time different and some atom might be in a different place causing a chain reaction that would cause you to make a different choice, but you have no actual power to do otherwise. You are simply complaining about a colloquial use of language, like a christian complaining that an atheist says “god damn it” when they stub their toe.

  87. Vaal says

    paxoll,

    You are exhibiting the very incoherence I’m talking about. If you’d directly answer my challenge (tell me what you can coherently say to someone to give reasons to do otherwise), it would put a fine point and underline the incoherence in neon. But so far no one will directly answer my challenge.

    Remember in this episode when Matt was getting frustrated by a Christian caller doing the usual tap-dancing around his direct question about slavery in the bible? What happened when Matt finally got the caller to just admit slavery was never acceptable? The caller STILL wouldn’t land on the point that he’d just shown God to have been wrong on slavery in the bible.
    Instead he just bounced between two incoherent views – slavery is wrong, but God is always right (even though God commanded slavery). This inconsistency/incoherence is the reason no rational person should accept the caller’s arguments, and it’s the reason the caller shouldn’t be thinking he has good reasons for holding those positions. That’s the point of callilng out inconsistencies, right?

    Or take the naive Christian who says she holds her beliefs on “Faith.” What’s the point of Matt arguing against faith? Why does Matt ask direct questions like “what COULDN’T be believed on faith?” The point is that to accept this person’s reasons for believing is to actually do epistemic damage to all sorts of areas of human knowledge. It goes out and melts all sorts of the bridges holding our combined beliefs together, our picture of the world we’ve built. How could we even coherently come to consensus about anything at all if you can believe, say, the world is round on “faith” and I can believe it is square on “faith” and Ed can believe it’s triangular on “faith?’ You can’t really consistently hold both that “Faith” is a sound way of forming beliefs AND that rational consideration of evidence is a sound way of forming beliefs.

    But the Faitheist Christian is so wedded to her belief that she KNOWS Jesus by “faith” that she doesn’t really care – THAT is something she’s so sure of she won’t give it up, and coherence be damned…she doesn’t have to go figuring everything out, right?

    But the whole project we are engaged in is making sense of as much about human experience, and the world, as possible. Which is why human reason seeks to fit together explanations in a coherent whole. Once you abandon that to cling on to ONE conclusion you are so sure about, you’ve missed the forest for the trees.

    One last analogy: Imagine you are a scientist who has done all sorts of experiments on human reason and cognition. You then announce to everyone: Guess what? I have some bad news. It turns out, from my analysis, that human reason is COMPLETELY unreliable! We simply can not trust any of it!”

    Well, what’s the obvious problem there?

    It’s incoherent – self negating. He’s holding the conclusion “Human Reason Is Wholly Unreliable” while having reached that conclusion USING HUMAN REASON. Of course, if human reason was unreliable, there’s no reason to accept his conclusions or argument. Why accept a claim that would melt away so much human knowledge and reason in the first place, let alone given it actually produces incoherence? Clearly, this scientists has gone wrong somewhere – and if he can’t show how we ought to accept his conclusion GIVEN our reason is unreliable, then we are right to reject his conclusion. And if the scientist is so wedded to his conclusion because he’s sure he figured things out right, that he doesn’t really care about the incoherence it generates, just says “My conclusion is right, and if it generates incoherence…so much the worse for incoherence”….then, again, this is not a person to be taken seriously.

    My position is that, like the examples above, you do not seem to realize at this point the significance, the depths, of the contradictions and incoherence your position entails.

    No one in the world can actually get by talking or thinking in the abstractions you are giving. Living in the real world entails that we have to deliberate between various actions and “possible” outcomes, and that we will pass on knowledge to each other this way, and we will argue our cases based on internal coherence, etc. Scientific empiricism, depends on being able to speak truths about alternative possibilities or states of affairs. When scientists are doing anything at all, e.g. planning another mars rover launch, the do and must speak in terms of alternative possibilities “we COULD do it X way or would COULD do it Y way…”
    If you take a stance that renders all talk of alternative possibilities Illusory = Not True, then you make all this incoherent. LIke the scientist who earlier said “My theory is right, to hell with all the incoherence it leads to!”

    Your very talk of lighting a couch on fire being on par with telling someone what they should do displays just this problem.
    It suggest that, really, well reasoned, valid, sound arguments just don’t matter. No difference between a good and a bad argument that we need to care about, because either can influence people.

    Are you really prepared to dismiss the warrant for accepting good reasons over bad reasons? If so…then of course you render your own attempts at making an argument moot, or incoherent.

    Again: If you could TRY to come up with what you could say coherently to someone to give them reason to do otherwise – reasons coherent with your stance “we could not do otherwise,” – then you’ll be facing this incoherence head on when you struggle to do so.

  88. paxoll says

    Vaan, you are denying the apparent reality that every rational conclusion comes to, that all scientific evidence points to. You are claiming “no one in the world can actually get by talking or thinking in the abstractions”, while it is actually happening. Don’t think about a pink rhinoceros. Now, you might not of actually pictured a pink rhinoceros in you head, although the words were a massive cause to do so, but you pronounced the words in your head. You could not have done differently since the way people are taught to read is through phonetics unless you are deaf. We CAN give people reasons to do things, we do give people reasons to do things, we do things that cause other things. When you tell someone they should have done something else, it is a colloquial term that meant a different outcome while not necessarily possible would have been preferable, thus making a similar instance in the future more likely to end more preferably. You don’t explain a reason to a cat because a cat cannot understand, you effort is completely useless to change a cats behavior. But you can shout, or give some other stimulus that will cause the cat to next time a similar instance occurs remember the bad stimulus. The cat COULDN’T have acted any different, but giving new causes CAN cause different actions. We can reason, therefore we can imagine a hypothetical reality where we did something else and came to a different result, but that doesn’t actually mean we could have done anything differently, it is simply a way we can process the information so that we can cause a future similar choice to be made better.

  89. Vaal says

    paxoll,

    We CAN give people reasons to do things, we do give people reasons to do things, we do things that cause other things.

    Are you going to demonstrate this at any point? Or should I give up waiting? 🙂

    This is what I mean when I refer to “talking in abstraction.” If you CAN give coherent reasons for one choice over another….why not simply demonstrate this, and answer my challenge?

    The answer is already pretty clear: you won’t be able to actually make sense. Then it will become awkwardly clear that you have taken a stance from which you can not give someone rational reasons for changing their behavior or recommending alternative actions (as it will conflict with the stance “we can not do otherwise – choice is an illusion). And when you give up hope of rational argument….that’s a major problem and you don’t seem to want to work out the implications.

  90. paxoll says

    Vaal, I did demonstrate it, and the fact you didn’t refute the demonstration, shows you are being obtuse. There are

    give someone rational reasons for changing their behavior or recommending alternative actions

    and they do not conflict with “choice is an illusion”. The reason is simply not a free choice for us to make. I care about rationality and reasoning, which is why I’m on this blog, and it doesn’t matter how I came to value those, it still gives me reason to post here, even when people like you refuse to understand. I’m done with this conversation. I will summarize thusly.
     
    We live in a causal universe, every physics, chemistry, and biological experiment demonstrates this, every thought we have demonstrates this since every thought is based on imput through our senses. Therefore until there is a demonstration that there is an uncaused cause (that fallacious argument sounds familiar) I will continue to believe in determinism.

  91. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    I’m fine with a Socratic approach but it hasn’t served us particularly well so far so I’m happy to see that you’ve made an argument in the latter half of the post.

    Before I dive in to that, there is one other point that needs to be addressed separately:

    …when you understand that there is only on way in which we COULD use the concept “I could have done otherwise” it entails that is how we DO use the concept, and it does not violate determinism.

    That’s fine, but it’s not free will, it’s just changed determinants.
    “I could have done otherwise” is a meaningful statement under determinism only with the implied qualification “…if the circumstances were different”. It is not true to say “I could have done otherwise under the same circumstances”. Different determinants = different circumstance. The ‘otherwise’ is still entirely constrained by determinants, not free.

    Also, saying “…there is only one way in which we COULD use the concept..” is demonstrably wrong, by the fact that many people use the concept in a different way to what you are proposing.
     
    On to the main argument:

    The choice I’m about to make is just as fixed, just as determined, as the choice I just made previously.

    I’ll continue to set aside randomness since it is not relevant to will, but I’ll just pause to note that the notion of fixed future is problematic in a world where randomness exists. However, continuing under the pure determinism paradigm…
    Yes, under determinism any action we take is predetermined. That is only a problem if we have access to that foreknowledge, which we don’t. Future events only influence our lives if we know what those events are going to be. Otherwise, the situation from our perspective is no different than in an undetermined world. Death is a good example: if you knew that your death was predetermined, but you didn’t know how or when it would happen, how would that be any different for you than having an undetermined death?

    Your wife-on-the-couch’s argument invalid because it is based on the false idea that ‘what-I-am-doing-now’ is the same as ‘what-I-am-about-to-do’. That these are both predetermined does not mandate that they must both be the same. Your attempt to persuade her has already changed the determinants. New determinants can result in a new (yet still predetermined) choice.

    We live in a state of constant change, so our determinants are constantly changing too. Although the ultimate choice may be predetermined, the path to that choice may be neither apparent nor straightforward. On the path to choosing the fish your intent may change multiple times as your determinants fluctuate. That doesn’t mean your eventual decision wasn’t predetermined, just that it didn’t appear so to you (or anybody else). That’s exactly the ‘illusion’ of free will.

    The ‘illusion of choice’ is a little different. I don’t like that term, because choices are objectively real. A choice is a situation with a number of possible actions. To choose is to take one action out of a number of possibilities. When you ordered the fish you made a choice. That’s the fact. You just didn’t make it autonomously. That’s the illusion. You made the choice, but your determinants made you make that particular choice. (Yes, it’s that same free will illusion)

    Computers constantly make choices according to their programming. Do you think computers exercise ‘free will’? (That’s a real question BTW, not rhetorical).

    ____________________
    If you want to convince me that free will can be compatible with determinism, you need to explain to me how ‘free’ makes any sense to describe something that is fully constrained.

    Approaching this issue by arguing that incompatibilism raises problems so your case is better, is like arguing “we haven’t solved the problems with abiogenesis, therefore god is the best explanation’. In effect, you’re trying to make your case by shooting down the opposite case, and then claiming that makes your case for you. It doesn’t.

    (BTW the only incompatibilism problem that you’ve raised so far seems to be that our feelings don’t accord with the idea of no free will, which I don’t consider a problem of any significance)

    Instead of attacking the opposition case, I’m challenging you to make your own case. How is it reasonable to call something ‘free’ when it is entirely constrained?

  92. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    I didn’t read further posts while I was writing that response, so I hadn’t kept up with the development of your argument. Having now read them, I’m going to assume that you will find it very frustrating that I didn’t provide you with an actual script in response to your hypothetical wife-on-the-couch.

    I don’t see why that format is superior to abstract discussion, but it’s clearly important to you, so here is what I might say:

    Dear wife, you are misunderstanding determinism. You ‘cannot do otherwise’ than act in accordance with your determinants, but you have no way of knowing what those determinants are, how they are changing from moment to moment, or what future action they are determining for you. There is simply no way that you can identify that ‘lying on the couch’ is what you are predetermined to do for the next half hour.

    Nor does “I could not do otherwise” mean “I must continue to do this thing”. In any instant you are doing what you are predetermined to do, but that does not mean that what you are predetermined to do does not change from instant to instant. If it didn’t you wouldn’t have laid down on the couch in the first place, would you?

    If your determinants hadn’t changed at all since you lay down it would make some sense to say that you were predetermined to continue doing the same thing, but determinants never remain static. Every instant that passes you get older (please don’t throw that at me, it’s just the truth…), which is a change in your determinants. Here’s another, I’m currently attempting to persuade you to take a walk, which I wasn’t doing when you lay down. It’s silly to claim that you cannot do otherwise than continue to do what you are doing in this current moment. That is not determinism, it’s something else …laziness, perhaps? (ok, alright, yes, I shouldn’t have called you lazy… but you accused me of being incoherent earlier, which was quite hurtful …and wrong..)

    Look wife, it’s not incoherent for me to attempt to persuade you of something. By persuading, I’m becoming one of your determinants. What I’m doing can influence your choice. If it does, it will have done so because it was predetermined to, but just because that influence may be indirect and predetermined does not make my it an incoherent effort. (Yes, yes, I’ve got the ‘incoherence’ thing out of my system now… )

    Of course you can do otherwise than continue to lie on the couch. You can get up and go for a walk. What you choose is going to be the result of your determinants, but that doesn’t mean there is no choice to be made. In fact, you can’t not make choices, because even the choice to not make choices is a choice in itself, and it’s one you’ll have to make again every time you’re faced with a new choice. Whether or not your choices are determined for you (they are…), you are still the one who has to make them, so you may as well make the choice that you think will benefit your life.

    You and I both know that exercise is beneficial to your health, and better health is better for your mood, and a better mood means that you enjoy life more. So instead of deciding that you cannot do otherwise than lie on the couch, why not instead decide that you cannot do otherwise than get up and go for a walk? It’s a better choice for your happiness, and as soon as you make that choice you will be in a new situation that you could not have done otherwise. But, here’s the best bit… it will feel like you made that choice yourself. How fun is that? See, we don’t really need free choice, because the the illusion of free choice gives us the exact same feeling.

    What’s that? You’re going for a walk now, not because I’ve persuaded you, but because you’re sick of being lectured to about determinism? Well, okay then – happy to have been the determining factor. (..see what I did there?)

    (Actually what I’d really say is “Who are you, why are you on my couch, and why are you claiming to be my wife?”)
     
    Vaal, can I offer you a tip? Telling us about what other people do doesn’t advance the debate with us, it just makes your posts even longer. You could save us all time and energy by simply responding directly to what we say.

  93. Vaal says

    paxoll,

    Ok, I can’t get you to answer the question directly so I’m going to move on.

    Thanks.

  94. Vaal says

    Ok, maybe I need to break my reponse in to two parts.

    PT 1

    @RationalismRules,

    Thanks for your new replies. Sorry for my late reply – work is ramping up and I’m not able to reply as quickly as I’d like.

    In effect, you’re trying to make your case by shooting down the opposite case, and then claiming that makes your case for you. It doesn’t.

    Of course not. That’s hardly a fair characterization. If you go back to my responses you’ll see I explicitly acknowledge that compatibilism will require a positive case, and that I was first looking to press at problems in the incompatibilist case before I defend my own stance as answering the problems more coherently.

    “Could Have Done/Could Do Otherwise” is Ground Zero for the Free Will debate. It seems to invoke clashing intuitions which makes it really hard to have a conversation without talking past one another. It’s similar to the Hard Problem of consciousness which seems intuitively obvious to some, but seems a false problem to others.

    That’s why I’m trying to focus the conversation on a very specific issue, using a very specific case to unearth the problems.

    Compatibilists and incompatibilists (of the hard determinist side) both agree that if one means by “I could have done otherwise” is equivalent to “I could have done otherwise if we rewound the tape to the exact same time and state of the universe” then that’s a false claim. It doesn’t make sense.

    The conversation then moves to “CAN it make sense to say ‘I could have done otherwise’ in a determined world?” (And attendant questions like “does it make sense to call any actions or state of affairs “free” in a determines world?)

    At this point typically free will skeptics and compatibilists will part ways. The free will skeptic/hard incompatibiilst will tend to have gone down the same route as the Libertarian free willer: “No, the ONLY way it would make sense to call our actions ‘Free’ or to claim “I could have done otherwise” is in the context of the exact same causal state of affairs. Otherwise, it’s a nonsensical claim.”

    Where compatibilists of course argue it can be a completely sensible claim (and the compatibilist claims the compatibilist account of “could do otherwise” actually captures the important aspects of what people are trying to explain with even libertarian free will theories).

    My claim is that when free will skeptics take that road, rejecting that there is any sense in which we can say it is “true” (no fingers crossed behind out backs!) and informative to say “I could have done otherwise,” then this has untenable results for the coherence of the incompatibilist case if you take this seriously. That’s what I’m focusing on with my questions, drawing out those problems.

    That’s why I first wanted to establish your attitude to the concept of “Could I have done otherwise?” Was there ANY sense in which you could see that claim to be valid or true? Your first answered very clearly in the negative:

    “Under determinism I don’t see how, for any given choice arising at a specific time, this could ever be true, except through randomness. “

    So…”No” it can’t ever make sense to say “I could have done otherwise.”

    But then you seemed to slide a bit on this when you have now answered:

    ““I could have done otherwise” is a meaningful statement under determinism only with the implied qualification “…if the circumstances were different”. It is not true to say “I could have done otherwise under the same circumstances”. Different determinants = different circumstance. The ‘otherwise’ is still entirely constrained by determinants, not free.

    Ok, here you seem to be saying “I could have done otherwise” it CAN be meaningful statement…so long as we are referencing some change in conditions. So…is that your stance? Can it be “true” to say “I could have done otherwise?” if we wiggle the conditions vs insist on referencing only the precise conditions at one point in time?

  95. Vaal says

    @RationalismRules

    So back to drawing out the possible incoherence of your stance with my question about recommending an alternative action to your “wife” on the sofa. As I’ve said numerous times, I’m looking for a specific answer: what you can SAY to the wife in order to give her coherent reasons to do other than she is currently doing. Actual dialogue. It’s been extraordinarily hard to get any incompatibilist to directly answer this challenge because they *think* they are answering when they are not. Any preamble about “we can still give each other reasons to do things on the incompatibilist position” isn’t answering the direct question. It’s like dancing around answering “Can you give the answer to 12 + 12 = ?” and hearing “oh yes, my theory can certainly give such answers. We can talk about math, use math for all sorts of things, no problem at all for my theory!” That’s a bunch of claims dancing around actually demonstrating this person can answer the question.

    So I’m going to ignore the majority of your “response to the wife” which doesn’t answer the question – e.g. about the nature of determinism, your ability to influence choices etc – all red herrings for reasons I’ve already given – and concentrate only on where you skirt with actually trying to give her a reason to do otherwise.

    “Of course you can do otherwise than continue to lie on the couch. You can get up and go for a walk.”

    and…

    “You and I both know that exercise is beneficial to your health, and better health is better for your mood, and a better mood means that you enjoy life more.”

    Great! There you go!

    You have recognized that the ONLY way to actually give your wife a reason to do otherwise is to assume or acknowledge that she COULD DO OTHERWISE.

    This can’t be a trick, a “fingers crossed behind my back” version. It can only act as a cogent reason for her to do otherwise if it is TRUE when you say she could do otherwise. If you are lying, you will be soon found out. You have to stay consistent.

    When your wife, for instance, decides she’ll stay on the sofa and AFTER her decision asks “Could I have done otherwise – gone for a walk?” If you answer: “Naah, actually no. It’s not really true to say you could have done otherwise and gone for a walk. Determinism disallows that claim.”then that is a “fool me once” scenario. The gig is up. She…and we…know you are lying, fingers crossed behind your back ready to take it back, the next time you claim “You can do otherwise” in order to motivate her actions. It would show that, actually, you can NOT give her true, coherent reasons to do otherwise, and are stuck only with dishonesty and trickery. And that’s a mighty deep blow to the character of rational conversation and deliberations.

    So…have we established that we can indeed say it is “true” that someone could do otherwise, and therefore after the choice “could have done otherwise?”

    (Again…NOT in the libertarian/contra-causal sense…that version is off the table).

    If so, we can move on.

    If you still want to stick to it never makes sense to claim we could have done otherwise” then we are still stuck with wheel-spinning incoherence where you can’t give coherent reasons for choosing between alternatives.

  96. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    I apologize for multiple postings between your responses. I don’t want to inundate you, but there is one point that has been niggling away in the back of my mind, which I’d like to clear up.

    In #89 you said:

    I could actually, in principle, go along with you and say we have “free choice.” The problem is, your answers to my question suggest we probably don’t have the same notion of “free choice.” Since you say “the only way to make sense of ‘could I have done otherwise?’ is in the context of precisely the same circumstances….I’m left asking: what could you mean to say that we have “free choice?”

    At the time I thought you had simply misunderstood my position, as I didn’t remember ever saying we have free choice. With the benefit of a bit more processing time, I’ve now identified the problem.
    I don’t assert that we have free choice in any general sense. Free choice is an objective assessment of a situation, not a quality that we possess.

    The choice between chicken and fish on a menu is a free choice (assuming that both options are available etc.) because it is a situation with more than one possible action, and the choice is not constrained or coerced.
    The choice is free in that you and I can choose differently from each other, and you (or I) can make differing choices from moment to moment as our determinants change.

    In that situation we would say that you have a free choice. It’s a statement about the constraints on the choice, not the constraints on you.

    When I say that Compatibilists proposed re-definition of free will is no different from what we currently refer to as free choice, that’s what I’m referring to.
     
    I’m keenly awaiting your response to my points, particularly my conversational response to the hypothetical wife-on-the-couch. 🙂

  97. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    #109

    That’s hardly a fair characterization. If you go back to my responses you’ll see I explicitly acknowledge that compatibilism will require a positive case, and that I was first looking to press at problems in the incompatibilist case before I defend my own stance as answering the problems more coherently.

    Fair point.
     

    The free will skeptic/hard incompatibiilst will tend to have gone down the same route as the Libertarian free willer: “No, the ONLY way it would make sense to call our actions ‘Free’ or to claim “I could have done otherwise” is in the context of the exact same causal state of affairs. Otherwise, it’s a nonsensical claim.”

    I don’t care what compatibilists and incompatibilists tend to argue. I care what you and I are arguing, right here, right now.

    What I have said, repeatedly, is that I do not accept that makes any sense to call anything that is entirely constrained as ‘free’. I am still waiting for you to make the case that it is.

    If you were looking into a prison yard and you saw a prisoner walking around, he might appear to be freely choosing where to walk aka. ‘free walking’ – within the limits of the prison yard, of course (as we all live within the limits of natural laws). But if someone explained to you that there was a burly invisible guard on each side of the prisoner, holding them firmly by the arm and forcing them to walk wherever they wanted, would you still consider the prisoner to be ‘free walking’?

    I’m going to ask you for a direct response to that question please.
     

    The conversation then moves to “CAN it make sense to say ‘I could have done otherwise’ in a determined world?”
    (And attendant questions like “does it make sense to call any actions or state of affairs “free” in a determines world?)

    Not an attendant question, a different question.
    You have repeatedly made a conflation between ‘I could have done otherwise’ and ‘free’. They are NOT equivalent.
    If the corollary is ‘if the circumstances were different’ then “I could have done otherwise” does NOT mean that you are ‘free’ to do otherwise In fact, the implication is that you COULDN’T have done otherwise under those circumstances. That is the opposite of ‘free’. If what you do is entirely determined by the circumstances, then a change in circumstance is not you being ‘free to do otherwise’, it is determining that you MUST do otherwise.
     

    My claim is that when free will skeptics take that road, rejecting that there is any sense in which we can say it is “true” (no fingers crossed behind out backs!) and informative to say “I could have done otherwise,” then this has untenable results for the coherence of the incompatibilist case if you take this seriously. That’s what I’m focusing on with my questions, drawing out those problems.

    I have not seen these ‘untenable problems’ arise from anything we’ve discussed. Instead of trying to draw them out, could you perhaps state them, so we can get on with discussing them?

    As I said, the Socratic approach is fine by me, but it doesn’t appear to be getting you to where you want to go. The Socratic response to that observation would be to consider that your expected path might be the problem, rather than the responses. Are you considering that?
     

    Your first answered very clearly in the negative:
    “Under determinism I don’t see how, for any given choice arising at a specific time, this could ever be true, except through randomness. “

    So…”No” it can’t ever make sense to say “I could have done otherwise.”

    But then you seemed to slide a bit on this when you have now answered:

    ““I could have done otherwise” is a meaningful statement under determinism only with the implied qualification “…if the circumstances were different”. It is not true to say “I could have done otherwise under the same circumstances”. Different determinants = different circumstance. The ‘otherwise’ is still entirely constrained by determinants, not free.

    Of course not. That’s hardly a fair characterization.

    I clearly state in the first quote “..for any given choice arising at a specific time”. A given choice arising at a specific time is a specific circumstance, with a specific set of determinants (or ‘causal state of affairs’, if you prefer). I did not say that “I could have done otherwise” could not be true under changing circumstances.

    The second statement is entirely in accordance with the first. In fact, you can find a rephrasing of the first statement in these words from the second statement: “It is not true to say “I could have done otherwise under the same circumstances””.

    There is no sliding. The statements are fully consistent.
     
    _____________
    #110

    So I’m going to ignore the majority of your “response to the wife” which doesn’t answer the question – e.g. about the nature of determinism, your ability to influence choices etc – all red herrings for reasons I’ve already given – and concentrate only on where you skirt with actually trying to give her a reason to do otherwise.

    Stop right there mister. Her statement/question is incoherent. The only way to respond to an incoherent question is to point out where the question is flawed.

    You do not get to demand that we answer an incoherent question as though it were coherent. You do not get to put up a flawed scenario and insist that we respond to it without addressing the flaws. You do not get to require that we only offer reasons that fit within an unreasonable and unreasoned frame of reference.

    If you don’t want to us to address determinism, then don’t ask a question that purports to result from determinism and yet completely misunderstands and misrepresents determinism.

    Stop telling us that we’re not responding properly to your scenario and fix the effing scenario, would ya?
     

    You have recognized that the ONLY way to actually give your wife a reason to do otherwise is to assume or acknowledge that she COULD DO OTHERWISE.

    So what? That’s not because she’s ‘free’ from determinants. It’s because the determinants change.
     
    Your entire argument seems to be built on this false premise that ‘could do otherwise’ = free will. It doesn’t, as I’ve explained at length.

    No matter how many times you argue ‘could do otherwise’, you’re still not making a case for labeling our entirely constrained behavior as ‘free’.
     

    If you still want to stick to it never makes sense to claim we could have done otherwise” then we are still stuck with wheel-spinning incoherence where you can’t give coherent reasons for choosing between alternatives.

    Not possible for me to ‘stick to’ a position I never held. Every time I’ve addressed this I have made it clear that my response carries the qualifier ‘under the same circumstances’. As long as you keep leaving off that critically important qualification you will keep misunderstanding my position. I can’t help you out of your wheel-spinning if you keep pouring oil under the tires.

    Also, I gave you a shedload of coherent reasons for choosing between alternatives in my couch-wife dialogue, which you chose to ‘disqualify’ because they didn’t conform to the incoherent frame of reference that you had set up. The fact that they don’t fit your desired narrative doesn’t make them incoherent, it just makes them inconvenient.
     
    I’ve answered many many of your questions on this issue. Time for you to answer some:
    – Do you believe that we can ever ‘do otherwise’ without our determinants changing?
       – If yes, please explain how this is compatible with determinism.
       – If no, please explain how being compelled to do something different than another thing you were compelled to do can be considered ‘free’.

    Also, an unanswered question from a previous post:
    – Do you consider that computers are exercising ‘free will’ when they make choices according to their programming? Keep in mind, they ‘could do otherwise’ if their programming changes.

    _____________________
    I am enjoying this conversation, although I am finding it frustrating at times. You seem so focused on persuading me to a point of view that you just don’t respond to points that are problematic to that point of view. I’ve asked the ‘free’ question about a half dozen times now, I think, and you’ve ignored it every time. I don’t believe I’ve ignored or skirted around any of your direct questions. If I have, please bring it to my attention so I can rectify it.

    The reason I engage in these conversations is because I learn from them. In fact, my position on free will was changed through exactly this kind of conversation, with EnlightenmentLiberal and others, a few years back. But there’s no way that would have happened if I just ignored their difficult questions.

    _____________
    Just a thought on posts not coming through. The most likely reason is that you either misspelled your name or used a different email address. Both of those would label you a ‘new poster’ which awaits moderator approval.

    If you put more than three links in a post, it will also be held back, but I don’t see any links in your new posts, so I assume that isn’t the problem.

  98. RationalismRules says

    @paxoll #112
    It is just a semantic argument, but I think it’s an important one. The abrahamic religions are indelibly linked to the original concept of free will, as is any notion of heavenly reward vs. hellish punishment. I think the fact that we now think that concept of free will doesn’t actually exist, is an incredibly powerful weapon against religion. Instead of watering down the term to bring it back into existence, I think we should be loudly telling everyone that this foundational concept of religion is complete bollocks!

    BTW, you made good points. That’s not a waste of time.

  99. paxoll says

    RR, Sadly I don’t think it is a “weapon against religion”, as in christians already have a robust cognitive dissonance going on. They already believe God knows everything including the future, which is determinism, and yet still believe in free will, still believe that God has justification to punish people for doing what he knew they would do as soon as the earth was “created”. Maybe we can get the hosts of TAE to use the argument from free will against christians for a while so we can watch them rationalize.

  100. says

    What bothers me about this episode is the hypocrisy.

    All three of these people can spot Creationist fallacies a mile away. And Matt would never let a Creationist get by with attempting to use philosophy in place of science to support a Creationist claim. Yet, these three gleefully try to substitute philosophy in place of science on the topic of free-will. You have almost identical argument from ignorance, argument from incredulity, false dichotomy, and argument from authority. If just one of them was doing it then I suppose it could be a mistake, but how in the world do all three of them fail to recognize it? The sad truth is that when people with biases get together with like-minded people they mistakenly view their shared beliefs as confirmation rather than a problem. The three of them are all profoundly ignorant on this topic and yet they talk as though they actually know something or understand something. This is exactly what you see with Flat-Earthers, Moon-hoaxers, or Creationists where they don’t know basic science, but talk as though science backs up their claims. I guess this shows that it is possible for otherwise intelligent people to believe pure nonsense and feel good about it.

  101. Vaal says

    RationalismRules,

    Couple things:

    1. I understand why you want me to answer questions you’ve asked. And believe me it’s hard to resist answering. But answering your challenges to me would start a simultaneous debate over compatibilism. And that will take a whole buncha new text. It’s like when an atheist argues the Euthyphro Dilemma to the theist. The atheist isn’t bound to simultaneously argue for and demonstrate his own moral theory. The point of the Euthyphro are the problems it raises for the theist’s position. Better to stick to whether the Euthyphro poses to problems to theistic morality as the main subject. The atheist’s morality can be another debate. If the theist demands the atheist produce a materialist account for morality, well, he can do that. But it’s not answering the question of whether the theist has wriggled out of the Euthyphro problem.

    That’s the stand point I’m taking at the moment, essentially throwing a “Euthyphro dilemma” at your incompatibilism and seeing whether you can produce coherent ways out of it. The case for compatibilism needn’t be made at this point, in order for that debate to happen. If you find it too frustrating to stick to defending your own position, I can stop challenging it if you’d like.

    2. It seems no matter how clearly I try to state a point, you seem to read things that aren’t there, ascribing to me “mistakes” which I have been very clear not to make.

    Example:

    Not an attendant question, a different question. You have repeatedly made a conflation between ‘I could have done otherwise’ and ‘free’. They are NOT equivalent.

    Er…yes, I very specifically stated it was a different question. “Attendant” does not mean “the same” it is used in the sense of “accompanying” as in “this question will be ONE of those that accompany the free will debate.” It is precisely because they are separate questions that I have kept them separate! We need to keep separate the question of “could we have done otherwise” and “does it make sense to call X scenario ‘free'” (and does that type of “freedom” capture what people mean/want in the concept of “Free Will?”). As I said, the question of “Could I do/have done otherwise?” is a question central to the free will debate, as all sides recognize that it is NECESSARY to be answer “yes” in order for a choice to be ‘free.’ (And the debate becomes over what we could MEAN by “could I have done otherwise?” where incompatibilists like yourself tend to presume one theory in a question-begging fashion). The fact that “I could have done otherwise” is NECESSARY to free will does not mean, in the context of the free will debate, that it is fully SUFFICIENT for free will. That needs to be debated, which is why I carefully separate out these issues.

    I have been at pains in my posts to separate OUT those questions…explicitly…and the fact you could read what I’ve written and conclude I’ve conflated them leaves me baffled, and wondering what I could possibly do to make it clearer. (Just as you mistook me for arguing as if compatibiism wins by default, which I explicitly stated was not the case).

    That out of the way….a reply will be coming today.

  102. Vaal says

    Re “could have done otherwise.

    “I clearly state in the first quote “..for any given choice arising at a specific time”. A given choice arising at a specific time is a specific circumstance, with a specific set of determinants (or ‘causal state of affairs’, if you prefer). I did not say that “I could have done otherwise” could not be true under changing circumstances.

    The second statement is entirely in accordance with the first. In fact, you can find a rephrasing of the first statement in these words from the second statement: “It is not true to say “I could have done otherwise under the same circumstances””.

    There is no sliding. The statements are fully consistent.”

    Yes there was sliding.

    Given what I have actually been asking, your statements have been inconsistent. And it’s hard to move forward if your position is stated in a confused manner.

    I’ll try again to make it clear:

    Compatibilists and Hard Determinists/Free Will skeptics (e.g. yourself) have always agreed that a contra-causal Libertarian notion of free will is false if not incoherent. That is, we START OFF on the agreement that would be FALSE to say “I could have done otherwise” in the sense of “rewinding the tape to exactly the same time/with the precise preceding causal state of the universe.” That’s absurd, impossible. It’s off the table.

    My very first post made clear that such Libertarian theories of freedom are bad theories and I have clarified that THAT form of “I could have done otherwise” isn’t acceptable.

    THAT BEING GIVEN AS THE CASE…

    The questions I keep raising is, even if THAT form of “I could have done otherwise” is false, is there any OTHER context of “I could have done otherwise” that could be TRUE? Is there any conception of “could have done otherwise” that we can make sense of and employ IN THE CONTEXT of our being as fully determined as any other physical object.?

    As I’ve argued:

    1. IF you think that we can or do have useful and TRUE concepts of “could do otherwise” in a determined context, then let’s explore that and see what you mean. What would we mean in a deterministic context when we ask “could I have done otherwise?”

    But, IN CONTRAST to the above, your position instead is that:

    2. There IS NO OTHER useful context under which to ask “could I have done otherwise?” other than to MEAN “if we rewound the tape-type otherwise” then THAT stance has some problematic consequences, and lets discuss those.

    That’s why I posed such specific, careful questions to you, more than once. So for instance you answered:

    Vaal: My question remains open: Do you really think it makes sense to ask “could I have done differently at precicely X moment given the same causal state of the universe?”

    RationalismRules: Yes, in fact it’s the only way that question makes sense: if the circumstances remain the same. Otherwise all you’re asking is “if things were different, could things have been different?” What is the value in that?

    So when you tell me “that’s the only way the question ‘could I have done otherwise’ makes sense” that very obviously rules out that it makes sense SOME OTHER WAY. I was just taking you at your word, as answering the question I was actually asking.

    But later, you started to admit of other ways the question can be meaningful. So I’m quite at rights to point out that to do so is to be inconsistent, or at the very least confused about what I’ve been asking you.

    (I’d like to ask you about your use of the word ‘free’ in your comments but…I’m going to bite my lip and try to keep focused on ‘could do otherwise’ first).

    Stop telling us that we’re not responding properly to your scenario and fix the effing scenario, would ya?

    Not a flawed scenario.

    The “wife” challenge is to discover what position you are going to be consistent with: IF you are consistent with a position “there is no true sense in which we can say we could have done otherwise” (because “could do otherwise” inherently demands some contra-causal magical power), THEN we can see if you can actually give a coherent reason for an alternative action to someone. How do you give reasons for someone to do the impossible (“do otherwise” than she is doing)?

    But what happens…what ALWAYS happens when someone FINALLY gets around to stating what they would say to the wife…is that you CAN NOT stick to that definition of “could have done otherwise.” If you do, you are incoherent, which is why you ended up admitting you’d say “of course you can do otherwise…go for a walk.”

    Now IF as you have just “reminded” me “Every time I’ve addressed this I have made it clear that my response carries the qualifier ‘under the same circumstances’. “

    Well then you are being incoherent. If the context of telling your wife “You COULD DO OTHERWISE and go for a walk” is in the context of “UNDER THE SAME CIRCUMSTANCES” then you’ve already ruled THAT type of ‘could do otherwise’ as impossible.
    Your recommendation is incoherent.

    You keep doing this shuffling between these positions, confusing them, and that’s largely because you have this intuition that ‘ could do otherwise’ automatically entails some “being free from determinants’ (e.g. contra-causal). So even when I put that off the table – no one is free from determinants, that’s not part of any clam here, you can’t help bringing that assumption back in, missing the point.

    So what? That’s not because she’s ‘free’ from determinants. It’s because the determinants change.

    No one is SAYING she’s free from determinism! That’s already established! Determinism is ASSUMED in my questions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And I haven’t assumed “could do otherwise = free will,” only that it is an important and central question to answer in the free will debate! (Not the ONLY one!). It gets us on the road to whether compatibilism or incompatibilism makes more sense. It’s not the full discussion, but it is VITAL to it. I am not invoking the word “FREE” yet because we should START with on component, “could we have done otherwise?” and work our way there.

    So, again, as clearly as possible:

    We AGREE that contra-causal versions of “Could have done otherwise” are off the table. Impossible.

    The question is “is there some OTHER conception of “could do otherwise” that could still be true and useful (not JUST useful, but true!), within the context of determinism?

    So when you said to your wife:

    “Of course you can do otherwise than continue to lie on the couch. You can get up and go for a walk.”

    What did you MEAN? This logically equates to “it is possible for her to do otherwise” and therefore what do you MEAN by “it is possible for her to do otherwise?” E.g. that it’s possible she could INSTEAD go for a walk? Can you please make sense of your version of “possible to do otherwise” within the context of determinism?

    And if you still ask that I consider all your answers to assume “under the SAME circumstances” you’ll need to make sense of that too.

    Cheers.

  103. Robink says

    “is there any OTHER context of “I could have done otherwise” that could be TRUE?”

    Yes… in the context where the determinants are different, which is what RR keeps reiterating. Once you’ve given someone a reason to do something you’ve changed the scenario. Literally just saying the words “you could do otherwise” is a change in determinants. Your question has been answered. The problem from my outside view of this discussion is that you keep claiming this creates a problem in rational thinking when I personally can’t see any has been demonstrated to exist. Am I missing something?

    Perhaps it would help if you clarified your position on the matter. In what way do you evisage people “could do otherwise” in a determined universe, because this could just be a disagreement over definitions.

  104. Robink says

    To clarify, I do think “free will” is a useful concept in a practical sense. If your wife “chooses” to continue sitting on the couch she was “free” to do otherwise in the sense that there were no personal, political, religious etc… reasons why she couldn’t. I think this is what Matt was talking about when he said the distinction is only useful when discussing agency and assigning blame. It’s just not referencing the same idea of free will being discussed above and why I think this is (and always turns out to be) just an argument over definitions.

  105. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Regarding free will.
    I’m borrowing a lot from Dan Dennett in this reply. If you want to see Dan Dennett at his best, check out this very long, and perhaps dry, lecture.
    https://youtu.be/uxup7sxIUmg

    For my part, I agree with Dennett that the really interesting point underlying this whole discussion is moral accountability. As Dennett says, the best introduction and summary of this moral “problem” and discussion is the following Dilbert cartoon. It’s a perfect distillation of the problem.
    https://dilbert.com/strip/1993-05-30

    For my part, I think that the real problem is not whether we have “free will”, however you want to define that. The problem problem is when is it appropriate to hold someone responsible for their actions, and either punish them for bad choices or reward them for good choices? That’s what the Dilbert cartoon gets at, and I suspect that’s a large portion of the worry of most people who worry about whether we have free will. (Maybe not, but let’s go with it for now.)

    It’s in this context that what I’m about to say makes sense. IMO, people who are not compatibilists make one fundamental mistake: they believe that if a “choice” was determined ala determinism, then it wasn’t a choice at all. That is the mistake. I think the reverse is true. I think that the only true choices are the choices that are determined. To lead you to my way of thinking, consider what I wrote above – that this is all about when someone should be held responsible for their choices. We don’t punish someone for accidents (usually), and we don’t praise someone for accidents either. Instead, we punish someone and praise someone to the highest extent when the person made a choice, consciously, with preparation and foreplanning, and when the choice was not “in the heat of the moment”, and when the choice was born out as a consequence of their character, and when the person knew the consequences of their choice.

    To repeat myself, “real” choices are the choices which are chosen by forethought, planning, deliberation, cost-benefit analysis, rational analysis, and all of those words are just ways of describing what it means to be deterministic. Not only is free will compatible with determinism (see compatibilism), I would make the stronger statement that the only way that you could have free will at all is in a universe with a strong element of determinism, such as the universe that we found ourselves in, where most things happen according to predictable models, including the behavior of every person.

    The mistake is thinking that “choosing” is anything other than a deterministic, algorithmic process.

  106. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    I am partway through writing a full response, but I need something clarified.

    You said:

    The fact that “I could have done otherwise” is NECESSARY to free will does not mean, in the context of the free will debate, that it is fully SUFFICIENT for free will.

    This made me realize I am not clear on what you mean by “done”. It usually a term of action, but will and action are not synonymous. It is possible to have the will to take an action without being able to implement that action. Which would mean that “I could have done otherwise” is not in fact Necessary to free will.

    It seems to me this can’t be the meaning you intend, but I don’t want to make assumptions as to what you mean when you’ve said something I find unclear, as this has caused a number of problems already.

    So can you please explain: in “I could have done otherwise”, what exactly does “done” mean to you?

    I’ll wait for your response before finishing my own, as that statement seems to be embedded in just about every discussion.

  107. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    You know what, don’t worry about clarifying “done”, because I think at this point I’m “done”.

    I’ve spent literally hours trying to parse your post, and I just repeatedly ended up with my head in my hands asking “What the fuck is he trying to say?”

    It’s clear that I’m repeatedly failing to understand the ‘big’ questions you’re trying to ask, because the answers I’m giving aren’t satisfying you, and to be honest the way you express those questions and concepts is so indirect and convoluted that it leaves me baffled as to what you’re actually trying to ask.

    The fact that you refuse to answer any of my questions isn’t helping either.

    Your insistence on ‘drawing out’ what you want to get doesn’t seem to have worked for you with any of us. You keep telling us that we’re not answering your questions, but you might want to consider that your questions may not be as well-formed as you seem to think they are. Better still, try a more direct approach next time.

    Cheers,

  108. Vaal says

    Ok RationalismRules, no problem.

    The reason I have taken the approach I did here was due to a great many previous debates on this subject, and knowing the ways the debate tends to go off the rails, where many different propositions are being defended at once. That’s why I wished to stick strictly to a very narrow point in the discussion. From my vantage point this was successful as I think I drew out some of the incoherence of the free will skeptic stance (naturally you disagree – and I wasn’t looking for a “gocha” but rather I really have been trying to understand your position). But it may not have “worked” in getting you towards a point where it made sense for me to defend compatibilism. Maybe giving my take would have clarified things better. (Though…it seems no matter what approach is taken, compatibilists and incompatibilists seem to talk past one another, which is why I think much of this happens due to some deeper seated intuitions and assumptions ).

    So can you please explain: in “I could have done otherwise”, what exactly does “done” mean to you?

    I guess here is where I’ll abandon, as you put it, a Socratic-questioning approach and begin to give my own take. Hopefully that will clarify things for you. I wouldn’t like to leave this as something that felt fruitless from your side. Before I do, I’m going to respond to Robink. My response will be pertinent to what we’ve been discussing so you may wish to have a look at it.

    BTW, are you the same person as “Rationality Rules” who appeared on this atheist experience episode? (This is how clueless I am that I have to ask, but since your screen name isn’t the same as the one mentioned along with the video, “RationalismRules” could be someone else with a similar screen name). If you are Rationality Rules, I want to congratulate and thank you on doing such a great job, and making it one of the best Atheist Experience shows I’ve seen! I was unaware of your other work, and now I’ll check it out.

  109. Vaal says

    Whoops, just noticed your other comment saying you are “done.”

    Maybe it’s best I don’t reply?

  110. Vaal says

    @Robink

    Thanks for your comment.

    Vaal: “is there any OTHER context of “I could have done otherwise” that could be TRUE?”

    Robink: Yes… in the context where the determinants are different, which is what RR keeps reiterating. Once you’ve given someone a reason to do something you’ve changed the scenario. Literally just saying the words “you could do otherwise” is a change in determinants. Your question has been answered. The problem from my outside view of this discussion is that you keep claiming this creates a problem in rational thinking when I personally can’t see any has been demonstrated to exist. Am I missing something?

    Continually repeating that “the determinants are different” simply does not answer the question and challenge I’ve posed. And saying “Once you’ve given someone a reason to do something you’ve changed the scenario” doesn’t answer whether you have given them a GOOD reason – that is a rational, coherent reason vs an incoherent BAD reason.

    When I keep pointing this out to free will skeptics making the type of arguments I’ve encountered here (and elsewhere) they sometimes start to feel indignant: What? I just said a whole bunch of things about changing determinants in answer to your question! How dare you say I haven’t answered your question!”

    Well, they have given an “answer.” But it hasn’t answered the question, it’s a total red-herring. And I have already given the argument earlier in this thread as to why that’s the case earlier on. But, I’ll give it again.

    Here’s an analogy (for “not answering the point of the question asked):

    Take the case of the atheist arguing to a Christian that God must bear moral culpability for creating a sinful human nature, that resulted in The Fall. The atheist is tracing the causal chain back to God as the only way to explain why Eve (and Adam) chose to eat the fruit. The Christian wants to firewall off God’s culpability with “Human Free Will.” Trying to get Christians to see how this is a non-answer is extremely difficult. So I’ll ask the question very carefully:

    Can you explain WHY Eve chose to disobey God and eat the fruit? WHY she made that particular decision?

    Christian: Because She had Free Will! Free will is an essential part of the Christian story! If God didn’t give people Free Will then they would only be robots or puppets, and Free Will is necessary for ‘real love’ to occur, and for morally relevant chioces to occur, and you can’t have ‘real good’ without the possibility of evil choices and…and…and….'”

    What’s the obvious problem there? The Christian can go on and on telling me about the nature of Free Will without EVER answering the actual point of the question.

    The question ASSUMED that Eve had free will to begin with! That is, that God gave her the freedom to choose as she wishes.
    Therefore to respond to a question: “WHY did Eve choose to sin?” with the response “Because she had Free Will” is no more than to responde “Because Eve was given the ability to make such choices.” Well…yes…obviously. But the question wasn’t “could Eve have chosen otherwise” the question was “WHY did Eve make the choice she did?”

    Talking about the nature of free will in the abstract is just dancing around actually answering the point of the question. It’s only when you can FINALLY get a Christian to speak directly to what was being asked, that the problems become vivid. (E.g. it will only make sense to explain Eve’s actions by some appeal to her nature, and then who was the author of human nature?)

    The same thing is happening here when I ask the free will skeptic “WHAT direct REASONS can you give to someone for them to do otherwise, that are coherent with the stance ‘we could not have done/could not do otherwise?”

    This is a question that must be answered directly because it is a question about internal coherence OF THE REASONS THEMSELVES that you can give someone – e.g. the wife.

    Not answering the question directly – that is not coming up with the actual words you can say to someone to give them that reason – and talking abstractly about “changes in determinants” is simply missing the challenge in the same way the Christian does by thinking “I can talk about general nature of Free will” without putting it in to practice, actually answering the point of the question and seeing how things shake out.

    As far as I can see, RationalismRules, and you, are giving by far the most common incompatibilist reply to my challenge. Which is essentially “Look, we ourselves, our actions and words, act in the world to change courses of action. If I make an argument or suggestion to you the introduction of my suggestion/argument is a new ‘change of the determinants’ and it can influence your actions. Given our arguments can be part of the determinant chain in the actions of others, THEREFORE I’ve made sense of having given you a reason to do something.”

    But that is a non-sequitur. It’s precisely the same red-herring as the Christian’s “Free Will…THERE I’ve explained things!”

    Why? Because stating that “determinants change” when someone makes a suggestion or argument, that it can influence the behavior and decisions of others….is an OBVIOUS truism that we all know, and which is already an ASSUMPTION in the challenge!

    Of course what you say to me can influence me – change the determinant situation.

    The question isn’t whether you can influence someone, but if you can influence them WITH GOOD REASONING RATHER THAN BAD REASONING. Good arguments vs bad arguments.

    The world is filled with people “changing the determinants” and influencing people via bad arguments as well as good arguments. When Ray Comfort shows up with his Banana and other bad arguments, it adds a new determinant (or ‘changes the determinants’) and can influence the ideas or behaviors of people who fall for crap arguments. Same with flat earthers “altering the determinants’ by producing flat earther videos. We atheist continually rail against religion because it gives BAD arguments – viciously circular, inconsistent, unsound, self-contradictory etc – for altering behaviors.

    We obvious care about Good Arguments vs Bad arguments, for obvious reasons.

    And that requires looking in to the exact reasons someone is giving at any point to see if they contain, for instance, inconsistencies or contradictions, which would disbar them as being “Good Coherent Reasons” for accepting whatever suggestion or proposition they are claiming.

    When a free will skeptic says “Well, I can just suggest the wife goes for a walk and that in itself alters the determinants” the reasonable response is “So what? Ray Comfort can tell your wife that she should believe in God because…bananas!” He can say “I’ve just given an argument, hence introduced new determinants.” Or “Fred” could show up and say to the wife: “Look, Trump is the president now, THEREFORE you could go for a walk instead of watching TV.” Or “Susan” can show up and say to the wife “Because you are being held by an invisible tractor beam to your sofa impossible for you to resist, you should get up and go for a walk.”

    ALL of those scenarios and countless more “introduce new determinants” and could in principle influence someone’s decision. But of course the RIGHT QUESTION TO BE ASKING is “do any of those ‘new determinants’ – those arguments or suggestions – provide actually GOOD COHERENT REASONS for the wife to ‘do otherwise’ and go for a walk? That’s why the question concerns the internal consistency anyone is bringing to their suggestion. Not merely whether they can spout some sounds that may influence someone.

    Therefore, this is why I have continually asked for very direct answers aimed at the internal consistency of the person giving the suggestion: GIVEN your hard deterministic stance what exactly can you say to the wife that gives good, coherent reasons to do otherwise than she is doing and go for a walk?

    IF the incompatibilist starts from the position “It is never true to say we could have done otherwise” then, GIVEN THAT assumption, trying to recommend someone do otherwise is going to run up against an internal inconsistency. You would be recommending to someone something – ‘do otherwise’ – which your own position renders impossible to do. “But…my saying the words is a new determinant which could change her mind…” is completely beside the point of whether you have given coherent reasons for her actions. It doesn’t unravel the internal inconsistency. And the effects of this incoherence really runs deep to dissolving rationality at almost every turn – it becomes literally self-refuting – if we don’t care about internal consistency, willing to sacrifice it for some other proposition we cling to, why would anyone accept what an incompatibilist is arguing in the first place?

    IF on the other hand, the incompatibilist is willing to say “Ok, some contra-causal version of ‘could do otherwise’ is off the table, but I have a way of making ‘could do otherwise’ to be COMPATIBLE with determinism, hence I can truthfully and coherently recommend someone ‘do otherwise’ then that’s a way out of the problem. But then, how does the incompatibilist actually make recommendations to “do otherwise” compatible with determinsim…without ending up ratifying important claims of the compatibilist?

    And once you admit “we can say it’s true that you could do otherwise” to get out of incoherence in our recommendations, the compatibilist will point out that the very same logic allows us to say ‘you could have done otherwise’ in a way that is truthful and consistent with determinism.

    Is this clear now, I hope, even if you don’t agree?

    Cheers.

  111. Robink says

    Ok..

    so my understanding from all that is the question you’re really asking is not “what would you say to your wife?” (as we agree it could be an endless list of things which may not have any bearing on Free Will) but more specifically “could you give your wife a reason to get off the couch that allows her to act in a way that isn’t deterministic?”, and the answer to *that* question is simply “no”. From there you see an inconsistency with the fact that anything determinists say that implies she has the option to do differently is incompatible with the fact that she really can’t.

    I understand the dilemma you’re trying to present… I just don’t actually think it’s a dilemma. It relies on the false dichotomy between Free Will and not being able to make choices which I think EnlightmentLiberal eloquently argues against. I suppose in that sense I’m a “compatibilist” too and that’s why I’m curious about your own world view because I think this debate isn’t really philosophical so much as definitional. In what way do YOU think people have the ability to make choices that are compatible with determinism? Because when I say that someone “could have done differently” I really mean “I can’t see anything that would have actively prevented you from doing otherwise” not “through the power of your will you could control the underlying causal chain of the universe”.

    In short I find the concept of Free Will implies something very few if any people actually believe and noone can rationally defend and therefore is only relevant in specific contexts and even then leads to a whole lot of confusion and people should probably just use the terms they’re actually talking about!

  112. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal
    I woke up this morning with a blinding flash of comprehension (I think).

    I’m not going to keep going down this path with you, because the path itself is tedious and you are not a good guide (sorry, but I find you incredibly hard to understand). I believe I have caught sight of the end of the path, and if we can bypass the tedium by teleporting directly there I may have reason to continue.

    You are trying to make a two-part point:
    a. if we insist that ‘I could have done otherwise’ is only true if considered in strict deterministic terms, then to use it in a colloquial sense in real-world situations would be inconsistent.
    b. the colloquial sense is important in how we live our lives.
    Am I seeing the end of the path?

    So, firing up the teleporter…
    a. Yes, I accept that it would be inconsistent. We use language inconsistently all the time. ‘Theory’ is an example that everyone on this board will be familiar with.
    b. Yes, I accept that the colloquial sense is useful in our lives. It’s not absolutely necessary, but since we don’t live our lives in constant consideration of determinism it’s useful to interact with the world as though we are autonomous, even if we are not.

    I’m tempted to skip even further ahead and point out that arguing for colloquial usage does not make the case for compatibilism unless the philosophical concept is defined to match the colloquial sense. Which is presumably what you are going to argue for if we ever get to that point. To which my response would be: why do that? We’re perfectly comfortable with colloquial usage differing from philosophical or scientific terminology with other terms, and it seems to me that accuracy and non-duplication of terminology is more important to philosophy than being in accordance with colloquial usage.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’re happy to join me at this further point that would be awesome, but if not can we at least skip to the end of the path, and move on from there?

  113. Vaal says

    RationalismRules

    Just dropping in to say: sure we can skip to that point. I’d prefer the conversation makes sense to you, rather than leaving you scratching your head. I’ll address what you wrote, and give some more positive claims on my end which will (I hope) make the context of where I’ve been going clear.

    BTW…still curious… am I talking to “Rationality Rules” from the podcast?

    (I’m also wondering if you accept the argument I gave earlier, e.g. the one I just gave to Robink, for why your appeal to “determinants have changed” just don’t answer the problem I’m isolating, which concerns the internal consistency of what the hard determinist can actually *can say* to a person when recommending ‘alternative’ actions).

    Back soon, I hope.

  114. Vaal says

    @Robink

    but more specifically “could you give your wife a reason to get off the couch that allows her to act in a way that isn’t deterministic?”,

    With respect, that’s a confusing way to put what I’m asking. Determinism is assumed. Therefore however she acts is going to be deterministic. The question therefore is what follows from determinism concerning how we could, or do, reason about “possible actions.” If you think determinism disbars making truth claims about alternative possibilities including “could do/can do otherwise” then you get the coherence problem I’m raising when trying to give people reasons to do otherwise.

    What I’ve asked is more clear: “Within the context of the stance you have taken on determinism/free will – Could you give the wife a coherent reason to to get off the sofa – ? ”

    and the answer to *that* question is simply “no”. From there you see an inconsistency with the fact that anything determinists say that implies she has the option to do differently is incompatible with the fact that she really can’t.

    Yes, that is more like it.

    I understand the dilemma you’re trying to present… I just don’t actually think it’s a dilemma.

    Cool, then we agree. As a compatibilist I don’t see it as a dilemma either. If you think along compatibilist lines, as I infer you are doing, then…the dilemma I posed is not for you 😉

    It’s the hard determinist/free will skeptics that have the dilemma. They can’t really bring themselves to say “It’s possible to do otherwise” without, it seems, thinking they’ve given away the farm. So they are stuck reasoning in circles around the problem without solving it.

  115. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal

    I’m also wondering if you accept the argument I gave earlier…for why your appeal to “determinants have changed” just don’t answer the problem I’m isolating

    My appeal to determinants didn’t answer the problem you were attempting to isolate, but it did answer the questions you were asking. If you want to get the answers you’re looking for, you’ve got to ask clear questions, not ambiguous questions surrounded by walls of words. Walls of words do not aid comprehension, they hinder it.

    I did wonder whether I was just being obtuse, but from the fact that others were also misunderstanding, apparently in the same way I was, it’s pretty clear that the problem lies in how you’re presenting the issue.
     
    To take the Eve scenario:

    So I’ll ask the question very carefully:
    Can you explain WHY Eve chose to disobey God and eat the fruit? WHY she made that particular decision?

    You’ve very carefully asked an ambiguous question.
     

    What’s the obvious problem there? The Christian can go on and on telling me about the nature of Free Will without EVER answering the actual point of the question.

    Yes, because you haven’t made the actual point of the question clear in the question.
     

    The question ASSUMED that Eve had free will to begin with! That is, that God gave her the freedom to choose as she wishes.

    No, YOU assumed that. The question doesn’t rule it out as a response.
     
    If you’re trying to get to Eve’s reasoning behind her decision, then ask for that: “What was her reason for making that decision?”

    If you’re trying to get to Eve’s character, then ask for that: “Was was it about Eve that led her to disobey God?”

    If you’re trying to get to the circumstances, then ask for that: “What happened that made Eve disobey God?”

    I doubt any of those are likely to get the ‘free will’ response, but if you want to eliminate the possibility entirely then put it in the question: “Why do you think she chose to exercise her free will in that way, to make that particular decision?”
    Or, to be even more explicit:
    “If free will was the reason Eve was able to disobey god, why do you think she chose to exercise her free will in that way, to make that particular decision?”

    When you say “I’ve already assumed free will, now WHY did Eve…?”, the respondent is as likely as not sitting there thinking “If he’s assumed the answer, why is he asking the question again?”
     
    In the couch-potato scenario, couldn’t you have simply asked “Can you give your friend a reason to get off the couch without appealing to determinism?” Isn’t that all you were looking for?
     
    _____________
    You said in an earlier post something along the lines of: “..I’m left wondering how I could have been clearer”.
    I have some general thoughts on clarity I can offer you, but only if you want them.
     
    _____________
    I’m not Rationality Rules. Our similar handles are just a coincidence. Well, not just.. it seems we both value clear thinking and wordplay.

  116. Vaal says

    @RationalismRules

    b. the colloquial sense is important in how we live our lives.
    Am I seeing the end of the path?

    Essentially, yes (though that’s not the complete end of the path).

    a. Yes, I accept that it would be inconsistent. We use language inconsistently all the time. ‘Theory’ is an example that everyone on this board will be familiar with.

    Unfortunately, that breezily dismisses the true depth of the problem. And the example of “Theory” is not analogous. The colloquial use of the term “theory” actually refers to real things – e.g. “hunches, suppositions” or similar. Where the scientific term refers to something else. Both are therefore useful and valid. But when someone *conflate* the colloquial meaning with the scientific meaning, then we correct them, right? Why? Because to reason is to seek consistency and coherency. To mix up the colloquial meaning for the scientific meaning creates true problems for a consistent understanding of the world.

    The problem I’m pointing out for the hard determinist is a true internal inconsistency problem that results in incoherence that spreads deeply in to our reasoning lives. It won’t do to say “Ah…well…so I’m inconsistent here. Aren’t we all inconsistent now and again?” Well, if that’s a ‘out’ anyone can carry in his back pocket, why do we bother trying to reason consistently at all with each other? One view is either more consistent and explanatory than another, or it isn’t.

    b. Yes, I accept that the colloquial sense is useful in our lives. It’s not absolutely necessary,

    I claim that it is necessary. That is, the colloquial uses of “choice” “possibilities” “alternatives” “could do/could have done otherwise” etc aren’t merely linguistic illusions or folk-theory artifacts. Language is a carrier for concepts, and this language expresses concepts for understanding and conveying information that have arisen necessarily. I’ll explain why in a follow up post.

    but since we don’t live our lives in constant consideration of determinism it’s useful to interact with the world as though we are autonomous, even if we are not.

    Not just useful.

    True.

    To say “I could have spoken fluent french with our waiter” is informative, and it can only convey information if it conveys truth.

    The reason that even as a hard incompatibilist/determinist you continue to avail yourself of the usual language of “choice” “alteratives” “options” ‘could do otherwise’ etc is because they actually convey information – truth – and because they arose as necessary ways of thinking about the world, you can’t actually replace them. That was a major point of my challenge. The fact is, you could not think of any actual replacement for the normal concepts so you had to include “you could do otherwise” in order to make sense in conveying information to the “wife” and for giving her a coherent reason for her alternative action.

    This is the stuff that, as far as I have ever seen, free will skeptics and hard incopatibilists don’t seem to have thought through.
    They sort of imagine “Ah…I KNOW I’ve determined free will is an empty concept and that we never really could have done otherwise but, well, I guess I just keep using colloquial concepts because it’s some artifact of language that’s still useful or that I can’t shake from my everyday perspective.”

    No, that’s just putting the problem on a shelf to not bother working it out.

    I’m tempted to skip even further ahead and point out that arguing for colloquial usage does not make the case for compatibilism unless the philosophical concept is defined to match the colloquial sense. Which is presumably what you are going to argue for if we ever get to that point.

    Essentially, yes.

    To which my response would be: why do that?

    Because it is a better theory. It’s more clarifying than the confusing – I would say clumsy – approach taken by too many free will skeptics who don’t seem to notice they are too quickly throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Why not use a more coherent and explanatory theory? It’s not like the hard incompatibilist has the easier sell to the “every day person” in terms of making the free will problem less confusing.

    Other post to follow tomorrow where I’ll gives some argument in support of the compatibilist case. (Sorry, ran out of time tonight).

  117. Vaal says

    Just briefly since I saw that reply….

    Re the Adam and Eve scenario:

    You’ve very carefully asked an ambiguous question.

    Quite carefully :). That a Christian finds it ambiguous is a problem.

    If I ask you why you chose to order steak over fish at dinner, you won’t think the question ambiguous. It very obviously assumes you had a choice, and you know it, and you won’t answer “because I had a choice.” You’ll answer with some explanation, maybe some appeal to your current desire or whatever.

    If I asked a Christian at dinner the same question, they would also understand the question the same way.

    But when that same question is posed about Eve’s choice, the Christian DOES think the answer is “because she had free will!”

    The point is to draw out that inconstancy! The way they normally understand the question in any other circumstance, but suddenly DON’T think the same way when they are trying to protect their God. Why? Because it’s not dangerous to think through motivations and causes for people’s choices in everyday life but it IS dangerous for the Christian to think that through for Adam and Eve. They don’t want to trace the cause, or reasons, back to God.

    The fact that the Christian IS perplexed by the question in the context of The Fall is the problem and it’s WHY I ASK THE QUESTION .

    Once they have given their empty answer, I point this inconsistency out, why they think they’ve answered the question when they haven’t <— because that's important – and go on to push them answer the point of the question by re-phrasing it any number of ways. What was it about Eve's nature that led to her making that free-willed choice? Etc.

    And frankly, it doesn't truly matter how you end up re-phrasing the question to get to the point….the Christian will bounce away from it like repelling magnets. They just can't "go there." (Though…admittedly…occasionally a Christian actually does swallow that pill and admits God essentially created Adam and Eve to Fall).

  118. Robink says

    “Cool, then we agree. As a compatibilist I don’t see it as a dilemma either.”

    Fair enough. I’m just not sure *anyone* here views it as a dilemma. In the end I agree with RR that you went an extraordinarily convoluted route to just asking “how can you justify telling someone they could have done otherwise in a deterministic universe?” But that’s only a problem if you think determinism is incompatible with concepts of choice, which, clearly, you don’t. So you’re rationalising as well, only you’re labelling your rationalisations fundamentally “true” whereas I’d argue they’re simply contextual. I’m interested to hear your upcoming defence of that stance though.

    “Because it is a better theory. It’s more clarifying than the confusing”

    I’m not so sure about that 😉

  119. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal

    And the example of “Theory” is not analogous. The colloquial use of the term “theory” actually refers to real things – e.g. “hunches, suppositions” or similar. Where the scientific term refers to something else.

    Both uses of ‘theory’ refer to a conceptual model attempting to explain something. The colloquial term is a broader version of the idea: it does not require the condition that the model has been confirmed to be true.
    Both uses of ‘free will’ refer to our ability to make choices without contraint. The colloquial term is a broader version of the idea: it does not require all forms of constraint to be considered.
    That is analogous.
     

    …when someone *conflate* the colloquial meaning with the scientific meaning, then we correct them, right? Why? Because to reason is to seek consistency and coherency. To mix up the colloquial meaning for the scientific meaning creates true problems for a consistent understanding of the world.

    We correct them for consistency and coherency in context, not in general. People who say “evolution is just a theory” are using the colloquial form in the rigorous context. That’s when we correct them.
    If you are going around telling people they are wrong when they use the colloquial form in general conversation, then you are being what would generally be regarded as a dick.
     

    …that results in incoherence that spreads deeply in to our reasoning lives.

    Can you demonstrate this? You appear to be saying that philosophy cannot cope with a rigorous term that carries more specificity than the same term used in colloquial language.
    What about Necessary and Sufficient? The philosophical use of these is from the same foundation as the colloquial use, but it is more specific. How has this not spread incoherence deeply into our reasoning lives?
    The vast majority of words in the english language carry multiple meanings, some similar, some wildly different. And yet we cope. Through context.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that there is no problem of incoherence. I’m just saying that it’s not a significant problem, certainly nothing like the level at which you’re portraying it. We deal with this issue constantly in language without our thinking being thrown into chaos. I see no reason for this particular term to get special status.
     

    …the colloquial sense is useful in our lives. It’s not absolutely necessary…

    I claim that it is necessary.

    Yes, language fail on my part – I’ve confused the term with the concept. The term is not absolutely necessary to our general lives, as we can express the concept with other words. Whether the concept itself is necessary, I’ve not actually thought about.
     

    …but since we don’t live our lives in constant consideration of determinism it’s useful to interact with the world as though we are autonomous, even if we are not.

    Not just useful.

    True.

    It’s ‘true’ to act interact with the world as though we are autonomous, even if we are not. …?
    I can’t parse that I’m afraid.

    The rest of that section amounts to an argument that we should retain the colloquial form. Has anybody actually argued against this? I certainly haven’t, in fact I’ve just been arguing that there is no problem with having a rigorous form and a colloquial form for other words. It’s your argument that we need to be consistent between the two forms, not mine.

  120. paxoll says

    Days later the semantic bullshit is still going on. There is no problem with determinism, there is a problem with language that was pointed out..long ago.

  121. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal #137

    The point is to draw out that inconstancy! The way they normally understand the question in any other circumstance, but suddenly DON’T think the same way when they are trying to protect their God. Why? Because it’s not dangerous to think through motivations and causes for people’s choices in everyday life but it IS dangerous for the Christian to think that through for Adam and Eve. They don’t want to trace the cause, or reasons, back to God.

    The fact that the Christian IS perplexed by the question in the context of The Fall is the problem and it’s WHY I ASK THE QUESTION .

    Jeebus H! No wonder we had such a painfully constipated discussion about ‘do otherwise..’. You wanted your questions to not get you the answers you wanted, because you wanted to not get the answers you wanted so you could say that people weren’t answering your questions? WTF?

    So, what I’m hearing is we went around and around in circles because you thought you were proving something by us going around and around in circles? I’m engaging with you in good faith, wading through your astonishingly verbose and incomprehensible walls of text, and all the time I was trying to discern what you meant by a question that you were being deliberately unclear about?

    The answer had better not be yes.

  122. Vaal says

    RationalismRules,

    The answer had better not be yes.

    The answer is “no.” I have been at pains to put the question in every which way to you, in order to get you to understand the point.

    I remain astonished that you think I’ve been unclear.

    Every time you didn’t get the point, I tried again, and again. I had for instance explained that it does not make sense to recommend someone do the impossible.

    I gave examples: If we take as stipulated a firefighter does not have the ability to fly unaided via the mere power of his whishes to save people from the top of a burning sky-scraper, than GIVEN that is impossible, it would not make sense to recommend they take that action. How could it make sense that someone “has a good reason to do that which is stipulated to be impossible?”

    Surely we agree.

    Next I pointed out that the same problem applies IF you first stipulate “you can not do otherwise.” It will therefore make no sense to recommend someone “do otherwise.” This is incoherent for the same reasons it’s incoherent to recommend the firefighter take an action that he can not take.

    How in the WORLD is that not a problem, clearly laid out.

    I then went in to the implications:

    It follows from the above reasoning that in order to coherently give someone a reason to do otherwise, it must first be stipulated that “doing otherwise” is in fact POSSIBLE. If we accept that to be the case, withing your hard incompatibilist view, what will you MEAN when stipulating something is “possible” that it is “possible to do otherwise?”

    How is THAT not clearly stating a question?

    And then I have pointed out…if your view DOESN’T supply a coherent version of “could do otherwise,” how then do you get out of the apparent internal incoherence mentioned earlier?

    I have clearly stated these problems over and over. Honestly, it’s hard to take full responsibility for your confusion.

    The rest of that section amounts to an argument that we should retain the colloquial form.

    To put a finer point on it: my argument is that the colloquial forms of communicating about our “choices” and “could have done otherwise” are ways of conveying necessary *propositions.*. In other words, they convey true propositions. We could attempt to change the words – e.g. come up with some other word than “choice” etc – but we’d just be substituting a different set of letters which would have to convey the same thing we mean anyway, so why not stick with the convention that does the job?

    Has anybody actually argued against this? I certainly haven’t, in fact I’ve just been arguing that there is no problem with having a rigorous form and a colloquial form for other words. It’s your argument that we need to be consistent between the two forms, not mine.

    It’s like the Christians who object “Look, have I ever said that my Christianity and science are inconsistent? No. I accept both!” The point isn’t that the Christian accepts both concepts; the point is they haven’t actually spelled out how they are actually *consistent*.

    The point is you haven’t been *consistent* in putting together a picture of how our everyday use of “could do otherwise” is actually coherent with your larger view of determinism. That’s why you had so much trouble answering my very direct questions.

    Anyway…moving on…

  123. RationalismRules says

    @Vaal

    The answer is “no.”

    Good. Because you’ve acknowledged that you deliberately ask carefully-worded-to-be-ambiguous questions in order to draw out inconsistency. So, you know, I thought you might have been doing the same thing with the rest of us …especially since your expressed purpose was to draw out inconsistency.

    Asking a question that has multiple interpretations, in order that you can then claim “no, your interpretation is wrong because it doesn’t match my interpretation, and I’m already ASSUMING your answer in the question” is asinine. Seriously.

    When the Xtian responds to you with ‘free will’, they are not demonstrating their fixation. The POINT OF THE STORY that you are asking about is free will! That doesn’t make ‘free will’ ASSUMED in the question, it makes it a GOOD ANSWER to the question.

    Aesop’s Tortoise & Hare is a story about overconfidence and hubris. If you asked “WHY did the hare lose the race?”, the response “because he was overconfident” is a GOOD ANSWER. You don’t then turn around and say “You’re fixated on overconfidence because you wouldn’t have answered that way in a completely different context where it wasn’t the key point of the story. And you didn’t answer the POINT of my question, because ‘overconfidence’ was ASSUMED in the question.” It would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? But that’s exactly you’re doing with the Eve question.

    As to ‘consistency’, of course their answer is not directly consistent with the answer they would have given in an entirely different context, because CONTEXT MATTERS! The way we resolve ambiguity is by considering it in relation to its context. So when you are picking from a menu that context does not suggest that your question would be asking about free will. Whereas the Adam & Eve story is all about ‘free will’.

    Context is what allows us to have words with mulitple meanings. When I am having a philosophical discussion on the nature of free will the context tells me that I need to be using the rigorous interpretation of the term, whereas when I’m talking to someone about whether they can get off the couch the context tells me that I can use the colloquial form. And yes, the two forms are inconsistent, which I’ve already acknowledged. And IT DOES NOT MATTER, because we cope with that sort of inconsistency across differing contexts ALL THE FUCKING TIME!

    Instead of returning to the argument that inconsistency is present, which is already acknowledged, you need to make the case for why it’s significantly more problematic in this case than it is in every other case where language varies across contexts, including other philosophical terms like SUFFICIENT and NECESSARY which have both strict philosophical meanings and broader colloquial meanings.
     
    “Moving on…” to what?

    Moving on to finally making your own case, which you’ve been promising to do for multiple posts now?

    I suspect you’re actually ‘moving on’ from the conversation, having never actually made your own case, and having not answered the questions that I posed to you. Probably wise, considering that at this point you are so locked in to your ‘consistency’ argument that there’s no way you can deny that a computer has free will without being inconsistent. Oh dear!
     
    While I’m waiting to see if you are going to return, I’ll just list the unanswered questions here:

    – Do you consider that computers are exercising ‘free will’ when they make choices according to their programming? Keep in mind, they ‘could do otherwise’ if their programming changes.

    – Do you believe that we can ever ‘do otherwise’ without our determinants changing?
    – If yes, please explain how this is compatible with determinism.
    – If no, please explain how being compelled to do something different than another thing you were compelled to do can be considered ‘free’.

    And my original question:
    – What compatibilists want to label as ‘free will’, in order to claim that it is compatible with determinism, seems to be no different from ‘free choice’, so why relabel it?

  124. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    – What compatibilists want to label as ‘free will’, in order to claim that it is compatible with determinism, seems to be no different from ‘free choice’, so why relabel it?

    Compatibilists like myself would say that we’re not re-labeling anything. Instead, we would say that the understanding of our opponents concerning the phenomenon of choosing and the phenomenon of will are incorrect.

    – Do you consider that computers are exercising ‘free will’ when they make choices according to their programming? Keep in mind, they ‘could do otherwise’ if their programming changes.

    If they become sufficiently advanced, yes. Remember that there’s not fundamental difference between an electric silicon computer and the computer also known as the human brain. They’re both (mostly) deterministic, physical machines.

    – Do you believe that we can ever ‘do otherwise’ without our determinants changing?
    – If yes, please explain how this is compatible with determinism.
    – If no, please explain how being compelled to do something different than another thing you were compelled to do can be considered ‘free’.

    The meaning of the word “free” in “free will” is a moral one, and not the one that you drive at. Similarly, “could have done otherwise” is a moral description and not what you’re driving at. Someone is “free” in the sense of “free will” if they are not subject to coercion in the normal sense. Someone “could have done otherwise” if they are not subject to coercion in the normal sense. “Could have done otherwise” is not an assertion that their behavior is undetermined. “Could have done otherwise” is the observation that the person was free from outside coercion, and thus a different person in the same position could have done otherwise. They are free from outside coercion, and people are morally responsible for the choices that they freely make.

    Again, I mean the usual moral / legal definition of coercion, because the discussion of free will should be properly grounded in a discussion of when a person is morally responsible for their choices. Reading a news article may influence someone’s future actions in a deterministic way, but it’s not coercion. Their free will is unaffected.

    I believe that I’m on decently solid ground to say that we compatibilists are not redefining anything – we’re just clarifying. For example, read what Hume wrote on the subject:

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume-freewill/

    By liberty, then we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to every one who is not a prisoner and in chains.

    In particular, notice the phrase “determinations of the will”. Even today, we praise someone for “show determination”. There are several similar phrases in common use as well. Somehow, this really silly idea entered the popular culture that choosing must be something other than determinism or else it’s not a real choice. That is the mistake.

    I suspect the origin of the mistake has a lot to do with people’s desire for an afterlife, which they believe requires an immaterial soul, and the idea that they’re merely physical machines is incompatible with the existence of an immaterial soul, and therefore they came to also believe that they do not share certain other properties with physical machines, like deterministic behavior. Of course, it’s all obviously fallacious, because adding the existence of an immaterial soul doesn’t change the problem one bit: the soul itself can only operate according to the principles of determinism with optional degrees of true-random input. There is no other logically coherent possibility. Even an immaterial soul would obey the same rules of physical machines, and itself be a kind of machine. There is no other logically-possible option.

  125. nude0007 says

    I wish Greg was brave and intelligent enough to come here to discuss his scripted performance. The bible is NOT HISTORY, it is literature. There is no factually identified tomb of jesus. Not surprising since jesus is absent from history. no, “Histories” written years later do not count as from the same time period, and those histories also include other gods, are they real too? the histories he mentioned tell about what people worshipped, and did not distinguish between what could be proven or not, just what was going on at the time, kinda like a newspaper.

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