Response to Lausten #132

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http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2014/01/18/rd-extra-debate-is-belief-in-god-irrational-chris-hallquist-vs-randal-rauser/#comment-13538

Hey Lausten,

I am not sure I completely understand your question but it is not sensible to go thorugh life completely ignoring or outright rulling out any possitive claims that we don’t have evidence for, especially when it comes to things still out of our reach. You are right that the positive claim is the one that requires proof; but we must also aknowledge our limitations. Consider a reverse of this:

1) Abiogenesis is a positive claim
2) We don’t have evidence that it happens nor a mechanism for how it happens
3) Therefore we conclude it doesn’t.

Now imagine how silly it would be if I even tacked on point number four:

4) And therefore a god must exist or, disbelief in god is irrational

Our understanding of randomness at the quantum lavel is based on observations but, as far as I know, we don’t yet have a mechanism to explain how true randomness can happen. And, while we have made great strides in understanding the inanimate world, human psychology is still for the most part an untapped frontier.

So like I said, I can understand it if a behavioral scientist chooses to ignore the possibility of free will since it introduces aditional complications into his process. But that’s as far as I would go with that.

I think the problem we have with free will is not a result of the ‘posititive claims have the burden of proof’ issue but rather of two other factors:

1) First, in relatively recent history, materialism started growing in popularity and that logically seemed to lead to determinism which DID logically lead to the lack of free will.

Today however we know that materialism does NOT necessarily lead to determinism, so this really cannot be a factor anymore, though it seems the field of philosophy is slow to catch up.

2) There have been a series of studies that seem to indicate that, although individuals think they are making their own decissions, their decissions are in fact predictable. And, while I believe these studies ARE valuable in understanding human behavior, I don’t think they apply to the issue of free will as much as people think they do. I say this because the studies are looking mostly at impulsive decisions and not the kind of decisions where the person really thinks trough all their options carefully. Finding a way to predict the outcome of THOSE decisions WOULD disprove free will.

Another potential misunderstanding is the assumption that Free Will means that there are no outside influences. But there is no reason why this would NEED to be the case and it clearly ISN’T the case.

Most importantly though, and I meant to mention this in a previous post, we don’t even have a working definition of free will. I have tried to come up with one for some time, but it seems every one I come up with ends up being circular in some way. I run into a similar problem when I try to think through potential mechanism for true randomness.

Another thing I should have mentioned for the record is that I don’t believe in a soul or spirit so we don’t need to waste time going down that path.

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Comments

  1. Lausten North  January 31, 2014

    Thanks Mike. I’ll get back to you in a few days. Meanwhile, when you say “the assumption that Free Will means that there are no outside influences”, what do you mean? Outside of what? Outside of the universe?

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    • Unapologetics  January 31, 2014

      Oh, sorry. No. I was referring to a statement that jonP made where he SEEMS to be defining Free Will as a decision making process that is in no way influenced. So, in other words, if it can be shown that our decisions are affected by things like the hormonal balance in the brain or our friends’ advice or any other factors, then it is no longer free will. But something completely uninfluenced sounds to me more like something random.

      The way I understand free will is not that it is uninfluenced but rather that it is something more than the sum total of all the influences.

      Something else that jonP said that I never responded to was that he had difficulty with the idea that free will can be impaired. But if free will exists, it is a product of the biology of our brain just like memory and everything else so of course it could be affected by disease or mind-altering substances.

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  2. Unapologetics  January 31, 2014

    This is also a great opportunity to make another unrelated point.

    You know how frustrated scientists are with creationists and religious people in general that seem to be anti-science. I am convinced however that there would not be half the problems with creationists if they were not themselves so frustrated.

    But why are creationists frustrated?

    So we were just talking about positive claims and the burden of proof. We used two examples, one which would support the theist position, free will, and the other which would support the atheist’s position, abiogenesis.

    Atheists argue like this:

    1) free will is a positive claim
    2) positive claims require evidence
    3) we don’t have evidence for free will
    Therefore the concept can be dismissed.

    It seems then that the same reasoning could be applied to abiogenesis, but atheists say,

    Actually, though we don’t have direct evidence for abiogenesis, i.e. we cannot replicate it in a lab, there IS evidence for abiogenesis.

    How so?

    Well, science uses a naturalistic methodology. And, since living organisms do exist and, our methodology requires a naturalistic explanation, we have to assume abiogenesis happened or else where would living organisms come from? So in essence positive claims lacking proof are only ignored when they support the theist position.

    Then atheists take the next step and claim that science supports the naturalistic worldview but has discovered no evidence to support the theistic one.

    So basically atheists take advantage of the fact that the scientific methodology alines with their worldview and apply a double standard in philosophical discussions.

    I am only using free will and abiogenesis as examples since we were talking about them. There are probably better ones.

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  3. jonP  February 1, 2014

    HI,
    I was having fun, so I thought I would stop by. Just in time too because I think you were missing my point a little.

    My claims regarding free will have little to do with religion, or logic, or determinism. I do not intend to disprove religion, or support atheism. Those are separate topics. I am a scientist. My education background is in psychology and neuroscience. Therefore I view things from the perspective of neurophysiology. The concept of free will is simply not necessary and not useful. It does not explain anything, it does not make predictions, and it is not testable. It may not even be definable.

    “Most importantly though, and I meant to mention this in a previous post, we don’t even have a working definition of free will.”

    In terms of a debate, I am extremely fair so I will reveal my strategy without resorting to trickery. I will attempt to push you into a “free will of the gaps” argument, where free will as an explanation is only possible for the things we can’t explain with a neurophysiological model. Eventually free will explains so little that it is no longer your original concept.

    It’s not feasible to share all of the details, especially on a blog. You will need to trust my authority on the topic. I believe that free will is completely the wrong way to think about human behavior. I will start with my conclusion, and if you don’t believe me, then I will elaborate with details. The details are the interesting part, but they are not necessary. You would be better off reading neuroscience textbooks.

    ALL behaviors are the result of nervous system activity and output to the skeletal muscle system. Brain take in information, and through entirely mechanistic processes, produces patterned output to coordinate muscle contractions. This allows us to interact with our environment. This is all necessarily true, in the same way that abiogenesis is also necessarily true. It wouldn’t be reasonable to believe any of this without some idea about how it works. The interesting questions are all related to how does it work?

    An analogy I like is that if I told you that sickness was caused by creatures so small that they are invisible. They enter the body and release toxins that damage our insides. By the way we are made out of trillions of tiny creatures that closely resemble the invaders. Also by the way, we share a common ancestor with them from billions of years ago.

    Without germ theory of disease, evidence of bacteria, biochemistry, cellular physiology, etc. etc. Not only does this story sound absurd, it is probably unreasonable to believe any of it. However, it is overwhelmingly more useful to know all this when trying to cure disease. It’s the basis for medicine. You can go to the faith healer or shaman if you want to, but it’s probably better to just take the antibiotics.

    We know it’s true because we have microscopes, and other instruments that allow us to figure out how it works. Plus, people have been doing this intensively and systematically for at least 100 years, and stretching back through history. We now know a lot more about how we work. None of it is magic.

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    • Unapologetics  February 1, 2014

      What I would like to know is why you think I would disagree with any of the things you’re saying. And welcome, by the way.

      Also, let me ask you, are you working on a practical project like trying to help mental patients recover faster or to help reeducate criminals etc.? Are you looking at the free will question because you are trying to develop new models for changing human behavior? If so can you tell me more about it so I can understand where you are coming from? Or are you just trying to better understand how the brain works?

      Lastly, something I am planning to look into in the next few days is the science of self awareness. Do you have any thoughts on that?

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  4. jonP  February 1, 2014

    Hi,
    I suppose I was gearing up for an adversarial debate, and therefore expected disagreement. As a graduate student I studied the development of infants with prenatal methadone exposure. The mothers were in a treatment program for opiate dependence. Our group did many followup assessments, but my role was to measure the infants brain response to auditory stimulation. I used EEG. We’re still trying to write and publish the results, and here’s the abstract for my first paper:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/dev.21160/abstract

    The article is behind a paywall (damn academic publishing industry). Anyway, my interest in free will is academic and practical. Stigma associated with drug dependence creates barriers for women seeking treatment during pregnancy. It’s categorized as child abuse in many states. This is a vulnerable population that has a significant problem, and they need society to help address their needs.

    I believe the idea of free will leads people to say things like: “just say no”, and to ask questions like: why don’t you just quit? Why don’t you quit for the baby? This leads to blaming the women. They don’t know why they can’t quit, so they blame themselves. There is a risk that many women are going untreated because they are hiding the problem out of shame, or risk of prosecution. This puts the infants at more risk.

    Also, this problem does not have the same attention as cancer, or heart disease. There is little political support for spending on this problem, especially methadone, and especially for poor women. It’s difficult for me to create a counter argument to the belief that this is just the government buying them drugs. Also more political support makes it easier for me to get funding. My work is now with prenatal exposure to pharmaceutical drugs more generally, and I’m working with nonstigmatized drugs, because I was able to get funding for this.

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    • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

      I believe the idea of free will leads people to say things like: “just say no”, and to ask questions like: why don’t you just quit? Why don’t you quit for the baby? This leads to blaming the women. They don’t know why they can’t quit, so they blame themselves. There is a risk that many women are going untreated because they are hiding the problem out of shame… This puts the infants at more risk.

      – while I see why people who believe in free will would be more likely to say that, I don’t think this is a necessary conclusion. I believe in free will and yet I would not take that attitude.
      – I think it is possible to change people’s attitudes through education without necessarily changing their stance on free will. And I think it would be easier.
      – this is a side point we can come back to later but it’s interesting how addiction seems to bind what appears to be our otherwise free wills. And it does not even need to be physical/chemical, so that we can blame the addictive qualities of a substance. Sometimes addictions can be entirely behavioral. It’s as if a computer virus takes over the brain and we can no longer break free of circular thought patterns. Addictions might end up being one of the tools we end up using to crack the mystery of the free-will like behavior of the human brain.

      …or risk of prosecution.

      – one of the problem here is alternatives. Even if you eliminate the free will/blame aspect, you still have the issue of crime deterrents. What would you do instead?

      My brief experience with these problems was working with a couple for about a year. They were on methadone but they were still doing the drugs as well. Probably meth, but might have been heroin; don’t quite remember. They kept getting the methadone because they felt they were addicted to that as well now. This beside alcohol and smoking. After about a year I stopped seeing them. I felt there was nothing more I could do. I had some friends follow up with no success.

      I am not suggesting by this that methadone does not work. If studies show that, on the larger scale, there IS a statistical improvement, it is worth doing regardless if it helped that couple or not.

      One other reason why people don’t sympathize with these problems is that they think, even if the person cannot stop now, they still should have never started. They HAD a choice then even if later they lost the ability to choose. Few understand the conditions people deal with in poverty stricken sections of the country. The vicious cycle of being raised around addiction which leads to addiction which leads to another generation being raised around it. Few understand the aggressiveness with which drugs are pushed on the very young in these areas or the pack mentality needed to survive the violence but which leads to many unhealthy behaviors as well. And overall, I think only a small percent of what COULD be done to help these people is actually being done.

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    • jonP  February 2, 2014

      This topic is very important to me, so let me try to clarify what I believe. Abuse, addiction, dependence are all different. People tend to use these words interchangeably, and it’s helpful to give these words more specific definitions.

      Abuse is the drug taking behavior with the intent to get the pleasant effects. The one thing that all drugs have in common is to stimulate the neural system in the reward pathway. I personally do not see this as the problem, and I do not believe that there is anything inherently morally wrong with being in a drug induced state. There are consequences,and some of them are dangerous and adverse, but there are risks with everything. Driving is much more dangerous. It’s a risk/reward ratio decision.

      Addiction has a behavioral component as part of it’s definition. Addiction refers to changes in the brain that cause people to engage in drug seeking behavior and use, despite the experience of adverse consequences. This describes other compulsive behaviors that have a rewarding properties, like overeating, gambling, sex, over exercise, and more.

      We are said to be creatures of habit. Most of our behaviors are routines that we engage without thinking. We acquire behavior patterns for a number of reasons, but sometimes these patterns become very strongly ingrained, and are very difficult to change. Telling yourself (or being told by others) is not always enough. I will point to New Year’s resolutions as an example. I don’t know how long I’ve been telling myself to start going to the gym, even though I am very aware of the benefits. Even rewards and punishments are not always sufficient.

      Dependence is a medical problem. The brain adapts to changes to return to “normal” functioning. The mechanisms for this vary for each of the different drugs. The specific symptoms are different for each drug, but are very predictable and common across users.

      Drugs do have some basic things in common. Neurons transmit signals to other neurons by secreting chemicals (neurotransmitters) that diffuse across a very small gap between them (synapse). The receiving neuron has membrane bound proteins called receptors. Most drugs work by increasing or decreasing the amount of neurotransmitter in synapses. This increases the number of receptors that are activated to send a signal to the rest of the cell, and whatever those signals do, there is a change. This changes the pattern of outputs of the receiving neuron, and these signals are propagated through the brain.

      The brain likes to be in a stable state. This is part of the explanation for the perception of continuity; the sensation that we are the same person from moment to moment. The brain has mechanisms that manage these states, and there are many types of positive and negative feedback at the cellular, synaptic, and network levels that are affected.

      I am most familiar with opiates like methadone and heroin. Some neurons in very specific brain regions have opioid receptors (also in the digestive tract). When opioid receptors are activated, they send a signal to control the number of opioid receptors in the membrane. When people take the drug this activity is too high, the number of receptors decreases to restore the signaling rate to it’s baseline. After continued use of opiates, the number of receptors is semi-permanently reduced. For some reason it is easier to decrease the number of receptors than to increase (and this varies across people). When people stop taking the drug, the receiving neurons (and gut cells) have reduced signaling. The result is the “physical” symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Headaches, difficulty sleeping, vomiting, diarrhea, it can be very unpleasant. It can be so unpleasant that the dependent user is strongly motivated to keep using. Getting it supervised from a doctor is always way better than getting it from the black market.

      One other reason why people don’t sympathize with these problems is that they think, even if the person cannot stop now, they still should have never started.

      I think this is the link between belief in free will and lack of sympathy. At this point they can not just go back to the way they used to be. Perhaps preventative measures can be taken, but it’s not all linked to poverty. Just say no is not effective for the same reason that abstinence only education is not effective. People just don’t work this way. It’s not realistic to expect absolutely everyone to not have sex before making a conscious decision to have a family. It’s also not realistic to expect no one to ever use drugs. There are good reasons people have sex and use drugs, and it is not stoppable.

      Our drug policies are as effective as if we tried to manage diabetes by withholding treatment and imprisoning obese compulsive eaters.

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      • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

        I’m sure if we were having this conversation in person I would have a lot of questions for you right now. But to reduce the amount of writing I have to do and, since this is still not exactly the topic we started with, let me just ask you this:

        If you were the dictator of a small country, you had all the resources at your disposal and no international pressures to conform to, what would be your strategy to address this problem in all it’s aspects?

        There is another can of worms here regarding the moral question. The major problem here is that atheist have no consensus on a moral framework (neither do theists exactly). I don’t know if you got that far reading my posts but, though many theists use morality as an argument for the existence of god, I don’t, and actually consider that argument quite stupid. I believe it IS possible for atheists to develop a common moral framework stemming from the very fact that a god does not exist (and many have).

        But to evaluate moral questions a moral framework is needed since otherwise we just adjust our ideas based on each individual situation. I don’t know if this will make sense without further discussion but atheists as well as plenty of other people like to reserve the right to express their moral opinions post hoc. As in, tell me a situation and I will tell you what I think is moral in that situation. This is bad since it allows us to adjust our morality based on whatever we want to do which defeats the whole purpose of having morality. I could, for example, in a situation where I meet a beautiful woman, tell myself that there is nothing morally wrong with cheating on my wife.

        The purpose of the framework however is to establish principles ahead of time such that, given any new situation, the momentary draw of the situation would not cause us to go against the sum total of what we have concluded to be right and wrong over the course of our lives. And, even someone else can take a look at and understand my framework and then determine if I acted consistently in that specific situation.

        So let me say it this way: if I were an atheist, use of mind-altering substances WOULD go against my moral framework. Not in the sense that trying a drug once is a terrible evil but in the sense that it is something which acts contrary with my overall vision for humanity.

        To understand where you are coming from on the moral question it would be good to know more about how you view morality in general.

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      • jonP  February 2, 2014

        If you were the dictator of a small country, you had all the resources at your disposal and no international pressures to conform to, what would be your strategy to address this problem in all it’s aspects?

        I think you are asking for my alternative policy approach. This is not my area of expertise, and I have almost no knowledge of the topic. The short answer is to increase the investment in treatment options for drug dependence. While I’m at it, no one should have any barrier to medical care, shelter, or food. I am not the right person to answer this question.

        To understand where you are coming from on the moral question it would be good to know more about how you view morality in general.

        My position on morality is complicated. If you want me to explain it, I will, but it would probably be better on another thread, to keep this topic organized.

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        • Unapologetics  February 3, 2014

          We can come back to the morality issue later if needed. I just mentioned it because you said you don’t consider drug use immoral. The dictator question was simply because you mentioned several things that you don’t like about how things are done so I thought you had ideas about how to do them better. That’s fine though. It is a bit off topic anyway.

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  5. jonP  February 1, 2014

    I kind of wanted to clarify the burden of proof problem.

    Atheists argue like this:

    1) free will is a positive claim
    2) positive claims require evidence
    3) we don’t have evidence for free will
    Therefore the concept can be dismissed.

    This is a meta argument. It’s an argument that suggests that we can dismiss any positive claim lacking evidence. This is not really what I meant. I was trying to make the distinction between claims that we DON’T have evidence to support, and claims that we CAN’T have evidence to support.

    One of my favorite questions, which I ask myself almost every time I make a claim, is: how do I know that’s true? Or the closely related question: how would I find out if it’s true? If there is absolutely no way to find out, as in the case of free will, then there is no answer to these questions.

    The meta argument problem I hate is to start with a desired conclusion, create a list of assumptions that must be true for the argument, and then make the assumption that the assumptions are true. This is especially a problem for nonfalsifiable claims like free will. I would have no basis for claiming the assumptions are false. Free will is a great example because we believe it intuitively, we feel that it is more likely to be true than not true.

    This was the problem that I had with your argument that it may be rational for god to allow suffering at least some times. (Correct me if I’m wrong about the point you were trying to make). You started with the free will assumption as #1, but first you needed to implicitly assume that this assumption is true.

    This is one of the major problems I have with Christian apologetics, and why I dismiss almost all of it as nonsense. Interestingly, the Christian narrative does make some testable claims, so I can’t just dismiss it automatically. I found this article through Avecinna’s blog on FtB:

    http://blogs.christianpost.com/guest-views/what-really-matters-in-the-creation-evolution-debate-19691/

    Here the author is arguing for the literal Adam who was literally the first human. I mentioned in the comments that this is a testable claim. We can test this with the Y-chromosome. Only men have one, which they inherited from their father, who inherited from his father, etc. all the way back in an unbroken chain to the first Y-chromosome. If all men descended from the same man, then we would all have the same Y-chromosome. We can actually test this with the literal Eve as well, through mitochondrial DNA. This is more difficult because both men and women inherit it from their mother.

    Well, I’m sure you can guess the results of these tests. We can not have descended from a single man. The story is even more interesting, because all male mammals have Y-chromosomes. It’s even MORE interesting because not all animals have sex that is determined by chromosomes. For example, reptile sex is determined by incubation temperature. Therefore, we know that the Y-chromosome is not necessary for sex determination in general (and thus could have developed separately for each “kind” of animal), and we know that we can determine if we are related to other mammals. Long story short, other primates have Y-chromosomes that they inherited from the same single male that we did, some millions of years ago. This was Adam. He certainly was not alive at the same time as the mammalian ancestral Eve.

    I don’t understand why creationism vs. evolution is even still a debate.

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    • Unapologetics  February 1, 2014

      Let me start with this one since it is at the core of the free will problem and it will help ground the discussion. I am only addressing a point at the beginning and not ignoring the rest but will come back to them later. I will be a bit busy today so not sure how much I can respond to. But just continue to leave your thoughts and I will respond when I can. And no worries about posting too much.

      Like you said, there are claims that we DON’T have positive evidence for and claims that we CAN’T have positive evidence for. But there is one more aspect here, mainly that there are claims we WON’T have positive evidence for, as in, we can’t have it now, we can’t have it ever.

      The only type of claims where the “WON’T” applies are supernatural claims as in ‘human beings have free will that is generated by an immaterial soul.’ I don’t know if you read above where I mentioned that I don’t believe in a soul or spirit so this problem does not apply to me. As far as I am concerned, if free will exists, it is purely mechanistic, just as much as self-awareness and memory.

      So while I understand we currently can’t have positive evidence for free will, much of this will change over the next 50 years especially as AI technology works side by side with neuroscience. Within this time frame I am pretty sure the question of whether free will exists or not will be settled.

      In the mean time, I have said this before but maybe it wasn’t articulated well, I believe scientists are perfectly justified in ignoring the possibility of free will in their research for the very reason that we CAN’T have positive evidence of it. Philosophers on the other hand don’t have that luxury and must continue to wrestle with the subject up until science confirms it one way or another.

      So yes, I started with the assumption that free will exists. But that was an agreed upon assumption in that debate so I went with it. The debate was whether we can explain suffering EVEN IF free will exists.

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      • jonP  February 1, 2014

        “But there is one more aspect here, mainly that there are claims we WON’T have positive evidence for, as in, we can’t have it now, we can’t have it ever.”

        “The only type of claims where the “WON’T” applies are supernatural claims as in ‘human beings have free will that is generated by an immaterial soul.’ I don’t know if you read above where I mentioned that I don’t believe in a soul or spirit so this problem does not apply to me. As far as I am concerned, if free will exists, it is purely mechanistic, just as much as self-awareness and memory.”

        I think I found where we disagree. First there seems to be no distinction between “won’t” and “can’t”. You may need to explain why the supernatural is a special type of claim. That is, why won’t we? Do we lack the instruments for detecting anything supernatural? By instrument, I also include the unaided senses; our eyes fit the definition of an instrument. Does the supernatural ever interact with the natural?

        For example, do objects move by the presence of a force not explainable by the natural? I will exclude charlatanism. If so, what generated the force? It must have mass and acceleration, or else no force is really being applied. We would need a whole new supernatural physics that allows objects with mass to move and accelerate without force.

        These are rhetorical questions. My point is that any model of physics that adds in the assumption of supernatural physics is either untestable (how do we interact with things that have no mass, so as to detect them with instruments).

        And this…
        “As far as I am concerned, if free will exists, it is purely mechanistic, just as much as self-awareness and memory.”
        This sounds like purely a problem with semantics and the definition of free will. This is exactly where you will run into the free will of the gaps problem. What is free will? Do I control what I WANT to do? Our will is constrained by our desires. We have no control over this. What we want is an input into decision making, and would therefore be controlled by neural networks. We generally want things that aid in our survival. Those mechanisms can be manipulated directly with electrical and biochemical stimulation.

        Next we get motivation. Is there sufficient activation energy to activate a network that outputs to the muscles to coordinate the behavior to acquire the desired thing. This includes information from memory regarding where we are likely to find it. We have a spatial map network that knows where we are in our environment in relation to where we need to be to get this desired thing. Or it doesn’t and we engage in searching behaviors.

        Is the free will in the particular search pattern I choose. If I have multiple to choose from, and no way to discriminate between them, and I make a guess because I’m forced to choose one, then is my choice predictable?

        If not, is that were my free will is? Either way, in the strictest libertarian free will that is sometimes suggest, we still have constraints. If someone forces the choice on me, then that would violate my free will. If I make a choice because one option is slightly better than all the others, then am I choosing freely, or am I choosing on the constraints of my selection criteria? Would I need to choose the suboptimal choice in order to know that I have free will?

        My point is that eventually, free will ends up looking indistinguishable from not free will + uncertainty in decision making.

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        • Unapologetics  February 1, 2014

          “I think I found where we disagree. First there seems to be no distinction between “won’t” and “can’t”. You may need to explain why the supernatural is a special type of claim.”

          It is by definition. In other words, science is defined as the study of the material world. If the soul is immaterial then, by the current definition, we would not be able to study it directly but only detect it’s influence. Of course we might change our definition of science at a later time but that’s outside the scope of what I’m trying to say here.

          If you want to better understand how I think about natural/supernatural questions, take a look at a post below called, ‘a model of the supernatural’.

          So introducing a supernatural element into the question puts things to a large degree out of the reach of how we normally go about doing science. If we eliminate the supernatural however, it is only a matter of time before this question can be settled.

          I will come back to the rest.

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          • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

            I should clarify here that, though I do not believe in a soul and believe that free-will is a physical, mechanistic process, I am not especially attached to this belief and might consider a supernatural component to free will if I were backed into a corner. This might sound like I’m going back on what I said earlier but the reality is that the only reason I hold this belief is that I don’t see why a creator would go through all the trouble to create a physical being but then attach an immaterial soul to it. But, if it is not possible to have free will by purely physical means then that WOULD be a good reason to attach a supernatural component.

          • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

            The best way I could illustrate how I think about free will is like this:

            There are three stages in science:

            First, we don’t know something exists.
            Then, we are able to detect/observe it’s presence but don’t know it’s mechanism
            Finally, we figure out the mechanism as well.

            So a century ago we did not know about quantum mechanics and so we imagined a deterministic universe. Then at some point we were able to observe the indeterminate nature of particles but we still don’t have a mechanism that could explain how randomness would be generated.

            When it comes to free will I think we are still in stage one. We don’t yet understand enough about the brain to understand how to go about detecting it nor do we have a mechanism.

            I find it equally difficult to think how a mechanism for randomness could work, just as I find it difficult to think how free will would work. So I think that if something as unbelievable as randomness could exist in a material universe, maybe so can free will.

    • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

      For the second part about Adam, I’m thinking if I should make a post for subjects to come back to after we’re done with the free will discussion so we don’t have too many things on the table at once.

      I’m not sure I get the y chromosome argument. Maybe I am misreading something; it’s late. I think you cold start with one male and one female and, through crossing over, recombination, all types of mutations etc. end up with many different versions accounting for all the differences we see today. But even if it is the case that, taking one couple today, and letting the children mate for several thousand years, you would not get the same variety we have today; or if this isn’t even true if you first mated a very diverse group of individuals out of which you picked a very “mixed” couple and then let their children mate; it could still be that the original couple had a genetic makeup, parts of which have been lost over time, and this would be sufficient.

      reply
  6. jonP  February 1, 2014

    “Lastly, something I am planning to look into in the next few days is the science of self awareness. Do you have any thoughts on that?”

    This is an interesting problem. There are at least two things here.

    First is the ontological “I”. I don’t know much about this, and it may be worth reading about. I found a master’s thesis that is probably a good literature review here (I have not read it yet).
    http://www.academia.edu/1272632/The_Ontological_I
    My understanding is that this is what we refer to when we talk about ourselves. Who am I?

    The other thing is consciousness. As you can imagine, this is a popular conversation for neuroscience grad students. This may be related to the free will debate through the concept of intentional actions. I have opinions, but no information. I am under the impression that this is either an open neuroscience problem, or it is untestable like free will, and thus should be discarded as a concept.

    I have started to read through some of your posts. You write quite a bit, but I do think I noticed that you started this discussion somewhere. You may need to point me to your posts on this topic.

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    • Unapologetics  February 1, 2014

      Are you asking where I started the discussion on the RD blog? It’s #57.

      reply
  7. jonP  February 1, 2014

    Sorry for filling up your thread with all my uber posts. I think for a living so it’s what I do. I am trained to be critical. Therefore I am going to focus on your statements that I disagree with. It’s boring if we just always agree. I’m also trained to write analytically to minimize the amount people disagree with me. I am very careful about the topics I discuss, and I pick my battles wisely. I’m not very good with HTML, can I use block quotes?

    1) Abiogenesis is a positive claim
    2) We don’t have evidence that it happens nor a mechanism for how it happens
    3) Therefore we conclude it doesn’t.
    Now imagine how silly it would be if I even tacked on point number four:
    4) And therefore a god must exist or, disbelief in god is irrational

    We do have evidence that abiogenesis was true. We just don’t know how. It could have been god (I am an atheist and strict materialist, so I don’t endorse that possibility).

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    • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

      I think the term is generally understood to mean a naturalistic process.

      reply
  8. Unapologetics  February 1, 2014

    I didn’t build this theme so I wasn’t sure about the HTML tags but apparently it ignores blockquotes and other tags like “cite” are not very well formatted. I don’t have time now but maybe later I will set it up so you can use “cite” with pretty much the same effect.

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    • Unapologetics  February 1, 2014

      OK. You should be able to use “cite” instead of “blockquote” as tags. it should look like this:

      testing testing testing

      more text

      reply
  9. Lausten North  February 2, 2014

    Mike; I’m kind of glad I missed most of this conversation because I’m starting to see how worthless it is talking with you. I was going to discuss the error in your statement that we don’t have evidence for abiogenesis. We don’t have proof, we have hypotheses and things to test. Free will is merely a concept, an explantion of something we experience. The naturalistic explanations for that experience have evidence.

    But anyway, I just want to make a few comments on a few random statements you’ve made here.

    “I am pretty sure the question of whether free will exists or not will be settled” in 50 years, you said with no reason. And you even said we CAN’T have evidence. Philosophers do not get a pass on talking about things for which there is no evidence. They are supposed to take the world as we know it and hypothesize about what could be or what could explain it. A philosopher completely divorced from reality is hard to distinguish from a crazy person.

    “It (supernatural) is (special) by definition.”
    This is what I was trying warn others about in my recent RD post. At some point, you will claim special status for your arguments and start whining about how atheists aren’t fair to theists. Grow up.

    “I don’t see why a creator would go through all the trouble to create a physical being but then attach an immaterial soul to it.”
    Neither do we. That’s a reason for not believing in God or any of the other junk in the Bible.

    “When it comes to free will I think we are still in stage one.“
    Stage one is “we don’t know something exists”. The free will concept has been around for a while. You are getting increasingly incoherent.

    “So I think that if something as unbelievable as randomness could exist in a material universe, maybe so can free will.”
    That is incredibly horrible logic and what is unbelievable about randomness anyway?

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    • Unapologetics  February 2, 2014

      Mike; I’m kind of glad I missed most of this conversation because I’m starting to see how worthless it is talking with you.

      Finally Lausten, one thing we both agree on.

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  10. Lausten North  February 3, 2014

    Okay, well if you aren’t going to respond to any of that, here is the most fundamental item that you need to deal with. You said,

    “Well, science uses a naturalistic methodology. And, since living organisms do exist and, our methodology requires a naturalistic explanation, we have to assume abiogenesis happened or else where would living organisms come from? So in essence positive claims lacking proof are only ignored when they support the theist position.
    Then atheists take the next step and claim that science supports the naturalistic worldview but has discovered no evidence to support the theistic one.
    So basically atheists take advantage of the fact that the scientific methodology alines with their worldview and apply a double standard in philosophical discussions.”
    I wish could untangle your statements but I don’t know how I could. There’s something wrong with every sentence above after the first one and the first one is incomplete.

    Let’s go back to Aquinas’ time where the idea of science being limited to the natural world began to really take shape. At that time philosophers got out of the God question because the Pope told them to (or else). So for 700 years we’ve been making incredible progress by looking at the world that way. But it’s not just an assumption anymore. That the idea of natural explanations has held up is proof that it is correct. It’s why the Pope can’t threaten scientists anymore.

    If, in the course of the those centuries we had found that physical laws were developed then shown to have deep flaws, or predictions could not be made using those laws, if Newton had been disproven instead of built upon, if anything like that happened, then we’d have to question the method. But those things haven’t happened. Hypotheses that are found to be in error rarely last beyond the lifetime of the person who submitted it.

    Athiests didn’t create a worldview then find a way to confirm it. People, most of them believers of some kind, created a method to query the world. That method shaped how we view it. That method is the valid philosophy that should be applied when discussing who we are and where we came from.

    Until you get that, every conversation with you is going to end up with one of those statements about how whatever I have evidence for is invalid and whatever you present should be accepted because of some reason that is not reasonable.

    reply
    • Unapologetics  February 3, 2014

      Lausten,

      I told you 6 months ago that I am not going to put any further effort into responding to your comments. I have better things to do with my time than participate in a conversation that will go on in circles for the rest of eternity. If you have a problem with that it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with it. No one can blame me for not making an effort since I’ve put more time into our conversations than probably anyone else I have ever talked to.

      It’s time for you to let it go as well. Some people are just not meant to discuss these issues with each other.

      reply
  11. Lausten North  February 4, 2014

    And yet you do respond to my comments. In fact you create a blog post with my name on it. But instead of responding to what I say, you immediately go off on a tagent about quantum physics and make an “unrelated point” about how atheists misuse the methodology of naturalism. It’s you who is creating the circular logic here. I CAN blame you for not making an effort, because you are not attempting to work through your logical errors and correct them.

    You’re getting the same arguments from these members of the RD blog as you did from me. Ignoring me is not going to make the arguments go away.

    reply
    • Unapologetics  February 4, 2014

      So follow along as I respond to their arguments.

      reply

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