The Enchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 25, 2011 in Inspirational,Worldview Naturalism

Alex Rosenberg: Man of Adventure, Man of Philosophy

Alex Rosenberg: Man of Adventure, Man of Philosophy

Redated from 11-15-2009.

American philosopher Alex Rosenberg wrote an article called “The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality.” It begins:

Naturalism forces upon us a very disillusioned “take” on reality. It is one that most naturalists have sought to avoid, or at least qualify, reinterpret, or recast to avoid its harshest conclusions about the meaning of life, the nature of morality, the significance of our… self-awareness, and the limits of human self-understanding. This is a vast agenda and it’s presumptuous to address it even in a format 30 times longer than this one. My excuse is that I stand on the shoulders of giants: the many heroic naturalists who have tried vainly, I think, to find a more hopeful version of naturalism than this one.

Since I think naturalism presents an exciting and beautiful and, dare I say, enchanting view of the world, I must be one of these heroic but vain apologists for naturalism that Rosenberg seeks to rebut.

So what’s wrong with naturalism?

We all lie awake some nights asking questions about the universe, its meaning, our place in it, the meaning of life, and our lives, who we are, what we should do, as well as questions about god, free will, morality, mortality, the mind, emotions, love. These worries are a luxury compared to the ones most people on Earth address. But they are persistent.

The problem, says Rosenberg, is that the scientific answers to these questions are disappointing.

We evolved to see purpose, meaning, and agency in everything. But science has pulled back the curtain and discovered that there is no purpose, meaning, or agency propelling the universe.

This is the disenchantment of which Rosenberg writes. If the world is nothing but subatomic particles, this leaves no room for a “self.” No reason to trust our conscious awareness. No room for purpose. No room for morality. No room for free will.  The universe just is, and that’s it.

But is this true? Does naturalism strip us of everything we want? Must one be a disenchanted naturalist?1

(Note: the rest of this piece is best read while listening to a piece of music that builds slowly into something unbelievable epic. Something like “Take a Bow” by Muse. Or, for those who read more slowly, “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls” by Godspeed You Black Emperor.)

Natural Self

Rosenberg says “there is no self, soul or enduring agent, no subject of the first-person pronoun…” But of course there is. It is the brain. I am my brain.

My brain is what stores my thoughts, personality, emotions, beliefs and desires. Destroy my brain and you destroy me. Sustain my brain and you sustain me. Change my brain and you change me.2

Natural Consciousness

Rosenberg says that “we already know enough about [the brain] to take nothing introspection tells us about the mind on trust.” Rosenberg cites a few examples: We are conscious of our own free will, but Libet showed we have no such free will. Blindsight shows that we can see without conscious awareness of it. And we don’t just “see” what is in front of us, but make guesses about what is there based on what has worked in our evolutionary past – driving through the rear-view mirror instead of the windshield, as it were. (This creates many disorienting optical illusions.)

So yes, introspection is unreliable. But is this any great loss? Consciousness still exists, we just aren’t warranted in believing what we “feel” to be true. We have to get our hands dirty and test things out.

I think it’s quite amazing that, first, the universe blindly evolved a species that is self-aware and curious, and second, that this species stumbled around for truth for millions of years before it hit upon a method that actually worked – the scientific method. We did that. And now we’re discovering the deepest truths of the universe at an astonishing rate – not because we were designed in such away that truth was immediately available to us through our own consciousness, but because we worked really hard for thousands of years and figured that shit out. Bravo, humanity!

Natural Purpose

For billions of years there was no purpose to anything at all. But then, on at least one planet, brains evolved. And brains, at least the most advanced ones, are little purpose-generating machines. Brains create purposes, and purposes in turn create things like science experiments and art and this website.

“But there is no higher, absolute purpose,” some will protest. And that is true. But would you really want that anyway? Imagine you were born into a universe with objective, absolute, inescapable purpose. What if you didn’t find that purpose very appealing? For example, what if the higher purpose of the universe was to worship and entertain a jealous and petty God? Being born into such a universe would be like being born in North Korea.

I, for one, think it is quite amazing that purpose was not imposed upon the universe. Purpose is something the universe created all by itself. See here.

Natural Morality

Morality is about reasons for action. Reasons for action to feed the poor. Reasons for action to condemn rape. Reasons for action to love your neighbor.

Once again, Rosenberg is right that morality is not written into the fabric of the universe as intrinsic value. Nor is it imposed from the outside by a God. But that does not mean there is no moral value in our world. Reasons for action evolved, just as purpose did.

Specifically, desires evolved. Desires are reasons for action, and they are real. They make predictions, and they can be measured. Desires are the source of value – including moral value – in the natural world.3 Objective moral facts can be derived from desires and their relationships with other desires. See here.

Natural Free Will

Rosenberg is right that we do not make uncaused choices. Our choices are determined. But we do have the ability to do what we want.

And actually, determinism improves the state of moral responsibility. Determinism shows that I (my brain) is truly responsible for my actions, not some spiritual homunculus in another realm. Moreover, determinism shows that we can influence other people to be moral! How could we make things better if the source of our choices was beyond the natural world? But since naturalism is true, we can use moral tools like praise and condemnation to hold people responsible, change their immoral desires, and create a better world for all of us.

This Natural World

This is the natural world. It is a world made of fermions and bosons, but also laughter and beauty and consciousness and purposes and morality. It is a world in which magic is impossible but teleportation is not. It is a world that moves without intelligence, yet blindly evolved creatures able to compose the symphonies of Beethoven and the plays of Shakespeare.

Think of it. The world once had nothing but dead matter, and yet it managed – completely by accident and without the intervention of an intelligent actor – to wake up one day and become self-aware. I think that is more amazing than any story about a magical being injecting life into dead matter. Ours is a story about dead matter that awakened itself.

It took 4 billion years for life to evolve from a single cell to a human. In another 5 billion years, our Sun will expand into a red giant and swallow the Earth. But do you see what that means?4

The creatures who stand at the sea and watch the Sun die will be as different from us as we are from single-celled bacteria.

The thought sends a shiver down my spine.

I, for one, am a thoroughly enchanted naturalist.

cloud_break

corn

huts

Neuschwanstein

iss

future city

moon colony

exploding earth

interstellar travel

amidala's palace

  1. This is a short post. If you want more detail, I generally agree with Richard Carrier, who responded to Rosenberg’s post more thoroughly. Carrier’s responses are indexed here. []
  2. More specifically, I am the pattern of matter in my brain. It doesn’t matter that the atoms in my brain are exchanging quarks. It doesn’t even matter whether my brain is made of proteins or silicon. What matters is the pattern of matter. That’s what constitutes my thoughts, personality, emotions, beliefs and desires. That’s what constitutes me. Of course, I am changing all the time. As a matter of semantics, my identity passes through a causal-historical chain. My brain is different than it was the previous moment, but my identity passed through one to the other because my brain of a moment ago caused my brain of now. []
  3. Rosenberg says that desires don’t really exist because brains do not store information in propositional form. But the kind of desire I am talking about need not be stored in propositional form. On my definition of “desire” – and most people’s definition of desire – we can say that many animals have desire, but of course we do not suppose that animal brains store those desires in propositional form. []
  4. The final thought of this post comes from Martin Rees, who wrote that “It will not be humans who witness the demise of the Sun six billion years hence: it will be entities as different from us as we are from bacteria.” []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

John Quincy Public November 15, 2009 at 6:30 pm

“Determinism shows that I (my brain) is truly responsible for my actions, not some spiritual homunculus in another realm.”

Now you’re just fighting it. Every thought you have ever had, or will ever have, was created with the universe. Every action you have ever performed, or will, was created with the universe. The instant this universe was created, so were you. That instant of creation birthed the entire map of time, and it — if such a notion is sensible — is responsible for your actions, thoughts, desires, and joy. You (your brain) has nothing to do with it. Your brain can no more alter the course of events than it can alter itself.

Or science is wrong and the supernatural exists.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 15, 2009 at 7:25 pm

JQP,

My brain causes my behavior in the same way that a rock falling in a pond causes ripples. But yes, an unbroken chain of causation leads back to the big bang.

But even if science is wrong about this, why the heck would that mean the supernatural exists? That’s a complete non-sequiter.

  (Quote)

TK November 15, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Luke, you are probably wasting your time with JQP–he’s one of the VP parroters who blindly accepts (with precisely zero evidence) that atheism makes the existence of objective moral truths, meaning, value, etc. impossible.

  (Quote)

ayer November 15, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I see, from the point of view of atheism we avert our eyes from suffering and evil and see the world as “enhanted” and “beautiful”; but the world according to Christian theism should be seen as a brutal hellhole providing overwhelming evidence for an “argument from evil.” It seems you are ignoring atheism’s problem of evil, namely, all the evil that the atheist condemns when arguing against Christian theism is still there on atheism, but with zero possibility of the ultimate elimination of and redemption from that evil posited by Christianity.

  (Quote)

drj November 15, 2009 at 8:22 pm

ayer: I see, from the point of view of atheism we avert our eyes from suffering and evil and see the world as “enhanted” and “beautiful”; but the world according to Christian theism should be seen as a brutal hellhole providing overwhelming evidence for an “argument from evil.”It seems you are ignoring atheism’s problem of evil, namely, all the evil that the atheist condemns when arguing against Christian theism is still there on atheism, but with zero possibility of the ultimate elimination of and redemption from that evil posited by Christianity.  

If I had a dime for every time I’ve seen a theist present the argument the other way around… but anyways, my two cents is that I don’t think I would find this world much less fascinating on theism, than on atheism – though evil would be much harder to explain.

I do think lack of belief in a deity has made me more intellectually curious to learn about this place and given me more drive to understand just what exactly all this is. On atheism, one can approach the universe with much more open mind than is possible on theism, and that does feel good.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm

lukeprog: But yes, an unbroken chain of causation leads back to the big bang.

Then your brain causes nothing. Nor can it alter anything. For it to be otherwise you have to violate the laws of physics; thus the reference to the supernatural.

TK: VP parroters who blindly accepts (with precisely zero evidence) that atheism makes the existence of objective moral truths, meaning, value, etc. impossible.

Ad Hominem? Tsk. Shall I crow my credentials and appeal to my own authority to show you a charlatan? Or should I simply ignore your logical fallacy for the unthinking pap that it is? The choice, sir, I humbly offer you.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 15, 2009 at 9:59 pm

ayer,

Evil is abundant in our universe, whether or not you believe in a god. But the abundance of evil makes sense according to naturalism. It makes no sense if there is an all-powerful, all-good god.

  (Quote)

TK November 15, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Cute, JQP, but you:

a) totally missed Luke’s point, which was that even if “free will” is illusory and there is no way human brains can violate the causal chain, it is still inaccurate to say that they cannot “cause” things (is a rock incapable of “causing” ripples simply because it can’t violate the causal chain in doing so?)

and b) totally dodged my point, which was that “naturalism means everything is meaningless!” is a mere assertion, no different from the common naturalistic assertion that morality “just is” based on natural law or utilitarianism or whatever.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 15, 2009 at 11:47 pm

‘That instant of creation birthed the entire map of time, and it — if such a notion is sensible — is responsible for your actions, thoughts, desires, and joy.’

I see. So the moment of creation of a deterministic machine is responsible for whatever that machine does later?

If I create a machine to fly a plane without any pilots on board, then I can tell passengers not to worry about the fact that no human being is at the controls, I am still personally responsible for their safety?

That should reassure them.

If I create a machine to fly a plane, who is flying the plane, me or the machine? Duh, the machine.

If the Big Bang ‘creates’ me, who is flying the plane, me or the Big Bang? , Duh, me.

JQP
Then your brain causes nothing. Nor can it alter anything

CARR
This is obviously nonsense, and only somebody who has read apologetic books would ever begin to think that way.

Everybody knows that if a man flies a plane, the man is in control, and if a machine flies a plane, the machine is in control, even if the machine is man-made.

This is obvious.

  (Quote)

Rhys Wilkins November 16, 2009 at 2:54 am

I think the naturalistic view is so much more exciting, stimulating and enveloping then the theistic view.

The most beautiful thing we can contemplate is the mysterious. It envelopes our senses, fills us to the brim with a sense of wonder, takes us on fabulous joyrides into new realms of imagination, potential, possibility and exciting discovery, and leaves us frothing at the mouth with silent awe, humbled in speechless amazement at the ineffable boundless majesty all around us. Naturalism fucking rules man!

  (Quote)

ayer November 16, 2009 at 3:06 am

lukeprog: ayer,Evil is abundant in our universe, whether or not you believe in a god. But the abundance of evil makes sense according to naturalism. It makes no sense if there is an all-powerful, all-good god.  

I understand that is your position, but that is not really the point. The point is that you must be consistent–if the universe is as it is portrayed by atheists when attacking theism (a hideous place full of “abundant” suffering and evil–see some of your own previous posts on the problem of evil), then it makes no sense to portray it as a wonderful, good and beautiful place to live when describing it from the point of view of atheism. That is vain and pollyannaish (in a selective way, to boot).

  (Quote)

Derrida November 16, 2009 at 5:33 am

I’m skeptical that there can really be a “correct” emotional response to naturalism. Enchanted or not, the world chugs on regardless, unthinking. Given that there is so much suffering in the world, we should act so as to reduce it, but if we lived in constant despair because of that fact, then that would just add to the suffering!

We might as well be happy with what we’ve got.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 16, 2009 at 6:05 am

And actually, determinism improves the state of moral responsibility. Determinism shows that I (my brain) is truly responsible for my actions, not some spiritual homunculus in another realm.
What makes you think you are your brain?

Moreover, determinism shows that we can influence other people to be moral!

Determinism shows that the activity of a brain is completely explained by prior states of the universe. Thus the brain that is Thomas may influence other brains, but the brains have no choice in the matter, with “choice” being unintelligible on determinism. If choice is unintelligible, then it follows that “morality” is as well.

How could we make things better if the source of our choices was beyond the natural world? But since naturalism is true, we can use moral tools like praise and condemnation to hold people responsible, change their immoral desires, and create a better world for all of us.

First, it would be helpful if you can clarify what kind of distinctions you are drawing between naturalism and determinism – I assume you are not using these interchangeably?

But more importantly, “better”, “responsible”, and “immoral” are all unintelligible, in any objective sense, if naturalism is true. Such thoughts (presumably, “brain states”, for the naturalist) may cause certain behavior in some brains as they pass through them. But, if they don’t pass through brains, or if they don’t cause certain behavior, no “harm” done.

Stalin, apparently determined such that he “cared” not a whit about the “sufferings” of his people, simply had a certain brain chemistry, and we who say his behavior was “immoral” simply have different brain chemistry than he.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 16, 2009 at 6:40 am

ayer,

How do I put this? I like the world, while recognizing that much work is to be done. This is a pretty good world if you assume it just evolved blindly. But if there is an all-good, all-powerful world, it is a pretty awful world compared to what it should be.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 6:52 am

TK: (is a rock incapable of “causing” ripples simply because it can’t violate the causal chain in doing so?)

No. Luke’s point is that the rock can choose to create different ripples than it is deterministically required to. This is completely false without violating causality.

TK: b) totally dodged my point, which was that “naturalism means everything is meaningless!”

Apparently there was no argument beyond the ad hominem. If you’d like to expand on this argument, knock yourself out.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 7:06 am

Steven Carr: I see. So the moment of creation of a deterministic machine is responsible for whatever that machine does later?

I’d written out a lengthy bit for you; but Thomas Reid already has the notion covered as well. Is this still unclear for you?

lukeprog: I like the world, while recognizing that much work is to be done.

Again, there is “work” to be done until you posit that the human mind exists outside causality.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 7:07 am

John Quincy Public: Again, there is “work” t

Feh. no “work”, natch.

  (Quote)

ayer November 16, 2009 at 7:23 am

lukeprog: ayer,How do I put this? I like the world, while recognizing that much work is to be done. This is a pretty good world if you assume it just evolved blindly. But if there is an all-good, all-powerful world, it is a pretty awful world compared to what it should be.  

I’m sorry, but that’s just not logically consistent. If it’s a pretty good world, it’s a pretty good world regardless of your metaphysical assumptions. Just because you think it should be a perfect world if God exists doesn’t all of a sudden make it “awful” assuming theism.

What’s happening is that when you are arguing against theism you focus like a laser on what’s wrong with world in order to score points; when describing the world on atheism you downplay evil and suffering and put on your rose-colored glasses so you can wax rhapsodic about how “enchanting” the world is.

  (Quote)

Silas November 16, 2009 at 8:06 am

There is no self without casuality.

I’d like to hear someone question that statement.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 16, 2009 at 9:24 am

It is simply bluster to claim that deterministic mechanisms do not choose.

It is random mechanisms which do not choose, unless you think those roulette wheels in Las Vegas are choosing which numbers are coming up.

But I like the idea that Christians have morality because they can kill people at random for fun, while those poor atheists are constrained by their nature , which ‘determines’ them not to kill people for fun.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 16, 2009 at 9:28 am

Oh, and if you are a follower of William Lane Craig, you believe your (imaginary) God chose to create the world in which you freely choose to commit sin, when God could have chosen to create the world in which you do *not* freely choose to commit sin.

Apparently, this imaginary god knew what you would freely choose in all sets of circumstances, and then decided what circumstances he would put you in.

So what choice did you have, when this God knew what pressed your buttons, and then pressed them to get the results he planned to get?

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 16, 2009 at 9:31 am

Silas: There is no self without casuality. I’d like to hear someone question that statement.  (Quote)

Yes, I’ll question it: what do you mean? First, how are you defining both of these terms? Next, do you mean something like:
(1) “Self” implies, or is an argument for, causality.

Or maybe something like:
(2) Causality is an essential property of “self”.

Or something else?

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 16, 2009 at 9:38 am

JQC
Luke’s point is that the rock can choose to create different ripples than it is deterministically required to.

CARR
My brain made me do it!

While JQC does things at random, his actions not being determined by rational thought.

Never go near JQC. He could literally do anything at any moment. Nothing will stop him killing you. He means it. Literally nothing is stopping him from killing people.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 10:50 am

Steven Carr: Luke’s point is that the rock can choose to create different ripples than it is deterministically required to.

I understand that perfectly; I’m glad we agree. But, again, that requires that the mind exist outside this universe. Otherwise the mind is a slave to determinism in this one and it is impossible for it to “choose” anything.

This is just basic induction and physics. It really shouldn’t be so difficult to grasp. Heck evolution requires the same construction.

  (Quote)

Fortuna November 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I’m sorry, but that’s just not logically consistent. If it’s a pretty good world, it’s a pretty good world regardless of your metaphysical assumptions. Just because you think it should be a perfect world if God exists doesn’t all of a sudden make it “awful” assuming theism.

I’m sorry, I’m just not seeing what the inconsistency is. For a world without a person in charge, there’s lots of really cool stuff around for us to consider.

The problem of evil is a just a logical conundrum that needs to be addressed for certain kinds of gods.

What’s happening is that when you are arguing against theism you focus like a laser on what’s wrong with world in order to score points; when describing the world on atheism you downplay evil and suffering and put on your rose-colored glasses so you can wax rhapsodic about how “enchanting” the world is.

That’s just a totally uncharitable interpretation. The point of the post was to discuss why naturalists need not be disenchanted with the world, a perfectly reasonable thing to consider. I don’t know why you’d expect griping about all the things that suck in such a post.

Conversely, I don’t know why you begrudge us discussing the problems theism has with explaining said suckage, given that part of what various forms of theism set out to do is to explain precisely that.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 16, 2009 at 12:41 pm

JQP’s mind is not determined by rational thought. He is not a ‘slave’ to rational thought.

That might be true, but why does he insist on telling other people that his mind is not determined?

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Steven Carr: JQP’s mind is not determined by rational thought. He is not a ’slave’ to rational thought.

It’s interesting to note what happens when you hold up science that conflicts with deeply held religious views. The path typically follows:

1) Repeated assertion of the now false ideas
2) Accepting a comfortable portion of the science while pretending the rest doesn’t exist
3) Ad Hominem attacks based on straw men
4) Hysterical implosion of the denier of science

I think, Carr, that you are getting very close to point 4. I look forward to your future antics as you grapple with science refuting your mythical beliefs.

You may, of course, provide a rational argument at any point. I simply doubt that you will; it’s not what religious fundies do.

  (Quote)

TK November 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm

John Quincy Public:
No.Luke’s point is that the rock can choose to create different ripples than it is deterministically required to.This is completely false without violating causality.

Man, JQP, I will personally buy you a pizza over the Internet and have it delivered to your door if you can find me where in this thread Luke claimed rocks were capable of “choosing” anything. This is an epic instance of reading comprehension fail.

Apparently there was no argument beyond the ad hominem.If you’d like to expand on this argument, knock yourself out.  

More reading comprehension fail.

  (Quote)

Conor Gilliland November 16, 2009 at 1:09 pm

What exactly does the naturalist mean when they talk about evil? They talk about evil as a “real thing” that makes the existence of a good God highly improbable. The supernaturalist would say that it’s only because God exists that evil can exist. Without God, the traditional concept of “evil” goes straight out the window. The most a naturalist is entitled to say is something like, “the images on the television screen depicting human death caused by a massive tsunami, causes an unpleasant physical reaction.” To posit metaphysical evil out there in the world, for the naturalist, is simply a contradiction. So, while the naturalist might point out that evil might make a good God improbable, the supernaturalist will say that the most work this argument accomplishes is that God’s reasons for permitting evil are inscrutable – this is a far cry from the logical contradiction that the naturalist suffers. The kind of naturalistic evil that would exist in a consistent naturalistic worldview would reduce to naturalistic psychology. It would reduce to unpleasant brain states.

  (Quote)

TK November 16, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Thomas Reid: Thus the brain that is Thomas may influence other brains, but the brains have no choice in the matter, with “choice” being unintelligible on determinism.

“Choice” doesn’t become unintelligible, merely illusory.

If choice is unintelligible, then it follows that “morality” is as well.

How does this follow? Please produce a valid logical syllogism with only true premises that has as its conclusion “if ‘choice’ is unintelligible, then ‘morality’ is unintelligible.”

  (Quote)

TK November 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Conor Gilliland: They talk about evil as a “real thing” that makes the existence of a good God highly improbable.

You are entirely misunderstanding the objection, which is that if God exists, then there exists something called “evil” which God has some interest in mitigating. Since there are countless examples of what a theist would describe as “evil”, the likelihood that God exists is decreased. At absolutely no point in this objection does the atheist’s personal opinion regarding the existence or ontological status of “evil” enter into the discussion.

So, while the naturalist might point out that evil might make a good God improbable, the supernaturalist will say that the most work this argument accomplishes is that God’s reasons for permitting evil are inscrutable – this is a far cry from the logical contradiction that the naturalist suffers.

At a murder scene, not a single piece of evidence points to a man (let’s call him Billy) as the murderer. In fact, much of the evidence makes it seem as though Billy could not possibly have committed the murder. The state decides to prosecute him anyway. When the defense correctly points out that the evidence strongly points away from Billy, the prosecution brings out their trump card argument: “Well, Billy works in mysterious ways!”

Seriously, is this the best defense theists can muster? They don’t accept “X works by some unknown mechanism” when it comes to evolution or abiogenesis, yet they’re perfectly willing to trot it out as a defense of their God’s existence. I detect an inconsistency!

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

TK: Man, JQP, I will personally buy you a pizza over the Internet and have it delivered to your door if you can find me where in this thread Luke claimed rocks were capable of “choosing” anything.

I understand perfectly that you attempted to construct this to always be able to weasel out of paying off. But dude, seriously?

He introduced the rock metaphor in the post immediately before your entrance in the thread as:

lukeprog: My brain causes my behavior in the same way that a rock falling in a pond causes ripples. But yes, an unbroken chain of causation leads back to the big bang.

Which was in reply to my taking issue with this statement of his:

lukeprog: Determinism shows that I (my brain) is truly responsible for my actions, not some spiritual homunculus in another realm.

Which was kept short for decency. The full quote in context from the original post is:

“Rosenberg is right that we do not make uncaused choices. Our choices are determined. But we do have the ability to do what we want.

And actually, determinism improves the state of moral responsibility. Determinism shows that I (my brain) is truly responsible for my actions, not some spiritual homunculus in another realm. Moreover, determinism shows that we can influence other people to be moral! How could we make things better if the source of our choices was beyond the natural world? But since naturalism is true, we can use moral tools like praise and condemnation to hold people responsible, change their immoral desires, and create a better world for all of us.”

Now, that only leaves two possible interpretations.

1) He was claiming that a rock, or any other deterministic collection of matter in this universe, may “choose” its path. This is at odds with science, for what it’s worth. Or –

2) He was being disingenuous and intellectually dishonest in his response to my objection. As can be plainly seen in the quote I was objecting to.

I chose answer 1. If you disagree, and wish to call our host a prevaricator? Then you don’t owe me a pizza.

TK: More reading comprehension fail.

You do realize that the quote function exists and makes a mockery of such short memories, yes? Here, let me help:

TK: Luke, you are probably wasting your time with JQP–he’s one of the VP parroters who blindly accepts (with precisely zero evidence) that atheism makes the existence of objective moral truths, meaning, value, etc. impossible.

Now I encourage you to show me which of these attacks on my person have any intersection with the arguments I’ve made.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 2:36 pm

TK: Please produce a valid logical syllogism with only true premises that has as its conclusion “if ‘choice’ is unintelligible, then ‘morality’ is unintelligible.”

You really are thick. Witness:

TK: “Choice” doesn’t become unintelligible, merely illusory.

If choice is illusory then so is morality. This follows not only his construction but the entire worth of Desirism as defended by Luke.

Further, it makes a mockery of your own defense about rocks “choosing” when you realize the original post stated that determinism improved things on the basis of being able to make choices.

Lastly it means that Atheists cannot choose to be moral because choice is illusory. Therefore there can be no objective morality or value that Atheists can follow. This is the straw man you used in your ad hominem of me.

You sir are a Grade A specimen of ignorance.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 2:47 pm

TK: You are entirely misunderstanding the objection, which is that if God exists, then there exists something called “evil” which God has some interest in mitigating. Since there are countless examples of what a theist would describe as “evil”, the likelihood that God exists is decreased.

Which works only if you acknowledge that if you were a god you would mitigate what you found as evil in the manner which you demand of the deity under discussion.

This is precisely the same manner in which every teenager knows more than their parents. Only now applied to supernatural actors.

There are manners in which to make a similar objection; this just isn’t it.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm

TK: “Choice” doesn’t become unintelligible, merely illusory.How does this follow? Please produce a valid logical syllogism with only true premises that has as its conclusion “if ‘choice’ is unintelligible, then ‘morality’ is unintelligible.”  (Quote)

By “illusory”, you mean non-existent, right? As you wish.

No, I can’t provide a syllogism. But an argument, yes.

Any concept of morality presumes free agency, because without free agency it makes no sense (that is, it is unintelligible) to talk about what we should or should not do. “Choosing” is the act of a free agent only. This is not complicated or ground-breaking.

1. If naturalism is true, there is no free agency.
2. If there is no free agency, then there is no morality.
3. Naturalism is true.
4. From 1, 2, and 3, there is no morality.

If you prefer to call morality “illusory” as opposed to “unintelligible”, fine with me.

Of course, choice being illusory as it is: “I” don’t expect “you” to be able to “choose” to “believe” or “disbelieve” anything “I” just wrote.

  (Quote)

Conor Gilliland November 16, 2009 at 3:11 pm

TK, It’s an appeal to common sense notions of evil. Naturalists often acknowledge that they need to do more work in explaining evil, apart from brain states (as is the point of this post). I’m not offering an explanation of why we need to do this, but establishing common ground to argue from.

1. Whatever evil is, it is by definition more significant than brain states. (otherwise we would not call it “evil” but “unpleasant brain states”)
2. Naturalism, by definition, cannot offer anything more significant than brain states.
3. Therefore, Naturalism cannot account for the significance of evil.

Luke might appeal to desires as significant reasons for mitigating evil, but desires too reduce to materialistic brain states. I would grant that if one has a desire, it is reasonable to try to satisfy that desire. Thus I wouldn’t say that naturalists can’t have any ethic but that it would reduce to seeking pleasurable brain states – hedonism. If the naturalist concedes that, I would not take issue because I feel like they would at least be consistent. I am genuinely interested in how the naturalist can avoid that…

  (Quote)

Fortuna November 16, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Thomas Reid;

Any concept of morality presumes free agency, because without free agency it makes no sense (that is, it is unintelligible) to talk about what we should or should not do.

Could you expand on that please, preferably with an example? I honestly don’t see why determinism makes it unintelligible to speak of what one should do.

“Choosing” is the act of a free agent only. This is not complicated or ground-breaking.

Why is it the act of a free agent only? Again, illustrative examples might help me out, here.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm

ayer,

No, it’s not inconsistent. Imagine I said “This is a pretty good party considering nobody planned it!” Then imagine we go to a party with a $20 million budget that was planned by a team of professionals and it was no better than the one that was unplanned. I would say, “Huh. This is a pretty shitty party considering there was a $20 million budget and a team of professionals planning it.”

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Fortuna: I honestly don’t see why determinism makes it unintelligible to speak of what one should do.

It’s a difference between must and may. When a pool ball collides with another pool ball they both must accelerate in different directions as prescribed by physics. If it were otherwise they may accelerate or not. They may step out of each other’s way. They may have a spot of tea and discuss the morality of the violence in colliding celluloid spheres.

When you speak of what one should do you are making two implicit statements. One may do the correct thing. And one may do the incorrect thing. Picking one or the other is making a choice; which is where free will comes into it. The capability of choosing. From this it follows that some choices are correct (good) and incorrect (evil).

In determinism there is no choice. What happens must be the single outcome that is required by the laws of physics. Since there are no choices there can be no good or evil outcomes. Nor can anyone be held responsible for things they have no choice in. Otherwise we get such fancies as blaming Obama for the moon’s orbit.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm

lukeprog: and it was no better than the one that was unplanned.

You paid the same cover charge either way. Why should you enjoy one less than the other?

  (Quote)

Rhys Wilkins November 16, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Of course there is choice in determinism! Just because a causal chain is not violated does not mean we are ragged puppets enslaved by mindless forces! To believe such is science fiction.

  (Quote)

drj November 16, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Aside from giving in to purposefully deflationary rhetoric, I don’t see whats wrong at all with resting morality on ‘brain states’. Alas, this seems one of the few ways to actually arrive at a coherent and practical idea of morality.

Have all of you theists taking your jabs at determinism yet come to realize you are in the same boat? If choices have no causal framework, they can’t be anything but un-caused and arbitrary. That hardly seems a recipe for moral responsibility.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Rhys Wilkins: Just because a causal chain is not violated does not mean we are ragged puppets enslaved by mindless forces! To believe such is science fiction.

Rather it is physics. To be able to make a choice necessitates that you can violate the causal chain; this is the antithesis of determinism.

drj: If choices have no causal framework, they can’t be anything but un-caused and arbitrary. That hardly seems a recipe for moral responsibility.

You have this backwards. Responsibility, moral or otherwise, is predicated on choosing one out of a set of possible options. There can be no responsibility when there is no choice.

If there is a causal framework then there is no choice and no responsibility. One cannot say “you should have done X” when it was not possible to do otherwise. And since the universe is deterministic there is a causal framework so long as you posit that our minds exist in this universe.

  (Quote)

drj November 16, 2009 at 6:40 pm

John Quincy Public: If there is a causal framework then there is no choice and no responsibility. One cannot say “you should have done X” when it was not possible to do otherwise. And since the universe is deterministic there is a causal framework so long as you posit that our minds exist in this universe.

So far you have failed to make the case for your implied affirmative claim – that the absence of determinism can at all make way for a coherent idea of moral responsibility.

Removing cause and effect does not provide any kind of framework for blameworthiness or praiseworthiness. You’ve simply gone from predictable to unpredictable, where “choice” is simply unavoidable random hiccups in the aether, not to be attributed to any part of our being. No sort of moral responsibility emerges at any point on that continuum.

If it doesn’t seem reasonable to say one is morally irresponsible when they steal – because the big bang happened – it certainly doesn’t make any sense to say it if their choice to steal was simply another arbitrary blib that percolated into their brain from another dimension.

The irony is, if one attempts to explain how decisions can be made from our pilots in this alternate causeless universe, one will invariably start to imagine laws and rules that determine how those choices are made and you come full circle back to determinism.

  (Quote)

ayer November 16, 2009 at 6:47 pm

lukeprog: ayer,No, it’s not inconsistent. Imagine I said “This is a pretty good party considering nobody planned it!” Then imagine we go to a party with a $20 million budget that was planned by a team of professionals and it was no better than the one that was unplanned. I would say, “Huh. This is a pretty shitty party considering there was a $20 million budget and a team of professionals planning it.”  

Hmm, bad analogy, but the fact that you analogize life to a party is revealing. A better analogy is this:

Life is a journey on a destination to a beautiful city of eternal life, but the road is through a desert full of difficulties, pain and obstacles. Four groups are traveling on the road: (1) the Christians follow the road and arrive at the destination, where they see that all the struggle was worth it;

(2) the hedonist-atheists don’t believe the road leads anywhere–after all, they can’t see the destination from the desert. So they decide to stay where they are and die, but have a drunken bacchanalia in the meantime;

(3) the Sagan-style atheists also don’t believe in the destination and decide to stay where they are, but decide to kill the time until they die in the desert studying the sand and dirt with their microscope and rhapsodizing that “it really is beautiful and enchanting in its own way”;

(4) the Camus-style atheists don’t believe in the destination, and recognize that means that the journey is meaningless; they decide to stay where they are, wait to die, and point out to the other two groups of atheists that they are in denial and should join the Camus-group in tough-minded despair.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 16, 2009 at 6:55 pm

JQP continues to claim that his actions are not determined.

Which obviously implies that his actions are not determined by rational thought.

And JQP claims nothing causes him to choose.

Which obviously implies that nothing causes him to behave well.

JQP can kill at random – for literally no cause. He claims nothing in the universe can stop him choosing to kill, not even his own nature.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 16, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Fortuna asks:
Could you expand on that please, preferably with an example? I honestly don’t see why determinism makes it unintelligible to speak of what one should do.

Sure. What does it mean to tell the TV to turn itself off? What does it mean to condemn the TV for not turning itself off? It means nothing.

On determinism, it is just as meaningless to commend a brain for responding to inputs that cause it to save somebody (or, perhaps more precisely, another brain?) as it is to condemn a TV for not turning itself off. There is no “I”, there is no “choice”, and there is no “ought”.

Why is it the act of a free agent only? Again, illustrative examples might help me out, here.  

Determined objects do not make choices. The TV goes off because it is programmed to, or because the power goes off, or because I hit it with a baseball bat after the Patriots blow a fourth down, or something else. Conversely, it is within my power to hit the TV with a baseball bat, and to refrain from hitting the TV with a baseball bat – I am free with respect to this action. Whichever way I act, it is because I choose to do so.

The academic definition of this concept is “contra-causal free will”. Of you ask me, everybody acts as if they have this power, but only some admit to using it :)

  (Quote)

ayer November 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Steven Carr: JQP continues to claim that his actions are not determined.Which obviously implies that his actions are not determined by rational thought.And JQP claims nothing causes him to choose.Which obviously implies that nothing causes him to behave well.JQP can kill at random – for literally no cause. He claims nothing in the universe can stop him choosing to kill, not even his own nature.  

His actions are self-determined; you have heard of “self-determination,” right?

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/self-determination

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 7:18 pm

drj: So far you have failed to make the case for your implied affirmative claim – that the absence of determinism can at all make way for a coherent idea of moral responsibility.

Except that such is not the only implied claim. An absence of determinism may or may not allow for moral responsibility. I need not forward an alternate hypothesis to show that the one under discussion is false.

Steven Carr: JQP continues to claim that his actions are not determined.

Problematically I’ve not forwarded my own view to things. But please do continue.

  (Quote)

Fortuna November 16, 2009 at 7:19 pm

John Quincy Public;

It’s a difference between must and may. When a pool ball collides with another pool ball they both must accelerate in different directions as prescribed by physics. If it were otherwise they may accelerate or not. They may step out of each other’s way. They may have a spot of tea and discuss the morality of the violence in colliding celluloid spheres.

OK, with you so far.

When you speak of what one should do you are making two implicit statements. One may do the correct thing. And one may do the incorrect thing. Picking one or the other is making a choice; which is where free will comes into it. The capability of choosing. From this it follows that some choices are correct (good) and incorrect (evil).

Well, consider that one doesn’t know how the future is going to unfold when one speaks of what should be done. If I’m giving advice to a friend, I don’t see any actual contradiction between believing that he is going to make a choice that is causally determined, and telling him what I think he should do, given his desires and any other facts relevant to the situation. If anything, it would strike me as odd to be giving him advice if I thought he was going to be making decisions on some kind of a-causal basis; how could what I say even influence the process?

Additionally, I still don’t see how picking one thing over another requires free will, in the sense of will that can violate a causal chain. If I find myself presented with the decision to, say, drink either tea or coffee with my breakfast, what’s the problem with terming my decision a “choice” if the mental heuristics involved proceed deterministically? Again, I would find it odd if you were to maintain that I picked my breakfast drink without mentally weighing up my options deterministically; how exactly did I make the choice, if not in that fashion? Was it random?

Finally, I don’t see how it would follow from the capability of choosing per se that there are good choices and evil choices. I think you’d have to make an explicit argument for that.

In determinism there is no choice. What happens must be the single outcome that is required by the laws of physics. Since there are no choices there can be no good or evil outcomes. Nor can anyone be held responsible for things they have no choice in. Otherwise we get such fancies as blaming Obama for the moon’s orbit.

From a pragmatic point of view, perhaps you can acknowledge that holding individuals responsible for their actions makes sense. If I shoot somebody in a fit of rage for bumping into me at the supermarket, hadn’t you best incarcerate me in the interest of public safety? Determinism suggests I could very well do something similar again, given that I’m apparently a raging dick (for the purposes of this example). Rehabilitate me, if at all possible, for my own well-being? Alter my mental landscape, alter my future behaviour; that doesn’t make quite as much sense if my mind doesn’t proceed down causal pathways.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 7:20 pm

ayer: His actions are self-determined; you have heard of “self-determination,” right?

That’s one possibility, sure.

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Fortuna: If anything, it would strike me as odd to be giving him advice if I thought he was going to be making decisions on some kind of a-causal basis; how could what I say even influence the process?

And there’s the rub. You didn’t have the choice to not give him advice. And he has no choice over whether he “follows” that advice or not. That’s the nature of it.

To claim otherwise requires that physics must be violated in some fashion.

  (Quote)

Fortuna November 16, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Thomas Reid;

Sure. What does it mean to tell the TV to turn itself off? What does it mean to condemn the TV for not turning itself off? It means nothing.

On determinism, it is just as meaningless to commend a brain for responding to inputs that cause it to save somebody (or, perhaps more precisely, another brain?) as it is to condemn a TV for not turning itself off. There is no “I”, there is no “choice”, and there is no “ought”.

Why is it just as meaningless? Why is there no “I”, no choice, no ought?

Determined objects do not make choices. The TV goes off because it is programmed to, or because the power goes off, or because I hit it with a baseball bat after the Patriots blow a fourth down, or something else.

Indeed, but then objects can’t sustain any thought whatsoever, so I can’t say I find it interesting to note that they make no choices.

Conversely, it is within my power to hit the TV with a baseball bat, and to refrain from hitting the TV with a baseball bat – I am free with respect to this action. Whichever way I act, it is because I choose to do so.

Mmmhmm. Nothing’s coercing you, in the usual sense of the term. Still don’t see why your choice has to lack causal antecedents.

The academic definition of this concept is “contra-causal free will”. If you ask me, everybody acts as if they have this power, but only some admit to using it :)

If you ask me, everybody can be said to act as if their actions aren’t determined in advance because we simply don’t know how the future will unfold…at least not in detail. It may be the case that I’m fated to marry person X, but my inability to see the future obliges me to behave as if my fate is uncertain; indeed, from my perspective, uncertain is exactly what it is.

  (Quote)

Fortuna November 16, 2009 at 7:49 pm

John Quincy Public;

And there’s the rub. You didn’t have the choice to not give him advice. And he has no choice over whether he “follows” that advice or not. That’s the nature of it.

To claim otherwise requires that physics must be violated in some fashion.

OK, great. How does that oblige me to refrain from using the word “should”? I want my friend to do X,Y,Z in order that A,B,C will obtain. Seems I need to tell him that he should do X,Y,Z. Determinism strikes me as downright necessary in order for that to make any sense, otherwise he could spazz out and start picking other letters out of the alphabet, for all I know.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 16, 2009 at 7:55 pm

drj:
So far you have failed to make the case for your implied affirmative claim – that the absence of determinism can at all make way for a coherent idea of moral responsibility.Removing cause and effect does not provide any kind of framework for blameworthiness or praiseworthiness.You’ve simply gone from predictable to unpredictable, where “choice” is simply unavoidable random hiccups in the aether, not to be attributed to any part of our being. No sort of moral responsibility emerges at any point on that continuum.

Those who reject physical determinism don’t remove cause and effect. Rather, they recognize that causes are not categorized only as “material” or “efficient”. There are also “final” causes. A free agent can act according to particular reasons. Do you get in your car to go to work, or because electrochemical pulsations lurch you forward?
Now the physical determinist could, if he were so inclined to keep his theory coherent, define final causes out of existence. But I strongly suspect that he would be checking his everyday, implicit metaphysical assumptions at the door, so to speak. Put another way, his very thoughts and actions undercut his thesis.

  (Quote)

Gloriousruin November 16, 2009 at 8:00 pm

“Brains create purposes” – How do you know?

“Reasons for action evolved” – So we should assume these reasons or desires will continue to evolve and therefore it’s pointless and arrogant to advocate for feeding the poor, condemning rape and loving my neighbor. Any desire I have is legitimate, especially if I can find/create a large enough network of people who share my desires. Is that accurate or have I missed something in your argument?

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 16, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Fortuna: It may be the case that I’m fated to marry person X, but my inability to see the future obliges me to behave as if my fate is uncertain; indeed, from my perspective, uncertain is exactly what it is.

Rather, you are unable to peer into the future. That doesn’t mean that the future is uncertain. The key is not what may happen in the future, it is what must happen in the future. It is the “must” that makes the whole concept of choice and morality moot unless you start creating frameworks by which physics can be violated.

Fortuna: OK, great. How does that oblige me to refrain from using the word “should”?

It doesn’t. You will be obliged to use it or not use it without any choice in the matter. Morality has no concept under determinism. You are free to postulate anything else you like such that morality can be rehabilitated; but it must account for the manner in which physics will be violated.

Thomas Reid: Put another way, his very thoughts and actions undercut his thesis.

You were spot on until right here. Under determinism his thoughts and actions cannot be otherwise. It neither supports nor undercuts determinism.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

ayer,

What’s wrong with my analogy?

What’s wrong with your analogy is this: it says there is a beautiful city at the end of life, but there is none. It is a blatant fairy tale. That you can even write the phrase “beautiful city of eternal life” and mean it both metaphorically and seriously is what amazes me.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 17, 2009 at 12:05 am

JQP
Under determinism his thoughts and actions cannot be otherwise

CARR
Yes, if I add up 2 and 2 , I cannot get other than 4.

But JQP can add up 2 and 2 and get 15. His thoughts are not determined by logic or facts.

If I see a bus in the road , I think ‘There is a bus’.

But JQP can think otherwise. He can think ‘There is 10 dollars. I can pick that up.’

REID
Those who reject physical determinism don’t remove cause and effect. Rather, they recognize that causes are not categorized only as “material” or “efficient”. There are also “final” causes.

CARR
Of course they don’t remove cause and effect. They just go all meaningless and have causes that don’t cause anything.

They just claim their actions are not determined by their nature. If they are good people, that does not cause them to behave well. Something else causes them to behave well. Something other than rational thought or logic.

They get in their car to go to work, but they then deny that a desire to go to work was caused by something that happened in the past.

Becuase that would be determinism, and that is a theologically incorrect work to use.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 17, 2009 at 12:16 am

AYER
His actions are self-determined; you have heard of “self-determination,” right?

CARR
WHat a stunning refutation of the claim that the state of the universe determines what JQP will do! Simply point out that there is something in the universe that determines what JQP will do and you can ‘refute’ the claim that the state of the universe determines what JQP will do.

Perhaps Ayer will tell me, what causes JQP to behave well?

Can Ayer point to one thing in the universe that will stop JQP choosing to kill people, if determinism does not hold?

  (Quote)

TK November 17, 2009 at 12:20 am

John Quincy Public: Now, that only leaves two possible interpretations.

1) He was claiming that a rock, or any other deterministic collection of matter in this universe, may “choose” its path. This is at odds with science, for what it’s worth. Or –

2) He was being disingenuous and intellectually dishonest in his response to my objection. As can be plainly seen in the quote I was objecting to.

I chose answer 1. If you disagree, and wish to call our host a prevaricator? Then you don’t owe me a pizza.

False dichotomy. There is also 3) You are deliberately reading Luke’s words in as uncharitable a manner as possible. (Go back and do that with your Bible, and I guarantee you will finish as an atheist.)

The original Luke quote was:

lukeprog: JQP,My brain causes my behavior in the same way that a rock falling in a pond causes ripples.

Now, perhaps you think that, by “in the same way”, he meant “by choosing”. I don’t think so, and I don’t see any evidence that that’s the case.

Or perhaps you are merely extrapolating from the implication that “Brains may choose (albeit non-underministically) what they want to do”. I have absolutely no idea how you get from that to “Any deterministic collection of matter may choose what it wants to do”. My shirt is grey. My shirt is a deterministic collection of matter. Does it follow that all deterministic collections of matter are grey?

It looks like I won’t have to give you that pizza after all.

John Quincy Public: Now I encourage you to show me which of these attacks on my person have any intersection with the arguments I’ve made.

Repeated requests to provide any kind of evidence or rational argumentation are met with rhetoric and snark. I persist in doing so only because I entertain some doubt that my assessment is correct. (I also happen to be a masochist.)

John Quincy Public: If choice is illusory then so is morality.

Wow! This is exactly the thing I asked someone to prove (except with “unintelligible” replaced by “illusory”) and all you did was restate it. Imagine submitting a proof of an earth-shattering mathematical theorem which consisted simply of stating the theorem.

Thomas Reid: No, I can’t provide a syllogism. But an argument, yes.

Well! If you want to say that “Y logically follows from X”, you’d better have an ironclad syllogism connecting the two!

Thomas Reid: Any concept of morality presumes free agency, because without free agency it makes no sense (that is, it is unintelligible) to talk about what we should or should not do.

But that’s simply not true. For, example, I don’t believe in free agency, but the word “morality” is not suddenly meaningless or unintelligible to me.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 17, 2009 at 12:25 am

CARR
And don’t forget it is Christian doctrine that this imaginary god chose to create the world in which the Holocaust happened, when he could have chosen to create the world in which Hitler freely chose to become a painter.

According to William Lane Craig, God actualises the circumstances in which people choose.

God knew in which circumstances Hitler would choose to launch a genocidal campaign against the Jews, and then God chose to create a world in which those circumstances happened.

CRAIG
‘In virtue of His knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and His freedom to decree that certain circumstances exist and certain free creatures be placed in those circumstances, God is able to bring about indirectly that events occur which He knew would happen as a direct result of the particular decisions which those creatures would freely make in those circumstances’

CARR
God knew which buttons to press to get Hitler to kill Jews, and then God pressed those buttons.

So much for free will in a theistic world. You are free to choose whatever God planned you to choose.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 17, 2009 at 3:33 am

TK:

Well! If you want to say that “Y logically follows from X”, you’d better have an ironclad syllogism connecting the two!

Go have a look at the definition of “syllogism”. It is not the only form of deductive argument. Which of my 3 premises are false? Why?

But that’s simply not true. For, example, I don’t believe in free agency, but the word “morality” is not suddenly meaningless or unintelligible to me.  

That’s because neither you nor I live as if naturalism is true. Free agency and the capacity for moral behavior are essential properties of human beings.

JQP:
You were spot on until right here. Under determinism his thoughts and actions cannot be otherwise. It neither supports nor undercuts determinism.

My intent was to show that either determinism is false, or he’s fooling himself.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 17, 2009 at 4:34 am

REID
That’s because neither you nor I live as if naturalism is true.

CARR
Yes, we do. The difference is that you claim nothing can stop you killing people, because nothing will cause you to behave well.

  (Quote)

ayer November 17, 2009 at 5:07 am

Steven Carr: CARR
Yes, we do. The difference is that you claim nothing can stop you killing people, because nothing will cause you to behave well.

That’s what’s disturbing about naturalists/determinists; they have ways of making you behave (since you are nothing more than a externally-determinable input/output system):

B.F. Skinner: “What is being abolished is autonomous man–the inner man, the homunculus, the possessing demon, the man defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity. His abolition has long been overdue. Autonomous man is a device used to explain what we cannot explain in any other way. He has been constructed from our ignorance, and as our understanding in creases, the very stuff of which he is composed vanishes. Science does not dehumanize man, it de-homunculizes him, and it must do so if it is to prevent the abolition of the human species. To man qua man we readily say good riddance. Only by dispossessing him can we turn to real causes of human behavior. Only then can we turn from the inferred to the observed, from the miraculous to the natural, from the inaccessible to the manipulable” (in “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”).

  (Quote)

Steven Carr November 17, 2009 at 5:29 am

AYER
That’s what’s disturbing about naturalists/determinists; they have ways of making you behave

CARR
Yes, naturalists produce compelling arguments, which compel people.

Theists don’t believe in compulsion, which is why they never produce compelling arguments.

In fact, not even prayer ,Bible study and the Holy Spirit can cause a theist to behave well. They are so proud of that!

  (Quote)

John Quincy Public November 17, 2009 at 5:42 am

TK: (Go back and do that with your Bible, and I guarantee you will finish as an atheist.)

And yet another ad hominem. Though I thank you for being charitable enough to slander me as a Christian rather than as Hitler.

TK: Now, perhaps you think that, by “in the same way”, he meant “by choosing”. I don’t think so, and I don’t see any evidence that that’s the case.

That’s simply because you’re blinded by your religious dogma. It is well known that external radiation can affect how the brain functions; obvious really, the brain operating on voltage differences. Since our host is obviously not a dullard he is certainly aware of such. This alone shows that the brain cannot be responsible when the brain is under such cosmic influence. Therefore he either meant choice or he’s prevaricating.

Further, it’s completely at odds with biology as it is well known that simple reflexes are managed by the spinal cord and require no interaction with the brain. This too shows that numerous actions do not require the interaction of the brain at all. Again, since he’s not a dullard he either meant choice or he’s prevaricating.

Since the brain is not responsible for all actions, and it is not isolated from the universe outside it, then he must have mean choice. Otherwise you are claiming that he is prevaricating. (Or that he’s a dullard. But I doubt that will be your conclusion.)

TK: Wow! This is exactly the thing I asked someone to prove (except with “unintelligible” replaced by “illusory”)

Fair cop. That’s what I get for posting while distracted. As a remark on that topic however: It’s already been well hashed in philosophy that the presence of choice is central to moral responsibility. Seriously, this is 101 stuff here.

TK: But that’s simply not true. For, example, I don’t believe in free agency, but the word “morality” is not suddenly meaningless or unintelligible to me.

Then it is not for Thomas or I to substantiate the novel claim. It is for you to establish that moral responsibility logically follows from being unable to make a choice. Get crackin’, Sparky.

Thomas Reid: My intent was to show that either determinism is false, or he’s fooling himself.

I understand that. It simply doesn’t work if determinism is true. For it to be false we have to assume things not in evidence.

  (Quote)

ayer November 17, 2009 at 6:45 am

Steven Carr: Yes, naturalists produce compelling arguments, which compel people.

And if the arguments don’t work, they just move on to coercion, since there no fundamental difference between the two–both get the same end result and are thus equivalent, since the subject of the “compulsion” is not an autonomous decision-maker, just a system of inputs and outputs

  (Quote)

ayer November 17, 2009 at 6:58 am

lukeprog: ayer,What’s wrong with my analogy?What’s wrong with your analogy is this: it says there is a beautiful city at the end of life, but there is none. It is a blatant fairy tale. That you can even write the phrase “beautiful city of eternal life” and mean it both metaphorically and seriously is what amazes me.  

Uh, you realize that is the Christian view, right? You expect me to produce an analogy with a non-Christian view?

What’s wrong with your analogy is that if life is a journey (which it is) then portraying it as a party is nonsensical. As in the hedonist-atheist group in my analogy, they spend their lives averting their eyes from the existence of the road and its destination, while whining that if there was a good God he would have made their life-wasting party “more fun.”

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. November 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm

John Quincy Public: “Determinism shows that I (my brain) is truly responsible for my actions, not some spiritual homunculus in another realm.”Now you’re just fighting it. Every thought you have ever had, or will ever have, was created with the universe. Every action you have ever performed, or will, was created with the universe. The instant this universe was created, so were you. That instant of creation birthed the entire map of time, and it — if such a notion is sensible — is responsible for your actions, thoughts, desires, and joy. You (your brain) has nothing to do with it. Your brain can no more alter the course of events than it can alter itself.Or science is wrong and the supernatural exists.  (Quote)

I think I agree mostly with your views on determism. If true, then your just a part of the wound clock.

However you go way off course when you say “or science is wrong and the supernatiral exists”.

The supernatural suffers from the same deterministic problems. “Free Will” is an appeal to magic. The notion there is that there is this thing called free will that we do not understand but that God made cuz God is crazy cool and unfathomable — aka magic.

The supernatural does not solve the free will vs. determinism problem.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. November 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Guys JPQ is an agnostic. He is not a Christian.

He ain’t an theist either. If this were a fundy board he would be arguing against their worldview. But he is here. So he is aruing agianst materialism.

  (Quote)

Geoff Arnold November 18, 2009 at 12:20 am

Good response – I think both you and Richard Carrier nailed it. However it would be a nice touch if you could get your closing quotation (and acknowledgement) right:

“It will not be humans who witness the demise of the Sun six billion years hence: it will be entities as different from us as we are from bacteria.”
- Sir Martin Rees

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 18, 2009 at 7:47 am

Geoff,

Thanks! I looked all over for that quote and couldn’t find it! I knew it was Rees but I couldn’t Google it properly. :)

  (Quote)

drj November 18, 2009 at 8:13 am

However you go way off course when you say “or science is wrong and the supernatiral exists”.

Most definately. Its a bit premature to declare that natural science wont ever be able to account for some kind of free will/choice/moral repsonsiblty and that supernaturalism is a prerequisite that can make them possible. Way premature.

JQP, you have said that supernaturalism is a requirement for talking about these things. But if you can’t present at least a plausible hypothetical account of how supernaturalism might account for these things, I think its good evidence that the definitions that you are assuming are simply incoherent and would be logically impossible to satisfy under any possible scenario or worldview.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 18, 2009 at 10:07 am

drj: Most definately.Its a bit premature to declare that natural science wont ever be able to account for some kind of free will/choice/moral repsonsiblty and that supernaturalism is a prerequisite that can make them possible.Way premature.
JQP, you have said that supernaturalism is a requirement for talking about these things.But if you can’t present at least a plausible hypothetical account of how supernaturalism might account for these things, I think its good evidence that the definitions that you are assuming are simply incoherent and would be logically impossible to satisfy under any possible scenario or worldview.  

(Quote)

But it seems to me that it is an either/or proposition. If the plausibility of naturalism decreases as an explanation for known properties of ourselves, the plausibility of supernaturalism increases out of necessity. There are no other choices.

1. Free will / choice / morality is explained by either naturalism or supernaturalism.
2. It is not explained by naturalism.
3. Therefore, it is explained by supernaturalism.

I know what you’re saying about examining the other merits / demerits of supernaturalism, but at least for the evidence we have been discussing, it is the best explanation.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. November 18, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Free will is not explained by supernaturalism at all. All that is offered is an appeal to magic. It is absurdly, wildy stupid to say that supernaturalism explains free will. It does not. We cannot even come up with a coherant defnition of free will. Supernaturalists cannot even agree amongst themseleves on this issue.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. November 18, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Here is a good Richard Carrier blog post on this topic:

http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2009/08/does-free-will-matter.html

  (Quote)

drj November 18, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Thomas Reid:
But it seems to me that it is an either/or proposition.If the plausibility of naturalism decreases as an explanation for known properties of ourselves, the plausibility of supernaturalism increases out of necessity.There are no other choices.

1.Free will / choice / morality is explained by either naturalism or supernaturalism.
2.It is not explained by naturalism.
3.Therefore, it is explained by supernaturalism.I know what you’re saying about examining the other merits / demerits of supernaturalism, but at least for the evidence we have been discussing, it is the best explanation.  

I don’t think that follows. Naturalism may have no way to account for a flying spaghetti monster, but it doesnt automatically follow that one is more plausible under supernaturalism. It only means that a flying spaghetti monster is implausible under naturalism. It might be just as implausible under supernaturalism.

If naturalism and supernaturalism are our only two options, and the shoe fits neither, than we might be harboring some incoherent misleading beliefs about the thing we are discussing.

I personally do not see how less deterministic processes, which may or may not exist under supernaturalism, provide any more avenues for free “choice” or moral responsibility. That leads me to believe that the concepts being argued about, like choice, and moral responsibility are impossible, incoherent standards that no theory can meet. So far, no one has tried to show how any kind of meaningful “choice” is plausible under non-deterministic supernaturalism.

  (Quote)

ayer November 19, 2009 at 4:50 am

drj: So far, no one has tried to show how any kind of meaningful “choice” is plausible under non-deterministic supernaturalism.

Actually, there has been quite a lot of work in this area. See, e.g.,:

http://www.opentheism.info/pages/questions/phiq/freewill/freewill_02.php

  (Quote)

Rhys Wilkins November 19, 2009 at 3:53 pm

It really amazes me that people think determinism and free will are genuinely incompatible. Every choice we make is for a reason, and that reason is a cause. There is no single thing we do that is not for a reason/s. The reason I chose to sit down and use my laptop was because I wanted to check how everyone was going here on CSA, to check YouTube for any comments anyone posted me, to check if my blog post on FitConnect got any comments (it did) etc etc. I would not just go sit down at my computer for no reason whatsoever. You are completely free to make any choice you want but every choice you make is based on pre-determining factors and states of affairs!

  (Quote)

Mark November 30, 2009 at 1:33 pm

“Since I think naturalism presents an exciting and beautiful and, dare I say, enchanting view of the world, I must be one of these heroic but vain apologists for naturalism that Rosenberg seeks to rebut.”

What is beauty? Please do tell

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 30, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Beauty is subjective.

  (Quote)

MacGuy November 30, 2009 at 9:18 pm

I find the attempts at sanctifying moral responsibility under moral determinism here rather amusing and completely non-successful. I’m not gonna cover what has already been talked about here but I will address something similar that has escaped people’s notice.

“But there is no higher, absolute purpose,” some will protest. And that is true. But would you really want that anyway? Imagine you were born into a universe with objective, absolute, inescapable purpose. What if you didn’t find that purpose very appealing? For example, what if the higher purpose of the universe was to worship and entertain a jealous and petty God? Being born into such a universe would be like being born in North Korea.

That’s a clever statement, but false under Christian Theology. Assuming we have free will, God gave us the choice to reject His purpose for us. This atheistic rhetoric, however, fails in escaping the very own problem mentioned in the example! For if determinism is true, then any purpose we have now is what you’d call an “inescapable purpose”. Really, naturalisms pars no better. Even more interesting, you act as if we can create our own purpose.

Think of it. The world once had nothing but dead matter, and yet it managed – completely by accident and without the intervention of an intelligent actor – to wake up one day and become self-aware. I think that is more amazing than any story about a magical being injecting life into dead matter. Ours is a story about dead matter that awakened itself.

Sounds like a naturalistic miracle to me! An oxymoron, I know, but that’s exactly what this statement is. Scientists have not even begun solving the Origin of Life, and if anything, it has only gotten even more complex as time has progressed. The Law of Biogenesis continues to be confirmed but I am sure this is just another “designer of the gaps”. You instead replace it with “naturalism of the gaps” because science, being the holy savior that it is, will provide an answer!

  (Quote)

ayer December 13, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Rosenberg has responded comprehensively to critics here:

http://onthehuman.org/2009/11/the-disenchanted-naturalists-guide-to-reality/comment-page-1/#comment-649

If I’m not mistaken, he has provided powerful ammunition to Plantinga’s EAAN. This may indicate the potential for common ground (of a sort) between theists and atheists who are willing to embrace the Nietzshean implications of naturalism.

  (Quote)

lukeprog December 13, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Am I mistaken, or is commenting no longer available on Rosenberg’s article? I think Rosenberg is right about a lot of what he says, I just feel differently about it than he does. For example, we agree that evolution undermines any argument for moral intuitions.

  (Quote)

ayer December 14, 2009 at 6:56 am

lukeprog: Am I mistaken, or is commenting no longer available on Rosenberg’s article? I think Rosenberg is right about a lot of what he says, I just feel differently about it than he does. For example, we agree that evolution undermines any argument for moral intuitions.  

Yes, it looks like commenting is closed. Perhaps you could write a post responding to his comment?

  (Quote)

Sabio Lantz December 19, 2009 at 5:53 am

Playing the “Rockets Fall on Rockets Fall” while I read was perfect ! I wrote a brief post referring my readers to this great essay. I mention some linguist enrichment.

  (Quote)

lukeprog December 19, 2009 at 10:37 am

Sabio,

I’m glad you went for the total experience. :)

  (Quote)

Joel Duggins January 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm

This post does not seem worthy of you, of the level of intellectual capability that you display in the (few) other of your posts that I have read. I do not have time to respond to everything, but I would like to comment on a few of your points. Please take my comments in the kindest way possible, and if I am just completely missing something that is painfully obvious, please take the time to make it clear to me.

1) “I, for one, think it is quite amazing that purpose was not imposed upon the universe. Purpose is something the universe created all by itself.”
Unless we are operating by a completely different concept of the word “purpose,” I do not see how you can say that the universe can make its own purpose for itself. Purpose (Aristotle’s “final cause”) can either be fulfilled, or else not, but something that is caused cannot make up it’s own final cause.

2) “Morality is about reasons for action.”
If you mean this in the way that you seem to, I’m forced to disagree. Morality -real morality, ultimate morality- is about obligation. When someone has a heart attack in front of me, waiting in line at a grocery store, I am morally obligated to help. Yes, that moral obligation is a reason to help, but that does not mean, as you seem to be saying, that just any reason can be a source of morality. Again, unless I am mistaken, you seem to believe that something is morally wrong if you feel that it needs to be corrected. That is not morality, that is conscience. A conscience is either correct or incorrect, depending on how well it ties into a transcendent morality.

3) “How could we make things better if. . .”
This is my last comment, and it is considerably broader than the others. You speak, fairly often, about making things better- you say that the desire for this is something shared by Atheists, Muslims, Christians, and most other people. I am curious about your use of the word “better.” In your worldview, what decides what is “better?” You certainly can’t mean better in some objective, ultimate way. Perhaps you really mean something like “how could we make things more agreeable to ourselves if. . .” If so, I suggest, for the sake of honesty and clarity that you actually say so. If not please explain what you do mean.

Thank you for having the patience and consideration to read my fairly antagonistic (and fairly long) comment. I have enjoyed reading and thinking through this post.

  (Quote)

Molly February 4, 2010 at 7:12 am

Word up! I took your advice and played ‘Take a Bow’ and it flowed perfectly with the reading, I enjoy your blog and I want more posts like this one!

  (Quote)

lukeprog February 4, 2010 at 7:54 am

Heh, cool, Molly.

  (Quote)

Steven R. February 25, 2011 at 9:19 am

Arguments against naturalism: it debunks the mysterious, enigmatic, never to be understood “substance” that I think controls us all (the soul) and it forces me to acknowledge the short-comings of my perceptions and not acknowledge that immaterial, rules of physics-breaking substances that never intervene to stop my perceptions from failing me anyway but which somehow truly know the truth about things, even though I really can’t say how that works out, is FALSE! Not only that, but it also gets rid of this weird thing called “absolute” purpose which is suspiciously close to what I actually want anyway but I say that it is an inherent property of the universe–whatever that means–and it says that it is just a projection of my desires! Like, this totally blows!

And if that wasn’t enough, it also gets of my other, immaterial-thingy that lets me do whatever I want whenever I want regardless of my situations or consideration and which, if we went back in time and I had the same knowledge and conditions and stuff, I might make a completely difference choice, and I don’t really have a basis for choosing X over Y which makes it totally random but it really isn’t because…because…it’s transcendent! Yea! It also makes nature something that evolved because each species wanted to survive instead of some immaterial, transcendent thingy decided that it would be great to create things for my own pleasure, nevermind all the viruses and asteroids that this disembodied mind mysteriously created, maybe because some woman made out of a rib ate some fruit thing or something…HOW CAN YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF WITH THIS???

And then we’re supposed to believe that this totally isn’t an appeal to consequences fallacy but something truer on a deeper, unverifiable, suspiciously out of the reach of any sort of examination-esque level.

  (Quote)

Márcio February 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

“I am my brain.”

LoL!!! Sorry for you!!!

It must be really strange to be a brain. How does it feel???

  (Quote)

cl February 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Am I the only one who thinks Luke is getting more and more naive and dogmatic these days? Consider:

We are conscious of our own free will, but Libet showed we have no such free will.

[...peruses the link...]

Libet’s experiments suggest that unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiator of volitional acts, and free will therefore plays no part in their initiation. If the brain has already taken steps to initiate an action before we are aware of any desire to perform it, the causal role of consciousness in volition is all but eliminated.

Of course, that conclusion does not follow from the premise, but even if it did [...goes back to the Marcel Brass interview...]

…this is at the moment very speculative. Because I mean, that this is simply the first study that shows we can find these influences of relatively high-level beliefs on basic motor cognition. …of course you have to be a little bit careful about the conclusions you draw from your data. And in my opinion there is not much evidence that free will doesn’t exist. There is also not much evidence that it does exist. Of course these data seem to indicate that one should be a little bit careful about coming up with statements about free will. [Brass, emph. mine]

Hey, never mind what an expert who actually studies this stuff says, because Luke’s here to tell his congregation that these things are settled issues! I’d laugh, but it’s actually really depressing.

  (Quote)

anti_supernaturalist February 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Scientific naturalism does not exist

Fundies have no idea about the conceptual status of scientific statements. Science offers no certainty about any of its views, however well attested. Only fundies seem to need high levels of reassurance that what they read in ancient texts is “for certain” the word of “God.”

Following Popper, a statement to be empirical must be falsifiable. Certainty is a chimera — certainty is an illusion chased by Greek philosophy, and injected into xianity from middle neo-Platonic thought, early 3rd century CE. (Ultimately however xian “certainty” always resorts to and reduces to fideism.)

If ‘naturalism’ implies that theoretical entities in science provide an unchanging ontology; then, naturalism simply cannot exist. The current state of science never leads to any final state.

• Solid (certain) knowledge of the world is impossible

“Naturalism” in science seems best described as a heuristic. As a principle which subsumes Occam’s Razor — it would be a touchstone for theorizing in science generally — do not introduce theoretical entities nor invoke new forces without observable changes in behavior or relationships among processes in the world.

The whole alleged supernatural realm of beings, objects, processes, and their relationships even if it existed, would have no standing in science because it does not leave any empirical trails.

“Naturalism” understood this way is not hostile to xian metaphysics — just indifferent to it. Absolutely the correct attitude towards any xian metaphysical claim.

But this is mere foreground, a fundie fog machine.

• Truth is irrelevant to fundies

The real “religious” issue is secular political power. True believers across the US demand that scientific knowledge should be dictated by some ideology rooted in 16th century Protestantism, or 13th century Catholicism, or 12th century Islam. The 400 year old scientific revolution can not be unmade by rational means. However, atavistic irrationality is another matter altogether.

Atavistic irrationality could stop science in the US — as it stopped German science under the nazis, as it stopped soviet biology, history, and psychology under communism.

The US may enter a dark age of ignorance enforced by a theocratic police state — a xian Iran — but science is no longer coterminous with territory influenced by the Big-3 monster theisms. Science can no longer be snuffed out for a thousand years. Scientists will emigrate to freedom elsewhere.

There are altogether no supernatural phenomena, only supernatural interpretations of phenomena.

the anti_supernaturalist

  (Quote)

Dan Brown February 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Nice post Luke. It has stimulated a lot of debate.

I too find the atheistic premise far more satisfying than any of the conflicting theistic suppositions. This universe, most of which is utterly hostile to biology as we know it, is also breathtaking in its vast variation.

However, I must disagree with you. I see plenty of suffering in nature but I see no evil. Nature doesn’t play that. Evil exists only in the hearts of people. People know when they are being evil just as they know their ‘revealed’ truth is, in fact, nothing more than a culturally reinforced supposition.

  (Quote)

Steven R. February 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

“I am my brain.”LoL!!! Sorry for you!!!It must be really strange to be a brain. How does it feel???  

Er…so what do you think you are? Some immaterial thing just happened to be trapped inside a body?

Honestly, what wrong with being a highly sophisticated brain which is linked to a body through neurons, nerves, muscle and bone. At least we can actually understand it and know just exactly where we stand; all of these other theories just have some big unknown and then that is passed off as some answer.

BTW, to illustrate why determinism isn’t so bad, think about the human body. Can it run at 100 miles per hour? Can it spontaneously grow wings and fly? No, but even though these two things are determined, should they stop you from running and seeing how fast you can go? Or to stop thinking of ways to take to the skies? Whoever goes, “oh well, how fast I can run is already determined by all my physical factors and what I eat…I might as well not even bother”? It’s stupid. You have limitations. So what?

  (Quote)

anti_supernaturalist February 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm

The doctrine of “free will” covers up “God”s immorality

There is no “free will”. There is no unfree will. There is no “will” whatsoever.

All “willing” belongs to a false model of human action. Only those suffering a philosophical hangover would say ‘determinism’ is the opposite of ‘freedom.’ The opposite of freedom is slavery.

Western theocratic power centers, from Byzantium onward, get based squarely on a middle eastern cultural demand of selfless submission and obedience to (adult) male authority. ‘Sin’ becomes a “willful” violation of some paternalist god’s laws. The hierarchy of god-proxies, in zoroastrianism, judaism, xianity or islam, must be able to punish the “sinner” by the “Book” without a moment of thoughtful hesitation. Such action is no more just than it is moral. (One facet of a view that religion drives out moral discourse.)

Free will is a bogus idea needed to make the vile engines of sin, guilt, and punishment work in concert. All designed to keep a hierarchy of “holy” thugs in power. Religious institutions today, unless opposed by secular government power, behave as they have for centuries.

• There is no god-ruler dictating “Laws”, scientific or moral, which nature must follow or humans ought to obey. Causal (or materialist) determinism is an empirically discredited viewpoint. Indeterminism as part of quantum mechanics (or the Epicurean ‘swerve’) is not free will. “God” does play dice with the universe.

The Big-4’s doctrine of “free will” makes all persons totally responsible for their behavior. “God” discounts to zero those natural and cultural variables over which persons have no control: ancestry, DNA weaknesses, place of birth, social status at birth, child abuse, inadequate food, poor education . . . . No one has “free will.”

Atavistic indoctrination, especially religious teachings on so-called free will, dictate to millions what can be recognized and thought. The history of the so-called great monotheisms can be told as unremitting institutionalized violence against intellectual honesty, freedom of thought, freedom from social rigidity.

No one remains untouched by injurious conceptual presuppositions believed as “gospel”, 21st century scientists included.

the anti_supernaturalist

  (Quote)

cd February 25, 2011 at 5:52 pm

What’s happening is that when you are arguing against theism you focus like a laser on what’s wrong with world in order to score points; when describing the world on atheism you downplay evil and suffering and put on your rose-colored glasses so you can wax rhapsodic about how “enchanting” the world is. ayer

The part you’re forgetting is that theism doesn’t endure in social contexts in which evil and suffering have become minimal. Any future world defined by theism will be a world with levels of evil and suffering resembling that of our era or worse.

A naturalistic analysis of evil and suffering in society is that it represents the direct and many indirect effects of physical illness, mental disorders, and ignorance within human populations. On an individual level, it’s ultimately also physical and mental health and a sanely ordered, which is to say humane, environment. A future world defined by naturalism will be a world in which there will be aging but only a very small- minimal- amount of physical illness, mental illness, or mental retardation. And frankly, we’re almost at the technologies and state of knowledge in which the transition to it will begin.

We don’t have an absolute certainty of what a world defined by very complete mental and physical health is like. Undoubtedly it would strike people who lived in 2010 as very strange. Sure, it might be a nightmare of viciousness and malign hyperintelligence. I believe it will be a deeply compassionate and fair and intelligent and well ordered world relative to what we have today. But one in which much of contemporary society would look rather dysfunctional and obsolete, which is why the inferior sectors of contemporary society loathe the idea of it. They want their descendants to live good lives in that world nonetheless.

Life is a journey on a destination to a beautiful city of eternal life, but the road is through a desert full of difficulties, pain and obstacles. Four groups are traveling on the road: (1) the Christians follow the road and arrive at the destination, where they see that all the struggle was worth it;

We don’t have any evidence from the dead to warrant the claim of success. Ever since Christianity has become a religion to which people adhere by choice, there is little or no evidence of such from the living either. If we apply a generous measure- e.g. the testimony of proper mystics as valid evidence meeting your claim- it turns out that Christianity proper has generated none in living memory. If not longer.

Mother Teresa would be the telling prominent failure of orthodox Christianity . I have asked around online and no one seems to be able to come up with any person who persuasively fits reasonable marks of authenticity and is persuasively orthodox Christian.

The method/religion utterly fails to meet its own standards and purposes and is probably impotent to do so. These days it’s frankly just an intellectual halfway house societies pass through on their way to the Modern condition from powerless and disordered conditions.

  (Quote)

MarkD February 27, 2011 at 3:09 am

Coming late to this game…

I am perplexed by A.R.’s entire line of reasoning, starting with:

If there is no purpose to life in general, biological or human for that matter, the question arises whether there is meaning in our individual lives, and if it is not there already, whether we can put it there.

Not at all, thus shading his entire programme. Purpose emerges from exactly the processes that A.R. describes. Is the urge to care for our young not a consequence of evolutionary proximal teleonomy? Isn’t it likely that the desire to be productive in society is related to biologically (and hence physical and naturalistic) predispositions that have created our complex psychologies? The problematic nature of A.R.’s argument extends to his account for morality: imperfect moralities can arise in a social-evolutionary history without condemning the notion that the moral actors can envision (and then immanentize) better and better (fairer and fairer) social systems.

Methinks A.R. is unimaginative in his disenchantment. The universe he imagines is as morally bleak as the horrorfest of ancient religion.

  (Quote)

Thomas Earle Moore March 3, 2011 at 10:38 am

I’m with you 100%. I have no desire for anyone or anything to tell me why I’m here and what I’m expected to do. Having that might give the world more meaning by some definition, but it would be a meaning up with which I would not willingly put.

“A truly intelligent species will outlive its home star.” — Todd Brennan

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment