CPBD 053: Tom Clark – Naturalism as a Positive Worldview

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 7, 2010 in Ethics,Free Will,Podcast,Worldview Naturalism

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Tom Clark, founder of the Center for Naturalism. Among other things, we discuss:

  • Naturalism and compassion
  • Naturalism and free will
  • Naturalism and politics
  • Naturalism and spirituality

Download CPBD episode 053 with Tom Clark. Total time is 42:06.

Tom Clark links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff July 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

Sound quality is a lot better. Your voice used to be a little to faint but this sounded really good.

The player looks much cooler too ;-)

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Jeff July 7, 2010 at 11:18 am

I guess the player just looked different because I played it in chrome instead of Firefox.

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lukeprog July 7, 2010 at 11:19 am

Ah, yes.

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Tom H July 7, 2010 at 12:33 pm

He is correct though about the sound quality, was very good except for Tom C. being on a cell probably. Your side sounded MUCH better than it has in the past.

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Bill Maher July 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Luke,

Who created the song you use during your intro?

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lukeprog July 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

It’s part of Leif Inge – 9 Beet Stretch, which itself is a computerized stretching of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. I sped up Leif’s version a bit.

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noen July 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Partial transcript (mine)
Luke: “How can we hold people morally responsible if they could not have done otherwise?”

“Tom: Many people have this idea that in order to be held responsible we can’t be fully caused in our behavior. After all if we’re fully caused that that means we’re just a cog in a machine and therefore since I’m not ultimately responsible for my actions I can’t be held responsible for them.”

“This is a bit of a non sequitur, for instance even though I’m fully caused in doing a wrong action… it’s important to hold me accountable, even though I’m fully caused to do what I did, as a way to teach me not to do it again, as a model for others so they can see what happens to me… they’ll go “No this is what happens to you if you act wrongly”.”

This is a contradiction. If it we do not have free will in the sense of “I could have done otherwise” then it really makes no sense to try to hold people accountable for their actions on the theory that next time they will choose to behave differently. Given the same situation they will behave the same. That’s what determinism means.

This kind of disconnect is common in these discussion about free will. John Searle likes to tell of how he was once asked “If we prove to you that determinism is true, would you accept it?” His reply is along the lines of: “Notice the form of the question. ‘If we prove you have no free rational choice, would you freely, rationally choose to accept it?’ (laughter)”

What I think is needed is for proponents of determinism to eliminate all first person pronouns along with any concepts that depend on a first person ontology from their descriptions or arguments.

Tom: “Moral guides act as brakes on behavior.”

Again with the automobile analogy. The analogy is false because there is no one in the deterministic view to apply the brakes. What is going on here in this example is that Tom has already accepted the dualistic frame where the body or material world is the car and the driver is the immaterial self or soul. But you’ve eliminated the self, therefore there is no one to apply the brakes or steer the wheels.

The solution is to reject the dualist frame altogether and Searle goes to great lengths to show how one does that. That is why he rejects the monism of both materialism and idealism as well as dualism and even tri-ism. (I believe that Dennett is a “tri-ist”. If I understand correctly he believes along with Frege that abstract reasoning constitutes a third ontology. Correct me if I’m wrong.)

If Tom can lay claim to “spirituality” and Luke to “enchantment” then I can claim that we posses material “souls”. Souls that arise from the casual working of neurons in the brain and that nevertheless do not constitute property dualism and are also “free” in the sense of being able to freely, rationally choose among alternate behaviors even though they are not “unmoved movers”. I don’t know how the mind works like that but then no one else does either.

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Justfinethanks July 7, 2010 at 5:00 pm

If it we do not have free will in the sense of “I could have done otherwise” then it really makes no sense to try to hold people accountable for their actions on the theory that next time they will choose to behave differently.

I really don’t see how that is. Human beings react to deterrents, and work to avoid things that cause them pain. (I think that’s an uncontroversial thing to say whether or not free will is true. After all, even non-free will having amoeba react to deterrents) Therefore if people associate (let’s say) stealing cars with pain, they will be less likely to steal cars. And so, if we accept a kind of consequentialist view of ethics (the consequences of car theft are harmful whether or not free will exists), then actions done to prevent car theft (holding car thieves accountable) can be viewed as good.

: “Notice the form of the question. ‘If we prove you have no free rational choice, would you freely, rationally choose to accept it?’ (laughter)”

Searle is deeply confused, as the determinist in this story didn’t say he could prove that people couldn’t be rational. Only that their actions are determined. Searle seems to have imposed his own confused idea of what determinism means in interpreting the question.

Libertarians often say that “rationality and determinism are incompatible,” and I have yet to understand how this objection even makes sense. “Rationally consider” is a verb. It’s something you do. Like snapping your fingers is something you do, or like revolving around the sun is something the Earth does. To say that “rationality” can’t exist on determinism is essentially saying that actions can’t exist on determinism. Or possibly to say that rationality is some sort of super special action that is separate from all other actions. And explore as I might, I have yet to see why either scenario is the case.

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Zak July 7, 2010 at 5:57 pm

To quote Owen Flanagan, “Rational deliberation is best conceived as the process of building an overall rationale for some conclusion or course of action by blending together the relevant information in a principled manner, so as to yield a sensible conclusion or choice. Again, if we conceive of causes not as collision-like events but as algorithms or heuristics, sets of rules for dealing with information, we can see how rational deliberation is possible for complex creatures, artificial or natural” (The Problem of the Soul, pg 139).

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noen July 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm

“To say that “rationality” can’t exist on determinism is essentially saying that actions can’t exist on determinism.”

It isn’t that actions are impossible it’s that choosing one action over the other on the sole basis of reasons for or against it are impossible. If I am given the choice of doing either A or B but it was determined from the beginning of time that I would choose B regardless of the fact that A is the rational choice then there was no real choice.

When I press the “B” on my keyboard it is fully determined that my PC will display the letter “B”. Determinism says that I am just like that. That if we really knew my mental state down to my neurons as I choose to press “B” we would see that I am no different than my PC. Indeed, every decision I have ever made in my life was “fully determined” just like every program that runs on my PC “fully determines” it’s behavior.

If determinism is true I don’t see how one avoids epiphenomenalism. But if you believe that we don’t have the free will to rationally choose among alternate explanations then you also have to admit that my inability to see that your argument is the correct one is NOT the result of my willfulness. It was determined from my birth that I would think my argument is correct.

But that is also true for you. If you are right then you believe you are right not because your argument is correct but because other forces in your life determined that you would think that.

My ability to concede That P must be based on whether or not That P is true and not on anything else.

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Fortuna July 7, 2010 at 6:28 pm

noen;

If it we do not have free will in the sense of “I could have done otherwise” then it really makes no sense to try to hold people accountable for their actions on the theory that next time they will choose to behave differently. Given the same situation they will behave the same. That’s what determinism means.

But we know, as an empirical matter, that people held accountable for their actions often (or at least sometimes) change their behaviour when the situation in question comes up again. Besides which, from a purely pragmatic perspective, identifying an individual as the proximate cause of a given crime, for instance, allows us to take steps to prevent them from committing additional crimes.

Again with the automobile analogy. The analogy is false because there is no one in the deterministic view to apply the brakes.

Sure there is, it’s just that the person in question behaves in a determined fashion. Determinism changes the nature of the self in question, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate it.

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noen July 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Zak
“Again, if we conceive of causes not as collision-like events but as algorithms or heuristics, sets of rules for dealing with information, we can see how rational deliberation is possible for complex creatures, artificial or natural”

OH!! There are rules? Human behavior is determined by algorithms? I don’t think so hun. No form of human activity can be summed up by a set of explicit rules because you will always need a rule for the application of the rule. Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter has a great chapter on this. It’s a discussion between the Tortoise and Achilles, fantastic.

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Justfinethanks July 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm

noen:

If I am given the choice of doing either A or B but it was determined from the beginning of time that I would choose B regardless of the fact that A is the rational choice then there was no real choice.

Right. And that just means you chose irrationally. I still don’t understand how the fact that some people are determined to make irrational choices or hold to irrational beliefs undermines rationality on determinism. There certainly might be some people who fail to think, examine, and deduce because they were determined to fail do these things. But the existence of these people doesn’t mean that it is impossible to successfully think, examine, and deduce and have these sorts of actions lead them to correct, rational, and truthful beliefs.

If you are arguing that people can’t be held morally responsible for making irrational choices, I think that’s a more thoughtful objection (that can be dealt with nonetheless), but it doesn’t change the fact that their beliefs are ultimately irrational, and there exist cognitive tools that allow us to determine them as such.

But if you believe that we don’t have the free will to rationally choose among alternate explanations then you also have to admit that my inability to see that your argument is the correct one is NOT the result of my willfulness.

OK. But at best that means that you can’t be held morally responsible for your irrational beliefs. It doesn’t change the fact that your beliefs are ultimately irrational and false.

If you are right then you believe you are right not because your argument is correct but because other forces in your life determined that you would think that.

This is a clear genetic fallacy, because it claims that a “true belief” cannot intersect with a “determined belief.” Where my belief ultimately originated (in this case, I was determined to believe it) has no bearing on whether or not that belief is true. Rather I contend my belief in determinism is both determined and more rational the alternative (in this case, libertarian free will).

In order to argue why this cannot be the case, you will need to demonstrate why it is necessarily impossible for a determined belief to simultaneously be true, and I simply don’t see how that can be so.

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Atheist.pig July 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Computers can choose one action over another and do so all the time based on information available to them. They can evaluate competing hypothesis/actions and choose, the more sophisticated the computer and the more data available to it, the better the action or decision.

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Zak July 7, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Noen,

Flanagan was referencing how humans operate in regards to making decisions. We aren’t simply behaviorist machines, but complex information processors.

Though, if determinism were true, do you think that something like modus ponens would be invalid? That is, would we not be able to trust our reasoning?

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G'DIsraeli July 8, 2010 at 1:15 am

When is this podcast coming to ITUNES?! not on yet!

Free will has no bear on secular courts.
You can deter people from acting the same way in a determined world.

Even if you don’t have free will, there is no way you can avoid the notion of it. You cannot sit all day on the couch and expect yourself to go and work because it’s determined.

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lukeprog July 8, 2010 at 4:15 am

G’Disraeli,

Oops! Forgot. Thanks for the reminder.

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Corso July 8, 2010 at 6:55 am

It seems to me that I can’t reconcile determinism with my personal experience of day to day living. I will give you a real world example of this dilemma.

I have received $500 and plan using on it for one of 3 things:

A-iPad
B-PS3
C-Rainy day fund

For the past month I have been been going back and forth between the options A,B or C. Some days I favor one option over the other, but I can’t at this moment tell which one I’m going to pick.

Is my decision making process irrelevant? Has my brain already made the decision for me? If this is true, then why am I having such difficulty making up my mind?

I’ll add that that I have major problems with purely libertarian free will as well.

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noen July 8, 2010 at 7:03 am

justfinethanks – reply a bit later.

Zak
“We aren’t simply behaviorist machines, but complex information processors.”

No we’re not. Consciousness cannot be reduced to the syntactical manipulation of a turing machine. Conscious minds have semantic content. The instructions a turing machine follows are purely syntactical. Syntax is insufficient for semantics. Therefore consciousness cannot be the result of a turing machine implemented in the neural structure of the brain.

We are of course mechanical in the sense that we are biological machines that operate casually but we are not von Neumann information processors.

Cf. The Chinese Room.

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noen July 8, 2010 at 7:16 am

Zak
“Though, if determinism were true, do you think that something like modus ponens would be invalid? That is, would we not be able to trust our reasoning?”

Yes, modus ponens would be invalid for voluntary actions. Modus ponens has the following structure:

If it is Friday then I will wear jeans.
It is Friday.
Therefore I will wear jeans.

All of us know of course that in spite of the fact that the argument is valid it is still up to me whether or not I will wear jeans on Friday. We all have the sense that we can choose to do otherwise. But the argument is made that we are “fully determined”. If that is correct then we could not choose any action other than wearing jeans on Friday.

Another way to put it is to say it is that the above syllogism is valid if and only if I in fact wear jeans on Friday. The syllogism is valid only in retrospect and therefore does not determine my future behavior.

I make the syllogism. It doesn’t make me.

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zak July 8, 2010 at 8:17 am

Noen,

My apologies, I should be more clear. I am not talking about consciousness, I am talking about how brains respond to information. I completely agree with you about the Chinese room in regards to the computational model of the brain. Though, I have a feeling we might be talking about two different things (you consciousness, and me brain theory), cause I don’t see how you could possibly think that brains DON’T process information. I don’t even know of any theory of brain that doesn’t have it processing info (PDP, memory-prediction, etc). That seems to be the core fact that has to be accounted for.

Maybe I am misunderstanding… but on determinism, are you saying that we wouldn’t be able to recognize modus ponens as valid, or we simply wouldn’t be able to respond to the knowledge of a valid argument? Either way seems clearly false, since we are able to adapt our behavior to new information.

I wasn’t asking if we could change our minds or not. I was asking if we would be able to trust our reasoning. It seems that as long as we could recognize an argument as valid, there is no problem.

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other eric July 8, 2010 at 8:20 am

noen – “…it really makes no sense to try to hold people accountable for their actions on the theory that next time they will choose to behave differently. Given the same situation they will behave the same.”

the only way to provide the same situation would be to rewind time. which, as far as i know, we cannot do. but when we can, if everything is totally different each time you rewind it, you win.

a child who has just touched a hot stove burner for the first time will never again be able to see the burner as a mysterious red glowing object, rather than a burning hot pain-giver. the same situation will never arise again for them.
situations are cemented in time.

Justfinethanks – “There certainly might be some people who fail to think, examine, and deduce because they were determined to fail do these things. But the existence of these people doesn’t mean that it is impossible to successfully think, examine, and deduce and have these sorts of actions lead them to correct, rational, and truthful beliefs.”

this seems like an excellent point, and it makes me wonder what excuse free will believers have for making irrational decisions. if we are free to always choose the rational choice, why would we ever choose the irrational one?
if there is a right decision and a wrong decision, what makes one person choose right and the other wrong?

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Justfinethanks July 8, 2010 at 8:24 am

Corso:

It seems to me that I can’t reconcile determinism with my personal experience of day to day living.

I certainly understand, and that is precisely what prevented me from rejecting libertarian free will for a long time. But then I realized that “personal experience” is a terrible way to decide what can ultimately be a matter for empirical, scientific study. To get a small taste of the evidence against free will, read some of the publications by experimental psychologist John A. Bargh.

http://bargh.socialpsychology.org/

I especially recommend “Free will is un-natural” and “The unbearable automaticity of being.”

Is my decision making process irrelevant?

No, it’s essential for you in order to ultimately deduce that buying PS3 is most prudent. Had the conditions of the universe been different and you didn’t deliberate on the decision, you would have made a worse choice.

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other eric July 8, 2010 at 8:32 am

i feel determined to second the recommendation that Corso buy a PS3. i wanted to suggest an XBox360 instead, which i feel is the more rational choice… but what are you gonna do?

damn this determinism!

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al friedlander July 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

“I certainly understand, and that is precisely what prevented me from rejecting libertarian free will for a long time. But then I realized that “personal experience” is a terrible way to decide what can ultimately be a matter for empirical, scientific study.”

I’m not a philosopher, so I want to emphasize I’m a newbie. Still, I could not agree more with the above. My understanding of choice/decision making rests on an undergraduate knowledge of psychobiology, neuro, and cognitive psych. I understand that the free-will vs determinism debate is somewhat beyond me, but nevertheless, I honestly do not believe in free-will at all. The reason being, if you think about it, you can link each and every thought/action to a previous causal-force. And so on, and so on, all the way back to the sperm fertilizing the egg. Kind of like a domino-effect

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Mastema July 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Libertarian free will is a bizarre concept to me (I’m a compatibilist). I cannot imagine what it would mean to make a choice that was entirely free of my will (my desires), which is the result of a number of causal factors. Things such as my genes, where and when I was born and raised and so on all play a huge part in who I am. Over time, my ability to think critically has improved due to life experience and education. I’ve learned by my own mistakes and the mistakes of others to make better decisions. Some people are not taught critical thinking skills and pay the price. In terms of moral responsibility, I take into consideration whether an action is legal or socially acceptable. Those are part of the causal chain that affects the decisions that I make. If I know that action X is illegal and commit action X all on my own without being forced to do so by someone else under threat of violence, I am fully responsible for my actions and can be held accountable.

I guess what I’m trying to say that I really don’t understand how determinism undermines rationality or moral responsibility. At least Noen is much more knowledgeable on the subject than the last people I heard discuss it, which was on the Reasonable Doubts episode where Jeremy was on the Don Johnson radio show.

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other eric July 8, 2010 at 3:15 pm

al friedlander – “if you think about it, you can link each and every thought/action to a previous causal-force.”

i’m gonna play devil’s advocate here and ask what previous causal force leads you to pick “heads or tails” when asked. or why you picked 9 when asked to pick a number between 1 and 10.

i mean, i think that our choices in these inconsequential random decisions are still probably determined, but they’re harder to point to any specific causal force… that i know of anyway.

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Jeff H July 8, 2010 at 5:59 pm

i’m gonna play devil’s advocate here and ask what previous causal force leads you to pick “heads or tails” when asked. or why you picked 9 when asked to pick a number between 1 and 10.

That’s a good question, but we have very interesting biases when it comes to stuff like this. People, when asked to choose a random number, do not choose randomly. It will to some extent be idiosyncratic, but if you compared a hundred random numbers that someone chose, and a hundred random numbers from a generators like random.org, you’ll end up getting very different results.

To give one example, if you tell someone to choose a number between 1 and 10, my suspicion would be that the numbers 1 and 10 would be much less likely to be chosen. It would be less than a 10% chance for each. Why? Because people don’t normally pick the numbers on the end. I won’t hazard a guess as to why, but I think you could likely back that up with anecdotal evidence of your own.

As far as the heads or tails, that’s tricky since there are only two options, but I suspect there might even be biases just as far as personal preference: Do you like the sound of the word “heads” better than “tails”, perhaps? Or does one side of the coin come to mind more readily than the other? I also would suspect in this case that given a hundred choices, people would likely not choose heads and tails in equal amounts.

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Alex July 8, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Re: Searle’s remark about being asked what would convince him of determinism – I don’t think he differentiates adequately between libertarianism and doxastic voluntarism (the view that you can choose your beliefs). It’s perfectly consistent to be a libertarian and a doxastic involuntarist. In which case you can’t just lump free choice and belief formation together like Searle does.

noen – Given the theoretical desiderata you seem to have about consciousness, I’m wondering whether you’ve looked into type-type identity theory. Such theories avoid the appearance of epiphenomenalism under determinism (and dissolve other problems about mental causation) and is also distinct from the computationalism/functionalism that you don’t like.

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al friedlander July 9, 2010 at 11:02 am

“i mean, i think that our choices in these inconsequential random decisions are still probably determined, but they’re harder to point to any specific causal force”

I agree, but I would probably point to Jeff’s answers:

‘but we have very interesting biases when it comes to stuff like this. People, when asked to choose a random number, do not choose randomly.’

‘As far as the heads or tails, that’s tricky since there are only two options, but I suspect there might even be biases just as far as personal preference: Do you like the sound of the word “heads” better than “tails”, perhaps? Or does one side of the coin come to mind more readily than the other?’

In other words, the casual forces are still there. For instance, you might’ve chosen heads because you just chose tails and you don’t want to repeat the same choice. It’s incredibly likely that there’s something going on subconsciously that you aren’t entirely aware of. There’s a multitude of possibilities. For example, I sometimes choose tails because I’m feeling ‘like a rebel’ (because Heads is the ‘mainstream’ choice to me, etc.)

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Hendy July 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Luke, I loved the interview. One question for you (and/or anyone else who would like to respond) has to do with his emphasis on ‘epistemological responsibility.’ I’m extremely interested in this as I’ve been doubting/evaluating my faith for about 6 months now and this topic comes up quite a lot when I talk about my doubt/disbelief to believing friends.

For example, some potential items to discuss off the top of my head might be things like this:
- strict empiricism can’t, itself, be verified and this is incoherent
- science isn’t the only way of knowing
- science and objective analysis don’t have a place in religious evaluation since the evidences lie outside of that realm
- the assumption of naturalism is unjustified as it promotes an ‘atheism of the gaps’ with regard to things like the origin of life, the emergence of consciousness, morality, and the human preoccupation with ‘the transcendent’

Anyway, perhaps a better way forward since I am quite new to this subject might be for some to suggest typical ‘atheistically endorsed’ epistemologies? I’m aware of methodological naturalism and empiricism but that’s about all I know by name.

Thanks for any help/suggestions! Again, great conversation; that was quite enjoyable!

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dgsinclair July 12, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I wish I had time to do a more thorough job, but some comments.

1. Christianity v. Naturalism as world views
This is not the greatest either/or choice because Christianity has historically affirmed “God’s two books” as revealing God, truth, and cosmology (the bible and the book of nature).

So naturally (pun intended), there will be a lot of agreement and overlap between the two.

2. Determinism v. Libertarian free will
Again here, I’d say that there is no disagreement between Christianity and your guest’s naturalism, except that your guest is pretty much a Calvinist ;).

My take on the biblical view is that though free will and predestination both exist, the bible leans towards predestination, as far as belief and salvation are concerned. Your guest might agree with that.

3. If no free will, no blame, no CREDIT
Your guest has rejected the idea of libertarian free will, but I think he is, to some extent, doing post hoc reasoning because he rejects the idea of retribution because he finds it morally objectionable, as you seem to as well.

Of course, his rejection of mind, or independence from naturalistic forces, will always remain somewhat speculation, I don’t think you could prove it. And isn’t there some good forensic evidence of the existence of mind?

Also, he failed to mention that, if you reject free will, not only must you reject ‘blaming’ people, but giving them credit.

I think what happens here is, while he is being logically consistent, his assumptions are wrong, so when his argument plays out, it will contradict what we actually experience – and it is my impression that, as with the rejection of objective morality (which I still think is an inexorable conclusion of atheism, though I know you disagree), this is what is happens – he ends up with a counter-intuitive, counter-heuristic conclusion that we are not free moral agents.

4. Punishment as behavioral conditioning
I don’t know enough to explain the hole here, but his thought that we need to punish law breakers, not as retribution, but solely for reform purposes, or for deterrent purposes.

Again here, like with free will, I think he has thrown out half of the pardoxical truth and kept the part he likes. While I agree that reform and deterrent are part of punishment, I might argue that retributive punishment is required for justice to be done, and that retribution is not revenge.

5. Determinism creating compassion
An interesting and compelling argument about how rejecting LFW means that we have to reject blaming others. But we still need to help them reform – but doesn’t that give way to the sin of pride? ;)

Seriously, though, I think one can hold to LFW and still be compassionate – I don’t think it is logically or practically imperative that believing in LFW means you have to blame, guilt manipulate, or burden people with their responsibility to stop doing ‘evil.’

I mean, the NT is arguably for free will, yet it contends that we ought to think of prisoners as if chained with them. Being co-sinners means that we can have compassion about the weaknesses and missteps of others without rejecting their responsibility or free will.

6. Determninism and AA
Alcoholics Anonymous practices a type of determinism, if not helplessness, when it affirms

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Is this not just a metaphor for the type of thing your guest was discussing?

7. Determinism and NLP
I guess that means we can’t change our minds, or if we do, it was only because we were predetermined to do so.

8. Perhaps Clark is wrong, but his experience has predetermined him to be so
My suspicion is that Clark can not actually be objective on this issue, lacking the free will to think of it freely ;)

This reminds me of the great open debate between Erasmus and Luther over free will. I love Luther’s retort to Erasmus. To paraphrase, after insulting Erasmus’s writings as ‘vile dirt’, he says something like “But perhaps God predestined you to object to predestination so that we could have this public debate.” Very witty.

9. The importance of determinism v. free will
As I have often taught as a pastor, there are only two paradoxes so deep that scripture makes an appeal to mystery after exausting reasonable discussion – the problem of evil, and predestination/free will.

I believe that scripture teaches that both free will and predestination exist, and to reject either is a theological and practical error.

Your guest seems to think that LFW has negative consequences (judgement), and perhaps is using post-hoc reasoning to reject it. I wonder if he has explored the negative implications of determinism – I guess he has, since he adopts a softer free will.

In the end, I think his ‘empirical’ approach will end up back at the Biblical formulation, which emphasizes determinism, but keeps LFW, if for no other reason, than to maintain the blame and credit deserved for those who choose.

The passage that comes to mind regarding this paradox is Philippians 2:12b-13

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

9. Enchanted naturalism and intuition
My impression is that Clark believes in what I would call the functions of the spirit (still working on my article on this, almost done), that is, conscience, communion, and intuition, just without any supernatural component. He even sounds like he values these functions, unlike many atheists.

I have to chuckle when you talk about the transcencdence of nature, or ‘enchanted naturalism’ – again, I think you are discussing concepts that are very biblical, only you try to divest them of their supernatural, revealed attributes. I suspect that you will end up, like Jastrow’s proverbial scientists, arriving at the biblical conclusion.

In fact, I think that much of the difficulty of naturalists is not that they disagree with biblical cosmology or ethics, but that they are reacting to abuses of such, or are dismayed at the Bible’s obfuscation of clear didactic teaching on such things.

Not that I think that morality can be accurately or fully determined and affirmed apart from God as atheists are trying to prove so that they may dismiss God or His neccesity, but that when being truly objective and honest about the limits of what they can know, they affirm the truth of Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

Sorry to quote scripture at you, but it’s late, and I get dogmatic. However, I’ve tried to seriously engage the ideas of the podcast, ask some relevant questions, and propose some possible viewpoints from a Christian perspective. Thanks for another great interview.

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dgsinclair July 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm

On my first point 9 above, I wanted to add that in Christianity, as in Clark’s view, an overemphasis on LFW is a grave error that hurts people – the beauty of Calvinistic determinism is that not only can we not claim credit for our salvation, but we are unable, but also not entirely responsible for keeping or completing our salvation – to burden people with the ongoing responsibility of personal holiness is a horrific error.

Interestingly, while we can not claim responsibility for our salvation (predestination), we are still somehow on the flipside, culpable for our sins.

Unless, as a hard core Calvinist, you want to affirm that we are guilty, not because God charges us with blame, but because of our inherited original sin. This would be consistent with the rejection of LFW.

Bottom line – I think that Clark and Calvin are in almost complete agreement. Except that Calvin would not agree that the lack of LFW removes our guilt. :D

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lukeprog July 13, 2010 at 12:40 am

ONE. The choice was not between Christianity and nature but between Christianity and naturalism. These two do not overlap by definition.

TWO. Actually, this is part of what Tom and I agree on. There are so many popular religious traditions that deny free will that we don’t see what people like Smilansky are so worried about with regard to people learning that they don’t have free will.

THREE. Right. Since I reject libertarian free will, I must reject libertarian desert. What remains is a functional role for praise and condemnation, and of course it’s accurate to blame and credit people for things, since their actions followed directly from their beliefs and desires.

FOUR. Yup, we just disagree. I don’t agree with retribution.

NINE. Enchantment with the world is no more Biblical than it is Greek or Native American, and some of the Greeks, at least, did not invested their enchantedness with supernatural suppositions. You write as if enchantedness comes from the Bible and may be modified thereafter, but that’s just historically incorrect. But anyway, I’m not sure what hangs on this point.

What do you mean that naturalists disagree not with Biblical ethics or with Biblical cosmology, but with abuses of such? I suspect this means you’re going to cherry pick the verses naturalists may agree with and say “This is what the Bible really says,” and then try to hide away all the evil and cosmologically false parts of the Bible and say they aren’t the “real” Bible, or something?

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dgsinclair July 13, 2010 at 9:24 am

I actually thought about this all night, and re-listened to the opening of the interview this morning, and I think I have a case against Clark’s reasoning. Let me see if I can capture it.

He says that the contention that LFW demands that we don’t hold people responsible is a non-sequitur, then goes on to say that, though people are NOT responsible under determinism, we still must HOLD them responsible for ‘pragmatic’ reasons.

First, I disagree with his statement that the following syllogism (I hope I’ve constructed it correctly) is a non-sequitur.

1. If determinism is true, men are not free to choose their actions, and are therefore not to blame, or are not responsible for their actions.

2. Determinism is true

3. Therefore, men can not be deemed responsible for their actions.

He then pulls a bit of a slight of hand by saying that we still have good reason to HOLD them responsible (which I agree with), but this is not the same as actually assigning blame and responsibility, which is the only real conclusion above, which I find follows.

In fact, I think HIS conclusion is a non-sequitur, in that the requirement of HOLDING men responsible (through censure) is not a conclusion of the above – that’s an ought based on the premise that we want to reform men and preserve society (again, which I agree with), but that does not follow from the argument above.

And I can not be too emphatic in repeating myself here – this is yet another case where the conclusions of the naturalist/atheist contradict reality, which demands a ‘pragmatic’ solution other than what determinism would indicate – that is, pure determinism is impractical in the real world, and therefore, I would suggest that it is untrue.

Again, I think that the analogous reasoning of predestination/free will, and the biblical contention that both exist, with an emphasis on determinism, is both pragmatic and matches what ‘works’ and what we see in real life.

Pure determinism, like pure predestination, is flawed, and mistakes the proper emphasis of determinism over LFW with a model that excludes LFW.

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dgsinclair July 13, 2010 at 9:43 am

>> LUKE: ONE. The choice was not between Christianity and nature but between Christianity and naturalism. These two do not overlap by definition.

Yes, if by naturalism you mean non-supernaturalistic materialism. But what I am saying is that, while naturalism depends solely on empiricism, Christianity relies PARTLY on empiricism and partly on revelation, so there will be some natural overlap in reasoning and conclusions.

And again, the high similarity between Clark’s view and Calvin’s is a bit remarkable – so while you offer naturalism as an alternative to the Christian world view, in pragmatic terms, they don’t differ by much, though in primary assumptions they differ markedly.

>> LUKE: people like Smilansky are so worried about with regard to people learning that they don’t have free will.

While some people worry about it for practical reasons (not holding people responsible), I worry about it for logical reasons – that is, I think it’s an error, not just for the fact that we can’t assign responsibility or credit, but that it disagrees with scripture ;).

But, scripture really does put heavy emphasis on man’s dependence on God to grant faith (no free will), and you are right, such a concept does worry people. But scripture does not go all the way and eliminate LFW, but rather, admits to a mystery here that both exist. I think it’s interesting that materialists are unwilling to allow this paradox to stand.

It’s like me saying “people get afraid and object when they hear that God chooses whom He wills for salvation, but there is really no need to be afraid.” While there is some truth to that, I would not totally eliminate the role of the will, theologically speaking.

>> LUKE: Since I reject libertarian free will, I must reject libertarian desert. What remains is a functional role for praise and condemnation,

I think you are fudging here. While there remains a functional role, this does not mean that the contradiction between the conclusions of determinism and the need for praise and condemnation is answered. As I’ve stated, the fact that such are still needed indicates that pure determinism is out of step with reality.

>> LUKE: and of course it’s accurate to blame and credit people for things, since their actions followed directly from their beliefs and desires.

Not really – we can credit their ideas with the consequences, but not their person – they are not responsible for their ideas, since they were determined.

And in fact, the whole exercise of Clark thanking you for your work seemed ludicrous – you don’t deserve credit, according to his view, so why does he give it to you? It’s one or all of the below:

a. He wants to help reform you and keep you moving in that direction – he’s just helping to determine your future for you.

b. He is determined to do so – he can’t help but move you along the same direction he is going.

And this brings up my next question. If determinism is true, then can efforts at intellectual objectivity mean anything?

Pure determinism, I think, suffers the same problems as pure predestinationism. I think it is entirely accurate to say that, for example, 90% of life is deterministic, as salvation requires God, but I still think it is meaningful and correct to allow for LFW for the other 10%.

This preserves credit and blame, reward for effort, and most importantly, preserves the role of retribution in balancing the scales of justice, something pure reformation and social formation theories ignore – in essence, they undermine justice, and in doing so, undermine good conscience, faith in the justice system, and social order.

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dgsinclair July 13, 2010 at 9:48 am

>> LUKE: Enchantment with the world is no more Biblical than it is Greek or Native American, and some of the Greeks, at least, did not invested their enchantedness with supernatural suppositions.

I am not saying it’s biblical. What I am saying that it’s just a euphemism, or another admission that the revealed Biblical position of the existence of conscience, intuition, and communion are real entities. It’s merely an unconscious admission and agreement with the Bible – the desire to denude reality of the supernatural while agreeing that the entities exist is not much of an argument, since you can’t disprove the supernatural.

When scriptures say that the creation reveals the existence and attributes of the transcendent God, the anti-supernaturalist merely changes the words to “I get a *feeling* of transcendance, which I will call enchantment with nature.”

It’s the person who looks at the painting, sees beauty, and praises the painting instead of the painter.

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dgsinclair July 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

>> LUKE: What do you mean that naturalists disagree not with Biblical ethics or with Biblical cosmology, but with abuses of such?

What I am trying to say is that in many ways I think you are disagreeing with a straw man – not what a balanced Christian theology teaches, but you are disagreeing with unbalanced or unfair characterizations or historical abuses of Christianity (by corrupt popes, for instance).

Using ambiguous and negative-connotation laden terms like ‘cosmic dictator’ indicates to me that you are committed to a one-sided or incomplete view of God which you have reached, but one which those who take a holistic view of the Bible would probably disagree with.

However, if you adopted a more balanced biblical view of the Biblical God you say you are disagreeing with, and read the concomitant conclusions of Christian ethics rather than draw your own ethical conclusions from your narrower view of God, you would find, I think, that 90% of what Christian ethicists conclude are in agreement with your perception of what naturalism teaches.

Except that you might, paradoxically, be LESS compassionate towards, for example, the unborn or the religionist.

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dgsinclair July 13, 2010 at 11:25 am

Hendy, here are my evangelical remarks on your queries. Just FYI, I grew up agnostic, converted in college, then left xianity for about 6 years, then returned to it. So I know some about questioning faith.

>> 1. strict empiricism can’t, itself, be verified and this is incoherent

I think that is a somewhat cogent argument. It does not remove the value of empiricism, but it does indicate that it has limits

>> 2. science isn’t the only way of knowing

Agreed. I addressed this a little in my series on Pascal’s Wager.

>> 3. science and objective analysis don’t have a place in religious evaluation since the evidences lie outside of that realm

I don’t buy this “non-overlapping magisterium” view – if a religion is making claims to objective truth, then they must integrate with what we can determine to be empirically true. And Christianity, more than most other relgiions, is founded upon historical claims that can be verified to the best of our ability.

Where empiricism and religious claims disagree, one or both of them have to be wrong. Interestingly, the only places where I see them disagreeing are with respect to origins, which is notoriously difficult to prove since it occurred so far back in time.

But while I think that the two can be integrated, I don’t think that empiricism can tell us all that exists, so faith could certainly cover realms that empiricism has yet to plumb.

>> 4. the assumption of naturalism is unjustified as it promotes an ‘atheism of the gaps’ with regard to things like the origin of life, the emergence of consciousness, morality, and the human preoccupation with ‘the transcendent’

I think this is mostly untrue. That is, I agree with empiricists that looking for natural explanations for phenomena is much better than positing supernatural ones, so positing ‘science in the gaps’ is a reasonable strategy, in general.

However, with respect to origins, I think this is a special case. With space/time having a beginning, the fine tuning of the universe, and Darwinism’s emiprical inability to explain the origin of the information content of DNA, we are intellectually justified in positing an intelligent, powerful, and perhaps personal first cause as more likely than an unguided natural process.

Sure, we could discover some natural process that explains it, but these conditions I mention also make an intelligent cause a logical one rather than a God in the gaps one.

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qapla August 2, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Eternal Return (why Christians don’t really want to “live forever”)
FF: The Philosophy of Nietzsche – Joseph Brisendine
http://www.blubrry.com/atheism/94364/ff-the-philosophy-of-nietzsche-joseph-brisendine/

great!!! podcasts on
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (March 14, 1908 May 3, 1961) was a French phenomenological philosopher. At the core of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is a sustained argument for the foundational role that perception plays in understanding the world as well as engaging with the world. Like the other major phenomenologists Merleau-Ponty expressed his philosophical insights in writings on art, literature, linguistics, and politics; however Merleau-Ponty was the only major phenomenologist of the first half of the Twentieth Century to engage extensively with the sciences, and especially with descriptive psychology. Because of this engagement, his writings have become influential with the recent project of naturalizing phenomenology in which phenomenologists utilize the results of psychology and cognitive science.
check out:
The Seer is Seen
Still
Grande finale
Joyful Seeing and Bergson
http://danielcoffeen.podomatic.com/profile?p=2

(professor Coffeen will critique the “scientific method” as an indirect way to attack christian dualism, he critiques a students “clinging to your humanism” as a way to say clinging to christianity,which he can’t say)(the “flesh” and all, he’s describing physicalism/naturalism, there is a single physical natural world/universe)

What Time Is It? May 21, 2010 Famed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and theoretical physicist Brian Greene dissect time as we know it. What is the smallest unit of time, and what does it look like? For starters, you should stop looking at the clock, and start looking at the universe.
http://www.nyas.org/WhatWeDo/SciencetheCity.aspx

Episode 62 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Warren Brown, PhD, co-author (with Nancey Murphy) of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will. This book was discussed in detail back in Episode 53, but this interview gave me a chance to discuss some of the book’s key ideas with Dr. Brown. We focused on why a non-reductive approach is needed in order to formulate ideas about moral responsibility that are consistent with our current neurobiological understanding of the mind.

http://docartemis.com/brainsciencepodcast/2009/10/62-warrenbrown/

much respect

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