The Very Persistent Illusion:
Absurd and Amusing Rationalizations About Free Will

Philosophy — By on July 8, 2008 at 11:59 pm

[Note: I'm taking a brief vacation. Regular blogging will resume on July 21.]
Last year while discussing bioethics with fellow blogger Jim Smalls, I expressed my disgust and dismay about ethicist Peter Singer. How could anyone with his intellect, I wondered, hold such bizarre and ridiculous beliefs? Jim has an M.D. and a Ph.D. He’s an extremely smart guy who is used to being around smart people so I expected him to confirm my suspicion that Singer may not be as intelligent as he seems. Instead, he said that I shouldn’t be surprised at all and provided an answer that floored me: “Increased intellect provides an increased power for rationalization.”
I was reminded of that insight while reading the New York Times piece, Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t. The author of the article, Dennis Overbye, discusses the issue of free will with several scientists, psychologists, and philosophers, almost all of whom hold materialism as an unshakable presupposition. The resulting rationalizations provide support for Jim’s claim and show how smart people can believe the dumbest things.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” wrote Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines…”

I doubt many people will “freak.” Mostly they’ll just think you’re an idiot. People tend to have that reaction when you tell them they’re merely an advanced species of sirloin.

“When we consider whether free will is an illusion or reality, we are looking into an abyss. What seems to confront us is a plunge into nihilism and despair,” says Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at Tufts University.

As usual, Dennett makes one of his patented baffling/absurd assertions. If free will is an illusion, both the “looking into the abyss” and the “plunge into nihilism and despair” are things–the looking and the plunging–that we have no control over. It’s just the way that the molecules flowed. (Note to Dennett: That’s what it means when you say you have no free will.)
The real question is why we don’t assume this conclusion will lead us into peering into the chasm of cotton candy. Why wouldn’t it plunge us into euphoria and warm fuzzies? Why do we assume that our molecules would be like Nietzsche rather than Tickle-Me Elmo?

“Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. People experience free will. They have the sense they are free.” Mark Hallett, a researcher with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

In other words, free will is much like indigestion. It gives us a sense that we are having a heart attack but it’s not a power or driving force that can kill us. It’s just an effect of a cause we can’t control. Like eating bad pizza.
He goes on to add:

“The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it.”

So the pattern is (a) scrutinize free will leads to (b) realizing you don’t have free will. But if we don’t have the free choice to scrutinize free will then we don’t have the free choice to realize that we don’t have free will. And how do we keep our molecules from getting stuck in some endless loop of scrutinizing and realizing? Oh wait, we can’t. We don’t have the free will to make that choice. (Just thinking about it gives me that looking and plunging feeling….)
Overbye points out that most people take a different view: “Whatever choice you make is unforced and could have been otherwise, but it is not random. You are responsible for any damage to your pocketbook and your arteries.”

“That strikes many people as incoherent,” said Dr. Silberstein, who noted that every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?”

By “many people”, Silberstein apparently means “people gullible enough to subscribe to materialism.” Most people, in fact, do not find the concept of free will incoherent because most people do not believe the silly idea that we are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines. Perhaps if you believe that matter is all that exists then it might appear incoherent. But then you have to explain how a word like “incoherent” has any meaning when the mere utterance of the sentence was either determined or random.
Fortunately, as Overbye notes, not all scientist are so gullible: “A vote in favor of free will comes from some physicists, who say it is a prerequisite for inventing theories and planning experiments.” Indeed, the moment one posits that we lack free will the foundation of science is completely undercut. It’s hard to justify getting funding for an experiment when everything–from the grant proposal to the experiment’s outcome– is physically and causally determined by the interaction of random molecules.
But let’s get back to Dennett, my favorite fuzzy-headed philosopher. His section is so convoluted that it’s worth quoting in detail:

The belief that the traditional intuitive notion of a free will divorced from causality is inflated, metaphysical nonsense, Dr. Dennett says reflecting an outdated dualistic view of the world.
Rather, Dr. Dennett argues, it is precisely our immersion in causality and the material world that frees us. Evolution, history and culture, he explains, have endowed us with feedback systems that give us the unique ability to reflect and think things over and to imagine the future. Free will and determinism can co-exist.
“All the varieties of free will worth having, we have,” Dr. Dennett said.
“We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes,” he said. “We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.”
In this regard, causality is not our enemy but our friend, giving us the ability to look ahead and plan. “That’s what makes us moral agents,” Dr. Dennett said. “You don’t need a miracle to have responsibility.”

Dennett is an extremely bright philosopher who has a profound ability to make utterly moronic statements. His view of free will, for instance, is a brilliant example of sheer stupidity. Look closer at what he says:
(1) Free will cannot be divorced from physical causation. This means that our “will” cannot be separated from the laws of physics and chemistry. Ergo, our actions are determined by physical laws.
(2) Our immersion into a deterministic system actually frees us since the deterministic, physical universe has endowed us with “feedback systems” that allow us to break out(?) of this physical causality long enough to reflect, think, and imagine. Ergo, our actions are determined by physical laws yet we are free to be moral agents.
(At this point you might be saying, “But…that makes no sense…” which would reveal that you lack the power of intellect to appreciate such absurd rationalizations.)
If Dennett is right and our will is physically caused and determined by the laws of physics and chemistry then our “feedback systems” are also caused and determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. Our ability to “look ahead and plan” would be nothing more than an illusion since we would still be subject to forces that began at the creation of the universe.
Essentially Dennett is saying that our will is determined by physical causes but it is okay since the physical universe endowed us with the magical abilities to transcend physical causation and take control over our will, thereby making us moral agents. Or maybe that’s not what he’s saying at all. It’s hard to say since it makes no sense.
You don’t need a PhD to say something so stupid; but without it people are more apt to just point out that you’re speaking gibberish.
My favorite line, though, comes from Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner:

“[Free will is] an illusion, but it’s a very persistent illusion; it keeps coming back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s trick that has been seen again and again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you get fooled every time. The feelings just don’t go away.”

And the cold, deterministic, materialist universe responds: “Of course you get fooled every time, you bonehead. What’dya expect? After all, it’s not like you have a choice…”



  • phasespace

    Any criticism of a secularist position by a Christian pushing an agenda is a pointless exercise. Until such time as you can prove the existence of a god of any kind, and that your conception of this god is correct, criticizing secularists for trying to figure out free will is ridiculous. Your explanation of free will does not meet even the lowest standard of evidence. The explanation of philosophers and scientists are most certainly imperfect, but at least they aren’t making an appeal to a non-existent authority.

  • ex-preacher

    Furthermore, a belief in god(s) does nothing to resolve the question of free will. Some Christians even admit this and deny the existence of free will.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Joe,
    As is your wont, you raise many interesting and worthy questions. Thank you for the post, and may you and your family enjoy a safe and happy vacation.
    Cheers,
    Matthew
    Oh yeah, free will:
    The essence of free will is the ability to choose.
    Since a computer can be programmed to deliberate and to choose, it should not be surprising or impossible to understand that a meat machine can do it as well.
    If for some reason, however, you or someone else is not satisfied that such an analysis has pinpointed what it means to have free will, you are still faced with the fact that our wills operate in the same manner whether God exists or not. In other words, if God can somehow produce something called “free will”, than nature can presumably produce the same thing in a similar manner.
    Cheers again,
    Matthew

  • http://unitelater.com Glenn

    Any criticism of a christian position by a secularist pushing an agenda is a pointless exercise. Until you can prove the non-existence of a god of any kind, and that your conception of materialism is correct, criticizing christians for making fun of secularists’ confusion over freewill is ridiculous. Their explanation of free will doesn’t even meet the lowest standard of evidence. The explanations of christian philosophers may not be perfect, but at least they realize their free will (or lack of it) is a gift from the creator!

  • ucfengr

    Since a computer can be programmed to deliberate and to choose, it should not be surprising or impossible to understand that a meat machine can do it as well.
    That’s a different thing from “free will”. A computer is constrained by its programming; in other words, its actions are predetermined by another. “Free will” implies that I am capable of making my own decisions; doing things contrary to my programming.
    Any criticism of a secularist position by a Christian pushing an agenda is a pointless exercise. Until such time as you can prove the existence of a god of any kind, and that your conception of this god is correct,
    Scientifically literate atheists constantly tell us that science can’t “prove” anything, yet here you are demanding that we “prove” that God exists. Why do you think it appropriate for you to demand a level of proof from Christians that your “science” can’t meet?

  • smmtheory

    Looking at the similarity between phasespace’s and glenn’s comments, I can’t help but wonder if one is a meat puppet of the other.

  • http://www.wordcooper.com wordcooper

    Since a computer can be programmed to deliberate and to choose, it should not be surprising or impossible to understand that a meat machine can do it as well.
    Like ucfengr said, there is a huge difference between a computer programmed to make “decisions” and a random meat machine. But you are proving the theistic point. There has to be a programmer!

  • http://anailinhisplace.net jweaks

    Excellent article Joe.
    “Increased intellect provides an increased power for rationalization.”
    And apparently an increased desire to believe in self-defeating arguments.
    -jw

  • http://randythomas.org Randy

    For some reason my meat machine brain is forcing me to leave a comment here.
    I LOVE Free Will! It rocks my face off!
    Love and peace,
    A Pre-determined Pseudo-Intellectual

  • The One

    Please note that commentator one along with others make evidence=scientific evidence and purposely ignore miracles, prophecy, testimonial evidence. It’s interesting I never hear them rant against the court system where testimonial evidence>scientific evidence. Perhaps they should write a book about that, if the universe permits them, having no free will and all.

  • phasespace

    Glenn,
    There is one extremely important difference between my comment and your parody of it. The burden of proof is on you to prove that a god exists. It is not my responsibility to prove that a god does not exist. You’re post implies two logical fallacies:
    1. Shifting the burden of proof.
    2. Forcing your opponent to prove a negative.
    In other words, your parody fails.
    The One,
    We recently had a discussion about this in another thread. In short, testimony only works in a court of law when the reliability of the person giving it can be established. In the absence of that reliability, the physical evidence will take precedence every time. Let’s be clear on this, the physical evidence presented in a trial has exonerated many defendants when it has been proven to be more reliable than testimony. The opposite is also true. Physical evidence isn’t the end all be all in a trial if the cause and effect chain presented by physical evidence can not be well established. In short, you’re over simplifying the way different types of evidence are used in the court room.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    (2) Our immersion into a deterministic system actually frees us since the deterministic, physical universe has endowed us with “feedback systems” that allow us to break out(?) of this physical causality long enough to reflect, think, and imagine. Ergo, our actions are determined by physical laws yet we are free to be moral agents.
    Actually I think he’s saying that determinism allows us to make reasonably accurate connections between our actions and their consquences. If determinism didn’t hold then there would be no connection & no point in free will to begin with.
    Our ability to “look ahead and plan” would be nothing more than an illusion since we would still be subject to forces that began at the creation of the universe.
    The illusion, I think, is pretending we are not subject to the forces that began at the creation of the universe.
    The problem with the anti-materialist position here is as follows:
    Imagine you are holding a gun a the head of your enemy. He begs you for mercy. You can either pull the trigger or lower the gun. Either action will result in various things happening in your body. Nerves will send electricial signals, muscles will tense and relax, various chemicals will be released and so on. All of these things, as far as we can tell, are governed by physical laws. If your system of free will rejects materialism there is a very materialistic way to determine this….somewhere along the physical events that result from your decision something must happen that does not abide by physical laws.
    In other words, imagine your ‘free will organ’ decides to pull the trigger or lower the gun. As you trace back all the very physical signals, reactions, and so on you will get to the point in your brain where something happens that cannot be explained by the laws of physics. In fact, you could set up a very objective test for free will. People who have unexplainable activity in their brains have free will, those that don’t are ‘philosophical zombies’. You can test to see if, say, dogs have free will but frogs don’t.
    The problem here is that so far we have yet to find anything that happens in the human brain or any brain that is not subject to the forces that began at the creation of the universe. The only conclusion that would save the ‘free will organ’ would be that we have free will but it is totally unrelated to the actual things our bodies do…..
    I once read a proposal for how that would work. Imagine we have supernatural free will but we are trapped in bodies that just happen to be set up in a physical world that is perfectly synced to the decisions we make. We have free will but the sense that we are in the driver’s seat is the illusion….like the kid playing with a toy steering wheel in a car while his mom is the one doing the real driving….That, though, doesn’t seem to be what Joe or anyone else has in mind.
    Suppose, though, that we do find something happening in our brains while we make decisions. That doesn’t prove free will. Whose to say whatever thing is causing the brain to run amock of the laws of physics isn’t simply the result of something that is bound by its own laws. Supernatural doesn’t mean immune to all forces.
    ucfengr
    That’s a different thing from “free will”. A computer is constrained by its programming; in other words, its actions are predetermined by another. “Free will” implies that I am capable of making my own decisions; doing things contrary to my programming.
    How is it constrained by its programming? Certainly it is constrained by its physical limitations….it can’t make coffee unless it is able to control some physical device that can make coffee…but how exactly do you know that we humans have exceeded our brain programming but a computer program can’t?
    wordcooper
    Like ucfengr said, there is a huge difference between a computer programmed to make “decisions” and a random meat machine.
    The difference being that you call one thing mean names & the other thing you try to delegitimize by throwing quote marks around it. Watch: There has to be a huge difference between a human and wordcooper who “thinks” he is a human! Such a sentence is only an illusion of an argument….I’ve presented no reason to believe wordcooper isn’t a human or that he doesn’t think.
    The One
    It’s interesting I never hear them rant against the court system where testimonial evidence>scientific evidence.
    Because such a court system exists in your imagination only. With the exception of maybe OJ, when was the last time “I didn’t touch the murder weapon” trumped finding finger prints on the murder weapon in court?

  • The One

    Phasespace-
    Yes and no. If you are talking about 1,2,(maybe 3?) witnesses then yes, reliability matters greatly. But if 20, 30 etc people say Mr. Doe was at the party then reliability is not questioned. Likewise with 2 billion Christians on the planet not to mention the past Christians who have passed away over literally thousands of years, you have an absurd amount of testimonial evidence. Unless you are contending that billions of people are unreliable; then the fact remains that when an atheist says evidence, he really means scientific evidence and is unconsistent as he considers courtroom testimonial evidence valid, but religious testimonial evidence invalid.

  • The One

    The One
    It’s interesting I never hear them rant against the court system where testimonial evidence>scientific evidence.
    Because such a court system exists in your imagination only. With the exception of maybe OJ, when was the last time “I didn’t touch the murder weapon” trumped finding finger prints on the murder weapon in court?
    Boonton,
    Yes it does. As I already stated to Phasespace, if your fingerprints were found at a murder scene, but 20 witnesses claimed you were at a party when the murder took place you would never stand trial. It would be written off as a fluke or even worse as planted evidence. You can look it up if you want, I believe your are ignorant ratehr than dishonest about this.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The testimonial evidence you’re describing is scientific just as much as the fingerprints. What you’re talking about is judging the quality of the evidence. However if the evidence was clear that the prints were not planeted even 20 people testifying that Mr Doe was at the party would be hard to swallow.
    Testimonal evidence is used all the time in science. Every time a doctor asks you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10 he is asking for a type of testiminal evidence (evidence that, btw, is scientific enough to get a new drug approved as a pain killer).

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Likewise with 2 billion Christians on the planet not to mention the past Christians who have passed away over literally thousands of years, you have an absurd amount of testimonial evidence.
    Testimonal evidence of what? Evolution? Whether or not we have free will? Whether Jesus rose from the dead or whether Christianity change their lives?
    I doubt 2 billion christians claimed to have observed earth for millions of years on the first issue. The second issue requires a very precise definition of what we mean by free will. No living Christian today can claim to have witnessed the resurrection. As for the last, I’m unaware that science has every disputed that.

  • ucfengr

    How is it constrained by its programming? Certainly it is constrained by its physical limitations….it can’t make coffee unless it is able to control some physical device that can make coffee
    Well, a computer programmed to make coffee couldn’t decide on its own to make beer and buffalo wings instead; it would have to be reprogrammed.
    but how exactly do you know that we humans have exceeded our brain programming but a computer program can’t?
    I didn’t say that, what I said was “‘Free will implies that I am capable of making my own decisions; doing things contrary to my programming.”, meaning if I have “free will”, I am not constrained by my programming. If you read closely, you will see that I didn’t say that we have exceeded our programming, only that if we have “free will”, we should not be constrained by it. As to whether or not a computer can have “free will”, what that would entail is a computer capable of programming or reprogramming itself. I don’t think that is possible.

  • phasespace

    The One,
    One phrase: argumentum ad populum.
    Just because an idea is popular, doesn’t mean it’s right. Do I really need to point out examples to show this? I’m sure that you, yourself are all too aware of this problem.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Well, a computer programmed to make coffee couldn’t decide on its own to make beer and buffalo wings instead; it would have to be reprogrammed.
    True but I can imagine a computer programmed to make coffee, beer or buffalo wings. In fact, I can even imagine one that might decide to make nothing at all even if the programmer wanted it too!
    I didn’t say that, what I said was “‘Free will implies that I am capable of making my own decisions; doing things contrary to my programming.”, meaning if I have “free will”, I am not constrained by my programming. If you read closely, you will see that I didn’t say that we have exceeded our programming, only that if we have “free will”, we should not be constrained by it.
    So you’re implying that we have a set of constraints that are determined by our programming and we know we have free will because we have overcome those constraints… I assume, likewise, something that cannot overcome its programmed constraints lacks free will.
    But what are these constraints? How do you know they are constraints or things that our programming allows us to do anyway?
    As to whether or not a computer can have “free will”, what that would entail is a computer capable of programming or reprogramming itself. I don’t think that is possible.
    In what way to do we ‘reprogram’ ourselves? I don’t think that’s possible.

  • The One

    It’s difficult to talk to you Boonton as you don’t give any respect to the other side. Didn’t you even do a 2 sec google searched like I asked you too, I know you didn’t Also why are you trying to pass off your opinion “However if the evidence was clear that the prints were not planeted even 20 people testifying that Mr Doe was at the party would be hard to swallow.” as fact. It would be hard to swallow for you, but not for a court of law. It is easy to do know that testimonial evidence > scientific evidence in a court of law because if you had bothered to look it up, you would know that scientific evidence is not allowed to be admitted without testimonial evidence. To use your fingerprint example, the dectective who found the fingerprints would have to testify in the court or it would not be admitted. You said “However if the evidence was clear that the prints were not planeted”, but failed to mention that it is established as not beign planted by the testimony of the founder of such evidence.
    Whats interesting about you is that you are actually more consitent then other people. You find 20 witnesses in a court of law difficult to believe vs one piece of scientific evidence and also feel the same way about religious testimonial evidence. My question to you is what number of witnesses would not be hard for you to swallow. As I said there are billions of Christians, if a billion people testified in court vs one piece of scientific evidence do you still find that hard to swallow?

  • The One

    phasespace writes:
    The One,
    One phrase: argumentum ad populum.
    Just because an idea is popular, doesn’t mean it’s right. Do I really need to point out examples to show this? I’m sure that you, yourself are all too aware of this problem.
    I don’t see how this applies at all. First off to my original example are you saying that the persecution would use argumentum ad populum to imply that the 20 witnesses are just saying Mr.Doe was at a party because the idea is popular? Lets make it easier on ourselves and establish where you are at. Are you like Boonton and find 20 testimonial against one piece of material evidence hard to swallow? If so what number of witnesses would you not find hard to swallow?
    As for Christianity it also does not apply as we both know that when Christianity was first introduced it was not argumentum ad populum, but was persecuted vigorously. Therefore the fact remains that what I said before is true “that Unless you are contending that billions of people are unreliable; then the fact remains that when an atheist says evidence, he really means scientific evidence and is unconsistent as he considers courtroom testimonial evidence valid, but religious testimonial evidence invalid.” unless you are like Boonton which I actually consider a more respectable and consistent opinion.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    To use your fingerprint example, the dectective who found the fingerprints would have to testify in the court or it would not be admitted. You said “However if the evidence was clear that the prints were not planeted”, but failed to mention that it is established as not beign planted by the testimony of the founder of such evidence.
    Perhaps the difficulty here is that we are assuming a lot of testimonial evidence in our hypothetical. As you point out, it isn’t just the fingerprints but the testimony of the detectives who collected the prints and the testimony of the analyst who studied them and so on. You’re not really talking about science versus testimony but testimony versus testimony.
    Let’s try a slightly different hypothetical. Imagine 20 people testified that they saw Mr. Doe rape Ms. X. They all testify that they immediately grabbed Mr. Doe and held him until cops arrived and Ms. X was immediately taken to a hospital where a rape kit was performed. Suppose the DNA test matches not Mr. Doe but Mr. Sims, also at the party.
    It would be hard to see how Mr Doe would be convicted even in the face of 20 different people testifying against the scientific evidence.
    But notice you’re not even constructing fair hypotheticals. If testimony trumps scientific evidence why are you talking about 20 people who claim to have seen something that contradicts the one piece scientific evidence? If your statement was accurate a single person testifying that Doe had an alibie should trump the fingerprint, shouldn’t it?
    Also you are forgetting the difference, IMO, between things people say and testimony. As you know in court you just don’t plop yourself on the witness stand and run your mouth…there’s a whole series of rules about what you can testify too and what you can’t. For example, testimony about your beliefs is almost always irrelevant. “I believe Mr. Doe did it” would not even be allowed. We aren’t even touching the rules about heresay and all the other tools courts have developed to make testimony as reliable as it can possibly be. You’re creating a false dichatomy between testimony and ‘scientific evidence’ when there is none. There is only evidence that has different levels of reliability both as viewed in isolation (one fingerprint, one witness) and together as a whole (fingerprint, dna, witnesses, etc.).

  • ucfengr

    True but I can imagine a computer programmed to make coffee, beer or buffalo wings. In fact, I can even imagine one that might decide to make nothing at all even if the programmer wanted it too!
    That’s not hard to imagine, but it is hard to envision a computer programmed to make coffee deciding on its own to make beer instead, or telling its programmer to go pound sand, its decided to go off and follow “The Grateful Dead”.
    So you’re implying that we have a set of constraints that are determined by our programming and we know we have free will because we have overcome those constraints… I assume, likewise, something that cannot overcome its programmed constraints lacks free will.
    No, I’m implying that “free will” is the ability to overcome the constraints imposed by our “programming”. Whether or not we have “free will” is beyond the scope of my implication.
    In what way to do we ‘reprogram’ ourselves? I don’t think that’s possible.
    I would say that that guy from the Subway commercials (Jared?) is an example of someone who has reprogrammed himself. He made a decision to “reprogram” himself from a fat, lazy guy to a thin, active guy.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    That’s not hard to imagine, but it is hard to envision a computer programmed to make coffee deciding on its own to make beer instead, or telling its programmer to go pound sand, its decided to go off and follow “The Grateful Dead”.
    It’s that hard to envision it? It’s probably one of the oldest cliche’s in science fiction….except for the part about following The Grateful Dead….”kill all humans” makes for a more action packed story.
    No, I’m implying that “free will” is the ability to overcome the constraints imposed by our “programming”. Whether or not we have “free will” is beyond the scope of my implication.
    So in order to know if we (or anything) has free will we need to determine:
    1. What constraints have been imposed on that thing by its ‘programming’?
    2. Is that thing able to overcome those constraints?
    BUT!!!! How do you know if something overcame the constraints? Maybe it was just part of the programming to begin with.
    I would say that that guy from the Subway commercials (Jared?) is an example of someone who has reprogrammed himself.
    So a behavioral change is an example of reprogramming hence proof of free will?

  • http://unitelater.com Glenn

    My parody fails. I am crushed by phasespace’s clear and decisive thrashing of my parody.
    Actually I’m not, because my parody is spot on. The post had nothing to do with me proving that the Christian God of the Bible exists. Ergo, et al, hominum explicito de la facto post ipsum, my parody rocks! (almost as much as free will!)
    Even so, I’ll play the game. Let me rephrase the sentence with which you lost your gasket over;
    You originally said- “Until such time as you can prove the existence of a god of any kind, and that your conception of this god is correct, criticizing secularists for trying to figure out free will is ridiculous.”
    My response- Until such time as you can prove the existence of an entirely materialistic origin of the universe, and that your conception of this origin is correct, criticizing christians for making fun of secularists’ confusion over freewill is ridiculous.
    Game. Set. Match.

  • ucfengr

    It’s that hard to envision it?
    I suppose I could have said “it is hard to envision something like that outside the world of science fiction”, but I really didn’t see the need to offer that qualifier. I assumed you knew I was talking about the real world, not some fictional one. Are there any other nits you would like to pick?
    So a behavioral change is an example of reprogramming hence proof of free will?
    Outside the world of science fiction (not wanting to offer up any more nits for you to pick), are you aware of a computer that can independently decide to change its behavior?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Outside the world of science fiction? Last time I checked science fiction was produced in this world. More to the point, your ‘hard to envision’ seems to mean little more than ‘hard to envision with today’s technology’. That doesn’t seem like much of a point. You haven’t demonstrated any principle that would make such a thing really hard to envision the way that, say, time travel & faster than light travel are hard to envision (even though they are sci-fi cliches as well).

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The One
    My responses seem to have been caught in Joe’s filter, here’s the bare bones version:
    1. Regarding the fingerprint vs 20 witnesses….you’re really talking about testimony.v.testimony rather than scientific evidence.v.testimony.
    2. You charge is that tesimony is greater than science in the courts. Why do you use a loaded example of 20 people against 1 fingerprint? 1 witness against a fingerprint should be sufficient if your argument is correct. Again the courts seem to weigh the fingerprint heavier in that type of case.
    3. You neglect to mention that testimony isn’t just stuff that is spoken. There is a huge body of rules and laws regarding how testimoney can be given in a court of law. This has been done to make testimony as reliable as it can possibly be and it means excluding a lot. (see for example heresay).
    4. There is no difference really between ‘scientific evidence’ and testimony. Scientific evidence is in fact testimony. AS you pointed out it isn’t really the fingerprint that’s submitted as evidence but the testimony of the detectives who obtained the print, the analyst who studied it, and so on.

  • The One

    Right Boonton I agree, I am not trying to get into a legal discussion. I am saying that testimonial evidence of a billion Christians is evidence, not just material evidence and therefore Atheists can’t say there is no evidence (which is what poster one where this all started said) for G-d, they have to say there is no material evidence.

  • The One

    ANd I nitpick on it because it happens a lot, not saying you do it. For example just in this post phasespace tried to disregard that testimony by a three word answer- argumentum ad populum.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The One,
    OK, if you’re just saying that the statements of individual belief and experinece should be admitted as evidence in the debate about God I’m fine with that. I assume to be fair you would also allow in such testimony on beliefs that are not as Christian friendly such as reincarnation.
    But you also charged that testimony trumps scientific evidence…and here we have to weigh the claims & in general I’d say it’s the other way around as humans have been shown to be highly subject to mistaken beliefs & errors.

  • ucfengr

    More to the point, your ‘hard to envision’ seems to mean little more than ‘hard to envision with today’s technology’.
    Okay, you win. I really can envision self-programming computers. I can also envision perpetual motion machines, flying cars fueled by pixie dust, and the earth flying around the universe on the back of a giant turtle. I am not sure what my concession proves or how it invalidates my point, but right now I will do just about anything to get out of the Mobius strip of stupidity you’ve drawn me into.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    All the other things you envision violate the known laws of physics or at least what we can observe as the nature of the universe. Grouping “self-programming computers” with them does not support your contention that they “self-programming computers” is equally violative of the nature of reality.
    I could say, “sure I can envision meeting ucfengr just like I can envision meeting Pol Pot, Hitler, Charles Manson, and Jack the Ripper”. Grouping is a nice rhetorical trick but it’s not an argument.

  • Jane Dunsworth

    Your first paragraph is spot on. My husband once pointed out that it’s harder to convince an intelligent person of anything because he’ll see the little flaws in your argument, and be able to defend his position against almost any kind of rational attack. The essence of intelligence in many smart people is little more than the ability to think quickly and make connections rapidly. With that ability, you can find ways to defend (whether to yourself or to your interlocutor) almost any proposition, if you’ve previously decided you like believing it, for whatever reason.
    And we’re all susceptible to that, I suspect, though not all equally adept at the defense. Many times, that lack of facility is actually the mercy of God.

  • The One

    ANd I nitpick on it because it happens a lot, not saying you do it. For example just in this post phasespace tried to disregard that testimony by a three word answer- argumentum ad populum.

  • phasespace

    Glenn,
    I haven’t made any claims at all about the origins of the universe, be it material or supernatural. In fact, the answer to that question is completely irrelevant to my criticism. Why should I be held accountable for showing evidence of something that I never made a claim about? Let me put it this way: Even if I were interested (and could show) that the origin of the universe was entirely materialistic, how would that disprove the existence of a god? Such an explanation would not do this, nor would it provide you with anything to back up your claim either. In other words, your challenge is moot.
    Once again you’re guilty of trying to shift the burden of proof and I’ll throw in a charge of attempting to put words in my mouth.
    Glenn, not only have you not won the match, you’re not even playing the game.

  • BillD

    PhaseSpace,
    Why is the burden of proof on the theistic position and not on the materialist’s position? (Please don’t say anything about believing in God is like believing in a flying spaghetti monster). I think that Glenn’s clever response (humor me…please admit it was somewhat clever) turned the tables and asks the same question of you? Isn’t that fair? You did not explicitly make claims about the origin of the universe, however, you stated theists have no basis to critique a non-theistic position, so I’m assuming you’re a materialist.

  • phasespace

    One,
    Let’s say 20 people testified that they saw Elvis walk into your local convenience store at 5:15 pm yesterday. While at the same time we also happen to have high quality video of everything that happened in the convenience store between 5:10 and 5:20, which happens to show that no one even remotely resembling Elvis entered the store. The video has been fully validated and shown that it has not been tampered with. Which piece of evidence do you think would carry more weight in a court of law?
    Do you really think the testimony of the 20 or 200 or 2000 people would be taken seriously in the face of photographic evidence that shows conclusively what happened?
    As Boonton points out, there really isn’t a difference between testimony and scientific evidence. Testimony can be considered “scientific” depending on the context and the reliability of it. A billion unreliable sources of information still results in unreliable information. People are unreliable, and one of the best lessons you can learn is that your very own honest accounts can be unreliable as well, for all kinds of different reasons.
    It also means that many people can and do passionately believe in things that are wrong, and are even willing to die for those beliefs. That’s a tragedy, but it is also true.

  • BillD

    PhaseSpace,
    Why is the burden of proof on the theistic position and not on the materialist’s position? (Please don’t say anything about believing in God is like believing in a flying spaghetti monster). I think that Glenn’s clever response (humor me…please admit it was somewhat clever) turned the tables and asks the same question of you…isn’t that fair? You did not explicitly make claims about the origin of the universe, however, you stated theists have no basis to critique a non-theistic position…pretty strong words coming from someone who is getting defense about being labeled a materialist.

  • phasespace

    BillD,
    Good question. The burden is on the theist, because the theist asserts the existence of something that only they seem to be able to have any knowledge of. Really, that’s all there is to it. At the risk of making an FSM-like reference, if I said there was an invisible, non-physically interacting dragon in my garage, would you take my word for it? Further, if you denied my assertion, would it be ok for me to say that you had to prove that there wasn’t a dragon in my garage? Of course not, the burden of proof would be on me to support my claim.
    So why doesn’t Glenn’s attempt to turn the tables on me work? At the risk of repeating myself… Glenn is trying to force me to prove a negative, which is logically impossible (which should be clear from my dragon example). And he’s also trying to get me to prove something that is irrelevant to the problem of showing that some kind of god exists. What would accepting Glenn’s challenge accomplish even if I was successful? Not much. It wouldn’t disprove the existence of a god in anyway. I *might* manage disprove certain conceptions of god, but even saying that is pretty dodgy. In other words, it wouldn’t be a disproof of god.
    And if I failed Glenn’s challenge, what would I have proven? The only thing I would have proven is that I don’t know what the origins of the universe are. That doesn’t support a theistic position either. There are a lot of people that are uncomfortable with this, but saying “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer in the absence of anything conclusive. I should also add that saying “I don’t know” is not a good reason to invoke the supernatural either.
    Finally, let me make a bit of a clarification. Theists certainly are free to critique a materialist position. But if the basis of their critique invokes spiritual authority, then they are stuck right back at the problem of showing there is a spiritual authority to begin with before their critique can have any weight. Without that, the critique is meaningless, no matter how bad (or good) the materialist position may be.
    The big problem that I have with many of Joe’s posts is that they attack atheist straw men positions while at the same time, claiming to be speaking with some degree of spiritual authority. If Joe would concentrate on trying to figure out what spiritual authority really is, how to get it, and how you know really have it, I would be a whole lot less snarky.
    However, that’s a difficult problem, and it’s whole lot easier to bash atheists and their imperfections than to address the core logical problems of spirituality. Blogs like Joe’s don’t win many converts, he generally only preaches to the choir and draws the ire of those that he attacks.

  • phasespace

    My husband once pointed out that it’s harder to convince an intelligent person of anything because he’ll see the little flaws in your argument, and be able to defend his position against almost any kind of rational attack.

    Jane, this is why empirical checks, imperfect though they may be, have to be an integral requirement in any work that hopes to try to understand the world we live in. Empiricism is the equalizer, and the lack of it is why certain schools of thought, like post-modernism have gone off the deep end. The lack of empirical checks on faith is also the root of the flaws in faith based ideas.

  • ucfengr

    The burden is on the theist, because the theist asserts the existence of something that only they seem to be able to have any knowledge of.
    But, the burden on proving a strictly material universe is on the atheist, so essentially you have a “Mexican stand-off” I think what you are really saying is that the burden of proof is on the the Christian to prove it to you. The problem there is that you set a much higher level of proof on the Christian then you place on yourself. Many atheists say science “proves” the theory of Evolution or proves that there is no God, even though science can prove nothing of the sort. In fact, as scientifically literate people know, science really can’t “prove” anything. Science is based on a lot of unprovable assumptions. For example, much of what we “know” about the age of the Earth is based on the decay rate of uranium being constant, but there is no way to prove that uranium decayed at the same rate 1 billion years ago as it does now. The same can be said about our knowledge of the age of the universe being dependent on the speed of light being constant, but there is no way to prove that the speed of light was the same 5 billion years ago as it is now. So what we are left with is that neither side can “prove” anything. That said, many very scientifically literate people find the evidence for the existence of God more compelling than not.

  • phasespace

    Uc,
    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don’t mean to beat that dead horse, but it does apply here.
    I don’t see how there is a burden of proof on the atheist to prove a purely material universe. We already know there is a material universe. The open question is, is this all there is, and those that claim that there is more, need to justify that claim. I don’t know if the universe is purely material or not. I’d certainly like to know the answer to that question, but I have yet to see any argument that satisfactorily answers that question positively or negatively. What I do know, is that the physical laws that we have discovered seem to satisfactorily explain the universe as we see it without needing to resort to adding something extra.
    I do admit that the standard of evidence is higher for the theist. But that is an unfortunate consequence of the nature of what is trying to be shown. If we had gods randomly traipsing across the solar system violating the laws of physics, the standard of evidence would obviously be much lower.
    Incidentally, we do know that radioactive decay rates haven’t changed. We can measure what’s known as the “fine structure constant” the value of which impacts both atomic energy level transitions as well as radioactive decay rates. If decay rates had changed, we would be able to see the changes in the fine structure constant in spectra of galaxies dating back to the origin of the solar system. Studies have been undertaken and no changes in this constant have been found in galaxies that are both older and younger than the solar system.

  • http://unitelater.com Glenn

    Glenn,
    I haven’t made any claims at all about the origins of the universe, be it material or supernatural. In fact, the answer to that question is completely irrelevant to my criticism. Why should I be held accountable for showing evidence of something that I never made a claim about?
    Gee, you’re touchy. Or cranky. Whatever. I did not post for the purpose of convincing you that my faith claim regarding the origin of the universe is better than yours. What I did was, using a play on your own words, demonstrate how obnoxious and misguided your original post was in;
    1) Claiming that a christian criticism of secular views are pointless, while the entire point of the post was to present a christian view of a secular argument. There indeed was a point to Joe’s point, whether you think so or not. The point of my comment was to demonstrate that you missed the point of the post.
    2) Arguing that christian criticism of a secular viewpoint are ridiculous, unless it is first proven to your satisfaction, that his theology is correct. How arrogant of you to demand this before he is even allowed to speak of other matters. It’s as though you’d rather all those pesky christians just shut up and go away. News flash- this is Joe’s site, and he’s not going away. You may disagree with his views, but you do not have a right to demand he meet you on your terms before he gives his opinion.
    I do not care to try to convince you that God exists. If secular/theistic apologetics is the game you are playing, then you are absolutely right- I am not in that game. The sport I am engaged in is demonstrating how intolerant of christian views some secularists seem to be, to the point of trying to shout down a christian blogger on his own site discussing subjects from his christian view.
    If you’re looking for me to get into an apologetic slugfest with you, forget it. I’d rather poke fun at secular hubris than waste time trying to change your mind.

  • phasespace

    Glenn,
    Sorry Glenn, but I’m not giving you an inch here. You’re displaying some passive aggressive traits that I won’t let slide.
    Was my post obnoxious? Only if you can’t take criticism. Yes I’ll admit my language was on the forceful side, but I certainly didn’t resort to personal attacks on Joe, only on the position that he is writing from. Misguided? Absolutely not. I’m fully aware of the point that Joe is trying to make.
    On point 1. My point, is that Joe doesn’t have a leg to stand on in making his criticism. I didn’t say that the views of Dennett and others were great works at all. They are interesting, some of them even have a degree of merit, but in my opinion this all little more than a bit of idle speculation. On the other hand, when the Christian point of view (and all the baggage that goes with it) can not be demonstrated then why should any criticisms based on it be taken seriously by anyone?
    On point 2. Arrogance is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not the one criticizing an attempt to understand who and what we are based on an unjustified point of view. The moment Joe (or anyone else) can give reliable evidence of the existence of a god is the moment that I will stop arguing that theologically based criticisms have no merit.
    And finally, yes it is Joe’s blog, and I actually give him a lot of credit for allowing himself to be the subject of such harsh criticism. There are very few conservative Christian blogs that are tolerant of any descenting opinions, and Joe deserves great kudos for this. However, you are strongly mistaken where you accuse me of wanting to suppress the opinions of Joe or anyone else that I might disagree with.
    But that’s a two way street, I absolutely do have the right to demand better justification from Joe if I think his opinions are faulty. And Joe has every right to voice his opinion and respond to my criticisms if he so chooses.
    Who’s the one that’s really intolerant here? The person that vigorously apposes another’s point of view without making any attempt to suppress it (and really what power do I have to suppress Joe’s opinion anyway?) Or the person who gets upset when a strongly descenting opinion is voiced, and starts accusing people of arrogance and intolerance because they don’t like it when their position comes under scrutiny?
    If we are really going to play the intolerance card, then Joe’s original posting is just as intolerant as mine. How dare Joe be critical of positions he disagrees with. I didn’t say that Joe can’t have an opinion, I said that Joe’s opinion doesn’t matter because it’s based on unproven assumptions. I don’t know how you can classify that is intolerant.

  • Phil

    Phasespace.. Umm… get a freaking clue. Please? Okay? Please sir.. Oh wait, dont harshly criticize me, that was my molecular structure thinking that you are a moron. I must apologize for thinking that you are an idiot, because that is what my molecules are screaming at me.
    Boy, Ad hominem attacks sure feel good sometimes – oops sorry, the atoms in my brain are just giving me some props for calling a moron a moron…

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    phasespace
    People are unreliable, and one of the best lessons you can learn is that your very own honest accounts can be unreliable as well, for all kinds of different reasons.
    Indeed, the lesson cuts both ways.
    Jane Dunsworth wrote:
    Your first paragraph is spot on. My husband once pointed out that it’s harder to convince an intelligent person of anything because he’ll see the little flaws in your argument, and be able to defend his position against almost any kind of rational attack. The essence of intelligence in many smart people is little more than the ability to think quickly and make connections rapidly.
    The flip side to that is that people will use their intelligence to defend something they are wrong about to the death as well. For example, Joe only has one legitimate point in this post…if the universe is deterministic then people’s will is deterministic as well. The rest of his argument consists of simply calling other people names.
    ucfengr
    But, the burden on proving a strictly material universe is on the atheist,
    No the burden of proving falls on the person making the claim. If someone claims the universe is strictly material (which is not the same thing as being an atheist) they should prove it otherwise it is just a belief or guess. Likewise a positive assertion there is no God should be backed up with proof as should be the opposite assertion. If I say phasespace does not have a dragon in his garage then I should prove that. If he says he does, he should prove it.
    Many atheists say science “proves” the theory of Evolution or proves that there is no God, even though science can prove nothing of the sort. In fact, as scientifically literate people know, science really can’t “prove” anything. Science is based on a lot of unprovable assumptions. For example, much of what we “know” about the age of the Earth is based on the decay rate of uranium being constant, but there is no way to prove that uranium decayed at the same rate 1 billion years ago as it does now.
    No scientifically literate person claims science proves there is no God. The theory of evolution is proven in the sense of how we discuss it here.
    ucfengr likes to strike the pose of the radical postmodernist here for whom all truth is entirely relative. While we are at it we might as well add there’s no proof we aren’t all really sitting in goo-filled pods hooked up to a massive computer running a virtual reality simulation ala The Matrix. For all practical purposes, we do have truth and we do have proof. Even though I can’t prove we aren’t really all Matrix pod people, I can prove jumping off a building will likely kill or seriously injure you. You are free to set a standard of proof that is so high nothing can ever be proven. What you’re not free to do, though, is prove your absurd standard should merit the attention of anyone serious :)

  • smmtheory

    Quantum Physics allows his meat brain (or portions thereof) to be on the other side of the universe under examination.
    OR, as Boonton would say….
    somewhere along the physical events that result from your decision something must happen that does not abide by physical laws.
    which translated means – since he was programmed that way he must stay true to his programming or he is operating outside of quantum physics.

  • ucfengr

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don’t mean to beat that dead horse, but it does apply here.
    What’s extraordinary about the claims? Most people don’t find them extraordinary at all. In fact, I would argue that many, many more people find the claim that the universe, as it exists now is the result of blind chance is the extraordinary claim.
    Incidentally, we do know that radioactive decay rates haven’t changed. We can measure what’s known as the “fine structure constant” the value of which impacts both atomic energy level transitions as well as radioactive decay rates.
    Actually, the science is not so clear. There seems to be some question as to whether or not the “fine structure constant” is in fact constant (link to story in New Scientist). The article also raises questions about the “constancy” of other constants.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    which translated means – since he was programmed that way he must stay true to his programming or he is operating outside of quantum physics.
    Not bad – or if you’re going to define free will as something that is non-material AND you assert that humans have free will then something must happen in the human body that violates the known laws of matter.*
    There is no law, IMO, that would prevent you from having a definition of free will that is not explicitly non-material.
    * One exception would be the “synced” idea…where your body is material but it happens to be synced up with your free will in just a perfect way for it to seem like your free will is controlling it.

  • phasespace

    Uc,
    Like I said before, people believe in a lot of things that they can’t prove. There are also quite a number of people who believe in astrology, witchcraft, psychic phenomena, and all kinds of other things for which they think they have reasonable evidence for, and when when examined closely, we see that these things disappear and can easily be explained by confirmation bias, among other things. God is no different in this respect in spite of the fact that many people think they see evidence of God everywhere.
    As for the physical constant stuff. I was actually peripherally involved in one of the galactic studies years ago. And if you read towards the bottom of the article you linked to, you’ll notice that the more recent studies use a different technique that is quite a bit more reliable and far less prone to error. From the article: Alpha hasn’t changed more than 1 part in 30,000 over the last 7 billion years. That’s an upper limit to the amount that it could have changed over that time period. That’s not enough of a change to drastically impact radioactive decay rates.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucfengr,
    In comment 42, you wrote:
    For example, much of what we “know” about the age of the Earth is based on the decay rate of uranium being constant, but there is no way to prove that uranium decayed at the same rate 1 billion years ago as it does now.
    As evidence for the possibility that the age of the earth is not 4.5 billion years,
    Phasespace responded (comment 43):
    Incidentally, we do know that radioactive decay rates haven’t changed. We can measure what’s known as the “fine structure constant” the value of which impacts both atomic energy level transitions as well as radioactive decay rates. If decay rates had changed, we would be able to see the changes in the fine structure constant in spectra of galaxies dating back to the origin of the solar system. Studies have been undertaken and no changes in this constant have been found in galaxies that are both older and younger than the solar system.
    And you replied (comment 49):
    Actually, the science is not so clear. There seems to be some question as to whether or not the “fine structure constant” is in fact constant (link to story in New Scientist). The article also raises questions about the “constancy” of other constants.
    Now if you read the story on the New Scientist website, you find out that the dispute among the scientists about the fine structure constants is about whether an object such as the earth is 4.5 billion years old, or whether the earth is 4.5 billion years old plus or minus “one part in 100,000″. “One part in 100,000″ of 4.5 billion years works out to approximately 45,000 years.
    I would say that a difference of 45,000 years in the age of the earth does not seem to support your original point that rates of radioactive decay are an unreliable means of estimating the age of the earth. What do you think?

  • smmtheory

    * One exception would be the “synced” idea…where your body is material but it happens to be synced up with your free will in just a perfect way for it to seem like your free will is controlling it.

    Careful buddy, one of your materialist friends might get the idea that you believe in the meta-physical.

  • Robski

    The irony, of course, is that explaining away the tendency of intelligent people to embrace materialism (by saying they have greater rationalizing powers and/or tendencies) is itself a rationalization. It couldn’t have anything to do with superior knowledge or ability to piece things together, could it?

  • ucfengr

    I would say that a difference of 45,000 years in the age of the earth does not seem to support your original point that rates of radioactive decay are an unreliable means of estimating the age of the earth. What do you think?
    I think if there is the possibility that they could be a little wrong, then you have to accept the possibility that they could be a lot wrong too. But that really wasn’t my point, my point was: “In fact, as scientifically literate people know, science really can’t “prove” anything.” and “Science is based on a lot of unprovable assumptions.”. I don’t think either of them have been refuted.
    Like I said before, people believe in a lot of things that they can’t prove. God is no different in this respect in spite of the fact that many people think they see evidence of God everywhere.
    My, aren’t we a little bit condescending? People only “think” they see evidence of God? If only everybody was a smart, wise, and highly evolved as you we’d all see that the evidence is just confirmation bias, or a mass delusion? Humility is not one of you virtues, is it? Of course, in a purely material universe why would humility be any more admirable than arrogance?

  • ucfengr

    Sorry, forgot to close italics. Re-posting for ease of reading.
    I would say that a difference of 45,000 years in the age of the earth does not seem to support your original point that rates of radioactive decay are an unreliable means of estimating the age of the earth. What do you think?
    I think if there is the possibility that they could be a little wrong, then you have to accept the possibility that they could be a lot wrong too. But that really wasn’t my point, my point was: “In fact, as scientifically literate people know, science really can’t “prove” anything.” and “Science is based on a lot of unprovable assumptions.”. I don’t think either of them have been refuted.
    Like I said before, people believe in a lot of things that they can’t prove. .
    This is not unique to the theistic community.
    God is no different in this respect in spite of the fact that many people think they see evidence of God everywhere.
    My, aren’t we a little bit condescending? People only “think” they see evidence of God? If only everybody was a smart, wise, and highly evolved as you we’d all see that the evidence is just confirmation bias, or a mass delusion? Humility is not one of you virtues, is it? Of course, in a purely material universe why would humility be any more admirable than arrogance?

  • phasespace

    I think if there is the possibility that they could be a little wrong, then you have to accept the possibility that they could be a lot wrong too.

    That’s a misunderstanding of what their findings say. There is no scientific finding that comes without some level of error. These errors are most often due to the sensitivity of the instruments used to make the measurement. No instrument makes measurements of perfect accuracy and the errors mentioned in the article reflect this. Think of it this way, when you measure something with a ruler, the highest accuracy that you can get (at best) is about half the size of the smallest increment on the ruler. The figure mentioned in the article is slightly different way of saying the same thing. So to say that if they can be a little wrong they can be a lot wrong, is a pretty big misunderstanding of what the errors mean.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    In his criticism of Dennett, Mr. Carter “looks closer” at what Dennett says, and concludes it is a brilliant example of sheer stupidity:
    Free will cannot be divorced from physical causation.
    That “closer look” is dead wrong.
    What Dr. Dennett meant when he said The belief that the traditional intuitive notion of a free will divorced from causality is inflated, metaphysical nonsense … is that no decision, no example of free will, is context free.
    In other words, there is no such thin as an uncaused decision. That is, all decisions are in response to something, and are based upon possessed knowledge and expectations of the future. That has nothing to do with physical causation, in the sense that actions are determined by physical laws.
    This is made transparently obvious by making a simple hypothetical: Assume we know to a fare-thee-well how the brain works. That will tell you absolutely nothing about what the brain will do when presented with a decision, only about what physical processes will be in arriving at the decision.
    In contrast, one can predict many decisions based upon nothing more than context, even when completely ignorant of how the brain works.
    I challenge anyone here to come up with any decision (or even any thought) that is completely context free.
    You won’t be able to do it.
    Which means that Mr. Carter’s characterization of Dr. Dennett’s comments, as well as everything following from it, should be thrown in the bit bucket.
    ++++
    [Dennett says] The more you scrutinize [free will], the more you realize you don’t have it.
    Mr. Carter then trivializes Dr. Dennett by saying So the pattern is (a) scrutinize free will leads to (b) realizing you don’t have free will. But if we don’t have the free choice to scrutinize free will then we don’t have the free choice to realize that we don’t have free will.
    Once again, Mr. Carter is failing to apprehend Dr. Dennett’s point.
    As an example of what Dr. Dennett is really saying, try this: change your favorite color.

  • phasespace

    My, aren’t we a little bit condescending?

    No, I wasn’t being condescending. I was pointing out a fact that nobody is immune from making mistakes, even en mass. So everybody should be thinking critically about whatever their beliefs are, and think critically about where those beliefs are really coming from. Unlike theists, I am not saying that I have a privileged point of view, I am saying that I try to examine all propositions with a skeptical and critical eye, because I have learned that it is all too easy to jump to a faulty conclusion when you haven’t thought everything through. That doesn’t mean I can’t be wrong or that I possess some special knowledge that goes deeper than someone else’s.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucf,
    Thank you for responding again.
    I don’t know if I am as scientifically literate as you, but I do know that science has proven and continues to prove any number of things, from mundane facts that we take for granted, to really quite amazing things, results that can be astoundingly counter-intuitive. The body of knowledge that has been learned by science, that has been proven, can and does fill entire libraries.
    Strictly from a scientist’s perspective, there is no definition of “proof” that allows one to say “this scientific fact over here is ‘proven’, while this one over here is not”. But that is because, as you know, all scientific facts and theories are treated as hypotheses that are perpetually open to experimental verification or falsification.
    A fact or a theory which has already undergone a standard amount of experimental investigation cannot be considered “proven” in a technical, scientific sense, because there is no technical, scientific definition of “proven” or “proof”. But it is proven nonetheless, and amply so.
    Are not Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism proven, Ucf? Or the law of gravitational attraction? Is not the speed of light in a vacuum approximately 186,000 miles a second?
    Couldn’t you yourself easily spend all afternoon and evening listing facts and theories that have been proven by science? And not even come close to ever finishing such a list?
    Cheers,
    Matthew

  • smmtheory

    Is not the speed of light in a vacuum approximately 186,000 miles a second?

    Only if the light was already travelling that speed when it reached the vacuum.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    Only if the light was already travelling that speed when it reached the vacuum.
    Not so, the speed of light in a vacuum is independent of its prior speed.

  • Godbot

    Somebody ought to try to define “free will” (one word or two?). Seems to me no one and nothing has “free will” (except maybe God?). We are human beings, one species among many (past, present, and future). Every species that has ever existed or ever will exist is “constsrained” by it’s “programming” (at least so far). The question is – who or what did the progamming? Aliens? Evolution? The gods? Goddess? God? All of the above? None of the above? Some of the above? For me, the only will worth acting on is the Will of God; that Will, at least, is FREE!!!

  • b

    Boonton:
    Outside the world of science fiction? Last time I checked science fiction was produced in this world. More to the point, your ‘hard to envision’ seems to mean little more than ‘hard to envision with today’s technology’. That doesn’t seem like much of a point. You haven’t demonstrated any principle that would make such a thing really hard to envision the way that, say, time travel & faster than light travel are hard to envision (even though they are sci-fi cliches as well).
    No dude, Matthew brought up the example of a computer having the ability to choose as something that works NOW, not something that might work in the future.
    And his example is weak. Every computer “decision” is a deliberation of logic that cannot be avoided. Or haven’t you programmed? Because computers do very cool things, and because Isaac Asimov wrote so extensively and so well about awesome robots doesn’t mean computers will actually ever be free agents. The best you could ever get with a computer is that iy could SIMULATE free will, but that isn’t the same at all. Don’t talk about feedback loops or any other nonsense, there is always a predetermined course of action in computers no matter how complex the algorithm gets.
    By the way, as pointed out by others, computers need a programmer, something that people who believe in determinism don’t believe in. Weak example.
    And if you need philosophical discussion on the topic I just found this today. It examines some of the assumptions behind the free will debate:
    http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/faculty/calhoun/socratic/Steinmetz-Problem_of_Intentionality.pdf

  • smmtheory

    Not so, the speed of light in a vacuum is independent of its prior speed.

    Oh yeah, what’s to slow it down or speed it up since there is nothing to interact with it?

  • smmtheory

    Oh, and while I’m asking that kind of question… if there is light in a vacuum, is that a true vacuum? If light is a particle, then the particles of light are now occupying the vacuum negating the definition of vacuum (the absence of any matter). If it is a wave… well, explain a wave in a vacuum when there is no matter to excite.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    And his example is weak. Every computer “decision” is a deliberation of logic that cannot be avoided. Or haven’t you programmed? Because computers do very cool things, and because Isaac Asimov wrote so extensively and so well about awesome robots doesn’t mean computers will actually ever be free agents. The best you could ever get with a computer is that iy could SIMULATE free will, but that isn’t the same at all. Don’t talk about feedback loops or any other nonsense, there is always a predetermined course of action in computers no matter how complex the algorithm gets.
    I think you’re missing the point, you’re implying that humans have free will and at best a computer will only simulate it. How do you know that humans themselves simply aren’t simulating free will?
    Let’s back up, it’s hard to envision a spaceship that travels faster than light. What does that mean when that’s standard fare in sci-fi? It means that the laws of physics as we know them, except for some highly speculative ideas, would not allow us to build a faster than light spaceship no matter how good we become technologically.
    BUT, if someone said “here’s a spaceship that travels faster than light” it would be pretty easy to see how that can be tested. If the ship makes a round trip to the nearest star in 20 seconds, for example, it is indeed a faster than light spaceship.
    Now you’re telling us a computer or robot could never have free will as a human does per some law of nature or reality. OK, so what if someone said “here’s a robot that does have free will”? How would that be different from what you say is a robot that has an amazing simulation of free will?
    By the way, as pointed out by others, computers need a programmer, something that people who believe in determinism don’t believe in. Weak example.
    I think the word ‘determinism’ needs to be examined a bit better here. If determinism means that something operates within the laws of reality then everything is deterministic. If you’re saying free will means non-deterministic & humans have it then you’re saying that some aspect of humans operates outside the laws of reality. I think that would be pretty noticable and while we are still just scratching the surface of how our brains work all indications to date are that we operate firmly within the laws of reality. Yes so does a potted plant and a slab of meat and I’m sorry if you find that offensive to share reality with but, hey, even the Bible says you came from dust and will return to it….
    In this quest to center free will outside determinism, the implication here seems to be that human behavior must originate from outside the laws of nature. But replace nature with reality and think about it. Even if there’s something supernatural about human choice that doesn’t mean it is outside of all rules, outside of reality itself. It almost sounds as if the free willites here are trying to say humans are gods. Dangerous territory ahead….
    A more useful way of using the word ‘determinism’ IMO would be something is determined if you can learn its behavior through a simplier method than observing it. The easiest way to know what Joe will write about in his next post is to wait and see what he writes about. To say that what Joe will write about can be determined by knowing all location of all the bits of matter and energy in the universe and mapping their projected movements would require you to have more matter & energy at your disposal than the universe itself by definition (and no you can’t do this by just knowing all the matter and energy in Joe’s brain even though it will be Joe’s brain that does the writing, you need to calculate out the entire universe). In this sense most computer programs are probably deterministic but we’ve probably already crossed the line beyond that. (That’s not saying there’s computer programs today that have free will in the human sense…or even the animal one…).

  • phasespace

    smmtheory,
    When we talk about a vacuum, we’re usually talking about the kinetic pressure inside some volume (in a round about way). By this, I mean the pressure due to atomic or molecular particles bouncing off each other and the containing volume (if there the volume has a boundary).
    Photons can impart kinetic pressure to atomic particles that they interact with, but photons do not interact with each other. So if a volume of space does not contain any intervening atomic particles, photons pass right through without imparting any pressure, and we still consider that volume to be a perfect vacuum.

  • b

    Boonton:
    I think you’re missing the point, you’re implying that humans have free will and at best a computer will only simulate it. How do you know that humans themselves simply aren’t simulating free will?
    I don’t really want to go over ground that has already been hashed and rehashed. This is the a lot of the point of Joe’s post. This link has more on free will:
    http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/faculty/calhoun/socratic/Steinmetz-Problem_of_Intentionality.pdf
    It is possible that we have no free will, you’re right. But you have to say some pretty dumb things to make the claim, see Joe’s quotes. And there are plenty of great arguments for free will. One of my favorites is the argument from morality: If there is no free will, demonstrate how it is unnatural or wrong to do whatever one wants.

  • ucfengr

    Unlike theists, I am not saying that I have a privileged point of view, I am saying that I try to examine all propositions with a skeptical and critical eye, because I have learned that it is all too easy to jump to a faulty conclusion when you haven’t thought everything through.
    You say you aren’t being condescending and then you drop this little turd. Theists are just as prone to “examine all propositions with a skeptical and critical eye” as non-theists are. I would argue that, for you to assert this is evidence that you don’t “examine all propositions with a skeptical and critical eye”. In fact, you appear to me to be just as unquestioning of your beliefs as the most slack jawed hick at the most backwoods, snake-handling church in the most isolated mountains in Appalachia.

  • b

    Boonton:
    you’re implying that humans have free will and at best a computer will only simulate it
    ..and I didn’t imply that, I explicitly claimed it.

  • ucfengr

    Couldn’t you yourself easily spend all afternoon and evening listing facts and theories that have been proven by science?
    But couldn’t you also spend all afternoon and evening listing things that have been “proven” by science and then ultimately determined to be wrong?

  • phasespace

    Uc,
    In my experience, the majority of people, regardless of their religious proclivities, do not apply their critical thinking skills to every aspect of their lives. The reasons for this are myriad. Some of it is due to problems in our educational system, others are related to societal pressures to not think critically about certain areas. You need look no further than your nightly news to see clear evidence of this.
    I used to teach a critical thinking course to pre-service and inservice teachers years ago. And let me tell you, it was incredibly difficult breaking through the barriers that they had set up for themselves. In some cases I was never able to get some individuals to fully critically analyze the problems I presented them with. However, by the end of the course, nearly all agreed that it was one of the best courses they had taken both personally and professionally. Most agreed that after taking the course, they thought about the world in around them in a very different way, and that this was a positive change.
    If you’re going to accuse me of being dogmatic, then you need to show that most people really do think critically, and show that the evidence that I have gathered is either completely wrong, or at least subject to some statistical bias. I don’t think what I have seen is suspect, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

  • ucfengr

    In my experience, the majority of people, regardless of their religious proclivities, do not apply their critical thinking skills to every aspect of their lives.
    In my experience nobody, regardless of their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), applies critical thinking skills to every aspect of their lives. I mean, really, who has time to apply critical thinking skills to every aspect of their lives? But, lots of people, even theistic people, do apply critical thinking skills to the important aspects of their lives, like religious beliefs. It would be hard to explain the success of authors like C.S. Lewis and Francis Shaeffer (among others), otherwise.
    I used to teach a critical thinking course to pre-service and inservice teachers years ago. And let me tell you, it was incredibly difficult breaking through the barriers that they had set up for themselves.
    I am going to display some engineering bias here, but in my experience the people in college least likely to have any critical thinking skills or even the aptitude were education majors. So, if this is your sample, I am not surprised that you had such a hard time. That said, the evidence you have presented is anecdotal and not really from a representative sample, so it would be hard for anybody to draw any conclusions from it. I suspect if you had taught a critical thinking class to “pre-service” and “in-service” engineers, your perception of how many people have critical thinking skills would be quite different.
    If you’re going to accuse me of being dogmatic, then you need to show that most people really do think critically
    I don’t see how ‘x’ leads to ‘y’.

  • phasespace

    I didn’t say that people apply critical thinking to everything, but often the things that matter are the things that people don’t think about.
    Yes, C.S. Lewis is popular. But how many people who have read C.S. Lewis have also read the criticisms of Lewis? I’ve read Lewis, and the criticisms of Lewis. How many people really do that, versus people that are hoping to find some justification, go to Lewis, find what they are looking for and don’t look any further? I know quite a number of people that fall into that camp, and I don’t entirely excuse myself from that camp either.
    As for your comments about teachers, I agree that the typical education major is not necessarily the best of students, but these weren’t your typical ed. majors. The pre-service group was not your typical education major, these were people who had worked in various industries for years (some of them were even engineers, in fact) and decided that they wanted to become teachers.
    I’m well aware that this is anecdotal, but that doesn’t automatically invalidate it. The sample is a lot more interesting than you assumed.

  • ucfengr

    I didn’t say that people apply critical thinking to everything, but often the things that matter are the things that people don’t think about.
    From your comment (#73):
    In my experience, the majority of people, regardless of their religious proclivities, do not apply their critical thinking skills to every aspect of their lives.
    That seems to imply that you think some minority of people do apply critical thinking to every aspect of life. So you kinda did. You may not of meant it, but you did say it. In any case, what you seem to be saying here is that people use critical thinking when, say picking out a toothpaste, but not when choosing to believe in God. That hasn’t been my experience.
    Yes, C.S. Lewis is popular. But how many people who have read C.S. Lewis have also read the criticisms of Lewis?
    I don’t know, and I suspect you don’t either, but you seem to assume that people who have read both will side with you, and that is simply not the case. You appear to operate under the theory that when people apply critical thinking to a problem that they will all come to the same conclusion, and that solution will agree with yours, since ostensibly apply critical thinking to every aspect of your life. Again, that is just not the case.
    I’m well aware that this is anecdotal, but that doesn’t automatically invalidate it. The sample is a lot more interesting than you assumed.
    No, it doesn’t. Then again, you really haven’t provided a lot of data on you sample, so it doesn’t provide any validation for your position either.

  • phasespace

    You appear to operate under the theory that when people apply critical thinking to a problem that they will all come to the same conclusion, and that solution will agree with yours.

    No. If two different people apply different logic to a problem and come to conflicting conclusions, then the logic being used by at least one of them is suspect, and probably wrong. They can’t both be right (although they could both be wrong). That is the theory I operate under.

  • ucfengr

    No. If two different people apply different logic to a problem and come to conflicting conclusions, then the logic being used by at least one of them is suspect, and probably wrong. They can’t both be right (although they could both be wrong). That is the theory I operate under.
    Your theory is wrong. Life isn’t math. In many cases there is more than one solution to a problem. That said, in this case you are right, there is only one solution. The problem is, for this problem, there is no “teacher’s edition” to check your answer, you only find if your right after the test is completed. For me, if I am wrong, well I’m really no worse off, but if you’re wrong, well that’s another kettle of fish.

  • smmtheory

    When we talk about a vacuum, we’re usually talking about the kinetic pressure inside some volume (in a round about way). By this, I mean the pressure due to atomic or molecular particles bouncing off each other and the containing volume (if there the volume has a boundary).

    I understand the difference between a theoretical vacuum (being the complete absence of all matter) and what passes for vacuum since scientists cannot duplicate the theoretical or perfect vacuum which may even be all but impossible and indeed may never exist anyway. So, since it can’t be duplicated, how can anybody be positive that light can actually pass through a perfect vacuum?

  • ucfengr

    I understand the difference between a theoretical vacuum (being the complete absence of all matter) and what passes for vacuum since scientists cannot duplicate the theoretical or perfect vacuum which may even be all but impossible and indeed may never exist anyway. So, since it can’t be duplicated, how can anybody be positive that light can actually pass through a perfect vacuum?
    I think that is one of those unprovable assumptions so much of science is based on. It’s one of the reasons science can’t really prove anything.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    smmtheory
    So, since it can’t be duplicated, how can anybody be positive that light can actually pass through a perfect vacuum?
    From what I understood of phase’s explanation, the vacuum light is passing through is one with no atoms in it. That can be measured and compared to light going through other types of space with different amounts and types of atoms. A perfect vacuum wouldn’t even have light in it so I suppose you technically can’t measure its speed.
    ucfengr
    Theists are just as prone to “examine all propositions with a skeptical and critical eye” as non-theists are.
    Perhaps but we have you here. Where do those theists with the skeptical and critical eyes hanging out? DailyKos?
    But couldn’t you also spend all afternoon and evening listing things that have been “proven” by science and then ultimately determined to be wrong?
    Yea proven wrong by science.
    b
    I’m going to read your link either later tonight or tomorrow but for now I’m just going to hit a few of your points:
    ..and I didn’t imply that, I explicitly claimed it.
    Fine so again I ask how do you know the computer can only simulate free will while the human has it? Or, if it helps, suppose tomorrow we make contact with aliens who claim to have free will. How do we know they do or if they are just simulations of entities with free will? It seems to me you ar resisting grounding free will in matter so you refuse to grant the possibility of the free will computer because you know the computer is made of matter. Yet all evidence indicates so are humans.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Smm,
    Good questions.
    Short answer: There probably is no such thing as a pure vacuum. Even in a vacuum which has been shielded from all light (say, in a laboratory), it is possible that random quantum processes generate fleeting particles that appear and almost immediately annihilate each other again.
    But we don’t need a “perfect” vacuum to measure the speed of light in a vacuum. And we know light can travel across a vacuum, because that’s what it does all the time. Just look up at the sky on a clear night, and you’ll see light that has crossed the vacuum of space.
    Ucfengr,
    But couldn’t you also spend all afternoon and evening listing things that have been “proven” by science and then ultimately determined to be wrong?
    No.
    I could come up with a fairly short list though: the phlogiston theory of heat; the humors theory of human physiology; Newton’s theory of motion without the corrections for relativity and quantum mechanics; and so on. Maybe if I used Google I could come up with a more extensive list.
    For me, if I am wrong, well I’m really no worse off, but if [you, Phasespace, are] wrong, well that’s another kettle of fish.
    You are making two assumptions here that I disagree with:
    1) If God exists, She would be angry/disappointed that Phasespace declined to believe in Her, and She would therefore punish him.
    2) If God exists, She would be pleased with your resistance to believing the results of science, which is the discipline devoted to understanding Her Creation. And She would be pleased with your assumption that your religious faith is morally superior to someone else’s lack of faith, and She would be pleased by your apparent willingness to put someone else down on that basis. (Isn’t pride one of the seven deadly sins?)
    [ Smm: ] “… how can anybody be positive that light can actually pass through a perfect vacuum?”,?I>
    [ Ucf: ] I think that is one of those unprovable assumptions so much of science is based on. It’s one of the reasons science can’t really prove anything.
    Okay, you’ve answered my questions then from comment 60:
    Are not Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism proven, Ucf? Or the law of gravitational attraction? Is not the speed of light in a vacuum approximately 186,000 miles a second?>
    Couldn’t you yourself easily spend all afternoon and evening listing facts and theories that have been proven by science? And not even come close to ever finishing such a list?
    Your answer is, “Not really.”
    I would like to put another question to you.
    The speed of light in a vacuum is about 186,282.397 miles a second. Let’s say God sends the archangel Michael to you to offer you a proposition: tell Michael the speed of light (in a vacuum) to any degree of precision you feel comfortable with, and he will pay you $1,000 times 10 to the power of however many digits of precision you choose. For example, if you say 186,300 miles a second, that would be 4 digits, and 10 to the fourth power is 10,000, and Michael would pay you 10,000 times $1,000 or $10,000,000.
    The catch is, if you get the speed wrong, you forfeit your life. It’s not a trick question though, you just have to be careful not to be more precise than can be justified.
    So here’s my question: Would you accept such a wager, and if so, what would you say the speed of light is?

  • ucfengr

    You are making two assumptions here that I disagree with:
    1) If God exists, She would be angry/disappointed that Phasespace declined to believe in Her, and She would therefore punish him.
    A rich man has two sons. One son honors his father and follows his teachings, not perfectly, but to the best of his ability. The other rejects his father and doesn’t even attempt to follow his teachings. He goes further and even questions his paternity. Now, this rich man disinherits the son who rejects him. Is he punishing him or is her respecting his wishes?
    2) If God exists, She would be pleased with your resistance to believing the results of science, which is the discipline devoted to understanding Her Creation.
    Matthew, sounds like what you are saying is that God wants me to accept the findings of science, which show that there is no God. Bit of a logical conundrum, wouldn’t you say?
    And She would be pleased with your assumption that your religious faith is morally superior to someone else’s lack of faith, and She would be pleased by your apparent willingness to put someone else down on that basis. (Isn’t pride one of the seven deadly sins?)
    If I am the son who honors his father, is it arrogance for me to assume that my father thinks my honor and obedience to him is superior to my brother’s rejection and scorn?

  • ucfengr

    The speed of light in a vacuum is about 186,282.397 miles a second.
    My question is not what the speed of light in a vacuum is; in fact I will concede that the speed of light in a vacuum is 2.97 x 10^7 m/s. My question is how can we prove that it has always been so. A lot of what we say we have proven in science is based on unprovable assumptions, such as that the speed of light has always been what it is now.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucf,
    Now, this rich man disinherits the son who rejects him. Is he punishing him or is he respecting [the son's] wishes?
    He’s doing both. He’s punishing him by respecting his wishes. After all, the rich man is perfectly free to give his inheritance to both his sons.
    As for the analogy you’re making, first of all you should have used a rich woman ;)
    Secondly, Phasespace isn’t rejecting your God’s teachings. He accepts those teachings which are good, and rejects only those that are not good.
    Thirdly, Phasespace doesn’t have any reason to believe in either the maternity of God or her existence. You left that part out of your analogy. Makes a big difference.
    Matthew, sounds like what you are saying is that God wants me to accept the findings of science, which show that there is no God. Bit of a logical conundrum, wouldn’t you say?
    That the findings of science show there is no God is a very highly arguable proposition. I’ve never pretended to be able to prove such a thing, and I’m sure you don’t think it’s true at all. So as far as you are concerned, there shouldn’t be any conundrum.
    What that means in terms of your discussion with Phasespace is that you should argue God’s existence either by using the scientific evidence or in spite of the scientific evidence (as you see fit). But you shouldn’t deny the scientific evidence itself.
    If I am the son who honors his [mother], is it arrogance for me to assume that my [mother] thinks my honor and obedience to [her] is superior to my brother’s rejection and scorn?
    In the fable as you wrote it, no, not at all. But it certainly is arrogant to apply your fable to Phasespace.
    My question is not what the speed of light in a vacuum is; in fact I will concede that the speed of light in a vacuum is 2.97 x 10^7 m/s.
    Well that is not your question now. But it appeared to be one of your questions back in comment 80:
    I think that [light traveling through a vacuum] is one of those unprovable assumptions so much of science is based on. It’s one of the reasons science can’t really prove anything.
    Does that mean you are willing to change your mind if a dangle a little money in front of you, or does it mean you were just B.S.-ing with Smm?
    [ where B.S.-ing would refer to something along the lines of "careless and care-free random opinion generation with little regard to truth or falsehood" ;) ]
    My question is how can we prove that it has always been so.
    We can’t.
    A lot of what we say we have proven in science is based on unprovable assumptions, such as that the speed of light has always been what it is now.
    Well maybe you’ve said the speed of light is unchanging, but I’ve never said it was. But your bigger point is well-taken: it is very easy to extrapolate from what is actually proven in science to stuff which is not well-demonstrated or even to stuff which is demonstrably false.
    That is why it is often better to talk of specific things and avoid broad generalities such as “it’s one of the reasons science can’t really prove anything”. Do you agree?
    As always, a pleasure to discuss and debate with you, sir.
    Cheers,
    Matthew

  • ucfengr

    He’s doing both. He’s punishing him by respecting his wishes.
    You don’t punish an adult with free will by respecting their wishes.
    As for the analogy you’re making, first of all you should have used a rich woman ;)
    Are you familiar with the expression “to run a joke into the ground”? Well you’ve run this one into the ground, paved over it, painted yellow stripes on it, and are running 18-wheelers over it. The zing was slightly amusing the first 500 or so times, but really.
    Secondly, Phasespace isn’t rejecting your God’s teachings. He accepts those teachings which are good, and rejects only those that are not good.
    God doesn’t give us the authority to judge him.
    That the findings of science show there is no God is a very highly arguable proposition.
    Not really, in fact I would argue the opposite.
    What that means in terms of your discussion with Phasespace is that you should argue God’s existence either by using the scientific evidence or in spite of the scientific evidence (as you see fit). But you shouldn’t deny the scientific evidence itself.
    There is no scientific evidence for God’s non-existence.
    In the fable as you wrote it, no, not at all. But it certainly is arrogant to apply your fable to Phasespace.
    I didn’t apply it to phasespace, you only assumed I did, and by making that assumption applied it to him yourself.
    Well that is not your question now. But it appeared to be one of your questions back in comment 80:
    No, you misread my post. What smm was pointing out was that a perfect vacuum doesn’t exist and that we can’t create one, so any assumptions we make about the speed of light in a vacuum are just that, assumptions, because we really can’t create the conditions that would allow us to prove it.
    Well maybe you’ve said the speed of light is unchanging,
    No, I said that much of what we know about the universe is based on the unprovable assumption that the speed of light is and has always been constant. If that assumption is wrong, that much of what we know about the universe is also wrong.

  • phasespace

    God doesn’t give us the authority to judge him.

    Who’s judging God? It’s not God that I have a problem with, assuming such a being exists. As far as I’m concerned God is free to do whatever He wants, and even ask us for whatever he wants, but He does need to be clear about it. No, the problem is not with God at all, the problem (as always) is with the people who think they speak for Him and think they know what He wants without being able to show this to be the case unequivocally.

    There is no scientific evidence for God’s non-existence.

    And there never will be. Let me be real explicit about this. There is no proof that God does not exist, and there never will be such proof. That is the nature of the logic of the problem, you’re continued request for evidence of this sort is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to shift the burden of proof.

    Further, you’ve implied that I, and other atheists have rejected, God. It might be strongly argued that the Christian conception of God has been rejected, but the vast majority of us haven’t really rejected the possibility of God, certainly not myself. What I reject is asserting the existence of God, plus adding all kinds of additional and completely unwarranted baggage onto the concept without first being able to show some kind of unequivocal evidence.

    No, I said that much of what we know about the universe is based on the unprovable assumption that the speed of light is and has always been constant. If that assumption is wrong, that much of what we know about the universe is also wrong.No, I said that much of what we know about the universe is based on the unprovable assumption that the speed of light is and has always been constant. If that assumption is wrong, that much of what we know about the universe is also wrong.

    And what you fail to recognize, is that we have the capability to check to see if the speed of light has changed, and we can even put upper limits on the amount it could have changed. You’ve really painted yourself into a corner here, Uc. You seem to accept a lot of what science says, but you rather arbitrarily decide that there are certain things that you won’t accept for the singular purpose of trying preserve your faith. That sure takes a lot squirming. This alone should be a warning sign to you that maybe things aren’t quite the way you think they are.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    b
    I read through your link and even though it is only 4 pages I hate to say I’m not sure I get it. I’ll try reading it again more carefully but perhaps you could provide us with a summary of what you think it means.
    It is possible that we have no free will, you’re right. But you have to say some pretty dumb things to make the claim, see Joe’s quotes. And there are plenty of great arguments for free will. One of my favorites is the argument from morality: If there is no free will, demonstrate how it is unnatural or wrong to do whatever one wants.
    I didn’t say we don’t have free will….I suspect we do but it is centered in materialism & what’s tripping people up is insisting on a convoluted definition of free will that requires humans to be more like gods. The fear seems to be that if our free will is part of the nature of reality of our universe then it may be subject to ‘determinism’. But the problem is that the most sensible definition for ‘determinism’ is ‘able to be determined’ and the fact remains if our decisions are the result of natural laws of physics and chemistry they cannot be determined. You would require a computer larger than the universe itself….in other words, people here seem to be demanding that not only must we define humans as having a free will but it must be defined so as to even be able to outwit God himself….
    But here’s one answer to your question:
    Assuming we don’t have free will it doesn’t really matter. The best explanation I read was on another blog (I want to say obsidian wings but I’ll try to find it) went like this. Imagine the most difficult moral problem you can see yourself having to face. Maybe you’re a doctor operating on simese twins and you realize only one can be saved and you must choose which one will die….or imagine you…well just imagine some situation that would cause you to agonize for a while trying to find the morally right action. Now what if someone came up to you and said they had spoken to God and confirmed you don’t have free will, you’re just a ‘meat machine’. Then they go away without telling you what the answer is to your moral problem. So what? The fact remains you will agonize over your decision and make it whether it’s the right or wrong one to make.
    Or maybe you’re asking if it is fair to hold one responsible for one’s actions if one doesn’t have free will….
    Well while writing this my dog came up to me in the living room and peed. There’s two possible explanations:
    1. He’s an old dog who can’t control himself anymore. In other words, he doesn’t have free will.
    2. He does have free will…he decided for whatever reason he didn’t want to follow the rules tonight….
    Either way it doesn’t make a difference. I ushered him out onto the deck and cleaned up. If he becomes a chronic peer I can’t keep him in the house anymore. If you can’t stop killing people well society can’t let you out of jail whether you’re doing it because of #1 or #2.

  • Kseniya

    In other words, free will is much like indigestion

    Congratulations! Despite your eloquence and apparent erudition, you’ve managed to post 2008′s shallowest comment on the intertoobz.

  • http://tomgrey.motime.com Tom Grey

    Without Free Will, like existence without any God / (Good vs Evil), life becomes meaningless.
    If there is no God, why is that truth good? The whole atheist assumption is that “truth is good”, but this assumption can’t really be true if the truth is that there is no God. Without God (God is great, God is good…), where does goodness come from? Opinion … like the Will to Power.
    Perhaps the truth can be good with a God, but without Free Will? Yet in this case the illusion of free will is often the reason those who act choose to do so, rather than not.
    “Determinism made me do it”! Yet it is scientifically known that incentives work — carrots and sticks do make people, and all mammals, adjust behavior.
    On the rationalization point of the point — all smart people I know are experts at developing “arguments” to explain, “logically”, why they believe whatever they believe. I recall Ayn Rand’s affair with the younger, married Nathaniel Brandon, and thus cheating on her own husband as well as on her “friend” Barbara.
    Se Neo-neocon on changing minds.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Tom,
    I’m not sure I really follow your post but…
    Without Free Will, like existence without any God / (Good vs Evil), life becomes meaningless.
    Sleeping isn’t an act of free will. Yes to a degree I can force myself not to sleep but I eventually will have to sleep to make up for it. Yet the fact that I clearly do not have free will when it comes to sleeping doesn’t seem to make my life meaningless….or to put it another way I don’t think life would become more meaningful if tomorrow they invent a pill that let’s you do away totally with sleep if you want too.
    As for Ayn Rand, I’m not sure she needed to rationalize her affair. Her philosophy, as far as I know, didn’t have any objections to extramarital affairs. What she probably did have to rationalize was creating a cult of personality around a philosophy that was supposedly built on individualism.

  • b

    boonton:
    But the problem is that the most sensible definition for ‘determinism’ is ‘able to be determined’ and the fact remains if our decisions are the result of natural laws of physics and chemistry they cannot be determined.
    No, it is highly likely that all material in the universe is subject to causality, which means that cause and effect rules matter. (There are those who suspect that quantum mechanics etc is not subject to causality but no one has ever demonstrated this.) So everyone’s life is completely pre-determined. It doesn’t matter if that entire life cannot be calculated (a la Asimov’s Foundation series), the fact remains that nothing can happen outside that predetermined chain of events. ERGO my point.
    Assuming we don’t have free will it doesn’t really matter…. etc.
    I do not understand your point.
    Well while writing this my dog came up to me in the living room and peed. There’s two possible explanations:
    1. He’s an old dog who can’t control himself anymore. In other words, he doesn’t have free will.
    2. He does have free will…he decided for whatever reason he didn’t want to follow the rules tonight….
    Either way it doesn’t make a difference. I ushered him out onto the deck and cleaned up. If he becomes a chronic peer I can’t keep him in the house anymore. If you can’t stop killing people well society can’t let you out of jail whether you’re doing it because of #1 or #2.
    1. Lack of control doesn’t indicate lack of will. 2. Rules don’t make things right or wrong. If you don’t subscribe to either of those claims, this discussion will become too long for blog comments.
    It doesn’t matter if “society” has to lock you up. My question is not about justice. My question is, if I cannot choose what I will do (no free will), why is it wrong for me to do anything I want to?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    1. Lack of control doesn’t indicate lack of will.
    Actually yes it does, at least in the limited area where control is lacking. Unless you’re aruging for the ‘sync’ idea of free will, free will by definition means that one’s free choices will CAUSE actions. If actions are being caused by other things then that’s not free will.
    2. Rules don’t make things right or wrong. If you don’t subscribe to either of those claims, this discussion will become too long for blog comments.
    True but for the sake of the argument lets suppose it is wrong for a dog to pee in the house and dogs do have a type of free will where they choose to either do the right thing or wrong thing.
    My question is, if I cannot choose what I will do (no free will), why is it wrong for me to do anything I want to?
    1. Your question is contradictory. If you cannot choose to do (or want) certain things then you don’t have to ask what’s the right or wrong thing to choose…..you’re going to choose what you choose right or wrong.
    2. Why would right and wrong be connected to free choice logically? Can you name for me any example where the question of what is right or wrong hinges upon free will? In other words, imagine I had the ability to remove your free will for a temporary period of time. SHow me how that actually would change right and wrong for you? Say the question is whether it’s ok to kill a child. You say it’s wrong. I turn my ‘free will removal machine’ on. While you may no longer have the free will to refuse to kill a child it is still wrong.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    b
    No, it is highly likely that all material in the universe is subject to causality, which means that cause and effect rules matter. (There are those who suspect that quantum mechanics etc is not subject to causality but no one has ever demonstrated this.)
    So are you saying that an act of free will is one in which the effect cannot be traced to a cause? Joe getting grey hair can be linked to the cause of his body chemistry combined with time but Joe deciding to rerun an old free will post rather than write a new one is a effect without a cause?
    If this is where you’re going do you realize that you’re ditching one of the big philosphical arguments for the existence of God? Namely that the universe is finite but everything in it must have a cause therefore there must be an uncaused cause that started it all and that’s God. Now it seems like uncaused causes pop up everytime we hit Wal-Mart!
    If this is not the case how then do we square the fact that a lot of what Joe writes has a very clear cause. Writing in English, for example, is no doubt caused by the fact he was raised and schooled in that language….which has left very materialistic patterns of matter in his brain which represent all those years of learning and using English just as much as an athlete’s muscles represent all those hours in the weight room.
    If all those causes are not materialistic then at some point there will be something will happen to matter that is not explainable by the known laws of physics. If that is the case then it will be quite easy to objectively test for free will. If the computer, robot, or dog has free will then it too will exhibit its matter behaving in such an unexplainable way.
    So everyone’s life is completely pre-determined. It doesn’t matter if that entire life cannot be calculated (a la Asimov’s Foundation series), the fact remains that nothing can happen outside that predetermined chain of events. ERGO my point.
    It seems more than unable to be calculated. If we built an atom by atom replica of our universe and allowed it to run would the Joe Carter of that universe still choose to give us a rerun rather than write a fresh post? Quantum physics would say no. Even with the same starting conditions things never run in exactly the same way anymore than two sunny days are ever exactly the same. There is no ‘pre’ in your claim that it is a predetermined chain of events! And can you really have a determined chain of events that are not predetermined?

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Boonton:
    For what it is worth, I award you 11 points out of 10.
    b:
    No, it is highly likely that all material in the universe is subject to causality, which means that cause and effect rules matter. … So everyone’s life is completely pre-determined.
    Everyone who has objected to materialistic explanations of free will needs to pay very careful attention to this very real world counter example:
    If you drop grains of sand, they will form a pile. As the slope of that pile approaches a critical angle, it will slump.
    However, no matter how carefully you measure all the elements of this extremely simple system, you will not be able to predict which grain of sand will cause the pile to slump.
    Consequently, just because the brain is wholly materialistic does not in any way mean its behavior is determined.

  • ucfengr

    If you drop grains of sand, they will form a pile. As the slope of that pile approaches a critical angle, it will slump…However, no matter how carefully you measure all the elements of this extremely simple system, you will not be able to predict which grain of sand will cause the pile to slump.
    There are a lot of very smart, scientifically literate people who think we can model the Earth’s environment with enough fidelity that we can use the predictions to make decisions costing billions or even trillions of dollars and effecting billions of lives; now what your telling me is that we can’t even model a simple pile of sand with enough fidelity to make relatively simple predictions. I am sure that should tell us something, but I am just not sure what.
    Of course in reality you can never prove your hypothesis so I give you a 0.5 out of 10 for presenting unproven and unprovable hypothesis as fact.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    What you ask from such models is very broad and general. If I told you next week the temp. will be 85 degrees at 12:00 noon you would be very impressed if I was 100% correct. If I had a computer program that could make predictions like that I could sell it for a lot of money.
    But the number of possible types of 85 degree days are nearly infinite. It could be 84 at 11:55 am and 86 at 12:05 PM or vice versa or 85 all day long and so on. In one sense saying it will be 85 is like saying the sun will rise tomorrow morning…it leaves a huge amount of information out.
    A ‘perfect simulation’ would require knowing every particle and bit of energy that makes up earth. No computer could ever process such data unless it was as big as the earth itself…probably bigger…which begs the question of why build such a computer when you can just watch earth itself to see what happens.
    But then even if you did have every atom down pat quantum mechanics says you can’t predict what they will do, only make probablistic statements. On the macro level many of those probabilities will collapse but there’s no evidence they all will collapse on every level down to what Joe will write about in his next post. It seems even perfect knowledge and computing power equal to the entire universe is not sufficient to say we live in a deterministic world of matter.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Of course in reality you can never prove your hypothesis so I give you a 0.5 out of 10 for presenting unproven and unprovable hypothesis as fact.
    I give you 10 of 10 for missing the point.
    People in this thread have objected to the hypothesis that the brain’s functions are due solely to materialistic processes, because that would make the brain deterministic.
    My very, very real, example clearly demonstrates that materialistic systems, even extremely simple ones, are not deterministic.
    The mistake starts almost immediately. From Mr. Carter’s post:
    (1) Free will cannot be divorced from physical causation. This means that our “will” cannot be separated from the laws of physics and chemistry. Ergo, our actions are determined by physical laws.
    Wrong. He owes Dr. Denett an apology.

  • ucfengr

    My very, very real, example clearly demonstrates that materialistic systems, even extremely simple ones, are not deterministic.
    No, it doesn’t; which was my point; which you completely missed. Looking at your example, logically it is just a plausible that if I had 2 (or 10 or 100 or 1M) identical batches of sand, under identical conditions, and I released them in the exact same manner, that they would behave in exactly the same way; in other words, deterministically. The problem is, I could never find absolutely identical batches of sand, and I could never provide the absolute same conditions, so I could never demonstrate my hypothesis, but then, neither can you. This was my point; that you are presenting as proof of your assertion an unprovable hypothesis. If you are going to provide an example to demonstrate your point, shouldn’t you, you know, actually be able to demonstrate it?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I>Looking at your example, logically it is just a plausible that if I had 2 (or 10 or 100 or 1M) identical batches of sand, under identical conditions, and I released them in the exact same manner, that they would behave in exactly the same way; in other words, deterministically.
    I was wondering about this. No two grains of sand are exactly alike but I wonder if skipper’s hypothetical would work if you used sand that was manufactured so the grains were as alike as possible (say cubes or spheres). But you’re missing something else here…the two batches would not behave in an identical manner. Even if the batches were identical the universe would have changed when you do the second batch resulting in behavior that is not identical. If you did both batches at the same time that would not yield a determined system because even if the collapsed at the same moment the exercise could not be repeated.
    No I’m not talking about quantum mechanics here. The collapse of the sand pile is probably so sensitive that even minute changes in gravity will alter it so you need the entire visible universe to cause it and once it happens it will never again happen exactly the same.
    What your confusing here is comparing getting the same measurement with the same behavior. Two piles of sand may appear to fall down at the same angle if your measuring tool is accurate to only one degree but not if its more accurate than that. But this is like the two days that are 85 degrees, they are only alike in one respect, not all respects.
    This was my point; that you are presenting as proof of your assertion an unprovable hypothesis. If you are going to provide an example to demonstrate your point, shouldn’t you, you know, actually be able to demonstrate it?
    He already did, if something requires computing power greater than the universe itself to determine it then its behavior is not determinable. A system is determinable if the thing you are measuring is crude enough to asorb the indeterminable elements that impact it. While more computing power and better measurements can make some things that were indeterminable determinable there is a finite limit to how much that trick can work.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Looking at your example, logically it is just a plausible that if I had 2 (or 10 or 100 or 1M) identical batches of sand, under identical conditions, and I released them in the exact same manner, that they would behave in exactly the same way; in other words, deterministically.
    No, it is not plausible.
    Even made simpler. Take the same grains of sand. Drop them in the same order, with the same starting orientation, from the same height. Measure all those variables to a fare-thee-well.
    Then repeat as often as you like.
    You will find there is a range of sand grain drops within which the pile will slump — that means this extremely simple system is stochastic.
    Not deterministic.
    All of the piles will behave the same way — they will get steeper until they approach the critical angle, but there is no determining a priori which specific grain will cause the pile to slump.
    The problem lies in chaos theory, which puts paid to determinism.
    Which makes every objection to materialistic hypotheses because of determinism dead wrong, because attaining identical conditions is impossible.

  • smmtheory

    Chaos Theory. Yet another unprovable hypothesis.

  • ucfengr

    Which makes every objection to materialistic hypotheses because of determinism dead wrong, because attaining identical conditions is impossible.
    That doesn’t mean determinism is wrong, it only suggests that it is impossible to exactly duplicate conditions in complex systems.
    Chaos Theory. Yet another unprovable hypothesis.
    Dang, beat me to it.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Chaos Theory. Yet another unprovable hypothesis.
    Wrong. Dead wrong.
    In mathematics, chaos theory describes the behavior of certain dynamical systems – that is, systems whose state evolves with time – that may exhibit dynamics that are highly sensitive to initial conditions (popularly referred to as the butterfly effect). As a result of this sensitivity, which manifests itself as an exponential growth of perturbations in the initial conditions, the behavior of chaotic systems appears to be random. This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future dynamics are fully defined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.
    The uncertainty principle ensures the impossibility of precisely knowing initial conditions.
    If you can disprove either of these hypotheses, there is a Nobel in it for you.
    That doesn’t mean determinism is wrong …
    Yes, actually, it does. Since you can’t determine the behavior of even the simplest system in advance, then determinism is wrong.

  • ucfengr

    The uncertainty principle ensures the impossibility of precisely knowing initial conditions.
    Which suggests that it is impossible to precisely know initial conditions, it still doesn’t disprove determinism. In fact, it is not at all self-evident that genuinely chaotic systems even exist. That is not to say that they don’t, only it can’t be proven.

  • smmtheory

    If you can disprove either of these hypotheses, there is a Nobel in it for you.

    Cute. If you could PROVE either of those hypotheses, I’m sure there would be a Nobel in it for you too! Maybe a few. One for development of equipment that could actually observe the individual particles of an atom. And probably another for developing a computer capable of tracking the spatial positioning of all the discrete components of such a complex system as a grain of sand.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Which suggests that it is impossible to precisely know initial conditions, it still doesn’t disprove determinism.
    It absolutely does! If it is impossible to determine a priori how a system will function, then it cannot possibly be deterministic.
    That a system is governed by physical laws does not mean it is possible to say what the system’s state at some future time will be. Almost all time variant systems are like this.
    In fact, it is not at all self-evident that genuinely chaotic systems even exist.
    It may not be self-evident to you, but it is an absolute fact they exist. By all means do a little investigation — not only do they exist, they are amazingly common.
    If you could PROVE either of those hypotheses, I’m sure there would be a Nobel in it for you too! Maybe a few. One for development of equipment that could actually observe the individual particles of an atom.
    As I said above, long since done: it is impossible to simultaneously measure the position and momentum of an atom (or, indeed, anything; although, the error decreases as the mass of the object decreases).
    With regard to observing an atom, you clearly do not understand what the act of observation requires: photons.
    With that piece of information in hand, by all means do some investigation for yourself.
    You will find the uncertainty principle is as proven as anything.
    Hiesenberg became quite famous for discovering it.

  • https://collapseofcivilization.wordpress.com Eman_modnar

    Hmm…? Did you post an argument for free will?

  • https://collapseofcivilization.wordpress.com Eman_modnar

    Hmm…? Did you post an argument for free will?