Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's Not My Fault I Don't Believe in God, Since There's No Free Will

I wasn't aware that "Darwinian orthodoxy denies the reality of free will," but thank god those wise intelligent design (ID) creationists revealed that well-kept secret. A secret so well-kept, in fact, that apparently the Freemason-like secret Darwinian society must only give that information out to the Darwinist Grand Masters, people like Dawkins and Gould, since I wasn't aware of it. I guess I'm just a poor dupe of the the "evilutionists."

Oh, wait. It isn't scientists, by and large, who claim that the theory of evolution is incompatible with free will. Theists are the ones who generally make this claim, based not on any evidence, but on philosophical arguments (or, perhaps, sophistry). Scientists, favoring making judgments based on evidence rather than faith (read: wild-assed guess), have debated the issue of whether humans and other organisms have free will, but have, by and large, held off on drawing conclusions until more convincing evidence was obtained.

The study the ID creationists cite shows evidence that free will may, indeed, exist in fruit flies, and thus possibly in other organisms. This is in no way in conflict with the theory of evolution. And, if it were, scientists would have to rethink the theory in accord with the new evidence, not abandon the theory entirely, as evolution is a robust theory that does not hinge on any one piece of data. The results of this study certainly give no support to intelligent design creationism.

Further, as I have argued before, free will is, in my opinion, incompatible with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic idea of God. In a material universe, things can be undetermined and random, since no one is determining what happens. But in a universe whose existence is contigent, from moment to moment, on an omniscient and omnipotent God who exists outside of time and both knows and determines the state of each molecule and particle in existence, and sets all the factors that could affect the behavior of creatures living in that universe, including the personalities, abilities, and propensities of every living being, nothing can happen that is against God's will. As such, everything that happens is God's will and only God's will, because His will cannot be abrogated, and so there can be no free will, as all beings living in such a universe must always do as God wills and can never do otherwise. While theists like to argue that we can, in fact, do things that are not what God wishes us to do, that just pushes things back one step and postulates a God that has dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities), as we can only do something God does not wish us to do if God wishes us to, so God would have to both wish and not wish us to take that action. Of course, since nothing can happen that an omnipotent being does not wish to happen -- as being all-powerful necessarily entails the power to prevent anything one does not wish to happen from happening -- this is logically impossible. As such, either there is no omnipotent God or there is no free will. Both cannot exist.

Trumpeting evidence of the existence of free will does not actually help the ID creationists at all, though they don't realize it. Because a material, non-supernatural universe is consistent with free will or lack thereof, but the Christian God who is the unnamed "designer" of intelligent design theory isn't.


At 7:37 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

Discussions about free will are interesting from a philosophical point of view, but not from a scientific one in my opinion. I strongly believe the question is scientifically unanswerable for a number of reasons.

The second article you cited confirms my position on this, actually.

First, as the article notes, there's a semantic problem with the term. Even eschewing the apparent paradox they bring up, I still have little idea of what the phrase actually means. This scientist seems to believe it is "somewhere between" determinism and stochasticity. But that is an extraordinarily ill-defined position.

It's reasonable to imagine that mathematical models of behavioral responses exist at different levels of abstraction. Such functions may be quite simple or quite complex, they may involve some degree of randomness or they may be entirely deterministic. What nature and degree of complexity must the function have for us to consider it demonstrating "free will"? At what level of stochasticity must it have? These seem arbitrary attributes to me.

And while human (and fruit fly) behaviors are not necessarily governed by a mathematical function, scientifically measuring an observed phenomena (e.g., "free will") requires such modeling at some level. What is an adequate model of "free will"? Because the flies behave in ways that are complex, but not uniformly random? Why is that free will? Why is it not simply a more complicated function or a more sophisticated probabilistic mechanism?

If "more complicated function" and/or "more sophisticated stochasticism" are what this guy means by free will, how much "more" and "more" than what?

Unless it is well defined, it is (scientifically) unanswerable -- certainly it is not falsifiable.

A second reason is somewhat reductionist. The human mind is an open system, one connected with the brain, perceptions in the form of sensory information and internal processes (e.g., memory), both of which are in turn rooted in a physical environment, which itself consists of a complex array of systems that interact at various levels. The most common notion of free will is that it suggests that our decision somehow transcends these systems.

Consider the silly mental game of "rewinding" the Universe 1 second and "replaying" the entirety of all things from the precise state they were at that second. Things might roll out differently, or they might roll out exactly the same ... you may make the same decision in that second, or a different one. Why would it be one way or the other?

In a traditionally Newtonian sense, you would make exactly the same decision. All the particles would move in the same way, the molecules would interact in the same way, the biochemical and electrical processes in organisms would occur in the same way, and I'd still decide leap over the coffee table and grab the remote before I watch any of American Idol.

Or perhaps, in the modern view of physics, with quantum mechanics in play, things would go differently because of the inherent randomness in the Universe. A totally different chain of physical events occur, and I end up absorbed by the vapid nonsense of an entertainment industry hell-bent on sucking the life out of our culture.

Either way, I don't see how free will has anything to do with it (one way or the other). Either way it was a result of complex physical interactions, a result of the processing of many interlocking systems, of which my mind was but a small piece.

Unless we believe there's "more to it" than can be described by physical laws. In which case, it is (by definition) "supernatural", and I'm back to "unanswerable."

A third view considers "free will" as merely an emergent observation of those internal processes: I have free will merely by virtue of the fact that I observe my willpower in action. My mind is capable of monitoring its own processing (to some extent) and consciously observing it's own decision making process ... and that ability can be used to alter decisions by reasoning over such observations.

Free will, then, is not so much a fundamental property of my mind as it is an emergent by-product the its operation. I favor this interpretation.

Of course, this "meta-reasoning" is merely just a part of the material process as much as anything else, but because my mind for some reason separates it, I believe I am choosing because I can observe the decision making process internally.

But if this is so, then it hardly matters whether we have free will or not. It is sufficient that we observe something we believe is freedom to choose. This is subjective and internal, and (as far as I can tell) unmeasurable ... consequently, not scientifically knowable.

So I would argue that science (which I generalize from the pejorative use of "Darwinist" in the first article to which you refer) doesn't have anything to say about free will one way or the other. It isn't that we are waiting on more evidence, it is that the question is a philosophic one, not a scientific one.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger mooglar said...

I agree with you completely. I don't actually think "free will" has any meaning outside a philosophical/religious context, and I don't really understand how one would scientifically measure or quantify it. I also am not sure exactly under what definition of "free will" the actions of the fruit flies constitute evidence of "free will."

I think people like the ID creationists want to define the term loosely like this: "Able to make decisions completely unconstrained by or caused by any physical factor." Essentially, if anything going on physically in your brain influences you, then you don't have "free will." By this definition, they can then claim that one can have free will only if one's thinking doesn't happen in the physical organ of the brain, but outside the physical realm entirely, thus removed from the influence of the physical world.

That is to say, they simply define "free will" in a way that it is only compatible with a nonmaterial "soul" and incompatible with our thinking being an emergent property of the physical functioning of the brain. And, as such, they define "free will" in such a way that any "materialistic" theory, as they would call it, that doesn't explicitly acknowledge God and the soul also denies "free will." And since they think the "materialistic" theory of evolution is incompatible with "free will," they take the further step to claim the incompatibility is obvious and that it must therefore be part of "Darwinian orthodoxy," when, of course, it isn't, because their definition of "free will" doesn't make any scientific sense in the first place.

But still, as you point out, though as a nontheist I reject the ID creationists' definition of "free will," it is not obvious to me what a scientifically meaningful definition would be, and how the fruit fly experiment would be evidence of its existence.

I chose no to go into that in my post, however, because I wanted to point out that simply being free of material influences doesn't constitute "free will" in the other sense Christians use it, to explain how people can be and do evil despite an omnipotent omnibenevolent God.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I don't know if anyone is still paying attention to this particular post ...

I was thinking about this, and it caused me to resurrect an old argument I've had with many theists about the defense of the culpability of God for sin: Because God gave us free will, we can choose the wrong path -- sin is a construct of man, a natural consequence of morally inferior beings implementing daily living with freedom of thought and action.

Certainly it makes many theists feel better about God being responsible for the evil in the world. It's a great argument ... not only do we get Him off the hook and pin sin on us, but we ALSO acknowledge a great gift from God at the same time.

It's just too bad that this very argument also undermines the power of God.

If God were omnipotent, He could create a world in which man had the ability to choose freely and there was also no sin. Theists generally point out at this point that that doesn't make any sense ... if we can choose freely, we can choose sin.

But why start with logic now, all of a sudden? Either God can do anything ... even things that seem logically incongruous to us, or he cannot. Either we bestow on Him the a power so advanced that we cannot reconcile it with our logic and reason, or he is subject to those same laws. You don't just get to pick and choose which human reason is inferior to divine reason and which is consistent.

What are the limits of omnipotence anyway? If none, we surely must admit that God could have created a Universe in which man had total freedom of choice and in which there was still no sin (whether or not we can make sense of such a thing). If He could have but didn't, He is culpable for the sin in the world.

Freedom of choice doesn't get a theist off the hook for that one, I am afraid (unless they are willing to admit that God is not all powerful).

Perhaps more Christians should investigate Kabbalism. As C++ geek I know asks: Is there anything that can't be solved by increasing the level of indirection?

At 10:48 AM, Blogger mooglar said...

I totally agree with your latest comment as well. Blaming sin on free will is a post-hoc rationalization to explain how evil can exist yet not be God's fault. But it doesn't work. God could have made the world differently, as you note, and as you also note, He isn't constrained by logic, which theists tacitly admit when they claim "We can't know the mind of God" or "God works in mysterious ways" to explain things God has supposedly done that don't make any sense.

Trying to reconcile the problem of evil with an omnipotent, omnisicient, omnibenevolent god is a branch of theology called theodicy, and, to this point, there has not been a successful explanation that isn't internally and fatally flawed, including the free will argument.

At 8:56 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

Hey, I had the sense that I'd written something like this before on your blog, and I was correct. I found this during a recent lunch-time review of your blog.

I'd forgotten my "don't kick 'em when their down" argument. I've amused myself (not for the first time, and hopefully not for the last).


Post a Comment

<< Home