We lose our ability to choose freely if our universe is only physical.
Many naturalists today will argue that we do not have minds and therefore do not have the ability to choose. Our ability to choose is lost when we are being controlled by the chemical reactions in our brains. This view is called determinism; free will does not exist and we could not have done anything different than what we did.
However, this does not seem to agree with what we understand about the universe. We live in a culture that is based in free will. People are expected to choose to follow the law and be good employees. If they don’t follow the law then we hold them responsible and hope they change in the future. But if determinism is true, we are controlled by the chemical reactions in our brains and there is no choice.
This deterministic view can be easily explained, but it cannot be lived. Even determinists would argue that someone is immoral for choosing to rape instead of love. People choose to do evil acts daily and that is why we have a system in place to arrest those people and help them receive treatment. This treatment is used to help a person realize their negative behavior and change their actions in the future. If determinism is true then jails are no longer correctional facilities, and they become holding cells for the “broken” or “malfunctioning” people. The person did evil because their wiring was off and not because they chose to do evil.
However, we do expect a person to change while in prison, but this change is impossible if we do not have the freedom to choose a different option. Since it is difficult to get around the fact that life is based on free will, some naturalists have changed the definition of free will in order to give a naturalistic account for the way we think. Others argue that free will simply appeared in our universe without any reason. But just like most of the naturalistic explanations, there is no evidence to support this idea. In a last ditch effort to give a natural explanation for free will, some have described free will as an illusion. Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet are two atheists who hold to this view. But how do they know it is an illusion? Are they freely choosing to hold to that view, or are their chemicals reacting in a way that they are forced to say that? I once had an atheist trying to convince me that my belief in free will was wrong and that I should change my opinion and agree that I don’t have free will. The fascinating thing that he didn’t realize is that I would have to have free will in order to change my mind to agree with him that free will doesn’t exist. It is completely self defeating.
It is impossible to explain free will from only the natural world, and so we need to go outside of our universe to an immaterial being to explain the existence of free will. Free will cannot be the product of chemical reactions in our brain. If free will exists, and there is good reason to think that it does, then there is something outside this natural world that gave it to us.
May 3, 2016 at 9:56 pm
The Irony is that by strictly adhering to biblical doctrine and submitting oneself to church authority and instruction the committed christian is subjecting themselves to dimminished free will.
May 4, 2016 at 12:26 am
How does submission to church authority diminish free will?
May 4, 2016 at 2:10 am
Hard determinism does not imply that people cannot change. It only implies that if a person changes, then that change occurred necessarily as an effect in a long chain of antecedent causes. They hold that individuals are never the ultimate causes of the changes that occur within them.
If the author had changed his mind after hearing his atheistic interlocutor’s argument, then, on hard determinism, it was always the case that the author was going to change his mind at that point. Since he did not, it was in reality always the case that he was not going to change his mind.
The hard determinist would be consistent in saying that reward, punishment, and rehabilitation (and praise and blame in general) are intended to bring about certain desirable effects within individuals or society at large, but only as a form of conditioning. On hard determinism, it is simply not the case that we engage in these things to make people freely realize the evils or goods of their ways.
May 4, 2016 at 12:05 pm
Reblogged this on invernest and commented:
sounds rational and reasonable
May 4, 2016 at 4:43 pm
An even bigger problem for the determinist is the necessity of free will in order to know. If determinism is true, we could not know it (or anything else for that matter.) In order to know things, we must be able to deliberate and compare competing ideas and choose the ones that best conform to reality. If determinism is true, we only think what we are determined to think. As soon as the determinist begins to argue for his view, he denies it.
May 4, 2016 at 6:57 pm
Interesting thought. Determinism does not remove the ability to deliberate, compare, or make a selection among competing ideas; it only says that when we do these things, we do them necessarily, as results of causes prior to ourselves and outside of our control.
Would you explain why free choice might be necessary for knowledge?
May 5, 2016 at 2:47 am
If our deliberation is determined by prior conditions, then so is its outcome. Therefore we could not have warrant to think something was true. We would be determined to think so.
May 5, 2016 at 3:24 pm
I’m not certain you’ve done more than reformulate your original assertion, which is “free choice is required for the justification of beliefs.” I’m not clear on why this is the case.
Take the case of a computer that has solved a complicated math problem: One could query the computer in order to receive from it the process it underwent to generate its solution. If the computer properly followed the relevant rules of mathematics and logic in generating its answer, then its answer is justified; this holds even though the computer obviously made no free choices as it generated the answer, and could have generated no answer except the one that it did.
A computer would not then “know” the answer, obviously, since the computer can’t believe anything; but if we accept that its answer is justified, then there doesn’t seem to be a problem for knowledge and determinism in the case of humans. Justification on this view simply means, e.g., the ability to produce rational (i.e., logical, properly supported) reasons for one’s view, which is possible regardless of whether we have freedom of the will.
May 5, 2016 at 6:38 pm
This is a very interesting point. You say that if a computer properly follows the rules then its answer is justified. However, how can we know if the computer is producing true results? What if there is an error in its formula so the results are false even though they follow logic? The computer, like you said, would not “know” the answer because it can’t believe anything. However, if everything is determined, then we can’t “know” any answers because we can’t believe anything either; we are all computers! If everything is determined and we are all like computers, how could we possibly know what is rational, logical, or properly supported? My basic question is, how would you know if the computer was right or wrong? What if its calculations were correct and you were the one that had the logic wrong? Could you know which one was right or would they just be different?
May 5, 2016 at 10:23 pm
Determinism does not imply that humans are essentially computers — at least not in a sense that would affect our ability to have knowledge. Computers cannot know because computers do not have minds. Only things with minds can hold beliefs. Belief is integral to knowledge.
Let’s say that one holds a “belief” if one accepts some proposition as true. One must have the capacity for awareness of propositions in order to accept a proposition as true; but only minds have the capacity for awareness in this sense of the word; thus, a mind is necessary for belief. But minds can exist whether determinism obtains or not, and determinism does not preclude the ability to be aware of propositions or to accept them as true.
So the ability to “know” (insofar as it requires belief) is only problematic for determinism if determinism implied that we have no minds, which it does not. Alternatively, one might argue that true acceptance of propositions requires freedom of the will, but I don’t believe this has been your objection; notwithstanding, I don’t believe it succeeds as an objection.
As for your other question: “How would you know if the computer was right or wrong?”
In much the same way that you would know this on any other view, I imagine. I’m not entirely certain I’ve tracked your objection here if it’s different from the one above; would you clarify this point?
May 5, 2016 at 10:35 pm
I think that what you just said makes sense. In order to know something we have to have a mind. We have to be self aware with a mind to realize that the computer is wrong. I agree with you on this.
In my original post my argument was not about the mind and determinism both existing at the same time, but rather that naturalism believes that the mind does not exist. I said that if the mind doesn’t exist then absolute determinism is true and that we have no free will; a mind is necessary for knowledge and thought. Would you agree with this conclusion?
May 5, 2016 at 11:57 pm
Oh, I see now. I apologize: I overlooked what you wrote about the mind.
Minds are necessary, but not sufficient, for freedom of the will. If one denies the existence of the mind, then one must be forced into hard determinism. (I do contend that hard determinism is not an inconsistent view.) Additionally, one may accept hard determinism and still posit minds. Indeed, even substance dualism, in which an immaterial soul is posited, seems susceptible to determinism (or indeterminism, which leaves us no better off than determinism with regards to free will).
The majority of naturalists do accept determinism, although many are inclined toward compatibilism, and believe that determinism and free will both exist; it seems that any attempts to show that naturalism and free will are, well, incompatible, would have to tackle compatibilist accounts of determinism.
However, these avenues of discussion might be too far from the intent of this article. The absence of minds results in hard determinism; hard determinism makes life absurd; if life is not absurd, then hard determinism must not be the case. I agree with these things.
November 2, 2022 at 4:19 pm
Thank you for writiing this