D’Souza dishes up more dreck

Zeno compares Dinesh D’Souza to Mark Twain. This exercise is much like comparing mouse droppings to our upcoming Thanksgiving feast, but I suppose it must be done. Note D’Souza’s argument for free will:

I am sitting at my computer with a cup of coffee on my desk. I can reach over and take a sip if I choose; I can knock the coffee mug onto the carpet if I choose; I can just leave the cup alone and let the coffee get cold. Now I ask: Is there anything in the laws of physics that forces me do any of these things? Obviously not.

I had no idea that he was that stupid.


  1. #1 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Wow – that’s really novice-level thinking about free will.

    Suppose I am a meat robot. Suppose I am programmed to think I make decisions. I can sit, like Dinesh, and blather on about how I decided or didn’t to knock over a cup of coffee – but I’m still a meat robot.

  2. #2 Ted D
    November 18, 2007

    Now I may be disinclined to think that we have free will, but I do know that John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.

  3. #3 toomanytribbles
    November 18, 2007

    i laughed so hard i spilled over my morning coffee.

  4. #4 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    And Stanley Fish! It’s a party!

    “The great merit of this book is that it concedes nothing. Rather than engaging in the usual defensive ploys, D’Souza meets every anti-God argument head on and defeats it on its own terms. He subjects atheism and scientific materialism to sustained rigorous interrogation, and shows that their claims are empty and incoherent. Infinitely more sophisticated than the rants produced by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, What’s So Great About Christianity leaves those atheist books in the dust.”

    — Stanley Fish

  5. #5 Sven DiMilo
    November 18, 2007

    shandy? isn’t that some unholy mixture of beer and 7Up, or something? No wonder the poor guy got ill.

  6. #6 Anon
    November 18, 2007

    Science Blogs needs a behaviorist (full disclosure–I am one).

    This is a half-inch putt.

  7. #7 toomanytribbles
    November 18, 2007

    i like shandys.

  8. #8 Scott
    November 18, 2007

    Okay, I’ll bite. It’s been a few decades (! ouch) since I took Philosopy 101. Does anyone have some links to pithy discussions they like about Free Will and how we currently define it? Thanks.

  9. #9 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    Dinesh in S.F. Chronicle today:
    It follows that there is an aspect of our humanity that belongs to the world of science, and there is an aspect of our humanity that is outside the reach of scientific laws. Simultaneously, we inhabit the realm of the phenomenal, which is the material realm, and also the realm of the noumenal, which is the realm of freedom. It is the noumenal realm, the realm outside space and time, that makes possible free choices that are implemented within the realm of space and time. Materialism tries to understand us in two dimensions, whereas in reality we inhabit three.

    Kelly O’Connor rips him to shreds (at
    Kant’s philosophical ideology separates the world into the phenomenal and the noumenal. The noumenal world is essentially an agnostic one, but D’Souza would lead the reader to believe otherwise. He can’t even contemplate the notion that just as we atheists cannot perceive the noumenal realm, neither can he. We don’t have knowledge of every possibility in the universe; nevertheless, all major religions claim to have the corner on special knowledge of this supposedly unknowable world.

    If he has three possibilities with his coffee, I don’t see how that constitutes some kind of special area of freedom.

    It’s kind of limiting, if you ask me.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 18, 2007

    And Stanley Fish! It’s a party!

    Is that the one of “shooting Fish in a barrel” ( Language Log)?

  11. #11 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 18, 2007

    And Stanley Fish! It’s a party!

    Is that the one of “shooting Fish in a barrel” ( Language Log)?

  12. #12 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    woozy asks:
    But, what pray tell, does having free will to do with defining the soul or with Christianity?

    Christianity falls down around your ankles like underpants with a broken elastic if there’s no free will.

    God expects man to “choose” to submit to its laws, and assigns blame and guilt based on man’s “choices” – without free will (rejection of the concept of “choice”) then God looks pretty darned mean. If you’re a strict determinist and there’s no free will then God is this great big a**hole who created a deterministic universe and sends people to eternal hellfire for doing the stuff he programmed them to unavoidably do.

    Since I have no free will I am going to go downstairs and have some Ben and Jerry’s coffee heath bar crunch ice cream. There are advantages to being a meat robot.

  13. #13 Chris R.
    November 18, 2007

    I could write a simple program for Dinesh’s computer that chooses whether or not to spill a cup of coffee. Does that mean we should start fearing our computer overlords’ free will?

  14. #14 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Is there anything in the laws of physics that forces the computer do any of these things? Obviously not.

  15. #15 Heterocronie
    November 18, 2007

    While they are most certainly the result of physics on some level, I have a hard time with a simple meat robot model for Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Bobby Fischer’s greatest games. I wouldn’t claim that there’s good evidence for free will, but these great works are examples of complexity that you’d be hard pressed to predict from any understanding of neural chemistry. If complex interactions lead to emergent states that have no precedent, is it still deterministic? I don’t know – I guess it’s causal, just not predictable in any human sense.

  16. #16 Milo Johnson
    November 18, 2007

    Hey, shouldn’t that be “D’Reck?”

  17. #17 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    @ Heterocronie (#43): It certainly is not predictable in practice. Once you get beyond the simplest atoms (hydrogen, maybe helium), you can’t solve the fundamental physical equations without adopting approximations. Further, there’s no way we could in practice know all the the physical details of a brain and its environment.

    “Simple meat robot”? — absolutely not. Amazingly complex physical system? — yep!

    “Is it still deterministic?” Well the practical impossibility of prediction certainly doesn’t undermine its being deterministic. Although the fact that quantum theory is (standardly viewed as) an indeterministic theory might, to some degree. But this is irrelevant to the free will issue, as I’ve tried to indicate above.

  18. #18 Moses
    November 18, 2007

    I can’t prove a negative, can you?

    Posted by: Marcus Ranum | November 18, 2007 7:36 PM

    Yes. And it’s not difficult. Because, despite the myth, there are things that are amenable to negative proof.
    The myth arises from the logical fallacy to which the principals of negative proof is often put.

    That is, the proof can’t be put in finite time. Or we cannot observe the entire universe. Or some other such condition that makes it impossible.

    However, in a finite, fully-testable, non-supernatural universe, many times the negative can be proven through simple observation. We do this in many court cases – civil and criminal – as well as science.

  19. #19 Sam
    November 18, 2007

    Physicalist (#32):

    Consider, either there’s a cause for the non-physical soul deciding to do what it does, or there isn’t.

    That sounds reasonable, but I want to leave open the possibility that the combination of “non-physical soul” and “cause” doesn’t exclude the middle quite so thouroughly. It would be a big surprise if there were a third way, but science has surprised us before.

  20. #20 Dave M
    November 18, 2007

    D’Souza’s argument is barely up to the standards [of] freshman Philosophy 101.

    As someone who has actually taught Philosophy 101 (or intro phil anyway), I have to say that by those standards this is B/B+ work at least. Not only is it composed of complete, grammatical sentences, the writer seems to have grasped the idea of giving reasons (however lame) for a stated thesis.

    One of my favorite responses to people like D’Souza is to point out that even if determinism is false, it doesn’t seem to help get the sort of “metaphysical free will” that they want.

    Quite right. But at least he didn’t drag quantum mechanics into it. (Boy am I sick of that move!)

    Dennett vs. D’Souza will be interesting. Dennett is pretty good on free will. Check out the chapter called “Could have done otherwise” in Elbow Room (and I’m sure there’s comparable material in Freedom Evolves, which I haven’t read).

  21. #21 Christianjb
    November 18, 2007

    I hate to defend the odious D’Souza here, but…

    I wouldn’t call those particular remarks stupid. He’s largely right that there is no law (or laws) of physics that determines whether he will execute a particular action. By the same token- there are no laws of physics that determine whether it will be cloudy in 49 days time.

    The world is consistent with the laws of physics, but that doesn’t mean that the laws of physics dictate the actual choices and rolls of the dice that we make. We can’t even predict the behavior of one particle in anything but a statistical sense.

    In fact, the famous mathematician John Conway recently proposed that even particles have free will:

  22. #22 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    To paraphrase Dennett, Dinesh’s brain has been hijacked by an idea that is trying to spread itself in humans.

    Christianity is using Dinesh to perpetuate itself and it does that by convincing him that he has free will. That makes him happy. When he is happy he types more.


  23. #23 MAJeff
    November 18, 2007

    Dennett will be debating Dinesh D’Souza at Tufts University on November 30, 2007 on the existence of a deity.

    Shit. I teach there. Suppose I should go, but my class gets out at about 6:00 and I usually want to start the hour commute home and get some dinner by then. I dunno if listening to D’Souza get crushed is enough of a reason to listen to D’Souza.

  24. #24 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Dave M (#52)

    . . . by those standards this is B/B+ work at least. . . . it composed of complete, grammatical sentences . . .

    Touch. But I was trying to focus on the content of the argument — the reasoning — rather than its presentation. I submit that most freshmen that have passed Intro to Philosophy can do better than assert the bald claim, “It’s obvious that my knocking over the coffee cup wasn’t determined!” (Or, with no qualification, that “determined acts aren’t voluntary.”)

    But at least he didn’t drag quantum mechanics into it.

    I’m inclined to agree, but I can’t say that it seems like a better move simply to deny determinism with no explanation or support whatsoever.

  25. #25 ansuzmannaz
    November 18, 2007

    D’Souza definitely forgets, as a number of people here have noted, that free will and determinism are compatible. I think woozy got it right in comment 30: we are the forces that “determine” us. I would go so far to argue that even if the world is deterministic, it is not pre-determined and set to a script, but is determined in real time. We are the agents of that determinism, as is the rest of the matter in the universe.

    D’Souza also doesn’t touch the idea that consciousness is only consciousness if it is an ordered process. There have to be some rules governing our brains, otherwise the results would completely chaotic and nonsensical. And even if chance determines our thoughts, that is still a form of determinism: the mechanism just changes from something predictable to unpredictable.

  26. #26 Jake Boyman
    November 18, 2007

    I see D’Souza’s new book is being published thru Regnery, big fucking surprise.

  27. #27 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    D’Souza definitely forgets, as a number of people here have noted, that free will and determinism are compatible.

    There is controversy on that topic. 🙂 Personally, I find the arguments of the compatibilists to be weak; they are mostly wishful thinking.

    ( – does a good job of briefing the issue)

    Compatibilists basically say that free will is present when you’re not forced to make a choice. The problem with that argument is that it tries to dodge around physical determinism by jumping up to the level of personal interaction. That’s a cheap trick that worked for the ancient greeks – and we now know more about the nature of physical reality than Hobbes and Hume did. Heck, they probably believed in “souls” and stuff like that.

    Compatibilism is bunk. Basically it’s an attempt to assert that free will exists because the details of nature, nurture, neurology, reality, and physics that conspire to make your “choice” for you are so subtle that the meat robot isn’t aware of them. Of course the meat robot isn’t aware of them! It’s not programmed to be aware of them! For crying out loud, the meat robot’s got this software that makes it think it can see in 3D, that’s optimized to see faces in burn-patterns on french toast. The compatibilists are essentially reaching for the “free will of the gaps” – just because they don’t feel compelled, they had free will? Well… They can’t help thinking that I suppose.

  28. #28 Sam
    November 18, 2007


    Brian Macker (#54)
    “In fact, as far as I can tell, determinism isn’t a falsifiable concept.”
    Most physicists would tell you that not only is it falsifiable, it’s been falsified. Bell’s theorem shows that the predictions of quantum theory are incompatible with a local deterministic theory; and these predictions have been experimentally verified numerous times.

    Sure, the probabilities obtained from solutions to the Schroedinger equation cannot simply be the surface manifestations of any (coherent) underlying deterministic facts. But does the Schroedinger equation describe the human mind?

  29. #29 Jon
    November 18, 2007

    We do this in many court cases – civil and criminal – as well as science.

    Not really. We infer that the negative is false using evidence. We don’t prove it’s false. Proving something is false amounts to showing that in every single imaginable scenario, the thing couldn’t happen. And that’s impossible.

    To use your examples:

    In a murder trial, does DNA evidence, a taped confession, and a video-tape of the murder prove that John killed Mary? No. I can imagine several scenarios off the top of my head in which all of those things would be true, and yet John would be innocent. That’s where “beyond reasonable doubt” comes in.

    Same thing for science. We can’t prove that gravity is always attractive, because that amounts to showing that the entire universe is homogeneous, and obeys the same rules. We can infer that from tons of evidence, but we certainly can’t prove it.

  30. #30 thwaite
    November 18, 2007

    Free will is so obvious that I cannot deny it: I have no choice. … discuss.

    From #5: An interesting study a year or so ago found that subjects’ muscles and motor-cortex activity actually started 100msec or so before they were aware of willing the motion? — this would be Benjamin Libet‘s work from the 70’s on. It shows that the brain activities underlying action and conscious awareness of the action are coordinated but distinct processes. A crude analogy: at least as complex as the processes by which any legislature acts and then the public becomes aware of it.

  31. #31 Tony Jeremiah
    November 18, 2007

    The primary fault with the free will argument in its current form, seems to be the assumption that the laws of physics best explains the situations that represent the argument. Rather than the laws of physics, psychological principles seem better at explaining the scenarios provided.

    For each behavioral state given, their is likely to be some corresponding emotional/motivational state driving the behavior eventually exhibited. As examples, reaching for the coffee is likely to be preceded by the desire to drink it; knocking the coffee onto the carpet might be preceded by anger; leaving the cup alone might be preceded by a desire to complete some other work at the expense of drinking the coffee.

    If anything, free will is likely a function of emotional (rather than statistical) “probabilities” and likely exists in the void between our emotional/motivational states and subsequent behaviors.

  32. #32 Russell Blackford
    November 19, 2007

    Random thoughts:

    1. Unfortunately, D’Souza will not be crushed. He says things that are incredibly naive, philosophically and scientifically, but fit in neatly with the manifest image of the world. He’s unselfconscious, a skilled debater, and obviously doesn’t care that people like PZ (and me) will think him so naive. All that would make it very difficult to debate him in real time. I think trying to do so is probably a mug’s game. You’ll maybe be able to make him look stupid in some people’s eyes, but his message is not aimed at those people. Good luck to Dennett, but I think that debating someone like this is like debating a glib and polished creationist – you risk simply giving him credibility.

    2. I don’t know what’s gotten into Stanley Fish. He’s always been something very close to a truth-relativist, but now seems to have made it his mission to defend all kinds of irrationalism, even if they should be politically anathema to him.

    3. The argument D’Souza puts is, of course, absurdly naive. However, this kind of pre-theoretical conception of free will (hey, it feels as if my choice was uncaused) does seem to have appeal to lots of people. I suspect that that may be more the case in the more religious culture of the US. Over here, philosophy students seem to find determinism intuitive and to latch on to compatibilist theories quite readily.

    4. Compatibilism claims that there are certain important things that we do or can possess – such as a degree of political freedom, the capacity to deliberate, the causal efficacy of our actions, and the capacity to act in ways that reflect our values – which are quite consistent with our actions being influenced or determined by chains of causation that can ultimately be traced outside ourselves. Compatibilists say that those things which we actually do possess add up to the only kind of “free will” worth wanting. It seems clear enough to me that compatibilism is not only perfectly coherent but actually true.

  33. #33 woozy
    November 19, 2007

    woozy asks:
    But, what pray tell, does having free will to do with defining the soul or with Christianity?

    Christianity falls down around your ankles like underpants with a broken elastic if there’s no free will.

    God expects man to “choose” to submit to its laws, and assigns blame and guilt based on man’s “choices” – without free will (rejection of the concept of “choice”) then God looks pretty darned mean. If you’re a strict determinist and there’s no free will then God is this great big a**hole who created a deterministic universe and sends people to eternal hellfire for doing the stuff he programmed them to unavoidably do.

    No offense, but that solipstic sophistry and utterly pointless. To dismiss religion because we dismiss free will (on the basis of being meat puppets) then we must equally dismiss art, pleasure, pain, thought, or anything human on the basis that meat puppet don’t matter. I’ve played the Sims. I was *expected* to set my sims on fire because it was funny. Am I an “asshole”. “Obviously not”.

    At 45, no longer eight, I’m perfectly willing to accept that I am a meat puppet, but so what? Responsibility, effects, morality, and all the other stuff exist no more, and no less, and only at the level abstraction as the self.

    How can we morally condemn someone when they have no control? What an intensely stupid question. To whatever level “they” have no control, at that level “we” have no ability to condemn or not condemn or even be aware. At whatever level we can “condemn” and have any sense of awareness of what that could mean, “they’d” have control.

    I suppose the fundimental premise is that if you reduce something to causes or components you disprove or trivialize “the thing”. This is utter codswallop, of course, and is obviously so if you ever look at a painting or book (or plant a flower, or …)

    Still don’t see that “free will” implies a soul or supports Christianity in any way.

    Besides what problems do “souls” or “dualism” solve when we can’t choose or modify our souls or the dualism world? Also if there *were* a dualism world wouldn’t *it* also be determined by randomness or specific rules? If we were to examine it on its rules wouldn’t we reduce it just as badly as we do the materialistic world? I mean, what exactly is the big fat hairy problem with materialism that retreating to a dualism is supposed to solve? And in what possible way could dualism not be subject to the exact same problem?

  34. #34 Atanu Dey
    November 19, 2007

    Dinesh D’Souza should not be called stupid. It is unfair to stupid people. He is just a very potent mixture of imbecile and cretin, way beyond the reach of mere stupidity.

    Jebus Christ, how in the name of god almighty did India produce such a miserable specimen of humanity!

  35. #35 Mrs Tilton
    November 19, 2007

    M. Ranum @34:

    Christianity falls down around your ankles like underpants with a broken elastic if there’s no free will.

    I expect David Heddle will be along any moment now to explain why you are wrong about that.

    It’s not just Calvin either. The debate over free will vs. determinism has raged among Christian theologians pretty much for as long as there has been Christian theology. And, like the (presumably mostly) non-Christians in this thread, the Christians have been all over the map on the issue. Free-will-vs.-determinism is a question that can have theological repercussions, obviously, for those who find theological repercussions interesting. But at bottom, it is not primarily a theological question.

    That’s not an argument for or against Christianity, of course. But if one wants to criticise Christianity, one should criticise it for what it says and does, not for what it doesn’t say or do. Some Christians argue for free will, yes (though I don’t think d’Souza’s splutherings quite achieve the dignity of the term “argument”). But I would no more say that “Christianity presupposes free will” because some Christians do so than I would say “Atheism presupposes determinism” because the atheist Marcus Ranum is a determinist (assuming you are, in fact, an atheist and a deteminist; if not, apologies for using you as an example arguendo). To make that claim would be to commit the No True Scotsman fallacy, only in reverse, so to speak.

    Madaha @44:

    Radler is, at least originally, the Bavarian term for a shandy, though I daresay the word is known in most parts of Germany by now. (The word means bike-rider; the idea is that you could have one on a hot summer day and still get safely back on your bike.) In the north, though, it’s more often called Alsterwasser (water from the Alster, a pair of artificial lakes in Hamburg; not a very appetising image, is it?)

    And I have tried Radler, and am thus entitled to point out that it is atrocious. But feel free to knock ’em back yourself — de gustibus non disputandum est. (BTW, in Germany Limonade, like “lemonade” in Britain, means Sprite and similar drinks — but can also mean any sweet carbonated drink — even Coke is lemonade over here!)

  36. #36 Stephen Wells
    November 19, 2007

    Whatever Mrs. Tilton says, shandy is delicious. Clearly we dispute each other’s gusts 🙂

  37. #37 Jit
    November 19, 2007

    I’ve just read 100 mostly erudite comments on determinism and free will and I still don’t understand it. And now my head hurts.

    D’Souza – he clearly doesn’t think things through. At one of his debates his opening joke was about the width of his podium (“I didn’t need to wear trousers.”) But Dinesh, you had to WALK to the podium, and you couldn’t do that with your squid hanging out.

  38. #38 Arun
    November 19, 2007

    I thought we had no choice in the matter – we are all stained from the moment of conception with Adam’s original sin as per Christianity. Isn’t the message – apart from this brief moment on earth, you’re roasting for eternity unless you cling to the Church and Jesus Christ? Free will, determinism, etc., are just as relevant to this argument as if some mugger is holding a gun to your head; I’d rather have the mugger disposed of **before** engaging in philosophical arguments.

  39. #39 Christianjb
    November 19, 2007

    Jit: Which of the 101 comments above yours didn’t you read?

  40. #40 MartinM
    November 19, 2007

    Determinism (and compatibilism) requires that our perceptions of volition are spectacularly wrong consistently and constantly.

    Rather like our perceptions of solid, continuous matter. Damn you, atomic theory!

    Science is not “utterly dependent upon our perceptions and their accuracy.” Science is what we do because our perceptions are inaccurate. Were they not, we wouldn’t bloody need it.

  41. #41 Steve LaBonne
    November 19, 2007

    But it’s not really relevant to the “free will” debate, anyway.

    This is something that needs to be said as often as possible until it sinks in with some people. How could interposing randomness between volition and action possibly help the case for free will???

  42. #42 Steve LaBonne
    November 19, 2007

    How about arguing for that proposition rather than just stating it over and over? What, for example, does my touch-perception of the computer keys as I type this have to do with determinism?

  43. #43 T_U_T
    November 19, 2007

    then again :
    MartinM :

    Science is not “utterly dependent upon our perceptions and their accuracy.” Science is what we do because our perceptions are inaccurate. Were they not, we wouldn’t bloody need it.


    Kindly explain how the observation required by the scientific method is possible without using our perception.

    so, MartinM was talking about inaccurate perceptions, yet you are talking about no perceptions at all. Could you explain that difference ?

  44. #44 Mrs Tilton
    November 19, 2007

    D. Heddle @110:

    Every good Calvinist knows that we have free will

    You good Calvinists are going to have to consign Calvin himself to the flames, then. I am hardly going to waste space in this of all fora to discuss the finer points of reformed theology with you, but I will leave you with this, from section 8 of the 15th chapter of auld Jean’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:

    But those who, while they profess to be the disciples of Christ, still seek for free-will in man, notwithstanding of his being lost and drowned in spiritual destruction, labour under manifold delusion, making a heterogeneous mixture of inspired doctrine and philosophical opinions, and so erring as to both.

    It may be, of course, that you would not agree you are labouring under manifold delusion. If so, take it up with Calvin, if and when you see him in the eternal paradise prepared for the Lord’s elect. It is of at most academic interest to me; the days are long past when a tulip was anything more than a flower for me.

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    November 19, 2007

    Calvin was quite adamant that man (and God) has free will in the sense that he can never be coerced into choosing something contrary to his strongest inclinations.

    exactly why Calvin has vastly been abandoned, since it is quite easy to provide counter examples in humans.

    not only is it quite easy to coerce people into choosing something counter to their common inclinations, but it is also fairly easy to change their inclinations to begin with.

    Religious cults are in fact great examples that run counter to Calvin’s simplistic notions of “free will”.

  46. #46 Mrs Tilton
    November 19, 2007


    thank you for responding civilly to what you doubtless recognised as a teasing response. I think I am less able to find room for free will in Calvinism than you are. Be that as it may, I am sure that we will tax the patience of the average Pharyngula reader if we engage in a lengthy discussion of the topic.

    In any event, my point was simply this: it is incorrect to assert that Christianity sensu lato presupposes free will (or the lack of it). Some streams of theology are strongly deterministic, some strongly insist on free will, many fall somewhere in the middle, quite a number don’t really focus on it and few (if I may editorialise) are altogether consistent on the issue.

  47. #47 CalGeorge
    November 19, 2007


    Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the others, this book will show the following–

    1) Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values.

    [So much for Greece and Rome.]

    2) The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe.

    [Who knew!]

    3) Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it.

    [What evidence for supernatural design? Show!]

    4) There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible.

    [There is nothing in science that makes miracles possible.]

    5) It is reasonable to have faith.

    [The FSM thinks so, too.]

    6) Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history.

    [When did Osama bin Laden convert to atheism? I missed it.]

    7) Atheism is often motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. I end this book by showing what is unique about Christianity and how our lives change if we become Christians.

    [True cowardice is inventing a religion to make death go by-by.]

  48. #48 Steve LaBonne
    November 19, 2007

    Right here is another demonstration of the importance of the so-called “New Atheists”. They have garnered too much public attention to simply be ignored or summarily dismissed (as atheists in the US basically have been in the past) so the religiotards are compelled to try to “answer” them. Of course, that attempt can only result in lamentable stuff like our buddy Dinesh’s, which while it may comfort the hopelessly deluded, will only reinforce the doubts of any intelligent person who is beginning to question his / her childhood religious indoctrination.

  49. #49 heddle
    November 19, 2007


    not only is it quite easy to coerce people into choosing something counter to their common inclinations

    No it isn’t. If you hold a gun to my head and demand that I listen to Neil Diamond, which under normal circumstances is contrary to my inclinitions, I will nevertheless do so. Because, at that instant, my strongest inclination is to live, and so I would choose to live. To refute Calvin, you would have to argue that, even though, all other things being equal, I want to live more than I dislike Neil, I nevertheless bow to the weaker inclination, refuse to listen to Neil, and die.

    You can counter Calvin by demonstrating that at some point you chose something which, at that particular moment, was not your strongest inclination.

  50. #50 heddle
    November 19, 2007

    Steve LaBonne and CJO,

    That’s true, it is not a testable theory of free will. I don’t think anyone has such a beast. As far as I know, all theories of free will, including strict determinism, are untestable. Calvin was not offering a scientific theory, but a philosophical model. One that incorporates, without confusion, the Augustianian idea of predestination, yet without making men puppets manipulated by an external force of coercion. I pointed this out merely to, well, point out that Calvinism does not demand the subjugation of the free will. In fact, it has one of the more libertine models: choose exactly what you want the most, at any given instant.

  51. #51 Brownian, OM
    November 19, 2007

    The pit contains a number ( usually between 16 and 128, varying upon the individual) of d20s.

    Boy, that brings back memories. I think those that are unable to grasp what a deterministic universe would like like (ie, indistinguishable from a free will one) must never have played D&D with a cranky DM.

    DM: “As you crest the hill, you come upon a party of gnolls.”

    PC: “A party? Cool! I grab a martini and attempt to mingle.”

    DM: “You what? Okay smartass: Martinis don’t exist in this world, so you pantomime holding one with your left hand. Unfortunately this gesture is obscene in local gnoll culture, as it suggests you’d like to have sex with a gnoll’s mother. Roll a saving throw vs. being curb-stomped.”

    PC: “Oh c’mon! I was just kidding. You’re not serious, are you? Come on! Phooey. Just for that, I’m min-maxing my next character.”

  52. #52 Drake
    November 19, 2007

    Zeno’s comparison of D’souza to Twain really is spot on, for D’Souza is surely banking on Huck Finn’s observation: “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

  53. #53 Norman Doering
    November 20, 2007

    Mark Fournier wrote:

    What lies below is irrelevant to the question.

    Nope — you got a hold of the wrong question. What makes “what lies below” relevant is the fact that Dinesh D’Souza thinks it proves something non-physical, a soul or such, is making the choices. And what’s making the choices is what’s below. So, it matters what that is, neurons or supernatural mumbo-jumbo.

    It is, at the very least a god-of-the-gaps argument.

    It’s not about whether you should go to prison, it’s about whether you should go to hell.

  54. #54 Stephen Wells
    November 20, 2007

    @Steve LaBonne’s comment 120: just to clear up a possible confusion, I wasn’t talking about a random component between volition and action (though that may exist); I was thinking of a random component in volition itself. That is, I think there’s probably a stochastic component in what anyone decides to do.

    At the end of Player of Games (one of Banks’ Culture novels), a character (who happens to be a sentient robot) comments that, if the mind isn’t completely deterministic, there must be a random component, because what else is there? At some level, every decision boils down to either the application of a set of rules (deterministic) or a random choice (stochastic).

    I still find it a little weird that people take this idea and argue that it abolishes morality or responsibility. To me, that sounds like arguing that since we discovered that we are made of atoms, and so is the sofa, damaging a human is morally equivalent to damaging a sofa.

  55. #55 Brian
    November 20, 2007

    The bottom line is that to have free will we would have to imagine we are self-causing agents, as Galen Strawson articulately argues:

    It seems to me that choices have nothing to do with free will but rather where those choices come from. Who can imagine they are the author of their own instincts, desires, and predilictions that lead to their choices?

  56. #56 Brian
    November 20, 2007

    Appealing to the idea of a soul doesn’t solve the problem at all – you hae just shifted the cause of your actions upward. Nobody in their right mind really believes this in light of everything we know about the brain. Why can’t Alzheimer’s patients choose to act differently? And when Christians will say that sure, there are mental disorders that short circuit free will in some people, I don’t understand where they the range of behaviors we think of as normal behaviors come from. The mind is what the brain does. When I learned about Phineas Gage in Middle School, I knew free will as my church taught it was a farce.

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