Pharyngula

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.

Comments

  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 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    I am sitting at my computer laughing my head off.

  3. #3 Milo Johnson
    November 18, 2007

    Hey, just because it’s illogical doesn’t mean it doesn’t make any sense. Wait, what I mean to say is… ummm, how come there’s still monkeys?

  4. #4 DAE
    November 18, 2007

    My cat got up to go to the litter box. It could have pissed on the rug. It could have pissed on my shoe….

  5. #5 Olorin
    November 18, 2007

    How about the frequent experiences when I “will” to take a sip of coffee, but the cup actually spills on the floor, in utter defiance of what I had chosen?

    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?

    Of course, the existence of mathematical functions which are deterministic yet unpredictable may be apropos in this connection. One of them, the logistic equation, should be familiar to ecologists, if nbot to biologists.

  6. #6 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Is free will one of those beliefs that comes with religion??

    Personally, I’ve never seen any avenue that leads to free will – the universe is either deterministic (in which case everything is predetermined based on initial conditions and “choice” is problematic) or it’s non-deterministic (in which case free will problematic because my “choice” is controlled by quantum-level dice-rolling) Yet religion needs “free will” because otherwise you can’t blame anyone for anything – and the whole soggy structure falls apart. The existence of free will is just assumed by the religiotards as “something god gave.” Uh. Yeah.

  7. #7 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    Ugh. Francis Collins has a blurb on the back of Dinesh’s pile-o’-crap book:

    “Responding to the current epidemic of atheist manifestos, Dinesh D’Souza applies just the right balm for the troubled soul. Assembling arguments from history, philosophy, theology, and science–yes, science!–he builds a modern and compelling case for faith in a loving God. If you’re seeking the truth about God, the universe, and the meaning of life, this is a great place to look.”

    Way to go, dickbag.

  8. #8 PZ Myers
    November 18, 2007

    Collins? Say it isn’t so.

    Clearly, I have not been critical enough.

  9. #9 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.

  10. #10 toomanytribbles
    November 18, 2007

    i laughed so hard i spilled over my morning coffee.

  11. #11 Sam
    November 18, 2007

    Marcus: “…or it’s non-deterministic (in which case free will problematic because my “choice” is controlled by quantum-level dice-rolling)”

    The non-determinism might be due to an input from something we currently know nothing about (and D’Souza knows nothing about, either, obviously), but which involves far more complexity and rule-like structure than just rolling dice. In other words, Cartesian dualism might be true — I can’t prove it’s not true, can you?

  12. #12 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

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1596985178/ref=sib_dp_pt/104-3344228-2958301#reader-link

  13. #13 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    The wind is blowing the sole leaf left on yonder branch. It can cling to the tree, or it can fall to the ground. Is there anything in the laws of physics that forces it to do either of these things? Obviously not.

    At least, it’s obvious if you have absolutely no clue about the applicability of the laws of physics.

    On the other hand, if you recognize that we know quite well that the laws of familiar physics are not going to be violated in leaf stems — or in neural processes — then you might think that the reverse is obvious: The laws of physics dictate whether the leaf will fall, and they also dictate how a person’s hand will move.

    D’Souza’s argument is barely up to the standards freshman Philosophy 101. He fails to recognize that a person acts voluntarily whenever she does something because she wants to — even if that desire is part of some deterministic chain of events. Here (from his article) he claims that determinism implies that actions are involuntary:

    If someone murdered his neighbor, or exterminated an entire population, we would have no warrant to punish or even criticize that person because, after all, he was simply acting in the manner of a computer program malfunctioning or of a stone involuntarily rolling down a hill.

    Soft determinists (compatibilists) have been tearing this sort of foolishness to shreds for centuries.

    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. If and event isn’t determined, then it is the result of chance. But there’s no reason that we would be morally responsible for something that happens by chance.

    Far better to take the common-sense view that we’re responsible for things that happen because we want them to happen (because the actions follow from our desires and character) — and this is perfectly compatible with a sensible view of everything being subject to the laws of physics.

  14. #14 Phillp Moon
    November 18, 2007

    “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.”

    Putting the coffee on the desk presupposes that he is going to drink it, so reaching over to take a sip is the most likely action to follow the first. If he was raised by a typical mother, he has been conditioned not to spill coffee on the carpet and would strongly avoid that option. Unless he gets caught up in something at the computer and “loses track of time” there by letting the coffee get cold, again, his effort to make it, put it on the desk and the tendency to prefer hot coffee is going to guide his actions. Not a lot of free will there.

  15. #15 darwinfinch
    November 18, 2007

    “I had no idea that he was that stupid.”

    Isn’t that a bit dishonest of you, PZ, or is it some sort of humor?
    Nearly everyone who checks in here has been fully aware of the depth of D’Souza’s stupidity. Also, he seems to be one sorry shit of a human being (proving Twain’s comment about human beings to be absolutely true, BTW) in nearly every other way as well.

  16. #16 ehj2
    November 18, 2007

    I thought physicists were going find the Higgs boson first.

    After which they were going to look for the field and the particle (and the physical laws regulating same) that mediates coffee-cup motion.

    But I suppose the coffee-cup thing could be more important. Do we need a different collider for that?

    /ehj2

  17. #17 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.

  18. #18 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    @ ehj2 (#16)
    Exactly. There’s a Nobel Prize (not to mention the $1M Randi Challenge) if these folks can show that the laws of physics don’t apply inside our skulls. Anyone want to place odds on that happening?

  19. #19 Anon
    November 18, 2007

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

    This is a half-inch putt.

  20. #20 Norman Doering
    November 18, 2007

    PZ said:

    I had no idea that he was that stupid.

    I’ve known D’Souza was that stupid for a long time. I’ve known it from the day he blamed atheists for war on terror.

    Colbert – “Thats what your saying that you agree with some of the things that these radical extremists are against in america”
    D’Souza – “eeerrr welll yes”
    and
    Colbert – “finally someone has the courage to say that there are things the liberals do that are causing our destruction”
    D’Souza – “Ok thats going to far”
    Colbert – “But no thats what you saying (Quotes D’Sozas Book Title) The Cultural left is responsible for 9/11”

    Not only that I would bet that Mike Huckabee is stupid enough to agree with Dinesh D’Souza. Not only that I bet you could bait Vox Day into arguing for the D’Souza position on the grounds you can’t prove brain actions are caused by anything physical.

    Not only that, I’ll bet that our president is that stupid.

    Are you scared yet?

  21. #21 Ted D
    November 18, 2007

    Shandy, according to Wikipedia, “is beer flavoured with lemonade or another soft drink. Lemonade-based shandies are more common in Europe, and ginger ale is more commonly used in North America and the Caribbean.” Which does sound unusually vile. I just hope that physical processes beyond my control never compel me to ingest the stuff.

  22. #22 Copernic
    November 18, 2007

    That’s one I haven’t heard of before.

    Argumentum ad parco marcula

    I avoid staining my carpet: therefore God exists.

    Brilliant!

  23. #23 Graculus
    November 18, 2007

    Which does sound unusually vile. I just hope that physical processes beyond my control never compel me to ingest the stuff.

    Actually, it’s a really nice summer drink.

    I remember buying it as a teenager in the stores in UK as a soft drink, it was a low enough alcohol content to not be controlled (I believe the “cut-off” was 3%). Regs may have changed since the time of the mammoths, though.

  24. #24 CapitalistImperialistPig
    November 18, 2007

    DD’Sousa – shooting fish in a barrel for God.

    PZMyers – shooting fish in a barrel for ~God.

    ZZzzz

  25. #25 toomanytribbles
    November 18, 2007

    i like shandys.

  26. #26 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.

  27. #27 Brian English
    November 18, 2007

    Free will link. Not sure how good it is though.
    http://www.galilean-library.org/int13.html

  28. #28 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 RichardDawkins.net):
    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.

  29. #29 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)?

  30. #30 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)?

  31. #31 woozy
    November 18, 2007

    Simplistic, but I’m not sure I see why it’s “stupid”.

    I debated such things when I was eight year old and concluded for all intents and purposes we had free will. I wondered a bit about the mechanics of the brain, which he doesn’t, and to what sence I could claim I was in control of the mechanics (none) but if not what could possible be the “self” about whose free will I was debating? At eight, I figure I might as well difine myself as “the mechanics of the brain” and thus *I* (the mechanics of the brain) have free will. The mechanics of the brain may be utterly determined by kinetics but if so that is a level “beneath” the definition of “I” and at the level where “I” makes sense, “I” have free will, probably, but maybe not. If I do not have free will it’s okay as I have the impression of free will, which means if I do not have free will, I was part of the deciding factors to determine what my non-free will would be. Hence, I concluded, at age eight, I may or may not have free will but for all “intents and purposes” I do.

    But, what pray tell, does having free will to do with defining the soul or with Christianity? I did not make any connection between free will and “soul” before and I do not now.

  32. #32 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Sam writes:
    The non-determinism might be due to an input from something we currently know nothing about (and D’Souza knows nothing about, either, obviously), but which involves far more complexity and rule-like structure than just rolling dice. In other words, Cartesian dualism might be true —

    If there’s something other than randomness, it’s got to be predictable – which goes back to making the universe completely deterministic.

    Here’s the problem: if the universe is completely deterministic, free will is meaningless. If the universe is non-deterministic, free will exists only if the non-determinism is somehow, or other, our will. Non-determinism that’s too small (i.e: quantum effects) or not part of us – I don’t see how those could give us free will. Put another way: suppose our brains are heavily affected by quantum randomness and that’s what makes us feel we’re making decisions, it’s still hard to extend a subatomic coin-toss to the level of “we have free will.” I wish it did.

    I can’t prove it’s not true, can you?

    I can’t prove a negative, can you?

    The notion of free will is very important in many ways, but there’s not a lot of convincing evidence for it that I’m aware of. Or, I should say, none that isn’t more compelling than the simpler assumption that we’re meat robots programmed to think we have this thing called “free will.”

    One of my favorite nasty tricks when I find myself in bar-room debates about free will is to ask my opponent to “Pick a number from one to 10.” When they do, I cheerfully announce, “See? I made you pick a number!” As silly as that sounds, it’s a good illustration of how many things that the meat robot’s software interpret as free will are actually initiated by external factors.

    If you’re willing to define free will as “the sense of choice” – rather than actual choice – then we’re in agreement.

  33. #33 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Sam (#11):

    non-determinism might be due to an input from something we currently know nothing about . . . but which involves far more complexity and rule-like structure than just rolling dice. In other words, Cartesian dualism might be true.

    Sure, dualism could be true, but we have absolutely no reason to believe that it is, and we have very strong reasons to believe that it isn’t.

    More to the point, though, the truth of dualism doesn’t help poor D’Souza get the sort of freedom he wants. Consider, either there’s a cause for the non-physical soul deciding to do what it does, or there isn’t. If there’s a cause, then the choice was determined (so not free, according to our confused D’Souza). But if there was no cause, then the “chosen” outcome was random (so, again, not free). This just shows that D’Souza’s “libertarian” freedom is nothing but a confusion.

  34. #34 AAB
    November 18, 2007

    Doesn’t he need to know what the final result SHOULD be to claim that he free willingly changed it to something else.

    Let’s say the deterministic world dictated that he should knock over his coffee, but he chose to free willingly change the course of events (break the cause-effect chain) to not knock over his coffee then he would say he has free will. But since he doesn’t know what the final outcome SHOULD have been he doesn’t know for sure if he has free will. May be it is deterministic that he not knock over his coffee…

  35. #35 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.

  36. #36 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?

  37. #37 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

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

  38. #38 tacitus
    November 18, 2007

    There is no free will according to D’Souza’s version of Christianity. According to the tenets of his religion, long before the moment God injected his soul into this world and into combination of DNA inherited from his mother and father, God already knew if he drank his coffee, left it, or spilled it on to the floor.

    The very act of creation performed an omniscient deity leaves no room for free will in those that are created.

  39. #39 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 18, 2007

    In the (admittedly distant) days of my youth in the UK, shandy was a girly drink, usually 50/50 of lemonade and beer. The lads would get rounds of drinks which would mean pints of bitter or lager for them and halves (half-pints) of shandy for the girls.

    This was when there was little expectation of being able to do anything about the girls free will.

  40. #40 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    The whole thing is silly.

    The coffee’s obviously getting cold as he sits there typing his question.

    So he has already made his choice: leave cup alone (“must type drivel!”).

    The real question should be:

    What makes him type all this drivel when he could be spilling his coffee on the floor?

  41. #41 Doug Alder
    November 18, 2007

    #21 – In England, where the Shandy was invented, lemonade is not what we in North America think of as lemonade (lemon juice, sugar, water), it is closer to something like 7up.

    Lemonade – Lemonade in England is a clear, sparkling, lemon flavoured drink that is either drunk as it is or added to lager to make shandy. Seven-up and sprite would both qualify as lemonade in England.(from here)

  42. #42 Master Mahan
    November 18, 2007

    The sheer amount of ignorance contained in that single paragraph is astonishing. That’s sort of like saying that we can solve national debt by printing more money: the speaker feels a flush of pride for showing up the intellectuals with good ol’ common sense, and everyone else pauses and wonders whether explaining the vast idiocy of that idea will accomplish anything.

  43. #43 J Myers
    November 18, 2007

    Dinesh D’Souza and Stanley Fish should get a room where they can be stupid together and congratulate each other about it in private.

  44. #44 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.

  45. #45 madaha
    November 18, 2007

    They drink a similar thing in Germany – called the Radler. It’s really good! Don’t knock it till you try it.

  46. #46 James Killus
    November 18, 2007

    Oh, come on. D’Souza has been considerably stupider than that plenty of times. At least in this passage he didn’t explain how a neo-classical economic utility function demands that he drink the coffee before it gets cold enough so that only an inferior person would drink it, but on the other hand, letting it cool would demonstrate the unscientific nature of Global Warming.

  47. #47 Milo Johnson
    November 18, 2007

    Hey, shouldn’t that be “D’Reck?”

  48. #48 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.

  49. #49 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.

  50. #50 Snoof
    November 18, 2007

    Hmmm… surely the laws of physics _constrain_ what activities D’Souza is capable of taking? While he can _choose_ to, say, move at 3.5c relative to the cup’s reference frame, or reduce the entropy of the cup’s thermodynamic universe, or eliminate the charge on the electrons within the coffee, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to do it. Unless God directly intervenes, presumably.

  51. #51 CalGeorge
    November 18, 2007

    Looks like Dan Dennett is going to join the fray to take on D’Lousa.

    Wikipedia:

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

    Woo-hoo!

  52. #52 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.

  53. #53 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).

  54. #54 keyote
    November 18, 2007

    D’Souza is proof of Dorothy Parker’s maxim:

    “You can lead a whore to culture. but you can’t make her think”

    The whore, in this case, being D’ouza.

    He doesn’t think–he just assembles pleasing stupidities for his paymasters.

  55. #55 Brian Macker
    November 18, 2007

    “But there’s no reason that we would be morally responsible for something that happens by chance.”

    Actually there is. The same reasoning applies to being responsible for something that happens for deterministic reasons. What’s important is not chance or determinism but origination. Other factors play a role in determining moral responsiblity and all are not based on determinism or chance.

    In fact, as far as I can tell, determinism isn’t a falsifiable concept. Same with indeterminism. What possible test can one make to disprove either? What possible test could something within the universe do to tell whether or not the universe as a whole is deterministic?

    What matters in deciding whether to “hold people morally responsible for their actions” is whether our response to their guilt is effective in effecting future behavior. What matters is if we reform or restrain the individual from future crime via punishment.

    Why should a criminal who pick his victims by “chance” be held less accountable even if his decision module uses quantum indeterminism? Why should we hold him less responsible if his decision to commit the crime in the first place was ultimately influenced by chance? Don’t criminal opportunities present themselves by chance to a certain extent?

    Even when we believe that a criminals behavior is influenced by chance processes, either external or internal, we don’t really care. What we care is that a punishment would be effective in correcting his behavior.

    For those people who act randomly and for which corrective action doesn’t work, well we call them crazy, don’t hold them morally reasponsible, and don’t punish them because it will have no effect. Instead we use preventative incarceration if they are likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

  56. #56 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: http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0604079.

  57. #57 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.

    Simple!

  58. #58 Gilgamesh
    November 18, 2007

    On this subject, like Locke and Voltaire, I am still waiting for a coherent non-compatibilist definition of Free Will. These two figures have pointed out to me that the very term “free will” is incoherent; Hume also points out that without determinism there cannot be a will. It’s so pathetic that someone can pretend to be utilizing Kantian logic yet so unable to grasp these concepts taught to college philosophy freshmen.

  59. #59 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.

  60. #60 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Christianjb writes:
    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.

    Wait, before we go any further with this – let me just check. Are we talking about the same universe, here, or do you have your own?

  61. #61 Christianjb
    November 18, 2007

    Marcus: Look at the double slit experiment. Quantum theory postulates truly random behavior for particles. A particle’s behavior cannot be said to be determined by its past history. Also take a look at Conway’s paper.

  62. #62 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Dave M (#52)

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

    Touché. 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.

  63. #63 CapitalistImperialistPig
    November 18, 2007

    The laws of physics, as presently understood, are not compatible with strict determinism(e.g, the notion that the future is determined in detail by the past and present). In fact it is difficult to even define strict determinism either in the context of quantum mechanics or classical mechanics. I doubt that either of those facts has anything to do with religion or irreligion.

  64. #64 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.

  65. #65 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Christianjb writes:
    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.

    Determinism and ability to predict aren’t the same thing at all, I think that’s what’s confusing you.

    The laws of physics absolutely control how a die is cast and which side lands up. But we’re not capable of computing it – given the starting conditions, strength of the throw, wind, etc. because the problem of doing so with absolute accuracy winds up bringing too much into play. You can imagine a computer capable of computing such a thing as the weather in North America – but it’d be called “North America” and it would be bigger and more complicated than the subject it was simulating. To continue that example, to compute weather perfectly for North America you’d need to take into account weather on the entire planet – and solar flares, and, and, and. So to predict reality you need something at least as complex as the reality you’re modelling. But the reality you’re modelling does work (at this scale) following absolute rules that make it “predictable, but not by you.”

  66. #66 Physicalist
    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. So if you think that Einstein proved that nothing can go faster than light, then you’ve got experimental “proof” that determinism is false.

    There’s a lot more to be said about this of course; for one thing, there are non-local deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. Further, you can have effective determinism at the macroscopic level even if there’s indeterminism at the microscopic level. But the bottom line is that we can have very strong evidence for the nature of the laws/processes that are responsible for some phenomenon, and we can have good reason to think that we understand the nature of these laws/processes.

  67. #67 coathangrrr
    November 18, 2007

    Actually there is. The same reasoning applies to being responsible for something that happens for deterministic reasons. What’s important is not chance or determinism but origination.

    Origination is exactly the point in regards to determinism and chance. If the world is deterministic then we are compelled by outside forces to act and thus the action does not originate with us. With chance I think it is different, but the whole point is that if we lack the ability to not do something, which we do if our actions are determined by chance or a set of external physical processes, then there can be no moral responsibility. “Should” assumes “can.”

  68. #68 Christianjb
    November 18, 2007

    Marcus: You’re wrong. Read up on the double slit experiment and get back to me.

  69. #69 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Brian Macker (#54)

    Why should a criminal who pick his victims by “chance” be held less accountable even if his decision module uses quantum indeterminism? Why should we hold him less responsible if his decision to commit the crime in the first place was ultimately influenced by chance?

    The “compatibilist” (soft determinist) argues (convincingly to my mind) that we’re responsible for actions to the extent that *we* are the cause of those actions (i.e., to the extent that our character and desires lead us to act that way). If something is done because of something that we have no control over — i.e., because of chance — and *not* because we wanted it to, then there seems to be no reason that we should be blamed (or praised) for it.

    The situation that you’re considering is one in which the criminal has already decided to commit a crime (or perhaps is accepting that possibility) and then lets some chance event decide the precise nature of the crime. The point here is that his desires have already made that crime possible, and if he had different desires (i.e., if he were moral), then no crime would have been committed.

    The position you’re pointing to is the “hard determinist” position, which denies that we have free will and moral responsibility. I think this position is silly: a determinist has no problem asserting that we should be ethical.

  70. #70 Jake Boyman
    November 18, 2007

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

  71. #71 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.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism – 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.

  72. #72 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    @ Marcus Ranum: Christianjb is correct that quantum physics is (standardly understood to be) incompatible with determinism. (But DaveM is sick of people who drag quantum mechanics into the free will debate — and he’s right that it really doesn’t help in the end.)

    @coathangrrr: Your line of argument is better than D’Souza’s, but I still don’t find that an attractive road to go down. I’ve got to quit for the night, but the short version of the response is that you’re not giving the right interpretation to the phrase “ability to not do something.” The right reading of this phrase (I, and other compatibilists will argue) is this: “I could have refrained from doing this” just means “I *would* have refrained from doing it, *if* I had wanted to.” This is compatible with determinism. Chance just isn’t morally relevant.

  73. #73 Bride of Shrek
    November 18, 2007

    So he doesn’t spill coffee on the floor deliberately because there is a God.

    Mr Shrek does not spill coffee on the floor deliberately because there is Bride of Shrek to deal with.

    Ergo, in our household Bride of Shrek IS God.

  74. #74 Sam
    November 18, 2007

    Physicalist(#64)

    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?

  75. #75 David Wilford
    November 18, 2007

    Is free will one of those beliefs that comes with religion??

    It’s like a box of Cracker-Jack: you never know what toy you’re going to get.

  76. #76 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Marcus Ranum:

    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.

    No, you don’t seem to understand the compatibilist position. One’s awareness of the determining factors is irrelevant. The morally relevant point — the point that grounds free will — is that some of these determining factors are ours. That is, we, as physical, determined beings, make a difference in the world. When our actions are the product of our choices (our character, deliberation, desires, etc.), then we’re responsible for them. It’s irrelevant that our character, desires, etc. are themselves determined by earlier states of the world.

    The compatibilists are essentially reaching for the “free will of the gaps” – just because they don’t feel compelled, they had free will?

    No, feelings are irrelevant, and there’s no gap argument here. You seem to think that the compatibilist means “indeterminism” when she refers to free will. That’s simply wrong. No gaps. Determinism all the way down. But since we’re physical beings, we’re still responsible for some of the things that happen in deterministic chain of the physical world (leaving aside quantum indeterminacy, at DaveM’s request).

  77. #77 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.

  78. #78 Christianjb
    November 18, 2007

    There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘dragging’ quantum mechanics into the free-will debate. The only problem is that most people and most biologists don’t have much knowledge of QM and so it allows for people to get away with making stupid claims as long as they call it a quantum effect.

    Personally- I believe that even a ‘classical’ computer of sufficient complexity could be intelligent and conscious. It would also have as much ‘free-will’ as any of us. However, if that computer is coupled to the rest of the universe through communication devices- then it becomes as unpredictable as any other part of the universe. Feedback mechanisms will quickly ensure that no amount of computing power can predict the choices the computer will make.

    Conway and Penrose seem to think that QM is fundamentally tied into free-will. They may be wrong- but they’ve earned the right to be taken seriously.

  79. #79 Physicalist
    November 18, 2007

    Sam (#72), “But does the Schroedinger equation describe the human mind?”

    We know the basic energy scales at which quantum electrodynamics is valid, and this lets us infer with great confidence that everything in our skull obeys these laws of Q.E.D. coupled with Newtonian Gravity.

    This is exactly the same reasoning that we use to infer that the Standard Model and Einstein’s General Relativity govern stellar evolution. So yes, we do know that the mind is governed by familiar laws of physics. (And now, I really am signing off for the night.)

  80. #80 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.

  81. #81 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Physicalist writes:
    you’ve got experimental “proof” that determinism is false.

    Bear in mind that simply disposing of determinism does not magically give people free will.

    Lacking evidence for a “soul” let’s suppose that our consciousness is the sum total of the stuff within our skulls: nerons and electrical activity and whatnot – all operating neatly under the laws of physics. At the level of neurons and cells and so forth, quantum effects are, well, I don’t want to say they are “unimportant” but they’re very subtle. So you’ve got some subatomic particle in one of your nerves that can’t decide where it is… And, once it does, maybe it affects a thought, or triggers an action. So god is playing dice with your brain? Where’s the free will in that? Some subatomic particle having a 50/50 chance of going up or down makes you decide to reply to this comment or not? You’d be just as well off flipping a coin, right? But where’s the free will in any of that?

    We did not evolve at a quantum scale, so all that stuff is below our radar screen. In fact, nervous activity and how consciousness works is also below our mental radar screen. The simplest answer to the whole question of free will is that we’ve evolved to think we have it. Why not?

    We evolved at a scale where we respond as if Schrodinger’s cat is in a known state whether we’re observing it or not – we do not live our lives (except if we’re woo-woos) worrying about quantum indeterminacy or whether all the atoms in our nose are suddenly going to make an unfortunate jump in the same direction at once. Evolution has gifted us with all kinds of things, including a capacity to feel we are independent actors. Evolution even gifted Dinesh D’Souza with the illusion that he’s a really smart guy. And, for a meat robot, he’s – well – annoying as hell, actually.

    Physicalist writes:
    The position you’re pointing to is the “hard determinist” position, which denies that we have free will and moral responsibility.

    Minor nitpick: The hard determinist position denies any evidence for free will and doesn’t say anything about morality. Most hard determinists will agree that if there’s no free will then there are interesting implications with respect to how we interpret the notion of “responsibility.”

    My answer to that, of course, is that “responsibility” and “morality” are evolved social behaviors that are perfectly real to us whether they make sense or not. Because that’s the software that’s running in these meat robots.

  82. #82 Marcus Ranum
    November 18, 2007

    Physicalist writes:
    No, you don’t seem to understand the compatibilist position. One’s awareness of the determining factors is irrelevant. The morally relevant point — the point that grounds free will — is that some of these determining factors are ours.

    I think I understand it pretty well.

    With all respect, what you say above is begging the question. Assuming that “some of these determining factors are ours” assumes the necessary criteria for free will, namely choice.

    The compatibilists also make a semantic argument that free will and determinism can’t be conflicted because of a category error. That’s just smoke blowing to cover the main problem with their argument; namely that it hasn’t got legs.

    I don’t think we should argue about whether we understand compatibilism or not; maybe you could review the wikipedia entry on the topic. If you do agree that it’s substantially accurate then we should probably stop here, in fact, since we’re pretty much done after this:
    A compatibilist, or soft determinist, in contrast, will define a free act in a way that does not hinge on causal necessitation. For them, an act is free unless it involves compulsion by another person.

  83. #83 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.

  84. #84 Tony Jeremiah
    November 19, 2007

    As an added note to the emotional perspective of free will, one study (Leslie, Knobe, & Cohen, 2005) showed that children perceive another’s behavior as intentional or unintential depending on its moral valence (i.e., good or bad). When a child develops the cognitive capacity to understand that a person is capable of not caring about what happens when a particular action is performed, and the person either (a) performs an action that results in something good; or (b) performs an action that results in something bad; the child will believe that the behavior is unintentional when the outcome of the behavior is good, and intentional when the outcome of the behavior is bad. This phenomenon is called the side effect effect, and presumably reflects the adult version of the law which essentially requires people to do no harm, but not necessarily to do good.

  85. #85 Gil
    November 19, 2007

    Ugh. The curse of dualism.

  86. #86 mijnheer
    November 19, 2007

    “I had no idea that he was that stupid.”
    You had to say that, didn’t you?

  87. #87 coathangrrr
    November 19, 2007

    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.

    Science proves negatives all the time. What else would you consider falsifying theories? Science proved there was no Luminiferous aether.

  88. #88 Steven Carr
    November 19, 2007

    Of course, D’Souza has free will.

    Determinism is false.

    Can any of you guys come up with a decent argument that D’Souza’s actions are determined by rational thought?

    Nothing causes D’Souza to choose one way or another.

    It is the proud boast of Christians that they do things for no cause.

  89. #89 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.

  90. #90 Tyler DiPietro
    November 19, 2007

    I’m no expert, but I thought that the problem with “quantum brain” scenarios was that the scales at which the brain operates feature enough decoherence to render Heisenburg uncertainty largely irrelevant. Hopefully someone will set me straight on this if I’m wrong.

    Anyway, as far as free will goes I have never heard the concept articulated in a way that is both internally coherent and physically plausible. D’Souza is clearly arguing that free will means he can affect his physical environment unconstrained by the laws of physics (an absurd claim). But I’m open to other definitions.

    It would seem that we could look to neuroscience to see that most of what goes on in our subjective experience isn’t freely chosen at all. As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I can say with certainty that I don’t choose rapid, episodic mood swings (among other experiences) We are subject to what our brain chemistry does. I’m more sympathetic to arguments pertaining to the unpredictability of a system as complex as the brain. But still, this seems to be more of a property of the underlying components of the system. I’m not certain that it can scale up to the sort of agency/volition required by free will.

  91. #91 justathought
    November 19, 2007

    if John Stuart Mill got particularly ill on half a pint of shandy, then John Stuart Mill didn’t drink all that much.

    I mean, relative to other philosophers.

  92. #92 Steven Carr
    November 19, 2007

    For our safety, D’Souza should be locked up.

    I’m not saying he is evil, but he claims he cannot control himself.

    Suppose I offered 2 dollars to anybody who would rape a 2-year old boy.

    Most people would say no.

    D’Souza would have to claim that he has free will. His will is free of all constraints, including moral ones. There is literally nothing in the universe which will prevent him saying yes to that offer.

    How is D’Souza going to control a will that he says is free? A controlled free will? Not even D’Souza is dumb enough to talk about a free will that is not free.

    So if D’Souza cannot control himself, he should be locked up for the safety of the public.

  93. #93 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?

  94. #94 Paul Crowley
    November 19, 2007

    #42 – a lovely analogy and one I will doubtless steal!

    I’ve always liked my friend Justin’s way of putting it:

    “Consciousness is knowing what you just thought; free will is not knowing what you’re going to think next.”

  95. #95 uriel
    November 19, 2007

    He’s unselfconscious, a skilled debater, and obviously doesn’t care that people like PZ (and me) will think him so naive.

    Actually, I think that that first point (unselfconscious) is really the key. Pardon a personal remembrance, (that may be a bit way to long, but I think it’s on topic)-

    The first time I responded to D’Souza was during the “Virgina tech/where are the atheists?” nonsense fest. I made a couple of observations, pointing out that atheists were certainly amongst the grieving, and quite possibly among the slain, responded to a couple more points, let out a deep breath- and kinda figured I’d done my insignificant part in the never-ending battle between the forces of reality vs. outright nut-jobbery. Certainly, there were plenty of posts to that particular entry that were superior in both content, clarity, and poignancy to render my submission of trivial importance. But I threw my 2 cents in for what it was worth- ’nuff said.

    Out of curiosity, I tuned back into his little blog a bit later to find the the discussion turning to the abolition of limbo- a discussion which quickly devolved into a shouting match devoted to who was going to hell quicker- those heathen protestants, or the anti-christ papists. Much fun was had by both sides, imagining the other group of Christians learning the errors of their way while merrily burning away an eternity in hell. Having no horse in the matter, I made a tertiary comment on a side issue of his lame attempts at theology, but left the rest of the discussion go.

    Next day, D’Sousa was actually commending the commentators in the second discussion for the breath, clarity, and the reasonableness of their arguments. It was a breath of fresh air, as far as he was concerned. As though they had accomplished something meaningful branding each other as heretics over and over again.

    At that point I felt some need in asking what, exactly, he found so enlightening about the discussion. Again, I don’t claim there was anything particularly exceptional in the interchange- just a typical group of semi-connected, self indulgent, and isolated yelpings on the internets on my part.

    But, when I checked my e-mail- what did I find? A message from D’Sousa himself! A message which takes pains to point out that he was specifically lauding the superiority of the xtian’s internecine condemn-o-fest to the simple, straight forward appeals to reason and inclusion on the part of both atheists and reasonable believers in the face of the first thread’s unsupported, one-sided vehemence.

    Essentially, the arguments were better because atheists, and their apologists, weren’t involved. And that was the only reason. Stop.

    It was at that point that I realized talking to D’Sousa was a bit more pointless than talking to a wall….

  96. #96 woozy
    November 19, 2007

    How Christianity explains consciousness and free will, which atheists have to deny

    You know, we ought to counter with

    How atheism allows for art and literature which Christians have to deny
    …..
    …..
    ….
    ….. [woozy sits waiting for a shoe to drop…]
    …..
    …..
    …..
    …..
    off-stage (and obligingly): Huh? what are you talking about?

    woozy (ears perking at the bait taking): I’m glad you asked! Have you ever read “Huckleberry Finn”?

    off-stage: Yeah, in high school.

    woozy: Did it have a theme?

    off-stage: I dunno. This is a science blog…

    woozy: Did it have a theme?

    off-stage: Well, sure I guess, I mean my english teacher said it did..

    woozy: (with maniacal gleam in his eye) *Where* is this theme?

    off-stage: Uh, in the book when Huck and Jime were …

    woozy: (jumping up and down in sadistic glee) Is it in the book? If I burned the book would the theme be destroyed? If we broke the book into letters would we find it in the letters? Does the theme make the book say what it does or does the book make the theme be what it is?

    off-stage: Oh, now, come onnnn….

    woozy: (a mile a minute now) And where is the theme of a book. Is it in pittsburgh, or Maine, somewhere not of this earth?

    off-stage: Well, if you want to be metaphorical about it …

    woozy: (clearly loosing it) Oh ho! Do you think a theme is a metaphor? What about the human soul? Or consciousness, or free will? Are they metaphors? Does a book’s theme exist in the same place as a human soul?

    off-stage: Look, this is really getting totally….

    woozy (jumping up and down and practically wetting himself): DO THEMES AND SOULS EXIST IN THE SAME PLACE?!?!?!?! Christians have to say they don’t!!!! Only living things have souls!!!! To expect books or other non living things to have the spiritial worth of humans is …. IDOLOTRY!!!! So if the theme doesn’t exist in the physical world! and it doesn’t exist in the spiritial world! Then according to Christianity it doesn’t exist at all! And if books don’t have themes then Christians have to deny art and literature!!!!!

    off-stage: (deep exhale…) … proud of yourself, are you?

    woozy: Immensely. (… woozy walks off and is killed at the next zebra crossing…)

  97. #97 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!

  98. #98 Richard Harris
    November 19, 2007

    Jeeez, he’s one turd short of a shit.

  99. #99 Christianjb
    November 19, 2007

    TDP: You’re right. It’s generally accepted that quantum coherence cannot be sustained in brain at body temperature for more than a few billionths (?) of a second. Still- Penrose is no fool- and I’m sure he has an idea for how this problem can be circumnavigated.

    FWIW- D’Souza (as quoted) isn’t stating that he can break the laws of physics. He’s claiming that the laws of physics don’t completely determine/constrain his free-will. I have some sympathy with that position. I think there are good reasons to believe that physics does not determine our every action.

    I may be just a collection of atoms- but atoms are blind- whereas I belong to a species that can split atoms if need be. Atoms can do things to us and we can do things to atoms. Why should I give atoms all the credit in this particular dance?

    ======================================================
    Reading between the lines- it’s probable that D’Souza is arguing for a soul/body dualism in an attempt to give some validity to his religious views. I think that’s definitely wrong, but I wouldn’t call it ‘stupid’.

  100. #100 Stephen Wells
    November 19, 2007

    More d’Souza: I can sit at my desk, looking out of the window, and watch the sun rise. Is it possible that it might be an enormous ball of fusing hydrogen, millions of miles away, and that its “rising” is actually the rotation of the planet? Obviously not.

    Roger Bacon said that the most dangerous cause of error was the concealment of real ignorance with pretence of knowledge. This dreck from D’Souza seems like a classic case; at the point where an honest scientist would be saying “I really don’t know,” he’s loudly declaring “Nuh-uh!”

  101. #101 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!)

  102. #102 Stephen Wells
    November 19, 2007

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

  103. #103 windy
    November 19, 2007

    My cat got up to go to the litter box. It could have pissed on the rug. It could have pissed on my shoe….

    There’s nothing in the laws of physics that forces cats to knock down coffee cups, either. Surprisingly, ferrets ARE forced by the laws of the cosmos to knock down cups of beverage whenever possible.

  104. #104 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.

  105. #105 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.

  106. #106 Christianjb
    November 19, 2007

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

  107. #107 CalGeorge
    November 19, 2007

    #90: D’Souza would have to claim that he has free will. His will is free of all constraints, including moral ones. There is literally nothing in the universe which will prevent him saying yes to that offer.

    And that’s why he’s a Christian.

    Poor impulse control. Anything goes. He sees a nice shiny religion and he just can’t resist.

    Every one of his columns is an exercise in loss of impulse control.

    I can’t help myself! I have to spew this nonsense!

    At the back of his mind he probably regards what he does as a big fat joke, a way to make money and stay in the limelight – which makes his behavior even scarier.

  108. #108 Norman Doering
    November 19, 2007

    Arun wrote:

    Free will, determinism, etc., are just as relevant to this argument as if some mugger is holding a gun to your head;

    You’ve only got a gun to your head if you believe there is a gun to your head. That is where they want to apply free will, to a place it doesn’t belong even if it does exist — choosing what you believe is real.

  109. #109 Steve LaBonne
    November 19, 2007

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

    Don’t feel bad, philosophers have been talking about this for thousands of years without understanding it, either. Nobody understands it. Which is probably an indication that it’s simply a poorly framed, unproductive question.

  110. #110 Sinbad
    November 19, 2007

    On this subject, like Locke and Voltaire, I am still waiting for a coherent non-compatibilist definition of Free Will. These two figures have pointed out to me that the very term “free will” is incoherent; Hume also points out that without determinism there cannot be a will. It’s so pathetic that someone can pretend to be utilizing Kantian logic yet so unable to grasp these concepts taught to college philosophy freshmen.

    This blade of incoherence cuts both ways. We perceive free will consistently and constantly. Science is utterly dependent upon our perceptions and their accuracy (obervation and all that). Determinism (and compatibilism) requires that our perceptions of volition are spectacularly wrong consistently and constantly. Thus, if determinism (and compatibilism) is true, science itself is incoherent.

  111. #111 heddle
    November 19, 2007

    Mrs. Tilton (#100) wrote, quoting 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.

    Now why would I do that? M. Ranum is quite correct. If we are not free moral agents, then God cannot punish us for our “choices.” Every good Calvinist knows that we have free will, choose God with our free will, and will carry the same free will into the afterlife.

  112. #112 Sven DiMilo
    November 19, 2007

    bla bla bla bla Free Will bla bla bla bla bla Quantum Mechanics bla bla bla Kant bla bla Determinism bla bla bla bla bla Calvin bla…

    Here’s what I think:
    Some people apparently choose to dilute perfectly good beer with 7Up.
    Therefore there is no God.

  113. #113 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.

  114. #114 Sinbad
    November 19, 2007

    Science is not “utterly dependent upon our perceptions and their accuracy.”

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

  115. #115 T_U_T
    November 19, 2007

    kindly explain why do you consider “inaccurate” to be synonymous with “none”

  116. #116 Sinbad
    November 19, 2007

    kindly explain why do you consider “inaccurate” to be synonymous with “none”

    Since it’s possible that English isn’t your first language, rather than my making a snarky comment, how about re-stating what you want to say in a way that’s coherent?

  117. #117 AJS
    November 19, 2007

    If you have a system that behaves deterministically, but there is sufficient gain on some inputs that an error on one of those inputs which was below your threshhold of measurability could alter the outputs, then you can no longer analyse the system deterministically.

    We like to assume that quantum wave functions decohere in any real-world-sized system; but right down inside the brain, quantum uncertainty could well be coming into play.

    By the way, adding American beer to good lemonade is sacrilege!

  118. #118 Norman Doering
    November 19, 2007

    heddle wrote:

    If we are not free moral agents, then God cannot punish us for our “choices.” Every good Calvinist knows that we have free will, choose God with our free will, and will carry the same free will into the afterlife.

    See! What did I say in post #107?

    You’ve only got a gun to your head if you believe there is a gun to your head. That is where they want to apply free will, to a place it doesn’t belong even if it does exist — choosing what you believe is real.

    In addition to choosing to believe in God, head-dull, could you also chose to believe in Zeus, invisible pink unicorns, or that the earth is flat?

  119. #119 blondin
    November 19, 2007

    There once was a hindu named Ghandi
    Who went in the bar for a shandy
    With his great loin cloth
    He wiped off the froth
    And the barman said, “Blimey, that’s handy!”

    – Spike Milligan

    PS: I’ve also seen them made with beer and ginger ale (yuck).

  120. #120 Stephen Wells
    November 19, 2007

    Nice point, MartinM. Similarly, we constantly perceive the earth to be the centre of the universe and the sun, moon and stars to go round it once every day. Science: because first impressions can be wrong.

    Sinbad, determinism only requires that it’s possible for people to be persistently mistaken about thigns that are emotionally important to them. We knew that already.

    Personally I don’t go for determinism because I’m pretty sure that QM introduces true randomness; and even if it didn’t, chaos theory (amplification of small perturbations) and relativity (can’t see anything not in our past light cone) suffice to make perfect prediction impossible. But it’s not really relevant to the “free will” debate, anyway.

  121. #121 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???

  122. #122 Sinbad
    November 19, 2007

    Similarly, we constantly perceive the earth to be the centre of the universe and the sun, moon and stars to go round it once every day. Science: because first impressions can be wrong.

    In your example, the problem isn’t with our perception, but with our perspective. Of course first impressions can be wrong, but if determinsim (or compatibilism) is true, then virtually all of our perceptions are wrong, from any perspective.

  123. #123 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?

  124. #124 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.

    sinbad:

    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 ?

  125. #125 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.

  126. #126 Scott B
    November 19, 2007

    Has anyone noticed that D’Souza’s book – which claims to be a *Christian* apology – doesn’t once mention Jesus, its central figure, on the cover?

    Could it be that he’s really just apologizing for some kind of generic, amorphous, ill-defined, ill-conceived, and meaningless theism?

  127. #127 heddle
    November 19, 2007

    Mrs. Tilton,

    You seem quite knowledgeable in such matters, so I’m sure you are aware that 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. He often used the example that God, though he certainly possesses (at least) all the liberty than man possesses, can nevertheless never choose to sin, because his nature precludes his ever desiring what is sinful.

    In short, Calvin argues against the idea of free will if free will means you can choose contrary to your nature/inclinations. He argues for free will if it means “you are never prevented from making choices
    consistent with your inclinations.”

    Calvinism’s version of free will is that you always choose what you want most at that moment. But the key is: only what you want. It is determinism, but not from an external power, but from your own nature. Your actions are self-determined. Your very nature constrains your choice-space–but withing that choice-space you have libetry.

    That’s how the whole predestination thing works–like activating a gene. Fallen man is not inclined to God, so he never chooses God, he always chooses atheism (or some variant). God regenerates some, they are then inclined toward God, and eventually choose him.

  128. #128 steven carr
    November 19, 2007

    Number 93 is right ‘”Consciousness is knowing what you just thought; free will is not knowing what you’re going to think next.”‘

    By his own definitions, D’Souza has no idea what he is going to do next. He could knock the coffee cup on the floor, he could stick a knife into somebody. He knows he is free to do either.

    Lock him up, for our own safety.

  129. #129 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”.

  130. #130 Mrs Tilton
    November 19, 2007

    David,

    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.

  131. #131 CalGeorge
    November 19, 2007

    Dinesh:
    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0226.htm

    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.]

  132. #132 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.

  133. #133 Norman Doering
    November 19, 2007

    head-dull wrote:

    It is determinism, but not from an external power, but from your own nature. Your actions are self-determined. Your very nature constrains your choice-space–but withing that choice-space you have libetry.

    Then Dinesh D’Souza’s version of free will has nothing to do with the twisted version of free will Calvin endorsed.

    Calvin’s version implies that God created “evil, damnable natures” for the hell of it.

  134. #134 heddle
    November 19, 2007

    Ichthyic

    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.

  135. #135 Steve LaBonne
    November 19, 2007

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

    You’re coming dangerously close here to tautologically defining whatever you happen to choose at any given time as “your strongest inclination”. Anyway, please notice that icthyic actually referred to “COMMON inclinations”.

  136. #136 CJO
    November 19, 2007

    That’s silly. You can always retroactively ascribe whatever one actually did to one’s “strongest inclination.” After all, that’s what they did!

    People in the real world do things against their “strongest inclinations” all the time though: dieting, recovery from addiction, remaining faithful in a troubled relationship or in the face of extreme temptation. In all these cases, the difficulty of the action is due directly to the fact that one must overcome the stronger drive. You can phrase that as “a struggle for the weaker inclination to (temporarily) overcome the stronger, and thus be the stronger,” but then you have an infinite regress. The best place to stop those is at step one.

    Further, none of this can be demonstrated at all. There is no fact of the matter which was one’s strongest inclination at time X, unless, as I said at the outset, you define your terms so that it’s all retoactive, in which case, you’ve managed to say nothing of any value whatever, you’re just playing word games.

  137. #137 poke
    November 19, 2007

    What bugs me about the free will debate is that the sort of claims and descriptions usually attributed to free will seem to me wrong about the details of experience regardless of whether determinism is true or false.

    There’s a great book by a contemporary philosopher, for which I annoyingly cannot remember the title or author, that presents this case. It uses examples from diaries, literary references, recorded conversations, and popular culture to demonstrate what is obvious on a moments reflection: nobody actually thinks their experience conforms to the philosophers concept of free will. We all talk about being pushed and pulled, having varying degrees of control, having lapses in concentration and energy, and so on. The entire recorded record of human decision making is one of people who think they are not in control. People write and talk, in fact, like they’re being jostled around like balls on a billiard table.

    Compare this to the stock opening paragraph to a philosophical work on free will (lamentably identifiable by anyone who’s read more than a few), where the author claims something along the lines of “we all have a sense of being in control of our lives,” and the comparison is stark. Even when we talk about being in control, besides the philosophers staged examples (“I can at this moment choose to knock this coffee cup off the table”), such talk tends not to conform to the philosophical concept of free will. Control is more often described as a passive visceral thing (“the rush of being in control”) rather than deliberate action. We even describe deliberation itself as an internal jostling or weighing in which we are pushed and pulled in different directions and finally come to a decision due to a deficit of attention or energy or will.

    There’s a new trend of experimentalists in philosophy who are taking these sorts of intuitions and performing surveys, including cross-cultural studies, to see if they hold up. This includes the traditional intuitions of free will, moral philosophy, and so on. I think the problems of philosophy run deeper than simply bad intuitions but it’s still interesting stuff.

  138. #138 Steve LaBonne
    November 19, 2007

    …besides the philosophers staged examples (“I can at this moment choose to knock this coffee cup off the table”)…

    It’s similar to the way philosophers also use hokey staged ethical dilemmas to support elaborately nonsensical theories of ethics.

    Pholosphers have been chattering about free will for millenia and I don’t think any of them have said anything worth wasting a single brain cell on. It’s one of the classic pseudo-problems of philosphy (the “mind-body” problem is another). These sorts of things are great if you just want to keep a “discussion” going forever without any danger of spoiling the fun by actually reaching solid conclusions.

  139. #139 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.

  140. #140 Norman Doering
    November 19, 2007

    head-dull wrote:

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

    And you can counter Calvin this way too:
    How the religious mindfuck really works

  141. #141 clheiny
    November 19, 2007

    I am in awe of Dinesh. All the insight, clarity and logic of a Saturday night bong hit session in the freshman dorm, without the need to send out for pizza an hour after you start.

  142. #142 Lurchgs
    November 19, 2007

    I have never really been all that interested in the “why” or “how” of choice-making, but this conversation got me curious.

    Last night, I went down to my workshop and built my own W-ray device. Coupled to an inexpensive CRT and pointed at an individual, it shows exactly why that person makes a decision. The results were astonishing, and will be published in some journal or other as soon as I can bribe the editors.

    What did I find? I found that X-rays and MRIs and the like all lie! Decisions are not tendered by the brain, at all! In the most posterior of the sinus cavities is a tiny – almost microscopic pit. The pit contains a number ( usually between 16 and 128, varying upon the individual) of d20s. Depending on the complexity of the problem, a varying number of the d20s will spin, with the final decision being determined by the physical attitude of the involved d20s.

    I’d be more than happy to demonstrate my W-ray device to any of you in, or visiting the Denver area, but a little green man came down last night at the behest of FSM and removed all knowledge of its construction from my brain, and the machine itself.

    It’s true. I’d never lie to you!

  143. #143 J Myers
    November 19, 2007

    In fact, it has one of the more libertine models…

    I wish I had a libertine model.

  144. #144 Azkyroth
    November 19, 2007

    This blade of incoherence cuts both ways. We perceive free will consistently and constantly. Science is utterly dependent upon our perceptions and their accuracy (obervation and all that). Determinism (and compatibilism) requires that our perceptions of volition are spectacularly wrong consistently and constantly. Thus, if determinism (and compatibilism) is true, science itself is incoherent.

    Oh, come on, don’t tell me you’ve never made two or more errors in a math problem that canceled each other out.

  145. #145 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.”

  146. #146 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?”

  147. #147 Marcus Ranum
    November 19, 2007

    woozy writes:
    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 heard similar arguments, only they usually begin, “without god, there would be no good or evil and ..?”

    I tried to explain this before – if we’re meat robots, we are meat robots that are programmed for pleasure, pain, thought, and “everything human.” But interpreting everything as “not done by your will” is a far cry from interpreting everything as “does not matter.” It still matters plenty; it’s just not by your will.

    We know intellectually that we’re just fuzzy blobs of atoms, and that, when we “touch” something, it’s just an illusion presented to us by our brains as a side-effect of the scale at which we operate. Any of us who are older than 6 years old do not retain a single atom of the original material they consisted of when they were born – yet, again, at the scale at which we operate, this doesn’t “bother” us. We know that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine but, literally, stranger than we can imagine, because our brains aren’t programmed by evolution to “understand” cats that are neither alive nor dead or action at a distance.

    If it’s “solipsistic sophistry” and “pointless” to think about free will* then it’s equally pointless to think about quantum mechanics or any of the other interesting mysteries of the universe that we are equipped to understand but are not able to live in light of.

    (* I can’t help it!)

  148. #148 woozy
    November 20, 2007

    Actually Marcus, I agree 100% with what you say.

    It’s not discussing free will or “meat robots” that’s solipstic but the argument “If we have no free will how can we condemn those who had no choice” or “if we have no free will then gods an asshole for punishing us for what we had no control” (…well, maybe god is an asshole but if we have no free will there is no “us” to be punished.)

    The reason I find this sollipstic sophistry is that one has to take a stand that we either have free will or we don’t. If one chooses to argue that we *don’t* have free will, then one forfeits the right to view the consequences in the light of free will. If condemned had no will and was pre-ordained to offend, then refering to us “condemning” him is meaningless. We are simply standing in pre-constructed tableau. The pleasure and pain we feel in the tableau may be real and this may be a futile, nasty, and assholish, existence, but so what? If one chooses to believe we do not have free will because or will is the mechanical effects of determined forces, then one has to conclude the pain or pleasure resulting are too and if we must remove the will as pertaining to “us” we must also remove the pain and pleasure as pertaining to us as well.

    I don’t see that Christianity falls around our ankles without. If we have no free will then the point of christianity is not to influence us. It could simply be to perform the preordained tableu.

    I’m perfectly willing to believe we are meat puppets. My will is carried out by my thoughts and my thoughts are the results of neurons firing by chemical and physical laws. My thoughts can to some extent control this firings by making pathways conduits through my thoughts but there is no first cause. Hence my thoughts are the results of chemical and physical reactions below my control. But where is the “me” that doesn’t have control. Well, the “me” *is* the collected patterns of firing neurons. And the collected patterns of firing neurons *is* determinator of my actions and *does* have will in context of itself, even if it’s causes were determined at a lower level.
    Thus I believe we are both meat puppets and do have free will.
    Or we don’t because our root causes are mechanical. But if we wish to view the consequences of lack of free will, we can only fairly view them at the level of root causes which is below the level for there to be any concept of self.

    I’ve heard similar arguments, only they usually begin, “without god, there would be no good or evil and ..?”

    Then you misunderstood my argument, which isn’t surprising as it’s very … hard to word.

    To the extent that I can claim my thoughts and actions are determined by random blobs of atoms and “not my fault” I must also claim the resulting pleasure and pain isn’t happening to “me”.

    Suppose I look at my coffee cup and debate whether I want to drink it or toss it against the wall and decide that I want to drink it because the taste gives me pleasure so I do.

    If we view it at the “self” level and the “free will” level the actions are straightforward. I choose to drink the coffee because I thought I’d like it.

    Or we can view it at the meat puppet level. My firing neurons over a lifetime of habits have devoloped paths and with random variables result in the puppet drinking the coffee.

    Now what happens next? At the “self” level, I can’t say “Shit! I hate coffee but because I have no free will here I am drinking coffee and it’s torturing me. This is so unfair.” At the self level I drank it for a reason and if at the self level I hate coffee, at the meat puppet level the neurons would never have fired to create such an action.

    As a clinically depressed person I do occasionally think “Shit! Why’d I have to be born a depressed person who can enjoy things or achieve things!” and, yes, that *is* unfair, but even still it is a different level of abstraction that I can’t say with any sense of honest meaning “The depressed person isn’t me, it’s just a meat puppet imitating me.”

  149. #149 Mark Fournier
    November 20, 2007

    I don’t think determinism has any bearing on free will. If you make a decision based upon your own reasons, then you did so freely. If you were able to act in the way you wanted, then you acted freely. If your judgement was impaired through causes not of your own doing (somebody slipped you a drug, or you suffered brain damage, for example) then you didn’t choose freely, and if your actions were physically constrained by force or threat, then you didn’t act freely. Whether the root cause of your choices was physical processes in the brain or some magical perfectly random divine spark is beside the point–either way, these can be said to have caused your choice, but as long as you made the choice without constraint at the conscious level, by reasons you judged sound, it was still freely chosen. What lies below is irrelevant to the question.

    Nor would any deterministic explanation resolve you of responsibility. If you “just couldn’t control yourself”, then you have a character flaw which would make imprisonment even more necessary in the event of your committing a crime, because it would mean you would be likely to repeat the crime. But you would still be held responsible for your actions. And purely random factors driving choice would mean that you couldn’t control yourself.

    In any case, none of this is relevant to religion–which, by the doctrine of predestination (upon which all claims to prophecy are based), also rules out free will; so completely, in fact, that there seems little room for responsibility either.

    To sum up, D’Souza is a drooling, sophomoric idiot. But then, the main trait of incompetents is that they don’t know that they are incompetent.

  150. #150 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.

  151. #151 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.

  152. #152 woozy
    November 20, 2007

    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.

    And it’s kind of disturbing that “below” is not in our control. But if it’s the *soul* below, the soul is us and we *are* in control.

    Not sure having a soul which is utterly unknowable or understandable is more comforting. What I honestly don’t get is why or how can any-one when confronted with a an imponderable question can give a supernatural answer and *not* think a supernatural explanation doesn’t require any more examination.

    I admit, how consciousness arises from neuron firings *does* seem a mystery. And sure, if we could find something, anything, to shed light on the subject would be great. But saying it’s a soul while *not* saying anything about what a soul is, doesn’t answer anything.

    I don’t mind if someone concludes a soul somehow must exist because they believe nothing physically known can answer his questions, but if they do they have to agree that such a statement is an admission of having no idea how consciousness works.

  153. #153 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:

    http://www.naturalism.org/strawson.htm

    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?

  154. #154 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.

  155. #155 Keith Douglas
    November 23, 2007

    Marcus Ranum: There are various verisons of “free will” in the literature. What is called “libertarian” free will probably requires psychoneural dualism and runs into all the problems associated with that. This is often associated with religions, though it also strikes me as being what “the man on the street” believes, though I have never studied that.

    Sam: You can show it to be EXTREMELY unlikely. As was pointed out to Descartes himself, conservation laws aren’t violated within the human body as far as we can tell. Descartes had an out; they were imperfectly known in his time. These days nobody has that excuse if they are serious about the issue.

    Marcus Ranum: Note that the Calvinists deny free will …

    CalGeorge: Dennett has also written on philosophy of mind and action, too. He should be able to stomp all over this guy’s bad philosophy.

    Tyler DiPietro: You’re right about decoherence. See Churchland and Grush’s paper “Gaps in Penrose’s Toilings” and some further remarks by V. Stenger in various places, or my own student paper on R. Kane’s attempt at using QM in the FW debate.

    Steve LaBonne: R. Kane has attempted to that in a rather sophisticated way, by breaking up actions into components, trait formation, etc. It ultimately fails, but it isn’t just “my brain rolls a die and I use a lookup table”.

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