Author Topic: Do we have free will?  (Read 1685 times)

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Offline screwtape

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Do we have free will?
« on: March 05, 2012, 07:31:13 AM »
This thread is for EliotViola and MagicMiles to discuss the topic of free will.  Commentary should not be posted here, but in the commentary thread.

As always, I recommend the participants establish a format for the debate.  Some things you may want to settle are who goes first, how to respond and how to end the debate.
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What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline EV

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2012, 08:54:25 AM »
This debate is to discuss the proposition that free will exists, and mainly pertaining to free will coming from God. I will be arguing that free will can not come from God (sort of determinist), Magicmiles will be arguing that free will does come from God (divine libertarian).
Thanks Screwtape

We will finish the debate if either of us concedes, or if either of us cannot continue posting replies to this for whatever reason, or by mutual decision to end the debate.

On response, all points made must be addressed, discussed, rebutted etc in the reply, failing to do so will result in no further debating until the points raised have been discussed. Evidence for points is necessary.

We are in different time zones, (Australia and the United Kingdom) so a slow progression may be apparent.

It is to be fairly lighthearted, and etiquette as always is important! No insulting unnecessarily, rudeness or fallacies.

Miles, what do you think? Feel free to edit the rules... :P do you want to go first?
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2012, 03:19:11 PM »
Thanks Elliot, and Screwtape for setting this up.

I'm happy with the rules you have proposed, and would prefer to respond to whichever points you wish to make first.

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Offline EV

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2012, 03:58:30 PM »
Okay thanks :)

I will now outline my basic argument.

The issue of Free will and Determinism has been argued over for centuries. Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche; all have produced deep philosophcal musings on the subject of predestination and what it means for our lives.

I for one believe that everything is determined. Even down to a quantum level, with the Heisenburg Principle of Uncertainty showing that some things (such as the random movement of electrons) cannot be causally pinpointed, all events are still determined by previous events, in a causal chain linking back to the big bang. I would like to point out that research into these concepts are not yet at a state where they are completely understandable, neither am I an expert on the subject. There are only a few people in the world who properly understand quantum theory, and I am not one of them.

It is impossible to imagine an event with no cause at all. Every event has a reason, and we are influenced by external factors to make choices that cause other factors.

STOP! I hear you cry. But those choices are free. 'We have the ability to make those choices!'

Indeed we have the ability to make those choices of our own accord, but our own accord is already determined by prior events.

It is absolutely impossible to be able to predict causally exactly what is going to happen. Every particle in the universe at one specific pinpoint of time affects what is going to happen the next femtosecond in terms of their position and motion. We will never be able to model the universe completely, as we cannot build a powerful enough computer to do so, or indeed enough measuring equipment to account for the untold light-years in the universe we live in.

I think that we have the illusion of free will, because we can never predict what happens next, so things always seem to be free. In reality, all of our choices are determined by the past, and there is no room for 'free will' from God.

I am proposing here, that God cannot have given us free will, as to have free will would be to influence the causal chain uncausally, which is something that cannot be done on a super-atomic scale.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2012, 05:58:58 AM »
Wow, well written and a very difficult opening post for me to respond to, I must say. You clearly are well versed on the various philosophies which exist on this subject. I'm more of a layman.

Still, I'll have a crack ;D

I should note that I started doing some reading on the subject, but didn't get too far. If I'm honest, much of it was completely doing my head in. But I also couldn't help feeling that this is the sort of topic about which it might be best for me to simply state what I have always felt to be true as simply as possible, but with enough detail also to raise my contributions here above the level of "I just reckon"

I believe that God is all knowing, that we have free will within certain parameters, and that our actions are not strictly pre-determined but are instead influenced by the world around us and by past events.

I will now do my best to address your points, following which I will expand on any aspect of my main beliefs which aren't expanded upon in my responses to your OP.


The issue of Free will and Determinism has been argued over for centuries. Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche; all have produced deep philosophcal musings on the subject of predestination and what it means for our lives.

Yep...it's a very important topic and I think as a human race we cotton on to the implications pretty quickly, and progressively as our ability for abstract thought develops. A naughty toddler quickly learns that his parents will trumps his own, a teenager starts to see that he can start to impose his own will and as adults we are all too aware of how the manner in which we excercise our free will can affect others.


It is impossible to imagine an event with no cause at all. Every event has a reason 

I agree that "cause" and "reason" are very closely related in the real world (the one we reside in - not a philosophical, theoretical world).  As in, "The cause of the collision was speed" and "speed was the reason for the accident". Confronted with both of these statements, I'm confident that the vast majority of people will come to the same conclusion about the accident.

You then go on to say:


we are influenced by external factors

followed by:


our own accord is already determined by prior events.

and this is where our views start to head in different directions because I cannot make the leap from 'influenced' to 'determined' when it comes to our actions, or use the words interchangeably as I can for 'cause' and 'reason'. Constant real world experience hammers home to me that I have the final say in what I do, regardless of how few possibilities I have and regardless of the process whereby those possibilities arose.

Wouldn't you agree that we're both participating in this debate voluntarily? I know I am. We were influenced by several factors, no doubt, and largely these are completely out of our control. We can't control the fact that we both enjoy debating, for instance. But we can control whether or not we indulge that desire. We determine what we do.


I think that we have the illusion of free will, because we can never predict what happens next, so things always seem to be free. In reality, all of our choices are determined by the past, and there is no room for 'free will' from God.

I assume by this you don't mean that we can't predict what will be the consequence of certain actions...(cause and effect), but rather that we can't predict things like exactly when Joe Crazy might open fire in a shopping centre. You'll correct me I'm wrong no doubt.


I am proposing here, that God cannot have given us free will, as to have free will would be to influence the causal chain uncausally, which is something that cannot be done on a super-atomic scale.

Well, as much as I like that idea on some levels I tend to be stymied by the fact that every day I choose to do things. Even if I am reduced in my capacity by natural laws ( I cannot fly if I want to ), and circumstances played out in history ( I was a Preachers Kid whether I wanted to be or not  - I didn't ), I still have one hell of a wide variety of choices that I can make each and every day.

I expect that to some degree this debate might rest on what precisely we consider free will to mean. I tend to see it as the distinction between doing things voluntarily or involuntarily.


Some more on God being all knowing, then. I have only quite recently come to believe that the bible does not necessarily support the widely held view that God knows every detail of our lives in advance.  ( in fact, so recently that what follows may even contradict opinions I have given on this forum). I'd also like to qualify this by stating that I'm probably not yet still 100% convinced of this. But the more I think about it, the more its getting that way.

I think God has full control and full knowledge in the sense that he chose, through His wisdom, to create a world and inhabit it with humans who had free will. However, he does not know for sure in advance what we will do with that. He's still all knowing, because he knows what there definitely is to know. What someone does in the future isn't yet there to know. I think God probably has a very good idea of what we'll do, given that He can see our hearts.

I could link in to an essay which says this better than me, but I want to use my own words and ideas as much as possible.

Thats all I have for now.













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Offline EV

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2012, 10:47:00 AM »
Wow, well written and a very difficult opening post for me to respond to, I must say. You clearly are well versed on the various philosophies which exist on this subject. I'm more of a layman.
Well, as I said in my PM, I am studying Philosophy for A-Level, and we spent 3 months covering the argument. This is good revision for my exam ;)

I believe that God is all knowing, that we have free will within certain parameters, and that our actions are not strictly pre-determined but are instead influenced by the world around us and by past events.
Okay. Influence needs clearing up, I’ll address this below.

 
It is impossible to imagine an event with no cause at all. Every event has a reason 
>snip< "The cause of the collision was speed" and "speed was the reason for the accident".


Indeed. You have this pegged. There is a large difference between reason and cause.

and this is where our views start to head in different directions because I cannot make the leap from 'influenced' to 'determined' when it comes to our actions, or use the words interchangeably as I can for 'cause' and 'reason'. Constant real world experience hammers home to me that I have the final say in what I do, regardless of how few possibilities I have and regardless of the process whereby those possibilities arose.

You need to clarify the definition of influence and causation in your mind. Influence is when an event  causes you to process something. Personal causation, i.e. action by a person, is when external influences combine and cause something to be done by us. In terms of determination, our influences cause us to act. Influences are all events, and the events all are sensed by our eyes, nose, mouth, touch and ears, then sent to the brain, which then processes them and we make a conscious decision based on those external influence. The influences are still events that cause other events. What we need to talk about is how that pertains to the idea of free will.

For example, I am a composer of music. I could not compose music if I had not learnt music by experience before, and it is clear to see that my composition contain influences from other musicians, who in turn developed their styles from musicians before them. This chain goes on pretty much unbreakingly in a ‘causal chain’. Yes, I am influenced by things, but if I wasn't influenced by anything then I would never do anything.

Also, I don’t have a say in whether I write the music in one way or another, I was always going to write it in one way. This is because I had the previous influences/events which caused me to write. I feel like I do have free will. However, feeling like having free will is not free will, it is ignorance of the full determined events, because as I said, nobody can know the ‘full picture’ as it were.

Wouldn't you agree that we're both participating in this debate voluntarily?
Yes. I am participating voluntarily. I feel as if I am doing it of my own accord, but in reality, a series of events in my life caused me to enjoy debating, and to end up on here and talking to you at the same time.

I know I am. We were influenced by several factors, no doubt, and largely these are completely out of our control. We can't control the fact that we both enjoy debating, for instance. But we can control whether or not we indulge that desire. We determine what we do.
Hang on Miles, there's another level of causation here. On controlling desires, we need to look at the FOD's and SOD's. This was an argument proposed by Harry Frankfurt. He said that Humans have free will because we possess the ability to reflect on our actions.

Imagine you are hungry, and crave chocolate cake. Simple situation. You can reflect on your urge and decide to eat or not. This is what you are saying about indulging desire.

However, PSYCHOLOGICAL DETERMINISM rears its head here. Say you decide not to eat the chocolate cake because you are worried about getting fat. If we look at the reason behind that, it is that in the past for example you've seen fat people, or read the calorie count or you have been influenced in the past to not want to eat the cake because it is fattening.

Here we can see how even what we think is free is actually just more previous external influences or events leading up to a decision. Again, free will is an illusion. But that is satisfactory because we can never comprehend in an instant about why we are making that decision, as it involves too many factors for the most advanced supercomputer (even an atom 15bn light years away could have influenced what you are doing now...). Mind blowing stuff ;)

I think that we have the illusion of free will, because we can never predict what happens next, so things always seem to be free. In reality, all of our choices are determined by the past, and there is no room for 'free will' from God.
I assume by this you don't mean that we can't predict what will be the consequence of certain actions...(cause and effect), but rather that we can't predict things like exactly when Joe Crazy might open fire in a shopping centre. You'll correct me if I'm wrong no doubt.
Sort of. We can predict simple things by the external factors we can measure. Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? Imagine going back in time and killing a butterfly 5,000,000 years ago. This would so severely disrupt the causal chain from then that it would be impossible to figure out what might have been if you had not killed the butterfly. That may have spawned offspring that fed things and something may have starved preventing the birth of something important... Just try and imagine the complexity of 5,000,000 years worth of causality.

Now picture that on a universal scale. It is literally impossible to know the location of every single particle in the universe. Therefore, it is impossible to predict the future state of the universe unless you know every single variable, i.e. every single atom. This is why we can only make limited predictions about things like the weather, and why even with our advanced technology we can still get it wrong.

The variables leading up to a massacre in a shopping centre would include the determination of every single person in that shopping centre being influenced by other events to be there at the time, and a psychological map of the killer for his entire existence. As you can see, it is literally impossible... :P


I am proposing here, that God cannot have given us free will, as to have free will would be to influence the causal chain uncausally, which is something that cannot be done on a super-atomic scale.

Well, as much as I like that idea on some levels I tend to be stymied by the fact that every day I choose to do things. Even if I am reduced in my capacity by natural laws ( I cannot fly if I want to ), and circumstances played out in history ( I was a Preachers Kid whether I wanted to be or not  - I didn't ), I still have one hell of a wide variety of choices that I can make each and every day.

I expect that to some degree this debate might rest on what precisely we consider free will to mean. I tend to see it as the distinction between doing things voluntarily or involuntarily.

Thing is, there is no such thing as voluntary and involuntary if you look at the universe logically. We have the illusion of free will (and that is great!) but in reality, because of the past points I've made, it is all predetermined. However, the free element of that is that we don't know and cannot know how it is all determined. That is the only bit of freedom we have. It's essentially turning a blind eye to the fact it's all determined.

Some more on God being all knowing, then. I have only quite recently come to believe that the bible does not necessarily support the widely held view that God knows every detail of our lives in advance.  ( in fact, so recently that what follows may even contradict opinions I have given on this forum). I'd also like to qualify this by stating that I'm probably not yet still 100% convinced of this. But the more I think about it, the more its getting that way.


God is not all knowing, all of the divine attributes are human made lies. We have assigned what we think God to be as a perfect being the attributes we think are perfect. This is not perfection at all, because we are imperfect. As the traditional Christian argument goes, we are imperfect and cannot know perfection or the mind of God. We attributed him the powers he supposedly has, omnibenevolence, omnipotence, omniscience... These are things we think are perfect, yet they may not actually be perfect, for we cannot know perfection. To do with God predestining our lives, he cannot. It is an inconsistency with omniscience and the problem of evil.

If God knows bad things are going to happen to us, then he cannot interfere through free will. Therefore he is redundant and not worthy of worship. If God caused the first cause, then he cannot have done anything else, and there is no point in asking him to do things as he cannot interfere.

Basically, God cannot interfere in our lives, because it messes with his own existence. Therefore, free will can only exist independently from God. And because of the argument from determinism, free will is an illusion. A good illusion, but still an illusion.

I think God has full control and full knowledge in the sense that he chose, through His wisdom, to create a world and inhabit it with humans who had free will. However, he does not know for sure in advance what we will do with that. He's still all knowing, because he knows what there definitely is to know. What someone does in the future isn't yet there to know. I think God probably has a very good idea of what we'll do, given that He can see our hearts.

Well put, but again it doesn't make any difference to whether we have free will or not. God cannot interfere with our free will, and as a result he really cannot interfere in our lives due to causality. Linking to the butterfly effect again, if he interferes, he starts a new causal chain that would have massive effects on everyone's lives.

I could link in to an essay which says this better than me, but I want to use my own words and ideas as much as possible.
I'm impressed magicmiles, you have presented your thoughts pretty well. I've been studying the issue of free will and determinism for a few months now as part of my exams and it is a lot of banging heads against brick walls. (yes screwtape, I read your post ;) ) however, this is mainly to show that determinism is a better explanation for actions than God-given free will.

Thats all I have for now.
Looking forward to your reply.

[/post]
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2012, 01:12:41 AM »
EV, I've read your post and have thought about some of my responses. Might not have time to post them for another 24 hours, but shall do my best.
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Offline EV

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2012, 03:37:13 AM »
That's fine, take all the time you need.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2012, 08:45:45 PM »

Well, as I said in my PM, I am studying Philosophy for A-Level, and we spent 3 months covering the argument. This is good revision for my exam ;)

When you get a good grade you can thank me by sabotaging the England cricket team next time it plays Australia


Indeed. You have this pegged. There is a large difference between reason and cause.

Well actually, my point was that often the two words are used interchangeably. I agree that they can have differences in meaning, but often they are taken to mean the same thing, and with no loss of comprehension.


You need to clarify the definition of influence and causation in your mind. Influence is when an event  causes you to process something. Personal causation, i.e. action by a person, is when external influences combine and cause something to be done by us. In terms of determination, our influences cause us to act. Influences are all events, and the events all are sensed by our eyes, nose, mouth, touch and ears, then sent to the brain, which then processes them and we make a conscious decision based on those external influence. The influences are still events that cause other events. What we need to talk about is how that pertains to the idea of free will.

I tend to see free will as the ability to cause something to happen, based on certain influences. So it goes: influence - free will decision - cause. I've already clarified that free will isn't absolute free will, as we have no control over certain factors.


For example, I am a composer of music. I could not compose music if I had not learnt music by experience before, and it is clear to see that my composition contain influences from other musicians, who in turn developed their styles from musicians before them. This chain goes on pretty much unbreakingly in a ‘causal chain’. Yes, I am influenced by things, but if I wasn't influenced by anything then I would never do anything.

I see your point here, but it again comes down to how much we are willing to ascribe influences to our actions. You could have, if you wished, quashed your natural desire to compose music and never produce a note. Other circumstances might have had an influence on that - for example, if you were extremely poor and simply had no means to give expression to your musical compulsion, and instead you chose to provide for your family by working as a labourer 12 hours a day. Even then - you didn't have to do that. You could have simply run off and abandoned your family. My point is that even when we have strong influences and limited options, we are still able to make certain free decisions.



Also, I don’t have a say in whether I write the music in one way or another, I was always going to write it in one way. This is because I had the previous influences/events which caused me to write. I feel like I do have free will. However, feeling like having free will is not free will, it is ignorance of the full determined events, because as I said, nobody can know the ‘full picture’ as it were.


Certainly, and this is where the parameters I discussed come in. You might not have had the ability to write the music in a different style - but you did have the ability to simply not write music, as per my previous point. I can see how one might claim that essentially gives us no free will, but that will always be a mater of subjective opinion I think.



Wouldn't you agree that we're both participating in this debate voluntarily?
Yes. I am participating voluntarily. I feel as if I am doing it of my own accord, but in reality, a series of events in my life caused me to enjoy debating, and to end up on here and talking to you at the same time. 

An unknown series of events certainly caused you to enjoy debating, but they didn't compel you to actually participate. That was all you.


I know I am. We were influenced by several factors, no doubt, and largely these are completely out of our control. We can't control the fact that we both enjoy debating, for instance. But we can control whether or not we indulge that desire. We determine what we do.
Hang on Miles, there's another level of causation here. On controlling desires, we need to look at the FOD's and SOD's. This was an argument proposed by Harry Frankfurt. He said that Humans have free will because we possess the ability to reflect on our actions.

Hmm, I'd argue that the ability to reflect on our actions is simply a benefit in allowing us to make a wise free will decision next time.



Imagine you are hungry, and crave chocolate cake.

I find that surprisingly easy


Simple situation. You can reflect on your urge and decide to eat or not. This is what you are saying about indulging desire.

Yep, with you so far


However, PSYCHOLOGICAL DETERMINISM rears its head here. Say you decide not to eat the chocolate cake because you are worried about getting fat. If we look at the reason behind that, it is that in the past for example you've seen fat people, or read the calorie count or you have been influenced in the past to not want to eat the cake because it is fattening.

Here we can see how even what we think is free is actually just more previous external influences or events leading up to a decision. Again, free will is an illusion. But that is satisfactory because we can never comprehend in an instant about why we are making that decision, as it involves too many factors for the most advanced supercomputer (even an atom 15bn light years away could have influenced what you are doing now...). Mind blowing stuff ;)

I'm simply not buying it. (although I may buy the chocolate cake). This Psychological Determinsim (so called) is just another of the many influences affecting my ultimate decision about whether to eat the cake. You really can have your cake and eat it too. Or not.


We can predict simple things by the external factors we can measure. Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? Imagine going back in time and killing a butterfly 5,000,000 years ago. This would so severely disrupt the causal chain from then that it would be impossible to figure out what might have been if you had not killed the butterfly. That may have spawned offspring that fed things and something may have starved preventing the birth of something important... Just try and imagine the complexity of 5,000,000 years worth of causality.

Now picture that on a universal scale. It is literally impossible to know the location of every single particle in the universe. Therefore, it is impossible to predict the future state of the universe unless you know every single variable, i.e. every single atom. This is why we can only make limited predictions about things like the weather, and why even with our advanced technology we can still get it wrong.

I have no objection to that reasoning...makes sense. I'll add to it by suggesting that even if a super computer could predict the location and movement of all the atoms, it still couldn't predict what a person with free will might do in reaction to the state of it's surroundings. My experience as a parent, for instance, shows me that the older my kids get the more difficult it is for me and my wife to predict how they might react to certain situations. On the other hand...because we know them so well there are definitely still many situations where we can quite accurately (some might say cynically) predict their behaviours.


The variables leading up to a massacre in a shopping centre would include the determination of every single person in that shopping centre being influenced by other events to be there at the time, and a psychological map of the killer for his entire existence. As you can see, it is literally impossible... :P

Agreed - but I just don't make any monumental link between the influences and behind the scenes movements prior to an event and the ability for somebody to then act of their own accord based on the situation they're in.

Thing is, there is no such thing as voluntary and involuntary if you look at the universe logically. We have the illusion of free will (and that is great!) but in reality, because of the past points I've made, it is all predetermined. However, the free element of that is that we don't know and cannot know how it is all determined. That is the only bit of freedom we have. It's essentially turning a blind eye to the fact it's all determined.

I remain unconvinced of this, and the key is to remember that we don't live in a theoretical, philosophical world - we live in a real world where we see every day the results of certain decisions, and where pretty much every society recognises through some type of legal system that we do have control of what we do. Mitigating circumstances are considered in the more enlightened societies, but I don't know of any real world society that operates on the basis that we don't have  a certain measure of control in what we do.


God is not all knowing, all of the divine attributes are human made lies. We have assigned what we think God to be as a perfect being the attributes we think are perfect. This is not perfection at all, because we are imperfect. As the traditional Christian argument goes, we are imperfect and cannot know perfection or the mind of God. We attributed him the powers he supposedly has, omnibenevolence, omnipotence, omniscience... These are things we think are perfect, yet they may not actually be perfect, for we cannot know perfection. To do with God predestining our lives, he cannot. It is an inconsistency with omniscience and the problem of evil.

If God knows bad things are going to happen to us, then he cannot interfere through free will. Therefore he is redundant and not worthy of worship. If God caused the first cause, then he cannot have done anything else, and there is no point in asking him to do things as he cannot interfere.

Basically, God cannot interfere in our lives, because it messes with his own existence. Therefore, free will can only exist independently from God. And because of the argument from determinism, free will is an illusion. A good illusion, but still an illusion.

I'll only address the point which relates specifically to God and free will, or I feel the debate might veer off in all sorts of directions.

I don't agree that free will could only exist independently of God. The bible clearly shows that mankind has the ability to do good or evil, to worship God or to deny God. God in His wisdom made creatures with this function, and the conclusion I come to when I consider everything I can about God, is that God sees a purpose in doing this that I can't necessarily see. Like everybody, I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't have been better if God had made us without free will. Sometimes I think that way due to the suffering I see brought on by others evil actions, sometimes I think that way because I like the idea of personally being able to abdicate all responsibility for my mis-deeds. But all of my experience tells me this is just nonsense.

I will concede that God has apparently sometimes interfered directly with free will ( when he hardened Pharoah's heart ), and I cannot explain that. It also would appear that sometimes he is deeply sorry that he gave us free will ( Noah's Ark ) . But that doesn't mean he was wrong to do it, and it certainly doesn't alter the reality of that free will. Sorry to keep using parent analogies, but imagine the pain a parent must feel in seeing the result of their kids bad decisions. But a wise parent knows that,even though they have the power (to an extent) to shield their kids from poor choices, sometimes the children have to learn the hard way.

I often hear Original Sin used as an attempt to excuse our actions (even from Christians), but I consider original sin to be no more than an influence on our behaviour, allbeit an extremely powerful one. we are born with the strong desire to sin, no doubt about it...but I cannot convince myself that I didn't have a say in every bad thing I ever did or said. I did those things, and I had alternate choices.


God cannot interfere with our free will, and as a result he really cannot interfere in our lives due to causality. Linking to the butterfly effect again, if he interferes, he starts a new causal chain that would have massive effects on everyone's lives.

He can interfere, and it seems He has in the past. I have to trust that He knew what he was doing and that He has the power to know that any altered chain of events is justified.


it is clear to see that my composition contain influences from other musicians

Admits to Plagiarism. Noted.  ;)

Just kidding...and over to you.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2012, 08:54:51 PM by magicmiles »
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Offline EV

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2012, 06:54:41 PM »
I'll try and reply more in depth at some point this weekend, but I'd like to point out we are now running dangerously close to the brick wall so aptly prophesised by Screwtape ;)
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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2012, 05:37:07 PM »
I'm going to present a few points on Determinism, mainly a criticism on the original theory, that will hopefully clear a few things up on the actual nature of determinism, and what I am actually

Basically, the argument for determinism fails. There is a good reason why the determinism viewpoint is often jaded, and that is because when you have an infinite regress of events, we cannot get past the first cause of the universe.

Some would argue that from that, an infinite regress of events and causes is illogical, as cause and effect are temporal, and time only exists inside of our universe. It is impossible to know anything outside of our universe, as we are dimensional and temporal beings, and cannot a) comprehend or b) observe that which is unobservable and comprehensible. It is impossible to know what is before the big bang, and the creation of the universe.

The first moment of time, point 0, was an infinitely small point expanding in a massive explosion. I am conceding here that we do not know what caused the Big Bang, nor can we know what caused it, as the cause of something that began time is before time and we can not know.

The causal chain started with a first cause, by definition, as a cause is within time, and time began at the big bang. I am not saying that this was God, I am saying that we cannot define what happened before it as causes and effects, as they are not temporal.

The problem with determinism is that it says that everything must have a cause, where if we have the first cause as the beginning of the universe, this is an uncaused cause. The way to reconcile this, in my opinion, is that everything after the first cause was determined.

The reason MagicMiles that we have no free will, is because free will is being able to choose explicitly to do something without influence. It is being able to make our own decisions.

We are always fated to make decisions, as the mind from birth is privy to the laws of nature. We experience things, process and output.

For instance, a good example is that of a computer. To us, it looks as if it is doing everything it is asked of. Sometimes it crashes, and we don't know why. If we get an expert that knows everything about computers in to look at it, then he can see where the conflicting programming was, and can deduce that was the reason we made a choice. We cannot see that because we do not know everything about our existence. However, even though life seems to be free, it's really determined but it doesn't matter as I've already said, we cannot know.


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I see your point here, but it again comes down to how much we are willing to ascribe influences to our actions. You could have, if you wished, quashed your natural desire to compose music and never produce a note. Other circumstances might have had an influence on that - for example, if you were extremely poor and simply had no means to give expression to your musical compulsion, and instead you chose to provide for your family by working as a labourer 12 hours a day. Even then - you didn't have to do that. You could have simply run off and abandoned your family. My point is that even when we have strong influences and limited options, we are still able to make certain free decisions.
But my decision, whilst I decided it, was still decided for me by determinism. To go back to the computer, it is not free to do things, even if it appears to us that it has chosen to sod up our work, it's still following things input in the past into the future along a temporal stream.

There is no way that I could have chosen to do otherwise, as all the events that happened in the past caused my present actions by influence. It is not my decision.

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Certainly, and this is where the parameters I discussed come in. You might not have had the ability to write the music in a different style - but you did have the ability to simply not write music, as per my previous point. I can see how one might claim that essentially gives us no free will, but that will always be a mater of subjective opinion I think.

Yes, this is where we differ. It is not really a matter of opinion, as you have to think rationally. If you discard the issues I outlined at the beginning of this post, the largest flaw in determinism, as irrelevant (as I believe I have shown them to be), then all time is progressing according to events before that instant. The idea that new causes come from us is silly to me. We are but biological machines designed to reproduce. We can comprehend higher orders, and I've addressed that in Frankfurt's FOD's and SOD's (the chocolate cake bit, yeah I want cake now... Damn...) but it is still subject t our biological design. We have a brain that can process and output information, but in the end, it is just an incredibly complex biological computer.

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Hmm, I'd argue that the ability to reflect on our actions is simply a benefit in allowing us to make a wise free will decision next time.

Yes, but the decision is still caused by more than one factor, and as it is caused it is determined and part of the causal chain. The links are formed in the brain, which are used the next time a similar sensory stimulus comes through and used to decide a logical outcome.

Psychological Determinism is the theory that every singe thing we go through in live affects us in some way. If we look at the linking of neurones in the brain, we can see how memories are formed. These memories shape our future desires and  actions. If I wanted the chocolate cake,, it is because I had the cake in the past and found it satisfying. I may choose not to eat it because I had seen a program on chocolate cake being the food of the devil or something, or I may have eaten it anyway.

Psychological determinism is actually a really elegant theory, and for me proves that our entire experiences are unfathomably determined.

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I remain unconvinced of this, and the key is to remember that we don't live in a theoretical, philosophical world - we live in a real world where we see every day the results of certain decisions, and where pretty much every society recognises through some type of legal system that we do have control of what we do. Mitigating circumstances are considered in the more enlightened societies, but I don't know of any real world society that operates on the basis that we don't have a certain measure of control in what we do.
We do live in a real world, and we do see the results of our decisions, but our decisions were determined and there is a massive debate and always has been about how the legal system and moral responsibility are affected by the fact that none of us have control over our lives.
I’d propose a simple solution to reconcile that, which is that actually as we cannot know the progression of our lives due to incomprehension of the total picture of existence (can’t put this any better, sorry!) then it doesn’t matter, and we can live on the illusion of free will.

I'm going to break this up into two posts, and deal with your God on Free will post in another post.

I'd be interested to hear your response on this however, and I am very sorry I took so long to reply to this, ironically I had a ton of philosophy homework, some of which was revision notes on Free will and Determinism...
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #11 on: March 20, 2012, 05:38:23 PM »
Wooo, we're back on!

I'll respond soon as I have time to do it justice. Cheers EV.
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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2012, 02:42:31 AM »

 There is a good reason why the determinism viewpoint is often jaded, and that is because when you have an infinite regress of events, we cannot get past the first cause of the universe.

I don't think we need to isolate any first cause. It's pretty clear that we simply have an irreconcilable difference in what we are willing to call 'free will'. So, the rest of your post, whilst thoughtful and well presented, probably won't get us past that difference in our acceptable definitions.

Do you feel the same way?

I am of course still interested in your further comments on free will as far as it relates to God.

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #13 on: April 11, 2012, 06:08:13 PM »

 There is a good reason why the determinism viewpoint is often jaded, and that is because when you have an infinite regress of events, we cannot get past the first cause of the universe.

I don't think we need to isolate any first cause. It's pretty clear that we simply have an irreconcilable difference in what we are willing to call 'free will'. So, the rest of your post, whilst thoughtful and well presented, probably won't get us past that difference in our acceptable definitions.

Do you feel the same way?

I am of course still interested in your further comments on free will as far as it relates to God.

Definition is a bitch. We'll have to leave this bit. This is the part of reason here, when you start relating it to God, you have to make sure that it is not actually influenced too much by Doctrine.

I argue that free will is incompatible with God for a number of reasons, mainly through it being incompatible with the attributes of perfection. If God happens to be omniscient, then he cannot interfere in something without knowing how he is going to interfere in it. He himself becomes determined by being perfect. The issue with that is, if he is determined, and yet also immanent, he is the universe, and it is determined. God is determining the universe as that quintessential first cause! You can point out that it is all that is logically possible to know, but how many times have we all heard the old theistic jumbo:

'We cannot know God!'


If God is outside of time, then you cannot have free will because he is omniscient and has written your future. He cannot know what happens the next day, but not what day it was.

Imagine reading Harry Potter on a train. You see J.K Rowling sitting opposite you. After the initial shock, and some conversation, you tell her you are on page 92, and ask her what happens on the next page of the book. Clearly she won't know exactly what happens, but knows the grand scheme of things.

This is an analogy to show God inside of time. The author cannot edit what is going to happen, and the book is like your life. You are completely determined.

If God is outside of time, then he is like J.K Rowling writing the book, and still we have not got free will. Our lives are predestined by God, as he has written it.

It is an impossibility for him to create the universe and allow it to be changeable as well, as he is perfect, and so would create it as the best possible existence (to allow a resolution to the problem of evil). If he created the universe as best as possible, then how could we have any free will? For it to change at all, it becomes not as best as possible. There is an inconsistency in God's perfection, and so he cannot have given us free will if he exists.

To be frank, it's more simple to argue this without introducing a contradictory set of conditions regarding a perfect being. We are talking about a general definition of a monotheistic perfect being here.

We can also argue from scripture if you like. My signature proves that if you argue from the Bible, that God is not immutable, and therefore not perfect.

To summarise this argument (not sure if you've come across it before), a perfect being cannot logically be any more perfect. If a perfect being changes, they become imperfect. So by definition, a perfect being is unchanging, or immutable.

We can find many instances in the Bible of God changing his mind. It is not consistent, and so cannot be true here.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, this is just a summary of my basic arguments on this. Sorry it took so long! Exams are coming up...
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2012, 02:15:39 AM »
Hi Elliot

I'm taking a bit of a hiatus from the site, so might be a whie before I get back on track on this one.

Until then...good luck with the exams.
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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2012, 06:02:57 PM »
EV, I have to raise the white flag on this sorry. I'm finding that my motivation to give the topic thought has pretty much evaporated.

Well argued to you, sir.
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Re: Do we have free will?
« Reply #16 on: April 17, 2012, 06:32:28 PM »
EV, I have to raise the white flag on this sorry. I'm finding that my motivation to give the topic thought has pretty much evaporated.

Well argued to you, sir.

Likewise to you. Thanks for a good debate.
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"Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative."
- Philosopher John Stuart Mill, from a Parliamentary debate (May 31, 1866);