Thursday, August 16, 2007

Atheist Forum Conversations 1

A while ago I said that I wasn't interested in debating with atheists. ( http://joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2006/09/admission.html ) Well, things change. It's not that I decided to pick a fight, or felt like God was telling me to go convert some heathen. It was actually a prick of conscience. I was in a discussion on some forum and I said sort of off hand, (I guess that I say almost every thing sort of off hand.) "I don't bother debating atheists. I think it's a pointless exercise." That statement may have been true. But it kept coming back to me over the next couple of weeks. That little voice kept asking me why I said that. Why I thought that. And the conclusion I came to was that I had constructed a stereotype for a particular group of people. And I don't like that. I'd rather have a fuller understanding of others rather than corralling them into some sort of mental prison in my head that I can marginalize and never deal with.

I considered why I had built the stereotype. I think it had mostly to do with the fact that some of their arguments hit too close to home. They resonated with my deepest insecurities. But that was before. Before I started looking at my faith and doctrines differently. In this self analysis I realized that the discomfort the atheist arguments gave me were gone since I now have a new theory of reality that seems to account for life and still maintains God's sovereignty and goodness. The old Problem Of Evil that has hounded Christians for a century and a half is neatly dispatched with.

And well, that's nice and all. But what if my new theory has serious weaknesses in it? What if it sounds perfect to me because I haven't subjected it to serious scrutiny? In a sense, this is a new armor. And without taking it on the battlefield I can't very well recommend it to others. And thus I sallied forth. Not in an attempt to capture souls or convert the lost. Simply as an exercise in philosophical / theological battlefield training. Let's see how the fiery darts fall.

Here are excerpts from some of my conversations on a forum called Happy Atheist. It's really hard to edit a forum conversation to include all the relevant discussion without also including a lot of off topic banter. So there may be a line or two in reference to something not included. But I think I got the just of it here.



From Thread: Free will and Moral Responsibility

-Johndigger-

So, what do you guys think of Free will?


If we do, where does it come from?


Can we have moral responsibility without free will?

-Me (Scrybe)-

I don't see how free will could exist without a semi-god. As to random/quantum/chaos/blah blah blah, I don't see how it's pertinent. There is no way to prove randomness. Even in quantum physics, where we are dealing with hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis, we can't possibly know if any given result is truly random. Someone mentioned how incredibly complex our decision making process is, making it virtually impossible to track all the influences. I agree with this. I think we as humans, when bogged down with too much information, or too little, either go to the random explanation or the gods. (which simply seems like a more controlled form of randomness.)

As to the specific question in the OP… "Can we have moral responsibility without free will?" I think it depends on two definitions: 'responsibility', and 'free'. There is less consensus on those definitions than you may think. Take this true story for instance: A Mc Donald's manager get's a call from someone claiming to be a police officer. At the caller's insistence she takes a young female employee into the office and strip searches her. (The story get's much worse, but doesn't apply to the topic.) So. Is the manager responsible for the employee's humiliation? She claims that she believed the caller to be the police, and she was only cooperating with "the law". Here is another hypothetical: (I just watched Blood Diamond last night. Great movie BTW.) A diamond dealer buys a bag of rough diamonds from an Indian source. Unbeknownst to the buyer, some of the diamonds are from conflict zones. Had the buyer done more research, perhaps he could have discovered this. Is the buyer partially responsible for the bloodshed that his diamond purchase facilitated?

Then there is the slippery aspect of responsibility in criminal trials. Is the guy who shot his father after his father molested him truly responsible?

So, I think it's really hard to answer that question in a mechanical way when there are so many factors that go into responsibility that are impossible to quantify. Life and our decision making processes are so organic, sloppy, and unpredictable that it's practically impossible to nail down 'responsibility' with any certainty. It's not like dominos where one knocks down the other in a (fairly) simple, two-dimensional chain of causality.

Then comes the "free" in free will. Free from what? Free from our upbringing, our culture, religion, (or lack thereof) profound growing experiences, education, epiphanies, traumas, emotions, etc.? If you simply call an act of the will 'free' if there is no one holding a gun to your head then I think you are drastically oversimplifying the issue. We are all in cages. Even if our 'will' is free from all other influences, then are we not subject to our will? (Assuming you can separate it from your "self".) If you are free from political repression you are still captive to social repression. If you are free from religious oppression you are still captive to your impulses. I don't see a way to claim any act of your will can be free in the purest sense of the word. Some acts can be more free or less free, but never utterly free.

Without being able to nail down an agreeable definition for 'responsible' and 'free' as they apply to this topic I don't see a good way to answer the question.

However, when it comes to practical, how-I-operate-in-the-real-world application, I simply look at it this way: In order for any sort of group to function, individuals need to have consequences for their actions. A better group will reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. This is our best attempt at creating justice on this earth. So that is the Justice side. My kids misbehave and I punish them. But acknowledging that I can not truly know all the reasons why a particular act was performed instills a since of humility and mercy that could otherwise be lost in a fit of righteous indignation. I think that is an essential balance for an individual and a society to achieve. The concept of justice, rooted in mercy. People who act in evil ways need to be punished. But not with hatred and contempt, but with a humble spirit that acknowledges the fact that much, if not all, of their behavior stems from outside influences beyond their control. We can always claim that if we were in so-and-so's position we would have chosen a better way. But of course, we have a completely different set of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual assets to work with. So those kinds of judgments are arrogant and unmerciful. IMO


And for a final word on the topic:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Sb7eLgaddI4

(If you are impatient, skip to the last 20 seconds to find the pertinent part.)


Switch to full edit form



-pjkeeley-

Quote:

I don't see how free will could exist without a semi-god.



Why not? I get the rest of your argument, just not this bit.





-Me (Scrybe)-

Well, if there is no God or other directing force than I can't think of any other mechanism by which we behave than the good ol' cause and effect. If every effect has a cause, then you (theoretically) have a 'paper trail' leading back to the origin of time and matter. Every thought and action we have is due to a convergence of chemicals and electrical impulses coursing through our meat computer. (As every weather system and astrological occurrence is due to the physical laws which control it.) Our "will" as we call it is a self-realization of the signals our bodies receive and the way our brains interpret them and act upon them. It seems to me that for our "will" to act outside of that scheme, there would have to be an element of it that transcends the physical aspects of the processes. And once you start talking about transcendence you are in the realm of metaphysics and spirituality. (Though I'm sure some would make a case for reinterpreting or renaming such a transcendence, that still leaves them with the problem of causality.)

And IF there is an omniscient Creator, He could not, by definition, create a will that does what He did not foresee or plan to happen. If God wanted you not to be an atheist He could have easily changed your D.N.A. parents, society, information access, emotional propensities, or many other factors in order to keep you from your current belief.

That is why the only viable method that I can figure for a free will to enter the physical or spiritual system would be the impartation of it be a semi-deity. A god who is bound by time, or some other limitation, unable to see the future, or unable to know how it's creation would work within it's given parameters.

Does that make sense?

-Kestrel-

Scrybe wrote:


Does that make sense?



Indeed and agreed.
If I may add to your response;

pjkeeley,

A god would either be soverign or not.

If soverign, then god is in absolute control. If not, then god is incompetent and unworthy of the title of deity.

-SteveS-

Scrybe wrote:

As to random/quantum/chaos/blah blah blah, I don't see how it's pertinent.


I think it's pertinent because if the universe is completely deterministic, then how can free will exist?

If it's non-deterministic, then it would seem there is a potential, but if the universe is non-deterministic simply because it is random, then again, random will isn't really free will to me.

Anyway, I feel that Johndigger and I compromised on the random issue, that neither of the statements:
1) There is true randomness in nature
2) There is not true randomness in nature
can really be said to be truthful beyond reasonable doubt.

I'm still left with my doubt that free will exists. As distasteful as this seems to my own mind.

Scrybe wrote:

Our "will" as we call it is a self-realization of the signals our bodies receive and the way our brains interpret them and act upon them.


I find myself strongly inclined to agree with this statement.

-Me (Scrybe)-

Kestrel wrote:



If soverign, then god is in absolute control. If not, then god is incompetent and unworthy of the title of deity.



Am I allowed to say "Amen!" on this forum? Wink

SteveS wrote:



Anyway, I feel that Johndigger and I compromised on the random issue, that neither of the statements:
1) There is true randomness in nature
2) There is not true randomness in nature
can really be said to be truthful beyond reasonable doubt.



The problem I find, is that in order for free will to exist you would have to introduce an un-caused event, thereby breaking the law of causality. (Is that even a real term/law?) Such an event would, by definition, be transcendent.

SteveS wrote:


I'm still left with my doubt that free will exists. As distasteful as this seems to my own mind.



Eh… It grows on you. Although… my determinism is determined by an all-loving deity. So I suppose that's much more comforting than an undetermined determinism.Confused

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