I have found a strange dialogue online and one point from it rather bugs me... this person said that if athiesm espically the naturalistic version was true that freewill cannot exist, i dont quite understand his objection, can you guys clear it up for me and how would you refute his claims?


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Following that link, I only see the comments, not the original post. Some apropos bits from skimming them:

if your mind was just a product of nature [...] its precisely why we would have free will, since no bigger being could mess around with it! Second of all just because your will is limited to what it can choose doesnt mean its not "free".

Are we actually making decisions, or do decisions happen to us in a pre-determined way? Is the conscious sensation of making choices a true representation of some de-novo event in the universe?

The answer is no- all mechanistic phenomena have reasons and causes, and the brain is not immune from this logic. This is spelled out in a nice book by Daniel Wegner "The illusion of conscious will". The neurobiology is not crystal clear yet, but it is clear that our sensation of conscious choice follows by a substantial lag the actual mechanism of choice made elsewhere in our brains. [...] we have free will, insofar as we are not aware of the subconscious processes that lead to all our decisions, or conversely can cite and use reasons for some decisions (however inaccurately rationalized in retrospect). We also have free will in that we take moral responsibility for our actions, even when they are desperately at odds to our more considered desires (addictions like smoking, gambling, eating). But in the end, we do not have free will in the atomic sense that there is an inner homunculus that purely reasons its way to action and represents our instant consciousness of that decision-making.

And my own note (I Am Not A Philosopher)... we do feel like we have free will; it may be a useful illusion. If a universe with a Christian God somehow magically provided humans with "true" free will, how could we tell the difference between that and what we experience in the actual world?

so can anyone else help me out?

The proposition: "if atheism, especially the naturalistic version, was true that freewill cannot exist" is simply based on falsities. On the other hand, many people will say that free will is an illusion, and indeed does not exist.

The subject is one that has interested me for a long, and is much, much more complex than  a short post can allow. I have been reading Daniel Dennett, currently his book "Freedom evolves". I am finding it a difficult book to get my head around, but essentially he says that freewill and determinism are compatible. This approach is called Compatibilism.

If you really want to understand this issue, I recommend you get a hold of that book. Dennet shows that, even machines can have an element of free will, depending on their construction. Humans are magnificent machines, that have a good degree of freewill. Dennett's book is thorough, logical, and refutes the position held by those in the online dialogue you cite, wherein naturalistic freewill cannot exist. I suspect that their motivation is to make it so that a god is necessary, to satisfy their need for one.

That is the best I can offer to: "can you guys clear it up for me and how would you refute his claims?" It means doing some hard work. I have done so, as I said,  for a long time - and I'm still not sure.  There are a few YouTube videos of Dennet, on this subject, but they do not go into the subject into enough depth to be entirely convincing. But a look-see would give you an idea of the flavour of Dennett and his thinking.

Daniel Dennett lecture on "Free Will" (Edinburgh University): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKLAbWFCh1E

Freewill as moral competence, (Dennett): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwbnGqOrAEM

Daniel Dennett - "Free will, determinism and evolution": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrCZYDm5D8M

Dennett on "Free will and evolution": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZhuaxZX5mc

"Dennett on "Freewill and determinism": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrCZYDm5D8M

Dennett - "Consciousness and free will: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ag7wbr2HI

If you take a look at the above videos, you'll find that they all hammer away at the same basic points, but for me, I've had to hammer away at understanding the matter myself. At first his ideas seemed ludicrous and incorrect. But he is no dodo, and I figured he wouldn't be spouting ludicrously incorrect ideas.

I think Dennett has something valid to say, and that it's necessary to have a very good grasp of what it is, before accepting or rejecting it. Likewise, I would suggest that taking on board what some theist has to say is unwise, without looking into the matter as fully as one can.

Anyway, best of luck to you, Tony.

It's not that we don't freely make choices, we do... it's just that our choices, and our decision-making process, are all intertwined and depend on the conditions of each moment, and so in theory they are deterministic (it happens so fast in our minds that we don't consider we've gone through a lot of options and either accepted or discarded choices, depending on the conditions of that moment including our memories, and finally made a decision).

I think a thought-experiment helps. Suppose we could rewind time 30 seconds and play it through again, with nothing changed. Would people's choices be different the second time around? If you don't think so, because you think those choices were made for reasons even if we don't know what all of them are, then you're in the camp that has issues with the idea of a separate non-deterministic agent making decisions apart from everything else.

In reality it doesn't matter whether we freely make choices or not, because we still have to live our lives and deal with the consequences of our own actions (and those of others), which means we're still going to have a system of legal justice and what-not even if the idea of "free will" turned out to be incoherent or flat-out wrong.

well so can anyone give me a quick and concise anwser to his attacks?

From what I get of these things none of us really have "free will." We only think that we have free will, and this view is known by seeing that we are all a product of our environment and upbringing, therefore one persons "free will" is different than anothers. Our free will is predictable within the confines of our knowledge base and choices are made from that knowledge base. Even though we are in the same world together we all have a different knowledge base due to upbringing. Therefore, we do not all have the same choices, and our choices are limited by what we know.

This is why some people appear smarter than others, and why we are all the same and yet we are all different too. To simplify it all, this is why behavior can be predicted. Also in the illusion of free will there has to be something of a reality check if our brains are functioning correctly. This is why we can fly in our dreams but we do not normally go around jumping off of buildings.

Passing over the question of free will, the arguments presented by PuritanLad for the existence of God all depend on a form of circular reasoning called "begging the question."  The major premise in the first argument, for example, includes a completely unsupported assertion that "God is a precondition for knowledge."  For God to be a precondition for knowledge, He must exist, so this argument is using as evidence the very assertion it attempts to prove.  The poster apparently doesn't understand this rather obvious fallacy, so it is probably hopeless to argue with him.

I suggest a reading of Neuroscientist and atheist Sam Harris' 83 page book titled "Free Will".

It should be noted that Daniel Dennett's compatibilist "free will" is not the free will commonly understood where a person has the volition to act as they please, but that complex organisms evolve to act in ways that are externally unpredictable. In other words, Dennett does not deny that there is one possible future, that we couldn't have acted in any other way than how we've acted, but that we hold responsibility nevertheless because the system that represents us guides those actions. In Ravizza terminology, this is called "guidance control" as opposed to "regulative control". I suggest you read:


The simple truth, however, is that we have no "regulative" free will regardless of the framework we use to tackle the problem (e.g. atheism or theism). And this is shown simply by the Standard Argument Against Freewill, an argument that dates back to at least Cicero (I prefer A.J. Ayer's delivery). This, by the way, is supported by quantum mechanics, as well as what we know of neuroscience. Newton's Laws -- for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction; every object remains in a state of motion until acted upon by an external object -- should have given you the first hints.

I think if you read Dennett, you'd find that he doesn't refute this.

OK, I'll try a different take on this now as I have come to see it. Do we have free will? Yes, your free will is within the confines of everything that has influenced you during your entire lifetime from beginning up to the point that you are at right now. This sets the stage for your choices in "free will" and it also limits the same. Since every human has different circumstances in life, your free will is limited accordingly. A person cannot make choices that they are not aware of in some way, so the choices we do make will be limited by the knowledge we do have. This is your "free will."


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