If you see a difference, then please explain the difference between the ability to choose and free will.

I have noticed a tendency of many people to suggest that the ability to make a choice and the property or concept of free will are two different things.

I want to be clear: I am not implying that they are or are not. I am curious to understand how people view this. It seems that you could see:

A. No difference
B. A distinct difference
C. A distinction without a difference
D. Something else

I would love to see your explanation, no matter what your answer. I have no interest, in this context, in what any philosopher you can quote had to say. I am curious about your understanding and your ability to state it. 

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Hi 502,

Free will is actually a doctrine that didn't fully develop until about 70 years after the Roman Catholic Church was established by Emperor Constantine. St. Augustine fleshed out the ramifications of free will (circa 400 A.D.) in order to overcome the pitfalls of the deterministic Bible with more socially redeeming benefits like: good works, repentance, and responsibility for our own actions.

Determinism is intimately tied to belief in God(s). The whole world (East and West), with rare exception, was deterministic, believing that God(s) controlled every facet of every event; past, present and future. Even their prevailing "science" (astrology), took determinism for granted.

Today, most Christians accept free will despite the Bible. This represents the success of secondary sources (doctrine) over primary sources (the Bible). Much later, even the majority of Protestants accepted the doctrine of free will.

Free will, accordingly, gets a bad rap from atheists . . . after all, it was developed and advocated by the Roman Catholic Church. However, they weren't the ones who "invented" the idea. We have Epicurus to thank for that. He departed from the Atomists of his day by claiming the motion of atoms is random -- breaking the cascading causal chain reaction kick-started by the Prime Mover -- and that this was enough to allow for free will. His contrarian assertion (randomness at the atomic level) foreshadowed Quantum Theory by thousands of years.

Today, free will is a well-known, established, concept. Whether or not you believe in free will, you know (roughly) what it is. More importantly, you live your life as if you have free will. You work, play and plan as if you have free will. Free will is taken for granted. Do you take credit for your own actions? Do your officemates recognize your work and ideas? Do you weigh consequences before instructing your children? Of course you do. Because you have free will . . . or at least, because you think you have free will. What you don't do is trip through life aghast to find that you keep performing actions you don't intend; like a hapless puppet dancing on strings of causality.

So which is true? Free will or determinism? Every moment of your life is empirical evidence for free will. The claim that your entire experience is an illusion is an extraordinary claim. It requires extraordinary evidence. What evidence is there? None. Zero. Zilch.

So why is it that the majority of atheists appear to be determinists? The biggest reason is causality. Cause and effect. It's a binary concept: it doesn't get much simpler. By and large, determinists deny the reality of their experience in favor of this simple concept: causality. They apply causality to literally everything.

But I say they're mistaken. More precisely, I say they're dogmatic. Why? Because it's always dogma behind fundamental denials. And it doesn't get more fundamental than experience. Does it? After all, "I think, therefore I am." When all else might be an illusion, we find bedrock in our overall experience.

What's the dogma? "Causality is absolute." or "Everything is predetermined."

I say there's an obvious difference between inanimate matter and animate beings. Inanimate matter reacts to causality with mathematical precision and predictability. It has no choice. Animate beings react to causality in unpredictable ways.

Consider this . . .

A worm finds itself exposed to too much sunlight. What does it do? Does it continue forward or retreat back where it came from? Maybe it makes a lateral move, left or right. Who knows? Unlike a comet, it might do ANY of these things. Life introduces an entirely different mode of response to causality. Living things react differently than the rest of the universe. It seems too obvious to state but: animate beings are radically different than inanimate matter.

This brings up my main point: causality is 100% predictable (outside the quantum realm) with inanimate matter but not with animate beings. Assuming Earth is the only place with life, then after 10 billion years of cosmic clockwork, life introduced an entirely new kind of object to the universe.

You can claim that our experience of free will is an illusion or you can explain how we differ from rocks, comets, meteors, planets and stars.

One last thing. Free will doesn't mean immunity from causality. It means that causality is not absolute with us humans. It need not take much independence to empower free agency. If a meteor crashes through my roof and obliterates me, that's causality. If we send a spacecraft to intercept the meteor and deflect it from Earth, that's free will.

We are both subjects to and masters of causality. How do I know? Because we can understand, anticipate and use causality to do our bidding in every facet of our lives.

Seems pretty clear to me . . .
We are both subjects to and masters of causality. How do I know? Because we can understand, anticipate and use causality to do our bidding in every facet of our lives.

This appears to be the 'crux of the biscuit' (as Frank Zappa would say.) Causality appears to occur within our consciousness. No one can deny this. In fact, our illusions are, nevertheless, participants in causality. I guess the only question that remains is this - do we alter the causal gestalt (my term for the complex, multi-dimensional web of cause and effect) in ways that weren't, in turn caused and affected by the overall causal gestalt - that is to say - does causation pass through us or does some part of it originate inside us.

I would say that the last thought of a dying man is an effect without further cause. Why is this also a critical difference in the case of consciousness v. physics? Because physical determinism is an unending chain. Every cause is an effect and every effect a cause. If an effect has no further cause - it ends the thread. Any causal gestalt with unpredictably ended threads in it contains a further layer of complexity. I don't know if this removes the absolute predictability at the absolute level - but it does change the game up a bit.


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