Libertarian Free Will Defeats the Kalam Cosmological Argument (#2)

Libertarian Free Will Defeats the Kalam Cosmological Argument (#2) July 30, 2013

I have a comment to answer on the original blog post Libertarian Free Will Defeats the Kalam Cosmological Argument and I thought I would not lose all the work to a comment forgotten in the annals of blog history. So here is the original post almost in full to remind you:

Everything which begins to exist has a cause for its existence

The universe began to exist

Therefore the universe had a cause (for its existence)

Essentially, this argument implies by assertion that you cannot have ex nihilo creation – that an event cannot be created out of nothing. Only God, it supposes, can do this. And thus the universe, created out of nothing (arguably) was created ex nihilo by God. The causal chain goes back to the Big Bang and stops. How can this be explained? Well, since causality must continue regressing backwards, if there is a beginning to causality, it can ONLY be explained by God.

However, the theist is usually, if not a Calvinist, an adherent to the notion of libertarian free will (LFW). By this, I mean that they believe an agent could make free choices – could have done otherwise. This implies that the agent is the originator of a freely willed decision, or the causal chain in a decision. The determinist, on the other hand, believes that every effect has a cause and that that cause is itself an effect or a prior cause and this goes back to the Big Bang or similar starting point where physics breaks down, or some other such situation (Loop Quantum Cosmological loop or suchlike).

The point is that the denier of LFW claims that the agent is themselves part of a larger causal chain which explains why the agent did what they did; that the reasons were derived from what is known as the causal circumstance – the snapshot of the universe at that prior moment to the event.

Back to the theist. So they generally believe that the causal chain starts with the agent; that they originate the causal chain. This allows them ownership over the decision so that the reason for the decision cannot be further abrogated to other causes. But this means that the agent is creating something out of nothing. There is ex nihilo creation, since no prior reason can be given to explain the agent’s decision, otherwise we return to determinism.

But allowing for ex nihilo creation defies the opening premise of the KCA. William Lane Craig is always espousing the intuitive ‘truth’ of the metaphysical claim that ex nihilo nihil fit – out of nothing, nothing is made. But the theist is pretty much always an adherent of the KCA AND LFW!

Potential Objections

The theist seems to use one of two defences here:

1) That prior causes merely influence but do not define the decision

2) That the agent is itself a cause – and that is fine. For example, there is the theory of agent causation supposing that agents are different to events and event causation. People can somehow ground causal chains and decisions in a way which is different to, say, a boulder rolling down a hill, hitting a tree and a pine-cone falling out. That kind of causality has no agency.

1) can easily be answered as I have done here.

2) is a non-starter, as far as I am concerned. Agent causation is a theory developed by people like Roderick Chisholm half a century ago. I am not that sure that many people adhere to it these days. It seems there is no good reason for asserting that agents are causally different to standard events. One can appeal to some kind of dualism, but causality is metaphysical as a concept, and dualistic substances need adhere to it in the same way matter does, too. To merely suppose an agent can be sufficient explanation for the cause of a decision is particularly question-begging. Without causal reasons, a decision grounded in no reason other than ‘the agent’ is synonymous with random. Brain events, genetics and biology, we know, cause agents to make the decisions they do. Mixed with the environment, and you have a causal circumstance and determinism.

We know, for example, that in the Benjamin Libet style experiments (where we can observe that the brain kicks into gear before the conscious brain ‘decides’ to press a button) we can actually ask the subject to press a left or right button and send trans-cortical stimulation (magnetic stimulation) in to the brain and make the agent either choose left or right, depending on where we send it. The agent then assigns their own agency to that afterwards claiming that they freely chose left or right.

No, the agent cannot be asserted as an entity able to start a causal chain, because this assumes that a causal reason is given for a causal chain, but in a causal vacuum.

Which means that the adherent to the KCA cannot consistently and coherently be an adherent of libertarian free will. Theists, then, are not logically consistent.

As Paul Russell states (Freedom and Moral Sentiment, 1995, p.14):

…the well-known dilemma of determinism. One horn of this dilemma is the argument that if an action was caused or necessitated, then it could not have been done freely, and hence the agent is not responsible for it. The other horn is the argument that if the action was not caused, then it is inexplicable and random, and thus it cannot be attributed to the agent, and hence, again, the agent cannot be responsible for it. In other words, if our actions are caused, then we cannot be responsible for them; if they are not caused, we cannot be responsible for them. Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility.

This problem is known as the Dilemma of Determinism and requires something a little special if the theist wants to bypass issues raised by the KCA in order to solve it.

And this is a comment from IceKnight366:

Couple reasons why these line of arguments fail (believe it or not there seems to me to be two arguments taking place here).

First argument objections (The proponent of the KCA can’t reasonably hold Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit AND God creating the Universe):

1) You equivocate the definition of ex nihilo used in the KCA. Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit just means that whatever exists must have a cause – something cannot come into being uncaused. Whether that is a material or efficient cause, there must be a cause. On the KCA, the theist says that the universe came from an efficient cause (God). Whereas on atheism the universe neither has an efficient cause OR a material cause – It just pops into existence from nothing. You are equating Ex Nihilo with Material Cause. That is, if the universe doesn’t have a material cause (like God and His decree) it comes from nothing! But of course it didn’t really come from nothing, it came from God! So the theist is amply justified affirming both Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit AND the de facto of God cr eating t he universe.

Second argument objections (Agent Causation is incoherent):

1) You have an improper definition of LFW. Now this point I don’t necessarily think undercuts your argument but is important to get right for other issues. However, I could be wrong – maybe your improper definition does undercut the argument (you or someone else can point that out if true). The proper definition of LFW is not the ability to choose A or -A. The proper definition is being able to do either A or -A without any determining factors. So you might want to change that.

2) It seems the argument epistemically defeats itself. You assert that LFW defeats the argument yet you deny that agent causation is possible. You cannot deny agent causation and affirm LFW. So if you deny agent causation you also deny LFW. However, if you deny LFW then you have no good reason to believe this argument is good. That is, if you don’t hold to LFW then that means that you were forced to give this argument – you had no choice but to say what you said. But if that is the case then you have no grounds for saying it’s a good and certainly not, a convincing argument.

3) All that is needed to defeat the argument is if agent causation is even POSSIBLE. So long as it is even possible the argument fails. Thus, in order for this argument to go through you must show that agent causation is necessarily impossible. If and until you do that there is no reason to reject the KCA based on this argument. Even if agent causation does not obtain for finite physical beings like us (even though that itself is false as I think there are plenty of arguments in favor of dualism) there is no reason to believe that it couldn’t obtain for an immaterial cause like the KCA deductively concludes. You must show that the entire concept of agent causation is impossible. Quite a large burden to carry… Cheers.

As you can see, lots to unpack here. So let’s get started.

On the first 1) he accuses me of equivocating on ex nihilo nihil fit. My point was this: causality is claimed to be grounded in the prime mover in the KCA, qua God. God is the only entity which is uncaused, no matter whether material or efficient. God is a brute fact, he is the originator of the causal chain which is everything. However, it is this sort of causality which needs to happen for a freely willed causal chain. The causality must be originated in the agent for the agent to have ultimate responsibility for the action. The only way for the theist to get around this (and I have a friend who tried this) is to ground every freely willed decision by an agent somehow in God, but magically allowing the agent to still have control over the causal chain. I can’t see a way around this causality and I am not sure that the commenter has convinced me otherwise.

On point 1) on agent causation:

The proper definition of LFW is not the ability to choose A or -A. The proper definition is being able to do either A or -A without any determining factors. So you might want to change that.

The definition I use is the  theoretical ability to choose otherwise in a given causal circumstance (ceteris paribus). Such that an agent has the ability to choose A or ~A in CC1 (Causal Circumstance 1). This would mean the same as your definition since it would imply acausal causality – as agent causalists would say, the agent originates the causality (such that the agent is a prime mover of sorts).

On point 2):

“It seems the argument epistemically defeats itself. You assert that LFW defeats the argument yet you deny that agent causation is possible. You cannot deny agent causation and affirm LFW. So if you deny agent causation you also deny LFW. However, if you deny LFW then you have no good reason to believe this argument is good. “

I believe neither argument is good as I have documented at length elsewhere (I have written a book on free will and have one in the pipeline on the KCA). I argue, as anyone atheist arguing against theism, from a position of being a theist holding to both. IF they hold to the KCA, they cannot hold to LFW and vice versa.

On point 3):

“All that is needed to defeat the argument is if agent causation is even POSSIBLE. So long as it is even possible the argument fails. Thus, in order for this argument to go through you must show that agent causation is necessarily impossible… You must show that the entire concept of agent causation is impossible.  “

I think you miss my point. I think neither are possible, but the theist does. Again, see my point above. It’s either / or for the theist. The theist believes both are true, I argue they are mutually incompatible.

Thanks!


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  • IceKnight366 .

    Ex Nihilo: Via your response, it seems we have moved past my original criticism on your equivocation of cause with material cause. Perhaps you realize it was incorrect, or perhaps that wasn’t your point at all. It’s difficult to see by this response alone. Now we are talking solely on the Problem of Free will (P of FW). But I’m not sure what seems to be the problem here. You seem to be saying that if God is uncaused, He doesn’t have free will. Or perhaps you’re saying that if God is uncaused, HE can’t create agents who have free will. But why think that? Perhaps you’re giving a roundabout version of the traditional P of FW: If God is all knowing and creates the universe, all our decisions are predetermined. I think this argument is a dead argument since the founding of Middle Knowledge. However, I wont go into that until I have a firm grasp on what exactly your argument is. However, I’m glad we can see that there is no incompatibility with Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit and God’s decree/existence.

    POINT 1) “Could have done otherwise” or “has the ability to choose A or -A” is not the same as my definition. To clearly illustrate take a look at Philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s analogy:

    “Imagine a man with electrodes secretly implanted in his brain who is presented with a choice of doing either A or B [for our purposes, we’ll let A stand for good and B stand for evil]. The electrodes are inactive so long as the man chooses A; but if he were going to choose B, then the electrodes would switch on and force him to choose A. If the electrodes fire, causing him to choose A, his choice of A is clearly not a free choice. But supposed that the man really wants to do A and chooses it of his own volition. In that case his choosing A is entirely free, even though the man is literally unable to choose B, since the electrodes do not function at all and have no effect on his choice of A.
    What makes his choice free is the absence of any causally determining factors of his choosing A. This conception of libertarian freedom has the advantage of explaining how it is that God’s choosing to do good is free, even though it is impossible for God to choose sin, namely, His choosing is undetermined by causal constraints. Thus, libertarian
    freedom of the will does not require the ability to choose other than as one chooses.’

    A limitation in the range of choices is not the same as having no choice at all. If A, B, and C are good choices,
    and D, E, and F are evil choices, one’s inability to choose D, E, or F does not negate the fact that he can choose A, B, or C. When I go to the grocery store to buy ice-cream, they may only have 15 out of 100 flavors ice-cream comes in. The fact that I cannot choose 85 of those flavors does not negate the fact that I can choose any one of the 15
    options before me. Likewise, God’s lack of ability to choose evil does not mean God lacks freedom of will. At best it means His range of free choices is more restrictive than ours.”

    For this reason, I reject your definition of LFW.

    POINT 2) I will concede this point for now. I feel like I understand what your original argument enough to comment on POINT 2. Perhaps we will come back to this or perhaps not.

    POINT 3) “It’s either/or for the theist. The theist believes both are true, I argue they are mutually incompatible.”

    Right, but the reason you think they are incompatible is because you think, “I think neither are possible”. Aka, agent causation is not possible. If you think it is not possible that is saying you think it is impossible. If you think it’s impossible you need to give an argument for why it is logically impossible. Why does the theist think it’s possible? Because there isn’t anything logically contradictory about it! So if the argument is going to go through you’ve got to show by agent causation is impossible.

    Appreciate the reply!
    Best!

    It’s
    either / or for the theist. The theist believes both are true, I argue
    they are mutually incompatible. – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2013/07/30/libertarian-free-will-defeats-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-2/#sthash.U6DdjuNb.dpuf
    It’s
    either / or for the theist. The theist believes both are true, I argue
    they are mutually incompatible. – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2013/07/30/libertarian-free-will-defeats-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-2/#sthash.U6DdjuNb.dpuf

    • Just a couple of seconds to reply to your first comments:

      Via your response, it seems we have moved past my original criticism on your equivocation of cause with material cause. Perhaps you realize it was incorrect, or perhaps that wasn’t your point at all. It’s difficult to see by this response alone. Now we are talking solely on the Problem of Free will (P of FW). But I’m not sure what seems to be the problem here. You seem to be saying that if God is uncaused, He doesn’t have free will. Or perhaps you’re saying that if God is uncaused, HE can’t create agents who have free will. But why think that? Perhaps you’re giving a roundabout version of the traditional P of FW: If God is all knowing and creates the universe, all our decisions are predetermined. I think this argument is a dead argument since the founding of Middle Knowledge. However, I wont go into that until I have a firm grasp on what exactly your argument is. However, I’m glad we can see that there is no incompatibility with Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit and God’s decree/existence.

      My point is this:

      It doesn’t matter what I believe (fyi I reject both LFW and KCA). This argument is for the LFWer who believes that, as most agent causalists and other LFWers do, that the agent is the originator of a causal chain. That origination is created ex nihilo. That the causality cannot even be rooted back to determining factors within the agent, since this is still deterministic. The causal chain, then, is started ex nihilo. Causeless causality. This is why I quoted causalists who talk about origination sinilar to prime moving (like god).

      Most theists are LFWers like above.

      Also, most theists adhere to some form of KCA whereby they deny causeless causality and ex nihilo creation. They say that ex nihilo makes no sense unless that causality can be rooted in God.

      However, with LFW, causality can start out of nothing in the agent. Causeless causality, or prime moving, CAN take place without God, supposedly, in any freely willed decision.

      Simply put, one cannot be a LFWer AND a KCAer (irrespective as to whether one finds these two positions incoherent on other grounds). Yet most theists DO adopt both of these positions concurrently.

      • IceKnight366 .

        No problem, you can always take more time to respond if you want.

        Thank you for the clarification. I believe we are on the same page now.

        Notice how this isn’t just an argument against LFW and God, this is an argument against ALL LFW, for any and every free agent. For by your definition of Ex Nihilo, since all agent causation is Libertarian, every free decision comes from nothing!

        It seems to me you are confusing “cause” and “determined”. Just because something has a prior cause of it’s existence, does not mean the effect exists necessarily. Or that it was determined to exist. This arguments seems to rely on an insufficient grasp of efficient causation. Efficient causation is the cause which brings about or produces an effect.

        To illustrate this, lets look at the example of me raising my hand (as I said, this is really an argument against ALL libertarian free will and so we can apply it to all free agents, like myself). Say I choose to freely raise my hand on LFW. Nothing forced me to do that correct? It was an act of my own volition. Now on your definition this decision was uncaused; it just pop into existence out of nothing. But think about that for a second. If that is the case, then that means that there is literally no difference between me choosing to raise my hand right now, and me not existing at all and yet choosing to raise my hand right now. It would be like I don’t exist, and yet somewhere out there, I choose to raise my hand. The very thought is incoherent. But clearly those aren’t the same things! For in the one case of “out of nothing” I exist! Whereas in the other case of “out of nothing” I don’t exist. I think this clearly illustrates that in the 2nd example (me not existing) that REALLY is uncaused out of nothing. Whereas in the 1st example there WAS something (my existence). My existing was not the material cause of me raising my hand (I wasn’t forced to do so). My existence (or in this case my mind) was the efficient cause of me raising my hand. Without my existence (without my mind) such an free decision would not be possible. My mind is the cause which brings about, or produces the effect (my decision).

        Indeed, even the very language you use of, “That origination is created ex nihilo” entails that there was a cause which created the free choice. For otherwise, we wouldn’t say the free choices was “created ex nihilo” we would say that free choice came ex nihilo; there was nothing, and then a free choice appeared.

        I’ll be out of town tomorrow for a couple days. If you reply after I leave I’ll respond when I get back.

        Cheers

        • Well, it’s an argument against one or the other. It is not a defeater for either, per se (though the argument for one is a defeater for the other). It is about mutual incompatibility.

          As for your other points, some interesting discussion to be had. I think this highlights the incoherence of LFW. Yes you point out some issues, but these are indeed issues with the whole concept of LFW and partly why I completely reject it. I find LFW internally logically impossible and subscribe to the Dilemma of Determinism – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilemma_of_determinism.

          So to be the originator of a causal chain means that in one sense it needs to come out of nothing, since it must be uncaused, but in another sense it needs to derive from the agent.

          But here’s the crux. To be derived from the agent, it needs to be connected TO the agent in some tangible way. It needs to be authored by the agent. It can’t be, like you suggest, as if the agent didn’t exist. But then we get into determinism. What makes the agent THAT agent? And these factors will determine how the agent authors the decision.

          In other words, as Dennett states, free will NEEDS determinism to make any sense out of the action so that it is, by definition, not random, but still agent caused. It is not good enough to say that the agent ’caused’ the action by being the author, but not have any further explanation or understanding of how this makes any sense without invoking internal causation from the agent. Because on LFW there is no answer to the ‘why’ questions. Causation is derivative. The power of determinism is that the why questions always get back to the non-derivative axiom of the Big Bang, or similar such event. But LFW have the agent as the originator; as the axiom. So the why why why gets back to the agent, but can go no further. So ‘why did Jim do that?’ becomes, well, Jim, or just because. And this is not good enough. It does not answer the question and requires more derivation.

          Hope that makes sense.

          cheers

          JP

          • IceKnight366 .

            Yes, this is a good conversation.
            Fun stuff :).

            Well I for one don’t think there is any incoherence lol :P. The point I
            made was not to draw some incoherence with LFW, but to emphasis an incorrect
            use of “uncaused”. So I don’t know if you’ve quite understood
            my point as far as that goes.

            When you say:

            “So to be the originator of a causal chain means that in one sense it
            needs to come out of nothing, since it must be uncaused, but in another sense
            it needs to derive from the agent.”

            again, I think you are doing either one of two things. You are either
            conflating “cause” with “material cause” (like I said in my
            original post). Or, you are not understanding the difference between
            event causation (which is also related to determinism) and agent causation.
            That is, you are conflating agent causation with “uncaused” simply
            because it is not event causation. But I think that is an incorrect
            understanding of causation, namely, what about agent causation?

            Just because the desire to create is not preceded by any event or determining
            desire does not mean it is uncaused (having no efficient or material cause)
            because it still has an efficient cause: God’s mind. Without God’s mind
            the “causal chain” would not, and could not, exist. Which was
            my previous point, if it was truly uncaused, then in the absence of God’s existence, the causal chain would still
            exist! But surely that’s incoherent. That is, to say a being’s
            thoughts/desires obtain in the absence of that being’s existence. So God’s decree is not uncaused (even though
            it is not an event causation or a material cause), it still has an efficient
            cause.

            Consequently, if this argument goes through, it will support the coherence of
            LFW. So you’ll have a good reason to reject determinism and become a LFW
            theorist yourself :D. A position which I think has infinitely (not
            actually infinite though ;D) more existential, pragmatic, and moral benefits.

            For one, I think what you might call determinism I would call influences.
            Just because something influences us to do one thing rather than another does
            not entail that we are determined to do that thing. But in the case of
            God, if we ask “Where did God’s ‘thought’ to create come from?”
            I would say that it didn’t “come from” anywhere in the sense that
            they come for us. That is, existing timelessly sans the universe, God
            always knew that He would create. It wasn’t as if he just thought at one
            point, “Hmm, I think I’ll create.” Rather, He had an eternal
            desire to do so. Where did that desire come from? Well, perhaps we
            could say his moral nature since He did so for our benefit, not necessarily
            His. Although I’m not sure how much this has to do with your original
            argument at this point, it’s still an interesting discussion.

            Talk to you soon

          • Hi there

            The influence argument is fundamentally flawed. And that is what your LFW thesis is built on.

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2012/10/03/free-will-we-are-influenced-but-not-determined-the-80-20-approach-as-nonsense/

            That should explain it.

            With God, there are 2 things to say. Either God is determined like an individual agent, or he can magically bypass that causality somehow coz he’s God, like.

            But a normal agent cannot start a causal chain without one being able to derive that chain THROUGH the agent. As soon as you are able to fully ground the causal chain in the agent, you end up with an axiom and a just because. I don’t think you have answered this point.

            Cheers

          • IceKnight366 .

            In regards to this:http://www.skepticink.com/tipp

            It seems to me that this argument is really predicated on the assumption that we
            think one thought after another. Right? We have these thoughts that
            come and we aren’t quite sure where they come from. Why is it that I’m
            thinking about a blue sky rather than a blueberry muffin? It seems to
            be random! Or perhaps determined like you said. Or perhaps there is a
            third option that we aren’t aware of (I haven’t studied this in any
            great depth). But you see, that isn’t like God. He doesn’t need to
            think in succession one thought after another. Being an omniscient
            being, He doesn’t think, or is conscious, of one idea/thought after
            another. Rather, He is conscious of ALL of them simultaneously! He
            just knows everything. And so the question never even arises, “Why is
            God thinking about one thing rather than another” because He is
            conscious of ALL of them at the same time – there is no randomness. And
            so I think with this in mind we can see that any problem there might be
            with LFW and cognitively limited agents like ourselves really wouldn’t
            apply to God, a cognitively perfect being who knows all.

            Second,
            I think this is enough to answer your objections to the KCA, but there
            is still a question to be answered. Namely, what about LFW for us
            finite limited cognitive agents!? We can’t know everything all at once
            and are forced to think about things one at a time. Where do these
            thoughts come from? I personally don’t see the problem with saying they
            are somewhat random. What is the problem suppose to be exactly? That
            we don’t have any moral responsibility for our thoughts because we can’t
            control them if they are random? Well I would say that we DON’T have
            any moral responsibility for our initial thoughts. That is, if a
            thought of a really attractive woman pops into may head, let’s say that
            that was random and therefore I have no control over it. There isn’t
            anything wrong with that it seems to me. Now, once the first conscious
            moments obtain, that thought about her can turn into lust and
            objectification of the women. It is at THAT point that I have a choice
            either to continue thinking about her in lust, or I can choose to end
            that thought preventing it from continuing. I think this is where the
            moral responsibility creeps in.

            Do you happen to know the title of this argument? I.e. the Problem of Evil, the Presumption of Atheism, etc…

            Thanks!

          • I have huge amounts of issues with God’s characteristics (eg http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2013/05/13/best-possible-world-god-free-will/) and God simply cannot have free will.

            The issue here is not about free will (which, having written a book about, one can safely say I think is an illusion for a whole host of reasons. Check my free will book in the sidebar.)

            The idea up for grabs is that the agent has ownership over a causal chain (originates it) but that there is reason for it to happen which isn’t determined. You need to approach my idea of it being non-derivative and still making sense in answering the why question.

            “It is at THAT point that I have a choice either to continue thinking about her in lust, or I can choose to end
            that thought preventing it from continuing. I think this is where the
            moral responsibility creeps in.”

            You simply need to ask yourself why you would do either. If there is a reason, then determinism. If not, then random. It’s that simple. You can’t have just because, since that is synonymous with random. It is no good to assert THAT you have a choice without explaining logically HOW that could happen vis-a-vis the Dilemma of Determinism.

          • IceKnight366 .

            Well now I see where you got your definition of free will. As well as more or less this argument :P. But of course Sam Harris’ whole argument is predicated on his improper definition of free will which I (and I think most libertarians) would disagree with. He says at 14:34,

            “What does it mean to say that a person acted of his own free will? It must mean that he could have consciously done otherwise. Not based on random influences on which he hand no control, but because he, as the conscious author of his thoughts and actions, could have acted otherwise… To say that he could have done otherwise is to say that he could have been in a different universe had he been in a different universe.”

            So I think we can clearly see that his argument has already gotten off on the wrong foot as I don’t agree with that definition. Now at 16:00+ I think we can see that a big problem with this argument is that he thinks there are no essential attributes of personhood. I.e. if I were made up of the same material as Fred, with the same experiences as Fred, I would be Fred! But that is kind of a side note on which we don’t need to discuss.

            But as I said, this entire argument is really predicated on this
            incorrect definition of free will. With the example of picking a movie,

            “I could have said, “Think of a movie!” The first one that pops into your head was either random or due to some prior determining factors. Or perhaps I could have started naming off different movies (Star Wars, Good Will Hunting, Batman, etc…) and you would have ended up thinking about one of those. Or perhaps you would have said, “No, I’m going to think about something different than that.” The only reason you would have said you were going to think about something other than the movies I named was because I named them! (Paraphrased from Sam Harris lecture on free will at the Sydney Opera House Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2012)

            Since you didn’t have the ability to choose A or –A (the thought that popped into your head originally was either random [aka you didn’t choose it] or determined [aka you didn’t choose it]) you don’t have free will! But again, I disagree with that definition. Since free will is not defined as the ability to choose A or –A – It’s not having the choice to do otherwise but being about to make the choice without any overriding determining factors – the problem dissolves.

            At 20:00+ he talks a lot about what you were saying. That is, we aren’t the authors of our thoughts (I thought that was a clever way of putting it!) But of course that doesn’t entail that we don’t have free will. Even IF we don’t choose what thoughts enter into our heads, we can choose what to do with those thoughts – ignore them, meditate on them, put them aside for later, act upon them, etc… Just because you experience something you can’t control (a “thought”, if true) doesn’t entail that you don’t have free will. So when he says, “It is a mystery why you chose one over the other… you, the conscious witness of your inner life, isn’t making these decisions.” Doesn’t follow. As I alluded to in my above paragraph, It’s a non-sequitur. And the purpose of posting this last paragraph was that even if we agree with him on this improper definition of free will (we play his game :P) We still seem to make free choices even if we can’t tell where they came from or how they got there.

          • Hi there, sorry for the break!

            Well now I see where you got your definition of free will. As well as more or less this argument :P.

            I should hope not, especially as I wrote my book before his and one reviewer claimed it was better than his!

            “What does it mean to say that a person acted of his own free will? It must mean that he could have consciously done otherwise. Not based on random influences on which he hand no control, but because he, as the conscious author of his thoughts and actions, could have acted otherwise… To say that he could have done otherwise is to say that he could have been in a different universe had he been in a different universe.”

            So I think we can clearly see that his argument has already gotten off on the wrong foot as I don’t agree with that definition.

            That may be, however, but it is a definition adhered to by many.
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/#3.2

            Since you didn’t have the ability to choose A or –A (the thought that popped into your head originally was either random [aka you didn’t choose it] or determined [aka you didn’t choose it]) you don’t have free will! But again, I disagree with that definition.

            The burden of proof is on you, then, as this is a basic exposition of the Dilemma of Determinism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilemma_of_determinism

            Since free will is not defined as the ability to choose A or –A – It’s not having the choice to do otherwise but being about to make the choice without any overriding determining factors – the problem dissolves.

            Could the agent have chosen otherwise?

            Even IF we don’t choose what thoughts enter into our heads, we can choose what to do with those thoughts – ignore them, meditate on them, put them aside for later, act upon them, etc… Just because you experience something you can’t control (a “thought”, if true) doesn’t entail that you don’t have free will.

            Somewhat similar to doxastic voluntarism vs indirect doxastic voluntarism. Look, you appear to be asserting free will without showing how it is logically possible or empirically evidenced. Quite to the contrary, it is neither, and actually evidence of WHOLLY more supportive of determinism, to a huge degree. I think you need to do a whole lot more to show how your version of free will works. Hint: no one in 2000 years has been able to do it!

          • IceKnight366 .

            No biggy! I often take 1-2 weeks to reply to posts occasionally as we all have other priorities, and often times other discussions. My apologies for thinking that you got this argument from Sam Harris! Just a guess :P. By the way, how were you able to bold quotes in your last post? I’m unfamiliar with this response format and so haven’t figured it out.

            “That may be, however, but it is a definition adhered to by many.
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entr…”

            That may be true, but that is not the definition of free will that I, nor Dr. William Lane Craig for that matter, use. Indeed, all of the Christian philosophers I have talked to seem to agree with me. It may be that that is just a faulty definition of free will that is slowly going out of style. So if the argument is going to go through you’ll need to apply it to this more robust definition of LFW. Lest you be attacking a strawman of course!

            “The burden of proof is on you, then, as this is a basic exposition of the Dilemma of Determinism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D…”

            What are you asking exactly? That I provide evidence for defining LFW in the way that I do? Well, first I would say that wikipedia is not a good source to determine who has the burden of proof :P. Second, I already have given reasons to define it as I did (via my original analogy with the voting).

            “Could the agent have chosen otherwise?”

            No, you couldn’t have! For that would just be tautological. It’s to say, “Could you have done other than you freely chose?” Of course not! For if you did, then THAT would be what you freely chose. You can’t not do what you are going to do. But of course that doesn’t entail there is no free will via the more appropriate definition of LFW.

            “…Hint: no one in 2000 years has been able to do it!…”

            Well even if true, that’s probably because I don’t think it can be done (I could be wrong but that has been my impression from my studies). I don’t think you have proven determinism nor can you prove LFW through logical inference.

            1) How is it logically possible? It’s not explicitly logically contradictory nor has it been shown to be logically impossible. Therefore it’s possible. That’s easy enough.

            2) What is the evidence (even though I said it can’t be logically inferred via argument?) It is constantly verified via our intuitions and in addition is a properly basic belief.

            So in order for your argument to go through you need to show that LFW is logically contradictory. It’s not even good enough to attack my two supporting evidences (intuition and PBB) you need to show it impossible. So as long as my version of free will is even possible (which it is) it follows that your original argument doesn’t cut the cheese.

          • Dude

            I think you need to check what Craig thinks, then. Try Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Perspectives for a Christian Worldview, p. 270.

            Basically EXACTLY what I have set out here! Search it on Google Books if you do not have it.

          • IceKnight366 .

            Thanks! But I already own the book hah. And by the way, it’s called Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, not “Perspectives”. What is Dr. Craig’s view on LFW? It’s right here:

            “So I think that determinism is incompatible with free will, but that
            determinism has not been demonstrated to be true. So what does it mean
            to have free will? Some thinkers have said that it is the ability in
            causally identical situations to choose either A or not-A. It seems to
            me, however, that this so-called Principle of Alternative Possibilities
            is not a necessary condition of willing freely. I’m persuaded by illustrations like that given by Harry Frankfurt to show that freedom does not require the ability to choose other than as one does.

            Dr. William Lane Craig Q&A 320

            But does the definition given on pg. 270 of PFCW contradict Q&A 320? Assuming that this was Dr. Craig’s view and not just J.P’s I don’t think it does. For look at what it says,

            “Real freedom requires a type of control over one’s action – and, more importantly, over one’s will – such that, given a choice to do A or B, nothing determines that either choice is made. Rather, the agent himself must simply exercise his own causal powers and will to do one alternative, say A.”

            This absolutely fits my definition and gives a unifying concept of LFW and Q&A 320. For it’s not just the ability to do A or -A. But rather the ability to do A or -A without any over-ridding determining factors. Thus is my definition of LFW, and thus is the given definition by Dr. Craig which should be used in the KCA. That is the definition you’ll need to disprove in order for your argument to go through.

          • Oops, I meant to say Foundations!

          • But that definition is exactly what the PAP implies, and certainly the definition above as far as origination of causal chains is concerned – the point at hand. In fact, in PFFACW he talks exactly in terms of origination.

          • IceKnight366 .

            PAP?

            I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here exactly. Both definitions, indeed both aspects of them, are in terms of origination. The only difference is your definition does not imply Dr. Craig’s or the definition I think should be used for LFW

          • For different ‘Word’ type styles, you will need to use html tags. Google html tags, and find out the different codes. eg for bold, you put *b* (where * = – if I write the code then it does it) before it and */b* when finishing, etc. Will reply to your other points soon, but I don’t think your definition is discernibly different to alternate possibilities and causal origination as described.

          • No, you couldn’t have! For that would just be tautological. It’s to say, “Could you have done other than you freely chose?” Of course not! For if you did, then THAT would be what you freely chose. You can’t not do what you are going to do. But of course that doesn’t entail there is no free will via the more appropriate definition of LFW.

            I think you genuinely think you are on to something more than you are. If the person can only choose what they choose in a given situation, then something must ground that choice. This is known as the grounding of a counterfactual, and it raises a serious objection to God’s foreknowledge of freely willed decisions as defined by Molinism. The idea is that the agent has the causal power to choose A or not A and that is rooted in the causal power of the agent. But this makes the agent’s causality akin to magic or arbitrariness, since one is unable to give reasons why the agent chose so because that would invoke determination. This is standard free will stuff. If you think “My existence (or in this case my mind) was the efficient cause of me raising my hand.” Is any kind of acceptable explanation as to why you raised your hand, then there are issues! Why did you kill that man? Because I exist, or because I have a mind!!

            1) How is it logically possible? It’s not explicitly logically contradictory nor has it been shown to be logically impossible. Therefore it’s possible. That’s easy enough.

            Rather than slagging off wiki, actually read the article since it contains countless direct quotes from philosophers. I think the dilemma of determinism precisely shows how LFW is logically incoherent.

            2) What is the evidence (even though I said it can’t be logically inferred via argument?) It is constantly verified via our intuitions and in addition is a properly basic belief.

            Er, both could be applied to the earth being flat. I don’t think either are in any way good or robust evidences, and neither are empirically testable, whereas determinism is. Social science as well as genetics have recently blown LFW out of the explanatory water.

          • IceKnight366 .

            I think you need to check what Craig thinks, then. Try Craig and
            Moreland, Philosophical Perspectives for a Christian Worldview, p. 270.

            And again from the horses mouth :)

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDT7uuccR-s

            I didn’t see these next replies until today. I don’t know why I didn’t get an e-mail verification.

            I think you genuinely think you are on to something more than you are. This is known as the grounding of a counterfactual, and it raises a
            serious objection to God’s foreknowledge of freely willed decisions as
            defined by Molinism. The idea is that the agent has the causal power to
            choose A or not A and that is rooted in the causal power of the agent.

            Not only do I think am “I’m on to something” hah, I think this solidly answers your objection. Again, the grounding objection only seems to be a problem for those who believe LFW = the ability to choose A or -A. If you don’t believe that is the definition than there’s no problem. I think until you adopt this new definition will you see that this objection doesn’t hold water.

            Rather than slagging off wiki, actually read the article since it
            contains countless direct quotes from philosophers. I think the dilemma
            of determinism precisely shows how LFW is logically incoherent.

            Only if you can show Determinism to be necessarily true. If not, than in no way does it seem to be incoherent.

            Er, both could be applied to the earth being flat. I don’t think either
            are in any way good or robust evidences, and neither are empirically
            testable, whereas determinism is. Social science as well as genetics
            have recently blown LFW out of the explanatory water.

            I don’t think you understand what intuition is. No one intuits the earth being round hah. They might experience the earth being flat via empirical evidences, but they don’t intuit it – so that doesn’t work.

            Empirical testability is only important for scientific explanations. This is not one and so who cares if it’s not empirically testable? I don’t think anyone should. And obviously I would disagree that genetics OR social science defeat LFW. I’m open to some evidence of this claim, but I’m very skeptical!

            Empirical testability is only important for scientific explanations. This is not one and so who cares if it’s not empirically testable? I don’t think anyone should. And obviously I would disagree that genetics OR social science defeat LFW. I’m open to some evidence of this claim, but I’m very skeptical!

          • This is a great video to watch:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM3raA1EwrI

          • Or listen to my podcast – take it away with you! – on free will:

            http://www.skepticule.co.uk/2012/10/skeprec-014-20120614.html

  • Vincent Torley

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for your post. A few comments:

    1. You write: “One can appeal to some kind of dualism, but causality is metaphysical as a concept, and dualistic substances need adhere to it in the same way matter does, too.” So you concede that the metaphysical concept of a “cause” is not inherently materialistic! A fatal admission on your part. For if (as you maintain), my concepts are stored in my brain, and my brain is a material object, then how does my brain instantiate the metaphysical concept of a cause? (The problem here is much more acute than, say, the problem of how my brain can have the abstract concept of a triangle, for at least triangles are, by definition, spatially extended.) And if my brain doesn’t instantiate the concept of a cause, then dualism is reasonable after all, which means that the notion of agent causation can no longer be dismissed out of hand.

    I might add that even if I were a materialist, I would still take the concept of agent causation seriously. Top-down causation is all you need to make sense of the notion, and there’s no good reason to rule out top-down causation.

    2. You write: “To merely suppose an agent can be sufficient explanation for the cause of a decision is particularly question-begging.” No, it’s not. A decision logically requires a decision-maker (i.e. an agent), and (arguably) a goal. It doesn’t logically require anything else. Now it may turn out to be the case that in the real world, decisions require more than that. But surely the onus is on you to demonstrate that. To argue (as you do) that all the decisions we’ve ever observed have been taken by embodied agents who were influenced by various causes acting on them is an argument from induction, which doesn’t rate very highly in my book, as I’m a skeptic of inductive argumentation.

    3. You write: “No, the agent cannot be asserted as an entity able to start a causal chain, because this assumes that a causal reason is given for a causal chain, but in a causal vacuum.” Paul Herrick has a god response to this in his celebrated essay in reply to Keith Parsons, at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_herrick/parsons.html#solved :

    There is no good reason why the explanatory model of personalistic explanation cannot be applied to the (hypothesized) divine choice to create a world. The capacity part of the explanation will be obvious: According to philosophical theism, God (by hypothesis) possesses unlimited power, knowledge, and love. The reason part of the explanation is only slightly less obvious: Philosophical theists propose that the creation of the world was an act of pure love, undertaken to share being (existence or “be-ing”) with creatures, and an act of love is by its nature a free act. In short: God freely created the world out of love. Now, love is a pretty good reason to do something, a reason that is intrinsically intelligible apart from all else. And with that, it seems that we have a rationally satisfying explanation for the divine choice, one that is conclusive in the sense that no further explanation is called for, and we reach explanatory finality (with respect to the choice to create).

    Note that the fact that God has sufficient power and also a good reason for creating a world is not a sufficient condition or a sufficient cause for God’s creating a world. For it does not logically follow that God creates a world just because God has a good reason to create a world. Having a good reason to create does not necessitate that God creates for, on the standard theistic assumption that God has “free will,” God could have had a good reason to create a world and yet have chosen not to act on it. In other words, God could have done otherwise.

    4. You write: “The only way for the theist to get around this (and I have a friend who tried this) is to ground every freely willed decision by an agent somehow in God, but magically allowing the agent to still have control over the causal chain.” That makes perfect sense to me. All change is traceable back to God as an enabling cause, but not always as a determining cause. In the case of the rational creatures whom He has made, God gives them a measure of free choice.

    You also mischaracterize the Libet experiments when you write that “we can actually ask the subject to press a left or right button and send trans-cortical stimulation (magnetic stimulation) in to the brain and make the agent either choose left or right, depending on where we send it.” The term “make” implies that you can guarantee your results, but in fact attempts to predict agents’ choices are only 60% successful – and that’s for the stupidest and most trivial choice (if you could call it that, for it lacks a reason) that an agent could possibly make.

    Finally, if the concept of libertarian free will is nonsensical, as you claim, then that alone would suffice to mount an argument against theism. Bringing in the KCA is redundant.

    • Hi Vincent

      On point 1)

      a) the mind supervenes on the brain

      b) and as such the mind is either the brain (monism) or some such substance which relies on the neural activity.

      c) so whilst abstracta are often seen as causally inert, they seem to be reflections of (epiphenomenally or otherwise) of the material states of affairs; thus they are reflections of causality which takes place in the material world.

      d) no matter what my idea of LFW is, this argument is couched in the terms of the believer who adheres to the coherence of both, such that if the mind is dualistic and causal in nature, the problem is even more obvious. Remember, I do not exist in this argument. What I think about causality and brain states is irrelevant since this argument is from the point of view of the interactionist theist, so your points are moot.

    • On 2)

      I have pointed out here, and on many other posts and in my book, how causality and origination in an agent to start a causal chain somehow indeterminately makes no philosophical sense. Moreover, philosophers for several thousand years have said the same. Again, refer to the Dilemma of Determinism. The burden of proof is on you to show how it DOES work.

    • On point 3)

      Not entirely sure of your point, though it looks like you might fall into the same issue as CS Lewis in his Argument from Reason, as GE Anscomb pointed out, in equivocating over reason (causal vs explanatory).

    • On point 4)

      You might need to flesh this out because enabling doesn’t quite do what you might want it to do. Here is an analogy:

      Agent P wants to do X. God or I enable him to do X.

      This does nothing to explain WHY P wants to do X which is what we are talking about. Because agent causation as origination (which is what the issue is) means that somehow LFW explains WHY someone wants to do something without referring to any antecedent cause.

      THIS IS THE ISSUE. This makes no logical sense, and yet it is what LFW entails or demands.

      As Schopenhauer stated: Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.

      The problem being that you only have two options:

      1) giving reasons why P did X, thus inviting in determinism

      2) saying ‘just because’ which is synonymous with random and thus not what LFWers want.

      On Libet:

      the experiments ARE very limited and I always admit this. They should be seen int eh context of the masses and masses and masses of cumulative evidence fro determinism (adequate or hard) which really only allows, at best, the LFWer (if they can establish philosophical coherence), a ~1% freedom stake in the will.

      “Finally, if the concept of libertarian free will is nonsensical, as you claim, then that alone would suffice to mount an argument against theism. Bringing in the KCA is redundant.”

      Er, yeah. I am assuming both are true, but they are mutually exclusive.