Free Will: The Achilles Heel of Christianity

Free Will: The Achilles Heel of Christianity October 30, 2013

An online friend of mine whom has a real interest in the concept of free will, and all the problematic baggage it brings with it. He has a proclivity for producing adverts for newspapers and publications like Free Inquiry that concern themselves with this erroneous philosophical belief. Here is one such piece from the Free Inquiry which does a good job of summing up the issues with an account of libertarian free will, and how that works in the context of Christianity. Let me know what you think.

FREE WILL: THE ACHILLES HEEL OF CHRISTIANITY

Changes from Price Version

 

Undermining belief in Christian free will, will go a long way to promoting the cause of secular humanism.

Saint Paul is said to have said: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

He could have added that if man is not free to choose between right and wrong then there can be no sin, no need for atonement and no need for Jesus Christ, and your faith is also in vain.

What is Christian free will? The Catholic Encyclopedia states, that a “free volition is a causeless volition.” Thus, “causeless” means not even influencedby the obvious and enormous disparities in genetic endowment, upbringing and environment between people, if that influence causes a choice to be otherwise than it would have been.

Consider the breathtaking enormity of that: nothing your parents taught you, nothing you learned from experience, nothing you learned in church or school has any decisive effect on your free will decisions!

Nevertheless, this magical faculty is absolutely indispensable to the Christian salvation story; and it is an unexploited weak spot — with the likelihood of getting weaker with new scientific advances. Wonderful studies in conditioning have already been done that cast real doubt onChristian free will. More can be expected.

Countless arguments have been adduced over the centuries showing the absurdities in the Christian story; they have got us to this point. They are great and will continue.  But, can we expect anything new to be said to deny the resurrection, upon which Paul says the Christian faith rests — especially which will impact the larger public? Certainly no new scientific developments are likely to do it.

But not so with the Christian free will claim. Although free will in all its permutations has been explored thoroughly by philosophers, psychologists and lately, neuroscientists, they speak a professional language. They are not heard by the masses of intelligent people such as Robert Ingersoll regularly reached.

What is needed is a common sense argument in plain language which every person can relate to from personal experience and understanding.

I think there is one at hand. Here it is in its essential elements. It surely can be improved by people reading this, and I hope someone will do it.

There is no doubt that if you are not a child or mentally impaired; and not under physical or mental compulsion, you make choices all the time; and those choices are the ones you decide to make — even if you might not like them. In that sense, you have free will.

But did you, and could you, have free will in the sense that in making your choices you made them free of all that went into making you the person you are?

And to what extent did you choose those crucial factors?

1.    Being born — and into a world where the chances for eternal suffering are “many” as Jesus said.

2.     Your genetic inheritance.

3.    Your life in the womb, shaping your genetic self.

4.    Your time and place of birth.

5.    Your parents, relatives, race and gender; your nurture and experiences in infancy and childhood.

6.    The mutations in your brain and body throughout life.

7.    Your natural physical stature, looks, smile and voice; your intelligence; your sexual drive and proclivities; your personality and wit; and your natural ability in sports, music and dance.

8.   Your religious indoctrination; economic circumstances; cultural influences; political and civil rights; the prevailing customs of your times.

9.    The blizzard of experiences throughout life, not chosen by you but which happened to you?

Are these not the factors that made you who you are today and who you were at any point in your life?

What is missing? The very many choices you made along the way?

Yes, you made choices that made a difference, but when you made them, were they not entirely derived from 1 – 9, as they were at the time of your choices?

If you have a will free of 1 – 9, not influenced or affected by them, in what sense would any decisions made by that will be yours?

Is there no basis for how “free will” decides? Does your education, intelligence, religious training, among much else, play no role? If not, how can you be responsible for those decisions, responsible to the extent of maybe being judged for “eternal  fire” as Jesus promised would be the fate of the “many” as opposed to the” few” who would be saved?

Is it not clear that in making choices you can be free from external compulsion but you cannot be free of what made you, you — and what made you, you, was not of your choice

You are told to believe that the child born of a teen-aged drug addicted prostitute, frequently beaten by her boyfriends of the moment, neglected, semi-starved and often ill has exactly the same capacity for choosing to steal or not, that one born and raised as was John F. Kennedy or George Bush — first or second? Can you believe that?

What then about responsibility and accountability?

Nothing about this understanding that you do not and cannot have Christian free will prevents holding people fully responsible and accountable for their acts, as now. All but one thing remains the same. We continue to urge, cajole, praise, condemn, educate and apply every sort of influence up to imprisonment to try to reform; and in any event, to protect society. These efforts, part of environmental influences, always have effects — though not always as desired.

The only thing that changes is our attitude. It cannot be self-righteous because we know: there go I, but for . . .

Who cannot understand and relate to each of the 9 points? Does not everyone, recognize that they are not great writers or ball players because they lack the talent that great writers and ball players have — and know it was not their choice?

I submit that this approach will have far more impact on a huge unreached audience than old or new learned arguments. (How to get that message to them is another matter.)

This common sense line is not a substitute for all the serious work but a supplement — an additional arrow in the quiver and it is aimed directly at a requirement of the faith as essential to it as the resurrection; and in language anyone can understand.

Further, is there a more consequential moral question?

This ad was paid for by a fellow feather on the sea of fate, for your consideration.  Contact: fellowfeather@gmail.com with comments or how to improve this argument.

 

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  • Good article by your friend.

    I think of the issue of free will in a simple, basic, common
    sense way and conclude we have a free will. If chemicals are making decisions
    for me then I can fool them easily. If chemicals make decision to go out for a
    walk I don’t do it. Are chemicals disappointed now? Will they accept overruling
    and decide it’s OK to stay in? If they do I’ll go out to grocery store.
    Basically array or list of thoughts are constantly appearing in my
    consciousness and I, “the decider” can accept them or reject them.

    Otoh, I like points 1-9. I didn’t think that way about this
    issue. I’ll have to think of the solution for that.

    • Eugen

      good to hear from you. I take issue with this statement:

      “I think of the issue of free will in a simple, basic, commonsense way and conclude we have a free will. If chemicals are making decisions
      for me then I can fool them easily.”

      But the ‘I’ that can fool them is the thing which is prone to/caused by chemicals. You are not getting around the problem.

  • labreuer

    Yes, you made choices that made a difference, but when you made them, were they not entirely derived from 1 – 9, as they were at the time of your choices?

    If you have a will free of 1 – 9, not influenced or affected by them, in what sense would any decisions made by that will be yours?

    This presents a false dichotomy. Either:
         (1) Your choices are completely determined by 1 – 9.
    or
         (2) Your choices are completely undetermined by 1 – 9.
    But what about:
         (3) Your choices are largely determined by 1 – 9.
    ?

    You are told to believe that the child born of a teen-aged drug addicted prostitute, frequently beaten by her boyfriends of the moment, neglected, semi-starved and often ill has exactly the same capacity for choosing to steal or not, that one born and raised as was John F. Kennedy or George Bush — first or second? Can you believe that?

    In addition to this ignoring the possibility of (3), C.S. Lewis does not hold to this, as can bee seen in Mere Christianity:

    When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend. (91)

  • labreuer

    Andy_Schueler and I discussed free will extensively; the last labreuerAndy_Schueler is perhaps a good enough to get the gist of the conversation.

    Basically, we want to know what the first cause is. So suppose we posit the following physical entities:

         L: physical laws
         B: boundary conditions
         N: quantum + thermal noise

    Can these things explain everything? Once I apply L and B to a system and ‘remove’ all of the structure from them, am I left with N? Is there absolutely no mathematical structure to N? If so, we’re done. If not, then I posit another item for our list;

         F: free will choices

    F is empirically falsifiable: it would show up as local laws of how particles and fields operate which do not hold universally. It would be a new kind of order, a new kind of lawfulness. But what precisely would the existence of F demonstrate?

    While Cartesian dualism is not well-accepted (there are many philosophical problems with it), it is nonetheless useful to further explore the problem by positing it. Let’s say there is a nonphysical mind which is responsible for F. Does that get us anywhere? Stated differently, we would attribute patterns discovered in N to this thing called ‘mind’. Cutting to the chase, the most interesting pattern would be purpose.

    Ok, so we have a nonphysical mind who has purposes which show up in N, which actually has structure, making it really F. There is nothing logically ‘bad’ with this. But how does this mind choose its purposes? Let’s posit desire as one step further back in the causal chain. Has that helped us, or are we threatening to get “turtles all the way down”?

    We can add some more turtles by positing multiple levels of desire; this is probably the best model of humans. But isn’t there a deepest desire? If so, that desire will deterministically control all the others. It will take in information and decide which ‘shallower’ desires are satisfied at any moment in time. We still have determinism, modulo pure randomness N—we’ve accounted for all F at this point.

    The only way ‘out’ I can see is to posit the possibility of always developing deeper desires. But what ‘decides’ to choose a deeper desire? It cannot be a desire! Here, I will make a radical jump, by positing:

         (1) The most fundamental part of a mind is whether it prefers good, or evil.

    Going further:

         (2) ‘good’ is infinite in description
         (3) ‘evil’ is finite in description and/or inconsistent

    One way to think of (2) is that no matter how big of a computer program you tried to write which would spit out the ‘good’ choice to make in a situation, it wouldn’t be able to always figure out what is good. Only an infinitely complex program could do it. Any finite computer program would actually end up being evil, for it would create a finite world which couldn’t be expanded.

    One fun result of this reasoning is that it puts Augustine’s privation theory of evil in a new light. We seem to live in a world where basic arithmetic and basic logic proofs exist, meaning that Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem applies: any finite description will be incomplete or inconsistent. But both incompleteness and inconsistencies are a kind of ‘privation’: a privation of understanding. Which is evil. Hence (3).

    To the point: is it possible to desire a thing which has infinite description? That is difficult, because we cannot perfectly understand a thing which has infinite description. So how do we know whether we truly want it, or merely the current approximation we hold in our brains of it? This is precisely where I think free will lies: choosing our current, finite understanding, or ever pursuing more understanding.

    I don’t know whether I’ve advanced this issue and I know this post was long, but I hope it stirs up some interesting conversation!

    • I was sort of with you until you got to 1, 2 and 3…

      I am not sure you have advanced the issue because, as of yet, you have not supplied either a mechanism or a philosophical manner by which causality can be started acausally. LFWers adhere to agent origination, such that agents are the first cause. But to be the anchor of a causal chain is to be synonymous with random.

    • Andy_Schueler

      Basically, we want to know what the first cause is.

      It is completely irrelevant what that would be – you couldn´t have libertarian free will either way. Because you cannot have voluntary control over this first cause, but that would be required for libertarian free will to exist. It is a self-refuting concept.

      • This is as concise and succint as you could ever ask for. Well said!

      • labreuer

        What is the difference between:

             (1) I am in voluntary control of F.
             (2) I am my set of { F }.

        ? That is, I am the set of choices I made—I made them. Nobody caused me to, and yet there is order to them. Noise doesn’t generate order unless some structure is imposed on it, boundary conditions which restrict it.

        You may also find this response interesting.

        • Andy_Schueler

          The difference is that 1 is self-contradicting, and 2 is NOT libertarian free will – because 2 is an acceptance of the fact that you could not have freely chosen different, 2 is determinism with a fake libertarian free will label.

          • labreuer

            As far as I know, there exists no empirical test for the counterfactual:

                 (3) I could have chosen differently.

            You seem to be saying that we ought to deny that (3) is possible. That seems to beg the very question! We don’t know! To demand a mechanism for (3) before believing it is possible seems specious to me. People drive cars without understanding the physics of internal combustion. We think consciously, even though we have but the vaguest ideas of how consciousness works. We do all sorts of things when we know little if any mechanism.

          • But to choose otherwise, there must be a reason, or it is irrational or arational, such that it might as well have been random. But given an identical Causal Circumstance, you cannot provide a differentiated cause for a different outcome.

            In CC1, for example, you are effectively saying A and ~A are or can be true.

          • labreuer

            I thought the whole reason behind LFW is that the choice was made because that is the choice the LFW agent made, and no other. Your whole question denies LFW by its very framing. If you assume that either events have causes or they are random, you have assumed away the possibility of LFW. It’d be like the insular world of the maniac in GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I am again reminded of Josef Pieper’s “piercing the dome of [current] philosophy”. Or Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem, which threatens that we’ll always need to add more axioms to our system in order to prove more of the things that are true (whether or not we can prove them).

          • Andy_Schueler

            I thought the whole reason behind LFW is that the choice was made because that is the choice the LFW agent made, and no other. Your whole question denies LFW by its very framing.

            If you say “I am a married bachelor” and I reply, “you cannot be both married and a bachelor”. You cannot simply answer “but you simply deny that I can be a married bachelor!”.
            Well, you can answer that, but your claim is nonsensical.

          • labreuer

            Perhaps, but I can likewise say that a phenomenon is either:

                 (1) a particle, or
                 (2) a wave

            If I do this—if I require this either/or—then I prohibit the exploration of phenomena which:

                 (1′) interact as particles
                 (2′) propagate as waves

            Now, in your case of “married bachelor”, that truly is A and ~A.. There’s no more content to the terms ‘married’ and ‘bachelor’ than that. There’s no way to subtly alter ‘married’ or ‘bachelor’, such that the concept behind them is minimally altered, but all of a sudden someone can be both things. I’m just not sure the same can be said for LFW

          • If it is defined as the principle of alternate possibilities, then you are claiming A and ~A being true in any given causal circumstance.

          • labreuer

            Sounds like I should investigate PAP more thoroughly. One of the things our (you, Andy, me) discussions will do is give me a ‘grid’ through which to read various literature on free will. I prefer to have such a ‘grid’ before going off and reading academic work. Consider it a form of evidence-gathering and initial hypothesizing—getting to know the landscape before being predisposed to think certain ways by whatever thoughts happen to have been rigorously discussed in academia. :-)

          • Start here, if you have not already read the SEP entry.

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

            and this one

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

          • Andy_Schueler

            You seem to be saying that we ought to deny that (3) is possible. That seems to beg the very question!

            Ok, then I would ask you why you´ve chosen different – and if you give me an answer to that I would ask for the reason behind that answer and so on and so forth. All the way down to first causes.
            And these first causes are things that you cannot have voluntary control over, by the very definition of a “first cause”.
            And that means that, even if you could have chosen differently or not, this choice cannot possibly have been FREE because this would require voluntary control over things that BY DEFINITION cannot be voluntarily controlled.

          • labreuer

            And these first causes are things that you cannot have voluntary control over, by the very definition of a “first cause”.

            I deny that this is the only valid definition of ‘first cause’.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Ok, then please:
            1. define a “first cause” in such a way that you could have voluntary control over it.
            2. explain how you could have chosen different using this voluntary control.
            I.e. what grounds the truth claim “I could have freely chosen different” for you?
            And if the answer to that is a “because….”, just assume that I ask follow-up questions for the reasons behind those “because…” answers all the way down to first causes, whatever they may be – and answer how those first causes could be freely chosen.

          • labreuer

            I think I’m making LFW choices axioms, or something close to them. They would be plausible explanations for the logically possible empirical phenomenon I described as “uncaused [spontaneous] ordering”. Alternatively, I’m making ‘mind’ as fundamental as particles & fields. Anyhow, that description of an empirical phenomenon is probably the best way for me to argue for an F which cannot reduce to { L, B, N }. Such F would necessarily need something other than ‘particles and fields’ to describe it. That is, I don’t see how your ontology would permit F to exist as a concept, even though (I think?) F is very much logically possible.

          • Andy_Schueler

            ARGH (sorry… ;-) )
            Postulate all the magic you want, seriously – I´ll grant you dualism, I´ll grant you a God, I´ll grant you ANYTHING for the sake of the argument.
            But how do you answer the questions I posed after I grant you that??

          • labreuer, it seems you posit an axiom.

            But the idea is that an axiom is not usually rationally defended – see my trilemma post. That is the definition of an axiom – you cannot keep rationally defending it ad infinitum.

            So, if you posit free control over a decision, you cannot do this with such an axiom.

          • labreuer

            As the ramble I just posted indicates at the end, I think I’m using LFW as an explanation where you want it to be explained. :-|

            While discussing LFW is interesting, the more interesting thing to me is how we take that knowledge and run with it. It just seems to me that CFW would give one more excuses than LFW, to not promote the best possible universe. LFW says:

            You could have chosen differently ceteris paribus, and you can do that now, as well.

            On the other hand, CFW says:

            You could not have chosen differently ceteris paribus, but you can do so now.

            In essence, CFW denies responsibility for actions, whereas LFW takes responsibility for them. I know we can still ‘punish’ CFW agents for doing bad things, but I can’t escape thinking that the way we morally reason would be different between believing LFW vs. CFW.

            The thing that really ‘bakes my noodle’ (to channel the Oracle in The Matrix) is that I think God ‘forgiving’ us means that he doesn’t hold us responsible for our past choices, except to the extent that we fail to try and make things turn out differently once we are made aware of what our previous beliefs led to. It’s almost a middle ground between LFW and CFW. Agents which do bad deserve hell (annihilationist if you’d like) iff they either: (a) refuse to acknowledge that they’re doing bad after it being pointed out to them; (b) persist in doing bad even when it’s pointed out. That is, agents which continually choose evil over good eventually go to hell. In my opinion, ‘hell’ is merely what happens when you continually choose evil over good. You end up locking yourself in a prison of sorts—like a Turing machine that repeats forever inside finite memory.

            Another way of saying this is that Christianity posits that you don’t have to be the person you currently are. It posits the possibility of treating your past as CFW and your future as LFW. Thinking about the past is only useful to the extent that it lets you identify beliefs you held (with beliefs defined thusly) which led to the bad things, to which you can start applying ∆vs in order to change—a sort of arbitrarily weak doxastic voluntarism. You would change them because you didn’t like the person you were, and realize that it is one’s beliefs that makes one who he/she is.

            I’ll end by channeling this discussion back to said ramble: the true change that happens in a person is getting closer to ‘good’ or ‘evil’, which is isomorphic to changing one’s belief in the demarcation line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

          • Andy_Schueler

            It just seems to me that CFW would give one more excuses than LFW, to not promote the best possible universe. LFW says:

            You could have chosen differently ceteris paribus, and you can do that now, as well.

            Well, pragmatically, it doesn´t really make that much of a difference IMO. I never thought about this stuff until maybe two years ago or so, and rather quickly accepted that LFW cannot possibly exist. And pragmatically, that didn´t really make that much of a difference in the way I think about moral issues. I still think that people could have chosen differently by willing something different, and I think that this will is malleable by experience – people can change for better or for worse. What I don´t believe is that you can freely choose to have a different will out of the blue. Which has a good and a bad side – I cannot just choose out of the blue to be as noble and courageous as MLK or Sophie Scholl, but I also cannot just choose out of the blue to be like Hitler.

          • labreuer

            I’m just not sure about the “that much of a difference”. Take, for example, Dr. House favorite aphorism, “People don’t change.” While defeasible without LFW, it is most definitely defeated with LFW. Kind of how like assuming an omni-* God can help explain, but anything can be explained (or at least approximated scientifically) without an omni-* God. Which is better? Ockham’s razor doesn’t help here, because it is explicitly designed to help come up with successive approximations, not to talk about what truly is. (Noting that pretty much all guessing about “what truly is” is also a kind of approximation, but one in the rationalist realm, not the empiricist realm.)

            Now, failure to properly analyze LFW will very likely result in the wrong balance between assuming one is completely at the mercy of genetics, history, and circumstance, and assuming one ‘has’ complete doxastic voluntarism. These are two extremes and it is incredibly important to not ‘settle’ on one of them. (When there are two [opposing] extremes, you will often find more noisy people at one of them, instead of maintaining a healthy but energy-requiring tension.)

            It might be fun to consider those people who think that attaining freedom of choice is accomplished through accumulation of power. At least in fiction, it usually turns out that the person who does this doesn’t actually attain said freedom of choice, so much as does exactly what is necessary to increase/maintain power. This is the antithesis of freedom of choice. Power for the sake of choice reduces to power for the sake of power.

            P.S. Your other comment will require some thought before I respond. :-)

          • I still think you are failing to ground any decision in free volition. An axiom necessarily denies this. It is a brute assertion, if you will, which is hardly grounds for free will.

          • labreuer

            The insistence that ‘free volition’ itself have a cause is the very problem. It’s the Stone Paradox all over again. This is why I constructed something I want to call ‘LFW’. I’m offering a competing definition. That is, I say there exists a coherent concept that many people would agree to call ‘free volition’, but which you do not want to call ‘free volition’ because of how you have defined the term.

            Again, I claim CFW requires physicalism. It is an explicit denial of the primacy of ‘mind’—that it doesn’t deserve a position right along with ‘particle’ and ‘field’. For, physicalism cannot tolerate my { F }. Now, you don’t want to call F ‘LFW’; that’s fine. I claim that the label ‘CFW’ doesn’t apply either. Therefore, I think we need a new term, one that hasn’t been used yet in any of our discussions.

          • I think you are incorrect here. Physicalism is not necessitated since we are talking about the metaphysical concept of causality.

            And that you cannot regress something to further causal antecedents means that it is an acausal axiom – the agent-causation of Chisholm and others.

            The problem here is that there is no coherent manner of establishing this rationally – with reason. You end up having an action taking place from an agent such that when confronted with the why question, the agent answers “just because” because there are no reasons, merely an axiom.

          • labreuer

            Isn’t that the very definition of a ‘first cause’? The trick here seems to be that I’m willing to think of ‘first causes’ as coming from minds, where you seem to only want them to be entirely random—except to the extent that physical laws can shape them.

          • But you are imploring that minds are not victim to causality, which by definition makes them irrational, arational or random.

          • labreuer

            I think minds can be any of the above, although when they fail to [properly] grow, I think they start ossifying/shrinking. A mind isn’t inherently arational. One can make choices (∆vs) in a given direction for a while, and then let their ‘little free-will thruster’ go on random after that, or even reverse course.

          • None of which get you moral responsibility (other than in the sense as some compatibilists have of authorship – came from your mind and no one else’s).

          • labreuer

            My intuition says that LFW makes Kantian-style categorical thinking ‘more possible’, in the sense that if you aren’t abiding by any set of rules in a consistent fashion—yours or someone else’s—then infractions you commit deserve punishment, because without abiding by rules, opportunities to learn are hindered. (Included in the ‘opportunities to learn’ is the opportunity to see that a rule/law is bad and choose to change it.)

            When thinking in terms of CFW, it just doesn’t seem that you have as much control over rule formation and following. By ‘rule formation’, I mean something akin to the world-building that fantasy and scifi writers participate in, where you envision a way that humans could interact and then live it out, consistently. Instead, it’s more like trying to design a set of fields/potentials that get the particles to do what you want them to do. I suppose that’s a kind of world-building, but it just seems different to me.

            Maybe I’ve invented the above differences. I am inclined to say that the CFW/LFW choice is a metaphysical choice which doesn’t directly impact how one acts. Metaphysics often have a seemingly indirect impact on one’s thoughts and actions. At least, that’s been my impression.

          • IF I asked “why did you do / think / feel that” and you could give no reason other than “it just is” – how is that free will?

          • labreuer

            The answer would be that the laws of mind (whatever they are), plus all of my choices, led me to feeling/thinking/doing whatever I did. And I would be continuing to add new free choices—new ∆vs.

          • “The answer would be that the laws of mind (whatever they are), plus all of my choices, led me to feeling/thinking/doing whatever I did.”

            But unless you had conscious control over any of those, then you do not have free will. It sounds like you are perhaps espousing the Self Forming Actions of Robert Kane. But he seems unable to establish how those SFAs are themselves acausally consciously caused by the agent.

            It is about conscious choices here, since we are not in control of our non-conscious brains.For more on this, see my book, Daniel Wegner’s super “The Illusion of Conscious Will” or the sublime “Incognito” by Eagleman.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Isn’t that the very definition of a ‘first cause’? The trick here seems to be that I’m willing to think of ‘first causes’ as coming from minds

            So when did you freely choose your mind and you do you freely choose a different mind? And if you cannot answer that – what does this have to do with LFW?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Now, failure to properly analyze LFW will very likely result in the wrong balance…
            These are two extremes and it is incredibly important to not ‘settle’ on one of them.

            “Bob says we should buy a computer. Sue says we shouldn’t. Therefore, the best solution is to compromise and buy half a computer.”

          • labreuer

            I recognize the annoyance, but please note that such annoyance is very common when two people are coming from different fundamental presuppositions.

            1. ‘Voluntary control’ means “I could have chosen differently”. If you always require a reason for such different choosing, you deny that choices can be fundamental. And thus, LFW is a priori denied not due to argumentation, but due to definition. Not by logic, but by arbitrary choice.

            2. You’re asking for the cause behind a first cause. The buck has to stop somewhere; you’re saying it has to stop either:

                 (1) because it had to be that way
                 (2) due to quantum + thermal noise

            You have presupposed this. I say that no, there is a third option:

                 (3) because it was chosen, first-cause style

            You’re trying to “go behind” (3), but there is no behind. I claim there is logical room for (1-3), not just (1-2). Now, whether (3) denies physicalism is something I haven’t yet figured out. Maybe it does. In which case, observing my { F } would arguably falsify physicalism. I maintain that (3) can be distinct from (1-2)—that in principle empirically observable phenomena could show that (1-2) aren’t sufficient for explaining all that happens in reality.

          • Andy_Schueler

            If you always require a reason for such different choosing, you deny that choices can be fundamental. And thus, LFW is a prioridenied not due to argumentation, but due to definition. Not by logic

            I don´t require a reason. I´ll grant you anything you want, now please try to answer my questions (which don´t “presuppose” that there has to be a reason behind first causes – I explicitly asked you what you even mean by your alternative definition for first cause).

            2. You’re asking for the cause behind a first cause. The buck has to stop somewhere; you’re saying it has to stop either:

            (1) because it had to be that way
            (2) due to quantum + thermal noise

            You have presupposed this.

            For the umpteenth time, I don´t presuppose anything and grant you everything for the sake of the argument.

            (3) because it was chosen, first-cause style

            You’re trying to “go behind” (3), but there is no behind.

            That´s cool. So what would be the answer to my two questions then? (and I´ll add a third, what you describe is completely indistinguishable from a compatibilist “free will” – if your LFW is in any way different, where is the difference?)

          • labreuer

            I predict growing frustration at this response, but I’m afraid it is the best I can do. If it’s too annoying, feel free to just say so and we can switch to discussing other things or nothing at all.

            First, to your third question: The model of compatibilist free will (CFW) could not account for { F }, were { F } ever to be observed. I’m attempting to construct LFW out of { F }, but I acknowledge that my construction is very likely not complete. So the strongest statement I can make is that CFW could be falsified, begging for a different model of FW.

            I will try to answer your other two questions by continuing said construction.

            I originally introduced F as distinct from { L, B, N }. In particular, it would be the same as N, except with structure (or pattern) which could not be derived from { L, B }. One way to think of it is to consider quantum measurements being made which have more ‘structure’ in them than the currently assumed pure randomness (after all the boundary conditions are accounted for). It’d be like seeing true patterns in the static (‘snow’) of a TV not connected to any signal source, and not being able to find any reason for those patterns.

            We can think of F developing out of N by considering a set of { ∆v } which don’t average out to N. Instead, they build up a kind of ‘momentum’. The thing that has momentum isn’t doing a purely random walk.

            Now, if I go no further, F could actually just be describing the cooling of a material, which settles into some sort of crystal structure because of L. That is, we could get some sort of finite, static order. We know how to explain this, and there’s nothing FW about it. It’s just inanimate objects doing inanimate things, beautiful as they may be.

            The only alternative is for F to essentially be a lifeform—continually take in energy and turn it into increased complexity—for as long as it lives. The instance we get some sort of perfect repetition, we’re back to crystal formation. It’s like the halting problem on a Turing machine with finite memory: if a specific memory+CPU register configuration is repeated, you know that the Turing machine will never halt. But you also know that it will repeat the same steps forever and ever (unless it has some source of entropy).

            But can we have patterns that never cease to grow increasingly complex? Can we even name such things? I say yes: we say such things have purposes. Specifically, purposes with potentially infinite definitions.

            Ok, I’ve constructed a lifeform with purposes. But does this lifeform have LFW? How on earth would it control { F }? In my first comment, I hinted at this by contrasting

                 (2) ‘good’ is infinite in description
                 (3) ‘evil’ is finite in description and/or inconsistent

            Using this admittedly nonstandard terminology, our crystals are ‘evil’, whereas a lifeform which forever stays a lifeform and is thus continuing to increase in complexity, is ‘good’. Now, exactly what is it that would cause a lifeform to stop ‘growing’? By my definitions: choosing evil. Enough choices in the ‘evil’ direction will result in either [Turing-style] halting, or the infinite repetition of a given configuration that I described above. The lifeform would cease to be.

            Now, what is it that would cause a lifeform to continually (or at least on average) choose (2) over (3)? These would be choices which continue to increase the lifeform’s complexity, but with some kind of consistency—(I posit) we can’t just have lots of random additions. Either:

                 (A) some lifeforms just happen to grow forever
                 (B) something or someone is responsible for said growth

            (A) would be the recognition of a pattern while denying any cause (as the growth continues, ‘noise’ is an increasingly bad answer); this tends to be anathema to us. (B) begs the question: what is the cause? I say that will would be the only plausible cause. Will that is determined by none of { L, B, N }. Will which continually chooses good over evil—despite the existence of many such lifeforms which choose evil.

            I get the sense that LFW is an in principle unfalsifiable metaphysical claim. I claim it could explain this forever-growing lifeform, but I don’t claim it is the only possible explanation. I’m just pretty sure you don’t have a better explanation. :-p

          • Andy_Schueler

            First, to your third question: The model of compatibilist free will (CFW) could not account for { F }, were { F } ever to be observed.

            Why? (I´m serious, I completely fail to see why that should be so).
            EDIT: Maybe I should explain this a little bit more. When it comes to choosing differently, your model seems to imply that you could have chosen different by willing different. But your model doesn´t imply that you could choose a different will (and if so, how you would choose it).
            But that is then completely and 100% identical to a compatibilist free will – you can add { F }, or { X } or { Y } or { Z } or whatever you want, nothing of this would change the fact that your model says you could choose different by willing different but you can´t choose your will. And that´s why I don´t see any difference to compatibilism here.

            One way to think of it is to consider quantum measurements being made which have more ‘structure’ in them than the currently assumed pure randomness (after all the boundary conditions are accounted for). It’d be like seeing true patterns in the static (‘snow’) of a TV not connected to any signal source, and not being able to find any reason for those patterns.

            I honestly don´t see how that would change anything wrt LFW. This doesn´t address the self-refuting nature of LFW in any way, shape or form.
            Also, your idea essentially is already falsified. One example: The Dirac equation is not a complete model for the behaviour of electrons, but the stuff that it doesn´t model is completely irrelevant for the conditions under which our brains operate (“everyday physics” – meaning not the conditions in the center of a block hole or in a particle accelerator or any other “non-everyday” condition). And for the conditions that are relevant, the Dirac equation is 100% accurate within the realms that we can measure with our current equipment. And this equipment is so precise that even if we would find some “order” with even more precise equipment in the future, “order” which the Dirac equation doesn´t account for, this “order” would be completely negligible for what is going on in our brains (in the sense that this order could at best account for 0.0000000000000000000000000001% of what is going on – i.e. not “nothing”, but so close to nothing that it couldn´t make any difference).
            But again, I fail to see how this would address any of the contradictions that are inherent in LFW in any case, even if this order would not be negligible.

            I get the sense that LFW is an in principle unfalsifiable metaphysical claim.

            Again, I don´t think our metaphysical differences are relevant, because I´ll grant you anything you want for the sake of the argument, and I also don´t care about the lack of falsifiability.
            The only thing I asked you many, many times is how you address the contradictions that arise from LFW under any circumstances (i.e. no matter what I would grant you for the sake of the argument).
            Think about the three questions I posed in this thread. Particularly think about the one where I asked you how it is not a contradiction to have voluntary control over a first cause.
            You completely ignored that. All you did is reject my claim (which I would consider to be self-evidently true btw) without any reason for rejecting it and without any alternative definition of “first cause” which would not lead to this contradiction. And then you proceed to construct a very elaborate model while ignoring that your model already failed at the very first step – all this talk where these LFW first causes could come from is completely moot until you can address how voluntary control over a first cause is not a self-refuting concept.

            but I don’t claim it is the only possible explanation

            Again, your model fails at the very first step – it is not an explanation. You simply ignore the obvious contradiction and proceed as if nothing happened.

            I’m just pretty sure you don’t have a better explanation.

            I never claimed that I have a good explanation or any explanation at all! All I claimed is that LFW cannot be true under any circumstances because it is self-refuting. I didn´t propose any alternatives myself, all I said is that LFW cannot be true.

          • What he said.