Free Will: Evidence for God

Does atheism entail determinism?  Jerry Coyne seems to think so.  He makes it quite clear how his views of determinism follow from his acceptance of atheism/materialism:

The best answer I can give (besides reading Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture”) is to say that our brain is made of matter, and matter follows the laws of physics. Insofar as our neurons could behave fundamentally unpredictably, if affected by quantum mechanics in their firing, that doesn’t give us a basis for agency either.

Since our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains, which obey the laws of physics, which by and large are deterministic on a macro scale, then our behaviors at any one instant are determined as well by the configuration of molecules in the Universe.

All you have to do is accept that our bodies and brains are made of stuff, and stuff on the macro scale is deterministic in its behavior. Even compatibilists accept these points as well the fundamental determinism (though often unpredictability) of our behavior.

And when one of his commenters wrote, “we aren’t billiard balls”, Coyne replied:

Yes we are, but we’re billiard balls made of meat.

What I am sensing here is that atheism is incompatible with free will.  And if you ask me, that poses a serious problem for atheism.  While the truth of determinism seems to be dependent on acceptance of an atheistic, materialistic worldview, the truth of free will is dependent on ….. a lifetime of lived experience. And it’s not some shallow, “live in the moment” type of experience that’s preoccupied with the dramas of life.  It’s an experience coupled to much introspection and self-awareness. I’m not quite sure why I am supposed to believe this is all an illusion when it’s the deterministic word salads that appear far more likely to be an illusion.

Thus, from where I sit, my experience with free will counts as evidence for the existence of God.  That is, if free will is incompatible with atheism, it would seem to me that atheism is false.  Meaning, that theism is true.  The evidence for God is not some writing in the sky.  It’s with me each and every moment.

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28 Responses to Free Will: Evidence for God

  1. Geoff Smith says:

    Refusing to acknowledge free will in your own case is a curious statement about your own self-image. Sam Harris’ book on free will essentially states that he sees himself as nothing other than his feelings.

  2. This isn’t really an argument for free will. However it must be puzzling when a materialist like Jerry Coyne has to reconcile his belief that human beings are nothing more than swirling matter and yet his thoughts have some or any degree of meaning and are trustworthy or accord with reality on even the most basic level. I don’t think a lot of materialist atheists ever really think much about what they claim to be the nature of reality. If we are only swirling matter or stuff what we think of as thoughts are really in and of themselves inconsequential. They can’t really be said to have any impact over what happens to us because. If I drop a bowling ball off of a building gravity will necessarily bring it to ground. There is no thought involved with that there is a force involved and matter involved. We wouldn’t call that a thought . And yet both the movement of the matter that makes up our brains and the bowling ball falling to the ground are really not different and any qualitative way. Jerry Coyne believes that we are just stuff and so therefore nothing we say or do is actually genuinely said or done. The self not exist. Our thoughts have no intentional content. They are really just interactions of matter and energy I suppose. And yet we do at least appear to have an ability to think things through use logic and arrived at certain conclusions. Our thoughts do seem to actually mean things. Moreover, if our thoughts are constructed of matter then there must be something that arranges that matter to represent a concept or idea. I worry that I am butchering these Concepts in my description, still I think it’s important for material lists and atheists to acknowledge that not only does their worldview not entail free will in a very serious sense it doesn’t even entail being able to think because thoughts are just accidents and serve no real purpose. Even Sensations probably can’t be said to really effect behavior because sensations, like thoughts are internalized and are perceived. And if our thoughts are inconsequential how could our sensation of pain be consequential it’s really nothing more than something we subjectively experience. And yet when you follow the chain of logic of the material list or the atheist, they have to hold to a billiard ball construction of the universe. They cannot logically claim that a person is acting out of fear selfishness good will or any other motivation or virtue. If everything is just swirling matter these things don’t really exist. Strangely or coincidentally the random swirling of matter still allows for us to recognize and attempt to reproduce perfect forms and concepts and categories. Oh well. I probably just made everyone dumber or more confused.

  3. Doug says:

    As William Briggs astutely observes (“Uncertainty”, Springer, 2016, p.113):

    many expositors of theories exempt themselves from the consequences of [those theories].

  4. Regual Llegna says:

    Jerry Coyne:
    “Since our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains, which obey the laws of physics, …”

    – How do “he” know that, what allows the “laws of physics” be laws? What are the basis for the “laws of physics”?, “laws” can be “broken” how are things not.

    “All you have to do is accept that our bodies and brains are made of stuff, and stuff on the macro scale is deterministic in its behavior.”

    – But if “you” do’t “want” to “accept” that people “like” “Jerry Coney” will “make” “you” a “pariah”.

    “… Even compatibilists accept these points as well the fundamental determinism (though often unpredictability) of our behavior.”

    – And “Jerry Coney” don’t “like” comapatibilists.
    – Why “he” “talk” about the “behavior” of “others”?

    “Yes we are, but we’re billiard balls made of meat.”

    – How do “he” “knows” what meat (category?) is under determinism? How do “he” “know”?

    – Anything i wrote between ” ” cannot be used/ are meaningless/ are illogical/don’t make sense under determinism. No actions, no self and others, no subject in sentences only things that are there (no explannation needed in determinism).

    ————————————————————————————————————————————

    With respect to the title:

    – If Jerry Coney atheism entail determinism as is dogma (inviolable base of thought) (number 0 or 1) then prove that free will exists will make his atheism cease to make sense in his own thoughts. Then if he believe that free will exists while holding the same thought will create cognitive dissonance in his mind.

    – He clearly sees himself as his own person.

  5. Regual Llegna says:

    Doug says:
    “As William Briggs astutely observes (“Uncertainty”, Springer, 2016, p.113):

    many expositors of theories exempt themselves from the consequences of [those theories].”

    Like many people that think that they can make their ideals/ideologies/feelings LAWS of any kind. Many expositors of theories never think of practicing their theories until another person does it for them and many expositors of theories obviously see their theories as if those theories were their own dreams and hopes.

  6. A Silva says:

    How are you defining free will?

    Also note that leveraging free will to argue against theism is well known. (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-will-foreknowledge/)

  7. Dhay says:

    A Silva > How are you defining free will?

    That’s a trifle beside the point, however many variants (A, B, C, …) of free will there might be, because Jerry Coyne, the subject of the post, says that they are all of them wrong, there’s no free will at all; he knows that because … because determinism, a determinism which Coyne seems to suppose is entailed by atheism.

    If Coyne is right that all of the variants (A, B, C, …) of free will are incorrect, and if that’s a necessary consequence of determinism, and if determinism is entailed by atheism — that’s a lot of ifs, so Michael is rightly cautious — if Coyne is right on all these then no-free-will is a consequence of atheism.

    But if no no-free-will because free will (that’s free will of any kind or definition) then something is wrong in Coyne’s derivation of no-free-will or in his starting-point.

    If Coyne’s derivation is assumed correct (as Coyne would surely want us to assume) and if his no-free-will conclusion is incorrect because of any of A, B, C … then by reductio ad absurdum his ‘atheism is true’ start-point must be incorrect.

    I’m not a philosopher myself, so I’ll have to refer you to an interesting looking definition of what would count as free will that I recently came across, by Eddie Nahmias. See the quote and link in my response yesterday: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/social-justice-determinists/#comment-20677

  8. stcordova says:

    Even deeper perhaps than the issue of free will is that of consciousness. I can hypothetically program a robot to have pain responses like saying “ouch” when it encounters a certain stimuli. No matter how sophisticated and how many circuits and how much software this invention might have, I don’t think it can experience pain the way a sentient being can.

    I would say consciousness is more fundamental than free will, it is necessary for free will, and by way of extension, I think Coyne would argue consciousness is an illusion too, yet as the Nobel Laraureate Wigner said in so many words, “consciousness it he thing many people say is an illusion, yet it is the most certain thing we can be sure about!”

    So consciousness is evidence of a non-material realm, evidence of a soul, and therefore evidence of a God who is spirit and thus of similar substance as a living soul.

  9. Regual Llegna says:

    Free will is simply the expression of the will, free will lets us know that others have will and are they own being.

  10. Perhaps we’ve reached a point of absurdity in the West when we can deny the efficacy of subjective experiences such as thought and sensation. I don’t think determinists generally follow their lines of thinking to their natural conclusions. Jerry Coyne should give up. Doesn’t he know that his CalTech buddy already has elegantly shown everything to be a dance of matter and physical forces? No need to understand them through an evolutionary or anthropological lens. Just matter. Mindless and moving.

  11. A Silva says:

    Well, free will is one of those terms for which it is difficult to formulate a coherent definition. If free will is asserted to be true, one would need to know what that is supposed to mean. Daniel Dennett believes in free will, too; it depends upon how you define it.

    But there are other clarifications to make first: it would appear the blog post conflates atheism and materialism, which is a mistake. See for instance the work of David Chalmers for a non-materialist (dualistic) view that is perfectly consistent with atheism. Similarly, dualism doesn’t require a god or gods—one may simply believe in a “ghost in the shell”, so to speak.

    The post also mistakenly conflates determinism with materialism. To accept non-deterministic materialism, one need only accept that the state of the universe at a given point in time does not fully determine the universe in the next instant. This is consistent with scientific knowledge because scientific predictions are ultimately approximations—they are based upon partial information and do not take the entire state of the universe into account.

    Given whatever unstated definition of free will the blog post assumes, it seems the author is saying that free will acts in the universe through some form of dualism. Even accepting those assumptions, the addition of God is unwarranted. Such assumptions are consistent with certain beliefs about God, but also with Scientology and a host of other dualistic beliefs. The title of the post could just as well be “Free Will: Evidence for Scientology”.

  12. TFBW says:

    A Silva said:

    … it would appear the blog post conflates atheism and materialism, which is a mistake. … The post also mistakenly conflates determinism with materialism.

    Those issues arise in the part which quotes Jerry Coyne. If you want to accuse Coyne of being a dreadfully sloppy philosopher, then gadzooks, we agree on something.

  13. Ratheist says:

    So many assumptions here, the experiment where the patient was sure he made a decision showed that the decision came many moments before he swore it. There are atheists that believe in free will because of quantum indeterminism so thats wrong as well. Not really sure you know what you’re talking about, as usual.

  14. Dhay says:

    I have questioned in previous responses, in various threads touching on free will, whether it is even possible for a person to communicate by speech or writing without using the language of free will, including intentionality, choice, morality etc. Perhaps some day a kind no-free-will advocate will demonstrate by using free-will-less language in discussion here; It surely will not be writing as we ordinarily do it.

    Looking around, I came across this passage on Kant’s ideas; no-free-will not only disables ordinary communication, but:

    So reason has an unavoidable interest in thinking of itself as free. That is, theoretical reason cannot demonstrate freedom, but practical reason must assume it for the purpose of action. Having the ability to make judgments and apply reason puts us outside that system of causally necessitated events. “Reason creates for itself the idea of a spontaneity that can, on its own, start to act–without, i.e., needing to be preceded by another cause by means of which it is determined to action in turn, according to the law of causal connection,” Kant says. (A 533/B 561) In its intellectual domain, reason must think of itself as free.

    It is dissatisfying that he cannot demonstrate freedom; nevertheless, it comes as no surprise that we must think of ourselves as free. In a sense, Kant is agreeing with the common sense view that how I choose to act makes a difference in how I actually act. Even if it were possible to give a predictive empirical account of why I act as I do, say on the grounds of a functionalist psychological theory, those considerations would mean nothing to me in my deliberations. When I make a decision about what to do, about which car to buy, for instance, the mechanism at work in my nervous system makes no difference to me. I still have to peruse Consumer Reports, consider my options, reflect on my needs, and decide on the basis of the application of general principles. My first person perspective is unavoidable, hence the deliberative, intellectual process of choice is unavoidable.

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/kantmeta/#SH8a

    This seems to say, Kant reckoned that without using the concept of free will (‘freedom’) we cannot act as we ordinarily do

  15. Kevin says:

    If there’s no free will, then anyone who criticizes anyone else for what they do or believe is an idiot. Then again, they can’t help themselves, can they?

  16. A Silva says:

    From the OP:

    > While the truth of determinism seems to be dependent on acceptance of an atheistic, materialistic worldview

    It’s not clear to what degree Coyne conflates those terms, if at all, but the blogger here conflates them.

    Speaking of “dreadfully sloppy” philosophy, the OP is essentially saying: free will is true because it feels true, and it is evidence for God because that feels true, too.

  17. TFBW says:

    @A Silva: if you think it’s not clear to what degree Coyne conflates the terms, then you are in no position to judge the OP, which was (in relevant part) an evaluation of Coyne’s position. You’re just flinging mud, not engaging in thoughtful criticism.

  18. Michael says:

    Well, free will is one of those terms for which it is difficult to formulate a coherent definition.

    Yes. Similar to the term ‘life.’

    If free will is asserted to be true, one would need to know what that is supposed to mean. Daniel Dennett believes in free will, too; it depends upon how you define it.

    DHay posted a link to an article that contains a definition that seems workable to me. Lots of ways to define it. Just not have lots of time to do it right now. It is a topic I’d love to write about some more.

    But there are other clarifications to make first: it would appear the blog post conflates atheism and materialism, which is a mistake. See for instance the work of David Chalmers for a non-materialist (dualistic) view that is perfectly consistent with atheism. Similarly, dualism doesn’t require a god or gods—one may simply believe in a “ghost in the shell”, so to speak.

    The blog post is in reply to something Jerry Coyne wrote. Let me strip it down to its bare bones:

    Does atheism entail determinism? Jerry Coyne seems to think so. [quote Coyne] ..What I am sensing here is that atheism is incompatible with free will…..if free will is incompatible with atheism, it would seem to me that atheism is false. Meaning, that theism is true.

    As for materialism/atheism and Chalmers’ views, I have encountered dozens and dozens of atheists who embrace Coyne’s views (a popular atheist blogger) and yet to encounter a Chalmer-like atheist. Of course, my sampling is not random, but is it fair to say that Coyne’s views are a majority view among atheists?

    The post also mistakenly conflates determinism with materialism.

    Er, the post is responding to an atheist author who argues that materialism entails determinism.

    Given whatever unstated definition of free will the blog post assumes, it seems the author is saying that free will acts in the universe through some form of dualism.

    I’m not saying that. I’m simply pointing out that free will is something I experience.

    Even accepting those assumptions, the addition of God is unwarranted. Such assumptions are consistent with certain beliefs about God, but also with Scientology and a host of other dualistic beliefs. The title of the post could just as well be “Free Will: Evidence for Scientology”.

    Sorry, but from my perspective, I’ve already winnowed it down to atheism and Christianity. Other evidence removed Scientology from the table of serious consideration.

  19. Dhay says:

    A Silva > Given whatever unstated definition of free will the blog post assumes, it seems the author is saying that free will acts in the universe through some form of dualism.

    Are you confusing Michael, this blog’s owner, with Sam Harris, promulgator of Meme #10 and author of a book called Free Will. Free will’s ‘needing’ dualism seems to be Harris’ notion.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/social-justice-determinists/#comment-20677

  20. A Silva says:

    > is it fair to say that Coyne’s views are a majority view among atheists?

    I think belief in hard determinism is a minority even among atheists. With regard to free will, among philosophers the majority view is compatibilism (59.1%). A small minority assert no free will (12.2%), which is Coyne’s view. (http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/04/29/what-do-philosophers-believe/)

    > Er, the post is responding to an atheist author who argues that materialism entails determinism.

    I’m not sure he argues that exactly, but whether he does or not, you wrote

    > While the truth of determinism seems to be dependent on acceptance of an atheistic, materialistic worldview

    You didn’t say “While Coyne thinks the truth of determinism is dependent…” You didn’t mention Coyne and wrote “seems to”, meaning you are the one making the (false) assertion, and that’s what I responded to.

  21. Regual Llegna says:

    A Silva says:
    “You didn’t say “While Coyne thinks the truth of determinism is dependent…” You didn’t mention Coyne and wrote “seems to”, meaning you are the one making the (false) assertion, and that’s what I responded to.”

    – So your criticizing the messenger and not the message? why do you assume that it is a false assertion? maybe you are one of those who believe that atheism is a neutral position to avoid giving reasons to maintain that position, much less to defend it?

    The page link says:
    “7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
    8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
    9. Knowledge claims: contextualism 40.1%; invariantism 31.1%; relativism 2.9%; other 25.9%.
    10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.”

    – This info is about philosophers of all kinds, “I think belief in hard determinism is a minority even among atheists.” (You think???) you know that atheists are a minority in all the countries that they live, China does not account for his government leadership imposing the idea of being a communist marxist atheist (basically triple atheism for them) or else “you are not part of the state”.

    – Then, if is not determinism, what is the philosophical position that lead to atheism? if none exist then atheism is totally a relativist term?

    * By the way scientology does not entail or need dualism. Neither christianity. Maybe zoroastrianism, but they evil entity (Angra Mainyu) is not worthy of worship or be declared god and the goal of that religion is against any form of balance.

  22. Regual Llegna says:

    From Silva page:
    “1. A priori knowledge: yes 71.1%; no 18.4%; other 10.5%.
    2. Abstract objects: Platonism 39.3%; nominalism 37.7%; other 23.0%.
    3. Aesthetic value: objective 41.0%; subjective 34.5%; other 24.5%.
    4. Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes 64.9%; no 27.1%; other 8.1%.
    5. Epistemic justification: externalism 42.7%; internalism 26.4%; other 30.8%.
    6. External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.
    7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
    8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
    9. Knowledge claims: contextualism 40.1%; invariantism 31.1%; relativism 2.9%; other 25.9%.
    10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.
    11. Laws of nature: non-Humean 57.1%; Humean 24.7%; other 18.2%.
    12. Logic: classical 51.6%; non-classical 15.4%; other 33.1%.
    13. Mental content: externalism 51.1%; internalism 20.0%; other 28.9%.
    14. Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
    15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
    16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
    17. Moral judgment: cognitivism 65.7%; non-cognitivism 17.0%; other 17.3%.
    18. Moral motivation: internalism 34.9%; externalism 29.8%; other 35.3%.
    19. Newcomb’s problem: two boxes 31.4%; one box 21.3%; other 47.4%.
    20. Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
    21. Perceptual experience: representationalism 31.5%; qualia theory 12.2%; disjunctivism 11.0%; sense-datum theory 3.1%; other 42.2%.
    22. Personal identity: psychological view 33.6%; biological view 16.9%; further-fact view 12.2%; other 37.3%.
    23. Politics: egalitarianism 34.8%; communitarianism 14.3%; libertarianism 9.9%; other 41.0%.
    24. Proper names: Millian 34.5%; Fregean 28.7%; other 36.8%.
    25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.
    26. Teletransporter: survival 36.2%; death 31.1%; other 32.7%.
    27. Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
    28. Trolley problem: switch 68.2%; don’t switch 7.6%; other 24.2%.
    29. Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.
    30. Zombies: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%; metaphysically possible 23.3%; inconceivable 16.0%; other 25.1%.”

    – Wanna bet how many of the Truth: 6.9 % epistemic philosophers are atheists. And who are the other in God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%?

  23. Michael says:

    I think belief in hard determinism is a minority even among atheists. With regard to free will, among philosophers the majority view is compatibilism (59.1%). A small minority assert no free will (12.2%), which is Coyne’s view. (http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/04/29/what-do-philosophers-believe/)

    Interesting. I’d be curious to know that of the 12.2% that assert no free will, what % are atheists. Perhaps this issue is similar to infanticide. I suspect infanticide is accepted by only a minority of atheists, but among the people who advocate for infanticide, most seem to be atheists.

    Anyway, so Coyne wants to radically alter our society so that we view serial murderers and sexual predators as victims all because of some fringe position among philosophers.

    I’m not sure he argues that exactly, but whether he does or not, you wrote

    That’s the impression I got.

    > While the truth of determinism seems to be dependent on acceptance of an atheistic, materialistic worldview
    You didn’t say “While Coyne thinks the truth of determinism is dependent…”

    Whoa? So now you are quote-mining to support your point? Why ignore the context, especially when it’s the third sentence in my reaction to Coyne’s argument?

    You didn’t mention Coyne and wrote “seems to”, meaning you are the one making the (false) assertion, and that’s what I responded to.

    No. “Seems to” means I am expressing my impression. When asked to support determinism, Coyne appeals to materialism. And we know from other contexts, that Coyne connects atheism and materialism.

  24. A Silva says:

    But Michael, you finished the post with this argument,

    > Thus, from where I sit, my experience with free will counts as evidence for the existence of God. That is, if free will is incompatible with atheism, it would seem to me that atheism is false. Meaning, that theism is true.

    You depend upon upon free will being incompatible with atheism in order to reach your conclusion. But now, in your latest comment, you’ve abandoned that premise altogether, calling it a quote-mine. Which is it?

  25. Kevin says:

    I would assume Michael means, given this version of atheism espoused by Coyne, that his experience with having free will would be evidence that atheism (according to Coyne) is false. Given that Coyne’s post is the subject of the OP, this is the charitable interpretation of what Michael is saying.

    Of course, if there is reason to be UNcharitable in my interpretation of a post about Coyne being about Coyne’s views, then I’m willing to consider it. What’s the reason?

  26. Dhay says:

    A Silva > “[OP] > Thus, from where I sit, my experience with free will counts as evidence for the existence of God. That is, if free will is incompatible with atheism, it would seem to me that atheism is false. Meaning, that theism is true.”

    What part of if do you not understand.

  27. A Silva says:

    > What part of if do you not understand.

    OK, in that case the titular claim is fallacious because it is derived from an argument that is unsound. It doesn’t matter whether the OP did this on purpose or whether the OP was just misinformed.

  28. Kevin says:

    A Silva: “OK, in that case the titular claim is fallacious because it is derived from an argument that is unsound.”

    You aren’t doing yourself any favors by stretching this far to criticize Michael.

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