Free Will: Evidence for God

Does atheism entail determinism?  Atheist Jerry Coyne seems to think so.  Some time ago, he made 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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26 Responses to Free Will: Evidence for God

  1. Gary Good says:

    Greater evidence for God is that Coyne doesn’t live his life as if determinism is true. He cannot live consistently with his worldview because deep down he knows God exists (Rom 1:19).

  2. TFBW says:

    I could nitpick about Coyne’s “stuff on the macro scale is deterministic” canard. In computing (my area of expertise) it’s rather important for security to be able to generate non-deterministic outputs (“entropy”). Your browser relies on this fact every time it claims “your connection is secure.” So Coyne is wrong in an important sense: most stuff is near-deterministic on the macro scale, but you can make it highly non-deterministic through careful design if you have that goal in mind. The quantum effects do tend to disappear at the macro level, but you can select to amplify them if you want to.

    Even so, Gary Good (above) has a much better point. In answer to my point, one may say that pure randomness is not the stuff from which free will is made. I concede that point: the aim of the exercise is merely to debunk determinism, not prove free will. Coyne hangs his claim on determinism, and determinism is bunk, but Gary’s point is much better made: Coyne does not (and can not) behave as though determinism were true. If he were to do so, he would appear insane, incoherent, or utterly inhuman.

    Michael’s point about “lived experience” is valid, but a much more superficial observation of human nature should serve to drive the point home. If humans were deterministic, they wouldn’t be interesting: they could be replaced by computer programs. Granted, some people in some capacity can be replaced by computer programs, but that’s because they are not expressing the full possibilities of human existence. Some of Coyne’s behaviour is nigh-deterministic in its predictability, but those are the points at which he diverges most drastically from actual human nature and converges most closely with his own two-dimensional, deterministic facsimile of humanity.

  3. Atheists constantly live at odds with the conclusions they promote. Very few of them admit that the only logical outcome of their worldview is nihilism. I suspect, however, that it will only take a generation or two until we get to nihilism, or at least a lot closer to it.

  4. Atheism is simply a conclusion that there are no god or gods, and every Christian is also an atheist against every other god that they are sure doesn’t exist.

    There is no evidence of free will, to be able to whatever one wants with no influencing factors. Humans do have an illusion of it since we can’t know what all influences us at a given time.

    Per your bible, this god interferes with humans constantly. That, in and of itself, destroys the concept of free will for humans, since as soon as an omnipotent being chooses to stop an action of a human, poof goes free will.

    “The evidence for God is not some writing in the sky. It’s with me each and every moment.”

    Really? This is exactly what every theist claims, and funny how they say it about gods that the other theists don’t believe in and can’t show to exist themselves. Even Christians make the claim about their various versions of their god and can’t even convince each other that their one is the “truth”.

  5. TFBW says:

    There is no evidence of free will, to be able to whatever one wants with no influencing factors.

    Straw.

  6. Michael says:

    Atheism is simply a conclusion that there are no god or gods, and every Christian is also an atheist against every other god that they are sure doesn’t exist.

    These are atheist talking points that have been dealt with before. The subject of this blog entry effectively boils down to this statement:
    What I am sensing here is that atheism is incompatible with free will.

    There is no evidence of free will, to be able to whatever one wants with no influencing factors. Humans do have an illusion of it since we can’t know what all influences us at a given time.

    So yet another atheist who denies free will. More support for my point.

    Per your bible, this god interferes with humans constantly. That, in and of itself, destroys the concept of free will for humans, since as soon as an omnipotent being chooses to stop an action of a human, poof goes free will.

    Nonsense. You confuse free will with getting what you want.

  7. Ilíon says:

    ==Does atheism entail determinism? ==

    Yes.

    To put the question another way —

    ==Does [the denial of agency at the “foundation” of reality] entail [that there are no agents in reality]? ==

  8. Ilíon says:

    an intellectually dishonest fool:Atheism is simply a conclusion that there are no god or gods …

    Their “god or gods” trope is a perfect illustration fo their intellectual dishonesty. Multiple “Gods” is a contradiction in terms.

    … and every Christian is also an atheist against every other god that they are sure doesn’t exist.

    As does that trope.

    =========
    an intellectually dishonest fool:Atheism is simply a conclusion that …

    And yet, you fools never show your work.

  9. Ilíon says:

    ==The evidence for God is not some writing in the sky. It’s with me each and every moment.==

    Exactly. As I always say: YOU are the proof that God is

  10. Mr. Ron says:

    It seems that an honest determinist atheist should conclude that not only their un-belief in any god is a deterministic outcome, but also that others’ belief in God is also a deterministic outcome. Yet many atheists persistently rail at religious people for choosing to believe.

  11. Unsurprisingly, Michael, you cannot show that my definition of atheism is wrong nor can you show that you aren’t an atheist when it comes to all of those gods you don’t believe in.

    As I stated, there is no free will, not as *some*, not all, Christians claim. And it’s absolutely hilarious that you claimn that since I deny free will, I somehow support your point, which is that there is free will. Alas, you have yet to show that exists.

    it’s also hilarious to watch you try to claim that free will isn’t getting what you want from your actions. That is exactly what free will is. “Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded” wikipedia article on Free Will

    If we cannot get what we want, what we choose, then there is no free will. As soon as a Christian claims that there is “God’s Plan”, then free will is dead, for no one can alter the course of their actions from what his god requires.

    Do tell how this god forcing humans to act in certain ways allows for free will, Michael. You can, right?

  12. Ilíon says:

    Exactly, Mr.Ron. That’s one more example of what others have mentioned, namely that no one can *live* as though mechanistic determinism (*), which is to say, atheism (**), were the truth about the nature of reality.

    Extending the thought further: an intellectually honest ‘atheist/determinist’ would conclude that … no one can conclude anything, for no one can reason in the first place, for each step in one’s illusion that one is engaging in’ reasoning’ is itself “a deterministic outcome“, having nothing to do with the illusion of examining ‘logical relationships’ between (illusionary) ‘concepts’.

    (*) I generally refer to it as ‘mechanistic determinism’, rather than simply ‘determinism’, so as to emphasize what this assertion about the nature of reality *means*; and also to try to reduce the God-deniers’ ability to equivocate, as they love to do — as see that intellectually dishonest rabid God-denier above equivocating between “influencing factors” and “mechanistically determined”.

    (**) ‘determinism’ and ‘atheism’ each entails the other; for both are the denial not only that agency exists, but that it is foundational to reality. The two are really just different ways of asserting the same thing.

  13. Ilíon says:

    Mr.Ron:It seems that an honest determinist atheist should conclude that not only their un-belief in any god is a deterministic outcome, but also that others’ belief in God is also a deterministic outcome. Yet many atheists persistently rail at religious people for choosing to believe.

    Consider the “evidence” against free-will presented above by that rabidly intellectually dishonest God-hater:

    There is no evidence of free will, to be able to whatever one wants with no influencing factors. Humans do have an illusion of it since we can’t know what all influences us at a given time.

    1) He “misrepresents” what “free will” means and entails;

    2) And, of course, neither that nor anything else he says is either evidence or argument. As is the wont of these intellectually dishonest God-deniers, they implicitly assert that their mere assertion settles the assertion as established and unquestionable fact;

    3) BUT, as with their other favorite mere assertion (“There is no evidence that God is”), were one to ask, “What would count as evidence for ‘free will’?” one will get no answer.

    Per your bible, this god interferes with humans constantly. That, in and of itself, destroys the concept of free will for humans, since as soon as an omnipotent being chooses to stop an action of a human, poof goes free will.

    4) Again, he “misrepresents” what “free will” means and entails;

    5) He cannot produce one single instance recorded in the Bible when God “poofed” someone’s “free will”. There are instances recorded in which God prevented the result or consequence of some person’s free exercise of their will, but as Michael said above, “Nonsense. You confuse free will with getting what you want.

    Lastly …

    … Even Christians make the claim about their various versions of their god and can’t even convince each other that their one is the “truth”.

    6) He “misrepresents” the disagreements between the various Christian factions;

    7) Even with that “misrepresentation”, RIGHT HERE, he has presented some of that allegedly non-existent evidence for “free will” …. and he has demonstrated that he himself doesn’t believe his own assertion of the non-existence of “free will”.

  14. TFBW says:

    … you cannot show that my definition of atheism is wrong …

    True: nothing could show you that your definition of atheism is wrong. You make your own decisions about what words mean. You have your own definition of atheism, and your own definition of free will, and everyone else is wrong because they are wrong by your definitions. Your rules, your game, your victory. It’s the way small children play before they learn better.

    I’m glad we’ve settled why engaging with you is pointless, but thanks all the same for providing voluntary demonstrations of Michael’s claims regarding the incompatibility of atheism and free will. If there’s an atheist in the audience who thinks they can demonstrate the opposite, step right up.

  15. Michael says:

    As I stated, there is no free will, not as *some*, not all, Christians claim. And it’s absolutely hilarious that you claimn that since I deny free will, I somehow support your point, which is that there is free will.

    You missed the point. I was speaking of atheism being incompatible with acceptance of free will. You a) being an atheist who b) denies free will is what we would expect of my hypothesis is true. I’d predict that any new free will deniers who show up here would likely be atheists.

    Alas, you have yet to show that exists.

    Who gets to decide that?

    it’s also hilarious to watch you try to claim that free will isn’t getting what you want from your actions. That is exactly what free will is. “Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded” wikipedia article on Free Will If we cannot get what we want, what we choose, then there is no free will.

    This is nonsense. Let’s say you do into a Casino, put money into a slot machine, and pull the lever. You, like every other player, want to win. But you don’t. You don’t get what you want. Your logic would have us believe you did not play the machine as a free choice because you lost. Like I said, nonsense. You seem to be confusing free will with wish granting.

    As soon as a Christian claims that there is “God’s Plan”, then free will is dead, for no one can alter the course of their actions from what his god requires. Do tell how this god forcing humans to act in certain ways allows for free will, Michael. You can, right?

    All of this entails a shallow and superficial understanding of God and theology – a very common trait among atheists. I don’t think God has a “plan,” as having a plan assumes He is within time looking toward the future. He doesn’t force anyone to act in a certain way because there is no need to. The sum of all our free choices simply leads to a end place and He knows it.

    I went over this almost 10 years ago: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/michael-ruse-almost-gets-it/

  16. Tom says:

    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

    Yeah, this is really going to reassure those who think that the atheist/materialist worldview is implicitly dehumanizing….. 🙄

  17. Pingback: if your religion has you defending absurdities | Random thoughts

  18. John C Wright has written on this more than once.

    I personally always find it quite humorous when the pro-determinist side ARGUES their case.

    . . .

    Also I see the link to the maasaiboys is full as ever of shallow thinkers believing themselves wise.

  19. Ilíon says:

    “I personally always find it quite humorous when the pro-determinist side ARGUES their case.”

    For some values of “argue” … and then holds others to be at intellectual and *moral* fault for not being convinced by their “arguments”.

  20. True. But even that attempt calls to mind…

  21. Dhay says:

    > Does atheism entail determinism? Atheist Jerry Coyne seems to think so. Some time ago, he made it quite clear how his views of determinism follow from his acceptance of atheism/materialism:

    Michael’s OP then quotes Coyne’s argument (which I have trimmed to its essentials):

    The best answer I can give … is to say that our brain is made of matter, and matter follows the laws of physics. … Since our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains, which obey the laws of physics, … our behaviors at any one instant are determined as well by the configuration of molecules in the Universe.

    Or in other words, according to Coyne there’s no free will, and there cannot be, because nothing happens or can happen that cannot be explained by science or natural causes. Step two is:

    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 … of our behavior.

    Let’s see what a recent Pew Research study reports:

    An even larger majority of Americans (83%) believe things happen that cannot be explained by science or natural causes.

    https://www.pewforum.org/2021/11/23/views-on-the-afterlife/

    Let’s re-cast that: only 17%, one in six, of Americans agree with Coyne’s philosophical materialism, his argument-by-personal-incredulity that only what can be explained by science or natural causes ever happens; 83%, five out of six, of Americans reject Coyne’s philosophical materialism, hence by implication must reject Coyne’s argument for the impossibility of free will because the argued impossibility is based on a premise they believe to be false.

    Back to “Does atheism entail determinism?” The same paragraph continues:

    Atheists are again a notable exception, with only a third (34%) saying they believe things happen that cannot be explained by science or natural causes.

    I’ll point out here that Atheists (34%) are listed separately from Agnostics (65%) and ‘Nothing in particular’ (80%) in the accompanying table, the 34% figure is not for the Unaffiliated (aka Nones), it’s for card-carrying (as the expression goes) atheists. Because fully one third of atheists reject Coyne’s philosophical materialism, fully one third of atheists must reject Coyne’s argument for the impossibility of free will.

    No, atheism definitely doesn’t entail determinism, a third of atheists are non-determinists.

  22. Ilíon says:

    No, atheism definitely doesn’t entail determinism, a third of atheists are non-determinists.

    The *entailments* of atheism (or any other “-ism”, for that matter) do not follow from what its adherents are willing to acknowledge. The entailments of any “-ism” follow from its premises.

    And atheism — all varieties, both Eastern and Western — most definitely does entail determinism, for the fundamental premise of atheism — the very thing which makes it what it is — is the denial that there is an Agent Who is deliberately responsible for the existence of all else that is. Since ‘atheism’ is the fundamental denial of the reality of the First Agent, it thus inescapably entails the denial of *all* possibility of agency — it’s impossible to get “yes” from “no”; it’s impossible to get “exists” from “doesn’t exist”.

  23. Ilíon says:

    No, atheism definitely doesn’t entail determinism, a third of atheists are non-determinists.

    The *entailments* of atheism (or any other “-ism”, for that matter) do not follow from what its adherents are willing to acknowledge. The entailments of any “-ism” follow from its premises.

    And atheism — all varieties, both Eastern and Western — most definitely does entail determinism, for the fundamental premise of atheism — the very thing which makes it what it is — is the denial that there is an Agent Who is deliberately responsible for the existence of all else that is. Since ‘atheism’ is the fundamental denial of the reality of the First Agent, it thus inescapably entails the denial of *all* possibility of agency — it’s impossible to get “yes” from “no”; it’s impossible to get “exists” from “doesn’t exist”.

    Coyne, condensed: “ The best answer I can give … is to say that our brain is made of matter, and matter follows the laws of physics. … Since our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains, which obey the laws of physics, … our behaviors at any one instant are determined as well by the configuration of molecules in the Universe.

    Where in physical space is the premise that “our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains” located? What is its 3-dimentional extension in space? What *particular* matter is it made of? Is it a solid, a liquid, a gas, a plasma? What is its mass? What is its color and taste, if any? What is it viscosity? How opaque is it? *How* does it obey or conform to the “laws of physics”?

    Where in physical space is the conclusion that “our behaviors at any one instant are determined as well by the configuration of molecules in the Universe” located? What is its 3-dimentional extension in space? What *particular* matter is it made of? Is it a solid, a liquid, a gas, a plasma? What is its mass? What is its color and taste, if any? What is it viscosity? How opaque is it? *How* does it obey or conform to the “laws of physics”?

    *Which* “law of physics” compels, and *how* does it so compel, the assertion that “our behaviors all come from our material bodies and brains” to generate the “emergent” further assertion that “our behaviors at any one instant are determined as well by the configuration of molecules in the Universe“?

    ===
    As I’m forever banging on, if God-denial were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then all thought and all reasoning and all knowledge and all meaning would be impossible, including the thought that the assertion “There is no God” is a true and meaningful statement about the nature of reality.

    Hell! Not only did C S Lewis show this fatal logical and epistemic flaw of ‘materialism’ in his time, but so did British Prime Minister Balfour well over a century ago.

  24. Dhay says:

    A central part of Jerry Coyne’s argument for ‘No Free Will’ is that, “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.”

    Here’s part of a 2014 Huffington Post interview of the astrophysicist and science populiser, Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

    Interviewer: What things do you find most awesome?

    Tyson: There are two. One relates to the formation of the heavy elements in the stars landing inside the human body and all life on Earth. In terms of the most astonishing fact about which we know nothing, there is dark matter and dark energy. We don’t know what either of them is. Everything we know and love about the universe and all the laws of physics as they apply, apply to four percent of the universe. That’s stunning. That’s as humbling a fact as there is.
    [My emboldening — Dhay]

    https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/neil-degrasse-tyson-cosmos-god-alien-life-multiverses-interview_n_4790408

    Do tell me if there’s been any change in that figure of a mere 4% of the universe being “stuff on the macro scale [that] is deterministic in its behavior.”

    If you want to allow for a free-will-of-the-gaps, that 96% is one hell of a gap. Coyne, by omitting it, effectively hand-waves away that 96% of “stuff” where “all the laws of physics as they apply, are [not known to] apply.”

    If free will, self, God and anything supernatural whatsoever can be hand-waved away because there’s (allegedly) no room for them in the known 4%, they can surely be hand-waved back into (at least) consideration because of the unknown 96%.

  25. Ilíon says:

    Dhay: ==A central part of Jerry Coyne’s argument for ‘No Free Will’ is that, “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.”==

    Moreover, his “argument” is disingenuous, at best. For, that is assuredly *not* “all you have to … accept” to arrive at his desiderium of ‘No Free Will’. You also have to accept his hidden assumption that … wait for it … we are not free wills / we are not agents; his “argument* assumes his “conclusion”.

    No one denies that “our bodies and brains are made of stuff ”; the dispute is over whether we are what we are made of.

  26. Dhay says:

    In his 13 June 2022 “A meta-analysis of many studies shows no long-term consequences of giving up belief in free will” Jerry Coyne makes plain his relief that the meta-analysis shows there is no moral detriment (nor benefit, I note) associated with belief in no-free-will; Coyne has long detested the conclusion drawn by many of the studies that a decrease in belief in free will resulted in a statistically significant decrease in moral values in the experimental subjects.

    I’ll just overview the main fault with these studies, which is that they are ‘nudge’ type experiments. If I were nudge your arm in the supermarket, I might divert your hand to select a different can of beans (or more probably not); if I were to claim the other beans are tastier I might have better success at getting you to choose them this once, and this is a metaphorical ‘nudge’.

    The type of metaphorical nudge actually used in the studies was, typically, getting the experimental subjects to read one or two pro-no-free-will passages between two sessions where they made the moral choices to be compared to see if the readings had caused a difference; this is about as weak a nudge as can be conceived, it’s barely a suggestion, so it’s faulty design from the start; and it’s a suggestion made to (typically) first-year psychology students, intelligent enough to know that reading this passage will be relevant and eager to give the experimenters (authority figures to them) the results the students rightly or wrongly discern are wanted; it might well be that these studies — and ‘nudge’ experiments in general — detect and measure is the students’ ability to discern from the texts read what the experiment is about, hence what result the experimenters are looking for, they test the students’ willingness to obligingly provide it. This fault alone makes the experimental design risible.

    Such a slight nudge cannot be expected to have life-changing consequences, or even for its slight effects to persist beyond the experiment — as Ezekiel says, “the days pass and the vision fades.” This fault, too, makes the experimental design risible.

    I never got as far as considering other faults, these sufficed for me to dismiss the studies with contempt, but Coyne does a good job of explaining to his readers the many faults (including the Replication Crisis) that the meta-analysis found with the studies. I found him well worth a read.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2022/06/13/a-meta-analysis-of-many-studies-shows-no-long-term-consequences-of-giving-up-belief-in-free-will/

    What amazes me is that Coyne himself did not himself see the obvious faults; or if he ever did, he seems not to have pointed them out, despite being heavily invested in the falsity of the studies’ conclusions. Hmmm…

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