Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Freewill: Answering The Critics

In this piece, I discuss once more with some atheists on whether there is freewill and whether freewill is destroyed by supernatural agency if there are instructions or recommendations ensuing from on high:

Commands operate with a disregard for free will, commands preempt the free agent and EXPECT an automated response in line with stimulus either reward or punishment. To claim God grants and thereafter issues a Command, implies God immediately withdrew the free will at the issuance of the command or else a conflict evolves.

Its impossible to believe rewards and punishments are ineffective at a free agent, with our modern knowledge on psychology; positive reinforcement, conditioning play a big role our psychological setup. We impulsively avoid pain. We seek out pain to gain greater pleasure. Our bodies and minds are pre-tuned.

Hence to claim our free will is outside the influence of the consequence of our actions, is ridiculous.

Kay 17 and Wiegraf:

There is a fundamental misunderstanding here of what freewill is. It is a misunderstanding that has been repeatedly echoed despite the fact that the error has already been addressed. Some of the misunderstanding stems unfortunately from your jaundiced paraphrasing of what I have said. The imprecision in articulating what you think I have said or perhaps the misapprehension of such is perhaps to blame here.

Freewill/freely willed actions/voluntary actions, I repeat, are not invalidated or rendered non-existent simply because there is a threat or a promise attached to their undertaking. The fundamental and categorical error that an atheist or a moral nihilist is making here is to draw a false equivalence between freewill on the one hand and freedom from the consequences of one’s actions on the other.

The concept of freewill simply posits that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or even divine forces. As free rational and moral agents, human beings possess the ability of their own will or intention or desire to effect or actualize any number of actions or goals. For instance, I can freely will or decide to stand up, or sit down, or hop on one foot, or sing a song in the shower, or turn the television on, or tell a lie, or help a neighbor in need, or poison another person’s drink etc. I can freely think and nurture these intentions and execute them if I so choose. In other words, I am not a cybernetic pre-programmed organism merely acting out a predetermined script or program. These freely willed actions of mine as anyone can see (and which in fact sensible atheists affirm) are not and do not need to be immediately and directly caused by any concatenation of noticeable physical forces. In other words, if I pick up a knife and proceed to stab another person in the back with the intent to kill, I cannot claim that my actions were completely outside my control or that some external physical forces ought to be blamed for my conscious rational decision.

If the free voluntary actions of human beings were really thought to be no more than the dictates of some personally removed agency, then there’d be no basis upon which to accuse anyone of wrongdoing; moral accountability or even moral culpability goes out the window. On such a view—such as might be espoused by a moral nihilist or a strong advocate of Darwinian naturalism—murder, rape and child abuse for instance would be morally neutral or perhaps morally permissible actions being that the persons committing such actions clearly exercise no control over these actions. They would merely be acting out some physical or naturalistic predetermined script being utterly captive to the same. Now, I suspect that no atheist is going to want to be thought of as lacking a sufficient moral barometer, and thus it is not surprising to read or hear atheists squeal in protest at any charge that the logical extrapolation of their worldview—the determinism inherent in unvarnished naturalism—would necessitate such demeaning conclusions.  The plain fact of the matter is that these are voluntary actions based on my own personal freewill.

However—and this is a noteworthy distinction—in as much as I have the freedom to will, purpose, aim, intend, contemplate or plot some course of action (notice how I am painstakingly delineating a difference here), I do not have and cannot demand to have a freedom from the consequence of that action.  This is the point of departure folks; it is precisely on this score that the atheist/nihilist gets it wrong. Actions have consequences and the consequences for our actions have to be faced. One’s freewill is not obviated simply by pleading that one’s freely willed actions ought not to carry any threat of punishment. Follow me as I attempt to expatiate on this.

Suppose that you designed a gigantic, intricate house. Also, assume that to deal with possible incidences of burglary you designed a secret chamber in which you kept bloodthirsty vicious hounds capable of ripping a man to pieces. At night, when everyone was safely tucked in, you would quietly let slip the dogs of ‘war’. In the morning, having completed the night watch, these hounds will crawl back into their secret chambers and you would lock them up again. Now, assume furthermore that you had a visitor whom you warned expressly not to go outside at night for whatever reason because you had vicious man-eating dogs on the prowl. Now here’s the question: does the visitor in this thought experiment have the free will to  obey or disobey the owner of the house as it regards not going outside at night?

It would appear that from your understanding, you imagine that the visitor in this thought experiment had inexplicably lost his freewill. That idea is unquestionably false. By what strange mechanism did the visitor in this example suddenly lose the ability to purpose, aim, intend, design, contemplate or plot a lovely night stroll into the woods at the back of the house? It is clear that he still has every freedom of the will to desire to venture outside the premises in clear contravention of the house owner’s directions. He might consider the consequence of such an ill-advised night stroll and of his own free will decide that it probably was not worth the effort. However, if he acts on this same freewill (which at no time was ever impeded) and freely decides to venture outside (possibly because he disbelieved the owner of the house), then he cannot upon seeing the hasty advance of bloodthirsty canines declare the housekeeper unjust on the grounds that his freewill was tampered with or preempted. He cannot declare that freewill ought to imply that he should be free of the direct consequence of his decisions and actions. That will be the height of crass buffoonery.

Again, if I tell a child not to put his hand into a fire because doing so would get him burned, he has every right to do so or not do so. It is his personal choice. What the unthinking atheist fantasizes about is to have an impractical state of affairs whereby he is absolved of or free of the consequences of his actions. Like a child who inflexibly sticks his fingers into an open flame in defiance of his parent’s admonition, the atheist wants a scenario where he is able to retrieve his finger from the flame and have it unburned as it naturally should. Or to press the point further home, the atheist or moral nihilist imagines that the concept of freewill is undermined or torpedoed by suggesting that a man who seriously intended to murder a roomful of children might be given pause by the realization that he would be imprisoned or possibly killed for going through with such an action.  It is clear that such a would-be mass murderer has absolutely no problem with willing, contemplating and even carrying out these actions (freewill) but he is definitely not entitled to thinking that he ought to be free of the consequences or ramifications of that action.

Therefore, whether we impulsively avoid pain, or instinctively hanker after pleasure, the fact is that such pain-minimizing or pleasure-maximizing personal indulgences speak only to the proper working of our homeostasis-seeking faculties; our desire for some sort of equilibrium. They do not dictate and cannot impose on any rational moral agent’s freewill. Like I pointed out earlier, it is abundantly clear that people can freely will and execute some actions DESPITE the possible threat of some negative consequence. In like manner, it is also evident that people can also freely will and desist from taking some action DESPITE the possible promise of some positive consequence. In all cases, it is patently absurd to suggest that such voluntary human actions (borne out of our libertarian free will) automatically become non-existent because some natural or divine agency has ordained some deleterious consequence for certain actions.

You’ll reap what you sow if not here then in the hereafter—whether anyone wants it to be so or not is I’m afraid immaterial.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Want To Share Your Thoughts Or Comments? That's awesome! Please consider joining my site to make the process smoother. Click the link near the top left sidebar.

OR, you can use your online ID as your profile (Google, Yahoo, Livejournal, AOL, Hyves, Blogger, Flickr, Wordpress, Verisgn, etc).

Don't have any of those? Well, you can still comment. Just grab an OpenID here