What will the will will, and will it will it again.

 The above statement sounds edgy and intuitively true, in addition to the apparent virtue that is seen in "taking responsibility for your choices". However, in a world that is, quite plausibly, causally complete, does it make any sense? To put it another way, in a world without the traditionally conceived human free will, are we any more to "blame" than the weather?

 An incompatabilist who accepts that determinism is true, and in so doing disagrees with the picture at the top, is often given this sort of rebuke: "You're just unhappy with your life-choices and would prefer to believe that the weather in Alaska caused you to do something morally blameworthy." This is a misunderstanding of the position of such a person, but the most obvious response is that the weather in Alaska is no more "responsible" for it's actions, even if it caused yours somehow, than you are for the weather in Alaska, even if you somehow affected it.

 To understand why I think this is so, you have to understand why I don't think we have free will or moral responsibility.

 One of the biggest obstacles to consensus in philosophy is defining what you are talking about in a way that other's can agree with. Free will has had a long, troubled history, and the various definitions debated today testify to the difficulty in really nailing down just what it means. Indeed, a number of you reading this will probably not be satisfied with any definition I might present; yet, tho I despair, I persist.

 My pet definition is one of an incompatibalist bent. I define the term as it appears, as a conjunction of two previously defined words, with their own previously accepted connotations, viz:

Free - Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.[google]also; - not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself [M&W]

Will - The faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action [google]

 At first blush, these definitions appear to justify compatibilism, in that it seems you could retain such freedom even if our minds' operations are explained completely by deterministic physical laws. Many compatibilists view the question along these lines, as decisions which are free from outside coercion. I think they are mistaken, and I think the reason lies in considering the limits of this supposed freedom.

 Let me begin with a story. Sam is minding his own business at home when he finds he wants a snickers bar. Sam, however, is on a diet, and a snickers bar is out of the question if he wants to remain true to his diet. So, despite Sam wanting a snickers bar, he chooses to ignore the urge and stick to the diet. Now, a few questions. Why did Sam want a snickers bar in the first place? Did Sam choose to want a snickers bar? When he declined to get a snickers bar, was he exercising free will by adhering to his dietary regimen? Why did Sam want to go on a diet in the first place?

 Each of these questions has an answer. One can always rationalize post hoc about their reasons for doing or wanting something, but notice that this is precisely like evaluating the reasons for someone else's behavior, or indeed, even an animal's behavior. Why did the dog lie down in that spot, at that moment, rather than another at another moment? Some number of reasons have already occurred to you, but remember, reader, before you jump to respond, that we are talking about a dog. Why would you feel the urge to defend a dog's freedom of will?

 The truth is, our conscious minds are governed by desires we neither author nor control, desires which are indulged only insofar as they do not conflict with other desires, which we likewise neither author nor control. Sam's desire for a snickers bar conflicted with his desire to diet properly, and neither desire was a choice he made consciously. The dog's desire to lie down in the shade conflicted with his desire to remain standing, and neither desire was a choice the dog made consciously. So this freedom, which has such intuitive allure, is only a surface truth; the compatibilists define free will in the context of a surface phenomenon, ignoring the true origin of the will being discussed. I've found several good arguments that run contrary to the definition compatibilists would use. Ask yourself: are you free to do what you do not want to do? and if you do, was it not because you wanted to?

 I define free will as the freedom to will what one wills, rather than the freedom to do as one wills. I am not defining free will out of existence, as might be claimed; I am defining something that doesn't exist. Most compatibilists concur with the traditional notion of free will being an illusion.

 The question of moral responsibility weighs heavily on this topic. If we lack this freedom, how can moral responsibility gain traction? If we are not to blame for our choices, and the weather is equally not to blame, who is to blame for the wrong, and who is to be lauded for the right? Short answer-no one. Moral responsibility, traditionally understood, is an illusion, resting as it is on the illusion of free will. More on this in a future post (otherwise these things would go on forever).


 For more information about how I formed this opinion, see this video, and read this book. Obviously my influences extend beyond one source, but though my endeavors to disagree with this individual have taken me far afield, I have thus far failed to find a compelling argument against his position, or a stronger argument for another. So, inextricably, I hold this view.

The Pious Have Bills To Pay, Too

Colorado shooting: tragic. I don't know why it occurred, where "blame" should properly lie outside of the lone gunman, or how any of the victims might feel. I tend not to spend much time reveling in the gory details, but Facebook has once again delivered a religious proclamation that makes me despise the religious mindset all over again.

The article that cropped up in my timeline is here, where a local pastor relates the story of a woman whose brain had a "defect" which allowed a piece of a shotgun blast pass through her grey matter, seemingly without any permanent cognitive damage. Said pastor calls this "miraculous" when they hear the tale from the operating doctor. He claims it was an instance of "God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future."

He has received some mild pushback from the skeptical, to which he has constructed a forked approach, first saying, "If we are honest, we must admit we cannot explain everything." Later, he justifies God's non-intervention in the case of the shooter, saying, "We are free to act for good or evil." Why? Because "Choice and freedom are removed if I[God] jury-rig the consequences." He goes on to completely contradict himself when he says, "God interacts in the normal course of events in such a way that outcomes are changed from the normal workings of the universe." This, in and of itself, represents a stark example of self-refutation that (nearly) renders any effort of mine superfluous. However, it's actually even worse.

I will presently argue three basic points:

A) There is no more reason to suppose that God created the miraculous channel in Petra's brain than that he failed to create those same channels in the bodies and heads of the other victims.

B) The very idea of contravening the natural course of events violates the Christian claim that God cannot prevent any of the evil presently in the world.

C) Even if this special case was the work of God, the adulation of God is utterly misplaced in the aftermath of this event.

In defense of A, I would simply point out that to claim we have discerned the "beneficence" of God through sparing one woman's life while dozens fell around her, is to say that good fortune suddenly grants us some special insight that misery denies us. If God's ways truly are mysterious, we are in no position to attribute the outcomes we prefer to God's actions and the outcomes we do not prefer to some void of confusion. If we can, for a moment, admit that we do not know the mind of God, we immediately see that the 6-year-old whose body did not have special bullet channels, for example, is the failure of God's non-intervention. Where was he when this child was formed, and his internal organs were placed directly into the future path of destruction. Busy carving the virgin mary into a tree in New Jersey, apparently.

In defense of B, I will point out an example used by Christian apologist William Lane Craig in support of the consistency between God's existence and the existence of evil. It has been suggested, by his opponents, that God could turn some bullets to rubber, or butterflies, before they hit their target. In this way, choices might retain their moral content, while no innocent has to suffer for this moral freedom. Dr. Craig responds that this would turn the world into a playground, where no bad choices have bad consequences, and thus bad choices would not retain their moral content. If you fire at someone in this playground world, no one would be hurt, so why would firing in such a way, in that world, be a "bad" thing? This pastor's miracle is but one example, but the principle is the same. If he can create one mind with special bullet-channels without stripping us of our freedom or moral responsibility, why can he not create all minds, and bodies, similarly? By Craig's argument, he cannot even do this once without violating creaturely freedom, and so if God modified Petra's brain in such a way, then the concept of creaturely freedom in the Christian context is rendered false. Since said freedom is a necessary component in the Christian religion (i.e. it cannot be false while Christianity is true), this event is either not miraculous, or the Christian God is a fiction.

In defense of C, let's consider what it means for an action to be morally praiseworthy. If a man's actions provide some benefit to someone else, at no cost to himself, we intuitively view this as mildly praiseworthy. Yes, he did something good, but it isn't as though he went out of his way to do anything. The recipient may be thankful, but should anyone else view this as all that morally praiseworthy? I don't think so. Now consider another man whose actions provide some benefit to someone else, and significant cost to himself. We immediately recognize the difference in how much praise each man deserves. The first may give $100 to a charity, yet possesses millions that he does not donate. The second may give the same $100 to a charity, and have to walk to work for a week because that was his gas money. Obviously the cost of an action to the actor is directly proportional to the level of praise we might visit on the actor.

In the wake of this tragedy, we have received (at least)two claims of praiseworthy behavior. In the first, a "good" God who fiddled with some woman's biology in order that she might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. God has sacrificed nothing to do this, his powers, such as they are, remain unaffected, and his person unmolested. In the second, we have a man who shielded his friends from gunfire so that they might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. The second man sacrificed everything that he has and could possibly give in order to save his friends. Now I submit, on C, that while we may, perhaps, lend light praise to God, we might also wonder why he did not do more. In contrast, on C, the men and women who gave their very lives have so far outstripped the pathetic effort of an all-powerful deity in moral terms that to spare even that light praise on God is a complete waste of time.

Of course, if you read the article, you'll notice that the lion's share of the pastor's time is spent extolling the virtues of God, likewise his supportive commenters. True courage, true sacrifice, truly morally praiseworthy action is readily available, and what does this pastor focus on? God. It's almost as if he has a stake in keeping God in the picture; as if, perhaps, he might benefit from highlighting a supposed "miracle" from God rather than the actions of some brave men and women.

This sort of blatant opportunism makes me sick. A church is a business, and this is an instance of capitalizing on tragedy. It is the (socially acceptable) equivalent of slapping a gun advert over a still shot of the carnage.