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“This American Life” on NPR covers (and denies the existence of) free will

  1. 2. The Nature of Free Will
  2. The Curse of Free Will: Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen
  3. The Dangerous Doctrine of Free Will | Psychology Today

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  • Free Will: The Last Great Lie – Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County NJ.

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2. The Nature of Free Will

The first step in so-called evangelism today is to convict people concerning sin. The doctrine of free will starts with the premise that your sins still stand against you. Your sins are still keeping God from you, and you from God.

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This is a direct denial of the work of Christ. This is the essence of the free will teaching: Your sins still count against you. This is why people are forced to make a free will decision to accept Christ. It is your free will decision, not the sacrifice of Christ, which finally removes sin and paves the way to God. Millions of people believe this teaching. Millions of people have been taught to trust in their faith, rather than in the faith of Christ.

Therefore, because of false evangelists and their false gospel, people continue to trust in themselves instead of in Christ. Then the skeptic claims that those properties are not to be found among the fundamental physical features of our world.

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  6. Different skeptics focus on different properties. For instance, some neuroscientists and philosophers such as Patricia and Paul Churchland say we should understand human behavior not so much at the cognitive, psychological level where we invoke explicit mental states, goals, intentions, and purposes, but rather at a lower level of description, as the product of biophysical processes in the brain. Human beings have a strong tendency to ascribe intentions to all sorts of phenomena, like the weather, natural disasters, or rivers.

    We no longer do that. As brain science becomes more advanced, we may dispose with ascriptions of intentionality even to human beings. If we are searching for free will at the fundamental physical level, we are simply searching in the wrong place. The second line of argument says, if the universe is deterministic, as at least some of our best physical theories suggest, then there is no room for alternative possibilities to choose from.

    The Curse of Free Will: Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen

    Determinism is the thesis that if we fix the complete state of the universe at a particular point in time, only one future trajectory of states is possible. If we fix the state of the world at the time of the Big Bang or shortly after, the entire sequence of events thereafter would be inexorably fixed. Benjamin Libet found that the conscious decision to press a button is not the beginning of the causal sequence that initiates the process, but there is first a certain pattern of unconscious or subconscious brain activity, and he interpreted this as a challenge for free will.

    Quantum weirdness

    These arguments have considerable force. Or maybe we must redefine what we mean by alternative possibilities. It might be that I was always going to choose coffee rather than tea, but if hypothetically the world had been a little bit different, I would have made a different choice. I am quite happy to concede that free will requires intentional agency, alternative possibilities among which we can choose, and causation of our actions by our mental states. I think the mistake in the standard arguments against free will lies in a failure to distinguish between different levels of description.

    What do you say to those who consider the idea that humans are beings with goals and intentions, and that we act on them, a prescientific holdover? If you try to make sense of human behavior, not just in ordinary life but also in the sciences, then the ascription of intentionality is indispensable. Suppose I ask a taxi driver to take me to Paddington Station.

    The Dangerous Doctrine of Free Will | Psychology Today

    The next day, I tell the driver to take me to St. Pancras Station. Now the driver takes me to St. If I look at the underlying microphysical activity, it would be very difficult to pinpoint what those two events have in common.

    If we switch to the intentional mode of explanation, we can very easily explain why the taxi driver takes me to Paddington on the first day, and what the difference is on the second day that leads the driver to take me to St. The taxi driver understands our communication, forms the intention to take me to a particular station, and is clearly incentivized to do so because this is the way for the driver to earn a living. The neuroscientific skeptic is absolutely right that, at the fundamental physical level, there is no such thing as intentional goal-directed agency. The mistake is to claim that there is no such thing at all.

    Intentional agency is an emergent higher-level property, but it is no less real for that. Whenever our best scientific explanations of a particular phenomenon commit us to postulating certain entities or properties, then it is very good scientific practice to treat those postulated entities or properties as genuinely real. We observe patterns and regularities in our social and human environment, and the best way to make sense of those patterns and regularities is by assigning intentional agency to the people involved.

    In some parts the cracked earth exhales a cool air generated by The jury is out on whether the world is fundamentally deterministic—it depends on how we interpret quantum mechanics—but suppose it is. This does not necessitate that the world is also deterministic at some higher level of description. Indeterminism at the level of psychology is required for free will and alternative possibilities. That is entirely compatible with determinism at the fundamental physical level.

    Think about weather forecasting. Meteorologists are interested in higher-level patterns and regularities. In fact, the very notion of weather is a higher-level notion. At the level of individual air molecules, there is no such thing as weather.