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Responses on free will

There are two topics that seem to reliably bring people of strong opinion out of the woodwork every time they're brought up: feminism, and to a much lesser extent free will. I got quite a few comments on my post last week in which I took Jerry Coyne to task for overstating the implications of a recent study on decision-making. Rather than try to respond to each one with a separate comment (since many of them touch on similar issues) I thought I'd just consolidate my responses in a new post.

If there's any confusion about where I stand on free will, reading that post as well as this one – which was heavily influence by this post by Sean Carroll – ought to clear the air. The following quoted sections are some of the more notable excerpts from comments I received:
Yes, the processes going on in the brain that lead to an action (which we could call a "decision") is a real process, but could another "decision" have occurred given the same state? If not, th…

Frans de Waal: Has militant atheism become a religion?

Frans de Waal is a powerful voice for the nontheist community, having long advocated that morality is not some sort of veneer plastered over a darker nature of humankind but a fundamental part of our social, cooperative nature. He's often spoken directly against the notion that some sort of deity is needed to provide a grounding for moral values, and he backs up his claims with decades of research on primate behavior. I've read several of his books (Our Inner Ape, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, and The Age of Empathy) and they're all fantastic.

But despite being an outspoken advocate of a naturalistic theory of moral evolution, he's also prone to some peculiar comments deriding the poorly-named "new atheists" like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc., for their outspoken anti-theism. In an otherwise exemplary essay he wrote for the New York Times in 2010 entitled Morals Without God?, he states,
Over the past few years, we have gotten used to a str…

Gay marrige flow chart

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Jerry Coyne: missing the mark on free will... again

I like Jerry Coyne and I agree with him often, but whenever he starts ranting about the non-existence of free will, I have to part ways with him. He decries the compatiblism to which I subscribe, essentially arguing that all choice is illusory. 

In a post yesterday, he talked about a recent study in which, like Libet's experiments in the 1970s, researchers were able to predict subjects' decisions before the subjects were aware of making them. Coyne makes much ado of this, touting it as strong evidence that we aren't really in control of our perceived volition. But, as usual, the devil is in the details.

While I'm not going to rehash all my arguments regarding free will, I do want to summarize – I think that Jerry's position, and indeed that of all "hard determinists", is rooted in a fallacy of composition. Quarks, atoms, molecules, and neurons don't have free will; we are made of those things, ergo we do not have free will. But as is often the case in …

The best evidence for the existence of God is...

I spied the following comment over at Wide as the Waters:
By far the strongest argument for design is the lack of randomness the universe possesses. If I throw a ball up in the air it will consistently, predictably, and reliably come back down to the ground every time (unless I threw it past escape velocity, but I’m not that strong of course). Atheism and random forces producing random rules and ‘code’ does not predict this. Heck, trying to model the universe by writing code requires a lot of effort and may lead to the presence of random errors and bugs (the software may crash due to a mistake in the code, the ball may get lost from time to time, etc…). Indeed, writing such elegant and consistent code to consistently and reliably produce such predictable outcomes without crashing and giving errors requires a very deliberate effort. Yet the universe is able to reliably produce predictable outcomes to experiments. It follows very complicated/sophisticated yet consistent and…

Are non-believers doing good in the world?

Long-time readers of this blog may recall my occasional offhand mention that my older brother is a devout Christian. I've had several discussions/debates with him over the years, and today I was thinking about one comment he made in particular. The discussion was way back in the days of MySpace blogs, so it's long gone -- I'll have to settle for a paraphrase. It went something like this:
Even the average fundamentalist, by virtue of their charity works, is doing more good in the world than atheists -- who seem to spend most of their time decrying religion. Until they do good works themselves in equal or greater measure, they aren't in a place to criticize believers. I ought to mention that my bro is a pretty theologically liberal believer, definitely more along the lines of Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller than some total loon like Ray Comfort or even a loon in respectable clothing like Michael Behe. But I don't think this attitude is all that rare to find among d…

We are fine-tuned for the universe

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In his recent debate with Alex Rosenberg, William Lane Craig said that the existence of a fine-tuned universe was a "prediction" that could be made by theology – as in, if there were a God, we'd expect to find a universe fine-tuned for life. And here we are! Checkmate, atheists!

Boys and girls, that's a tautology. Of course we observe a universe with life – here we are! The question is, How could we discern between a designed universe and a chance universe? I think there are some ways, but theists don't seem to care much for them.

It doesn't seem obvious to me that the universe was fine-tuned for life simply because life happens to exist. The universe is for the most part an unfathomably vast frigid, lifeless vacuum. Over billions of years matter from the Big Bang clumped together, eventually forming stars. Those stars burned for billions of years. Some just died. Others collapsed in on themselves, forming black holes. Still others exploded in supernovae, see…

Physicist Brian Greene on materialism

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"I believe that a physical system is completely determined by the arrangement of its particles. Tell me how the particles making up the earth, the sun, the galaxy, and everything else are arranged, and you've fully articulated reality. This reductionist view is common among physicists, but there are certainly people who think otherwise. Especially when it comes to life, some believe that an essential nonphysical aspect (spirit, soul, life force, chi, and so on) is required to animate the physical. Although I remain open to this possibility, I've never encountered any evidence to support it. The position that makes the most sense to me is that one's physical and mental characteristics are nothing but a manifestation of how the particles in one's body are arranged. Specify the particle arrangement and you've specified everything." Excerpt from The Hidden Reality

On the sacrifice of Jesus Christ

How do you kill God? If Jesus died, then he wasn't God. If Jesus didn't die, then he wasn't a sacrifice.

William Lane Craig: the gift that keeps on giving

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I know there's been a lot of William Lane Craig around here lately, and I swear the aforementioned posts I've drafted (see previous post) have absolutely nothing to do with Craig. But earlier today, as I do occasionally, I hopped over to Reasonablefaith.org and read the "question of the week". And man, to use Craig's words, I can't make this stuff up. The things he says range from insidiously misleading to flagrant inanity, and they just keep on coming.

This week, the question was in regard to a fact-check of his recent debate with Alex Rosenberg, written by the Indiana University Philosophical society. Specifically, the reader inquires about their response to Craig's assertion that the cause of the universe (sigh) is personal:
We have to be especially wary of the fallacy of equivocation here. Craig uses 'immaterial' to mean 'outside the universe' (like God), but he also uses it to mean 'not spatially extended' (like ordinary hum…

All quiet on the blogging front...

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Just a quick update here regarding the relative sparsity of updates after the deluge over the last couple of weeks.

Long story short, one of my co-workers decided to leave abruptly – as in, not giving us two weeks notice. We're in the process of opening a second location as well as having a full slate of clients. End result is that I have been working double shifts to pick up the slack until we can hire a new trainer, and finding a new trainer is difficult; it's rare that someone is qualified, experienced, and totally cool with getting up at 4:00 a.m. every day.

So I'm writing this blog as my sleep-deprived ass is about to crawl into bed before more double duty tomorrow. As you might imagine that leaves little time for blogging. But, I have a couple of posts drafted and I'm really happy with them. In the meantime, please do check out the other content I've posted recently if you haven't already.


I'll leave you with this thought – and I don't have any sc…

William Lane Craig's argument from intentionality

Update 6.08.2019: Through the miracle of the internet, in which nothing ever goes to die, Dr. Craig himself has responded to this five-year-old post in the latest episode of the Reasonable Faith Podcast. If you're visiting this page because you saw it in the footnotes, you can read my reply to Dr. Craig here:

https://www.theaunicornist.com/2019/06/lets-talk-about-william-lane-craigs.html


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Here's a quote from William Lane Craig's opening statement in his debate with Alex Rosenberg. I haven't watched the debate (really, how many of his debates are worth watching anyway?), but from the buzz on the 'net I hear this is one of eight arguments Craig presented. And just... wow. This is one of the most colossally inane arguments I have ever heard:
God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness in the world. Philosophers are puzzled by states of intentionality. Intentionality is the property of being about something or of somethi…

David Marshall's definition of "faith"

I wanted to post my response to this on David Marshall's blog Christ the Tao, but I got a 505 error and it deleted my whole comment. Argh! Ah well. I think it's worth sharing here, anyway. Longtime readers of this blog (both of you!) might recall that Marshall threw a fit over my unimpressed review of one of his chapters in the book True Reason. Since then, I've often seen him make much ado about what he describes as "the" Christian sense of the word "faith". He summarizes in a recent blog post:
Genuine faith in the Christian sense is that act of mind and will by which we discover all that we ever can come to know.  Faith means trusting, and holding firmly to, what we have good reason to believe is true, in the face of trial.  In that sense, no science, no history, not even the most platitudinous reasoning, would be possible without faith. I'm not sure what compels Marshall to assume this definition is ubiquitously held by Christians, but whate…

Atheism, agnosticism, and the burden of proof

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A big part of the confusion in "Does God exist?" debates over who exactly has the burden of proof lies in the fact that there exists such a vast pantheon of god-concepts. Debating William Lane Craig about the existence of God, for example, would take a very different form than debating Deepak Chopra about the same subject because they both have such wildly divergent conceptualizations of what God is supposed to be.

I think the whole agnosticism vs. atheism definition thing has been best summarized by the following graph, courtesy of the mighty Bud Uzoras of Dead Logic:
A/gnosticism deals with knowledge. A/theism deals with belief. It's that simple. They are not mutually exclusive positions.

As an atheist, my degree of agnosticism varies depending on the god-concept being presented. I also think that most reasonable people would concur that we ought to value epistemic humility – just a fancy way of saying "there's a lot I don't and possibly can't know, s…

You weren't born an atheist

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A meme that I see popping up in gnu atheist circles with some regularity goes something like this:


It's rooted in the idea that we're all born without a belief in gods, and hey, atheism is a lack of belief in gods too! Ergo, babies are atheists.

Well, no. One of the objections theists employ to counter the "lack of belief in gods" definition of atheism is the notion that all sorts of things lack a belief in god -- animals, babies, rocks, mulch, whatever. The appropriate counter to that asinine argument is that it's a given when we are describing a belief or lack thereof that we are discussing rational agents with the ability to comprehend and accept or reject certain beliefs. If we were at a party and you asked me who was single, I would presume that it wouldn't be necessary to mention that the lamp, the cat, the baby and the food are all unmarried.

If anything, we were all born agnostics. And on a great many things, including the existence of nebulously defi…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 10/10)

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This ten-part series ends with a criticism that is so flagrantly dishonest, so blatantly a massive straw-man, that I'm frankly astonished that even someone as odious as William Lane Craig would be willing to lie so unapologetically just to make himself look good in front of a small audience of his minions.

The objection, so we're told, is from The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins:



As was the case with Craig's simpleminded critique of TGD that was published in the unintentionally funny book True Reason, Craig seems to be counting on his audience not actually have read the book for themselves. Well, I have read the book, and I'm just... astounded by the dishonesty on display here.

The most obvious point to make is that nowhere in The God Delusion does Dawkins so much as mention the Kalam. He does talk about some of the more traditional formulations of the cosmological argument, but it's the height of dishonesty for Craig to claim that Dawkins does not dispute the prem…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 9/10)

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This next one is another objection to the conclusion; it says that the qualities ascribed to God – timelessness, changelessness, etc., are only negative attributions that are also true of nothingness.



In his response, Dr. Craig yet again erroneously conflates "coming from nothing" with "coming into being without a cause". I've already discussed the perspective of modern physicists on this topic, so no need to rehash it.

Otherwise, I'm rather unpersuaded by this rebuttal. He fudges when he talks about the causal power of this "entity" who brought the universe into existence – the Kalam, even if it weren't riddled with fallacies, could not be used to infer that this cause must be any sort of conscious entity.

But for me, the biggest problem here is that Craig doesn't seem pay any mind to the paradoxes he is conjuring up. If a being is timeless and changeless, it is by definition non-functional. Any sort of act or decision, for example, would…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 8/10)

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Craig's wrap-up of these purportedly awful objections begins with the objection that theists are guilty of special pleading.



Craig's right on one point – the Kalam's first premise clearly states that only "things that begin to exist" have a cause. But I feel that this betrays yet another critical weakness of the Kalam.

Let's say that I granted the entire argument. I ignored the equivocation, the question-begging, and the fallacy of composition and fully concurred with the argument as Craig has presented it. There is still absolutely zero independent justification for saying that the "first cause" must be supernatural, that it is eternal, or that it is some anthropomorphic deity.

Imagine, for example, that the universe is in an infinite state of expansion and contraction, as in Neil Turok's model. Because entropy only increases within the universe, time would essentially "reset" at every boundary condition. In other words, there would b…

My deconversion story on "A Tippling Philosopher"

Johno Pearce, author of the excellent blog A Tippling Philosopher, has reposted (with my permission) my account of my time in the church as part of an ongoing series on deconversions. If you found my story thought-provoking, by all means check out the others he has documented:

http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/03/04/real-deconversion-story-4-mike-d/

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (parts 6 & 7/10)

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I'm going to simplify and make this one a two-parter, because Craig attempts to answer the objection I'll present to #6 in his response to #7. It's the question, does anything really "begin to exist"? Here's the vid:



Craig just absolutely loves this one, saying it's his favorite bad objection. He starts off saying something perfectly sensible:
Just because the stuff of which something is made has always existed doesn't imply that the thing itself has always existed. He's right! And I don't think that anyone would actually dispute that point. Craig doesn't source any of these "bad objections" except the last one, but I'm willing to bet based on the formulation I have seen that he's just straw-manning the shit out of this one. Of course nobody is stupid enough to assert that they always existed, save perhaps for the silly nihilist argument he describes.

The relevant point is that Craig is equivocating. When he says the univ…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 5/10)

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In this objection, we're back to the whole "what is nothing" hoopla:




I'm going to grant Dr. Craig that if indeed the objection means to define "nothing" in the same terms as he does, it's a nonsensical objection. Absolute nothingness, which I like to call "Nothing" with a capital "N", is indeed devoid of any properties whatsoever; that's the whole point! The question, then, is whether the objector, whoever s/he was, meant Nothing in that sense, or "nothing" in the sense used by physicists like Alexander Vilenkin, Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss – empty space, or even the absence of space itself.  Craig does not say.

Nonetheless, Craig missteps on a couple of points.
To say that the universe was caused by nothing is to say that the universe had no cause. Craig makes this mistake often – interchanging the terms "without a cause" and "coming from nothing".  But they are not the same thing. Not only…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 4/10)

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In the his fourth response, Craig responds to the objection that the Kalam commits a fallacy of composition – because causality applies to objects within the universe, it must also apply to the universe.



Yet again, Craig does a fine job of illustrating what the basic fallacy is, which makes it all the more baffling that he commits them so frequently and so flagrantly.

He acknowledges that the argument as I laid it out above would be "manifestly fallacious". He then claims that the real reasons he thinks "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is for the following reasons:

1. Something cannot come from nothing
2. If something can come into being from nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything or everything doesn't come into being from nothing.
3. Common experience and scientific evidence confirms the truth of (1)

Where Craig goes wrong with regard to (1) is when he says the following:
If you deny premise one, you've got to think that the w…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 3/10)

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Well, what a coincidence! The next objection is almost exactly my criticism in the previous post – that Craig is assuming that causality transcends space and time (something that is speculative at best) in order to establish the existence of a supernatural cause for the universe.

It's not just begging the question, since Craig is assuming at least in part what he is trying to prove. It's also equivocation, because while Craig uses the word "cause" interchangeably between the first premise and the conclusion, it simply cannot mean the same thing. There's another equivocation fallacy related to the idea of a "beginning", but that's for a later post. So, does Craig refute my objection from the previous post? Let's find out:



Craig does a fine job of illustrating exactly what the equivocation fallacy, but then tries to appeal to Aristotle's "Four Causes" to counter the equivocation charge, stating that he means an "efficient cause&…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 2/10)

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The second objection is that the Kalam is question-begging, i.e. it's circular reasoning. I've argued this myself on many occasions, so let's hear Dr. Craig put us atheists in our place:



Craig quite correctly states that one is only committing the fallacy of begging the question if the only justification for a premise is that one already assumes the truth of the conclusion, and then he claims that since he has given other reasons for believing that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" he his not guilty of the fallacy.

However, Craig is omitting an important detail – one which actually comes up again in this series, so I'll have more to say about it later.

"Causality" is a well-defined physical concept in science. Even if one is using the archaic Aristotlean notion of "Four Causes", Aristotle nonetheless inferred the existence of those four causes purely from the observation of physical things.

But if the universe had not yet "…

The ten worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument – a response to William Lane Craig (part 1/10)

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It's rather annoying, and probably telling, that Youtube user "drcraigvideos", whose channel basically acts as a soundboard for all things William Lane Craig, rarely if ever allows comments on videos s/he posts. I mean golly, we wouldn't want something like discussion getting in the way of perfectly good religious proselytizing, would we?

The video I'm going to talk about in this series is from a lecture Craig did at Biola University in 2010 called, "Objections So Bad I Couldn't Have Made Them Up!", which is a response to various objections to the Kalam found on Youtube. Stifling of dialogue aside, drcraigvideos was kind enough to post each of the ten objections in a playlist, so to keep these posts short and readable I'll just have one for each of Craig's responses. Are these objections really as awful as Craig thinks they are? Are we unsophisticatedvillage atheists being schooled by Craig's profound knowledge again? Or is Craig glossin…

What's so advanced about Pantheism?

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This has been popping up in my Facebook ad column:



For the uninitiated, Wikipedia defines pantheism thus:
Pantheism is the belief that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God, or that the universe (or nature) is identical with divinity. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal or anthropomorphic god. Deepak Chopra is a pantheist, and he's frequently yammering about the patriarchal god of Western monotheism being a narrow and primitive understanding of God:
God is the evolutionary impulse of the universe. God is infinite creativity, infinite love, infinite compassion, infinite caring.[1] I believe that spirituality can take hints from modern science to actually support the existence of God. Some of these hints have emerged from quantum physics, which long ago showed that the seemingly solid, convincing world of matter and energy actually derives from a highly uncertain, invisible realm that existed before time and space. Is this the domain of God? If so, it c…