Tag Archives: Theism

New study: belief in free will linked to ability to behave morally and to help others

J. Warner Wallace: God's Crime Scene
J. Warner Wallace: God’s Crime Scene

So, Monday night I finally finished “reading” God’s Crime Scene, the new book by J. Warner Wallace. I was listening to the audio book, because it is hard to speed along with the top down and read at the same time. For now, here’s my one line review: this is a book for people who like evidence – he has collected a ton of evidence on everything people should be puzzling about, and sometimes on surprising topics. Anyway, I wanted to post something about some studies he mentioned in Chapter 6, on free will. This is one of the places where he found evidence in a surprising area.

Wallace says that free will makes more sense if theism is true, because we have non-material souls that interact with our bodies, but are not causally determined by them. On atheism, only matter exists, and you can’t get free will (or consciousness) from matter. So atheists like Sam Harris and Alex Rosenberg, for example, deny free will, because they are materialists and atheists.

Anyway, here’s what he writes on p. 256:

In 2008, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Columbia conducted experiments highlighting the relationship between a belief in determinism and immoral behavior. They found students who were exposed to deterministic literature prior to taking a test were more likely to cheat on the test than students who were not exposed to literature advocating determinism. The researchers concluded those who deny free will are more inclined to believe their efforts to act morally are futile and are, therefore, less likely to do so.

In addition, a study conducted by researchers from Florida State University and the University of Kentucky found participants who were exposed to deterministic literature were more likely to act aggressively and less likely to be helpful toward others.” Even determinist Michael Gazzaniga conceded: “It seems that not only do we believe we control our actions, but it is good for everyone to believe it.”” The existence of free will is a common characteristic of our experience, and when we deny we have this sort of free agency, there are detrimental consequences.

I decided to look up these studies.

Here’s the abstract for first study: (2008)

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

And the abstract for the second study: (2009)

Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable. Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be linked with decreased helping and increased aggression. In Experiment 1, induced disbelief in free will reduced willingness to help others. Experiment 2 showed that chronic disbelief in free will was associated with reduced helping behavior. In Experiment 3, participants induced disbelief in free will caused participants to act more aggressively than others. Although the findings do not speak to the existence of free will, the current results suggest that disbelief in free will reduces helping and increases aggression.

So what to make of this?

If you’re an atheist, then your worldview is telling you that what you are doing now is the result of genetic programming and sensory inputs. You’re not conscious. You can’t reason. You make no free choices, including moral choices. Naturally, someone who believes this is going to struggle with prescriptive morality, including self-sacrificial care and concern for others. Their worldview undermines the rationality of the moral point of view. You might find atheists acting morally for their own purposes, but their worldview doesn’t rationally ground it. This is a big problem for people who can see objective morality woven into the universe – and themselves – because they have the awareness of objective right and wrong.

I think what atheists like to say is “I can be moral, too”. That’s not interesting. What is interesting is whether it is rational for you to be moral when things start to get a bit uncomfortable. When I look at the adultery of Dawkins, the polyamory of Carrier, the divorces of Shermer and Atkins, etc. I am not seeing anything that really wows me. They all deny free will of course, and think that trying to resist temptation is a waste of time. What difference would it make if they did, anyway – there’s no afterlife on atheism.

Wallace explains how the awareness of free will and moral choices caused him to turn away from atheism, in this blog post.

He writes:

As an atheist, I chose to cling to naturalism, in spite of the fact that I lived each day as though I was capable of using my mind to make moral choices based on more than my own opinion. In addition, I sought meaning and purpose beyond my own hedonistic preferences, as though meaning was to be discovered, rather than created. I called myself a naturalist while embracing three characteristics of reality that simply cannot be explained by naturalism. As a Christian, I’m now able to acknowledge the “grounding” for these features of reality. My philosophical worldview is consistent with my practical experience of the world.

I think atheists who want to be honest about their own experience of first-person consciousness, free will, moral realism, etc. will do well to just accept that theism rationally grounds all of these things, and so you should accept theism. Theism is real. If you like morality, and want to be a virtuous person, then you should accept theism.

Tim McGrew debates Peter Boghossian on the definition of faith

I have tried very hard to avoid writing about Peter Boghossian because I kept hoping that someone would speak to him and set him straight before he went too far.

Basically, when you listen to the debate below, you’ll find that Boghossian redefines the word faith so that it basically means “stupidity”, and then he tries to get people of faith to accept that they are stupid according to his new definition of faith. The new definition is not found in any dictionary, and it’s not used commonly, either.

Anyway, here are the details:

This Week on Unbelievable : Peter Boghossian vs Tim McGrew – debate on ‘A Manual For Creating Atheists”

Peter Boghossian teaches philosophy and is the author of ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’. He believes that faith is a ‘false epistemology’ (way of knowing things) and even describes it as a ‘virus of the mind’. Tim McGrew is a Christian philosophy professor specialising in epistemology. He contests Boghossian’s definition of faith and debates the merits of his recent book. To cast your vote on the definition of faith visit www.facebook.com/unbelievablejb.

The MP3 file is here.

Topics: (I reserve the right to satirize Boghossian in this. Listen to the audio if you want his exact words)

  • PB: My book tries to avoid the “obfuscations” of reputable, credentialed Christian scholars and discusses faith at my intellectual level
  • PB: The goal of the book is to help people abandon the dictionary definition of the word “faith” and accept the definition I invented
  • TM: Defining the word “faith” in the wrong way is not the right way to start an authentic, respectful conversation
  • TM: Faith does not mean “pretending to know things you don’t know” – that is not a standard definition
  • TM: the only people who accept your definition of faith are you and the people who follow you online
  • TM: your whole book is predicated on on a wrong definition of faith
  • PB: that is my definition of faith based on my experience of talking to lots of people
  • TM: He says this is how billions of people define faith – but not in my experience, maybe satirists like Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain do
  • TM: Your definition of faith is not in the Oxford English Dictionary and that definition is based on common usage of the word faith
  • TM: The New Testament definition of faith “pistis” means trust
  • PB: There are 50-100 people who use the term that way, and only in academia
  • TM: How about “The Good Atheist” who interviewed you? He is not an academic or a theist, but he didn’t accept your definition
  • PB: You are “extraordinarily isolated” from the real definition of faith
  • TM: Faith is not belief without evidence, it is trust based on at least some evidence
  • PB: Christian leaders use the word according my definition, I won’t name any or quote any, though
  • JB: So you are basically saying that Christians are lying when they express their faith, since they know what they are saying isn’t true but they say it anyway
  • PB: What percentage of Christians use the word faith to mean “belief without evidence”
  • TM: Well below 1%. It may be the case that their evidence is not very good, but they do rest their beliefs on evidence
  • TM: Faith is trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reasons to believe is true in the face of difficulties
  • PB: That’s not what people mean by faith, they mean my definition
  • JB: What do you mean when you say that faith is a “virus of the mind”, and a “mental illness”? School programs to remove faith?
  • PB: Think about how atheists feel when they are told they will go Hell
  • PB: Christians are hurting people, so that means they have a mental disorder that needs to be cured in a systematic way
  • PB: Faith is an epistemic virus that hijacks the reasoning process

At that point I quit summarizing, because I didn’t think he was worth listening to any more.

He is clearly not aware of how even basic Christian apologetics books that are bestsellers cover evidences like the Big Bang, the cosmic fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, galactic habitability, stellar habitability, New Testament reliability, historical Jesus, philosophical arguments for theism, and so on. This is the bottom-shelf of Christian apologetics, widely read by rank-and-file Christians, but Boghossian seems to be completely unaware of it. He needs to get out more and talk to people outside of radical atheist circles. Maybe he needs to pick up a serious book like “Debating Christian Theism” and read it before he opens his mouth on topics he knows nothing about.

But that’s not all. As, I explained before, the concept of faith presented in the Bible agrees with what Dr. McGrew said – faith is trust based on evidence. That is the Biblical view.

And finally, this:

John 10:37-38: [NASB]

37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me;

38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

The words of Jesus – he is saying: believe me because of the evidence I provide from miracles that you can see with your own eyes. Period. End of discussion.

So Boghossian’s view of faith is nowhere except in his own mind. Not in the apologetics literature. Not in the writings of any reputable Christian scholar. Not in the Bible. Not in the words of Jesus. It’s enough to make me think that this talk about “mental disorders” and “viruses of the mind” is just projection.

Vote in the poll

Please vote in this poll:

Thank goodness we have debates like this so that we can find out where Christians really come down on faith.

Michael Behe and Keith Fox debate theistic evolution vs intelligent design

Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!
Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!

Michael Behe and Keith Fox debate evolution and intelligent design. (See below for link to video)

Details:

Michael Behe is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania and the founder of the modern Intelligent Design movement. His book “Darwin’s Black Box” ignited the controversy 14 years ago when it claimed that certain molecular machines and biological processes are “irreducibly complex” and cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution.

Keith Fox is Professor of biochemistry at the University of Southampton and chairman of Christians in Science. As a theistic evolutionist he believes that Evolution is the best explanation going for the complexity we see and that ID is a blind scientific alley and theologically unappealing to boot.

They debate whether micromachines in the cell such as the “bacterial flagellum” could have evolved by a Darwinian process of evolution. When inference to design is and isn’t acceptable in science. Whether random mutation can mathematically stack up to complex life, and whether God is reduced to a divine “tinkerer” by ID.

Here’s the debate:

Summary

Note: the following debate summary is rated “S” for Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.

Michael Behe:

  • ID is not Biblical creationism
  • ID is not religion
  • ID is a scientific research program
  • People refuse to discuss ID because of personal philosophical assumptions
  • ID is like the Big Bang – it is based on evidence, but it has broad religious implications

Keith Fox:

  • ID is not Biblical creationism, but it isn’t science

Michael Behe:

  • ID is compatible with common descent
  • ID is only opposed to unplanned, unguided evolution (Darwinism)
  • ID is not necessarily opposed to long periods of time

Behe’s first book – the bacterial flagellum

Keith Fox:

  • Here are a couple of papers that show how parts of the flagellum evolved
  • They are possible pathways

Michael Behe

  • No, those are studies that show that there are similarities between bacterial flagella in multiple organisms
  • Similarities of proteins between different organisms do not necessarily imply a developmental pathway
  • The problem of having the instructions to BUILD the flagellum still remains

Keith Fox:

  • Maybe parts of the flagellum had other functions before they were used in the flagellum
  • Maybe you can use the parts of the flagellum for other purposes
  • Maybe, one can imagine, it’s possible that!

Michael Behe:

  • No, parts have to be modified and re-purposed in order to be used for other functions

Keith Fox:

  • But maybe the proteins can be used in other systems for other things
  • I re-purpose parts from of designed things to other purposes in my house when I do maintenance

Michael Behe

  • Uh, yeah – but aren’t you an intelligent designer? What does your home maintenance have to do with Darwinian evolution?

Is ID another God-of-the-gaps argument?

Michael Behe:

  • Well consider the Big Bang… there was a build-up of scientific evidence for that theory
  • Just because a theory has religious implications, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true
  • You really have to look at the specific evidence for a theory, and not decide in advance

Keith Fox: (I’m paraphrasing/inventing/mocking from now on)

  • But the Big Bang is based on discoveries, and intelligent design is based on gaps in our scientific knowledge
  • What if I did have evidence of a step by step pathway (which I don’t right now)? Then I would win the argument – what would you do then?

Michael Behe:

  • Well, if tomorrow you do manage to find expiremental evidence of a pathway, which you don’t have today, then I would be wrong
  • ID is falsifiable by experimental evidence
  • But what about your your view? Is that falsifiable by experimental evidence?
  • What if someone goes into a lab (someone like Scott Minnich?) and performs gene knockout experiments, and publishes the results
  • You knock out a gene from the bacterial flagellum, you wait for a large number of generations, and it never develops the missing gene
  • You repeat this with every one of the 50 genes in the bacterial flagellum and it never recovers for any of the 50 genes
  • There is no pathway to build up even one of the 50 genes – according to actual experiments
  • What do Darwinists do with experimental evidence that falsifies Darwinism?

Keith Fox:

  • No, I would not accept that experimental evidence could falsify Darwinism
  • Just because known published experimental evidence that we have today falsifies Darwinism, it doesn’t mean Darwinism is false because it’s not falsifiable
  • We don’t know how Darwinism even works – it happened so long ago, and it’s not repeatable or testable, so how could lab ,experiments falsify it?
  • Darwinism is science and intelligent design is faith, though

Which side has the experimental evidence?

Michael Behe:

  • Consider the largest longest-running lab experiment of evolution, Richard Lenski’s experiments on e. coli
  • Lenski has presided over 50,000 generations, (millions of years of evolution)
  • The bacterium did evolve and they did get better but not by evolving features, but by disabling features

Keith Fox:

  • But those are just LAB EXPERIMENTS! What do lab experiments prove?
  • What if? What if? What if? You don’t know, it happened so long ago, and you weren’t there! You weren’t there!
  • (clutches Flying Spaghetti Monster idol tighter and sobs pitifully)

Michael Behe:

  • See, the thing is that I have actual experiements, and here’s some more evidence that just got published last week
  • So I’ve got evidence and then some more evidence and them some other evidence – experimental evidence
  • And all the evidence shows that adaptation is done losing traits not by gaining traits
  • And the published observations are what we see in nature as well

Keith Fox:

  • But doesn’t Darwinism explain some things that we observe?

Michael Behe:

  • Well, I am not saying that micro-evolution doesn’t explain some things – it explains bacterial resistance, and other micro-evolution
  • it just doesn’t explain macro-evolution, and that’s what the experiments show

Keith Fox:

  • But ID is a science stopper! It stops science! You can’t produce experimental evidence to falsify Darwinism – that would stop science!

Michael Behe:

  • Well, you have to understand that the Big Bang postulated a non-material cause to the entire physical universe and yet the experimental evidence was allowed to stand because it was testable and verifiable evidence, even if the theory does have religious implications
  • All explanations in science are design to settle a question and it stops rival explanations that are not as good at explaining the observations
  • Finding the best explanation stops further study because it is better than rival explanations

Keith Fox:

  • Well you have to come up with a materialist explanation because that’s the only kind that a functional atheist like me will allow

Michael Behe:

  • Well, what if the best explanation for an observed effect in nature is non-material, as with the Big Bang?

Keith Fox:

  • But I have to have a material explanation because I am a functional atheist! (i.e. – a theistic evolutionist = functional atheist)

Michael Behe:

  • Well what about the cosmic fine-tuning argument? Do you accept that?
  • That’s an inference to design based on the latest scientific discoveries

Keith Fox:

  • Well I do accept that argument, but I don’t accept design in biology
  • When you apply it to biology, somehow it’s bad and you can’t do that or you losing research money and get fired
  • Anyway, your argument is based on a gap in our current knowledge

Michael Behe:

  • No, back in Darwin’s time we had a gap in our knowledge – we didn’t know what the cell was – we thought it was jello
  • Now, we know what the cell is really like, it’s irreducibly complex, and you can’t build up those molecular machines in a step-wise manner
  • The inference to design is based on the progress of science revealing the increasing levels of complexity
  • In experiments, Darwinian mechanisms cannot build anything useful, instead genes are disabled or dropped
  • You guys don’t have the evidence to prove your view that naturalistic mechanisms can do the creating
  • You keep issuing promissory notes

Keith Fox:

  • Well, you’re just seeing design subjectively, because you are a non-scientist
  • I’m being objective when I tell you that we will discover a materialist explanation later on – really really soon now, maybe even tomorrow, yeah
  • You won’t accept my speculations and you insist on these published experiments
  • You’re subjective and I’m objective
  • Just give me more research money so I can hide the decline better

Michael Behe:

  • Uh, you’re the one who is subjective – I cited evidence, and you are the one who is speculating
  • You have arguments from credulity, and I’ve got the lab experiments
  • You refuse to be skeptical, I am the one who is being skeptical

Keith Fox:

  • Maybe, maybe, maybe! Maybe tomorrow! Maybe in a parallel universe! Maybe aliens from Planet 9 from Outer Space!
  • Who knows! I certainly don’t know! And that somehow means you don’t know either! See?

Michael Behe:

  • Well, to prove me wrong, go into the lab, and run experiments and evolve some new genes (using Darwinian mechanisms) that have new useful functionality

Are there limits to what evolution can do?

Michael Behe:

  • You need multiple changes in the genome to get a new helpful feature (let’s say two specific mutations)
  • One specific change is possible
  • the odds are against getting multiple beneficial changes are really really small – you need two SPECIFIC changes to occur in order

Keith Fox:

  • Well, lots of things are really unlikely – any permutation of dice rolls is as unlikely as any other

Michael Behe:

  • Well, we are talking about TWO SPECIFIC mutations that are needed to get a beneficial function – lots of other mutations are possible, but we are looking for a specific outcome that requires two SPECIFIC mutations out of the whole genome
  • You aren’t going to get useful outcomes unless you direct the mutations

Keith Fox:

  • But then why does God allow evil!!!!1!1!!one!!!

Two short videos explain two basic scientific arguments for God’s existence

These are from Reasonable Faith. The new one is on fine-tuning, and it’s probably the best thing you can give someone to understand the fine-tuning argument in 6 minutes.

Here it is:

The last one they did was on the kalam cosmological argument, and it was even shorter – just over 4 minutes.

Check it out:

If you have any friends who are interested in scientific arguments for the existence of God, send them both of these videos.

UPDATE: My friend David sent me this video, which is the third in the series:

It’s on the moral argument.

Related posts

Atheist Jerry Coyne explains why morality is impossible for atheists

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy

Let’s review what you need in your worldview in order to have a rationally grounded system of morality.

You need 5 things:

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

2) Objective moral duties

Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?

3) Moral accountability

Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

4) Free will

In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.

5) Ultimate significance

Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.

Theism rationally grounds all 5 of these. Atheism cannot ground any of them.

Let’s take a look at #4: free will and see how atheism deals with that.

Atheism and free will?

Here’s prominent atheist Jerry Coyne’s editorial in USA Today to explain why atheists can’t ground free will.

Excerpt:

And that’s what neurobiology is telling us: Our brains are simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output. Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. (These studies use crude imaging techniques based on blood flow, and I suspect that future understanding of the brain will allow us to predict many of our decisions far earlier than seven seconds in advance.) “Decisions” made like that aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.

If you don’t have free will, then you can’t make moral choices, and you can’t be held morally responsible. No free will means no morality.

Here are some more atheists to explain how atheists view morality.

William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

When village atheists talk about how they can be moral without God, it’s important to ask them to justify the minimum requirements for rational morality. Atheists may act inconsistently with their worldview, believing in free will, expecting praise and blame for complying with the arbitrary standards of their peer group, etc. But there is nothing more to morality on atheism that imitating the herd – at least when the herd is around to watch them. And when the herd loses its Judeo-Christian foundation – watch out. That’s when the real atheism comes out, and you can see it on display in the Planned Parenthood videos. When God disappears from a society, anything is permissible.