Tag Archives: Free Will

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

Is it possible to choose to be moral if we are machines made out of meat?
Is it possible to choose to be moral if we are machines made out of meat?

A while back I finished reading “God’s Crime Scene”, the new book by J. Warner Wallace. 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 you are a physical object. And like every other physical object in the universe, your behavior is determined by genetic programming (if you’re alive) and external inputs. Material objects do not have the ability to make free choices, including moral choices.

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.

Atheist 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.

(Source)

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. Can you imagine trying to get into any sort of enterprise with someone who has this view of moral choices? A marriage, or a business arrangement, etc? It would be crazy to expect them to behave morally, when they don’t even think that moral choices is possible. It just excuses all sorts of bad behavior, because no one is responsible for choosing to do the right thing.

Believers in materialism are 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.

Choosing to do the right thing

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 doing the right thing sets you back. 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 about their ability to do the right thing when it was hard for them to do it. They all deny free will of course, and think that trying to resist temptation is a waste of time.

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.

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

Have you heard about Dr. Angus Menuge’s ontological argument against naturalism?

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division test the new M-17 pistol

My friend Seth mentioned to me that he likes the argument from reason, so I thought I would post something about it from a Christian scholar who I really admire. Dr. Angus Menuge offers the best (I think) argument for the proposition that theism is the best ground for our reasoning capability.

Let’s start with some information about Dr. Menuge:

Dr. Angus Menuge joined Concordia University Wisconsin in 1991. He earned his BA from the University of Warwick, England, and his MA and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied philosophy, computer science and psychology. Menuge’s dissertation was on the philosophy of action explanation, and his current research interests include philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and Christian apologetics.

In 2003, Menuge earned a Diploma in Christian Apologetics from the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, which meets each July in Strasbourg, France. His thesis, a critique of scientific materialism, went on to become the book Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004).

[…]A frequent speaker, Menuge has given presentations on Christianity and culture, science and vocation, philosophy of mind, C. S. Lewis, Intelligent Design and the case against scientific materialism. He is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

Dr. Menuge presented a paper at a recent Evangelical Philosophical Society conference for students and professors of philosophy, and you can download the paper here as a PDF. I got these straight from the source, and got permission to post them, too.

Here is the introduction to the paper that Dr. Menuge read at the EPS conference:

The argument from reason is really a family of arguments to show that reasoning is incompatible with naturalism. Here, naturalism is understood as the idea that foundationally, there are only physical objects, properties and relations, and anything else reduces to, supervenes on, or emerges from that. For our purposes, one of the most important claims of naturalism is that all causation is passive, automatic, event causation (an earthquake automatically causes a tidal wave; the tidal wave responds passively): there are no agent causes, where something does not happen automatically but only because the agent exerts his active power by choosing to do it. The most famous version of the argument from reason is epistemological: if naturalism were true, we could not be justified in believing it. Today, I want to focus on the ontological argument from reason, which asserts that there cannot be reasoning in a naturalistic world, because reasoning requires libertarian free will, and this in turn requires a unified, enduring self with active power.

The two most promising ways out of this argument are: (1) Compatibilism—even in a deterministic, naturalistic world, humans are capable of free acts of reason if their minds are responsive to rational causes; (2) Libertarian Naturalism—a self with libertarian free will emerges from the brain. I argue that neither of these moves works, and so, unless someone has a better idea, the ontological argument from reason stands.

The paper is 11 pages long, and it is awesome for those of you looking for some good discussion of one of the issues in the area of philosophy of mind.

By the way, the epistemological argument from reason (P(R) on N & E is low) is the argument made by the famous Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. I blogged about that argument before. It’s good to know BOTH of these arguments. They both work, and they are both awesome. If you put these two arguments together with William Lane Craig’s moral argument, that’s three strong philosophical arguments that are easy to use, but backed by solid analytic philosophy.

Powerpoint slideshow

But there is more than just the paper! At the EPS apologetics conference, which is meant for lay people as well as scholars, he presented this slideshow which I converted to PDF. The slides are easier to understand than the paper, but the paper is not too bad.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

William Lane Craig debates Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God

Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!
Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!

This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates).

Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it! Normally, Dr. Craig debates at major universities in front of students and faculty.

There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.

The debaters:

The format:

  • WSA: 15 minutes
  • WLC: 15 minutes
  • Debaters discussion: 6 minutes
  • Moderated discussion: 10 minutes
  • Audience Q&A: 18 minutes
  • WSA: 5 minutes
  • WLC: 5 minutes

SUMMARY:

WSA opening speech:

Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)

God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)

He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically

Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God

His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument

Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines

The inductive argument from evil:

  1.  If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  2.  There is evil in the world.
  3.  Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  4. Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

Defining terms:

  • Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
  • Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling

God could prevent tooth decay with no pain

God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer

Responses by Christians:

  • Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
  • Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
  • Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
  • Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
  • Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
  • God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
  • We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
  • Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good

WLC opening speech:

Summarizing Walter’s argument

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. Gratuitous evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.

Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.

The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.

Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.

  1. the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
  2. Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
  3. Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous

Christian doctrines from 2.:

  • The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
  • Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
  • For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives

Arguing for God in 3.

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. God exists
  3. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):

  • the kalam cosmological argument
  • the fine-tuning argument
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil

Making monergism make sense: reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

This article at Free Thinking Ministries was written by my friend Tim Stratton. In it, presents a view of God’s sovereignty over salvation without falling into the error of double-predestination.

Excerpt: (links removed)

Many reformed folks (freely?) choose to reject Molinism because they contend that this theological view “smells of synergism.” What is this stench that reportedly makes John Calvin turn over in his grave? Simply put, synergism is the view that man plays at least a small part in his own salvation process. Monergism, on the other hand, is the view that God is the author of salvation from beginning to end.

Since Molinism affirms that man is free to choose to reject God’s saving grace or not, many Calvinists jump to the conclusion and assume that Molinism must be synergistic. This does not necessarily follow.[1] Consider one possible model:

1- God, by nature, is a volitional unmoved mover who is free to choose between options in accord with His nature. (This is supported via the Kalam and the Argument from Time).

2- By God’s grace, humans are created in the “image of God.” By nature, then, we are free to choose between options in accord with our nature. (This is supported via the Freethinking Argument).

3- Adam & Eve freely chose to disobey God and this sin completely separates humanity from God. This is what it means to have a “totally depraved sin nature.” (Every aspect of man is separated from God).

4- In this state of depraved separation from God (sin nature), humans do not even know God exists if merely left to our own devices.

5- If humans do not even know God exists, then, left to our own devices and apart from God’s grace, it would be impossible to choose to love and follow God (thus, Pelagianism is impossible on this view).

6- God, in His love for all people, provides amazing prevenient grace to all people (Romans 1:20), writing the law on the human heart (Romans 2:15), conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-9), and draws all men (John 12:32). This is commonly referred to as “common grace.”

7- Therefore, by God’s grace, human nature has changed from a “totally separated from God nature” to a nature that has now experienced enough divine revelation (influences) allowing all mankind to start making some free and volitional choices in accord with our new nature; namely, to choose to resist God’s grace and revelation, or not.[2] Mankind is without excuse because we do not have to resist what God has made clear (Romans 1:18-20).[3]

[Note: According to Calvinist, Matt Slick (albeit inadvertently), Mark 4:10-12 implies that if an unregenerate person gets access to clear and accurate information, then they possess the ability to become Christians!]

8- If one does not reject or continually resist the grace and revelation God provides them, then God will continually provide more and more until the person reaches the point of “no return” and will become saved.

Thus, God does ALL the work in salvation from beginning to end on this Molinistic model; all the human can do is freely resist God’s grace and revelation, but he or she does not have to! The human does nothing to gain salvation apart from God’s grace on this Monergistic Model of Molinism.

I think that Stratton’s formulation above does indeed keep God as the sole initiator of salvation. And that’s good. But it also makes sure that human who resist God’s leading are responsible for their choice to resist God, and that’s good. We want salvation to be 100% by faith alone in Christ alone. But we don’t want God to be the cause of people not being saved. On Stratton’s view, God wants everyone to be saved. If anyone is saved, it’s because God did ALL THE WORK to lead them and secure their salvation with the death of Jesus on the cross. But, on Stratton’s view, humans do get a choice – the choice to trust God or not. And so, if a person is not saved, then it’s their fault – not God’s. This works.

Read his whole post, and see what you think about it.