Night Owl Mk. II

Return to "Religion" essay

Back to Philosophy page

Please feel free to E-mail me with your own comments on this issue or on anything else included in my Philosophy of Life section. Debate is good!

Please report any problems with this page to the Webmaster!


Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

(R) After perusing your web-site, I must say I was quite entertained by many of the completely nonsensical arguments of the creationists and others who have attempted to debate you.
(MB) It's always good to hear positive comments since, by its very nature, a debate forum tends to attract the opposition much more frequently. Of course, if I wasn't ready and willing to hear dissenting views, I wouldn't be doing this in the first place. I'm glad you're enjoying it!

(R) It has strengthened by opinion that the vast majority of America is so indoctrinated that most people lack the ability to examine their own beliefs.
(MB) Americans tend to look for the easy solution to any given problem. Unfortunately, it seems to be easier for a disturbing number of people to abandon their minds and blindly accept the first "feel good" story that comes along. Critical examination of any question requires some effort and too many folks just aren't prepared to make that effort.

(R) I simply can't understand why a religious person would attempt to use "reason" and "logic" to debate something that by its inherent nature is unreasonable and illogical.
(MB) The psychologists call it "cognitive dissonance" -- the tendency for one to say or do just about anything in order to rationalize a belief or behavior. The more cherished the belief, the less sense the rationalizations need to make.

(R) But then again, if they were rational and logical, we wouldn't have the entertainment provided by there absurd statements.
(MB) The best way to counter an absurdity is to point out exactly where it fails the tests of facts and logic. Proper refutations are always strong ones. Of course, the "true believer" will simply ignore them, but they are meant more for the benefit of the people reading the debate than for one's opponent.

(R) Obviously I share beliefs similar to yours, but I believe I take them a step further. My guess is that you are either unwilling to take this crucial step, or you haven't yet considered it. From what I have read of your philosophy (all of your Religion and Evolution pages), I get the sense that you believe in free will.
(MB) That's correct.

(R) The existence of free will is often used as contrary evidence of God, and the argument is great at confounding believers because very few people are willing to admit there is no such thing as free will.
(MB) Just another of the numerous paradoxes which arise from the proposition that God is omnipotent and omniscient. Any proposition which leads to paradox must contain at least one error.

(R) Just as you have used the argument that people believe in God because it makes them feel good, I believe that people use the existence of free will for the same reason. We *feel* in control of our actions, so there must be free will, right?
(MB) We feel that we are in control of our actions due to the interactions of the various parts of our brains. Timothy Ferris' book, "The Mind's Sky", contains an excellent examination of how the multipartite brain can account for things ranging from laughter to mystical insights to conscious decision-making.

(R) Unfortunately, I do not believe any rational person can assume there is free will, and in fact I believe there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. The following are two arguments against the existence of free will, and they leave little room for debate if one presupposes the lack of a "soul" or the supernatural. Please note that these arguments do not assume that some other intelligence determined our fate, they simply assume that our fate is determined by the laws of Universe and the workings of the human brain.
(MB) I agree with your last statement. However, I will contend that it is those very workings of the brain that allow for Free Will. On to your arguments...

(R) The Argument for the Lack of Free Will from Physicist Point of View: Assuming that the Universe began at the Big Bang and that there is nothing outside of the natural Universe (i.e. supernatural), then one must assume that all energy and the subsequent matter expand from a central point following a given set of natural laws.
(MB) Minor quibble -- in a universe containing more than three dimensions, there would be no central point of expansion. That said, I agree with the rest of your assumptions.

(R) Should it be possible to understand all of these laws (maybe) and the exact position and speed of every particle at the beginning of the Universe (not possible unfortunately), it is only logical that one could predict the given position and speed of any and all particles in the Universe at any other time, including 13 billion years later.
(MB) Except, of course, for the probabilistic effects inherent in Heisenberg Uncertainty. Even if we knew the entire state of the universe to 100% accuracy at any given moment in time, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics makes it impossible to predict any future state to the same 100% level of accuracy.

(R) This arguments assumes that since given laws exist, all motion could be predicted at the beginning of time, including the motion of elementary particles outward, the coalescing of energy into matter, the formation of dust clouds and eventual galaxies, stars, and planets, motion of celestial bodies, and in fact the motion of my fingers on this keyboard. Makes sense, right?
(MB) Correct -- if one only considers matter at levels greater than the subatomic. This is why Newtonian gravity, as an example, is still useful for most practical purposes even though it is demonstrably insufficient at the subatomic level. In any case, at this point we are still incapable of an accurate solution to what is known as the "three-body problem", much less predicting the actions and interactions of untold gazillions of bodies of matter.

(R) Well no actually, because quantum mechanics are fundamentally random and the position of an electron is not determinable. Therefore, given that quantum effects although small, will create enough chaos to eliminate any predictive ability of such a model, one is left with the conclusion that the Universe could not have been predicted, and was essentially random.
(MB) This is correct when one properly considers the subatomic realm along with the macroscopic. This is the point where the true believers wish to insert God. What philosophers have dubbed the "God of the Gaps" is the believers trying to invoke God as the explanation for all things that can't be accurately predicted.

(R) Unfortunately a random Universe leaves no more room for the existence of free will than a predictable one.
(MB) Or, as I will argue, a random Universe at the subatomic level should not affect the macroscopic functions of the multipartite brain that allow for what we are calling "Free Will".

(R) I let you respond from here, but please do not bring up Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (HUP), as I believe you did in an earlier response to someone's post regarding the Pool Ball Argument (a simplified version of my argument). HUP is simply not relevant because it simple states that any method of observing the exact location of a particle will make exact measurement of it speed impossible, and any method of observing a particle's exact speed will make exact measurement of it position impossible.
(MB) Heisenberg Uncertainty goes somewhat further than that. It also sets limits for the accuracy of a measurement and explains the probabilistic nature of the subatomic. In any case, it won't have any major part in my final argument.

(R) My argument does not rely on an observer knowing anything about the given particle's location and speed, because I am not postulating that someone or something was there to make or effect the Universe and its director. My argument simply relies on the fact that particles have an exact position and speed.
(MB) That is an argument that cannot be made. Quantum mechanics gives the position and speed of subatomic particles as a series of probabilities. Electrons, for example, are considered to be "smeared out" over a range of probabilities and can not be said to exist at one and only one particular point in space at any particular point in time. Recent experiments have proven that it is possible to make electrons "jump" from one place to another place without going through the points in between. This would not be possible if they actually had exact positions or speeds at any time.

(R) The Argument for the Lack of Free Will from a Neurophysiologists Point of View: Our brains are a complex collection of billions of neurons. These neurons combine to form trillions of neural pathways. An electrical impulse through a neural pathway (or many actually) represents a thought or motor command. The question then is -- What initiated the electrical impulse? Well, all neuro-electric impulse are started initially through the input of stimulus into the billions of receptors throughout the human body. A photon of light striking the photo-reactive cones and rods within the eye cause a potential differential within the optic nerve, which creates a electro-chemical current to flow into the brain an from there down a predetermined neural path that results in a thought or an action. Now where does free will come into the picture? Fundamentally, if the initially wiring of a person's brain was known and the effect of every piece of stimulus upon that person's brain had been tracked, the next reaction the person had to any stimulus could be predicted, with a slight chance of error due the inherent nature of neural nets. Without a soul or some other supernatural construct free will is simply impossible.
(MB) Your description of the basic functioning of the brain in response to an external stimulus is essentially correct. What it lacks, however, are the multiple levels of interpretation and integration "programs" that Ferris describes in his aforementioned book.
    The lower levels of the brain are where the incoming data is gathered. It then passes to higher levels which interpret the data by matching it against what is already stored in memory. Another program interrogates the interpretation to look for flaws. If the stimulus is threatening, the brain can act involuntarily at any of those points in order to deal with it. Otherwise, all data passes to the highest level of the brain -- where our "consciousness" resides. At this point, we become "aware" of the data and interpretations and can make any final decisions concerning them by applying logic, reason, intuition, emotion, or any combination of these and other faculties. This final step is what we call "Free Will" and is not deterministic in any way. In addition, the conscious mind can "veto" almost any action ordered by other parts of the brain.
    I think that one could demonstrate this with a simple thought experiment. Consider a subject who has been instructed to use a device that will allow him to make a choice between two possible options. Let's say, as an example, that the device consists of two buttons that could be pressed. The buttons are identical in appearance to ensure that this will present no influence or bias to the subject when he makes his choice. Ask the subject to press one of the buttons and note the choice. Repeat the test at hourly intervals. Will the subject always select the same button on each trial or will his series of choices be essentially random? If his brain has no Free Will, then his choice should always be the same for each trial as it should always follow the same deterministic path from initial stimulus to button press. In other words, there should be some definitive reason why he makes his choice. If his choices vary, however, that would be a strong indication that his conscious mind is making a free choice at the moment of selection. Since the initial stimulus is always the same, any varied choice during subsequent trials must indicate that a non-deterministic method is being used to make each selection. That would have to be "Free Will".
    Because the brain is not a monolithic entity, its highest level can possess the ability of Free Will and control the primarily deterministic lower levels. Most of our brain function, of course, proceeds more or less automatically and unnoticed. In fact, our brain is "wired" so that most people's consciousness is shielded from the inner workings. The phenomenon called "enlightenment" is thought by some to be a description of what happens when an individual manages to break through the shielding and gain direct access to the inner workings of his brain. This leads to that individual understanding that he is one with the universe and that his conscious mind is not indicative of bedrock reality. Instead, he understands that his consciousness is just the means by which he may freely choose between the myriad possibilities and stimuli afforded by the reality of life. He knows that none of his choices can affect that reality and can revel in his ability to choose freely based upon his own morality.

(R) I welcome your reply.
(MB) Here it is! What'cha think?

Created with Allaire HomeSite 4.0 .......... Last Update: 15 Nov 98

Earthlink Network Home Page