This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
This chapter features an incredibly long discussion about the nature of free-will between Zach and Thomas, prior to Zach giving him the heart of the argument:
Premise 1. Theism has a significantly higher prior probability than MUH Naturalism.
Premise 2. Theism does a better job of leading us to expect the presence of free will (in the incompatibilist sense) than MUH Naturalism does.
Conclusion: Theism explains the presence of human free will better than MUH Naturalism does; hence, the phenomenon of free will provides evidence in favor of Theism over MUH Naturalism.
Premise 1 might need some explanation. The original formulation of naturalism was found in the first post. Since then, Zach and Thomas have shifted to a new formulation, "multi-universe naturalism (MUH):"
MUH Naturalism: (1) There is a self-organizing physical reality, (2) some part of physical reality exists of necessity, (3) the necessary part of physical reality randomly generates additional parts of physical reality that are distinct universes, and (4) the number of universes generated is vast— perhaps even infinite. (5) Leaving aside possible special cases (e.g., sets or numbers), all entities are physical entities.
They made this adjustment during Chapter 5 on the Design Argument to account for the fact that apparent fine-tuning exists. Thus, by postulating a massive number of universes, it becomes more plausible that the fine-tuned one in which we live, exists. I covered this in a separate post. Regardless of this, the obvious key premise is the second, which implies both:
- We have free-will in an incompatabalist sense
- Theism predicts the existence of free-will
The second half may very well be true, depending on one's understanding of "free will." Even so, the heart of the second half hinges on this bit from Zach:
By contrast, the presence of free agents is not surprising, on the assumption that Theism is true. A morally perfect Deity would have good reason to give persons the opportunity to live significant lives. And, other things being equal, a life involving important choices is more significant than a life involving no choices. So God would have reason to give us the power to make important choices, such as the choice to help or harm ourselves and others.
This goes back to previous bits in the chapter where Zach makes the familiar argument that free will implies no significant action, no real moral capacities, and so on. Mustering as much as we can to adhere to the Litany of Gendlin (or see my blog tagline above), what would the reaction be if we really didn't have free will? Would everyone go on a rampage of suicide, crime, and complete despair? If you knew that the laws of physics determined the life you would life, would you want to not experience it? I return back to a discussion of free will I had with a friend, who posed it this way:
- If I could prove conclusively that you had free will, how would you behave differently?
- If I could prove conclusively that you did not have free will, how would you behave differently?
I had to admit that neither scenario would alter my behavior. I may be an exception; free will have never struck me as impossible, horrid, scary, or depressing. That there could be knowable causes for every single action I conduct is quite feasible in my mind. We could be biological machines of immense complexity that go about behaving in pre-determined ways that yet remain unpredictable even by a perfect prediction machine.
The real key to this idea of free will is simply whether we could, in principle, reduce every action to a previous condition described by physics, or if the furthest back we could go was, "Because I chose it." I don't know that there is a ready answer to this question. Zach makes the case that the best we could get to is something like, "Inputs like wants, desires, history, past actions, and current brain state S1 lead to the expectation of a 90% chance of brain state S2 occurring and a 10% chance of brain state S3 occurring." I'm unsure if I think this is accurate or if we could know something more, say about the exact location of all quarks, that would reduce this to a single answer. Then again, measuring something interferes with it, and thus we may never know. Is this not knowing because we really have free will or because of how physics works?
Furthermore, I've wondered if either the mind isn't simply what the brain does, or if free will isn't entirely dependent on brain states, why injuries to the brain have such predictable side effects. Ebon Musings has an already massively cited section on all kinds of these phenomenon in Ghost in the Machine. There's just something odd about admitting that our hardware dependent minds/actions are also being affected by something unknowable, detectable, traceable, or predictable. And again, would not knowing be due to a free will component in the theistic sense, or because of something more like Heisenberg uncertainty? And if that is what free will is, then do electrons have it? Layman actually used radioactive decay as evidence that not everything is predictable:
For example, take a quantity of radium 226 over a period of 3,240 years; each atom of the radium has a .75 probability of decaying and a .25 probability of not decaying (within that period of time).
But if this is what we're talking about with respect to free will... the conclusions drawn seem to lose some significant loftiness.
The chapter concludes with a discussion of whether or not god's omniscience conflicts with the idea of free will. Zach defends the idea along the lines of "God knows everything that can be known." Thus, since free will implies that future actions cannot be known until they occur, the best god knows is a range of possibilities and not a definite action. This avoids things like god believing I will lie, and then I freely tell the truth and thus make one of god's beliefs false. Instead, god believes that I might do either action. Once I do it, god knows which I chose. They discuss solutions to the same problem from timelessness and middle knowledge which I don't particularly care to get into.
This post is probably somewhat of a disappointment. I don't have the free will answer. I am reading through LessWrong's solution (think about it yourself before reading!), and think that Thou Art Physics makes a hell of a lot of sense (it was an incredible "Aha!" moment for me upon seeing the second drawing). Are theologians satisfied with this? Probably not. For me, the above argument contains a lot of issues that the argument from cosmology had. Namely, we're postulating a perfectly moral being and then speculating about what that being would and wouldn't do with creation. Such a being would obviously want us to have moral capacities, right (even at or own eternal peril)? This type of anthropomorphism has never gotten very far with me. We're looking at ourselves and then trying to imagine what kind of super-version of ourselves would have created us. If my daughter walks toward a busy street, I frankly don't give a damn about her free will at the moment. I protect her from danger. If god's thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are above our ways, why should we expect that he cares so much about morally significant action? Why not give us mostly free will (like a child) but intervene when things get really messy? Eliezer Yudkowsky puts things well in his post, Beyond the Reach of God.
In any case, I don't have the solution, but Layman's chapter isn't striking me as it, either.