Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You didn't choose that!!

The Universe made you choose it!  That's what Sam Harris argues in his new book 'Free Will', excerpted in yesterday's National Post.  Harris believes that we don't make choices freely, but that we are compelled by our genetic makeup and our environment to make the choices we do - that free will is an illusion.

It must be a progressive thing.  It sounds an awful lot like Barack Obama's recent declaration to Americans: "You didn't build that!!"

Anyway, I don't buy it.  I like Raymond Smullyan's approach to the problem in "Is God a Taoist?", a dialogue between God and a mortal which opens with:
And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!
You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
And concludes with:
You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.
Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe you think I have some sort of "paint brush" with which I daub some creatures with free will and not others. No, free will is not an "extra"; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.
  See also, Barbara and Jonathan Kay's reponses to Harris.


Alain said...

Gee, it sounds pretty much the same as the old excuse that the devil made me do it, so don't blame me or hold me responsible. to the radio said...

I had so little free will that I decided to go back to school when I was thirty nine years old.
Must have been pre-destined.

No, it wasn't.

Most of the people that I worked with had it in their heads that they were at their apex and they could shit on me daily.
And I had it in my head that they weren't going to shit on me anymore.

I had to go back to school, lose three years of salary and hope that when I got out that somehow I would make it back.

Then, I had to move to a different city, work there for a few years, and get laid off so I could start again again when I moved back home.

To hell with those people.

JR said...

I'm starting to believe that the root of all modern problems is progressive atheism. It's a line of thinking that is toxic to true progress and liberty.

Anonymous said...

The irony of Sam Harris' new book is that it actually makes a better case against atheism than for it. And, of course, Sam Harris has not investigated all human beings, past and present, to determine whether his theory is true. On a deeper level it gets worse because Harris is operating on the assumption that nature is uniform (which is actually a true assumption) but given his atheism, he can't justify his assumption that nature is uniform since he is limited to his own experience and the experience of some other people -- which people are not omniscient so as to know that all reality is uniform. But anyways... I could go on but I won't.

JR said...

Interesting points, anon.