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Is free will illusory?

ZapFinch42

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I recently had a discussion with a fellow atheist about Sam Harris' book Free Will and I was taken aback by just how hostile my colleague was to the idea that Free Will might be an illusion. I have come to believe that we do live in a deterministic universe and it seems to me the the benefits of thinking this way far out weigh the feelings of desperation my friend so afraid of.

With this in mind I am curious how others feel about this subject.
I welcome people of all creeds to chime in.

If you are an atheist, is this an idea that you have concerned yourself with? Do you find evidence in support of Free Will?

If you are a believer of some shade, do you feel that the loss of free will threatens your belief system or is there some way to reconcile the two? Remember I am asking a hypothetical here, if you suddenly found out beyond any shadow of a doubt that free will is an illusion would you still maintain your faith? On that note is free will something you take on faith?


For anyone, if society as a whole were to adopt this philosophy what benefits do you think we would enjoy? What negative consequences? (ie how would it impact our daily lives? Our system of laws?)

I am not attempting to start a religious debate here, I hope we can talk about free will on its own terms.
 

spud_meister

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Free will can't exist. If God exists, then He knows all and free will is merely an illusion, as we can't change the outcome. If God doesn't exist, then everything we do is simply a result of the movements of particles and energy in a course determined by the Big Bang.
 

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Oh I don't know. It is 5 a.m. and I have just spent half an hour looking at prices for Authentic Elvis impersonator jumpsuits for reasons known but to God since I have no desire to buy one but was re-summonsed involuntarily into awakeness by dogs really needing to be walked and can't go back to sleep.
 

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Free will can't exist. If God exists, then He knows all and free will is merely an illusion, as we can't change the outcome. If God doesn't exist, then everything we do is simply a result of the movements of particles and energy in a course determined by the Big Bang.
Please flesh what you are trying to say out a little bit more. How is it that just because a god knows everything past and present that free will does not/cannot exist? I have music recorded by someone independent of any control by me [under their own free will], I can play that music over and over again, I know it exactly, the musicians cannot any longer change it, so will not change no matter if I know it or not.

So, how is it that this knowledge of what went on before and what will go on in the future might keep others from having exercised their own free will? And myself, I can play it or not, as is my choice... and is not a proof that a god made me do it or didn't.
 

spud_meister

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Please flesh what you are trying to say out a little bit more. How is it that just because a god knows everything past and present that free will does not/cannot exist? I have music recorded by someone independent of any control by me [under their own free will], I can play that music over and over again, I know it exactly, the musicians cannot any longer change it, so will not change no matter if I know it or not.

So, how is it that this knowledge of what went on before and what will go on in the future might keep others from having exercised their own free will? And myself, I can play it or not, as is my choice... and is not a proof that a god made me do it or didn't.
You can play a CD, that's your choice, and God knew you were going to play that CD when he created the universe, it is not possible for you to have done anything that God has not willed to happen at the moment he created everything. God predetermined everything, your choice to play a CD is merely an illusion of choice, because it couldn't have happened any other way.
 

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You can play a CD, that's your choice, and God knew you were going to play that CD when he created the universe, it is not possible for you to have done anything that God has not willed to happen at the moment he created everything. God predetermined everything, your choice to play a CD is merely an illusion of choice, because it couldn't have happened any other way.
If I were, for the sake of conversation to have had free choice, and it was not an illusion, but god knew what I would do and yet let me do it, how or why would that ipso facto be required to be god disallowing choice? I know you are saying it IS that way, I just do not know why you are saying it MUST be that way.

The music recorded that I have was made by free choice, it cannot now have happened any other way, having already been done. Just because a god knows what will happen does not necessarily mean that he willed it so. Or if it is necessary, what is your reason behind this being so?
 

ZapFinch42

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If I were, for the sake of conversation to have had free choice, and it was not an illusion, but god knew what I would do and yet let me do it, how or why would that ipso facto be required to be god disallowing choice? I know you are saying it IS that way, I just do not know why you are saying it MUST be that way.

The music recorded that I have was made by free choice, it cannot now have happened any other way, having already been done. Just because a god knows what will happen does not necessarily mean that he willed it so. Or if it is necessary, what is your reason behind this being so?

It seems that spud is using a very strict theist definition of god. That is to say one who literally controls every aspect of the universe including for the sake of argument what records you play.
In my experience most modern christians do not really view their god that way. This might be the disconnect.
 
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marywollstonecraft

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I recently had a discussion with a fellow atheist about Sam Harris' book Free Will and I was taken aback by just how hostile my colleague was to the idea that Free Will might be an illusion. I have come to believe that we do live in a deterministic universe and it seems to me the the benefits of thinking this way far out weigh the feelings of desperation my friend so afraid of.

With this in mind I am curious how others feel about this subject.
I welcome people of all creeds to chime in.

If you are an atheist, is this an idea that you have concerned yourself with? Do you find evidence in support of Free Will?

If you are a believer of some shade, do you feel that the loss of free will threatens your belief system or is there some way to reconcile the two? Remember I am asking a hypothetical here, if you suddenly found out beyond any shadow of a doubt that free will is an illusion would you still maintain your faith? On that note is free will something you take on faith?


For anyone, if society as a whole were to adopt this philosophy what benefits do you think we would enjoy? What negative consequences? (ie how would it impact our daily lives? Our system of laws?)

I am not attempting to start a religious debate here, I hope we can talk about free will on its own terms.
Fee will is like any other sort of "freedom" it has limits.

We are free to make some choices - although even many of those may be influenced by conditioning, upbringing, previous choices etc ....

but there are other things that just happen, and our capacity to make free choices in how we react/respond is even further limited.

part of free will probably requires the individual to know when they really are free to make choices - and not experience too much angst over things that really are outside their control. and for me, God doesn't come into the equation .... but I think I would probably feel much the same whether I was/wasn't a believer.
 

spud_meister

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If I were, for the sake of conversation to have had free choice, and it was not an illusion, but god knew what I would do and yet let me do it, how or why would that ipso facto be required to be god disallowing choice? I know you are saying it IS that way, I just do not know why you are saying it MUST be that way.

The music recorded that I have was made by free choice, it cannot now have happened any other way, having already been done. Just because a god knows what will happen does not necessarily mean that he willed it so. Or if it is necessary, what is your reason behind this being so?
Because God created everything with full knowledge of what would happen when he did so. Nothing can behave contrary to the way God knew it would when he set the universe in motion. Because God predetermined the outcome of creation, it is impossible for us to make a choice God didn't foresee, thus, we maintain an illusionary perception of choice from our limited perspective, but from God's perspective, He knew we would make that choice and so it couldn't have happened any other way.
 

spud_meister

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It seems that spud is using a very strict theist definition of god. That is to say one who literally controls every aspect of the universe including for the sake of argument what records you play.
In my experience most modern christians do not really view their god that way. This might be the disconnect.
It's not God controlling in the immediate, intimate sense, but rather that everything is the way it is because God chose for it to be that way.
 

ChunkySalsa

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If God is omnipotent and omniscient, he dictated everything that ever has been and ever will be.

If this God exists, humans can no more choose their actions than a CD can change the music burnt onto it.
 

ZapFinch42

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It's not God controlling in the immediate, intimate sense, but rather that everything is the way it is because God chose for it to be that way.
You articulated that well, I see your point now. It is funny though because that very argument is almost word for word how someone of any of the Abrahamic faiths would defend the existence of free will. We have free will from our POV but not from god's.
 
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ZapFinch42

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Fee will is like any other sort of "freedom" it has limits.

We are free to make some choices - although even many of those may be influenced by conditioning, upbringing, previous choices etc ....

but there are other things that just happen, and our capacity to make free choices in how we react/respond is even further limited.

part of free will probably requires the individual to know when they really are free to make choices - and not experience too much angst over things that really are outside their control. and for me, God doesn't come into the equation .... but I think I would probably feel much the same whether I was/wasn't a believer.
I must ask about those "other things that just happen"

Are those not also just the result of some causal relationship the mechanism of which was separate from yourself?

More pointedly,where does that causality stop, the so called "uncaused cause"
 

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Because God created everything with full knowledge of what would happen when he did so. Nothing can behave contrary to the way God knew it would when he set the universe in motion. Because God predetermined the outcome of creation, it is impossible for us to make a choice God didn't foresee, thus, we maintain an illusionary perception of choice from our limited perspective, but from God's perspective, He knew we would make that choice and so it couldn't have happened any other way.
You keep saying that because god knows ahead of time what will, indeed, happen and nothing can behave contrary to the way god knows it and so that would be synonymous with god being the one determining that all had to be that way. I would say in agreement that everything might be predetermined but that I predetermined the part I do myself. God would just be in a position to know that ahead of time.
 

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If God is omnipotent and omniscient, he dictated everything that ever has been and ever will be.

If this God exists, humans can no more choose their actions than a CD can change the music burnt onto it.
That is contradictory. God being omnipotent, he can do anything, including giving man free will.
 

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I must ask about those "other things that just happen"

Are those not also just the result of some causal relationship the mechanism of which was separate from yourself?

More pointedly,where does that causality stop, the so called "uncaused cause"
The causality of those events for us is often only in that their occurrence creates a situation that we have no choice but to react to on some level. In some cases we may be able to look at the why's and wherefores, but for the most part - for us - this isn't really going to make a lot of difference. I have known people who have lost family members (sometimes many family members) in wars and natural disasters. For those people, the choices they need to focus on will influence survival, recovery and ensuring those that remain will have the best possible future.

If your village was destroyed in the boxing day tsumani, and most of your family was gone, you would try to ensure your surviving children got food, shelter and medical care in the short term, and your home and community was rebuilt in the long term. If your parents and eight of your nine siblings were in a house that was bombed, and just you and your ten year old sister survived, your focus would be on staying together and surviving. in both cases, worrying about the uncaused cause just wouldn't be that relevant. If you thought about it at all, you might say "in sha'allah" (as God wills it). or you might wonder whether there is a god. but your "free will" choices would be basically focused on survival - and doing whatever you could to maximize your chances.

interestingly, I have found people in these circumstances are often less inclined to ask "why" than a person who has suffered the sudden death of someone through accident or suicide.
 

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I recently had a discussion with a fellow atheist about Sam Harris' book Free Will and I was taken aback by just how hostile my colleague was to the idea that Free Will might be an illusion. I have come to believe that we do live in a deterministic universe and it seems to me the the benefits of thinking this way far out weigh the feelings of desperation my friend so afraid of.
I have also read that book but it just put in formal terms what I'd already argued before I read it. Conscious free will does not exist.

Not only that, right now it looks like consciousness itself may be an after-the-fact process, which just puts more nails in the coffin of free will.
 

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A predictable future and free will are mutually exclusive.
In the cosmic way of things, a god's omnipotence totally trumps mutual exclusivity. Just because we do not have the capacity to understand how it can be done certainly does not mean that it cannot. Besides which, as I have explained, just because we know ahead of time that I will win each debate does not mean you do not have the free will to take the other side anyhow.
 

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...if you suddenly found out beyond any shadow of a doubt that free will is an illusion would you still maintain your faith? On that note is free will something you take on faith?
If free will was an illusion then I wouldn't be able to give up my faith, because I would not have the free will to do so, unless the controlling factor so determined for me to.

Free will can't exist. If God exists, then He knows all and free will is merely an illusion, as we can't change the outcome. If God doesn't exist, then everything we do is simply a result of the movements of particles and energy in a course determined by the Big Bang.
Of course it can. Here's an example. For the purposes of this example we'll start with the suppositions of God not existing and time travel being possible, at least for our one individual.

You are walking down the street and you notice me at the end of the block in an argument. I don't like what the guy is saying and decide to stab him in the gut. You then hop into your handy dandy wibbily wobbly time machine, slip back in time and stand on the opposite side of the street and watch the event happen again.

Just beacuse you knew what the outcome would be sans any influance by yourself, it does not automatically follow that I didn't choose to stab that guy. Now let's put God back into the equation. Simply because he knows what we'll decide does not mean that we are not deciding.
 

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Because God created everything with full knowledge of what would happen when he did so. Nothing can behave contrary to the way God knew it would when he set the universe in motion. Because God predetermined the outcome of creation, it is impossible for us to make a choice God didn't foresee, thus, we maintain an illusionary perception of choice from our limited perspective, but from God's perspective, He knew we would make that choice and so it couldn't have happened any other way.
For this to be true then God delebrately created Morningstar to turn upon Him and become Satan. It was either Christ or Paul who stated that a house divided against itself cannot stand. For that matter, there would be no point for Christ to come save us if we couldn't be saved since we'd have no choice in being saved or not.
 

spud_meister

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Just beacuse you knew what the outcome would be sans any influance by yourself, it does not automatically follow that I didn't choose to stab that guy. Now let's put God back into the equation. Simply because he knows what we'll decide does not mean that we are not deciding.
It's not the observation that takes away your free will, it's that we live in a causal universe, each and every act is influenced by previous acts. As God started the causality happening, knowing how it would turn out, he decided each and every action in advance. Hence the lack of free will.
 

spud_meister

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For this to be true then God delebrately created Morningstar to turn upon Him and become Satan. It was either Christ or Paul who stated that a house divided against itself cannot stand. For that matter, there would be no point for Christ to come save us if we couldn't be saved since we'd have no choice in being saved or not.
Precisely. Unless God isn't omnipotent, he knew full well that Morningstar would turn, that Jesus would get nailed to a cross, and he knows precisely who will and will not accept Christ and be saved. And he set the events in motion for these to happen knowing the outcome.
 

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Precisely. Unless God isn't omnipotent, he knew full well that Morningstar would turn, that Jesus would get nailed to a cross, and he knows precisely who will and will not accept Christ and be saved. And he set the events in motion for these to happen knowing the outcome.
Which would render such saving pointless. Without the ability to choose to be save, then you really aren't saved.
 
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