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    March 28th, 2012 @ 12:37 pm by Kevin

    I’m still processing this, but in this lecture, celebrity atheist/neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris argues strongly against the notion of free will. (A concept of which I’m also highly skeptical.) His lecture is essentially a summary of his latest book, Free Will. I’d love to hear your response.



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  1. Interesting that toward the end of this discussion Harris (an atheist) argues that if you really want to love people like Jesus did, taking a broader sense of scientific causality of behavior into account will help. In this regard, Harris has a lot in common with Mr. Rogers (see my previous post on that topic).

  2. This is something Richard Beck brought up at the EU Forum:

    “So how do people end up in hell? Well, they choose to reject God. Human choice and free will played a big part in this; free will is a huge part of Arminian thinking.

    Trouble was, as my psychological training progressed, I began to realize humans aren’t radically free. Change is very, very hard and slow going. More, all the advances in neuroscience were putting huge pressure on radical notions of free will.

    So I began to wonder, ‘Clearly humans have choice, and freedom of choice. But choosing is hard and takes time, especially if you’re dealing with an impoverished upbringing, addiction, trauma, ingrained habits, chemical imbalances in the brain, and genetic predispositions. Let alone being raised in a different culture in a different religion. So how, if God wants to save everybody, is all this going to get done before we die?’

    The only option I could see is that God’s love and pursuit of us must extend past the grave. That, in words of the Song of Solomon, ‘love is as strong as death’ and that, in the words of Revelation, Jesus ‘holds the keys to death and Hades.”’

    And this, it seems to me, is the key theological move for the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Many (if not most) Christians endorse God’s universal beneficence, but many (if not most) don’t believe in God’s post-mortem salvific activity.

    All that to say, a lot of universalists place a big premium on free will (as opposed to the doctrine of election). Weirdly, I don’t. It was my rejection of radical human freedom that moved me toward universalism. In fact, as neuroscience makes more and more progress I think universalism is going to be increasingly attractive to people who strongly endorse 1 Tim. 2.4. “

    • Thanks for posting this. Yes, it was Beck who first raised my suspicions about free will (and a whole lot of other stuff). He’s one of the most creative thinkers I’ve read in a long time. As I noted to Cindy, take a look at this article from Andrew Klager. He affirms much of what Beck says, but he takes things in a somewhat different direction:

  3. I’ve been cogitating/chewing on this since I listened to it yesterday. It seems to me that this is yet another picture of how God is bringing us out into freedom and (eventually) to maturity in Christ. Paul talks about this in Romans — “Oh wretched man that I am; who will deliver me from the body of this death?” And the answer of course is Jesus. As the children of the first Adam, we can do nothing about our bondage to sin and to our sinful nature, but Jesus Christ sets us free.

    What if what we see as an abrogation of “our free will” is in fact the shattering of shackles, the liberation of the captives of fear and death, the very birth of true freedom? What if what’s really happening when Jesus draws/drags all people to Himself is that He is pulling us kicking and screaming out of the prison of compulsion that has held us in bondage since our conception?

    So we don’t have free will? But Jesus Christ sets us free, so perhaps the answer is that He is laboring in us to bring us to the point of maturity in which we will truly be free.

  4. I’ve not listened to Mr. Harris, but I understand the case against “free will” this way: “free will” refers to decisions one makes without external influence; you’re not forced to make the decision you do. But can decisions be made without external influence. One’s genetic predisposition informs the decisions we make, yet we didn’t choose that. Previous experience also shapes our decisions. Should that also count as an external influence? The past imposing itself on the present rather than allowing us to engage the present freely?

    Without the influence of those two things, do you think would make free decisions? No, because who are you without those things. In other words, by exercising “free will” you’ve essentially robbed yourself of that which makes you you.

    • I agree. As I pointed out to a friend the other day, if you use language to make decisions, you are immediately bound by the constraints of that language, which forces you to process information and express yourself in a certain way.

  5. Pingback: Do We Truly Have Free Will? | Journey Into The Son

  6. You really believe that Harris understand love, specially the love that Jesus had? And what, pray tell, is a BROADER SENSE of scientific causality of behavior? Every thing is an illusion, remember. Even Jesus is a robot with illusions. What an exciting philosophy, I can hardly wait for the next book.

    • Oddly enough, Benoit, he’s not arguing that everything is an illusion. In fact, he’s looking for the same thing you are: an explanation of our experience that accords best with reality.

  7. Without listening to Sam Harris, I have the initial thoughts that our common experience, our culture, and the bible itself says that we do have free will and will be held responsible for the choices that we make.

    If we did not have free will, then that would mean that God actually designed all of the evil that we see all around us, and all of the exhortations to turn, change, repent, and to choose life over death become nonsensical. Pain and suffering would be entirely unnecessary but inflicted by God for no reason at all, thus the “no free will” philosophy really says that God is the Ultimate Sadist.

    I have a suggestion: why not present Sam Harris to me in your own words, with whatever adjustments that you feel might be appropriate for a bible-based approach? I cannot put questions to Sam through a video, but I can put questions to someone who is willing to present his material. It is difficult to get to the bottom of anything without questions and answers.

    Nothing personal, but many people take a common approach that with “read this” and “watch this” to get you to invest hours and hours of time when they have no intention of actually discussing the material afterwards. It starts to seem like an evasion tactic, and it seems to me that if the material was any good to begin with, then it would be able to help the suggester present or discuss it with another.

    So here’s an opportunity to be constructive. If you can present Sam Harris in your own words, I will gladly respond to the distilled content…

    • I appreciate the input, Andrew. But to make this fair, I think you should also watch the video and prepare a response. Then we can compare impressions.

      I’m not posting material here as an evasion tactic, btw. I provide plenty of commentary in most cases. But time is at a premium right now, and I’m still chewing through several articles both for and against Harris’s arguments, so you may have to wait a while.

      • What portion of this was supposed to be valuable in any way? He contradicts himself and seems to be a prime example of what is called “Cognitive Dissonance” and exercises vast leaps of unfounded non-logic.
        .
        Here’s some interesting quotes of his:
        .
        “We can’t choose what we choose in life. And when it seems that we choose when we go back and forth between two options we don’t choose to choose what we choose.”
        .
        “the illusion of free will is itself an illusion, there is no illusion”
        .
        The only way for this guy to make sense is to turn off the critical thinking apparatus of your own brain. His conclusion is contradictory, that somehow this “knowledge” of “not having free will” will change us somehow, for the better. He forgets that according to his own premise we cannot consciously change anything.
        .
        Is this something you’re prepared to critically analyze, or can you give me that hour and fifteen minutes of my life back? (and I say this after you criticized me for not having watched Harris yet…) He was more absurd than I expected.

        • I don’t think you’re prepared to analyze this critically, Andrew. You’re too emotionally engaged. Best to give it a bit of space first.

          • I made notes in a file as I was listening to this and they will keep for a while, so pick a time, but don’t think you’ll escape by implying that I am “too emotional” (which is a strange thing to hear from a universalist…)

          • You know, this sure seems a lot like “evasion” to me, and it’s exactly what I predicted and what you said wouldn’t happen. I shouldn’t have to keep this page open in my browser for weeks and keep refreshing it to see if you ever came back, so if you ever do come back then please email me to let me know that you have returned, when you are prepared to evaluate the “we have no free will” claim from a logical perspective.

    • BTW, even without free will, there’s no need to blame God for evil. The options to explain my actions are not limited to my will or God’s will. This is something Harris helps unpack, the interdependence of human behavior. Rene Girard illuminates this same sort of influence in his mimetic violence theory.

      • 1. I think your new CSS is stripping out white space from the replies, but it hurts readability… is there any way you could fix this?

        2. How is it that you figure that actions are not related to anyone’s will? If we are essentially machines that mimic previous behavior, that simply passes the buck to the last person down the line. That buck goes all the way to Adam, and then to God, the creator of Adam. If men are not responsible for their actions then God is, and if man bears no responsibility then God is the Author and Engineer of All Evil.

        3. The way the bible speaks, it sure sounds like we are held responsible for our actions, as if we had free will. Regardless of what Gene or Richard or Sam or Sue thinks on a subject, shouldn’t this be our ultimate test?

      • On another post about Legos, you made mention of being a proud father, so I have a question. If your son was merely mimicking you without expressing any will of his own, what would you have to be proud of? I am sensing a cognitive dissonance here.

        • Fascinating speech, looking forward to reading his book.

          Western thought has long identified our conscious mind as the ‘bit’ of me that makes me an I – a responsible, willful individual. I think therefore I am. But this idea has not been universally believed and doesn’t fit well with the findings of psychology and neuroscience. Nor does it fit with the experiences of those who study the mystical tradition and discover that our mind, no more than our body, does not really explain ‘who’ and ‘what’ I am.

          Beliefs are certainly not something we choose to hold. We receive them from our first authorities and new ones come to us, or don’t, based on whether our present ones actually serve our needs, and whether we are situationally disposed toward ‘hearing’ something new in an alternate experience or idea. We have no control over when our beliefs change, though we might perceive the change coming and try to cut ourselves off from alternative, this only results in denial, but it might be a satisfactory, functional denial.

          So when we face the choices before us, we do so with ad hoc viewpoints that others have created for us and in us. Based on these systems built by others and operated and maintained and adjusted for fit by ourselves, and our trusted communities, we have no choice but to see some options as foolish, and to assess others as wise and proper. Having made such a judgement, we cannot possibly choose what we truly believe to be foolish. Moment by moment, everyone makes the best/wisest choice they can based on the sum of their (subconscious) beliefs. Sometimes we are prisoners of our beliefs. We may despise them but be unable to break away from them, even though we know they are destructive because we have not yet encountered a better story.

          But to suggest we are robots is to deny the conscious mind and to pretend the iceberg is entirely underwater. None of us are robots – it’s just that humanity is plural. We simply are not individuals. We are familes, communities, societies and we create and shape each other. We can become better people – but not on our own, or by taking pride in our individual ability to overcome. As Sam says – there’s no telling how much benefit can come from having a conversation with a very smart person. And more so if we are lucky enough to be able to talk (or live with) someone who is very smart and who loves us.

          I was sort of surprised that Sam’s conclusions were essentially the message of Buddha: We are all connected…try and serve others with love. This really isn’t something we can act upon without being directed into wanting that choice, but hearing the invitation, or receiving the loving care or others, is input into who we can become.

          • Great feedback AH. I was also surprised and encouraged by his observations on the interdependence of humankind and how to work together toward a more compassionate society. Lots to appreciate from a Christian POV as well.

        • I don’t think we can have this discussion until you’ve examined the relevant data, namely, Harris’s talk.

          • If you can provide reasonable answers to my introductory questions, I may use my shared bandwidth allowance to download the 78 minute video and spent the hour+ watching the Atheist arrive at Buddhist conclusions, but right now it doesn’t seem very promising.
            ,
            * Assuming that there is a Creator, how are our actions not related to anyone’s will?
            * Shouldn’t the Bible be our ultimate measure of truth?
            * How can you be proud of someone if they aren’t acting with at least some measure of free will? How can you be proud of your son for his LEGO construction about your movie, or how could God be proud (and even brag about) Job when talking with the Devil? Why didn’t the devil counter God and remind him that Job didn’t have free will and was only a product of his environment?
            ,
            I shouldn’t have to watch the movie for any of those questions to be answered. Sam isn’t going to answer my question about God, Job, and the devil, will he?

          • Actually, it seems that the devil essentially did imply that Job was not really righteous because of his own will, but rather that he was a product of his environment. Rather than asking you to download a 78 minute video, I would ask you to read and consider the application of these four verses.
            .
            Job 1:8-11 KJV
            (8) And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
            (9) Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
            (10) Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
            (11) But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
            .
            Satan posited that Job was “perfect and upright” because of a cause and effect relationship, namely that Job was “good” because it was good for him. God disagreed and accepted Satan’s challenge to prove a point, which seems to be that Job was righteous for reasons other than dictated by his environment.

    • @Andrew:

      “Free Will” is an oxymoron term. Free means unrestrained, unbound, independent, exempt from influence or uncaused. To will is the process of asserting one’s choice, selecting or restraining my choices to one and acting on it, or to cause. To say I possess free will means I have the power to create uncaused causes.That’s totally nonsensical. My will is caused, not free; and ultimately, is caused by God’s intentions to align with His will as we are all being made (ongoing process) into His image.

      “Consequently, then, to whom He will, He is merciful, yet whom He will, He is hardening. You will be protesting to me, then, “Why, then, is He still blaming? for who has withstood His intention?” O man! who are you, to be sure, who are answering again to God? That which is molded will not protest to the molder, “Why do you make me thus?” Or has not the potter the right over the clay, out of the same kneading to make one vessel, indeed, for honor, yet one for dishonor? Now if God, wanting to display His indignation and to make His powerful doings known, carries, with much patience, the vessels of indignation, adapted for destruction, it is that He should also be making known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He makes ready before for glory.” (Romans 9:18-23, Concordant Literal Version)

      How much “free will” does a lump of clay have?

      “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7, KJV)
      “shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6, KJV)
      “an experience of evil Elohim has given to the sons of humanity to humble them by it.” (Ecclesiastes 1:13, Concordant Literal Version)
      [the word evil in these verses is not calamity, it’s the same word in Genesis 2:17 describing the tree of knowledge of good and evil]

      Without sin and evil, how would God show us His love, grace, and mercy by the shed blood of Jesus Christ? His Son was slain from the foundation of the world because God planned all this from the start. God doesn’t want us to just be with Him, He wants us to KNOW Him, and He’s not the “Ultimate Sadist.”

      • Replying to B.J. Neubert,
        .
        I apologize for not noticing your response. Ever since the blog format changed here there are no more notifications when there are new comments.
        .
        Your “oxymoronic” definition of free will is fundamentally flawed, because you have confused “will” with “action.” If I have free will does not mean that I can fly to the moon merely by wanting to do so. It means that I can independently choose from available options, and if someone attempts to limit my options or coerce my behavior, I can at least rebel within myself regardless of what they may do to me externally.
        .
        You have confused free will with free action and unlimited power, therefore the rest of your argument becomes invalid. The entire bible is written from the assumption of free will, which is just as normal an assumption as that we breath air and that gravity makes things fall in a downwards direction. People are given commandments which they break, and we are held responsible for sin. God treats us as if we had free will.
        .
        On a different note, may I ask why you are quoting from two different Bible versions? The Concordant Literal Version seems rather strange enough as is (I have no idea how to look that up online) but why are you switching back and forth between that and the King James?
        .
        And by the way, in Romans 9:18-23 has nothing to do with God overriding individual free will for the purpose of salvation or damnation. From the previous verse (verse 17) Pharaoh whom God hardened was already wicked, but God hardened his heart for the purpose of a public demonstration. If you look to the following verse (verse 24)you will also see that Paul is not speaking of specific people but of groups of people, namely Jew and Gentile, and attempting to read the passage as if it was speaking of every individual person within those groups quickly leads to obvious contradictions.
        .
        When you compared Ecclesiastes 1:13 with Genesis 2:17, even concerning the word “evil”, did you notice that its usage does happen to be consistent with “calamity”, as in knowing both the good things and the bad?
        .
        Regardless, if we were to believe that men do not have free will and that we are merely the product of circumstance, then you now have the problem that someone built those circumstances, and that someone is God. If evil is not the product of our free will, then it is the product of someone’s will.
        .
        Ergo, if we do not have free will, then God is the Author of Evil. If a woman is raped it wouldn’t be the fault of the rapist, it would be God’s fault for creating the circumstances that “forced” that rapist into the situation from which he had no other options. When the children of Israel passed their children through the fire to Molech, it couldn’t be their fault… because they didn’t have free will. So how did Israel do this when God said that such a thing never entered his heart? Where did they get the idea from?
        .
        Jer 7:31 KJV
        (31) And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.
        .
        Did we all see that? They were burning their children in the fire which God commanded not. God didn’t command it, and it should be obvious that this also violated specific commands such as “Thou shalt not kill.” These people had free will, and God was going to punish them accordingly (read the rest of Jeremiah.)
        .
        The scriptures tell us that the fool says in his heart that there is no God. Going a step further, it seems that now some atheists are saying that we have no free will. The only more extreme step that I can think of is an argument where someone tries to convince me that I do not really exist, that I am only a figment of their imagination.

  8. To Sam’s reasoning, an underlying presupposition of no significant supernatural gated interface for human souls. If this presupposition could be correct, his philosophic arguments play as well-founded. The strongest evidence against the presupposition is primarily non-empirical (by design). In effect, Sam is here working from a small box [the cause & effect universe].

  9. @ Andrew

    Some thoughts…

    * Assuming that there is a Creator, how are our actions not related to anyone’s will?

    I see several problems with your question. Will is the word we use to describe what goes on in a person’s conscious mind when he makes a decision and acts accordingly. The argument is that our notion of will should change. Instead of seeing it as an expression of our individual autonomy, our will ought to be recognized as an expression of collaboration which is too complex to properly break down.

    Also, just because any one person is not responsible for their particular actions, doesn’t mean that no one is. If there is a Creator, it seems that the idea which should follow is that creation itself – and by this I mean the totality of actual reality we share, whatever it really is – is the best expression of the Creator.

    * Shouldn’t the Bible be our ultimate measure of truth?

    I don’t think so. The Bible was created and is meant to measure Judiasm and Christianity, not reality or truth. Think about what it means to measure something, anything. Measuring something, by definition, is the practice of applying our own intentionally limited concept or framework onto reality in order to break it into something we can use.

    There is no ultimate measure of reality, because reality cannot be experienced on our terms. We must accept it as it is on the terms in which it comes. Ultimately it is it reality which measures us.

    * How can you be proud of someone if they aren’t acting with at least some measure of free will? How can you be proud of your son for his LEGO construction about your movie, or how could God be proud (and even brag about) Job when talking with the Devil? Why didn’t the devil counter God and remind him that Job didn’t have free will and was only a product of his environment?

    Kevin isn’t just taking pride in his son — the pride he feels, which must be explained, rather than denied or scorned — partly arises out of the intuited connection between them. Kevin creates one thing (a poster) which opens up the possibility for his son to create an homage – something he could not have done except that Kevin showed him what he had created first.

    Kevin and God aren’t bragging about free will – who cares about one person in isolation? – but about how cause effect empowerment works in the world. So to answer the devil’s question: Of course Job is a product of his environment. And Job’s environment is creation. And creation is the expression of the Creator.

    I don’t see why free will is important or desirable or, in any way value-enhancing to reality. Whatever I believe about it, I still have to live my life consciously in the moment, and yet grace abounds when I recognize Christ in all, or myself in all, or others in me, etc. I believe we are all united in a creative, artistic act of an Artist that is beyond comprehension. We have made the mistake of imputing a human morality onto a non-human artwork (isn’t the Fall described as grasping at the measure of good and evil?) while really, whatever we do is part of the masterpiece that is ultimate reality.

    • Brilliant response, AH.

    • The only thing I would add to Andre’s comments is to say that the Bible can’t be the ultimate measure of truth, because we never truly encounter the Bible; merely our interpretation of the Bible. But besides that, the written word should always be measured by the Living Word, which is Christ. He is the ultimate measure of the Bible and reality.

      • Whoops, I meant AH’s comments.

      • Kevin, if you haven’t seen (recognized) this yet, I should probably point it out. According to your own logic, you do not know Christ, you only know your interpretation of Christ. So unless you’re justifying a reason for not having any authority except whatever you want to believe, you seem to have defeated yourself.

        • I guess that puts us in the same boat then. 🙂 I would say I know Christ in the same way I know the Bible–in part. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 13, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

          Think about anyone you know. How much do you really know about them, especially about their inner life? So yes, I know Jesus, but my knowledge of him keeps changing as I move down the road of life. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

          • The difference is that God gave us the scriptures for a reason, specifically to reveal himself. He says that he places his word above his name (Psalm 138:2) and Jesus chastised his very disciples for not recognizing who he was because they knew not the scriptures.
            .
            Luk 24:25-27 KJV
            (25) Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
            (26) Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
            (27) And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
            .

            Joh 5:46-47 KJV
            (46) For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
            (47) But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
            .
            I have heard you disregard the Old Testament and claim to believe Christ, but Christ himself says that you should first believe Moses. You are paying a lot of emphasis on listening to arguments against free will presented by an atheist, but when Jesus says something that sounds uncomfortable you are setting that aside. Didn’t Jesus also say something what happens when the blind start leading the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? (Luke 6:39)
            .
            I understand that you are reacting against a false doctrine which is commonly called “Eternal Conscious Torment” … which I have also called “Soul Fry” and you have dubbed “Infernalism.” However, a move away from evil does not necessarily mean you are heading in the correct direction either. You should not be judging by whether universalism supports the Bible, you should be judging by whether the Bible unequivocally preaches universalism.
            .
            You said that your understanding of Jesus is still changing, but it should be changing according to the scriptures, not in spite of or even against the scriptures. Jesus said that he would redeem all that would repent but destroy those who remained rebellious, and rebellion by definition requires free will.

          • Patrick: I’m not minimizing Jesus or the Old Testament. However, I may be minimizing certain interpretations of each. But I don’t do so to duck their authority. Exactly the opposite. I think certain interpretations tend to negate that authority. As for following arguments made by atheists, I don’t care who makes the argument, just as long as its sound. So if an atheist is arguing that abandoning the notion of free will leads to greater compassion, a greater sense of our interconnectedness vs. living an ego-driven lifestyle, I’m listening. And I don’t think you’re really in a position to criticize Harris until you’ve given him a listen. And once again, just b/c I don’t believe in free will doesn’t mean I don’t believe we have the power to make choices. Of course we do. The question is, what is informing those choices? Again, if you were willing to read an original source, such as Rene Girard or Ernest Becker, I think your eyes would be opened to the complexity of causes to which I’m referring.

          • 1. Kevin, you have been diminishing the authority of scripture. You said that the Old Testament should be set aside in favor of your interpretation of Jesus, and your interpretation of Jesus ignores many things that it says about Jesus.
            .
            2. As a test (to see what you mean by accepting scripture) in Genesis 3:17 God chooses to punish Adam, Eve, and the serpent. To Adam, he tells him this is because he harkened to the voice of his wife and disobeyed God’s commandment. It doesn’t seem that God believed that Adam had no free will or was merely shaped by his environment. Is Sam Harris wiser than God?
            .
            3. Please *explain* your implication that recognizing that God has created man with free will somehow diminishes the authority of scripture. If this was not what you meant to imply, please give concrete examples of what you mean.
            .
            4. Jesus came to this earth preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, that we should love God and love our neighbor. Repentance requires a conscious desire to change (a choice) and necessarily requires us to recognize “guilt” and “shame” at our past behavior. Sam Harris (the atheist) is suggesting that ”
            abandoning the illusion of free will” is the route to greater love and peace on earth.
            .
            These are different gospels. Jesus never said that “forsaking free will” was the way to love and peace on earth. To the contrary, in John 9:24 he says that he said that whosoever will attempt to save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for Christ’s sake should find it. Christ’s message of repentance and forgiveness of sins presupposes the free will of mankind.
            .
            5. Why do you think I am unaware of the “complexity of causes” that you suggest, and what new evidence do you think they hold that would have a greater precedence over the biblical account? Earlier I had asked you to give me a reason why I should watch Sam Harris, and even had the video loaded and ready, but you didn’t respond then. If these authors aren’t able to help you respond to basic questions like I have asked, then why I should I listen to them?
            .
            As an ironic touch, I will point out that if I do not have free will (like you seem to claim) then why should I be held accountable for anything that I do or fail to do? If I do not watch Sam Harris or read Rene Gerard, whose fault is that?

          • Andrew: I’ll answer each of your points in turn:

            1. Kevin, you have been diminishing the authority of scripture. You said that the Old Testament should be set aside in favor of your interpretation of Jesus, and your interpretation of Jesus ignores many things that it says about Jesus. At what point did I say we should set the Old Testament aside? I am merely arguing that our interpretation of the Old Testament should be guided by the character of Christ. So when we read something in the Old Testament that contradicts what Jesus said and how Jesus lived, we should default to him rather than the Old Testament text.
            .
            2. As a test (to see what you mean by accepting scripture) in Genesis 3:17 God chooses to punish Adam, Eve, and the serpent. To Adam, he tells him this is because he harkened to the voice of his wife and disobeyed God’s commandment. It doesn’t seem that God believed that Adam had no free will or was merely shaped by his environment. Is Sam Harris wiser than God? First of all, God didn’t punish Adam, Eve and the serpent. He merely explained the natural consequences of their actions. And this story is a perfect example of how our will is not free; rather, how it falls into bondage. How? Through imitating each other’s desire. Eve imitated the serpent and Adam imitated Eve. I’m not sure who the serpent imitated, but as for the humans, you can see immediately that their wills fell into bondage. Want to learn more about this? Read “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” by Rene Girard. And no, I will not do a book report for you to convince you why you should read it.
            .
            3. Please *explain* your implication that recognizing that God has created man with free will somehow diminishes the authority of scripture. If this was not what you meant to imply, please give concrete examples of what you mean. I have no idea what you’re talking about here.
            .
            4. Jesus came to this earth preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, that we should love God and love our neighbor. Repentance requires a conscious desire to change (a choice) and necessarily requires us to recognize “guilt” and “shame” at our past behavior. Sam Harris (the atheist) is suggesting that ”
            abandoning the illusion of free will” is the route to greater love and peace on earth.
            .
            These are different gospels. Jesus never said that “forsaking free will” was the way to love and peace on earth. To the contrary, in John 9:24 he says that he said that whosoever will attempt to save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for Christ’s sake should find it. Christ’s message of repentance and forgiveness of sins presupposes the free will of mankind. With all due respect, you have no idea what you’re talking about here, Andrew, because you haven’t given Harris the time of day. Harris is saying the same thing as Jesus. And that is this: We need to give up the illusion that we are autonomous individuals. Instead, we need to realize that we are all interconnected, that my behavior affects your behavior and vice versa. For every cause, there is an effect. Therefore, we should love our neighbors as ourselves, b/c this will lead to the best sequence of cause and effect (and we should love God first of all). What I discovered is that Harris essentially arrives at what the gospel teaches. You would know this if you listened to him.
            .
            5. Why do you think I am unaware of the “complexity of causes” that you suggest, and what new evidence do you think they hold that would have a greater precedence over the biblical account? Earlier I had asked you to give me a reason why I should watch Sam Harris, and even had the video loaded and ready, but you didn’t respond then. If these authors aren’t able to help you respond to basic questions like I have asked, then why I should I listen to them? Sorry, Andrew, but I’m not writing a book report for you. You’ll have to do your own work on this. If you can’t even be bothered to examine the evidence for yourself, I don’t know what else I can do for you.
            .
            As an ironic touch, I will point out that if I do not have free will (like you seem to claim) then why should I be held accountable for anything that I do or fail to do? If I do not watch Sam Harris or read Rene Gerard, whose fault is that? That’s the problem; you’re always looking for someone to blame. You can make choices, Andrew. Dozens of them every day. The question is, are they good choices or bad choices? Do they maximize the amount of good in the world or do they diminish it? What is informing those choices? Can you really create an uncaused cause? Or is every choice you make the result of a prior choice you or someone else made? Follow the causal chain back, Andrew. You’ll find it ends in a wilderness you cannot explain. This is the whole point: You are not an isolated monad. You are part of a complex network of people and experiences. So you could say we all bear each other’s burdens in terms of who is responsible for what choices. That’s a much grander view of humanity in my opinion. A more humbling view.

          • I will try to answer briefly (and I miss the old formatting features),
            .
            1. You just attacked the Old Testament authority in your very answer saying that you were not diminishing it. Maybe you don’t understand this, but your claim that Jesus contradicts the Old Testament is an attack on the Old Testament, and this also shows me that you don’t understand the authority that Jesus claimed while he was on earth… you’re not paying attention to what he said. Do you not understand what Jesus meant when he said that the scriptures cannot be broken? According to the standard that Jesus used, if there was a conflict between him and the scripture, he would have been an impostor.
            .
            2. You just said that God did not punish Adam… then who was it that cast Adam out of the Garden, banned him from the tree of life, and posted a fiery sword with cherubim to keep man away from the Tree of Life? Why did God say that the ground would be “cursed” for his sake if it was not a curse? You are so totally *not* accepting scripture.
            .
            3. It shouldn’t be too hard to explain what you said, specifically in just two posts previous,
            .
            . “…I may be minimizing certain interpretations of each [Jesus or Old Testament]. But I don’t do so to duck their authority. Exactly the opposite. I think certain interpretations tend to negate that authority….”
            .
            You implied that “God created men with free will” was one of those interpretations. Please explain this, or if this was not your intent please give some examples of interpretations of Jesus and the Old Testament that diminish the authority of scripture.
            .
            Considering that you have stated multiple times that Jesus and the Old Testament contradict each other, I am wondering how you could possible come up with an interpretation that lessens their authority more than this.
            .
            4. How can Sam Harris be saying the same thing as Jesus? Jesus said he was the LORD our God, and Sam Harris is saying there is no God and that Jesus is not our Lord. The gospel of Jesus does not preach that we should love our neighbor because of optimal cause and effect… that would be self serving… he said that we should love our neighbor because this was his love for us, and to love even if it didn’t seem to have a good cause and effect. As you describe them, they do have different gospels.
            .
            5. I have been weighing the evidence that you and everyone else has shown me on this board so far, and it hasn’t come up looking very good. A static video has zero intelligence and cannot respond to questions when asked. However, it doesn’t say much when those who praise the video are also unable to answer questions when asked.
            .
            6. No, Kevin, I am not always looking for someone to blame. That would be the natural conclusion of your position. When Adam sinned you blamed the serpent, and then said that he didn’t even punish Adam… that was just the unstoppable natural result of what Adam was forced to do. The most powerful being in your version of the story is the serpent, because he was the only one with free will. Kevin, who do you think created the serpent? Or are you suggesting that the serpent was uncreated?
            .
            Yes, I can and do do things that are not forced by other people. I can react to other people in the way they anticipate, I can react in an opposite fashion, I can react in a random fashion, I can choose not to react, and I can do things that are spontaneous and in reaction to nothing at all.
            .
            In the end your philosophy winds up as being as useless as a philosophical discussion that blue might really be red, because the entire world is designed to function and operate as if we had free will, and the logical extension of where this leads is a hopeless determinism.
            .
            Kevin, as an aside, your blog used to have decent functionality) that was easy to read. I am not sure why you switched to the different format. Please consider going back to the old one? White space, formatting tags, new post notifications, and seeing what you’re replying to while you’re replying were all helpful features.
            .
            Please be aware that I am wise to Red Herring “Lizard Dropping its Tail” techniques that ask me to watch hours of videos and invest more hours reading books from philosophers, all of which the people who advocate this have no intention of actually standing up and seriously analyzing what they have asked you to read / watch afterwards. It’s not just you, but now you’re doing it also… you haven’t given me a reason why I should give your authors special precedence over everyone else that is vying to consume my finite space of time.
            .
            As a final request, if you are going to write replies in this format, would you do your best within its constraints to be more readable? You aren’t even using quote marks, but just letting all the text run together like text in a blender. I am assuming that you want to be read and understood (I know that I do.)
            .
            I get the impression that your goal is not to seriously examine your assumptions and conclusions, but rather to just put out enough of a response that would appear to be an answer, and to continue in the opinion you have chosen. You’re simply not favoring a clear-cutting analytic approach, rather staying within the swampy bounds of unsupported assertions, emotional feelings, and other undefinable grey areas. You imply that your opponent is ignorant, but you cannot say how he is ignorant, and I do not get the impression that you are genuinely trying to be persuasive.

  10. Just one more thing on this, Andrew: The thing I found most compelling was toward the end Harris summarizes what else we lose if we let go of the illusion of free will: 1) an ego-driven life, 2) pride, 3) and shame. In other words, coming to realize that free will is an illusion essentially undoes everything created by the Fall. Not a bad deal if you ask me. As Harris puts it re: shame and pride, “Those weren’t much fun anyway.” And I think two things that often gets confused in this discussion are “choice” and “free will.” Of course we all make choices. Hundreds of them every day. The question is, what ultimately motivates those choices? Or, perhaps more precisely, what forces are at work to constrain the list of options from which we can choose? Harris’s conclusion is that we live in a cause and effect universe, so choice is still ultimately important for individuals, because of the interdependence of humankind. Like it or not, we are all a cause that will once day (probably today) have an effect. So it’s still incumbent upon us to become the best possible causes we can be so we can have the best possible effect on the world. And I concur with Harris that ditching an ego-centric life, pride and shame goes a long way toward helping us become positive causes in the world. This brings us back to the two greatest commandments–love of God and love of neighbor (love of enemy being the ultimate test case of the two previous commands) as the path out of our self-destructive delusions of autonomy.

    • Hey Kevin… I really liked your previous blog format much better. It notified me when there were new posts, allowed white space, and allowed me to reply while looking at the relevant comment. I will do my best here but it is more cumbersome.
      .
      AH, may I please ask if you consider yourself Christian? The specific questions I posed were presuming a Christian audience. I would pick have picked different questions otherwise.
      .
      Kevin, I understand that you do consider yourself Christian, but you just said that you did not consider the scripture as having ultimate authority. You say you are using Christ as your authority, but we know Christ through the scripture, and in this case Christ himself dealt with us on the basis that we have free will. For example, in Matthew 23:37 Jesus laments the many times he would have gathered Jerusalem under his wings, and they would not… so apparently they had their own will.
      .
      For AH and Kevin, it seems to me that your philosophy is ultimately self defeating and dangerous at the same time. For all practical purposes, you are living your lives as if you had free will, except for discarding that thing God gave you called a conscience, which you have decided was unnecessary pride and shame. If you feel shame over something, maybe there is good reason to be ashamed (and likewise there are proper things to be proud of.)
      .
      And ultimately, the shell game has to stop. You cannot exempt man from responsibility by pointing the fingers at others or at creation itself, and then except God from responsibility from his creation. Adam and Eve tried that blame-pointing game in the Garden of Eden and God stopped it right there. God made the world and gave us choices, and we will be held responsible for those choices. That is a constant biblical theme.
      .
      It is true that our choices might affect the environment that others find themselves placed in, but that only changes the environment, not the fact that they have free will and can also make choices. Is it not written, that unto him who much is given, much shall be required?
      .
      Luk 12:47-48 KJV
      (47) And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
      (48) But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
      .
      I don’t expect that to have much affect with AH, but for Kevin, I will remind you that those are the words of Jesus himself. That entire statement and warning presumes free will, reminding us that we are held responsible for what we are given, that we are not merely the product of our environment.
      .
      And if you look to the verses just previous, there is yet another servant who took it upon himself to beat his fellow servants, and he was cut asunder (in pieces) and appointed his portion with the unbelievers. Those are not the words that would normally be spoken by someone teaching Universal Salvation.
      .
      Kevin, one last thing… you are saying that throwing away the idea of free will undoes what was done by the Fall of Man. My scriptures tell me that Christ and the resurrection of the dead will undo the effects of the Fall of Man, so from here it looks like you are looking to a false savior and ignoring the real one named Jesus. Jesus said that we should repent of our sins and be forgiven, which is impossible to do if we become shameless. Telling yourself that you do not have free will is not just a harmless delusion, it’s also dangerous.

      • Benoit: You couldn’t be more wrong re: what I believe about free will. First of all, have you watched Harris’s video? If not, discussing it is pretty much pointless. Second, rejecting the idea of free will does not mean rejecting the idea of choice. Of course we all make choices, but what informs those choices? Simple test: Think of a city. Any city. I’m sure one just came to mind. But why? Did you choose that city or did it just appear in your mind? If it just appeared, where did it come from? What was the cause of its appearance? Even that simple choice is an utter mystery. So I believe in the will. I just don’t think it’s free. It’s like arguing that you can create and uncaused cause. You can’t do it. I’m not looking for a false savior, Ben. Jesus is the one who helps me to see that my will is not free; that it’s in bondage. Jesus is the one who came to set my will free–free from bondage to the fear of death (to bring Becker into this conversation as well), free from the illusion that I am an autonomous being, free from the illusion that my personal survival is the highest good. If that’s a false savior, please show me the real one.

        • Rather than use Harris’ example of choosing any city in the world, I find that asking a committed theist, Christian or otherwise, to choose *not* to believe in the existence of God anymore (or vise versa), even for only a moment (which is not possible), makes a greater impact. If the will was truly free, in the dispassionate, neutral, make-a-decision-in-a-vacuum sense, it could oscillate between genuine theism and genuine atheism on a whim, but it cannot because the will acts only in correspondence with its ever-fluctuating composition or ontology manufactured in submission to an infinite number of social, political, economic, spiritual, religious, intellectual, biological, and other environmental or interior forces. It is free, sure, but only in the way that the feather from the opening scene of Forrest Gump is free, which of course reflects the capriciousness of the protagonist’s life path and the infinite motivations and environmental and interior forces that blow the feather (his life) this way and that.

          These are the circumstances that the Desert Fathers and holy elders of the Philokalia wrote about all the time; this is neptic spirituality — an ascetic struggle of watchfulness, attentiveness, and sobriety to evade and overcome negative distractions (environmental and interior forces) for the spiritual health of the heart, the inner shrine, so that its composition will be purged of passions and replaced with virtue in order for the transfigured human will to emanate commensurate virtuous behaviour (though the ontology, theosis and union with Christ, is what’s truly important here).

      • Andrew, I simply want to say that I really admire your responses. Like you I wonder why Kevin would still think himself a Christian. Imagine using the atheist Harris as an authority on Jesus-Christ. I expect the confusion to increase, not lessen. I’m a Catholic, so I could not agree with you for the Bible being the sole authority, but I admire the clarity and logic of your answers.

        • By the way, I meant Andrew Patrick. Certainly NOT Klager.

          • We all knew that, Benoit. How could Klager possibly be right about anything if he disagrees with you? 😉

        • Benoit, I just saw this comment. So now you’re questioning whether or not I’m a Christian? I’m actually a little shocked by that, even from you.

          • One person said that Catholics are Pagans, not Christians. My point is many of us have different ideas of what being ‘Christian’ means. The statement I made: “…why Kevin would still think himself a Christian”, translated means: ” What Kevin thinks being a Christian is, is very different from what I think being a Christian is”.
            I made that statement about you, after reading you’re taking seriously statements by an atheist. For the study of atheism I would understand, but to gain insight into free will in relation to the teaching of Christ…
            (I think remembering you not agreeing with me of the possibility of rejecting some sources as inadequate)
            Ex.: On seeing Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, knowing that Isaac Asimov is a non-believer, should I rush to read it to see how he could help me on the difficult points of Christianity?
            My brother-in-law ( a Protestant), calls me Catholic but will not admit that I am a Christian.

            It seems obvious, and not questioned by me, that you have as much right to call yourself a Christian, than I have.
            As you know Christianity is much more than doctrine, it is a way of life. I could tell of a person who never heard of Christianity that she or he lives a very Christian life, meaning living a decent, respectable life. Would that make that person a Christian?
            Who am I to judge your way of life? How stupid that would be! I am most certainly not doing that. So am I attacking your person, absolutely not.
            However, words and ideas have to mean something. If Christian can have any meaning, well it has then no meaning.

            Are you following the ‘teachings of Jesus-Christ”, not for me to judge, thank God. What I know is that your knowledge and interpretation of those teachings do not agree with mine.
            The clincher is that one of us is wrong. Assuming that the living of the right teaching leads one to eternal life, this is nothing to laugh about.

  11. Firstly, he’s wrong about three minutes into the video on account of saying no one has been arguing against science “proving” the lack of free will, since Lewis does so in “Miracles” (I think) where he says Evolution is mainly bad because it results in saying all thought is mechanical.

    Which brings me to the argument that if human will is either random or mechanical, then not only do we seem to lack free will, but reason. If human thought is essentially beyond control of any will, does that mean we are capable of rational thought? If (as he argues) all thought is either irrational or mechanistic, then either we cannot think rationally because of chance, or we cannot think rationally because there is no such thing as choice. A will not bound to chance (or error) is necessary for reasoning logically.

    It appears to me that he cuts off his own support. As well as that of any theories about the afterlife, since if thought is entirely mind/brain without soul, there is no point in talking about hell. Or heaven.

    In fact, “free will” defined as “the ability to choose always the most rational thing” is a more proper definition of having free will, considering the term “bondage of the will” to sin. But still, we are arguing about whether we even have will, so…

    And additionally, there’s still the argument from the domain of science: since will is a property of a human soul, and science does not study souls, science cannot speak of souls.

    As for the “pick a city” example, isn’t that rigged, since it argues from a random generation of an idea that all generations of ideas are random. It would be a real argument if it told you to make a rational choice and then said that there was no reason for it.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I think you may have misunderstood Harris. While he definitely questions the popular notion of free will, he never negates the ideas if choice or reason. He’s merely questioning how free the reasoning process can actually be if we can’t even explain what informs such a simple decision like picking a city. You could apply the same test to why you became a Christian, and you will eventually arrive at the same wilderness of causality. In my case, I became a Christian at age nine. I can tell you the circumstances that motivated that decision, but what factors led me to respond to those circumstances in such a positive way? Was it really a free choice–an uncaused cause? I find such a notion ridiculous. My conversion was part of a long causal process that, itself, became a cause of other circumstances, some of which I was consciously aware, most of which I wasn’t. So again, abandoning the notion of free will does not negate the idea of choice. It just causes us to ask hard questions about what is ultimately informing our choices. This is healthy in my opinion.

      • “So again, abandoning the notion of free will does not negate the idea of choice.” Yes Kevin, computers, machines would fit your definition. I think we understand Harris quite well. He is consistent in the sense that he also does not believe that man has such thing as an immaterial spirit. The most positive think that I could say about your position (and it is not much at all) is that you are a compatibilist. Compatibilists claim that free will is compatible with determinism, since if determinism did not hold, they think that their will could not determine their actions. William James called them “soft” determinists. Though our will is itself caused, these causes include our own character, and this is enough freedom for them, even if our character was itself determined by prior causes.

  12. D O / December 26th, 2005, 9:15 pm / Are you saying that all the fololwers of CUT by right of their following were not interested in objective reality? This just looks like conjecture to me, since there would be no way of knowing what all those people were actually thinking. Also, I took a course in philosophy in the 70’s, studied dialectic reasoning, Plato, Teillhard Chardin, etc. None of it impacted me until I heard ECP’s take on dialectic reasoning. THen it made sense to me in the Real World application.

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