A novel argument for God

January 31, 2013

What happened to me

There’s lots of different arguments for God. For me personally though, it was considering what beliefs had to say about me, myself, which had the most impact. It became apparent to me, for example that ideas of free will and the idea of “choosing” to have meaning – an existentialist response to nihilism were basically impossible on a strict materialist view of the universe.

I am not sure this will make a great deductive argument, but I’ll try to put it in one.

(1) We have free will.
(2) Free will is incompatible with strict philosophical naturalism which only admits stochastic events or determinism.
(3) Therefore strict philosophical naturalism is untrue.

Of course people can (and often do) go the other way and reject the idea of having free will, and I’d be fine with that. Personally I have no idea if we have free will or not. But if, like me, you get out of the argument by rejecting (1) then it makes no sense to then talk in ways, or to answer other ways which require real choice. And I have to say, going against free will seems to go against our every experience.

The free will theorem

But it isn’t just for your own free will that makes things tricky. Things get even weirder when you consider an interesting gem, based on the Kochen-Specker theorem. I’m thinking of the free will theorem introduced by Conway and Kochen. That provided people accept they have “free will”, and standard physics, then it follows that the type of same “free will” also lies behind even elementary particles.

From an atheistic perspective saying there’s a free will behind particles seems absurd. Perhaps chance, might be acceptable, but then on what basis are you saying what lies behind a person is a will, and what lies behind the particles is not?

Again, personally, I have no dog in this fight one way or the other. But that’s just because these days I’m a theist. I’m happy either with free will (when I’d be some variant of Molinism) or without it (when some variant of Calvinism might be the go). But I have never seen a good way to square it with philosophical naturalism… which we commonly call atheism. Like so many times I found that view has consequences. It isn’t compatible with any number of things, and force people to take all sorts of different beliefs. But atheism doesn’t offer any evidence, and so we’re left making massive calls about the nature of ourselves, even the nature of what lies behind elementary particles, and to do that based on nothing. For me, many years ago, thinking about these issues that was incredibly constraining. To think, maybe, just maybe, God exists was one of the most liberating thoughts that I ever had.


22 Responses to “A novel argument for God”

  1. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky

    What do you mean by free will? What’s your definition of that ?

  2. Chucky Says:

    Hey Austin,

    I just mean that your actions are your own free choice, not determined by something.

  3. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hi Chucky,

    So there’s no determination, what about limits or constraints ?

  4. Chucky Says:

    You can still be limited and constrained in different ways. I’m talking about the libertarian view, not the compatibilist view (or at least I think that’s the right words).

  5. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky,

    I was thinking more about how things actually work in reality than any particular philosophical movement.

  6. Chucky Says:

    Hi Austin,

    I’m not sure that I understand the question. Do you mean in purely in terms of the physics of it?

  7. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky

    Here’s your definition “I just mean that your actions are your own free choice,”

    So my actions, my choice fair enough. Easy example right now I’m choosing to sit in front of a computer and type a message to you. And I’m doing this of my own free will, not because of any external deterministic cause.

    I’m sitting here typing my choice. My choice = my actions

    But, as I see it, there are always limits and constraints to the actions I can choose. I wondered if you see it the same way or think that free choice has no such limitations?

  8. Chucky Says:

    Good question. No, I don’t think free choice is completely without limitations. How do you see it?

  9. Austin 3:16 Says:

    I’m not sure. Too me it’s obvious there are constraints and if there are constrains how can there be free will? I also think that we like to kid ourselves that there’s more to us than just biology but is that always the case? If I were to develop Alzheimer’s then no amount of free will would prevent my brain turning to mush. If I eat pizza all day and don’t exercise then I’ll gain weight, again I can’t make a choice to avoid that.

    If there are constraints how can there also be freedom ?

  10. Chucky Says:

    I’m happy that there can be constraints, and you still have free will. It isn’t all or nothing for most people. You can be constrained, like if you have Alzheimer’s, and still make decisions.

  11. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky,

    Hmm spend some time in a ward with some folks with Alzheimer’s – especially towards the end of their lives and then tell me that they have the free will to make choices. It’s certainly not my experience when the disease really takes hold.

    — I’m happy that there can be constraints, and you still have free will. —

    Arne’t constraints and freedom essentially at opposite ends of the spectrum ? Too me it’s a bit like telling a prisoner in a cell that he’s free – after all he can move around that cell as often and as much as he likes.

    Your earlier definition of free will was:
    — your actions are your own free choice, not determined by something. —

    To me that indicates no constraints or restrictions – however as we’ve agreed (I think) that constraints exists can I trouble you to re-define things or do you think that definition should still stand.

  12. Chucky Says:

    Hi Austin,

    My grandma did have Alzheimer’s. She could choose between different options, she just couldn’t remember things she should.

    I agree that being totally free and being totally constrained are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But to have free will you don’t have to be able to do anything. Any choice at all, of your own, is enough to have free will. Even this tiny amount of choice seems difficult to justify purely naturalistically, where would it come from? All personal agents or causes get reduced to other causes. The model seems incomplete. Somewhere you have to allow for something personal.

  13. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky,

    I think you missed my point originally with Alzheimer’s – let’s say I walk into the doctors and he sits me down and says “Bad news you have Alzheimer’s” now I can’t reply with “No problems Doc – I also have free will and I”m going to choose to maintain a perfectly normal mental state”

    I can’t make that choice there’s absolutely nothing I can do to prevent the disease taking effect.

    (Also my experience with a much loved aged relative is quite different to yours. Towards the end of her days she simply didn’t have the capacity to make choices – free or otherwise)

    — I agree that being totally free and being totally constrained are on opposite ends of the spectrum. —

    I don’t think “totally” is the issue, over at dictionary.com they have a few definitions of “free” the most relevant one to our discussion is:

    “exempt from external authority, interference, restriction, etc., as a person or one’s will, thought, choice, action, etc.; independent; unrestricted.”

    So that’s free – independent, unrestricted, another way of putting that is without constraints. As you’ve already agreed that we have constraints then what we have is BY DEFINITION not free will.

    We have an ability to make a restricted choice dependant on the situation we are in and the constraints that situation places upon us.

  14. Chucky Says:

    If you define free will as being totally without constraints then of course nobody has that. The question for me is far more the exact opposite – are we totally constrained or not? That is a far more interesting, and more important question IMHO.

  15. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky,

    Well as long as you use the term “free” then you mean without constraint.

    That is if you are using normal standard kinda English as a language. IF the word “free” has a specific Christian kind of meaning that includes with restraint then fair enough, but maybe you could specify that.

    But by that token each and every prisoner in jail is also “free”. (“Stone walls do not a prison make” and all that then hey ?)

    What do you mean by “totally constrained” ? I could for example say that I’m totally constrained from naturally breathing under water or from un-assisted flight. No matter how hard I flap my arms I’ll never ever ever be able to fly. I can’t say “I choose to fly with my free (unrestrained) will” it just won’t happen.

    Or is “totally constrained” constraint in each and every facet of our lives ?

    What is constraint to you?

    Also I can give heaps of (somewhat extreme) examples of constraint. So it’s fairly obvious that some exist. But do you think that there would be constraints that are both obvious and obscure?

    i.e. could there be constraints that we are not even aware of ?

  16. Austin 3:16 Says:

    PS is does make me wonder why Amnesty is always so down on China – after all, by your definition, China has “free” elections, “free” speech, “free” assembly, a “free” press etc etc.

    I mean sure there are some constraints but it’s still freedom – right 🙂

  17. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky,

    Best wishes for the Easter break – stay safe if your’re travelling

  18. Chucky Says:

    Hey Austin,

    That’s really nice of you. Hope you have a great one, and safe one too.


  19. Austin 3:16 Says:

    Hey Chucky – I came across this little snippet from the Australian High Court

    JUSTICE GLEESON CJ: What do you mean by “free choice”?

    TEHAN QC: What we mean by “free choice”, your Honour, is a choice unconstrained by any pressure, hope of advantage or benefit or force or coercion or compulsion, a true free choice.

    JUSTICE GLEESON CJ: You would be surprised to know that there are places I would rather be than here at the moment and the psychiatrists might explain my presence at the moment by reference to a number of influences or pressures that
    produce that consequence, but I thought I was here as a result of a free choice. How is that consistent with your explanation?

    JUSTICE HAYNE J: Good luck, Mr Tehan.

    TEHAN QC: It is always a matter of degree, your Honour.

  20. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    You are incorrect, for two reasons:

    i, A “strict philosophical naturalism which only admits stochastic events or determinism” is not the same as atheism. The world may have randomness inherent in its very core – a quantum event cannot, even in theory, be predicted, although we can make observations about its probablity.

    ii, Your definition of “free will” – “your actions are your own free choice” is circular – your choice may *also* be the result of naturalism. You may exist with only the *illusion* of free will, but, and here’s the kicker, there is no way for you *ever* to distinguish between that and actual free will.

    On the other hand, I can demonstrate that God as given in the Bible is impossible.

    You, yourself, gave Bible verses showing that the Biblical God is omniscient – Job 37:16 for example.

    Now, here’s a question for you – does God know It is omniscient? How can it? How can It be sure that It knows everything when, by definition, that about which It does not know is not known?

    Any entity – God – can never be sure It is omniscient. And therefore, It cannot be omniscient. Which means that the Bible is wrong.

  21. Chucky Says:

    Hi Phoenecian,

    Well, it’s debatable whether quantum mechanics exhibits randomness in that sense. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, sure. Other interpretations, like MWI or Bohmian mechanics are deterministic.

    But even if I grant you randomness, it doesn’t add anything, unless you allow for a will behind that randomness. All the randomness in the world might as well have been added by a random coin toss at the beginning of time, and we now run deterministically.

    So no, I don’t think randomness allows for free will, or choice. I mean sure, I agree, that we couldn’t necessarily tell the difference. But our philosophies tell the difference. There’s no way philosophical naturalism would allow an explanation which included personal agents.

    Thank you for the Calvinist argument. I don’t agree with it, for the same reason that me knowing what sandwich my wife will choose doesn’t take away her will. The question is really one of determinism or not, but whether there’s room in the philosophy for *personal agents* the ability to do anything.

    Oh, and the argument about God not knowing if they’re omniscient. I humbly suggest that God does know that he’s omniscient. How? No idea. I don’t imagine it’s anything like how we learn things. But your claim he can’t know that seems to just be your say-so. And as much as you seem like a nice guy, your say-so doesn’t count for much, when it’s quite possible reality is very different.

  22. Austin 3:16 Says:

    ” And as much as you seem like a nice guy, your say-so doesn’t count for much, when it’s quite possible reality is very different.”

    Well if we take that idea and run with it then it looks like it’s game over for religion.

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