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Free-Thinking: Doctrine or Illusion?

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Recently there was an excellent question in the Strange Notions comment boxes from Rob Tish. He wanted to know what the Bible means when it says God created man in His own image: "If God is so fundamentally and essentially different from us, then in what sense are we made in His image?"

In a word: We are free-thinkers.

Since invoking that word requires some explanation, the response is three-fold. First is the answer to Rob's question, with explanation and reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second is a summary of atheists' views on this matter, with explanation and reference to popular atheist scientists. Third are some questions.

First: What Made in God's Image Means

 
The Christian doctrine of free-thinking is tied to the revelations of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, and it explains why humans have intellect and free will, that is, the ability to freely decide what to think.

Some background: In trying to understand the revelation of the Holy Trinity, theologians had to define the word "person" more precisely. Historically, the Latin word “persōna,” after the corresponding use of the Hellenistic Greek πρόσωπον (prosopon), meant a mask on a character in a play or a juridical entity. Christian theology clarified the meaning of "person" dating back to the third century writings of Tertullian (Adversus Praxean) and the sixth century writings of Boethius (De Duab. Nat. as referenced by St. Aquinas, ST I.29.1.1).

"Person" was defined as “an individual substance of a rational nature” and the theologians applied it to an understanding of the Holy Trinity, One God and three Persons. Since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share fully in the Divine Nature, yet each is an individual, then they are Persons, each "an individual substance with a rational nature" but also united as One God.

Theologians also worked out the order of the processions of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and it has significance for the understanding of humans. The Son proceeds from the Father as an act of divine intellect, somewhat like a word is conceived in the mind. Christ is the Word, the Logos, the Truth personified. From the Father and Son together as one substance the Holy Spirit proceeds as an act of divine will, Love personified. The Three Persons are in perfect, eternal communion.

In Genesis, God said, "Let us make man, wearing our own image and likeness." This divine image is, thus, present in humans, and the human person is "an individual substance of a rational nature" too. The creature is not equal to the Creator though. Humans are rational, but they are not omniscient, almighty, or able to create out of nothing.

"The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1702)

Because we bear this likeness, we bear a natural yearning for the organization of the Holy Trinity. We have the spiritual powers of intellect and will, which instill in us the natural reciprocal desires to love and be loved, to know and be known, to learn and make choices, to seek what is good and to abhor what is evil.

We also naturally desire to belong to our families and communities—many persons united as one entity. The more people freely give, receive, and search for good, the more they are united, the more they learn, the more the human race progresses.

"By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an 'outstanding manifestation of the divine image.'" (CCC 1705)

Families are the most intimate reflection of the Holy Trinity, two become one and born of their love is a new person. This is the basis of arguments against laws of man that break these natural, divine laws. They are disordered laws that break the unity of people, families, and societies, and diminish the freedom and dignity of each person.

"By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him "to do what is good and avoid what is evil." Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbor. Living a moral life bears witness to the dignity of the person." (CCC 1706)

The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man to heal the union of mankind with God. That redemption is available to anyone who freely chooses to accept it.

"It is in Christ, 'the image of the invisible God,' that man has been created 'in the image and likeness' of the Creator. It is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior, that the divine image, disfigured in man by the first sin, has been restored to its original beauty and ennobled by the grace of God." (CCC 1701)

This means we are made to search for God, as every human culture in recorded history has done. It means we are made to form communities and to seek just laws, as cultures also sought to do even though they all have failed to do it perfectly. This also means that we are made to search for what is true and good, and to be united with God in Heaven where we find perfection. Not only is there a logic to this doctrine, there is a primal beauty.

"Endowed with 'a spiritual and immortal' soul, the human person is 'the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.' From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude.
 
The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection 'in seeking and loving what is true and good.'" (CCC 1703-1704)

Of course, because we possess the power of free will and intellect, humans can make the choice to reject faith in what God has revealed and turn away from it.

Second: Atheism and Free-Thinking

 
Most people probably think "free-thinking" is an atheist term, but the idea was more or less borrowed. It emerged in the 1700's among groups who rejected Christianity. The rationalist sect, prominent from the early 18th century, typically capitalized the word as a label for themselves. "Free-thinker" is defined today as a label for a person who professes independence of thought, withholds assent to widely held beliefs or ideas, and refuses to submit his or her reason to the control of authority in matters of religious belief. (Oxford English Dictionary)

The James Hastings 2003 Encyclopedia of Religion says that Free-thinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or the intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas.

While all of that sounds impressive on the surface, the rejection of Christian doctrine has its logical implications. Without acknowledging the soul of man created in the image of God, there is no basis to acknowledge the spiritual powers of intellect and free will. Some of the most respected modern atheists have followed atheism to its logical conclusion and admitted as much.

"The facts tell us that free will is an illusion." (Sam Harris, neuroscientist)
 
"Since, as far as physics is concerned, we are all just particles, then this would seem to make free will an illusion indeed." (Dr. Victor Stenger, physicist)
 
"I would like to convince biologists that a belief in free will is nothing other than a continuing belief in vitalism (or, as I say, a belief in magic)." (Dr. Anthony Cashmore, biologist)
 
"It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion." (Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, cosmologist and physicist)

There is, according to them, no supernatural realm and thus, no soul. There is only the physical body. The brain runs its program like a computer obeying the laws of physics, and consciousness, if there is such a thing, is an emergent and measurable property of the brain-machine.

Without the power for a person to freely chose what to think, there is no basis to claim the power of actual free-thought. That is not only an "intellectually limiting effect" (from authority figures nonetheless), it is a fatal contradiction of the atheistic free-thinking identity.

Third: Where Does That Leave You?

 
It gets back to Rob's question and the importance of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and the definition of "person" made in the image and likeness of God.

If free-thinking is an illusion, then aren't intellectual pursuits illusions too? Isn't searching for truth like trying to lift yourself up by your bootstraps? You are free to reach down and do it, tug and tug until you are exhausted, but you get nowhere except where the laws of physics land you if your feet move out from under you. Are your thoughts, then, in vain?

If free-thinking is a human power of the soul because the human person is made in the image and likeness of God, then aren't intellectual pursuits more like reaching for something beyond yourself while planting your boots firmly on the ground? Searching for truth, guided by an assent in faith, is a reasonable way to understand more about yourself, your world, your purpose, and your origin. Does that mean your thoughts, then, are imprisoned?

Perhaps an atheist will follow up with answers to these questions, including an explanation about how there can be actual free thought if free will is an illusion—with particular emphasis on why it is reasonable to believe the intellectual conclusions of scientists who claim to have no free will.
 
 
(Image credit: University of Michigan)

Dr. Stacy Trasancos

Written by

Stacy A. Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She teaches chemistry and physics for Kolbe Academy online homeschool program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She teaches Reading Science in the Light of Faith at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. She is author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press) comes out October 2016. She works from her family’s 100-year old restored lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband, children, and two German Shepherds remain top priority. Her website can be found here.

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  • Sqrat

    Without the power for a person to freely chose what to think, there is no basis to claim the power of actual free-thought.

    I don't understand what is meant here by "the power to freely choose what to think," although I'm guessing that it means something quite different from "the power to freely choose what to think about.

  • David Nickol

    The following is excerpted from an address by Pope John Paul II that I found on the Vatican web site:

    As regards spiritual faculties this deterioration consists in a darkening of the intellect's capacity to know the truth, and in a weakening of free will. The will is weakened in the presence of the attractions of the goods perceived by the senses and is more exposed to the false images of good elaborated by reason under the influence of the passions. However, according to the Church's teaching, it is a case of a relative and not an absolute deterioration, not intrinsic to the human faculties. Even after original sin, man can know by his intellect the fundamental natural and religious truths, and the moral principles. He can also perform good works. One should therefore speak rather of a darkening of the intellect and of a weakening of the will, of "wounds" of the spiritual and sensitive faculties, and not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God.

    It would seem that, according to the Catholic view of the human race, God created human persons with intellect and will. And yet, because of the sin of our "first parents," God deliberately "wounded" those two very faculties that make a person a person. It does not seem to me that by one act of disobedience, human nature would be somehow automatically damaged. So it would seem that, if humanity is punished for the sin of our "first parents," it must be a punishment meted out by God (in much the same manner as the serpent and its progeny lost legs).

    So it seems that God created human beings in some state far better than we exist now, they sinned anyway, and God's punishment was to darken their intellects, weaken their wills, and make them all the more prone to sin. Why? Catholics have a prayer to the Holy Spirit in which they ask to have their minds enlightened and their wills strengthened. It would seem to me that that is precisely what "Adam and Eve" needed. Why was the opposite done to them and their progeny?

    • kuroisekai

      The way I understand it, God did not "darken our intellects" as a punishment. Rather, it was a consequence of the Original Sin. The Catholic Church teaches that all sin distances the person from God. The sin that led to the fall of man separated man from God - Goodness itself, and hence also separated him from fully participating in the spiritual gifts of intellect and free will.

      Hope that makes sense.

      • David Nickol

        The way I understand it, God did not "darken our intellects" as a punishment. Rather, it was a consequence of the Original Sin

        But in the story of Adam and Eve, their intellects, they are not "darkened" as the result of eating the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve gain knowledge. God himself says, "See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!" They are separated from God not because of some mind-altering effect of sinning but because God sends them away. Why? God says, "See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad! Therefore, he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever."

        There is nothing in the text about darkening intellects and weakening wills, but the punishments that are meted out are of God's doing (for example, "I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing").

        And of course the buck stops with God. If disobeying God somehow "automatically" causes intellects to be darkened and wills to be weakened, that is the way creation was set up. Now, Joseph Ratzinger (before he was pope) had some interesting conjectures about original sin that make a great deal of sense to me. The quote is very long, so I will include it as an "appendix." But the more "orthodox" (that is, those who consider themselves more Catholic than the pope) have labeled his conjectures heretical, presumably because they do not say anything about "inheritance" (or transmission) of original sin or about the darkening of the intellect and weakening of the will.

        The following is a quote about original sin is from Joseph Ratzinger's "In the Beginning . . . ": A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall

        "In the Genesis story that we are considering, still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. Theology refers to this state of affairs by the certainly misleading and imprecise term 'original sin.' What does this mean? Nothing seems to us today to be stranger or, indeed, more absurd than to insist upon original sin, since, according to our way of thinking, guilt can only be something very personal, and since God does not run a concentration camp, in which one’s relative are imprisoned, because he is a liberating God of love, who calls each one by name. What does original sin mean, then, when we interpret it correctly?

        Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without--from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are 'present.' Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives--themselves--only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. But sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationship, disturbance of relationship, and therefore it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event--sin--touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.

        • Raphael

          God specifically ordered Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit.

          The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.

          What happened? They ate the fruit.

          Trying to twist things around doesn't change the fact that they disobeyed God.

          • David Nickol

            Trying to twist things around doesn't change the fact that they disobeyed God.

            It is clear from the text that Adam and Eve disobey God. The story doesn't tell us how Eve came to know of the prohibition, and interestingly, she adds a detail that is not in the prohibition given to Adam:

            "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'"

            What we are to make of that (if anything) is unclear.

            No one—certainly not I—would deny that Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The question I am interested in is what Genesis tells us about the consequences of their disobedience. As I have argued, I can find no evidence that their intellects were darkened. Just the opposite. They have acquired new knowledge. This is confirmed by God himself.

            "See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!

            Based on the text of the story, I see no indication that the result of Adam and Eve's disobedience is a "darkening" of the intellect or a weakening of the will. If I am overlooking something in the text, please point it out to me. I am well aware of Christian theories of "the Fall," and what I am arguing is that I find no evidence in the text itself to justify claiming that as the result of their disobedience, Adam and Eve's intellects were darkened or their wills were weakened, let alone that human nature itself was "wounded."

          • Raphael

            Based on the text of the story, I see no indication that the result of Adam and Eve's disobedience is a "darkening" of the intellect or a weakening of the will. If I am overlooking something in the text, please point it out to me.

            You have to move beyond Genesis to the New Testament to learn more about the defect of sin. For example, in Ephesians we read:

            So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.

          • David Nickol

            You have to move beyond Genesis to the New Testament to learn more about the defect of sin.

            I can certainly imagine that living persistently in a state of sin—that is, living in a manner in which human beings were not meant to live—would have ill effects. But in the story of Adam and Eve (as interpreted by Catholics) they committed one offense. In stead of forgiving "seventy times seven," God inflicts harsh punishment not only on Adam, Eve, and the serpent, but on all men, women, and snakes forever after. The Jewish interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve makes infinitely more sense to me—Adam and Eve were children, and would have remained children had they not made decisions on their own. What they do may be wrong, but it also marks the passage from childhood to adulthood. All children must set out on their own and make their own decisions, not continue in a state of childlike obedience to their parents. Adam and Eve must set out very much on their own rather than live free of adult responsibility, and they have to give up the happiness of childhood and become "sadder but wiser" adults.

            And to make one more point, we do not need "the Fall" as an explanation for why childbirth is painful. Human anatomy and physiology guarantee that childbirth will be painful. And why in the world would God punish all women for Eve's sin by making childbirth more painful than it would otherwise be? Is that the act of an all-good God—to intensify the pains of childbirth? Why?

          • Raphael

            God gave Adam and Eve just one commandment to follow: don't eat the fruit. They were tricked by the serpent, disobeyed God, and broke the commandment. As the first man and woman, they were setting the stage for humanity. Just as we inherit life from them, we inherit death that was the result of their disobedience.

            However, God did not abandon them or humanity. He has given us Jesus to save us from death and eternal damnation. We read in John:

            For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

            Sorry, snakes. No consolation prizes for you.

            As for the pains of childbirth, they remind us to avoid committing sin. If childbirth is bad, imagine what the pains in Hell are like.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think the points you are raising here are very important and the quote from Ratzinger is spectacular.

            I'm going to speculate a bit here. It seems to me that the damage each person inherits might be explained as follows.

            > We are born ignorant but with passions and emotions which make all kinds of demands, and a strong will to get them. We want what we want regardless of it is actually good for us.

            That is basically what the Church means by concupiscence: desires, not right reason, determining our acts. The repetition of acts builds habits which could be vices or virtues. We are growing in a certain direction which should be determined by right reason before we even have any use of reason!

            When a person's inherently flawed response to goods is coupled with living in a world in which all human relations are already damaged, I think we can account for a great deal of sin.

        • Scott O’Connor

          I'd like to address a few points. Genesis is expressing theological truths; The literal stories represent theological ideas. I see the childbirth pains as a way of express the pains of sins; that is separation from God. Union with God is perfect happiness and peace. I don't see the fall as God kicking them out of the garden, rather it's Adam and Eve's rejection of God that displaces them from perfect happiness and peace(the garden). In a way, we all displace ourselves from the garden when we reject Gods will. The "darkening of intellect" is an interesting quote. I'd like to see what it says in the original language. English often can not capture the theological nature of other languages. Lets assume its translated correctly. We need to separate two things: happiness and peace. Sinful things an make a person happy, but like a drug, the effects wear off and we are in a worse off condition than before we used the drug. The come down is hard and can make a person miserable. Yet, we seem to forget the bad and remember the good. Who hasn't said "awwwwhhhh I'm NEVER drinking again!" Yet when the next weekend comes around, your right back at the party. The temporary happiness darkens our intellect from doing what we know is right (the will of God). We choose happiness for lasting peace. Peace is what we ultimately want and is the ultimate way to happiness.

          The above is not based on any particular theology, but rather they are just a few of my thoughts.

          *I have a link at the bottom of this page from a doctor of the church who answers your question very well in section (4). It was written sometime in the fourth century.*

          St Paul touches on this subject in Romans. It's one of my favorite scriptures.

          Romans 7:15-20

          New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

          15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

          Now God is love, but also perfectly just. He has so much love that he made creation to share that love. In his goodness he wanted all humans to have free will but being perfectly just this free will would ultimately doom many. That is why he sent Jesus into the world, so we could be reborn into our original state of humanity. If a person had sins, God being perfectly just could not allow them to get away with those sins. If I was sinless, then I could give my life for that persons sins as a payment but I am only one man. Jesus is fully human and fully man, which enabled him to give his life for all of human kind's sins. Thus, he was able to give us free will, while at the same time giving us a just way to return to him if we so desired.

          The above is not based on any particular theology, but rather they are just a few of my thoughts.

          Your quote from Pope Benedict is interesting. I've heard that he was a a lot more "liberal" in his earlier days. I've never read his early works, but whats interesting about that quote is that It sounds much more Eastern than Western. What I mean by this is that It sounds more Oriental Orthodox or even an Eastern Orthodox than Roman Catholic. He also has some Karl Barth(a brilliant protestant theologian) in that quote which really surprises me! It's true that freedom is relational; I want your iphone so I a free to take it, yet you want it and now your freewill has been diminished. This is one of the reasons I became Catholic. I believe Catholic moral thought gives each of us the most free will possible without taking someone else free will away. I am getting off topic here so I will close with one more thing. If you have never read the Eastern thought on the Human Person, than I suggest you do. It is a lot more intellectually satisfying IMO. Having said that, I believe the Catholic view because I believe in the need for a central authority. I highly recommend you read St Athanasius first. He is a doctor in the RC Church. The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox both regard him as one of the greats as well. His view on sin is more in line with the eastern view.

          "In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need. Here is an illustration to prove it. (14) You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: "I came to seek and to save that which was lost.18 This also explains His saying to the Jews: "Except a man be born anew . . ."19 He was not referring to a man's natural birth from his mother, as they thought, but to there-birth and re-creation of the soul in the Image of God."
          Source: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.pdf

  • Hi Stacy,
    I think all the recent discussions about morality on this blog relate well with your post on free-will. We can choose what we do like an animal does. I can go here or there, turn right or left, do this or that based on the incoming stimulus to the brain, but the will to do right and wrong is different.

    I also think we tend to “over-think” this stuff. If we have no soul, doesn’t it simply go like this?

    1. Morality is a man-made “concept”.
    2. Concepts are thoughts in the mind.
    3. Thoughts in the mind are electrochemical impulses that have evolved over millions of years to help us survive. A choice is “right” only in terms of survival.
    4. The electrochemical impulses in one person’s brain can be different than another’s (random mutations?) The choices of Adolf Hitler were different than the choices of Mother Teresa; not good or evil, just different.
    5. There is nothing “above” the human mind to judge our choices as right or wrong (no outside system).
    6. Therefore…..there can be no objective morality.

  • The author seems to conflate six different philosophical positions into two:

    Atheism vs. Theism
    Materialism vs. Dualism/Idealism
    Determinism vs. Free Will

    Peter van Inwagen is a theist who is also a materialist (a Christian materialist; he thinks all humans, animals, and everything else is made up of material particles called atoms). He holds strongly to free will. Calvinists tend to be theists and dualists, but many Calvinists reject free will.

    Thomas Nagel is an atheist, is not a materialist and rejects free will. Raymond Tallis is an atheist, not a materialist, and accepts free will. There are probably thoughtful people for all the possible combinations. Opinions favoring atheism or theism, materialism or dualism, determinism or free will, are not necessarily connected.

    Finally, free thought societies do not generally restrict their membership only to atheists.

    • Invoking labels is not a dispensation for questioning the first step.

      • I suppose I would first say that, in explaining what the implications of atheism are to atheists, you must have failed somewhere. Given the responses of the atheists, either you don't understand what atheism actually entails or you have communicated it poorly.

        This failing is made all the more noticeable because you are the author. In my opinion, your articles are some of the best on Strange Notions, and they almost always portray clear and careful reasoning. This article appears to me as an exception.

        For example:

        Without acknowledging the soul of man created in the image of God, there is no basis to acknowledge the spiritual powers of intellect and free will.

        This is a statement, not an argument. In a dialogue with atheists, this should be an argument. Not all atheists reject the intellect or free will, and not all theists hold to free will. Few atheists think that free will is a spiritual power. Probably some theists also think that free will is natural.

        In order to shore up this key statement, you would need to:

        1. Cite a couple theists who accept that we are made in God's image and yet don't have free will, and then show where they went wrong.

        2. Cite a couple atheists and theistic materialists who do accept free will but not that it's a spiritual power, identify their arguments for free will, and demonstrate the weaknesses of these arguments.

        There's my two cents, anyway. This article is not very compelling in its present form, and does not appear to be especially well-reasoned. That's a strong exception to the rule for your other articles here, otherwise I would not have taken the time to write this response.

        • That would have been beyond the scope of this article. Rob asked a question. I gave an answer, not an argument. He didn't ask for a defense; he asked what we mean. I explained.

          In turn I asked what atheists mean. It's a simple question. How can there be free thought if free will is an illusion?

          Don't mistake a simple question for ignorance of the volumes of opinions and labels for those opinions. They are not a dispensation for asking a fundamental question though.

          A quick answer to your two citation suggestions:

          1. They are wrong because the conclusion of that statement is that God has no free will.

          2. They are wrong because all those X-isms fundamentally hold that thoughts are 100% dependent on matter.

          I'm trained as a chemist. I know first hand that atoms do not have an independent volition of their own. They obey laws of physics. That is a fundamental assumption of a scientist. If atoms had free will, there could be no science. The other fundamental assumption is that the human does have her own free will and intellect and can, thus, discover those laws and systems of laws and reason beyond them.

          • If humans have free will, how can medicine or psychology be sciences? Are they sciences?

            Are animals entirely constrained by the laws of physics, and if they are, how could we know?

            Maybe some of us are constrained by the laws of physics to find out more about these laws.

          • I'm more interested in how *you,* the individual arguing, answers the question. It seems to me that before anyone can assert any opinion, he must fundamentally claim free will. Otherwise he's arguing that he can't argue.

            As for what science is -- that's another topic.

          • I don't know whether we have free will or not because I don't know how consciousness works.

            Maybe no opinion is actually asserted. Maybe my optic nerve transmits particular light patterns to my brain, causing my brain to cause my fingers to hit a keyboard, changing the light on my screen. The change in light is communicated to your screen, and your optic nerve picks up the signal, and the cycle continues. One way the light changes might be to make the pattern "I assert an opinion".

            Then again, maybe we do have free will, or maybe we don't and can still have opinions somehow. Since I don't know how consciousness works, I can't say.

          • I respect a healthy "I don't know."

            This is my answer. My assent of faith requires me to acknowledge my intellect and free will.

            There are implications (laid out in the OP). Because I accept the responsibility of having these "spiritual powers," I no longer ask whether I have them or not, I've moved on to using them.

            To me, it seems atheists are stuck. To acknowledge free will and intellect requires acknowledging the soul, and to do that requires acknowledging God. This is why you've heard me say that atheists seem "so determined to deny God, they'll deny their own minds."

          • Why does acknowledging free will require acknowledging the soul? Why does acknowledging the soul require belief in God? I understand that to you it seems this way, but it is interesting that to many atheists it does not seem this way.

          • Because of the distinction between the material and the immaterial. If the mind is an emergent property of the brain, then yes, it would obey the laws of the material world. If the mind is something immaterial, not 100% dependent on matter, then materialism is false. If materialism is false, then the spiritual realm exists. If the spiritual realm exists, there can be beings without bodies. If there can be beings without bodies, there can be God. Atheism only works if materialism is true.

          • I don't see why any of the things you assert here should be true. Maybe you will expound upon them in future posts.

          • Paul Boillot

            Proposition:

            1) The mind is an emergent property of the brain physical structure at any point in time.
            2) Phenomena emerging out of physical interactions obey the laws of physics.
            3) The laws of physics are poorly understood, but seem to allow for randomness and non-deterministic motion at small scales.
            4) Non-determinism and the possibility for randomness are at the heart of our colloquial term "free will"

            Therefore; the colloquial term "free will" is consistent with a purely physical system of the mind.

          • Only if you are arguing that science is an illusion, which takes us back to the days of the Enuma elish.

          • Paul Boillot

            Stacy,

            Please feel free to reread my proposition. In any of the premises, did you see the phrase "science is an illusion?" No, because it's not a part of this argument...therefore you know that i'm not arguing that...because I didn't.

            This argument stands or falls on it's own. If you feel there are missing premises or unintended consequences, feel free to provide a logical framework in which you can show where they fit.

            If not, stop making stuff up.

          • Paul Boillot

            In your article, you cited atheist denials of free will as proof that they deny intellect as well, which is not the case. You actively mis-used quotations to try to make your point.

            I have never encountered an atheist who argued against intellect, or "denied their own minds." This is pure fabrication, and ad hominem to boot.

            Finally, there is no logical connection between claiming free will and a soul.

          • Paul Boillot

            " It seems to me that before anyone can assert any opinion, he must fundamentally claim free will. Otherwise he's arguing that he can't argue."

            This is a logical non-sequitur.

            If I claim that there is no free will, I am not arguing that I can't argue, I'm arguing that I couldn't not be arguing, which I am.

          • Either way, you're no different from a water molecule who decides to join a cloud, which is not an argument. It's unquestioning obedience because you are incapable of anything else.

            Is that what you mean by free thought?

          • You could define "argument" as a particular set of very complex chemical and physical reactions involving two animals and an exchange of light and/or sound. "Science" would be an even more involved set of reactions. Science and arguments would then be possible.

          • Paul Boillot

            I realize that it might be tempting to go right back on the offensive, asking me questions about my worldview, after being called out for bad logic about yours, but no.

            We're not going to skirt the point with a dismissive "either way". You made an invalid logical deduction. I called you on it.

            ----

            Now, onto your questions: In a world where free will is an illusion, there is no problem with choice.

            As an example, let's look at your hypothesis; that we live in a world where disembodied minds give the matter of your body the ability to change directions, influence events...be a causal agent.

            In that scenario, you already admit that matter can move without free will. Look at the animal kingdom: animals have no souls (therefore no free will) and yet they hide, or don't, they pounce, or don't, they mate, or don't. Venus fly traps move. Fungi push mycelium in the direction of positive stimuli. Many bacteria can move towards growth mediums, some are colonial species who specialize their function to the betterment of a whole group. Ants construct vast cities with clockwork garbage disposal and impeccable air conditioning. On your worldview, all of this occurs without a soul, without free thought or free will.

            Additionally, agents who do have this mysterious property can't physically do anything which we don't see non-willed agents capable of doing. Your free will does not grant you the option to jump much higher than your height, no matter how much you will it. You can't force your body to fly. No matter how questioningly disobedient you feel, you will never make your lungs exchange oxygen and release carbon both in our atmosphere and water. All of these things are done by one or more of the other animals on our planet, additionally: you can't will yourself to be in two places at once. You can't will yourself onto the surface of Jupiter. Just like a drop of water joining the ocean, you will never not have protons in your atoms' nuclei.

            So what are you capable of in your mystical system of which I am incapable in my deterministic system?

            I don't know what is going to happen in the future, so I'm not weighed down by the inevitability of what future me will do (much like you're not weighed down by the inevitability of what your god knows you will do). I'm not being "unquestioningly obedient" to anything, except the regular motions of physical objects and forces....just as you are in your mysterious setting.

            So what do you mean by 'free thought?'

          • Paul Boillot

            You have zero "first hand" knowledge of atoms.

          • Try me.

          • Paul Boillot

            I'd love to hear about your 'first hand' experiences where you asked that cesium atom if it was excited about absorbing that photon.

            No, you're trying to use your self-proclaimed scientist status as a battering ram to knock down others' arguments. Science has no gods or authority, so in and of itself that be bad enough "trust me because I'm a scientist."

            But more than going against the basic scientific philosophy of free inquiry and honest exchange of information, your appeal to authority wouldn't be so bad if you were telling the truth.

          • I'll pass, but thanks for that brilliantly reasoned comment!

          • Paul Boillot

            Thanks, I liked the bit about the cesium myself.

            But please allow me to persist. You asked me to try you, and I am. Could you tell us all about your first hand knowledge of atoms?

  • Andre Boillot

    Stacy,

    Without the power for a person to freely chose what to think, there is no basis to claim the power of actual free-thought. That is not only an "intellectually limiting effect" (from authority figures nonetheless), it is a fatal contradiction of the atheistic free-thinking identity.

    First, as you give almost no background as to why or how these atheist "authority figures" arrive at the conclusions you list -- and despite your links to some of their works, I'm not sure you're accurately representing their positions -- I would suggest that others explore what the authors have to say on the topic for themselves. It's my impression that what the likes of Harris, et al. argue against is the concept of capital letters 'Free Will' - in the sense that we have absolute freedom and control over what we think and choose. This isn't the same as saying we have no control over our thoughts or actions, or that everything we think and do is pre-determined by the laws of physics. If I'm mistaken here, please correct me.

    As Sqrat's point alludes to, if you're confronted with a choice (eg. what's your favorite song?) and a specific thought doesn't occur to you (eg. Bohemian Rhapsody), in what way were you free to choose or not choose?

    • Sqrat

      Andre,

      What I was actually alluding to was the possibility that Stacy might be suggesting that you could choose to think that Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Freddie Mercury, or you could choose to think that it was written by Ludwig van Beethoven.

    • Vasco Gama

      It really makes no sense to talk about free-thinking if one denies free will, unless one assumes that one as the illusion of not having free will. In this case free thinking could make sense in a very twisted and crooked way.

      The absence of free will enables the possibility of free choices to begin with (and consequently freedom of thinking).

      • Andre Boillot

        "It really makes no sense to talk about free-thinking if one denies free will"

        I'm not sure that's the case. That our minds are not absolutely free in thought or action does not mean that we can attempt to divorce ourselves from dogma, authority, or tradition. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freethought]

        "The absence of free will enables the possibility of free choices to begin with (and consequently freedom of thinking)."

        Wut?

        • Vasco Gama

          No one pretends that free will is absolutely free (NO ONE).

          • Andre Boillot

            (ARE YOU SURE?)

            Also, I don't see what your point is - if you concede that free will isn't absolutely free.

          • Vasco Gama

            I repeat NO ONE defends that "free will isn't absolutely free".

            That is absurd (I know that you might pretend that theists are irrational, that is also irrational, but I don’t pretend to prove that that is the case, but it is).

          • Andre Boillot

            I repeat NO ONE defends that "free will is absolutely free".

            I'll let Stacy correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears to be the implication here:

            "The Christian doctrine of free-thinking is tied to the revelations of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, and it explains why humans have intellect and free will, that is, the ability to freely decide what to think."

            Also, from what I can tell, to the extent that Stacy attacks the atheist authors she lists, it's because they poke holes in the idea that we are perfectly free to think and choose what we want.

          • Vasco Gama

            I guess you don't need to be corrected by Stacy, you can realize that you are able to make choices, no one needs to confirm it (be bold in your free-thinking).

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            Maybe there's some sort of language barrier going on here, I often have difficulty determining what your point is.

            "I guess you don't need to be corrected by Stacy, you can realize that you are able to make choices, no one needs to confirm it"

            Do you understand that I'm saying Stacy appears to be implying what you say (so loudly) that no one defends - that humans, aided by an immortal soul and whatnot, can "freely decide what to think"? I don't see her qualifying freely either (maybe I missed it). Are we clear on that?

            In any case, her main issue with Harris and Co is that they qualify or deny how free we are in what we think and choose. To my knowledge, none of them claims that we have no choice in what we think or choose, or that our thoughts and actions are predetermined by the laws of physics. As I originally stated, they appear to be objecting to the concept of free will - in the sense that we have absolute freedom and control over what we think and choose.

            Hopefully we cleared up any misunderstandings.

          • Vasco Gama

            Andre,

            Sorry, I guess I let myself be carried away (it wasn't nice and I apologize), I don't really agree with the formulation that humans can "freely decide what to think" and I fail to get the real meaning of the statement.

            About Sam Harris, he denies the existence of free will and claims that it is just an illusion (that is not real, but that it just apears to be real to us). I can't agree with him, nothing indicates that we don't have free will or that we are illuding ourselves, we can choose (as in my last comment I unfortunately choose to be nasty, and I was not compeled by nothing else, that was all from my own rudeness, sorry again).

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            Do you mind if I inquire as to whether or not you've investigated what Harris and these others have to say about free will, outside of the blurbs provided here by Mrs. Trasancos?

            "I can't agree with him, nothing indicates that we don't have free will or that we are illuding [sic] ourselves, we can choose".

            I don't think the counter argument to free will as I've described it is that we have no choice whatsoever, and that all of our actions and thoughts are predetermined by physical laws. The point that many of these authors raise is that our ability to think and choose is more constrained than we like to think that it is.

            To go back to my earlier example, if I ask you to pick any song (or even your favorite song), can you honestly say that your mind sorts through every song that you've heard (or liked)? If your mind hasn't presented you with all those options, how were you free to choose? In what way were you able to control which songs came to mind? It's one thing to say that you're "free" to choose a door on your left or your right, chocolate or vanilla. That's not the sort of free these authors are talking about. They're talking about how your brain chemistry / history / environment, all conspire to influence you on a subconscious level, and restrict your conscious decision making in a way that you don't control.

            P.S. Do you think you can freely choose who you love?

          • Vasco Gama

            Andre

            I read a few articles of Sam Harris and I have heard him in a couple of debates he participated and I totally disagree with him on the matter of free will (as in many other issues). On debating free will, all the possible options are not in play (and no one claim that we consider and weight every possible option, as I said before), we dismiss a variety of them (and never consider them). Free will only come into play when we consider between a series of options, and that is what free will is (the choice between the options that seem to be reasonable to consider), very often they are mutually exclusive, as in considering doing something or just not doing it.

            Of course choices are not equal to every person. As an example, almost everybody recognizes that robing is wrong, and given the opportunity most people wouldn’t even consider the possibility, but someone who needs money (for some particular reason) or someone that often takes advantage of those situations might consider to evaluate the opportunity and consider the possibility of success in taking advantage of the situation. For most people it is a fact that that even if possible it was not a choice, and it may well be that don’t even consider it (as if there was no real opportunity), as for the people that needed money or the thieves, this was a real issue and something they would be free to consider doing, with real consequences (for themselves and to others).

            Even if the choices are not the same, all of us face this type of choices from time to time.

            I agree with you that sometimes we don’t choose to love someone, but we are confronted with that situation. But even then we have a choice on what to do (even if it is not easy).

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            I asked if you'd read more than Stacy's blurbs because you seemed to be mis-characterizing the conclusions they were reaching. You seem to be agreeing that what is called 'free will' is often limited by things outside of our conscious control...so I'm not going to argue with you any further on this.

            As an example, almost everybody recognizes that robing is wrong, and given the opportunity most people wouldn’t even consider the possibility, but someone who needs money (for some particular reason) or someone that often takes advantage of those situations might consider to evaluate the opportunity and consider the possibility of success in taking advantage of the situation. For most people it is a fact that that even if possible it was not a choice, and it may well be that don’t even consider it (as if there was no real opportunity), as for the people that needed money or the thieves, this was a real issue and something they would be free to consider doing, with real consequences (for themselves and to others).

            I have no idea how you could possibly demonstrate that: "given the opportunity most people wouldn’t even consider the possibility [of stealing]". This is just an absurd thing to say (you even assert it as "fact" later). I mean, it would be one thing if you could point to a study that showed people generally don't steal when given the chance, but good luck showing they don't think about it.

          • Vasco Gama

            Andre,

            That limited free will is what we call free will (and nobody that I know is pretending that free will is something else).

            You may well consider that "given the opportunity most people wouldn’t even consider the possibility [of stealing]" is absurd, but that is my view of what normal people would do (I may be optimistic), it may well be that some of them would consider it possible but would not consider doing it seriously. Anyway that is just an hypothetical situation.

          • Andre Boillot

            Vasco,

            "That limited free will is what we call free will (and nobody that I know is pretending that free will is something else)."

            1) 'limited free will' is an oxymoron; 2) Who is "we" in this situation? (it doesn't seem to be Stacy); 3) What definitions of free will are you referring to? (can you show me?)

            "You may well consider that "given the opportunity most people wouldn’t even consider the possibility [of stealing]" is absurd, but that is my view of what normal people would do"

            Well, at least you're walking it back from "it is a fact" to "my view". Progress.

          • Vasco Gama

            Andre,

            I repeat myself again that is what we (everybody) call free will. Here of course we can realize that the claims of Sam Harris, far from producing anything new or adding any significant insight to the common understanding of free will, are in reality quite empty (the free will that Sam Harris addresses is a strawman). At least the eliminativism suggested by Alex Rosenberg is more honest and coherent (in spite of the absurdity).

            The point in my example was just to mention that we all face choices in the decision from various hypotheses that present to us (not the same for everyone). And in those circumstances we are free to choose.

    • I guess the question is, at what point do the restrictions those cited above place on our free will cripple free will to the point that it's nothing more than a veneer over our particles? It lets us decide what to eat for breakfast, but not whether or not we're religious/atheist, liberal/conservative, pacifist/warmonger, even law-abiding citizen or child-rapist (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-illusion-of-free-will).

      While from my understanding of Mr. Harris' work I see how childhood trauma and physical ailments can affect free will to a degree, and of course the question of head trauma and it's effect on free will is relevant, but the point is that all of these conditions are extremes outside of the norm, and Sam Harris, to the best of my knowledge (which is admittedly weak), focuses more on the extreme cases in his book Free Will than on the vast majority of cases, those people whose brains and psyches are, for the most part, undamaged.

      I'm picking on Sam in particular because I have read more by him than the other authors. Maybe the other ones do a better job? I couldn't tell you.

      To circle back around to the first point, if we don't have absolute control, how much do we have? Are we forced into certain modes of action or belief? Or are we influenced, but free to act against that influence, even though it may be difficult? Or are we influenced, and not truly free to act against that influence? The first two are compatible with the Catholic understanding of free will. The last makes this website obsolete, because how are you going to change my predetermined mind?

      Also, I'm back.

      • Andre Boillot

        Indeed, it is good to have you back.

        First, let me say that your link is d-e-d, dead. People wanting to delve into what Harris thinks on free will can browse through his so-tagged articles here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/category/free-will

        I am in a similar situation as you are re: familiarity with Harris and not so much with the other authors linked to above. I would also tend to agree with you that Harris is slightly (paradoxically?) better at describing extremes and banalities than he is in dealing with the middle-ground. However, I think it's clear that he doesn't think that (libertarian) free will being an illusion means that decisions don't matter. To use something like his examples, that I might not consciously be reflecting on each and every word of this post before I type it, this doesn't mean that I didn't have to choose to write this post vs. browsing facebook.

        To take an example I often deal with, I have no idea why I choose to procrastinate getting out of bed on some days more than others. There's nobody holding me down in bed, I know I should get up, that I'm risking being late for work. Yet I lay there (apparently I'm weak-willed). Now, when I reflect on that, I can say that I don't like the status quo, and decide to try to do something about it. Maybe I know that food is likely to motivate me, so I go buy some easy to make breakfast treats, maybe I set my phone away from my bed so I have to get up to shut the alarm off. After a while, I notice that these decisions, when repeated over time, lead to a habit of getting up on-time -- even though my experience of getting out of bed on-time seems no more of a conscious choice to me than laying in bed did. I think that's where Harris is coming from. I made real decisions that really mattered, but the tipping point of when I was moved to do something about my routine wasn't of my own making. It was certainly "me" that made the decision, but what brought me to it? Don't know.

  • josh

    "If free-thinking is an illusion, then aren't intellectual pursuits
    illusions too?" You're conflating free-thinking, which is a euphemism for not following traditional religious tenets, with free-will, which is an ill-defined philosophical concept. Assuming you meant free-will, then no, it doesn't follow that intellectual pursuits are an illusion, but you may make a mistake in your pursuit.

    "Isn't searching for truth like trying to lift yourself up
    by your bootstraps?" It's like being a very sophisticated computer running an algorithm to determine an answer. It's possible the algorithm is bad, or that there are errors which various error detection mechanisms miss. It doesn't follow that these things are necessarily true. Again, on a deterministic conception you may be making mistakes. This is nothing new.

    " Are your thoughts, then, in vain?"
    Depends on what you mean by 'in vain'. What are you trying to do with your thoughts? It's possible that you won't solve whatever problem you are trying to think about, or that you will make a mistake.

    "If free-thinking is a human power of the soul because the human
    person is made in the image and likeness of God, then aren't
    intellectual pursuits more like reaching for something beyond yourself
    while planting your boots firmly on the ground?"

    Saying something is a 'power of the soul' really doesn't tell you anything about it, certainly it doesn't evince any connection to a notion of truth. Thinking you are 'the likeness of God' is more like looking only at yourself and assuming the greater universe around you is just a reiteration of your own naive conceptions of yourself.

    "Searching for truth, guided by an assent in faith, is a reasonable way to understand more about yourself, your world, your purpose, and your origin." The 'assent in faith' is the unreasonable part. There is no reason to assume something so particular from the start. Once you get going, and we find that our origins, 'purpose' and world don't comport with the 'assent in faith', it is doubly important to chuck that unwarranted assumption.

    "Does that mean your thoughts, then, are imprisoned?" If you can't seriously consider the problems with your faith, then it means one of your error detection systems isn't working. Your thoughts are stuck in a rut.

  • Paul Boillot

    "Without acknowledging the soul of man created in the image of God, there is no basis to acknowledge the spiritual powers of intellect, free will, triskaidekaphobia, loving the right NFL team (Bears), and chewing with your mouth closed. Some of the most respected modern atheists have followed atheism to its logical conclusion and admitted as much.

    'Science can't find a basis for, and has found circumstantial evidence potentially contradicting, the metaphysical proposition of 'free will.' That it might be an illusion has no bearing on whether or not we perceive it, or whether or not it's a useful abstraction we can successfully use. Of course, none of what I just said has anything to do with 'intellect', fearing the number 13, professional sports or dinner-table etiquette. I hope no one conflates all of those terms at a later date.' (X4 scientists)"

  • Paul Boillot

    "Most people probably think "free-thinking" is an atheist term, but the idea was more or less borrowed. It emerged in the 1700's among groups who rejected Christianity. "

    This might be the least-intelligible sentence in this piece.

    S- "Free-thinking" isn't an atheist term, they just took it and re-branded it to the weak-minded masses, of whom you are one."

    P- "Oh, they 'borrowed' it? From whom?"

    S- "18th century radicals who rejected Christianity."

    P- "Oh...yeah...that's definitely not part of the atheist tradition. Good point!"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freethought#History

  • Paul Boillot

    "Perhaps an atheist will follow up with answers to these questions, including an explanation about how there can be actual free thought if free will is an illusion—with particular emphasis on why it is reasonable to believe the intellectual conclusions of scientists who claim to have no free will."

    If you were a Roman polytheist during the early empire, and I a Greek atheist philosopher, you might, in the course of an argument about the motion of the sun ask me the following:
    "How could the sun rise in the east and set in the west every day, without it was pulled by Apollo's divine chariot? Without something pulling it, the sun could not move, why should I believe you if you claim that there are no gods? HOW ELSE COULD IT MOVE?"

    None of the scientists you cite are claiming that the experiential phenomenon of 'free-will,' the self-perception that we are in control doesn't exist. They are claiming that your experience, your perception is manufactured by your brain. The atheist approach to realizing that 'free-will' is an illusion much like my perception of 'red' or 'salty' is to say "wow, that's interesting..." and move on.

    There is no reason to "believe the intellectual conclusions" of anyone apriori. I tend to believe credible scientists because in principle I could learn everything they know, I could do any experiment they do.

    I do not and will not believe anyone who pleads special evidence/experience. I trust scientists because I know (hope?) that there are enough of them out there with deep learning, huge egos, and analytic minds that false/irreproducible claims will be torn down with prejudice.

    Of course the status of pharmacological/neurological study publications, more specifically the non-publication of negative study results, does give me pause in trusting some of those data and conclusions, but of course that has nothing to do with what you're talking about.

  • I think you are conflating free thinking and free will.

    Free thought relates to cultural, social, institutional rules on what we are allowed to think about. I.e. are we allowed to question the existence of a god? The truth of the Bible? I do believe that before the enlightenment it was the church's position that advocating for this kind of freedom was heresy that could be punished, even by death.

    Free will deals with whether or not there is some additional level to human cognition than the physical operation of the brain. Determinists like myself conclude that there is no evidence for any separate immaterial level guiding the brain. In fact the evidence seems to show that what we call consciousness is an illusion and the decisions we feel we are making post date the actual activity of our neurons.

    this is a huge, counter intuitive and difficult to understand concept, but it doesn't mean that choices don't happen, and that they are not affected by the rules in society and other facts. While I acknowledge that what I am typing right now is done with the illusion of free will, that the words I type are determined by the input and neural activity of my brain, these choices are happening and I am making them. I am my brain and its neural activity. I believe we should have no rules about what thoughts we should have and on what issues to enquire into.

    "If free-thinking is an illusion, then aren't intellectual pursuits illusions too"? Free thinking is not an illusion, free will appears to be. Intellectual pursuits are not illusions, we can show they exist in a number of ways.

    " Isn't searching for truth like trying to lift yourself up by your bootstraps?" No, it is us, our brains, pursuing accuracy. If there is no second immaterial level directing this doesn't mean the enquiry is not valid.

    "Without acknowledging the soul of man created in the image of God, there is no basis to acknowledge the spiritual powers of intellect and free will" not necessarily. There could be other ways of establishing libertarian free will I suppose. I just do not see evidence for a soul, anything "spiritual" or for free will.

    • Vasco Gama

      Brian,

      Free will only means that you are able to choose form the hypothesis that appear rational to you (that are there for you to choose), when someone denies free will what he is saying is that he really doesn't make choices, even people that deny the existence of free will acknowledge that we have an illusion of free will (or as the illusionists say the illusion of choosing).

      The term free will doesn't really consider "all the possible choices", but only those that reason presents as possible (and that we have to decide to favor).

      • Sqrat

        Free will only means that you are able to choose form the hypothesis that appear rational to you....

        According to Stacy, free will means "the ability to freely decide what to think." I'm not sure if your definition and hers are the same. Her definition is particularly unclear, so it's hard to tell.

        • Vasco Gama

          I guess that what she says is that everyone as the ability to think freely (that is something that is entirely on our powers, but of course we may choose not to use this ability, when we conform to the thinking of someone else, then we abdicate of the free thinking, even if we call it free thinking).

      • Neither libertarian free will or determinism consider all possibilities and both make choices.

        Consider a person about to choose a donut or a muffin. She selects muffin. The determinist says that choice was made by the brain activity that was determined by its initial state (memories, established neural pathways etc.) as well as the physical surroundings affecting the brain state through the senses. Determinism says that if you re- create the exactly same circumstances, she would pick muffin every time.

        Free will says there is another level that makes the decision, the mind, which is, well not clear to me, some immaterial aspect that is independent. The free will advocate believes she could have chosen donut. To me this breaks down because whenever we try to establish the basis upon which a different choice would be made, we do so by changing the environment or the brain state.

        • Vasco Gama

          I am more a muffin person. But occasionaly I would apreciate a donut.

          But what is your own thought about free will, how do you experience the choices you make, is it like a libertarian or a determinist?

          • I am a determinist.

          • Vasco Gama

            In this sense I guess you don't fell capable of making real free choices (everything is determined) and even if it appears that you have the ability to choose from A or B or X (doing something, not doing it, or doing something else) it is just an illusion.

            Also it doesn't make sense for you to consider free thinking (or anything else that we conventionally attribute to the will), as your thoughts (or mine) are already determinate (and the term free will just refers to a formatted set of ideas, being in reality meaningless and in fact the term free thinking is just a convention).

            Is that it (like if your mind was just a complex computer program)?

          • David Nickol

            In this sense I guess you don't fell capable of making real free choices . . .

            In what sense can we engage in "free thinking" and exercise "free will" if our intellects are "darkened" and our wills are weakened? How can people be held responsible for their actions if the two faculties that make them persons (intellect and will) were deliberately impaired by God?

          • Vasco Gama

            Has you are not close to me and I really don't know you, I don't hold you responsible for anything, except for your comments on this blog.

            Also your intellect and your will don’t look particularly darkened or weakened, so that doesn’t constitute a limitation for your responsibility.

          • It is hard to follow you question. In discussions like this we need to be very clear about our terms.

            I think that this experience of conscious choice is a illusion or a projection of what the brain is doing. When I choose the muffin it feels like my consciousness receives input from the senses, reflects on memories, considers impulses and physical cravings and chooses. But when we actually look at each of these, we recognize that there is really nothing left for the consciousness to do. It didn't choose the sensory input, the memories, cravings etc. Did I choose between these? E.g. Dounut tastes better, muffin is healthier. I choose health. But wait, that choice was made by the objective fact of health not my consciousness. What if I choose not to be healthy today, why did I choose that? No matter what "reasons" we look to the choice is being made for either causes external to the mind or they are unknown whims. The more you think about it, the more you realize that this thing we experience called mind or consciousness, is a bystander. It is a wonderful narrative that is determined, but does not feel that way.

          • Vasco Gama

            Brian,

            I am very much aware that most of what I make are the result from my choices, I really can't access to your mind, but my guess is that can be applied to you (but that is only my guess).

            Of course my choices (bot really between muffins and donuts) are affected by the circumstances, by emotions, aspirations, desires, passions, needs, … (we all have that), and we evaluate all that through reasoning, and we consider a variety of constrains and morality, our familiar and social situations, … and if the issue is not simple we may be able to take time to come a conclusion where we weight all that until we define what we consider reasonable to do, and finally we do it (we know all that it isn’t mysterious, and sometimes it is not simple). Of course one can find reasonable to indulge any inclination on grounds that one can’t choose (that is just a simplification and to avoid accountability, in reality no one feels that way, and every one holds the people that do wrong deeds against us accountable). The fact that there are circumstances affecting our judgement doesn’t change the fact that we are the ones who found reasons to do what we do, circumstances just help us to understand what we do (circumstances don’t decide for us).

          • You are missing the point. The question is what do you mean when you say "we" or "I" consider things and choose? What is you? I think you are your brain, there is not separate layer. Do you think there is a possibility to choose differently in the muffin situation, and if so why?

          • Vasco Gama

            That is an hard question, in the sense that I have some difficulty to explain it to you, but for me, as such, that experience this difficulty, I know exactly who and what is that I mean when I refer to me (or I), and I know also very well what and who is not me (or I), and even if I don't know you, I know that I am addressing to someone that is you that is very real and a person just as me (who has a distinct perception and experience). But in this I would say that we have a strong sense of what is the me (or I) that experience our cognition and cousciousness (even if we can not define it very well as we are the only ones that can access to it).

            The fact that I experience my cognition and my consciousness, through my sensory organs and events in my brain doesn't alter anything or turns things different or mysterious. It maybe troubling and in fact things may be even more complex than we are able to realize, but that knowledge (or that ignorance) doesn't affect the way we experience things.

            The problem of free will is not the choice of a particular muffin (or in choices we make without making sound any alarm in form of questioning ourselves about those choices), but when we face choices that are problematic to us (say moral choices) and the ways we have to deal with those type of choices (here I am speking of virtue as such).

  • cminca

    "There is, according to them, no supernatural realm and thus, no soul. There is only the physical body. The brain runs its program like a computer obeying the laws of physics, and consciousness, if there is such a thing, is an emergent and measurable property of the brain-machine.

    Without the power for a person to freely chose what to think, there is no basis to claim the power of actual free-thought."
    My brain, my consciousness, my "program", but not my actual "free thought"?
    Bit of a contradiction there.
    (You may now erase my message and block me from making any more. I know that's how you roll Stacy).

  • Geena Safire

    This article makes the mistake of... It's just so... Trasancos doesn't seem... If we assume... The actual difference between...

    Nope. There is no way I can comment on this article in a way that can meet the Strange Notions guidelines.

    It's not even wrong.

    Perhaps I'll try later, when... Nope, that doesn't meet the guidelines either.

    • Danny Getchell

      Did I understand your post, Geena, or is that just an illusion on my part?

      • Geena Safire

        You're free to think so.

         

            Or are you?

    • "...what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard."

      ^^^Really? (Your quote)

      You've been invited to write a post. Why do you not?

      • Geena Safire

        "...what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard."

        ^^^Really? (Your quote)

        Really?! Please provide the source of that quote.

        • See the first line of your link "not even wrong."

          • Geena Safire

            I linked to a web page that describes the term "not even wrong." It does not follow that I wrote the web page, so it is not my quote.

            You don't know the difference? Really?

            Further, that line is a quote from the movie Billy Madison and is not part of the definition of the term on that web page, but rather is provided in the way of an example.

            You don't know the difference? Really?

            You've been invited to write a post. Why do you not?

            First, I was just invited yesterday, so it's not like I've been slacking. Second, it's no business of yours whether I do or don't, much less why. Third, what is the relevance of this question to your erroneous claim?

          • My bad. I assumed you read what you linked.

            Look forward to your post.

          • Geena Safire

            I assumed you read what you linked.

            Just because I read it doesn't mean any of it is my quote.

            So "your bad" was not in assuming I had read it. "Your bad" was claiming that something on a linked web page was my quote. Factually wrong, period.

  • robtish

    This is a bit like saying, "We don't yet understand how gravity can work at a
    distance, therefore, therefore it must God pushing things together. Therefore, without God, there can be no explanation." I would say NO to that, just as I say NO this post.

    Obviously, I'm not buying this need for God to explain free will. I would agree with a statement like this:

    1. We do not have a scientific understanding of consciousness and free will.

    Unfortunately, Stacy leaps (without explanation) to this statement.

    2. "Without acknowledging the soul of man created in the image of God, there is no basis to acknowledge the spiritual powers of intellect and free will."

    Wow. There's a HUGE difference between saying "we don't understand the basis of intellect and free will" and "there is no basis without invoking God." That second statement is warranted by absolutely nothing in the OP reasoning.

    Unfortunately, Stacy goes a step further. It's not just God, but the Christian God that's needed! ("the rejection of Christian doctrine has its logical implications").

    None of this is warranted. It's not a reasoned argument to say, "We don't yet understand something, therefore...Christianity!"

    • You asked what the Bible means. I told you, to the best of my understanding. What I'm asking you to do is explain why, in the first place, you think science should ever explain consciousness and free will.

      • 1. Consciousness and free will are clearly associated with brain function which science is able to study.
        2. We consistently discover that science can discover things we never even dreamt of.
        3. It is unreasonable to assume, then, that science cannot explain consciousness and free will.

        Note, though, that neither in this post or nor my original comment did I aver that science definitely will understand consciousness and free will. I don't know whether that will ever happen. I don't see how either outcome, though, requires invoking God.

        • Are you happy with the answer I gave you in the first part?

          Will you answer how there can be free thought with no free will?

          That's all this discussion is about.

          Your comment goes into another set of questions about what science is, and I'm of the firm opinion that science is limited to the measurement of objects. Thus, the only way science could ever explain consciousness and free will is to a priori assume that matter is all that exists, which is not proven, and which gets right back to the second question.

          • I'm losing track of what you mean by "the first part" and "the second question," so I'm not sure how to respond to that.

            "Will you answer how there can be free thought with no free will?"

            But I do believe there is free will. I simply don't know how to explain it. And, actually, I've always thought that Christians had a harder case to make for free will, because it seem logically incompatible with an omnipotent God who is the source of all that exists.

          • By "first part" I mean the part of the essay that falls under the label "First: . . . "

          • Yes, and my apologies, especially since you wrote it in response to my question. I found it a very interesting glimpse into a different worldview, and I appreciate your sharing it.

  • OppositeAtheist

    I find no mistakes. Congratulations on the best article ever published on Strange Notions. Well done!

    I have this site bookmarked. I look forward to visiting every single day for the rest of my remaining years or as long as this blog lasts (whichever comes first). And now I shall spread this wonderful find on all of my social media sites.

    It will never be a waste of time coming here!

    Quinn, in North America.

  • MichaelNewsham

    "From the Father and Son together as one substance the Holy Spirit proceeds as an act of divine will, Love personified. The Three Persons are in perfect, eternal communion.
    .........
    Families are the most intimate reflection of the Holy Trinity, two
    become one and born of their love is a new person. "

    So a father has an act of love with his son and produces another person, and this is what our family life reflects? Excuse me, to each their own, but not my family!

    "This is the basis of arguments against laws of man that break these
    natural, divine laws. They are disordered laws that break the unity of
    people, families, and societies, and diminish the freedom and dignity of
    each person."

    I have yet to hear anyone advocating laws that would allow what you describe above."

  • jamey brown

    A masterful work, clear and thorough, of some of the deepest mysteries of the Catholic Faith, of man's existence.

    • Geena Safire

      Really? Masterful? Clear? Please, do go on. Which mysteries does it clarify thoroughly, for example?

      • jamey brown

        The deepest mysteries, which Stacy pointed out quite clearly and concisely, are the Trinity, the Incarnation, mankind's free will, and "the definition of a 'person' made in the image and likeness of God."

  • john654

    Sin=Loss of sanctifying grace=darkening of the will?

  • MichaelNewsham

    "While all of that sounds impressive on the surface, the rejection of
    Christian doctrine has its logical implications. Without acknowledging
    the soul of man created in the image of God, there is no basis to
    acknowledge the spiritual powers of intellect and free will. Some of the most respected modern atheists have followed atheism to its logical conclusion and admitted as much."

    And equally prominent modern atheists,such as Daniel Dennett and A,C. Grayling have accepted the idea of free will- as have hundreds of millions of non-Christians, who have no problem embracing free will while rejecting Christian doctrine. Simply stating something as fact doesn't make it so.

    But yeah, I'll agree with most of the atheist commenters that this post is so confused it is hard to argue against, since it's not clear what the OP is trying to say.

  • Francis Choudhury

    @ Michael Newsham
    God the Father contemplates Himself - in all His perfections (omnipotence, omniscience, AllGoodness, AllLove, AllMercy, etc...). By definition, all that is good and proper is contained in God - He is the very essence of being and goodess. Therefore He has no reason to contemplate anything beyond or outside of Himself, where, if anything existed, it would (by the same definition) be im-perfect. (This is why some theologians opine that evil, per se, does not exist, for it is neither of God nor in Him. Rather, evil is an experience of the absence of God (good), and sin is an absence of man's love and relation with God and/or with each other. But that's a subject for another day.)
    Now, what God "sees" as He contemplates Himself, is a perfect image of - surprise, surprise! - Himself. And this "seeing" of God (of Himself) is so substantial that it gives rise to a Person (in our concept), Who we know as His "begotten" Son - not a created or birthed Son, for He is of the self same substance, nature and essence as His Father ("consubstantial" with the Father). "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
    From a relational aspect, the Father gives Sonship to the Son Who He begets and the Son gives Fatherhood to the Father of Whom He is begotten. Because this occurs in eternity, neither comes before or after. They eternally coexist. The Father loves the Son (what's not to love, given Who He is?) and, likewise, the Son loves the Father. This spirit of mutual love we know as the Holy Spirit, substantial enough to be a Person in His own right, just as the Father and the Son are each Persons in their own right. The intimate union of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit gives rise to the community ("family", if you prefer) of the Trinity, comprised of three Persons but "organically" (for want of a better word in this context) one God.
    The nuclear human family is modeled on this. Firstly, woman (per the Christian narrative, at least) was fashioned out of the side of man (aka "Adam") who, on beholding her exclaimed,
    “This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
    she shall be called ‘woman’,
    for she was taken out of man.” (Gen 2:23)
    Not surprising then that in marriage these two complementary beings unite, and further, in the conjugal act reunite to become one flesh. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9). Now, in this meaningful spiritual and physical union, the man gives Motherhood to the woman and the woman imparts Fatherhood to the man, for the fruit of their love/union is so substantial (not just sentiments and feelings or sharing of goods) that it is indeed a whole new life - an offspring, another distinct person.

    Does that help you at least somewhat see the parallels?

    • James Hartic

      Please friend....you are imposing anthropomorphism upon the improbable concept of god!

  • Kevin Aldrich

    To offer an alternative take to Rob's question, "What does the Bible mean by saying man is made in the image of God?" Catholics cannot answer that without taking into account not just the Bible, but the entire Catholic intellectual tradition, which includes not just God as a Supreme Being but God as a Trinity of Persons.

    A kind of "classic" understanding of man as the image of God is that human beings have the spiritual faculties of reason and free will, which animals don't. From these powers arise all the things which distinguish us from non-rational animals (we are the animals with reason).

    However, with the doctrine of the Trinity in mind, image of God can be expanded to include us as persons-in-relation (the Spanish Catholic philosopher Leonardo Polo defines us as "co-persons"). To be a person means (ideally) to be in a loving relationship with other persons. This is why Catholic see the family as an image of the Blessed Trinity.

    So, three important dimensions of image of God are reason, freedom, and communion.

  • James Hartic

    The illusion of Free Thinking is related to the illusion of Free Will....

    SAM HARRIS IS THE AUTHOR of the New York Times bestsellers, The Moral Landscape, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

    WARNING: Anyone who is not willing to "eat of the tree of knowledge" should not view this video, viewing this with an open mind could cause you to make "shipwreck of your faith."

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g

  • Some atheists are free thinkers. New Atheists are not. You only have to look at Pete Boghossian to see this, as if Dawkins wasn't enough: if you believe in something they disapprove of - specifically, God, particularly Christianity - they regard you as having a 'virus' that must be 'contained and eradicated'. Except you have the sort of virus that requires you to be shunned in public, belittled and mocked (see Dawkins and the 'butt of contempt'), and generally attacked. At least, until they can get religious belief treated as a mental illness placed on the DSM-V, and thus start experimenting on religious believers in good ol' Mengele style.

    Though the points brought up in the OP bear repeating. "Free thinking" is incompatible with materialism. Actually, "thinking", period, is incompatible with materialism.

    • Paul Boillot

      The rules of this website stipulate that you must have your real identity listed as your disqus name, to reduce the chance of polemic and unproductive bile (on both sides). Your choice of name not only ignores that requirement, it suggests that you're actively fighting against the guiding principles of reasoned and respectful dialogue.

      Worse than that your comment here, and comments elsewhere, are devoid of logic and full of factual inaccuracies. I will flag you comments because of your violations of the rules, but I invite you to make a new name and keep doing your best to make logical arguments which will fail on their merits, not the tone.

      1) The term capital 'N' "New Atheists" generally refers to the big 4; Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens. Less often someone on this list is meant to be included. You'll notice that you'll fail to notice Pete Boghossian mentioned anywhere, I had never heard of him before you brought him up.

      2) You assert, without argument or evidence, the statement that this group of people are not free thinkers, and indeed, that materialism preclude thought all together.

      3) Mocking people, and being mocked for your beliefs, is a right and a result of freedom of speech. Get used to it, toughen up, and stop whining so much.

      As a side-note; I seem to recall your god telling you that it should be a badge of pride when you are belittled, and are you not supposed to be putting everyone ahead of you anyway? I was told earlier that any pride whatsoever is going to stop you getting into heaven.

      4) Religious-belief-being-placed-on-the-DSM-V has nothing to do with human experimentation or your implication of Nazi crimes against humanity. It's not only a purulent allusion, worse, it's illogical: there are hundreds of illnesses which are currently listed on the DSM (A document courting it's own share of controversy, by the way) whose sufferers we don't cut open without consent.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

  • DA

    Here's an honest question for anyone here: can you name one thing you do that isn't a reaction to something else? Free will is likely an illusion. It's hard to think about because we often discuss it with simple analogies or situations. "You walk into a room and on a table are two books. You choose the one of the right." There are so many variables going into a choice that it's nearly impossible to say that we're making them or we are coerced by past, present, or imagined future experience.