Posts Tagged ‘free will’

You Are Not Your Brain

In going back and reviewing the audio from my church’s SWAT Seminar from a week and a half ago, I have been listening to J.P. Moreland discuss his evidence for the existence of the soul. This was of particular interest to me, because I posted such an argument on my blog last year. I was intrigued to note that my argument was only slightly related to Moreland’s argument, because it means 1) I’m capable of independent thought, and 2) I feel like I might be able to contribute to the overall defense of theistic belief.

However, in listening to Moreland’s talk on the subject, it’s clear to me that his position is on much firmer ground than mine. He gave many different reasons why conscious states differ from brain states, but more importantly why “you are not your brain.” Among these reasons is that a person’s consciousness is not comprised of parts (you can have 80% of a brain, but you can’t have 80% of a person) and that it is possible for self to be disembodied, but not possible for the brain, therefore the person and the brain are not identical.

But the one that struck me as the simplest, yet most powerful, is the idea that if the person and the brain were the same, free will would not be possible. And if free will is not possible, then there is no reasonable concept of responsibility. In essence, if we didn’t have free will, there would be no reason we should logically choose to do good things, because whether or not a good thing is done is directed by the brain, and we as a person have no say in what we choose. In reality, everything would just be an effect of the laws of physics and chemistry, and as a result there would be no moral value or worth placed on any result–it just is what it is.

But because we place moral value on some choices (i.e. some things are really right or really wrong), this means that there is some personal responsibility, and as a result, free will is a real concept. And since free will is a real concept, the resulting conclusion is that a person is not the same as his/her brain. This gives powerful evidence to the existence of something immaterial that is responsible for the movements between conscious states in a person.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts from the SWAT stuff, but thought this was worth sharing.

Pre-Cognition = Removal of Free Will?

I have one of my frequent commenters to thank for passing this opinion article along from the New York Times. The first couple of paragraphs of the article provide the basis for the rest of the article:

In an influential article in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Joshua Gold of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Shadlen of the University of Washington sum up experiments aimed at discovering the neural basis of decision-making. In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns. Computers reading the sensors were able to register the decision a fraction of a second before the monkeys’ eyes turned to the pattern. As the monkeys were not deliberating, but rather reacting to visual stimuli, researchers were able to plausibly claim that the computer could successfully predict the monkeys’ reaction. In other words, the computer was reading the monkeys’ minds and knew before they did what their decision would be.

The implications are immediate. If researchers can in theory predict what human beings will decide before they themselves know it, what is left of the notion of human freedom? How can we say that humans are free in any meaningful way if others can know what their decisions will be before they themselves make them?

I have already given these responses to the source of the article, but as free will is fair play in this article, I feel it necessary to point out some flaws with this argument:

1) An assumption about what it says regarding the free will of humans is premature until the experiment is actually performed on humans. There is no guarantee such an experiment will work.

2) It equates free will and moral choices with a fraction of a second. Any reasonable thinking person knows that it takes considerably longer to carry out such a decision, which allows for the ability of someone to change their mind and is why people change their minds all the time.

3) Even the ability to predict these decisions doesn’t limit free will; all it does is tell us what choice is being made. It doesn’t change the identity of the decision-maker, nor does it change the actual decision. This is what morality and free will are all about.

Interestingly, the movie Minority Report has already run with this concept of pre-cognition. While ultimately the movie exposes a flaw in the system created, the idea that the pre-cogs could tell what was going to happen didn’t change whether or not the event was going to take place. It only allowed the protagonist the opportunity to stop it. Free will was not changed (e.g., the man still chose to kill his wife); the execution, or carrying out, of that will was all that was thwarted.

So in short, such an experiment means absolutely nothing with respect to free will and morality. The writer of the article pretty much agrees, but this kind of stuff is dangerous if you don’t stop and reason through it properly. As Christians we need to constantly be on guard for such claims, so as to not be swayed or allow those around us to stumble into these traps.

My Take on Calvinism’s 5 Points

So in reading back through some of blog posts I remembered that I said I wanted to tackle where I stand in terms of Calvinism versus Arminianism. While I haven’t seriously studied Arminianism enough yet to see how I view that theology, I did do some research on the 5 points of Calvinism. While these points don’t comprise totally the philosophy of Calvinism, they are tenets that strong Calvinists adhere to. I like that they form a pretty word acrostically, but as for the tenets themselves, some questions arise.

Total depravity
Unconditional election
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perserverance of the saints

TOTAL DEPRAVITY – due to the fall of Adam, everyone born into the world is enslaved into the service of sin (i.e. we are born with sin)

My take: I agree with this one completely. No objections.

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION – it is God’s choice from eternity whom He will save, and it is not based on foreseen virtue, merit or faith in those people

My take: This idea is supported by Paul in both the book of Romans and 1 Corinthians, so I agree with this one too.

LIMITED ATONEMENT – since God predestined the elect, Jesus’ death that atoned for sins was only meant to atone for the sins of the elect, and not all of the world

My take: Paul doesn’t make the claim that “Christ came to the world to save SOME sinners, of whom I am the worst.” I believe that Christ came to testify to the truth (as He states in John 18:37) to all of the world, otherwise Christ wouldn’t have said, “Go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS.” The Word of God is readily available to anyone who wants to read it, not to an elect few who were destined to read it. The caveat comes in the form of free will. I believe God would give everyone the chance to accept the atonement; it’s just that not everyone does, and He knew that from eternity

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE – the Holy Spirit is able to overcome any obstacles put up in the way of saving those whom God had predestined to be with Him

My take: I like the idea of this one, but not the explanation. This explanation makes it sound like the Holy Spirit tries harder to reach some than others, because they are the elect. I think God tries with the same earnest to reach every individual, because as He tries to reach someone, another might come to Him in free will as a result.

PERSERVERANCE OF THE SAINTS – Those whom God has called into communion with Himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who fall away were either never really saved or will return.

My take: I don’t like this explanation either. What happens to a person who is undeniably saved but dies in a sinful act? For example, what happens to the saved pastor who is killed while trying to murder a man who raped his daughter? No chance to return, but no one doubts the salvation. If you simplify the explanation of POTS to simply “You can’t lose your salvation,” then I agree.

So that’s it. I guess I’m a 3 1/2 point Calvinist, which means I must agree with some of Arminius’ beliefs too. Or perhaps not. I guess we’ll find out eventually.