Monday, July 17, 2006

Sorry about the radio silence

I'll have more to say about why, when I can. It's not a matter of talking right now. But I do have one obligation I'd like to meet now, based on this question.

The argument is put succinctly by the gentleman thus: "I fully understand the difference between watching and doing. But you seem to think that god is analogous to each one of us. That plainly is not the case -- we did not create the situations in which we find ourselves. But god did."

Rewind about twenty years or so. My Mom went back to college for some psych classes when I was ten, and even at that age I was never impressed with B.F. Skinner's theories. Neither, I suspect, was Mom - at least, she certainly acted as if my messy room was my fault, and not an inescapable conclusion of my upbringing, no matter what Skinner taught. In short, even given that I did not choose my mother, my room, or even myself, there was something else that I was expected to choose: I was expected to keep my room tidy. And really, given that expectation, it's foolish to assume that, causally, I would inevitably do the opposite. My mother remains a neat freak to this day.

Back to the present. Earlier in the thread, I had noticed this self-contradiction, but it's put most perfectly here - plainly, this statement assumes that we have no free will to begin with. This is exactly where Erik has gone wrong (and continues to go wrong). The premises he gives are correct, but the conclusion does not follow at all - for one of the things that God has thus created is the free will of mankind.

We have a share in the creation of the universe. It's most obvious in the physical things - we invent bridges and airplanes and crossbows and the Showtime Rotisserie, and then we build them, just as God invented rocks and trees and birds and waterfalls and then built them. We also beget and raise children, as part of our share in what He makes. But the real touch of our own free will is in the subtle things - for we also make poetry and law and games and jokes. And above all, we sin. God gave us was a very clean world to start with. He is also obviously the sort that cares a good deal about keeping things in order, and treating each other well. It is also painfully obvious that we do these things very poorly despite every encouragement otherwise.

In short - we have created the situation we're in.

But there is a more telling point against the argument that we have no free will - the very debate we just had. Is Erik really compelled to try to convince me? If so, how can we talk at all about trying or convincing? Either the chain of events flips my mind or it doesn't. If Erik is merely one more link, then he can take no credit for dispelling my illusions any more than he can blame me for having them in the first place. And even then it's foolish to talk of "my" mind, or anyone else's. If all is causation there is no such thing at all as a mind, save possibly God's.

And follow that to the end, and you'll see why I come down pretty clearly on the side of free will. God supposedly has scripted the entirety of creation - but if that's so, why did he script in the parts where his creatures would rebel? And if it was scripted, was it even rebellion? I have to quote myself since I don't think I'll be able to improve on this:

Free will is not a theistic theory, it is just observable fact. Deny it and it's not surprising that errors jump in almost immediately. Indeed the whole of creation becomes an absurdity without free will - where God intentionally creates creatures who will use words like "ought" and "right and wrong" when all such things are impossible, and soon inescapably conclude that he does not exist.

In a different thread, many of the commenters go to town on the difference between free will and the perception of free will. I'm not sure how pure materialists can take this stand at all. The sliver of ground they've chosen for a foothold is, in fact, immaterial - perception is a mental activity, not a physical one.

Take, for an example, an optical illusion. Stare long enough at a fixed point in an image, and then suddenly look at a white page, and your eye will be fooled into seeing something that isn't there at all: the afterimage of the picture. The mind perceives that which the eye and brain do not actually see.

It is true that, if you damage the human brain sufficiently, the mind loses its power. Is that a matter of destroying the mind itself, or just the tool the mind uses? Dave Brubeck is a musical genius, and I am not; but with no piano in the room, there's no way to tell. And even given the piano, the man may choose NOT to play us something. He may prefer to let me pick out a tune, two-fingered. And then, to prove his own creativity, he may take those identical notes and so deal with them that you'd never guess where they'd came from.

Start from the world (and the premise that there is nothing else), and it's not surprising that theism seems like nothing but illusions and projections. But that thought blows up the moment you try to put any air into it at all - for what is an illusion but an immaterial thing? If we are nothing but matter, how do we possibly invent the idea of spirit? And how can we assign meanings to our longings? Absent the human mind there is no such thing as meaning, only impulse; no such thing as music, only notes; no such thing as love, only sex (and we've already addressed that confusion).

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