Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 3rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

More science against the notion of Free Will

English: A Taxonomy of Determinisms and Indete...

English: A Taxonomy of Determinisms and Indeterminisms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, I’ve been involved in several discussions related to Free Will and the such. I do not hold to Free Will or Determinism, but lean to a mixture of both. I do not believe in ultimate determinism (yet), as I believe we do have a few options when presented with a decision.

But Free Will is philosophically, logically, scientifically, and theologically impossible. One of the things that fascinates me is the transference of memory via DNA. This corporate and hereditary memory influences our actions.

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

….

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

via Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors – Telegraph.

The notion of a pre-existing influence is what drives me away from Free Will. Whether or not we ultimately assign to this influence “God,” we are influenced by something predating us. For those of us who believe in the (so-called) Big Bang, I would offer a speculation that the emerging of those atoms and energy, etc…, created a nice path to where we are now.

Anyway, I wanted to include the article for future reference and maybe some discussion.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

9 Responses to “More science against the notion of Free Will”
  1. I don’t think any free will defenders would deny that things influence us. Obviously our lives are structured by outside forces; libertarians (philosophical not political) would say that freedom exists within those bounds. The simplest libertarian claim is that free will means that the person ‘could have done otherwise’ in regards to some action, which doesn’t entail that people are completely free in regards to all things.

    • Then why call it free will? I would suggest that in most actions, we have a limited amount of options available to us and even those are but figments.

      • Oops, didn’t see you replied. “Free” in this context just means “not determined”. Even if there are only two options available, libertarians would suggest that it can still be a free choice if the agent could choose either one. Limited options are definitely compatible with ‘could have done otherwise’.

        The common concern, one that I think is very compelling, is that it’s difficult to conceive of the possibility of moral responsibility without assuming that the person ‘could have done otherwise’. If our actions are rendered certain by pre-existing conditions then I don’t see how people are responsible for actions.

        • Two issues here:

          (1) Is it possible to feel libertarian-free about decisions that were actually determined/constrained? I think “Of course that’s possible,” is the benign reply. But if that’s the reply, then it means libertarian freedom has lost its sole “evidence.” And the more we discover about our constraints — always discoveries toward “more constrained than we thought,” as it so happens — the more the evidence against it mounts.

          (2) “Could have done otherwise” does not actually entail a meaningful power in the real world. Google for “stanrock superheroes” for an article that shows why.

  2. There’s this anime movie called Macross Plus ( I think it’s this one). Have you seen these veritech or Valkyrie fighters. They turn from spacejets into robots. Like transformers, but with pilots. Robetech was a cartoon series in the ’80’s that featured them. When they fired missles, the munitions arced out in this totally random looking cloud pattern and then eventually found their mark if the target wasn’t too quick. In Macross plus, there was an onboard computer that predicted the trajectory of every random-seeming projectile and chose the path through the missles that kept the jet safe. Which I think is another way of telling the Noah story.

  3. George Plasterer says

    I have never understood “free” here as having no reasons. Paul Ricoeur on this notion said that in our pause and reflecting before we act, we are making real choices. I would suggest that the whole discussion is an abstraction, a logical puzzle, but is divorced from the real issues human beings face. In other words, “so what” if God or some other agency determined that at a particular point in my life I would join twitter and engage in some discussions with someone I had never met, and who even gave me a book in which I expressed interest? Neither you nor I knew it would happen, so for us, it was freedom, choice, and responsibility. As to the specific scientific question, though, I thought science was on the side of a certain degree of randomness in order for the universe to exist and survive. I thought, at the macro level, that science has “concluded” that the universe might not have existed at all. I put in quotes because science is always open to new data. If that is the case, then you and I might not have existed at all, let alone anything determining that I would be writing this note to you.

    • The answer it “so what” is that the degree to which our actions are owable to prior or external cofactors can affect our view of just response, that is, “How should we respond to the behavior of ourselves and others in service of the best ends?”

      For example, folks who subscribe to libertarian free will are — in my experience — more likely to apply a “deserts”-driven view of just response, and to resist explorations into institutional repair as “excuse-making.”

      Meanwhile, there’s also a “too far” application of determinism, where we don’t recognize the consequential payoffs of holding individuals responsible according to codified stewardships.

      • George Plasterer says

        My “so what” has more to do with our lack of knowledge of that someone or some thing has determined. We are still responsible for the choices we make. Of course, on the theological side of this, I am with Pannenberg here. As much as we are part of a web of relations at the personal and social level, we have the capacity to act against as well as with those relations. We still pause, reflect, and act.

      • George Plasterer says

        Yes, though, as I re-read your comment. That is the dilemma. It is dreadfully easy to place the blame or credit on the system, when, I think, we are never simply products of the system, which means, of course, that we are still responsible for our actions.

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