Only the Erratic Are Free

How is it possible to know if someone has free will? If given a choice between A or B a person always chooses B, then we might think the person does not have free will because, like a machine, he or she always does the same thing in a given situation. Suppose that the person sometimes chooses A and sometimes chooses B. We might then think the person has free will, but why? Why do they sometimes choose A and other times choose B. Are their choices random? If they are not random, then are they responses to previous events? Would they always respond to those events in the same way like a machine would? Making decisions in a rational way can be done by a machine (If the temperature drops below 66°, turn the heater on. If the temperature rises above 70°, turn the heater off). It looks to me that the only way to tell if someone is exercising free will is if they behave erratically. Yet machines like the Lorenz Water Wheel can be built which behave erratically. I just don’t know.

What am I?

Brain in a jar
As I developed I increased in mass as matter was added to my body through growth. If you add matter to an object is it the same object as it was before? Clearly I was still David Morrison whether I weighed 8 pounds or 150 pounds. Does that mean David Morrison is not a physical being? If not, then what is all that muscle and bone?

All things were made by him

John 1:30 says, “All things were made by him [Jesus]; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Made is used three times in this verse and all three times it is a translation from the Greek word ginomai, according to the Linked Word Project.

Definition of ginomai

  1. to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
  2. to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
    of events
  3. to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage
    of men appearing in public
  4. to be made, finished
    of miracles, to be performed, wrought
  5. to become, be made

Is there anything that exists today that was not made by Jesus?

Get what you deserve

According to Christianity we are all sinners and we all deserve to go to Hell. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So if I do anything which saves me from eternal punishment it could only be out of pure selfishness. In order for God to be punished, the wicked must be punished. If Christianity is true, then I deserve damnation. Why should I try to avoid it?

It all depends upon the context

color illusion
On the top of the cube on the left there are four squares that appear to be blue. On the cube on the right there are seven squares that appear to be yellow. If you look very carefully you will see that the blue squares on the left and the yellow squares on the right are actually gray, the exact same shade of gray. If you still don’t believe me you may have to cover up portions of the picture to compare them without the influence of the surrounding colors. I found it helpful to use a photo editing program to cut out the squares and compare them.

This illusion was created by Beau Lotto and demonstrates how we don’t perceive the world as it is, but we interpret what we see based on the context in which we see it. We have confidence in what we perceive because it works not because it is true.

Return to free will

The following is a comment I made on the “Infant Power” post in response to Bobmo’s question “Do you suspect that humans have free will?”

I suspect that humans do not have free will, but I am open to the possibility that we do.

But here is my question. How do you go about testing humans to find out if they have free will?

I suppose the opposite of free will is determinism. In a deterministic world if you know all of the variables and rules you can work out what will happen in the future.

We don’t know all the variables and rules and we are not very good at working out what will happen in the future in a very specific way. Does that mean free will exists in this world? I don’t know.

Even mechanisms that are relatively simple can produce behavior that is hard to predict. For example, the Chaos Wheel is a simple water wheel that will spin in one direction for a while and then begin to spin in the opposite direction. As time goes by it changes direction many times and at odd intervals. Does it have a brain and does it choose it’s direction? No. But nevertheless it exhibits complex behavior.

IBM’s Watson is much more complex than the Chaos Wheel and it exhibits even more complex behavior. Watson was designed to play the quiz game Jeopardy and is quite good. Deep Blue was a computer built to beat humans at Chess and it succeeded. Deep Blue analyzed many possible chess moves and then “chose” what it “thought” to be the best move. Did Deep Blue really make choices?

Could it be that humans are highly complex machines made of organic molecules? I think it is possible. The Human Connectome Project is working on mapping all the connections in a human brain. Even after the project has mapped a brain we will still not understand everything about how the brain works. But this project will move us forward in our learning. Sebastian Seung gave a presentation at the TED conference on this subject.

With so many questions unanswered how can anyone say definitively if humans have free will. Is it possible? Yes.

I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist

“If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose to your life. If there’s a real purpose to your life, there there’s a real right and wrong way to live it. Choices you make now not only affect you here but will affect you in eternity. On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it. And it doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe — your destiny is dust.” -Frank Turek, from the foreword to “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

1. If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose to your life.

This is statement seems to say that there is *must* be purpose to your life if God exists, but Frank Turek does not address the possibility that if God exists, he might not be personally involved in your life, or anyone’s for that matter. Maybe his only involvement was as creator and you have no more purpose than any other rock or tree or animal. I don’t know what the truth is. The Bible tells of men who allegedly spoke to God but I find such stories difficult to believe.

2. On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing.

This statement makes the assumption that meaning can only come from God. How does he come to that conclusion? Meaning equals value. My life is valuable to me and it has some value to my family and friends. I take great pleasure in learning about the world and enjoying its sights, sounds, flavors and other sensations. There was a time when I believed what I was taught about God. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without God. I believe that Frank Turek and other believers are suffering from the same lack of imagination. I don’t mean to put the blame on them. I think it is perfectly natural to believe in God. The concept of God is a natural way to explain:

1. Where did we come from?
2. Who are we?
3. Why are we here?
4. How should we live?
5. Where are we going?

Turek says that the answers to these questions depend on the existence of God, but I would argue that we can find some answers (not all) even if God does not exist. We can learn who we are and where we came from through historical research. There are limits to what we can know but history books can tell us a lot (including the Bible and other ancient texts). How we should live is something that we are working out all the time. Even institutions that teach objective morality have changed their positions on what they consider to be prudent. “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?” are more difficult questions. Some people can’t bear the thought that we might never know the answers. People will always gravitate toward those who have compelling explanations to these questions. I tend to take such explanations with a grain of salt.