Choosing our religion (3): how people make choices

Thinking

I reckon most of us like to think we make good decisions about what we believe – that is, ones that are based on good evidence and good reasoning, and which lead to true beliefs. Trouble is, there are people with quite different beliefs about God, morality and politics to what you or I believe, and they think their beliefs are right.

I’ve been doing some reading about the psychology and neuroscience of choice, and while I have only dipped my toe in the ocean of information on this topic, it is clear that most of us don’t make decisions nearly as logically as we might fondly think.

Different people, different minds

It’s an obvious truism that everyone’s different. So it’s no surprise to know that we all make decisions in slightly different ways. There are many different causes of the differences.

Different people

Differences in age, character, temperament and mood can strongly influence decisions (Refs 1 & 2), for example:

  • emotions such as fear, anger or regret
  • past experience
  • bias
  • how relevant we perceive a matter to be
  • how much we wish to involve others
  • our cognitive capacity – affected by our age, memory, tiredness, skills and impairment.

Different brains

Our brains are very complex. Different, and sometimes contrary, processes in the brain can lead to different decisions. These contrary processes can be described in different ways.

  • Perhaps the most important factors are two types of thinking – system 1, or intuitive thinking, which gives us fast, unconscious and emotion driven responses, and system 2, or analytical thinking, which is slower and more deliberative (Refs 2 & 4). We’ll look at these more in a moment.
  • In the brain there is a valuation network which provides us with information on risks and rewards, and a cognitive control network which helps us maintain an overall goal (Ref 6).
  • Some parts of our brain are oriented toward survival and anger, others are more creative and compassionate (Ref 13).
  • Some people are maximisers – they try to make the optimal decision – while others are satisficers – they try to make a decision that is “good enough” (Ref 15).
  • Some people tend to choose the immediate and obvious gain, while others tend to seek the long term best outcome (Ref 15).
  • Most people are loss averse – we fear loss more than we welcome success. So we will generally make a conservative decision when considering gains, but will often take risks to avoid losses (Ref 4).

It seems that many of these are slightly different ways of saying the same thing.

Analytic and intuitive

Everyone uses a mix of analytical and intuitive thinking, with the mix varying in different circumstances, but some people are more likely to use analytical thinking and others are more likely to use intuitive thinking.

You might think that analytic thinking is the most reliable, and we should always try to use that mode of thinking to make careful, reasoned decisions, but it turns out the truth is more complex.

Analytic is good

Analytical thinking is best when we are facing a decision where we have all the information, have time to evaluate it and can work the issue through in a structured and systematic way. This is generally how science, the law, criminal investigations and historical study work.

Many people would benefit from being taught ways to better analyse information, e.g. do more formal analysis, train themselves to consider long term as well as short term outcomes, and encourage people to consider the opposite of their preferred choice (Ref 4).

Intuitive is good

But, perhaps surprisingly, intuitive thinking is more effective in some situations, and very necessary overall.

  1. Intuitive thinking is generally our first response, and many decisions are made this way. Some say all of our decisions are made intuitively and analytical thinking is only used to rationalise our intuitive decisions (Ref 11).
  2. Emotions (which form part of intuitive thinking) have been found to be required to make good decisions (Ref 7), and people who use only analytical thinking make some choices poorly (Refs 8, 14). People with impaired emotions, and thus using predominantly analytical thinking, make worse decisions in some situations where judgment is required (Ref 16).
  3. Unconscious (intuitive) thinking is better than analytical thinking for complex tasks. Apparently analytical thinking struggles if the information is complex and there is no obvious methodology for reaching a decision, and unconscious thinking uses different brain process which organise the information better (Ref 2).
  4. Intuitive thinking is often better when risks are involved, because it tends to focus on the big picture rather than get bogged down in information (Ref 4).
Heuristics

The brain uses a number of heuristics (rules of thumb or thinking shortcuts) to help make better and faster intuitive decisions. Heuristics may include (Refs 1 & 13):

  • choose the most recognisable or familiar option;
  • minimise negative emotion;
  • make the decision that is easy to justify to oneself or others;
  • retrieve the information from memory that is most readily available;
  • anchoring and adjustment: start with an intuitive ballpark estimate and adjust until it feels satisfactory;
  • reduce the likelihood of feeling regret later;
  • choose an option that allows for later adjustment;
  • evaluate just the most positive and negative aspects;
  • if it works, trust it is right.

You might think these are very non-reasonable rules of thumb, but studies show that using heuristics gives better results for less effort than trying to analyse everything (Ref 1). For example, a study of doctors in a hospital emergency department showed that younger and less experienced doctors tended to make slower analytical decisions whereas the more experienced doctors made faster intuitive decisions using heuristics (Ref 4).

Both are necessary

For optimum decision making, both intuitive and analytical thinking are necessary. “Any kind of serious complex thinking requires both analytical and intuitive thought” (Ref 2). It seems that good decision-making generally involves three steps:

  1. Initially, rapid intuitive thinking will likely reach a result using unconscious heuristics. This may be all that is required for many decisions.
  2. Reflection using analytical thinking may lead us to modify our decision, though often analytical thinking may only be used to rationalise the intuitive decision. It may take discipline to use analytical thinking to genuinely review our initial instinctive choice.
  3. Having done further review, intuitive/emotional thinking may still be required to actually make the choice rather than keep on thinking, or perhaps over-thinking.

God and choice

So how do we make choices about belief in God?

Deciding whether God exists or not is clearly a complex, multi-faceted problem which seems to lack a clear decision process. Therefore, it seems to require a significant amount of intuitive thinking. If a person has an experience of the numinous or God, this will almost certainly be assessed using intuitive thinking.

But for many people, important aspects of their decisions (e.g. philosophical argument, scientific or historical evidence) are amenable to careful analysis, so analytical thought will also be useful.

It is therefore no surprise that analytical thinkers are more likely to be atheists (Ref 14) and religious believers are more likely to be intuitive thinkers.

Reflections

I can’t help thinking that these discoveries about our thinking processes help explain why apparently reasonable people can disagree so strongly about religion (or politics or ethics).

Predominantly analytical thinkers will value their reasoning processes and often scorn intuitive thinking and personal experience. This makes them likely to be sceptical of things they can’t analyse, and to have less well-developed abilities to use intuitive thinking and heuristics to reach a choice in what is a complex matter. They may well stall and be unable or unwilling to reach a decision. Thus atheism or agnosticism may be a more attractive option for them. And yet if Jonathon Haidt is right (Ref 11), their analytical thinking is likely a post hoc rationalisation.

More intuitive thinkers may be more likely to make a decision based on emotion and experience, or to use a heuristic to cut through the complex issues and make a reasoned choice. Analytical thinking may help them work out some of the details, but may be less likely to lead them to change their choice. Theism, especially a particular religion, may be more attractive to them because it uses familiar heuristics and resolves questions for them.

Each side will find it difficult to understand the other. The atheists will tend to think the theists are irrational and the theists will tend to think atheistic thinking is truncated and simplistic.

Making a choice

If atheism is true, then it is doubtful we have the ability to change our choices, and the two sides will come their views according to their brain chemistry. But if theism is true, we are responsible for our choices and what leads up to them.

Since God’s existence remains a matter of argument, each of us would do well to be open to both intuitive and analytical thinking, to be willing to examine emotional biases and heuristics, and try to understand the opposite viewpoint better.

A personal conclusion

I think I am probably a fairly analytical person. I guess that’s why I write this blog and research topics like this. Yet against the odds, I am a christian. Some critics will argue that I too use analytical thinking to rationalise my intuitive decision – but if so, that is as true of them too!

I feel that the discoveries outlined here justify a mix of faith and reason which characterises christianity. I feel theistic belief is strengthened a little by all this, but I don’t doubt others will think differently.

References

  1. Decision Making: Factors that Influence Decision Making, Heuristics Used, and Decision Outcomes, Cindy Dietrich (PhD student in Educational Psychology).
  2. Understanding the Dynamics of Decision-Making and Choice, Bryony Beresford and Tricia Sloper (Social Policy Research Unit, University of York).
  3. How Does Our Brain Make Decisions?, Dr. Jon Warner, PhD (in Organizational Psychology).
  4. The Mechanics of Choice, Association for Psychological Science.
  5. How, and when, to make a decision, Bill Ridgers, journalist.
  6. Making Choices: How Your Brain Decides, Maia Szalavitz (neuroscience journalist).
  7. Decisions Are Emotional, not Logical: The Neuroscience behind Decision Making, Jim Camp.
  8. Thinking too much: introspection can reduce the quality of preferences and decisions, TD Wilson, JW Schooler, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia.
  9. How Intuition and the Imagination Fuel “Rational” Scientific Discovery and Creativity: A 1957 Guide, Maria Popova.
  10. Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief, Will M. Gervais and Ara Norenzayan and Religion and Reason, R. Douglas Fields, PhD, Chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  11. Jonathan Haidt on Moral Psychology interview on Social Science Bites; Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of religion, Jonathon Haidt, and Social intuitionism in Wikipedia.
  12. The Biology of Belief, Jeffrey Kluger in Time.
  13. Why Your Brain Needs God, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg on the Brain and Faith and Faith Beyond the Frontal Lobes, Michael Gerson, and Andrew Newberg, Professor and Director of Research Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine.
  14. Analytical thinking vs. religion, Connor Wood (PhD student in the science of religion).
  15. Decision-making, Wikipedia.
  16. Neural substrates of decision making as measured with the Iowa Gambling Task in men with alexithymia, M Kano, M Ito, S Fukudo, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine.

Picture: Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc.

40 Comments

  1. As unklE acknowledges, there is great oversimplification in this bifurcation of analysis and intuition, yet also a grain of truth. A similar either/or schema might be those who see the glass half full as opposed to half empty.

    I wonder whether anyone, though, ever reasoned their way into believing that God became a man, what Paul called a scandal to Jews and folly to Greeks.

    Kierkegaard, developing this thought a bit further, said that the “scandal and folly” of the gospel was two-fold: first, that the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God would become MAN in any meaningful sense that we could assert, much less understand.

    Second, that even if He did somehow become man, He would choose to become THIS MAN, an obscure Galilean peasant preacher crucified, like one would swat a fly, in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire.

    Of course, Kierkegaard, who while being the father of existentialist philosophy was also a devout Christian, affirmed both of these propositions, yet he had to admit that, as far as reason went, they were absurd.

    Faith, as he saw it, inherently involved this sacrifice of human reason when it came to the workings of salvation. Yet Kierkegaard was arguably the most prolific author in human history when it came to producing one work after another of stunning intellectual genius, even Hegel’s superior in the dialectics of reason.

    The whole thing makes one’s mind swim, as Kierkegaard would say, “over seventy thousand fathoms.” Maybe that’s why Jesus told us to become like little children when it comes to matters of faith. But even that is dialectical, because he also told us to be both innocent as a dove and as wise as a serpent.

    Has this post of mine gone anywhere? Probably not. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in that as well.

  2. Hi Newton, I think at least a grain! 🙂

    But while I agree that God becoming a man is beyond our full understanding, I don’t believe it is devoid of reason or beyond any understanding. I think there is good evidence, there are good reasons, why we can and should believe that actually occurred.

    As you say (and Jesus said before you), it’s serpents AND doves.

  3. I’m not sure about the analytics-atheism and intuition-theism relation. I bet they correlate, but couldn’t cultural factors play a large role in that? We have had several centuries worth of “atheism = clear thinking, religion = emotion/superstition” rhetoric. That must have been quite some priming. Maybe analytical thinkers self-select towards atheism because of that cultural framing, like some sort of transgenerational peer pressure?

    Also, many academic disciplines require quite much heuristics, while several theistic arguments depend on analytical appeals to consistency and coherence. I remain in the not convinced camp.

  4. I think in many of these things, there is a statistically significant correlation, but there is still a wide variation. I don’t think the religious=intuitive, irreligious=analytic is the most important aspect of this stuff, but I do think, contrary to what some atheists might think, that it shows atheistic thinking as possibly truncated and less effective because of a downplaying of the intuitive. But again, that is just a broad generalisation.

  5. Hi Eric,

    I am curious to know more about the very first sentence: “I reckon most of us like to think we make good decisions about what we believe” because from the other posts on that same topic I thought you said that we don’t really choose our beliefs, only how we act based on them. But that would contradict that sentence… and I don’t see any part clarifying that aspect so I am wondering what you really think about that.

    Cheers

  6. Hi Hugo, no I don’t think I said that. In (1) I reviewed determinism vs free will and said that if God exists we could have free will, which is what I believe. In (2) I said that if we can’t choose what we believe, we can choose assumptions, what we read, etc, which lead up to and determine what we believe, which amounts to the same thing.

    But even if I believed the opposite, I think most of us think we make decisions.

  7. Hi,

    Right I didn’t mean making decisions, I meant literally choosing what we believe, or not, and as you just said we don’t. But then you equate the 2, I wonder why? Plus the same goes for freewill, I have been convinced quite recently that we do not have ‘actual’ freewill, but we still make decisions. It’s not all black or white. I’ll share a link to what convinced me shortly…

    Cheers

  8. I think we do choose our beliefs. Sometimes we do that directly – this usually happens when the issue isn’t clear and we make a choice among uncertain options. Other times I think we can’t directly choose, because the evidence makes any other “choice” impossible (e.g. try believing London is in China). But some of these times we effectively make our choice by the decisions we make about assumption, what we read, who we believe, etc. A parallel is jumping off a building. We can’t choose not to die at the bottom, but we effectively chose to die by setting in motion a sequence of events that we could’t stop.

  9. Hum… well I still don’t see how this makes us choose what we “believe”, and I put the word ‘believe’ between quotes because that’s the key here. Belief is not something we can choose, as your examples clearly explain. In other words, I don’t think that “choosing indirectly by influencing the information we get” is the same as “choosing what to believe”.
    – We cannot believe London is in China when we know it’s not.
    – We cannot believe that falling off a building will not make us die.
    – We choose to die, if we choose to jump, but the beliefs about what will happen remain unchanged.
    So I am still confused as to whether you really think we choose what we believe, or merely choose how we act based on our beliefs. The 2 are very different, and I wonder how one could support the idea that we literally choose what we believe.
    And of course, that is not to be confused with the idea that people choose to believe in the sense that they pick a religion, for example, or choose the outcome of a random event as being the most likely, etc… these are quite different situations as well, no?

    Ah and here’s the link to a talk by Sam Harris, on freewill.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g
    It’s quite long (1 hour) but I would like to have your opinion on it, if you get a chance to watch it. It was very interesting to listen to it with my wife and a friend on a long car ride (since there is nothing really to look at, we just listened to it…) as they are both believers and were quite impressed by the new ideas coming out of that talk. That did not change anyone’s mind of course, but it’s still fun 😉

  10. Hi Hugo, I’m not sure if you have read all three posts in this little series, but they would probably explain more than I can here.

    1. I believe we have freewill, but that isn’t highly relevant to this present discussion. Even if we don’t have freewill, we still make choices, even if they are not freely chosen.

    2. “Beliefs” means all that we think, from “I believe in God” to “I can feel my little toe” to “I think I will vote for party A because on balance I think they will be best for the country”.

    3. There are of course some beliefs that we can’t choose sensibly (because the facts are so clear), though even then we may be able to exercise willpower to make ourselves believe something. That’s what some atheists say christians do (and possibly what some christians say atheists do). But that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t choose other beliefs where the facts require judgment. And I am saying that if we choose all the steps leading up to a choice and the choice is then automatic (if that is the case) then we have still effectively chosen.

    I hope that explains what I think.

  11. Hi Eric,

    Yes this is precisely what I was talking about: you equate literal choice with indirect choice, and I wonder why…

    You say that some beliefs cannot be chosen because of the facts we know about, so we don’t make literal beliefs choices. And you say that some beliefs can be chosen, indirectly, because we choose which facts to pursue, indirect choice. Correct representation? But the later still implies that we do ‘not’ choose what we believe per se, but only choose the road we are on, which leads to some beliefs we cannot escape. Therefore, don’t you see the inconsistency when you instead conclude that, yes, we still do choose our beliefs?

    Cheers

  12. No, no Hugo, you still don’t have it (i.e. what I think), I’m sorry. You have listed two options whereas I listed three, perhaps four:

    1. No real choice because involuntary.
    2. No choice at the end but choices to get to that point.
    3. Genuine choice because there isn’t a clear compelling answer.
    4. Even if choice is obvious, we may choose to refuse to accept it, and choose to believe something else. Not sure if this is a separate option, but I think maybe.

  13. That’s interesting! because it gives more examples but still fall under either direct choice in beliefs or indirect choice in belief, and I think none of the 4 options yield an actual direct choice.
    1. Involuntary so it’s obvious
    2. Indirect choice so it’s obvious
    3. Less obvious, since you say there isn’t a clear answer. But then why label this as genuine choice? You cannot make yourself believe there is a clear answer if you think there is none, so you still don’t choose what to believe, you can at best express why you think a certain thing is more likely true than not.
    4. This one expresses quite well why we don’t choose actually, since I agree that even when presented with some facts, our beliefs may not change, but is it a choice? That’s where I am not sure and actually it sounds like it’s not a choice since we cannot do some sort of back and forth on purpose. So I wonder why you conclude that yes, we definitely do choose?

  14. Hi,

    Now you are the one who did not read correctly I am afraid… Because I was not telling you what I think you are thinking, I did not ask you to clarify if I got it right (unlike the comment before that). You were clear on the fact that you think we choose our beliefs. That’s what I wanted you to clarify; thank you for that.

    So now, my response to you now is/was: no, you are wrong, because the examples you gave still all point to us ‘not’ choosing what we believe, but rather choosing to act based on our beliefs. We may willingly get more information which lead to beliefs change, but even if we agree that we are the cause of these changes, we still do not get to decide when we believe something. Saying that we ‘choose indirectly’ is still ‘not choosing’. Does that make sense? Not that you will agree, but I just thought it was interesting to compare our positions; now it’s your turn to understand mine, perhaps…

  15. OK, sorry if I misunderstood. You seemed to be explaining what my #3 meant. But if you are saying you disagree, then that’s fine. Does that mean you think we can’t choose any conclusions we come to (which is what beliefs are as far as I understand)? If not, then which ones do you think we can and can’t choose?

  16. I don’t think we choose any beliefs nor conclusions. We arrive at conclusions based on some actions we do, and this makes us believe. That’s it! 🙂

  17. I assumed that was the case, but I wanted to be sure. Thanks. Perhaps that’s one reason why I’m a believer and you are not?

  18. Interesting question. I don’t think so though, because it’s the other way around I would say. It makes more sense to say that it’s because you are a believer that you accept that we have actual freewill, and that we literally choose what we believe; it’s an intrinsic part of Christianity. But non-believers can either believe we choose our beliefs, or not, without any other implications. Plus, personally, I came to the realization that we clearly don’t have actual freewill only quite recently, while I have not believe in God for at least 12 years, if not more…

  19. Yes, I’m inclined to think the causation is circular and goes both ways (to mix metaphors a little). As a believer, I don’t have to think we can choose our beliefs – I could be a Calvinist or the like. And since I believe we are responsible for the choices that lead to our beliefs, I have no problems if the final point of believing is involuntary. I just happen to think it sometimes is and sometimes isn’t.

    And I can see that an unbeliever like you could also go either way on whether we can choose our beliefs or not, but I think if I thought I couldn’t choose my beliefs I would be more likely to be agnostic or follow naturalism as the more “scientific” approach. I think free will is the one thing that cannot go either way – if naturalism is true (and thus there is no God) then we cannot have free will because there is nothing but natural processes in our brain and no “we” outside those processes and hence no way we can change those processes. I think it is the logical outcome of atheism, even though it took you many years to come to that view (and likewise took me a long to to come to that understanding).

    Not sure what all that “proves”, but it is interesting. Thanks.

  20. Hi! The Calvinist example is interesting. I understand they believe that we are pre-determined to be saved or not, but does that really imply we don’t get to choose at all?

    It’s also a good point that it goes both ways. The more I think about it, there can certainly be theists who think that we literally have freewill, but also some who think we don’t, though less likely. And vice versa with Atheists, where some reject pretty much only the idea of gods, but still believe in things like souls, afterlife, ghosts, supernatural creation, etc… so these Atheists would most likely also believe we do have freewill in the religious sense. But I do agree with you that it’s not both ways regarding ‘Naturalism’, which is stricter than just ‘Atheism’. Wait, so I don’t really agree since you said ‘Atheism’ leads to ‘Naturalism’ but it’s not necessarily the case, as a non-natural world does not require a god, it could simply be something else allowing for immaterial souls with freewill to exist, for instance. And I don’t see what being an agnostic has to do with any of this since I am agnostic too; not being to pretend I ‘know’ whether any god exist or not. It always get mixed up with Atheism…

    However, there is still a distinction to make here, and you clearly expressed where we see it just a bit differently when you said:
    “since I believe we are responsible for the choices that lead to our beliefs, I have no problems if the final point of believing is involuntary. I just happen to think it sometimes is and sometimes isn’t.”
    Because I would say:
    ‘regardless of whether we are responsible for the choices that lead to our beliefs, the final point of believing is involuntary. I happen to think we are always responsible for the choices, but never for the beliefs themselves’

    Oh well that was kind of all over the place 😉 And in any case, I also wonder if it proves anything, probably not… it’s just an interesting philosophical topic to discuss, with literally no bearing on anything we do in life since, in the end, whether we literally have freewill or not, and whether we really are able to choose beliefs or not, we are for sure responsible of our actions and are able to make conscious decisions at every instant of our lives. Which is what Sam Harris explains is in talk by the way; which I am suppose you did not watch yet?

  21. I was probably a little unfair on Calvinists. I think most would say we had real choice, but constrained by not being able to choose the good, or God – only a few (I think) would say no real choice at all.

    I didn’t say atheism implies naturalism (which I agree with you is likely but not certain), but rather naturalism implies atheism.

    I didn’t watch the Sam Harris video. I rarely watch videos pasted online, I don’t like to commit to that much time unless I really want to watch it. But I have read some of his stuff on the brain, and I think he is an unusual mix – atheist, probably naturalist but probably not physicalist if I have understood him rightly.

  22. Hi

    Makes sense regarding watching long videos, but that 1 suggestion I gave you is really worth it… And I don’t think it matters what Sam’s views are on other topics; this talk is just about freewill.

    I am wondering something though btw. You said he is ‘probably naturalist but probably not physicalist’, but I have always seen these 2 words as literal synonyms, so what do they mean to you?

  23. I think a naturalist believes only in the natural world, no “supernatural”, but may believe that the mental is real, whereas a physicalist believes only the physical exists, and the apparent mental is really physical, perhaps an emergent property of the physical.

    A physicalist has difficulty explaining consciousness, but a naturalist may believe the mental is natural and can explain it. Philosophers Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers, and neuroscientist Mario Beauregard appear to be in the latter category. And I think Harris may be too.

  24. Hello again,

    I still don’t see the difference; it’s not more/less difficult for a physicalist or a natrualist to explain consciousness without relying on non-physical or supernatural stuff, which actually explain nothing at all… God certainly does not explain consciousness, supernatural miracles don’t either, only a physical understanding of how the brain works currently tells us something, with limitation. But even within the limits, we know a lot!

    The mental is “real” only to those who can think, who have a brain. What we can think of either points to something real, natural/physical, or not. If it doesn’t, it’s a purely mental concept, but in the end, even the “purest” of mental concept requires the natural/physical to make any sense to the processor of these mental states: human brains, physical/natural brains.

    As a human, you cannot even literally think of something non-physical; you can only think of something physical and then say that this other thing is not what that physical thing is, but you cannot say what the non-physical thing actually ‘is’, because non-physical things are not things that we can determine exists, or not.

    So what’s “easier” to explain if one accepts that the non-physical literal exists independent of the physical?

  25. Well there must be a difference, otherwise why have two words? A non-physicalist naturalist believes some things are natural but not physical, and physicalist believes all natural things are physical.

    God doesn’t explain how consciousness works in the brain, but does explain how it can exist, which physicalism can’t. So it depends on the question you are asking.

    The rest of what you say is standard physicalism, I think, and I don’t believe it. I think your argument is like saying because you can’t have trouble describing something in physical terms it can’t exist or be true. Tell that to a mathematician or a quantum physicist! It is logic that says it can exist, you just asses it differently.

  26. Wait a minute, you just said a physicalist has difficulty explaining consciousness, but now it’s not that it’s difficult, you just dont believe the explanations?

    You also said “I think your argument is like saying because you can’t have trouble describing something in physical terms it can’t exist or be true.” This makes absolutely no sense, and of course that’s thus not what I think.

    What I was explaining indirectly is the basis of my ontology, what I consider existence to be. It starts with the physical. Then we get the mental. I reject the primacy of consciousness. Why do you accept it?

    Quantum mechanics and mathematics describe the physical world. What’s the problem? I don’t get your question sorry.

  27. Physicalism can describe (to some degree) what goes on in the brain when we are conscious, but it can’t explain what consciousness is and how we got it. Here’s what I think is true

    I don’t know what the primacy of consciousness means to you so I can’t answer that question. But I accept that our experience of being conscious is real.

    My other comments were just responding to your statements about the non-physical.

  28. Hello,

    So it seems that a recurring theme here is exactly what you just said above “Physicalism can describe (to some degree) what goes on in the brain when we are conscious, but it can’t explain what consciousness is and how we got it.” which essentially means the same as “because we cannot describe everything physically ==> magic!” I know it sounds insulting, sorry… but that is literally what it means. Of course, you can find people who agree with you, do some arm-chair philosophy and come up with rationalization as to why it makes sense to you to have some ‘magic’ behind consciousness instead of pure natural physics… This makes it look more legit but it’s still inferring ‘magic’, and it does not make it true.

    Moreover, it certainly does not explain anything at all. Which is the great irony here, because you basically pretend that ‘magic’ better explains how we are conscious, when it really does not explain anything… but what do I mean by ‘magic’ exactly? Well, that’s the trick here, to try to prove my point, because I have a simple question: if it’s not ‘magic’ that gives us consciousness, and it’s not purely physical processes, then how would you describe it? What is it? Not what it’s not… i.e. what ‘magic’ makes that statement true: ” If we believe the physical is all there is, the problem is harder.” what makes the problem easier?

    And by the way, I mentioned the Primacy of Consciousness to you before; a quick search in my emails confirmed that it came up a couple of times already… so you ignore the most important concept I am putting forward regarding consciousness, and just ignored the 1 thing I would like you to watch regarding freewill… I guess you really want to convince me that we do indeed choose our beliefs, because clearly you chose to ignore very specific things to maintain yours 😉

  29. Hi Hugo, I don’t feel insulted, but I do feel you have used emotive language, which makes what you say ineffectual to me.

    Magic is a word with quite a clear meaning, and when people apply it to Jesus’ miracles, or to God’s creation or to anything non-physical, then I think they have lost a lot of credibility. I think it’s a silly and pointless word to use. So let’s move past it and look at the substance of what you say.

    The most primary experience we have is of ourselves, our feelings, our pain, who we love, what we see and hear, etc. We only know anything about the external world by using our 5 senses, so our brains/minds filter everything we know. That is the fundamental starting point for any thinking about humanity and God.

    Science can do very little to help us at the most fundamental part of this. If I see yellow, science can verify the wavelength of the light, but it cannot say what yellow looks like to me. If I am in love, it can measure my heartbeat and my hormone levels, but it cannot know how it feels. It can describe which parts of my brain are most active when I am writing this blog, but it cannot say what it is like to be me.

    Science measures the physical (and chemical, biological, etc) and doesn’t pretend to measure what it is like to be me, so it limits itself. It too is subjective because it is only known through the senses, which are subjective to a degree. We can’t even prove the external world is really there, because we can only observe it subjectively. We get around all that by repeatability. If I think I see a dial measuring 43, and so do you and three other people present, there probably really is a dial there with that measurement.

    So each of us has a fundamental question we need to answer. When science and internal human experience seem to give different answers, which one will we accept? Obviously it all depends. If I feel well but my doctor tells me I have cancer, I’d best believe him and do something about it, because I know that my feelings and his scan can both be true.

    But when it comes to consciousness and free will, almost everyone I’ve read on the subject agrees that it feels like we have free will and that each of us exists as a separate conscious responsible choosing human being, and we can’t live as if that’s not true. If you disagree here, I’d be interested to know.

    But science, limited as it is to the physical, is forced to try to understand all this in physical terms. But because (I believe) it all cannot be explained in physical terms, science tends to be forced to be reductionist, and deny there is free will, consciousness is just the movement of atoms in the brain, etc, and thus deny what we all experience and deny our humanity.

    Now the scientific assumption of naturalism cannot be demonstrated. It is an assumption. For the objective world, it seems to work well enough, but for that part of the universe we now subjectively, ourselves, it doesn’t work well at all. At its worst, it justifies treating humans inhumanely because we have been reduced to robots made of meat.

    In the same way that we accept our measurements of an unprovable external world because of its repeatability, I think we can accept our experience of ourselves – because we all apparently have this same experience of consciousness, self and choice. So I think that is a better and more justified assumption than naturalism when considering humanity.

    So there is no “magic” here, there is universal human experience, and there is reductionist science based on unproven assumption, and they oppose each other. I go with humanity. I accept science for what it CAN show – how our brains work, etc – but I also accept human experience for what it DOES show – consciousness, etc.

    I’m sorry if I haven’t understood something you have been saying. Please say it again and I will see if I understand it or not.

    Finally, none of this necessarily says anything about God. There could be a God and we could all be physical meat robots. There could be no God and we could all be dualistic hybrid mental-physical beings. But the most common views, and the easiest to argue, are that God goes with dualism and atheism goes with naturalism. But that is a separate argument.

    I think this is so important that I’ll turn it into a blog post soon. Thanks.

  30. Hi, I will go in reverse…
    I think this is so important that I’ll turn it into a blog post soon. Thanks.
    There was a lot yes so it will be an interesting post, and I will thus not reply to everything here just now, because I don’t have the time and energy honestly, but also because it will come back anyway so I will be patient 🙂

    You said:
    But when it comes to consciousness and free will, almost everyone I’ve read on the subject agrees that it feels like we have free will and that each of us exists as a separate conscious responsible choosing human being, and we can’t live as if that’s not true. If you disagree here, I’d be interested to know.
    I already said, regarding freewill: it’s just an interesting philosophical topic to discuss, with literally no bearing on anything we do in life since, in the end, whether we literally have freewill or not, and whether we really are able to choose beliefs or not, we are for sure responsible of our actions and are able to make conscious decisions at every instant of our lives.

    You said:
    The most primary experience we have is of ourselves, our feelings, our pain, who we love, what we see and hear, etc. We only know anything about the external world by using our 5 senses, so our brains/minds filter everything we know. That is the fundamental starting point for…
    for knowledge! And nothing else. See that’s the problem, because existence and knowledge don’t have to start on the same basis. Actually, I would argue that they ‘have’ to start at different place to make complete sense, and that’s why your belief in the Primacy of Consciousness makes you write all sort of fuzzy things regarding existence, because you mix existence with what you, or anyone, can know.

    Btw, when I say ‘you’ it’s obvious not just you, and that makes things much much tougher for me because you will always fall back to all these big names throughout history who made the same mistakes… Descarte being my favorite; his ‘I think therefore I am’ should have been ‘I am therefore I think’. It’s because we ‘exist’ as a human body that we can ‘think’ and ‘know’ stuff. And because we know a lot, we now understand that an ontology based on reality makes the most sense. If not, we get absurdities like this, when you said:
    We can’t even prove the external world is really there, because we can only observe it subjectively
    This is absurd… and only makes sense under solipsism and the primacy of consciousness. But if you were to simply start with the external world as an objective base reality, in which things either exist, or not, then you would not have any doubt about the external world really being there, since that’s the starting point. From within that external world, you can justify your own existence because of the fact that you have a body and are able to act consciously. Everything, literally everything, makes sense under that ontology. Let me give just 1 example…

    You said:
    If I see yellow, science can verify the wavelength of the light, but it cannot say what yellow looks like to me.
    So what exists here? The yellow light, hitting your eyes, triggering your brain. Can external observers know what your subjective experience is? No, as you said. But does that make it somehow purely mental? No. It’s started with the physical light and triggered your mental reaction. Without the actual ‘yellow’ you could not experience your own ‘mental yellow’, whatever it is. But that’s not all; can that ‘mental yellow’ be anything? No, because it’s limited to the way the brain and the eye work.

    === side notes ===
    On a different topic, more of a side note I would say so I’ll keep that separate… you said:
    Magic is a word with quite a clear meaning, and when people apply it to Jesus’ miracles, or to God’s creation or to anything non-physical, then I think they have lost a lot of credibility. I think it’s a silly and pointless word to use. So let’s move past it and look at the substance of what you say.
    I think it’s a nice cope-out that modern Christians like you utilize. Of course I know what the difference is, no need to insult my intelligence like you just did. But you are completely missing the point and I am not surprise you do so because, again, it’s a cope-out. The ‘miracles’, the ‘creation of the universe’ and other supernatural phenomena that supposedly really happened, are nothing more than what our ancestors were referring to as ‘magic’, except that you consider that they really happen, are seriously done by supernaturaly forces, and unlike today’s magic trick, they are not intended to create an illusion, but really affected reality in unexplainable ways. But that’s the problem here: can you explain ‘how’ any of these things work? No, of course… so that’s why it is literally just like ‘old magic’, not magic tricks, but the stuff people used to believe in only a few centuries ago, and a lot still believe today. People really do believe that some tricks are really magical, and that’s exactly what miracles are, and were. The only way you can argue against this is if there is a mechanism, something you can explain, about how ‘non magic’ differs from ‘magic’ (and again, nothing to do with today’s illusionists).

    Finally, you also mentioned that I used ’emotional’ words, and I find that strange. As I am merely trying to remain friendly and polite, as I know you are very sensitive about the tone we use, and I appreciate that. But also, let’s not forget who is the more emotional person here, regarding that topic… you are the one who has a blog dedicated to his religion, or at least the God part, you are the one who is invested in all this, who goes to church, and who essentially has something to lose. I don’t. This is purely for my entertainment because I really enjoy these topics, but it has nothing to do with how I live my life and, as I have mentioned many times before, I even live with someone who believes in God, so clearly it’s no big deal for me. But could you say that about Christianity? What if you suddenly realize that it’s all fabricated wishful thinking? Some things would change of course… a lot more than if I suddenly realize that it’s more likely a god exists than not…

    Cheers!

  31. Hi Hugo,

    “This is purely for my entertainment because I really enjoy these topics”

    I’m glad you said this, because it raises an important point for me. This is what I had assumed was your motivation, and as you stated, it is more than an entertainment for me. I wonder what you find entertaining?

    I am not really interested in spending time being your entertainment, I have more important things to do. But I recognise that when I write a blog I invite people to respond, and courtesy says that I should reply to comments where I can. It is enjoyable getting to know new people and what they believe, but there comes a point where discussion becomes argument or continual re-statement of beliefs which hardly connect. Unless we change something, that is where we are at.

    I hope you realise that this difference is why I sometimes give shorthand answers that don’t express fully what I think, and then you get upset or react or misunderstand and things go pear-shaped. It is because I don’t think you are always really serious about this stuff, just enjoying stirring me up a little. So please understand that.

    “it’s just an interesting philosophical topic to discuss, with literally no bearing on anything we do in life since, in the end, whether we literally have freewill or not, and whether we really are able to choose beliefs or not, we are for sure responsible of our actions and are able to make conscious decisions at every instant of our lives.”

    Here we disagree strongly. I think it does have a strong bearing on our lives, for two reasons.

    1. It affects ethics, law and criminology. It is easy to find neuroscientists who want western societies to change how they see ethics, law and criminology to suit a determinist view. And in fact, I think our society values are already changing. It isn’t at all clear that if we accept determinism that we are responsible for our actions – being affected by coercion or illness is already cause for diminished responsibility in law in some situations.

    2. Our inability to think of ourselves as not having free choice and consciousness not being real, are pointers to there being more in life than the material. Trying to ignore these pointers is one of the goals of those who don’t wish there to be a God. But God is still there offering opportunities to see his trace in us, if we would only face the reality. I know you don’t see it that way, but I do.

    “your belief in the Primacy of Consciousness”

    I said before, I don’t understand what you mean by this. Do you mean I believe God came first, and then the universe? If so, then of course! But obviously if God exists he came first by definition.

    So yes, existence and knowledge don’t, definitely DON’T for us, start at the same place. But I was talking about our knowledge and how we decide about existence. We start from ourselves and work outwards in our understanding. We did it as babies, and the first things we discovered (more or less) were our parents, who obviously came before us. It is just the same with God.

    “This is absurd… and only makes sense under solipsism and the primacy of consciousness. But if you were to simply start with the external world as an objective base reality, in which things either exist, or not, then you would not have any doubt about the external world really being there, since that’s the starting point.”

    I’m sorry Hugo, but this doesn’t make any sense to me, and I think it doesn’t make any sense objectively. Your statement here says if we assume the external world (that’s what “start with” means) then we end up with the external world (“you would not have any doubt about the external world really being there”). That is just circular. But the reality is we can’t start with the external world, we can only start with our experience of the external world. We infer the external world, and it is an obvious inference. I think it is a similar inference that we infer God, quantitatively different but qualitatively similar. And I think while you don’t see the similarity and therefore at least the possibility of it being a valid inference, we will only have fruitless discussion.

    “But does that make it somehow purely mental? No. It’s started with the physical light and triggered your mental reaction. Without the actual ‘yellow’ you could not experience your own ‘mental yellow’”

    I think this time you are confusing ontology with epistemology. Yes, the light caused my perception of the light, but I only know the light because I perceive it with my senses and my brain/mind. And my point was that science can only measure the light, not my experience of the light. And that doesn’t matter if we are discussing the physics of light, but it matters heaps if we are discussing consciousness – which we were. And this discussion of light is a diversion from my point that science can only assume naturalism and hence assume its views on consciousness and free will, and universal human experience trumps an assumption.

    “The ‘miracles’, the ‘creation of the universe’ and other supernatural phenomena that supposedly really happened, are nothing more than what our ancestors were referring to as ‘magic’, except that you consider that they really happen, are seriously done by supernaturaly forces, and unlike today’s magic trick, they are not intended to create an illusion, but really affected reality in unexplainable ways. But that’s the problem here: can you explain ‘how’ any of these things work?”

    I think the use of the word “magic” is generally meant to be derogatory, and unworthy of this discussion. I could just as easily say your view (I presume) of a universe that appears for no apparent reason, no apparent cause, is “magic” too, but equally it would say nothing new and prove nothing so why say it?

    There is more than one type of explanation – every question begs an explanation – and the type of explanation depends on the question we are asking. If we are asking how (i.e. by what physical processes) the world began or consciousness arose, that demands a scientific answer. But we weren’t asking that, or at least I wasn’t, even though it would be interesting. This site is about the question “Is there a God?”, so the question we are asking is does the universe, does consciousness, tell us anything about that question. And it does, because God provides a cause, a fact that can be demonstrated in a valid logical argument, and without God it is hard to find a cause. But “magic” doesn’t answer that question.

    “you also mentioned that I used ‘emotional’ words”

    Actually, I said “emotive” which is a little different. What I meant was that words like “magic”, “armchair philosophy”, “rationalisation” and “legit” sound like they mean a lot, but I don’t think mean much at all, and so they are more emotive than reasonable.

    So where do you want to take this discussion now?

  32. Hi Eric,

    First, a very interesting question: you stated, it is more than an entertainment for me. I wonder what you find entertaining?

    When I say entertainment, the most basic thing relates to me having a good time reading, watching, writing and discussing ‘with’ people about philosophy, science and religion. I am not entertained ‘by’ people when I discuss with them, including you of course. It’s entertaining in the same way I like to chat with friends about things, anything. I do actually end up having discussions about the exact same topics with friends sometimes. And even though it’s not often, it happened several times with a variety of people from different countries and religions. However, none of these people were fundamentalists. This is where the internet fills a gap.

    Now, before I continue, let me explicitly state I do ‘not’ consider you, Eric, to be a fundamentalist. You are very open minded and accept modern science, unlike the fundamentalists I am referring to. From my perspective, you fall squarely in the larger, and majoritarian, moderate intelligent modern Christian family.

    It is because I don’t think you are always really serious about this stuff, just enjoying stirring me up a little. So please understand that.

    Well, the feeling is reciprocal sometimes. And now, I was going to give examples… but it’s not needed. I understand what you mean, but I hope you understand that, even if there’s nothing particularly bad of course, I did already tell you that your style and your ideas can be frustrating too…

    Now, yes, it’s both serious and not serious at the same time. But the problem is that we don’t find the same things serious. So, let’s see what we actually agree on, what we both think is serious, and then you’ll see why you get the impression I am.

    I think it does have a strong bearing on our lives, for two reasons.
    1. It affects ethics, law and criminology.

    Of course, each topic is very important, and our beliefs and values influence how we proceed with each. And yes, understanding how the brain works also has an impact on how we deal with ethics. But it has very little to do with how we see what is moral/ethical in general. Our cultural context, location, age, family, and many other factors, and way more impact on how we see things than determinism or not.

    Let me put it this way; whether you want to admit it or not, you and I have more similar views, including morality, than most of the Christians of the 19th century and before. I am 100% that we could discuss ethical issues for hours and find it hard to find 1 example where we strongly disagree. Most of the time we would agree completely, and sometimes we would not be sure. So how can we see determinism, freewill and God so differently?

    Moreover, if society is changing is based on what we learn. It may not always be applied properly at first but it’s very cynical to think that it necessarily gets worse. Just think of how much better we understand epilepsy now; when it was seen as demonic possession not that long ago. Or mental illnesses, which we can treat with medicine and therapy. These all have to do with treating the brain the best we can. Decades ago, someone could have argued that by trying to appeal epilepsy with medecine, we are letting a demon win and are risking losing the fight against the forces of evil, lowering our guard, or something like that… Sounds crazy today, but it’s the same principle of trying to understand how things work instead of sticking to supernatural beliefs that give an explanation.

    2. Our inability to think of ourselves as not having free choice and consciousness not being real, are pointers to there being more in life than the material. Trying to ignore these pointers is one of the goals of those who don’t wish there to be a God. But God is still there offering opportunities to see his trace in us, if we would only face the reality. I know you don’t see it that way, but I do.

    To me this paragraph shows a fear of realizing that we are nothing more than biological machines. This is serious, because it does make you choose certain paths to confirm your existing beliefs, and avoid ideas which are, on the surface, too absurd to even contemplate. As they would lead you to the conclusion you are ‘just a meat machine’. The problem is that we lose absolutely nothing when we realize that we are only material. Our ability to think is not diminished, it’s actually enhanced and clearer, our choices are not suddenly removed, they actually expand. But more importantly, it completely removes the wish that there be no God, as this wish is irrelevant. The opposite is actually true: it would be nice if there were a God, if there was something grand we could communicate with and who would cause us to have eternal life. It’s just not the reality we live in. I know you don’t see it that way, but I do. 😉

    I said before, I don’t understand what you mean by this. Do you mean I believe God came first, and then the universe? If so, then of course! But obviously if God exists he came first by definition.

    No, that’s not what it means, but it does lead you directly to the God belief; actually it leads you to the possibility that God exists, and then in turn you can believe. I don’t even know if it’s possible for God to exists by many definitions… What it does mean, the Primacy of Consciousness, is that you accept the notion that non-material existence exists, regardless of the material existing or not. And that non-material existence is identical to the mental, our consciousness; hence the Primacy of Consciousness.

    My view is that the material exists, regardless of the non-material existing, or not. It does not deny the fact that my most basic instincts tell me that “I” exist, the person who does the thinking, the person who somehow manages to make his fingers move on a keyboard without really thinking about how to do it. That, that thing, is the real hard problem of consciousness. We have no idea, at all, about how we can think about doing something and somehow make our entire body move in the exact position it needs to be to accomplish the task. No clue. But I digress… So what does this mean compared to the Primacy of Consciousness? The difference lies in what we believe ‘exists’, or not, our ontology I call it, even though I am no philosopher so perhaps not the best choice of word… But the point is that we can lay down a foundation for what we consider to be the most basic piece of reality, an objective reality, and I view this as being the physical world. Not my mind. My mind is “proven” to exist by the fact that I have a body that exists, objectively, in this reality. Others who share similar properties, have a mind, can attest to the fact that I exist as a conscious human being. Let’s continue:

    So yes, existence and knowledge don’t, definitely DON’T for us, start at the same place.

    Not true. Knowledge does start at the same place, because knowledge requires a mind. But existence is defined differently for us, as I think you commit an error by labelling both knowledge and existence as:
    But I was talking about our knowledge and how we decide about existence. We start from ourselves and work outwards in our understanding. We did it as babies, and the first things we discovered (more or less) were our parents, who obviously came before us. It is just the same with God.
    …because here the problem is clear. Existence and knowledge are both from within. But I think this leads to a flawed view of reality, as there is a real world, “more real” in a sense, that’s inside our head. This flips things around, as if the experience of yellow light was as real as the yellow light itself. But without the yellow light, there would be no yellow light experience. On the Primacy of Consciousness though, the experience of yellow light can exist, somehow on its own, and then the real world makes us experience that yellow light, and we can then know that it exists outside of our minds too.

    Your statement here says if we assume the external world (that’s what “start with” means) then we end up with the external world (“you would not have any doubt about the external world really being there”). That is just circular.

    Absolutely! It is circular because it’s an assumption, a starting point. As you said, we cannot prove the external world literally exists, id we assume we do exists mentally first. But when it comes to existence, I do not think that assumption makes sense. Therefore, I describe my ontology as assuming that reality is real, and we can learn something from it. We can do that learning because we exist within that reality.

    But the reality is we can’t start with the external world, we can only start with our experience of the external world. We infer the external world, and it is an obvious inference.

    That’s what Solipsism is. It’s the idea that we may all be brains in a vat; as we all heard before… but that idea means nothing really. Nobody can be sure of anything, at all, if we don’t even agree that reality is real.

    I think this time you are confusing ontology with epistemology.

    It’s very ironic… because clearly I make a clear distinction between ontology and epistemology while you seem to blur the 2 into the same. What we know is what exists, what exists is what we know. All mentally: “I only know the light because I perceive it with my senses and my brain/mind.” but the light exists no matter what. So your knowledge of it has no bearing on its ‘existence’. The starting point of knowledge is irrelevant to the ‘existence’ of the light. I know you don’t think that the light exists only if someone thinks about it, but that’s not really the problem; the problem is that the experience of the light seems to come first for you:

    And my point was that science can only measure the light, not my experience of the light.

    so this implies that your experience is real, no matter what measurement we can make, but that’s false! Your experience can only be real if the light is real. You cannot think of ‘seeing’ yellow light if you have never seen yellow light. You’ve heard of Mary’s house thought experiment probably? This was the problem in this thought experiment, where Mary was said to have knowledge of everything, while living in a fully black&white world, and then philosophers asked: would she learn something if she leaves the house? The answer is ‘yes’ because the only way she can learn about what literaly seeing light, a real experience, is like is by experiencing that light. The reality of light is in the physical world, first, and then its experience is in the mental, second. If the mental was independent, it could be possible, in theory, for Mary to somehow know what it looks like to look at yellow by just reading about it, let’s say. It’s not the case…

    I think the use of the word “magic” is generally meant to be derogatory, and unworthy of this discussion.

    It’s derogatory only because you feel insulted by it, but I genuinely see no difference between miracles and believing that magic happens. Unless you can explain how miracles actually work, but again, you cannot… so the only difference is that 1 if fiction, as in Harry Potter, and the other one is “real” by your standard.

    I could just as easily say your view (I presume) of a universe that appears for no apparent reason, no apparent cause, is “magic” too, but equally it would say nothing new and prove nothing so why say it?

    Well if you want to say it, please do. It would only show that you still don’t understand my view, which is actually consistent with science, which is that we don’t know what caused the universe, if it was caused at all, or if it even makes sense to mention ’cause’. You, on the other hand, have a positive belief as to what happened; but cannot substantiate that belief.

    This site is about the question “Is there a God?”, so the question we are asking is does the universe, does consciousness, tell us anything about that question. And it does, because God provides a cause, a fact that can be demonstrated in a valid logical argument, and without God it is hard to find a cause. But “magic” doesn’t answer that question.

    Magic answers the question precisely in the same way that God does, i.e. this answers nothing. You cannot explain how God caused anything, if he did. You cannot predict what a universe with/without God would look like, you just assert the universe looks created, to you. There is no valid argument that proves you right; they are all fallacious one way or another, doing at best the “moving the goalpost” dance of pretending that because we don’t have an answer, “God did it” works until proven wrong.

    So where do you want to take this discussion now?

    Well I won’t have as much time to write like that for a while, as I was on semi-vacation (my wife was away, lol), and as I have said many times I try to write less now, so that will be it for me for today. I will comment on another blog post at some point, or answer any specific question/point you raised, though not many for sure…

    Oh and I almost forgot to mention what I do find funny, that you find serious: the whole Jesus story. To me it’s so risible that I find it hilarious to hear people talk about it. I am sorry, it’s something you truly believe, but it just make me laugh… a virgin birth, multiple miracles, angels showing up, a resurrection, possibly zombies roaming the street as he comes back, but it depends on the writer, and so on… You would never believe such story if it happened right now, but because it’s ancient history, with a lot of meaning and “sources”, then it really happened… but Sita being saved by Rama and surviving a trial by fire, oh no, that’s just crazy!

    Cheers

  33. delayed p.s.:
    Ran into this article this morning, very interesting:
    http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-study-conservatives-liberals-self-control-20150619-story.html
    This supports your point that the views we hold regarding freewill may affect how we act. But it does not change what’s true or not of course… and I find it quite ridiculous that people who accept the idea that we probably don’t have real full-on freewill uses that as an excuse not to change. From my point of view, it actually helps because we understand how we, our brain, work better so we can in turn be better at fixing issues we might have with self-control. More knowledge and understanding is always better!

  34. Hi Hugo, I think I will draw the line there thanks. That is a very long comment. There is much in I think misunderstands what I say and much that seems to me to be quite unrealistic and patently wrong. But I don’t feel the need to argue over it, so I think, using a cricket analogy, let it go through to the keeper. Thanks.

    PS I read the article. I have seen studies like that before on the Science on Religion blog, and I find them very interesting.

  35. Hello,

    Wanting to move one, sure, makes perfect sense. Not agreeing on many things; of course that’s why it’s interesting to discussion different viewpoints. But still, again and again, thinking that I misunderstand you… please, that’s just funny!

    Cheers

  36. “If atheism is true, then it is doubtful we have the ability to change our choices, and the two sides will come [to] their views according to their brain chemistry.”

    This seems like an oversimplification. Brain chemistry plays a role in our decision making but it does not follow that it is merely brain chemistry that decides what we believe if atheism is true. If a person with supposedly atheistic brain chemistry is exposed to some form of theism from birth without any inclination to the possibility of atheism then that person should turn out to be an atheist regardless if they have never had any input to atheism at all. However, a person could not become an atheist without any inclination to what atheism is. The concept of atheism or the concept of anything would at least have to be available to that person in order to be able to form a belief about that concept regardless of their brain chemistry. That person would at least have to come up with the concept them self before brain chemistry could produce any sort of belief about atheism assuming that’s how a particular belief was formed. Language, new data, experience, and many other factors other than brain chemistry play a role in the formation of belief even if atheism is true.

  37. Hi! The Calvinist example is interesting. I understand they believe that we are pre-determined to be saved or not, but does that really imply we don’t get to choose at all?

    I was probably a little unfair on Calvinists. I think most would say we had real choice, but constrained by not being able to choose the good, or God – only a few (I think) would say no real choice at all.

    Just a quick elaboration: John Calvin himself seems to have been some kind of compatibilist and most Reformed churches officially follow those lines. In practice many lay Reformed will instead opt for either libertarianism or determinism. The association of Reformed with determinism is relatively late.

  38. Hi, IN, thanks for your comment. You generally know more than I do about these things.

    I tend not to use labels like compatibilist here, because I’m trying to write for people who aren’t experts in philosophy or science. And I believe compatibilism is just determinism dressed up to feel more comfortable – there is no real choice in either, if we define choice as choosing between options that really are open for us to choose. So yes, Calvin may have been a compatibilist (I’ll take your word for it) but I think that means he was practically a determinist. I guess you may not agree?

  39. I actually do agree, first because I don’t think compatibilism is a viable option (as you may remember). However, if that were all I’d have some issues with calling him a determinist – sure, it might be incoherent, but at least it seems to try to combine free will and predetermination. But I just looked some more up and noted that Calvin is unanimously described as defining free will as the ability to draw on internal desires and motives, uncoerced. Which really is a very meagre notion of free will.

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