Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dennett & Flanagan, Determinism, Libertarian Free Will, The Evidential POE, and the 'Noseeum' to 'Thereisnun' Inference

Here's the ABCs:

Most atheists and theists believe that the logical problem of evil has been answered. Since the free will defense is a species of the greater good defense, the greater good defense is a defeater for the logical POE. Now comes along the evidential POE. The evidential POE then claims, among other things, that regardless of the greater good theodicy, which might resolve logical worries, there are evils for which we cannot fathom what the greater good could be. These evils don't seem to affect free will (in the case of those who employ the FWD to answer the problem of evil full stop), they don't seem to justify other good reasons that have been proffered, viz., soul building, loving discipline, whatever. So, there just isn't a God-justifying reason for these (whatever they are, there's different examples) evils. The argument seems to be that if we can't see a God-justifying reason, there probably isn't one. One response to this has been the response of so-called Skeptical Theism. ST argues that this is a bad inference to make because one feature of the Christian worldview is that God and many of his reasons are beyond our ken. We would be justified in saying there is no elephant in the room because after surveying the room we could reason from "noseeum" to "thereisnun." Obviously, this is because the area we have to search is sufficiently small for us to justifiably conclude that there is no elephant in the room. On the other hand, to survey the room and say that there are no elephants in the world because there are none in the room, is to make a bad inference.

So, that is a very short introduction to the discussion. I think it is sufficient for my purposes.

Now, most atheists also believe in determinism. For all our actions there are causes that we could trace ultimately back to the "big bang" (or whatever).

If atheists and determinists Daniel Dennett and Owen Flanagan are right, then the reasoning in the "noseeum" arguments proffered by many atheists should lead them to believe in libertarian free will too. As Dennett says,

"Whatever else we are, we are information-processing systems, and all information processing systems rely on amplifiers of a sort. Relatively small causes are made to yield relatively large effects.... Vast amounts of information arrive on the coattails of negligible amounts of energy, and then, thanks to amplifications powers of systems of switches, the information begins to do some work,...leading eventually to an action whose pedigree of efficient...causation is so hopelessly inscrutable as to be invisible. We see the dramatic effects leaving; we don't see the causes entering; we are tempted by the hypothesis that there are no causes." (Dennett, Elbow Room, 1984, 76-77, cited in Goetz & Taliaferro, Naturalism, 2008, 17).
Dennatt is arguing that due to a failure to be aware of the causes of our choices (noseeum), we cannot reasonably conclude that there are no causes (thereisnun). His justification is that the causes are beyond our ken. And so our failure of awareness is to be expected given the broader metaphysics of metaphysical naturalism.

Owen Flanagan agrees,

"[T]he myth of a completely self-initiating ego, an unmoved but self-moving will, [is] simply a fiction motivated by our ignorance of the causes of human behavior." (Flanagan, The Problem of the Soul, 2002, 112, ibid).
This isn't to argue for libertarian free will, obviously. It's simply to point out that some atheists may be inconsistent in (a) not holding to libertarian free will and (b) holding that there are no God justifying reasons because you can't see the reasons.


  1. They could remain determinists on a metaphysical basis despite the fact that their oberservations would lead them to believe in libertarian free will. If they see no evidence for causes for human action, then the causes have no transition that could be measured, so that the human will moves by an impersonal force that drags them through life, which cannot be known by humans.

  2. So you're saying that determinism isn't the logical conclusion to atheism?

    That might not be what you're saying, so I'm not disagreeing with you necessarily. (Also, if the logical conclusion of atheism is determinism, that doesn't mean I should be able to point to the fact that atheists believe in it to show that you Calvinists are wrong.) Determinism could be true with many different ideas of a god who exists. And it could be true if what some hyper-Calvinists argue is correct.

    Talking with atheists is interesting because ultimately they do believe in the existence of something without a cause - usually just the universe or the cosmos itself.

    But I don't see how Dennett & Flanagan should believe in libertarian free will from the quotes you gave.

    Dennett argues that the fact that we are not aware of all our causes doesn't necessarily mean those causes do not exist. Flanagan argues that a will that self-causes it's own moral acts is a myth originated from our failure to know all of our causes. They sound like determinists to me.

    Not that that's bad. It does seem logical, doesn't it? If our brains are simply the chemical reactions and firing synapses caused by evolution and how our senses react to our surrounding environment, then our surrounding outside environment is ultimately the cause for everything we do. Even the idea of right and wrong is an evolving useful idea that humans have adopted for reasons of survival.

    Based on this reasoning, if I didn't believe in God, I would be a determinist. Not that you necessarily can't be a determinist if you believe in God - that's the question I'm looking into as we conintue our ongoing discussions.

  3. Persiflage,

    I said that atheists argue x doesn't defeat y in one arena and then they say that in an analogous case x defeats y. I pointed out that that seems inconsistent. Now that I've formalized it for you, what's the problem?

    "So you're saying that determinism isn't the logical conclusion to atheism?"

    When people make claims about logical conclusions I want to see the entailments. There are atheists that are libertarian free will action theorists. Indeed, there are naturalists and physicalists that are.

    "But I don't see how Dennett & Flanagan should believe in libertarian free will from the quotes you gave."

    Ummmm, I didn't say they should. I said that they (or those who argue in a similar way) should drop the 'noseeum to thereisnun' inference WRT the evidential problem of evil. They can do that or become LFWs. Why? Because the two arguments seem inconsistent. I thought this was all rather clear. If the evidential noseeum inference is sound to conclude "no God," then why is the other noseeum inference not a reason to conclude "no cause?" Make sense?

    "Dennett argues that the fact that we are not aware of all our causes doesn't necessarily mean those causes do not exist. Flanagan argues that a will that self-causes it's own moral acts is a myth originated from our failure to know all of our causes. They sound like determinists to me."

    Wow. And epic adventure in missing the point.

    Thanks for telling me what they said when I'm the one who quoted them.

    I think with that I'll avoid following the rest of your red herring laced trail. I'm sure you can understand.

  4. Sorry, you're comparing apples and oranges. "God has reasons even if we can't see them" is not the same as "There are causes even if we can't see them." You can disagree with one and agree with the other by the simple fact that you don't believe in God, but do believe in determinism. The arguments don't transmit from one context to another because the context is what it all comes down to.

    Observation and reason can lead to a deterministic worldview. By that deterministic worldview, there may be things we don't know by our limited biology and psychology.

    A theological worldview is the result of faith. There is nothing to see and study and measure. There is no evidence to compare and interpret. Either you accept that God exists, of you do not.

    The argument isn't that "We can't see a God-justifying reason, so there probably isn't one," it's "We can't see a God anywhere, so there isn't a God-justifying reason." Meanwhile, "We can see determinism in many things, so there probably is determinism in things even if we can't see part of it."