Common Objections to My Understanding of Free Will

This is part of a series: Free Will? Yes and No

In my previous post, I laid out an unusual answer to the question of whether we have free will.  It’s currently the best answer that I can think of.  In this post, I’ll list some objections that I expect will be common.  The main points from my previous post are:

  • We do have free will, in the sense that we make our own choices, rather than someone controlling us like puppets on strings.
  • However, I also say that our choices are predetermined, in the sense that if I could rewind time, and run someone through the same situation over and over again, I’d expect that he’d make the same choice every time.
  • I say that each of these are natural consequences of the nature of computing.  On one hand, we make our own decisions.  On the other hand, if we didn’t have and use a particular predefined algorithm to make those decisions, they would have never been made.
Some objections that I expect will be common:
  • You’re contradicting yourself!  You can’t have free will, and predetermined will at the same time!  It’s possible that this objection is true.  Whether it is will depend on the exact, correct definition of “free will”.  If the correct definition of free will forbids this, then of course, my view would be incorrect.
    However, people have argued about what is the correct definition for millennia, with no clear winner that I’m aware of.  Even the relatively vague definition of free will that I use was disputed by someone in the comments on my previous post.  So unless someone can conclusively show that they have the correct definition, and that all others are incorrect, there’s at very least a chance that my view is correct.
  • Having free will means that my choices are completely uncaused.  Therefore, what you’re proposing is not an alternative to the 2 main camps, but rather determinism in disguise.
    If the correct definition of free will is that your choices are truly uncaused, then of course, my view would be incorrect.  However, this is an unreasonable definition.  It’s impossible for any kind of thought to be truly uncaused.
    Why?  The human mind is some kind of advanced information system – a very advanced computer program.  In computing, definitions are everything.  If something is not defined precisely, it literally does not exist.  The exact definition, for instance, of google’s current search algorithm is the program that google currently runs on its servers.  Remove that program – wipe those bits – and you haven’t just removed the definition, you’ve actually removed that algorithm from google’s servers.  In the same way, it’s impossible for you to make a decision without following a predefined algorithm that enables you to make that decision.  In all known computing systems, thoughts and choices cannot simply spring from nothing.
  • How dare you say that I am a computer program!  I am not the equal of my laptop!
    Agreed.  You are not your laptop, neither are you the equal of the software running on it.  But that doesn’t mean that your mind isn’t some kind of program.  A car is not the equal of a wrench, but they both rust.  Your mind is made of ideas, thoughts, emotions, memories, skills, etc.  These are not physical things, they are computational.  They are merely implemented in a physical machine, and they could be implemented in another some day.  Thinking is fundamentally computation.
    It is in this sense that I say that you are a very advanced computer program.  Those who believe in free will, will often say that your mind would in some way be lesser if its decisions are known or predefined, than if its decisions were truly uncaused or unknowable.  I disagree.  Your mind, and the choices you make, are just as real and important as they would have been if human knowledge of the mind was rewound 100 years, or even 1000.  And as I said already, the notion of thoughts and choices truly coming from nothing is unreasonable.  It’s just that we tend to treat unknown things with more respect than known things.

 

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4 thoughts on “Common Objections to My Understanding of Free Will

  1. Hi Erik,

    You’ve put forth some interesting thoughts in this post and your prior one. Are you familiar with the terms “libertarian freedom” and “freedom of inclination”?

    Libertarian freedom is similar to notions you have mentioned that define free will as something uncaused, or put in another way, that nothing determinatively influences or causes one’s choices.

    The freedom of inclination view understands freedom as being free to do what one most wants to do. So, faced with a plate full of tasty food and the choice to only eat one kind, whichever one food is chosen is the food that the person most wanted to choose.

    Freedom of inclination, in my opinion, explains well how the Bible clearly teaches that all humans are responsible and yet apart from God’s grace unable to choose Him (Romans 3:10-12; 8:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14). if one has a sinful nature (as the Bible teaches), they are free to do whatever they most want to do according to their nature, but they will never believe in Jesus because apart from God’s grace they will never desire Him (since they have a sinful nature opposed to God). Does this make sense?

    Also, I have a WordPress plugin to recommend: RefTagger. It automatically tags Bible references with links to the full verses and provides a pop-up of the reference when you hover over it here on your blog.

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    1. That makes sense. I haven’t heard of those before, but based on your description, they sound very much like what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, my blog is hosted on wordpress.com, which doesn’t allow plugins. I may eventually move to a different host that does allow plugins, especially since I saw a plugin that adds proper support for making post series.

      Like

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