5 Inescapable Implications Of Christianity That Undo Christianity

Post by Ed Clint


"Eh, as long as he keeps giving us free fish let's not ask any questions."

There are many arguments from history’s great philosophers, orators and atheists which semantically dismantle religious arguments. One need only google Hume, Ingersoll, or Hitchens to reach trenchant analyses of the structural flaws in theistic ideation. As much as I enjoy their sumptuous intellectual bounty, I find the most powerful and easiest objections to Christianity are a simple matter of accepting all of the premises, and imagining what the immediate consequences and implications are. Truly faulty ideas do not need to be hammered to bits: they fall apart under the weight of their own flaws. Here are just five deicidal notions one is required to accept, if they take the Christian at their word.

Terms of engagement: I am well aware there are over 30,000 sects of Christianity, each with their own God a la carte theology. For the sake of readability and brevity, I will refer to stereotypically American Christian beliefs that do not necessarily apply to each and every Christian in the world. Conversely, some of these also apply well to other religions but for simplicity I will refer only to JC and company.

5. Free will would be a disaster for Christian morality
We tend to think of free will by comparison to what it isn’t. Someone holding a gun to your head and forcing you to do anything is coercion, and not free. This common example is problematic, because the threat of hell has the seeming of a spiritual gun to the head, but let’s put that aside for the moment. If there were a rope tied around your wrist that forced it to move about, marionette-style, this would also not be a result of your free will. This is the case because something external to you exerted an influence which resulted in behavior (in this case, your arm moving about). The effect of the rope might be called deterministic because there is a simple physical relationship between a pull of the rope and the response, the movement of your limb. This simple observation is a very big problem.
Psychologically, all human behavior is deterministic. Some causes of human behavior are internal, but this hardly matters since neurons are tiny, highly deterministic machines themselves and our brains are a product of genes and environment (environmental determinants). In all human societies, there are rules, ethos and policies which are designed to exploit the highly determinant nature of human behavior. For example, all states have seatbelt laws. If you tell people they must buckle up or they might be fined (and that it is safer for them), they respond by buckling up. To be clear, this does not mean 100% of the people do it 100% of the time. The effect is probabilistic and any one individual’s behavior is the result of a calculus of hundreds of factors- but each of those is also a behavioral determinant. The important part is X * P -> Y where X is an environmental influence (seatbelt law) multiplied by some statistical probability which describes the likelihood any one person responds with Y, a direct behavioral consequence of X.

Christians ostensibly care about free will because they believe it allows for morality, the choice to act in accordance with Jesus-y mandate. We can now see that morality depends on free will, strictly speaking, not existing. To acquire a moral behavior or belief, say from a Jesus parable or Old Testament commandment, we need X * P -> Y. We need X, the parable, to increase the likelihood of Y, the “moral” belief or behavior. We can see, too, that the presence or absence of a soul is irrelevant to the consideration. Whether we call the machine for which the function X *P -> Y applies a brain, a mind, or a soul changes nothing about the conclusions.
What if X * P -> Y is wrong? What if behavior Y doesn’t follow from X? Isn’t there free will then? Yes, however, there is no morality, nor is there any capacity to learn at all. Sage guidance such as the words of Jesus would then have no influence whatsoever, making preaching the good word a futile exercise. Preaching and moralizing only makes sense if you think it can change people’s beliefs and behaviors, which can only happen if the will is not free.

4. The soul isn’t real
Most Christians would agree the soul is our essence, a repository of our identity, character, memories, feelings, and other mental bric-a-brac. It also seems to be the source of our moral worth (a ball of cells destined to form a person have it, but a ball of cells destined to form a tumor do not) and some sort of spiritual antenna that channels important but garbled communiqués from Jesus and pals.

The first problem is that our character, memories, feelings, personality, morality, etc.., are all known to be the work of the brain. We know this because each part of us can be affected or destroyed by drugs, traumatic injury and stroke. Even identity, the “self”, which seems as abstract and ethereal as it gets, can literally be cut in half with a scalpel. Experiments have shown that when the corpus callosum, the bundle of neurons connecting the right and left brain hemispheres, is severed, the result is a person with two minds which independently see, hear, and think without awareness of the other.

Stroke-related brain injury has been known to change a person’s personality and tastes. The soul seems less magical, knowing it can be so easily modified by a tumor or a blood clot. If the soul or pieces of it can’t survive a blood clot, why should we believe it survives death, when the entire brain breaks down? Moreover, understanding of neuronal systems that accomplish specific kinds of human cognition is improving every day. This ultimately forces us to accept that if there is a soul, it doesn’t seem to do anything.

But wait, maybe the soul is just a vehicle. Maybe it takes a brain “snapshot” before death so that “we” survive death. This doesn’t help much, as it would still mean for most of our lives our “essence” remains the brain: grey and white goop, not metaphysical magic. Still, let’s say that is how it works. The brain is made of matter, a physical cluster of atoms in molecules. The soul is said to be immaterial, but if the brain is material, how can an immaterial soul interact with it? Only matter (and conventional types of energy) can interact with matter. What’s more, if the soul somehow can interact with matter, then it can interact with matter we could attach a detector to, making the soul detectable in theory, and also making the soul material, not immaterial.
Thus, if Christians are correct about the properties of the soul, then it is detectable, irrelevant, or non-existent. In any of those cases, the Christian soul is not real.

3. Heaven is hell
For a book that covers such important topics as what to do when you find a bird’s nest, the Bible has little to say about the place where Jesus and God live and all “good” people will spend eternity. Scripture about heaven is varied, but always rather childish. Revelations (4:8-11), for example, describes God’s throne room thusly:

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”

This account would sound about right, were it penned by a seven year old who believed an almighty creator of the universe would have grace constantly announced. Indeed, only such a child could fail to immediately realize repeating a simple statement over and over for billions of years might be less than perfect.

Luckily, most Christians ignore these embarrassing accounts and instead conceive of heaven as the company of Jesus and being free of death, disease, hunger, pain and so on. This sounds pretty good, and is even consistent with some of the scripture- but only if you never think about it too hard. I wrote a bit of satire about a fictional George Carlin arriving in heaven (due to clerical error) and his ensuing observations:

I miss scratching an itch, a really good one that was just driving you crazy, in the middle of your back, and then you bite it just right with your fingernail! And I remember this time I gave a homeless guy my sandwich, that felt good, the way his eyes softened and seemed to say, “Is there beer too?” …And what about rooting for the little guy, the baseball team that wasn’t quite as good but tried twice as hard because they wanted it so bad? Wasn’t it great if they won, and still pretty great even if they lost? There’s no competition here, everyone already won their game eons ago.

There are at least two basic problems that muck up a perfectly good childish fantasy of the afterlife: human nature, and the polarity of joy.

Human Nature
People have an intrinsic need to strive, grow, and create. We learn, hone our skills, and test our mettle against others while taking great joy in all of it. As a race, and as individuals, we usually succeed at this to some degree. Imagine what it was like for the first women to vote, the first homosexuals to marry, or recall the feelings of pride and hope when our country elected its first black President. There is an inimitable pleasure in knowing that we can make our world a little better, albeit slowly, over time. Similarly, as we age we tend to get wiser and less rash. We learn to treat people better. Even when we stumble, we know we can learn from it. We take pride in our ability to grow. None of this can happen, in heaven. Heaven and its residents are perfect. There is nothing to strive for, no goals on the horizon, no personal fulfillment to seek. Things will remain as they are, for a zillion years.

What if you’re a comedian? An artist? What if you live to create jokes or vibrant-hued celebrations of the human form? That won’t fly in heaven, because your works could offend the sensibilities of others. Being offended can’t happen in heaven, so either you’re not allowed to create or else you’re incapable of being offended, which is another way of saying you’re intellectually and artistically dead. How could either of these be regarded as perfect or even desirable?

Polarity of joys
The problem with not having hunger or thirst is that those allow us to enjoy chocolate ice cream, a perfectly-seared steak, or ice water after a vigorous jog. In heaven you could never enjoy a hot bath at the end of a stressful day because there won’t be stressful days. You could never again feel the utter pleasure relaxing in a warm bed after working your buns off all day. You will never have a feeling of success by triumphing over adversity, because there won’t be adversity.

There is no light without the darkness, no pleasure without some discomforts and pains, and no meaning without challenge. Imagine, too, the burden of eternity. The blandness of heaven, devoid almost anything humans value, goes on and on and on. Unchanging.. day in, day out.. for billions and billions of years. The Christian’s idea of heaven is a nightmare beyond reckoning, inescapable even by death.

Here a Christian might object that when you go to heaven you will simply be happy and fulfilled, because you’re hangin’ with Jesus, you will not have the needs or wants you did on earth. In such a case, you may be truly happy forever- you just wouldn’t be human any more. The human part of you would have to be destroyed first. Also, if perpetual bliss without human meaning, challenge, or growth appeals to you, you might consider morphine addiction.

2. Prayer is pointless
This is probably obvious to most readers, but it bears mention on a list such as this and I will answer the common Christian reply. Ambrose Bierce defined “pray” in his text The Devil’s Dictionary as “To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.” Christians pray, particularly in times of desperation, for things they want or need. “You’ll be in our prayers” one Christian says to another, who is ill. But why, exactly? Christians know God, as almighty creator of the universe, has a Master Plan. The Master Plan includes all events that will ever happen, because Christian God is omniscient. The Master Plan even explains natural evil, like children being crushed under rubble during earthquakes- it’s all part of the plan. Those babies had to die, for the greater good of the Plan. Prayer is, then, a request to alter the plan. What would be left of God’s grand design, though, if every jackass (or even a small faction of them) who asked for something got it? It would be total chaos.

Here, some Christians object that prayer is, in fact, not for asking for favors, but instead merely a means of communing with the sky father. See, Christians have a relationship with Jesus. They’re practically Facebook official. Prayer is just texting your buddy Jesus. He never texts back, but it’s cool, he’s a rock star. This sounds alright, so long as you don’t think any further. For example, you should not ask, why do people ever talk to each other?

Why people (or any two sentient entities) communicate
Humans are social beings. Relationships with others are important for obvious reasons. Let’s consider companionate love:

To become friends with someone you communicate with them because you need them to know information in your mind that they can’t otherwise know— who you are, what you like and don’t like, what you think about them and the things they are doing and saying, and logistical things like “let’s catch a beer later”. You listen to the other person because you need the same information. Even after two people have become close friends, they still need to communicate to express their emotional state and to respond to things happening moment to moment. This is what creates and allows friendships. None of this makes any sense if God is a party.

God doesn’t need to hear you blather on about what you want or like or don’t. First, he already knows. Second, he doesn’t really care, because he is God. I am not asserting God is indifferent to you, I am pointing out the difference between a human listening to you and a God. A human listening to you really cares what you might say, because he or she might want or need to respond, particularly if you said FIRE! or Will you marry me? But God already has his Master Plan, and in any case, never responds to the pray-maker. He can’t be bothered to talk back. It could even be much worse than the Christian imagines it. Since God already knows every word of what every human will ever say, human dialog is, for God, like a song you’ve heard on the radio a thousand times and are sick to death of. God is listening to a tired old song, perhaps a billion at once, every second of every day. Imagine how awful that must be; even if you have a God’s patience, there is nothing about that that resembles a “relationship” or “communion”.

Social communication only really happens when information travels from one mind to another. Otherwise, it’s just pointless noise, exactly the same as when you’re waiting to get picked up at the airport and you hear “the white zone is for loading and unloading only…” for the 10th time. There is information, a sender, and a listener- you, but nothing has been communicated. Imagine if you spoke to your own friend in that fashion, repeating a phrase “I like afternoon naps”. Over and over and over. This is what it must be like for an omniscient God when a human says anything to him because God already knows every word, by heart. At least your friend might tell you to shut up. At least that’s a response. People respond. God can’t be bothered to treat you like a person. There is no communication; there is no relationship; and there is utterly no point to prayer, even if you accept all the basic Christian premises.

1. Jesus is a miserable failure
Jesus was, according to every devout Christian I know, sent to save mankind from sin. Jesus is Mentos from heaven. You have spiritual bad breath (congenitally, thanks to Adam & Eve), but Jesus, the moral Freshmaker, will make it alright via torture, mutilation and temporary death, then you’ll smile and wink knowingly. It only works if you explicitly accept him on your spiritual friends list, though, according to at least 5 different passages:  John 6:40, 11:25, 14:6; Acts 26:18; and Romans 10:13.

The problem with this is that most humans who have ever lived were not Christians. Many were born before Jesus existed- but just 47 billion or so (counting from 50,000 B.C.E source). Read that again: 47 billion people went to hell on account of bad luck alone. Some Christians absolve the pre-Jesus people saying they do go to heaven; If so why did Jesus come at all? His coming then means people could, for the first time, be condemned to hell! Thanks, Jesus. Even today, just 33% of the 7 billion people on Earth are Christians, in spite of centuries of sword-wielding Jesuits, imperialist expansion, and worstly, Mormon missionaries. Assuming each and every one of those 2-ish billion people has done whatever it is God wants them to do to get their backstage pass to the Clouds, it’s still a pretty sad batting average for Jesus, God’s kid. If God’s plan for Jesus was to save mankind, then Jesus is a miserable failure. You only have to believe this though, if you’re a Christian.

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29 Responses to 5 Inescapable Implications Of Christianity That Undo Christianity

  1. Nate says:

    Hi Ed,
    Saw your article on Reddit. Not sure who your intended audience is. As a Christian, there certainly is a lot of decent ammo out there for arguments with Christians, but yours here are certainly not among them. I hope I can help you out a bit and quickly/concisely explain why.

    5. Free Will is indeed crucial to the Christian worldview. It explains mankind’s need for redemption in the first place. If you are using Free Will as a topic point AGAINST Christianity, you should be arguing that we do not have it. I think your argument is essentially that by trying to influence someone’s will you are making it not free? That is clearly rubbish. You can teach/tell/ask your child to not spill his cereal on the floor, but ultimately the child can throw cheerios all over your kitchen of his own free will. You asking/telling him not to do so is in no way mutually exclusive to his having free will in the first place.

    4. Your premise here applies to anything in the supernatural. Libraries have been written on the topic, anyone can easily find the classic arguments both for and against. The argument that the supernatural does not exist because it can’t be detected naturally just isn’t a very good argument. It’s like complaining that your ruler won’t tell you how heavy you are.

    3. I think your understanding aligns with that of a lot of people. If that understanding is correct, then I’m completely in agreement with you. However, our understanding (or lack thereof) in no way affects the reality of Heaven.

    (Just my own brief thoughts on the matter…) Imagine us as a species working 100% efficiently toward common goals with no selfishness or mistakes. What a humanist envisions without God and calls “Utopia,” a Christian envisions with God and calls Heaven.

    2. Prayer as you describe it, certainly does sound pointless. However, I can tell you from personal experience that prayer is absolutely about two-way communication and a relationship with a loving God who does actually care about even the mundane parts of our individual lives. I apologize for the religious people in the world who’ve taught you and others that prayer is only about trying to get God to change his mind on one issue or another.

    1. You seem to completely leave out the Christian explanation for redemption prior to Christ. Not sure why you didn’t touch on that, but it doesn’t help your case much. However, the real reason why Jesus’ “success rate” has nothing to do with how likely His story is true or not goes back to your point 5.

    I hope it’s clear that I’m not attempting to provide the counter arguments in this medium. It would be pointless, and that information is abundant elsewhere. I just think if you’re going to try and undo Christianity in a couple of points – at least one of your points should be somewhat relevant. You should be attacking who Jesus is, or whether he came back to life, or the existence of God in general. Your article here is sort of like the Chistian who’s basis for arguments with you are “because the Bible says so.” The premise of the argument is simply irrelevant to the point you’re trying to make.

    Anyway, best of luck. I hope you can continue to educate and inform yourself about what it is you do believe. I know Christians today as a whole seem to be terrible at this, but if you’re going to believe something (or not) you might as well know/understand why and have good reasons to do so.

  2. Heathen says:

    “However, I can tell you from personal experience that prayer is absolutely about two-way communication and a relationship with a loving God who does actually care about even the mundane parts of our individual lives”

    From personal delusion, maybe.

  3. angel says:

    saw the reddit post. for the most part it makes sense. being a former christian myself i can say the stuff you point out would be a bit confusing for a christian but good job


  4. Ed Clint says:

    Hi Nate, thank you for stopping to comment.

    5. You asking/telling him not to do so is in no way mutually exclusive to his having free will in the first place.

    I addressed this in the essay. I said that any one behavior is a calculus of hundreds of factors- some of which are a person’s personality or brain chemistry at the moment- true. But all of those are also deterministic factors which are not in any sense “free” to vary. It does not matter to me whether the will is free or not free- either (properly understood) is a big problem for Christianity. My specific claim is that the type of free will Christians appear to proffer would be bad, if it *were* true.

    4. My point is not that the supernatural doesn’t exist because it isn’t detectable, it’s that things not detectable can’t interact with brains because brains are not supernatural, they’re very natural. Your “ruler doesnt tell you your weight” counterpoint holds no water, because the claim made by Christians is often that it does.. or in my essay, that the soul IS somehow interacting with the brain.

    3. There is no such thing as a human being without selfishness.. and one point I was trying to make, is that our selfish impulses also often make the world worthwhile (in spite of some negative consequences). Further, I find the concept of “utopia” to be nonsense, which is the literal meaning of the word “nowhere”.

    2. If you are having two-way communication with a deity, I, and I say this with utter sincerity, suggest seeking psychological help. You may be experiencing hallucinations which can be indicative of serious medical conditions.

    1. I think Jesus’ success rate is very salient, if he has a stated purpose and is divine, then reason compels us to accept that he should succeed at his own stated goal. Alternately, we might accept the proposition that the goal is to send a number of people measured in billions to hell for not groveling properly. I am willing to entertain this interpretation, but it is just as fatal for Christian morality.

  5. Kontankarite says:

    “4. Your premise here applies to anything in the supernatural. Libraries have been written on the topic, anyone can easily find the classic arguments both for and against. The argument that the supernatural does not exist because it can’t be detected naturally just isn’t a very good argument. It’s like complaining that your ruler won’t tell you how heavy you are.”

    No. You stated the problem perfectly; I’ll give you that. The super natural… can not be known because we have no means of penetrating it for knowledge. Since that is the case, the most judicial assessment is to assert nothing about the super natural. Now here is the problem. You’re asserting that we do have a means of penetrating into the super natural. So exactly what are the tools to get this knowledge? Certainly not tradition, hearsay, and a very old book. It has to be more than that because that’s never good enough for any meaningful knowledge. And prayer doesn’t work. You’re using a logical fallacy with prayer. It’s called confirmation bias. You pray and then X happens as you hoped it would, therefore it was god. You pray and nothing happens, so it must be part of god’s plan. This behavior is not proof of any communication with a god. It’s simply a hope that something works out and sometimes it just does. A divine guiding hand isn’t required for a coincidence to actually happen.

  6. Allallt says:

    I like the post, but unlike the promises made in the blurb it is not a series of point on how Christianity destroys itself. For example, the paradox of being all powerful and being all knowing is a self defeating concept.

    The free will paradox is even greater still: the ideas of an unalterable Divine plan and free moral agents simply can’t both be true.

    The idea that God would love us, be moral, not forgive us even our slightest wrongdoing unless we accept Jesus’ barbaric murder was a good thing, and else plans to send us to hell is internally contradictory.

    The Devil managed to condemn all of humanity for many generations, and most of it after the birth of Jesus (including me) to hell with one conversation. Given all of time God has not been able to undo that. But hang on, didn’t you say “omnipotent”?

    The reason I am being pedantic is because you say the Bible’s claim of free will contradicts what we now know from neuroscience. The pious will just deny neuroscience. The same bit of denial allows them to sneak the soul back in.
    I also think Heaven would stagnate. The devout tell me I clearly don’t understand “eternal bliss” or how wonderful a relationship with Jesus would be (are we talking about an eternity of reach-arounds?).

    That complaint aside, I still think the post is right! When you try to collide concepts like the soul against neuroscience you get a real problem.

  7. Glasofruix says:

    “However, I can tell you from personal experience…”

    From my own personnal experience, I see pink elephants quite often, nobody else does but me. Therefore pink elephants exist and are very real.

  8. David says:

    I am a Christian, and enjoy these discussions, but rarely comment online. I do feel the need to explain my experience of prayer – while the language might be imploring God to do something, what I have found is that my mind, my feelings and my person are changed by prayer. I don’t presume to tell God what to do, but do hope that I can be changed or motivated to act with regard to the subject of the prayer.

  9. Skin Care says:

    I agree completely with the free-will argument. Your first commentor did not grasp the fact that our actions are driven by causes over which we have no control.

    Your other points are good as well…but I’m not sure about the truth of the detectability of something interacting with the brain. For example, if you are being videotaped secretly, can someone take measurements of you to determine this? As such, perhaps a soul is recording the contents of the brain, and being that it is just receiving information (like a camera), isn’t it possible for that to remain undetected?

  10. Glasofruix says:

    @Skin Care
    What exactly is it recording when a brain can be wiped out with a blow to the head and completely change a human’s personnality? Is it recording the person as it was pre head trauma? Or only post? Both? What if the guy never recovered and lived most of his life as a “new”‘ person? Which one gets to heaven?

    The soul thingy is a sham. According to the folks who invented the concept, only humans are subjected to this curse, all humans being born sinners and if they don’t constantly bow their heads to the allmighty invisible, intangible and inexistent creator they will go to hell. Animals on the other side are free from such trivialities.

  11. Skin Care says:

    I agree with you, Glasofruix. I’m just playing devil’s advocate, and pointing out the logical error in saying that something that interacts with (or is acted upon by) the brain must measurable.

  12. Edwin Burke says:

    Mr. Clint,

    As Nate points out, too much to explain all here. I will focus on the argument of free will and demonstrate it is real.

    Unfortunately, any scientific hypothesis about free will cannot be made, or at least tested (making it not a very scientific hypothesis indeed!). In any studies done on the subject (that I can find) you will no doubt notice that that authors do not try to discuss this point; they will discuss whether or not there is unconscious causation to our actions or they will discuss brain activity at the point of making a decision or they will discuss many other items, but not free will.

    Off the academic record many will speculate about free will, but free will is a philosophical position and not a scientific one. Free will cannot be tested; either side of the debate always can only make a fundamental claim to ‘prove’ their point. Free will or deterministic will are intangible (I don’t believe anyone would be so ridiculous as to claim that a group of neurons are a choice!) and not measurable. Claims that human behavior is a ‘calculus of many factors’ does not prove or even suggest that there is no free will. Most Christians agree that human behavior is very complex, and the reasons for any given behavior are very hard to penetrate. Fundamentally, there is not any claim that can be made for determinism that doesn’t just amount to ‘because I said so’.

    Many believe that determinism is more ‘scientific’ but since it is impossible to measure whether someone chooses (What unit of measure could be used?), free will and determinism are not scientifically verifiable. I don’t believe Freud or any other modern intellectuals just because they tell me to believe them. (I’m not trying to imply you are, but this appears to be the jist of most of their arguments having read Freud, Hitchens and Dawkins).

    I have demonstrated that your position cannot be asserted scientifically, this does not make your argument untenable, merely moot.

    An alternative:

    There is free will because of what such a belief (if true) allows humanity to do. If there is free will there is accountability. People are capable of the lowest evils and the greatest aspirations; they are capable of the lowest humility and greatest arrogance. It also means what I do actually matters. What I choose matters. It affects others and has an impact on their lives.

    If I am devoid of choice nothing I do has an impact because it is predetermined. As a robot, my life has no meaning because I am unable to coauthor any part of my life or anyone else’s, for I am just living out a script. In such a scenario pleasure and pain have no meaning. I don’t know about other people but I can’t enjoy something pleasurable (say, lemon sorbet) unless it has meaning. I might have the neurons fired up on my tongue, but I can’t take satisfaction in the citrus burst and cold refreshment because it is not important to anyone, even myself (how could it be? It doesn’t change what I do or think anyway because I am programmed). If we are cogs in a machine, why worry about existence?

    As an addendum, Preaching the gospel over the centuries has been a very effective way to persuade people to pick up their cross and follow Jesus. I’ll tackle any of your other points, you name it!

    I’d be happy for comments either way, thanks for taking the time to read it!

  13. Skin Care says:

    Thank you for taking the time to try to explain an opposing argument to free will. However, I remain unconvinced that it exists. I suppose you would have to define it first, and then pick apart the definition.

    I would simply ask you, what causes you to do something? And in giving the answer you would admit that there is a cause. Which means you are controlled by causes. Give me one example of an action that has no cause and I will grant you that free will exists.

    Sam Harris very recently gave a speech on Free Will which was just posted to about a week ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g

  14. Rosemary says:

    Well put.

  15. Love says:

    “Give me one example of an action that has no cause and I will grant you that free will exists.”

    This is kind of a morbid example but how about the simple fact that I can get a gun, and fly halfway around the world, and shoot a complete stranger?

    The stranger obviously could have done nothing to directly affect my life and therefore I would have no legitimate reason for shooting them. I simply did it because I could. Now, you could go ahead and say that that, in itself, is the cause but I hardly see that as a valid argument.

    You do make a good argument when you state, “Someone holding a gun to your head and forcing you to do anything is coercion, and not free.” However, you can also look at this and say that this particular someone is really not forcing you to do anything. You still have a choice. You can choose to do what they want you to do and therefore have a higher probability that they will not kill you. But, you can also still choose to not do what they want and face the greater chance of dying. The ability to choose between the two options is where free will plays a part. You are indirectly basing this argument on the assumption that whoever is having the gun pointed at their head values their life more than they value death therefore they are being forced to take a particular action. However, this cannot be a given because there is the possibility that someone would rather choose to die. Every decision we make in life is based on perspective and there is a never a situation in which one does not have a choice they can make based on their perspective.

  16. Love says:

    Also when brain chemistry is addressed it goes back to what came first, the chicken or the egg? Do your neurons fire in response to a choice being made or do they cause the choice to be made?

  17. Phil says:

    @ Love,
    I can’t help with your neuron questions but the egg came first! 😉

  18. Ed Clint says:

    @ Edwin,

    I’ve not claimed there is any purely scientific theory of free will. It is a philosophical discussion, but it is one that is informed by science and I think you paint with far too broad a brush in excluding science from the topic. For example, I mentioned the split-brain experiments in my essay. This is extraordinary scientific evidence that tells us a good deal about the “will”; namely that it can be bisected with a scalpel. Social scientists observe human behavior and try to deduce what mechanisms that drive it look like.

    When Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, he knew nothing about genes. He had absolutely no clue what the mechanism was. That was a “black box” in which technology of his time did not allow penetration. None of this prevented him from studying animals and reasoning that there must be a mechanism, and what its basic properties were. Similarly, we can look at how humans behave, and today, how individual neural pathways function and start producing models of what “volition” must be like.

    On this basis, philosophers have dispensed with traditional free will as many of you defend it. Edwin, your confusion of determinism with fatalism is long since understood and cast aside as illusory. For example, you posit an old canard,

    “As a robot, my life has no meaning because I am unable to coauthor any part of my life or anyone…”

    People used to make these sorts of statements about animals, animals being “lowly”, brutish, and violent. But then we discovered we’re animals and everything we do is “acting like an animal”. We discovered some nonhuman animals learn, have culture(several primates), mourn their dead (elephants), and trade favors for sex (Bonobos). We learned that evolution can produce not just tooth and claw, but empathy and the capacity for reason.

    Now you disparage robots as similarly dreadful things. The problem with this is that “robots” or more precisely, artificial intelligences, are doing more and more amazing things. Many of which are used to be human-only: predicting the weather, composing music, diagnosing medical conditions, reading and vocalizing written english, and playing chess. We need not reduce humans to some terrible thing “animal” or “robot” when we say there is no free will. We simply start to understand that small “robots” are how something like a human being with its grand capacities and thoughtfulness, is possible. When Darwin cast aside nonsense that animals were magically created, he gave us the truth that they’re all part of an enormous family tree instead. Nothing about the spectacular beauty of nature was compromised.. even though many of his contemporaries were furious because they believed, as you do, that some special nigh-magical essence was being removed. There is no magic here, but there’s still everything wonderful about being human, waiting to be understood.

  19. Ed Clint says:

    As luck would have it, Sam Harris wrote on his blog today about free will. I suggest you read it, his reply to Dan Dennett. Both Harris (a neuroscientist) and Dennett (a philosopher) agree with my basic suppositions:

    “Dan and I agree on several fundamental points: The conventional (libertarian) idea of free will makes no sense and cannot be brought into register with our scientific picture of the world. We also agree that determinism need not imply fatalism and that indeterminism would give us no more freedom than we would have in a deterministic universe.” -Sam Harris


  20. Jim Newman says:

    Yes, indeed, Sam and Dan agree on determinism versus fatalism and the illusion of free will. What is in question is whether we should use the same phrase free will.

    In geometry Euclidean geometry was enhanced by Riemannian geometry. Technically, there is no such thing as a straight line. All lines are curved because of gravity. However, it doesn’t really matter until drawing lines over really big distances.

    The question becomes do you insist on semantic accuracy or allow some slop to preserve rhetorical continuity.

    The common idea of a free will, like free agent, like soul is infecting. Religion depends on the idea of free will to defend against theodicy–a free will is necessary to choose goodness over evil, to explain the existence of evil.

    While you have written about how free will is against religion, modern religion relies on a free will such that one can choose goodness. Fatalism is now relegated to Islam and other “in the hand” theologies where god flows through you and you have no choice but to choose. But that still is a choice and apostasy and its punishment is based on the fact there is free will.

    Conservatives have to believe in free will as they cannot mete out punishment unless it is deserved–would you beat the cow for eating grass or the human for eating meat when clearly they are predisposed to that?

    There but for the grace of god go I, is really an apology for situationalism. If god wanted me to do otherwise he would fulfill it in me is in exact opposition to the idea of choosing christ for salvation? If I cannot have the choice of doing good or bad, I am damned from the beginning. This kind of Calvanism is no longer positive in the West for obvious reasons. But I should post on this and not just comment.

  21. Iwatchedhistorychannel says:

    The Gospel of Nicodemus covers what happens with those that came before Christ. Though it’s not cannon and is basically stitched together from the folklore of the time (so like everything else in the bible….)

    I’d also like to point out the wrongness of what people believe about the Christian Heaven and Hell. According to the Bible no one goes to Heaven or Hell until Judgment Day. So Jesus’s batting average can’t be calculated yet. Also, Heaven is just where those “chosen worthy” go after Armageddon, which I’m sure would seem like Paradise after the “end of the world” and compared to the lake of fire.

    Though it doesn’t surprise me that most believers don’t even know what they should believe..

  22. Norman says:

    Honestly, I don’t see how any Christian can argue for the existence of free will, as the bible clearly states that our actions and the world around us are ordered by god himself and his master plan. If you truly believe that, you lose all right to claim free will even exists except as a variable for god to manipulate as he sees fit, which clearly isn’t free. Either free will doesn’t exist, or god is not omnipotent

  23. Harrison says:

    The way I see it, there can’t be free will unless matter/energy can come from nothing or matter can obtain energy from nothing. If this is the case, then free will and anything “supernatural” is possible. Also, if this was the case, then every free choice, by every human ever, would introduce new energy into the universe. I’m no scientist, but wouldn’t this have scientifically observable effects? I know we can examine the electric potential in neurons, so if they were being fired by a supernatural “force,” wouldn’t there be neurons that fire completely alone?

    My parents put me through 12 years of Christian education, so I’ve had thousands of hours of theology classes, and I’ve never once ran into anything that convinced me of the existence of a god. However, I personally think religion can be a very good tool if used right. Psychologically, believing that a supernatural being that transcends time and space and has your back has got to keep cortisol levels down, and promote better health. Also, religion-done-right can promote very strong and successful communities.

    Ignorance is bliss, so who are we to tell people that if God makes them happy they shouldn’t believe?

  24. Julian says:

    David, you can get the same experience from meditating, or eating a piece of chocolate. A warm feeling of goodness, no God required. Even seeing a picture of a puppy might do the trick. Your good feeling is no evidence that someone is listening.

  25. T Marie says:

    The original texts the Bible stemmed from didn’t even have a literal heaven and hell. Even after Jesus was said to be the Messiah (which was originally supposed to be a man blessed with power and riches, but was changed later by the prophets within the writing) there wasn’t supposed to be a literal heaven and hell. Hades simply means the underworld, into the ground you go. God was supposed to come down and make everything better. When he didn’t, they made up Jesus. When he didn’t come back like it was proficiency, the meaning changed of what Heaven and Hades really stood for.

    It’s funny, because in 2012 when a religious man tries to sell books and other merchandise based on a Biblical prophecy that says the word will end (of course based solely on his interpretation of the text, which is often faulty) we poke fun at him and tell him how crazy he is. But when 2,000+ year old texts do he same thing, we worship them? It seems a bit faulty in logic to me.

    Christianity has changed over time based on the cultures it has engulfed. Christian’s move in, adopt a bit of the local tradition to make them more comfortable. Did you know that even Christmas was initially a Pagan holiday? So why should I (or anyone else for that matter) believe anything in the Bible when even a Christian’s most cherished holiday is not based on his own God? (Isn’t that a sin, by the way? Like – the biggest sin there is)

    Leaving free will and morality out of it, I still see no reason to believe in this junk. There are an abundant amount of other books out there that are much more worth my time then the Bible (again).

  26. David says:

    Christmas might be the most commercial holiday, but Easter is the most important and cherished holiday. It is based on people’s beliefs in god. And not every Christian believes the end of the world is predicted accurately. The book of Revelation is a very symbolic and misinterpreted account of the end of the world. It is more of a carefully worded hope that the roman rule will end.

  27. randy says:

    Forgive me if I missed it, but if you could clarify which denomination of Christianity you represent. It might shed light on the debate to know for instance that you view revelation as metaphoric rather than a literalist, kirbanesque interpretation. Is this because you see the revelation as revealed wisdom rather than first hand account, and there fore subject to interpretation?

  28. Bill says:

    How can christians be so dumb to think that a “god” that CANT die made a sacrifice by dying?
    There are no descriptions of torture or the ” stations of the cross ” bs in the bible. He sacrificed nothing. Even if he had existed.

  29. Owen says:

    Actually Easter was a Pagan ritual celebrating the return of spring. It didn’t become a christian holiday until after the civil war in the 1870s. It is merely a combination of ancient Babylonian rituals There is nothing in the bible about Easter.

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