I recently heard this compelling argument for the existence of god and want to know what you all think about it. The argument goes like this:

If there is no god and the world is an accident, if everything about people, including what they think and feel, is just the chance combination of molecules and is explained in terms of chemistry and physical laws, why be rational? On the basis of atheism, weeds grow because they are weeds and minds do just whatever they do. People act like they are free to think about different kinds of ideas and then choose the best one. On the basis of atheism, that's impossible. Our minds are just a bunch of atoms vibrating and will do whatever they have been programmed to do. If there is no god and the physical world is all there is, there is no logical basis for logic. But people, including atheists, do trust reason and logic even though they have no reason to assume that it works.

Any input you have is appreciated. 

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Mark Blaguer - Free Will

Mark Blaguer - Free Will as an open Scientific Problem

Raymond Tallis - Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

Raymond Tallis- Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity

Daniel Dennet - Freedom Evolves

Sam Harris - Free Will

Hofstadter - Godel, Escher, Bach

Robert Kane - The Oxford Handbook of Free Will

Robert Kane- The significance of Free Will

Henri Bergson - Time and free will : an essay on the immediate data of consciousness

Derek Pereboom - Living without Free Will

Bruce Waller - Against Moral Responsibility

Anthology - Essays on Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Oxford Press - Free Will: A very Short Introduction


I don't remember the title of a couple more books. In December I'll be back in Leuven and can look them up when I pass by the philosophy library.

I particularly recommend Raymond Tallis's essays, Daniel Dennet's response to Sam Harris and the Significance of Free Will. If you are really up for the challenge, then try Freedom Evolves as well as Godel Escher Bach.

Davis, thank you for this reading list :)

Thanks for the list.  I'll have to track them down.

Neuroscience may not negate free will (or it may), but the logic of physical science doesn't leave a whole lot of room for it in a world where everything has a cause. You do what you do based on antecedent events and circumstances, and the only way around that is randomness in some form, which itself is anathema to free will.

Free will is a feeling, not a fact.

@Ian: "Neuroscience says there is no free will. "

I disagree with this premise.

From Wiki: Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system.

From my P.O.V. Neuroscience does not take a position on Agency or free will, it is just a investigative method used to understand the nature of the nervous system.

Sam Harris for example seems to draw conclusions about agency and free will without a high percentage of support from other Neuroscientists.

Consciousness is not an illusion I am conscious at this moment I assure you that I am.

IMHO Neuroscience is in it's infancy and it's way too early to be claiming a full understanding of agency, will, choice, thought, consciousness or subconsciousness and how the deterministic relationship of the atomic, sub-atomic and the quantum effects our lives.

I'm just trying to find my way through life without fooling myself too much.

Consciousness is not an illusion

In fact this is very like trying to use logic to disprove the utility of logic.  An illusion consists of having a conscious entity perceive something that's not there.  Trying to claim that consciousness itself is an illusion, should require one to bear in mind which consciousness is being tricked by the illusion, but um...that consciousness that has to be there for there to be an illusion, is supposed not to exist.

It's weird, while I just think of myself as a conscious being, other people sometimes think I'm a deity.  Just last night my girlfriend started screaming "OMG, OMG, OMG ."   :)

You should probably not leave the toilet seat up, Gregg, in that case :).


Jeff, the moment you typed "compelling" in your original post, you effectively stated that you believe in the validity of the argument you posted. It's a bad argument. It's been dissected in the thread, and I'm not about to rehash that.

Let me show you something that demonstrates the existence of logic without any form of magical deity.

There is an octopus in a tank. Two boxes are placed in the tank, one oblong, the other square, but otherwise similar in size. The oblong box contains food. The square box is empty. The octopus opens both boxes (simple flip lids) and finds the food in the oblong box. The next day, the same two boxes are placed in different locations in the tank. The octopus goes straight to the oblong box ignoring the square one. The octopus has used logic to determine its course of action. If the food was in the oblong box yesterday, it's probably in it today too.

The experiment continued with degrees of difficulty and continuing the assessment of octopus aptitude but I think the above suffices to make the demonstration.

All learning uses logic. Our ancestors used logic to survive (cave with big footprint denotes possible cave lion - danger!). The ones that did not use logic died out (eaten by said cave lion). Deduction and logic were the survival traits that dominated and are a naturally evolved trait.

Confucius says.... Swinging chain in toilet denotes warm seat.

Exactly, the logic of the world of physical objects.  Very well illustrated.  Even octopi understand it, as well they need to, as they have eight physical legs to coordinate. 

"If there is no god and the physical world is all there is"

- yes. 

"there is no logical basis for logic."

- no. 

Logic is something the utility of which humans discovered somewhere along the way. But humans aren't the only logical critters. Crows and other birds use tools to draw food close enough to grab. Some birds drop mussels onto rocks to crack their shells. Not only that, some behaviors get passed along, not genetically, but in the form of training the young and even associates. 

In a lawful universe, logic is simply there to be discovered. The basis of logic isn't logical, it's practical.


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