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Critical Discussion: “Disproofs of God from the Doctrine of Free Will"

On Tuesday, July 23, at 7:20p,The Disproof Atheism Society will present “Disproofs of God from the Doctrine of Free Will,” a critical discussion, based in part on http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-01-01/free-will-science-religion/52317624/1 and http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Pike-Divine-Omniscience-and-Voluntary-Action.pdf.

Location: Rm. 442, BU Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St., Boston. Free & open to all: [masked].

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  • Jason M.

    Plans interrupted due to weather concerns.

    July 23, 2013

  • Jason M.

    Brian, Singularity,

    Just want to put this out there, but I'd rather not overstate my position (if for no other reason, because I'm new):

    I'd be really interested in taking stock of what, if anything, we mostly agree on regarding different versions of the Libet experiments.

    Treat this as a TL;DR to the much larger topic I'll try to include as a reply.

    Thanks.
    Jason

    July 22, 2013

    • Brian M.

      Dualism is a separate issue. It is easily shown to be incorrect by things like strokes, split brain experiments, etc.

      July 23, 2013

    • Jason M.

      Of course. That's more-or-less a given. The issue is that this is an example of something all versions of the Libet experiments can speak to, even if they don't do it particularly well.

      July 23, 2013

  • Brian M.

    Singularity, If in fact Coyne's experiment was done right with regards to timings I'm not even sure what Coyne (and others) thinks it is supposed to prove.

    We already know that movement of the fingers can be triggered by unconscious processes. One would expect even in the case of conscious action that most of the neural activity would not register as conscious. That there is a layer of hardware which monitors and interpretes such actions is very likely. If that were not the case then we should be conscious of all neural activity in the body, and we are not.

    July 22, 2013

    • Brian M.

      For instance, we are not away of the peristalic muscle movements of our intestines. Those are most certainly triggered by neurons just like all other movements. I seems logical that there is no need to consciously monitor such muscle activity and so our brains do not bother with all the hardware and expense to do that.

      In the case where the monitoring is needed then of course there is going to be a delay. Neural processing takes time and something as complex as a conscious monitoring system doesn't sound like a simple algorithm. There will be all sorts of delays in processing an reading a clock just to become aware of it.

      July 22, 2013

    • Brian M.

      (third portion of comment) Given that there is some kind of monitoring system involved in voluntary action then it seems only natural for that system to discount and ignore any delays involved. Our brains don't register ever random eye movement as a shifting of our visual field. Doing so would be highly distracting. Better for the monitoring system to adjust for delay and make us believe the decision to move is contemporaneous with start of the movement. This is not an "illusion". It is merely the way it functions. Without the adjustment for delay if we tried to grab the second hand on the very clock we are observing, we'd miss.

      July 22, 2013

  • singularity

    Lastly, considering how much scientific controversy there is regarding the design and and interpretation of these types of experiments, it would be unreasonable to throw out the grounding of civilization based on autonomous agency merely because of these experiments. How perfectly ironic that the author of the article to be discussed, claiming free will is an illusion, is named Coyne. Haha! At least he is true to his name! LOL

    Even though data coming in from multiple fields is increasingly revealing how much of our thought process is subconscious and how our own DNA can influence our behavior, it would be folly to throw out the baby with the bathwater, as the old adage goes.

    July 19, 2013

  • singularity

    Finally, I should also note that the experimenters are claiming success rates of only about 60% in "predicting" the "decision" based on their interpretation of "subconscious" signals picked up several seconds in advance. See Soon et al., 2013 (www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/[masked]/pnas[masked]). However, when there is a 50/50 choice of using the left or right hand, or performing subtraction or division, then EVEN IF the experimenters actually flipped a coin themselves to "predict" results, instead of taking EEG readings, they would still "predict" the subject's "decision" in advance with a 50% success rate. Is the alleged prediction rate of 60% really that much better, especially considering the flaws in the design, and the possibly biased intention of these scientists to make something out of nothing so they can get published, or to validate their personal biases?

    July 19, 2013

  • singularity

    In addition, I would like to point out that there is another serious flaw in these types of experiments: the so-called "decision" the experimental subject is asked to make is generally a random, spontaneous decision, such as "choosing" to add or subtract a number RANDOMLY, or "choosing" to hit a button with the left or right hand RANDOMLY. It's like asking the subject to FLIP A COIN and then log the answer. These sorts of "decisions" have little to do with rational thought processes or any type of serious decision-making. We shouldn't be surprised if the subconscious mind is employed in the task of flipping the metaphoric coin to produce these meaningless "decisions".

    July 19, 2013

  • singularity

    I planned to attend this event, but something else has come up, and I might not be able to make it, so I will contribute here instead. Meetup has a 1000 character limit so I'll have to break this up into a couple of sections.

    The type of experiments which some individuals (such as Jerry Coyne, the author of the first above-referenced article) have interpreted as showing lack of autonomous agency, tend to have serious flaws. First, the time delay is attributable to factors other than those Coyne and his ilk assume. For example, Miller et al. argue that the delay is due to effects of the experimental design. See the article "Effects of Clock Monitoring on Electroencephalographic Activity: Is Unconscious Movement Initiation an Artifact of the Clock?" by Miller et al., Psychological Science 2011, 22: 103, originally published online December 1, 2010. http://www.deepdyve.com/lp/sage/effects-of-clock-monitoring-on-electroencephalographic-activity-is-i0CzxhjcR6

    July 19, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Would love to attend but I am teaching (Literature) Mon-Thur all Summer from 6-10pm. Cannot wait to meet you all though.

    July 19, 2013

  • Brian M.

    From the USA article: "... let me define what I mean by "free will." I mean ...: When faced with two or more alternatives, it's your ability to freely and consciously choose one, either on the spot or after some deliberation. A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice — ... — you could have chosen differently."

    July 12, 2013

    • Brian M.

      His use of the word "could" vs "would" is problematic here. We use the word could in a very loose way prone to equivocation. Does he mean "He could of" because "it was free from coercion", "it was random and not contingent on inputs", "he also could have a different personality", etc. He certainly doesn't mean the last but in his article he switches to that meaning unawares when discussing punishment for criminality. This article is full of equivocation.

      July 12, 2013

    • Brian M.

      I can understand Coyne being a bad philosopher, he's a biologist, but what I cannot understand is his failure to avoid equivocation. Even a scientist needs to be able to do that.

      July 12, 2013

  • Brian M.

    How does one "present" a discussion? I assume by showing a recording titled "Disproofs of God from the Doctrine of Free Will". If so then who were the people in the recording?

    The USA today article is so full of error that I'd be here all day criticizing it. The most critical error is the implicit belief that choice is incompatible with physical determinism. The author seems to suffer from the same poor assumptions that philosophical determinists and philosophical libertarians do. Compatiblists, like me do not share these bad assumptions.

    July 12, 2013

    • Brian M.

      The second article also makes the assumption of a incompatibility between choice and physical determinism. I also think it has a poor definition of knowledge. Under the definition used belief that happens to be true by chance would be classified as knowledge. I don't happen to share that belief. If I flip a coin and you guess that it will come up as heads and also are stupid enough to also believe that guess, and it turns out you guessed right, then that is not knowledge. Gambling addicts are not acting on knowledge, even when they firmly believe in their lucky number, or great horse race tip.

      July 12, 2013

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