Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sam Harris and the bizarre implication of denying free will

Jerry Coyne quotes and comments Sam Harris on free will:
[Harris] Do we have free will? Answer: no. “The problem is free will is just a non-starter, philosophically and scientifically. Unlike many other illusions, there is no way you can describe the universe so as to make sense of this notion of free will.
You can describe the universe so as to make sense of free will. Classical philosophers did it quite nicely (Aquinas: Summa Theologica 1.83.1, Quaestiones disputatae de malo 6). The free will "problem" is largely a consequence of idiotic materialism and scientism. But Harris has such a deep buy-in to this nonsense he doesn't understand that there are quite coherent ways of understanding free will.

[Harris] Now there are many people who have artfully changed the subject and tried to get a version of free will that makes some scientific sense. [JAC: so true!] But this is not what people actually mean by free will. What people mean is that they—their conscious selves—are free to chose their actions You choose what you want; you choose what you will to do. . . they still feel that at every moment, there is freedom to choose. Now what can this mean? From the position of conscious awareness of your inner life, this can’t be true. Everything you’re consciously aware of, at every moment, is the result of causes of which you’re not aware, over which you exert no conscious control.”
Huh? "Everything you're consciously aware of.. is the result of causes of which you're not aware, over which you exert no conscious control'? Does that mean that Harris made that statement without being in conscious control? That would explain its incoherence!
[Coyne] Sam goes on to explain, in light of this notion, why we should not be nihilists; why we need to do something instead of existing passively. I am 100% on board with his answer, and am glad that he sees through those philosophers who, through redefinition, try to save “free will” by simply ignoring what nearly everybody thinks is free will. It’s time to admit—and that means telling the public—that contracausal free will doesn’t exist, and to coin a new term for those philosophical forms of “free will” that aren’t contracausal.

Gibberish. The absurdity of denying libertarian free will is evident in this observation:

The philosophical problem of free will is linked to the issue of hard determinism. Hard determinism is the view that all of our acts are completely determined by natural processes. A way to understand what this means is to imagine a Cartesian graph with the x-axis as time and the y-axis as some quantifiable variable that we "choose"- such as the number of calories in the lunch I choose to eat today, or the number of miles I choose to drive when I'm on vacation, etc.

If my "choice" occurs at time zero, and hard determinism is true, then there is one and only one possible line extending forward in time. I stress: hard determinism means that there is only one possible future. At every time x, y is determined. Every x maps to one and only one y. That's what hard determinism means.

If I have libertarian free will, then beginning at time zero there are many different possible lines extending to the right-- different possible futures-- representing different values of y (choices) at the same value of x. The graph of free choice over time looks like a horizontal bush that branches at time zero (now).

Now consider this: if hard determinism is true, and I have no libertarian free will, then there is one and only one value my 'pseudo-choice' can take at each time in the future. Therefore, no matter what I choose (or think I 'choose'), the future will be what it will be.

Therefore, why choose to go to work in the morning? My future salary (the y axis) will be the same regardless. There is only a single line.

Why choose to eat? My future health (the y axis) will be the same no matter, because it's determined and I have no libertarian free will to alter it.

Why write a blog post defending determinism? It won't affect the future in any way.

You see the point. Following the logic of hard determinism, we can't choose, so why do anything? What will be, will be.

Now of course, as you might imagine, a few materialists have spotted this catastrophe for hard determinism, and propose 'compatibilism', which is the view that determinism and free will are compatible.

The difficulty with compatibilism is obvious: if our acts are determined entirely by natural law, we cannot have free will because we have no control over natural law.

I'll post more on free will and determinism in a while. It's a fascinating question, and nicely demonstrates the idiocy of materialism/scientism.

Meanwhile, my suggestion to free-will deniers like Coyne and Harris is: just chill. Stop writing your inane blogs, stop pushing your idiotic philosophy. The future is determined, and you have no choice. Just sit back, chug a cold one, spend the day in your underwear, watch old movies. The future is determined.

Que sera sera, materialists.

34 comments:

  1. Michael,

    Free will only exists if you believe in the erroneous idea that the mind is separate from the brain.

    Of course, everyone sensible knows that the mind is a product of the brain, which has been determined by a person's genetics and environment.

    The brain, when it is trying to make a decision, uses a number of subconscious modules, involving centers for conscientiousness, emotion, fear, etc, often pushing the person in different directions, and when the consensus has been reached, it then sends the decision to the mind which then rationalizes the decision.

    Free will could only exist if the same person under exactly the same conditions makes completely different decision.

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  2. Good stuff, Dr Egnor.
    As usual, you have pointed to a glaring fallacy within the core beliefs of the GNU set.
    Another aspect of their pilgrimage into the rabbit hole: determinism.
    The deterministic rote of men like Coyne and Harris are constant submission and prostration before the (un/non)God of futility.

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  3. @bachfiend:

    [Free will only exists if you believe in the erroneous idea that the mind is separate from the brain.]

    Disbelief in libertarian free will is self-refuting. Your opinion has the all the meaning of passing gas. Excuse yourself.

    [Of course, everyone sensible knows that the mind is a product of the brain, which has been determined by a person's genetics and environment.]

    I'm not sensible.

    [The brain, when it is trying to make a decision, uses a number of subconscious modules, involving centers for conscientiousness, emotion, fear, etc, often pushing the person in different directions, and when the consensus has been reached, it then sends the decision to the mind which then rationalizes the decision.]

    Brains don't make decisions. Neither do minds. People do. (Thomistic dualism 101)

    [Free will could only exist if the same person under exactly the same conditions makes completely different decision.]

    You've got a bad case of gas.

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  4. "You've got a bad case of gas."

    Nice way to treat engaged commenters - very classy.

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  5. “Free will” is really quite limited, despite belief that we control ourselves and our lives. We think we have endless choices...until we try to make them. Each decision must not only be based on what we “want to do,” but also on our own capabilities and what is expected of us. Nature and society imprison us, whether we like it or not. The key to release is mystical realization. All in One and One in All, the divine unity, opens the gate between heaven and Earth...between a universal consciousness and most people’s constrained awareness.

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  6. Michael,

    When you state 'I'm not sensible' you've finally made a positive statement that I agree with. Congratulations.

    Thomastic dualism 101? They teach that in kindergarten?

    You still haven't provided any proof that it's a valid model, besides hand waving and a lot of words going in circles. Claiming that it explains the mind doesn't count I'm afraid.

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  7. @RickK:

    ["You've got a bad case of gas."

    Nice way to treat engaged commenters - very classy.]

    The denial of free will reduces human choice to a bodily function.

    Perhaps I shouldn't have used flatus as a metaphor. Maybe sweat or nasal mucous would have been more classy.

    Thanks for pointing that out.

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  8. @bachfiend:

    [You still haven't provided any proof that [Thomistic dualism]'s a valid model, besides hand waving and a lot of words going in circles. Claiming that it explains the mind doesn't count I'm afraid.]

    It's not a 'model', in the sense of natural science. It's a metaphysical stance, a way of understanding existence.

    You have a metaphysical stance, too, except that it's not explicit and you haven't examined it in depth because you don't really understand your preconceptions or act in accordance with them.

    If you really believe that free will doesn't exist, and that determinism is true, then the future is set (that's what determinism means) and you have no reason to strive for anything.

    If God doesn't exist, there is no Source for objective moral law, so all moral law is subjective, which means that the moral rules by which society lives are ultimately just an assertion of power.

    My metaphysics are examined and reasonably coherent. Yours are largely unexamined and gibberish that you would deny even while holding to a worldview that requires logical and moral absurdity.

    Nietzsche understood your metaphysics, as you don't.

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  9. @bachfiend

    Since you equal mind with brain and intellect with matter, I would like to know how you would answer the following:

    1) In the future, computers will be self aware.
    2) In the future, computers will have emotions.

    If your worldview is true, I expect you will answer yes to both questions and then we will have some fun. If you answer no, then mind is not equal to brain.

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  10. Sorry Michael,

    Your views are the ones that are gibberish. My future isn't set or determined because it depends on the decisions made by numerous other people causing unpredictable chance events. Potentially, the Universe could be regarded as a clockwork mechanism if you knew the position and momentum of every particle and you could predict the future with uncanny accuracy, but the calculations would require a computer the size of the Universe working for an infinite time (perhaps slight hyperbole).

    Ethical laws are objective because societies chose ones that allow their societies to prosper. A society that punishes murderers is going to do just as well as a society that punishes murderers because it thinks it has a god that forbids murder.

    Actually, our society currently thrives on breaking at least one of your moral commandments, the one about not covetting your neighbour's ass. A lot of advertising aims at creating a feeling of envy and dissatisfaction at people's current lot. If one can't have a rich interpersonal life, then one can have, at least, the newest largest most expensive 4-wheel drive parked on display on your driveway.

    Pepe,

    I think computers will eventually be able to think and have emotions, when computers are as complex as the human brain. Current ones aren't much more complex than the brains of houseflies so there's a long way to go. I don't expect it to happen anytime this century.

    The computer would also need the right program running in the computer. I wouldn't be giving the task to Microsoft, because they still haven't got their operating system working after many attempts.

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  11. @bachfiend:

    "My future isn't set or determined because it depends on the decisions made by numerous other people causing unpredictable chance events."

    Unpredictable isn't the same thing as undetermined. If you have no libertarian free will, then your acts are determined, even if you can't predict what they will be. And if your acts are determined, then you don't have opinions, just chemistry. My chemical reaction disagrees with your most recent chemical reaction. Materialism is so enlightening.

    [Potentially, the Universe could be regarded as a clockwork mechanism]

    Who made the clock?

    "Ethical laws are objective because societies chose ones that allow their societies to prosper."

    Objective in this context means existing outside of the human mind. If 'societies' (i.e. people) choose the law, and there is no law independent of their choice, then moral law is not objective, it is subjective. Stop pretending that you don't understand what I mean.

    [Actually, our society currently thrives on breaking at least one of your moral commandments, the one about not covetting your neighbour's ass. A lot of advertising aims at creating a feeling of envy and dissatisfaction at people's current lot. If one can't have a rich interpersonal life, then one can have, at least, the newest largest most expensive 4-wheel drive parked on display on your driveway]

    You're right. What has that got to do with our discussion?

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  12. Denial of free will is proof positive that materialist scientists are lacking in simple common sense. Free will is primary data, not the theoretical conclusion of some possible scientific investigation. Science is supposed to explain the primary data of experience, not explain it away.

    But I suppose, if you don't have a will, then it is impossible to have a bad will. We'll find out how well that excuse plays on Judgment Day.

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  13. Furthermore those castigating Egnor for being rude imply that he somehow could have done differently, thereby demonstrating a decided and self-refuting lack of belief in the non-existence of free will.

    But atheists can't help it, that's just what they do. Constantly.

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  14. Michael and Matteo,

    As an atheist, I find that you and I are arguing starting from different premises.

    You are arguing that there's a deity which has imbued humans with a moral code.

    I, like all atheists, argue that there's not the slightest evidence for a deity, humans adopted their ethical standards to suit themselves and claimed that there was an unseen by seeing god to oversee compliance.

    I don't expect I or any other human is ever going to se the Judgement Day (unless you're talking about one of the 'Terminator' films). It's been predicted to be just around the corner ever since John the Baptist. Harold Camping is just the latest in a long list of failures.

    Ethical codes are objective not subjective, because they are imposed by society on individuals not adopted by individuals alone.

    Please come up with a new argument instead of repeating the same bogus ones.

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  15. bachfiend,

    Not all atheists believe there isn't the "slightest evidence for a deity." Most atheists believe that there isn't compelling evidence for such belief. Human's didn't adopt ethical standards to suit themselves, they received standards because a Darwinian world doesn't make for a good society.

    Ethical codes are objective, that is why we demand certain standards from others in our day-to-day interaction with them. It is objectively wrong, bachfiend, for you to molest my daughter.

    If "Judgment Day" is the day of our death, then yes all humans will see it.

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  16. Morality is evolved behavior. That's clear to anyone who has studied morality in other species.

    "they received standards because a Darwinian world doesn't make for a good society"

    That is utter nonsense. You simply don't understand evolution. "Darwinian" doesn't mean every individual trying to kill off every other individual. Altruism, tight social bonds, cooperative communities are all effective evolutionary formulas. Anyone who has looked at this even superficially sees this is true in everything from ant colonies to prairie dogs to humans.

    The only "objective" part of our ethical codes are the parts we're born with because of evolution - the instinctive parts.

    In the example you gave - your daughter - if she's past puberty, then she is fair game for sex in many cultures past and present. If she's not past puberty, then we have an instinctive (evolutionary) desire to protect children in our community, however that community is defined.

    If you're going to express opinions on this stuff, then first learn something about it. I recommend actually reading "The Selfish Gene" by Dawkins (which doesn't mean what the title leads you to believe - Dawkins later admitted it was a bad title). Then read "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker. Look through the bibliographies of both books and follow the evidence, the studies, the examples. Learn what the science says and why.

    Look, you can believe that our imperfect ethics come from the same source as our other workable but imperfect features - evolution.

    Or you can believe that ethics were given to us by an elusive but all powerful deity that gave us a set of ethics so badly defined that we're constantly at war, our prisons our overflowing, and the most organized global effort to abuse children was perpetrated by a church.

    Frankly, the idea that we're being guided by a god that is that thoroughly incompetent is MUCH more frightening than the idea that we're all the products of unguided evolution and we're on our own.

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  17. RickK,
    Maybe you have never heard of social Darwinism or eugenics? Perhaps you have never read Nietzsche, Darwin, Haekel, or any of their fanboys on subjects like 'race' and 'sexual deviance'? You should, before you defend their end of the field/ice.
    Or on the other hand, maybe you're just doing what materialists do: reciting the rote of the holy talking points.
    You state "if she's past puberty, then she is fair game for sex in many cultures past and present." And those cultures are preferable to the one in which you and your young live, RickK? You agree with 13 year old children having sex with adults, for example? These 'other' places where this is allowed, are they are better or worse than your home?
    Further: What about cultures that allow PRE adolescents to 'marry', as in Arabian and Near Eastern Muslim lands (Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc)? How do they fit in to the 'instinctive' pattern. These people DEFY reason and instinct in this matter because of an OBJECTIVE position. They live by EXAMPLE not by instinct. I will concede gladly that the example is one of religion -the prime Islamic prophet Muhammed married his child-bride Aisha  at age 6-9. But what of instinct? Where did it go? Why do they not revolt against this and cut it from their rulebook? Where is your determinism here? They have CHOSEN to defy instinct?
    These people have chosen to do 'instinctive' wrong for reasons based on entirely metaphysical thinking. There is no escaping that simple truth. Something NON MATERIAL has driven them to defy your 'nature'.
    You see, Evil is a problem for your FAITH too RickK.
    In mine we have a counter: 'Good' (IE God).
    I know this may be 'illusive' to a trained mosnistic mind, but it can be grasped and is understood by literally billions of people.

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  18. CNTD from above

    My son (in his mid 20's) put it perfectly a while ago in a similar discussion with some of his friends and fellow students (uni) while having a coffee fuelled conversation on a Wednesday night in my dining room. He suggested the materialist position on this kind of thing (morality, evil etc) completely unscientific, and illustrated it with metaphor / analogy that I think works well.
    He suggested problems such as evil, are viewed as a shadow being cast by nothing. The shadow is recognized as real by the monistic materialist, and it's shade used and avoided as needed- but while the object that cast it is visible to the materialist (he sees the tree, rock, or man); he fails -or more properly refuses - to see the cause of the shadow itself: the sunshine (light) and the sun it emanates from are ignored. The reasons for this ignorance are a different topic, what matters is the effect.
    This, he went on, is why their 'science' and 'proofs' seem so utterly BANAL to anyone familiar with even the most simplistic forms of existential or metaphysical  thinking or philosophy. This is why it is not a force for creative good, rather a hindrance to all inquiry, science,  and real progress.

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  19. CNTD from above

    One example used in their conversation was of the recent 'gay birds discovery.' Apparently small colonies of birds remain friends and loyal because of (despite?) having multiple sexual partners and relations with birds of their own sex. Being animals, this is no real shocker. They are not 'moral' beings in the same sense as us. But to these 'scientists' this is a revelation. It apparently proves gays can be monogamous? I would suggest monogamous gays have already proven that. Banality.

    On Dawkins and Pinker:
    What do you get when you mix that banality with a futurist agenda and add a splash of  outrageous pretension? Monist Materialism - IE GNU Atheism.

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  20. @bachfiend:

    I, like all atheists, argue that there's not the slightest evidence for a deity, humans adopted their ethical standards to suit themselves and claimed that there was an unseen by seeing god to oversee compliance.

    Ethical codes are objective not subjective, because they are imposed by society on individuals not adopted by individuals alone.

    Please come up with a new argument instead of repeating the same bogus ones.]

    The old argument is just fine. If there is no objective moral law (a moral law not created by humans), then our subjective moral law is just opinion, and nothing is objectively morally right or wrong.

    This argument is a defeater for atheism, unless you are willing to admit that there is nothing that is morally wrong independent of human opinion.

    It's fun to watch you wiggle to avoid the obvious.

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  21. The first paragraphs in my comment above were quoting bachfiend, and I forgot the first bracket.

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  22. @RickK:

    [Morality is evolved behavior. That's clear to anyone who has studied morality in other species.]

    Morality is law, not behavior. Whence the law?

    [That is utter nonsense. You simply don't understand evolution.]

    I understand evolution. That's why I don't agree with the Darwinian version of it.

    ["Darwinian" doesn't mean every individual trying to kill off every other individual. Altruism, tight social bonds, cooperative communities are all effective evolutionary formulas.]

    That's true. Darwinism explains anything. That's the problem.

    [The only "objective" part of our ethical codes are the parts we're born with because of evolution - the instinctive parts.]

    Objective means existing outside of the human mind. Without God, there's no idea outside the human mind.

    [In the example you gave - your daughter - if she's past puberty, then she is fair game for sex in many cultures past and present. If she's not past puberty, then we have an instinctive (evolutionary) desire to protect children in our community, however that community is defined.]

    Would it be moral to get 10 year olds pregnant? If you could get away with it? From a Darwinian standpoint, it's reproductive success.

    [If you're going to express opinions on this stuff, then first learn something about it. I recommend actually reading "The Selfish Gene" by Dawkins (which doesn't mean what the title leads you to believe - Dawkins later admitted it was a bad title). Then read "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker. Look through the bibliographies of both books and follow the evidence, the studies, the examples. Learn what the science says and why.]

    I've read both. I'm much less impressed with Darwinian theory after reading them. This stuff is crap.

    [Look, you can believe that our imperfect ethics come from the same source as our other workable but imperfect features - evolution.]

    I believe our world is fallen.

    [Or you can believe that ethics were given to us by an elusive but all powerful deity that gave us a set of ethics so badly defined that we're constantly at war, our prisons our overflowing,]

    The ethics are will defined (Ten Commandments, Sermon on Mount, etc). We disobey.

    Here's my question: why do you find misbehavior objectionable, if it enhances your relative reproductive success. How did the Holocaust harm your personal reproductive efforts? Perhaps it even enhanced them.

    Atheists lack standing to ask moral questions. Keep rutting.

    [the most organized global effort to abuse children was perpetrated by a church.]

    Child sexual abuse by priests wasn't 'organized' by the Church. The response to it was mishandled. This is pure anti-Catholic bigotry, on the level of Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    [Frankly, the idea that we're being guided by a god that is that thoroughly incompetent is MUCH more frightening than the idea that we're all the products of unguided evolution and we're on our own.]

    I don't give much credence to your view of God's competence. The question here is truth, not what 'frightens' you.

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  23. crusadeREX:

    [My son (in his mid 20's) put it perfectly a while ago ... and real progress]

    Great comment and superb metaphor.

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  24. @bachfiend

    I think computers will eventually be able to think and have emotions...

    You may want to reconsider your answer after reading this.

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  25. M.E. said: "Morality is law, not behavior. Whence the law? "

    From society and culture. That's why a set of "laws" like the Bible can be used to promote slavery in for 15+ centuries and then to fight against slavery in the past century. The "law" is what society decides it is - it's all about what the current society chooses to do with it. It's all relative.

    M.E. said: "That's why I don't agree with the Darwinian version of it. " and "That's true. Darwinism explains anything. That's the problem."

    Then you agree that the previous commenter was mistaken when he said a good society isn't Darwinian. Thank you.

    M.E. said: "Objective means existing outside of the human mind. Without God, there's no idea outside the human mind. "

    Yes, and we already established that there is no part of the mind that can't be affected by physical changes to the brain, so the actual data indicates there is no objective morality or thought outside the human brain. That may come as a shock to some 18th century philosophers, but I think a lot of things that we know today without question would come as a shock to 18th Century philosophers.

    "Would it be moral to get 10 year olds pregnant? If you could get away with it? From a Darwinian standpoint, it's reproductive success."

    For most people, sex with a 10 year old goes against our instinct to protect children, though there are obvious exceptions. That's why almost every society would object to it and creates laws or social mores to prohibit it.

    Of course we have many examples of societies rejecting such behavior long before they ever heard of any of your versions of "God", and we have examples of people dedicated to "God" who either harm children or who shelter those who do. So there is very little correlation between societal acceptance of "God" and what we would consider the moral treatment of children.

    M.E. said: "I've read both. I'm much less impressed with Darwinian theory after reading them. This stuff is crap."

    Nice dismissal of well-supported research. Which studies do you find to be "crap"? Studies of common traits across human societies? Twin studies? Is your so-eloquent assessment based on scientific objections or philosophical?

    M.E. said: "Here's my question: why do you find misbehavior objectionable, if it enhances your relative reproductive success. How did the Holocaust harm your personal reproductive efforts? Perhaps it even enhanced them."

    First, if you poll the people of this world who think the Holocaust was a good thing (and there are plenty), the percentage that would identify themselves as Christians would overwhelmingly dwarf the percentage that would identify themselves as atheists?

    Second, humans have empathy - they couldn't build complex, mutually beneficial societies without it. That's why the Nazis put so much effort into dehumanizing the Jews - they were fighting against human empathy, trying to suppress it. I see the Holocaust as wrong because my evolutionarily-instilled empathy is intact.

    Third, the Bible teaches us that the way to deal with large groups of people that you don't like is to kill them all, or at least kill many and enslave the rest. God himself is credited with the greatest genocidal event in history. So in spite of what the Bible teaches, I still have enough of my evolutionary instincts intact to feel outrage at the Holocaust.

    M.E. said: "Atheists lack standing to ask moral questions. "

    Actually, see my third point above. I have more standing than you because I'm not burdened by the weight of having to rationalize away the nonsense of 2000-year-old campfire stories. My world view isn't so divorced from reality that it needs an entire branch called "apologetics". And finally, I'm honest enough to look at the data and go where it leads.

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  26. continued...

    M.E. said: "Child sexual abuse by priests wasn't 'organized' by the Church. "

    You're right - I misspoke. I apologize. The Church only exercised procedures for sheltering perpetrators of such abuse from civil or criminal prosecution, and allowed institutions where such abuse was prevalent to operate for decades.

    Finally, M.E. said:

    "I believe our world is fallen. "

    *sigh* It is? Again? Are you telling me it is time for another divine global genocidal event? That's two failures in a row. When will God finally get it right!?!

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  27. Pepe,

    I don't take much notice of Access Research Network. Predicting what computer technology will be possible in a century is difficult. Prophesizing computer technology is impossible. Artificial intelligence will require both the hard- and the software

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  28. @bachfiend

    I don't take much notice...

    That's obvious!

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  29. Pepe,

    ARC is not one of the sites I bother to look at, but I still stand by my conclusion. Prophesizing future technology IS impossible.

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  30. Actually bach, I think that having predictions about future tecchnology is possible. Far from being accurate, but I think one can yet tweak with technological parameters and infer from there.

    Of course the whole prediction is so complex that just being able to get what is coming in the next year is already a major win.

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  31. I think harris has meditated too much.... look at the arguments for no free will... no subjectivity... he talks like buddha... and he committed the same errors...

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  32. A short article to support your cause on free will:
    http://www.tipskey.com/article/free_will/

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