Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dawkins on agency: Fawlty philosophy

Can Richard Dawkins truly claim credit for his brilliant book, The God Delusion? If he is right, it's a silly as Basil Fawlty blaming his car for not starting.

A redated post.

29 comments:

Mike D said...

More than one good discussion has been derailed by introducing the paradox of determinism and free will. There should be a specific logical falacy to cover this. This should stand as a paradox, not as a universal defeater.

I am no suppoorter of Dawkins but I find his answer honest and convincing. It will be a challenge in any world view to be consistent in thought and action with respect to determinism and freedom.

Don Jr. said...

Mike,

A logical fallacy for what? Also, Manzari never used his question as a defeater of Dawkins' view. He was simply saying (as Dawkins agreed) that given determinism certain things follow. Dawkins answer was honest and, for the most part, consistent; but so was Zeno of Elea.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog. Keep up the good work and stay encouraged.

exapologist said...

I'm not sure how interesting this point is supposed to be. Is Christianity supposed to stand in stark contrast to Dawkins' position, in the sense that, while he has trouble making sense of his intuitions about free will, Christians don't? If the problem is just the one about reconciling one's intuitions about freedom, determinism, and responsibility, then this is a problem that all views share alike, as of course you know.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't have that problem. I'm a satisfied agency libertarian who thinks that position fits perfectly with Christian theism. I realize that not all Christians are in such good shape, however.

Don Jr. said...

Exapologist,

What in the world does Christianity have to do with the issue? It was never once mentioned in the post or in the link. Moreover, many Christians are determinists (certain Calvinists, for example).

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

I share Peter Van Inwagen's sympathies re: the mysteriousness of agent causal accounts of the will (although I don't share his sympathies with libertarianism). But my main worry here isn't whether Christians can give an account of the source of volitional actions. Rather, it's whether the Christian's problem of the apparent conflict between (for example) freedom and divine foreknowledge is any less vexing than the materialist's problem of the apparent conflict between freedom (and responsibility) and causal determinism. It seems to me that both camps have to do some conceptual modification to accomodate intuitions here, no?

Best,

exapologist

Victor Reppert said...

But all the solutions, from Open Theism to Calvinism, leave us responsible for our actions. Dawkinsis implying that he does not think we are responsible for our actions. I'm just asking him to live with the consequences of his beliefs.

I guess if Calvinism is true, the God is the author of the God Delusion.

Anonymous said...

"I'm just asking him to live with the consequences of his beliefs."


Looks like he is living with consequences of his beliefs, if the quote is correct:
"The philosophical question of determinism is a very difficult question. It's not one I discuss in this book, indeed in any other book that I've ever talked about. Now an extreme determinist, as the questioner says, might say that everything we do, everything we think, everything that we write has been determined from the beginning of time in which case the very idea of taking credit for anything doesn't seem to make any sense. Now I don't actually know what I actually think about that, I haven't taken up a position about that, it's not part of my remit to talk about the philosophical issue of determinism. What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don't feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do."

Don Jr. said...

Victor,

I know some Calvinists are compatibilists, but aren't some plain determinists, and as such would not (consistently) be able to hold any individual responsible for his or her actions?

Anonymous,

If Dawkins was truly "living with the consequences of his beliefs," then (to turn on what Victor said at the end of his last comment) the title page of Dawkins' book would read "by The Laws of Nature" (or some such thing); but he certainly wouldn't give himself credit for the work.

exapologist said...

Victor,

So the point is that, while others *have* seen the tension between the relevant beliefs, and *have* subsequently made the requisite conceptual modifications, Dawkins *hasn't* (in particular, he hasn't dropped his beliefs about responsibility, in spite of his acceptance of hard determinism)? I thought you were implying the deeper claim that Dawkins, qua materialist and determinist, *couldn't* revise his beliefs in a way that's consistent and plausible (e.g., by adopting some form of compatibilism). It seems that the former claim is true yet relatively uninteresting, while the latter seems interesting yet false.

Victor Reppert said...

For broadly the reasons offered by Van Inwagen, I do not find compatibilism plausible. So I guess I ought to give Dawkins credit for seeing and applying what I take to be the correct consequences of determinism, and I sincerely hope that he stands up to Dan Dennett when he tries to talk him out of it (by giving him a copy of Elbow Room).

Don Jr. said...

Exapologist,

Dawkins is a determinist not a compatibilist. If he were a compatibilist this would not be an issue. The issue is that certain things follow if one is to be a consistent determinist. That's all. I find it interesting that you find that uninteresting. Personally, I don't find the link between a (supposed) worldview and the way one views the world, uninteresting. If one is an atheist then she ought not pray (at least not to God).

Victor Reppert said...

Don Jr.: I take it all Calvinists maintain that those who are punished eternally are punished for their sins, for which they are held responsible.

Anonymous said...

don jr. wrote:
"If Dawkins was truly "living with the consequences of his beliefs," then (to turn on what Victor said at the end of his last comment) the title page of Dawkins' book would read "by The Laws of Nature" (or some such thing); but he certainly wouldn't give himself credit for the work."

In the quote the link goes to, Dawkins explicitly says that he has not taken a position on 'strict determinism':

"Now an extreme determinist, as the questioner says, might say that everything we do, everything we think, everything that we write has been determined.....Now I don't actually know what I actually think about that, I haven't taken up a position about that, it's not part of my remit to talk about the philosophical issue of determinism. "

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

Determined Dawkins deserves credit for something? ;)

Kidding aside, I worry that a claim to the effect that Christianity has less lumps under the philosphical rug than materialism on this issue (as on many or most issues?) is implausible.

Best,

exapologist

Anonymous said...

"Dawkins, if you believe in Hard Determinism, why do you take credit for your book?"

Philosophically astute Dawkins: "Because I was determined to."

Case closed.

Victor Reppert said...

Determined Dawkins deserves credit for something? ;)

Being a determinist doesn't make determinism true of you. He has free will in the libertarian sense, just like Peter Van Inwagen and William Hasker.

exapologist said...

Right. The "wink" was meant to indicate that the comment was unserious and a joke -- sorry if that wasn't obvious.

All the best!

exapologist

Don Jr. said...

'11:43 AM' Anonymous,

On the linked page Dawkins says that he "sort of" sees the inconsistency in his view and that it is one society has to live with.

'2:36 PM' Anonymous,

If on determinism it is faulty to take credit for anything, then what you said just means that, given determinism, Dawkins is determined to hold false beliefs.

Anonymous said...

"If on determinism it is faulty to take credit for anything, then what you said just means that, given determinism, Dawkins is determined to hold false beliefs."

Of course. It may even be that he is determined to hold the false belief of determinism.

Ilíon said...

Mr Dawkins is neither a deep nor a careful thinker. But it sure is fun to mock his pretensions.

Gordon Knight said...

somebody needs to explain to me how calvinists can hold that anyone is really responsible for their sins. I think their position is no better (or worse) than a causal determinist.

Ilíon said...

Is this needing to explain it to you a moral obligation that someone has? And, perchance someone could Calvinism rationally, are you up grasping it? After all, you don't seem to be able to grasp the straight-forward fact that the Creator of space-time is not contained (or limited) by space-time.

Rob G said...

The Christian East views the relationship of God's sovereignty and man's free choice as ultimately unexplainable, and thus a theological mystery in the strict sense, in the same way the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the hypostatic union are mysteries. The East feels no great pressure to resolve this issue, which is one reason why the grace/free will controversy so prominent in the West since St. Augustine didn't arise in Eastern Christianity. In the words of Kallistos Ware, the West was trying to answer questions that the East didn't even consider asking.

This is not to say, however, that the question was ignored by the Eastern Christians. The theologian/philosopher who did the most work on this issue was St. Maximus the Confessor (+ 662 A.D.), who was possibly the brightest theological and philosophical light of the 7th century. His writings on this matter are mostly related to the monothelite controversy -- the book "Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor" by Joseph Farrell examines his thought re: this issue. The best scholarly book on Maximus is generally considered to be Lars Thunberg's "Microcosm and Mediator."

Blip said...

GK,

What's wrong with a Calvinist taking a standard compatibilist line on moral responsibility?

Victor Reppert said...

That's what they typically do. The only thing is the presence of a controlling agent, which is not present in ordinary naturalistic determinism. There is some further intuition on the part of some that control be another person obviates responsibility even though naturalistic determinism might not.

Ilíon said...

Blip: "What's wrong with a Calvinist taking a standard compatibilist line on moral responsibility?"

What's wrong with asserting that 'A' equals 'not-A'?

N.D. said...

Love is a Gift, given freely from the heart. No one can force another to Love them. The reason we have free will is so that we can freely choose Love, and thus choose to Love God, as God Loves us. Every act of Love serves to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Love. To Love God Is to Love the very essence of Love. While at the end of The Day, it may still be a Great Mystery, it is no mystery that man was created through an act of Love, and hopefully, we will be Redeemed by the Greatest Act of Love:

" For God so Loved us, that He Sent His Only Son..."