Archive for July 14th, 2022

“Even Some of Your Own” (Acts 17:28, Rotherham).

The truth can’t and won’t be confined. “Even Some of Your Own” is a series that runs occasionally as a part of the Editor’s Desk in the Bible Student’s Notebook. It chronicles truth breaking forth from quite unexpected sources.

Sometime last year our dear brother and friend Mike Owens introduced us to a video compilation of Sam Harris, The Delusion of Free Will.[1] Harris is a neuroscientist, who holds that “free will is an illusion.”

Mike wrote that this video was “worth 2 or 3 viewings to soak it in.” I would agree. Mike also added, that, “it’s interesting that this atheist (perfectly designed by our Creator) is explaining so well the same truths that God has shown us.”

Though not a believer, in his video compilation I counted eight times that he used the word “author,” as in “we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions.” His use of the word “author” so many times seems to me to beg the question, if we are not the author of our thoughts and actions, then who is?

While reading his book Free Will (Free Press, 2012) I marked some very interesting sections, which I will now share with our readers (emphases mine.)

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. (p. 5)

The popular conception of free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present. … Both of these assumptions are false. (p. 6)

Our sense of free will results from a failure to appreciate this: We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose. (p. 13)

Most of us feel that we freely author our own thoughts and actions … Thus the idea of free will emerges from a felt experience. (p. 15)

At this moment, you are making countless unconscious “decisions” with organs other than your brain – but these are not events for which you feel responsible. Are you producing red blood cells and digestive enzymes at this moment? Your body is doing these things, of course, but if it “decided” to do otherwise, you would be the victim of these changes, rather than their cause. (p. 23)

People feel (or presume) an authorship of their thoughts and actions that is illusory. (p. 24)

Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents, or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender, or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome, or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? (p. 41)

You will do whatever it is you do, and it is meaningless to assert that you could have done otherwise. (p. 44).

I’m not especially worried about degrading the morality of my readers by publishing this book. Speaking from personal experience, I think that losing the sense of free will has only improved my ethics – by increasing my feelings of compassion and forgiveness, and diminishing my sense of entitlement to the fruits of my own good “luck.” (p. 45)

Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. … Even if you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you, you must still admit that your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. (pp. 61-62).

Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us. (p. 64).

Harris quotes Albert Einstein:

Honestly, I cannot understand what people mean when they talk about the freedom of the human will. I have a feeling, for instance, that I will something or other; but what relation this has with freedom I cannot understand at all. … Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills. (p. 75-76)[2]

[1]     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQJjn-gekn4

[2]     Cited from Max Planck, Where Is Science Going? (Prologue by Albert Einstein) W.W. Norton & Company (1932, p. 201).


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