February 13, 2007

Determinism

I guess I'll start off my posts from the good 'ol midwest and seminary by talking about something more or less useless. Many of you might actually say that's what I talk about ALL the time, but that's because you're just being cynical. Anyway, on with it.

My first class of the week is called "Philosophy of the Christian Religion," and I'm not really sure why I'm taking it. The professor is nice enough, did his PhD at Princeton and seems to really like Philosophy. He's certainly the best Philosophy teacher I've ever had; the last guy was awful, he wore the same suit everyday (at 8:30am) and talked in this sort of soothing voice. One time a guy actually started snoring in class. Watts isn't really like that, but then again, I've never heard the somewhat boring subject of philosophy lectured by a guy who might be a baptist preacher before.

In any case, the last three classes we've been going through this book called "Metaphysics" by some guy named Hasker. He seems pretty smart; he's really good at logic, making very complicated-sounding arguments take up very little space on the page (by using very large words). So far we've hit up two topics, but both relate to the issue of "determinism."

Determinism is basically a view held by people who say that stuff happens because it happens.
Scott Adams, for example, spends an awful lot of time (and words) telling us why nothing is our fault - we're all moist robots. That's determinism, in a nutshell: everything has a cause, and every cause has a cause, and so on. "Hard Determinists", the nazis of the determinist world, tend to say things like "if you could know the laws of the universe and the position and velocity of every particle in it, you could figure out exactly what would happen for the rest of time." It's an issue of free will, I guess.

Now, I'm not going to spend time here talking about whether or not we have a free will, what that means, or whether or not it means I can actually choose what flavor pizza I want. My beef (not a choice topping, by the way) is with the people who inflicted this view on us.

Essentially, determinism is a view of the world that doesn't matter. Let's say that determinism is true. What that means is that my belief in determinism is just as useful as somebody else's belief in their cat, or another somebody's belief in a theory that's not determinism; we all have our beliefs because that's the way the atoms fell. Any belief is an illusion; choice is an illusion; the evidence supporting determinism is illusive; the idea of "support" is illusive, simply because it's all that way anyway, whether we approve of it or not. You can't be MORE in line with what the universe throws at you, and so your belief in having chosen to believe determinism is more or less irrelevant, just like your strange need to try and convince me that determinism is right.

In short, the whole theory makes no difference; it doesn't matter if I believe in it or not, because that's what happened and there's nothing I can do to change it. If it changes, it wasn't really my fault; I'm just the result of a long chain reaction of events and happenings. If determinism were right, and nobody believed in it, that would make sense too. It's sort of like talking about true randomness - you can't ever be sure if something is or is not really random, even if, say, it's simply the number 9 repeating endlessly. You can't ever know if determinism is true or not - even if it is, the very idea of "evidence" implies our ability to choose to believe or not believe something.

Basically, hard determinism is a self-contained theory. I understand the need to mention "hard determinism" in lectures, but not the need to spend an hour and a half on it. I can't ever get that time back.

2 comments:

Chris said...

The trouble comes, of course, in a world that's not governed by "hard determinism" but by something else, perhaps where free will (or choice) DOES exist. It's a whole other ball game, because if somebody believes in determinism, they must not believe in responsibility - nothing can be anybody's fault. And so it's more likely than not they will do whatever they feel like, because let's face it, if you weren't responsible for your actions, wouldn't you rather go play computer games than do your metaphysics homework?

Michael said...

9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999



that was a random comment.
and the universe made me post it.