Are humans physical machines determined by the laws of chemistry and physics? Has science shown that free will is a myth? Sean and Scott invite Biola professor Greg Ganssle to discuss the recent book Determined by Robert Sapolsky. They discuss the nature of free will, respond to common arguments in favor of determinism, and talk about why this issue matters so much for human flourishing.

Greg Ganssle (Ph.D. Syracuse University) is a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Dr. Ganssle has worked in campus ministry at a variety of campuses including Yale University. He is the author of multiple books including Our Deepest Desires and Thinking about God.

Episode Transcript

Sean: Do humans have free will? Or are we merely biological machines determined by our genes, environment, and other factors of which we have no control? Would the world be a better place if we got rid of the idea of free will? Today we will talk with our Talbot colleague, professor, and philosopher, Greg Gansill, about these questions and the new book that is out called "Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will." I'm your host, Sean McDowell.

Scott: I'm your co-host, Scott Ray.

Sean: This is Think Biblically, brought to you by Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Greg, this is a lot of fun, been looking forward to this for a while.

Greg: Thanks.

Sean: We're gonna dive right in and maybe frame this question for us. Some people might be thinking, an entire episode on free will, we don't mean the biblical theological question, we mean philosophically, but why does the question of whether or not humans have free will matter?

Greg: Well, one of the strengths of this book that we're talking about is that Sapolsky actually realizes that if there is no free will, then there is no moral responsibility. Free will and moral responsibility are closely tied together. I mean, how can I be blamed for something that's not up to me? And if his position is right, that we are determined by our biochemistry and our environment and all of these factors, then none of my actions are really up to me. So, he consistently argues that we should get rid of not just the idea of free will, but the idea of moral responsibility. So, that's one big thing. Now for Christians, well, actually for everybody, whether or not we have free will plays into what it means to be human. Are we really agents in the world that can make some kind of difference? For Christians is especially important because we're made in the image of God and given a task to cultivate the world, which implies that we act in the world and our actions make a difference. So, there are a lot of reasons why the question of free will is important.

Scott: So, Greg, one of the things that struck me about the book was I first heard about the book reading the Sunday Los Angeles Times.

Greg: Of course.

Scott: When it was featured very prominently in the newspaper when it first came out. And there were a couple of editorials in that same edition. One by our friend, John Martin Fisher, at UC Riverside was a very telling response to this. But my question is, is he tackling something new here? Is he giving us something new or is this a reworking of an old question?

Greg: Well, maybe the answer is yes and no, right? It is the reworking of an old question. I mean, there have been what we might call hard-determinists throughout the history of modern philosophy. And even in ancient philosophy. But what is new is his exposition of a lot of experiments in brain physiology that he takes to support his position. But people who are determinists have been around for a long time.

Scott: So, I think for our viewers and listeners, it might be helpful just to set the landscape here. So there's a continuum from, you have absolute free will folks on one end and hard determinist on the other end. What do we mean by the determinist? And then there's positions in the middle too. So, it’s a compatibilist view. So, just briefly explain what those are.

Greg: Yes. We'll do a little vocabulary. Determinism is the view that every event is necessitated, made necessary by previous events. And so, technically speaking, if you knew the position and momentum of every particle in the universe and all the laws of nature, you could predict everything that was gonna happen. That's kind of a picture of what determinism is. So, it's a universal claim. It's a claim about every event. You might, in your research science, have kind of a limited determinism where you do an experiment and you're trying to isolate all the factors so that you can identify what is doing the work in a particular place. That's not the same as determinism as used here.

Sean: Okay, so define free will then.

Greg: Okay, so free will is the notion that a human being has agency, that what happens is not due simply to the previous events, but the human being acts in such a way that the responsibility for the effect can be traced to the person.

Sean: Okay, so you act A, could have done B, the decision is up to you, maybe influenced by some of the factors that he gets into environment, parenting, biology, but you still have a sense of agency that you can choose and pick things and hence be held responsible.

Greg: Yes, but we all know that parenting has very little influence on our children. [all laugh]

Sean: Exactly. Now for the record, he's very clear that he's a determinist. He says the answers that the behavior happened, some choice that somebody makes because of something that preceded it caused it to happen. And why did that prior circumstance occur? Because something that preceded it caused it to happen. So, in his view, it's dominoes all the way back in a sense to the Big Bang.

Greg: Exactly.

Sean: Now this kind of gets us to the next question. Why does the question of whether or not we have free will have worldview implications? And by the way, as you're thinking of your answer, I think it's great that he concedes, and I think it's obvious that cross-culturally—and even kids—naturally believe in free will. It's like we have to be talked out of it. And he's kind of talking himself out of free will. So, that tells me he must have this worldview that he's bringing to the issue, trying to argue for something from. So, what's that worldview and what other worldview issues are at play with this question?

Greg: Well, I think there are a lot of worldview issues. In the beginning, we talked about what it means to be human and that's a part of anybody's worldview. And in his position, what it means to be human is essentially to be a cog in the machine, so to speak. Now he's not denying that we have experiences that we like and this kind of thing, but we are not agents in the world, according to his worldview. His worldview is physicalist—right? The only things that are real are physical objects. And the only thing that does causal work is the effects of physical objects. And so, for the human being, all the work is done by biochemistry, basically.

Scott: Okay, so he says, I mean, he issues a challenge to the free will advocate that says, show me something independent outside of a neuron that actually causes it to fire.

Sean: That's right.

Greg: Yes. And the way he words that is really interesting. I won't be able to quote it off the top of my head, but it's, if you can identify one neuron that fires as a result, not of something previous, then I'll believe in free will. Well, I think the proper response to that is, well, if you can show me that every neuron, each and every firing is causally related to something previous, then maybe we'll have to believe there is no free will. But of course, nobody can do that experiment. His experimental findings are really broad—as they must be in biochemistry. But in order to prove scientifically that the human person is determined, you would have to show that every neural firing is completely caused, not partially caused, but completely caused by previous neural firings. And that, as you said, the dominoes go all the way back.

Sean: So, is it fair to say, if the evidence pointed towards determinism, this favors a materialistic worldview?

Greg: It seems to, but there actually are concepts of free will that are compatible with determinism. And this is called compatibilism. It's a pretty good name because an action can be determined and free at the same time.

Scott: How so?

Greg: Okay, so a basic compatibilist view is gonna be the view that the action is free if I do it because I will to, and if I didn't will to do it, I wouldn't have done it.

Sean: Okay.

Greg: And that's sufficient for freedom and moral responsibility. And of course, that's also compatible with the notion that my will is determined. If determinism is true, what I want is determined. So, I do an action because I want to, yes, but I want to do it because I'm determined by biochemistry. So, the action is still determined, but people who hold this view of free will think it's still sufficient. I'm not doing something against my will as if I'm tied up or someone has a gun to my head. I can still be free in those actions.

Scott: So, I can see our viewers and listeners saying, how is that not the person just wanting to have it both ways?

Greg: Well, yes. I mean, I think that's a fair challenge. Now it is the dominant view in the West historically, right? It came into Christianity through Augustine and of course he's specifically thinking about the theological question in terms of our response to the gospel. Is that something for which we have free choice? But it gets extended to all of our choices and secular philosophers tend to have the same view. David Hume had this view. A lot of contemporary philosophers are compatibilists of one kind. And I think part of it is they have this hunch that biochemistry is all there is. And yet we still wanna save moral responsibility.

Sean: So, he starts with this physicalist worldview. And he's looking at the world through the lens of science. To him, this is not a philosophical question. It's not a historical question. It's a scientific question. Walk us through kind of how he makes his case before we get to some of our differences.

Greg: Okay, well, he is happy to draw on the work of philosophers. I mean, he quotes a lot of philosophers.

Sean: He does, that's true.

Greg: But the real case is made through scientific experiment. So, he will explain these complicated experiments that show like the Libet experiment is one he refers to quite a lot. I think it does most of the work for him. That when we, well, the Libet experiment goes like this—

Sean: Okay, hold on. We'll come back to the Libet experiment. He actually ends up rejecting it, as you know. To me, it seems like the case he's making is he's listing all of these factors that shape us. So, our genes influence us. Parenting influences us. The environment we're in influences. Certain chemicals like oxytocin and testosterone. And it's kind of like he's saying, what these are doing is squeezing out any room for free will when you add up all of these physical factors.

Greg: Yeah, he's kind of doing that. I think my take is when he talks about environment and parenting and things like this, and did you make this decision in a context where you didn't get enough sleep and things like that? These are really intuition pumps. In a sense, he's just trying to get us to think, oh yeah, these things influence us. But when it comes down to his theory, I think all of the causal work is done by biochemistry. Now, it might be that some of these things enter our bodies through our sense experience or what have you and affect biochemistry. But when it comes down to something that feels to me like a decision, it is a function purely of neural firings in my brain.

Sean: So, that's really the key. It feels like we make a decision. He would say even these sentiments and these feelings bubble up from some prior physical cause.

Greg: Absolutely.

Sean: That makes sense.

Greg: He has to say everything does, yeah.

Scott: But if I read him correctly, he doesn't say that all of these factors—none of the facts individually are sufficient to eliminate free will. But if you put them all together, they form this seamless garment that just leaves no space for free will. Is that a fair assessment?

Greg: I think he is trying to do that, but it's terribly unsuccessful because none of these factors are fine grained enough that we can be confident that every action that I perform is a function of this set of things. It kind of gives us—this is why I call it an intuition pump—it gives us this sense that we're not as free as we thought we were. And then we carry that into the brain experiments. This is, I think, a rhetorical strategy. And we think, wow, ultimately, everything is biochemistry and biochemically caused. But we're ready for that conclusion when we begin to see, wow, my parents, where I was born, did I get enough sleep? There's environmental things. What medicines am I on? All of these things, I see how they affect us.

Scott: Well, I think we philosophers have a technical term for this. Don't we call this the leaky bucket syndrome?

Greg: [laughs] Yes, that's, I think we have lots of terms for it. That's a kind term.

Scott: Yeah, but the idea is if you put a whole bunch of leaky buckets together, they're not gonna hold water together.

Greg: Right, right.

Scott: And is that a fair critique?

Greg: I think so. I think so. I think he, it depends, does he really think these are the things that do the work or is he just trying to get us ready for biochemistry? I kind of looked through for a sentence that says, it's all biochemistry and I actually couldn't find it. But it seems clear, by the way he does the exposition of these experiments of neural firings, that he must mean something like that.

Scott: I mean, he does say that all these factors together squeeze out the room for free will.

Greg: Now, we have to come back with something like this. To believe in free will does not believe that everything I do is a free action on my part. I can be determined to do things. And I can be in a situation where it might even look like a choice I'm making, but I'm not able to make a choice, whether it's through brain impairment or trauma. There are psychological things where I might not be able to choose something. So, to believe in free will doesn't mean we have to deny the deep influence of all of these things. Just means that there's sufficient freedom for moral responsibility.

Sean: That's a helpful way to look at it, like intelligent design. We have to show everything is designed. If one thing is designed, if one miracle happened, if there's one choice that we make—and a choice doesn't mean that these other factors don't influence us probably more than we realize than we have agencies. So, it seems to me like people make one or two mistakes. The mistake that he makes that says it's all dominoes, it's all caused, leaves no room for agency. And then others ignore these factors as if we just choose and aren't influenced by our parents and these others, both of those can be a mistake. Now, let me ask you this. I'm curious how much you find it contradictory or suspect to write a book which is appealing to somebody's mind, to try to get somebody to change their position on something. And the book is full of shoulds and oughts. Like we should get rid of free will. He could in one sense say, well, you're right. This book wrote itself, even this book was caused to be written by chemicals in motion. And even writing should be just chemicals in motion. So, that would be a consistent position that he would take. But I just find it hard to believe that he really believes that. Is there a contradiction there? Is there a tension there?

Greg: There's at least a strong tension. And this happens on two levels. One of the levels is exactly what you're saying. Why did he write the book? How could a book persuade if there's no freedom? Now he might have this view. And this would be a view that B.F. Skinner had, who was a psychological determinist.

Sean: Behaviorist, yeah.

Greg: Yeah, the behaviorist. He could have the view that this book will, as people read this book, have a causal influence on the neurophysiology. And that causal influence may have them reject the belief in free will. And even the use of the word “should,” he might think that's gonna have more causal efficacy because these people kind of still believe in free will. I'm not sure he was that conscious about it. Now, there's a deeper problem, which I think is devastating for his position. If everything he does is due to biochemistry, then he's got this problem. Chemical reactions don't have content. Our beliefs have content. So, I believe that there is free will. I believe that there's no free will. And if the way my belief is caused on his view has nothing to do with the content of the belief, it's just a certain kind of neural firing that seems to me to be the belief in free will. And I'm not being, in his view, I'm not actually being persuaded by reasons. I'm being caused by biochemistry. It's as if his view is, I could just as easily inject you with a drug that changes your beliefs. You're not believing based on reasons. You're not doing anything based on reasons. Everything is what the philosophers call bottom-up causation. The small particles interact with each other, and that's what causes everything. And so, to respond to reasons is to respond to the content of the reasons. And that doesn't work if all the work is done by biochemistry.

Sean: By the way, a little side note. We had a pretty prominent atheist coming in to speak to our students, who I won't mention, and he hinted that if people had the wrong beliefs and we could control beliefs by the brain, we'd be justified in going in and changing them to the beliefs we want to have. And I thought, wow, he is drawing this to its logical conclusion, which dehumanizes us.

Scott: Well, and he admits he's uncomfortable with the real-life implications of this.

Greg: Yes.

Scott: And he admits, and this I commend him for this, for his intellectual humility and honesty with this, that he finds it really difficult to live this out. And admits that, not that he can't, but he just doesn't wanna go all the way with it. Now, I think he does make some, I think, some really important points on sort of historically the way we have, in the past, held people accountable for things that we now know are biochemically caused.

Greg: Right.

Scott: And that we don't hold people responsible for that in the same way that we did before. But that seems to me to be a jump from these sort of outlier diseases to now everything being biochemically caused. Is that a fair reading of that?

Greg: I think it is, I think it is. And I found that part fascinating. And it supports his view that, look, if there's determinism the way he frames it, then there is no moral responsibility. And then he says, look, we have come to see that certain other things are outside of the person's control, so we no longer hold them accountable. He wants to do this with everything because he thinks everything we do is determined in this way.

Scott: But he still believes that there's a place for imprisoning someone, for example.

Greg: Yes.

Scott: On what basis would that be the case if there is no moral or criminal culpability for things?

Greg: Well, there's no moral culpability. I mean, it might be in the best interest of society to isolate people who have habitual tendencies towards violence. And the protection of society could be codified into rules that become our social laws. And so, there are pragmatic reasons to imprison someone. And of course, those pragmatic reasons are all caused by biochemistry, so.

Sean: That is so interesting, because at times he finds himself in this tension towards the end of the book. He says, we don't want to shame people who struggle with alcoholism and say you shouldn't do this, but when it came to things like pedophilia, I believe is the example, we should say that you shouldn't do this because it gets different results that we want. So, it's not out of moral praise or moral blame or culpability. It's the language that we use for pragmatic results, which to me just betrays everything we deeply know about right and wrong and what it means to be human and makes us different from the rest of the world. Of course, he would disagree with that.

Sean: Let me ask you this question. He kind of frames this whole thing. He says, about this book, “It's about the science of why there's no free will and the science of how we might best live once we accept that.” So, this book is about two questions. One, there's no free will and two, how we should live in light of there being no free will. And he says, quote on page 10, there's the science of why there's no free will and the science of how we might best live once we accept that. Are either of those even scientific questions?

Greg: Well, I think the first question could be scientific if you could isolate every neural firing and show that the brain is nothing more, that the human person is nothing more than a biochemical system. But that is impossible, right? It's too fine-grained. It's not just impossible because we're not smart enough now. It's the kind of thing that there are too many neural firings per nanosecond to isolate them all. And so, in principle, it could be a scientific question, but it's not the kind of question in reality that science is gonna be able to tell us. Now, how we should live, again, as you pointed out, he's using the “should” word in light of this. The only thing science can tell us—it's actually not even a scientific question—is he makes the philosophical argument that if there's no free will, there's no moral responsibility. But that's his, really his only recommendation. No longer hold people morally responsible. Well, that's a very small slice of what it means to live as a human being. I mean, what is the best life to pursue? Where does beauty fit in? And to be fair, he's not giving a comprehensive view of human life. But there are a whole lot of questions lurking here that are not in any way scientific.

Scott: Let's go back, we mentioned the Libet experiment. He relies on those pretty heavily to establish his case for determinism. What is the Libet experiment? What exactly did it show?

Greg: Well, the Libet experiment is something like this. You get people into a laboratory and you have a button to push. And you tell them at some time, push the button, don't even think about it. Just push the button. And there's a very accurate clock. And they're hooked up to an EEG machine. So, you can get the brainwaves. And so, the people push the button and you can see by the clock exactly when the button was pushed. Then you have the person report when they willed or decided to push the button. So, you have two timestamps. I think he says it's two tenths of a second before. But what the brainwaves show is that even before that decision happens, there is what he calls the readiness potential. A region of the brain that fires, in a sense, being metaphorical, in anticipation of this decision. And what Libet thought was this readiness potential causes the decision. And so, even my decision is not free because it's caused. Now Libet himself went on to say this doesn't rule out free will because we have a veto power. We can veto the readiness potential and still decide to push or not to push. That's the part he rejects. He thinks this shows that simply because the readiness potential happens first, it must be the cause. And not just one causal factor, but the entirety of the causal structure.

Sean: And, in fairness to Sapolsky, he cites that many people use Libet to defend determinism.

Greg: Very much.

Sean: And he actually rejects it and says the studies have not been repeated. And he's not convinced that it maybe predicts, but doesn't necessarily determine. I think he made a helpful distinction between predictability and determinism. So, he looks elsewhere to make his case than necessarily the Libet experiment. So, he has this quote, he says, "You can't successfully believe something different from what you believe." Another quote he says, "It's impossible to successfully will yourself to have more willpower." So, he says, We can't will ourselves to have more willpower. We can't force ourselves to believe something. And there seems to be something intuitive about that insofar as it goes. What do we have freedom over? If I can't choose to believe there's just a pink elephant in the room, what do we actually have control over? What can we choose?

Greg: Well, the willpower one–anyone who's tried to diet knows that's true. [ all laugh] You can't will yourself to have more willpower. The thing about beliefs is I think it's helpful to make a distinction, and William Austin, who was my dissertation advisor, makes this distinction, between having direct immediate control over your beliefs and having indirect long-term control. And I think Sapolsky is right. We don't have direct immediate control of our beliefs. Someone can put a gun to your head and say, "Believe that George Washington didn't exist." Of course, you will say you believe he didn't exist, but you can't make yourself not believe, as you said, with the pink elephant. So, we don't have immediate control over our beliefs. Now we might have long-term control. So, there are some examples like, and Austin uses these, if I'm thinking I don't wanna believe in God anymore, well, I'll start going to atheist clubs and listening to atheist podcasters and not read Sean McDowell's response. [all laugh] And, over time, stop going to church. I can put myself in communities that make me more likely to form certain beliefs. And we know this in terms of our witness. We know that people who engage a Christian community are more likely to find the gospel as compelling over time. So, we can have some kind of indirect control over beliefs.

Sean: Might that be true for willpower though, too? Like the diet example, if I hang out with people who follow this diet, if I build in certain accountability, if I buy certain groceries, like there's things I could maybe over time develop more willpower, but not just flip a switch in the way that he implies. If you can't flip the switch, you don't have agency. Maybe there's a kind of long-term indirect agency in both.

Greg: Yeah, I think that's right. And I think as Christians, we know this to be true because one of the fruit of the spirit is self-discipline. And the fruit of the spirit is developed in us in our cooperation with the work of the spirit, these character qualities become more and more manifest. And as we develop self-discipline—in a sense, that's willpower—we develop it over time. And so, I think that's true. So, these are not the kinds of things that are what you would call paradigmatic free will issues. What I believe, or am I able to exert the discipline I need in the face of certain temptations? The flat paradigm of a free will choice is the chocolate-vanilla case. You go to Baskin Robbins and you think, what ice cream should I want? What do I want? It's up to me, I can choose butter pecan or chocolate almond, or both in a big bowl, that's what I would do. And you make the choice. It's much more clear to our experience that cases like that are free because we're not talking about deeply ingrained polls or temptations like on the diet exams. Or our cognitive faculties, our beliefs are just not the sort of things that are under our direct immediate control. But it's very hard to convince you that in the ice cream case, you're not choosing freely. Which one you choose is up to you. And you could have chosen differently.

Scott: Although I'm open to the idea that my love for dark chocolate is completely determined.

Greg: Well, and it could be. I mean, yeah, it could be that, think about the alcoholic who might freely choose to decide to drink, and sometimes in excess, but then down the road no longer has the power to pull out of it. So, we can habituate ourselves into certain practices, with certain practices, so that it becomes very difficult for us to break out of them. And that's both for bad things and for good things.

Scott: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that 'cause he does touch on the good things too. And he says, he's very critical of the sort of pull yourself up out of bootstraps mentality that we can't will ourselves to do that. And in doing so, it seems to me he calls into question the whole notion of merit.

Greg: Yes.

Scott: And he said, nobody can say that they have gotten what they deserve. So, it not only impinges on epistemology and our belief system, but on our political philosophy.

Greg: Very much. If there's no moral responsibility, it's very hard for there to be merit of any kind. And Bill Gates does very well. Well, he is the fortunate recipient of really good neural firings. There's nothing to do with him as an agent.

Scott: Now, I'm open to the idea that there are people who have certain advantages based on their upbringing, their parenting, a whole host of facts. And I think there's an argument, to me, that there are people who have genetic advantages. I mean, we've seen these freaks of nature dominate the world of sports for a long time. That's almost entirely genetically a factor.

Greg: And a lot of training and development with the genetic resources.

Scott: Of course, but I will never be able to swim like Michael Phelps did. Or, nobody will ever mistake me for Giannis, ducking a basketball. [laughs] And that's because the endowment my parents gave me has precluded that. And there's probably not a lot of things that I—I was never gonna play in the NBA. I mean, you probably weren't either.

Sean: Fair enough, I don't argue that. [laughs]

Scott: But it's largely because of the genetic endowment that we got. So there is, I think there is something to that.

Greg: Yes.

Scott: But are we reading him correctly that he wants to eliminate all forms of merit?

Greg: I think so. I think if he doesn't, then he's being inconsistent. So, he has to eliminate all forms of merit. Now, that doesn't mean certain things shouldn't be rewarded because that's part of the causal structure. And you think, so if we eliminate merit, that doesn't mean that Bill Gates shouldn't make more money than me. I don't think he would go that far. I don't know what he would say about that. But it's part of the economic system and where Gates happened to have his genetics and biochemistry put him, that he made a boatload of money. And we philosophers generally don't. And so that might still be appropriate, but it's not based on merit. He doesn't deserve it. It's something, think about it this way. In his view, everything happens to us. Bill Gates' success happened to him. He didn't do it.

Scott: Let me ask one more question on this. He brings up the concept of moral luck as being, some people are just, they're just situated in a place where they are more inclined to act morally than others. But that, I think he would say to you, that happened to them. It's not something that was chosen. Is that your understanding of moral luck and how that fits in here?

Greg: Yeah. So the prime case is this. You ask a classroom of undergraduates, if you were 18 years old in Germany in 1939, would you resist the Holocaust? And everyone would raise their hand. And you think, no. In fact, most of them wouldn't resist. The only reason they have the luxury of thinking they would is moral luck, that they were born in a different place so they can kind of see after the fact and that, but they completely underestimate the influence and back to influence of the social structure of the time.

Sean: I think when he says more likely to behave a certain way and the way you framed it, betrays the fact that it's not fully deterministic. There's a difference between saying most of us overestimate our moral virtue. And none of us being able to choose and do the right thing. Those are different points.

Greg: And I think you're right in the literature on moral luck, that it's not deterministic. It's, I have the fortune, the good fortune, of not being subjected to certain temptations that others have been. And just due to the fact I was born after World War II in America. But he's gonna have to think it's determined also.

Sean: Okay, so let's shift to a little bit of the positive case for free will. We've kind of poked some holes where we think he doesn't necessarily make his case for determinism. I wish he had developed this more in his book. He drops this line on page 13 about this person by the name of Phineas Gage. And he says, "He is the textbook case that we are the end products of our material brains. Now, if materialism is true, we would expect to see what we see with Phineas Gage.” And I'll have you explain in a minute. “But materialism is not the only explanation. If we're actually souls operating through a body, we would also expect to see the same thing with Phineas Gage.” So, oftentimes he cites evidence as if it's solely for him when it's compatible with another worldview. So, tell us what that story is and what you make of it.

Greg: That's exactly right. So, Phineas Gage in the 19th century was a construction worker—apparently I learned this from his book—and had a traumatic brain injury. And the result of this is that his personality changed dramatically. So much so that one of his friends said, "Gage isn't Gage anymore." And so, there's this brain injury and a dramatic change in personality. Now, like you said, he says, "That just shows that we are the end products of our brain." So, some of our listeners won't remember this, but there used to be televisions that had antennas. And the antennas would pick up television waves that were transmitted. And that's how the information got into the television. So, you could turn on their television and watch the Dick Van Dyke show because that was the best show going when we had antennas. But we also eventually developed televisions that had built-in DVD players. And suppose you take these two televisions and you damage the picture tube in each one, you would get the same results. There would be no picture. But it doesn't prove to you that there is no outside information coming in, like on the antenna story. And it doesn't show that it has to be like the DVD story. See, in the DVD story, all the information comes within that electronic system. And there is no interaction. Whereas the antenna story, we have outside information coming in. So, that's more roughly analogous to the soul or the mind. The damage to the television set will have the same effect in both cases. And this is your point about Phineas Gage, that, well, if you have a traumatic brain injury, then the very thing that our minds use to interact and engage with our bodies is damaged, then we should expect these kinds of results. So, it actually has no evidential value for his view that we are the end products of our brain chemistry.

Scott: So, let's summarize this for our viewers and listeners. You believe in free will because…fill in the blank.

Greg: Fill in the blank. Well, there's a couple of things, okay? One, he says, "No free will, therefore no moral responsibility." I say, "Well, there is moral responsibility, therefore there's free will." And each one is philosophically, logically, equally appropriate. And so, you think our moral intuitions clearly tell us that there is moral responsibility. It would be a dramatic re-picturing of what it means to be human, to deny moral responsibility. And he kind of admits that that's the case. So, if the science isn't as good as he thinks he is, why give up moral responsibility? Which am I more sure of?

Sean: Interesting.

Greg: That we're determined or that we have moral responsibility? I'm much more sure that there's moral responsibility than that his story is true. So, that gives me all I need to say, "Therefore, there has to be sufficient freedom to ground moral responsibility." So, that's the first thing.

Sean: That's a good piece. Go ahead with a second.

Greg: The second thing is our experience of deliberation makes the most sense if we have moral responsibility. Now, it's not impossible if he's right that we would still have this experience, but it actually makes more sense. We experience ourselves choosing. And that experience, just like I experienced myself seeing the cup. Well, it gives me good reason to think the cup is there. I experienced myself choosing. And then, of course, theologically, we know that God created us in his image and gave us a task to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. So, the creation mandate requires that we can act in the world. And we represent him acting in the world. We are not just causal chains through which He acts. He created independent agents. So, those are three reasons why I believe that we have it pretty well.

Sean: That second one is interesting about deliberation. Because even if you go to like the ice cream, you didn't choose to like dark chocolate. But when I go to an ice cream store, I can go, well, maybe one costs more than the other. Maybe one has more calories than the other. Maybe I have a friend who will think something different if I buy strawberry.---like there's all these factors or whatever [laughs] We actually do choose and we have a direct experience of that. So I think some of our colleagues, like JP Moreland argues, that you're gonna have to give me really good evidence to talk me out of that. I'd add a fourth, on top of that, is the experience that we also have passive thoughts and we have active thoughts. We're aware of thoughts that come to us passively, but also thoughts that we generate. There's a distinction in our experience between them. We're also aware of certain bodily actions we don't choose that happen to us and bodily actions we actively choose. I think it's an example of Wilder Penfield who said they would take somebody's arm and they would kind of shock him. The person could say, something else is moving my hand and I am choosing not to move it. I mean, there's a direct phenomenological experience of this. Why should I give that up when it involves losing moral culpability? You're gonna have to give me a really, really good argument. I don't think he makes the case in the book.

Greg: Yeah, I think the rhetorical power of the book is that everybody thinks that everything should be given up in the face of science, even my experience of these things. And what you're saying, you're putting your finger on the fact that that's not true. That's not reasonable. You're not being anti-scientific to say, look, you need a really good reason for me to give up my experience of the distinction between active thoughts and passive thoughts. That's not being anti-science, but we have this kind of cultural pressure that if the scientist says there's no free will, the LA Times is gonna write about it. When the philosophers say, that's crazy, it doesn't make the news, right?

Sean: Interesting.

Scott: It was in the editorial page. [laughs] But it was not considered on the same level.

Greg: Yeah, of course. Okay, good, good.

Sean: So, let's wrap this thing up. Give a quick sense if you would recommend the book or not. For me, it's 400 plus pages. Felt like it could have been a lot shorter. I enjoyed some of his writing style. I think he makes it kind of jovial and fun at different points. I just found myself reading it going, this should have been a 150, 180 page book. What's the point here and kind of skimming through it? And I think there were a lot of people, like John Eccles, just a brilliant scientist who he just wrote off and said, "Well, no one takes him seriously no more." I'm like, wait a minute, what about his ideas?

Greg: I met him at a conference.

Scott: Oh, you did? How interesting. He did that quite a few times. I thought either he's not aware of or he ignores a significant literature on substance dualism that's making a comeback that deserved at least some interaction in this book. So, that's my quick take. What's your quick take?

Greg: Yeah, I think, I mean, it's a very pleasant read.

Sean: Agreed.

Greg: But one of the problems, the way you said it, he's got this jovial tone, which is very pleasant, is he skates over details that need to be articulated precisely. So, I wouldn't recommend it for undergraduates, maybe advanced undergraduates, people that have enough training to catch him at his rhetorical ploys. By that, I don't mean he's intentionally pulling a rhetorical move. But because the sheer repetition of so many experiments has this accumulative force that could be persuasive, I don't think anyone should be persuaded by it. But it's not a bad text to read to help people think, okay, how do we respond? Where are the arguments? Where is he overstating his case and this kind of thing?

Sean: Fair enough.

Scott: I would not, I think this would be for somebody who's got some philosophical background. Sean: And some time. [all laugh]

Scott: And some time, yeah. Whose got the chops to work through some of the arguments and see it for what it is.

Greg: Yeah, I think that's right.

Scott: I mean, I'm glad I read it. I think it's, you know, I think he got a few things right. But I think the underlying worldview questions were the big issues for me.

Sean: Yep, fair enough. Dr. Greg Gantzel, thank you for joining us.

Scott: It's been so helpful.

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