There are a lot of subjects that I really don’t like to talk about, not because I can’t, but because people on the other side really haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about and they’re often very emotionally attached to one side or the other. One of those subjects is abortion, another is natural rights and, unfortunately, one more is free will.
Free will is an odd critter. People will often cling to their beliefs about it with an almost religious fervor. Unfortunately, I think most of the time, people on both sides of the argument are just talking past each other because nobody ever bothers to rationally define their terms. You’ve got the people on one side who are very sure that free will can’t possibly exist because we live in a deterministic universe. They define “free will” in such a way that it cannot possibly exist, they’re convinced that we’re all just automatons programmed by the universe to wander around and do things for reasons inscrutable. Those are the people I have most trouble with because they’re really using “free will” in an absurd manner. Since I won’t use it in their terms, they really don’t like me much when I point out how ridiculous their claims really are.
Take a discussion I had today with someone who was a strict determinist. I gave him an example of being at an intersection and having a choice of going left, right or straight ahead. I could make any of those decisions I wanted, I could go left, I could go right or I could go straight ahead, barring obstacles like brick walls and the like. So what is it in his deterministic universe that decides which path I will take? I could go left and then, the next second, I could go right. He says no, the universe has changed in the second between my decisions. Oh really? Please show me the specific changes in the universe that have altered my ability to make a choice? He couldn’t, in fact, he didn’t even try, which is hardly surprising because he couldn’t do it and he knew it. He just asserted that there must have been a change because he had to keep to his original religious faith in determinism. Sorry, that’s not how rational debate works. If you make a claim, you have to back it up. If you cannot back it up, don’t make the claim. In fact, that’s exactly how religion operates, isn’t it? Make claims that cannot possibly be supported and get upset when people don’t take your unsupported claims seriously.
What’s worse, these people tend to get really upset when people won’t buy into their unsupported drivel, it wasn’t long until this guy was calling me names because I wouldn’t take his word that the universe worked the way he insisted that it did. The more I pointed out the irrationality of his position, the madder he got until the moderators shut him down and banned him from the thread. As I said, people get really emotionally attached to things, even if those things are really absurd. They lack the ability to step back and look at their own position from an intellectual perspective and see the flaws in their own beliefs. This is true of the religious, this is true of many political debaters, it most certainly is true when it comes to free will. It stops being about accepting the best supported and most rational positions and becomes all about standing your ground, even when you’re wrong.
Why do so many people do that?