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Gnomon
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PostSubject: Freewill is an Illusion   Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:34 pm

I have transferred this off-topic discussion from the Another Political Quiz thread.

I got side-tracked for a while, but I'd now like to wrap-up my answer to the original challenge by Uriah. He invited me to elaborate on a cryptic comment regarding his assertion that freewill is illusory. But first I will back-track with my rambling rationale leading up to the summary below . . . far below. Sorry. Embarassed


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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:35 pm

Quote :
PostSubject: Re: Another Political Quiz Sun Dec 30, 2007 6:27 pm
<< Unfortunately Free-Will is an illusion. >>
<< Just like every other abstraction of the human mind. >>

Uriah wrote:
I agree, but I'd love to hear you elaborate on that thought Gnomon.

Don't get me started . . . Unfortunately, my elaboration on such a perennial philosophical paradox can easily devolve into the baroque and rococo, which may evoke nausea rather than love. In the interest of simplicity and brevity, here's a definition from my Deist Manifesto, just to establish in technical terms what I mean by that traditional metaphor of emancipated human desire.

FreeWill: The ability of self-conscious beings to freely choose options from among those that destiny presents. In the 3D network of cause and effect, a node with self-awareness is a causal agent. With multiple pre-determined inputs, and multiple potential outputs, it can choose from a range of possibilities and create local novelty within a globally-deterministic system: Freedom within determinism.

1. Freewill requires statistical Chance to provide options and detours from strict Determinism.

2. Freewill is compatible with divine creation, but not with divine predestination.


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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:37 pm

Quote :
PostSubject: Re: Another Political Quiz Mon Dec 31, 2007 6:43 pm Reply with quote Edit/Delete this post
Note: The moderator might want to move this off-topic, side-track to a new thread, as it has nothing to do with politics, and it could (if history serves) go on and on to infinity.

Quote:
1. Freewill requires statistical Chance to provide options and detours from strict Determinism.

Several years ago I exchanged letters, to a Skeptic magazine forum, with a physicist who had stated emphatically that Freewill is an illusion. My rationale for a tiny bit of "Freedom within Determinism" didn't impress him, because it was, at the time, just an off-the-cuff hypothesis. My speculation was based on the observation that the inherent mathematical randomness of real world processes was not conducive to absolute Determinism, as even many scientists assume, erroneously. [quantum indeterminacy is counter-intuitive, even for physicists]

The example I gave was a physical demonstration of the principle of the statistical Bell Curve. Hundreds of Ping Pong balls were dropped randomly into a frame where they piled-up, over and over again, into the shape of a Normal Distribution Curve. This illustrated the well-known fact that statistical outcomes are almost 100% predictable. However, the demonstration also showed me that statistical determinism is limited to aggregates, not to individuals---to wholes, not component holons. One of the balls was painted red, and it landed in a different spot in the pile every time. Thus graphically proving that the fate of an individual cannot be determined by statistics. Freewill of the individual is an essential principle in my Deist Thesis.

I wrote an essay*** to summarize my then-current intuitive and tentative understanding: "Even though I must admit that I can’t explain precisely how freewill can emerge from absolute determinism, I don’t give up so easily. " Since then I have continued to ponder the paradox of subjective Freewill versus objective Determinism. In another post I will pickup the thread which leads to my earlier comment, that Freewill is an illusion, just like every other abstraction of the human mind.

***2002 Freewill Essay:
http://home.mindspring.com/~johne84570/Spontandeity.pdf


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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:38 pm

Quote :
PostSubject: Re: Another Political Quiz Mon Dec 31, 2007 7:18 pm Reply with quote Edit/Delete this post
The Paineful Truth wrote:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but that would seem to boil down to a statement that free will is only limited by natural law. IOW, faith alone cannot move mountains (that would require a pick an shovel).

If so, I agree.

As I see it, our freedom is limited to the intentional loop-holes in Natural Law. Statistical chance is our hacksaw-in-the-cake to permit our escape from the dreary dungeon of determinism.

However, if you want to move a mountain with your mind, I suggest that you employ dynamite and bulldozers to implement your freely-chosen intention. Like a good citizen, you are free to do as you please, as long as you don't violate the law. Human freewill does not contradict determinism, it complements the logic of evolution. More on that later.


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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:39 pm

Quote :
Gnomon wrote:
Human freewill does not contradict determinism, it complements the logic of evolution. More on that later.


Belief in FreeWill is probably almost as rare among modern scientists as belief in God. Like A-Theism, their A-free-ism follows directly from their commitment to the cornerstones of Science: rationalism and materialism. And there's nothing wrong with that; except when such loyalty hardens into rigid faith in a particular interpretation of Reality. For dogmatic modernists, yielding to intuitive feelings and immaterial notions are viewed as sins against the moral principles of Science.

In the 20th century though, materialists have been forced to expand their definition of Materialism to cover such ethereal entities as action-at-a-distance-forces, and the curving "fabric" of space. Now, with the advent of Information Theory, they must find a place for commonplace -but-intangible realities such as bits, bytes and memes. Even worse, Systems Theory refers to the immaterial inter-relationships of a system as the logical "structure" of the whole thing. And they don't mean it just as a metaphor.

Modern Science has been successful, in large part, because it learned to separate Determinism from Destiny. When the world seemed to be subject to the whim of fickle gods, the systematic order in nature often went unnoticed. But now Science, having replaced divine intervention with statistical probabilities, is running into the downside of percentile prediction based on risky chance. For example, Evolution is clearly deterministic---effects predictably follow causes. But just as Non-Euclidean Geometry and Fuzzy Logic have been shown to be more "natural" than their idealized classical predecessors, Spongy Statistical Determinism (98% chance) turns out to be more natural than diamantine Rational Determinism (absolute effects).

As I mentioned before, I see some room for freewill in the probabilistic loopholes within the deterministic chain of events in evolution, and in all natural processes. The logic of evolution is fuzzy. More later. . . .


PS---I apologize if I seem to be getting to the point in a roundabout way. I'm making this stuff up as I go along. I'll know where I'm going when I get there.


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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 12:06 am

In summary:

All abstractions of the human mind are illusions
, in the sense that they are artificial constructs of the mind, rather than natural phenomena. The concept of FreeWill is such an abstraction because it is not a physical feature of nature, but a rational induction from limited experience. We intuitively conclude that some of our actions are freely chosen, because we are not aware of any external compulsion forcing us to behave in a certain way. But Determinists will respond to that “unwarranted” assumption with the “cause & effect” argument. However, some astute philosophers have pointed out that “cause & effect” is likewise not an empirical observation; it is instead---like “freewill”---an inductive conclusion from limited experience to a general principle. All we can say, without fear of contradiction, is that certain effects seem to follow specific causes---so far. Yet an inductive argument is always subject to the Black Swan retort: any generalization (categorical statement) can be proven wrong by the discovery of an exception to the rule. So, even though determinism does seem to be the rule of law, it suffers from one pertinent exception.

The Determinist’s unbroken chain of causes and effects was interrupted millennia ago when the first human sized-up a situation presenting multiple options, and chose the one he imagined would best serve his own interests. But, the iron chain of destiny can be broken only because of an inherent loophole in Nature’s regularities. Evolution of the universe does indeed progress according to iron-clad laws, but those general rules have been found to be probable rather than absolute in their application. The essential randomness and contingency of Darwinian evolution---which Atheists proudly claim as proof of its freedom from divine control---also means that effects follow causes only in a statistical sense. Which in turn means that creatures smart enough to judge the consequences of their actions, are free to determine for themselves which future dialectic vector to follow.

In other words, that loophole in the deterministic laws of evolution gave rise to feedback loops within the chain of causation, which ultimately resulted in the emergence of self-conscious beings. Such creatures can not only remember the past, they can project their experience into the future via the mechanism of imagination. And by definition, when we imagine something that is not presently available to our senses, we are “seeing an illusion”. Hence, I conclude that the human will is free to the extent that it can be influenced by meta-physical illusions rather than physical causes.

Now, is that clear as Mississippi mud? scratch
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 3:40 am

freewill comes with the assumption that your will has been freed by or from something...which means it's not really free.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 12:40 pm

Personally I think free will arose as an evolutionary defense mechanism. Humans just don't have the means to counter the fangs and claws of predators like lions or tigars. All we have is our brains.

The world is chaotic and unpredicable so having a set reaction to threats is not viable (if you don't believe me come ride with me some Saturday night). The ability to analyze and create mental models of various scenarios allows us to choose between several responses to increase our chance for survival.

This does not mean we can do just anything however. Our freedom has limits. These include that which is physically imposible, that which is biologically imposible (for instance someone who is paralyzed cannot run from a threat), and that which is psychologically imposible (perhaps a response just didn't occur to someone).

This implies there are parameters to our freedom. For just as you cannot roll anything less than a two or greater than a twelve with a pair of dice we cannot act outside our own limits. But just as within the boundaries of that which is possible to roll with a pair of dice that which is within the parameters of our abilities is indeterminate. And since the decision about which response will be the one that is actually utilized arises in the mind it is an act of free will by definition.

But it seems we don't use it much. Most of the things we do we just don't think about. When we learn to ride a bike we are conscious of what we are doing but after we gain confidence in our ability to ride we don't think about the mechanics of it anymore. We just hop on and ride. So while it appears we do have free will it is rarely used.

Gnomon wrote:
PS---I apologize if I seem to be getting to the point in a roundabout way. I'm making this stuff up as I go along. I'll know where I'm going when I get there.
Ditto! Cheers!
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 4:25 pm

michael1111 wrote:
freewill comes with the assumption that your will has been freed by or from something...which means it's not really free.
Yes. Jesus paid the price for your freedom. Very Happy

Seriously, what we are free from is imprisonment in a fateful world where we have no more control over our future than a rock. What we have been freed by is the Creator of this little game called Life. Apparently our unpredictability makes us great entertainment for an omniscient Observer.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 4:35 pm

stretmediq wrote:

This does not mean we can do just anything however. Our freedom has limits. These include that which is physically imposible, that which is biologically imposible (for instance someone who is paralyzed cannot run from a threat), and that which is psychologically imposible (perhaps a response just didn't occur to someone).
Some mystics have claimed that our apparent limitations are only illusory. Once enlightened to the occult fact that we are gods in fleshly prisons, we can do anything we wish. It's a nice theory, but I've never seen it in practice.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 4:44 pm

stretmediq wrote:
Personally I think free will arose as an evolutionary defense mechanism. Humans just don't have the means to counter the fangs and claws of predators like lions or tigars. All we have is our brains.
I think you are right that Freewill is a product of evolution. Until humans with big brains emerged on the scene, there was only mechanical cause and effect. But our minds have been freed from strict physical determinism by their talent for metaphysical choices. Humans have introduced rational reflection into the equation of evolution: cause-reflect-effect.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 6:54 pm

Thanks Gnomon, that's an interesting philosophical take, and I think we are very close to agreement. I am not a hard determinist that believes everything is planned out, I only think that any choice we are given is constrained by so many outside, uncontrollable - and oftentimes unseen - forces that we are not as "in control" as the whole idea of Free Will would suggest.



The fact that we are an evolving, organic species, that coexists in a symbiotic relationship with each other, all the other species, our environment, and the entire earth itself, dictates that we - the individual questioner - are not the purpose of creation.
To me, the classical concept of free-will - especially when bandied about in a spiritual, metaphysical, context like we do here - stems from the idea that we are the purpose for God's creation. That humans are special because we are self-aware. It is that freedom of will conveyed by being self-aware that causes us to think it is special, and causes us to ignore the great expanse of order and purpose that constitutes the universe in general. We are but one small dollop of pond scum in some remote, far-flung, corner of an infinite and ineffable universe. We are not free, we are part of the machine.

Anyway, not to get all longwinded, I really enjoyed your post, thanks for taking the time to elaborate.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Mon Jan 14, 2008 9:48 pm

Uriah wrote:
I am not a hard determinist that believes everything is planned out, I only think that any choice we are given is constrained by so many outside, uncontrollable - and oftentimes unseen - forces that we are not as "in control" as the whole idea of Free Will would suggest.

True. Its like eating out. We have a choice but it is limited to what's on the menu.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Tue Jan 15, 2008 1:57 am

Quote :
We are not free, we are part of the machine.

Resistance is futile!
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Tue Jan 15, 2008 10:24 am

If we don't have free will, then there is no right, there is no wrong, we have no purpose and there is no God.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Tue Jan 15, 2008 12:36 pm

The Paineful Truth wrote:
If we don't have free will, then there is no right, there is no wrong, we have no purpose and there is no God.

How so? I don't see it that way at all, but I'd love to hear your argument.

As I see it, there is right and wrong, but since morality is itself a relative value, they are determined by the respective culture of any time or place. All herd animals, or mammals that evolved to live in complex social groups, have an innate, hardwired, circuit for empathy. Humans are no different. We don't need god, whether as paragon or punisher, to do good.

The purpose of any animal is to survive and procreate the species. The purpose of the individual is always in question. If it wasn't there would be no need for dogmas and philosophy. No need for science. Therefore we do have a purpose; to eat, sleep, shit, and F%*&. Anything beyond that, we are forced to provide for ourselves, whether that means using our mind of reason and imagination, or by allowing some one else to do it for us.

Also, no matter what we choose to believe as the explanation for the existence of life, the universe, and everything - the very real fact of life is that there is no god. Not any that operates in our physical realm, revealed to us, and interactive and emotive. It is only when we go within, when we access that mysterious inner doorway to spirituality that we find god. And even that is all in our head. The truth is that we'll probably never know for sure, it's a leap of faith.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Wed Jan 16, 2008 12:15 am

Uriah wrote:

The fact that we are an evolving, organic species, that coexists in a symbiotic relationship with each other, all the other species, our environment, and the entire earth itself, dictates that we - the individual questioner - are not the purpose of creation.
That raises a question for another thread: what is the purpose of the universe?

Since the Creator of the universe has not seen fit to honor me with a divine revelation, I have no idea why we are here. All I know is that we are here. And that, as far as I can tell, we are currently the pinnacle of evolution (by human standards, of course). If humanity, at its current stage of development, is the "purpose" of creation though, the Primal Purposer must have very low standards of excellence.

But the game is not over yet, so the ultimate end product of this little divine diversion is still a mystery. And, based on the Freewill argument above, I suspect that even the Creator won't know the exact outcome until the last roll of the dice. If the laws of chance also apply to the Great Gambler in the sky, then S/he is playing with a stacked deck : a bit of ordained order hidden within irrational randomness. It's not exactly fair, but who are we to argue?

A game of Probabilistic Predestination, anyone? Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Wed Jan 16, 2008 12:47 am

Uriah wrote:
Quote :
The purpose of any animal is to survive and procreate the species.

That isn't its purpose, that's just what it does following its programming.

Quote :
The Paineful Truth wrote:
If we don't have free will, then there is no right, there is no wrong, we have no purpose and there is no God.

Uriah wrote:
How so? I don't see it that way at all, but I'd love to hear your argument.

If we don't have free will, we're innocent, like the animals. The innocent can do no right or wrong. Survival isn't a purpose, it's just following an instinct. And I can't see God creating the universe except to spawn creatures such as us with free will--to choose to do right or wrong, to seek Him (Truth) or not, free of His influence.

Gnomon wrote:
Quote :
If humanity, at its current stage of development, is the "purpose" of creation though, the Primal Purposer must have very low standards of excellence.

But the game is not over yet, so the ultimate end product of this little divine diversion is still a mystery. And, based on the Freewill argument above, I suspect that even the Creator won't know the exact outcome until the last roll of the dice.

Exactly, until that last phrase. It isn't the last roll of the dice, it's until the last choice is made.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Wed Jan 16, 2008 3:23 am

I don't think the universe has any other purpose than just being. All that it is, is what it is. You talk about innocence and truth as if they are more than abstract concepts, or artifacts of human culture and creativity.

I understand where you're coming from, it's just not a leap of faith I am, ultimately, willing to take. It presupposes a comprehensible schema to the universe, and anthropomorphizes god.

I try not to discuss God and spirituality with this wink-and-smile kind of tacit acceptance that god even exists at all. Rather, it is as apparent to me that cosmic order, and hierarchal structure, do not dictate intelligent design, or purposeful creation, as it is to you that God created us with a specific purpose.

I just don't see it that way, the universe doesn't need humans to exist, we've only been around for a cunt-hair blink of a half a nanosecond on the grand scale. We step into this mystery completely ignorant, naked, and defenseless. Meaningless, just one more bit of fodder for the great grinding maw of nature, and yet in our youthful (as a species) hubris we imagine the entire infinite expanse of the universe as ours.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Wed Jan 16, 2008 5:46 am

Uriah wrote:
I don't think the universe has any other purpose than just being....It presupposes a comprehensible schema to the universe, and anthropomorphizes god.

It isn't such a great leap to suppose that we are like God in that He has a will, as we do, and to ask why He would have created the Universe. He either did it for a reason or not. The latter is incomprehensible since there would be an infinite number of short cuts to accomplish the same thing. There is something to be said for our evolving in God's image given our self-aware consciousness. If God isn't self-aware, then how could He be anything other than a computer programmed force of nature with no will and self-awareness merely acting on instinct--equivalent to atheism

Just because God would be so much more than us doesn't mean we wouldn't necessarily have basic characteristics in common with Him. The exercise of will requires motivation.

Quote :
I try not to discuss God and spirituality with this wink-and-smile kind of tacit acceptance that god even exists at all.


Tacit acceptance? I'm merely using one of the two 50-50 propositions as a theoretical basis for existence, either of which is profound and ultimately incomprehensible when traced back to it origin. I favor the God theory solely because of the hope for meaning it offers. If there is a sentient God, then there is meaning.

Quote :
I just don't see it that way, the universe doesn't need humans to exist, we've only been around for a cunt-hair blink of a half a nanosecond on the grand scale. We step into this mystery completely ignorant, naked, and defenseless. Meaningless, just one more bit of fodder for the great grinding maw of nature, and yet in our youthful (as a species) hubris we imagine the entire infinite expanse of the universe as ours.

You don't give sentience/self-awareness its due. It was (is) an incredible giant leap in evolution.
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Wed Jan 16, 2008 1:10 pm

Not to choose sides but I'm with Uriah on this one.

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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:09 am

Always ready to choose sides, I'm most definitely with Paineful as always on this one.

Look lets take it back to the utmost simple question, yet again, and I don't say that in any way exasperated. I luv this stuff, man.

But Uriah simply advances an atheist's point of view for the non-existence of God.

His proof (and I have to admit it's good) includes: no observable evidence of devine intervention; blatant almost laughable epistomologies on behalf of all major religions; the utter insignificance of our galazy, our place in it, and even of our place on the earth.

And yet we look at the earth and the heavens and wonder why the earth and the heavens - and us - are here.

What Uriah (or any other atheist) cannot answer is why the earth and heavens - and us - are here.

As I have noted before, atheists' bottom line assumption seems to be .... the earth and the heavens - and us - are here. Get over it. Do not question it. Accept it as fact.

But I don't have to accept it as fact.

I can, indeed, question, Why are we here?

By accident.

By God.

Uriah believes the former.

Paineful believes the latter (but acknowlegdes the former is a possibility).

Flip a coin anyone?
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:41 am

And to Gnomon, regarding the opening statement, I ask ...

think of a person you really like, like to be around, share a java or pint or whatever, you know just elevates your day.

Then think of the scariest person you've met that kinda gave you the heebie jeebies.

Now, do you give absolutely give no credit to the person in category A) for the person he has become?

And similarly, do you place absolutely no responsibility onto the person in category B) for the person he has become?

Are you saying that your buddy in category A is just a product of gene pools and familial, cultural and environmental stimuli who had no choice on his outcome, but is just a marionette whose every movements are predetermined by the complex interactions above; that he has, in fact, no choice.

Are you saying that the scary person in category B is just a product of gene pools and familial, cultural and environmental stimuli who had no choice on his outcome, but is just a marionette whose every movements are predetermined by the complex interactions above; that he has, in fact, no internal choice.

Right now somewhere in the world someone with a growing addiction has a bottle of beer in his hand. Should I, shouldn't I. Are you saying it doesn't matter what he does, because what he does is not determined by his choice but that he is just a marionette whose every movements have been predetermined by the complex interactions of his gene pool and familial, cultural and environmental stimuli.

Right now somewhere in the world a teen is being pressured to do something stupid for a gang ...

A gambler who has lost his stash, is borrowing money against the family house ...

A married man thinks it's a good idea when his secretary asks him to come in for a drink ...

Is there really no freedom in these decisions? No right and wrong?
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Thu Jan 17, 2008 2:25 am

Helium, in their parallel universe, their thoughts and actions were set 13.? Billion years ago give or take a Planck Epoch. Next time I'm in Toronto (which will also be the first time), I'll buy you a beer, or maybe you'll buy me one, or we'll each buy a round, or we'll stay sober. I guess the latter is the only one that we can say is destined not to happen. Cheers! (but it's still our choice--in this universe).
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PostSubject: Re: Freewill is an Illusion   Thu Jan 17, 2008 2:30 am

Well, Helium - any person who believes in their own version of God cannot answer the question "why the earth and heavens - and us - are here" either. At least not without inventing a story to do so. I just decline to invent a story, or take any other person's invented story over the observable truth.

That's why I cannot state, with any reasonable certainty, that God exists. I believe in god - whatever it may be - simply because I choose to, because I feel it in my heart, but in reality I don't much care about god at all. I care only about the spark of spiritual potentiality that exists within all of us. The little "L" Logos that resides in each individual. To be human is to wonder.

Or as was said by a writer exceedingly better than myself,

"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?'
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand."
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