Monday, June 7, 2010

RD Extra: Jeremy on the Don Johnson Radio Show

Recently the Don Johnson Radio show (a Christian apologetics podcast) devoted an episode to critiquing the doubtcaster's case for determinism (made in episodes 29, 30, 34). After several listeners of both shows asked for a follow up, Don Johnson graciously allowed Jeremy from RD to come on the show and clarify his position. The conversation generated "more heat than light" but we submit it for your listing (dis)pleasure.

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Jon Wells said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Don just confusing determinism with something more like predestination?

Jeremy said...

Yes. I was too thick to see what was going on at the time.

Jon Wells said...

lol can't blame you, I wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes with that level of inanity.

Anonymous said...

I just listened to the Jeremy on the Don Johnson show, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Jeremy did great. I have incredibly insightful arguments all the time, but when it comes time present them in conversation I last perhaps two sentences before the conversation turns veers off my carefully constructed rails.

Anonymous said...

It was disappointing that the show didn't include a clear explanation on what the Christian position actually is (other than a very vauge 'spirit effects matter' - (followed by the later admission that the freedom of this spirit to choose is contrained all the time by physical factors).
The original podcast "unreasonable doubts" left many unanswered questions too. Eg. They said there was a clear difference between the existance of freewill and the soul,but didn't explain that difference.
Also they constantly conflated 'mood' - temporary changes in behaviour caused by factors such as lack of sleep, and perminant personality changes.

Anonymous said...

It was disappointing that the show didn't include a clear explanation on what the Christian position actually is (other than a very vauge 'spirit effects matter' - (followed by the later admission that the freedom of this spirit to choose is contrained all the time by physical factors).
The original podcast "unreasonable doubts" left many unanswered questions too. Eg. They said there was a clear difference between the existance of freewill and the soul,but didn't explain that difference.
Also they constantly conflated 'mood' - temporary changes in behaviour caused by factors such as lack of sleep, and perminant personality changes.

Michael Decker said...

Hi guys, I am a new listener and have most of them downloaded and ready to listen to, I have just completed all the podcasts about determinism and I must say THANK YOU! You guys really explained and defended that position well and it was brain candy to listen to.

About this podcast, I feel that choice and free choice were being used by Don and his co-host as meaning same thing. I think it would of been more clear to present "choice" as just a function of the mind these choices are from experiences etc programmed into the mind kind of like a train station.

Machines , etc make choices and I don't even think these guys would say they are free choices.

Just a thought but great great podcast and this is now my fav one on the web. I really enjoy when you talk with people with diff views and you handled urself great Jeremy and I feel saying you wasted your time was warranted and you said it respectfully, that is just an honest assessment of the time you spent although for someone like me I find it time well spent for my listening ears.

Hell, some great directors consider certain movies they made a waste of their time but I enjoy the heck out of em so keep putting yourself out there, I am enjoying it~!


Mike W said...

Again and again they seemed to miss that even if the decision making process is affected by cause, said cause must be interpreted by the brain first.
So if we were to create an imaginary event with 100 factors to take into account, and you are only able to evaluate 50 in one possible scenario because of environmental factors or all 100 in another scenario you'll arrive at different decisions based on what information you processed in relation to your prior experience.
If you miss the tear in the corner of the iPad wreckers eye you might naturally take a more hostile approach than if you see the tear.
But any number of things could make you miss it.
It's like they're trying to plug the Second Law of Thermodynamics into it, and conflating determinism with pre-determinism/closed systems.
And the mind is NOT a closed system.

Mike W said...

I'm not done yet. I just had to rant, and I can't see any progress being made against them before the 1:46 is up. I needed that release.

Chris Jones said...

First, Jeremy did an incredible job of articulating the relevant points and handling the ongoing diversions. I'd have gone down those "rabbit holes" too quickly, while Jeremy masterfully explained that a diversion is in process while pulling it back on track.

I dropped in to say something much like Mike W's commentary above. I'll expand, though. Johnson and his colleague repeatedly lost sight of the fact that there are an enormous number of influencing factors, both in the brain's wiring and in the surrounding environment (at the moment and in the past). The brain still must (for lack of a better term) "compute" its way through all of these things to arrive at a conclusion. All of those factors become the cause for that conclusion, but the "deliberation" is still happening. The "weighing of options" is that computational process, and those various factors, whether consciously known or not, are the determinants for the final outcome. Their oversimplistic domino analogy summed up their inability to see the complexity in the process.

The very large number of factors and the fact that we're not consciously aware of all of these or even most of these factors is why it appears that some sort of unconstrained choice is happening. Jeremy's example of a scent influencing a person's perception of another person's character should have been a wake-up for the two gentlemen. How free can one's choice really be if there are influences that you're not even aware of? "I *COULD* have made a different assessment of the man's character", one of the men might have said -- but the question remains, why DIDN'T you?

Chaos Theory probably comes into play here. As Victor Stenger says in "Quantum Gods", Chaos Theory is still deterministic. It just says that there are far too many variables for us to have any chance of predicting the outcome. The butterfly effect does play out. One seemingly small experience in the distant past can ripple through and have a huge impact on a decision some years down the road. I guess I'm trying to say that these guys just kept missing the point that there are a gigantic array of variables and factors and that most of these are subconscious, so not only is it a far more complex thing than they're imagining, the brain's subconscious processing of all these pieces is what gives the illusion of a free choice.

I believe there was also a study which indicated that the brain has already made a selection in many cases before one's conscious thought process is even aware of it. I just can't remember the details.

Anonymous said...


I'd that that was the clearest exposé of determinism that I ever heard. All the while dishing out serious pwnage.

Thanks Jeremy!

Mike W said...

Okay, I've finished the episode with many pauses to recover. I have no idea how you did it, Jeremy. I'd have snapped long before.
By the way, I presented your explanations of determinism and pre-determinism to my folks, who are in their 50s and have no background whatsoever in the concepts. In 2 minutes both of them clearly understood your stance.
But, like me, they're also atheists. There was no spiritual muck clogging up the thought processes.
Great show. Just very, very hard to listen to :)

Lausten North said...

Great job Jeremy, a great lesson in rhetoric. I think you summed up the history of Christianity with, "there is something out of the causal chain, but it doesn't always work."

They summed up what they were trying to do at the end, when one of them said, "if there is just one tiny little area of life that we can call spirit, that's all I need to make my argument valid."

Tucker said...

How are we to engage in dialog with individuals who will argue against something without understanding what they're arguing against (and in this case even for)? Jeremy's solution: "this is a waste of time."

On the contrary, it's what more time should be spent on: by far the larger problem isn't the quality of the arguments for the deterministic world view, it's the common lack of intellectual participation of those who would oppose it, those who *will not let themselves* understand it.

The Don Johnson hosts had clearly made up their minds to reject any argument against freewill regardless of what facts or rationales were presented to them. At times it was clear they weren't even listening to (or listened without hearing) Jeremy's responses to the very questions they had asked him.

The problem with what occurred in this debate is the one weighing us all down: the outdone hosts of the Johnson show seem to have passed through the debate unchanged in any way. If Jeremy and his excellent, enviable communication skills can't gain even a moment's foothold in the minds of the logically defeated, how in the world can I?

Gareth said...

Jeremy: So Don, I'm going to argue the case for 2+2=4

Don: Go on

Jeremy: So here we have two, yes?

Don: Sure

Jeremy: And so then we will add another two like so, see?

Don: Yes that seems fine

Jeremy: Now you will agree we have four, right?

Don: Um, for me that won't work. I'm coming from a more philosophical position, in which logically I need the conclusions to be consistent with my business practice of receiving your tax deductible donations to take down Obongo. So you have a nice day sir and look forward to seeing your fancy devil logic books burnin a treat beneath you when you're fryin in hell my friendOKNEXTCALLER...

Jeremy said...

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for your supportive comments. Im a sensitive guy and I was very apprehensive about posting I didnt feel like I was on my best game for this one. But its been very good hearing your kind comments and useful criticisms. There are many things you guys saw right away that I didnt catch. I feel like I will be much more prepared for this sort of thing in the future.

Davo said...

Impressive. I think Jeremy was remarkably respectful, patient and instructive. As the interview progressed his opponents grew more off balance and even slightly rattled. Of course they also had a weaker position to argue from. I’m happy as an atheist that I don’t have to try and defend incorporeal substances like spirits and souls. Certainly, a thankless job at best. In the end, Jeremy appeared to have more command of the show than they did. Excellent job sir!

Anonymous said...

I listen to Don's show often and enjoy it more when they have people with opposing viewpoints. It's the first time I really heard you Jeremy and you're a pretty articulate person. Ultimately, I think Don and Brandon were just trying to stress that in a deterministic framework, words would lose a lot of their meaning (like choice, decide, consider - because they would just be mechanical processes). And could we really function as sentient beings in a world where those concepts don't exist? (I don't believe in freewill, by the way.) Would you agree with that? Could you explain any differences between predestination and determinism, as one listener mentioned above?

Joe said...

Jeremy, you were very clear and concise. I really appreciate listening to you and the rest of the doubtcasters talk about this subject. I think I have to agree with you guys that determinism best explains the current evidence. So, you guys have won me over. My only question is, does entropy factor into the argument?

Jeremy said...

Thank you Anon,

About language, its remarkable how much we would not have to change. Speaking of intentions and motivations still make sense because we have desires that are causal determinants of behavior. Choice still makes sense (just not "free choice") because one is still discriminating amongst options. Now we could say "are they really options?" No if by options we mean choosing anything we want against causality, but yes if by options we mean, more modestly, that there are different conceivable outcomes and the causal process led to one outcome over another. Voluntary vs involuntary still makes sense. A wink is different than a blink even in a deterministic world. with a blink (or any reflex) consciousness doesn't enter the causal chain. But with a wink, your thoughts (including beliefs, values, past character) are part of the chain... their is something of YOU in that outcome. The most tricky one is responsibility. But as I pointed out in the show, if the persons future behavior can be influenced by judgement then "holding one responsible" makes sense. And we recognize this all the time. This is why we dont get mad at Grandma with Alzheimer for forgetting your name. Judging her wont do any good. Theres a more abstract way in which we are responsible too. We all must live with the consequences of our actions. Heres what language we would need to jettison in a deterministic view: the language of retribution. In determinism retribution is nothing more than revenge. The person could not have done otherwise. So the only sensible form of punishment is rehabilitative punishment. Johny gets a spanking not because he could have done otherwise, but he needs discipline or he'll continue to make the same mistakes. All the boot strapping language used by the right would have to go too. We would need to pay serious attention to the conditions biologically, psychologically and socially that lead to poverty, crime, etc. Shaking our fist and saying "you made a free choice" is useless.

But in the end almost all of our moral vocabulary could be retained with only simple modifications in our understanding.

By the way, what about the language that does'nt support free will? Why does jill's PMS get her off the hook? Why are litte Johny's ragging hormones any kind of excuse? Why does the fact that Bill was abused as a child make a bit of difference? Until Johnson can explain under what situations we have free will, and which we dont...and how that works (his less-dualistic dualism), I'm going to conclude that he is sneaking in some determinism to account for the obvious facts of experience which contradict free will.

See Part 2

Jeremy said...

Part 2 of Jeremy's response to Anon

As far as pre-determined vs determined: In predestination God chooses whats going to happen and theres nothing you can think or will that can get you around His sovereignty. You're held at metaphysical gun point to do what Hes predetermined (obviously not all or even most calvinists believe this--but this is how non-calvinist Christians tend to view predestination. There is an outside agency which determines the choice and so its unjust). Naturalistic determinism isn't like that. The world isn't laid out in advance, the world is an ongoing process in which every instant is a product of its immediate past. Peoples intentions, desires, etc. are all of great importance because they are a part of that causal chain. We are seldom forced against our will. We follow our will. Its just that the state of your will is the product of physical and psychological antecedents. This is why determinism should never result in fatalism. You could say, "well its pointless for me to try" but that notion goes into the causal chain and results in self fulfilling prophecy.

Anyway, thanks for chiming in. I hope thats helpful. We explain it in depth in episodes 30 and 34 if you want more background. Don listened to these, but in his original show he didn't mention any such points that we made. He just nitpicked on the language used between me and Tom Clark...taking it out of context, of course. Don, like most apologists in my view, only seems trustworthy because most of his listeners have not seriously sought out the other side and used that knowledge to assess his arguments.

Jeremy said...


Thank you for the comment and question.

Yes, entropy matters...or rather the laws of thermodynamics matter. If an immaterial substance could have an effect on the physical world it would be adding energy to the system. This would violate the first law.

In determinism no such problems exists. Our planet is not a closed system. We receive energy from the sun. As long as we're getting energy (from our food...ultimately the sun) it can be used for work. No problem.

I'm glad Christian listeners have discovered the site :)
Respectful thinkers from any perspective are all welcome here.

Trevin said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't determinism basically proven by the fMRI?

Joe said...

Thanks Jeremy. I left Christianity about a year ago, and I'm still working on redefining my new athesitic world view. Your podcast has been an incredible tool for me. I think I'm clear on the entropy part now. Entropy is just another materalistic process. Your position seems sound. I would have liked to hear a more educated libertarian hash this out with you. Those guys were too closed minded, and I'm suprised you stayed as clam as you did.

Anonymous said...

aren't questions of "why behave one way over another" that people so often ask when struggling to understand determinism, such as, "why blame the pope for his evil evil ways?" immediately absurd? no free choice means no free choice. end of story.
isn't explaining the ethics of the situation muddying the point?
the more interesting ethical question, it seems to me, would be whether or not an acceptance of determinism leads individuals to nihilistic attitudes or amoral behaviour. this seems to be the popular response to the notion of determinism, though logically determinism doesn't suggest any change in our behaviour.

GWD said...

Transferred from Facebook by suggestion:

1) But Jeremy, how can there be a deliberation if you couldn't have made any other decision? Please come up with yet another way to phrase a reasonable explanation for me to dismiss without offering a counter-point.

2) I'm listening to it right now. Got to the dominos/thermostat analogy. I paused it to write this because I already know they're going to have trouble. Perhaps an analogy they might better understand would be dominos over varying shapes and sizes, which offer reactions that affect the next domino in sequence whether or not it's pushed over. Now ... See Moreimagine that there are hundreds of lines of these dominos, all intertwined in ways that would defy our understanding of gravity but ignore that because it's just a limitation of the analogy. When a domino strikes another domino, the angle at which it strikes, the weight of the dominos in question, their sizes, all come into account - that's the decision making process. All things being equal, there's no question that that particular domino will or will not fall - but it's the result of a cumulative process in which extremely complex factors all intertwine.

No, I take it back. They wouldn't get that.

3) I love this recording because I can hear your chair creaking every time you lean back, accompanied by a slight exhalation. It's audio-body language saying, "This is so damn stupid." Trying not to crack up every time I hear it. It might make a good drinking game.

andy said...

Hi. I don't know if 'enjoyed' is the right word to use, but it was certainly compelling listening. I feel your frustration. Don't feel bad that you didn't manage to get through to them - seems like they were 'determined' not to understand (ha ha)

About language - You can use phrases like 'I came to a decision' or 'I came to the conclusion that...'

Good show though, as usual. Thanks.

Fletcher said...

Have we mentioned that we have a forum?

Why don't we migrate this discussion over there . . .

There's a thread in the Episodes category.

Slash said...

I may have missed the whole point of your argument because your terms are not ones that I would use. I am going to use the term free will here. I feel the one and only item needed to have free choice is a conscious and be able react to it. That means that the day the robot has a conscious it will have free choice.
The brain is a jumbled collection of pieces from our past, our ideas, our senses inputs, our dreams and physical damages. Among the millions of loops is the input/output component called the conscious.
My brain is doing more work than just providing me with a conscious. The body puts a lot of resources into this blob of jello. My conscious is my free will. It has at least as much influence as most of the other loops acting in my brain. You yelling at me for damaging your iPod would be mute except for free will. Brain damage does alter my free will without the aid of consciousness. The smell of baked bread will alter my house buying free will but not as much as my conscious will.
The few people without free will can not survive on their own.
"I create therefore I have free will."

Anonymous said...

It's me Anonymous. (I don't have a Google account or other.) Very thoughtful responses, Jeremy. Thank you for those. (I need to read them more than once.) I do think Don and Brandon had some goods points. Being a Christian, I would have to say that I don't think that free will fits into the biblical framework and teaching. So I'm led to ask: Do you think that determinism fits into a theistic framework? Why or why not? If determinism were really true, why would it be necessary to try to convince people that is true? (The same could be asked of free will, too.) What benefit would it have over believing free will? Does it ultimately matter either way? Are these talked about in the other shows you've had? (Very busy schedule, so listening time is limited.) If so, just ignore these questions. Thanks!

Jim Thompson said...


I know you were not trying to do a smackdown, but it was unavoidable.

Many times you asked them questions and they were obviously stumped, then you re-asked the question.

That was some tough love at the end when you told them to read some books!

Anon: Could you list the good points they made? I missed them. Most of the comments they made seemed incoherent to me. Perhaps I missed them.

Jim Thompson said...


Did you just ignore the attempts to slip in the "But how would we have objective moral values?"

Or were you just concentrating on other things?

Jeremy said...


Im not sure exactly what part you mean. There was a moment when he said "no society has ever used value-free language" and I did just let it pass because I had answered that objection several times already.

Joe said...

Hey guys, love your show. I loved your recent Johnson episode as well, but, I must admit, I really had to "rewind" my podcast occasionally in order to try to comprehend what was being said. I even, ahem, had to wiki in order to find a definition for determinism. I am soooo human. So much to learn in this life. Are you sure this is the only one we get?

Jim Thompson said...

Jeremy, sorry I don't remember the exact words on the morals, but it was attempted a few times.

It just struck me that if you believe the God has set down objective morals, you need free will for the Christian narrative.

Thus, some of their difficulty in understanding your points.

Carolyn Dougherty said...

Philosophy is a subject I have almost less than no interest in, but I did want to write to compliment Jeremy on this podcast--you did a great job of listening to Don and co's points and carefully explaining why they didn't make any sense, even when it was clear they weren't paying any attention and just started coming out with completely off-the-wall statements.

I think when they started asking 'why is pleasure good and pain bad?' I'd have answered 'because over the course of our history as a species those of us who associated pleasure with things that helped us survive and thrive, e.g. having sex, eating sweet foods, being praised, and pain with things that were dangerous (or even other unpleasant emotions, like loneliness at being separated from the group) or could harm us, had healthy and successful descendants--and those of us who had problems with this distinction didn't tend to live very long.'

Anonymous said...

I think Jeremy came off as a little arrogant sounding. I believe it was rooted in frustration at trying to explain something over and over, in particular to a people who have not really looked at any of the copious materials philosophers have written on the topic. So at times the frustration sounded condescending (sorry I can't cite specific examples as I was riding my bike and not taking notes as I listened but remember it mostly around the time Jeremy just decided they had to move on because they were hung up on the language)

The real problem is that most listeners that we may be trying to reach are also unfamiliar with thinking about the topic and stuck on the same hang-ups as the hosts. If they think you are dismissive of the hosts, they will also take it personally. Then it just adds to this image of the arrogant, elitist atheist

My second comment is just on another class of analogies. Computer science has a rich language for talking about deterministic and non-deterministic algorithms. I just kept thinking about all sorts of examples of genetic algorithms and cellular automata, or maybe I should say counter-examples. While many of those terms may be too domain specific, I can think of many simple probabilistic algorithms that can be explained quickly to illustrate how a deterministic algorithm can "reason" (or solve problems). In practice ALL algorithms are deterministic because we use pseudo-random number generators, but quantum cryptography is the exception. Using entropy from quantum events we can implement truly non-deterministic algorithms. Anyway, there is a rich field of examples here for almost every point, and certainly simple ones to illustrate how deterministic machines can "reason".

My last point is that it would be hard to reach a resolution with Don in this argument, but I think the hope is in reaching his listeners. The reason is that to him, all he needs to do to refute your assertion of determinism is show that it does not deductively follow with 100% assurance that there is no free will at all just because the set of choices is limited by impossibilities (whether in the brain or more obviously things like choosing to sprout wings and fly are limits of choice). There is still room in our ignorance of the brain for it, and that is good enough for him. Of course, then I don't know how useful the notion of free will is when we never know how free it is or when it can be used. I guess that is what the justice system tries to get at with different punishments for the mentally ill.

Josh Robbins said...

I was extremely impressed with how you handled this Jeremy. You shouldn't beat up on yourself, you have knowledge and an amazing ability to express your thoughts coherently. I could only dream of having these abilities. I really enjoyed this discussion, I'm going to listen to it again and I'm glad you posted it, I have learned so much from it. Thank you.

GWD said...


Ah, but then they'd snap their trap shut. Because that's the naturalistic fallacy - assuming that because something is, that's how it should be. Just because something helped us survive in the past doesn't necessarily mean we should keep doing it now.

However, you are correct to dismiss their questions about pleasure and pain. This is something we can comfortably assert as self-evident. If we don't, we'll never escape the tautology (if you don't like pleasure, it's not pleasure).

You did remind me, though, that I wanted to mention how asinine one of the points made was. I think it was Don who said it. "I would gladly suffer for my kids." Right - because seeing your kids succeed brings you pleasure, or because seeing them suffer would cause you greater suffering than enduring whatever discomfort the example suggests. You're still operating on the pleasure/suffering scale, you've just had to make a calculation about how it applies. Given the option of working really hard so you can afford to pay for your children's college tuitions so they can be successful, versus being paid identically to relax and eat M&Ms and still being able to pay for your children's college tuitions so they can be successful, you'd almost certainly choose the latter (all things being equal - set aside the example this provides for your kids, or whether or not you enjoy working, we're doing a thought experiment here).

Anonymous said...

Couple of good points brought up through the conversation with Don:

1) Determinism requires on a closed system of cause and effect (naturalism and natural explanations).

If there is an interdimensional or external dimension to matter and existence (that is, spiritual or spirit), would determinism still be true?

Does naturalism, indeed, account for all the available data, specifically the extradimensional indications thrown at us by the existence of the DNA code, the organization of the universe, natural laws, and so forth?

2) It would be odd to punish people for their actions in a deterministic universe. (I know Jeremy explained it twice, but can we really predict the outcome of our input into a exponential number of metaphysical, interconnected "dominoes"? By way of example, if a person doesn't know the syntax of C++, they can't just throw in something - regardless of its coherence and logic - and expect it to produce the correct output. A person must know how to produce the outcome they want by completely understanding the environment and language that they are working in, whether virtual or real. That is a big claim.)

3) Jeremy pointed out that there are reportedly some indeterminate events at the quantum level. Yet is that not the opposite of what you'd expect in a deterministic universe?

Thanks in advance for any responses...

Raha said...

I found the back-and-forth to be unsatisfying like many others, and I agree that Jeremy was very articulate and clear. However, it was interesting that in the post-interview/debate commentary, Jeremy's conclusion was that he should have been more on the offensive. I came away feeling like it was indeed not a fair intellectual battle, and any attempt to seriously go on the offensive would have probably undermined the prospects for a fruitful discussion on the merits.

In my experience, when engaged in a debate or discussion with someone who is less familiar with the staple arguments, its best not to use that vulnerability against them but instead try to help them build the best case for their own position. Thus, for example, Jeremy's comments suggesting that his opponent was unfamiliar with the literature may have been true, but they seemed to undermine rather than promote engagement on the core issues; instead, I think it would have been better to simply articulate the best case for dualism, etc. is.

I know that this means that Jeremy would have been pulling double-duty, but I think this is one case where responsibility comes with power. I do fully acknowledge that there are trade-offs here, and that sometimes individuals need to have their positions deconstructed to build a stronger foundation for their beliefs.

But there are two reasons why I nonetheless think that this strategy - helping build your opponents case - is the best strategy in this context. First, a radio show is, in my mind, designed for the listeners' pleasure and I can say that I would have enjoyed a discussion that better grappled with the controversial points in philosophy and cognitive theory; these issues are still hotly debated and I didn't feel like I got a good sense for the contours of the debate. Second, by providing your opponent with some solid footing, you mitigate the "resistance" factor: they will be less likely to nitpick your argument and engage on the merits.

Anyhow, that's my two cents.

Richard said...

That was good, and I couldn't have been that patient. The hangup at the end seemed fine, too.

That said, I might have tweaked the rhetoric for a bit. Giving up the word 'choice' seems to have caused problems.

I'd define choice to be, "that process that comes between a problem and a decision."

If we define it that way, then the determinist isn't disputing choice (we can observe that choices happen). The dispute is about /how/ the choice happens.


I really liked the comments on reformed epistemology at the end. They cleared up a bunch of theist arguments that I hadn't really understood before.

Is this something that's taken seriously outside of apologist circles?

It seems like the position could be refuted by pointing out that, "A wizard did it" is a perfectly coherent worldview and capable of explaining anything that happens.

Jutta said...

Jeremy, you did a great job. I agree with one commenter that you came over as slightly arrogant at points, but really - these guys had not prepared for the discussion at all, they just thought that bible classes would be a good basis.

This piano analogy - did he not realize that with his elaboration at the end, he was removing the player entirely and was just describing a mechanical piano with broken strings?

Evan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan said...

"You want me to supply you with the argument to refute my position?"

This moment in the debate was extremely revealing as well humorous in its absurdity. I always find it difficult to have a worthwhile discussion when I have to spend a good portion of the time not simply explaining my position, but also educating the other side about the nature of the overall problem. That seems to be what was happening here and I think you handled it extremely admirably, Jeremy.

You were right when pointing out that it wasn't even close to a fair fight. I could be mistaken, but it sounded as though the two hosts were adopting some of the vocabulary of the free will debate without fully grasping the concepts. But apparently my worldview excludes me from using this type of language or making this judgment... or something... ??

Also, and this might be my inner contrarian speaking, I found it somewhat refreshing to see a little more fire from you, Jeremy. Some listeners may interpret that as arrogance but the show is usually quite polite and respectful by design. To see a bit of the opposite approach was pretty cool.

Keep up the good work!

And is it just me or is this whole "by what standard" line getting pretty old. I've been encountering it at an increasing rate lately...

Dale said...

Nicely done, Jeremy. You simply destroyed them.

Fanshawe said...

Great work, Jeremy, though I recommend reading up on the A- and B- theories of time.

maggie said...

This is excruciating. In any other context, the debate should have been halted until the 'other side' had gone home and done some basic homework. Instead, Jeremy ends up having to try to give them a crash course in the subject via the untenable method of answering "here's why what you're saying isn't relevant or is off topic".... all in a short time that also included their trying to explain their misunderstanding/question.

I also found it odd [intriguing?] that when Jeremy was using his iPad destruction story to show what might happen to the person who destroyed it as a consequence of his actions... they started in with questions about the owner's actions rather than the destroyer's. Very strange and, presumably, says something about their thought process (as well as their missing the point of the whole thing).

I too hope I can make it through to the end (I'm about 33 minutes in, so far).

morecoffee said...

Wow, Don (and co-host?) got so close to understanding Jeremy's position and then just slipped away at the last moment time after time after time. After about 90 minutes I was shocked that Jeremy a) hadn't lost patience, and b) hadn't run out of ways to restate the argument. So impressive. Plus, along the way, I learned quite a bit about my own position (turns out I'm a determinist, who knew?).

Even though I don't think that the Christian free will position was well explained and I don't think the determinism position was well understood by the opposition, I still liked the debate. Well, the first hour, anyway. ;-)

Morgan said...

Our lack of free will was a concept that washed over me like a nauseating fever when I was student at Wheaton College. It was so horrible because it seemed so self evident and logically undefeatable to me. Any thought I had could be traced to a previous thought, which ultimately came from an outside stimulus. Thus any choice I made had an antecedent which was outside of me. I could trace any choice to nature or nurture.

The only hope was in there being a non physical "me" that somehow was making free choices. And this is the point I have been trying to ramble to... How does the existence of a soul, or spirit, or non-material self change anything? How is that "gap" an opening to keep believing that our actions are free? Being a created being would ultimately mean that the creator would have influenced whatever choices I was making anyway. Whatever way the key was wound at my souls's creation would have the same nurture nature problem built in. Only if I was somehow created to have never had a beginning, could I really be making non-determined decisions. But that would mean that God would be creating us as having been never created, which even as a fundy, I could see was a problem.

Aaron said...

I don't see why the domino model fails to explain the determinist position.

Jeremy continued to insist that the mind is involved in decision making - that it's not as if someone presses our button and we automatically respond like a robot.

However, no matter how elaborate the "decision" making process is - it is still determined. It doesn't matter how many variables are influencing the domino - it's still going to topple in the direction that it's background "forces" it to topple.

A domino may fall in a certain direction because of a single factor - or it may fall that way because it smelled something, felt a breeze, and remembered the advice of it's uncle - but no matter how complicated the process, determinism says it can only fall in one specific direction.

Adding decisions and thought to the analogy just makes it a more complicated domino setup - but the domino idea still holds.

I find it interesting that Jeremy says we have choice, but not "free" choice. I think this is where Don got hung up on language because the word "choice" seems to indicate the ability to go one of two directions. However, under determinism, you don't really have the ability to go one of two directions - you ultimately can only go in one direction (no matter how complex the thought process was that led you in that direction.)

I don't know that I'm critiquing much - just thinking through this.

Mastema said...

Jeremy, I have no idea how you lasted as long as you did. Congratulations on staying calm as long as possible when Don and his co-host (sorry, forgot his name) were clearly ignorant of not only determinism, but any of the serious philosophical literature on libertarian free will as well.

I would expect that level of understanding from any regular Joe, as most people don't spend the time trying to figure out their exact position and if it was consistent with the rest of their worldview. I would NOT expect it from someone who has their own radio show and wanted to discuss it on air. The least they could have done is spent a little time on Wikipedia, or even find some good online articles. I don't think they have a consistent worldview that can account for basic facts about the world, as Jeremy stated during the discussion and afterwords. I imagine they've read enough apologetic books that have simply told them that if they believe A B and C, that they will have a consistent worldview.

It surprises me how often I hear the "piano/pianist" metaphor, as if it isn't a complete failure. THE best response I've had from a Christian on how an immaterial mind interacts with a physical brain is, "supernaturally, of course."

I'm glad I made it through the episode, but I need to go cool down. I understand why it took you over a week, Jeremy.

mjelcajon said...

I just finished listening to this podcast. It was my first time ever visiting their site. It was very interesting and Jeremy pretty much took over there show. But there was several times where I felt Jeremy was straight out being rude, cutting them off, and then hanging up.Not cool, that defeats the whole purpose of having a civilized debate.

Mastema said...


There were a few occasions when Jeremy interrupted in order to correct a misunderstanding or point out something else was wrong. I think it's better to do that than let the other person go on and make half a dozen more wrong statements that will take additional time to respond to. I didn't get the sense that he was being rude, as much as nipping a problem in the bud, as Don and his co-host were clearly out of their depth.

At times, Jeremy would begin saying something, and the other guys would start to talk over him, and rather than back down, Jeremy kept talking because he had a point to make. I can't think of any call-in-show or podcast featuring phone calls where I haven't heard that happen.

At times, Don and his co-host were fairly thick headed. From my vantage point of an armchair psychologist, I suspect that their biases prevented them from seeing things from Jeremy's point of view. They had their mind made up on what determinism is (which is wrong), and kept saying the same things, even after Jeremy VERY patiently explained the answers to them using a variety of tactics. It just didn't seem to get through to them. They didn't have to accept his position, but they didn't even come to a basic understanding of it after 1+ hours.

The hanging up sucks, and I think Jeremy regrets it, but he is human. I greatly admire him for not screaming at the top of his lungs and hanging up sooner as I would have done about halfway through. When one of them said something to the effects of "as long as their is one little teeny tiny aspect of consciousness that we don't have a good scientific understanding of, my point of view is perfectly sound," I wanted to strangle him. It's like someone saying that since we don't have a fossil record of every type of life from the first self-replicating molecules to the diversity of life we have today, that believing God created the world 6,000 years ago is perfectly sound. With a statement THAT stupid, I forgive Jeremy.

Mike W said...

For those who think Jeremy was abrupt, let's change the topic of the phone call.
It's now about World War 2. Jeremy calls up to take part in a debate about the politics and history of the conflict.
The hosts immediately begin to talk about how Peru's attack on Pearl Harbour was a travesty.
Jeremy corrects them and points out that you can not only find historical documents showing that Japan was the attacking force, but you can find both Japanese materiel and and remains at the site of the attack.
The hosts ignore this and ask what it was about Peru's political climate that could lead them to commit such an act.
It is obvious from the first minute s of the show that the hosts have no knowledge of the topic and have done no homework on it whatsoever.
No matter what information is presented by Jeremy the hosts will not budge from the initial flawed premise, despite their acknowledgement part way through the show that they have no idea how to read a book on history or visit a museum.
Jeremy becomes exceedingly more frustrated, and finally when they say that it's great that Chuck Norris was able to end WW2 with a single karate chop to South America he thanks them for wasting his time and hangs up.

Do you still think he's in the wrong?

Mike W said...

Okay this is very annoying. The Wikipedia article on Determinism begins by saying that predeterminism is essential.
If I've picked up anything in listening and reading about it, that's exactly the antithesis of the point of determinism.
None of the events were predetermined, but rather have simply happened and now inform my actions.


Jeremy said...


The global thesis of determinism says that if we knew ever position of every atom and all the laws of physics we would be able to predict everything that happens. In this sense, and only this sense are things "predetermined". In fact this may not even be true because of quantum indeterminacy.
Regardless, Dave and I should have been more clear, but the problem with "predeterminism" the way Don used it was that it meant something more like "predestination" in his mind. Why resist're helpless to do anything. The universe will force you to do what has been predetermined from the beginning, no matter what you want. Now the problem with this should be obvious. Determinism doest compel you to act against your will. Your desires are part of the causal chain. They themselves are caused and they cause other things to happen. Fatalism is counterproductive because it would only result in self-fulfilling prophecies.

calebism said...

Thanks, Jeremy-- this podcast clarified a problem I had understanding your position. It helps to hear it explained to the obtuse and intransigent.
I am disappointed that Don Johnson Radio show site does not have a comment function regarding its podcasts.

Unicycler said...

I always thought I had free will. Then after 53 years of life as a Christian I started reading the other side. After a few weeks I realized that I had no choice but to "choose" to give up my faith. Didn't want to, but I'm glad I did. So much for free will. Thanks for the podcast. Keep up the good work.

FreeThinkArt said...

Jeremy, I just wanna commend you on your patience with those two.....

Wow..... I totally felt your frustration.

As i listened, I hafta admit, I occasionally shouted quite a few idiot/moron comments toward them, as well as the occasional "yeah/you go boy!" on your behalf...

It is so hard to debate with someone who already 'knows' that they are right...

anyway, I am really glad you posted it...

Keep up the great work!!

dave said...


Firstly, congratulations on an outstanding job in clearly, concisely, politely and (for the most part) patiently conveying your position to Brandon and Don.

Prior to listening to the discussion in question, I listened to the Don Johnson Show (DJS) episode in which they discussed two previous episodes of RD. I found their attitudes to be somewhat arrogant and condescending and believe this is a partial cause for their lack of preparation for the discussion with you. I got the impression they considered you to be their intellectual inferior and this was a crucial error. They stated on more than one occasion that they have no problem refuting anyone else’s worldview as they just back them into a corner from which their view sounds ridiculous. I’ve listened to their show many times and they’re usually pretty good at utilising this tactic. Kudos to you for not allowing yourself to be sidetracked into arguments around essentially irrelevant semantics and keeping it on track. I’m on side with you in your view that delivering a ‘smackdown’ isn’t the most productive way of conveying an issue to the wider public and am impressed at your graciousness when refuting hollow arguments they considered bulletproof.

One of the reasons I listen to the DJS is for the opportunity to hear people with different worldviews have a forum in which they can discuss and debate their views. As much as I enjoy the sceptical podcasts such as RD, Point of Inquiry, SGU, Skepticality et al, I do find it frustrating that they are generally discussing issues with likeminded folk and most often without anyone taking the contrary view. I thought the discussion you had on the DJS was fantastic and would love to hear a follow up discussion in which you are able to ask them probing questions about their views. The episode you posted seemed very much like a ‘Part 1’ as it mostly consisted of Brandon and Don questioning you on your worldview and trying to find holes in it whilst you had very little opportunity to put their views under the microscope.

Thanks again for such a patient and articulate discussion. I found it quite inspiring.

Unknown said...

This RD extra show was my first initiation to determinism. I found , that I understood it well and have been thinking this way for a long time.
The moral arguments hold up well. ( I'm a firm believer in the notion that the paedophile begat the paedophile , for example and I don't believe homosexuality is free choice etc.) BUT I decided to think about flaws and I come up with random number generation. I have done a quick scan of comments and noticed "anonymous" brought up the subject of random number generation . Now , i know most computers use pseudo random number generation but I was also aware of the lack of determinism with quantum events , But ,excluding that , wondered how I (as a human being) would come up with a set of random numbers ( off the top of my head ) Could that be deterministic?
Aside, the whole quantum problem with this philisophy is really interesting to me. Any thoughts???

Curt Cameron said...

First, for the folks here who think Jeremy was rude, or that he should have taken up a position of educating them instead of debating them: have you listened to the DJ show that this was a response to? They took exception to the points made on the RD podcast, and dealt what they considered to be a smackdown against the RD ideas.

I haven't listened to the DJ show in question, but this is what I gather, and knowing this happened does set the stage for Jeremy to debate and correct them.

The other point I want to make is that the DJ hosts misunderstood a key point, and Jeremy has too much expertise in the area to even see their simple-minded mistake. The DJ hosts would continually bring up the idea of a "choice" or "deliberation" - they thought that the fact that there is a choice being made, is a demonstration of free will.

Every time that you (Jeremy) talked about the brain making a choice, those guys viewed it as an admission that they were right and that free will exists. You really needed to step it down to a basic level and explain (again) how deterministic machines can make choices.

bmcworldcitizen said...

Very much enjoyed this episode, and I've been listening to you guys for at least two years. This was certainly a great treatment of the subject.

I've personally found it useful to address the log jam you ran into with a term I've coined : "functional free will".

Given the number and variety of inputs, we cannot possibly know the outcome for a given decision we need to make (until we make it!). Thus we crunch the numbers and give it our best shot. By doing this we exercise our functional "free will".

Anonymous said...

I listened through to the end - do I win a prize?

Well done, Jeremy for sticking it out. For me it was more instructive to listen to a less than perfect debate that you can later critique with a little bit of distance. Similarly, the debate Mikyle and Danyy from Reason Driven did a while ago and which Jeremy commented on later.

These debates are much closer to what I and others face in our lives and are rarely if ever awesome and faultlessly argued.

spacemonkey said...

Well done Jeremy. It seemed to me like they were assuming that if choices are deterministic, then they must be simple. The thought process to make take such choices must be simple. I think they were thinking that, in a deterministic world, making up your mind would be like adding something up.

You could have made the analogy with a container full of water. Water is always moving there, but it's movement could be determined with 100% accuracy knowing everything about it. If you drop a leaf in there it will sink, but the time it takes to sink and it's final position are determined by very complex, almost infinite interactions.

Having a process be chaotic and extremely sensible, involving billions of variables and branching over many areas does not mean it's not deterministic.

Unknown said...

I just finished the podcast and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done Jeremy.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, much as I love the show, I have not found much to like in the recent concentration on determinism.

Yes, it's true that we can philosophically claim that there is no free will, but we could also say that induction is invalid, and add that to every discussion where science is mentioned. The fact is, we live and interact as though induction works, and we live and interact as though free will works. I'd be pretty nonplussed if a science podcast filled so many shows with hammering home the point that the whole basis of science rests on a philosophically invalid point, and felt the same way about these free will versus determinism episodes. It felt the same as when a libertarian will join a forum and start filling every discussion with his view that the government should not do much at all, whether or not that view added anything to the points under discussion.

I love the show for its educated and intelligent take on religion and its interaction with society, but was left cold by what felt like endless going over the same point on determinism, again and again. I get it, you don't accept free will, but can you please leave the subject alone and move on now?

Fletcher said...


You make an excellent point. In our defense, I think the reason we've devoted so much time to the subject is because we keep getting asked about it. There seems to be a great deal of interest on the subject so we've tried to cater to that.

That being said, I think we've said what we can say on the subject for the time being. I'm not saying the topic won't come up again but, speaking for myself, I'm over it for the time being. I'm glad we covered it, I think it has shown to be very helpful for a number of people, but we're moving on now.

If people want to keep discussing free will and determinism they are more than welcome to keep the discussion going at the forum htt://

And, of course, fans of determinism should buy a shirt.

FastEddieB said...

There's an expression: If toads could fly, they wouldn't drag their asses on the ground.

I think that's meant to show how it's silly to start an argument with an unrealistic premise.

So, when it's claimed that "If we knew everything about the state of the universe/someone's brain, then we could determine their actions going forward", there's something seriously flawed with the premise.

Since Heisenberg we've known that the premise, as stated, is impossible - we can never, in principle, know the exact state of the universe, someone's brain, or even an elementary particle.

I'm not an expert or a Phd, and I'm sure this has been addressed more elegantly than I can, but as long as one cannot know, in principle, what the state of the universe or whatever is, then we cannot, in principle, determine a person's choice.

As such, our choices are ultimately unpredictable. While this does not make a case for free will, it seems to defeat determinism.

Unless I'm missing something (and it wouldn't be the first time!)

FastEddieB said...

I just scrolled up a bit and saw Jeremy addressed by objection to some extent as the "global view" of determinism.

My bad for not reading the entire, lengthy, comments.

Still don't get it, though. If we can't, in principle, determine something, how can it be said to be deterministic?

Jeremy said...

Thanks fast Eddie,

Maybe is this will help, despite quantum indeterminism, we would all agree that chemistry follows strict natural laws, right? Two chemicals will react to create a product, and the product of the reaction is determined by the two chemicals involved, number of electrons to share, etc.

I think we all get that.

Now according to naturalism, your brain is made of chemicals.

It doesn't matter at all if we can predict what you will do. We know the chemicals in your brain follow the same laws.

Does this help?

Chris Jones said...

I would also argue that it doesn't matter whether we're able to predetermine the outcome of an event. The event can still be deterministic regardless of our ability to predict the outcome. The variables that are involved may all be deterministic, yet either the complexity of the variables or the sheer number of variables are well beyond our ability to collate them into a meaningful prediction. In some way, this is tied to chaos theory which according to many physicists is still a phenomenon of a deterministic system. It just describes our inability to wrestle with all of the relevant variables.

As for quantum uncertainty, a given particle may exhibit a probabilistic nature while the macro world is still completely deterministic. The sum total of probabilities in individual particles still average out to a completely deterministic macro environment. If that weren't so, and should true randomness make its way into the macro world, we just couldn't do science. We wouldn't get the same chemical each time we mix the same two things.

FastEddieB said...


I get that at the macro level things may be essentially deterministic, as in the chemistry example.

Yet trying to determine whether an individual neuron will fire or not (Coke or Pepsi?) may lie in the realm of quantum uncertainty.

I've thought about stuff like this for 45+ years. I've concluded that individuals seem to have the ability to act "on a whim", which I believe can ultimately be random in nature. I ALWAYS order Coke, but, what the hell, I'll try a Pepsi this time. For no particular reason. I think that decision is ultimately unpredictable in principle.

I think that leads us to either free will, or the very least a STRONG illusion of free will. And that it makes NO difference in the way in which we view the world.

Great discussions for the dorm room over a beer or a bong, (or on the interwebs) but a distinction without a difference, outside of philosophical discussions.

Or so I believe at this juncture.

FastEddieB said...

I would also argue that it doesn't matter whether we're able to predetermine the outcome of an event.


I agree.

My argument was with the premise, "If we knew the state of the universe/mind at a given point, we could, in principle, predict their actions."

I still think that argument is flawed because of the impossibility, in principle, of knowing that state with any precision.

Of course, this could be the "clockwork universe" that I believe Descartes originally envisioned. And I do NOT believe in a Deus Ex Machina that exists to allow deviations from determinism. I'm a mechanist by heart (and a pretty dedicated one!)

I guess my point is that determinism that cannot, in principle DETERMINE, is a very weak determinism.

Anonymous said...

Luke here.

Fast Eddie,
you are mistaken. As we discussed in our episodes on determinism, even if quantum forces were operating randomly, that is not "free will" in any sense of what free willers advocate because its random. Randomness is not a willed decision. When people use free will, i'm assuming they mean that they chose something 'for a reason" in which case randomness doesn't help them.

But more importantly, you are again making the fallacy that because you don't perceive that there is a conscious reason that you chose pepsi or coke then therefore it was uncaused. As we discussed, experimental evidence shows that people confabulate reasons when they are unconsciously manipulated, making up things to seem as if they are consciously chosen, when in fact their decisions are resulting from contextual manipulations. Individuals are not consciously aware of the causes of their behavior, whether contextual, biological, or whatever. if pressed to explain a decision they may say "i don't know" or make up a reason, but these are guesses, not accurate reports.

FastEddieB said...

Fast Eddie,
you are mistaken. As we discussed in our episodes on determinism, even if quantum forces were operating randomly, that is not "free will" in any sense of what free willers advocate because its random.


I am NOT making a case for free will. I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that I have free will, but that's a feeling, not an argument.

I'm also NOT arguing that randomness allows for free will.

My only argument (if that's what it is) is that if, in principle, we cannot determine an outcome, then to say it was "determined" seems rather meaningless (and unfalsifiable). Maybe it was, but so what?

At the moment I decide, on a whim, to try a Coke for a change, no one can, in principle, point to the exact state that led to that decision. Maybe it WAS determined by some subliminal cue, or advertising, or whatever. Or maybe it was random. Or maybe it was an uncaused choice (though I sure can't explain how that would work - materialist that I am!)

Again, imagine two worlds: one in which I have free will, the other in which I have a perfect illusion of free will. How would those worlds be different from my perspective? I'd say they wouldn't be, so its a distinction without a (practical) difference.

If I was a betting man (I'm not) I'd bet that I DO have free will, though the possible mechanism escapes me. Maybe free will is an emergent property of complexity, much like consciousness itself probably is.

Or maybe not!

Chris Jones said...


"Yet trying to determine whether an individual neuron will fire or not (Coke or Pepsi?) may lie in the realm of quantum uncertainty."

Victor Stenger (a particle physicist) addresses this in "Quantum Gods" and mathematically demonstrates that quantum uncertainty can't be a factor at even the individual neuron level. The short answer is that an individual neuron is still too "macro".

I can sympathize with your hope for some nondeterministic element to remain in the equation, as I've had many long and fruitful conversations with a close friend involving the possibility of what you've suggested. He, too, shares this hope and I am well aware of how uncomfortable the notion of determinism can be for some. Still, even if it is possible that you don't truly have free will, isn't comfort to be found in the pragmatic appearance of free will that is a necessary byproduct of our utter inability to ever come to terms with the staggering assortment of variables that become a part of every single cognitive event?

Jeremy said...

Fast Eddie,

you said "How would those worlds be different from my perspective? I'd say they wouldn't be, so its a distinction without a (practical) difference"

It makes a huge practical difference. We didnt discuss it much here, but a large portion of episode 30 is devoted to that subject. In a nutshell determinism shows us that our prison systems and criminal law should be focused on rehabilitation not retribution. For society determinism reaffirms the importance of understanding the social, psychological and yes (cringe) biological causes of social problems such as poverty, crime, domestic violence, etc. We cant just shout these problems down the way Conservative politicians try to do. In your personal life determinism is a reminder to be more humble and patient with others. Like with criminals, the only proper response is one which could influence there future behavior for the better. Also if one wants to change themselves (ex. dropping bad habits like smoking) determinism tells us why sheer will power is seldom enough. We should treat ourselves like complex systems that (within certain limits) can be trained or reprogrammed.

Their are of course philosophical implications that are not immediately practical but are nonetheless interesting. Questions regarding the nature of the self, human nature, etc.

Oh yeah, and this is entirely relevant to anyone using free will to argue for God or against naturalism...which is why we covered it in the first place

FastEddieB said...

"I can sympathize with your hope for some nondeterministic element to remain in the equation, as I've had many long and fruitful conversations with a close friend involving the possibility of what you've suggested."

I would not call it "hope". I'm a determinist at heart. It just seems that whether or not we have free will, we will run our lives and make our choices AS IF we do.

I know I do!

FastEddieB said...

"It makes a huge practical difference."


This is where I end up feelingfrustrated as I think your hosts did.

For instance, if the universe is determined, then we have no choice in how we treat criminals anyway.

This is the rabbit hole that your hosts were led down - your position often seems to involve real choices that can be made as a result of the state of the universe, all the while denying the same.

Knowing the state of the universe, we could not choose to reform our penal system to be other than it is, without ultimately appealing to at least some modicum of free will. The phrase, "It is what it is" comes to mind.

And it does not seem to be just a question of language. To say: "The fact that we do not have free will determines how we choose to treat criminals going forward" seems inherently paradoxical.

BTW, enjoying the talk on "Terror Management Theory" - I had never heard of it.

Jeremy said...

Fast Eddie,

Why bother housebreaking your dog? If the universe has determined it to shit all over the carpet there is nothing we can do about it.


What you are arguing for is sometimes called "lazy sophism." Its an objection brought against fatalists and determinists ever since there were such people to object to. Its easily answered. We spend a good portion of the last show clearing this up. I would recommend listening if you haven't yet. If you have and you still maintain your objection there is little more I can do for you. Id recommend googling "lazy sophism" and taking up the debate elsewhere. I hope you will not take this personally. I welcome all comments, but after devoting six hours of the podcast, dozens of emails, forum posts, comments etc. to this subject I need to move on with my life.

FastEddieB said...



I have listened to both shows, and I guess what needs to be said has been said.

Thanks for taking the time.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting argument for determinism:

Say there are two people in a room, each trying to convince the other of a point. (for the sake of argument, let's say a male and female. And, further, let's say we have a manner of observing the events without influencing the observation through one of two two-way mirrors ) During this conversation, many points, on both sides are introduced and refuted by the other party. However, in an hour's time, the female succeeds in convincing the male that her view is correct.

Now, imagine that after this we travel back in time an hour and observe the conversation from the other two way mirror. We will see the exact same conversation unfold in the exact same manner. The same points, the same refutations, and the exact same ultimate conclusion will be reached.

Now, the first time through, the "free will" camp, would claim the couple obviously had free will. But what about the second? What happened to the couple themselves to cause this change?

It seems to me, the first time through, we perceive it as free will, but when seen through the light of time travel (for lack of a better term) the results become determined. If, for example, free will did exist, every time time rewinds due to a time traveller, the results of every free choice has a second chance to freely choose a different... choice.

SkepticAl said...

I kept wanting to yell into the argument "determinism not predestination!"

Had this been defined early on, it may have been a much shorter episode. I would have preferred that. Kudos for holding it together as long as you did.

Jeff said...

Well Jeremy, I am proof of one of those aberrant outliers in society that prefers pain to pleasure, given that I listened to this debate 2.5 times on my recent trip across the country. I have to say that I was embarrassed for Don - the fact that this man is head of his own ministry is something exceptional in itself, and is a reflection of the towering arrogance that so afflicts those defending essentially indefensible worldviews. I laughed out loud when you admonished them for not taking the subject seriously enough to inform themselves on it. You did a great job, in my opinion.

Gatogreensleeves said...

Oh my... two words come to mind: scorched earth.

I've listened to all 5 determinsim episodes now and am very impressed with your debate skills, to say the least. You are in the top of the class out there. Great job.

I've been looking at this topic lately and I am a little surprised you didn't go deeper into the free will vacuum element itself. we need to consider the contingency upon causality when accessing information. In the actual act of decision making, considering the infinite regression of influences that come together to make an overall impression of every object or idea in the mind when making a choice; how could an agent escape these influences even just in accessing their determined definitions (i.e. the parameters of the definition itself is made up of inescapable causal facts) in order to make that ‘contra-causal’ free choice? It can't be done. If you acknowledge even just the impression of any idea or thing in order to consider it, you not only allow yourself to be impressed by (i.e. caused by) the thing or idea itself, but also the determinism that *causally* defines that thing or idea in real time… constantly. Can our decisions really remain “free” from causal influence by instantaneously stepping into a hypothetically non-causal, purely observational dimension that can negate the impressions of things, ideas, and *even the definition’s causal parameters necessary to think about them*… and then somehow jump back into the causal dimension, repeating this process for gazillions of thoughts and actions, mirroring the countless inter-dimensionally jumping particles in the Casimir effect?

One thing though... I am curious as to what you guys think of the recent scientific challenge to the Libet studies and the real nature of Readiness Potential: Miller/ Trevena:

Gatogreensleeves said...

One more thing, don't be dismayed about having to keep returning to this topic; that just shows you've found a much needed and appreciated niche.

Nik K. said...

OK this thing just erased my whole comment when i tried to post it so ill try once more:
I listened to the Don Johnson show for a while before I was finally able to discover the source of the spine-twisting frustration that slowly ate my soul every time I listened to his arguments. Eventually I was able to see that his logical flaws were at such an elementary level that one would overlook them in one's haste to get to the meat of the issue. In essence, Don would veer off course on the first step of the logical staircase and most folk are standing on the third floor trying to shout down to him when he's over in the neighbor's tulip garden. It takes a while to see where he went wrong and why you're shouting.
I was gratified that you confirmed what my intuition suspected from listening to several of his shows, that he is indeed working from a "handbook" of sorts, which you named as "reformed epistemology" I hadn't heard of this, but I felt sure he was working from some kind of readymade apologist's cheat sheet which he knew like the back of his hand, but from which he dared not stray. I'd be interested in any shows where you deal with these prefabricated apologist or philosophical systems which cynically attempt to protect, through philosophical prestidigitation, the logical weaknesses of weak philosophies.
Also... I have often found that arguments between rational, intelligent people of good-will responding to the same general data tend, very often, to come down to matters of semantics or linguistic imprecision. For example, your view of Determinism combined with Consequentialist Ethics seems similar to the Pragmatic argument for free-will which i believe was advanced by Camus. In essence it says that we should believe in free-will and/or act as though it exists because the results are better if we do. That is, it's beneficial to be able to hold people responsible for their actions, so lets say there is free will. The difference in the two views seems largely semantic.
Further, the entire free-will debate can be seen as semantic. If an action is caused by an infinity of variables, all of which (by the definition of infinity) can never be known, it is then, even theoretically, impossible to definitely predict that action which by one reckoning would make that action both "free" and "caused" at the same time.
I look forward to listening to more of your podcasts.

Anonymous said...

I'm about 18 months late on this one, but I'll still leave a comment. I've been listening to Don's show off and on for the past several months to gain further insight into the Christian mindset. I've found his perspective much more well-thought out than most I've listened to, but it has been frustrating listening to the guests who come on to "debate" him. More often than not they are well-meaning atheists whose rhetorical skills are lacking, especially against someone like Don who has his position down well. It was a JOY to listen to Don and his sidekick getting literally schooled by Jeremy. I have an enormous amount more respect for him for handling the frustration and blatant wall of ignorance as well as he did.