The Independent Variable - Matt Haugland

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I'll be sure to take lots of pictures, and I'll post them here when I get back.

After the mission work in Guatemala, I'm planning to go to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but not sure how far I'll get.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Free Will Semantics

Why do most people change the definition of "free will" when talking about it in a religious context?

In normal life, "free will" refers to the ability to make voluntary choices. The opposite of "free will" is being forced to do something we don't want to do. The factors that influence what someone wants to do aren't the issue. The bottom line is: if it's voluntary, it's free will. If it's unvoluntary, it's not free will. Pretty simple.

Why then is there such a debate about whether God gives people free will? It's quite obvious that he does. I can't think of any decision I've ever made where God was forcing me to make it against my will. Yet people seem to have a problem with the fact that parts of the Bible say he predestines and parts say we have free will. They say it's a great mystery that we'll never understand. Some even use it as the prime example of how we "can't comprehend the mind of God". But I can't comprehend why people have such a problem with this.

I think the reason is that many people use a different definition of "free will" in this context. The normal meaning of "free will" is thrown out the window. Instead, it becomes something like the ability to make decisions independent of causes, independent of our nature, or independent of God or God's plan. I know what they mean, but I don't think it should be called "free will". Maybe "uncaused will" or "uncaused desire" or "atheistic will" would be better. [note: the 'new' definition of free will has made it into some dictionaries as an alternative definition, but it's really only used in religious/philosophical contexts]

I think it's simple. If God determines what we want to do, he in turn determines what we do. And if we do what we want, we have free will. So there's no conflict at all between theistic determinism and free will.

The only conflict is when you use a different definition of free will that excludes determinism (then obviously there's a conflict because they become contradictory by definition). But if people use that definition when talking about God, why don't they use it in other contexts? I've never heard anyone say anything like "I went to a Sooner football game because I wanted to, but it wasn't a free choice because I grew up in Norman and my parents are Sooner fans and that's probably why I like the Sooners and wanted to go to the game instead of a movie." That would be silly. Of course it was a free choice, even though it might've been determined by external factors.

As for whether or not God determines what we want to do, that's a different topic. But if you believe God created us (which would mean he determined our physical needs and designed our brains to respond in certain ways to various stimuli), I think it'd be kinda hard not to believe he also determined what we want. Thus (for that reason and others), I think it's quite possible/likely that he determined everything we do. And I strongly believe he gives us free will. No conflict there.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Al Gore & Global Warming

I just got back from watching Al Gore speak at OU about global warming. Before that, I went to a debate about global warming by two professors. There have been a lot of people talking about the subject lately. Here are a few thoughts.

There seems to be two main camps that a lot of people fall into. There's one that has no doubt whatsoever that human activity is the cause of global warming, that's it's a huge problem that will lead to all kinds of catastrophes, and that anyone who disagrees with them is a complete idiot and/or doesn't care about the world. These people tend to think they know it all, and a lot of them are political activists who think they're saving the world. There were a few sitting next to me at both presentations today. A couple of them were mocking one of the debaters, as if they (who probably weren't scientists of any kind) knew so much more about it than a scientist who studies it.

Then there's another group that thinks all this global warming stuff is nonsense, that it's not really happening and/or not really a problem, or that it's part of some kind of left-wing conspiracy. These tend to think that anyone who disagrees with them is a hippie environmentalist or a crazy liberal. Some of them have an "it doesn't matter because God will take care of it" approach.

Both of these frustrate me. A lot!!!! It's amazing how people can turn a scientific issue into an ideological one.

I listened carefully to Al Gore's presentation. I'm not really qualified to talk about the public policy aspects of it, but here's how I feel about the science of it: for the most part, it was pretty good. It was based on very basic principles that should not be controversial at all. On the other hand, the climate system is quite a bit more complex than he implied, and some of his figures and statistics were a bit misleading.

There were only a couple things I heard that were flat out wrong, but they were very minor points (e.g., when talking about recent record temperatures, he said "South Dakota shouldn't be as hot as 120 degrees (F; as it was a couple summers ago)", when in fact SD often is very hot during the summer, and North Dakota reached 121 degrees over 70 years ago). But most of his discussion about the science was pretty good. I was skeptical at first because he's not a scientist, but being who he is, he has easy access to (and has consulted a lot with) leading scientists/researchers. So he does have some credibility. More than I once thought.

He came to some interesting and somewhat scary conclusions. I can't say whether the 'doom and gloom' scenarios will actually happen. I have serious doubts. But it's really hard to know. And that's my main point with all of this. We don't have global warming all figured out, so we shouldn't act like we do -- that's true for scientists, but even more so for political activists who haven't actually studied it. I don't know for sure that it's a big problem or not, but it might be. And because it might be a problem, I think we should take appropriate steps (just in case) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as is reasonable .