Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

How about neither? Let's start with religion, about which only a few words. Some forms of religion are dogmatic and deeply invested in doubtful beliefs, but it's a mistake to think all religion is like that, contrary to the persistent insistence of some apologists for atheism. And "science" writ large hasn't settled whether everything is a product of deterministic forces, let alone about what that would imply if it were true. On the first point: it's open to serious doubt whether quantum processes are deterministic. And it's simply not true that the macro-world would be sealed off from all quantum indeterminism. More important, it's simply not settled that determinism has the dire implications you suppose it has. Most philosophers, I'd guess, accept some version of compatibilism, according to which physical determinism and human freedom can coexist. A bit of searching around this website will find various discussions. Here's one that might be helpful. Of course, it might be that the...

Some people have argued that because people's choices are often influenced by factors that are not relevant to rational decision making, people do not have free will. For instance, people are much more willing to register as an organ donor on their driver's liscenses if this is presented as the default option ("check this box to be an organ donor" vs "check this box to opt out of being an organ donor"). Does a person need to be rational in order to have free will?

I'd like to suggest that it's not an all-or-none affair, but yes: rationality is part of free will. One way to think about it is to ask what kind of "free will" would be worth caring about. A will that's not able to respond to reasons is one I wouldn't want to have, and any sense in which it would be "free" seems to me to be pretty Pickwickian. This point doesn't settle the question of how free will and determinism are related. Robert Kane's version of libertarianism, for instance, doesn't call up any obvious conflict between free will and reason. That's partly because reason doesn't always dictate a single course of action. It would be reasonable of me to work on my administrative duties for the rest of the afternoon, and also reasonable to spend the time on research. But it wouldn't be reasonable to tear off my britches and run naked into the street, and I don't think the fact that this would be beyond me (absent a very good reason) to mean I don't have free will. So yes: little glitches in our...

Is the question of whether homosexuality is "a choice" at all morally relevant? Does it bear, e.g., on whether homosexual lifestyles are morally permissible, or whether gay marriage should be allowed? Many people seem to think so, including many of those who support gays and lesbians.

Just one footnote to Sean. If homosexuality is a choice, it's not, as Richard Mohr once pointed out, like the choice of what sort of ice cream you're going to buy. Here's a thought experiment to try. Think of someone you find sexually attractive. Now try to choose not to have that response. Part two: think of someone you don't find sexually attractive. Now try to choose to be attracted to them. Step three: repeat steps one and two for broad categories of people where you find you have pretty stable patterns of attraction. If you are anything like me, you'll find that the attempt to choose doesn't get you anywhere. Just how we end up being sexually attracted to the people we're attracted to is not easy to say. What seems pretty clear is that it's not in any ordinary sense a choice, Of course, having predilections is one thing; that may not be a choice. Acting on them is another; that usually is a choice. If a case could be made that it's wrong for homosexual people to act on their...

I want to believe that our actions are products of our own will who can choose to do right or wrong but I find this very difficult to believe for a simple philosophical reason. Given the principle that something can not come about by nothing it seems like an absolute and indubitable certainty that the total state of affairs in the universe at any one given moment in time would completely determine the state of affairs at another moment in time. The only thing that keeps me from believing this is my suspicion that my mind is playing a metaphysical trick on me and my hope in religious and spiritual possibilities. Is there some flaw to this reasoning that I can not see? Are there any good arguments that refutes the intuitive position that a non-deterministic universe is an absurdity? I suppose that you could argue that certain areas of science such a quantum mechanics refute the idea of a deterministic universe but such scientific theories don't have the simple persuasiveness of the above mentioned thesis.

Persuasiveness is pretty clearly a relative matter here! After having spent a few decades thinking about quantum theory, I don't find myself much bothered by the idea of indeterminism. Even if I front that "something can't come from nothing" it's a long way from there to the conclusion that all events are governed by deterministic laws. And in any case, when it comes to questions about how the universe really works, I'm not inclined to take my mere hunches and intuitions too seriously. In particular, it's hard to see why I would five my intuitions about nature priority over the painstaking theoretical and experimental work of the sciences. The world has surprised us many times before. I'd bet that it will continue to do so.

What is emotional suffering? I know that I feel that I suffer, but in what sense am I suffering? I cannot place anywhere, the source of emotional suffering in any causal terms from the external world. The external world can bring me physical pain through physical action, but it seems absurd to think that external objects can also cause emotional pain. Does this mean that emotional suffering is generated from within me? Am I the cause of my own suffering? If so, does this mean that one can choose not to suffer?

Saying just what emotional suffering amounts to wouldn't be easy, but there may be no need. Even if we find it hard to spell out what it is , all of us know emotional suffering from the inside. Some emotional suffering may be internally generated -- endogenous, as it's sometimes put -- but whether or not we understand the mechanisms, it's clear that things in the outer world can cause emotional pain. When you think about it, this isn't really so strange. Our emotional states are deeply dependent on the states of our brains, and our brains, after all, are physical things, in interaction with other physical things. We simply accept this for perception: our perceptual experiences are caused by the interaction between things in the outer world and our perceptual systems, including (not least!) our brains. The details of how all this works are best left to the scientific experts, but for example, if I see someone I care about being hurt, and if I can do nothing about it, feeling distressed would seem...

Asked "do you believe in the faith you follow through choice?" I would expect most respondents would answer "yes", yet this is clearly not the case and is largely true only for people who have converted from one faith to another. A child growing up in Belfast with Protestant parents, Protestant grand-parents and Protestant great-grand-parents is going to be Protestant. A child growing up in Italy is 90% certain to be Catholic, a child born and raised in N.E. Thailand is 97% certain to be Buddhist etc etc. Where does the choice come in? Surely for anyone who doesn't question belief in God, the God they follow is down not to choice but to geography - does this not make a mockery of belief?

Interestingly, one of the more well-known statements of your premise -- that belief in most cases is a matter of accidents of birth and circumstance -- was offered by a well-known defender of religion, the British philosopher John Hick. But we'll get to that. Most people don't think very hard about their religious beliefs. And when we get to the level of specifics (that Jesus was God incarnate, that the Koran was delivered to Mohammed by an Angel, that the Amida Buddha built the Western Paradise...), it's guaranteed that most people are wrong, because there are no majority beliefs at this level of detail. But what to make of this is harder to say. After all, something like both of these points (beliefs held by custom and habit and no majority view in any case) may be true for political beliefs, and for views on certain controversial ethical matters. It's likely true even for certain sorts of scientific beliefs, and ceretainly for various broad background "philosophical" or "metaphysical"...

I do not believe that true freedom can actually exist within any society that is governed by any form of laws or rules. To me, freedom is to be completely without restraint of any kind, be it legal, social, theological, or whatever. As long as there exists any sort of list of things that are not to be done, said, or thought, and these rules are actively upheld by empowered individuals and/or groups, I do not think that anyone within such a society is truly free. I would like to know if anyone agrees or disagrees and why.

Consider this little argument: A society with laws against killing is a society where true freedom doesn't exist. A society where true freedom doesn't exist is undesirable. Therefore, a society with laws against killing is undesirable. The argument is superficially valid, but it rests on an equivocation. The first premise is plausible if "true" is read as "unlimited" or "unbridled." But if "true" means something like "ideal," then the premise seems false. On the other hand, the second premise is plausible if "true" is read as "ideal," but seems false if "true" simply means "unbridled." Indeed: if "true freedom" means "unbridled freedom," then most (all?) societies don't have "true freedom." But that's a mere tautology. Using the word "true" here doesn't give us any reason to think that a society with "true" freedom (in effect, a "society" with no laws at all) would be a good thing. It's hard to see what's desirable about a society where goons and thugs can go around offing people with...

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