Dinner w Millenials- LDS: Free Agency and Biology, Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson

-If there was not a human 'spirit', just biology, could we have free agency?
-What determines free agency? Does evolutionary psychology explain our free will?
-Why is the individual so important?

Plop down a microphone in the middle of the dinner table. Politics, social issues, doctrine and current events. You're invited over for dinner. Take a seat and have a listen.


 Raw Transcript

so you can't make decisions if your
freewill comes from your biology that is
that is your thesis yeah what are family
dinners like at your house at my house I
have always encouraged lively debate and
discussion even when the kids were young
we would talk about their experiences
put them into a larger social context
and see what those experiences meant
spiritually my goal was always to make
the kids think today my kids are almost
all adults so some of the topics have
changed and of course their experience
and insight have changed too after all
they're Millennials and so our dinner
discussions now have the added benefit
of two different points of view from one
generation to another I had the idea of
slapping down a microphone in the middle
of the kitchen table to record some of
these dinner discussions this discussion
was on free agency and had some twists
and turns I wasn't expected keep in mind
that the topic is set in a vacuum
a world without eternal intelligence
without God I did this on purpose to
help steel man my point it's time to
invite you to dinner so take a seat and
enjoy I want to get some shrimp in there
with no luck just one over here that one
and this one over here
no I don't want to take your shirt now
well whatever you have the clue one
shrimp so one of these things I've been
listening to in the last you know I
listen a lot to podcast there's been
these it's two guys one of them is the
guy one guy closed off Jordan Peterson
right is a psychologist and then the
other guy is an atheist he's one of the
more popular atheist it's like I'm on a
one of my podcast Sam Harris yeah it's
kind of interesting because sam harris
comes at it from he's an atheist and he
doesn't believe in religion and one of
the things that sam harris talks about
that he doesn't believe in his free
agency right because you think about it
right if you're an atheist and you
believe that we are simply a product of
biology then where would your agency
come from because your agency seems to
be something that has to be separate
from your biology not that it wouldn't
be influenced by it right that's a big
discussion in atheist circle is free
agency and and how we just don't have it
well one would argue in a sense for
would have a background of having a
spirit in a sense right because it's
something separate from your body and
the other would say no it's just your
culture and the biology that you've been
given you're going to make all of your
decisions no matter what and you don't
really have a choice in everything as in
separate from outside of what your
culture and biology are because
otherwise where does it come from what
would what would that be what would free
agency be for an atheist if it's not
from your biology and culture no their
nature like it's a reactor biology
animal instincts as opposed to you know
one thing that jordan pearson talks a
lot about is he talks about evolutionary
biology i
so you you have you we have certain
traits because of the bodies that we've
been given that have evolved over what
millions of years and and where we are
because of survival we have these traits
but he believes in created on top of
that I think I think that free agency is
on a spectrum and it's correlated with
intelligent yeah dogs as far as all the
organisms in the world go are on the
upper levels of intelligence and so they
would have more free agency and say but
if you know a butterfly it basically
acts like instinct alone because it has
what is I had well free agency is the
ability to make a decision to make a
sentient decision human beings are the
most intelligent life-forms right so we
naturally would have more free agency
than a dog so intelligence gives us the
agency gives it to us is correlated with
it I don't know but I I think that it is
directly really are how what however
intelligent you are as an organism is
directly related to how sentient you are
or how much free agency you have no even
the baby has less free agency but that
changes as it matures in it it's brain
grows they're all of that baby then
child and teenager than adults decisions
based on their biology I think it's so
what is the difference then what is that
that's outside of your biology right I
mean what would that agency be or that
comfort I think that at that point you
can you can decide whether or not it's
just chemicals in your brain that are
what give you sent in so it could be an
outside being and that's where I think
that's where the
the religious people and the atheist
people diverge because there isn't
anything beyond that well there isn't
anything to know there is a nature that
there's nothing to observe so then you
go in wait a minute there's things to
observe I mean I observe it every day
with my own self I observe an experience
free agency every day so I can save
myself okay is this am I only making
these decisions because of the biology
that's been given to me which biology is
the result of millions of years of
evolution right you're observing the
agency itself but you can't observe
where it comes from because you don't
know in this vacuum so you you venture
into the realm of an untestable
hypothesis get all these conjectures so
you would say that you don't know then
if your ability to make decisions is
just your body weave brings for your
body right okay so it's just how your
biology do you have control over your
own decisions yes you do how do you know
that well that's what I was saying but
that's not the question we all know that
we have free agency that we don't but
the question that you're asking before
is where does it come from does it come
from the cells in our brain what is it
son from come from some outside deedy
because if if you don't have what I
maybe were maybe semantics here and I'm
not sure let me clarify if I am only
given my ability to choose only from my
body then I have no free will it is
already mapped out based on the cells
that have been given to me okay what
well because I said if I only if
everything comes just from my biology
then I am where where am I getting my
free will from your body but no he's
saying like if you can look at a baby
and somehow map
something about them genetically then
you would be able to know every single
decision they'd ever made right exactly
that's not necessarily true I don't
think well then where is where would the
anomaly come in or where would the
exception to the rule there come in
exception to what that it's just
biologists biology why does it need to
be an exception that's the point of free
agent so you can't determine what's
gonna happen if so if someone has free
agents and they have choices that they
couldn't make we don't know what they're
going to do that's what that's what
makes their agency free if we knew what
they were gonna do then you're correct
they wouldn't have that's a different
question so Sam Harris gives the example
of this he says and I don't remember
what where this was or what the
circumstance was but there was a guy
recently writing that last number years
that wasn't shot a bunch of people and
he had been claiming that he had up with
his ability to cope and his ability to
choose and he said before he went and
did this he said I want you to take my
body and do an autopsy on it because
there's something wrong sure enough he
went and he shot up a bunch of people
they shot him or he shot himself after I
can't remember and there was a tumor
growing on his brain so there was
something beyond well hey that's the
question I mean beyond his control or is
that just the way it is for everybody
right because so we're going directly
into what he would be using here as an
extreme example or an archetypical
example of biology creating the
decisions for him right I don't think
the symptoms of a brain tumor are to
force you to buy a firearm and kill a
bunch of people no but there was
something wrong with him sure there was
something wrong but I don't think that
that means that he didn't have the
ability to make those decisions I don't
think that that would cause anyone to
make proactive decisions like that
and say that they debated to make those
decisions you did well I don't know if I
agree with you on that I think that
there might be I think there can be
situations where biology does determine
your decisions like chemical imbalances
yeah I'm gonna say like depression
there's a point little things now here
but here's the thing see he in a sense
is able to be outside of himself in a
way and know there's something wrong
right biology isn't just one note right
he could have battling things going on
and at one point the more level-headed
one won and at one point the tumor won I
think that and not just emotionally but
I think a lot of those people a high
ology will biological chemical imbalance
I think they lose control that's why I
think that we have you know a soul and
we're we have God given free agency and
is that given to you from your body
because here's the reason I say that
let's say let's say okay I'm acting as
God and I have ten different models of
human beings that I'm going to create so
stays through evolution or whatever else
right and she's the best yeah so all I'm
doing then because this takes away the
pre-existence right all I'm doing then
is saying well Marcus I'm gonna give you
number four right and I'm gonna give I'm
gonna give Morgan number nine now I'm
gonna get parley number ten so if that's
already been done how is it that you're
going to be progressing any different
how how is she going to progress any
different than you I don't know what the
details of these models are son
that if you're given a set biology and
not biology ultimately determines
everything about every decision that you
make you're not really making decisions
because they were predetermined for you
yes I'm saying I don't think you can
progress without an independent a
completely independent free will I think
there is an underlying fallacy with that
in that you're saying that in this
universe where there is no entity there
was no life evolved without God that
there is some sort of master design and
that can't be so your evolution you
can't be limited by your biology because
the biology is constantly changed and
you constantly involved there is no
master plan wait a minute but you're not
continually evolving your species could
be in that but not you
yes you you you grow over a 90 year
period yeah over a nine year period
okay so you're listening like we do
today so you're completely limited you
eventually die but you're just like
you're not meant but are you making your
own decisions sure if you're sentient
enough if you're intelligent enough if
your species evolves to that point as we
have know what I'm talking about you me
person you personally you are born and
90 years later you die okay can you
progress is that not how it is right now
is that not the world we live I feel
like you guys we're simply doing you
know knowing they know you guys are
talking about two different things I
think so too
right Marcus is thinking of growing like
a baby will grow and become better and
become stronger and become faster become
smarter and get more intelligent and
become more intelligent dad is talking
about a different type of growth I think
like character yes I'm talking about
he's talking about spiritual program I'm
talking about actual I mean ultimately
I'm talking about eternal progression I
think yeah of course I think that
scenario there is no such thing as
spiritual progression because there's no
such thing as a spirit no I'm trying to
exclude that to say what is I'm trying
to get to the point again the original
question if you only buy a half by
ecology can you have free agency I can't
give you everything and think that
you're going to grow our progress if I
give everything to all my kids all the
time every little tiny thing that they
need all the time to me they're not
going to progress much okay the whole
purpose I think of the beginning of the
Garden of Eden story for example is is
it's like look I mean you're gonna fall
you're gonna make the wrong choice go
right ahead let's say that you're just
born of your parents so you were given
the exact DNA that you have without your
choice all of your freewill all or let's
just call it all of your decisions in
your life are predetermined by the
biology of your parents sure that's what
makes free will free will it's not
predetermined so you're saying it
doesn't come from file and it doesn't
come from files from your sentient says
it comes awareness words not come from
your biology okay so you're saying that
you're you're saying then Ben you're
with all of your under sentence your
sentience and decisions that you will
ever make all come from your parents
sure you could even make the argument
it comes from an amoeba 4 billion kids
ago I really want to go in the matter
why do you have no choice is why does
the fact that you don't choose to have
free will mean that when you are making
a decision that let me ask you something
Morgan I just flipped your phone all
was that predetermined by my brain was
that gonna was that always gonna happen
when I was oh you're saying that doesn't
mean that it didn't come from that that
I didn't gain that sentence that ability
to do that from my biology ok so when
you're not saying it comes from your
father you saying you're gaining it
through biology sure ok well that's
completely different thing how is it
different if it comes from your biology
it was all there when you were born
there is no change that can happen it
can grow but it's all been programmed in
there at that point you're programmed to
be able to grow and to become a sentient
being but that doesn't mean that you're
it's come slowly as you grow up as your
brain grows as you become more
intelligent your free will come slowly
okay so let's talk so you have facial
hair now right sure do you have facial
hair when you were a baby I did not you
did not but did your body already have
everything inside it to give you that
facial hair I okay okay so then did you
have any choice in the matter about your
facial hair no no
so if free will the same way yes okay so
then you don't make and you don't make
any decisions about where your facial
hair grows there's nothing you can do
about that right and it's not there when
you're born it's part of you growing up
right so so then if free will is the
same thing then you don't have free will
because you can't make decisions because
it's already been programmed in there
just like officially so you can't make
decisions if your free will comes from
your biology that is that is your thesis
yeah completely
not what I was saying okay good because
that is completely contrary to the
nature what I'm not saying that you
can't make decisions I'm saying that
your decisions aren't from freewill
because they were already there when you
were born
really okay what he okay let me try and
steal man your argument all right yes so
you are saying that you're born and
again we're going X theology for right
now just for the sake of talking about
our biology here you are saying that
you're born and then over time your
biology would produce a real and true
freewill from your brain Yeah right that
the the maturity process and and
whatever else I don't know that
eventually the biology would create the
ability to make your own choices but
you're still would have to say beyond it
still would create that free will still
be a product or a it would start to be
something be
and your biology it can't be your
biology alone
because otherwise if it's just your
biology your your all of your decisions
would be predetermined okay I think I
understand what you're saying you're
saying that at some point there's a free
will that breaks free of a predetermined
a predetermined biology in you and that
we all end up with that at some point in
our lives at least to some degree
yeah or we can pursue it more if we
choose to but that that is somehow
beyond a predetermined biological
chemical brain activity sure yeah that's
what I'm saying
but then I guess I'm just missing
misinterpreting what you mean when you
say biology we'll see I'm going I'm
basing this more off of what the
argument typically that a Sam Harris
would make which is and he might say
something similar to what you're saying
but but he's basically saying that it's
biology that determines your decisions
right that you have a certain biology
you have a certain biology and therefore
from that biology your whole life is
already figured out well I think there's
a certain truth to that in that the way
you are made up genetically sure that
will influence your decisions big time
that's different a fact your decisions
is different but that's all your you're
affecting you're affecting something
more you're you're affecting something
then when you say affect your decisions
you're talking about two different
entities as I stand while because I
don't think that it determines your
decisions okay but again what I'm saying
is you're saying you're talking about
two different two entities we're talking
about you as your biology affecting your
decisions which is something different
how can you're affecting one thing is
affecting something completely different
so your decisions are X biology right
there they're there beyond your biology
so now
to decide them what is the self right
well boy we're not going into Carl Jung
here I'm just saying that I want to
understand what you're saying are you
saying that your decisions all come from
your file as you your free will
okay well but I do believe that well I
mean you could you could argue that sure
because if you're by your your biology
and putting that quotation works if that
means your brain do all decisions come
from your brain yes well then sure yes
yes and no yeah I'm just saying you know
if I if I if I inject theology here then
I would say no that's right yeah and
that's why I was saying at the very
beginning that this is a point where
people will diverge that's right
and then it becomes conjecture right if
you're talking about the biology
creating your decisions it's very
difficult to align that with your
personal experience every one of us
would say we have the ability to make
our own decisions at all times
regardless of what my body tells me or
my biology or my evolution tells me is
that would you go along with okay so so
that's my point is that there is there
to me there has to be something a
separation even when you're taking
theology out it's like well wait a
minute here
I have choice in my experience it's hard
for me to to be able to say that that my
body is already determining everything
that I'm ever going to decide and I
think if you go through the Scriptures
you see over and over again the term
natural man I think that's your body
that would be okay all of the
evolutionary information that has been
passed down to what I've been given here
in a body a lot of it's good but there's
a lot there that is like okay you've
been given this but you kind of have to
work against it too I can't I can't just
let this body actually be the thing that
takes over and in a sense it takes away
my free agency but I can use the body as
a tool
for that I mean obviously if I put my
hand on a hot stove that's a tool that I
can use this is okay I am putting myself
in here heat like that is a bad idea
there's consequences to that well okay
that's what I was going to add to
further argue in this vacuum world that
we're talking about right if God doesn't
exists or if there is not a higher being
to give us free agency I I feel like
free agency and and the way we make
decisions is also heavily shaped by our
experiences so from an atheistic point
of view I can absolutely see free agency
not being required as free agency coming
purely from me right because I do have a
biology that is intelligent enough to
learn and to remember like you were
saying with the hot stove right if I
have certain experiences then my brain
is is intelligent enough to remember
those and use those in my
decision-making process and I think
that's also part of freewill is is your
experiences determine what you do they
determine what you do okay so so you
would have biology affecting what
decisions you make mm-hmm you would have
experience affecting what decisions you
made and I would say another big one
there would be culture right it's part
of your experience sure you know for
example you can see we're watching this
show is Jack Ryan show right now and you
can see how the writers of it try to
make it where you have a
a Middle Eastern terrorist but they show
kind of a human side of them right so
it's like you loved his family he was
wronged very much so wronged when he was
young by the West so they're kind of
showing at least how he became who he
became so you could say that he
certainly comes from a place in a
culture and experiences that affected
who ended up becoming and the question
is is well how much III guess ultimately
how much you know there's still the
element of free agency and it's how much
do you let yourself become a product
than of all of those things as compared
to creating all of those things you know
creating more of what your body is and
creating more of your culture at least
immediately around you and your
environment and that if you put agency
up at the top of the totem pole on that
then everything else falls below it it
is controlled but whereas I see a lot in
the scriptures that tells us look I mean
you have culture you have your body your
natural man you have experiences that
are all there that can completely
swallow you up and help determine who
you're gonna be but at the very end of
that road it's still there's still
choice there's still a decision that you
can make and I don't see you if you take
that away how you could ever you know
how else do you progress spiritually if
you took free agency I mean is there a
way you could progress without being
able to make your own decisions
so there were some interesting points
that came up in that discussion that I
wasn't expecting but in the end we have
to have free agency absolute
independence free agency that is
ultimately what makes us an individual
even God would never hold us back from
that even at the risk of a varied
eternal destination that's how high the
value of individuality is even moving
toward a collective of say family or
Zion we can't get there without first
being individuals and first having our
own free agency that is what the ironic
priesthood represents but that's a
completely different discussion we'll
talk to you next time


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