Kelly of the Rational Response Squad is quite rightly moving onto the second chapter of The Irrational Atheist, but she did take the time to respond to my response in order to clarify a few things. My subsequent reply can be read here as we wait for the next onslaught of reason to descend upon us:
I never stated that the concept itself was new, only that the right to express it, even in opposition to the government, was. And just for the record, I don’t believe in absolute free will, either. I believe that people will make certain decisions, seemingly of their own volition, based on genetic and environmental variances. The nature versus nurture debate will likely never end, but a critical examination of the studies will show that things as trivial as your vehicle preference are correlated to genetic similarity. If free will exists as you claim it does, then how is it that I have control over my own destiny which according to the bible was determined before I was even conceived?
Kelly didn’t state the concept itself was new in her initial response, she wrote: “I wonder where he got those ideas regarding man’s free will and right to exercise it. Could it be…the Enlightenment? The irony is almost overwhelming.”
As she now knows, no, it could not be the Enlightenment. There is no irony at all. Despite her backpedaling, the concept of a right to exercise one’s free will contra the government was not new either. The pre-Enlightenment English Bill of Rights is only one of many possible examples and contains an explicit right to free speech against the crown. Again, Chapter 15 will answer her question, I don’t believe her destiny is pre-determined; I am not an omniderigiste.
There was a form of democracy in Greece, true. I think that there are some benefits to an Athenian style democracy, personally, but the system itself was still not as sophisticated as what we have currently.
That’s beside the point. Democracy and limited government both pre-date the Enlightenment. Even worse for Kelly, that more sophisticated American-style system was specifically designed to limit the will of the people… which is quite in keeping with the Enlightenment and its totalitarian impulses.
Your assumption that I am unfamiliar with Aquinas, Augustine, or enlightenment philosophers in general is patently absurd. Not to drag “formal” education into the debate, but I did study theology and philosophy at a Jesuit university for 2 years, and have read many of the works of all of the aforementioned. “Free will” as a concept was present in christianity, but my remark was related to governments and the legal right to exercise our autonomy. I could, perhaps, chalk this up to a semantic or contextual misunderstanding, but it is also likely that you just purposely interpreted what I said in such a way that you could accuse me of ignorance of those subjects.
I have no idea what Kelly’s education happens to have been nor do I care. Her point is what it is, and I suggest that no one who has properly understood either Aquinas or Voltaire would make such a bizarre statement about free will and the Enlightenment. Especially since the Enlightenment 2.0 advocates deny the very existence of free will. Again, let the reader decide.
And in answer to DJ’s question over at Kelly’s blog, the assertion that Jean Meslier was the first atheist was not mine, it belongs to Michel Onfray and was made by him in his book Trattato di Ateologia. If you would like to argue the point or find it to be lacking in any way, I recommend that you take it up with him.