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American Thinker
American Thinker
25 Mar 2023
Robert Arvay

NextImg:The free will paradigm

I firmly believe that I have free will, but a recent post here on AT made what I consider a less than optimal case.  Most of the items mentioned in it can be explained away, even by me, in terms of a deterministic chain of events that lead to the choices we make.

Perhaps the best case for free will's existence that I have seen was made by JBS Haldane, an eminent biologist.  He introduced a subtle and profound paradox into the worlds of science, philosophy, and religion.  Despite its critical implications for all three fields and more, it has gotten little attention and little analysis.  Speaking of materialist determinism, what Haldane said was this:

If materialism is true, it seems to me we cannot know that it is true. If my opinions are the result of the chemical processes going on in my brain, they are determined by chemistry, not the laws of logic.

The subtle paradox inherent in that statement requires a careful reading.  According to the physicalist (or materialist) view of nature, we are governed entirely by the laws of nature.  According to that view, nothing is optional.  As in communism, everything is either required or forbidden.  Like a row of dominoes, once the first one is tipped, the rest is inevitable.  There may be many rows in a convoluted pattern, but the only way to alter the final outcome is for an external influence, an outside force, to intervene, a hand that stops the next domino from falling.

What Haldane was getting at is this: if physical reality is all that there is, and if we are part of that physical reality, if we are produced by it, then we are enslaved to all of its natural laws.  We are one of the dominoes.  Those laws would govern our every thought, word, and deed.  In an exclusively physical world, we would not be independent agents, nor separable from the blind, uncaring forces of nature.  We would be like a simulated scientist in a computer simulation, never able to discover anything except what we are forced to discover.  Our discoveries might or might not be true, valid models of nature.  Our beliefs might be correct or wrong, wise or foolish, logical or absurd — but we could never know which.

There would be no science — just the chemical reactions of scientists, itself a paradox.

In order to more fully grasp the concept, we cannot ignore the two other factors, which together with free will, make us independent agents in nature: life, and consciousness. We are living, conscious beings with free will. Those three characteristics, life, consciousness and free will, are intertwined in humans.

As for consciousness — that is, the inward experience of experience — nothing in physical science can explain it.  As for the chemistry of life, it has been thoroughly studied in intricate detail, but the more we study even the most basic cell, the farther we get from understanding what life really is.

One commentator of the original post aptly noted that the people who deny free will use it to deny it.  Moreover, why should we act according to any moral code?  If we are nothing more than organized atoms, then why should we be treated as anything more than that?

When someone denies the existence of free will, we might ask him, why do you say that?

What the atheist really objects to, in my opinion, is the existence of not free will, but rather a far more potent force: divine will.

The principle of utility versus futility must guide our selection from among competing theories.  There is no point in selecting a theory that declares that we are incapable of selecting a theory.

Image: WolfBlur via Pixabay, Pixabay License.