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Old 08-16-2019, 10:33 AM
kevlaw is offline
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Bristol, UK
Posts: 779
Originally Posted by KidCharlemagne View Post
So are there any atheist Dopers out there who believe in free will who have an argument any better than "because life would be intolerable otherwise?"
Atheist here. I believe in free will.

Originally Posted by KidCharlemagne View Post
I remember being appalled by Richard Dawkin's comments in an interview wherein he said he believed in free will because "life would be intolerable otherwise" and that the notion of free will "is just an inconsistency we'd have to live with." I was stunned how little he had thought about it.
I don't have access to the interview you mention, but I expect that Professor Dawkins has thought a great deal about free will. He is usually very thoughtful on issues like this. I can understand that you might be disappointed if he didn't go into his reasons in great detail in a short media interview though.

I don't know Professor Dawkins' reasons but I'll describe mine as best as I can. Let's get some assumptions out of the way first.

I have a naturalistic worldview without supernatural or mystical elements. I worship no God of the Gaps and I reject souls of all kinds. There might be a Science of the Gaps though and I'll get to that in a moment.

I don't believe that compatibilism does anything but redefine some common words. It's just warmed over determinism. Determinism is not compatible with free will.

As far as I know, physics gives us only two options to explain how things happen the way they do.

1. Randomness at the quantum level.
2. Cause and effect at the macro level.

In other words, settled science tells us that our actions are either pre-determined or they are random and neither of these options leaves room for free will. But — and here's the science of the gaps bit — at the end of the 19th century, scientists thought they were almost done with physics and just a handful of gaps remained that would be explained once they found evidence of the ether. Twenty years later, there was a whole new paradigm for science and all the old certainties were swept away. I don't expect that we will solve the problem of free will until we find a new paradigm.

So what will this paradigm look like? I think there are a few options.

The most promising among them is the discovery that Epicurus had it right with his Theory of The Swerve and that uncaused brain activity can have some causal effect on the path of sub-atomic articles. No one has found this yet but then, no one has looked for it either. They didn't find the Higgs boson until they looked. Wouldn't it be funny if they find it in the pineal gland?

Also promising is the idea that reductionism is inadequate to explain how lower levels of abstraction apply at higher levels. Chaos Theory is a recently discovered paradigm that addresses this problem. Maybe we'll find another one that makes room for free will in the gaps between layers of abstraction. I don't believe that Manchester United beating Chelsea four-nil on Sunday was pre-determined and I don't believe that it was random either. We don't have a good theory to explain it yet but I bet we find one one day and I bet it has something to do with the mind of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The best evidence for free will is that some people seem to have more of it than others. Some people seem compelled to do things that are harmful to themselves and others manage to avoid them. Some people are able to exercise restraint and self-discipline and make choices that result in better outcomes.

A trip to the zoo shows more of the same. The lower animals seem to respond entirely to triggers. As you get closer to our branch of the evolutionary tree, animals seem to have more intentions and more agency to effect them. They are able to plan for specific outcomes rather than just reacting to their environment. Higher animals have more options and make more choices.

Free will versus determined is not just a binary choice between two options. They exist along a spectrum that goes from carnivorous crickets that will eat their own guts given the right feeding trigger to Lionel Messi who seems to conjure up new options from thin air.

Admittedly, Libertarians like me are currently stuck with a paradox but the determinists are not entirely paradox-free. As far as I can tell, determinists necessarily reject justice, merit, blame, good, evil and all of the other things that make life worth living. Note that I am not appealing to consequences here. I'm claiming that the determinist's worldview is riddled with paradoxes and inconsistencies where my side has only one small paradox to sort out.

This Atlantic article, for example, argues that even though free will is an illusion, we should continue to teach that free will is real because…

It seems that when people stop believing they are free agents, they stop seeing themselves as blameworthy for their actions. Consequently, they act less responsibly and give in to their baser instincts.
This presupposes that we have a choice in whether to teach or not to teach that free will is real. The argument is self-refuting. If free will is real, it's real. If it's not real, we have no choice in what we teach. I've never heard a determinist address this paradox.

Determinists live, love and administer justice as though they have free will. They say it's just an illusion but we need to keep it a secret because, otherwise, society will apart. They say this as though they have a choice and they say it with no apparent irony.

From the same article,

In fact, belief in free will turned out to be a better predictor of job performance than established measures such as self-professed work ethic.

For example, he and colleagues found that students with a weaker belief in free will were less likely to volunteer their time to help a classmate than were those whose belief in free will was stronger. Likewise, those primed to hold a deterministic view by reading statements like “Science has demonstrated that free will is an illusion” were less likely to give money to a homeless person or lend someone a cellphone.
I sometimes wonder if determinists are all psychopaths who really do have less free will than the rest of us. Or perhaps they are perpetual underachievers who cling conveniently to a story that absolves them from blame.

Still, if the determinists are right—and free will really does not exist—they deserve no credit for being right and I deserve no blame for being wrong. In fact, those words would have no meaning.