Free Will

Jerry Coyne, at the University of Chicago, has published a short essay on his website. It nicely details his views on free will, and he argues that the very idea if will being ‘free’ is an anachronism, and that it’s loss would be beneficial by allowing us to judge actions through a system of secular morals whereby actions are evaluated from their impact in society, rather than being seen as inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

In his essay he quotes the Bishop if Worcester’s wife, who, when she heard about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, allegedly said: “My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it will not become generally known.”

I think it is very interesting how the expression if this and similar fears suggests that people worry the illusion if free will is our last line of defence against an imagined innate nihilism; that if we became aware of our will not being ‘ours’ we would degenerate into assuming inhuman ways and values.

This argument strikes me as weak — as weak, in fact, as the opinion that we would become immoral without religion to guide us, the logical implication of such arguments being that the only reason for people to believe in god(s) is to prevent them from becoming animals; that religion and free will are the illusory foundations upon which our humanity is built.

This is of course wrong, as the intellectual developments if recent years attest: the number of people who believe both that there is no God and that there is no free will is on the rise, without society being worse for it.