A Case for Free Will
I have a friend whom I respect and admire as a rational man of intelligence and insight. He disdains belief in the supernatural. He rejects the idea of a God who intervenes in natural process. He subscribes to the notion that whatever happens is the result of natural cause. That there is nothing outside of nature. That superstition is the refuge of the ignorant. I agree with him on all these issues.
But on the issue of free will vs. determinism he is unswayable. He believes that free will exists; that it is not an illusion.
He insists that the decisions he makes come from something beyond what is accessible to science. From beyond natural cause! That choice arises from unexplainable sources – not computable by science. He insists that there is a fundamental residue in nature that is beyond the reach of science. Not everything of coercion by nature is ‘computable’. “There are elements of nature inaccessible to knowability and these elements produce free will”, says my friend.
As to his decisions being coerced by nature and thus determined by it he rejects this. “There are coercions you can’t predict,” says he. Some behavior is not figure-outable. From that comes ‘free will’.
Among his words there are no specific references to the supernatural. But their import is surely an appeal to the supernatural. If nature governs without exception, can there be a hidden residue where it does not govern? Since we are part of nature must we not be governed also by its imperatives? So the argument for a resevoir of free will – barricaded from nature – is no more than a recasting of the supernatural. But by the use of language like ‘non-computable’ the notion is made to appear scientific.
I believe free will is an expression of our ignorance of the cause of our actions. But this ignorance, although steadily decreasing, covers what is, in fact, completely determined by nature. That is the content of the behavior circle. Whereas my friend believes that there is a kernel of nature inherently inaccessible to inquiry – the seat of free will.
To me his argument lacks logic. Evidently the idea of free will is very precious to my friend – something that must be preserved. As must also a disdain for supernatural belief be preserved in his cache of values. But, in fact, the two are not compatible.
Is this a case of ‘commitment bias?’ Sometimes the need to preserve a prejudice overcomes rationality. Or a case of ‘wishful thinking’ in wanting inconsistent outcomes? That a supernatural free will be natural. Our minds are such tricky things.