Last week I made the claim that “Naturalism is inconsistent with free will.” The most surprising response came from The Atheist Missionary who replied: “Absolutely. I no more had the free choice to type this sentence than I did to take my next unconscious breath.”
It would seem then that The Atheist Missionary is a well-adjusted hard determinist. (A hard determinist is a determinist who believes we have no free will while a soft determinist is a determinist who believes we do have free will.) And he seems rather well-adjusted about it because he doesn’t appear to think he has lost much of value in denying free will, perhaps like the seven year old who realizes he doesn’t need to believe in Santa Claus to have a good Christmas.
But can we really freely dispense with free will without serious loss? I think not. Let’s briefly consider two problems: the loss of moral culpability and the loss of reason.
Problem 1: The Loss of Moral Culpability
Picture a robot that is set up in a park and programmed to shoot anyone who walks in its path. Later on in the day a young man walks in its path and is shot. The robot killed the man but it surely is not culpable for doing so since it was programmed to do so.
If what TAM says is true then we are no different than the robot. Just as the robot was programmed to do what it does so we have been programmed to do what we do. But if we have been programmed to do what we do (in this case by causal forces of biology + history et cetera) then we are not culpable for doing what we do. And it is wrong to punish people who are not culpable for their actions. (That is why a schizophrenic who kills her child is sent not to prison but to a hospital.) So if what TAM says is true then Hitler apparently was not culpable for his actions and the concept of moral guilt is wholly illusory.
Problem 2: The Loss of Reason
Perhaps even more problematically (at least from a philosophical perspective), TAM’s view (and indeed his very statement) undercuts itself. Remember he declared: “I no more had the free choice to type this sentence than I did to take my next unconscious breath.”
If this is true then the cause of the writing of his sentence was ultimately a non-rational cause. But we ought not believe sentences that were formed by non-rational causes. Here’s an illustration of this rather obvious point.
You’re hiking in the woods on your way to Emerald Lake when you come to a divide in the trail. There is a sign between the divide which says “Turn right to go to Emerald Lake.” Should you turn right? Initially the answer is an obvious yes because you think that sign was placed there by a rational cause (e.g. a park ranger). But what if you knew that that sign ended up there after falling out of the park ranger’s Twin Otter (a small aircraft) while it was passing over the trail and becoming lodged in the soil right at this divide? Should you now heed the sign’s advice? Of course not, for it was placed there by a non-rational cause and thus provides no promise that it accurately represents the right path to Emerald Lake.
If TAM is to be believed then we shouldn’t believe him because his statements are just like signs which have fallen on the sides of trails through processes of chance and circumstance.
Wow, undermining both moral and rational discourse in one step. Good work TAM.
So our conclusion: accepting hard determinism is like playing Russian Roulette when every chamber in the gun is full. There ain’t no chance we’ll win that game.
And our second conclusion: you need free will in your worldview. So you better find a way to get it.
And our third and final conclusion: if free will is most plausibly accounted for in a theistic worldview then that counts for theism.