Free Will is Scientific

Determinists often attempt to associate determinism with science. The idea is that determinism is scientific and free will is not, because the laws of physics as we currently understand them are deterministic.

I think one fact this overlooks is that science requires the concept of intellectual responsibility. A scientist is expected to look at the evidence and draw only the conclusions that it warrants. Scientists who draw unjustified or irresponsible conclusions are criticized for doing so, and scientists who draw the correct conclusions from the evidence are praised and sometimes idolized.

A determinist might respond that it would be useful to praise and criticize scientists on the basis of whether they drew the correct conclusions from the evidence even if we didn’t have free will. The problem with this response is that it assumes that the speaker has free will and can choose whether or not to praise and blame the scientists. You can’t say that no one has free will and then tacitly assume that you have free will.

So, I think belief in free will should be seen as the scientific position, not determinism.


One thought on “Free Will is Scientific

  1. Marvin Edwards

    Philosophy needs to clean up its act. It poses the wrong problem in the “determinism versus free will” debate. The true issue is “determinism versus indeterminism” or “determinism versus freedom from causation”.

    Ordinary free will is nothing more than us making our own decisions for ourselves. The “free” refers to freedom from someone forcing us or requiring us to choose or act against our will. And this ordinary free will is sufficient for all practical purposes, including moral responsibility for our deliberate actions.

    This ordinary freedom does not require us to be free from causation. After all we require reliable cause and effect in order to implement our will. Without it the will becomes impotent and irrelevant.

    Theologians may continue to argue with secular philosophers about the occurrence of miracles and God’s ability to suspend causation at will. But let’s rename that debate to make it clear what we are talking about. Perhaps we should call that “determinism versus miracles”.

    But we should stop pitting ordinary determinism against ordinary free will. We have both, we use both, and we can’t really do without either one.


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