Free will might actually not be a thing, at least according to Jerry Coyne in a recent essay in USA Today. Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago and author of a pro evolution book, makes the scientific case against free will and it is an interesting read. While Coyne sees this as an indictment of Christianity I think it lends some argument to our case!
“The issue of whether we have of free will is not an arcane academic debate about philosophy, but a critical question whose answer affects us in many ways: how we assign moral responsibility, how we punish criminals, how we feel about our religion, and, most important, how we see ourselves — as autonomous or automatons…”
“True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works. Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because “we” are simply constructs of our brain. We can’t impose a nebulous “will” on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.”
So if this is true and we do not have free will what do we do about it? Coyne suggests we live to make a better world:
“There’s not much downside to abandoning the notion of free will. It’s impossible, anyway, to act as though we don’t have it: you’ll pretend to choose your New Year’s resolutions, and the laws of physics will determine whether you keep them. And there are two upsides. The first is realizing the great wonder and mystery of our evolved brains, and contemplating the notion that things like consciousness, free choice, and even the idea of “me” are but convincing illusions fashioned by natural selection. Further, by losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance — of the genes we’re bequeathed and the environments we encounter. With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.”
My response would be similar but more about grace than a “kinder world.” We should work to proclaim the truth of Christ so that those without free will might know him…
Read the essay here.