Free will and moral law

Hello. I read the writings of neuroscientists and noticed that many of them tend to deny human free will on the basis of scientific evidence. Is the lack of free will really proven? Are there any famous scientists (biologists, neuroscientists) who disagree with this? In his book, Francis Collins says free will is a fact, but others disagree. Thank.

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They are compelled to say that, but I must say it is not the case. :wink:


“We have to believe in free will, we have no choice.” I.B. Singer :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

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Just because there is a demonstrable seven second delay between our having arrived at an intention/decision and our recognition of it does not mean it isn’t our’s or that we weren’t involved. It is only our conscious awareness of our involvement that is absent. The fact that some lab instrument allows someone else to recognize our choice before we do, doesn’t mean we aren’t involved. Consciousness handles many, many things at the same time, most of which are blessedly beneath our conscious awareness. I guess it depends on how you feel about there being more going on in you than you know. Some of us recognize the truth of that without the lab equipment.

Religiously it seems to me that right there is where you may place God and/or your soul.


The most we can say is that free will is nothing simple, obvious, robust, universal, absolute, or guaranteed. We do a lot and perhaps the vast majority of things out of habit. Therefore if there are free will deliberative choices they are probably the minority. And then there are quite a number of conditions which can take our freedom of will from us, so it is fragile as well as rare. Also many detractors simply confuse freedom of will with a freedom to do or be anything we might dream of. This is a rather absurd strawman. Our freedom of will is far more subtle and frankly, objectively speaking, it may be little more than a feeling of ownership for a random element in the determination of our actions.


Echoing Phil’s thoughts, where he was to some extent channeling C. S. Lewis. Lewis observed that if we trust what these neuroscientists say… then their conclusions are not based in reason, rationality, or the like, but they are merely saying what the science of their brains is making them say. If so, why should we trust anything they say about free will?

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Short answer, of course not.
As a neuroradiologist with 36 years of experience, 20 in academics, immersed in MRI from its inception, I might qualify as a neuroscientist but don’t consider myself famous.

Here’s an excellent book addressing some of the many problems in this arena that are routinely glossed over by others:

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I find the “7 sec delay between our having arrived at an intention/decision and our recognition of it” a bit unbelievable. Just think what it would be like driving if it takes 6 or 7 seconds between making a decision and acting.
You might have them beeping at you if you are waiting for the recognition to put your foot to the accelerator pedal when the lights turn green. I know that I registered the light green, made the decision to press the accelerator pedal and zoom off in a second or two.
But what about if you see someone suddenly swerve towards you? Heck 7 seconds is over the top to react. You’d be a collision casualty if you didn’t make the decision and move near instantly.
Have a look at this video. A man is walking along and you can see at 10 sec he suddenly sees something and within a second jumps out of the road of an oncoming car that had gone onto the footpath. He’s seen, made a decision and moved within two seconds. If it was 7 seconds to do something he would have been run over for sure.
Lucky man almost hit by car, escapes carnage by inches - YouTube

Fight or flight or reflex action isn’t the kind of decision that is being referred to.

Right, I didn’t think so.

Right, I’m probably as skeptical as you are @Dale and I should have written that first sentence differently. This would have expressed my opinion better.

Even if there is a demonstrable seven second delay

I’m not that familiar with the evidence for that claim. But assuming that result has been repeated by others I think there must be qualifications regarding the conditions under which it can occur.

It’s the other way around.

@Dale @MarkD

For me the 7 sec delay just means that self-reflection isn’t as instinctive or as much of a requirement for survival as other things. In fact I would attribute some of our psychological difficulties to this. Self-reflection is apparently something we have to work at.

Good point. Like that book that came out a while back “Thinking Fast and Slow”. It is like we have an auto pilot for familiar situations, another way of saying not every situation calls for new thought. But perhaps in that study the question was somewhat novel? Don’t know.

But this is not simply about self reflection. They are trying to say that your brain makes the decision before you know about it and that they can see brain activity that shows which button the person is going to press. This makes us into the ultimate meat robots. So the sense of self is just an illusion according to them and our brains decide. We are just the window dressing. I’m sorry but I see a lot wrong with that. You only need to consider the many decisions and some split second decision that we make. I don’t drive anymore at present but when I did, I never drove in fight or flight mode, nor did anything else or anyone else on the road act as a trigger. .

Clearly the experiments are flawed in some way. But there is one way, I don’t know if they have stooped so low, and that is to pose a threat so that the person is in fear mode, call it fight or flight if you like. In fear mode the cognitive function is somewhat declined. So the person is slow to act. Then they can make a case for no free will.

What’s the other way around? Act and then make the decision?

So what?

Do you know that I can do the same thing with what is on the TV - intercept the signal before it reaches you and see what it is going to show before you do. Does that signify anything? Does that mean you have no control over what shows on TV. No. It is irrelevant. All it means is that all of these mental processes take time and a lot of it goes on under the hood so to speak. None of it is instantaneous or as simple as it might appear at first. So what if other people know what is broadcast before you do. So what if they can detect a choice before you do. It does not mean that this choice happens independent of you. Your body is a community 30 trillion cells and if we restrict this to just the neuron it is still 86 billion communicating with each other in this process of awareness and making decisions. That is considerably more than the number of people in the world let alone how many are working together to bring you TV broadcast to you – all of them interacting in the decision of what to show on their progams including your own choice of which channel you watch.

What do you think is the difference between a living organism and a machine? Perhaps that is where some of your notions are wrong. There is a great deal about us which is very machine like, and we are discovering that machines can do what we never imagined before. The scientific evidence requires us to adjust our thinking. Expecting the scientists to change their results to fit what you want to believe is going to happen – not without the destruction of civilization. And that is a worry. More and more people are so narcissist about what they want to believe it looks like they would rather tear civilization to shreds rather than accept they are wrong.

OR… what you think the sense of self consists of or comes from is just wrong.

Perhaps why this discovery cause me so no discomfort whatsoever is that don’t have these notions of yours which apparently contradict the evidence.

No such thing is clear at all. Quite the contrary. This discovery is far from new – I have known about this for years. So there has been ample opportunity for scientists around the world to test this result for themselves. The far more likely explanation is that your ideas about how all this work is what is flawed. For some reason you and others are attaching considerably more significance to this result than I do.

Correct. . . .

You call yourself a “scientists Christian” as I see at the top after your name, but you are giving me the classic atheist’s argument for life. Yes, cells do have a great deal of mechanisms that we can call machine-like. But, have they intelligence and consciousness independently as to come to some consensus decision about anything, anything at all?

Intercepting a TV signal before it reaches my antennae is hardly in the same ball path. And what’s with the argument of so many trillions of cells when you see the decision is made by a much smaller number of neurons. Do the neurons have some cognitive ability as to arrive at a decision amongst themselves and say “yeah that’s what we’ll get this guy doing!”

You seem to think that being a scientist means bowing down to the accepted view. I was taught at university “question everything”. Indeed some of the greatest scientific discoveries have come when scientists have questioned the accepted view and investigated further, used their noodle for thinking, not waiting for their noodle to tell them what’s what.

There is no authoritarianism in science in reality. It is all up for grabs. Anyone who sees scientific evidence as absolute is missing the boat.

The sense of self come from an independent agent, independent of the fleshy garment they wear for time in this world. I’m a theist and as a theist I know that there is a higher being, God, who is in control of everything. God however has given us agency to exercise free will and make decisions. God has made us co-creators. God hasn’t made puppets embodied in some independently controlling garment. I say you are wrong not me as you claim.

The experiments in some way are flawed. You only need to use common sense and look around you at the decisions you make in everyday life to see that 7 seconds is over the top. In some cases they would be life threatening. You reckon that a guy or gal, who gets pulled over by a traffic cop for speeding can explain it by say “hey, it was my brain’s decision and before I knew it. Next thing I see is you blaming me. Not my fault! Just check out the science and you’ll see.”

[quote=“Klax, post:18, topic:45179, full:true”]

This would deny, in absolute terms, any moral law of any description whatsoever.
Morality comes from having a conscience, which is God given. A person can deaden their conscience and act immorality if they choose.

To act with conscience one has to be aware and knowledgeable of the other. To act with conscience we need to take into account the situation and the other. This means we must make decisions before we act.

Only an inhumane person, one without conscience and thus immoral, acts first, acts indiscriminately. And the decision after it appears to be something to laugh about from what I have seen many of them do.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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