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.

1 Like

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

6 Likes

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

1 Like

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.

3 Likes

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.

3 Likes

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?

1 Like

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:

1 Like

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.

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

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.