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I personally believe that humans do not have free will, though I would like to

I personally believe that humans do not have free will, though I would like to hear more arguments against this. My question is, if psychological studies have shown that believing in the absence of free will makes people more aggressive, selfish and antisocial, is it ethical or moral to censure scientific 'evidence' for free will from public knowledge?

This is a great question and one that is becoming increasingly important as neuroscientists and psychologists increasingly suggest that their research is showing that free will is an illusion, a claim I call 'willusionism', and as increasing evidence comes in that shows that these willusionist claims, which the media loves to report and exaggerate, can have (at least short-term) negative effects on people's behavior. I have lots to say on this topic, some of which I say in papers on my website if you want to hear more, but here's a brief take on the issues.

Suppose you believe that free will requires the abilities to make choices based on conscious deliberation and reasoning and to control your actions in light of these choices (against internal desires to do otherwise and without external contraints preventing your action). Free will requires that your conscious self can make a difference in what happens. You may also happen to believe that the only way to have such free will is to have a non-physical mind that is not subject to the laws of nature.

Now, suppose scientists come along and tell you that they have shown that we do not have free will. What will you take that to mean? I think it is likely that you will take it to mean that your conscious self doesn't make a difference in what happens, that you are just a spectator observing the outcome of mechanistic processes beyond your control. And that's the way some willusionist claims are presented. I think it is this response that most likely leads to the 'bad results' of willusionist claims--i.e., the findings that people cheat more, help less, are more aggressive, etc. (studies by Vohs and Schooler and Baumeister and colleagues).

The problem is that the scientific studies have not shown that conscious deliberation and reasoning and self-control are illusory. What they have shown is that there is increasing evidence that we do not need to posit a non-physical mind or soul to explain these cognitive abilities and that, in certain experiments with a specific setup (e.g., Libet's), you can find brain activity that predicts actions before people are consciously aware of their intention to act. But these findings do not show that the brain processes involved in conscious deliberation and decision-making never play a crucial causal role in what we do. It'd be very surprising if the brain processes involved in your conscious planning about what you will do with the rest of your day had no effects on what you end up doing later today.

It turns out that my research on people's beliefs about free will suggests that they are not wedded to a dualist conception of free will (or even one that conflicts with determinism). So, there are (at least) three problems with the way willusionist claims are presented that may account for the bad results. First, the scientists may assume people believe free will requires X when people don't believe that, and they think that their research shows that X is false. And second, when you tell people they lack free will, they will interpret it to mean they lack what they think free will is--i.e., conscious and rational control (Y). And when people believe they lack Y, that likely makes them less likely to engage their capacities to consciously and rationally control their behavior. But third, the scientific evidence has not shown that we lack Y.

There are a lot of issues going on here, and I haven't really explained why we have reason to think humans have some degree of free will even if determinism or naturalism is true (which may be what you wanted to hear). But I hope this helps.

This is a great question and one that is becoming increasingly important as neuroscientists and psychologists increasingly suggest that their research is showing that free will is an illusion, a claim I call 'willusionism', and as increasing evidence comes in that shows that these willusionist claims, which the media loves to report and exaggerate, can have (at least short-term) negative effects on people's behavior. I have lots to say on this topic, some of which I say in papers on my website if you want to hear more, but here's a brief take on the issues. Suppose you believe that free will requires the abilities to make choices based on conscious deliberation and reasoning and to control your actions in light of these choices (against internal desires to do otherwise and without external contraints preventing your action). Free will requires that your conscious self can make a difference in what happens. You may also happen to believe that the only way to have such free will is to have a non...

Occam's razor seems to be a devestating weapon when it comes to the atheist's

Occam's razor seems to be a devestating weapon when it comes to the atheist's argument to why God doesn't exist, or more precisely it is more likely that he doesn't exist. It seems the scientific community has the consensus that they will never rely on "God" for the answer to any problem. Will there ever be a scenario in which God might prove simpler than the scientific or mathmatical explanation, and Occam's razor can be used to justify a belief in God?

What if a burning bush appeared out of nowhere in Central Park in front of hundreds of people and said, "It is God speaking. I have come to tell you that you should believe that I exist. Also, love one another. And, by the way, the health care bill does not say anything about a 'death panel'"? Well, a scientifically minded person would want to consider various alternative explanations for this event. For instance, perhaps it's an elaborate hoax involving holograms or even mass hypnosis. But another hypothesis worth considering is that it was God, and God is able to perform miracles that cannot be explained by anything the sciences study (or could study). There might be ways to test whether this event was a hoax, but presumably a 'hoaxster' would try to cover his tracks.

So, what if an agnostic scientist in the crowd said to the burning bush, "I would like to believe in God but I need evidence that the best explanation for this event is that you really exist and that this isn't just a hoax. Please plan to appear again in a laboratory I will secure at noon tomorrow (of course, you'll know where to go, right?)." She then secures a lab that cannot be 'hoaxed' and sets up various equipment to measure everything she can, such as whether matter or energy is coming into the lab from outside, etc. God appears at noon and has a long conversation with the scientist and dozens of witnesses of various beliefs and backgrounds (brought in at the last minute so they couldn't set up a hoax). God explains some mysteries, maybe even explains how it is the he exists outside of physical space-time yet can interact with it, etc.

Well, now I think the best explanation for these events is that God exists (i.e., the entity that calls himself God and has these powers and this knowledge exists) and that God caused these events. It looks like applying Occam's razor here would suggest this explanation is superior to any scientific or mathematical explanation (at least any that we could currently offer, without ad hoc adjustments). It may be that we could eventually develop scientific explanations that would account for this God, but they'd be very different, it seems, than our current paradigm.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, none of the actual events (or interpretations of them) that people have thought are better explained by the existence of God than by potential scientific explanations are actually best explained by the existence of God. I could, of course, be mistaken.

This suggests to me that if God exists, God does not want it to be easy to believe in him based on our best evidential standards. Perhaps this is where faith is supposed to come in.

What if a burning bush appeared out of nowhere in Central Park in front of hundreds of people and said, "It is God speaking. I have come to tell you that you should believe that I exist. Also, love one another. And, by the way, the health care bill does not say anything about a 'death panel'"? Well, a scientifically minded person would want to consider various alternative explanations for this event. For instance, perhaps it's an elaborate hoax involving holograms or even mass hypnosis. But another hypothesis worth considering is that it was God, and God is able to perform miracles that cannot be explained by anything the sciences study (or could study). There might be ways to test whether this event was a hoax, but presumably a 'hoaxster' would try to cover his tracks. So, what if an agnostic scientist in the crowd said to the burning bush, "I would like to believe in God but I need evidence that the best explanation for this event is that you really exist and that this isn't just a hoax...

What kind of scientific evidence, if any, could prove that free-will does not

What kind of scientific evidence, if any, could prove that free-will does not exist?

This is an interesting question, in fact, so interesting that I am writing a whole book about it (Rediscovering Free Will). As Miriam says, much depends on how you define free will. Let's not begin with the problematic assumption that free will requires a non-natural power to transcend the causal interactions in the natural world, though I think we can begin with the idea that free will involves our powers to control our actions in light of our deliberations about what to do, such that we can be properly held responsible for our actions. In that case, we should not begin with the assumption made by some scientists writing about free will: that increasingly complete scientific (naturalistic) explanations of human decision-making thereby rule out any role for free will. Rather, it may be that neuroscientific and psychological explanations of human decision-making can help to explain--rather than explain away--our capacities to deliberate about our reasons and to control our actions accordingly. Here is a very brief summary of what I think science might say about human free will:

1. Scientificevidence for determinism would not prove that free will is anillusion. This is because determinism does not properly entail most ofthe things people take to be intuitively threatening to free will, including the things that scientists have recently been talking about when they say they are showing free will is an illusion, such as the idea that our "conscious will" plays no role in our actions (e.g., Libet, Wegner, etc.). Determinism, properly construed, is consistent with our conscious deliberations and intentions influencing our actions. And these purported scientific threats are also consistent with indeterminism. (By the way, neither neuroscience nor psychology is going to show determinism is true--i.e., that given certain causal antecedents, certain effects necessarily follow. Only fundamental physics has a hope of showing this to be true, and the current interpretation of quantum physics suggests determinism is false.)

2. The scientific evidence for epiphenomenalism--i.e., the causal irrelevance of conscious mental states--is not there. The claims that non-conscious processes are sufficient to cause our actions, while our conscious awareness of our intentions comes too late to play a causal role, are not supported by the evidence, especially if one considers conscious deliberation, planning, and intention formation that occurs well before action, which is the sort that seems most relevant for free will. It's more important that my thoughts today about what I want to do tomorrow (or with my life!) affect what I end up doing than that my thought about which finger to move in a second affects which finger I move.

3. However, this doesn't mean we are out of the woods yet. There is some worrying evidence from psychology that we often do not know why we do what we do and are influenced by factors we would not want to influence us if we knew about them (advertisers certainly know this!). To the extent that is true, it seems we have diminished free will, because we are unable to act on the reasons we have accepted in prior deliberation--or even that we would accept if we did deliberate about it. I don't think the evidence goes as far as some suggest, but I think it may suggest we have less free will than we tend to think (I take free will to be a set of capacities we possess and exercise to varying degrees, rather than an all-or-nothing thing).

So, in my view, once we work out a clear conception of free will--preferably one that is amenable to empirical investigation--then the sciences of the mind have the potential to inform us about how it works (e.g., how the brain subserves it) but also to show how it is limited.

Hope this helps!

This is an interesting question, in fact, so interesting that I am writing a whole book about it ( Rediscovering Free Will ). As Miriam says, much depends on how you define free will. Let's not begin with the problematic assumption that free will requires a non-natural power to transcend the causal interactions in the natural world, though I think we can begin with the idea that free will involves our powers to control our actions in light of our deliberations about what to do, such that we can be properly held responsible for our actions. In that case, we should not begin with the assumption made by some scientists writing about free will: that increasingly complete scientific (naturalistic) explanations of human decision-making thereby rule out any role for free will. Rather, it may be that neuroscientific and psychological explanations of human decision-making can help to explain --rather than explain away --our capacities to deliberate about our reasons and to control our...