Argument from Free Will

This argument is not very convincing in my opinion because you could just accept the consequences, but I think most people don’t realize the results of naturalism. And in this post I am going to lay out just one of those results. Wait a second. That was too short an intro. I must write more without actually saying more because the actual content is pretty straight forward and won’t take much explaining at all. So I guess I’ll just ramble for a bit longer. I just saw the movie Contagion finally. I really liked it. It’s amazing how powerful the tools we have against disease are. Okay, this is long enough. Now for the real stuff.

Alright, the argument from free will. This isn’t really a argument for God’s existence, although it does reassure me of him. In it I will show how naturalism and free will are incompatible. In other words, if the physical universe is the only thing that exists than it is impossible for free will to exist.

  1. Assume naturalism
  2. Our mind seems to make choices, i.e., free will is contained in our mind
  3. Our mind and our brain are the same thing
  4. Our brain is a collection of particles that is bound by the laws of nature
  5. Our brain as a whole is bound by the laws of nature
  6. Our brain has no free will
  7. We have no free will

I guess I’ll go through each one and explain the implications, although it should be self-explanatory. I start by assuming that naturalism is true, to show where future assumptions and steps come from. Next, I associate free will with the mind. I’m fairly sure that this is true by definition, but probably not everyone’s definition. With my definition of the mind it is. Next, I say that mind=brain, transferring free will to the brain. This is valid because I assumed naturalism at the start. Fourth, I start destroying free will. I state that the parts of the brain is subject to the laws of nature. This means that the particles of the brain must do what the equations dictate. Then I go from part to whole, since every part of the brain must obey the laws, the whole thing must. I guess its possible that someone can dispute this part, but that would be ridiculous. It is valid. Then it is a skip and a hop to the end. If our entire brain cannot sway from the laws of nature, then it cannot have free will. That means our minds and we don’t have free will either.

I do believe that this argument is completely valid. This means that free will and naturalism are mutually exclusive, they cannot both be true. Almost all atheists, especially today, are naturalists, so none of them should believe in free will. But many of them still believe in both, even when confronted with this. It at least takes a while for them to accept it. I believe it was Francis Schaeffer who said that this hesitation is a result of the person’s humanity not wanting to give up their choices, which is in itself an argument against it. Possible, but certainly not definite. But I did say at the beginning that this was not an attempt to destroy naturalism, just point out a consequence of it. It is for you to decide whether or not the existence of free will or naturalism makes more sense to reject. I think it is much better to keep free will. Some say it is also impossible to have free will if an all-knowing God exists, but that is for another time.

Now for a short note. I think I’m going to have at least two posts in between each musicks post, because they are much easier to do. Pretty much talk about the tune and then give a link to it. No sweat. Also, thanks all for putting up with my lack of writing skillz, focus, and completeness.

11 thoughts on “Argument from Free Will

  1. How come this is so hard for everybody to understand?

    The argument is this simple:

    The universe has a state.
    The universe is governed by physical laws alone.

    Putting the two together: physical laws alone bring the universe from one state to another.

    Putting it another way: the universe has arrived at any given state via the physical laws alone, and could not have gotten there via any other means.

    The idea that the human mind can somehow be an arbitrary addition to the physical laws that govern the world is nothing but self-indulgent hope, and frankly, narcissistic. It is calling each human being on the planet a prime mover.

    Sure, a lot of people think that quantum physics contradicts that first dictum, but actually it doesn’t. Just because the universe’s state cannot be observed, does not mean it doesn’t have a state. A lot of people misunderstand Schrodinger’s cat – it’s a way to point out how silly the idea that something can have two states is – not to point out a possible thing that can happen! Just because we have no knowledge of the laws that govern a particle does not mean that there are no laws governing that particle. The particles may as well be governed by magic. And as pyzaist said, even if we allow the particles to act on their own, that only changes the second dictum into “The universe is governed by physical laws and the random movement of particles alone.” which still excludes human will.

    Secondly, no, this doesn’t mess with human responsibility or change our entire way of thinking at all. What it means is that everything that happens has an explanation, and that includes society and our concept of responsibility. If the laws of the universe (and being generous, perhaps also the movement of tiny particles) conclude that Johnny is an asshole, then ……… Johnny is still an asshole. Movies where a person is taken control of and forced to do something they normally wouldn’t doesn’t equate at all with what we’re talking about.

    I think what pyzaist meant when he said that all scientists believe this is that they cannot do science without assuming that nothing is going to mess with the physical laws they adhere to. They have to believe in the physical laws at some level, whether they consciously do or not. I don’t think I agree with this statement, but I don’t think it’s fair to imply that it came from a lack of experience with the scientist opinion poll. Lack of experience with quantum physics, sure.


  2. The Heisenburg uncertainy priciple tells us that, since we can never locate all particles with perfect accuracy, we can never predict the future state of those particles with perfect accuracy either, so complete determinism is right out. And from chaos theory we learn that complex systems (like our brains) are affected by small changes in intial conditions, even changes that are smaller than our capacity to measure. So there’s no way to tell, if we were able to examinine someone’s state of mind, exactly what they would do in any given situation.

    As a rationalist, I see that we have free choices within certain constraining boundaries. Those boundaries come from a variety of sources, and we aren’t necessarily aware of all of them.

    So for lunch today I have “free” choice, and might have a burger, a taco, or a chicken sandwich. But I won’t be having caviar (too expensive for my budget), kangaroo (unavailable in my area), dog (socially unacceptable in my area), dolphin (personally unacceptable), gravel (not food), anything with cilantro (genetically distasteful) or a milkshake (lactose intolerance). For any choice I might make, there are likely many constraints on that choice, including those that I might not even be aware of. But that does not mean that I am unable to freely choose between the options that are possible.


    1. I don’t believe it follows that since we can’t predict things perfectly, determinism is not true. Just because we can’t tell what is about to happen does not at all mean that something isn’t necessarily about to happen. If you give up the idea that the physical universe is determinate, then I would say that the study of particle physics and other extremely small things is pointless. A few philosophers may not believe in a determinate universe, but I can guarantee that all scientists do.

      Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by free will. I don’t mean that we can do anything, of course there are limits on our abilities. I only mean that we have the ability to change our own future. We are able to be scientifically unexpected. Unpredictable. We can understand a situation and make a conscious decision on what to do, and said decision could go either way, the only thing that determines your decision is you. I don’t think every waking moment is like this either, much of what we do is instinct. The study of psychology seems to be making this idea less likely, and it just might be false. At the moment I’m still pondering.


      1. Have you actually studied particle physics? Or talked at any length to someone who has? I’ve never talked to a particle physicist who said that the universe was determinate, and I’ve talked to quite a few.

        Quantum mechanics does not deal in particles that can be measured with specific locations and momentums simultaneously. Rather, they exist more as probability waves. It’s not that we can’t manage to measure them because we don’t have the technology, it’s that they actually behave in ways that are fuzzy and indeterminate. With an individual particle, we can study what particle is likely to do, OR where it’s likely to be, and the more we narrow one of these properties down, the less we can know about the other. Most of the time I spent in quantum mechanics classes was dealing with various wave functions about these probabilities. It’s only in large groups that particles fall into very predictable distribution patterns. Planets behave extremely predictably, but individual electrons do not.

        It’s fascinating and counter-intuitive, and the math required to deal with it is gosh-awful. But there’s quite a few books written for the layman that can explain the basics.


      2. Hmm okay. At the fundamental level the universe is indeterminate. That does not take away from the fact that our brains cannot influence what our brains do. Even under your model, it is not us that decides what we do, rather the randomness of the universe. There is a huge distinction. Thus my line of thought still stands, we cannot in any way control our own actions.


  3. There’s an error in the common parlance when it comes to free will. None of us, I think, would feel comfortable thinking that our decisions are either truly arbitrary, or based on some set of criteria beyond our apprehension in principle. Those are the only options I can see if we call our choices free in the sense of “undetermined by nature”. Most people like to think that they have a reason for their decisions and that their decisions can be explained. The sense of agency, the idea that a person acts as a self-contained unit, is what we wish to retain. Agency, in that sense, is a mistaken notion. I think we have good reasons for having that notion, but it is just a convenient fiction in the end, for it assumes that a person somehow internalizes their history and then is no longer subject to it. It makes more sense to think of our choices as predictions – I choose vanilla because I predict my enjoyment of vanilla in these circumstances will be greater than my enjoyment of chocolate. So our wants do not deviate from the determinants of our decisions in any case, remember that would also be incoherent given the premises. This model leaves room for mistaken predictions, change, and redemption. It just says that those things remain consistent with the world’s history, the bulk of which is necessarily inaccessible to us, except by means of approximations such as change, prediction, redemption, agency, free will, etc.


  4. Yeah, Sam Harris argues a similar case. It makes sense logically that in a naturalistic worldview there cannot be free will. It is hard to accept because we feel like we use our own free will in the decisions we make every day. It also poses the question of responsibility. Is the murderer responsible for his/her actions if there was nothing more to them than uncontrollable sciencey neuro, electro particle action. If no one is responsible for their actions then how can anyone be punished or held accountable for their actions? If your argument is true, our entire way of thinking has to be changed, not to mention our criminal justice systems. I like the idea of free will, but I’m not sure that it holds up logically.


  5. Your argument is very vague and does not prove god. (If that was the point) I understand that we are bound to our own capabilities. That differs from each individual but that’s just common sense. In no way is it divine intervention. Nice read though. Liked your humor and good spirit.


    1. Yes, I am no logician and cannot correctly phrase my thoughts into propositions. However, even though it is a bit vague, I think it is clear enough for someone to get the gist and realize its truth. The point of it was not to prove God’s existence, just to show a consequence of naturalism and most of atheism. Thanks for the compliment, humour and good spirit is what I go for.


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