Tag Archives: Free Will

Free Will: Illusion or Reality?

I recently came across an intriguing column on the USA Today website entitled, ” Why you don’t really have free will”, written by Jerry A. Coyne. As you can probably predict, Coyne is making a case against the belief that humankind has free will. The denial of free will is part of the fabric of evolution. Theistic and atheistic philosophers have been debating this issue for ages. Philosophically it is the debate of Determinism vs. Free Will. Determinism by definition teaches us that all actions and events have been determined by preceding events or natural causes without the aid of free will or choice on humankind’s part. All actions and events have been determine to happen in a particular way and those actions or events could not happen in no other way. For instance, if Jim murders his entire family and then kills himself, it was determined that Jim would do so and he could not have done differently. Jim murdering his family, then killing himself, was not a choice on his part according to determinism. It was determined to happen that way either by God (theological determinism), biological effects (biological determinism), a product of Jim’s environment (sociological determinism) or psychological (psychological determinism). With the understanding of determinism laid out, let us proceed to Coyne’s case against free will in which he comes from the school of determinism called Biological determinism.

In Coyne’s column, after he has defined free will as when a person has two or more alternatives and that person freely chooses one of those alternatives, he presents two lines of evidence to suggest that free will is but an illusion. The first is that “we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics.” Coyne goes on to say, ” Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this (step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works) because ‘we’ are simply constructs of our brain.” What Coyne is basically saying is that what “appears” to be us exercising free will is nothing more than biological workings of the brain.

The second line of “evidence” Coyne presents to us is that our brains are “meat computers”. Coyne said, ” Our brains are simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into predetermined output.” This means that our “choices” are a result of our genetic make-up and our environment.

Based on the studies of psychologist and neuroscientist, Coyne said the notion of free will “itself could be an illusion that evolution has given us to connect our thoughts, which stem from unconscious processes, and our actions, which also stem from unconscious processes.” Free will, therefore, is an illusion of evolution. Now let us see why these two lines of evidence are anything but evidence.

First, Coyne’s position that free will is an illusion assumes that the theory of evolution is true. He assumes that we are just biological creatures governed by the laws of physics. We must first ask for scientific evidence for the universe coming into existence from nothing and humans as products of the evolutionary process. Better yet, is the idea of evolution and determinism itself an illusion which some other thing or being gave to us to connect our thoughts? Could actions and events “appear” to be determined and can happen no other way, but in reality be the opposite? That free will is real and humans can choose or reject a certain course of action? By what standard can we judge by to determine whether free will or determinism is illusionary or not?

Lastly, if determinism is true, it is impossible to hold anyone morally responsible. If one’s immoral act is the result of biological workings of the brain and being influenced by his or her environment, then holding him or her morally accountable is meaningless. Furthermore, if evolution is true, by what moral standard or law does one judge a person by? What is evil and what is good? Without an absolute moral law from an absolute moral law-giver(God), morality is relative and therefore meaningless.

From a Christian worldview, God gives us free will. The first demonstration of that is found in the book of Genesis. God commands the first man and woman not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but ” Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.” (Genesis 2:16-17) In Genesis chapter 3 Eve and Adam freely ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6) in complete disobedience to God. The serpent, Satan, tempted them, but they chose freely to give in to the temptation and partake of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Further evidence of God giving people choice is the nation of Israel. In Deuteronomy 30, God presents the blessings Israel would receive as a result of returning to God. Moses as he closes his discourse said, ” I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”(Deut. 30:19)

The greatest of all choices is the choice to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation or not. In John 3:16 Jesus said, ” For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is only possible if free will exist. God has bestowed on humankind the ability to choose freely as He has the ability to choose freely. Lucifer freely chose to reject God and become God’s enemy. God does not determine who will be His enemy or who will be His ally randomly. Free will is an attribute of His that He freely chose to give us creatures who are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, it is true that free will is a reality, not an illusion. Determinism and evolution is the illusion given to us by Satan Himself to keep us from God. Determinism vs. Free Will in reality is nothing more than another debate derived from the age-old debate: Does God exist? If God doesn’t exist, there can be no free will; but if God exist, free will is inevitable.