Today wrapped up the first week of school at Mizzou. I hope everyone is getting settled into their classes and meeting some good people, likes their professors, and is excited about the coming year.
A small group of us had lunch at Heidelberg, and then we had the Ask an Atheist table out for a few hours this afternoon. I’d like to continue doing the table as often as possible throughout this year; it’s a great way to meet people and have some really interesting discussions with people who might not ordinarily be interested in attending meetings (FYI: our meetings are open to all!).
As an aside, I want to pose a question to our readers:
I think most of us in the group are metaphysical naturalists, that is, we agree with the statement, “There is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences,” i.e. all alleged miracles can (in theory, if not necessarily in practice) be explained using science.
My question is, “Can free will be reconciled with metaphysical naturalism?”
If we start with the presumption that there is no such thing as a spirit or soul (the “mind” is simply an emergent property of sufficiently complex brains), then how can we separate our “will” from what the chemicals in our brains simply do of their own accord (from randomness, or external stimulus, etc)?
Scott Adams of “Dilbert” fame explains it well in this strip:
Social psychologist Daniel Wegner, in his book, “The Illusion of Conscious Will,” explains how our sense of control over our actions is actually imaginary, and in a statement, our actions happen to us, and the feeling of will is created by the brain. This helps us have a feeling of control and authorship over our actions, but ultimately, our actions are the consequence of our brains doing their thing – which, if you think about it, is something we really already knew. It’s carrying things out to their natural, logical conclusion, as jarring as the implications might be to other things we take for granted. Take, as one very important example, our legal system: How might that be affected by the idea that free will is illusory?
Curious for your thoughts.
Until next time!
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, he posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website ishttp://www.DaveMuscato.com.