The New York Times last week had an interesting article on free will and the current scientific debate about whether it exists or not. Of course, this is an age-old question, but in light of other science vs. religion debates happening in the United States today, it is, indeed, one worth contemplating anew.
Michael Silberstein from Elizabethtown College pointed this out explicitly:
“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”
Of course, this assumes that the denial of free will could ever achieve the same kind of scientific unanimity as evolution. And that’s unlikely.
But chew on this: according to Silberstein,
every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions canâ€™t be caused and arenâ€™t random, he said, “It must be â€” what â€” some weird magical power?”
Still, as the NYT article suggests, even if free will is an illusion, it’s likely a strong enough illusion to keep society-wide nihilism in check.
For a look at the Jewish take on free will, start reading here.