If intelligence is reducible to chance and necessity and the human mind is the product of non-directed naturalistic evolution, is free will an oxymoron? In the comments of our post on vacuity Allen MacNeill gave his position:
…The reason I bring up the summer course is that for over a decade Will Provine has focused that course on precisely that question, and has forcefully argued in the negative. I must admit that when I first started participating in his course, I disagreed with him, but over the years his arguments (and those of the authors he has used as references) have convinced me that the very idea of human free will is an oxymoron. The problem as I see it is not with the term “will,” if by this we mean that internal neurophysiological state which causes us to behave in the ways that we do (including, of course, having the thoughts that we do). No, the problem is with the word “free.” Free from what? Free from coersion, perhaps, but free from natural/physical causation? Absurd. As Will always points out in his evolution course (and in the summer seminar course when he teaches it), either our actions are caused by the biochemical processes that occur in our nervous systems (in which case they cannot possibly be “free”), or they are “caused” by magic (i.e. “spooky action at a distance” as Einstein called it), which any good physicist should affirm as being completely impossible.
The paradox of course is that even most scientists “feel” like they have free will, and consequently affirm that it exists. However, the “feeling” of free will, as Daniel Wegner has pointed out (see http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=8770&ttype=2), is just that: a “feeling.” As I have argued elsewhere, this feeling (or rather the neurophysiology that underlies it) is probably itself an evolutionary adaptation, in that it allows us to use our own behavior (or rather our perceptions of our own behavior) as guidelines for the formulation of a “theory of mind” which we can then use to interpret and guide our actions.
PvM seems to disagree:
Would you agree then that there is no such thing as free will?
–Nope. What makes you think that?
My answer: simply because it seems to follow directly from your other claims. There are probably few enough issues in which I agree with Prof. Provine; but here he has convinced me as well as Allen and I can’t say I see any reasonable alternative. But I’d love to hear your reasons for accepting free will, while rejecting the possiblity of anything beyond the workings of chance and deterministic natural law in human intelligence, and why you believe your position is logically consistent.
Update: Clarification below