Evolving Free Will

Usually, when arguing a point of religious philosophy, a writer will offer some premises and then argue that they support a particular conclusion. And often, especially with the theistic philosophers, the premises themselves fall apart when I look at them. So I dismiss the argument and move on.

But I have discovered something interesting while reading through offerings in the Ultimate Challenge. I’ve discovered that, even if I provisionally accept the premises, I can have fun with the argument. It doesn’t always have to go the way the original writer takes it. In keeping with my naturally inquisitive character, I thought I’d try articulating one or two of these byways.

The first was inspired by Greg Ganssle’s use of libertarian free will as “evidence” for theism over naturalism. Here is the basic structure of the argument:

Premise 1: Libertarian freedom exists.

Premise 2: Libertarian freedom is more compatible with theism than naturalism.

Conclusion: All else being equal, we should prefer theism over atheism.

Now, Premise 1 is easily dismissed as unproven. In fact, I suspect it is unprovable. So the conclusion collapses without even looking at Premise 2. But let’s see what we can do with Premise 2 anyway, shall we?

Anatomy of the premise

First, I think Premise 1 entails two further premises:

Premise 1a: There is a freedom ether – some realm or substance that can carries or bestows libertarian free will.

Premise 1b: There is some means by which a physical human being could access the freedom ether, thus becoming able to act without being fully caused to act.

If we take these as given, do we need to accept Premise 2? Well, a Christian creator god could be expected to plug humans into the freedom ether (provided it isn’t a Calvinist god). But we haven’t yet looked at what to expect from a naturalistic perspective.

So, as a naturalist, what would I expect from a universe that (1a) contained a freedom ether and (1b) had some means for humans to connect to it?

Well, it seems to me that the capacity to do an end-run around the clockwork universe would provide a selective advantage – one that would be stronger the more complex an organism’s brain is (so that it could evaluate the different options in its “choose-your-own-adventure” universe). So, if the means referred to in Premise 1b is something that could be acquired by genetic variation, we should positively expect evolution to plug humans into libertarian free will, sooner or later.

Now the whole question now looks slightly different. Given premises 1a and 1b, which seems more likely: that an all-powerful god exists that is inclined to grant its creatures libertarian free will, or that the means exist for evolution to grant humans libertarian free will?

Oh, I don’t really know which is more likely. In all this, I have been studiously ignoring the various metaphysical problems I have with the very idea of libertarian free will. But I think this line of argument casts considerable doubt on what Ganssle (and probably others) seem to think is a clear path from libertarian free will to theism.

And it was a fun thought experiment to try out.

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3 Responses to “Evolving Free Will”

  1. garicgymro Says:

    I know you’re making every effort to studiously ignore the metaphysical problems with libertarian free will, but I just can’t resist… I just can’t see an argument for it that isn’t incredibly weak (“We all feel as if we have free will…”), empty (“We just have free will and that’s that.”), or self-defeatingly reliant on randomness (surely random acts are even less free than determined ones). I can’t see how libertarian free will is anything but bunk.

    That’s not to say we don’t have free will of some sort, but if we want will that’s free of everything, including determinism, then we might as well ask for oxygen-free air.

  2. garicgymro Says:

    Interesting point about the selective advantage though. Like you, I’m really not certain which is more likely, but I agree that it’s not straightforwardly true that such a universe is more likely to be theistic.

  3. A new challenge | Friendly Humanist Says:

    […] Evolving Free Will – Inspired by an assertion in one of the essays in Contending with Christianity’s Critics. This post looks at how we might expect evolution to interact with libertarian free will, if such a thing were possible. […]

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