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Most “scientific” challenges to free will are motivated nonsense.


Further to Eddy Nahmias’ Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will? (New York Times “Opinionator” November 13, 2011), where he writes,

None of the evidence marshaled by neuroscientists and psychologists suggests that those neural processes involved in the conscious aspects of such complex, temporally extended decision-making are in fact causal dead ends. It would be almost unbelievable if such evidence turned up. It would mean that whatever processes in the brain are involved in conscious deliberation and self-control — and the substantial energy these processes use — were as useless as our appendix, that they evolved only to observe what we do after the fact, rather than to improve our decision-making and behavior. No doubt these conscious brain processes move too slowly to be involved in each finger flex as I type, but as long as they play their part in what I do down the road — such as considering what ideas to type up — then my conscious self is not a dead end, and it is a mistake to say my free will is bypassed by what my brain does.

The problem is that there is almost no fit between the reasons why systems “aren’t working” and the materialist atheist proposals for change.

A conventional demand for that sort of change begins with correct observations like the anomalously huge size of the US prison population. Here are two things you won’t usually hear from the materialist neuroscience lobby that help explain that:

1. Prisons are good for employment in depressed regions, as any politician can tell you. No, people don’t want the prison down the street, but they don’t mind it in the region, especially if their cousin and their daughter-in-law both have jobs there. For the same reason, prisons are difficult to close.

2. A large contributor to imprisonment as a preferred punishment is the lobbying influence of prison employees:

In a state where more than two-thirds of crime is attributable to recidivism [California], CCPOA has spent millions of dollars lobbying against rehabilitation programs, favoring instead policies that will grow the inmate population and the ranks of prison-guard unions. In 1999, it successfully killed a pilot program for alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. In 2005, it helped kill Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce overcrowding by putting up to 20,000 inmates in a rehabilitation program. It opposes any tinkering with the “three strikes law” that might thin the prison rolls.

Is it a coincidence that they are the country’s best-paid corrections officers?*

That isn’t the story you generally hear from materialist atheists, is it? You hear that right-wing Christian theocrats have politicians twisted around their little fingers, and get people locked up because the Bible says so. Honestly, which story sounds more plausible in the light of normal politics?

According to the materialist atheist account, brave neuroscientists are demonstrating beyond doubt that the resulting detainees have absolutely no control over their behaviour – and that no one else does either – and the solution is to put the existing system in the hands of materialist atheists. The only changes would be the reasons that far too many people would be incarcerated: Not wrongs done, but wrongs predicted by neuroscience imaging. That would almost certainly expand the prison population even faster, and we need not assume that there would be an outcry from politicians who provide jobs for their constituencies or prison employment lobbies.

* In fairness, one should add to the list the much better paid bureaucrats and the many industries that construct and supply prisons.  All of these pro-prison groups would get on just as fine – or much better – under the materialist atheist scheme.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


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