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Why do atheists need to deny free will?

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Eric Holloway takes on a reader’s question:

Reader: Harris basically reduces everything to atomic physics and says all causality happens there, so the world is deterministic (i.e. no free will). While I vehemently disagree with that idea, I do respect that at least he can articulate himself well.

Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

Eric Holloway: A deterministic physical world does not imply that free will doesn’t exist. Look at it as an argument in four steps:

  1. Free will is not deterministic.
  2. The physical world is deterministic.
  3. ?
  4. Free will does not exist.

Harris needs to fill in missing step 3 to arrive at his conclusion. One possible premise is that the physical world is all that exists. But, Harris would need to demonstrate that point. It isn’t obviously true.

— Eric Holloway, “Why do atheists still claim free will can’t exist?” at Mind Matters News

Maybe Harris will clarify matters.

Maybe they’ll be throwing snowballs in Hell’s kitchen.

[Wait! The devil is at the door, trying to borrow a snow shovel. maybe Harris will explain too… 😉 ]

See: Sam Harris reduces everything to physics but then ignores quantum non-determinism A reader, listening to his podcast with Judea Pearl, asks how he can be so sure everything is determined by physical forces.

Further reading from Mind Matters News on free will:

Younger thinkers now argue that free will is real. The laws of physics do not rule it out, they say.

Quantum randomness gives nature free will. Whether or not quantum randomness explains how our brains work, it may help us create unbreakable encryption codes. (Robert J. Marks)


Do quasars provide evidence for free will? Possibly. They certainly rule out experimenter interference.

Mind Matters News offers a selection of articles on free will by neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor on free will, including

Is free will a dangerous myth? The denial of free will is a much more dangerous myth.

Can physics prove there is no free will? No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will. It’s hilarious. Sabine Hossenfelder misses the irony that she insists that people “change their minds” by accepting her assertion that they… can’t change their minds.

Does “alien hand syndrome” show that we don’t really have free will? One woman’s left hand seemed to have a mind of its own. Did it? Alien hand syndrome doesn’t mean that free will is not real. In fact, it clarifies exactly what free will is and what it isn’t.

How can mere products of nature have free will? Materialists don’t like the outcome of their philosophy but twisting logic won’t change it.


Does brain stimulation research challenge free will? If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free?

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The chief desire behind atheism in the West is to get away from the Bible's moral teachings. Even with the Bible cleared away, there are reasons to hold out lifelong heterosexual monogamy as the best choice, and so the very idea of choice must be categorically denied (although the word is retained to denote culling children in the womb). EvilSnack
The answer is easily summed up. Atheists believe that animals do not have free will, therefore man has no free will. In order to believe man has free will is to put man on a different level altogether. Man may be classified as a mammal, but we are so much more. To lower man to the level of animals results in the likes of Stalin coming to power and maintaining power. Raising animals to the human level results in people believing animals should have the right to vote. Both are very wrong and both tend to be delusional. BobRyan
The determinist's syllogism might go like this: 1. Every event in the physical world is determined by prior causes. 2. Our choices are events in the physical world. 3. Therefore, our choices are determined by prior causes. They would then argue that it's incumbent upon the libertarian to show that premise 2 is false or doubtful. Given materialism, that's hard to do, but on some form of mind/body dualism, where mind is a non-physical substance, it's not so hard. Thus, the free will problem is closely related to the mind/body problem and the plausibility of materialism. Dick

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