Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cashmore and Pastore on Free Will

Biologist Anthony R. Cashmore, wrote a paper a couple of years ago on the topic of free will and determinism that I think is instructive. It illustrates how determinism, materialism and naturalism entail each other. A person who holds one of these views generally (though not necessarily) holds all three. Cashmore, who is himself a naturalist, writes:
Many discussions about human behavior center around the relative importance of genes and environment, a topic often discussed in terms of nature versus nurture. In concentrating on this question of the relative importance of genes and environment, a crucial component of the debate is often missed: an individual cannot be held responsible for either his genes or his environment.

From this simple analysis, surely it follows that individuals cannot logically be held responsible for their behavior. Yet a basic tenet of the judicial system and the way that we govern society is that we hold individuals accountable (we consider them at fault) on the assumption that people can make choices that do not simply reflect a summation of their genetic and environmental history. As de Duve has written, “If . . . neuronal events in the brain determine behavior, irrespective of whether they are conscious or unconscious, it is hard to find room for free will. But if free will does not exist, there can be no responsibility, and the structure of human societies must be revised.”

It is my belief that, as more attention is given to the mechanisms that govern human behavior, it will increasingly be seen that the concept of free will is an illusion, and the fallacy of a basic premise of the judicial system will become more apparent. Certainly, the determination of the sequence of the human genome and the assignment of function to these genes is having a dramatic effect on our understanding of the role of genetics in human behavior.
The rest of the article can be summarized in a simple syllogism: Material objects are subject to the deterministic laws of physics. There's nothing about us that's non-material. Thus, there's nothing about us that's not subject to the deterministic laws of physics.

If that much is correct then a further conclusion can be drawn: There's no such thing as a free, undetermined choice for which we could be held responsible. Our choices are simply the product of electro-chemical phenomena occurring in our brains and these are the product of our genes or our past experiences.

There's no room in the world of the materialist for a mind or soul and thus no room for free will. But, if we're determined (pardon the pun) to discard libertarian freedom, we must also discard moral responsibility and any notion that reward or punishment are ever deserved.

If we're not really in some sense free to decide between alternative courses of action, if the choice we make is determined by factors over which we have no control, then no one deserves any blame or punishment, no one deserves any praise or reward, and no one is ever morally guilty of doing anything that violates the behavioral codes of the consensus.

If, on the other hand, one does believe himself to be free then, as is argued in the following video, one may also believe that there's more to us than just the physical stuff that makes us up. Belief in metaphysical freedom entails a belief in something like a non-physical mind or soul that serves as the seat of our freedom.

Frank Pastore, a former major league pitcher who studied philosophy after his retirement from baseball and who now hosts a radio talk show, discusses the problem materialism poses for a belief in free will and vice-versa: