I came across a post the other day by an atheist who seems to be a public speaker, and who runs a blog on ChicagoNow. This post was about the “free will” topic and how he holds a belief in free will. To be fair I suspect that the blogger is unfamiliar with much of the nuance of the free will debate from our little chat we had in the comment section, and he seems like a swell guy. I thought it might be good to respond to his post as some of the things in it are those rudimentary mistakes that those new to the debate quite often make, such as the idea that if hard determinism is shown false, that opens the door for free will.
People often associate the idea of brain implants / microchips with some dystopia where some evil overlord controls the masses by implanting chips in their brain to take over the world with an army of people who are controlled by this mastermind. They fear any hardware that might control, to any degree, the thoughts and feelings of a person. They may even use the term “free will” here,suggesting that such an implant would take away someone’s “free will”.
At first this fear seems reasonable (with the exception of the use of the term “free will” here). No-one wants to be controlled by some psychopath to do hideous things “against their will”. And indeed, if it comes to pass that brain implants can take over a person’s “control” entirely, we need to have some real safeguards in place.
The problem, however, is when we take a technology that can be extremely helpful, and slippery slope it down to some worst case scenarios, and based on those scenarios we reject the idea altogether. This, I think, is a mistake that could be most unfortunate.
Some philosophers such as Alfred Mele think that people are jumping the gun on suggesting that the neuroscientific evidence against free will is sufficient for the conclusion that free will doesn’t exist. What they don’t seem to understand is that the neuroscientific evidence is just empirical supporting evidence that free will doesn’t exist. It is hardly the whole story. The larger story around free will stems not to empirical evidence against it, but rather it’s logical incoherence.