There is no evidence for free will (as defined here), just as there is no evidence for leprechauns. Indeed, there is just as much burden of proof required for the claim that such free will exists as there is for the claim that leprechauns exist. We could technically just default to this burden and say that the onus is on the free will believer to prove the existence of free will, just as the onus would be on the person who claims leprechauns, fairies, or unicorns exists, Elvis faked his death, teapots are orbiting planets in distant galaxies, or any other claim that requires more evidence than “I say so”.
These are all claims that are fairly extraordinary, and as Carl Sagan points out “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. If I were to call you on the phone and tell you I see a person walking a dog outside of my house window, such can probably be accepted at face value. After-all, you know that people exist, that dogs exist, and that dog walking is a common occurrence. If, on the other hand, I were to call you up and tell you that I see a magical 4 inch leprechaun in my backyard, you will probably require a whole lot more evidence. Even if I emailed you a picture of the leprechaun, there would be reason to be skeptical of such a photo given Photoshop. If I were to email you a picture of the person walking their dog on the other hand, again, there would be little reason to be so skeptical that it was an actual person walking a dog. The 4 inch leprechaun would probably require you to come over to see for yourself, and perhaps assess in various ways that such is real and not a hoax. There would be much evidence needed to actually prove that such was really a leprechaun, for example, a display of magical abilities from the leprechaun (perhaps wishes), a real rainbow with a pot o’ gold, and so on.
For any existence claim there are one’s we can accept at face-value, for example, you may not know if I have a toilet in my house, but I’m sure you wouldn’t even think of asking for evidence that such exists if I told you I use one throughout the day. And then there are some we just cannot take on face-value, for example, if I told you I have a ray gun given to me by an advanced alien race. In fact, if such was claimed you will automatically either think I’m lying, joking around, or nuts. The option of me actually having such a ray gun falls off the table until strong evidence comes in to support it.
The claim that free will exists is not a “normal” existence claim, it’s an extraordinary claim. In fact, it’s far more extraordinary than the claim of a 4 inch leprechaun in my backyard. This is the point of this post. Leprechauns, fairies, and Elvis living in my garage are all extraordinary claims that are far less extraordinary than the claim that free will exists is. It may not seem that way considering that the feeling of free will is so pervasive, but the fact of the matter is, leprechauns have some logical possibility. In other words, like anything unproved but not necessarily contradictory, such is not (logically) ruled out – one just shouldn’t hold a belief until evidence comes to light.
If, on the other hand, we said that there was a creature that was simultaneously both a fairy and not a fairy that exists, who was magically creating purple colorless square circles (that equally exist), we now have a claim that is not only extraordinary and non-evident, but logically incoherent.
As soon as logical incoherence is factored in for an existence claim, the continued search for evidence, though we could do such, no longer makes a whole lot of sense. If we allow this for contradictory existence claims all reasoning about it breaks down as we no longer have the capacity to identify “existences”. This also leads to an “explosion” of existence claims that can be made about anything at all (e.g. Santa). Where as with enough evidence I can prove a magical 4 inch leprechaun in my back yard, there is no evidence that can prove something that has logically incoherent traits (such as non-fairy fairies creating colorless pink square circles).
This is where we find ourselves with free will, at least if we don’t define such in some compatibilist notion that bypasses the intuitive ability most people feel they possess. For those following my blog closely, you’ll read various articles as to why we shouldn’t be redefining the term “free will” as some compatibilists would like. The free will of concern is also the free will that happens to be logically incoherent. In other words, not only is there no evidence for such free will, but a free will skeptic can take on a burden to “prove a negative”, that being that free will doesn’t exist. This can be done because like “non-fairy fairies creating colorless pink square circles”, such a notion of free will can be shown to be incoherent. There is no special circumstance that can possibly grant it without simply asserting that “free will is something that is outside of logic”.
If you don’t know why such is logically incoherent, I’ve made the strong case for this in my book, and also please read through past articles on this blog (and subscribe for new posts) as I argue certain cases throughout. What can be said is that there are certain ways “events” can logically happen, and such free will is (logically) incompatible with all of the possibilities. In other words, the self-contradictory nature of free will can be and has been exposed. This makes the very notion of such free will even more absurd than the notion of a 4 inch leprechaun in my backyard.
Not only is free will logically incoherent, but there is also neuro-scientific supporting evidence against such free will. Like leprechauns that have no evidence for their existence, free will also has no evidence for it’s existence. Unlike leprechauns that do not have logical or empirical evidence against their existence, free will has both logical and empirical evidence against it’s existence. In other words, there is no comparison. The belief in leprechauns, though ultimately irrational due to the lack of evidence and it being extraordinary, is actually more rational than believing in something that is not only non-evident and extraordinary, but logically incoherent and has evidence against it.
So what can we say if the belief in leprechauns is more sensible than the belief in free will? Well, at the very least we should be looking into why we don’t have the free will ability that most people intuitively feel we possess, and educate ourselves on what it means if we don’t have such an ability. After all, believing in fictions, especially the fiction of free will, is not benign.