Dang, this is turning into a *very* occasional series. Oh well. Again, those of you prone to boredom, shoo.
So a long time ago in a galaxy far away I wrote how our basis for moral responsibility is based on a particular notion of free will: control. And by control most people mean true control, true choice, not just the perception of control. You’re only responsible for something if you freely choose to do it.
Here’s the problem with that: modern society tells us more and more that that there is no such thing as free will, regardless of how we feel. Let me quote an interesting speech by the Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded:
You see, there is only one constant, one universal, it is the only real truth: causality. Action. Reaction. Cause and effect…. Choice is an illusion… This is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretense, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control. Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the “why.”
A fantastic speech. I’ll ignore the why part at the end, although I think it’s very deep. Anyway, most people I think saw this in the movie and were like, what the heck is he talking about. Cuckoo. But really, I think it pretty much sums up modern secular science and thought. We might *think* we’re free. But science tells us more and more that there is no “choice”; there is no free will.
For example, there’s this big neverending debate in science about whether human behavior is affected more by nature or nurture. Whether how we are is determined by our genes (nature), or whether we’re a product of our environment when we’re growing up (nurture). Both sides present research showing how pervasive each of these influences are. The nature folks show how much of what we do is attributable to genetics. Pretty much every human behavior, be it depression, sexual preference, aggressiveness, or whatever is said to have genetic influences. The nurture folks present research saying how everything we do is influenced by what happened to us in our childhood. Honestly, that kind of freaks me out, the prospect of having that much responsibility with the raising of our kids. But anyway, that’s what the scientists say.
What people don’t realize is that regardless of whether you believe in nature or nurture, either way it erodes our concept of free will. Either you believe our behavior is the product of our genes, or you believe that our behavior is the product of enviromental influence. Either way, free will, our choice, isn’t a part of the picture. The more strongly you feel about either nature or nurture, effectively the less you believe in free will. You could take the middle ground, but then you ignore what science says on both sides. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do that, just that science is telling us more and more that we don’t have free will.
Modern philosophy says essentially the same thing, that there’s no free will. I won’t get into it, but yeah, it’s just hard to define where choice happens. Follow the logic of a behavioral act down to its source, say a nerve impulse in the brain, and you’re either faced with it being a deterministic reaction based on genetics and environment, or a random reaction. Where “choice” comes in is hard to define.
So anyway, my point is, if you’re a secular creature and trust in modern science and philosophy, you’re forced to believe that we have much less free will or choice than is commonly assumed. It probably doesn’t even exist.