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Jan 12

Free Will Revisited

With this piece, the DeBaytable blog will start with a brief synopsis of the longer discussion that follows. Henceforth, each piece will be preceded by such a synopsis. This will afford the reader the opportunity to read just the synopsis to determine if the longer blog piece is of interest. This change will not in any way change the subject matter or the views expressed. Whether the reader agrees with them or not, the views expressed are the views of the author. The comment section provides the reader with an opportunity to express views either agreeing or challenging those expressed by the author. If the reader is reluctant to comment publicly, s/he can send a private message to the author by email.

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In Brief— Free Will has its roots in religion. It has been transplanted into the law as a result of human ignorance and punitiveness. Modern scientific research in genetics and the influence of the environment has shown free will to be a delusion that nonetheless remains in use in religion and the law. Discarding this delusion will free humanity from the dark ages and allow us to look at the world as it really is.

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From the comments, several readers appear to feel that free will is a viable concept notwithstanding my view that it has been rendered a zombie by the reams of evidence produced by scientific research in the areas of genetics and the influence of the environment. I have read and reread the objections to my view and think that my view would be more evident by paring away the complexities introduced in my original pieces on the subject. I invite the reader to review Free Will—R.I.P and Part 2 of Free Will—R.I.P. that can be found in the Archives for October 2013.

 What is Free Will?—

Free Will is based on two assumptions: that we could have behaved differently and that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions.

Our genes are, at this moment in time, immutable. That is, our genetic component is unchangeable. Scientific research increasingly shows that our genes influence us and are inheritable down through the generations. Look no further than family resemblances and the inheritability of the breast cancer gene. This may change with further scientific advances, but is indisputable at present.

The environment is the other major influence on all living creatures, not least humans. Environment can be as varied as the organisms and chemicals within our bodies, our parents or caregivers, the neighborhood we live in, the people we hang out with, the air we breathe or the planet we live on. Unlike our genes, any one or more of these environmental factors can change. This is unassailable.

 Free Will’s Religious Roots—

Those who believe in a supernatural being believe that this being endowed humans with the ability to perceive the difference between right and wrong, that is, the ability to perceive what is at any given time is acceptable or unacceptable in the environment in which we live.

There is not a shred of credible evidence that such a supernatural entity exists. That being the case, free will is as delusional as is the supernatural being alleged to have created it. Put another way, free will is a human creation that permits believers to assess whether any given member of society has consciously chosen the acceptable way of behaving in that particular society.

Islamic society believes that free will places members of that society within or outside that society’s acceptable bounds. Judeo-Christian society believes that free will places members within or outside of the Judeo-Christian society’s bounds. BUT the same behavior will give a different result depending on the society’s belief system. In both cases, free will is operative according to the religious beliefs of that particular society. It is a tool created by humans in the service of religion.

 Environment is Determinative—

In Part 2 of Free Will, I gave an example of how the environment can negatively influence behavior, an all-too-common scenario today. One unpublished response was to pose a counter-argument with the subject’s brother being the poster child for the beneficial effects of free will. Obviously, the point of the example was missed.

The point of the example was that both genetics and environment produced a subject who became a criminal. The counter-argument had the brother not being influenced by what purported to be the same genetics and environment. This was a false equivalence.

The ”good” brother had neither the same genetic nor environmental influences as the ”bad” brother. Query: Were both brothers raised in exactly the same way? Were they treated in the same fashion? Did they have the same pals? Indeed, did they have the same parents? And on and on. The obvious answer is that the two brothers were different and, though they presumably grew up in the same house, their genetic and environmental influences were different. More to the point, the example was to illustrate how the environment can influence behavior.

The key is that we must not assume that others share the same values we ourselves have. This bears repeating: We must not assume that others share the same values we ourselves have. That I would have weighed the cosequences of my actions does not mean that others who have different genes and have had different environmental influences acting upon them will behave in the same way I do.

 Use of Free Will in the Law—

In too many courtrooms the defendant is assumed to have known the difference between right and wrong, between an act deemed criminal and one that adheres to the law. Sometimes an otherwise compassionate and informed judge is forced to sentence the defendant according to the way elected politicians have determined the act to be deserving of punishment. Regardless of mitigating factors, that judge has no choice in granting a lesser sentence that might be called for if Free Will were not in effect. More often, the judge operates from the point-of-view that the defendant knew or should have known the behavior was a violation of the law.

Without Free Will, the defendant’s genetic inheritance and the defendant’s environment might be taken into account. This does not mean that, assuming a fair trial that proves the defendant guilty of the crime charged, the defendant would be free of punishment. If a crime was found to have been committed, some degree of punishment would be called for.

By mandating a review of the mitigating factors revealed by evidence of the defendant’s genetic inheritance and environmental influences, justice would be enhanced. That is the point of my assertion that elimination of the concept of Free Will would allow a fairer judgment to be rendered. The concept of Free Will binds society into a punitive framework that coarsens the entire society.

Summing up, elimination of the concept of Free Will in the law would permit our society to advance toward rationality and genuine justice.

 

8 comments

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  1. Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas

    Don I have taken the liberty to add your quote into an entry in my “Stockwell’s DHypnosis Dictionary Script Book. To wit:

    Free Will: Personal choice. Freedom to make decisions and take actions, or not; within the confines of what you cannot change. Some say we choose our parents. Others claim they result from a psychic crap shoot. All agree we chose our thoughts. “When you make the unconscious conscious you allow creative choice and free will.” Don Bay says that “Free will is based on two assumptions: that you could have behaved differently than you did and that you are the conscious source of your thoughts and actions.”

    1. Don Bay

      My view is the opposite of what I interpret your entry says. In light of that, I have asked you to avoid placing this entry in your Dictionary Script Book. As I understand it, you have graciously agreed to withdraw the above entry. Many thanks. I plan to post a piece that I hope will explain my views more clearly. By all means, let me know if the new posting states my views more clearly than seems to be the case with the preceding pieces.

  2. Dave Meyers

    Don, I hope I understand your treaties accurately. And, putting the religious aspect aside for now, as I see it in a different arena, are you saying that because of genetic and environmental conditions that people understand right from wrong differently or not at all? And, therefore would be better served by the justice system if there were some sort of Guilt-O-Meter that would register a responsibility quotient against a person who perpetrates a crime?

    Johnny grew up in a home filled with violent behavior, that’s all he knows. Therefore, his violent or illegal behavior while out in society should be judged less harshly or differently than someone with a fine family life and outstanding genetic background? How would you quantify that? And, are you assuming or suggesting that someone from a good background and impeccable genetic heritage always sees right from wrong correctly? (Read Ted Bundy)

    Smokers know that smoking can kill them, yet they persist. With television, movies, all sorts of media, and a world filled with all kinds of indicators depicting right and wrong, I believe that most people have a basic understanding of it, if not the full consequences that they might face from their choices.

    While someone may have come from a less than perfect environmental situation and may not be the product of a flawless gene pool, it’s hard for me to accept that they don’t have, at least, a basic understanding of acceptable behavior… save the mentally challenged. Who do, in most cases, receive consideration.

    Some people may be less able to resist the urge to act badly due to the negative factors in their lives, but I believe that they know when they are crossing the line…. I am no less dead because someone with a shaky background may have had the URGE to shoot me. Is my life judged less valuable because my shooter is judged less able to understand what he has done?

    Thieves use the cover of night, robbers use a mask, murders hide the body or invent a staged crime scene…. they KNOW that what they have done or are about to do is wrong and strive to cover it up.

    Lest I am totally misunderstanding your intent or point here, can you give an example…a case…. in which you could show how metered justice would work? I’m just not sure how society would implement the changes that I think you are proposing.

    1. Don Bay

      See my reply to Marilyn Feaster. It seems that I was not clear enough in stating my views. Rather than responding individually, I plan to post a piece that I hope will answer some of the questions you pose.

  3. Marilyn Feaster

    Don, I hope I am interpreting your thoughts correctly.
    Here’s a very brief recap of how I understand the issue you are presenting:
    If we all agree that everyone has behavior choices, then I consider that “free will”.

    It is everyone’s choice to either obey the laws or suffer the consequences.
    If justice is “negotiable” based on the individual’s background, then laws won’t be seriously considered when an individual chooses to break a law. A member of society must choose to obey those laws, or consistent consequences should always be uniformly enforced. Otherwise laws are meaningless.

    Don’t the attorneys already present their evidence (mitigating factors- genetic/environmental influences) and a jury either convicts or acquits a defendant?

    By mandating a review of the mitigating factors revealed by evidence of the defendant’s genetic inheritance and environmental influences, justice would be enhanced.

    1. Don Bay

      Some readers indicate that I was not clear enough in stating my views on free will. Rather than answer each comment individually, I plan to post a piece that I hope will make my view clearer to all who are interested.

  4. Linda

    I agree that genetics have a good deal of influence on individuals, but as I understand it, genes are not an absolute, but suggest a propensity towards something and may even skip generations before whatever the gene indicates surfaces.

    It is difficult to argue with someone who believes in God or a superior being as their belief is based on blind faith, something which is hard for me to grasp but at the same time, I am somewhat in awe of anyone who does have this capability as I can see how it would bring a certain degree of comfort in unanswerable questions of life and death. Therefore, I don’t relate Free Will to religion even if this is where the concept originated.

    We have known that the environment influences our choices but how much it actually plays in our decision making is being scrutinized more and more. Studies at Yale were featured on 60 Minutes about babies and morality. (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/babies-help-unlock-the-origins-of-morality/) I found it fascinating. Is this study an indication of the absence of Free Will or does it point to instincts essential in survival: team work, punish those that do not act as part of a team?

    In another study, young children were shown drawings of children. The only difference was the color of skin. When shown the drawings and asked which child was the worst behaved, a large percentage picked the drawing of the darkest colored skinned child, even African American children.

    Recently, a young teenaged boy was given parole after killing four people while driving under the influence. The winning argument was that the teen suffered from “affluenza,” having too much wealth prevented him from knowing that bad behavior had consequences. Here, the court considered environment’s influence and was lenient.

    In the shooting of Treyvon Martin, the victim was as much on trial as Zimmerman, the shooter who killed the black teen. Zimmerman was acquitted.

    My point is that if suddenly everyone believed Free Will did not exist and the law required an examination of one’s environment and hereditary background, I doubt that it would succeed in being fairer for everyone on trial, just as it does not now.

    1. Don Bay

      In progress now is my latest blog piece on Free Will. It covers my thoughts in dealing with the subject and may give answers to some of the issues you raise. The “law” is imperfect as are lawyers and judges. Without the concept of free will—assuming a mandate that the latest scientific findings on genetics and environment will be admitted in evidence—we will begin to see the world as it really is. The decisions of judges and juries will still be imperfect, but we won’t be locked in a system that has outlived its usefulness. Stay tuned.

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