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.
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.
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.