Nothing presents atheists and theists alike with as much confusion and controversy as the theory issue of free will. Does it exist? And if it does, what does this mean for us humans? And are humans the only beings to have free will? I find the debate over the existence of free will to be irrelevant because I reject the notion of a deterministic universe. In truth, I do not believe in free will. I would label myself a Hard Indeterminist in that I reject the existence of both free will and a deterministic universe.
Compatibilists accept that free will and determinism do not need to be mutually exclusive. Actually, they need not believe in free will or determinism, only that they believe that the two could be compatible. Some Compatibilists argue that determinism is actually necessary for the existence of free will. They would argue that actions are determined by our predispositions. If one’s actions were not determined by beliefs and desires one could not be held morally responsible for their actions. Some atheists might believe that the universe is deterministic, but it isn’t determined by the will of God, but rather by the laws of the universe. These atheists believe that the universe behaves predictably according to a set of fundamental rules and while we humans might not understand everything about the universe, they believe that everything in the universe can be reduced to single grand unified theory (or a collection of theories) that can explain and predict the behavior of all of the phenomena in the universe.
There are atheists who do not believe in a deterministic universe. Quantum mechanics seems to indicate the at a subatomic level, random chance determines how atoms behave and interact. Albert Einstein famously quipped, “God does not play dice with the universe”, believing that the chaotic implications of quantum mechanics would not hold up under the weight of more evidence; he held the view that hidden variables unbeknownst to us could explain the nonsensical results of quantum mechanics. John Bell retorted decades later with his eponymous theorem that no number of hidden variables could make sense of quantum mechanics. It appears that the particles that make up all atoms play by a completely different sent of rules than the laws of nature that we recognize on a macroscopic level. The processes that go on at a sub-atomic level are truly random; the decay of a proton into a neutron (in a process that we observe called radioactivity) is totally unpredictable. Geiger counters are a truly alien device, able to detect the activity going on at a
Many theists believe that God grants them free will. Here we run into a complication, namely, that if God knows everything, then He knows what our actions will be before we even do. This implies that our actions are already predetermined if God can know them in advance. If this were true, we cannot change our actions otherwise God would not be all-knowing, and therefore not… God. This presents a challenge to theologians, who come up with an elaborate series of contrived answers to answer how this must be false. According denominations of Christianity like Methodism, God is still a supposedly omnipotent being, yet he apparently allows himself to shield himself from his own all-seeing abilities to give us humans the ability to make decisions freely. God has the power to see everything, but chooses not to wield it because he wants us to have free will. Other Christian denominations have come up with other cop outs. Some believe that God is all-knowing because he can see the outcome of every possible potential event. We humans still have free will and God still is all-powerful because he can see all of the paths we humans can potentially take, but he allows us to choose which of these paths are to become “real”. This scenario relies on the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics that posits reality is like a many-branching tree.
There are theists who believe free will is an illusion. Protestant denominations like Calvinists believe in a strict predestination. God has already determined our fate before we were even born, and humans have no free will. Those that achieve greatness do so because God willed it to be; their good fortune is a sign that God has chosen someone to be great. The Protestant Work Ethic, a treatise by sociologist Max Weber, summarizes this worldview. Atheists are just as skeptical on the issue of free will. Many believe that free will exists because without God we are truly free. To these people, the burden of choice is ours and ours alone. These metaphysical libertarians believe that free will inevitably leads to suffering. Humans are solely responsible for our actions and because humans are conscious beings, we must suffer the consequences of our actions.
The atheists who do not believe in free might point to neurological evidence that suggests the unconscious part of our brain directs our actions fractions of a second before the conscious part of our brain makes a decision. If our decision-making process is based on an unconscious part of our brain that we cannot control, we do not have free will. This, however, does not necessarily But whether or not determinism exists The dilemma of determinism entails the following paradox; if determinism is true, then our actions are controlled by preceding events and thus we do not have freewill; and that if indeterminism is true, our actions are random and we likewise do not have free will; no matter which option you take, free will is thus logically impossible.