[~2,100 words, reading time: ~10 minutes]
Many scientifically-minded people claim that mankind does not have free will. Instead, they say that all of our choices are determined by physical laws, and our perception of free will is an illusion. I hope to show that this claim is either false, or if it’s true then we can’t know it, because it is self-refuting.
In his bestselling book, Free Will, atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris boldly proclaims that our perception of free will is an illusion. He begins by telling the story of a heinous series of murders committed by two psychopaths. Dr. Harris then explains that if he had the same genes, upbringing, environment, and brains as these men, he would have also committed the same crimes. He says:
As sickening as I find their behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to see the world differently or to resist the impulse to victimize other people. Free Will (p. 4)
This is a compelling argument. It reminds me of Star Trek’s transporter: a person’s atoms are beamed across vast distances, and when they rematerialize, they are still the same person as before. If my atoms were converted into the atoms of another person, I’d be that person.