Free Will: Why Determinism is Bunk!

Today, I came across the above video from Sam Harris on the subject of free will. Personally, although I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the argument for determinism so eloquently put, I do not buy the idea that we don’t have free will.

What I do think is that when you are seeking absolute proof for something – anything at all – you are simply not going to get it and, furthermore, that basic truth says something about the nature of our reality. So, although I will briefly present a simple argument for why I believe determinists are wrong, I fully recognise that, just as there are answers to Sam’s argument, there are answers to mine too. As they say, you have to pay your money and take your choice.

Here’s Why I Believe we Do have Free Will …

As you know, I prefer simple arguments; they are not only easily understood, they are easily challenged too. Would that more academics bought into that idea – write shorter books; be concise; speak plainly – you know (inwardly at least) it makes sense.

To my argument …

If you held a bar of white chocolate in one hand and a bar of the normal stuff in your other hand and asked me to choose between them. Provided everything else was equal, I would always choose the normal chocolate. The reason is simple enough to understand – I don’t like white chocolate.

Given a straight choice, and completely conceding the fact that I don’t know why I don’t like white chocolate and furthermore, I have no understanding of what cause and effect relationships brought me to this point, I would always choose the normal bar.

But …

Later today, when I go into town, about my business, I intend to purchase a bar of white chocolate and eat it. This is something I would normally never do. But I am going to do it anyway, for one simple reason, to demonstrate to myself that I do genuinely have a free choice about whether to do so or not. This will be a genuine act of my own free will.

See, I told you it was a simple argument.

Determinists would say that even my decision (already made) about what I am going to do later today was a product of past influences. Had I not come across the above video, then I would not have made this choice. Therefore even the decision to do something that I would normally never do is actually a product of past experience and that all of our so-called choices are illusions.

What I hope my argument shows is that the problem with what determinists say is that it cannot be tested.

Even if I – at this very minute – decide to reverse my earlier decision and intention to buy a bar of white chocolate later today, the repost would be that somewhere in writing this post, the necessary conditions arose which caused me to reverse my decision.

Intuitively, the above tells me that determinsim is bunk!

4 thoughts on “Free Will: Why Determinism is Bunk!

  1. Tzod

    Given the choice to use striking paper, i.e. toilet paper, I like my odds that Mr. Harris will chose to use it as the need arises, rather than not. It doesn’t matter whether the thought to tidy himself comes before or after he thinks it, the consequence and result will remain the same whether he wipes or not. He’ll have a choice in the matter. I don’t trust people who speak of science as some sentient, omniscient being. His premise from the beginning is off because he presumes to represent such an entity without qualification either of the existence of such a being, or his authority to speak on its behalf. Also, there is no clearing house for psychopaths to decide who is or isn’t one based on brain phisiology. He probably has more in common with a serial killer than not.

  2. Ellen

    I didn’t listen to the whole video, but enough to get the gist. I agree that our lives can be dictated by habit patterns of which we are largely unconscious and which tend to be handed down from generation to generation. However, I also believe that it is quite possible to reach such a point of dissatisfaction with the way things are that one can embark on a journey to become increasingly conscious of these habit patterns – of what they are, how they came to be, etc, etc. As one’s awareness increases, so does one’s freedom to choose. This whole debate reminds me of the B.F Skinner/Carl Rogers divide that was going on in the 60’s. There was an amazing debate that occurred between the two that can still be found on audio at some libraries. Riveting and worth checking out. Sadly, Skinner’s behaviorism seems to have won out – for now…..

  3. Will Edwards Post author

    Hi Angela

    Yes, I completely agree. The determinists won’t accept anything as evidence in any case and I appreciate the choccie test is imperfect. Anyway, I did buy the white chocolate and, do you know something? It still tastes awful!

    Will 🙂

  4. Angela

    Hi Will. Interesting thoughts. Since the outcome of this argument boils down to our choice of what to believe (I mean, how can you really “prove” either side?), I would so rather believe I have free will. I dont want to be a puppet, and I really can’t imagine God wants a bevy of puppets. It also implies that the minutiae of our lives is very important to our Source. But with over 7 billion people in the world, does Spirit really need to decide what chocolate you’re going to eat?

    Anyway, enjoy your chocolate. You might find a new favorite candy, even if it was preordained!

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