There is no problem of free will. Humans can realize degrees of freedom and make informed choices; in many situations they can do what they desire to do or what they find to be in their best interest. There isn’t any conflict between this concept of free action and a concept of determinism which does not imply predictability or inevitability. This free action and free choice are all that are required for what Dennett refers to as freedom worth having.
Shermer is surely correct and Harris incorrect on the question of free will. Shermer makes reference to some interesting neurological evidence for the inhibition-of-impulses process in our brains, something that I had not heard before. But this conforms to what a number of philosophers and psychologists have long argued: namely, that we’re able to make significant choices between contrary alternatives despite that fact that whatever we choose to do can be neurologically explained in terms of a number of brain processes, which we don’t control and of which we’re not even aware.
Many of the paradoxes associated with the ‘free will / determinism’ problem could have been avoided had philosophers paid more attention to the views of ‘freedom’ articulated by Spinoza, Hobbes, and Hume; and had they been more critical concerning the notion of metaphysical freedom advanced or assumed by Descartes and Kant.
In many discussions of the “free will” issue, the argument is made that we don’t have any freedom of choice because, with respect to any action we do, we could not have done other than what we did. For example, suppose I choose to support candidate “Tom” for some elective office I might think that I freely choose to support Tom, but others will argue that I could not have done otherwise; i.e., that I my support of Tom was determined by a causal chain of events and conditions that I did not control.
The argument that materialist contradict themselves with regard to free action fails because it relies on very questionable, if not downright false, premises with regard to (1) ‘materialism,’ (2) ‘determinism,’ and (3) ‘free action.’
Some scientists conclude that the sciences of the human nervous system and psychology have nullified the old, traditional belief that humans can act freely; i.e., that ‘free will’ is a myth that must be discarded by any scientifically informed person. This is a philosophical inference from the work of science, and like many such inferences from the data of sciences it should be subject to critical scrutiny. A good example of the nullification view (of free will) is given by James Miles (a British evolutionary theorist).
What Mr. Gardner says concerning the possibility of an afterlife and the “mystery” of free will reminds me that even very intelligent persons can go off on the wrong track. Even a genius can sometimes affirm ideas, which in other contexts we might associate with the assertions of mad men.
I prefer to avoid the term “free will” because it suggests some mysterious faculty of mind which operates independently of genetic and environmental factors. I don’t think there is such a thing; and it seems to be a mistaken turn in discussions of problems of freedom and determinism.
I prefer to talk about freedom in relation to choice and actions that humans do. I don’t know what it means to talk about a ‘free will’ which does not result in some degree of freedom in deciding between alternative actions, and in sometimes being able to do what we desire to do, or what we judge to be in our best interest.
When we ask whether human freedom is compatible with an omniscient being having complete foreknowledge of everything we do, we commit the fallacy of taking things from a god’s-eye-view perspective and assuming that we can unproblematically apply the language of freedom. It is the same confusion shown when someone asks whether a character in a novel could have diverted from the story line laid out by the author?