This all reminds me of the famous (and possibly apocryphal) response of the wife of the Bishop of Worcester when her husband told her of Darwin’s theory that humans evolved from apes. “My dear, descended from the apes!” she said. “Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it will not become generally known.”Some of those free will deniers do behave like beasts. See the Wikipedia article on Free will in theology, to see which religions believe in free will, and which do not. I'll give you a hint: which religions are making the world better, and which worse?
And it all supports my notion that one motivation for promulgating “compatibilist” free will (i.e., the view that pure determinism of human actions is still compatible with some conceptions of free will) is that if people learned that their actions are predetermined, and that dualistic free will did not exist, they’d either behave like beasts or lapse into torpor and nihilism. (This is, of course, the same argument that religious creationists use against evolution.)
It is funny how most academic atheists reject free will, with Richard Dawkins squirming over the issue. I say that free will is a philosophical issue, not a scientific one.
Here is philosopher Sarah Conly arguing for a nanny state, because our free will is lacking:
In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences. Now we see that these errors aren’t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.I would rather have that large soda when I want one.
That’s what the government is supposed to do, help us get where we want to go. It’s not always worth it to intervene, but sometimes, where the costs are small and the benefit is large, it is. That’s why we have prescriptions for medicine. And that’s why, as irritating as it may initially feel, the soda regulation is a good idea. It’s hard to give up the idea of ourselves as completely rational. We feel as if we lose some dignity. But that’s the way it is, and there’s no dignity in clinging to an illusion.
Update: Coyne post new research related to this:
In the last few years, neuroscience experiments have shown that some “conscious decisions” are actually made in the brain before the actor is conscious of them: brain-scanning techniques can predict not only when a binary decision will be made, but what it will be (with accuracy between 55-70%)—several seconds before the actor reports being conscious of having made a decision. The implications of this research are obvious: by the time we’re conscious of having made a “choice”, that choice has already been made for us—by our genes and our environments—and the consciousness is merely reporting something determined beforehand in the brain. And that, in turn, suggests (as I’ve mentioned many times here) that all of our “choices” are really determined in advance, though some choices (e.g., whether to duck when a baseball is thrown at your head) can’t be made very far in advance!This line of experiments shows that it takes our brains a few seconds to make certain types of decisions, and we can be fooled about the timing of those decisions. The brain has many processes, and we are not consciously aware of most of them. This research says nothing about free will.