In a recent post discussing the debate between philosophers and neuroscientists about free will, Jerry Coyne concludes that a world without free will isn’t that big a deal, because we can still act as if we had free will:
The more I read about philosophers’ attempts to redefine and save the notion of “free will” in the face of the neurological facts, the more I think that they’re muddying the waters. I believe that the vast majority of nonphilosophers and laypeople hold a consistent definition of free will: that we really do make decisions that are independent of our physical make-up at the moment of deciding. If this isn’t the case, we need to know it. Yes, it may be depressing—Haynes admits that he finds it hard to “maintain an image of a world without free will”—but we can still act as if we had free will. We don’t have much choice in that matter, probably because we’re evolved to think of ourselves as choosing agents. But rather than define free will so we can save the notion in some sense (this is like substituting the word “spirituality” for “religion”), why don’t we just rename the concept we’re trying to save? Otherwise we’re just giving false ideas to people, as well as providing succor for religion, where the idea of real free will—the Holy Ghost in the machine—is alive and crucially important.
I find this interesting, because one charge leveled against Christians is that they cling to their notions of God not because they have any evidence He exists, but because the find the idea of God comforting. Of course atheists say this to denigrate Christians, the implication being that Christians believe certain delusions to be comforted, while atheists are skeptical realists.
Now we have Coyne suggesting that atheists embrace a delusion (that we have free will) in order to avoid the fact that being automatons is depressing. Not only is Coyne arguing for delusional thinking, but he is arguing that atheists embrace a delusion knowing full well it’s a delusion. His argument is even more convoluted given that he is recommending that people choose to act in a certain way to avoid the implications of the reality that we are incapable of choosing how we act. The mind boggles.
At the very least Christians can say their belief in God and a mind independent of a physical brain is consistent with the sensation we all have that we are choosing to do certain things. Unlike Coyne and his New Atheist followers, Christians don’t have to pretend something is true in order to make sense of their own experiences.