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  • Writer's picture Peter Kupisz

Atheist Struggles to Make Sense of Free Will

If there is no soul, and nothing but the physical world exists, does free will exist? If it does not, how can anyone be morally blameworthy or praiseworthy? Not only that but how does the human mind manage to transcend the laws of physics and chemistry, and think logically? If the human mind is nothing but the brain, and therefore an amalgamation of chemicals, how does it produce logical thought? And how can that amalgamation of chemicals be responsible for any “choice” it makes?

The sense that we are not our bodies, and that we make choices independent of physical causes, is very powerful indeed. Those who accept the existence of souls (i.e. dualists) have no problem accounting for this fact but it poses a serious problem for those who are materialists. Richard Dawkins, emeritus professor at Oxford University, has expressed his deep struggle to make sense of this issue. When asked about it, he stated the following.

I always hate the free will question… I think, as a materialist, it’s very hard to escape the view that everything that happens, and that includes our own thoughts and our own decisions, are predetermined by molecular events in the brain and before that by earlier events. And so, I find it very hard not to be a determinist. I find it very hard to be any sort of dualist… I, I’m deeply disconcerted by the thought that the decisions that I take are predetermined because they feel so powerfully as though, um, I’m making the decision… I can’t really see an escape from the view that everything we do, including our decisions, is actually predetermined. You have to set aside, ah, quantum indeterminacy which is sort of there but irrelevant to this discussion.

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Marc Kreidler, Richard Dawkins: LIVE at the Reason for Change Conference | Point of Inquiry, June 22, 2015,

Timestamp: 1:06:03 - 1:08:02



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