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Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will: A Review of Alfred Mele’s “Free”


In his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein complained that “in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion.” What he meant is that academic psychologists too often interpret empirical evidence in light of unexamined and dubious metaphysical assumptions. What is presented as good science is really just bad philosophy.

The recent spate of neuroscientific and psychological literature claiming to show that free will is an illusion provides a case in point. Philosopher Alfred Mele’s new book, Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will (Oxford, 2015), is a brief, lucid, and decisive refutation of these arguments. Mele demonstrates that scientific evidence comes nowhere close to undermining free will, and that the reasoning leading some scientists to claim otherwise is amazingly sloppy.

Free-bookPerhaps the best known alleged evidence against free will comes from the work of neurobiologist Benjamin Libet. In Libet’s experiments, subjects were asked to flex a wrist whenever they felt like doing so, and then to report on when they had become consciously aware of the urge to flex it. Their brains were wired so that the activity in the motor cortex responsible for causing their wrists to flex could be detected. While an average of 200 milliseconds passed between the conscious sense of willing and the flexing of the wrist, the activity in the motor cortex would begin an average of over 500 milliseconds before the flexing. Hence the conscious urge to flex seems to follow the neural activity which initiates the flexing, rather than causing that neural activity. If free will requires that consciously willing to do something is the cause of doing it, then it follows (so the argument goes) that we don’t really act freely.

As Mele shows, the significance of Libet’s results has been vastly oversold. One problem is that Libet did not demonstrate that the specific kind of neural activity he measured is invariably followed by a flexing of the wrist. Given his experimental setup, only cases where the neural activity was actually followed by flexing were detected. Also, Libet did not check for cases where the neural activity occurred but was not followed by flexing. Hence we have no evidence that that specific kind of neural activity really is sufficient for the flexing. For all Libet has shown, it may be that the neural activity leads to flexing (or doesn’t) depending on whether it is conjoined with a conscious free choice to flex.

There’s a second problem. The sorts of actions Libet studied are highly idiosyncratic. The experimental setup required subjects to wait passively until they were struck by an urge to flex their wrists. But many of our actions don’t work like that—especially those we attribute to free choice. Instead, they involve active deliberation, the weighing of considerations for and against different possible courses of action. It’s hardly surprising that conscious deliberation has little influence on what we do in an experimental situation in which deliberation has been explicitly excluded. And it’s wrong to extend conclusions derived from these artificial situations to all human action, including cases which do involve active deliberation.

Even if the neural activity Libet identifies (contrary to what he actually shows) invariably preceded a flexing of the wrist, it still wouldn’t follow that the flexing wasn’t the product of free choice. Why should we assume that a choice is not free if it registers in consciousness a few hundred milliseconds after it is made? Think of making a cup of coffee. You don’t explicitly think, “Now I will pick up the kettle; now I will pour hot water through the coffee grounds; now I will put the kettle down; now I will pick up a spoon.” You simply do it. You may, after the fact, bring to consciousness the various steps you just carried out; or you may not. We take the action to be free either way. The notion that a free action essentially involves a series of conscious acts of willing, each followed by a discrete bodily movement, is a straw man, and doesn’t correspond to what common sense (or, for that matter, philosophers like Wittgenstein or Aquinas) have in mind when they talk about free action.

Other arguments against free will are no better. For example, in psychologist Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments, participants were instructed to administer what they falsely supposed were genuine electric shocks to people who gave incorrect answers to questions put to them. Many participants reluctantly obeyed these commands even when they seemed to be causing severe pain. As with the neuroscientific evidence, some have argued that such data casts doubt on free will. But as Mele says, it’s difficult to see “exactly what the argument is supposed to be.” Is the claim that Milgram’s experimental setup made it inevitable that participants would obey? That can’t be it, because not every participant obeyed the commands. Is the idea merely that situations exist in which people find it difficult to disobey authority figures? If so, what defender of free will ever denied it?

Mele’s book shows that, if anyone has been too quick to follow authority, it’s those who swallow dubious philosophical claims merely because they are peddled by scientists.

Originally posted in the City Journal. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Templeton)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • William Davis

    In general I definitely agree with this article and find the subject very interesting (I admit I did come across pretty poorly on that last article).

    At this point, I think the best neurology and cognitive science theories make a strong case for free will, though it's probably a lot less free than many people imagine. Much work in neurology involves trying to find common structures in the brain and their functionality, but this work is made difficult because of the fact that the brain is self organizing. The mind is what the brain does, but the mind directly and almost continually changes the brain. Non-linear causation seems to clearly be at work, thus making perfect external prediction theoretically impossible even if the brain were completely emulated on a computer (the two brains would begin to diverge, over time ending up in unique states). There is also strong evidence that no two brain represent knowledge in the same way, thus every brain is completely unique. This should be clear to anyone who frequents this site, to me it's clear even a unified worldview like Catholicism ends up getting represented in dramatically different ways in different people minds based on their life experiences.
    All this said, I think it is extremely important for people to learn some of cognitive biases that tend to affect the human mind (I can recommend books if anyone is interested). It has been my experience that understanding these makes the will more free, and less subject (though some are not completely avoidable) to the influence of these biases. I also think more meta-cognition and self reflection make the will more free. It's fascinating how people can be manipulated, but if they become aware they are being manipulated, suddenly it won't work anymore; therefore will and decision making can operate on meta levels with the right situational knowledge.

    Last, in spite of the obvious truth of free will, I do think a much superior intelligence could fairly easily predict our decision making, just like we can make great predictions of animal behavior (though still not completely perfect, there is a degree of free will even in animals, though to a lesser extent depending on their intelligence). This is one of the concerns about the possibility of superintelligence (regardless of whether it's biological or artificial). A vastly superior quality of intelligence (raw computation is not enough, it would have to be an increase in quality) could understand humans in such a way that it could manipulate us without us ever being able to detect it, just like we can manipulate a dog that doesn't have the awareness capability to comprehend on a meta level that he's being manipulated (chimps seem to be able to do this better than a dog). With this in mind, I don't think our wills would appear free to an omniscient God, but that has no bearing on humans. To another equally intelligent and knowledgeable being, we will always have free will.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      As Aquinas pointed out, not all acts of a human are freely willed. He cited a scholar absently stroking his beard as an example. The mistake a lot of critics make is to assume it is an all-or-nothing affair. But as we know, there is an autonomic nervous system in addition to the cerebro-spinal system. No one decides to beat their heart.

      Besides, the will is the intellective appetite; that is, a hunger or revulsion for the products of the intellect, for concepts. The emotions are the sensitive appetites, hunger or revulsion for the products of imagination. Whether to flip a wrist or not is an appetite of the senses and while it may be governed by the will, is not itself a product of the will.

      • William Davis

        How much thought is someone going to put into whether to flip a wrist anyway? To me, using this as an argument against free will is beyond a long shot.

  • William Davis

    I think this is a good and short video on the subject by Daniel Dennett. I definitely agree with him over Sam Harris


    Nothing against Sam Harris, but if you look at their education, background and acclaim, I think there is a clear argument that Dennett is much better qualified to make an assessment here, even though that doesn't prove he's right. Argument from authority is very useful.

    Sam Harris only has a degree in philosophy and is into spiritualism and Buddhism (I like Buddhism myself).

    Dennett is not only a philosopher but also and active researcher in the cognitive sciences and is well respected by other scientists in the field. Review their wiki articles for comparison:



    They are both atheists, so that's not an issue. If any Catholic here hasn't read Dennetts books (they are on my reading list), I'd ask if it's simply because he's an atheist. Walter Freeman is also fairly well acclaimed (perhaps not as much as Dennett) and he's a Thomist of sorts. That does not deter me from appreciating his work and I think that Thomists have a valid (albeit primitive) philosophy of mind...subtracting the immateriality of course ;)

    • William Davis

      Here is another article where Patricia Churchland goes after Sam Harris.


      If Feser wants to argue over psychology/neurology, these are the philosophers he needs to take on. Another is Nick Bostrom.



      These are the real modern philosophers that need to be addressed who actually use scientific knowledge to back up their philosophy (obviously Sam Harris is technically a philosopher but I don't think he's in the same league at all as these people).

    • Doug Shaver

      I've read a great deal of Dennett's writing on free will. In that video, he boils his conclusions down very nicely. The arguments by which he reaches those conclusions are, of course, not so easily epitomized.

      • William Davis

        I agree, there is still a lot to learn, but I still prefer to pick sides (though I try to open to switching sides if enough evidence comes to light).

        • Isn't free will a wonderful 'thing'!!!

          • David Nickol

            I have no choice but to agree.

          • You've conquered 'fate' then!!!!

          • William Davis


    • joey_in_NC

      So, according to Dennett's description of free will, any aircraft that has a missile detection and avoidance system has "free will", because it can "anticipate" an incoming missile and can take "corrective measures"?

      Any materialist compatibilist description of free will is inherently problematic and/or incoherent. In most cases I'd regard it as sophistry.

      • William Davis

        Any materialist compatibilist description of free will is inherently problematic and/or incoherent. In most cases I'd regard it as sophistry.

        I'd just say that shows how little you know. If you understand much about the material brain, it constantly reshapes itself. As Thomas Freeman says causality is a property of mind, not matter. The mind is what the brain does, but the brain becomes what the mind does...the feedback mechanisms are utterly fascinating and it clearly one the least deterministic system we are aware of.

        To explain how stimuli cause consciousness, we have to explain causality. We can't trace linear causal chains from receptors after the first cortical synapse, so we use circular causality to explain neural pattern formation by self-organizing dynamics. But an aspect of intentional action is causality, which we extrapolate to material objects in the world. Thus causality is a property of mind, not matter.


        Geena Safire did a great job of summarizing Dennett's position over at EN. She goes into more detail than the interview (it was an oversimplification). Again, it's far from incoherent. How on earth does an immaterial soul help free will anyway? That's incoherent to me (immaterial does NOT mean uncaused, Descartes botched this part pretty badly I think...no one knows anything about the immaterial and can't even begin to say it isn't deterministic too...it's either deterministic or random, think about it.)


        I spent some time debating free will there, definitions sometimes become problematic.

        • joey_in_NC

          The mind is what the brain does, but the brain becomes what the mind does...the feedback mechanisms are utterly fascinating and it clearly one the least deterministic system we are aware of.

          Sure, but how does that counter my thoughts regarding compatibilsm (given materialism)? Compatibilism states that free will and determinism are compatible. If you're suggesting that we have free will because determinism is false, then you are not a compatibilist like Dennett. Maybe you can clarify your position?

          Geena Safire did a great job of summarizing Dennett's position over at EN.

          Unfortunately I can't access that site here at work.

          ...definitions sometimes become problematic.

          Concerning this topic, I definitely agree.

          • William Davis

            I should have explained that most neurologists consider the brain to be matter, and the mind to be the energy (both chemical and electrical). Restrict the brain of energy and oxygen, the mind shuts down (coma), but it is restored if energy and oxygen are restored (assuming it wasn't deprived to the point of causing necrosis...i.e. programmed cell death).

            This may oversimplify it, but I'll try. Determinism is true, but what determines who we are? Our genes, our interactions with our environment, and how we are. Our current mind has the power to determine and alter our core motivational structures (i.e. the material brain itself) even though the mind is just the result of the material brain. I think understanding this feedback is critical. It isn't just our genes and environment that shape our behavior, our mind shapes it too (and primarily compared to the environment, a normal person can completely ignore environmental stimuli if he/she learns to do so).
            One of the primary goals of most ethical systems and religion is encourage a person (mind) to shape itself in acceptable ways. The mind is, of course, free not to accept an ethical system (there is no solid theory of core level causation of motive here), but if he/she does, it is used, over time, to shape itself. I think this is the essence of free will in materialism, and most people have a bankrupt philosophical view of material, in general. The more you learn about matter and energy, the stranger it gets.

          • joey_in_NC

            Our current mind has the power to determine and alter our core motivational structures (i.e. the material brain itself) even though the mind is just the result of the material brain.

            From a strictly physicalist/materialist perspective, how exactly does this work? The mind is "just the result" of the material brain, but the mind can also affect the material brain? Do new physical laws emerge once the mind is formed?

            The mind is, of course, free not to accept an ethical system (there is no solid theory of core level causation of motive here), but if he/she does, it is used, over time, to shape itself.

            You're begging the question here. Whether the mind is actually "free" or not is the entire debate. If the mind is entirely made up of physical stuff that is entirely determined by mindless physical laws, then how can anyone conclude the mind is truly free? (Unless you think new physical laws (mind-ful laws) emerge once the mind is formed, which is what I asked above.)

          • William Davis

            Neurologists/cognitive scientists are presently working on new laws in a sense. I think it helps to understand varying levels of complexity. At the lowest level we have simple linear causation A runs into B which runs into C. At higher biological level, things get much more complex as predator adapts to prey (a good study of evolution helps, this happens with bacteria and parasites too) and prey adapts to predator. Here that is a complex interaction over time that non-linear. Inside the mind, things are even more nonlinear as our subconscious gives rise to our conscious mind but our conscious mind feeds back into our subconscious and alters it, thus affecting our next moment conscious mind.

            It may help to read that paper I linked from Thomas Freeman earlier. He's actually a pragmatic Thomist, and uses Aquinas's philosophy of mind as an overlay. The main thing he removes is the immateriality which never explained anything anyway. Immateriality just means we won't bother to explain it, it's out of our reach...thus it's a non-explanation.

            This work is far from complete (and their are many other valid and related philosophy's of mind that are competing right now, Harris doesn't even seem to have one...linear physical causation is not a philosophy of mind in my opinion), as understanding ourselves is probably one of the most difficult tasks we are attempting to undertake, but it's well worth the effort.

            Materialism does not invalidate Christianity either, there are materialist Christians. They just believe the afterlife will be at a future time as opposed to souls floating away to heaven after death (though it's also possible God could read your soul out of the physical world, but it would be read only)

            Complex material systems with distributed nonlinear feedback, such as brains and their neural and behavioral activities, cannot be explained by linear causality. They can be said to operate by circular causality without agency. The nature of self-control is described by breaking the circle into a forward limb, the intentional self, and a feedback limb, awareness of the self and its actions. The two limbs are realized through hierarchically stratified kinds of neural activity. Actions are governed by the self-organized microscopic neural activity of cortical and subcortical components in the brain. Awareness supervenes as a macroscopic ordering state, that defers action until the self-organizing microscopic process has reached a closure in reflective prediction. Agency, which is removed from the causal hierarchy by the appeal to circularity, re-appears as a metaphor by which events in the world are anthropomorphized, making them subject to human control.

            Same paper I linked before


            He goes into detail about circular causality (far away from linear or even simple physical non-linear). It's worth looking at for sure. There is much more on his website...I prefer to direct Christians to him because of his use of Christian philosophy, specifically Aquinas.

            Here is a paper where he specifically discusses Aquinas and philosophy of mind:


            Other materialist philosophers like John Searles and Dennett are largely on board with this, though they differ in ways.

          • William Davis

            Out of curiosity did you find Freeman's work interesting?

          • William Davis

            Here is Geena's post

            A big problem IMHO is that everybody is using...
            -- different definitions of "free will," including
            -- varying definitions of "free" and
            -- alternative definitions of "will" in addition to
            -- what degree of legal culpability said "free will" ought to be and/or
            -- what level of moral sinfulness or error it might entail.

            What I write (far below) is meant to lay out some of the issues related to this. I'm going to use a lot of words in order to indicate how many degrees of freedom there are for any given opinion.

            1. Every decision is not only that decision but is all of one's mind, state, history, awareness, and ability brought to bear on the entire context of the decision. (See I-IV below)

            2. It should be obvious that, although all of one's whole self -- all the bits and all their associations -- is involved in every decision, it is impossible for all of these to be in one's conscious mind for every decision.

            3. In this context, no decision can ever be seen as completely free. Our conscious mind contributes to the mix, but it doesn't actually do the mixing.

            4. In addition to being responsible for our actions in a specific current situation, society considers that we are also responsible for having developed, in our past, a sufficient moral structure/fiber in order to be able to make a responsible decision now.

            That is, you are responsible for the decision and responsible for the You that makes the decision.

            5. Society, at this point, allows people to have diminished responsibility as a defense only if we do not consider them responsible for their diminished responsibility.

            Severely low IQ -- usually. Severe mental illness -- sometimes.

            But consider Ellie: a physically healthy person with an average IQ who was raised in an emotionally-deprived and food-deprived hovel by criminal relatives in a dangerous neighborhood with frequent racist experiences with police and teachers, failed schools, and severely limited job or career prospects or hope for a middle-class life.

            And consider Abigail, raised in a wealthy, secure, loving, supportive, enriched, privileged, and well-educated childhood, with familial and school contacts for job and career opportunities. (EDIT: Fixed this description.)

            Our society considers Ellie, at 18, to be as able-to-make-"good"-decisions and as responsible-for-her-actions as Abigail. Faced with the same moral dilemma, society says, they both have the same "free will."

            I think what Sam Harris is saying is that this idea is crazy.

            On the other hand...

            Dan Dennett says, in order to maintain a livable society, even Ellie has to, at minimum, strive to know her society's laws and not break them, because -- whether she is able or not to perceive or care about the (potential) societal consequences of her actions -- she should care enough about being deprived of her own liberty by prison to restrain herself from crime. Because we do not want to live in a lawless society, no matter how much mercy we have, we have the right to require a certain level of law-abiding behavior, with adequate consequences.

            That is, removing all responsibility from people for their behavior -- due to much of decision-making is unconscious and hugely complicated and because some individuals are severely disadvantaged in the decision-making department -- is crazy.


            What Contributes to Free Will?

            I. Underlying health and function
            A. Empathy
            B. Executive function
            C. Intelligences -- intellectual, emotional, and social in particular
            D. Empathy
            E. Mental and emotional health
            F. Physical health, general fitness, degree of pain
            G. Brain health -- blood flow, connectivity, tumors, lesions, injury, damage...
            H. Memories

            II. Personal history
            A. Childhood atmosphere: Were sufficient food, shelter, medical care and personal safety reliably available?
            B. Home/Social environment: Did environment have/model sufficient love; attention; belonging; explanations; respect for self; respect for and from family, school, authorities, society?
            C. General education as well as skills preparation to successfully launch one's adult life.
            D. Moral, social and cultural education: 1. role modeling, 2. opportunities to practice discipline, resilience, and optimism, 3. learning both rights and responsibilities, justice and mercy, drive and patience, 4. society's legal system, and 5. age-appropriate experiences in making moral decisions and evaluating the consequences afterward.

            III. Awareness (Depends significantly on I and II)
            A. Insight: Awareness of self, esp. inner self, drives, needs
            B. Awareness of the importance of awareness and reflection
            C. Awareness, in a given situation, that an ethical question is in play
            D. Awareness of one's own and society's ethical/ moral evaluation/decision criteria/system
            E. Awareness of current issue and consequences -- positive and negative -- of possible actions: 1. To self, close others, community, society, environment 2. Short-term and long-term 3. Likelihoods of various consequences and their severities

            IV. Ability
            A. To appropriately weigh each of the factors
            B. To recognize and manage the effect of and relative value of one's current emotions and mental state (e.g., stress, fatigue)
            C. To consider situation from various points of view, including a general objective viewpoint (e.g., deity, history, grandma, Gaia)
            D. To implement the solution one has chosen
            E. To recognize and learn from the consequences


            "I don't know why I did it! I don't know why I'll do it again!" Bart Simpson

            Off-screen voice: "The one in the braces -- he done it!"
            Man in braces: "It's a fair cop, but society's to blame."
            Police officer: "Right; we'll be charging them instead."
            -- Monty Python

  • Doug Shaver

    I agree that Libet's experiments did not falsify the proposition that free will exists. Feser's article, I believe, proves nothing more than that.

  • Michael Murray

    As with the neuroscientific evidence, some have argued that such data casts doubt on free will.

    Surely not ? Who has done this ?

    • What about all that talk about obedience I grew up with as a Catholic? There was for instance: Do as the priest tells you even in confession?.. Follow the 'promptings' of the Holy Spirit? Be obedient to your parents, and superiors? etc. etc. Obedience, poverty, and chastity!!!!

      • Garbanzo Bean

        Obey, do as, follow, be, etc.

        I don't understand how those imperatives are contradictory. FWIW, the imperative voice only makes sense if the person has free will.

        • Hi Garbanzo. Hopefully you will approve, but I read up on a few of your comments, in order to get some idea of 'where you are coming from'. As an example of where "I am coming from" i.e. what I was reading this morning: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1029.htm#article1 I was directed to the New Advent site by Just Thomism. The difficulty historically in defining what a person 'is' may throw some light on the difficulty with defining part of the 'person' i.e. the will. (God, the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost). I'll leave it to you to 'define' these.
          As far as my comment above, please understand that it came out of a reflection on my childhood. As I was born in the early forties, and generally finding myself in a situation, where I was allowed 'little opportunity even to say anything", my conception of 'my will', or 'my desire', could be imagined to be very different from what you grew up with, if indeed I am correct in placing you within a later generation. I remember in my teens, for instance, men segregating themselves from the women during times when they wished to be in discussion. I remember, and was part of, the early mode of feminism, (there have been different varieties!).

          I am also not talking about 'logical contradictions', but paradoxes, and various forms of disagreement between individuals, up to 'nations', etc.
          As far as the will, goes, though, (The father!), may I suggest that this thread, so far, to my knowledge) has not talked about the importance of value, self-esteem. Even Kant placed the category of the will, as belonging to practical judgment, and thus 'either' pragmatic, or self-interested projections, 'and/or' morality, i.e. those acts, decisions, etc. which are directed to the universal/necessary, (within his terminology'.)
          Well, I would certainly, to sum up, be unable to refer to myself as "I am 'that' I am", but as, according to AT, and Boethius, they don't seem to have come to an agreement with respect to how they will define my 'self' - and consequently my 'will', and after reconsidering my childhood once again, perhaps I will dare, to think, at least to myself, that despite my limitations, (prone to sin in your terminology) etc. etc. I shall at least 'dare' to think of 'my-self' as "I am 'who' I am'! The thought at least allows me to have a little humor about the situation. Take care.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Hi Loreen

            We are the "ad imaginem dei", so I would not hesitate to think of myself as "I am who I am", an image of "I AM WHO AM".

            There are differences between "limitations", and "prone to sin", so I am not sure what you mean by "my terminology". To sin is actually contrary to being human, to be limited is inherent in being human.

            I've enjoyed reading your response, but I am not sure I have really understood it. Indeed, we are from different generations, I was born around the time of the Second Vatican Council. I remember the churches being renovated, but not with any fondness. The confusion which has reigned since the Council can I think be better understood through reading Henri de Lubac, a great theologian who suffered much as a Catholic, from the Catholic Church, but who is now revered. His comments and notes written during the Council are telling, and have given me much insight into the state of thought among my prior generation; for example in Sept 1961 he wrote:

            Everything essential, in this Theological Commission, is done by a small group of Roman theologians. Sometimes they argue among themselves, but on the basis of a common mentality, common reflexes. They know their field, but little more. One senses among them a certain indifference toward Scripture, the Fathers, the Eastern Church; a lack of interest and of concern regarding current doctrines and spiritual trends contrary to the Christian faith. They are, it seems, too sure of their superiority; their habit of judging does not encourage them to work. This is the milieu of the Holy Office...
            The result is a small academic system, ultra-intellectualist without any great intellectuality; the Gospel is forced to fit this system, which is the constant a priori. Father Dhani, who plays an important role, seems to want to minimize in every respect the Person of Jesus Christ: the latter is no longer anything more than one of the “legatores divini”; he is designated thus, in anonymous fashion, in the chapter on revelation…. Several times, formulae are put forward that are intended to make equivalent the progress of revelation up to Christ and dogmatic progress within the Christian revelation.
            It is this little system, pushed to the point of madness, that for the past twelve years some have wanted to impose on us as the only orthodox one. Because I will not bow to this, everything I write is distorted. By his personal Votum (wrongly said to be the wish of the Gregorian, despite the protestations of more than one professor), by the composition of several passages of the preconciliar schemas that have been entrusted to him, by his many oral interventions in the commission, F. D. is seeking to make this system prevail and to have those in the Church condemned who resist this in some way….
            Their "dogmatics" itself seems to lose interest in the great central dogmas; it refuses to recognize the Christian Mystery in its profound unity; it is transformed more and more into an ideology of pulverized assertions...

            You can read more at: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=647

          • Thank you so much Garbanzo. I was not expecting a reply let alone such a detailed report of Vatican II. I have copied it to a folder for future reference. I did read the parts on Teilhard de Chardin and 'oh, the other famous cleric', sorry forget. ah. Hans Kuhn, I think.

            Throughout my life I have read philosophy and studied many religions. In about 1966, I read the bible in total, after always wondering what it was all about, as in the forties were learned the CCC and some sayings by Aquinas. It was not all that bad. The Marion devotions were a central part of the 40's, for instance, with lovely hymns, and I still remember the Latin words I learned in Choir. Also remember abusing myself as a way of following Rose de Lima, and when talking to another woman about my age, (a little younger) found that she had done similar thing. I believe I have already stated that what might be considered a certain vulnerability with respect to others, could in part at least, be attributed to the way in which I was raised and expectations placed upon me. But no more complaint. I really have 'transcendended' all of that.

            I have recently made a remark on this site about how I feel that both SN and EN cling to that intellectualism' that you talked about in the paper. I could tell you many stories of my explorations of these dichotomies during the last decade. I have been 'searching for resolution' between all my education in Modern philosophy, plus being married to a Marxism, who not appreciates my dedication to, may we say, contemplative study, as partially explainable with respect to some mental health issues, specifically PTSD. Not to worry.
            I'm presently having 'abundant' problems, still in understanding Aristotle, and am once again ready to throw in the towel. I just can't do it all. I've managed to 'get a sense' of the Church pre-AT, and feel there was a much more contemplative spirit in the writings of the mediaeval church fathers. Is it just me, or is there a possible truth, that after Aquinas, the church 'really' went legalalistic. I am still learning about the 'Church', its doctrine, its position on things like prayer, and meditation in opposition to say Buddhist meditation, and don't always agree with their interpretation. It is true, for instance, that New Age interpretation of Buddhism, places the emphasis on 'self' as the focus of the thought, (whatnot), but within my specific personal frame of reference I have had not problem, (although it took a little effort) to imagine how a representation of the Holy Ghost in a silence which has found 'seeds of karma', or (recognition of 'sin') can for me be made congruent? with the process of repentance, or change. (just my effort at interpretation). I like "Guy Finley's Life of Learning Foundation on the internet in this regard, as a means of getting some good 'pokes'.
            So all is well, Hopefully, my comments are meet the standards at the moment on EN for 'coherence' - :)Don't know where things are going. I doubt that you would accept the Naturalism in Kant's philosophy which I have found to be such a helpful influence on my life for instance. In a way, I guess, I can say, it is only because I left the Church that I have had an opportunity to 'learn' something about it. Trust you will appreciate the irony. Thanks again. Hope we can remain friends. (And I do have your link on file.)

  • GCBill

    I very much enjoyed Mele's previous book, Effective Intentions. His writing style is a bit cumbersome but his arguments are all solid.

    I also think his position is not all that uncommon among neuroscientists, who are mostly sick of Libet-type experiments.

    • Perhaps however, some of the things he talked about in his book :Self-Deception Unmasked are relevant here. Alfred R. Mele. Seems like he has moved from Princeton to Oxford.? Thanks for letting me know I'm wasn't alone in finding him difficult to read.

  • Ged Eduard Narvaez

    "Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts." CCC1734

    • David Nickol

      Would the Catholic Church say that participants in the Stanley Milgram's "obedience to authority" experiments are acting in a way that is fully voluntary? Suppose you have been raised to be highly respectful of authority, and it is deeply ingrained in you to do what you are told. When a person in a position of authority tells you to do something wrong and you comply, are you fully responsible?

      • Jon Fermin

        there is not enough information provided in your example to answer definitively. You'd need to be inside the mind of that person right at the moment the decision was made. was the person feeling psychological coercion or psychological impairment? Did they rationalize the decision and accept it? did they come to their decision out of a degree of ignorance, and if so, to what extent? Did they experience any pangs of conscience, and if so what did they do in response? all of these factors and others could mitigate or reinforce a person's culpability. when the catechism discusses things like intrinsically sinful acts, for simplicity's sake it assumes as a given a rational person of sound mind making a fully realized and willed decision, as full consent of the will is considered part of the definition of what constitutes mortal sin.

  • Phil

    I think Dr. Feser would argue, and I believe he has argued before, that science could not even in principle disprove free will. The physical sciences are in the business of studying physical things (i.e., matter/energy). To scientifically study free will would be to hold that free will to completely reducible to matter/energy.

    But then you run again into the problem of complete skepticism because matter/energy has led you to believe that free will is an illusion and there is no way to show that it is not rational to believe that your belief that free will is an illusion is itself an illusion...

    Materialism, truth, and free will do not play nice together intellectually speaking...

    • William Davis

      Materialism, objective truth, and free will do not play nice together intellectually speaking...

      Personally I think the opposite is the case, but we come from very different worlds. I do think the Christian argument that an evolved brain won't be geared toward truth is fairly accurate (though not completely true perhaps). Look how much trouble we have figuring things out and getting to the root of what's going on. While humans are the pinnacle of intelligence as far as we can tell, there is no indication we are even close to a theoretical limit. One also has to consider the apparent fact that we are the dumbest creatures capable of a technological civilization, and perhaps doing philosophy for us is much like a dog trying to walk on two legs, it's not something we naturally do well. To me, this is the only explanation as to why opinions consistently diverge so greatly...only the use of evidence can get us closer to agreement on what is true.

      • Phil

        I think one is going to have a very hard time showing, at an ontological level, that it even possible to hold those three things together. I have found that people like to focus on the epistemological problem of truth, i.e., "how can we tell if something is true or not". But we first have to answer the ontological question of "is truth even possible". On an ontological level, truth is not possible if one holds that materialism is true.

        To just summarize some of my thoughts in the past, if materialism is true, then it is going to be impossible to show that any belief a person holds is not an illusion. Only when we hold that the intellect (i.e., that which seeks truth) is not purely reducible to a matter/energy can we reasonable hold that something is actually true and that it is not merely an illusion that it is true.

        • William Davis

          In general I think you are right. This is why we work with probabilities. We talk about things being likely to be true until new evidence shows they are not. I think all valid inquiry into truth requires a certain level of error bars (some so small they can be ignored), and I'm sure many views everyone thinks are true now will eventually be revealed to be only partially true or an illusion.

          • Phil

            And I completely agree with you in regards to probabilities and such (the epistemological question), if truth is even possible in the first place (the ontological question).

            But to say that truth is possible is to state that "truth is possible" is actually true and not merely illusory. But materialism forces us to say that truth is not possible (i.e., complete skepticism is true), so therefore we must rationally conclude that materialism is false.

            So materialism can't even rationally hold that something is even 10%, 50%, or 99% true. (I apologize if this is beating a dead horse, but I'm trying to get it to the point where this is as clear and concise as I can make it, not only for those that may read this but also for the future for myself.)

          • William Davis

            I think it's best explained that the brain (or any intelligence) builds models of reality. Obviously the existence of reality can't be proved beyond a show of a doubt (we could be disembodied minds being fooled) but it seems reasonable to ignore that possibility as relatively useless and unlikely. The primary purpose of this model is to make predictions and decisions. Better models make better predictions of what will happen (this is the core of hypothesis testing in science) worse models make poor predictions or no predictions at all (not even wrong). I think many materialists embrace the idea of trying to be "less wrong" as opposed to absolutely right. Progress in science is largely about making more accurate models. Einstein's relativity is an example of a theory creating a more accurate model than Newton's, but dark matter and energy could be (it's uncertain) an indication that even this falls short of reality. It's up to you if you consider Newton to be "wrong", but it's fair to say Einstein is less wrong than Newton.

            In general, the problem with the immaterial is that it's not even wrong. It makes no predictions and doesn't change the way I model reality. The only predictions it makes are about the existence of God, angels, and the afterlife and none of those predictions are testable. Prophecy is an attempt to make testable predictions, but prophecy is often way too vague to be considered a hypothesis (I don't think the prophecies inside the Bible hold up because it's easy to "fulfill" a prophecy inside text). I know you've talked about prophecies for the future before, but they are generally too vague to be useful. The idea that something bad will happen in the future will always be true, just like the sun will always rise tomorrow (until it doesn't, but no one thinks I'm a prophet for predicting it will rise).

          • Phil

            The big issue is that it is possible for the best model (that is, the actually true model) and the exact worst model (the completely false one) to seem equally and rationally true, if materialism is true.

            The question then is, how do you tell which model (I.e., explanation) is actually true and which is a perfect illusion? You need something that transcends the "data" that you are trying to model and explain. If the data you are trying to explain is also part of what is doing the explaining (e.g., trying to explain physical reality and using a completely physical intellect) you are in deep trouble!

            Here is the best a materialist could hope for (which in the end does fail):
            -The intellect is made up of completely physical parts
            -These physical parts have become naturally good at coming to beliefs that help the human animal survive
            -This physical intellect simply forms beliefs, but one could never tell whether a belief is actually true or only a perfect illusion of being true. (Doesn't matter what percentage of beliefs a person holds that are actually true.)
            -Complete skepticism is true
            -If one can show that complete skepticism is an incoherent belief, then one can safely and reasonably discard materialism as being true.

          • William Davis

            The question then is, how do you tell which model (I.e., explanation) is actually true and which is a perfect illusion?

            As I previously explained, evidence and hypothesis testing (testing predictions of the model).

          • Phil

            Yes, and when you are testing these things you are using tests where things can be a perfect illusion of being true. So one would be supporting illusions using illusions, which won't give any basis for truth.

            Again, we are not at the epistemological level of testing certain beliefs. You need to dig deeper to the ontological question of even the possibility of truth. A person could propose all these ways to test the truth value of statements (the epistemological question), but that wouldn't solve the ontological problem of the possibility of truth that materialism has.

            That is the reason we can say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that materialism is false.

          • George

            I take it the immaterial has no such epistemic problem? Can your immaterial mind know immaterial truths, and what does one use to do that?

          • George

            So how does an immaterial intellect know what isn't a perfect illusion?

          • Phil

            Can your immaterial mind know immaterial truths, and what does one use to do that?

            Absolutely, only an immaterial intellect could even in principle know immaterial truths. If one wants to hold that a material brain can somehow know immaterial truths, you are going to run into the same problems of dualism. Dualism and materialism are two metaphysical positions that must be rejected.

            I don't quite understand your second question "what does one use to do that." Obviously, the immaterial intellect is used, which is "grown with" the material body/brain. See Pat Schultz's articles on on the soul and intellect back. You will want to understand the first before going to the second part. (This "hylomorphic" view is not some new-fangled fad of an idea; it has been studied intensly for over 2000 years.)



            So how does an immaterial intellect know what isn't a perfect illusion?

            To fully account for truth we must hold that this immaterial intellect is the type of thing that can tell the difference between what is likely to be illusory and what is actually true (this is what we call using proper reasoning). To be able to do proper reasoning, one has to transcend the thing that it is trying to reason about.

            So this immaterial intellect is not subject to the functioning of matter/energy, which is what causes all the ontological problems with materialism.

          • George

            "reason about material things while using a material thing."

            that is an extremely vague blanket when the person you disagree with might be talking about particular material thing A over here and material thing B over there. how have you justified the existence of some vicious cycle?

      • What about Kant's ideas: freedom, immortality and God (rational 'intuitions') which would correspond to the intuitions of empirical space and time and 'C'O'N'S'C'I'O'U'S?"S'E'L'F'!?. Hegel: Freedom is the 'recognition of necessity'.
        The Buddhist's taught me that I could choose to see the world as contingent or as 'my choice', and thus take responsibility even for my own birth. Something very difficult for children (like me) to do sometimes especially in regard to grievances they might have with a 'parent'????

  • I always liked Hitchens's line about free will. Something along the lines: "Of course we have free will because we have no choice but to have it."

    • I prefer William James: My first act of free will will be to choose that I have free will! (The first is too Spinozian!!!).

    • Actually, must correct because I know how much you like Spinoza! So James didn't exactly 'choose'. I should have said that he said he would believe that he had free will. !! I just assume that he believed he could choose, and therefore chose to believe!!!!

  • David Nickol

    Here's the question that puzzles me. Suppose circumstances give Person A no choice but to make an important decision. Person A chooses X instead of Y. Now, suppose (and this is, of course, a thought experiment, obviously hypothetical) it were the case that in a universe identical to ours, Person A' reached the point of decision. Would free will allow Person A' to choose Y instead of X?

    If our decisions are fully and completely our own, they must spring from the sum total of who and what we are. That being the case, if Person A makes decision X, and Person A' makes decision Y, it seems that there is something arbitrary about one or both the decisions.

    So it seems to me that in a certain sense, a freely made decision is "determined" by who and what the decider is at the moment of the decision. If, in the case of two identical persons in identical situations, one person can decide one way and the other can decide the other way, where does the decision come from?

    • TomD123

      This is an interesting problem, one that you may know, is highly controversial in modern philosophy. The Catholic Church has no official position on the detailed mechanics of free-will, so what you pose here, as far as I can tell, seems to be an open question from a Catholic point of view.

      From my own point of view, I think that some choices may be determined by our character at any given instance. That said, I don't think all choices are, otherwise, our character isn't formed by our decisions, in fact, our character wouldn't even be "up to us." This is known as the consequence argument.

      It seems to me that there is a false dichotomy between a choice being determined and it being influenced in this instance. It is true that in two identical universes, person A and A' may choose differently. (On my view at least). Still, the choices are influenced by our character at any given moment. The reason the choice is specifically your choice is because of the kind of causation involved, namely, agent causation whereby you choose X when you could have chosen Y.

    • William Davis

      In a way, I think that determinism is required for free will. If, in your thought experiment, the exact same person in the exact same situation chose the other item, that would mean the decision was truly random, and how can something be your decision if it's a random one.

      I think this might be what you are getting at, good thought experiment.

      • George

        Maybe the term just needs to change and both sides should use something like "rational will".

    • I think the Free-Will defender would say that the difference between A and A' is an additional and unknown element of the self, likely an immaterial one (though this would not be necessary). Perhaps they might say that this other element ultimately chooses between the options based on something like alignment, character, or spin ( ? who knows). But that this element is not arbitrary.

      So, I suppose they are arguing for some element that is not arbitrary or determinative. I think this falls down, because, even in trying to defend their position, I think my examples are more or less determinative.

      I reach the familiar conclusion that their position is something along the lines of, "I have an overwhelmingly strong intuition that Free Will exists and ultimately is responsible for my decisions. I do not know what Free Will, a consciousness, as soul actually, much less how they ultimately account for my actions, but it must be the case or my existence is reducible to elements that make me uncomfortable and are incompatible with my religious beliefs."

  • David Nickol

    Here's something interesting from the Catechism's pronouncements on masturbation:

    2352 . . . . "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in
    the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." . . . "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." . . .

    To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. [Emphasis added]

    So masturbation is "intrinsically and gravely disordered" but various factors may "lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability." Of course, taking into account any action, there are factors (such as having a knife to your throat) that may reduce moral responsibility to a minimum, but I think the fact that this statement is made regarding masturbation and not every "immoral" action mentioned in the Catechism must indicate that it is a matter in which the objective wrong and the subjective guilt are frequently incommensurate. But may this not be the case with any number of actions—perhaps most actions.

  • neil_ogi

    free will is not a function of the material brain. it originates from seperate realm ('soul'), as evidenced by the works of john eccles


  • bdlaacmm

    Even if Libet's studies were 100% sound, they wold go nowhere toward discrediting the existence of Free Will. Who says Free Will has to originate in the brain? The human being is a composite being: body and soul. And (extremely important) neither "half body and half soul" nor "material body governed by a immaterial soul", but fused body and soul - indivisible, joined at every point - no less in the extremities than in the brain.

    If our human nature is so constructed that the first evidence of a willed action shows up in the motor cortex, then so be it. It's all ONE!

    • David Nickol

      If our human nature is so constructed that the first evidence of a
      willed action shows up in the motor cortex, then so be it. It's all ONE!

      I have a book which I have not read titled The Illusion of Conscious Will. It seems to me the word conscious here is of great importance. If that faculty which we call the will is not conscious, then we do not have free will in the sense of being able to make conscious moral decisions.

      Suppose you find yourself pointing a gun at your worst enemy, who himself is unarmed. If you kill him, it will be murder. You are mulling over the pros and cons of pulling the trigger, but a fraction of a second before you make your decision (which is to pull the trigger and commit murder), a brain scan shows your brain has initiated the sequence which will result in your finger pulling the trigger. It would seem clear in this scenario that the final decision has been made unconsciously. The Catholic standard for mortal sin is to commit an action that is seriously wrong, to know it is seriously wrong, and to give full consent. I don't think full consent can be given unconsciously.

      If we do not have conscious free will—that is, if we do not choose our actions by consciously weighing the pros and cons and make decisions based on those consciously evaluated pros and cons, then it seems to me we don't have free will in the sense the Catholic Church claims we do. I am not sure it would even be free will.

      • neil_ogi

        free will is seperate from morality. how many times i see beggars on the street, and begging some money or goods from me, and my mind will dictate me, 'give at least one peso to him'.. but my mind is divided whether i give or not. you have the free will to give and free will not to give.

        • David Nickol

          I would not say that, if we have free will, moral decisions are the only decisions that are freely made. But if we do not have free will, the concept of a moral or immoral decision (in the sense the Catholic Church understands morality) is basically meaningless.

          I would say that the choice whether or not to give money to beggars is for the most part a moral decision, so I don't think it is a good example to make your point with. The choice of whether to go to the local Italian restaurant or the local French restaurant for dinner tonight would more likely be a freely made decision that is not a moral decision.

          • neil_ogi

            in the story of adam and eve, eve was tempted by a devil (snake) to eat the forbidden fruit. she will decide for herself (not to listen to the dictate of the Creator, not to eat the forbidden fruit) what to do. she has 2 choices then. and because,since eve was endowed with the gift of free will, she followed her own choice to eat the said fruit. i think if we don't have free will, we are just like a computer who always follow the command of the end-user.

            just like in medieval times when the catholic church only wants the people to follow only the established church, and prohibit people from organising their own church..

    • Kraker Jak

      Who says Free Will has to originate in the brain

      Realistically speakiing....where the hell else would it originate?...Perhaps pulled from one's arse?

      • William Davis

        At least Descartes thought it was the pineal gland. Perhaps someone somewhere has an arse theory of consciousness.

        • Michael Murray

          Ah perhaps we've got to the bottom of the mystery.

      • neil_ogi

        then what would you think free will originate?

      • Michael Murray


        Hallelujah! Someone knows how to spell it ! So many people seem to get it confused with a donkey.

    • Clover and Boxer

      "The human being is a composite being: body and soul." Can you verify that claim?

      • neil_ogi

        if human being is composed of mere chemical compositions, then why it is conscious? chemicals just react and nothing more. scientists could not create a conscious life thru lab because it lacks the 'animating force' (some say a 'soul'). we have the same DNA compositions and yet why humans have different kinds of intelligence (e.g. some are very genius and some are not)? humans have different tolerable levels for pain experiences? humans have different love experiences?

        • Clover and Boxer

          I think at least in part you're trying to shift the burden of proof and you're dangling a red herring of the topic of consciousness. If you think humans have a soul, prove it. And please, no arguments from ignorance.

          Perhaps your veiled claim is "Biochemical processes can't account for the entire human experience, which necessitates a soul." Again, prove it and be clear with what you mean by "soul". I personally think it's quite possible that the human experience comes completely from biochemical processes in our brains and bodies, but I'm not saying I'm absolutely certain yet. If you want to claim it's impossible that our entire human experience can't come from our bodies biochemical processes, prove that it can't be the case.

          • neil_ogi

            why reacted so violently?

            let's first discuss what happens to a single cell which has no 'brain' yet, and according to evolutionists, its started to evolve blindlessly and unguided? what triggers it to evolve when the fact that a single cell organism has no brain yet?

            you have the same DNA and chemical compositions as mine. if materialism is true, will you prove to me if a consciousness originate from the rock, a lifeless matter?

          • Michael Murray

            let's first discuss what happens to a single cell which has no 'brain' yet, and according to evolutionists, its started to evolve blindlessly and unguided? what triggers it to evolve when the fact that a single cell organism has no brain yet?

            What makes you think that evolution has anything to do with having a brain ? Plant's evolve and they don't have brains.

            you have the same DNA and chemical compositions as mine.

            Not true.

          • neil_ogi

            of course, we have to know how the first LUCA evolve, and why..? because according to evolutionists, the brain functions as the organism's 'thinking' process..

            cancer cells evolve endlessly and never produce a viable organism. this is randomness, without achieving some goals

            quote: 'you have the same DNA and chemical compositions as mine.

            Not true.' - then support your answer!

          • Michael Murray

            Not true.' - then support your answer!

            If everybody has the same DNA why do the police use it to identify criminals from DNA left at crime scenes ?

          • neil_ogi

            the difference then, is that all human's DNAs have different locations.

            animal DNAs contain the same chemical substances: a, c,g,t..

          • Michael Murray

            So when you say "you have the same DNA" you mean that the DNA is made of the same chemicals. If you said that two people had the same computer would you mean they had identical computers or that they both had computers made of the same chemical elements ?

          • neil_ogi

            one computer might be slow because it's information is lacking, or the memory is not enough. while the other one has more information stored in its memory, that's why it is faster than the other one

          • Michael Murray

            Sure. The same could be true of different human brains or a different animal brain.

          • neil_ogi

            that's why i am questioning, why all humans have different knowledge skills and abilities, why einstein is far more intelligent than the average person. is there something absent in every person's brain?

          • Clover and Boxer

            Oh, neil. There was nothing violent about my response although I do prefer to write in a direct manner; it really helps to make things clearer than if I hedge for the sake of niceties. I assure you not all of us internet atheists are raging lunatics foaming at the mouth, and you don't need to imply that I am (wink).

            First of all, neil, I think your understanding of abiogenesis, evolution, and other things science-related could be greatly improved. I highly recommend going to . I have learned some good things there although I admit I would really benefit from knowing more.

            Second of all, I will repeat that you are simply trying to shift the burden of proof onto me when you clearly have the burden of proof. You are claiming that a soul exists, and you must demonstrate it. If you are claiming it's impossible for the human experience to come from the biochemical processes in humans, you must also demonstrate that.

            Just for fun, however, I will answer your questions and defend my claim that it is possible the human experience comes from biochemical processes (or reactions between neurons in the human brain). First, brains do not guide evolution. Evolution does not occur consciously. Read up about evolution on Talk Origins. Second, we do not have the same DNA--we have different genetic compositions. If we had the same DNA we would be identical twins. Even if we were identical twins we would have different experiences and different nurture simply by being two physically different entities. People have different genes and different amounts of nurture which contribute to differences in humans.

            "if materialism is true, will you prove to me if a consciousness originate from the rock, a lifeless matter?" Why on earth would I need to prove that consciousness originates from a rock? My claim "it is possible the human experience comes from biochemical processes come from the brain and body" is nothing like that. You're trying to make me argue for your strawman.

            "are these biochemical processes present in the 'simple' organism (LUCA) last universal common ancestor)?" Perhaps I should modify my claim to make it clearer: It is quite possible the biochemical reactions and processes between neurons/groups of neurons in the human brain account for the human experience. The neurons in the human brain are much, much more numerous than other organisms (many trillions compared to billions). The design of our brains is also significantly different from other organisms. Our frontal cortex is much, much more developed than other organisms. The human brain and the relationships between the neurons is much more advanced than other organisms giving us higher intelligence. Clearly the reactions and processes that occur in the human brain do not happen in other organisms or rocks because they do not have human brains. The human brain could account for everything in the human experience, but we will have to wait and see to know definitively.

            As an analogy, I think the cat's brain accounts for everything in the cat's experience. The bird's brain accounts for everything in the bird's experience. I also think the human brain probably accounts for everything in the human experience.

            Now, if you claim a soul exists, prove it. The burden of proof is on the one who makes the claim. Just as a precluder, an argument from ignorance is a logical fallacy.

          • neil_ogi

            evolutionists started from ladder 2 (i mean they study life that was already present), they didn't start from the origins (ladder 1) (LUCA thing is obviously just an opinion of evolutionists, they didn't explain its origins, as r. dawkins stated: ' ...there was a 'self-replicating' molecules.. and so on').like the universe, this 'self-replicating molecule just 'pop'). most scientists unarguably defend evolution as fact, and yet why it is not elevate its status to 'laws of evolution', what's wrong? they control and censored sciences!

            how many decades of experiments they failed to produce life from non-living matter? the only dogma they rely on is from wiki articles, and other so-called science journals and papers, that the origin of life has been discovered.. but where? again, i don't like to use again this most-valued phrase of atheism: 'just-so' stories. now how can i believe in your self-styled masquerade as science stories if they are not subject to tests, experimentation and observations?

            just like a two-storey house, evolutionists have 'explained' away evolution, (2nd storey) as if all their claims are scientific (all fall under 'just-so' stories), and never explained the firsty storey, origins issues. how can a house be built if it has no one-storey?

          • Clover and Boxer

            You are conflating three different things: the origin of the universe, abiogenesis, and evolution. You are misinformed about all of them. Go to to learn about them.

          • neil_ogi

            again, you are referring me to your 2nd fairy tales book for me to read?? anybody can invent stories that look like 'sciences' but their stories are never been proven to be scietifically true.

            prove first that the universe just 'pop' and i will be baptized to atheism belief system.

            prove first that abiogenesis is true. why not perform experiment for your yourself?

            prove that a 'spider' evolve into spiderman'

          • Clover and Boxer

            Sorry, neil. I think you're trolling. If that's the case, trolls are pathetic. If that's not the case, there's still no point talking to you.

          • neil_ogi

            trolls or not, you just ignore to rebut my claims

            these beliefs of atheism replaced mainstream sciences, and even contradicted itself from each other.

            they say that:

            1. the universe's origin was just 'pop' out of nothing,, therefore evolution would be false, because ALL things in the universe, including those on earth, just 'pop'..

            2. the universe's origin was just 'pop' out of nothing,, therefore evolution would be false, therefore i advise all scientists not to continue science studies because everything just 'pop'

            advise to diehard atheist fanatics: don't consider yourselves 'brights' because you just 'pop'....

        • Michael Murray

          we have the same DNA compositions and yet why humans have different kinds of intelligence

          (a) it is not true that everybody has the same DNA and (b) intelligence is not just a result of DNA but of the interaction between DNA and environment.

          • neil_ogi

            DNA contains 4 chemical substances, A,C,G,T. they are all present in humans and animals.

            quote: ' intelligence is not just a result of DNA but of the interaction between DNA and environment.' - then you would probably think that animal DNAs don't interact with their environment?

          • Michael Murray

            then you would probably think that animal DNAs don't interact with their environment?

            What makes you think that ? Animals have intelligence. Not the kind of abstract intelligence human but still intelligence.

          • neil_ogi

            then what is lacking in animals that their intelligence is not that of humans? they have the same chemicals running in their blood?

          • Michael Murray

            Why is my Yaris not as fast as a Ferrari ? They have the same chemicals running in their engines.

          • neil_ogi

            don't compare non-living things from living things.

            maybe Yaris' workmanship is not fair very well as the ferrari.

          • Michael Murray

            maybe Yaris' workmanship is not fair very well as the ferrari.

            Exactly. The engine in the Ferrari is a different construction and works better. Just like the brain in the human is different to the brain in the animal even though it is made of the same chemicals.

          • neil_ogi

            since animal's DNAs have the same substance like those of human DNAs, then why, let's say, the DNA of a dog won't go better if it will pair with human's DNA?

          • Michael Murray

            Why can some animals jump higher than humans ? Do humans lack some special "jump substance" or are human legs and muscles just constructed differently ? Just like human and animal brains are constructed differently, just like some computers are constructed differently and some cars are constructed differently.

          • neil_ogi

            why humans, in the first place, have to jump? their lower extremities are not designed for 'jump'? they are to walk upright! that's why they are created bipedals. we are discussing about DNA here and not anatomy and physiology

          • Michael Murray

            we are discussing about DNA here and not anatomy and physiology

            Anatomy and physiology depend on DNA. We are talking about the physical structure of parts of animal bodies which results from their DNA. The physical structure of brains is different in different animals. Hence they have different types and degrees of intelligence amongst different kinds of animals.

          • neil_ogi

            then the creation of DNA's function is to design the organism's body function, organs and systems. DNA don't depend on unguided and blind processes! you are helping me to debunk atheists' claim that all things are the results of chance and unguided processes!

          • Clover and Boxer

            "since the brains of animals and humans contain exactly the same chemicals, then why humans are far more intelligent... than animals?"

            Human and animal brains are made of the same chemicals, but they are vastly different.The human brain has about 86 billion neurons on average. A cat's brain has about 760 million. A fruit fly's has about 100,000. A human brain is not the same as the brain of a cat or a fruit fly. A cat's brain is not the same as that of a fruit fly's.

            Again, if you think humans have a soul, then prove it.

          • neil_ogi

            before i answer your question;'Again, if you think humans have a soul, then prove it.' , we should first discuss the origins issue, atheists claimed that the universe just 'pop' out of nothing (krauss et al), now, i would like to ask you if this 'nothing' has properties. if this 'nothing' has a 'creative power' to create a universe, (even multiverse) which is very huge and vast. just answer a 'yes' or 'no'if you believe this mythical creation story of atheism.

            the claim that every human and animal life forms do contain a 'substantive substance' which we call ' 'soul' is a 'something' that is immaterial, like God. atheists claim that God-thing is not verifiable thru science (although some atheist apologists undeniably believe that there is an 'alien' evidence that life is 'intelligently' created). the evidence for the existence of God (God of the Bible) is overwhelming, i can detect His creation (life itself, the universe, the design of the cosmos, etc); there's the witnesses who wrote the Bible (i wondered why atheists didn't believe the Bible's writers when the fact that it was written only 2,000 years ago and yet believe there existed the LUCA 'billions' years ago!)

            i ask you, how many nerve cells did your LUCA had? and why it had to evolve?

          • Clover and Boxer

            You are attacking a straw man with relation to the origin of the universe. Go to or actually listen to Lawrence Krauss on the subject. Atheists do not claim the universe "popped out of nothing." You are attacking a strawman which you have heard form Christian fundamentalists.

            Yes, the universe exists. That does not prove that a deity exists or that a soul exists; it's a non sequitur. Why should we believe the Bible? The Book of Mormon, the Quran, and many other religious books recording supernatural events are equally lacking in reliability. The Bible reads perfectly as the product of humans, just like any other supposedly holy book.

            Again, read about abiogenesis and evolution on .

          • neil_ogi

            quote: 'Go to or actually listen to Lawrence Krauss on the subject. Atheists do not claim the universe "popped out of nothing.' - why should i listen to krauss fairy tales stories? did he know for sure that the universe just 'pop' out of nothing? again, atheists like you denied that claim.

            why not tell your talkorigins and krauss experimental proof that the universe just 'pop'? again, krauss even published his book, 'the universe from nothing'

            so what happen now to the first and second and third laws of thermodynamics? atheists replaced these scientifical proven laws in order to fit their opinions and ideas.

            so in addition to wikipedia, atheists have second fairy tale book, talkorigins.

        • Michael Murray

          if human being is composed of mere chemical compositions, then why it is conscious?

          why not ?

          scientists could not create a conscious life thru lab because it lacks the 'animating force' (some say a 'soul').

          What is this animating force you speak of ? Are you talking about "life" or "consciousness". Animals don't have human consciousness but they are certainly animated.

          • neil_ogi

            the animating force would be the 'life'. consciousness is seperate from life. plants have life but no consciousness.

            that's why scientists can't produce artificial life in the lab because of one thing that is absent. the animating force, the life.

            it's interesting to know that animals and humans have also identical DNAs, chemical compositions, etc. but the difference is, humans can reason, can invent things (e.g. machines) but animals don't. what would be lacking in animals?

          • Michael Murray

            So you think "life" is a substance that living things have ? Do you have any reason for believing that ? Do you think "green" is a substance green things have ?

            it's interesting to know that animals and humans have also identical DNAs, chemical compositions, etc.

            If it was true it would be interesting. But if it was true we would all be identical twins. But my cat has a tail and I don't so I guess it must be false.

  • Kraker Jak

    Sam Harris: "Free Will and “Free Will”
    "How my view differs from Daniel Dennett's Dan and I agree on several fundamental points: The conventional (libertarian) idea of free will makes no sense and cannot be brought into register with our scientific picture of the world. We also agree that determinism need not imply fatalism and that indeterminism would give us no more freedom than we would have in a deterministic universe."

    • joey_in_NC

      We also agree that determinism need not imply fatalism...

      True, but determinism implies that fatalistic thoughts, if they occur, are determined. Same goes with any other thought or philosophy, regardless of whether it is true or not, or rational or not.

      • Determinism assumes that there are laws which guarantee or at least imply a probability if not a predictability. With fatalism, there is rather a kind of chaos, as there is no law which gives order to what happens to you in life. It is 'just' fate!!!! It just 'happens'!!! (Usually 'because you 'deserve' it'!!!!)

  • George

    I'd be interested if you said "Science has found evidence of free will". That's because there is no limit to the things science can't disprove, thanks to the human imagination and ability to define things into unfalsifiability.

    • neil_ogi

      free will is a non-material entity, it is a thought, a mind..

      • George

        How do you know any of that?

        • neil_ogi

          can you perform a task without thinking? (love, volition, will, etc)

          i may request you to perform this task: grasp a pencil in your hand, and with eyes closed, think something, anything your mind can do with your pencil drawn on a sheet of clean paper. if you think that you are drawing a circle, your hand will draw this.. if you're thinking that you just want to draw a star, your hand will draw this.

          just like atheists claim that 'unguided, mindless, blind process' did all the events, all the evolution, is really untrue. you can not make task without involving your mind

  • Kraker Jak

    Even though free will may indeed be an illusion, the fate and future of humanity and our sense of morality and justice within society and civilization may actually depend upon people believing in that illusion, according to the following video.

    To take this one step further.Admitting that belief in at least the illusion of free will is crucial to
    the future of humanity? Is it also possible that the belief in at least
    the illusion of an intelligence behind the creation and evolution of the
    universe may also be of equal importance, for the survival of the race. Just thinking out loud.

  • Is the "review" teasing us by leaving out the most important part of the argument? *Which* theory of free will is being defended by the book against the encroachment of science?

    Actually, let's skip over that and move on to the meat. Which of the theories of free will do Catholics defend? Are there claims about human freedom which Catholics anathematize or dogmatize? If so, are any of the claims precise enough that they could be scientifically testable? If they lack that precision, then how is that different from the claims having zero real-world implications?

  • It's not that science had disproven "free will", it's that it has failed to find evidence of it. Just as Feser says many, if not most of our choices seem to be the product of non-conscious intention. Indeed as Libet showed when we are able to isolate an arbitrary task, such as flexion of the wrist based on conscious will alone, we find distinct unconscious activity invariably precedes it.

    I find the concept of "free will"to be ill-defined and, although intuitive, contrary to how human minds seem to operate.

    It is up to theists to present a coherent concept of free will and point to the evidence of it.

  • Nanchoz

    if materialism is true. and free will is just an illusion. then why bother engaging in a discussion defending the absence of free will?
    discussion on a certain topic implies our choosing determinate arguments in favor of other ones to prove something we understand is true.
    if there is no conscious self who is freely choosing the arguments and those arguments are no more than products of complex chemical processes occurring inside our brains, then why would we assume that one of those set of arguments would be better than others that express de contrary?
    if there is no free will the quest for truth would be pointless for we could never be confident that our brain is wired in the exact possible way to allow us to know the truth without the intervention of an un-existing ability of waging and choosing between more sound and less sound arguments.
    if free will is actually an illusion then the best argument for defending it should be avoiding argumentation.

    • Nanchoz

      but even further, given the fact that someone could insist that he knows for sure that free-will is false, then he must be certain that his brain has the exact balance of chemical processes that directed him inexorably to that truth, in that case he wouldn't have to choose an argument over another (because he couldn't), it would be more as if the arguments just have chosen him or that his brain was specially prepared to acquire the truth (any resemblance with some kind of religious mysticism is just pure coincidence ). anyway, everyone else who think differently should be lacking some amount of chemicals and would be pointless to try to convince them unless he could help them before hand with the appropriate amount of brain truth-adjusting drugs.

    • William Davis

      Regardless of whether materialism is true or not, the idea that minds and consciousness don't exist is nothing but nonsense. It's like saying cars don't exist. While Descartes botched many things, he got Cogito ergo sum right, even though his argument is perhaps circular. The one and only thing I know with 100% certainty is that my mind exists and all philosopher stems from thinking and minds.
      I don't know about you, but I'm completely able to manipulate and alter my desires and values. It isn't easy sometimes, but I've done it repeatedly over the course of my life. It's entirely possible that some people do not have this level or self control either for biological (brain damage, deformity, or lack of intelligence) or environmental (no training or belief that it's even a possibility), but just because some people can do it, doesn't mean it's impossible. I know from experience it's possible, and there is no argument one can mount that can override experiential evidence. This is why rational arguments will rarely cause conversion to or from a world view...there are intuitive elements not accessible by pure rationality unless the person devotes the core of their being to rationality (which is probably impossible to do completely).
      This article is pretty good, and background philosophy has little to do with free will. Plenty of Christians didn't believe in it, like Martin Luther and John Calvin.


  • Kraker Jak

    My aim was to express admiration for the prodigious achievements that Catholicism and the Catholic Church deserve credit for—credit that is not often given to it due to deep-seated bias and firmly established myths.

    That statement I can agree with. However...the words "secular" and "muslim" to me are oxymorons. ( two words put next to each other with opposite meanings, eg: deafening silence. Are you identifying yourself as Muslim as only cultural?, similar to Richard Dawkins admitting to saying that although he does not believe in the supernatural elements of the Christian church, he still values the ceremonial side of religion.But I don't think that his nostagia would allow him to call himself a secular Christian per se.

    You have given birth to an overly verbose opinion piece stating many if not most of the defences that Cathlolic apologists on here and elsewhere give as rationalizations for the importance, triumphalism and supreme superiority of the Catholic Church above all other cultures and religions. I do have one question that I would like an honest answer to. Since you are so enamoured of the the Catholic religion, are you taking the appropriate steps to join the church such as the RCIA course.

    This could not have been more impressive as a PR Ad for the Catholic Church even if it had been created by Dan Draper and Co.

    • I took particular notice placed on an emphasis of Islamic contributions to the tradition. I'm most pleased that this truth is being put forward here, especially as I am familiar with many Christian sites which are purposely eliminating mention of any kind of Golden Age of Islam. Yet, I somehow don't expect a decree of 'excommunication' (forget name given to Islam apostasy) to be an outcome of this article. I also don't expect a conversion to Catholicism. Thankfully, some acceptance of a doubting nature was given in the article, and so I do not hesitate to post this comment, and, in any case, I truly benefited from being given some information that is quite new to my 'uneducated mind'.

  • William Davis

    I'm pretty confident self manipulation is easier than others, but some habbits made not be worth changing, depending on the consequences. If you drink a few beers sometimes and consume the occasional cigar...who cares. I deeper habit that is affecting your health is different, of course. My trick was to learn a ton about both my mind and body, so when I did something bad for my health, I literally imagined what it was doing to me. I also made a point to intentionally observe the after negative affects of a bad habit, and then compare it to the pleasure of indulging the habit. I found that the net effect of bad habits was clearly negative on the whole, which created some serious motivation to learn over the bad habit (this happens over time not in a day or even a week). Good habits are as easy to maintain as bad habits, it's changing the habit that hard :)

    • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

      Hmmmmm, I've never tried your technique......sounds interesting. From my understanding, it takes the human body, especially the taste buds, about 21-28 days to form new habits and about 90 days for them to begin engraining themselves in your psyche.

      It took me about 30 days to get completely off wheat and the same to get of simple sugars. Why I switched to sorghum and wheat free (not 'gluten removed' by process) beers.....and I still enjoy my golf cigars. Don't do drugs or drink to excess, so I'm ok with my 2 vices. LOL

      But I've never tried the visualization route.

  • IdPnSD

    “Given his experimental setup, only cases where the neural activity was actually followed by flexing were detected.” – I did not read the book, but I think he is talking about the second signal and the action. But it is the first signal that came 500 millisecond before the action is the core idea of the Libet’s experiment. A command came before we even come to know (200 milliseconds) that we have to act.