Freaked out!. (neuroscience is beginning to debunk free wil?!?!)

So I came across some articles about scientists claiming/proving that humans don’t have free will and free will is just an illusion.

Are these claims held by the majority of scientists or just a few odd people?

Even if it was proven that our mind doesnt use free will does that mean we don’t have free will? like our soul has the free will?

I’m really freaked out by this and the only thing keeping me from going nuts with this is my faith and trust in the church’s teaching on man having free will! I’m trying to take the word of Jesus and his church over the word of fallible scientists

Any comments for this? Am I overreacting?

Yes, I think you are over reacting.

They might be trying to say that all our actions are based on influences and past experience. And while it is true that past experiences and influences do have an impact on our decisions, the decisions are still ours in the end. There are certain actions a person can do that do not have to be based on influences. For instance, if someone asked you to think of a random number. The thoughts that can go on in your head can be measured, but to the reason you picked numbers that you did, especially if you spout numbers off quickly giving yourself little time to think, scientists would be hard pressed to prove that those were based on influences.

I would say it is just a claim. If it were proven, don’t you think every media outlet would be showing the story? Don’t you think the world would be abuzz?

If humans didn’t have free will then we would all be Catholics. I think you are overreacting just a little bit, but I honestly think that those scientists are just trying to make another excuse that God isn’t real. Those few odd people are the scientists. Always take the word of Jesus and His church over the word of fallible scientists. I hope this helps. :slight_smile:

If humans didn’t have free will, we’d all be in the Garden of Eden chillin’ with God

Modern science (Materialism) was designed to exclude the Designer. These materialists limit knowledge and truth and reality to that which can be measured by the scientific method. God cannot be directly measured so they conclude that he does not exist. What a mistake. The decision to narrow the bounds of reality, knowledge, and truth to the bounds of the scientific method is a decision of the Will not the Intellect. Add to that the fact that modern science has become extremely politicized to the extent that some scientists actually believe the fairy tale that says that Darwinian (random) evolution can explain complex, molecular machinery and the emergence of human intelligence, or the fairy tale that man is currently causing the unprecedented climate change seen around the world. LOL!

Now, as to your notion of scientists claiming to prove that we don’t have a free will. That is impossible and such claims are philosophic not scientific, especially given that these same kinds of scientists do not believe in God in the first place for the reason that they cannot measure Him. They can’t have it both ways: they can’t say that God does not exist because they can’t “test” him while at the same time assert that they have devised a way to test for Free Will.

Benjamin Wiker writes on this topic, saying:

For Chesterton, materialism ruins morality in two ways. By declaring that human beings are merely physical objects, it simultaneously denies that we have free will and sets us free from moral limits to pursure all physical pleasures. The materialist intelligentsia therefore declares that since our actions are determined by the iron-clad laws of nature, we can’t help the way we act, and since we can’t help what we do, we might as well do anything. Determinism and libertinism go hand in hand.

The heart of morality is that we have the free will to do something or* not *do it - that is the mysterious truth upon which all morality is based; and that is what makes the materialists so dangerous. Their mindset denies free will and says that we are objects governed by blind mechanical laws. That makes life no gift at all, neither gratitude nor morality are possible, and it leads inevitably to nihilism and despair.

The happy, buit-in regularity of nature is not some kind of prison, but what allows for all the blessed irregularity of human affairs. It accounts exactly for why history does not unfold like clockwork, as the historical materialists would have it, but instead is the unpredictable unfolding of a moral tale that depends, in every moment, on what people choose to do or not to do. That is why fairy stories that assume the reality of free action are more real and moral than the fantasies of the “cosmic prison” sketched by the materialists in which we are “either unable to do things or we were destined to do them.” In such a prison, morality is not possible; “one can neither have the firmness of keeping laws nor the fun of breaking them.”

Human life, as Chesterton sees it, is an adventure, a great unfolding drama full of romance, danger, heroism, cowardice, victory, defeat, benevolence, malice, comedy, and tragedy. It is a magnificent story largely determined, for better or worse, by our free actions, a drama that takes place within the wider, deeper, unfolding story of creation. And “if there is a story” on the cosmic level, Chesterton realized, “there is a story-teller.”

I guess apparently some of these scientists did expeirments with people and calculated that their thoughts and actions were formed in their subconcious and then their concious acted on it…so techinically they subconciously did the act and not conciously…so no free will

Either way it’s very confusing and if I would have seen this type of information before my conversion to catholicism and it’s infallability…I would have been in bad shape.

This just motivates me even more not to be an atheist because if this theory were true:

  • no free will
  • no afterlife
  • no moral certainties
  • no God
  • no point in life

just seems like a very bleak existence and I don’t want to live like that. I honestly don’t see how atheists can be happy

Take a deep breath :wink:

I have spent some time considering this issue. Sure, it may be possible, even likely, that our free will does not start in the brain. After all the brain is just a piece of matter , involving electrical impulses and chemical reactions.

Does this means we do not have free will? If you say we don’t you are saying our lives are simply just our brain’s series of reactions, and we are just along for the ride, making us no different than a really complex plant. But if we do have free will, then there is a need to explain the first step in the decision making process or the “uncaused cause” with in us so to speak. This is the concept of our soul.

So even if someone could prove our brains are not capable of free will, it does not prove there is no such thing as human free will, unless they can somehow disprove the existence of a soul. They cannot. To me it would be PROOF that we do indeed have a SOUL.

But this is just me speaking, maybe someone else can provide better insight to the Catholic teaching regarding the issue.

God bless!

If humans didn’t have free will, God would have a plan for each of us, and he would know the beginning, the end and everything in between before he created us.

Oh wait… but…he does have a plan! :confused: And he did know the end! :eek:


Neuroscience has nothing to do with religion.

Read this article by Dr. Edward Feser. He’s a Catholic philosopher. No, really, read it. It’s very easy to understand, and it will explain a LOT (and make you feel a lot better).

A snippet:

To borrow an example from psychologist Jerome Kagan, “as a viewer slowly approaches Claude Monet’s painting of the Seine at dawn there comes a moment when the scene dissolves into tiny patches of color.” But it doesn’t follow that its status and qualities as a painting reduce to, supervene upon, or can be explained entirely in terms of the material properties of the color patches. Everyone who considers the matter knows this too.

Somehow, though, when neuroscientists discover some neural correlate of this or that mental event or process, a certain kind of materialist concludes that the mind’s identity with, or supervenience upon, or reducibility to, or complete explanation in terms of neural processes is all but a done deal, and that the reservations of non-materialists are just so much intellectually dishonest bad faith. In a recent online op-ed piece for The New York Times, and in an apt phrase, philosopher of mind Tyler Burge criticizes this tendency as “neurobabble,” which produces only “the illusion of understanding.” For it is as fallacious as any parallel argument about words or paintings would be.

Great stuff. Please go read it.

There are many different research methods and a variety of materials used to explore the physical brain and volition.

What were the methods and materials used in these claims? How did the methods imitate free will? Were the materials external to the anatomy such as the use of electrodes? What was the definition of free will which was being used such as Cartesian dualism? How many subjects were studied? How did the methods eliminate free will? What were the tasks given to the subjects? Were the tasks similar to real life choices? What was the stimulus?

Those are just a few of the obvious factors to be checked to determine if the evidence in the claim (citation needed) warrants the interpretation. Note: one needs to first examine the actual conclusion and then determine if the media interpretation is valid.

Free will is a matter of choice. Things can shape those choices whether we know it or not. We can either choose them or not choose them, especially if we are aware of them. We have to live in the confines of a truthful reality. We cannot choose the impossible. Our wills are limited by whatever this world is. So that whatever this world is, since it is reality, it possesses us and has the ability to shape our wills according to its reality (whatever that may be).

For instance if I’m feeling angry because of some sort of brain function to a reaction of external stimulii and it causes me to make a bad moral choice then it is indeed the world which has caused me to shape my freewill choice.

It is the world that reins over the soul. It is the light of Christ that counteracts that.

You see you are called sinful by nature because you are born into a corruptible world. The corruption takes hold of your body because the flesh is a thing of corruption. Beyond this world is the incorruptible; and that is where Jesus comes from (where the external world is the same light as the internal world). Jesus gives you his body, through his flesh and blood, so you can find the incorruptible inside you. So where once you had a sinful nature you now have a sinless nature; and your free will is your own, all according to the truth.

Strictly speaking, from a physiological point of view, neuroscience is correct, in this way: Our nervous systems are composed of neurons which either “fire” or remain inactive. In this sense, our minds and feelings are a collection of discrete binary elements.

The proof that there is a finite number of states for a human is simple. We have a finite number of neurons. And, for that matter, there are a finite number of organisms. Each of these neurons can be enumerated in terms of their potential states. Therefore, there are a finite number of thoughts, actions, emotions that you can think, do or feel. HOWEVER, this number is very large. You have billions of cells. So enumerating the number of possibilities would result in a very large number, as we know from the variety of life that we experience.

So, yes. You don’t actually have free will, in the sense that your possibilities are unlimited. There are enumerable limits to what you may think, feel or do.

If you look at free will from another mathematical angle, any system with discrete “logic” gates (neurons), which are of finite number, and in a particular relationship to each other, can only move from one discrete state to another, when those neurons fire off. What that state will be can be defined by the current state of the system, and the input of stimulus to the system. This is known as determinism. So, in this very real sense, free will does not exist. But once again, the variety of potentials is so large with each person, and then that is multiplied by the number of people in the world exponentially, that it is a popular philosophical notion that free will exists. What exists, from the point of view of the neurosciences, is the illusion of the perception of free will because rationally, we can’t really grasp the number of possibilities. The human mind is clearly only capable to think in small numbers. This has been studied extensively. Our thoughts are very limited compared to what is around us, numerically… or in our ways to enumerate just about anything.

Even without the physiological understanding, this concept goes back a ways. The Deists, of course, understood that an omnipotent God could only be omniscient, if all events to come were predetermined. As soon as God exercises omnipotence and intervenes to change the future, then omniscience no longer applies. This is simple logic.

So, where does this leave a person of faith? Faith is the acceptance of things without requiring proof or logic.

My response to this conundrum is that, there are things which we don’t understand logically or through facts. This is the realm of the supernatural, where God is. Life has more value to me, when I am also a spiritual person. So, while I accept the apparent logic and facts of science, I also reserve the right to believe that there is more than meets the eye of the scientist going on. The rational mind of he Deist was a great thing. If not for that, America might not exist, for example. But their scope of thought was limited to just that… logic. I guess I am saying that in spite of our scientific progress, or perhaps because of it, I prefer to have some mystery and spirituality in my life. Perhaps this is the mystery of free will, which science cannot quantify.

Nah, chill out. The Libet experiment does not hold up:

Also, read the Feser link that Marc Anthony recommended.

I like that. But how about - no more confessions !!!

Just a joke.

Seriously. Those blokes don’t know anything. God has spoken, the Church has spoken and that is that. :amen:

I haven’t read all of the replies, but they all seem good and on point. I would just add that there can be numerous levels to these kinds of things. The Scientists can be looking at things existing on one or two or five levels, measuring the action reaction of the subject, the stimulation, activity of certain parts of the brain and such…look at the action/reaction/stimuli/response in all of these things and STILL not see what truly lies beneath, behind, or above it all.

Science is a wonderful discipline and can explain many things. But it would be a mistake to believe that anything they might uncover negates the Creator.


The media is back to calling it “global warming” again. :compcoff:

:thumbsup:. I agree as a scientist, a biochemist.

In the context, I recommend the book Aping Mankind by Raymond Tallis, a neuroscientist and atheist, against what he calls “Neuromania” and “Darwinitis”:

(The link also contains my review of the book.)

How does it affect you that some scientists say you have no free will? Does that mean that you are no longer going to live as if you have free will? Does it really change anything? For me, I will still live as a free man, because what else are you to do? Despair about something you can’t change, or even know the truth of?

In my personal opinion, your post 15 is tying together some of the nitty-gritty factors mentioned in post 10.

What needs to be added is the basic reasoning that people use to debunk free will.
Calling free will an illusion is not enough to eliminate the influence of this “illusion” in our daily lives, e.g., criminal justice.

The real, basic reasoning for determining which parts of the brain are connected with certain “action/reaction/stimuli/response” mentioned in post 15 is to pinpoint the location of free will as being the material/physical anatomical brain. Recall that natural science, by definition, is restricted to the material/physical world. Sincere scientists understand this definition and work within it. However, certain interpreters of natural science research see the “brain location idea” as eliminating the need for a spiritual soul.

you lost a lot of credibility as to your knowledge of science, with that little snipe.

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