Evolution, Nature, Free Will

Wed, 11 May 1994 09:37:07 CDT

D. Foss complains that I view seem to view cultural evolution as
belonging to nature. Yes, that is my view. Indeed, the analogy he
suggests is one I like very much. As Herbert Spencer wrote, cultural
evolution "is a part of nature; all of a piece with the development of
the embryo or the unfolding of a flower." Consistent with this is the
idea that free will does not exist. As D'Holbach wrote in 1770,"Man is
the work of nature; he exists within nature and is subject to nature's
laws . . . There is neither accident nor chance in nature; in nature
there is no effect without sufficient cause, and all causes act
according to fixed laws . . . Man is therefore not free for a single
instant of his life." I have a hypothesis about why most of us believe
in free will, or choice: it is so we can feel good about dishing out
rewards and punishments. For social and psychological reasons rewards
and punishments are needed; they become part of the determination of
future behavior. But we want fo feel they are *right,* i.e., morally
justified; and for that, belief in free will is necessary. I would go
even further and propose that our symbolic beliefs in moral right and
wrong originated in order to rationalize the placing of blame. Science
has no interest in placing moral blame; only in describing and
explaining. The more it progresses, the *less* justified we can feel
in blaming anyone for anything. This is why punitive, dogmatic
individuals oppose science and reason. As a frustrated mayor said of
youthful criminality in his city, "I'm sick and tired of hearing about
why these kids are doing these things. We've got to do something about
it" (paraphrased as memory serves). Indeed. But whatever is done will
not be scientific activity (description and explanation); and to the
extent that action is based on the presumption of free will (to justify
punishment), it will be based not on science but on mystification.
--Bob Graber