Now most of us think that the notion of “free choice,” as in the sense of “could have chosen otherwise at a given moment,” is wrong. Excepting quantum mechanics — whose effects on behavior are unknown, and whose pure indeterminacy doesn’t fit most people’s idea of ‘ “free will” — our behaviors are determined by physical laws, and can’t be overridden by some spirit in the brain. Ergo, as Jeff said, libertarian free will is dead. I think that nearly all of us agree.The laws of quantum mechanics are the most basic physical laws we know, and are essential to much of what we know about DNA and other microscopic aspects of life. It is crazy to say that "Excepting quantum mechanics ... our behaviors are determined by physical laws". He is saying that there is no free will (and hence no need for religion) because physical laws are deterministic except where they are not deterministic.
He then challenges:
For compatibilists:A reader answers:
1. What is your definition of free will?
2. What is “free” about it? Is someone who kills because of a brain tumor less free than someone who kills because, having been brought up in a terrible environment, he values drugs more than other people’s lives?
3. If humans have free will, do other species as well? What about computers?
4. Why is it important that you have a definition of free will rather than discarding the concept completely in favor of something like “agency”? That is, what “new knowledge”, as Jeff noted, does your concept add beyond reassuring people that we have “free will” after all?
Definition of “free”, from OED:Free will is how conscious beings describe the choices they make in their everyday lives. Maybe dogs are conscious and maybe computers will be someday. Consciousness is harder to define.
“able to act or be done as one wishes; not under the control of another”
Definition of “will”, from OED:
“the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action”
Combine the two ultra-standard definitions of the two words and you have a pretty good approximation of my definition of free will.
The concepts of free will and causality are central to how we understand the world, how we organize a civilized society, and how we have purpose to our lives. I cannot disprove superdeterminism, so you are free to believe that if you wish, but it is about as silly as believing in solipsism or that we are just simulations in the Matrix.
Coyne goes on to argue that criminals are not morally responsible for their crimes, that religion is invalid, that we should have same-sex marriage, and other political views. All from a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics!
Scott Aaronson writes:
As it happens, I’ve been working on and off for the past two years on a huge essay setting out my thoughts about free will and predictability — and the essay will be online in just a week or two!I will reserve judgment until I see his essay.
Update: A Wikipedia article on Two-stage model of free will explains how free will can be compatible with physical law.